The blade the bullet and the bomb know no morality, they have one purpose only, to kill and injure. Those who wield these weapons of destruction have choices; they are moral beings who have chosen the way of violence. This choice is informed by their beliefs and their beliefs informed by their chosen cause or ideology; or both.

If choosing the way of violence is based upon an extreme ideology then they have adopted an uncompromising  view of the world and how it should be ordered which requires them, and their co-believers, to spare nothing or no one in pursuit of their ultimate aims; barbarity is unleashed, violence spirals and any semblance of humanity abandoned; they appropriate for themselves the appearance of an irresistible force. However, as in the paradoxical proposition “What will happen if an irresistible force meets and immovable object?” nothing in nature is absolutely irresistible and nothing is absolutely immovable. In the gritty realities of power struggles action and reaction happen by degrees and each mirrors the worst aspects of the other and thus violence breeds violence “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” (From the Christian Gospel)

Am I describing Daesh? I could also be describing Cromwell’s Model Army in the England of 1640s or Fascist regimes in Europe in the 1930s and 40s. All believed themselves invincible all were ultimately vanquished. Their legacy was and is more violence. Violence breeds violence.

(Quote)”The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that”. Martin Luther King Junior

Plato said, “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

Violence breeds violence and its siblings are: vengeance, reprisal and retaliation. Governments, as well as individuals, adopt these siblings and unleash them at will.  To break the spiral of violence we must contend with these forces of vengeance and violence at their root cause.

All wars end. Either through attrition, intervention, diplomacy or capitulation conflicts cease. But the end of conflict is rarely the beginning of a sustainable peace; too often the end of fighting is merely the impression of peace when in reality it is an armed truce vacillating between possible futures.

For years, America the UK and their allies have appropriated to themselves the mantle of a global, interventionist morality. This policy has been seen by many as either little too late or at worst disastrous for all concerned. For the first time in modern history the consequence of this deeply flawed morality has brought the victims of intervention, in seemingly overwhelming numbers, onto their shores and into their streets. Traumatised, at times half dead, physically and psychologically scarred, starving and despairing they are as much the West’s casualties as any of our armed forces killed or injured in recent wars. Violence breeds violence.

From the violence suffered by traumatised refugees coming to our shores, a new violent reaction is being embodied in the resurgence of reactionary, populist political forces in America, Europe and elsewhere. The populist slogans they scream and chant are a repudiation of the so called liberal, democratic values which have dominated international discourse since 1989. These new forces are indifferent or opposed to any assertion of international morality. They will use violence (rhetorically and actual) to secure their nation’s borders, engender a patriotic siege mentality and practice isolationism from global intervention; rather than try and do intervention better they prefer not to do it at all.

In the Levant, Western influence has waned and is seen as fatally flawed, other regional powers have filled the vacuum but they have historical and ideological agendas which are inimical to the West.

The West, meanwhile, is verging on economic bankruptcy; the UN is also deprived of funds and in thrall to the Security Council, the new American regime is inexperienced and lacks credibility and Europe is fragmenting as a political project. Western intervention seems to be reduced to targeted military strikes in the Levant and anxiety about trade deals elsewhere. The West seems gripped by a moral inertia. So from where will arise new energy for global conciliation and rapprochement come? Russia, China, Turkey, India? Are we in a diplomatic winter?

(Quote from Quran)  “There is no good in most of their secret talks save (except) (in) him who orders Sadaqah (charity in Allah’s Cause), or Maa‘roof (Islamic Monotheism and all the good and righteous deeds which Allah has ordained), or conciliation between mankind; and he who does this, seeking the good Pleasure of Allah, We shall give him a great reward” (Quran, Surah An-Nisaa, 114)

If the Great Reward goes to the conciliators of this world (“Blessed are the Peace makers” Quote from Christian scriptures) then we need an uprising of peacemakers and an army of reconcilers. (The Aramea Foundation, NCF, IoC?). We need a coalition of the willing who will work tirelessly and sacrificially for Peace; demanding a renewal of ethically based foreign policies, a renewal of internationalism, reaching out to enemies and bringing light to the darkest places.

As a person of faith I know faith’s shortcomings but I also know its power to inspire and transform lives and situations and to give vision and hope to humanity in its days of darkness:  “To turn spears into pruning hooks and where people will study war no more” (Quote from Jewish Scriptures).

Faith must play a significant role in post conflict Syria and Iraq, Syria and Iraq will also need all the goodwill that can be mustered and a Marshall type plan of economic and civic reconstruction unprecedented in modern times. This is the cost of the West’s repentance and the East’s intransigence and the Middle East’s incoherence.

Within any plans for the possible futures in the war torn areas of the Levant, their  must be a plan for  the future of Jerusalem, that city set on a hill which is the rallying point for so much human longing for God.

May we find new hope, new vision and new determination to shape a future where it is not the dead who see an end to war, but the living.

 

Fr Larry Wright

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On Power and Leadership, Love and Hope

Jackie Autumn

Autumn by Jackie Richards

The following report is the first in a new monthly series from the Next Century Foundation’s Secretary General. It represents the personal view of the NCF Secretary General and should not be regarded as an NCF perspective:

British Prime Minister Theresa May continues to serve as a world leader out of a sense of duty. The 1922 Committee that controls the Conservative Party to which she owes her allegiance is frightened to allow her to fall on her sword. So a lame duck Premier limps on past her sell-by date, an embarrassment to the nation at a critical time, with the Brexit negotiations collapsing around her ears.

Why is the 1922 Committee so very frightened? Evidently because the leader of the opposition, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, is both charismatic and effective. The Committee feels it needs to face like with like and, alas, there are just three charismatic public figures in today’s Tory Party with any real high-profile presence. They are:

Boris Johnson,

Boris Johnson and

Boris Johnson.

I had thought of including other names but there are only two bitter choices for the Conservative Party: either win the 2021 election with Boris – or lose it. A difficult choice, because the British Foreign Secretary is a wildcard, a maverick schemer and a narcissist. He is no predictable pragmatist. He despises Bashar Al-Assad, or so he claims, whilst seemingly being complacent about the blockade on Yemen. Boris as Premier is a catastrophe waiting to happen. The current Tory Party only has one other charismatic public speaker and that is the foppish Jacob Rees-Mogg. There is a drive to polish him up and bring him out of the dark ages and shape him into an alternative to Boris, but that would perhaps represent too great a challenge. Difficult times for Britain, because to limp on with Theresa is to lose all credibility.

Iran faces a similar challenge. President Trump intends to defer to congress the decision on whether to reintroduce sanctions on Iran. This act of moral cowardice is no doubt prompted by his friends in Saudi Arabia and Israel, who so fear a hegemonic Iran. Iran for her part is concerned about the US returning to a hardline position. As a consequence, Iranian President Rohani has chosen to visit Oman and use the occasion to offer, astonishingly publicly, to reign in Iran’s client group, Hezbollah as well as encourage the Houthi of Yemen to attend peace talks. Curious that last point. Our experience at the Next Century Foundation in promoting second track discussions in Switzerland has been that the Saudis are the reluctant party when it comes to discussing peace. That aside, Iran’s offer on Hezbollah is nothing short of astonishing.

How does this impact on leadership? Well, Iran has made it clear in private discussion with the NCF that she will face a hardliner with a hardliner. Which means what? It means that if Trump’s hardline approach is to be the order of the day, then at the end of Rohani’s current term he will be replaced by Qasem Soleimani, the head of the foreign division of the Revolutionary Guard (the Quds Force) and a charismatic hardliner.

Charismatic leaders are in vogue. Sissi in Egypt, Mohammed Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, and the emergent Hadi Al-Amri in Iraq and Haftar in Libya are examples of hard men who through sheer grit and determination have seized or are seizing power.

We are moving out of an era of mediocrity, simply because the people of the nations of the world have had enough of the complacent establishment, that has led to an era of the rich-poor divide becoming more acute, and increasing globalization. There is a clear difference between commercial globalization with the uneven playing field that rewards the sweatshop and the polluter, and the advocacy of a world without frontiers, in which we should  all believe.

So the world has leaned, and is leaning, toward a preference for ‘What-you-see-is-what-you-get’, transparent leaders and protest ballots. Hence the Brexit vote and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. Hence Trump. Hence Mohammed Bin Salman’s incredible popularity in Saudi Arabia. These are all anti-establishment trends.

Clearly people seek something new from their leaders. What I believe the people of the world now yearn for in leadership is integrity. That is far more than mere box-ticking honesty. Integrity is empowered honesty in action.  Integrity means that you mean what you say when you say it. But that is not to say that there isn’t still room for old-fashioned loyalty. Theresa May and Sultan Qaboos of Oman are both examples of people who live for loyalty, by loyalty, with loyalty. And that is admirable. Combine loyalty with genuine risk-taking integrity and you get a leader who may truly change the world.

And so to Love, the other quality necessary for leadership. Here we are not talking of sit-at-home, watch television and weep sort of love. We are talking of love-in-action. This means love for all those for whom you are responsible. I have just returned from Kirkuk in Iraq where, questioned about care for the refugees in his province, the Governor of Kirkuk told me, ‘They are not my responsibility’. His issue was that they couldn’t vote for him, so why should they vote? 

This is not genuine leadership. Genuine leadership means that you take responsibility for everyone for whom you have responsibility, even if you don’t particularly like them. This is a key aspect of leadership. You do not have to like people to love them. There are those who advocate the practice of loving your enemies. That is the nature of truly great leaders. Sissi of Egypt and Al-Amri of Iraq, take note. Great leaders care for the minorities, for the vulnerable. You could do better if you wish to build the nations we know you cherish.

We seek heroes,

We need heroes,

We demand heroes.

And we expect heroic leaders to love us, to protect us, to nurture us, even if they don’t particularly like us. That way they earn our loyalty. And people can be incredibly loyal.

And when we meet gross failure in love and leadership, we must call those responsible to account. Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar for example, who has let herself down, let the world down and, most importantly of all, has let the people of Myanmar down by being complicant in the Rohingya genocide.

Cruelty in all its dimensions is unacceptable. May God have mercy on the souls of all those world leaders responsible for the blockade on Gaza. The collective punishment on a people is an act of great wrong, whether in Syria, Gaza, Yemen or in Qatar. Leadership without love is not leadership – it is oppression. Even Machiavelli understood the need for wodges of love. He advised his disciples that, if they needed to use a heavy hand to keep things in order, they should do so ruthlessly and severely, but then stop, let go and treat people well. For he recognized people deserve love and care, and must get it if stability is to be engendered.

And then there is hope. We have an obligation to hope. Indeed without hope the very fabric of the universe could fall apart. And there is much reason to hope. We live in one of the most peaceful eras in all human history. You don’t think so? Remember our parents lived through the twentieth century with its two World Wars, its genocides in Europe for the Jews, in Turkey for the Armenians, in Africa for the Tutsis. The Vietnam and Korean wars, plus the partition of India. I could go on and on. Names parade through my mind. Aden. Kenya. Uganda. Then famine on famine. Live Aid was not for nothing. Ah, and Sudan. Misery on misery on misery in the twentieth century. And so many miserable footnotes. Little Kashmir, for instance. A century defined by human suffering. Things are better now in terms of sheer numbers of the dead in wars: the world has improved.

Plus things have got better in terms of war avoidance. We, as already stated, are just back from Iraq. There could reasonably be a war- a new war – between Baghdad and Arbil in order to curb Kurdish aspirations for independence. There won’t be, because Washington and Tehran want war avoidance so that they can concentrate on the existing war against Daesh. They have said so both publicly and privately, which is hope in action. Leaders, just like the rest of humanity, but even more so, have an obligation to hope. Whichever obligation or duty the rest of us has to be moral, the responsibility on the shoulders of our leaders is greater still.

The women of the little Christian town of Alqosh in the Ninevah Plain keep suitcases by their bed in anticipation of the coming war. But now they can unpack. There will be no new war in Iraq. Hope? Write the word large. It is often all that we live for.

Dr William Morris

Secretary General, The Next Century Foundation 10 October 2017

Election Monitoring – the Kurdish Referendum

kid-677081_1920
The NCF election monitoring team is in Iraq, as so often in the past. This time we are here for the controversial Kurdistan regional referendum on whether the people of the Kurdistan region wish to have independence. And this time our team has joined forces with a larger group kindly invited by President Barzani drawn from a wide spectrum of nations including France, Germany, the USA, the UK, Israel, Canada, Qatar, Russia and Spain.
We will issue a full report in due course but some issues that had concerned us have been resolved. Initially our team had concerns about what we consider may be oversights in transparency. Apparently the breakdowns of the vote by region or district were not to be available. We thought this might be because of misplaced pressure from the international community that did not want the vote to turn into a referendum on the status of the disputed territories. If so we thought that would be unfortunate. There would be no way of knowing whether an individual town in the disputed territories votes for independence or not. We raised the issue at a senior level and our concerns were noted and, whether because of us or because of the influence of others, the policy was reversed and the vote by region is being released.
That said the majority most certainly voted for independence. The mood is one of excitement in most quarters, even exhilaration. We met Kak Masrour Barzani, the President’s son and potential heir apparent. He explained that this would not be treated as a vote on whether an individual town wanted to be absorbed by the Kurdistan Regional Government. Hence the desire to treat this as a “collective vote”.
The potential for trouble in the aftermath of the vote is of course considerable which is why the international community had asked that this vote be deferred for two years. The world wants no distraction from the fight against Daish. They view this vote as creating additional tension between Baghdad and the Kurds a.k.a. ISIS. They my be right but there is no holding back the Kurds with their newfound confidence. If you are the praying type, a prayer that nothing major goes amiss in the aftermath of this vote might be welcome, even appreciated.
Dr William Morris, NCF Secretary General
Ambassador Mark G Hambley, NCF Trustee

 

Saving Syria: Sami’s Peace Plan

SamiKhiyami

What follows was first published on Neil Partrick’s blog:

http://neilpartrick.com/neil-partrick-blog/saving-syria-sami-s-peace-plan

Sami Khiyami was the Syrian ambassador to the UK until March 2012. As the fighting in his home country raged and his recommendations were ignored, he asked President Assad to allow him to resign his post. After some deliberation Assad reluctantly agreed to what Khiyami wanted, on the understanding that he would not be defecting but simply stepping aside.

Since then Sami Khiyami, like many Syrians, has been based in neighbouring Lebanon. For more than a year he has been trying to build support for a peace plan designed to cut through the impasse of Assad’s determination, backed by Russia and Iran, to remain in power, and the western and Gulf-backed opposition’s demand that he go as soon as a transitional deal is brokered and that state power be transferred to those outside of his regime.

Speaking to Mr Khiyami in Beirut I was struck by the clarity of his thinking. Notwithstanding the obvious difficulty of somehow achieving contradictory outcomes, Khiyami is clear-sighted that, alongside Assad remaining president until a transitional phase of four to five years is complete, there needs to be an appointed assembly of vetted men and women without a partisan background to serve as legislators and to whom an interim government, that they appoint, would be answerable. It is this constituent assembly (CA) that needs, by international, regional and above all Syrian agreement to become the locus of actual power, he argues.

Obviously any deal would have to be backed by the foreign states augmenting the firepower of all sides of the war, but how, I asked Sami, would Syrian fighters with seemingly everything to lose be brought into the equation? He advocates a joint military council of what he calls “moderate regime and rebel fighters” who would be answerable to the CA. The military council (MC) would restructure and re-establish the armed forces as a common Syrian national military answerable not to the President or any other part of the current Damascus regime, nor to any rebel force, but to the CA. The CA would also oversee the reformation of the police on what is envisaged as non-partisan lines.

It made me wonder how Assad, his regime circle, and their foreign backers could believe that their man would survive what would be nothing less than a refashioning of the Syrian state. If control of state force is no longer in the hands of the regime, how could Assad believe that he (and his family) would be physically safe, let alone remain president? Of course it would be understood by all parties that the transition of the country under the CA would necessarily be followed by open and peaceable elections. In such circumstances Assad, should he wish to stand, would be an unlikely victor. He and his backers would have to accept that such an outcome is likely, and that very acceptance would, Sami believes, provide the basis for his Syrian enemies to accept, and indeed guarantee, that he could be a part of the transitional arrangements, even if he would be in office but not really in power. This of course is the position that western powers, including the US, and, it seems, even the Saudis have finally come round to. It might, but only might, be something that Russia would back too. If it did, it would be harder for Iran and ultimately Assad to reject. A deal that some, including former Finnish president and global diplomat Martti Ahtisaari, claim could have been fashioned several years ago with the backing of Russia, preventing the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, might now be possible.

Set against this of course are Assad’s territorial advances. At such a time why on earth would he concede power to a CA, however dispassionate Sami Khiyami claims such a body would be? One answer perhaps is that the CA he has in mind really would be a neutral body, or as neutral could be expected in a country polarised by one family’s rule for half a century, not to mention over five years of bloody conflict. The other, more relevant, reason for Assad might be that he knows territorial advances in battle do not equal peace, or anything like it. The war is far from over. The Russian-US-Turkish agreement on de-escalation zones in some parts of the north-west, east and south of the country, whether they hold or not, only emphasises the limited writ of the Syrian regime. The south is currently largely under the control of Gulf and Jordanian-backed rebels, while part of the north-east is a Syrian-Kurdish zone backed by US forces who are based there as part of the anti-IS campaign. Iran remains an important regional ally of the regime, assisting, via Hizbollah and Iraqi allies, the authority of Assad’s forces in the western and eastern border areas. Assad may therefore believe his regime can survive, but there is little to suggest it can control the country. A regime that doesn’t control the territory of the state, let alone have the acceptance of most of its inhabitants, will always be vulnerable.

Sami Khiyami’s plan seeks to put the control of the whole territory and machinery of the state in the hands of a CA appointed via a two stage process designed to ensure that popularly accepted figures run the country until the country is stable enough for an elected authority to do so. He recommends that the UN approve 1,000 Syrians who will meet inside Syria, no doubt under international protection, to determine a 50-member Council of the Wise (CoW) – elders or venerated people, not regime or rebel apparatchiks. The CoW will in turn choose 200 respected and able Syrian personalities to serve as members of the CA. The latter will in turn appoint the executive authority.

The idea behind this rather convoluted process is to avoid an Afghan scenario whereby a loya jirga was shepherded by the UN after the fall of the Taliban to rubber stamp a predetermined new government. The UN’s role in Syria would be to assist in starting the transitional arrangements. In fact Sami is busy working, with Syrian colleagues, on 2,000 names that can be given to the UN to assist it in its task in coming up with 1,000 people to begin the transitional process. Once the 1,000 Syrians meet, this becomes exclusively a Syrian process and out of UN hands other than, hopefully, being endorsed by the UN Security Council. Despite wanting to circumvent the absurdity of talk of elections in a country where politics is secondary to territorial struggle, Sami envisages that a simple yes/no referendum could be conducted once the CA is set up. This he says could give the transitional process some popular Syrian legitimacy. It isn’t clear what happens if the answer is no, but Sami is confident that a clear majority would back it.

However it’s obvious that key to just getting this process started is the connivance, at the very least, of the foreign backers of the regime, the rebels and of opposition political figures, as well as the approval of many of the key Syrians themselves. He assumes that the takfiris will have to be crushed – whether by regime, Kurds or western forces – because they will never agree to a peace process. The difficulty with this argument is that there are many Syrian Sunni Islamist fighters, some connected to Gulf and western governments, who seek to delegitimise their opponents on religious grounds. The regime or Russian definition of takfiris is essentially any Islamist rebel fighter. Yet all sides, including those Islamist militants who aren’t nihilists, will somehow have to agree to Sami’s ideas.

The proposed MC will be pivotal. Without it functioning effectively, the CA cannot be the source of power in the country. If power comes from the barrel of a gun, as Mao observed, then the MC will be needed by the CA to ensure it controls the state. Otherwise the CA will be a talking shop with no relevance to what really happens in Syria. If the latter scenario appears likely then neither Assad, his family, or the significant numbers of military rebels that Sami envisages signing up to the process will come on board. Sami argues that there are “uncontaminated” military men on the regime and opposition side who can find a way to work together. That said, many Sunni Islamist rebel leaders will need to cooperate with the MC too.

However, as all key foreign states now seem to accept that Assad can remain in the transitional period, and even perhaps stand for election should a presidential system be agreed for the future state of Syria, then this may be the moment to explore Sami’s ideas further. Perhaps there are enough members of the Syrian great and the good, or at least those who are relatively uncorrupted and untarnished, to finally put an end to the horror.

Key parts of the Peace Plan:

  • 1,000 member body approved by UN >
  • This body chooses 50 member Council of the Wise (CoW) >
  • CoW chooses 200 member Constituent Assembly (CA)>
  • Referendum to approve or disapprove of CA>
  • CA appoints Government and Military Council; CA directs the transitional process for up to five years>
  • National elections to determine a new government

On Barcelona

panorama-427997_1920The events in Barcelona are a crime at the most fundamental level, a crime that offends all that stands for justice and peace.  What was done was profoundly wrong.

Nice on Bastille Day, Germany’s Christmas Market, Stockholm, Westminster Bridge, London Bridge, Finsbury Park, Charlottesville – and now Barcelona. Add to this terrorism by bomb and bullet and the list would seem unending.

Barcelona is unique amongst the cities of the world. Barcelona, the city of hope sheltering under the shadow of the exquisite spires of Gaudi’s fairy-tale church of the Sagrada Família.

In Barcelona they commit this crime? May God forgive them.

This heinous act redoubles our determination to build a world founded on a new kind of social contract, a society that measures progress in terms of our opportunity and freedom to each have a role we find meaningful.

God be with the wonderful people of Barcelona. And God be with this wonderful world. We shall be unbowed. We shall build a new tomorrow, build a world based on love, trust and inclusivity, and turn our backs on madness, hatred and rage. Because we must. Because our children both expect and deserve this of us. Because of Barcelona.

NCF granted UN status

UN

The Next Century Foundation has been granted Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. This enables the NCF to submit written statements on subjects on which it has special competence for circulation by the Secretary General to members of the council. When appropriate the NCF is also enabled to make oral statements to the council. It is our intention to consider making representations on areas in which we have special interest – possibly as early as next month. These areas might well include The Kingdom of Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, Libya, and the Gaza Strip. Issues the NCF may raise in this context may be the treatment of prisoners; the treatment of non combatants by combatants (i.e. collateral damage and / or collective punishment); and matters regarding free and fair elections.

We commend the practice of acquiring consultative status with the UN. If you have links to an NGO that wishes to acquire such status information on how to do so can be found here:

How to apply for Consultative Status

The London Bridge Attack

london bridge

The tragic incident on London Bridge has given us all pause for thought. This broken world is unbelievably cruel at times. And why? If you are capable of violence do you resort to violence merely because you can?

The concept of deliberately targeting civilians, the innocent, the young, to make a political point, is a familiar one. To merely say it is wrong seems trite but none the less it needs saying. It is wrong. Again and again it needs saying. It is profoundly and utterly wrong, both in the eyes of compassionate humanity and in the eyes of God.

Our hearts bleed for the victims. And at the same time we cherish and admire the response of those that went to their aid, whether from the police force, or from those many bystanders that stepped forward to help, or from the health service (and incidentally one in four of Britain’s doctors and one in six of Britain’s nurses are migrants).

We cannot and must not ever allow terrorism to succeed in its aim. And in this instance the aim is to sow fear and division, to foster hatred and spite. To allow our hearts to be hardened by this venomous act is to allow the perpetrators a frisson of success. Whereas what they deserve is our pity and forgiveness because then they fall subject to the judgment of God, and his judgment is and always will be remorseless when the innocent are the victims.

If we must be angry, better we rage against God for permitting such injustice, if the only other choice is to allow ourselves to become consumed with anger with our fellow man. Can we regard our enemies as our friends? For hatred can we return love? In so doing we break the power of evil and love casts out fear.