Tag Archives: Syria

Political Sectarianism in the Middle East

Sectarian violence in middle east has been on the rise in the past 12 months. This has been particularly obvious  in Iraq has been escalating in the past 12 months, with over 21 people killed in bombings around the capital Baghdad in the last week and in the neighbours of Syria.

The Sunni/Shia divide is often pitched as conflict of religion, leaving out the deep political history that governs the tensions. The creation of these two streams of Islam were themselves created over a disagreement over the choice of political leader.

The divide is used to political advantage by those who benefit from creating animosity between communities. . For instance in Syria were the majority of rebels are Sunni Muslim, and Saudi Arabia the most powerful Sunni country is a major source of support. But in Bahrain, where the majority of the population in Shia, and the political elite is Sunni, Saudi in that case protects the political establishment.

On Tuesday (21st Jan) a Shia delegate, Ahmad Sharafeddin in Yemen was shot dead on his way to reconciliation talks. According to Reuters, Sharafeddin who was dean of law at Saana University was a member of the Houthi Shia separatist group that opposing the current pro-American Yemeni government. Another Houthi leader accused Sunni militants.

On the same day, a bomb exploded in a Shia dominated neighbourhood in Beiruit in Lebanon, killing at least 4 people and injuring many others. Sectarian tensions have been heightened because of Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian crisis.

Hezbollah, a Shia militant group, has been supporting Syrian president Assad. Iran, the largest Shia majority country, also supports Assad. Assad’s government is dominated by a small Islamic minority sect, Alawi, but the majority of the country are Sunni and supported by Saudi Arabia. The regional involvement in Syria is inflaming sectarian tensions in the already dividing Lebanon.

The cold war played a huge role in exacerbating the conflict as the Americans and Soviets manipulated tensions in order to gain support in the region. Shia majority countries such as Iran have Russia (post-revolution 1979), while Saudi Arabia and other Sunni majority countries allied with America.

Sunni Islam is hugely in the majority and is now very divided in its relationship with the US. Sunni Muslims make up it’s closest allies (Saudi, Egypt, Yemen) and those it believes to be its greatest threats, Al-Qaeda and similar groups. How America’s foreign policy has created enemies from allies is a topic for a different article but there long political history in play is often ignored not only in journalism but in academia as well. The post-colonial aspect also receives insufficient attention.

By portraying conflict between Sunni and Shia communities in the Middle East as a purely religious one presents a flawed picture without context. It is a sectarian issue, but also a nationalistic one, a class-based one and one of old political loyalties. Conflict is meaningless without context.

But much of mainstream media wishes to do just that, to portray Muslims as inherently, religiously fundamentalist and bigoted and ignore the blame that lies without outside actors’ political manipulation.

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World News 24/9/2012

13:30 GMT

PAKISTAN: An earthquake of 7.8 magnitude has hit south-west Pakistan with tremors being felt as far away as New Delhi. US Geological Survey has issued a “RED” alert which means estimated fatalities of over 1,000 and damages costing over $1 billion. Updates will follow via Twitter.

WALES: Welsh police have arrested 4 men in connection with a slavery ring in the UK. The investigation followsedthe discovery of Darrell Simester, 43, who had been missing for 13 years and had apparently been living and working in the area.

UNITED NATIONS: The UN meet today in New York. President Obama will give a welcome address followed by a statement by new Iranian President Rouhani.

The 24th Regular session the Human Rights Council are meeting in Geneva today to raise issues of international human rights in relation racism, racial discrimination or xenophobia. There has been much heated debate so far which will be discussed further here.

KENYA: The Westgate situation continues. On Saturday a group of up to 20 militants attacked the shopping mall in the capital Naiobi with guns and grenades. At least 62 people are dead and another are missing and may either have been killed or are being held hostage inside the centre.

There are mixed messages being release by multiple news sources regarding whether any Americans or British citizens were involved. There are also questions asked about how many hostages are still being held inside.

A British security source says it is “a possibility” that Samantha Lewthwaite, a UK citizen, was involved with the militants, but Kenyan President has denied this, saying that all the attackers were men. 

GREECE: New strikes have begun all over the country following further threats of public sector job cuts. The strike of public sector workers has effectively shut down schools and left hospitals with a skeleton staff. 

SYRIA: Spanish journalist, Marc Marginedas, has gone missing from the city of Hama in Syria. His newspaper, the Barcelona-based El Periódico revealed that he was kidnapped by Islamist fighters but that no group has taken responsibility yet.

RUSSIA: Edward Snowden’s lawyer gave an exclusive interview to RT today, which can be viewed here.

CHINA: 14 baby panda cubs were shown to the public today. 14 cubs were artificially bred in the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding and Research Base in south-west China’s Sichuan province.

World News Roundup: 12/Sep/2013

Silenced Voices in Israel

“Is this going to get me into trouble?” was my first thought as I began research and writing about Israel’s anti-war movement and less extreme, less vocal members of the populous. That’s quite telling in itself. As a writer I rarely if ever shy any from issues purely because their emotive or controversial. Those tend to be the stories worth talking about.

But a lot of baggage comes with discussing Israel and its relationship with it’s neighbours, its history, or even its domestic policy. Controversy can be caused by simply trying to look at Israel on a map. And while I do not shy away from emotive issues, I also understand that news is always someone else’s life on the other end of the story and there’s no harm in using tact.

But one of the problems with discussing Israel is not the baggage that is applied to any discussion but the manner is which the conversation escalates to the most extreme polarities so quickly. Any criticism of an Israeli practise is instantly “anti-Israeli” as though you could hold a whole nation responsible for the actions of its government. However raising even that mild point can bring the cries of those who highlight the many problematic practises of the Israeli government and especially their military.

Then trapped in the centre of the fray are the many Israelis who also disagree with many of their governments policies and the same labels of ‘anti-Israeli’ or ‘anti-Semitic’ are less easily applied to them and so, for the most part, they are ignored by the media altogether.

The first real signs of moderate, government dissenting, opinions breaking through the media came last year with the minor coverage of the Israeli Anti-War protests received when 1,000s of people marched through Tel Aviv in March 2012 chanting slogans like “Talk, Don’t Bomb”. Some of the organisers were also those who set up anti-war Facebook sites like ‘Israel loves Iran‘ which now has over 100,000 likes.

Anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv (2006) Photo credit: Jill Granberg
Anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv (2006) Photo credit: Jill Granberg

The Financial Times reported that earlier that month Dahaf, an Israeli pollster, found that more than a third of Israelis were against a strike on Iran under any circumstances.

This was not the first protest of its kind. They have been going on for years. The Communist Party of Israel marched against the occupation more than once. The Peace Index polled in October 2011 and found that 75.5% of Israelis supported social protest.  But these are not the voices that the media chooses to carry to the rest of the world.

It is not only the media who silences Israeli opposition but the police force as well. But in 2009 police tried to stamp out any dissenting voice against Operation Cast Lead (the three week attack on Gaza in January 2009) by attempting to have a Tel Aviv District Court ban any anti-war protesting. Many protesters were detained for long period of time while awaiting legal proceedings, including minors. These detentions were extended to:

“Anyone who enables remarks denouncing the state and backing its enemies, even as they rain missiles upon its citizens, must obey its laws” — Judge Moshe Gilad

Despite the fact that this kind of rhetoric of constant danger is common by Israel’s politicians and civic officers, according to a poll conducted by Israel’s Internal Security Minister and Geocartography Institute in January 2012, 74% of Israelis feel a high level of personal safety day-to-day.

In fact it is in these polls that the alternative voice of Israel are seen for the most part, even if they are ignored elsewhere, polling data is polling data. Such as the Haaretz in July of this year which said that 59% of people did not believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu was really committed to a two state solution.  Or another poll in May 2013 in which 42% of Israelis believed that continued Jewish settlements would hurt Israel’s security.  

64.5% of those polled were concerned religious radicalism inside Israel (Peace Index Dec 2011) and 45.2% would support dismantling most of the settlements in the occupied territories in the case of a peace agreement (Truman/PCPSR Oct 2010).

These people may not get to speak for Israel very often but it’s important to remember that they exist and that there is growing discontent with the political status quo inside the country.

In a surprising and interesting article in an Israeli newspaper Haaretz by Yitzhak Laor, he laid out the reasons that Israel should not support America’s military actions in Syria and that the US has never had Israel’s best interests as a factor in their policy in the region but rather saw it as a tool to further their own agendas.

“The United States did not really lose in prolonged wars. The destruction of Iraq, which started in 1991, brought enormous profit to large sectors of the American economy. Even Syria under jihadist control — if that should be the result of American intervention — will not cause losses for its war industry, though it will drain our blood. A quagmire in Iran will be no loss for them either.”

There is more of a platform for alternative or dissenting voice in Israel now that at other times in recent history and it will very interesting to see how this elements of public opinion change the country over the next few years.

All the polling data I used and more can be found at the virtual Jewish library. 

— Orla-Jo

Why are chemical weapons the “red line” of intervention?

Just over a year ago at a White House press conference, American President Barrack Obama stated that:

a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” the president said a year ago last week. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

Now that the use of chemical weapons has come up many feel that the president has trapped himself into responding. But the original comment does not promise military intervention and a question some journalists are asking is why were chemical weapons the ‘red line’ to begin with?

UN Photo/Marco Castro

Over 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began over two years ago with bullets and bombs. Conventional weapons are just as capable of mass death as chemical ones so why this line in the sand?

Obama defended this distinction to CNN last week:

“When you start seeing chemical weapons used on a large scale… that starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has, both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region.”

Phrases such as “National interests”, “protect our allies” and  especially “weapons of mass destruction” cannot help but call some of Bush’s rhetoric to mind.

But Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official argues that chemical attacks if proven, must be taken more seriously than conventional attacks because chemical agents disperse to affect large numbers of people and “can produce horror for a lifetime.” He goes on to say that “it’s a slippery slope”, if a chemical weapons attack goes unchecked, what about some other form of weapon of mass destruction – a biological or nuclear attack?

But it can hardly be said that cluster munition or drone strikes are somehow less devastating or that they could not just as easily lead to weapons escalation.

Arguments could equally be made that intervention increases the likelihood of retaliation. Al Jazeera’s White House correspondent, Patty Culhane, questions the Obama administration’s assumptions. She writes:

“The administration says the US National Security is threatened by the possibility that the Assad regime will use chemical weapons on allies or US bases – do you have any evidence that they plan to take that step? You’ve warned chemical weapons could be given to “terrorist groups that would harm the US” – how does a military intervention make that less likely and not more?”

The US are not the only country saber rattling in the direction of Syria. British PM David Cameron however lost his parliamentary vote on military intervention. France is also threatening a military role. French PM Jean-Marc Ayrault said “France is determined to punish use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.”

The Arab League however issued a statement that they believed that no intervention should take place that is not UN led.

A question that should also be asked at this point is whether a military intervention by US or France or any nation’s army would reduce the suffering of the people of Syria or even reduce the risk of chemical weapons being used again.

Also another question that is not being ask is what would the US government do if it was discovered that the rebels were responsible? Will the US military still intervene in the country? Will they intervene on behalf of the government?

That seems unlikely.

“There are few things more bizarre than watching people advocate that another country be bombed even while acknowledging that it will achieve no good outcomes other than safeguarding the “credibility” of those doing the bombing. Relatedly, it’s hard to imagine a more potent sign of a weak, declining empire than having one’s national “credibility” depend upon periodically bombing other countries.”
   —  Glenn Greenwald