New Age Islam Edit Bureau
20 November 2015
The EU labels the Israeli occupation unacceptable
By Yossi Mekelberg
Who's taking the brunt of the backlash?
By Shah Husain Imam
How to avoid the next Paris
By AIJAZ ZAKA SYED
Punishing Syrian refugees will only help ISIS
By Joyce Karam
The Paris tragedy and Bashar al-Assad's future
By Manuel Almeida
France's Minorities: Paris’s Muslims and Jews Are Now More Anxious Than Ever
Don’t Give ISIL the Islamophobia It Wants
By Mustafa Akyol
They Are Us
By Nicholas Kristof
Body Bags in Paris
By Roger Cohen
Still No Sign Of A Coherent And Effective Strategy For Containing
And Defeating ISIS And Its Affiliates And Why
By Alan Hart
Rohingya and the Burmese Generals: How to Forge A Democracy and Get Away With It
By Ramzy Baroud
The EU labels the Israeli occupation unacceptable
19 November 2015
It recently became a habit of Israeli politicians, especially Prime Minister Netanyahu, to associate any policy of any international body that disagrees or criticizes the official line of the Jewish state, as an act of anti-Semitism.
Worse, Netanyahu exploits the memory of the Holocaust to defend his failing policies. First, he tries to apportion the Palestinians with blame for the genocide of European Jewry in the 1940s, by distorting history. Then last week, following the publication of an EU release of an Interpretative Notice, which is derived from a long standing European policy that rejects any Israeli claim for sovereignty over the occupied territories, Israeli politicians rushed to blame Europe for anti-Semitism.
In reality, the new policy does not require more than accurately and clearly labelling whether goods produced by Israelis originate from Israeli settlements built in occupied territories, or from the internationally recognised borders of Israel. This irked almost the entire spectrum of the Israeli political system. Netanyahu could not resist his increasing obsessive temptation to associate this policy with the way Jews were persecuted during the Second World War, asserting that the “labeling of products of the Jewish state by the European Union brings back dark memories. Europe should be ashamed of itself; it took an immoral decision.”
For nearly five decades, the entrenchment of the Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories and the Golan Heights has been criticized by the international community without taking any concrete actions. With the exception of Israel’s right, and some die-hard supporters of the extreme version of Zionism elsewhere, there is an international consensus that the Israeli occupation and settlements are detrimental to peace, Palestinians’ legitimate rights and even Israel’s own long term survival. This consensus increasingly also included Israel’s closest ally the United States. Both Europe and the US are at their wits’ end in convincing the Israeli government that it is in its best interest to bring an end to the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip. One can almost sense that this recent mild step taken by the EU is an act of robust friendship rather than a hostile one. It is a gentle reminder for Israel that if it would like to stay true to its claim of aspiring to be a Jewish and democratic state, it surely cannot continue to deprive millions of Palestinians of their political and human rights.
Sadly, considering the enduring tragedy of the Syrian civil war, peace with Syria in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, is not going to be on the cards for a considerable length of time. However, the West Bank and Gaza are a completely different matter. It will be interesting to see in the coming weeks and months, if beyond the frenzied response by Israeli politicians, they, and public opinion, will internalise that this new EU measure was a mere subtle message. If Israel does not demonstrate a genuine willingness to enter into serious peace negotiations and continues to create facts on the ground that render a viable Palestinian state impossible, then harsher steps are likely to follow.
Tiptoeing around the Israeli settlement issue
The new European Commission Interpretive Notice makes labeling mandatory, though surprisingly does not include all settlements’ exports. It leaves the decision whether to purchase goods labeled “Product from West Bank (Israeli settlement),” up to the consumer’s conscience. It makes clear which products are Palestinian ones and which are produced in Israeli settlements. The European Commission was at pain to emphasize that this was neither a boycott on Israel, nor a recognition of an independent Palestinian state. The EU is making a deliberate attempt not to be seen as either associated with the BDS movement, or prejudicing future peace negotiations. However, it leaves open the question for how long Europe and the rest of the international community can tiptoe around the Israeli settlement issue and the ever deepening of the occupation.
The American response was also telling regarding their exasperation with Netanyahu’s obstructive policies. A State Department spokesperson insisted that the Obama administration opposes, “efforts to isolate or delegitimise the state of Israel,” but at the same time rejected the idea that the European move represented a boycott. Furthermore, the American official took it further, first by reiterating that the US regards the “settlements are illegitimate, and they’re harmful to prospects for peace and to Israel’s long-term security.” Then he explicitly called for a reality check on the part of Israel, to realise that considering the current Israeli settlement policy, it should not be surprised if further measures could even lead to boycotts.
The Israeli government’s response to suspend diplomatic dialogue with the EU in the coming weeks, in response to the demand to label products from over the Green Line, is as hollow as the claims that it was anti-Semitic. Israel’s dialogue with the EU is in Israel’s best interest, and to an extent the new measure provides Israel with time, if it wishes so and is capable of, to reflect on the long term implications of continuing its settlement policy in the West Bank. For the Palestinians the new measure did not go far enough, and the PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat expressed his expectation that it would lead to a total boycott. This comment might not be perceived by the EU as helpful. Nevertheless, for the Israelis the label is on the wall, that defying the international community has a price. They should see the recent European act as a friendly nudge towards reassessing Israel’s settlement policy and its obstructive approach towards the peace process.
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.
Who's taking the brunt of the backlash?
Shah Husain Imam
November 20, 2015
With full respect for the description of the IS' carnage in Paris 'as war against humanity' and in affirmation of the universal commitment to fight it, we cannot help notice though, the eye of the storm is rushing towards the Muslims!
Never since the 9/11 have the Muslims drawn suspicious stares for the hideous acts of a tiny minority as they are now. This dawns with a chilling effect on your sensibilities from an account of a Muslim immigrant in Paris. Speaking to the BBC a couple of days back, he admitted to being 'shamed' by the misadventure of a few jobless preyed upon by the lure of cash. It may be a tad simplistic observation leaving out the possibility of a so-called jihadi indoctrination. Yet, his shame will find a resonance with an overwhelming majority of his community.
It's the backlash of the Parisian massacre that is beginning to touch on the fulcrum of the Muslim community's immediate concern. Not only does the list of casualties of the attack on the French capital include a sizeable number of Muslims but they are also taking the brunt of the manhunt targeted at Muslim immigrant inhibited pockets. In the latest drives against the mastermind Al-Salah Aboud and his associates, his wife is known to have killed herself from a bomb strapped on her body. One more also died with her and there were several arrests made. Since most of the serial killers were suicide bombers dying instantaneously, the hunt is directed to unearth the whole plot, the modus operandi and the networking behind it all.
They are in search of bomb makers at the moment given the stupendous power of the explosions. Typically, cells are assigned to synchronise the operational details behind the scene. Whether they were connected to the IS core in Syria is a focal point of the ongoing inquest.
The plot was reportedly made in Syria and the operation launched from neighbouring Brussels. A mayor of a Muslim-inhabited township in Brussels sounded nervy saying that some mosques had been closed down earlier on while most were considered 'noble' and therefore functioning.
The IS nicknamed Daesh, an Arabic word meaning a group of bigots imposing their will on others not only killed innocents but also put majority of Muslims on the harm's way by giving Islam a bad name. They do not rest content with orchestrating a catastrophe, they even courted backlash as an apparently favoured agenda. The extremists want division and alienation between communities, disenfranchisement of the Muslims and application of Draconian laws against them; for there is a mileage to be made from their plight.
At the top of the Western response, France has invoked collective clause of EU whereby attack on one member is dealt with as an attack on other members of the community. Thus a coalitional approach has already got underway. There is also talk of invoking Article (5) of NATO which barring in the case of September 11 has not been invoked thus far. A coalition of the willing is in place already.
The IS is territorially cornered; that's why it is ramping up extraterritorial misadventures. But experts think that they can be overpowered in amazingly quick time if Putin, Rohani, Obama and King Salman of KSA make a common cause of their fight against the monster. They would be stoking with fire if they didn't.
IS has vaulted to the top of a greasy pole and strange associations are linked to its origin. A desperate organisation like the IS can have strange bedfellows, perhaps not excluding an Israeli connection, with the objective of dividing and weakening the Muslim world.
The IS threat perception is spreading: US, UK, Japan and India are on alert. In Bangladesh Italian priest and doctor Piero Parolari was the latest target of a blatant snipe shot few miles off the sleepy Dinajpur town. Thankfully, he has survived but not without reminding us of the foreigner killings in Bangladesh.
George Osborne, Conservative MP in Britain, has touched on a vital issue of an attempted cyber war against Western infrastructure, a capability that the IS is now far from acquiring but may try to get hold of. IS has used the social media for radicalisation through devious propaganda machinations. The British MP held up the possibility of suddenly unlighted hospitals, immobilised metro rail or stoppage of civic services. He has asked for a huge budgetary allocation to build up cyber technology defense mechanisms.
We would do well to take a leaf or two from a book titled The Accidental Guerrilla with the subtitle Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One by David Kilcullen. 'The book has an anthropologist's sense of social dynamics and a reporter's eye for telling detail.'
His argument pivots around two observations: a) Our current focus is far too narrow, for it tends to emphasise one geographical region and one state; b) While there is a 'global enemy', it amounts to 'only two percent to five percent of the people we have been fighting since 9/11.' Many of the others are 'Accidental Terrorists' provoked into retaliation by intrusion into their territory or disputes.
The Times recommends, 'His (Kilcullen) strength is in knowledge of the different enemies and their motivation, and it is his case that without understanding those subtleties, the battle is lost.'
The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.
How to avoid the next Paris
AIJAZ ZAKA SYED
Published — Friday 20 November 2015
Don't get me wrong. I have utmost sympathy for the victims of Paris attacks. I can understand the cold, helpless outrage of the French society. Finding yourself under attack from an unknown enemy can be a life changing experience.
What I find fascinating though is the fact that a country that not too long ago firmly opposed the US invasion of Iraq and invited the Neocon wrath seems to be heading on the same path.
President Francois Hollande’s response to Paris not only eerily reminds you of our good ol’ friend Bush after 9/11, he has been using almost the same exact language and words of fire and brimstone declaring the attacks as an ‘act of war’ against France and vowing to be “unforgiving against the barbarians.”
Remember the apocalyptic discourse of “America is at war” and you are “either with us or against us” promising to bring “the terrorists” to justice?
France has been even more prompt in its retaliation. Less than 48 hours after the attacks, French warplanes started pounding Syria, especially the city of Raqqa, the so-called capital of Daesh, and they haven’t stopped since.
The New York Times quoted activists on the ground saying the targets included many clinics, a museum and several buildings in a densely populated city, suggesting there could be civilian casualties. Of course, there will be civilian casualties. When 12 warplanes unload their deadly payload on an urban landscape like Raqqa, one of Syria’s major cities, there are bound to be casualties. But then what’s new?
It is always the innocent civilians who end up paying with their lives in such situations. No wonder nearly half of the country’s population has fled as Syrians in their thousands, with young children and women, battle dangerous seas and equally perilous routes on land to escape to northern climes.
The question to ask is what the mighty French would achieve by endlessly bombing Syrian cities that the Americans and Russians haven’t over the past few months? Indeed, nearly every member of the ‘coalition of the willing’ has been trying and testing its weapons of choice in Syria.
Yet there is little to show by way of results for all the death and destruction rained on one of the oldest civilizations on the planet. The Daesh legions continue to multiply, even as Bashar Assad whose tyranny started it all has been given a new lease of life.
Ironically, this is precisely what Isis would want. Portraying itself as the so-called caliphate and champion of the believers fighting the “tyranny of infidels,” it could take pride in the fact that it has taken on the might of the entire western civilization and greatest military powers the world has known.
What better way to market yourself as the sole spokesperson of global jihad and attract impressionable young recruits from around the world?
A reckless response by the French and Europeans and by Russians for that matter would only present the extremists on a platter what they want.
As Prof. Stephen Walt argues in Foreign Policy, cooler heads should have prevailed in Paris after the attacks. “Do not give the Isis (Daesh) what it wants,” counsels the Harvard don.
The “act of war” talk may be good rhetoric but it is bad policy. Besides, by invoking the language of war to describe a terror attack, Hollande is making the same mistake that Bush did — of elevating a group like Al-Qaida to the level of the sovereign entities, suggests Noah Feldman.
“This was a mistake with respect to Al-Qaeda, but it’s a greater mistake when it comes to Islamic State, whose primary aspiration is to achieve statehood. By saying that Islamic State is in a war with France, Hollande is unwittingly giving the ragtag group the international stature it seeks.”
However, methinks this treatment of extremists like sovereign states by world powers is deliberate. These faceless nonentities are consciously being lionized to justify the use of disproportionate, all-out force in retaliation.
Of course, we all feel the pain of Paris. When an outrage of such proportions is visited on innocent, unsuspecting people, especially on picturesque cities like Paris and Mumbai, far from conflict zones, the whole world experiences the pain.
People around the world, including in Muslim lands, have voiced support for the people of Paris. Muslim scholars have been the first to forcefully and unequivocally denounce the outrage, as is expected of them after every such atrocity these days.
France is understandably outraged over the unprecedented attacks that claimed 127 lives. It has unleashed equally unprecedented response, deciding to expel “radical imams and Islamist extremists” and sought the help of EU-NATO allies and Russia to hit back at the Daesh.
However despicable the Paris attacks are, they are but a tiny slice of the everyday reality of the Middle East. In Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere in the region, more people have died in a single terror attack at one check post and in indiscriminate bombings and drone strikes by the Western coalition.
Nearly two million people have perished in the twin Afghan-Iraq disasters. Syrian conflict has claimed nearly 300,000 lives. Israel has been killing Palestinians on a daily basis without provoking a whimper from the world community. In the words of Tariq Ali, why is a public execution with a sword worse than an indiscriminate drone attack? Neither can nor should be supported.
Comparisons are odious but they are inevitable to put things in perspective. What Paris has witnessed is a mere brush with the larger reality of the mess that the global powers have made of the Muslim world with their self-serving agendas and appalling wars.
It is hardly a secret that Daesh was born in the badlands of the US occupied Iraq with the Jordanian Abu Musab Al-Zaraqawi and former generals of — surprise, surprise — Saddam’s army, thoughtlessly disbanded by the Bushies, acting as the midwives.
Syria next door, with its people rising up in revolt against the Baathist tyranny and the international failure to rein in Assad, provided the next natural transition, attracting the young and restless from around the world. Even US President Barack Obama has acknowledged the seminal role the invasion and destruction of Iraq has played in the creation of Daesh and larger radicalization of young Arabs and Muslims. So there is a method in the madness here. The world cannot fight a monster like Isis without an understanding of the festering realities that bred it.
The world will remain without peace as long as the Middle East, the cradle of civilization, remains unstable. Why are the Palestinians still prisoners and persecuted in their own land? What prevents the mighty America from telling Israel that enough is enough and it’s time to behave?
If even one tenth of the time and energy spent on fighting the so-called war on terror and preventing attacks such as Paris were put to use in addressing the sources of this conflict, the world would be a better and safer place. This war cannot be won with fighter jets and firepower nor by demonizing Muslims. Only honest introspection and a dramatic change of approach by all sides can help.
More important, no war on terror can succeed by targeting Muslims. The West has to work with the Islamic world. Muslims are in this together. They have after all suffered the most at the hands of these fiends, with the majority of terror victims being Muslim.
Punishing Syrian refugees will only help ISIS
19 November 2015
The sheer terror that hit Paris on the 13th has everything to do with a monstrous ideology that has found a safe haven in the troubled pockets of the Middle East, and is spreading its vicious tentacles into Europe. It has little to do, however, with the refugee influx escaping Syria, Iraq, and Libya, which happens to be a victim of the same monster.
Punishing Syria’s refugees for ISIS’ blood quest in Europe and the United States is a distraction that plays right into the hands of the terror group and undermines fighting its threat globally. What is needed is a comprehensive approach in structuring and managing the refugee problem, while strengthening border security and surveillance over more than 3000 Europeans who have joined ISIS.
Identified Paris attackers: No refugees
The backlash targeting the Syrian refugees following the Paris attacks has more to do with the pre-existing fear and xenophobia towards Muslims in Europe and the United States than with the horror in Paris. The logic of the anti-refugee campaign is detached from the actual facts of the terror plot in Paris, and distracts from the security gaps that contributed to its occurrence.
One week into the attack, the facts from the investigation points to European nationals and not Syrian refugees as the terrorists behind the operation. Their ties to ISIS, history of criminal activity in Europe, and having visited Syria suggests a two-pronged threat from the attack: 1-The flow of European fighters to and from ISIS territory 2-Surveillance, criminal activity and extremism inside Europe.
Five out of the nine terrorists (seven dead, two remain at large) were identified as French citizens, and three of them lived in Belgium. The theory of the alleged Syrian refugee passport found next to one of the attackers outside Stade de France has been debunked by the German, U.S. and French intelligence. Agence France Press (AFP) quoted French investigators that all indications regarding the name on the passport (Ahmad Al-Mohammad) “point towards the fact he was a soldier loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad” who died months ago. A U.S. intelligence official told CBS that “the passport did not contain the correct numbers for a legitimate Syrian passport and the picture did not match the name.”
The passport narrative was further shred by the German authorities and Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere that saying "there are indications it (Greece) is a false trail." The German official told AFP, adding that “it still cannot be ruled out that a terrorist headed for Europe and to France, probably via Germany.”
While the Syrian component and threat is very much present in the Paris plot, with five of the attackers believed to have visited Syria, there is nothing credible thus far that links the plot to the refugees. All the known attackers are European with criminal history in Europe, and three of them were on the radar screen of suspected terrorist connection. These facts should beg questions about internal European security and surveillance, and ISIS’ operational reach through European recruits to the continent.
Blaming Refugees helps ISIS
Deflecting attention from the core problem of ISIS recruiting and dispatching terrorists from Syria into Europe via Turkey undermines efforts to address the border threat. Focussing on a refugee population escaping barrel bombs, rape and starvation instead of Europe’s internal homegrown threat works also in the favor of the terrorists.
Politically, the hostile language towards the refugee population perfectly fits the narrative of ISIS who labeled those fleeing Syria as “sinners” going “to the land of the war-waging crusaders.” Last September, and as the world was mourning the 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on the shores of Turkey, ISIS accused in its magazine Dabiq those leaving of apostasy for being “under the constant threat of fornication, sodomy, drugs and alcohol.”
For ISIS, holding the Syrians and the Iraqis hostage in its state of thugs and rapists is key to its survival. Subjugating entire cities and indoctrinating a new generation of Syrian and Iraqi children with an ideology of hate and terror is how the group will sustain itself and its future. The rulers of the so-called Caliphate could care less about the fate of the refugees irrelevant of their religion. In Paris, ISIS is attempting to incriminate a whole population with a cowardly terrorist hiding behind a fake passport.
When political leaders in the West use fear mongering and single out Muslim refugees leaving Syria, they are inadvertently supporting ISIS’ argument that the Muslim population is not welcome in the land of "infidels". While security concerns are valid towards anyone crossing the borders from Syria, and while more regional countries have to do their share in taking in refugees, vetting and structured resettlement programs is the way to address the crisis. Singling out and blocking the refugees, or marginalizing them in camps and under miserable living conditions is a recipe for ISIS’ infiltration.
The perpetrators of the Paris attacks come from the same ranks of those oppressing the Syrian people and turning them into refugees. Confusing the victim with oppressor is no way to defeat the terrorists or do justice for those murdered in cold blood in Paris, and others risking everything to flee ISIS.
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
The Paris tragedy and Bashar al-Assad's future
19 November 2015
After the tragic events in Paris last week, a more muscular strategy from France, the U.S., and other governments already involved in operations in Syria and Iraq against ISIS was both expected and necessary. In words reminiscent of the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Prime Minister François Hollande classified the ISIS attacks in Paris as “an act of war”.
From the outset of the Syrian crisis, the French government took a firm stance on Bashar al-Assad, who it saw as the main problem in Syria. When it became clear regime forces were systematically bombing the civilian population, France was the first Western state to cut ties with Damascus and recognize in 2012 the opposition Syrian National Council as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. The French government was also vocal about its willingness to use military force to establish safe zones for the Syrian opposition, under the conditions of a U.N. approval and other Western partners join in.
However, after the Paris attacks the French and other Western governments could be pushed to focus most of their military and, most importantly, political capabilities on the fight against ISIS, while wrongly heeding the arguments that Assad is a problem that can be dealt with later.
In his speech to both houses of parliament on Monday, Hollande recalled that France is “seeking resolutely, tirelessly a political solution in which Assad cannot be a part but our enemy, our enemy in Syria, is Daesh [ISIS]”.
In Western democracies, public opinion can go a long way to influence how elected governments deal with crises abroad. Particularly in the case of the Syrian conflict, the global threat represented by ISIS seems to have far more potential to shape public opinion than the refugee crisis or the more than a quarter of a million people killed in the conflict.
Assad himself knows it. "The question that is being asked throughout France today is, was France's policy over the past five years the right one? The answer is no,” he said just a day after the Paris attacks, blaming it (as ISIS did) on French foreign policy.
The notion that ISIS should be number one priority while the genocidal President of Syria is a matter to be dealt with when and if ISIS is defeated, is deeply flawed for a number of reasons beyond the obvious moral one.
The key to defeat the radical group is a government willing and able to do so and with the capacity to bring on board much of the opposition; all the Assad regime is not. Any Syria expert will tell you Assad has avoided as much as possible to confront ISIS, focusing instead the regime’s military effort on the myriad of opposition groups that are not bent on exporting jihad.
Not only that, Assad has struck deals with ISIS to buy oil and gas on the cheap from the radical group, as highlighted in a recent report by the Financial Times based on interviews with various Syrians employed in the energy sector. Thus, the regime gets the supply of energy to meet its electricity needs while providing a key source of income for the group’s terrorist activities. ISIS controls eight power plants in Syria, including three hydroelectric facilities and Syria’s largest gas plant.
In the early stages of the uprisings against his rule, Assad released hundreds of jihadists from Syria’s jails, contributing to his strategy of portraying the war as an existential battle between secular forces of moderation and fanatic religious militants. Yet for that desperate narrative to have any grounding, it would be necessary to ignore the thousands of groups and sub-groups that form the Sunni opposition. Plus, with Iranian forces and all the Shiite militias from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan fighting for the regime, Assad can hardly claim to be non-sectarian.
The Assad regime is also responsible for the great majority of civilian casualties, a great portion of which via its incessant campaign of airstrikes on urban areas. This has been part of the strategy to radicalize the opposition and make the urban areas not controlled by the regime are almost unlivable.
Ironically, Assad and ISIS need each other to survive. As Hussein Ibish, a scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington D.C., recently put it: “The key factor in the rise of ISIS in Syria has clearly been its politically symbiotic relationship with the Assad dictatorship in Damascus. On paper, these two entities despise each other and could hardly be more ideologically and politically hostile. Yet in practice, they share an overwhelming interest in ensuring that the conflict in Syria is as brutal and sectarian as possible.”
New problems, old tactics
Extreme brutality against its own population and the use of terrorism and jihadists in Syria and beyond to achieve its goals are old strategies of the Assad regime, going back to the days of Bashar’s father, Hafez.
In 1982, in the city of Hama north of Damascus, the Syrian army and security forces under the command of Hafez’s younger brother, General Rifaat al-Assad, put a brutal end to an uprising against the government led by the Muslim Brotherhood. In less than a month, at least 30.000 people were killed in Hama, the majority of them civilians.
In 2004-2005, when the investigation into the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was knocking on Bashar’s door, he encouraged Hezbollah to steer trouble in Lebanon and assassinations of anti-Syrian regime figures and bombings continued. Assad also intensified the regime-managed flow of militants to Iraq, as counterweight to the Bush doctrine and payback for the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of December 2003.
Hollande has rightly noted that Syria has become “the greatest factory of terrorists the world has ever known.” Yet that factory has a manager, Bashar al-Assad, who clearly needs retirement. Otherwise, the war against ISIS or whatever radical group emerges from its remainings is likely to last a few generations.
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.
France's Minorities: Paris’s Muslims and Jews Are Now More Anxious Than Ever
Nov 17th 2015
UNDER a traffic bridge not far from the famous Saint-Ouen flea market in northern Paris is another, more dismal curbside market, where immigrants sell scraps of used clothing, single shoes and bashed-up electronic equipment. The dominant language here is Arabic, and new arrivals from Syria exchange information on how to reach Britain. After the November 13th attacks, carried out by members of Islamic State (IS) and directed from the movement’s headquarters in Syria, the main concern is over how border controls could be affected. “This will only make people blame us, though we’re escaping IS ourselves,” worries Abdel Manal, recently arrived in Paris from Aleppo. Election posters for the far-right National Front are plastered on the walls, showing a threatening young woman in a niqab head-covering, but the local Muslim residents don’t seem to fear a backlash.
“The Front are just trying to provoke people,” says Mubarak Bariki, a Tunisian-born male nurse. The perpetrators of the attacks were “doing something which is haram (forbidden)”. Some in the market insist that that the attacks were fictions invented by America and Israel to hurt Muslims. “There’s no such thing as IS,” said one young man.
In relatively liberal Paris, Muslims do not seem to fear retribution. In other French cities, anti-Muslim slogans have been chanted at memorial rallies and graffiti daubed on mosques. The desire not to be identified with the perpetrators motivated a group of imams, joined by rabbis, to lay candles and flowers at the Bataclan theatre, site of the greatest carnage in Paris. But as new details emerge about the identities of the attackers, at least two of whom were French-born, questions are inevitably being raised about the failed integration (or radicalisation) of too many of the children of France’s immigrants from its former colonies in north Africa. The national census does not mention religion, but demographers estimate that 5-10% of French are Muslim.
“After 25 years of speaking about [the issue of] French Muslims, all the governments have failed,” says Olivier Roy of the European University Institute, an expert on radicalisation in France. One problem, he argues, is that Muslim communities are highly fragmented. Politicians tend to appoint their own interlocutors. These purported local leaders have little following, while imams are credible only inside their own mosques. While the public imagines Muslim youth as disenfranchised and poor, many are actually middle-class individualists who “despise those who are chosen by the government to speak on their behalf.” Many of the security personnel who responded to the attacks were Muslims. Liberals argue that they should be considered better representatives of France’s Muslims than the murderers.
French Jews are much better integrated than Muslims. For them, Friday’s violence was a reminder of the second round of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, which targeted a kosher supermarket in Paris, and of the attack in 2012 at the entrance to a Jewish school in Toulouse. Following the supermarket attack, Jewish institutions throughout France were guarded by soldiers. French Jews reacted with ambivalence, at once glad of the protection and distressed at their status as endangered subjects. The attacks spurred an already rising wave of emigration: about 9000 Jews are expected to leave France for Israel this year.
French Jews hope the latest killings, which targeted public spaces seemingly at random, will reinforce the sense that all citizens are in the same boat. “What has happened should make everyone realise that we need better security for all of France, not just the Jews,” says Levi Matusof, rabbi of a congregation in Paris’s 16th arondissement. In a practical sense, there may be no other choice. Patrick Klugman, a deputy mayor of Paris and a former president of the Jewish student union, says there is simply nothing more that can be done to improve security at Jewish institutions. “Now we should hope that because many of the casualties were young French Muslims, they can also speak out,” Mr Klugman says.
Don’t Give ISIL the Islamophobia It Wants
By Mustafa Akyol
Last Friday’s terrorist attacks on Paris were brutal, cruel, and evil. In the face of such barbarism, anyone who respects human life should stand with the French people, as I do. As a Muslim, I also feel very uneasy that the murderers acted in the name of my faith. What I feel about them is what sane Christians would feel in the face of the Crusaders who slaughtered innocents or Inquisitors who burnt “heretics.” They are the most extreme fanatics of Islam, coming out of a toxic synthesis of age-old dogmatism and modern-day political grievances.
What should France, and the whole Western civilization, do in the face of these fanatics? Well, of course, they should defend themselves with better intelligence at home and a better military strategy against the territories of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). But they should also be very careful to not to give ISIL what it wants, which is an irrational and disproportionate response. In a nutshell, this would mean “total war” against ISIL, which would kill many civilians, and thus only embolden the zeal for jihad, deepening an already vicious cycle. It would also mean more Islamophobia in the West, which will make more Muslims believe that the West is their enemy.
A great article that stressed this risk ahead of us came out in the Washington Post the other day, titled, “The Islamic State’s trap for Europe.” The author, Harleen Gambhir, a counterterrorism analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, noted:
“The Islamic State’s strategy is to polarize Western society — to ‘destroy the grayzone,’ as it says in its publications. The group hopes frequent, devastating attacks in its name will provoke overreactions by European governments against innocent Muslims, thereby alienating and radicalizing Muslim communities throughout the continent. The atrocities in Paris are only the most recent instances of this accelerating campaign.”
Gambhir also reminded readers:
“The Islamic State explained after the January attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine that such attacks ‘compel the Crusaders to actively destroy the grayzone themselves. . . . Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatize... or they [emigrate] to the Islamic State [ISIL] and thereby escape persecution from the Crusader governments and citizens.’”
Yes, destruction of the “grayzone” — the space in which one can be both Muslim and Western, or Muslim and democratic — is the very purpose of ISIL and its ilk. Therefore, Europeans would be giving these terrorists a great service if they help destroy that grayzone, by following their own far-right. Measures such as closing down mosques, banning Muslim practices and practically treating every Muslim as potential terrorist would only make ISIL happy. A Europe defined by Islamophobic politicians such as Geert Wilders, in fact, would be ISIL’s victory.
Let’s not forget that the United States fell into the same trap after 9/11, by invading Iraq to “end terrorism.” That irrational and disproportionate response did not end terrorism, but quite the contrary only helped it metastasize. The radical movement that would ultimately culminate as ISIL was born in Iraq after the U.S. occupation, and exactly as a response to it.
I know many people in France are angry these days, and rightly so. But anger is a bad substitute for wisdom. And the latter begins by understanding what your enemy expects you to do and resisting the temptation to do it.
They Are Us
By Nicholas Kristof
NOV. 19, 2015
Desperate refugees flee persecution and war, but American politicians — worried about security risks — refuse to accept them.
That’s the situation today, but it’s also the shameful way we responded as Jews were fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s. In the shadow of one world war, on the eve of another, Americans feared that European Jews might be left-wing security threats.
“Jews are not Communists,” Rabbi Louis I. Newman of Manhattan noted, pleadingly, in December 1938, trying to assuage the xenophobia. “Judaism has nothing in common with Communism.”
Yet in January 1939, Americans polled said by a two-to-one majority that the United States should not accept 10,000 mostly Jewish refugee children from Germany. That year, the United States turned away a ship, the St. Louis, with Jewish refugee children; the St. Louis returned to Europe, where some of its passengers were murdered by the Nazis.
That is a stain on our conscience that risks being repeated. Some 26 Republican governors are trying to block entry of Syrian refugees. All the Republican presidential candidates say that we should bar Syrian refugees or apply a religious test and accept only Christians.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey says we shouldn’t accept Syrians even if they are toddlers and orphans. And the House of Representatives may vote this week on legislation to impede the resettlement of Syrian refugees.
One Syrian family — a man who once ran a clothing store, his wife and their 4-year-old child — were supposed to arrive in Indiana this week. Then Gov. Mike Pence announced that Syrians were unwelcome, and the family is settling in Connecticut instead.
Remember what a Syrian immigrant looks like — the father of Steve Jobs.
Thank goodness that when my father came to America as a refugee from Eastern Europe in 1952, politicians weren’t fearmongering. My dad sailed to New York, bought a copy of the Sunday New York Times to teach himself English, and took the train across the country to a welcoming Oregon.
When Indiana today shuns desperate refugees, it is shunning people like my family.
Yes, security is critical, but I’ve known people who have gone through the refugee vetting process, and it’s a painstaking ordeal that lasts two years or more. It’s incomparably more rigorous than other pathways to the United States.
If the Islamic State wanted to dispatch a terrorist to America, it wouldn’t ask a mole to apply for refugee status, but rather to apply for a student visa to study at, say, Indiana University. Hey, governors, are you going to keep out foreign university students?
Or the Islamic State could simply send fighters who are French or Belgian citizens (like some of those behind the Paris attacks) to the U.S. as tourists, no visa required. Governors, are you planning to ban foreign tourists, too?
Refugee vetting has an excellent record. Of 785,000 refugees admitted to the United States since 9/11, just three have been arrested for terrorism-related charges, according to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.
If Republican governors are concerned about security risks, maybe they should vet who can buy guns. People on terrorism watch lists are legally allowed to buy guns in the United States, and more than 2,000 have done so since 2004. The National Rifle Association has opposed legislation to rectify this.
Although Donald Trump fulminates about President Obama supposedly wanting to bring in 250,000 or more Syrian refugees, that’s preposterous: Obama proposes admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees over a year. That’s tiny, just 1 percent of the number that Lebanon has accepted.
The Islamic State is trying to create a religious divide and an anti-refugee backlash, so that Muslims will feel alienated and turn to extremism. If so, American and European politicians are following the Islamic State’s script.
Let’s be careful not to follow that script further and stigmatize all Muslims for ISIS terrorism. As a young British Muslim man, Kash Ali, wrote in a post that went viral on Twitter: “I don’t understand why non Muslims think we British Muslims can stop ISIS. Mate, I can’t even get a text back from the girl I like, and you expect me to stop a terrorist organization?”
Look, accepting 10,000 refugees is not a solution. Indeed, there is a risk that Angela Merkel’s admirable compassion will lead far larger numbers to undertake the difficult journey and die on the way. The top priority must be making Syria habitable so that refugees need not flee. This is where I believe President Obama has failed — Syria is his worst foreign policy failure — but it’s good to see him push back at the hysteria about Syrian refugees.
Helping Syrian refugees today doesn’t solve the Middle East mess any more than helping Jewish refugees in 1939 would have toppled Hitler. But it’s the right thing to do. Syrians, no less than those Jewish refugees, no less than my father, are human beings needing help, not flotsam.
Body Bags in Paris
By Roger Cohen
NOV. 19, 2015
PARIS — The flag at half-mast atop the Grand Palais, the darkened silhouette of the Eiffel Tower, the Big Wheel at Place Concorde immobilized for days, the jumpiness at the slightest sound, the stories of friends lost or almost, the streets that feel as if the air has been sucked out of them: This is Paris, resilient but jittery.
I open the daily Le Monde and read Antoine Leiris writing about his wife, Hélène Muyal-Leiris, one of the 129 people slaughtered by the terrorists of the Islamic State: “On Friday evening, you stole the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred.” Nor the hatred of his one-year-old son, who “will affront you by being happy and free.”
Defiance lies in remaining unbowed, in embracing the life the traffickers of death wish to extinguish. No child should be raised in hatred.
But freedom has to be fought for. It can demand anger. These killers make us hostages of our own democracies. They trample on the very border-crossing freedoms that European passports afford them. The West, post-Iraq, has lost its capacity for rage, even at this. That is dangerous.
We may not know who exactly the killers are but we know what they want to destroy. They spit at Montaigne, Voltaire and De Tocqueville. They loathe reason. They detest freedom. They cannot bear the West’s sexual mores. They would enslave the world, particularly its women, to the cruel god of their medievalist reading of Islam.
The French President, François Hollande, says France is “at war” against “a jihadi army.” France will be “pitiless.” There will be “no respite, no truce.” More than two years ago, after President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, Hollande was ready to bomb Syria alongside President Obama. Then Obama wavered. Hesitation has been Obama’s modus operandi on Syria.
Now there are body bags in Paris.
Since 2013, ISIS has come to terrorize the world. Hollande will travel to Washington and Moscow next week in an attempt to forge a broad coalition to act “decisively” against it.
If the President Obama he finds is the same Obama who spoke in Turkey on Monday, the French president will be disappointed. The contrast between Hollande’s fire and Obama’s flatness as he insisted he would not put American troops on the ground to defeat ISIS was one of the stranger aspects of being in Paris this week.
It was clear again that Europe’s generational struggle for unity and freedom against totalitarian violence tends to leave this post-Atlanticist president cold. Words and body language are not everything. Still, they count.
Obama said: “We can retake territory. As long we leave our troops there, we can hold it, but that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent extremist groups.”
True, jihadi terrorism (not “extremism”) will not disappear overnight if the United States and its allies take back the territory ISIS controls in Syria and Iraq. But the existence of this “state” is a compelling recruitment tool. It gives ISIS oil revenue (between $500 million and $1 billion a year), training camps, stature, space to enact its wanton brutality, and a base to direct international killing.
This border-straddling ISIS sanctuary must be eliminated, just as the Afghan safe haven of Al Qaeda was after 9/11 (before the disastrous distraction of Iraq). Raqqa is much closer to Europe than Tora Bora. ISIS has effective terrorists but indifferent soldiers. They are beatable. Kurdish militias — not the U.S. military by any means — have made rapid inroads. They and other local forces can help.
But Obama does not have the will. “Let’s assume we send 50,000 troops into Syria,” he said in Turkey. “What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen?”
That’s a straw-man game unworthy of the president. Its subtext: Because you can’t solve all the problems of the world, solve none. ISIS in Syria and Iraq is the core of the terrorist threat to Europe and America today. So destroy it.
President Vladimir Putin has forces on the ground in Syria. He has at last turned Russian bombing against ISIS after the terrorist group’s downing of a Russian passenger jet. Like Hitler, ISIS may have made the fatal mistake of targeting Moscow.
Stalin was an effective Western ally in World War II. Hitler was defeated. But the division of Europe ensued and the Soviet enslavement of half the Continent. Maybe Putin can help against ISIS, but if the West is a mere spectator the result will be equally disastrous. America and its allies must be as present on the ground as Russia if they are to shape the Syrian denouement. President Assad is not part of the solution. He’s part of the problem.
I fear for Antoine Leiris’s little motherless boy. The West has lost its spine, a spine called America.
Still No Sign Of A Coherent And Effective Strategy For Containing
And Defeating ISIS And Its Affiliates And Why
By Alan Hart
19 November, 2015
Way back in July I wrote an article with the headline No sign of a coherent strategy for defeating perverted and barbaric Islamic fundamentalism. Four months and several jihadist atrocities on, and with still no sign, my conclusion is that Western leaders do not have the will to do what is necessary to put ISIS and its affiliates out of business because they don't want to come to grips with the bottom line truth.
It can be summarised as follows.
ISIS and its affiliates are empowered by the hurt, humiliation, anger and despair of many who make up the Arab and other Muslim masses. It follows that the only way to erode support for ISIS and its affiliates and eventually put them out of business is by addressing this hurt, humiliation, anger and despair.
As I wrote previously, there are two prime causes of it.
One is American-led Western foreign policy for the Arab and wider Muslim world including its double standard as demonstrated by refusal to call and hold Israel to account for its defiance of international law and denial of justice for the Palestinians.
In passing I note that in an interview with The Real News on 17 November, retired colonel Lawrence Wilkerson who was chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, said: "We've created too many problems in that region of the world. Most likely our invasion of Iraq started all this..."
And that was a view echoed in his own inimitable way by John Pilger in an article for Counterpunch on 17 November. He wrote:
"By most scholarly measure, Bush and Blair’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to the deaths of at least 700,000 people - in a country that had no history of Jihadism. The Kurds had done territorial and political deals; Sunni and Shia had class and sectarian differences, but they were at peace; intermarriage was common. Three years before the invasion, I drove the length of Iraq without fear. On the way I met people proud, above all, to be Iraqis, the heirs of a civilization that seemed, for them, a presence. Bush and Blair blew all this to bits. Iraq is now a nest of Jihadism."
The other prime cause of Arab and other Muslim hurt, humiliation, anger and despair is the corruption, authoritarianism and repression of most if not all Arab and other Muslim regimes. (In most cases they are regimes supported/endorsed by American-led Western foreign policy).
It also follows that addressing these two prime causes is something that can't be done with bombs and bullets. They only play into the hands of ISIS and its affiliates.
So if Prime Minister David Cameron succeeds in a second attempt to get the House of Commons to give him the green light for UK participation in the bombing of Syria, that, almost certainly, will only make matters worse. And probably guarantee that what recently happened in Paris will happen in London.
Though it is necessary. ramping up security and surveillance on our home fronts throughout the Western world may also be counter-productive to some degree if it leads (as it easily could) to Muslims feeling that they are being unfairly targeted.
What could American-led Western governments actually do to if they were willing to play their necessary part in addressing Arab and other Muslim hurt, humiliation, anger and despair?
As a priority that could end their double standard with regard to Israel by putting the Zionist state on notice that it will be isolated and sanctioned if it continues to demonstrate nothing but contempt for international law and its lack of interest in justice for the Palestinians. That really would give Western foreign policy a degree of credibility and respect and by doing so assist the process of eroding support for ISIS. and its affiliates.
On Palestine John Pilger had this to say in his Counterpunch article.
"The issue of Palestine is the region’s most festering open wound, and the (I would say an not "the") oft-stated justification for the rise of Islamic extremism. Osama bin Laden made that clear. Palestine also offers hope. Give justice to the Palestinians and you begin to change the world around them."
But the single most important thing Western governments could and should do is use their leverage to persuade Arab and other Muslim leaders that it really is time for authoritarianism to give way to something approaching democracy. If Arab and other Muslim leaders agreed (no matter how reluctantly), this would rob ISIS and its affiliates of their most persuasive argument - that the Arab and other Muslim masses have nothing to gain from politics and non-violent demands for change.
What I find deeply troubling is that President Obama knows that the corruption, authoritarianism and repression of Arab and other Muslim regimes is a prime cause of the rise and growth of ISIS and its affiliates. An opinion piece he wrote for the Los Angeles Times included the following.
Groups like al Qaeda and ISIL exploit the anger that festers when people feel that injustice and corruption leave them with no chance of improving their lives. The world has to offer today's youth something better.
Governments that deny human rights play into the hands of extremists who claim that violence is the only way to achieve change. Efforts to counter violent extremism will only succeed if citizens can address legitimate grievances through the democratic process and express themselves through strong civil societies. Those efforts must be matched by economic, educational and entrepreneurial development so people have hope for a life of dignity.
I quoted those fine words in my July article and commented that there was no sign of a policy to give them substance.
Given that Obama and presumably other Western leaders are aware of the bottom line truth as I have summarized it above, the question in need of an answer is this.
Why, really, are Western governments unwilling to do what is necessary to put ISIS and its affiliates out of business?
I can think of two answers.
One is that governments are not free agents. They are prisoners of powerful vested interests including and especially the Military Industrial Complex and the Zionist lobby in all of its manifestations. (In America this lobby has the assistance of those organizations which represent and promote deluded, mad, Christian fundamentalism),
The other answer is short-termism - the art of politics in which decision-making is determined by what has to be said and done for short-term gain and winning the next election.
In my view this short-termism is the cancer at the heart of politics throughout the Western world because it provides no space and time for consideration of what has to be done over 10, 15, 20 and more years if a whole range of problems which threaten the wellbeing of all of humankind (the threat posed by ISIS and its affiliates is only one of many) are to be solved.
But it's not only the Arab and other Muslim nations which desperately need new politics. We all do.
A very interesting poll, the 2015 American Values Survey which was conducted by the non-profit, non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute, has just been published on the Huffington Post web site. Its findings support the conclusion that "Americans don't have much faith in the government, businesses, the economy, the power of their vote and the future of the United States."
I take that to mean that even Americans are waking up to the idea that they need new politics. If so that's really good news.
Alan Hart is a former ITN and BBC Panorama foreign correspondent. He is author of Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews.
Rohingya And The Burmese Generals: How To Forge A Democracy And Get Away With It
By Ramzy Baroud
19 November, 2015
Writing in the New York Times in an article entitled, "Myanmar Generals Set the State for Their Own Exit", Thomas Fuller expressed his and the media's failure to recognize the total fraud that is Burmese democracy.
“The official results are still being tabulated,” he wrote, “but all signs, so far, point to that rarest of things: an authoritarian government peacefully giving up power after what outside election monitors have deemed a credible vote.”
Fuller, who said nothing about the persecuted Rohingya minority and little about the other millions of Burmese who were denied the chance to vote, only managed to contribute to the seemingly baffling media euphoria about the country’s alleged democracy.
Reporting from Burma – also known as Myanmar - Timothy McLaughlin dealt with the Rohingya subject directly; however, he offered a misleading sentiment that the oppressed minority, which was excluded from the vote, can see a ‘glimmer of hope’ in the outcome of the elections.
According to results, the National League for Democracy (NLD), under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, has won a stunning victory over its rivals in the ruling party, by garnering 348 seats, in contrast with only 40 seats obtained by the military-controlled party that has ruled Burma since 1962.
There is no real basis for that supposed ‘glimmer of hope’, aside from a non-binding statement made by an NLD official, Win Htein, that the Citizenship Act of 1982 “must be reviewed” – an Act which served as the basis for discrimination against the Rohingya.
Win Htein’s comments are disingenuous, let alone non-committal, at best. The Citizenship Act “must be reviewed because it is too extreme... review that law and make necessary amendments so that we consider those people who are already in our country, maybe second generation, so they will be considered as citizens," he told Reuters. His comments promote the myth that the well over one million Rohingya are ‘Bengalis”, who came to his Burma only recently as hapless immigrants.
While Burma, like any other ASEAN country has its fair share of immigrants, the fact is that most Rohingya Muslims are native to the state of "Rohang" (originally a kingdom in itself), officially known as Rakhine or Arakan. Over the years, especially in the late 19th century and early 20th century, the original inhabitants of Arakan were joined by cheap or forced labor from Bengal and India, who permanently settled there.
For decades, tension has brewed between Buddhists and Muslims in the region. Eventually, the majority, backed by a military junta, prevailed over the minority which had no serious regional or international backers. A rising tide of Buddhist nationalism has reached genocidal levels in recent years and is targeting not only Rohingya Muslims, but also Christian and other minority groups in the country.
The Rohingya population of Arakan, estimated at nearly 800,000, subsist between the nightmare of having no legal status (as they are still denied citizenship), little or no rights and the occasional ethnic purges carried out by their neighbors. While Buddhists also paid a price for the clashes, the stateless Rohingya, being isolated and defenseless, were the ones to carry the heaviest death toll and destruction.
Writing in the Ecologist, Nafeez Ahmed cited alarming new findings conducted last October by the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) at Queen Mary University in London, which “found that the Rohingya ..face ‘the final stages of a genocidal process’.” “Leaked government documents show that plans to inflict ‘mass annihilation’ have been prepared at the highest levels,” he wrote.
Not only did the elections disempower and further alienate the Rohingya, but it also empowered political groups that have openly sought the ‘mass annihilation’ of the defenseless minority, most of whom are living in abject poverty within closed refugee camps, while thousands have perished at sea in a bid to escape the violence.
One of these nationalist groups is the Arakan National Party (ANP), which has incited and enacted violent pogroms against the Rohingya for years. In fact, ethnically cleansing the Rohingya is a main rally cry for a group which now has a democratically elected 29 national level representatives in Rakhine, and is also in “decisive control of the state's regional assembly,” according to Reuters.
The sad fact is that much of the reporting on the Burmese elections stoked false hope that a democracy has finally prevailed in that country, and either brushed over or completely ignored the plight of the Rohingya altogether.
But how could anyone with a reasonable degree of knowledge in the political, constitutional and historical context of the November elections ignore the major discrepancies of the army-championed style of “Discipline Flourishing Democracy” program announced in August 2003 by General Khin Nyunt?
Burma’s generals have organized every facet of their sham democratic campaign since the early 1990s so that they give an illusion of democracy, while retaining power.
When the outcome of the 1990 elections did not work in their favor, they crushed their opponents and placed the leaders of the NLD under house-arrests or prison. This action, however, cost them international isolation outside the domain of China and a few ASEAN countries.
For years, the generals learned how to craft a system that would allow them to rule the country, while making symbolic gestures to meet the west’s half-hearted condition of democratization and pluralism.
The most recent elections have been, by far, the most successful of the generals’ democracy schemes in recent years. This clever scheme is rooted partly in the 2008 Constitution, “which elevates core interests of the military (such as the military budget, appointments, business conglomerates and security matters) above the law and parliamentary oversight,” wrote Maung Zarni in the Guardian.
According to the controversial constitution, “the military serves as the ultimate custodian with the power to discipline any elected government or MP who dares to stray from the military’s chosen path and its definition of parliamentary democracy,” Zarni wrote.
In fact, just last June, the military, defeated an attempt by parliamentarians to rescind its veto power. This is why the military remains the upper hand in the country, regardless of who wins or loses the elections. By reserving for itself a quarter of the seats in parliament, the military will continue to enjoy a veto power.
Then, why is there all this excitement about Burmese democracy? Simple - the rivalry between China and the United States, and their respective allies have reached a point where the massive amount of untapped wealth of oil and natural gas in Burma can no longer be ignored.
The US, UK and other countries are salivating at the limitless potential of economic opportunities in that country, estimated at “3.2 billion barrels of oil and 18 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves.” According to a UK government report, under the theme, a ‘hotspot for exploration,” Burma’s “unproven resources may be vastly greater.”
With Burma climbing to the world top five countries in terms of proven oil and gas reserves, terms such as genocides, military juntas and human rights are abruptly and largely omitted from the new discourse.
Indeed, a whole new narrative is being conveniently drafted, written jointly by the Burmese army, nationalist parties, Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD, western investors and anyone else who stands to benefit from the treasures of one of the world’s worst human rights violators.
Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include ‘Searching Jenin’, ‘The Second Palestinian Intifada’ and his latest ‘My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story’.