New Age Islam Edit Bureau
29 September 2015
This Is Just The Beginning Of The Global Migration Crisis
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
Arab Media Day — What’s There To Celebrate?
Is An 'Afghan Awakening' The Solution?
By Helena Malikyar
Did The Russians Just ‘Invade’ Syria?
Faisal J. Abbas
This is just the beginning of the global migration crisis
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
28 September 2015
We call what has happened in Europe and in South East Asia this year a ‘Migration Crisis’. In just a few years’ time we may very well look back at the numbers we have faced this year with nostalgia as a long lost age of innocence. This is almost certain if we maintain our current approach.
The migration trends the world has seen this year have been misrepresented by the media as simply a matter of war – the result of a set of political circumstances, such as the Arab Spring in Syria (and Libya) as well as the remarkable rise of ISIS in post-invasion Iraq, who individually were statistically unlikely but together, as a perfect storm, could only be a unique event.
And perhaps European politicians and indeed the global media find this narrative necessary: it does not seem any of them trust the increasingly xenophobic European media to react humanely to what is happening now unless there is at least an illusion of an end game. Syria is not a huge country, and Europe can absorb enough of its displaced population. And if that’s what it takes to atone for our sins in the Middle East, then that’s fine. But what if Syria is only the tip of the iceberg? What if Europe, and eventually the U.S. too, are set to face inward migrations that are several times larger than what we are expecting from Syria? How would the public in the West react to that?
The problem is that the factors driving this migration are only superficially political and to do with war. The war in Syria is indeed the main reason that Syrians cite for seeking refuge in Europe, and there is no reason to doubt their honesty when they say that they do eventually hope to be able to return to Syria. But War, a consequence of political breakdown of the state apparatus in Syria, is but a symptom of much more fundamental trends.
A global gunpowder keg
I can cite at least three such trends that are obvious and uncontroversial. The first one is demographics. The population of the world is still booming. And most of the places it is booming in are places where people do not or often cannot make a decent living in. Sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent have both some of the highest numbers of people living in absolute poverty, and some of the highest population growth rates. Also, some of the highest population densities, and in places, densities well above what the agricultural productivity of the land can sustain. People will have to move, or they will starve. So they will move. And even if we do not see these people make it as far as Europe or the U.S., they will push others in this direction, as their movement will put pressure on other territories around them.
The second trend is climate change. Even if countries have stable populations which they can maintain with their own resources of food and water, all is not guaranteed to be well. This is the true lesson of Syria, and this is a fact that really cannot stand to be ignored in the media in the way it is now. From 2006 onwards, Syria faced the worst drought in the instrumental record. This led to a collapse of its agricultural production in parts of the country which led to an estimated 1.5 million Syrians moving from the affected areas to the country’s urban centres in search for a means to make a living and sustain their families. It was this that tipped over the fragile political settlement of Syria, which was ruled with an iron fist by a mis-trusted religious minority, and ultimately led to civil war. And very many of the countries in the Middle East and indeed in Sub-Saharan Africa are in similarly precarious conditions.
And lastly, there seems to be a global trend, perhaps partly driven by the rise of the internet and certainly driven by the rise of the “global middle” class, of people everywhere scrutinising and holding to account their governments. There seems to have been some kind of cultural sea-change in almost all countries in the world where citizens ask for more from their politicians. They ask for human rights and effective governance. And when they fail to get them, they regard their governments as illegitimate. Many, many governments around the world now govern with precious little consent from their citizens. This need not, on its own, lead to political instability, but against the background of the demographic boom and the environmental degradation that is often worst in exactly the same regions, we are sitting on a global gunpowder keg.
We are currently happily in denial about these facts. And while we are trying to do things as a global community about climate change and economic development, economic development that is probably the only thing that will be able to contain the demographic boom, we are failing to acquiesce the obvious links between these factors and the Migration Crisis. Never has there been such obvious evidence for why we need effective international cooperation in these areas – and we are still failing to take account of this evidence. It is time to wake up to the true significance of the Migration Crisis and demand of our politicians that they address the fundamental causes, before things get much, much worse.
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is a Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College and Lecturer in International Security at the University of Chicago. He completed his PhD from the University of Cambridge and served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale. Over the years he has met and advised numerous world leaders on policy development and was ranked as a Top 100 Global Thinker by the European Social Think Tank in 2010 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He tweets @AzeemIbrahim
Arab Media Day — What’s There To Celebrate?
By RAMZY BAROUD
29 September 2015
Engaging, challenging — not preaching
Arab media, in general, and commentators, in particular, tend to treat their readers with palpable pretentiousness. It is as if Arab media is the originator of wisdom and of all that is to be known. If there is any truth to that, Arab media would not be in such a poor state. Instead, owners and managers of media platforms should truly engage society: listen and learn from real people about their real life problems; understand that there exist, outside the sanctified media bubble, intellectuals and ordinary people with much wisdom and insight. Media is not meant to celebrate the seemingly endless virtues of the regime, or be celebrated for its own supposed virtues. It is a perpetual podium for ideas, challenging, difficult and rarely gratifying.
Universal rules regarding distortion and fabrication
While some Arab regimes have recently enacted laws that punish journalists for promoting what certain governments perceive as fabrications and misinformation, pro-government journalists are largely exempted from such expectations. It is neither the right nor responsibility of governments to define what is true, thus permissible, and untrue, thus punishable by prison term or heavy fines. Journalists’ unions should provide moral guidance to their members, challenge those who permit themselves to serve as mouthpieces to any political party or regime and protect those who remain committed to the integrity of their profession.
Carving space for independent thinking
Media is not just meant to be a platforms for opposing opinions. While this is necessary in order for the media to espouse a healthy democratic space in any society, Arab societies are hardly democratic, and opposing opinions often serve as hate fest between regimes and their enemies. Whenever possible, Arab media should open up a space for those who wish to think outside the political and ideological self-serving box. Arab intellect should not be limited to those ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ this regime or that party. There are always alternative ways of rationalyzing which could, with time, offer real alternative to the status quo and conventional wisdom.
Offering solidarity, regardless of politics
Arab media should agree on some basic values that include standing by and defending those victimized by Arab regimes for voicing honest opinions, however critical. When a journalist suffers, is imprisoned, fined or ostracized, the entire media community loses a battle. Solidarity among journalists, regardless of personal political views or even ideological affiliation, should be enshrined into any code of conduct in any self-respecting media community anywhere.
Understanding that women are not honorary citizens
MENA Media Monitoring has recently criticized the marginalization of Algerian women in the country’s media. According to its report, women are given 29 percent of the media space available, while men enjoy the rest. Women are often restricted, not just in space, but also in the topics to which they are meant to contribute, thus cramped only within areas related to family, food and fashion. In fact, Algeria is, perhaps, more fortunate than other Arab media where women are even more restricted, or used as token, as opposed to being active participants in discussions of serious political weight and societal impact. Engaging women in the media is not a favor to be bestowed by men, but a right, and an essential one, for any thinking society.
Setting serious goals, not celebrating failure
One is not oblivious to the fact that no democratic media can truly function in a non-democratic society. However, it is the failure of Arab democracies that should heighten the sense of responsibility among Arab media and journalists. Arab media should set realistic but serious goals, and re-visit these goals with utmost honesty and transparency, no matter the confines and restrictions. There are many battles to be fought and won and, certainly, a price to be paid, but none of these challenges can be undertaken under the cloak of Arab foreign ministers or League.
This is not a judgment on Arab journalism itself, for the Arab world is teeming with journalistic talents that are yet to be utilized or explored. It is an attempt at an honest reading of the unfortunate reality under which Arab media is forced to operate. Until journalists and media professionals, through collective effort and after many uphill battles, redeem some respect for their tightly controlled medium, there is no reason whatsoever to celebrate.
Is An 'Afghan Awakening' The Solution?
By Helena Malikyar
28 Sep 2015
With an intensified, geographically expanded, and increasingly polycephalic insurgency throughout Afghanistan, calls to arm are being issued by some marginalised politicians.
The latest, coming from Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, threatened that if the government does not organise the public against the armed opposition, he will do it.
Afghanistan's Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum concluded his military campaign in the northern Faryab and Sar-e Pol provinces three weeks ago, declaring it a ravishing success.
It is said that he took the opportunity to re-mobilise over 2,000 of his former militiamen to complement the National Security Forces present in the area.
The general's men, however, are purported to abuse their regained power. Some outraged Faryab residents have accused the militia of looting, torturing, extortion, abducting, and even dishonouring their girls.
What does death of Mullah Omar mean for Taliban and Afghanistan?
Following the trend, last week, the powerful governor of Balkh province, Atta Muhammad Noor, donned his military uniform to personally lead a clearing operation in northern provinces.
With a colourful personality and many human rights violation accusations to his name, Dostum can be considered a pioneer in forming militia forces in Afghanistan's recent history.
He first rose to prominence in the late 1980s, by establishing a pro-communist regime mercenary force and fighting against the mujahideen, only to switch sides in 1992 and help precipitate the fall of his former employer.
His militias participated in the ensuing bloody internecine war, which pitted the victors against each other and divided the nation along ethnic and sectarian lines.
Atta's warrior roots also go back to the days of mujahideen infighting, as does the politico-military pedigree of many former mujahideen commanders.
From protecting the US and NATO convoys to serving as personal bodyguards for influential politicians, ministers, governors and parliamentarians, the human fighting machines morphed into benign men in arms.
Although post-2001 international efforts to disarm and reintegrate various fighting forces in Afghanistan were rather ineffective, still, the re-establishment of state institutions, especially the national army, gradually sidelined armed groups.
Many former fighters were integrated into the national army while others found jobs as security guards in the lucrative private security business. From protecting the US and NATO convoys to serving as personal bodyguards for influential politicians, ministers, governors and parliamentarians, the human fighting machines morphed into benign men in arms.
Their former bosses, too, gradually lost their ferocity and became entangled in making money and playing Kabul politics.
De facto militia forces
Meanwhile, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) began to take shape. As the most expensive endeavour of the international community in Afghanistan, ANSF is funded primarily by the US.
Despite many errors and setbacks, by the start of the US and NATO military withdrawal in 2013, the ANSF had risen to some 350,000 strong. International donors have pledged to continue paying most of the annual $4.1bn for the maintenance of the ANSF.
Additionally, in anticipation of their military withdrawal, the Americans decided to create de facto militia forces in areas where there was little or no presence of formal security forces. They dubbed it Afghan Local Police (ALP). Today, there are over 28,000 ALP members spread in 29 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.
While in some areas the ALP has done well in keeping insurgents at bay, in many cases, they have abused their power and have become a source of insecurity for the locals.
According to a recent United Nations report on the protection of civilians, some ALP forces have been responsible for summary executions, tortures, rapes, extortions and abductions of the very populations they are meant to protect. Moreover, the UN has found serious gaps in oversight and accountability on the part of the interior ministry.
The ALP project was first billed as akin to Arbaki, the traditional Pashtun tribal protection forces. But, while the government is responsible for vetting, financing and controlling ALP groups, traditional Arbakis were selected by local elders, were self-financed, and bound by tribal codes of honour. It was a volunteer community watch scheme.
In northern provinces, the privilege of forming militia forces under the sobriquet of ALP has mainly been bestowed upon notorious former jihadi commanders of either Jamiyyat Islami (mostly Tajik ethnics) or Hizb-i-Islami (mostly Pashtun ethnics). The two jihadi groups have a decades-long history of rivalry in northern Afghanistan. The third irregular forces in the area belong to Dostum and are mostly Uzbeks.
The latest wave of arming citizens has come under the name of "popular uprisings". A number of genuine and spontaneous local uprisings occurred recently in several provinces. In the absence of ANSF, the locals had no choice but to rise in self-defense against Taliban and other insurgent groups.
Now, politicians and former commanders who were left out of the ALP project are trying to seize the opportunity and convince Kabul and Washington to fund and arm villagers, especially in northern provinces.
This summer, representatives of Badakhshan province informed the Parliament of an on-going distribution of weapons to villagers by "particular circles". Since, other interest groups have also entered the game of popular armament.
During its inception, the ALP was likened to the "Sons of Iraq" or the Sunni "Awakening" forces that were created to counter the Iraqi Shia resistance to the US invasion. Now, the popular uprisings are explained as the "Afghan Awakening". The utter failure and backlash of the Iraqi experiment should suffice to stop any arming and financing of people outside of the formal ANSF.
Donors and the Afghan government must concentrate on enhancing the ANSF capacity and management. Mobilising militias is counter-intuitive to state building and threatens to take Afghanistan back to the anarchy of the early 1990s.
Helena Malikyar is an Afghan political analyst and historian.
Did the Russians just ‘invade’ Syria?
By Faisal J. Abbas
“No,” Assad-loyalists would rush to say when asked if the current Russian military build-up in Syria can be considered an “invasion” or indeed, a new foreign “occupation,” of Arab lands.
To them, Assad is a “legitimate” leader and as such, he has the right to request outside intervention on behalf of the people who “elected” him (of course, there is no use arguing with such devotees about the validity of these so-called elections, which at best can be described as an colossal exercise in vanity).
Among the latest advocators of Russia's military presence in Syria was none other than the “Master of Resistance” himself: Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah.
For those who aren’t familiar with him, Nasrallah is an Iranian-backed, pro-Assad Lebanese militia leader who - for decades - used anti-hegemonic rhetoric to legitimize himself and portray moderate Arab states as “traitors” and agents of the “West” (whom he describes as being against Islam).
Not only did Nasrallah welcome Russia’s intervention, but he sought to portray it positively by saying that it will help rid the world of the evils of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), after the U.S.-led coalition failed to do so.
Of course, given that his statements came as part of an interview which he gave to the Hezbollah-owned al-Manar TV channel, Nasrallah’s views were not really challenged.
One valid question would have been what the Hezbollah leader (supposedly an arch-enemy of Israel) thinks of a recent statement by PM Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he said “Russia will coordinate Syria military actions with Israel”
Faisal J. Abbas
For instance, one valid question would have been what the Hezbollah leader (supposedly an arch-enemy of Israel) thinks of a recent statement by PM Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he said “Russia will coordinate Syria military actions with Israel.” (Last night, Israel also bombed a number of Assad military positions in the Golan Heights).
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, September 21, 2015. (Reuters)
Another unasked question to Nasrallah would have been whether he believes the Russians would leave Syria after defeating ISIS? And if not, would Hezbollah declare war against Moscow and seek to “liberate Syria” from the Russian invasion?
Why would Russia leave?
However, regardless of how Russian intervention is perceived by Moscow’s allies and foes (by default, one party’s “occupying force” would be another party’s “liberators”); there is no dispute that there will be very little that can be done to challenge whatever Russia decides to do next in the Middle East. (Essential reading: Putin has checkmated Obama in Syria – by veteran Washington-based analyst Hisham Melhem)
To put these recent developments into context, we should remember that none of this would have been possible had the U.S. and the international community intervened directly when the crisis first erupted in Syria in 2011.
Russian President Vladimir Putin tested his American counterpart one more time in Crimea, but the U.S. Commander-in-Chief blinked yet again and Crimea has since been absorbed by Russia
Faisal J. Abbas
Then, President Barack Obama’s infamous “Red Line fiasco” of 2013 gave a clear indicator (to the Syrian regime, but importantly to the Russians) that the White House isn’t prepared to commit militarily to end what has now evolved to become the biggest human catastrophe of modern times.
Russian President Vladimir Putin tested his American counterpart one more time in Crimea, but the U.S. Commander-in-Chief blinked yet again and Crimea has since been absorbed by Russia – despite Ukraine’s desperate pleas to the U.S. and its other Western allies.
As such, one should simply accept the new reality in Syria, however, this leaves a number of questions unanswered: Will Russia decide to hold on to Assad in the end? Or will Assad be sacrificed in favor of a fairer resolution to this conflict which has left more than 300,000 killed and millions of refugees displaced? Will Moscow necessarily tow the Iranian line? Is there really a Russian-Chinese-Iranian-Syrian regime axis being formed? (Recent unconfirmed reports suggest a Chinese aircraft carrier and military advisors were on the way to assist Assad in the battle against ISIS).
One thing is for sure: Russia (which is unlikely to let go of its only military base on warm waters in the Syrian port of Tartous) is most probably here to stay, and with a diminishing American presence, we should now expect – and accept – that Moscow (for better or for worse) will have a much bigger say in regional affairs.
Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, and is a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society. He can be reached on @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter.