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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Politics of Terrorism

 Abu Afsarul Haider

It's not the religion that creates terrorists, it's the politics. Terrorism is driven by politics even when the justifications given for the killing of innocents and the recruiting tools of terrorist groups are cast in religious, ethnic, linguistic or moral terms. Terrorism, for instance, is not fundamentally caused or driven by the theological differences between religions or by the differences in legal precepts between a religion and a state system. During an attack on Paris on Friday, November 13, 2015, gunmen and suicide bombers shouted “Allahu Akbar” as they detonated bombs in a concert at the Bataclan venue; the attacks have left at least 129 people dead and countless more injured. It would seem that their act has something to do with their religion. Taking advantage of the situation, many media platforms defamed Islam by portraying these bombers as 'Islamists' or 'Jihadists', as though they were sanctioned by Islam, or had any legitimate spokesmanship on behalf of the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world.  Jihad is not a declaration of war against other religions; that is a misconception. The word “Jihad" means struggling or striving while a holy war in Arabic would be "al harb al muqaddasa”.
Terrorists do not do Jihad, they do terrorism. Throughout history, people have perpetrated extreme terrorism in the name of religion, whether it be Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism or any other faith. There has been violence between Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka, Buddhists and Hindus in Bhutan, Hindus and Sikhs in Punjab, Eritreans and Ethiopians in the Horn of Africa, Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda, ethnic Russians and Ukrainians in the former Soviet Union. But because of the mainstream media's narrow and often misplaced focus, most Westerners believe that religious extremism is primarily a problem of Islam. Today, Islam has been associated with terrorism and violence due to the actions of a few extreme individuals. Just as Christianity was not represented by the churchgoing militias of Radovan Karadzic in Bosnia some 20 years ago or Judaism is nor represented by West Bank settlers who burn mosques, Islam too is not represented by ISIS or its affiliated organisations.  
Attacks on the West by IS or their affiliated groups were never over theological differences between Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The grievances expressed are broadly political in nature, and address, explicitly and implicitly, issues such as economic oppression, colonialism and political corruption. While public documents and communiqués put forth by these organisations or their followers normally start with statements invoking religious themes, the grievances expressed, real or imagined, and the objectives are always political in nature. However, if one were to question these attackers about why they do what they do, I am sure that they would present a religious justification. Indeed, religious slogans and quotes from the Qur'an are constantly on their lips. But the fact remains that these young males are often jobless, powerless, disaffected, and angry. They see Western powers as hegemonic and exploitative in their actions and intentions. They live in oppressive, autocratic, or dysfunctional societies that offer them few opportunities for economic advancement and none for political participation. As a consequence, they become radicalised. While their radicalism is superficially religious, and while religion may serve as a catalyst for their radicalisation, the true underlying motivation is a sense of outrage that is politically and economically induced.
Terrorism is rooted in concrete social and economic conditions - in deprivation, joblessness, discrimination, poverty and social marginality. Terrorism is the inevitable byproduct of inequality and injustice of the existing social and economic system. According to officials, at least three of the suicide bombers of the Paris attacks were French. France is home to an estimated 4.7 million Muslims who are highly segregated from the rest of the French society. In Paris, many Muslims live in the city's suburbs, known as banlieues. Tension between France and its Muslim population is strong and historic, rooted in the country's colonial activities and its treatment of French Algerians. Today, discrimination, poor employment opportunities, poverty, and isolation are all common in Paris' banlieues. 
Now, the question is why do terrorists kill innocent people? When survival is at stake, it should not be surprising that such heinous activities come to be viewed by the offender as an opportunity rather than a cost. They think that force is the most direct way of achieving their goal or to take revenge upon an injustice against them. Such terrorists first practice by attacking soft targets until they are empowered to achieve their desired political influence. They then try to create panic with the hope that civilians, out of desperation, will demand that their state end the horror by any means, including giving in to the terrorists' demands. The primary weapon of terrorism is fear – not bombs or guns. Their attacks, in most cases, have a strategic objective to compel a regime to hear their voices or force 'aliens' to leave the territory that they view as their homeland.  Here, to seek an explanation for terrorism is not to excuse the terrorists' monstrous attacks on innocent civilians but understanding what motivates them to kill could help find ways to reduce terrorism. 
Terrorism needs to be confronted by a state's political will, not by its physical power. On September 26, 2001, fifteen days after 9/11, America invaded Afghanistan and they are at war even today. Similarly, just two days after bombing and gun attacks in Paris, twelve French warplanes bombarded Raqqa, the de facto 'capital' of IS in Syria. The thirst for revenge or declaring a 'war on terror' is not the solution. Terrorism cannot be eradicated as long as oppression or the perception of oppression remains. As long as there is non-parity in the strength of the parties on the various sides of the political argument, there will be those who choose violence as a means of advancing their goals. 
Terrorists represent only a minuscule faction of any group. The so-called IS terrorists and their affiliated groups take satisfaction in sacrificing their own lives in their belief that they are doing a glorious job (as if the heaven has been kept reserved for killers). The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of these young fighters, who happen to have Muslim names or ascribe themselves to the Muslim faith, have never read the Qur'an in its proper context. When these texts are not read in their proper textual and historical contexts, they are manipulated and distorted. On the other hand, the US and their allies who possess the most advanced deadly war machines with which they can destroy countries twenty times over, take the satisfaction in taking away the life of others, in the name of killing their perceived enemies and even killing in the name of their so-called suspected enemies, and in their belief that they are also doing a glorious job (as if Jesus Christ is standing there to absolve all their crimes against humanity). It goes without saying, therefore, that both these parties apply the same technique for achieving their political goals, i.e. terrorism. One party terrorises by suicide- bombing, while the other party terrorises by 'shock-and-awe' military invasions and deadly air-raids. Therefore, they are nothing else but two sides of the same coin. Both are therefore evil. But for an answer to the question on who is the greater evil, ask your conscience.

The writer is a businessman. He can be contacted at afsarulhaider@gmail.com.    

Source:  The Daily Star, 03 December 2015

Turkey’s inexorable descent to extremism

A Rahman

Turkey may be viewed by the developing countries as well as by the Muslim world as an advanced industrialised country very much in tune with the Western democratic system. But this perception is largely misplaced now and very much out of date. The reality of Turkey’s position is far from this perception.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a supremely enigmatic nationalist and visionary leader, picked up Turkey from its darkest hour in 1923 when Ottoman Sultanate was abolished and a modern, secular republic was born. He became the first president of the republic and run the country as president until his death in 1938. He introduced a number of revolutionary reforms to this decrepit Islamic state, such as the abolition of all out-dated Islamic institutions, the emancipation of women, introduction of western education system, legal codes, dress and the replacement of Arabic script with Latin ones. Good cordial relations with neighbouring countries and collaboration with the West were the central planks of the foreign policy. It was not for nothing that he was accorded by his countrymen the title ‘Ataturk’ – Father of the Turks.
Fast forward time by 80 years from 1935 to 2015 and you would see Turkey in exact reverse situation to that of 1935. Islamism is ripe in the country, women are in veils, Muslim Brotherhood is all but its name running the country and Islamic terrorists are patronised by the incumbent administration. Almost all the neighbouring states are at loggerhead with the present administration and the previous friendly states are keen to maintain their distances.
How did this severe and unprecedented reversal of Turkey’s predicament take place, even though Kemal Ataturk is still greatly revered and the country maintains a façade of western democracy? The answer lies solely with the mind set of present president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who over the past 12 years or so had taken Turkey away from the secular state into the fold of Islamism. Erdogan, a semi-professional footballer in his early life, comes from an Islamist political background who founded the political party called AKP in 2001.
As an aggressive and manipulative politician, he managed to become the prime minister within just two years in 2003 and remained in that position until 2014 when he became the president in 2014. Only a month ago, in a re-election he managed to get by duplicitous means the overall majority in the parliament and now, it is feared, that his autocratic streak will be unleashed to the full.
Syrian war just across the border had pushed Erdogan’s Turkey to the forefront of the conflict, more like Pakistan in 1979 in the Afghan war. Whereas the Afghan war had only a limited number of protagonists – Islamists comprising Mujahedin supported by Pakistan, Arab States and America against the Afghan government supported by the then USSR – the Syrian conflict is infinitely more complex and convoluted. The number of protagonists is literally endless and alliances and adversities between them keep changing all the time.
Erdogan with his natural propensity towards Muslim Brotherhood (MB) had sided right from the beginning of the Syrian war in the summer of 2011 with the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), which was nothing but a loose coalition of rag-tag militia organisations. The main objective of this FSA is to depose the legitimate government of Bashar al-Assad. Erdogan’s administration and Wahhabi Arabs (both Sunni) had visceral antipathy towards the Alawite Assad (Shiia) and hence it can be said that the centuries old internecine Shiia-Sunni conflict is being played out in Syria now. The Arabs and NATO member Turkey had managed to convince America that the dictator Assad should be replaced by a democratic leader (probably from the Sunni sect!).
Hardly did America realise that all of her Arab friends are vicious dictators themselves, all vying out to spread virulent Wahhabism under the disguise of democracy. When dictators like Saddam Hussain of Iraq or Col. Gaddafi of Libya were forcibly overthrown in the name of democracy, those countries descended into anarchy and Islamic extremism flourished.
When America and the West started supporting the FSA, the cheerleader Erdogan allowed Jihadists from across the globe and war materials from the Arab states to pass through his country undeterred. Only when ISIL/IS was spawned about two years ago declaring their ambition to create an Islamic Caliphate covering not only Iraq and Syria but also Saudi Arabia and other smaller Arab States, Arabs did realise that they had created a monster, a Frankenstein and gradually pulled back. Erdogan had nothing to fear from this but all to gain as IS are going to swallow the Kurds. The destruction of the Arab heartland is nothing but a collateral damage to Erdogan.
The arrival of Russia had changed the whole complexion of the Syrian conflict completely, to the detriment of Erdogan. Erdogan wants to destroy Assad and the Kurds and help IS, whereas Russia (as well as Iran) want exactly the opposite. America and European Union want to demolish IS, but do not want to be seen in the company of Russia!
The downing of Russian bomber plane (Su-24) last Tuesday (24 Nov 2015) by Turkey under the direct order of Erdogan was nothing but a vindictive step by him to provoke Russia into a direct conflict with the NATO and thereby let IS get respite from the Russian assault. The Russian plane was, even according to Turkish version, in the Turkish territory for only 17 seconds and when it was shot down it was outside its border. It may be pointed out that it is the first time a Russian war plane had been shot down by a NATO Member State since the end of Korean war in the early part
of 1950s.
All the combatants in the Syrian conflict – America, Europe and Russia – had their primary goal to degrade and destroy IS, except Erdogan who is making all sorts of duplicitous moves to support IS. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, warned Erdogan of “significant consequences” of his action of downing the Russian plane. But Erdogan bragged that he would do the same if Russian planes stray into Turkish territory. The Russian state news agency, Sputnik, warned, “The sick man of NATO, Erdogan’s madness could provoke WWIII”. Russia is taking all steps to terminate its economic links with Turkey. Last year four million Russians took holidays in Turkey and now there is a ban on selling any Turkish holiday in Russia.
Erdogan is taking Turkey backward, which is a direct reversal of what Kemal Ataturk had created. Turkey’s prospect of joining European Union is all but gone and its existence in the NATO would be severely questioned. Also there is the uncanny similarity between Turkey of today and Pakistan in the 1980s. Like Pakistan, Turkey will be the hotbed of Islamic terrorists and that will devour the whole country. It is sad to see an advanced Muslim State reverts to primitive conditions only because of religious dumbness of a single person.

The writer is a distinguished freethinker. He was a nuclear safety specialist with over 32 years of experience in the British civil and military nuclear establishments


Source:  The Independent, 02 December 2015

FROM A BYSTANDER: An ambiguous UN resolution and a downed warplane

Mahmood Hasan

THE situation surrounding the Syrian civil war is getting worse by the day. The war on terrorism is getting more complicated. Two developments deserve close analysis: the open-ended, ambiguous UN Security Council Resolution 2249 (2015) adopted on November 20, and the shooting down of a Russian fighter jet by Turkish air force near the Turkish-Syrian border on November 24. 
The audacious attack, amid monumental intelligence failure in Paris, by ISIL on November 13 was a direct challenge to France. France is a Nato power and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. In a way it was a challenge to all the five powerful permanent members of the United Nations. ISIL has demonstrated its reach and ability to attack a powerful country. ISIL also had the temerity to threaten attacks on New York and other western targets. 
French President Francois Hollande has declared war on terrorism and has vowed to destroy ISIL. Hollande was in Washington on November 24 to meet President Obama and met President Putin on November 26 to discuss the formation of an international coalition to fight ISIL.
Earlier, on November 20, 2015, the UN Security Council met to discuss the threat posed by ISIL. The Security Council adopted French-sponsored Resolution 2249 unanimously, which is open to interpretation of convenience. The positive element of Resolution 2249 is that it was adopted unanimously, which is rare these days. Terrorist attacks have spurred the P5 members to close ranks. The Resolution unequivocally condemned the Paris attack. 
A careful reading of the Resolution will reveal that French Quay d'Orsay drafted the resolution cleverly, which none of the members found difficult to vote for. Legal experts have pointed out some of the lacunae in the language of the Resolution. The Resolution has been described by experts as 'creative ambiguity'.   
First, the 8-para Resolution, with the usual preamble, was not adopted under Chapter VII. Chapter VII actually authorises military action in order to restore peace and security. The Resolution urges member states to “take all necessary measures in compliance with international law” against ISIL. Here 'necessary measures' have been left vague – open to interpretation of convenience. Thus an aggrieved France took a strong standpoint of authorising self-defence against armed attacks and tripling its air strikes against ISIL, under article 51 of the UN Charter.  
Interestingly, the Resolution has not authorised military action directly – but has authorised it implicitly. It has now given post-facto legitimacy to French and American bombing of ISIL. Earlier, Russia entered the war on Syria's request. Britain, which has not yet joined, is now invoking self-defence to go after ISIL. Prime Minister Cameron is currently seeking House of Commons' approval. China is unlikely to join the fray.
Second, Res. 2249 has implicitly recognised ISIL as a state, as it has elements of a state – such as significant territory, a population and access to natural resources (oil).   
Third, in its preamble, the Resolution talks about 'respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence and unity of all states' – but by authorising actions against ISIL it has purposefully ignored the sovereignty of Syria and Iraq.
The other extremely dangerous development that put everyone on tenterhooks was the shooting down of a Russian jet by Turkish air force on November 24. Since Russia started its operations in Syria, such an incident was just waiting to happen. 
Turkish military said it shot the plane after it was repeatedly warned about violating Turkish airspace. Moscow said that the jet was well inside Syrian territory. The Russian plane fell inside Syrian territory and one of the two pilots was killed by a Syrian rebel commander who boasted of the killing. The bellicose narratives coming out of Ankara and Kremlin are contradictory. Who is telling the truth is difficult to ascertain at this stage.
Outraged President Putin has described the incident as a 'stab in the back… by accomplices of terrorists'. He also said Moscow-Ankara relations will have 'serious consequences' and has imposed sanctions on Ankara. Russia has accused Turkey for this “planned provocation”, hinting that it was instigated (by US?) to scuttle the Syrian peace process. 
The shooting created panic in Europe as Kremlin is already at odds with Nato because of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Alarmed Nato members went into huddle on November 24 at its headquarters in Brussels. Nato and the United Nations have urged Turkey and Russia to show restraint and to deescalate the tension. Russia, however, has moved anti-aircraft missiles in Syria to protect its warplanes. 
This sudden escalation of tension between Turkey and Russia will have wide ramifications for the war against ISIL. The UNSC Resolution 2249, despite its vagueness, created an opportunity to build a broad international platform to defeat ISIL. That may now be difficult. The possible casualty of the shooting will be the Syrian peace deal, which is being negotiated in Vienna. 
Defeating ISIL will be an impossible task because of differences in the strategies of the players engaged in Syria. ISIL cannot be eliminated by bombs. It can be dismantled only by ground forces, which none of the western nations are willing to commit at this stage. 
The fight against ISIL is actually not a fight between Islam and the West. It is in reality a fight by young people, who happen to be Muslims, against depravation, alienation, discrimination and gross injustice. One has to go into the origins of the rise of this violent force and its ability to survive and grow in strength over the past three years. But that is another story.  
With so many players in the war against ISIL the situation has definitely become extremely complex and dangerous. Too many cooks spoil the broth.

The writer is former Ambassador and Secretary.

Source:  The Daily Star, 30 November 2015

STRATEGICALLY SPEAKING OF HAMMER AND NAIL

Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc (Retd)

"To all those who have seen these awful things, I want to say we are going to lead a war which will be pitiless. Because when terrorists are capable of committing such atrocities they must be certain that they are facing a determined France, a united France, a France that is together and does not let itself be moved, even if today we express infinite sorrow."
THOSE are the words of a person who has been deeply hurt. President Hollande rightly expresses the feeling of a person seeking immediate retribution of deep pain inflicted upon his nation. And that is exactly what begs the question.
Commentators have queried soon after the Paris attacks whether La Republique has the answers to the problems it is facing. François Hollande's immediate response and some of his other actions that he has proposed to the French Parliament on Monday, consequent upon the terrorist attacks, does not suggest that the severity and character of the crisis that France has to deal with, a crisis that stems not only from some of its internal policies but also its participation in wars against terror in recent times, has been really grasped. On the other hand, it does remind one of Abraham Maslow's comment: "If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail." 
Like any other world leader invested with unrestrained power to act, every problem posed by Islamic extremism to France, and indeed to the Western world, appears to be a nail. The propensity for a kinetic energy approach (as an Indian security expert aptly described) in such a situation, rather than a more sober and perhaps more efficacious and long lasting chemical energy approach, is manifest in the reaction.
The IS phenomenon must be combated and its raison d'être must be defeated, but is a 'pitiless war' the answer to a problem, one that has been created entirely by the monocular, lopsided, biased and double standards approach of the West, particularly of countries like France and the US? President Obama speaks of 'eliminating terrorism totally,' without him or his bevy of advisors having any idea of how to go about it. And the reaction of Polish foreign minister following the Paris attacks betrays a pulverised mind. Remember President Bush brandishing (later retracting) the threat of Crusade after 9/11. What the world is enduring today is in great part the result of Bush's shortsighted strategy.   
President Hollande calls it an act of war by IS on the French people. It indeed is. Nothing of this proportion has been unleashed on the French since WWII. But the irony of the matter is that the act of war has been committed by the very group that the West and France have sponsored against Assad. 
While in no way justifying the senseless attack on civilians and the killings, for the Syrians and the IS, France has been already at war with them since the commencement of bombardment by the coalition air forces of Iraq (against IS targets) and Syria. And as the IS claims, the Paris attacks are in response to the French bombing of IS.  
And if we believe terrorism to be the weapon of the weak, the IS has sought to achieve an equilibrium, since it cannot indulge in open hostility, at least at this particular point in time, by targeting the soft targets - the civilians - which for them are collateral damage, just as the unfortunate civilians in those countries bombarded by the West in their action against the extremists. As an aside, air campaign alone is not the answer to IS; one wonders whether the air campaign over the period of the last one year has in any way degraded IS capability to carry on with their strategic and tactical agenda. 
The purpose of the foregoing comments was to highlight the ineffectiveness of the strategy of the West of combating a peril which the faulty policy of the US and West has in the first place spawned and which their equally contradictory and self defeating policy in Syria has helped to sustain. And whose dire consequences the rest of the world is suffering. 
For the rest of the world the IS has become the greatest threat, and it is not for the US or the West to combat it alone. Terrorism cannot be totally annihilated through a 'pitiless war' only. Those who think in those lines are unaware of what they are dealing with. It needs collaboration, more so of Muslim countries, who stand to suffer as much, if not more, than the others in the ongoing struggle of ideas and scampering for strategic resources. Moderate minds must come together cutting across national divide, beliefs and taboos, to combat this phenomenon.

The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star

Source:  The Daily Star, 19 November 2015

PARIS ATTACKS Sad but not surprising at all

Taj Hashmi

THE terrorist attack in Paris on November 13 has rocked the whole world. Some people have already started calling the attack the “French 9/11”.  Meanwhile, Facebook users globally, including Muslims (among others, our daughter and friends), have changed their profile, temporarily using the French colours in solidarity with the innocent victims of the attack. President Obama was among the first Western leaders to condemn the attack in unambiguous terms. He considered the gruesome attack “not just on the people of France, but [also] an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”
Despite ISIS's claim, there's no solid evidence of ISIS involvement in the Paris Attack. However, there is nothing so surprising about a Syrian – Islamist or secular – backlash against France. France's direct involvement in bombing ISIS positions in Syria since September and its plan to bomb ISIS Headquarters at Raqqa and the French support for the US-sponsored Regime Change operation against Bashar al-Assad could be important factors behind the Paris Attack.  
The US and its allies have been quite ineffective in neutralising the ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Since the US-led Coalition has been mainly interested in overthrowing the Assad regime – a common enemy of the ISIS as well – there seems to be no logical explanation behind the purported ISIS terror attack in Paris. In view of the formidable pressure by the Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah forces on ISIS strongholds in Syria, the terror outfit is least likely to provoke France by a mega terror attack in Paris. Then again, one is not sure. The ISIS could have taken a suicidal move, out of total desperation.
However, whoever was behind the attack, has successfully implicated the ISIS in it. Thanks to the online circulation of videos of brutal execution of Muslim and Western captives by ISIS terrorists, the terror outfit has outperformed al Qaeda and all other nihilist Islamist terrorist groups to emerge as the most dreadful and hated terrorist group in the world. The Paris Attack has given a loud wake up call to France and the world at large. Muslims and non-Muslims seem to have no reservations about waging an all out war against ISIS. France has already accelerated its aerial bombings on ISIS targets in Syria. It might be the only positive outcome of the attack. Unlike what followed the 9/11 attacks – the enigmatic and vague “War on Terror” – the Paris Attack has led to the French Declaration of war against the ISIS in the most unambiguous terms. Let's hope a concerted Russo-American-French attack on ISIS will soon decimate the terrorist group.
However as 9/11 has left behind unanswered questions and unresolved issues, so has the latest Paris Attack. Apparently, they were terrorist attacks by ideologically motivated people to draw global attention to their cause to establish the supremacy of Islam as an alternative order to Western capitalism. We can't convince ourselves that the desire of establishing the so-called “Islamic World Order” could at all be a motive behind the attacks. Gallup polls of global Muslims reveal that the Ummah (Global Muslim community) is least interested in an “Islamic World Order,” let alone supportive of terrorism and anarchy. We need to know who were behind 9/11 and the Paris Attack. We need to know who benefitted most from the attacks. After the American-sponsored invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the world has been further polarised between the Muslim and Western worlds. America's keeping the military option wide open has further aggravated the situation, especially in the wake of the American-sponsored selective “regime change operations” in the Muslim World. 
We have reasons to be optimistic about the end of the ISIS menace within a year or so, but we also have reasons to worry about the US's persistence that “Assad must go.” We believe immediate removal of Assad from power would not resolve the ethno-national and sectarian conflicts in Syria, which like Iraq, is an artificial entity, not a nation state like France or Germany. We believe the US policy of limiting the influence of Iran in Syria and Iraq, and the US policy of destabilising Iraq and Syria to the benefit of Israel, would backfire to the detriment of regional and global peace. Due to the lack of well-entrenched liberal democratic and secular traditions and institutions in the Middle East, the people in general are vulnerable to religious extremism, and subject to mobilisation along sectarian and tribal lines.
In the backdrop of Western cover-ups, the erosion of liberal values and the non-existent “soft power approach” by America, there is nothing to celebrate about winning the “War on Terror”. The public demonisation of Islam and Muslims won't do any good to anybody. The end of the Cold War – roughly coinciding with the beginning of the Globalisation Process and the IT Revolution – paved the way for another Cold War between the West and its real and imaginary adversaries in the Muslim World and beyond, in China and Russia. In the wake of the end of the bipolar world, the so-called unipolar world created new problems between the Western and Islamic worlds. These conflicts – reflected in ethno-national, sectarian and class conflicts – are about conflicts of interests and hegemonies, not “clash of civilisations”.
The end of the Cold War did not bring the promised peace, prosperity, justice and freedom for the Muslim World. However, after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, many Muslims started thinking of staging revolutions in their own countries. The four Arab-Israeli wars since 1948, the Indian occupation of Kashmir and Western invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq embittered Muslims against Jews, Hindus and Christians. Muslims, as aggrieved victims, have been going through the following stages of: a) Denial; b) Shock; c) Grief; d) Compromise; and e) Acceptance. Nine-Eleven led to denial, American retaliation to the attacks shocked and further attacks and humiliation brought grief.
Without being cynical and disrespectful to the 129 innocent victims of the Paris Attack, one may wonder why no Western leader has ever said similar things in solidarity with the Indians, Indonesians, Pakistanis, Nigerians, Somalis, Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans or Lebanese in the wake of major terror attacks in these countries. The day before the Paris Attack, ISIS suicide bombers killed 43 and severely wounded around 200 people in Beirut. And Western leaders, media and people in general were indifferent to the tragedy; Obama did not consider the Beirut massacre “an attack on all of humanity”.
I am not the only “cynic” around! Some Western writers and bloggers have raised the similar question if some deaths are worth mourning, while other deaths are insignificant. David Swanson, author of War is a Lie, and a 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, questions why “We Are All France! Though We Are Never All Lebanon or Syria or Iraq!” He is also critical of the West, which never declares “deaths in Yemen or Pakistan or Palestine to be attacks on our common humanity.” Australian blogger Chris Graham critiqued Western vulnerability to “selective grief and outrage.”
Nevertheless, as Indian blogger Karuna Ezara Parikh's poem (which has gone viral in social media) suggests, we should “say a prayer for Paris by all means but pray more, for the world that does not have a prayer.” We must pray for Beirut and Baghdad as well, and stop calling Arab refugees, who ran away from terrorists to freedom, terrorists. However, as the “selective grief and outrage” of the West is disturbing, so is its finger pointing at Syrian/Arab refugees in France for the Paris massacre. Politicising the Paris attacks, as US conservatives Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich have done, is even worse. They impute the attacks to the strict gun control laws in France. As if armed civilians have ever neutralised terrorist attacks in America!

The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University. Sage has recently published his latest book, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.

Source:  The Daily Star, 16 November 2015

Southeast Asia ‘forgets’ about Western terror

Andre Vltchek

SOUTHEAST Asian elites ‘forgot’ about those tens of millions of Asian people murdered by the Western imperialism at the end of and after the WWII. They ‘forgot’ about what took place in the North — about the Tokyo and Osaka firebombing, about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs, about the barbaric liquidation of Korean civilians by the US forces. But they also forgot about their own victims — about those hundreds of thousands, in fact about the millions, of those who were blown to pieces, burned by chemicals or directly liquidated — men, women and children of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, the Philippines and East Timor.
All is forgiven and all is forgotten.
And once again the Empire is proudly ‘pivoting’ into Asia; it is even bragging about it.
It goes without saying that the Empire has no shame and no decency left. It boasts about democracy and freedom, while it does not even bother to wash the blood of tens of millions off its hands.
All over Asia, the ‘privileged populaces’ has chosen to not know, to not remember, or even to erase all terrible chapters of the history. Those who insist on remembering are being silenced, ridiculed, or made out to be irrelevant.
Such selective amnesia, such ‘generosity’ will very soon backfire. Shortly, it will fly back like a boomerang. History repeats itself. It always does, the history of the Western terror and colonialism, especially. But the price will not be covered by the morally corrupt elites, by those lackeys of the Western imperialism. As always, it will be Asia’s poor who will be forced to pay.
***
AFTER I descended from the largest cave in the vicinity of Tham Pha Thok, Laos, I decided to text my good Vietnamese friend in Hanoi. I wanted to compare the suffering of Laotian and Vietnamese people.
The cave used to be ‘home’ to Pathet Lao. During the Second Indochina War it actually served as the headquarters. Now it looked thoroughly haunted, like a skull covered by moss and by tropical vegetation.
The US air force used to intensively bomb the entire area and there are still deep craters all around, obscured by the trees and bushes.
The US bombed the entirety of Laos, which has been given a bitter nickname: ‘The most bombed country on earth’.
It is really hard to imagine, in a sober state, what the US, Australia and their Thai allies did to the sparsely populated, rural, gentle Laos.
John Bacher, a historian and a Metro Toronto archivist once wrote about ‘The Secret War’: ‘More bombs were dropped on Laos between 1965 and 1973 than the US dropped on Japan and Germany during WWII. More than 350,000 people were killed. The war in Laos was a secret only from the American people and congress. It anticipated the sordid ties between drug trafficking and repressive regimes that have been seen later in the Noriega affair.’
In this biggest covert operation in the US history, the main goal was to ‘prevent pro-Vietnamese forces from gaining control’ over the area. The entire operation seemed more like a game that some overgrown, sadistic boys were allowed to play: Bombing an entire nation into the Stone Age for more than a decade. But essentially this ‘game’ was nothing else than one of the most brutal genocides in the history of the 20th century.
Naturally, almost no one in the West or in Southeast Asia knows anything about this.
I texted my friend: ‘What I witnessed a few years ago working at the Plain of Jars was, of course, much more terrible than what I just saw around Tham Pha Thok, but even here, the horror of the US actions was crushing.’ I also sent her a link to my earlier reports covering the Plain of Jars.
A few minutes later, she replied: ‘If you didn’t tell me… I would have never known about this secret war. As far as we knew, there was never a war in Laos. Pity for Lao people!’
I asked my other friends in Vietnam, and then in Indonesia. Nobody knew anything about the bombing of Laos.
The ‘Secret War’ remains top-secret, even now, even right here, in the heart of the Asia Pacific region, or more precisely, especially here.
When Noam Chomsky and I were discussing the state of the world in what eventually became our book ‘On Western Terrorism — From Hiroshima to Drone Warfare’, Noam mentioned his visit to the war-torn Laos. He clearly remembered Air America pilots, as well as those hordes of Western journalists who were based in Vientiane but too busy to not see and to not ask any relevant questions.
***
‘IN THE Philippines, the great majority of people are now convinced that the US actually ‘liberated’ our country from the Japanese’, my left-wing journalist friends once told me.
Dr Teresa S Encarnación Tadem, professor of Political Science of University of the Philippines Diliman, explained to me last year, face to face, in Manila: ‘There is a saying here: ‘Philippines love Americans more than Americans love themselves.’
I asked: ‘How is it possible? The Philippines were colonised and occupied by the United States. Some terrible massacres took place… The country was never really free. How come that this ‘love’ towards the US is now prevalent?’
‘It is because of extremely intensive North American propaganda machine’, clarified Teresa’s husband, Dr Eduardo Climaco Tadem, professor of Asian Studies of University of the Philippines Diliman. ‘It has been depicting the US colonial period as some sort of benevolent colonialism, contrasting it with the previous Spanish colonialism, which was portrayed as “more brutal”. Atrocities during the American-Philippine War (1898 – 1902) are not discussed. These atrocities saw 1 million Philippine people killed. At that period it was almost 10 per cent of our population… the genocide, torture… Philippines are known as “the first Vietnam”… all this has been conveniently forgotten by the media, absent in the history books. And then, of course, the images that are spread by Hollywood and by the American pop culture: heroic and benevolent US military saving battered countries and helping the poor…’
Basically, entirely reversing the reality.
The education system is very important’, added Teresa Tadem. ‘The education system manufactures consensus, and that in turn creates support for the United States… even our university — University of the Philippines — was established by the Americans. You can see it reflected in the curriculum — for instance the political science courses… they all have roots in the Cold War and its mentality.’
Almost all children of the Asian ‘elites’ get ‘educated’ in the West, or at least in so-called ‘international schools’ in their home countries, where the imperialist curriculum is implemented. Or in the private, most likely religious/Christian schools… Such ‘education’ borrows heavily from the pro-Western and pro-business indoctrination concepts.
And once conditioned, children of the ‘elites’ get busy brainwashing the rest of the citizens. The result is predictable: capitalism, Western imperialism, and even colonialism become untouchable, respected and admired. Nations and individuals who murdered millions are labelled as carriers of progress, democracy and freedom. It is ‘prestigious’ to mingle with such people, as it is highly desirable to ‘follow their example’. The history dies. It gets replaced by some primitive, Hollywood and Disney-style fairytales.
***
IN HANOI, an iconic photograph of a woman pulling at a wing of downed US military plane is engraved into a powerful monument. It is a great, commanding piece of art.
My friend George Burchett, a renowned Australian artist who was born in Hanoi and who now lives in this city again, is accompanying me.
The father of George, Wilfred Burchett, was arguably the greatest English language journalist of the 20th Century. Asia was Wilfred’s home. And Asia was where he created his monumental body of work, addressing some of the most outrageous acts of brutality committed by the West: his testimonies ranged from the first-hand account of the Hiroshima A-bombing, to the mass murder of countless civilians during the ‘Korean War’. Wilfred Burchett also covered Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, to name just a few unfortunate places totally devastated by the United States and its allies.
Now his books are published and re-printed by prestigious publishing houses all over the world, but paradoxically, they do not live in sub-consciousness of the young people of Asia.
The Vietnamese people, especially the young ones, know very little about the horrific acts committed by the West in their neighbouring countries. At most they know about the crimes committed by France and the US in their own country — in Vietnam, nothing or almost nothing about the victims of the West-sponsored monsters like Marcos and Suharto. Nothing about Cambodia — nothing about who was really responsible for those 2 millions of lost lives.
The ‘Secret Wars’ remain secret.
With George Burchett I admired great revolutionary and socialist art at the Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts. Countless horrible acts, committed by the West, are depicted in great detail here, as well as the determined resistance struggle fought against US colonialism by the great, heroic Vietnamese people.
But there was an eerie feeling inside the museum — it was almost empty! Besides us, there were only a few other visitors, all foreign tourists: the great halls of this stunning art institution were almost empty.
***
INDONESIANS don’t know, because they were made stupid!’ Shouts my dear old friend Djokopekik, at his art studio in Yogyokarta, He is arguably the greatest socialist realist artist of Southeast Asia. On his canvases, brutal soldiers are kicking the backsides of the poor people, while an enormous crocodile (a symbol of corruption) attacks, snaps at, and eats everyone in sight. Djokopekik is open, and brutally honest: ‘It was their plan; great goal of the regime to brainwash the people. Indonesians know nothing about their own history or about the rest of Southeast Asia!’
Before he died, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, the most influential writer of Southeast Asia, told me: ‘They cannot think, anymore… and they cannot write. I cannot read more than 5 pages of any contemporary Indonesian writer… the quality is shameful…’ In the book that we (Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Rossie Indira and I) wrote together — ‘Exile’ — he lamented that Indonesian people do not know anything about history, or about the world.
Had they known, they would most definitely raise and overthrow this disgraceful regime that is governing their archipelago until these days.
2 to 3 million Indonesian people died after the 1965 military coup, triggered and supported by the West and by the religious clergy, mainly by Protestant implants from Europe. The majority of people in this desperate archipelago are now fully conditioned by the Western propaganda, unable to even detect their own misery. They are still blaming the victims (mainly Communists, intellectuals and ‘atheists’) for the events that took place exactly 50 years ago, events that broke the spine of this once proud and progressive nation.
Indonesians almost fully believe the right wing, fascist fairytales, fabricated by the West and disseminated through the local mass media channels controlled by whoring local ‘elites’… It is no wonder: for 50 nasty years they have been ‘intellectually’ and ‘culturally’ conditioned by the lowest grade Hollywood meditations, by Western pop music and by Disney.
They know nothing about their own region.
They know nothing about their own crimes. They are ignorant about the genocides they have been committing. More than half of their politicians are actually war criminals, responsible for over 30 per cent of killed men, women and children during the US/UK/Australia-backed occupation of East Timor (now an independent country), for the 1965 monstrous bloodletting and for the on-going genocide, which Indonesia conducts in Papua.
Information about all these horrors is available on line. There are thousands of sites carrying detailed and damning evidence. Yet, cowardly and opportunistically, the Indonesian ‘educated’ populace is opting for ‘not knowing’.
Of course, the West and its companies are greatly benefiting from the plunder of Papua.
Therefore, the genocide is committed, all covered with secrecy.
And ask in Vietnam, in Burma, even in Malaysia, what do people know about East Timor and Papua? The answer will be nothing, or almost nothing.
Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, and the Philippines — they may be located in the same part of the world, but they could be as well based on several different planets. That was the plan: the old divide-and-rule British concept.
In Manila, the capital of the Philippines, a family that was insisting that Indonesia is actually located in Europe once confronted me. The family was equally ignorant of the crimes committed by the pro-Western regime of Marcos.
***
THE western media promotes Thailand as the ‘land of smiles’, yet it is an extremely frustrated and brutal place, where the murder rate is even (on per capita basis) higher than that in the United States.
Thailand has been fully controlled by the West since the end of the WWII. Consequently, its leadership (the throne, the elites and the military) have allowed some of the most gruesome crimes against humanity to take place on its territory. To mention just a few: the mass murder of the Thai left wing insurgents and sympathisers (some were burned alive in oil barrels), the murdering of thousands of Cambodian refugees, the killing and raping of student protesters in Bangkok and elsewhere… And the most terrible of them: the little known Thai participation in the Vietnam invasion during the ‘American War’…the intensive use of Thai pilots during the bombing sorties against Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as handing several military airports (including Pattaya) to the Western air forces. Not to speak about pimping of Thai girls and boys (many of them minors) to the Western military men.
***
THE terror that the West has been spreading all over Southeast Asia seems to be forgotten, or at least for now.
Let’s move on!’ I heard in Hanoi and in Luang Prabang.
But while the Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian people are busy ‘forgiving’ their tormentors the Empire has been murdering the people of Iraq, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Ukraine, and all corners of Africa.
It was stated by many, and proven by some, particularly in South America, where almost all the demons have been successfully exercised, that there can be no decent future for this Planet without recognizing and understanding the past.
After ‘forgiving the West’, several nations of Southeast Asia were immediately forced into the confrontation with China and Russia.
When ‘forgiven’, the West does not just humbly accept the great generosity of its victims. Such behaviour is not part of its culture. Instead, it sees kindness as weakness, and it immediately takes advantage of it.
By forgiving the West, by ‘forgetting’ its crimes, Southeast Asia is actually doing absolutely nothing positive. It is only betraying its fellow victims, all over the world.
It is also, pragmatically and selfishly, hoping for some returns. But returns will never come! History has shown it on many occasions. The West wants everything. And it believes that it deserves everything. If not confronted, it plunders until the end, until there is nothing left — as it did in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Iraq or in Indonesia.
***
RENOWNED Australian historian and professor Emeritus at Nagasaki University in Japan, Geoffrey Gunn, wrote for this essay:

‘The US wields hard power and soft power in equal portions or so it would appear. Moving in and out of East Asia over the last four decades I admit to being perplexed as to the selectivity of memories of the American record. Take Laos and Cambodia in the 1970s where, in each country respectively, the US dropped a greater tonnage of bombs than dumped on Japanese cities during World War II, and where unexploded ordinance still takes a daily toll. Not so long ago I asked a high-ranking regime official in Phnom Penh as to whether the Obama administration had issued an apology for this crime of crimes. “No way,” he said, but then he wasn’t shaking his fist either, just as the population appears to be numbed as to basic facts of their own history beyond some generalised sense of past horrors. In Laos in December 1975 where I happened to be when, full of rage at the US, revolutionaries took over; the airing of American crimes — once a propaganda staple — has been relegated to corners of museums. Ditto in Vietnam, slowly entering the US embrace as a strategic partner, and with no special American contrition as to the victims of bombing, chemical warfare and other crimes. In East Timor, sacrificed by US president Ford and secretary of state Henry Kissinger to the Indonesian generals in the interest of strategic denial, and where some 30 per cent of the population perished, America is forgiven or, at least, airbrushed out of official narratives. Visiting the US on a first state visit, China’s president Xi Jinping drums up big American business deals, a ‘new normal’ in the world’s second largest economy and now US partner in the ‘war against terror,’ as in Afghanistan. Well, fresh from teaching history in a Chinese university, I might add that history does matter in China but with Japan as an all too obvious point of reference.’
***
‘CHINA used to see the fight against Western imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism as the main rallying cry of its foreign policy’, sighs Geoff, as we watch the bay of his home city — Nagasaki. ‘Now it is only Japan whose crimes are remembered in Beijing.’
But back to Southeast Asia…
It is all forgotten and forgiven, and the reason ‘why’ is clear, simple. It pays to forget! ‘Forgiveness’ brings funding; it secures ‘scholarships’ just one of the ways Western countries spread corruption in its client states and in the states they want to draw into their orbit.
The elites with their lavish houses, trips abroad, kids in foreign schools, are a very forgiving bunch!
But then you go to a countryside, where the majority of Southeast Asian people still live. And the story there is very different. The story there makes you shiver.
Before departing from Laos, I sat at an outdoor table in a village of Nam Bak, about 100 kilometres from Luang Prabang. Ms Nang Oen told me her stories about the US carpet-bombing, and Mr Un Kham showed me his wounds:
‘Even here, in Nam Bak, we had many craters all over, but now they are covered by rice fields and houses. In 1968, my parents’ house was bombed… I think they dropped 500-pound bombs on it. Life was unbearable during the war. We had to sleep in the fields or in the caves. We had to move all the time. Many of us were starving, as we could not cultivate our fields.’
I ask Ms Nang Oen about the Americans. Did she forget, forgive?
‘How do I feel about them? I actually can’t say anything. After all these years, I am still speechless. They killed everything here, including chicken. I know that they are doing the same even now, all over the world…’
She paused, looked at the horizon.
‘Sometimes I remember what was done to us… Sometimes I forget’. She shrugs her shoulders. ‘But when I forget, it is only for a while. We did not receive any compensation, not even an apology. I cannot do anything about it. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, and I cry.’
I listened to her and I knew, after working for decades in this part of the world: for the people of Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and East Timor, nothing is forgotten and nothing is forgiven. And it should never be!


CounterPunch.org, October 2. Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His latest books are: ‘Exposing Lies Of The Empire’ and ‘Fighting Against Western Imperialism’. Discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western Terrorism. Point of No Return is his critically acclaimed political novel.

Source:  The New Age, 06 October 2015

Violence kills nearly 200 in Yemen

Reuters, Sanaa

Saudi-led coalition air strikes and clashes killed at least 176 fighters and civilians in Yemen on Monday, residents and media run by the Houthi movement said, the highest daily toll since the Arab air offensive began more than three months ago.
The United Nations has been pushing for a halt to air raids and intensified fighting that began on March 26. More than 3,000 people have been killed since then as the Arab coalition tries stop the Houthis spreading across the country from the north.
The Iran-allied Shia Houthis say they are rebelling against a corrupt government, while local fighters say they are defending their homes from Houthi incursions. Sunni Saudi Arabia says it is bombing the Houthis to protect the Yemeni state.
On Monday, about 63 people were killed in air strikes on Amran province in the north, among them 30 people at a market, Houthi-controlled state media agency Saba said.
In the same province, about 20 fighters and civilians were killed at a Houthi checkpoint outside the main city, also named Amran, about 50 km (30 miles) northwest of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, local residents said.
Arab alliance war planes also killed about 60 people at a livestock market in the town of al-Foyoush in the south.
Also in the south, residents reported a further 30 killed in a raid they said apparently targeted a Houthi checkpoint on the main road between Aden and Lahj. They said 10 of the dead were Houthi fighters.
Tribal sources in the central desert province of Marib said about 20 Houthi fighters and soldiers fighting alongside them were killed in air raids and gun battles with tribal fighters, who support Yemen's president in exile Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Fighting, bombing and a near-blockade by the Arab coalition has deepened suffering in what is one of the poorest countries in the region.

The UN says more than 80 percent of Yemen's 25 million people need some form of humanitarian aid.

Source:  The Daily Star, 08 July 2015

SAUDI ARABIA AND THE CONFLICT IN YEMEN

Saudi actions backfire

Saudi Arabia bears the greatest responsibility for the triumphant advance of the Houthi militia in Yemen, says Birgit Svensson: the leading Sunni power in the Gulf simply stood by while a Shia counterbalance emerged virtually on its doorstep, thereby creating an opportunity for Tehran

Egyptian president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi proudly announced the establishment of a joint army at the Arab League summit in Sharm el-Sheikh at the end of March. The aim is to effectively counter the growing threats in the region.
What was meant here, first and foremost, is the precarious situation in Yemen. For days now, the Saudi air force has been conducting bombing raids on Houthi rebels in the capital city, Sanaa, and in the north of the country. A contingent of 150,000 ground troops is standing ready. Egypt will also enter the war, promised the former field marshal, who exchanged his uniform for a suit last June when he became president of Egypt.
Seeing as other countries in the Arab League, which comprises 22 members, would similarly like to take part in the military action, why not establish a joint Arab army? Many at the summit were reminded of the era of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who tirelessly attempted to unite all Arabs and promoted the development of Arab nationalism. Many, however, doubt that Sisi will succeed where Nasser failed. Yemen will be the litmus test.


Abdel Malik al-Houthi: the new ‘caliph’ of Yemen?
ONCE again, apparently, no one saw recent events coming. If one believes the international reaction to developments on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, the country was suddenly overrun by rebels. First, the Houthi rebels took control of the capital Sanaa, followed by Taiz, the third largest city in the country. Now they have reached Aden. It is almost as if the followers of the rebel chief appeared out of the blue to overwhelm this mountainous country. Is Abdel Malik al-Houthi now the new caliph of Yemen? The Yemini equivalent of Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi?
Superficially, there are a number of parallels to Iraq. There, the terrorist organisation IS took advantage of the situation when the many ethnic groups in Iraq were at odds with the central government in Baghdad and former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Radical forces, in particular al-Bagdadi and his supporters, stepped in to fill the power vacuum. Their goal, which they quickly accomplished, was to establish an Islamic state.
The territories taken and since fortified can only be won back with great difficulty. The situation in Yemen is similar. As the government in Sanaa became weaker, the rebels grew in strength. There was no stopping them once the president fled to the south of the country. Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has since left the country altogether — first fleeing to Saudi Arabia and then to Egypt.
But that is where the similarities with Iraq end. While the ‘Islamic State’ combatants in Iraq are Sunnis, the Houthis belong to the Shia branch of Islam. In contrast to IS, which is made up of a number of various groups, the Houthis are an established part of Yemeni society. Their movement was established in 2004 to represent the interests of the Zaidis, a Shia religious denomination widely followed in the north of Yemen.


Victory in stages
The Houthis began their march to victory at the start of the Arab Spring in 2011, which also saw a popular uprising against the existing regime in Yemen. They demanded more land and more power, the reintroduction of subsidies for fuel and electricity, and lower food prices for the average Yemini citizen.
Step by step, they extended their sphere of influence from the north towards the south, retreating when necessary, but always pressing forward again whenever the political situation grew more unstable and the powers that be in Sanaa began bickering amongst themselves. According to Ulrich Wolf, the deputy chair of the Middle East Forum in Berlin, who lived in Yemen for many years and still has good contacts in the country, the Houthis were by now an independent force.
Developments since the start of the so-called ‘national dialogue’, which began exactly two years ago, show just how far the situation has deteriorated and spun out of control. The Gulf Cooperation Council, under the leadership of Saudi Arabia, and representatives of the United States intended the dialogue to be a key element of the transformation process. The autocratic president Ali Abdullah Saleh was removed from power and replaced by Hadi following a referendum. The ‘national dialogue’ was intended to bring all the political and social forces to the table to hammer out a new constitution and prepare for parliamentary elections that would truly deserve to be called elections.
‘It is a good day for Yemen,’ said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier a year later, commenting on the country’s situation, which even then was viewed with suspicion by observers. ‘In truly difficult circumstances and after numerous setbacks, the ‘national dialogue’ has today been brought to a successful conclusion.’ But this conclusion was anything but successful. Since 2003, there have been no parliamentary elections in Yemen, and there have been no moves towards a new constitution. Although Germany became Yemen’s largest donor, it has played no political role in the country. Instead, Riyadh and Washington held sway over this part of the world.


Failed drone war
For the Americans, the Houthis were not the problem, but rather al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The fight against this group was Washington’s top priority. The group is regarded as the most radical wing of the terrorist organisation and it has carried out attacks worldwide. The most recent example is the massacre of the editorial staff of the French satirical magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’, for which the AQAP claimed responsibility.
The countless US drone attacks were always followed by reports of the killing of members of al-Qaeda. But for all these attacks, they did not succeed in defeating the terrorists. On the contrary, information from Yemen indicates that for every al-Qaeda terrorist killed, two new ones were recruited. Anti-American sentiment among the Yemeni population only grew with every new drone attack. The Houthis are open in their criticism of the US. Washington has since halted its drone strategy.
True responsibility for the political catastrophe in Yemen, however, lies with Saudi Arabia. The leading Sunni power in the Gulf merely stood by while a Shia counterbalance emerged virtually on its doorstep, thereby creating an opportunity for Tehran. Similarly, Riyadh looked on as former dictator Saleh, who stepped down under Saudi pressure in 2012 to make way for Hadi, proceeded to ally himself with the Houthis in the hope of returning to power.
Now, the Saudis can think of no better solution than to send 150,000 soldiers and heavy artillery to the poorest country on the peninsula in order to stop the ‘Shia advance’, as it is officially termed. The strategy will certainly not win the hearts of the 24 million Yemenis. It is more likely that the crisis will develop into another proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, as is already the case in Syria and Iraq.
Qantara.de, April 10. Birgit Svensson has been a freelance journalist since 2004 and reported from Iraq. She lives in Baghdad in the district of Karrada


Source:  The New Age, 12 April 2015

A Massacre in Africa

Gordon Brown

WHY is it that schools and schoolchildren have become such high-profile targets for murderous Islamist militants? The 147 students killed in an attack by the extremist group Al-Shabab at a college close to Kenya's border with Somalia are only the latest victims in a succession of outrages in which educational institutions have been singled out for attack.
Last December, in Peshawar, Pakistan, seven Taliban gunmen strode from classroom to classroom in the Army Pubic School, executing 145 children and teachers. More recently, as more than 80 pupils in South Sudan were taking their annual exams, fighters invaded their school and kidnapped them at gunpoint. Their fate has been to join the estimated 12,000 students conscripted into children's militias in the country's escalating civil war.
Every day, another once-vibrant Syrian school is bombed or militarized, with two million children now in refugee camps or exiled to makeshift tents or huts. And next week will mark the first anniversary of the extremist group Boko Haram's night-time abduction of 276 schoolgirls from their dormitories in Chibok, in Nigeria's northern Borno state. With continued assaults on local schools, Boko Haram has escalated its war against education – making the last two years Nigeria's worst in terms of the violation of children's rights.
In the past five years, there have been nearly 10,000 attacks on schools and educational establishments. Why is it that schools, which should be recognized as safe havens, have become instruments of war, and schoolchildren have become pawns in extremists' strategies? And why have such attacks been treated so casually – the February abduction in South Sudan elicited barely any international comment – when they in fact constitute crimes against humanity. 
In the depraved minds of terrorists, each attack has its own simple logic; the latest shootings, for example, are revenge by Al-Shabab for Kenya's intervention in Somalia's civil war. But all of the recent attacks share a new tactic – to create shock by exceeding what even many of the most hardened terrorists had previously considered beyond the pale. They have become eager to stoke publicity from the public outrage at their methods, even transmitting images of their crimes around the world.
But there is an even more powerful explanation for this spate of attacks on children. A now-common extremist claim is that education is acculturating African and Asian children to Western ways of thinking (Boko Haram in the local Hausa dialect means “Western education is a sin”). Moreover, extremists like Boko Haram and Al-Shabab calculate that they can attack schools with impunity.
Hospitals tend to be more secure, because the Geneva Conventions give them special protection as safe havens – a fact often recognized by even the most murderous of terrorist groups. Until recently, we have done far too little to protect schools and prevent their militarization during times of conflict. But, just as wars should never be waged by targeting hospitals, so combatants should never violate schools.
Once slow to respond, the world is now acting. Thirty countries have recently signed up to the Lucens or Safe School guidelines, which instruct their military authorities how to prevent schools from being used as instruments of war. Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, recommends designating abductions of children from schools a “trigger violation” for the naming of terrorist organizations in the secretary-general's annual report to the Security Council.
And, thanks to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, the Global Business Coalition for Education, and former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria has now piloted the concept of safe schools. This has meant funding school guards, fortifications, and surveillance equipment to reassure parents and pupils that everything possible is being done to ensure their school is safe to attend. Now, under Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan is adopting the safe school plan.
In a year when there are more local conflicts than ever – and in which children have become among the first (and forgotten) casualties – it is urgent that we make stopping attacks on schools a high priority. In dark times, children and parents continue to view their schools as sanctuaries, as places of normality and safety. When law and order break down, people need not only material help – food, shelter, and health care – but also hope. There is no more powerful way to uphold the vision of a future free from conflict than by keeping schools running.
The writer is former Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom, is United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education.

Source:   The Daily Star, 07 April 2015


Action in Yemen to inflate Saudi esteem but at what cost?

Saeed Naqvi


A WEEK ago, the Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, had a free run of Yemen. In Tikrit, Iraq, Shia militia, led by Iranian officers, and helped by the largely Shia Iraq army, had cornered the ISIS in Saddam Hussein’s palaces. The fall of Tikrit would add to the halo on the Iranian-led Shia fraternity.
In the Syrian north, Bashar al-Assad’s army was scoring victories. This development also favoured the Iranians.
Soon, the United States would sign a nuclear deal with Iran. That would crown Iran as a legitimate player in the new West Asian balance of power. Viewed from, say, Riyadh, Iran was becoming too big for its boots.
As it is, Jerusalem and Riyadh had been throwing a ginger fit even at the prospect of a deal looming in the distance. Now, that it was about to be signed, there was panic in Jerusalem, Riyadh, Cairo, Ankara. Each one of these regional powers had for a while been fretting on another count: they were visualising life without the US which had given notice of its pivot to Asia, where China’s rise would be its primary focus. An overextended superpower which no longer had the capacity to remain engaged in several theatres would encourage regional powers (proxies) to manage the new equilibrium. A sense of being abandoned was in the air. Saudis needed their shattered self-esteem to be restored.
With this intent, the restless but rich Saudis were allowed to lead the attack on the poorest country in the Arab world. This one fact – along with so many others – will plague the Saudis.
The monarchies, sheikhdoms and dictatorships in the region have not yet digested the cardinal truth: the Arab Spring was an expression of popular resentment with Arab rulers. This anger will not go away by assertive state power. And the superpower which helped maintain the status quo is eager to disinvest and depart.
In the immediate aftermath of the Yemen airstrikes, the Saudis, at the head of a ‘Sunni’ coalition, may momentarily look muscular for having thwarted Shia Iran in the region. But at what cost?
Likewise, Iranian officers and Shia militia were stopped by the Americans from ‘finishing’ the Tikrit operations against the ISIS. Apparently, the Saudis wanted some of their assets embedded with the ISIS to be given safe passage.
Also, the US and their Arab coalition partners were keen that Iran and Shia militia not be in the frontline of victors. In fact, pressure was brought to bear on prime ministerHaider al-Abadi in Baghdad to ‘chose between the US and Iran’ to conclude the endgame in Tikrit.
It must have been an incredible operation, a mixture of serious military operations and an open competition in trophy hunting between the Americans and the Iranians.
The Wall Street Journal reported: ‘Iraq began its attack without alerting the US or its partners. Instead, Iran played a leading role, commanding Shia militia and providing weapons.’
Beyond this point, there are two versions to the story.
The American version says the Shia advance on the ISIS got stalled prompting the Iraqi government to seek US aerial help.
The Iranian version blames the US for bringing pressure on Baghdad that they withdraw the Shia militia from Tikrit. Only then would the US launch airstrikes.
A senior US defence official gave the game away: ‘Iraq is going to have to decide who they want to partner with. We’ve been demonstrating all across the country and now in Tikrit, that we are a good and able partner.’
Was this hands-on action by the Americans designed to reassure Arabs who feared that Americans may cut and leave? There is a more sensible reason why the Americans inserted themselves just when the Iranian led militia was about to capture or kill ISIS soldiers: a Shia victory over the ISIS would aggravate Arab Sunni anxieties.
The third balancing act the US and its allies performed was to check Bashar al Assad’s successful drive to recover territories lost to the opposition during four years of the civil war: the provincial capital of Idlib was allowed to fall into the hands of the opposition consisting of Al Qaeda linked Nusra Front. Great liberal, democratic victory?
The Syrian accusation that Turkey helped the opposition front occupying Idlib is credible because the town is barely 20 miles from the Turkish border.
At a time when Iran is on a high, inching towards a nuclear deal, the effort is to deflate it somewhat. This is supposed to give heart to states who see a threat in Iran’s rise.
That is why actions in Yemen, Tikrit, Idlib, were launched simultaneously to calm nerves in the region about Iran’s rise. In doing so, the Americans may have encouraged the Saudi gerontocracy to go a little over the top in Yemen.
Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.


Source:  The New Age, 05 April 2015