New Age Islam Edit Bureau
4 November 2015
• Selective Outrage and the Death of Ideas
By Moyukh Mahtab
• Two More Refugees Commit Suicide In Australia
By Max Newman
• Syria: #Just Stop The War
By Ashiya Parveen
• After Erdogan's win, Turkey inches closer to civil war
By Gwynne Dyer
• Turkish Time Machine: Back To 2011
By Burak Bekdil
• Cameron's cluelessness on Syria hands no one the moral high ground
By Rafael Behr
• Erdogan won at the right moment
By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
• Can Iran play a part in Syria’s peace and unity?
By Camelia Entekhabi-Fard
• Nothing but a dead end with Putin
By Jamal Khashoggi
Selective Outrage and the Death of Ideas
November 04, 2015
IT'S scary when a person's religion trumps every other quality of a human being that should be worth anything – when one's character, views, actions are all slated as secondary or inconsequential, then a simple utterance of faith can create the 'us' and 'them'. And invariably, 'they' are always wrong.
Decent people, with no violent impulse, are somehow polarised at the moment. Criticising, writing, debate is about taking a side. You cannot write against extremists, you are made to be against Islam by some. And as a decent Muslim, you have to keep quiet, let the mask of religion shroud the gruesome act of murder. And the aftermath is not about innocent lives being killed, it's about politics, or damage control, or a flat refusal to acknowledge what happened; maybe this too shall pass?
Of course, people will argue, and these people abound social networks, how we are not like that. The moderate man will in one breath condemn killing when asked, and then add the but – but why did they have to insult a religion. After the recent attacks on writers and publishers, which left one dead, it was sickening to see people on Facebook revelling like savages on the death of another human being. It was murder plain and simple – but to them it was divine justice. One asked rhetorically on a post about the attacks, why must these writers criticise Islam, when the Muslims leave them in peace. They make it out to be a world where peace loving people live completely tolerant lives unless of course the big bad 'atheist bloggers' bring violence on themselves.
We claim to be a tolerant country – with many religions and communities sharing the state, the common history of our liberation war. We fought the Pakistanis, didn't we? It was they who were intolerant, racist. Then why are there people who make jokes about Hindus and every other minority? Is it not insulting another's religion as long as they do not come after you with a machete? Tasteless jokes about bloggers and minorities are thrown around by even educated men and women, and it seems no one finds anything wrong with this. It's all in good fun they say. If you protest, you are 'too serious', cannot 'take a joke'. Our society is infested with vulgar jokes mocking anyone who is not 'us'. These same people can somehow justify killing people for allegedly (I say allegedly because I am still to meet some who actually bothered to find out what these writers and bloggers actually wrote about) being blasphemous.
I don't believe the majority of the people are extremists – for years we have lived together. But the mentality of stereotyping minorities, making distasteful jokes about them is prevalent in our society. I cringe every time I hear a colleague or a classmate make a Hindu joke. And people laugh along, they high five each other on a joke well told. It's all in good fun, they don't come after us with machetes, do they? Do we feel a need to make ourselves seem superior by insulting everyone who is not one of 'us'?
Any writer criticising extremism is a 'them' now. You don't have to insult God, just point the pen towards those acting in bad faith – the ground work's already completed. You cannot these days mention a blogger without someone raising an eyebrow. Blogging has been around for a long time, without most Bangladeshis even knowing what it meant. But after Rajib was killed in 2013, blogging became sacrilegious. A friend, who runs a blog with information about science and math Olympiads, was taken aside by a panicked mother and asked if it was true that he was a blogger. She was genuinely afraid for her very academic minded son's safety. And this is not one isolated incident; the panic has turned people into thinking in terms of this duality. Of course, she did not know what blogs were.
Selective outrage – that's what our generation suffers from. We are bleeding hearts when the US police mistreat an immigrant, when an African American man is shot for no reason. We stand in solidarity for those being persecuted in Palestine. And yet, writers in our own country get hacked to death, and all I see on Facebook are football memes.
Our generation is more vocal than ever. Our hashtags support Gaza and demand punishment of violence against women during Pahela Boishakh. We swell in outrage when our Sundarbans are threatened and are disgusted when an American kid is arrested for making a clock. Then why should that fall short when it comes to defending ideas, when it comes to condemning a murder of a Bangladeshi writer, publisher, blogger – is faith that shaky that all who oppose or debate need to be eliminated so that we can live in a world of conformity?
Maybe we stress too much on the word 'tolerance'. Most people seem to just barely 'tolerate' those who don't see the world as they do. Are we so full of ourselves, so sure of our ideals that everyone needs to bend to conform to our version of things?
Moyukh Mahtab is a student of University of Dhaka.
Two More Refugees Commit Suicide In Australia
By Max Newman
02 November, 2015
Australia’s bipartisan policy of seeking to block entry and residency to all asylum seekers is leading to a wave of suicides by traumatised refugees, at least four of whom have taken their own lives this year out of fear of being deported.
Last Thursday, Reza, a 26-year-old Iranian whose last name cannot be published out of concern for retribution against his family, killed himself at Brisbane airport. According to his friends, he was increasingly worried that he was being followed by the authorities and would be taken back into immigration detention to be removed to Iran.
Reza lived in Melbourne for two years on a temporary bridging visa but recently experienced severe mental health issues. “He was scared and thinking that people would get him if he stayed here,” a friend told reporters. “He thought that he must escape from this area as police and people were chasing him. He got to Brisbane and he stayed in the street until morning.”
This was the second suicide by a refugee in Brisbane this year, after Omid Ali Avaz took his life in March upon hearing of his mother’s death in Iran. Avaz was also fearful of being returned to detention or forced back to Iran after being granted only a 12-month visa.
Last month, another refugee killed himself by self-immolation, the second such horrific act in four weeks. On October 18, 30-year-old Khodayar Amini, fearing would be sent back to detention, doused himself with petrol during a video call with refugee advocates. His body was found in bushland near Dandenong, an outer suburb of Melbourne.
A month earlier, in September, Ali Jaffari, 40, committed suicide by setting himself alight in the Yongah Hill Detention Centre, near Perth, after being reimprisoned to face either indefinite detention or deportation back to Afghanistan.
Two months before his death, Amini began writing accounts of what happened to him in Australia. What is revealed in these accounts, and his life and death, underscores the terrible human cost of the repressive measures taken by successive Labor and Liberal-National governments to repel asylum seekers, most of whom are fleeing for their lives as a result of the mounting wars instigated by US imperialism and its allies, notably Australia.
Amini came from Afghanistan and was a member of the persecuted Hazara ethnic community. After the Taliban murdered his entire family, he fled to Australia in September 2012, arriving in a small vessel holding 86 asylum seekers. The boat was set adrift after the engine stopped working, before the Australian Navy eventually picked up the passengers.
Amini was taken, along with 54 other asylum seekers, to Australia’s Indian Ocean detention centre on Christmas Island, which is notorious for its inhuman conditions. The other passengers were taken to the “offshore processing” detention centre on the Pacific Ocean island of Nauru, which was reopened in August that year by the previous Labor government.
Amini was later transferred to a detention centre in Darwin for five months before being released on a bridging visa without the right to work, study or travel. In Darwin he was constantly harassed by immigration officials and the police. He stated he was beaten by police officers twice, once so badly he had persistent injuries.
In early 2014, Amini was re-detained after a minor dispute with a government agency over a licensing fee refund. He was sent to the overcrowded Yongah Hill detention centre, some 2,500 km from Darwin. He was imprisoned there for 11 months before being cleared of any misconduct.
Amini was then sent to Adelaide in South Australia, before being shifted to Sydney, where he began living with other refugees, including some who were on the boat with him to Australia. His harassment continued, affecting his already deteriorating mental and physical health. He developed a persistent cough and his housemates reported he would stay in the house all day and stay awake at night.
In one statement Amini wrote: “I can’t sleep at night because I fear the police would kill me. I am extremely scared ... in 2013, they hit me so hard that still feel the pain from that time.”
Three months ago he called Red Cross, a non-government organisation that the government funds to provide support to refugees upon release, and insisted that he receive medical treatment. He was accused of threatening violence to a Red Cross employee on the phone.
Amini’s solicitor, Besmellah Rezaee, said Amini had no intention of hurting anyone, but said something like, “they kill with cotton”—a Hazara phrase meaning to kill someone slowly.
The police immediately sent four officers to where Amini was living. In his account of the incident, Amini said he was punched, tortured, detained at a police station for about five or six hours and forced to give an interview.
Amini was released without charge but on October 15 he received a phone call from a friend informing him that his old address in Sydney was raided by the newly-formed Australian Border Force, a paramilitary agency. Fearing he would be sent back to detention, Amini fled to Dandenong where he wrote to friends and different advocate groups seeking support, before killing himself three days later.
In one statement Amini summed up his time in Australia as follows: “My crime was that I was a refugee. They tortured me for 37 months and during all these times they treated me in the most cruel and inhumane way. They violated my basic human rights and took away my human dignity with their false and so-called humane slogans. They killed me as well as many of my friends such as: Nasim Najafi, Reza Rezayee and Ahmad Ali Jaffari.”
Najafi and Jaffari both died in suspicious circumstances. Jaffari, 26, died in Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre in 2013. The immigration department claimed that he suffered a sudden heart attack. Nasim Najafi, 27, died on July 31 this year in the Yongah Hill detention centre, again said to be the victim of a suspected heart attack, after being locked in solitary confinement in a 2-metre by 2-metre cell while suffering from seizures.
These deaths are an indictment of the criminal “border protection” regime imposed by successive Labor and Liberal-National governments. The cruelty inflicted on refugees flows from the deliberate policy of seeking to strike fear into the hearts of anyone contemplating finding refuge in Australia
Syria: #Just Stop The War
By Ashiya Parveen
03 November, 2015
The bloody trajectory of the Syrian civil war became a common refrain a few weeks back. Notwithstanding the scale of disaster and horror caused by the four-and-half-year conflict, world’s conscience was struck after the tragic death of a three-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, in September. The image of the little child lying dead on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea led to a massive public outrage. Many hapless Syrians fleeing to Europe in search of life found a virtual crowd standing behind them and fighting for their right to life. Mass online activism under a popular hashtag #refugeeswelcome forced the European governments to respond to the exhausted Syrians in a humane and responsible way.
But, as expected, the online activism soon lost its momentum and things are not just back to square one, rather worse! According to a news report, over 70 children died last week alone. The report juxtaposes the death of these children with that of Kurdi by saying, “More than 70 child have died attempting the same crossing between Turkey and Greece as three-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi, whose body was found face down on a Turkish beach last month - prompting worldwide outrage about the plight of refugees travelling to Europe.” Millions of hearts go out for Kurdi and for those still fighting deadly battles in the Mediterranean Sea, with some winning only to be left stranded at the alien lands.
Since the outbreak of civil war in Syria, many people, including children, have lost their lives. News reports about the misfortunes of the fleeing Syrians abound. The fact that nearly half of Syria’s 22 million populations is either dead or displaced speaks volume about the gravity of the situation. Speaking to Al Jazeera, a woman said, “Drowning to death was better than being beheaded. Better.” There is no dearth of such disturbing anecdotes piercing our conscience as the victims are shown recalling how they chose between land and sea, between life and death, between home and camp... Some would be seen trying hard to choke their sobbing while recalling how they bade adieu to their home, their city and their country. Still others would cry out loud for they are the ones who had been robbed of their loved ones. But one wonders, are not these images disturbing enough to leave an imprint on the world’s consciousness? Isn’t the plight of the fleeing Syrians bloody enough to keep up the online activism aided by new media and emerge as a force to reckon with in the handling of the Syrian civil war at large?
The power of new media like Internet, Facebook, Twitter, etc. was most recently demonstrated during the 2011 Arab uprising when it played a constructive role in triggering the protests and bringing down the autocratic regimes in some countries. Even in case of the refugee crisis, it has been acknowledged that the emergence of powerful public opinion proved a turning point in the handling of the crisis. But it seems that building solidarity on social media for the brutalised Syrian refugees has satiated our conscience. Then it needs to be thrust upon the sane minds across the globe that the Syrian conflict is more than the refugee crisis. It is more than writing an elegy for those being defeated callously in the sea. Rather, it is about cruel power politics that has rendered human lives worthless. It is a glaring case of bloody real politic that outweighs human lives to maintain balance of power. And nothing constrains the ability of online forces to transcend the boundary of state-guarded realism. After all, citizen journalism or online activism is not bound by the infectious realism of the nation-states.
In addition, new media have the potential to influence political decision-making by helping to create social capital and virtual mass mobilisation to end what the UN describes as “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”. People in the countries with serious involvement bear a moral responsibility to take the initiative. Should not it prick their conscience that as major players in the conflict their countries i.e. Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the US have remained largely ignorant to the predicament of the Syrian refugees? The gravity of the situation on grounds did not persuade these stakeholders to bridge their differences and find a diplomatic solution sooner than later. The Vienna talks on October 30, which nonetheless followed a flurry of unsuccessful recent diplomatic efforts, failed to yield any result. Mass casualties in attacks carried out by both state and non-state actors in Syria did not add any urgency to the crawling diplomatic efforts.
But is this the case with the lot too? Not really! The formations of popular narratives on social media are not guided by geostrategic concerns rather the humanitarian one. Then what discourages us to build a forceful public opinion to end the conflict. What stops us from building a virtual mass mobilisation to push for the end of the conflict under hashtags like #helpSyrians, #notoviolence, #endSyrianconflict, etc. While we were busy expressing solidarity with the Syrian refugees, an appeal from a 13-year-old Syrian boy went unnoticed when he said, “Please help the Syrians. You just stop the war, we won’t want to go to Europe. Just stop the war in Syria.” The boy, who escaped the Syrian city of Deraa, was urging the modern civilized nations.
Ashiya Parveen is a Ph. D. student at the Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
After Erdogan's win, Turkey inches closer to civil war
By Gwynne Dyer
4 Nov 2015
"You may deceive all the people part of the time, and part of the people all the time...", begins Abraham Lincoln's aphorism about democracy -- but in a multi-party democratic system, that is usually enough. In a parliamentary system like Turkey's, 49% of the popular vote gives you a comfortable majority of seats, and so Recep Tayyib Erdogan will rule Turkey for another four years. If the country lasts that long.
There will still be a Turkey of some sort in four years' time, of course, but it may no longer be a democracy, and it may not even have its present borders. In last Sunday's vote Mr Erdogan won back the majority he lost in the June election, but the tactics he employed have totally alienated an important section of the population.
Kurds make up a fifth of Turkey's 78 million people. Most Kurds are pious, socially conservative Sunni Muslims, so they usually vote for Mr Erdogan's Justice and Development (AK) Party -- which consequently won three successive elections (2003, 2007, 2011) with increasing majorities.
Then the Kurds stopped voting for Mr Erdogan, which is why he lost last June's election. In this month's election he managed to replace those lost votes with nationalist voters who are frightened of a Kurdish secession and simple souls who just want stability and peace -- but he had to start a war to win them over.
Mr Erdogan threw Turkey's support firmly behind the rebels when the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, mainly because as a devout Sunni Muslim he detested Bashar al-Assad's Alawite-dominated regime. He kept Turkey's border with Syria open to facilitate the flow of volunteers, weapons and money to the Islamist groups fighting Mr Assad, including the Nusra Front and ISIS (which eventually became the Islamic State).
He even backed the IS when it attacked the territory that had been liberated by the Kurds of northern Syria. That territory extends along the whole eastern half of Turkey's border with Syria, and in the end, despite Mr Erdogan's best efforts, the Syrian Kurds managed to repel IS attacks. But this was the issue that cost Mr Erdogan the support of Turkish Kurds.
His solution was to restart the war against the PKK, the armed separatist movement that is based in the Kurdish-speaking northern provinces of Iraq. A ceasefire had stopped the fighting between the Turkish government and the PKK for the past four years, but Mr Erdogan now needed a patriotic war against wicked Kurdish separatists in order to lure the nationalists and the naive into backing his party.
He duped the United States into backing this war by allowing US bombers to use Turkish airbases and promising that Turkish planes would start bombing the IS too. (In fact, Turkey has dropped only a few token bombs on the IS; the majority of its bombs are falling on Kurds.)
The pay-off came on Sunday, when the votes of Turks who fear Kurdish separatism replaced the Kurdish votes that the AK Party lost last June. The problem is that the election is now over but the war will continue.
Indeed it will get worse. The Turkish army is already shelling the Syrian Kurds, and warning that it may invade if the Syrian Kurdish proto-state (known as Rojava) tries to push further west and shut down the last border-crossing point that links Turkey to the IS.
At home, the independent institutions of a normal democratic state have been subverted one after another: the media, the police, and the judiciary now generally serve Mr Erdogan. State television, for example, gave 59 hours of coverage to Mr Erdogan's campaign in the past month. All the other parties combined got six hours and 28 minutes.
So Mr Erdogan's AK won the election, but Turkey is no longer a real democracy. And since the half of the population that didn't vote for Mr Erdogan utterly loathes him, it won't be a very stable authoritarian state either. In fact, it is probably teetering on the brink of civil war.
The people who loathe Mr Erdogan because he is destroying Turkey's free media, perverting its criminal justice system and robbing the state blind -- he and his AK colleagues have been enthusiastically feathering their nests -- will not turn to violence. The poor will not turn to violence either, even though the economic boom is over and jobs are disappearing.
But some of the Turkish Kurds will fight, and they will have the support of the Syrian Kurds just across the border. That will probably draw the Turkish army into invading northern Syria to crush the Kurds there -- and once Turkey is fully involved in the Syrian civil war, all of southeastern Turkey (where Kurds are the majority) also becomes part of the combat zone.
When Mustafa Kemal Ataturk rescued a Turkish republic from the wreckage of the Ottoman empire after the First World War, he was determined to make it a European state. It was a fairly oppressive state at first, but over the decades it gradually turned into a democracy that operated under the rule of law.
That's over now. It took Mr Erdogan a dozen years in power to demolish that European-style democracy, but the job is done. As one despairing Turk put it recently, Turkey is becoming a Middle Eastern country.
Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.
Turkish Time Machine: Back To 2011
By Burak Bekdil
By 2019, Turkey’s Islamists will have been in power for 17 uninterrupted years. By 2023, when the number of students at religious imam-hatip schools will have surpassed two million, Islamists will have been in power for 21 uninterrupted years.
“Those of us with the headscarf (the Islamic turban) have won,” the then prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said in his famous balcony speech after his landslide election victory in June 2011, when his Justice and Development Party (AKP) won half the national vote as it did last Sunday. It was not certain whether “those of us without the headscarf” had lost or would lose, but they certainly would not win.
Four years later, fortunately, that divisive rhetoric has disappeared. But the mindset and spirit behind it have not. In his own kind-of-balcony victory speech, Prime MinisterAhmet Davutoğlu promised to “sow the seeds of love.” Judging from Prime Minister [and President] Erdoğan’s love-themed victory speeches, your columnist personally felt in danger from Mr. Davutoglu’s love-themed lines. In particular, the last four years have proven that the Islamist “love” can be quite perilous for non-Islamists who do not agree or who do not passionately love their Islamist rulers.
Perhaps more worryingly, only a couple of weeks after his government appointed trustees to privately-owned newspapers and TV stations (to practically “steal” them) and reversed their anti-government editorial line, Mr. Davutoğlu, in the same victory speech, said: “Freedom of thought and expression for all citizens is under our guarantee.”
Again, not a good sign. It sounds like the royal Saudi family announcing that: “Full gender equality for all Saudi women is under our guarantee,” or North Korean President Kim Jong un claiming to be the guarantor of global nuclear non-proliferation. Past experiences clearly show that dissidents often face disastrous times after Islamists win an election and claim to guarantee their rights.
Earlier, your columnist wrote here that it was bizarre that Mr. Davutoğlu was possibly the only prime minister in the world whose political career is structured on ending his career as prime minister. Now he is closer to that goal.
All the same, in all likelihood he will not care the least. After all, his devotion is not to the seat he occupies, or to decent governance, but to a not-so-mysterious thing he calls the “Dawa” (“cause” in Arabic and in Turkish if written with a “v” instead of a “w”]. He is pursuing the “Dawa,” not election victories. It may sound strange that election victories and occupying the top executive seat of the country do not satisfy a politician. It should not. The “Dawa” refers to the advancement and spread of Islam - a much broader goal, and one that inspires the prime minister more than anything else.
But the Turks tend to share his passion, reminiscent of what scientists call the “Stockholm Syndrome.”
Remember Soma, the Aegean town that lost more than 301 of its people in a mine disaster last year? The same town where Mr. Erdoğan was captured on video slapping a mourner? Where one of his advisors kicked another mourner who was being held on the ground by the police?
In a piece written after the disaster, your columnist wrote that he would bet all his money that Mr. Erdoğan would earn the largest share of the vote in Soma in the presidential election in August later the same year, just four months after the disaster. Indeed, Mr. Erdoğan did get the biggest share of the vote there.
(A couple of months before the disaster, opposition MPs had requested a parliamentary investigation into the mine because they suspected safety flaws. The request was rejected by Mr. Erdoğan’s party’s benches.)
In the June 7 parliamentary election, Mr. Erdoğan’s (or, technically, Mr. Davutoğlu’s) Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the biggest share of the vote in Soma – a neat 39 percent. On Nov. 1, a year-and-a-half after the mining disaster, nearly half (49.6 percent) of the locals in Soma voted for the AKP.
But these are mere trivialities. Mr Erdogan’s was a win-win bet when he pushed for snap polls. He could not lose worse than on June 7. He won spectacularly. Now he can go back to his "Project-Raise-Pious-Generations."
Cameron's cluelessness on Syria hands no one the moral high ground
3 November 2015
The most powerful argument for British military intervention in Syria is that standing aside permits the continuing slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians, which is morally repugnant. The most effective argument against is that dispatching a few Tornado jets in token accompaniment to US airstrikes would neither halt the advance of Isis nor hasten the removal of Bashar al-Assad from power. It certainly couldn’t achieve both goals simultaneously since the degrading of one force bolsters the other. In terms of conflict resolution, there is not a great difference between doing something symbolic to avoid the shame of doing nothing and just doing nothing. Neither option is attractive.
A report published today by the Commons foreign affairs select committee identified two factors tipping the balance of argument against airstrikes. One is that Britain’s diplomatic authority in multilateral negotiations towards a ceasefire would be compromised by its status as a combatant, without any parallel advantage in changing the balance of power on the ground. Another is that Russia has thrown its military weight behind Assad, thereby scrambling all previous strategic calculations in western capitals.
It is Vladimir Putin’s actions that above all appear to have given David Cameron cause to reconsider his intention to seek parliamentary backing for airstrikes in Syria. (More precisely, Cameron would have sought a mandate to extend strikes currently having little impact against Isis in Iraq. MPs endorsed that action confident in its legal underpinning by invitation of the Iraqi government.) The other reason Cameron has reportedly shelved a vote is fear of defeat. Downing Street insists its position is unchanged – the prime minister will propose a Syrian intervention in parliament but only if he is confident of a majority in favour. But that line was drawn up when it seemed plausible that scores of Labour MPs would defy Jeremy Corbyn’s well-known aversion to the deployment of anything more ferocious than a peashooter over foreign skies, and that Tory MPs would march in step behind their leader.
It is clear now that neither condition pertains. The whips have warned Cameron that it is too close to call. The positions of government and opposition are now a confused bundle of moralising bluster, realpolitik and parochial neurosis. Cameron’s approach is defined by his defeat in the Commons over action against Assad in August 2013. The prime minister felt personally betrayed by Ed Miliband, although the blocking majority was reached thanks to a Tory rebellion. Allies of the former Labour leader and Downing Street insiders give very different accounts of the commitments sought and conditions attached to any prospective opposition support for intervention in the days and hours preceding that vote.
The outcome and aftermath surprised both sides. Cameron did not expect to be humiliated and Miliband did not expect Downing Street to spin its way out of humiliation by casting the episode as Labour sabotage – a pacifistic cringe that brought into question Britain’s willingness to stand tall on the global stage.
Cameron’s management of a second prospective vote, albeit against a different side in the war, has shades of the same damage-limitation tactic, this time as pre-emption. By making the decision to intervene contingent on cross-party support, he excuses himself of the obligation to carry his own MPs – as if parliament were hung, or the decision to send British forces into action were a kind of philosophical question of conscience, like abortion term limits or assisted dying, traditionally settled with a free vote.
In reality, Cameron has a majority and a policy. Inability to use the former to enact the latter is no one’s fault but his own. The reason Cameron cannot count on the support of Labour hawks is not some sudden conversion on their part to Corbynist isolationism but doubt, shared by the foreign affairs select committee, that the prime minister’s proposal forms part of a coherent international plan to bring peace to Syria.
But Labour is in no position to bring charges of incoherence in foreign policy when its leader was until recently chair of Stop the War, a doctrinaire pressure group that sets its moral compass by quasi-Leninist rejection of “western imperialism”, as is presumed to be the motive of any British or American involvement in any conflict. The natural (but not quite logical) extension of that position is that forces hostile to western influence, whether they be Assad’s militias, Kremlin battalions or jihadi cut-throats, be excused their aggressions as the justifiable response to Nato provocation or as liberation struggle.
Miliband never held that view, but he indulged it in 2013. The decision to thwart Cameron’s intervention was made in deference to the Labour left and motivated in large part by the impulse to cleanse the party’s conscience of Tony Blair’s legacy in Iraq. Miliband’s friends declared, ex post facto, that he had nobly averted “a precipitous march to war”. Atonement for 2003, “dodgy dossiers” and poodle-proximity to George W Bush all went without saying. It was part of the systematic embedding of Blair’s depiction as bloodthirsty war criminal – a standard Stop the War trope – in mainstream left discourse.
Miliband did stop Cameron from bombing Assad. But a salient detail in any moral evaluation of that choice is the fact that Assad continues to butcher his people, supported by Putin, a man whose cavalier disregard for international borders would look a lot like “imperialism” except in Corbynite eyes that charge is preferentially levelled against democracies.
The irony here is that Putin’s intervention has changed the strategic calculus in Syria precisely because it is happening on a scale that Barack Obama or Cameron do not contemplate, because they are not wanton warmongers. They are mindful of public opinion and hesitate to put soldiers’ and civilian lives at risk. They run their interventions past freely elected legislatures. If the prime minister has chosen to abandon his plan to ask parliament for permission to bomb Isis, knowing he would lose the vote, it can be read as a symptom of democracy working properly. If the result is a spur towards more rigorous diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the Syrian conflict, all the better.
But we can hardly congratulate ourselves for sidestepping the quagmire. The opposite of western assertiveness in this case has turned out to be a policy of inviting despots and terrorists to fight each other to a standstill, while leaving the civilian population to fend for itself. It may feel safe to be a bystander at such a scene, but it does not feel innocent.
Erdogan won at the right moment
3 November 2015
The victory of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey’s parliamentary elections means the Iranian project in Syria will blocked. The victory was expected, but what was needed was a parliamentary majority so the AKP could form a government without the need for a coalition. A majority was secured.
A coalition government would have weakened Turkey, which influences Syria’s future at a critical time. Any Turkish stance, political or military, requires a powerful cabinet capable of having its decisions passed by parliament. Now it is certain that the government is able to sit at the negotiating table and strengthen the camp that opposes Iran and the Syrian regime.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is stronger today than he was during the past five months, when his party did not have a parliamentary majority. Compared to the rest of the region, Turkey is the most influential country regarding Syria, given its shared border and massive capabilities.
The AKP’s landslide victory undoubtedly disappointed the Syrian and Iranian regimes. If the party had not secured a parliamentary majority, it would have weakened the Qatari-Saudi camp, which is confronting new challenges that are more difficult than before, as the United States continues to do nothing significant while Europe’s role remains purely verbal.
Meanwhile, after Russia joined the fighting in Syria on behalf of the regime, pressure mounted on the opposition due to fighting the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Moscow is trying to impose a political solution that is closer to the camp of the Iranian and Syrian regimes.
Turkey is more concerned than others about what is happening on its borders with Iraq and Syria, and is aware that Iran’s expanded presence in these countries directly harms Ankara’s interests and enables Tehran to dominate regionally. Talk of establishing a Kurdish state in Syria was a test for the Turks during their election, and came at a time when Iran was strengthening its influence in Iraqi Kurdistan.
If Ankara does not strongly participate in upcoming negotiations, Syria will be left to the Iranians. The Turkish presence in the Iraqi arena is also very important, although little is mentioned about it. Ankara supports different national Iraqi parties so Iran and its affiliates do not seclude this strategic country.
During the past 10 years, Turkey has shown skill in dealing with Iraq’s Kurds, cooperating with them and supporting moderate powers. Ankara is also one of the biggest investors in the Iraqi Kurdish economy. This political pragmatism is in harmony with the reconciliation that Erdogan led with Turkey’s Kurds, allowing them to greatly engage in politics.
There are other deadlocked issues, such as sour relations between the Turkish and Egyptian governments. I think Ankara will realize that the disagreement with Cairo weakens its camp. Egypt is a major pillar in the Arab world and in the entire Middle East. Without it, it will be a difficult for Turkey to resolve Iraqi and Syrian affairs.
This is the era of alliances, as a country on its own cannot confront ongoing chaos, deter powers that want to alter maps by force, or convince superpowers to get involved. An alliance between Turkey, Egypt and the Gulf is capable of ending the deadlock.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.
Can Iran play a part in Syria’s peace and unity?
3 November 2015
The opportunity that Iranian leaders have been waiting for suddenly knocked on their door when they received a joint invitation by the United States and Russia to attend the Syria talks in Vienna last Friday.
It’s no secret that Iran is heavily involved in the Syrian crisis in different ways. From supporting the current government of Bashar al-Assad to having military advisors on the ground (according to them) and sending artillery – Tehran is doing everything to keep its ally in power.
Iran’s invitation to the Vienna Talks has demonstrated that international powers believe that Iranian officials, not a delegation from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (who are operating on the ground in Syria), should be the ones sitting around the table. This could be a means of using Iran to influence Assad and other allies, such as Hezbollah, to cooperate with the outcome of the talks.
Despite Iran’s previous rejection of talking about Syria with Western powers, a high level delegation did indeed go to Vienna. And Iran’s diplomacy machine may be the main driver here, or the driver that Western powers wish to take advantage of – with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif using the skills in the Syria talks previously seen during the nuclear talks. Inviting Iran may be interpreted as the international community’s increased faith in Iran’s ability to shape regional issues.
By agreeing to participate, Iran may be preparing itself and the Syrian government for a transitional period following Assad’s exit, if they wouldn’t directly admit this.
The general sentiment from Western and regional countries was that Iran’s presence at the talks seem to be a positive development. When he returned to Tehran, Zarif said the talks were progressive. His comment shed light on the possibility that the talks can reach a solution that may result in Assad’s departure.
It may too optimistic to predict an end to the conflict in the short term, but I believe there is hope that major steps will be taken before the end of President Obama’s presidency.
For Iran, the invitation to join Syria talks may also seem like a reward for a country that has isolated itself from international community in a mostly hostile manner for more than three decades since the 1979 revolution.
The nuclear accord has brought on a unique momentum that has created a window for Iran to not only improve its relations with the world, but also to stand among major players. While parties in the talks may be divided about whether and for how long Assad should stay in power, all countries agreed that a political solution is needed to end this protracted conflict.
Demonstrating flexibility in the negotiations is the most important fact at these talks for the sake of millions of devastated Syrians in the eye of this horrifying storm. The destruction of this ancient nation, along with the atrocities committed in this conflict, need to be addressed.
Regardless of who is the next president of Syria, what is important is peace, freedom of expression and unity of Syria. Now it’s time to put differences aside and demonstrate responsibility.
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard
Nothing but a dead end with Putin
3 November 2015
Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to trick the Saudis and Turks by suggesting an impossible solution, which looks peaceful but simply duplicates the same system rejected by the Syrian people, but without President Bashar al-Assad, as if the problem lies in his presence only.
I do not believe that Putin is ignorant of the current state of the region or the reality of the Syrian situation. He knows the rules well. However, he is taking for granted that Russia is a superpower that no one wants to confront directly.
He is also taking advantage of some regional powers’ reluctance or fear of change caused by the Arab Spring. They are willing to accept an ugly regime, even a pro-Iran one threatening Arab national security, but not an Islamic democratic force that will inevitably govern in Damascus once the regime falls.
Putin is using old Machiavellian tactics and time-wasting techniques through useless contacts and initiatives. Nine points are shortened to seven after a round of negotiations, then a new point is added after the third round, while the killing machine pursues its war on the Syrian revolution in collaboration with sectarian partners Iran, Iraq, Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.
Putin knows that the Saudis and Turks will not let Assad remain in power. If he stays, war will continue. If he wins, so will Iran. Neither do they or Qatar want a war that will freeze their interests in terms of trade, oil and gas, nor do they want Iran in Syria. This is not a political stand open to negotiation, but an unchangeable and consistent strategic position.
Putin also has a consistent political position. He and Iran know that they have no future in the eastern Mediterranean if the Syrian revolution triumphs. In that case, they will be viewed by the Syrian people the same way Iran perceives the United States after 1979 “Islamic “ revolution . which become a political ideology that lasted 35 years until the nuclear deal was signed in June. . It will take one or two generations for Syrians to overcome their hatred of Russia and Iran.
This is why these two countries need to produce a new regime similar to Assad’s to govern Syria in the future: sectarian, undemocratic and repressive, but without his family. However, such a rearrangement is unrealizable in six months or even a year, as the Saudis have told Russia that the maximum duration of a transitional stage would be six months.
Putin knows well that opposition fighters can never be combined with the regime’s army, as his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has suggested. To add to the strangeness of this proposal, Lavrov said: “It will constitute the core of an anti-terrorism national army.” Moscow is targeting revolutionary factions instead of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has expanded in opposition-controlled regions thanks to Russian bombing.
How is it possible for Ahrar al-Sham’s young leader Muhanad al-Masri, with his Salafist background and goal of a sharia-governed Syria, to get along with old Baathist intelligence chief and former jailer Ali Mamluk? There is a huge time gap between them that will only be filled with more blood.
Accordingly, Russia introduced a new idea of “fighting those who reject the achieved peace agreement,” and tried to market it to the Saudis and Turks in Vienna. Strangely, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry fell for the trap and endorsed this proposal at a press conference.
It is improbable that all these contacts and meetings will lead to a solution. Russia must first feel the pain of entering Syria in order to deal with the situation more seriously. No Saudi official will publicly reveal the number of Saudi- or Qatari-funded anti-tank missiles sent to the rebels, or talk about the intention to arm them with surface-to-air missiles. Nonetheless, it is most probably being executed with the help of Turkey.
The Saudi position can be summarized as: Iran has no place in Syria. No discussion will be held before a solution to remove Iran and its militias from Syria is found. But under Russia's watch, Iranian mobilization in Syria is increasing. They are collaborating against the Syrian people, while we stand by them.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.