Archive for the ‘International Conflict, Terrorism & Security’ Category

13
Sep

The Christian Exodus

Written on September 13, 2013 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Culture & Society, Foreign Policy, International Conflict, Terrorism & Security, Middle East

The Disastrous Campaign to Rid the Middle East of Christianity

By Reza Aslan

Egyptian Coptic Christian holds cross during a demonstration outside Egyptian embassy in Athens

A Coptic Christian holds up a cross in Cairo, Egypt (Courtesy Reuters)

As I write, the city of Maaloula in Syria has become a ghost town after being briefly occupied by members of the al Qaeda–linked jihadist group al-Nusra Front. Conflicting reports claim that al-Nusra fighters have desecrated churches and statues in what may be one of the oldest Christian cities in the world, a place where residents still speak Aramaic, the language presumably spoken by Jesus. 

Sadly, the experience of Maaloula’s residents is becoming all too common in the Middle East, where examples of brutality against Christians have been mounting in recent weeks. In Egypt, the coup against President Mohamed Morsi was followed by a wave of Islamist pogroms against Christians in which 42 churches were attacked, 37 were burned or looted, and an untold number of Christians were assaulted or killed.

As tempting as it may be to attribute these events to the atmosphere of post-insurrectionary anarchy in Egypt and Syria, that is not the best vantage point from which to view the problem. Take a step back, and it becomes clear that the recent assaults are part of a bigger offensive against Middle Eastern Christians, one that can be traced back to decades-long developments in regional politics and Islamic society. The Arab Spring may be the proximate cause of some of the worst violence, but its roots run much deeper — and the stakes are much higher than one might think. What we are witnessing is nothing less than a regional religious cleansing that will soon prove to be a historic disaster for Christians and Muslims alike.

At the start of World War I, the Christian population of the Middle East may have been as high as 20 percent. Today, it is roughly four percent. Although it is difficult to be exact, there are perhaps 13 million Christians left in the region, and that number has likely fallen further, given the continued destabilization of Syria and Egypt, two nations with historically large Christian populations. At the present rate of decline, there may very well be no significant Christian presence in the Middle East in another generation or two.

This would be a profoundly important loss. Christianity was born in the Middle East and had a deep, penetrating presence in the region for hundreds of years before the rise of Islam. In the fourth and fifth centuries, when tens of thousands of heterodox Christians were forced to flee a Roman Empire that considered them heretics, the lands of the Middle East and North Africa became a haven for them. In the years thereafter, the region became the epicenter of Christian theology. In the Arabian peninsula, a large, thriving Christian population played a pivotal role in influencing the early theological and political development of Islam. During the Inquisition (the twelfth to fourteenth centuries), Christian sectarians found refuge under Islamic rule, which classed all Christians, regardless of their doctrinal differences, as “people of the Book” and accorded them protected, albeit inferior, societal status. Read more…

Reza Aslan is Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As published in www.foreignaffairs.com on September 13, 2013.

11
Sep

All lives have the same value, but the political and legal consequences of the use of chemical weapons have to be different

By José Ignacio Torreblanca, Associate Professor at IE School of International Relations

Torreblanca

Chemical weapons are responsible for only about one percent of the deaths in the Syrian civil war. To propose military intervention on account of 1,429 deaths, among more than 100,000 victims of conventional weapons, is sheer hypocrisy – or worse, proof that the US has hidden intentions in the region. If all deaths are equal, what does it matter how you cause them?

This is an oft-repeated argument of late. But it’s a wrongheaded one. All lives have the same value, but the political and legal consequences of the use of chemical weapons have to be different. The international community has placed nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in a special class, as weapons of mass destruction, under a special statute, regulating their possession and proliferation and prohibiting their use. This expresses a conviction that, although war appears to be intrinsic to the human condition, there should be limits to it.

It is true that this approach, of trying to humanize what is essentially inhuman, is fraught with contradiction and paradox. Remember, for example, that most of the 800,000 victims of the genocide in Rwanda were hacked to death with machetes imported from China, while the international community looked on and did nothing. Likewise, apart from “strategic” nuclear bombs capable of destroying whole cities and killing millions, there are states that possess stocks of “tactical” nuclear weapons, whose destructive power is only of a slightly higher order than that of conventional weapons.

Be that as it may, the international community has classified conflict not merely in terms of the number of deaths, but has rightly drawn a red line against the use of weapons of mass destruction. To trivialize the use of chemical weapons not only degrades us morally; precisely because we know there are regimes prepared to use them, it also opens up intolerable prospects for the future. In the case of Syria, as we await the final report from the UN inspectors, the mass of evidence brought forward by the US, France and Germany is more than sufficient to conclude that they have, in fact, been used. To render this use more costly is not only justified, but necessary.

Military intervention is justified not only retrospectively, to punish their use, but prospectively, to ensure that Bashar al-Assad does not use them again, and thus, as a future warning to those who may think that the prohibition is only relative. Read more…

As published in www.elpais.com on September 10, 2013.

9
Sep

By Bill Keller

0909OPEDblechman-articleLarge

The United States has just spent thousands of American lives in a distant land for a victory that now seems hollow, if indeed it can be called a victory at all. Our own country, moreover, is emerging from a recession, dispirited and self-absorbed, worried about the fragility of the recovery and the state of our democracy. Idealism is in short supply. So, as another far-off war worsens, Americans are loath to take sides, even against a merciless dictator, even to the extent of sending weapons. The voices opposed to getting involved range from the pacifist left to the populist right. The president, fearful that foreign conflict will undermine his domestic agenda, vacillates.

This is the United States in 1940. Sound a little familiar?

I’ve been reading two engrossing new histories of that time — “Those Angry Days” by Lynne Olson and “1940” by Susan Dunn — both focused on the ferocious and now largely forgotten resistance Franklin D. Roosevelt had to navigate in order to stand with our allies against Hitler.

Of course, 2013 is not 1940. The Middle East is not Europe. President Obama is not F.D.R. But America is again in a deep isolationist mood. As a wary Congress returns from its summer recess to debate Syria, as President Obama prepares to address the nation, it is instructive to throw the two periods up on the screen and examine them for lessons. How does a president sell foreign engagement to a public that wants none of it?

The cliché of the season is that Americans are war-weary from our long slogs in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is true, but not the whole story. To be sure, nothing has done more to discredit an activist foreign policy than the blind missionary arrogance of the Bush administration. But the isolationist temper is not just about the legacy of Iraq. Economic troubles and political dysfunction have contributed to a loss of confidence. Add to the mix a surge of xenophobia, with its calls for higher fences and big-brotherly attention to the danger within. (These anxieties also helped give rise to the expanding surveillance state, just as nativism in that earlier period gave license to J. Edgar Hoover’s obsessive eavesdropping.)

Isolationism is strong in the Tea Party, where mistrust of executive power is profound and where being able to see Russia from your front yard counts as mastery of international affairs. But sophisticated readers of The New York Times are not immune, or so it seems from the comments that arrive when I write in defense of a more assertive foreign policy. (In recent columns I’ve advocated calibrated intervention to shift the balance in Syria’s civil war and using foreign aid to encourage democracy in Egypt.) Not our problems, many readers tell me. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on September 8, 2013 (a version of this op-ed appears in print on September 9, 2013, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: Our New Isolationism).
6
Sep

Europe’s posture in the face of Middle East unrest is best described as hiding under the bedcovers

By Philip Stephens

ead746a2-8675-4b40-8c5b-77e8d362b795.img

Someone else can keep the peace. The west has had its fill of squaring up to tyrants. It is time for others to pick up the baton. So runs the shrug-of-the-shoulders response to the fires raging in the Middle East and the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. The snag, as can be seen from the paralysis in the UN Security Council, is that there is no “someone else”.

This week leaders of the Group of 20 leading nations are meeting in St Petersburg. Russia has proved a fitting venue for the gathering. The summit offers sight of a future for international relations in which competition prevails over co-operation and narrow national interests trump respect for rules. The host, President Vladimir Putin, counts such disarray a success. He sees the absence of global consensus as a cloak over inexorable Russian decline.

The purpose of the G20 was to broaden and strengthen the international system by reflecting the redistribution of power from west to east. Instead it holds up a mirror to the fractures and fissures in the emerging order. The rising nations cast themselves as guardians of state sovereignty against western imperialism. They may have history on their side: the established powers have anyway wearied of efforts to enforce international rules.

A vote in the Westminster parliament has seen Britain wash its hands of Bashar al-Assad’s crimes against the Syrian people. Were the looming decision in the US Congress to go against President Barack Obama’s call for intervention, the sole superpower would do the same. France, for all its Gallic self-regard, cannot go it alone.

The facts of globalisation have not changed. A glance at the present economic troubles faced by countries as distant as India and Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa, retells the story of inescapable interdependence.

The US Federal Reserve is reining back the extraordinary injection of liquidity into the US and world economies after the global crash. Cheap American credit fuelled growth in the emerging nations. Now they feel the pain of its withdrawal. These nations pretty much shrugged off the 2008 financial crash. It would be cruel irony indeed to be laid low by a recovery in the US. Read more…

As published in www.ft.com on September 5, 2013.

5
Sep

By Dennis P. Halpin

Syria_w_pkaf_roundels_pd_9313

In the spring of 2007, reports reached Washington concerning a covert North Korean operation in the Syrian desert. Senior members of Congress, including my former boss, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, raised alarm bells with the State Department’s Six-Party negotiators on North Korean denuclearization. How could Pyongyang negotiate in good faith on nuclear issues while at the same time assisting a state sponsor of terrorism in the construction of a copycat Yongbyon-like nuclear facility? Such concerns, however, were largely put aside as the process of the Six-Party negotiations took precedence over the disturbing facts on the ground. The Israelis, increasingly concerned over Washington’s foot-dragging on the issue, did the world a favor on September 6, 2007 by taking out the Syrian nuclear reactor in a surgical strike. NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), citing “unidentified South Korean intelligence officials,” reported that ten North Korean support staff may have died in that attack. Their remains were allegedly cremated and returned to North Korea.

Not only have North Koreans reportedly been killed in Syria due to Syrian–North Korean joint proliferation, but Syrians also have died in North Korea. In April 2004, according to a report in the World Tribune, “a dozen Syrian technicians” were killed in an explosion at the train station in Ryongchon, near the Chinese border. While some speculated that the blast involved an assassination attempt against then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, whose train had passed through the station only hours before, the consensus reached was that the explosion involved “a train car full of missiles and components” to be shipped to Syria and that the accompanying technicians were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Then Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, during a visit to Japan in May of 2010, publicly stated, according to the Associated Press, that North Korea, Syria and Iran are cooperating as a new “axis of evil” and “pose the biggest threat to world security because they are building and spreading weapons of mass destruction.” The foreign minister further noted that “We saw this kind of cooperation only two or maybe three months ago with the North Korean plane in Bangkok with huge numbers of different weapons with the intention to smuggle these weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah.” Mr. Lieberman was making reference to a plane from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang seized by Thai authorities at Bangkok airport on December 12, 2009, which contained thirty-five tons of weapons. Read more…

Dennis P. Halpin is a former Peace Corps volunteer in South Korea, former U.S. consul in Pusan, and former professional staff member, for more than twelve years, with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. He is currently a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS (Johns Hopkins University).

As published by The National Interest on September 4, 2013.

1 5 6 7 8 9 54