Monday, 30 November 2015

Syrian air strikes mean civilians seeing their family killed by a faceless enemy - leaving Isis free to choose a face for us

Harriet Lamb                           Independent UK                       28 November 2015

The decision to bomb Isis in Syria in response to the Paris attacks would be a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that is much closer to home – most of the attackers were French or Belgian – and one driven by emotion, not logic. Shocked by terrible tragedies on their doorstep, people in Europe have a sense that ‘something must be done’. And so we turn too easily to the question of military action, as if that were the only option.

It is wrong and dangerous to think that an
“evil death cult” with near global reach can be defeated by air strikes. If Sun Tzu’s the Art of War teaches us that knowing your enemy is key to success, do we know who Isis are? Whom it is that we would be bombing? Isis-held territory is not populated solely by radicalised, blood-thirsty jihadists. They are there, certainly, but they are also in Paris, Brussels and London. Those in Isis-held territory are the same people who were in Saddam-held territory, or in Assad-held territory, or in territory held by the Free Syrian Army. Isis-held territory is populated, for the most part, by ordinary civilians whose survival is dependent on getting on with whoever wields power at that particular time.

And for their part, the survival of the power holders is also dependent on ‘getting on’ with the populations they govern. Jabat Al Nusra, the Al-Qaeda affiliate, are an important provider of relief aid in the areas of Syria they hold. Isis have well reported, horrific measures for controlling and policing their territory, but they also control education and provide basic services, including aid.

Airstrikes will create more refugees, pressing into fragile neighbouring states in a region that already cannot cope. And airstrikes and their bloody aftermath will generate fodder for the Isis propaganda machine, both in Syria, and in our own societies. All these risks in addition to the fact that we don’t know what comes next to fill the space left by Isis if we do succeed.

Instead, we need to come to terms with the hard reality that there is no quick fix to the ISIS problem, there is no one solution, and that bombing is not the only option. Instead of military action in a vacuum, we need a long-term strategy, one that recognises and addresses the reasons why Isis has support in the first place, both in Iraq and Syria, and at home in our own back yard.

These reasons will not be the same everywhere: a young Syrian man who has lost everything through war will join up for different reasons to a young British woman who travels to Syria in the name of jihad, and from the reasons an illiterate labourer from the suburbs of Tunis decides to fight.

The Prime Minister states that complexity should not be an excuse for non-intervention. True. But complexity is not an excuse, it is reality - and because of this complexity, local solutions will be key in the fight against ISIS, not international military ones.

Over three thousand Tunisians are estimated to have travelled to Syria to fight alongside Islamist militants. Through our work in Tunisia we now know that young people in the poor suburbs of Tunis who participated in the Arab Spring because they believed in the possibility of a better life, today feel cheated by the political elites and ignored by the state. We know that this sense of disillusionment and resentment amongst young Tunisians has made them easy targets for violent extremist groups, and that the sense of belonging and purpose and power offered by these groups has caused young Tunisians to travel to Syria in their thousands.

Too often we are presented with a false choice: to bomb or not to bomb. Surely the way for the UK to approach this is patiently to continue working with international, regional and local partners to provide adequate humanitarian help to all those in need, reduce incentives and opportunities for new fighters to join ISIS, and develop a viable long-term, incremental strategy to restore stability and – eventually – peace to Syria? This will take time, for sure, but further bombing is unlikely to change that, and may well make things worse. It’s not the macho solution, but it is the most effective one. [Abbrev.]

 Harriet Lamb is the CEO of International Alert

You won’t win a war against Isis if you don’t know what the peace looks like

Giles Fraser                               Guardian/UK                       26 November 2015

 ‘We wouldn’t bomb the suburbs of Brussels to eliminate the Isis cells stationed there. So why bomb Syrian towns when there are so many innocent people living there too?               

The second world war lasted six years. The war on terror is now in its 15th year. And yet things are demonstrably no better. Why? Because we still have no vision of what peace might look like. For instead of trying to figure out what the politics of a relatively settled Middle East might be, and then working towards that, we think first about dropping bombs from the sky – bombs that will inevitably destroy both Islamic State and its non-Isis neighbours, bombs that will inevitably recruit new forces of vengeance against the west.
Carl von Clausewitz famously said that war is politics by another means.

And that puts its finger on the problem: we don’t have the politics sorted out. We don’t really know what we want to achieve other than to hear the sound of bombs falling on Raqqa, thus satisfying the need to do something. We can’t win if we don’t know what winning looks like.
War in time for Christmas is David Cameron’s plan. Yes, exquisitely timed to coincide with the Christian message of peace and goodwill to all. Yes, a perfect accompaniment to all those half-forgotten carols: “And man, at war with man, hears not, / The love-song which they bring: O hush the noise, ye men of strife, / And hear the angels sing.” Translated into the prosaically secular: we have no vision of peace.

Remember the 2003
invasion of Iraq. It took only a few weeks for US soldiers to reach Baghdad. Remember how they celebrated, tearing down statues of Saddam Hussein and forcing people who ran the country from office. That was the easy bit. The war began on 19 March and by 1 May the famous “mission accomplished” banner was unfurled on the USS Abraham Lincoln. Yet more American lives would be lost in Iraq after that speech than were lost before it. Mission accomplished? That’s the myth that needs busting. Even today, what remains of Iraq is a basketcase of blood and war and a school of festering hatred. A similar story could be told about Libya. In other words, retaliation is not a strategy for peace. And without a strategy for peace, we will continue forever on this deathly merry-go-round.

If we really thought destroying Isis would be the end of it, we would be sending in ground troops, rather than just poking them with a stick from the air. But we don’t have the stomach for ground troops because we don’t actually believe it would be worth the risk – we have lost confidence that it will achieve anything. Instead, Cameron is being suckered into the same military oneupmanship that did for Blair: show and swagger. It’s all about not losing face in front of the Americans. It’s all about being seen to be doing something. And the stuff that makes for peace is just too dull for the cameras, too soft.

The first rule has to be that we must stop making things worse. Let’s not call this a war and dignify Isis with the honorific status of being an enemy army. Still worse, let’s not imagine we can win some preposterously imagined third world war against a particular strain of Islamism. You can’t destroy a violent theology with greater violence – you just up the stakes and feed the beast.

We wouldn’t bomb the suburbs of Brussels
to eliminate the Isis cells stationed there. So why bomb Syrian towns when there are so many innocent people living there too? A few years ago, Cameron tried to persuade us to go to war against Bashar al-Assad because he was dropping barrel bombs on his own people. Now it is us who are proposing to do something similar, perhaps to the very same cities. Yes, our bombs may be more smart and discriminating. But not that much so. And many innocent people will die – mostly the ones too weak, too old or too young to run away. And as all these bombs rain down, a continuous trail of bedraggled humanity is filing out of Syria to find refuge in Europe. Cameron’s plan is to bomb their country by Christmas and then to bar those fleeing death from entering Europe to find safety. No room at the inn, he says.


Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Quakers respond to terrorism

 24 November 2015
As Parliament prepares to debate next steps in Syria, Quakers in Britain have made this statement:
The attacks in Paris on 13 November were deeply shocking and our hearts continue to go out to those killed, injured, bereaved and traumatised.
It is human nature that the closer suffering comes to us, the more acutely we feel the pain and grief. But that experience should sensitise us to the suffering caused repeatedly by acts of war and violent crime in more distant places, including Beirut, Sinai, Bamako and Aleppo. It should strengthen our determination to build a safer world together.
Terrorism is a deliberate attempt to provoke fear, hatred, division and a state of war. War, especially war with the West - is what ISIS/Daesh wants. It confirms the image they project of the West as a colonialist 'crusader' power, which acts with impunity to impose its will overseas and especially against Muslims.
The military actions of Western nations recruit more people to the cause than they kill. Every bomb dropped is a recruitment poster for ISIS, a rallying point for the young, vulnerable and alienated. And every bomb dropped on Syrian cities drives yet more people to flee and seek refuge in safer countries.
Our political leaders seem determined that Britain should look strong on the world stage. Quakers in Britain believe our country should act with wisdom and far-sighted courage. A wisdom that rises above the temptation to respond to every problem with military might. A wisdom that looks back at our failures in Libya and Iraq and Afghanistan and learns from experience. The courage and strength - to think through the likely consequences of actions to find a long term, lasting solution.
The courageous response of ordinary people who refuse to give up their way of life and refuse to be driven by fear is one that politicians could learn from.
Although there are no quick or easy answers, there are things we can do, all of us together, which will defeat the terrorists more assuredly than military action. Quakers in Britain commit to playing our part in these actions.
We can quieten ourselves and listen to the truth from deep within us that speaks of love, mutual respect, humanity and peace.
We can and will refuse to be divided. By bridge-building among faiths and within our local communities we can challenge and rise above the ideologies of hate and actively love our neighbour.
By welcoming refugees, we can not only meet the acute needs of those individuals but also undercut the narrative of those who seek to create fear and mistrust.
And we can ask our political leaders to:  
  • Treat terrorist acts as crimes, not acts of war
  • Stop arming any of the parties fighting in Syria
  • Observe international law and apply it equally to all parties
  • Build cooperation among nations, strengthening those international institutions which contribute to peace
  • Export peace rather than war, so that we can create the conditions the world needs to address its most serious problems, including climate change.  
 The statement concludes with this extract from a statement made by Quakers in Britain in 1943 (Quaker faith & practice 24.09):
 "True peace cannot be dictated, it can only be built in co-operation between all peoples. None of us, no nation, no citizen, is free from some responsibility for this."
 -Peace Movement Aotearoa

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Rhetoric is no recipe for peace

Reactions to Paris and Mali have been militaristic rhetoric brought about by ignorance and refusal to understand the injustices of the Middle East.

Robert Fisk @indyvoices           Independent/UK           22 November, 2015

Eisenhower famously sent some brusque advice to Anthony Eden in 1956 when he decided that Britain’s deceitful war in Egypt should come to an end. “Whoa, boy!” were his words. And they should be repeated now to the politicians, historians and other nincompoops who regard themselves as the soothsayers of eternal war.

Each morning, I awake to find another Hollywood horror being concocted by our secret policemen or our public relations - inspired leaders.
The Paris killings are now supposed to have “changed Paris for ever” or “changed France for ever”. I would accept that the collaboration of General Pétain with Nazi Germany changed France for ever – but the atrocities in Paris this month simply cannot be compared with the German occupation of 1940.

That most tiresome of French philosophers, Bernard-Henri Lévy, tells us that Isis are “Fascislamists”. Oddly, I don’t remember the same Mr Lévy telling us that the avowedly Christian Lebanese killers of up to 1,700 Palestinian civilians in the Beirut Sabra-Shatila refugee camps of 1982 – Israel’s vicious Lebanese militia allies – were “Fascichristians”. This was a “terrorist” act with which I was all too familiar. With two journalist colleagues, I walked among the butchered and raped corpses of the dead. The American-armed and funded Israeli army watched the slaughter – and did nothing. Yet not a single Western politicians announced that this had “changed the Middle East for ever”. And if 1,700 innocents can be murdered in Beirut in 1982 without “world war” being declared, how can President François Hollande announce that France is “at war” after 130 innocents were massacred?

But let’s not allow modern history to get in the way of our desire for revenge. Take
Mali and last week’s killings. The French “intervened” there in January 2013, after Islamists took over the north of Mali and prepared to advance on the capital, Bamako. “Field Marshal” Hollande, as he was satirised in the French press, sent in his lads to destroy the “terrorists”, who were imposing their revolting “Islamic” punishments on civilians, without mentioning that the violence was also part of a Tuareg-Malian government civil war. By the end of January, reports spoke of France’s Malian military allies killing civilians in a wave of ethnic reprisals. The French defence minister admitted that “urban guerrilla warfare” was “very complicated to manage”.

By September, the Islamists were murdering Malians who had co-operated with the French. Since France was already declaring victory against the “terrorists”, few paid attention to the spokesman for the very same Islamists when he announced that “our enemy is France, which works with the army of Mali, of Niger, of Senegal, of Guinea, of Togo, against Muslims … all these are our enemies and we are going to treat them like enemies.”

Which makes last week’s massacre in Bamako less incomprehensible. And for those who believe that European soldiers who go around African countries are not going to provoke revenge from those of Malian origin, note how we virtually ignored the background of the Isis killer of the French policewoman and of four French Jews at the Paris supermarket last January. Amedy Coulibaly was born in France to Malian Muslim parents.

And now let’s read this report on Mali from early 2013: that French “warplanes are continuing their attacks on suspected rebel camps, command posts, logistic bases and ‘terrorist vehicles’ in northern Mali. In recent days, officials said, they hit targets in the Timbuktu and Gao regions, including a dozen strikes in a 24-hour period ...” Replace Timbuktu and Gao with Raqqa and Idlib and this is the same soup we’re being served up today from Paris (and Moscow) about air assaults on Isis – and into which PR Dave himself now wishes to lead our miniature air force.

Our reaction? All rhetoric, of course, brought about by our ignorance, our refusal to understand the injustices of the Middle East, our idleness in addressing conflict with political plans and objectives. If we could apply the “whoa, boy” advice today, it must be with an entirely new approach to the cult mafia that exists in the Middle East. A world conference on the region, perhaps, along the lines of the 1945 San Francisco conference where statesmen created a United Nations that would (and did) prevent more world wars. And for refugees, an offer like the Nansen refugee passport for the millions of destitute and homeless after the 1914-18 war, accepted by 50 nations. Instead we blather on about the apocalypse, terrorist world wars and Ancient Rome. To our very own PR Dave, I can only repeat: “whoa, boy!” [Abridged] 

Anglican Tensions

By Ian Harris                         Otago Daily Times                     Nov. 13, 2015

Sex and modernity have been undermining traditional forms of Christianity and the church for more than a century. That is not surprising, since those forms were forged in pre-secular cultures and societies. And judging by the latest initiative of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the pressures on the worldwide Anglican Church are close to breaking point.

He has called a meeting of archbishops from the church’s 38 “provinces” around the world to jettison the notion of a united global Anglican Communion, and move forward as a looser association of independent national churches. They would be linked to the archbishop of Canterbury, but not necessarily to each other.

This follows 20 years of efforts to end bitter sniping between liberal and deeply conservative Anglicans, including a brave but ultimately futile attempt to formalise their relationship through a global Anglican Covenant. Instead of spending time and energy trying to paper over the cracks, Welby thinks churches of his heritage have more constructive things to get on with. So he is looking to cut the losses and salvage what he can.

There has to be a tinge of regret in this. Anglicans pride themselves on being a broad church, holding together fundamentalists and charismatics, evangelicals and liberals, those who emphasise their church’s Catholic tradition, others its Protestant energy. One insider observes rather smugly that “other traditions look to the Anglican Communion to learn from its ability to have good disagreements”.

Not any more. Divisions over sex and theology have become too abrasive to permit of mutual tolerance. So when in 2003 the Episcopal Church in the United States consecrated a bishop who was not only homosexual but had a partner, the Communion erupted. Five years earlier the Lambeth Conference of bishops from around the world had rejected homosexual practice as incompatible with scripture. It is certainly incompatible with the culture of Palestine 3000 years ago, whose attitudes are reflected in six scattered biblical texts.

The latest 200 years of scholarship, however, offer churches a more informed understanding of scripture as the product of deep human experience and reflection rather than divine dictation. And science provides a more informed understanding of homosexuality as a regular and natural element of the sexual spectrum in every society. Churches are unwise to ignore either of these advances. 

Some, though, still do. In line with their cultural and theological convictions, the official Anglican bodies in Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda support their countries’ criminalisation of homosexuality. In 2008 they came together with others of like mind to form the Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon) – a broadside aimed at the erstwhile “broad church”.

The following year a handful of dioceses in the US and Canada protested at the homosexual bishop’s consecration by setting up a rival denomination, the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). Some dioceses in Africa, South America and Asia backed them, even offering to take under their wing parishes in America and England which held to the Lambeth line. 

Gafcon sees itself as standing for “truth” in opposition to “moral compromise, doctrinal error and the collapse of biblical witness in parts of the Anglican Communion”. So concerned are many bishops in the global south at liberal Anglicans in the West that 250 of them boycotted the Lambeth Conference in 2008. Fearing a repeat, Welby has postponed the next conference indefinitely.

Truth in religion is tricky, since all religions are ultimately the product of human ingenuity in response to experience. That means apprehension of truth varies. It is best regarded as provisional, rooted in tradition but always open to new knowledge and insights that ground it in the present. In a world where everything is constantly evolving, leading Anglicans have made a huge contribution to this process.

Conservatives who believe they have truth locked in once and for all must not be allowed to close that down – and Welby’s proposal to let the provinces “live in separate bedrooms”, as some describe it, may well lance the boil. Anglicanism will then continue much as it is now: basically federal, loosely linked, culturally and doctrinally diverse. More broadly, it’s a pity that the institution of the church, which exists to promote Christian faith, growth and freedom, can end up getting in the way of all three. Progress will then happen both in spite of and because of the institution. The impulse will always be there, especially on the boundaries, to adapt to current realities by drilling deeper to achieve what the church is essentially here to do – not to control, but to free.

Wake of ISIS Terror: Mourning, Lament, Discernment

By Jim Wallis                       Sojourners                   19 November 2015

If we count up the number of people killed or wounded in the ISIS Paris slaughter last weekend, and add all their families and friends, the level of human mourning is staggering. Then include the many other victims murdered in Beirut just days before, or the legions of those raped and killed in Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Egypt and Turkey — who never receive the same attention as Western victims — and we see human devastation that is utterly evil.

From a religious perspective, the hardest thing about confronting evil is the painful human tendency to only see it in others, in our enemies, and not see any on our side because of the blurred vision caused by the planks in our own eyes, to paraphrase the gospels. In discussing ISIS, we should clearly use the language of sin, the enormous sin of the ideological hate of ISIS finding its victims all over the world. 

But theologically, sin begets sin. So we cannot simply name sins of ISIS ad nauseum without also lamenting the sins of the West that they use as inexcusable justifications for horrific violence. Overcoming the growing terrorism we face requires addressing the grievances rather than repeating our missteps and mistakes.

To satisfy our thirsty oil economy, the West has literally created false nations and consistently supported brutal oligarchs and allowed them to crush their democratic critics – which gave rise to fundamentalist extremism. The U.S. overturned a democratically elected government in Iran and installed the brutal dictatorship of the Shah, which gave rise the Islamic regime that we now so hate. (See how many of your friends and neighbors even know the name Mohammad Mosaddegh, the Iranian president we overthrew because of oil.)The hypocrisy is endless: News of ISIS beheadings saturates the Western media, yet we ignore Saudi beheadings on the same day; we look the other way when funders from our oil allies in the Gulf states actually finance the terror we condemn; we, a nation of immigrants, allow fear to dominate our response to the refugee crisis. These are sins too. And sin begets sin.

How do you “destroy” or “eliminate” something like ISIS, words we now hear every day from our politicians? How do we keep our country safe? Can we do it by more massive American invasions of Middle Eastern countries? Can we really “fight to win and then leave,” as Jeb Bush and others are now calling for?

As David Cortright
has said, “Military strikes from the West are exactly what the militants want, providing fodder for recruitment and justifying what is otherwise unjustifiable. Will we fall into that trap again?” Military victories have come quickly, but they don’t eliminate a growing ideology. Our invasions have actually exacerbated the instability and sectarian conflict that helped lead to ISIS as they gain more recruits for terror locally and now internationally. Temporary military victories in Iraq and Syria will not destroy or eliminate the continuing terrorism in the Middle East or in the West.

 Protecting millions of vulnerable and displaced people must be our urgent concern. Destroying the growing social media success of ISIS should also be a top priority, as should eliminating the resources and funding for terror, even if that leads us to our oil allies and banks. The best way to defeat bad religion is with good religion, and the better way to defeat religious fundamentalism is from within rather than trying to smash it from without. 

We must form a clear, direct, and unified global coalition – with the authorization of the United Nations Security Council, NATO, the Arab League, and the international financial institutions like the World Bank and the IMF — to unify a strategy of comprehensive economic sanctions and isolation against ISIS. We should also include sanctions against any nations or funders that support ISIS, which would signal how serious we really are. 

A French journalist who was a hostage of ISIS for 10 months and got to know them well
says this:

"My guess is that right now the chant among them will be ‘We are winning.’ They will be heartened by every sign of overreaction, of division, of fear, of racism, of xenophobia; they will be drawn to any examples of ugliness on social media. Central to their world view is the belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims, and every day their antennae will be tuned towards finding supporting evidence. The pictures from Germany of people welcoming migrants will have been particularly troubling to them. Cohesion, tolerance–it is not what they want to see…. there is much we can achieve in the aftermath of this atrocity, and the key is strong hearts and resilience, for that is what they fear. I know them: bombing they expect. What they fear is unity.” 


See more at:

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Shoot-to-kill won’t make us safe from terror

The death of Jean Charles de Menezes shows how much can go wrong when fear and prejudice cloud armed officers’ judgments

By Gary Younge                  Guardian/UK                          18 November 2015

The descriptions varied. Officer Frank assumed he was “a white man”, but thought: “It would be worth somebody else having a look.” Officer Ivor believed he had “Mongolian eyes”; Officer Harry said he was “acting in a wary manner”; Commander Dick thought him “very, very jumpy”.
 But a consensus soon emerged: he was a jihadi about to blow up London’s tube. Within an hour the descriptions were unanimous. He was a dead man. The police had put seven bullets in his head. Within 24 hours a new consensus was taking hold. They had all been completely wrong. He was not off to spread terror through the capital, but to fix a broken fire alarm in Kilburn. He was not a terrorist, but a 27-year-old Brazilian electrician. His name was Jean Charles de Menezes.
Any shoot-to-kill policy inevitably rests on the presumption of guilt, often of a crime that has not yet taken place. In the most literal sense of the word, such policies are based on prejudice – a judgment made about who someone is and what they might do, prior to any evidence about either. Those presumptions do not come from nowhere. They are rooted in an array of received wisdoms – a constellation of probabilities, generalisations, bigotries, calculations, likelihoods, falsehoods, archetypes and stereotypes. Judgments are made through the crosshairs of a firearm. The verdict is always the same – death. There is no leave to appeal.
In the stampede to defend and extol western values – whatever they are – against the onslaught of barbarism, it should be recognised that the principles of freedom and equality have never applied to all in the west except in the most formal sense. The criminalisation of communities of colour (and the Irish in Britain) long preceded the war on terror and will, unfortunately, survive it.
Fascism is once again a mainstream ideology in Europe, and Muslims are among its principal targets. Knowing what the odds are for black and Muslim people to be stopped and searched, the ramifications of a “don’t stop, just shoot” policy do not bear thinking about. “Anyone may be a soldier in disguise, waiting to strike at the heart of our social slumber.” The young man with a backpack might be late for football. Once he's been shot, it’s too late to find out.
Those who might insist that racial sensitivity is a luxury we cannot afford at such critical times should realise that it is precisely the trust of black and Asian communities that is most needed to combat this particular fundamentalist scourge. Moreover, if unity against terror is genuinely what we are aiming for, it cannot be achieved by forcing some to live in terror of the state so that others can enjoy the illusion of security – we’re either all in this together or we’re not. Finally, the murder and humiliation of innocent people abroad at the hands of western forces is partly what has brought us to this point, helping to mobilise large numbers of disaffected Muslim youth. Being as callous and careless at home as we have been abroad will hurt, not help.
Police officers thought that De Menezes looked suspicious because he changed buses and looked fidgety, which is apparently how a well-trained terrorist would behave. It turned out he switched buses because the tube stop was closed, and was on edge because he was running late for work.
And when people are refracting their impressions through a lens of fear they rarely see straight. De Menezes was shot two weeks after jihadis had attacked tube trains and a bus in central London and a day after the failure of another plot. People were understandably jittery. Initial witness reports said that De Menezes was wearing a suspiciously large padded jacket on a hot day, had vaulted the ticket barriers.          [Abridged]

'We remain blindfolded about Isis' says Brian Keenan

Robert Fisk                    Independent/UK                November 15, 2015  

Brian Keenan was held by Shia Muslims loyal to Hezbollah in Lebanon for four and a half years With atrocities in Sinai, Beirut and Paris (and let’s keep the order in sequence here, since all those lost innocents, Russian, Lebanese and French, are equal as our brothers and sisters), I was beginning to think that our emotions were becoming as insane as the perpetrators of these crimes. An “act of war”, a response “without mercy” – the French response was straight out of the Isis vocabulary.

So immediately after the Paris massacres, I sought for reason, clarity and wisdom from a man who spent four and a half years in the hands of Muslim kidnappers – 54 months wearing a blindfold, always waiting for death. Had he been taken by Isis in Syria or Iraq, we would by now have been able to watch his beheading on video – yet he kept his sanity to write the only literary work to emerge from a Western kidnap victim of Beirut in the 1980s,
An Evil Cradling, a book that will live for a hundred years as a monument to humanity amid suffering.

Keenan sipped his coffee in Westport in the far west of Ireland – he was born in Belfast – and spoke slowly, almost philosophically. He rarely gives interviews. The Paris slaughter had happened only 16 hours earlier. “The contagion has broken out of its confinement,” he said. “Someone has planned all this for a long time. There is a lot of organisation – but it doesn’t take much of a commitment to kill people. What happened doesn’t surprise me. What surprised me was that what happened in Beirut [24 hours earlier] spun to Paris. It’s as if the culture of victimhood which is rife in the Middle East … has risen to new levels, legitimising the worst horrors.”

It’s not difficult to see that Keenan’s own experience slides imperceptibly into his arguments, giving them an elliptical quality as well as a frightening immediacy. He talks as if he is still confined in a Beirut cellar. “What do we need to do about this? In a global dimension, we all have to take some responsibility for this. My own thoughts – after four and a half years in captivity – is that the dispossession and the anger has to be acknowledged. These people have to be offered something more than revenge or Holy War or even this perverse Islamic apocalypse. I’ve seen too often the map of the Middle East changing – many borders are irrelevant now.

“What worries me is that as these old borders and ‘international zones’ disappear, ‘security barriers’ become the new borders. We’ve seen this in the Middle East and they are rapidly being erected across Europe. These worry me more than the term ‘terrorism’. They create these kinds of conceptual contours – it’s not just a wall, it’s a wall that defines a lot of cultural beliefs and misbeliefs. We are damaging ourselves with these walls.”

Keenan is a hard man. He has returned four times to Lebanon – on his own – since he was released by his hooded kidnappers, to discover what he calls “the stories lying about on the streets of Beirut if you just pick them up”. It’s a phrase used by the Lebanese writer Elias Khoury, who insisted that there was more than just one narrative – the Israeli story – about the Middle East, and it led Keenan to return to those who were behind his kidnapping. To understand all this, he thought, “was the debt Lebanon owed me”.

So he feels extraordinary sympathy with those who lost their loved ones in Paris. “I acknowledge their right to be angry,” he said. “But my own feeling is that anger can be healing if you use it in a meaningful way. Elie Wiesel has written of how he came back from the concentration camps full of anger – but he turned that into something creative. “It’s not easy. He talked about the panacea for anger and violence – he said that a country that does not build on a foundation of love will ultimately wither away with the poison it feeds off.”

 “Part of the problem with the Middle East,” he said, “is that war is diplomacy. That’s at the root of how you ‘justify’ and ‘meaningfully’ deal with the problem. “The other thing to ask is: who are the war criminals? There’s a kind of skewed vision of what a war criminal or a war crime is. We need to honestly think about this if we are going to talk about justice – so that everybody feels that justice is being done. If the Nakba [the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their land by Israel in 1948] has now gone global, we need a different set of principles. I don’t know that people are ready to make that profound self-examination. Until we can un-blindly question how power is dispensed, then we’re all wearing blindfolds.”

The Hollandes and Camerons and Obamas of the world will not read these words, of course. Emotion, not reason, is the policy option. “Without mercy” is now our dogma as well as that of Isis. Which is why Isis is winning. But I guess you need four and a half years in a blindfold to understand that. [Abridged]

Monday, 16 November 2015

War Now Displaces 60 Million. Time for World to 'Reaffirm Its Humanity'

In rare joint call, head of both UN and International Red Cross say human conflict is reaching unprecedented proportions

By Jon Queally, staff writer              Common Dreams                 October 31, 2015

In a rare joint call, the head of the UN and International Red Cross stressed the importance of respect for international humanitarian law in order to stem the chaos and prevent further instability.

Citing nearly unprecedented levels of conflict and instability across the world, the heads of both the United Nations and the International Red Cross on Saturday issued a rare joint call warning that nations and global leaders must dramatically step up efforts to scale back wars and military actions that are causing massive human suffering while ripping apart families, communities, entire nations, and regions.

"Rarely before have we witnessed so many people on the move, so much instability, so much suffering," said Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). "In armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere, combatants are defying humanity’s most fundamental norms. Every day, we hear of civilians being killed and wounded in violation of the basic rules of international humanitarian law, and with total impunity. Instability is spreading. Suffering is growing. No country can remain untouched."

Citing figures that are the highest they've been since the Second World War, the two agencies said that sixty million people around the world have now been displaced from their homes because of conflict and violence. What's more, they say, today's conflicts have become more protracted, meaning that many displaced people face years away from their homes, communities and livelihoods.

Both Mr. Maurer and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stressed that the institutions they lead are in a unique position to bear witness to the consequences of these numerous conflicts around the world as they condemned the heads of nation states for doing far too little.

"In the face of blatant inhumanity, the world has responded with disturbing paralysis," said Ban. "This flouts the very raison d’être of the United Nations. The world must reaffirm its humanity and uphold its commitments under international humanitarian law. Today we speak with one voice to urge all States to take immediate, concrete steps to ease the plight of civilians."

Offering at least a partial set of solutions to the global crisis of war and conflict, the UN and ICRC leaders called on leaders of world governments to the following urgent actions:
Redouble efforts to find sustainable solutions to conflicts and take concrete steps to that effect.
  • Individually and collectively, use every means to wield influence over parties to armed conflict to respect the law, including carrying out effective investigations into breaches of international humanitarian law, holding perpetrators accountable, and developing concrete mechanisms to improve compliance.
  • Condemn those who commit serious violations of international humanitarian law, such as deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure.
  • Ensure unhindered access to medical and humanitarian missions and protect medical and humanitarian workers and facilities.
  • Protect and assist internally displaced people and refugees while they are fleeing insecurity, and help them to find long-term solutions, while supporting host countries and communities.
  • Stop the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas.

Personal Reflection

Arthurspeaceblogspot has rarely contained frank comments on the articles that have been featured here. For the most part I have left these writers to speak their minds, believing that they have something important to say, something that we should take seriously even when we have doubts about parts thereof. But I expect it has been clear that I am not in the business of encouraging a warlike response to any of the crises that have been reported on our media in the last six years or so while this blog has been running.  In that time there has been a steady backward drift, with violence regularly meeting counter-violence, and the odds heavily weighted on the side of traditional power blocs and big money.

Now we have reached a new low in Paris. Surely some new thinking is called for, and a new voice that speaks of a creative way ahead, at  some cost no doubt, but not in more sophisticated military hardware, proxy wars, and fear of terrorists. At this moment I see little sign of that new voice that speaks to our need. But the two articles that follow this will emphasize how much we are in want of it.

Your comments are welcome.


Saturday, 14 November 2015

Yellow Ribbons and Endless War

By R.C. Koehler             Common Dreams             Nov. 12, 2015
 “By God,” Bush said in triumph, “we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.” This was Bush 41, a quarter of a century ago, celebrating the terrific poll numbers his kwik-win war on Iraq was war — still has a shadow presence in America, but it no longer matters.

Our official policy is endless bombing, endless war. No matter
how much suffering it causes — over a million dead, maybe as many as two million, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan — and no matter how poorly it serves any rational objectives, our official response to geopolitical trouble of every sort is to bomb it into compliance.

Greg Grandin, writing recently at Tom Dispatch about Henry Kissinger’s extraordinary contribution over four decades to Washington’s war-no-matter-what consensus, pinpoints a moment at the onset of Gulf War I that gave me deep pause. In that moment, war had lost its controversy, its raw demand for public sacrifice. Suddenly war was little more than . . . entertainment, as cozily unifying to the American public as professional sports.

Back in 1969, shortly after Richard Nixon was inaugurated (on a platform that included ending the war in Vietnam), Kissinger and Nixon launched — in deep, dark secrecy — their bombing campaign against Cambodia. This campaign was a war crime of the highest order, devastating and utterly destabilizing Cambodia and creating the preconditions for genocide, as it allowed the Khmer Rouge to come to power.

Fast-forward a few decades. Kissinger was no longer in government, but as a high-profile pundit, he was still a major player in American politics, and he pushed the war button at every opportunity. So when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Kissinger was an early proponent of a military response. Eventually, of course, George H.W. Bush launched Operation Desert Storm.

And Kissinger, wrote Grandin, “was once again a man of the moment. But how expectations had shifted since 1970! When President Bush launched his bombers on January 17, 1991, it was in the full glare of the public eye, recorded for all to see. There was no veil of secrecy and no secret furnaces, burned documents, or counterfeited flight reports. After a four-month-long on-air debate among politicians and pundits, ‘smart bombs’ lit up the sky over Baghdad and Kuwait City as the TV cameras rolled.”

 “It would be a techno-display of such apparent omnipotence that President Bush got the kind of mass approval Kissinger and Nixon never dreamed possible. With instant replay came instant gratification, confirmation that the president had the public’s backing. On January 18, only a day into the assault, CBS announced that a new poll ‘indicates extremely strong support for Mr. Bush’s Gulf offensive.’”

There were yellow ribbons around every light pole as Bush proclaimed that “Vietnam syndrome” was dead. All it took was a permanent shift of responsibility away from the public at large — via elimination of the draft — combined with an ultra-sophisticated public relations effort that successfully turned our former ally, Saddam Hussein, into The Face of Evil. The slaughter of 100,000 Iraqis during the month-and-a-half-long Desert Storm was, apparently, a small price to pay for the good we had accomplished.

And a different kind of syndrome — Gulf War Syndrome, a.k.a., Gulf War Illness — the name for the serious health consequences suffered by American soldiers due to an array of war-related toxic exposures, including ultra-fine depleted uranium dust, was well off in the future at that point, with bureaucratic denial and media indifference destined to minimize its impact on public awareness.

A decade later, another Bush in office, the Towers go down. George W. proclaims that America will take on Evil itself. And even though his successor, Barack Obama, is swept into office on the global hope for peace, war remains the default setting. Fourteen years in, war does, indeed, look endless. Obama recently announced, for instance, that he won’t be the one to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. War is now, as I say, impervious to democracy, despite the incredible harm — the millions killed directly and indirectly because of the war on terror, 60 million refugees worldwide, numerous countries in chaos — it continues to cause.

Maybe, as scattered individuals, we long for peace, but for now, the interests of war are safely fortified from this longing. As we stand against these interests anyway, let’s declare, as a starting place, our belief that war is never the path to peace.  [Abridged] Robert C. Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist

Sunday, 1 November 2015

New book reveals details of life under Isis

It details all of Isis’s cruelty, but places it in the context of a very bloody history

By Robert Fisk                            Independent/UK                    30 October 2015

Before Obama’s few dozen brave Spartans put their little bootees on the soil of the tiny bit of Syria that the Kurds hold, they should learn a bit about Isis from the work of a Syrian historian. He is Sami Moubayed, a historian and former scholar at the Carnegie Center in Beirut and he lives in Damascus. He is a brave man, and knows it.

“This book is very dangerous for me,” he told me. “It could take my life. It’s very different from the kind of history I’ve written about before – it’s about a very different Syria with very different characteristics and it was very painful for me to write... You need to fight the radicals, yes, but bombing these people is not the answer.”

As Moubayed also says in his book, “The pre-Baathist Syria of the 1950s will never return – nor will the Baathist one of 1963-2011... I have no sympathy with Islamists and power-hungry soldiers. What is happening today is a completely new chapter in the history of my country. It is an ugly chapter but one that will last much longer than any of us desire.” A pessimist? Certainly no Baathist. Moubayed should indeed take care.

He’s been to Raqqa, talked to Isis officials, he’s even met their slick media guys, one of whom, Abu al-Nada al-Faraj, a 25-year-old English graduate from Aleppo University who treats Isis as “just another well-paying employer”, translates for Isis’s gruesome magazine, Dabiq. All its staff are European Muslims, Google addicts with a list of critical publications to read. The Independent is among them. But so is the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy and the Syrian government news agency SANA.

Raqqa has an efficient tax system and schools have reopened – segregated, with a heavy emphasis on religion – although it’s ironic to learn that exam papers are forwarded across the front lines to the Syrian government ministry of education in Damascus. All-powerful Isis, it seems, is not as all-powerful as it seems.

In his scandalously under-reviewed but deeply revealing new book, Moubayed details all of Isis’s cruel and inhuman punishments and executions – war crimes indeed – but is intent on placing them in the context of a very bloody history. There are, for example, painful historical precedents for the frightening “Islamic state” which now exists, from the edge of Baghdad almost to the Mediterranean. Sunni Muslims believe that a caliph must trace his origins back to the Quraysh clan of Mecca, to which the Prophet himself belonged. Thus al-Baghdadi insists on using two additional names, “al-Qurashi”, and “al-Hassani” (descendant of the Prophet’s grandson, al-Hassan ibn Ali). Isis always refer to him with these names.

In the 14th century, Ibn Taymiyyah, a Muslim theologian, sought a return to the purity of Islam from moral corruption, calling for a holy jihad to create an Islamic state. In the 18th century, Mohamed Abdul-Wahab and Muhammad ibn Saud – whose family now rules Saudi Arabia – went on head-chopping expeditions to extend their purest rule over Arab lands. Al-Saud’s historian, Uthman bin Bashir al-Najadi, wrote after 5,000 Shia Muslims were butchered in 1801: “We took Karbala and we slaughtered… With the permission of Allah, we will not apologise for what we have done and we tell all kafir [unbelievers] ‘You will receive similar treatment’.”

Sound familiar? It could be Jihadi John himself. Nor is it surprising that al-Baghdadi chose Raqqa as his capital. He studied three histories of the Syrian city, because at the height of the Abbasid dynasty, a Muslim empire stretching from north Africa to central Asia was controlled from the very same cityQuite a dissection of Isis for US Special Forces to ponder before they tip-toe over the Syrian border. But they might also remember that the Prophet ordered the execution of prisoners captured in the battle of Badr in 624, a precedent followed by later Muslim leaders; the Ottomans beheaded King Ladislaus of Hungary and King Stephen of Bosnia and his sons after they surrendered.

And those most obedient of Muslims, the Saudis, beheaded more than 50 people in one year alone. Yup folks, it’s those Saudis again – one of America’s most loyal allies... [Abridged]