Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

5
Feb

We Muslims like to believe that ours is “a religion of peace,” but today Islam looks more like a religion of conflict and bloodshed. From the civil wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen to internal tensions in Lebanon and Bahrain, to the dangerous rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Middle East is plagued by intra-Muslim strife that seems to go back to the ancient Sunni-Shiite rivalry.

Religion is not actually at the heart of these conflicts — invariably, politics is to blame. But the misuse of Islam and its history makes these political conflicts much worse as parties, governments and militias claim that they are fighting not over power or territory but on behalf of God. And when enemies are viewed as heretics rather than just opponents, peace becomes much harder to achieve.

This conflation of religion and politics poisons Islam itself, too, by overshadowing all the religion’s theological and moral teachings. The Quran’s emphasis on humility and compassion is sidelined by the arrogance and aggressiveness of conflicting groups.

This is not a new problem in Islam. During the seventh-century leadership of the Prophet Muhammad, whose authority was accepted by all believers, Muslims were a united community. But soon after the prophet’s death, a tension arose that escalated to bloodshed. The issue was not how to interpret the Quran or how to understand the prophet’s lessons. It was about political power: Who — as the caliph, or successor to the prophet — had the right to rule?

Published in the nytimes.com by

28
Jan

In late 2014, when I visited the Peshmerga on the northern Iraq frontline with Isis, the famed Kurdish warriors were in buoyant mood. After a wobble when the militant Islamists captured Mosul that June, the Kurds had restored their image by recapturing a swath of land where the jihadis had massacred, terrorised and displaced Iraqi ethnic minorities.

Iraq’s Kurds have proved the most reliable western allies in an anti-Isis struggle in which other regional forces have been at best ambivalent and at worst have colluded with the jihadis.

With the survival of the autonomous Kurdish enclave at stake, and their aspirations of statehood closer to being realised, the Kurds have not vacillated in their resolve. For that, they have been celebrated and supported by western governments.

This tale of determination makes the Peshmerga’s treatment of towns and villages seized from Isis all the more distressing.

Stories of abuse have trickled out but it was only a few days ago that I read a comprehensive account. A friend handed me a report she had written for Amnesty International based on more than a year’s investigation into the areas recovered by the Peshmerga.

Through visits, satellite imagery and interviews with displaced people, she found a disturbing pattern. Arab residents of these towns and villages who fled to the Kurdish north were deliberately prevented from returning; in several cases the Peshmerga have destroyed or allowed the destruction of homes to ensure that villagers had nowhere to return to.

The forced displacement of populations may amount to a war crime, according to Amnesty. Read more…

 

By Roula Khalaf; published on Jan. 27  in www.ft.com

27
Jan

 

Why Arabs would regret a toothless Chinese dragon

Xi Jinping has left the Middle East, but the first visit of his presidency to the region has set pundits wondering if the Chinese dragon is preparing to replace the American eagle.

Here’s the short answer: it is not. Even if it were, the Arabs will not find a Chinese superpower more to their liking than the US one.

Much as the Middle East dislikes US foreign policy, Chinese foreign policy will bring with it its own problems. In particular, the Chinese policy of “non-interference” in the affairs of other nations, if applied to the Middle East, would not please the Arabs.

Here’s why. China has touted its policy of non-interference for decades. On one level, that sounds good – after all, non-interference in the affairs of other nation states is one of the pillars of the global system.

Perhaps a better way of thinking about it would be remaining neutral in the face of threats to allies. And that kind of “neutrality” is emphatically not what the Arabs want.

Neutrality, understood in that way, has two serious problems for the Middle East. It takes no sides in disputes and it entrenches the status quo. Neither of which is what the region needs right now.

Start with the disputes. As China’s global power rises, it gains greater leverage over international institutions such as the UN and over individual countries. As trade and cooperation increase between Arab countries and China, there is a natural next step where, having gained significant influence in Beijing, the Arab world will look to China to use its influence around the world in their favour. That’s what allies do, they support their allies.

What happens then, if China maintains its policy of strict neutrality? What happens when the Arab world asks China to use its influence at the UN to support the Palestinians – and China says no, on the ground of neutrality? Read more…

By Faisal Al Yafai; Published on Jan. 25 in thenational.ae

21
Jan

There’s a scary disconnect between the somber warnings you hear privately from military leaders about the war against the Islamic State and the glib debating points coming from Republican and Democratic politicians.

The politicians fulminate about defeating the terrorists, but they don’t talk much about the costs or sacrifices that will be required. The generals and admirals, who have been at war for 15 years, know that success can’t be bought cheaply. Defeating this enemy will require a much larger and longer commitment by the United States than any leading politician seems willing to acknowledge.

My visit here last week to the headquarters of Central Command, which oversees all U.S. military activities in the Middle East, came as part of a conference organized by the Center for Naval Analyses, which provides research to the Navy and other services. The ground rules prevent me from identifying speakers by name, but I can offer a summary of what I heard. It’s not reassuring.

Military leaders know that they are fighting a ruthless adversary that has adjusted and adapted its tactics as the United States and its partners have joined the fight over the past 18 months. The jihadists have lost about 25 percent of the territory they held in mid-2014, but they have devised innovative methods to compensate for their weakness.

Some examples illustrate the agility of Islamic State commanders: They have used tunnels and other concealment tactics to hide their movements; they have developed super-size car bombs, packing explosives in bulldozers and other heavy equipment and sending them in waves against targets; they have deployed small drones for reconnaissance and may be preparing armed drones; they have used chemical weapons, such as chlorine and mustard gas, on the battlefield and may expand use of such unconventional weapons. Read more…

 

Published on Jan. 18 by David Ignatius in https://www.washingtonpost.com

18
Jan

The centrifuges are packed up, the sanctions are lifted, and President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran is now a fact on the ground.

But managing the deal’s aftermath in Obama’s final year could be nearly as hard as the process of striking it, say current and former administration officials involved in the issue.

Resentful Iranian hardliners may provoke new confrontations with the U.S. Republicans will push for new sanctions and issue threats of war. Israel and Saudi Arabia will pounce on any hint of Iranian misbehavior. And even as Hillary Clinton took partial credit for the deal on Saturday, she described Iran as “a regime that continues to threaten the peace and security of the Middle East” and called for new sanctions to punish it for recent missile tests.

People familiar with Obama’s thinking say none of this will come as a surprise to a president who hopes that the U.S. and Iran can start moving past more than 35 years of hostility, but who also knows that old habits die hard.

“I don’t think Obama was ever starry-eyed about where this was headed,” said one former senior administration official. “His goal in this was not a full-blown rapprochement where the U.S. and Iran are strategic partners.” Read more…

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1/17/16; published in Politico.eu

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