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Islam and the West ( 26 Nov 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The Arab World is at war with itself: New Age Islam’s Selection From World Press, 27 November 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

27 Nov 2015

The Arab World is at war with itself

By Lamis Andoni

Turkey and Russia on collision course in Syria

By Joyce Karam

Why Turkey’s move against Russia was inevitable

By Manuel Almeida

Donald Trump has ripped off his mask

By Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Isn’t preserving EU values the best answer to terrorism?

By Yossi Mekelberg

Putin’s ‘realpolitik’ aims to make Russia indispensable

By Paul Taylor



The Arab World is at war with itself

Lamis Andoni

26 Nov 2015

As if the severe damage inflicted by the US-led invasion of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of Palestine were not enough, the Arab world is now engaged in a self-destructive process of sectarian polarisation and violence.

While it is true that the 2003 Iraq War triggered the rise of sectarian groups, many Arab political leaders, religious preachers and even some intellectuals have been fanning sectarian hatred and bigotry to serve what is essentially a struggle for power and influence.

What we are witnessing is an ugly sectarianisation of Arab societies that is affecting people's outlook, terminology and attitude as people get trapped in superficial trenches that cloud minds and close hearts.

The ensuing state of confusion and fear compel many to accept "sectarian-wrapped" myths that demonise one sect or another, and even condone, in the case of ISIL, horrific crimes against Christian minorities and Iraq's Yazidis.

Sectarian language

Sectarian language is no longer the specialty of openly sectarian parties, but is steadily penetrating the mainstream lingo - expressed either in specific terminology or in supposedly neutral "analyses" of political developments in the region and beyond.

For example, some now see Iran as behind all catastrophes - this was recently evident when Iranian pilgrims were accused of having deliberately caused the stampede in Mecca last September and in the enduring claim that the Iran-Iraq war was sparked by a sinister Shia plan to control the Sunnis in the Arab World.

The fact that more than 450 Iranians were killed in the stampede or the fact that the 1981 war started when the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein abrogated the 1975 Algiers agreement over border disputes are conveniently overlooked.

Strangely enough, such sectarian language was not prevalent during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, even though it was pro-Western Arab governments - ie, those with Sunni majority countries - that instigated Saddam to provoke the war.

Certainly, chauvinist propaganda was strongly present but as ugly as it was, it was not sectarian but an attempt to rally the masses behind a pan-Arabist Iraqi defence of the Arab world against a supposed historic Persian conspiracy to conquer the Arab world.                                  

To be sure, Iran did its part in fuelling anti-Arabism - I experienced it first hand during my stint as reporter from Tehran in 1995 - but it engaged in this enterprise more seriously, in its nurturing and training of a sectarian Iraqi Shia groups who returned to Iraq after the US invasion of the country.

Anti-colonialism and Palestine

Prior to this, a sectarian anti-Shia language was not dominant in the Arab collective psyche which was more shaped by the legacy of the anti-colonialist struggle and commitment to the Palestinian cause.

Therefore, a majority of Arabs, unlike the pro-Western Arab governments, openly supported and celebrated the Iranian revolution in 1979 that overthrew Reza Pahlavi's regime, seen as the region's "gendarmerie" protecting US and Israeli interests.

It was the pro-Western Arab regimes, who feared and incited against post-revolution Iran, not on a sectarian basis, but out of fierce rivalry over influence and control.

It was not until more than a decade later that fear of exaggerated Iranian influence over Shia Muslims in the Gulf states became an overwhelming concern for these regimes - a claim that was also used as pretext to suppress domestic opposition.

The rallying against "the Shia threat" that started in full swing in 2004, was part of the US-backed formation of an axis of so-called "moderate" Arab states versus the Iranian-led Shia axis, aimed at undermining support for Hezbollah and Hamas, as resisters against Israel.

It was King Abdullah of Jordan who in 2004, and again in 2007, made the anti-Shia sentiment more acceptable by advocating the urgency of countering the expansion of a Shia crescent in the region.

The Jordanian monarch was talking about the expansion of an Iranian-sponsored political-ideological crescent, rather than a religious confrontation, but his words fed the rising beast of sectarianism and polarisation.

The catchphrases "Shia expansion" and "Shia threat" have seeped into the spoken and written Arabic language, in addition to intentional descriptions of Shia as "Khawarij" (those who left Islam), and Safawis (a reference to the Safavid dynasty that ruled Iran in the 16th century).

Prejudiced preachers

It is shocking to find many in the Arab intelligentsia not only using such derogatory language but seem duped to prejudiced preachers such as the Saudi preacher Mohammad al-Arifi who has been fomenting flames of hostility against the Shia.

The suppression of the predominantly Sunni resistance against the US military in Iraq, by Baghdad's sectarian Shia-led government, is touted as proof of an eternal Shia hatred for Sunnis, and not as a functional alliance of power.

The Alawite-led Syrian regime's violent crackdown on Syria's popular uprising, eventually leading to the emergence of extremist Sunni groups is yet another chapter written in a gloomy script.

But it was ISIL that was the first to declare "war on the Shia" in, a letter by its founder the Jordanian Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in 2006, to deputy commander of al-Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahiri who immediately rejected the idea as leading to "Muslims killing Muslims".

Anti-Shia propaganda, however, did not affect the popularity of the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah movement until the group sent forces to Syria to aid the regime. Hassan Nasrallah justified the action as a necessary protection of the shrine of historic Shia hero Sayeda Zeinab located in Southern Damascus.

Hezbollah's slide into the Syrian quagmire fell perfectly into the "Shia threat" narrative. The movement was no longer seen by many of its admirers as a resistance movement but as an Iranian-controlled sectarian actor.

Divisive slogan

The shift in attitudes towards Hezbollah marked a dangerous turn wherein the divisive slogan of "resisting the Shia" replaced the unifying slogans of "resisting Israel" and "Bread, liberation and social justice" of the Arab revolutions.

Deflecting Arab people's attention from the struggle for Palestinian rights and from socioeconomic grievances suits the purposes of Arab regimes to justify their alliances with the US and the oppression of Arab dissent.

Tearing apart Arab societies in the process, is not that relevant for most Arab regimes as sectarianism has become another tool to divide people, dominate them and justify wars and repression.

In the end, the US neo-cons, who have pushed for such narratives since the 1990s, can now retire and rest - many Arabs for various reasons and purposes, are implementing the prophesy of an eventual break-up of the Arab world into sectarian splinters.

Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs.


Turkey and Russia on collision course in Syria

Joyce Karam

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Their trade is booming and their gas and oil flow is uninterrupted, but when it comes to Syria, Russia and Turkey are not the best of partners, and their disagreements have become more costly this week as Ankara downed a Russian fighter jet over its border, while Moscow continued to bomb Syrian rebel forces allied with Turkey.

The downing of the Sukhoi 24 on Tuesday is by all means an unprecedented escalation unseen since the 1950s, but it wasn’t unpredictable. Ankara and Moscow, given their diametrically opposed political and operational roadmaps for the conflict in Syria, have been on a clashing trajectory since Russia entered the Syrian military fray last September. One of Russia’s many objectives in Syria is to cut into Turkish influence in order to boost the Assad regime, and now that they are in each other’s crosshairs, more clashes directly or via proxies seem inevitable.

Russia’s intervention eyes Turkey

Among the many outside agendas colliding in Syria, Russia’s and Turkey’s are the most in conflict. Moscow is attempting to shore up the authoritarian security structure of the Assad regime as it flirts with key minorities, while Turkey has pitted itself on the side of the anti-Assad rebels and is embracing the Islamist factions from the country’s Sunni majority.

In that context, interjecting Turkey’s role and plans in Northern Syria is a crucial part of Russia’s calculus in order to achieve its own. Hence, Moscow’s airstrikes have predominantly focussed on areas where Turkish supported rebels operate in Idlib, Aleppo, near Latakia and Azzaz, and less so on ISIS. Russian air presence in Northern Syria also directly aims at spoiling Ankara’s plans of establishing a safe zone to absorb refugees, prevent Kurdish autonomy, and train and equip the rebels.

When it comes to proxies inside Syria, Turkey and Russia are on opposite sides of the battlefield. Moscow is aligning itself with the Assad forces, Hezbollah and pro-regime militias, while Turkey is a key supporter of Ahrar Sham, Turkmen brigades within the Free Syrian Army, and has had a murky relationship with Jabhat Nusra (affiliated with al-Qaeda). In fact, it was Russia’s strikes against the Turkmen villages in the last few days that have angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stating openly “we have kinsmen in the area that are being bombed.”

Almost 1.5 million Syrians are members of the Turkmen community, including the head of the largest Syrian opposition coalition Khaled Khoja. The Turkmen community is historically, linguistically and culturally close to Turkey and their brigades are critical in the fighting against both Assad and ISIS. If Turkey has any hopes of securing a 100-km long safe zone “west of the Euphrates River and reaching into the province of Aleppo” as reported last summer by the Washington Post, the weight of governing and securing it from ISIS and Assad would fall on the Turkmen brigades, Ahrar Sham and Kurdish forces cooperating with Ankara.

Collision with Russia

Whether it’s establishing a safe zone in Northern Syria, or fighting Assad close to his Allawite homeland, Turkey is bound to clash with Russia whose entry into Syria is to protect the regime strongholds and prevent the creation of a safe zone.

In their statements from the White House on Tuesday, both U.S. Presidents Barack Obama and his French counterpart Francois Hollande called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to focus his strikes on ISIS and refrain from targeting the rebel forces near Turkey’s border. Hollande even hinted indirectly at possibility of a humanitarian safe zone, stating that “Turkey plays an important role, and it is together with Turkey that we must find solutions so that the refugees can stay close to their country of origin.” Erdogan went a step further, saying Ankara “will soon put into practice humanitarian safe zone between Jarablus and Mediterranean coast” according to CNN Turk.

Easier set than done, however, as the task of securing any safe zone in Syria and managing the day to day services will be threatened by both Russia’s and Assad’s air force, as well as questions surrounding the opposition’s ability to govern those areas. Washington has also not committed itself to a safe zone in Syria and is now focused on the diplomatic track in Vienna to bring representatives from the regime and the opposition to the table by January.

But even with the Vienna process, there are little to no indications that major gaps on identifying rebel groups or path to transition can be overcome imminently. The polarization has only grown in Syria and neither Russia nor Turkey are in a place to change their battle bets, or strategic objectives whether it means forgoing support for the regime or the rebels.

Against this backdrop, the Syrian sequel of Turkish-Russian clashes has only begun with the downing of the Sukhoi-24. Their confrontation will ultimately continue in Syria’s skies and through ground proxies, as Russia tries to force its hand and Turkey to claim its backyard.

Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam


Why Turkey’s move against Russia was inevitable

Manuel Almeida

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

There are various similarities between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin. The presidents of Turkey and Russia are strongmen with unlimited political ambitions, who will mark an era in their countries for better or worse. They are both ardent nationalist leaders who champion social conservatism. They often warn about foreign plots and are highly suspicious of Western meddling. Under the two leaders, the foreign policy of both Turkey and Russia has been aimed at restoring at least some of the lost imperial glory, with poor results in the case of Erdogan and mixed ones in Putin’s. This similar mind-set has developed into a good relationship between the two.

Yet on Tuesday morning, Turkish-Russian ties may have been seriously damaged over the main foreign policy issue Erdogan and Putin have consistently disagreed on: Syria. On the Turkish-Syrian border, a Turkish F-16 jet shot down a Russian SU-24 fighter jet. The jet fell on the Syrian side of the border and the Turkish and Russian governments continue to argue over different versions of the story. One part insists the jet violated Turkish airspace and was warned several times to change course because it was approaching Turkish airspace, while the other claims it was still over Syrian territory and there were no warnings.

But there is evidence the Russian pilots were warned to change course. A civilian pilot was in the area at the time of the incident, on a flight from Beirut to the Gulf, and provided Al-Arabiya News with a recording that proves several warning were issued by the Turkish pilot of the F-16. Other international media outlets have posted very similar recordings of the incident.

As for the fate of the two Russian pilots, the same day news emerged (including a video) one of the pilots had been killed by a Syrian rebel group, allegedly of ethnic Turkmens. On Wednesday, it turned out the second pilot was alive and efforts were under way to secure his safe return.

Russian reaction

So far, the Russian reaction has been vigorous but has fallen short of direct military action. Expectedly, Putin was quite adamant about the incident, warning about “serious consequences” and saying “we received a stab in the back from accomplices of terrorism”. This was a clear accusation against the Turkish government about its role in supporting the growth of ISIS.

Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, cancelled a visit to Ankara due to happen on Wednesday to discuss the bilateral relation and find a bit of common ground on Syria, but said Russia does “not plan to go to war with Turkey.” Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev insisted on the links between the Turkish government and ISIS. He accused some Turkish officials of having a “direct financial interest” in the oil trade with the radical group and said Russia had information about these deals. Medvedev also mentioned Russia is considering the cancelation of various projects with Turkey and barring Turkish companies from the Russian market.

Militarily, Russia has deployed a missile cruiser off the Syrian coast. Russia’s defense minister, Sergey Shoigu, also announced the deployment of the S-400 surface-to-air missiles in Syria’s Khmeimim air base in Latakia province, although that was probably already happening before the incident. However, possibly the most worrying measure of all is the announcement that the military communications with Turkey will be suspended. This could open the door for other similar incidents which could dangerously escalate.


The gravity of the incident contrasts with how predictable it was. Last week, the Turkish foreign ministry had already summoned the Russian ambassador to warn him there would be very serious consequences if the Russian air force did not stop the bombing of Turkmen villages in Bayir Bucak in Syria near the Turkish border.

In October, tensions between Russia and Turkey over Russian fighter jets’ violations of Turkish airspace had already emerged, including an incident where the Turkish military shot down a Russian-made drone that had entered its airspace. In fact, these tensions between Moscow and Ankara date back to 2012. In June that year, a Turkish F-4 reconnaissance jet was shot down by Syrian regime air defenses likely operated by Russian military.

Above all, these tensions are the perfect example of foreign policy and national interests narrowly defined. Russia, Turkey and various other governments directly or indirectly involved in the conflict have so far failed to find some basic common cause to address one of the biggest catastrophes the region has witnessed in modern history.

At a time the diplomatic contacts and negotiations to find a political settlement for the Syrian conflict were gathering momentum, this incident may bring unnecessary tensions to a table where the Russian government has the key seat and the Turkish government an important one. Also the efforts to build closer coordination between the U.S., France and Russia in the aerial campaign against ISIS in Syria could be affected, partially due to Turkey’s NATO membership.

The Russian ambassador to Paris, Alexander Orlov, hinted on Wednesday that Turkey could still be part of a hypothetical coalition with Russia, the U.S. and France (including a joint command centre) against ISIS, if the Turkish government so wishes. Nevertheless, as the U.S. government has been noting in recent weeks, without a strategic change on the current Russian focus on targeting primarily other Syrian opposition groups rather than ISIS, it will be almost impossible for such coalition to emerge.

From the outset, Russia and Turkey have been at loggerheads over every single aspect of the Syrian crisis, including the future of Bashar al-Assad. Despite recent signs of a more flexible Turkish position on Assad’s future, Erdogan might return to his initial position after the Justice and Development Party’s electoral success earlier this month.

However, despite the rift over Syria, both governments had managed to separate things and maintain constructive relations on various other fronts. In 2014, Turkey was Russia’s seventh largest trade partner (reaching almost $20 billion) and became the second largest buyer of Russian natural gas. After the cancelation of the South Stream pipeline project, Russia and Turkey also announced they would be building the alternative TurkStream pipeline that would transport gas to Europe via Turkey without crossing Ukraine. Hopefully, Russian-Turkish trade ties might work as a dissuading factor against rising tensions over Syria.

Manuel Almeida is a writer, researcher and consultant on the Middle East. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the London of Economics and Political Science and was an editor at Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. He can be reached on @_ManuelAlmeida on Twitter.


Donald Trump has ripped off his mask

By Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Thursday, 26 November 2015

I was wrong and I do not mind admitting it. My support for the front-running Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was a mistake. Initially, I admired his outspokenness and his record of turning losses into wins. I believed - and still do - that America is lacking strong leadership. But when strength is partnered with ignorance and deceit, it produces a toxic mix threatening the U.S. and our world.

In light of his recent bigoted statements and behaviour, I am amazed that he retains a double-digit lead in the polls over his almost as poisonous main rival Ben Carson who wrongly stated a Muslim president would be unconstitutional, and compared Syrian refugees to “rabid dogs.”

Each time Mr Trump came out with statements attacking or ridiculing minorities, political commentators used to predict his political demise. Not so today. The more hurtful and outrageous his comments are, the more his popularity with certain sections of the American public grows, which does not bode well for race relations.

While I fully understand Americans are tired of President Obama’s inability to lead, if Trump gets to the White House they will be jumping from the frying pan into the fire - one that will consume U.S. relations with the Muslim world.

Bad enough that he has referred to Mexican immigrants as “criminals, drug dealers and rapists”, described African-American youth as having ‘no spirit’ and stereotyped Jews as the ones he wants counting his money, his tongue-lashing is now pivoted towards Muslims. Not merely with personal opinions but with a pledge to close down mosques and reintroduce torture, such as water-boarding. “I want surveillance of these people,” he said.

Misleading information

On Saturday, he told a campaign rally that “thousands” of Arab-Americans in New Jersey were cheering as the Twin Towers came down on September 11, 2001.

“There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down,” he said, adding, “I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it but there were people cheering as that building came down.” Ben Carson piped up to say he had seen the very same video, only to retract his assertion when a slew of U.S. officials called it untrue.

There is not one scrap of evidence suggesting Arabs were celebrating 9-11 in New Jersey. Washington Post’s Fact Checker delved deeply into Trump’s claim giving it “four Pinocchios.” Politifact labelled it “pants on fire.”

However, there is something the U.S. media has chosen to bury. The only Middle Eastern “looking” people known to have been high-fiving on that terrible day were five Israelis working for a removal company, as reported at the time by ABC News and Fox News. Their celebratory behaviour attracted the attention of a woman who called the police. They were arrested and detained for two months before being deported.

ABC quoted their lawyer Stephen Gordon admitting his clients’ actions might arouse suspicions. “You got a group of guys that are taking pictures on top of a roof… They’re speaking in a foreign language. They got two passports on them. One’s got a wad of cash on him, and they got box cutters. Now that’s a scary situation,” he told the network. I believe that had they been Arabs they would not have been allowed to fly home for sure.

When it comes to accepting Syrian refugees - mostly women with children, the elderly and orphans - Trump does not have an ounce of compassion. They are a “Trojan Horse” he says and if he wins, he would send them all back or make them carry special ID cards. If there was a competition among Republicans for vindictiveness, the award would go to another candidate, Chris Christie. He says the U.S. should not even accept orphans under five years old. A man who has nightmares about toddlers has no business running for President.

What is going on here? Chris Christie is the grandson of Sicilian and German immigrants. Donald Trump’s mother was an immigrant from Scotland, his paternal grandfather was German. Marco Rubio, who has called for all places where Muslims gather, including cafes and diners, to be shut down is the son of a Cuban hotel maid and a barman. Ted Cruz, whose father fled Cuba in the 1960s, wants to introduce a bill preventing Syrian asylum seekers from entering America, whereas earlier he had shamefully blessed Christian Syrians only.

Their collective stance makes a mockery of the Statue of Liberty standing sentinel over New York Harbor and on which is inscribed “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

The red line

It is worth remembering the last time refugees fleeing war and genocide were turned back which remains a deep scar on America’s much-touted values. In 1939, the ‘SS St. Louis’, a cruise liner carrying Jewish refugees escaping the Holocaust hoping for a new life was barred from Cuba and was subsequently prevented from docking by the U.S. coastguard as it neared Florida shores. The captain had no choice but to head back to Europe where many of those passengers died in Nazi concentration camps. How many Syrians being shut out now will suffer the same fate?

The word ‘conservative’ is now being equated to ‘callous’ when in essence the conservative moment was thought of as one that holds to universal principles in which racism, discrimination and the stereotyping of whole communities play no part. It is an uphill task trying to find a good guy among the entire Republican line-up. Each candidate vies with the others on who can attract the most media attention with the most shocking sound bites.

Trump should have crossed everyone’s red line when he his supporters allegedly kicked, choked and punched an African-American heckler during a rally calling the victim and his companions “monkeys.”

Hillary Clinton warns that “slamming the doors on refugees isn’t who we are,” and stressed that “We are not at war with Islam, but with extremists”. She is tough in the right way. She is experienced and, most importantly, she is one of the few in this race who sounds remotely sane. She is the one I will be rooting for on November 8, 2016 with the hope that Donald Trump will be forgotten in history as the bigoted loudmouth he clearly is.

Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books. Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.


Isn’t preserving EU values the best answer to terrorism?

By Yossi Mekelberg

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Tragedies can either tear societies apart or bring them closer together. At times when divinity is employed to justify heinous crimes against innocent people, the choice is left to mortals. Should the response be vengeful, or should it be reflective and measured, balancing between the need for punishment and preventing further bloodshed, with the need to maintain core values and beliefs? The recent terrorist attacks in Beirut, Paris and Bamako are mind-boggling. What are their larger meaning for humankind?

Last week’s coordinated carnage in Paris caught the European Union (EU) in the midst of a soul-searching period. The alliance is pondering the future of this post-World War II political-economic experiment. The continent is grappling with a range of disagreements, including the consequences of its rapid expansion, migration, social cohesion, the merits of monetary union, and developing a semblance of a unified foreign policy.

There is profound discord between those who want closer union, resulting in a United States of Europe, and those who aspire either to maintain the current union or roll back some of its powers to member states. The fear of militancy and bloodshed in the streets of Europe challenges the foundations of the EU, and touches upon many of these issues.

Freedom of movement

From the Schuman Declaration in 1950 through decades of agreements, the principal anchor of peace, security and improving human conditions was continental cooperation through almost total freedom of movement. Peace and continuous prosperity since 1945 have been attributed to enabling people, goods and capital to move freely between EU member states.

Yet when even a minute number of those who move freely are terrorists, the goods that cross borders are Kalashnikovs, or the money is for sponsoring the killing of innocents, then the foundations of the union are shaken. They pose profound questions to those who are ravaged by genuine fear in the face of horrific scenes such as those witnessed in Paris, as much as to those who have never believed in the merit of a united Europe.

The extreme right exploits the situation to resist a multicultural, liberal and tolerant continent, migration from within member states, and above all from other parts of the world. Often this sentiment is mixed with generic xenophobia, and more specifically with Islamophobia.

The EU, both as an ideal and reality, has had to endure scepticism at every stage of its evolution. Despite this, it has provided its citizens with the longest period of peace for centuries, as well economic, cultural and social prosperity. This arrangement, however, is not without obvious shortcomings.

The cross-fertilization that resulted from freedom of movement enriched Europe beyond what its founders could have ever envisaged. Nevertheless, in the almost unrestrained drive to remove physical borders, psychological ones have not been addressed with the same rigour and attention.

Fear and suspicion of the ‘other,’ whoever she or he may be, are still rife across the continent. Confronting a tiny bunch of terrorists and their sympathizers, who represent a very extreme and distorted version of Islam, just adds a different twist to it.

Britain, for instance, is renegotiating its EU membership terms, mainly to control its border from immigration from Poland, Bulgaria and Romania as much as from outside Europe. Tragically, the violence that Paris encountered - and before this London and Madrid - have given traction to those who are die-hard opponents of the multiculturalism formed by migration. They abhor the idea of a supranational Europe that reduces the powers of national governments.

A hasty response to the fear of terrorism may jeopardize one of the most daring and successful efforts in human history to overcome major political, historical, economic and ethnic differences. While recognizing the EU’s deficiencies and limitations, it must be recognized that it introduced a new international political-economic organization in which the the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.

Civil liberties

In addressing the need to ensure the safety of European citizens, their civil liberties may fall victim to encroachment by security services. Americans faced such an assault on their liberties following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Europeans experienced this to a lesser degree in recent years as a response to terrorism.

Nothing can hand a greater victory to those who attack innocent civilians than turning our societies into Orwellian ones. Societies in which no one trusts one another, and governments are allowed to intrude into everyone’s private lives and violate basic rights, end either in anarchy or authoritarianism.

Those who spread fear and hatred in Europe would like it to become a religious-ideological war. It would be the greatest of follies to hand them this victory. It is a struggle between those who would like to embrace tolerance, mutual respect and coexistence, and those who would like to create divisions, and spread hatred and violence.

Addressing the challenges that lie ahead is complex. It requires a more resolute EU that collaborates better on sharing intelligence and counter-terrorism, but also re-embraces its basic human values. No solution can be satisfactory unless all EU citizens are valued and integrated without losing their identity or civil liberties.

Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, where he is involved with projects and advisory work on conflict resolution, including Track II negotiations. He is also the Director of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program at Regent’s University in London, where he has taught since 1996. Previously, he was teaching at King’s College London and Tel Aviv University. Mekelberg’s fields of interest are international relations theory, international politics of the Middle East, human rights, and international relations and revolutions. He is a member of the London Committee of Human Rights Watch, serving on the Advocacy and Outreach committee. Mekelberg is a regular contributor to the international media on a wide range of international issues and you can find him on Twitter @YMekelberg.


Putin’s ‘realpolitik’ aims to make Russia indispensable

Paul Taylor

Nov 27, 2015

By intervening in Syria, President Vladimir Putin has broken Russia’s relative isolation and is making it the “indispensable nation” in conflicts in Syria, Ukraine and with Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) while the United States balks at deeper involvement.

But in this geopolitical poker game, it’s not clear he will be able to quit while he’s winning, especially when events can take unexpected turns such as the shooting down of a Russian jet by Turkey’s air force on Tuesday.

Russia’s air strikes, cruise missiles and trainers on the ground have tilted the balance of forces in Syria back towards President Bashar Al-Assad’s army, forcing a US-backed coalition waging an air war against Daesh onto the back foot.

Now Putin has seized on this month’s Islamist attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people, and the downing of a Russian airliner in Egypt, which was claimed by Daesh and killed all 224 people on board, to shift his focus and offer France an alliance against the militant group.

The Russian Defense Ministry released pictures of bombs destined for Syrian targets inscribed “For Paris”.

“Russia has been willing and able to bring significant firepower to bear against Daesh at a time when France is willing but not entirely able, and the United States is able, but not entirely willing to bring its full firepower to bear against Daeash in Syria,” said Bruno Tertrais, senior research fellow at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. From a pariah in the West over his action in Ukraine, Putin has become a sought-after interlocutor due to his “realpolitik” combining hard power and diplomacy.

Western leaders who had lectured him over Ukraine at last year’s G20 summit Brisbane, Australia, and sidelined him from the G8 group of industrialized powers, vied for private meetings with him at this year’s G20 in the Turkish resort of Antalya.

After the failure of US President Barack Obama’s 2009 “reset” of relations with Russia, it could be seen as a “re-reset” by the West, albeit somewhat reluctantly.

It doesn’t mean Putin can escape yet from Western sanctions over his seizure of Crimea in 2014 and support of Russian-speaking separatists in eastern Ukraine. The five main Western powers agreed last week to extend them for at least six months.

Nor does it guarantee the Russian leader a successful outcome to his Syrian venture. Military interventions often start in triumph and end in ashes, as the United States and Britain learned to their cost in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Soviet Union experienced in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Putin believes he has put Russia in the position that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright claimed for the United States in the late 1990s as “the indispensable nation”.

But some strategic analysts believe Putin is overreaching and storing up security and economic dangers for Russia from domestic militants and Middle East oil powers.

It is not only events such as Tuesday’s shooting down of the Russian jet, described by Putin as a “stab in the back”, that could affect relations with other powers. A “friendly fire” incident involving Western forces or strikes that caused huge civilian casualties could also blow his campaign off course.

“Putin is a geopolitical master-tactician. Whether one likes it or not – and I don’t – ‘Putinpolitik’ is doing pretty well,” said Michael Emerson, a former European Union envoy to Moscow.

He noted it was the second time Putin had wrong-footed the United States by taking an initiative in Syria that saved Assad from potential military defeat and make himself an unavoidable partner in any solution in the country.

The first was in August 2013 when Putin persuaded Obama to use diplomacy to achieve the chemical disarmament of Syria rather than enforce the US leader’s own “red line” by striking Assad’s forces over the use of the banned weapons.

That decision was a “major foreign policy mistake” that signaled US fatigue in the Middle East and was duly noted in Moscow and Beijing, said former NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

Obama belittled Russia after its seizure of Crimea as a “regional power” acting out of weakness rather than strength and not a “number one security threat” to the United States.

Putin’s instinct for exploiting perceived US and European weakness has been one of the features of his vigorous foreign policy as he has tried to reassert Russia’s great power status.

“He has an incredible nose for political opportunity, but also for power,” said Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank and advocacy group.

“He was stuck in Ukraine… and couldn’t see a way out. He initially stepped up the Russian footprint in Syria because Assad was in trouble. Now he has managed this extraordinary pivot after the Paris events,” he said.

French President Francois Hollande, who had been a small part of the US-led air campaign against Daesh, has called for a single coalition including Russia to eradicate the militant group in Syria.

A Reuters analysis in late October showed almost 80 percent of Russia’s declared targets in Syria were in areas not held by Daesh.

Tertrais said the French believe nearly 90 percent of Russian strikes were on Western-backed anti-Assad rebels before the Paris attacks and the Sinai plane bombing, and just 10 percent on Daesh. In the last week, those proportions have roughly been inverted, he said.

Other Western experts say Moscow has continued to hit Western-back insurgents, notably those that had acquired US TOW anti-tank missiles, but at least half its strikes now targeted Daesh leadership and logistics in Syria.

Both Russia and France are reported to have hit oil installations exploited by Daesh as a source of revenue.

While the Kremlin leader has overturned the table in Syria, possibly creating space for a negotiated settlement to four years of civil war, his use of force beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union has raised risks for Russia.

“Putin is not a good strategist. He is stirring up a hornet’s nest of Sunni Muslims who will hold a grudge against him,” said Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution think-tank in Washington and a former deputy Secretary of State and veteran Russia expert.

“He already had an internal problem with Islamist extremism and he now has an external problem since Daesh was responsible for the Sinai plane bombing.”

By aligning himself with Shi’ite power Iran and its Lebanese Hezbollah militia allies, he said, Putin risked antagonizing Sunni powers, which has driven down the oil price on which Russia’s sanctions-weakened economy depends.

“Faced with a choice between keeping Assad in power and destroying Daesh, Putin is caught in a vice of his own making,” Talbott said. “He has pushed Assad’s exit off into the future at great cost to Russia, because Daesh is going to be stronger.”

He now faces a potential upsurge of Islamist militancy in Russia’s Caucasus region which has spurred attacks in Moscow and other cities since the Chechen wars of the 1990s, Talbott added.


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