How about Loving Yemen?

And then there was Yemen, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis at this time.

And who fights this war? From the air, it is the Gulf Arab states. From the ground it is, additionally, mercenaries from Pakistan and Sudan, plus a very few Yemenis still loyal to the remnant of the internationally recognised government of Yemen that ran away.

And on the other side? A Houthi-led band of assorted Yemeni rebels in the North, and (quite separately and not allied to the first band) Al-Qaida in the South. Admittedly an oversimplification, but that’s basically it.

And the internationally recognised, Saudi-backed government has retreated to Saudi Arabia and lost credibility. And the way forward? Peace talks. But the Saudi Arabian-led coalition of Gulf states seems reluctant to engage in peace talks that do not result in the surrender of their enemies.

That said, the Houthis are not invariably a pleasant bunch. They chant obscenities like “Death to the USA. Death to Israel”, from their mosques. They do not sound like the kind of guys you’d want to have go out with your daughter.

So the answer for Yemen, in my view, is partition. The North took over the South through conquest. In my own lifetime Yemen has been two countries: North Yemen and South Yemen. And these fiercely independent and warlike people were easier to get on with as two separate nations.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia should give up its dreams of hegemony over North Yemen. Let it go. It’s not worth it. Let her breathe. Give her a chance to grow up on her own.

The Saudis should be content with taking over South Yemen as a puppet state. Bring prosperity to South Yemen. Take it into the G.C.C. (the Gulf Cooperation Council).

This is a war of attrition. You can never defeat them. Best to leave them alone.

Poor Egypt and poor Sinai

Poor Egypt. Can you imagine it? Prices of goods have gone through the roof, including the price of basic foodstuffs. These are harsh times.

Meanwhile, even the elite suffer, with the introduction of more draconian taxes.

However, President Sisi remains moderately popular. America still continues to provide huge financial support to the Egyptian army. And there is still some Gulf money coming in, though less than there once was. And nobody wants more revolution and counter revolution. So, for now, Egyptians are patient. They have no choice. Indeed, many are fiercely loyal to President Sisi.

The one source of income that truly filters through to the people in Egypt is tourism. But this is an industry that limps along at best. What, then, can be done?

Peace in the Sinai would make such a difference. Each time there is trouble from the Arabs of the Sinai, its sets Egyptian tourism back on its heels.

Of course, it’s not just that. Each time there is an attack on a Coptic church. Each time there is a killing of any kind like the killing of the Italian PHD student, Giulio Regeni in 2016, tourism is knocked back severely.

The thing is that Egypt has never quite got the knack of dealing with its social, political and ethnic minorities, like the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Copts, the Sinai Arabs and the Nubians. But they are Egypt. All of them. Egypt is a mosaic.

And the best starting point in sorting out the conundrum that is Egypt would be to deal with the Sinai Arabs. And to deal with them in a spirit of brotherly love.

All that is needed is one major industrial project in the unhappy town of Al Arish, Sinai’s de facto capital. A steelworks or something. It would change the mood of the people of Sinai, and potentially mark the beginning of the end for extremism in Egypt.

Both Sudan and South Sudan in aching need of a little brotherly love

Sudan was once the largest country in Africa at a million square miles. Then the British ripped it into two using the pretext of a referendum on a rigged ballot in which South Sudanese refugees and those displaced to the North were denied the vote. All this “for the good of Sudan”.

It is way past time for us to stop “playing the Great Game”. We are not good at it and we were never good at it.

And now the North is riven by war, and South Sudan is riven by war. And come the day they solve that, they will probably start fighting each other.

Unless, that is, we start seeing a little brotherly love.

And the easiest conflict to solve is the worst of conflicts, that in the South Sudan between Southerners backing the President and Southerners backing the exiled Vice President.

President of South Sudan, the war leader Salva Kiir, sits in Juba, the capital. The exiled vice president, his political rival Reik Machar, sits in South Africa. And church leaders go back and forth between them. Which doesn’t work.

What is needed is a conference for representatives of both sides to come together. And not in South Sudan. Nor in South Africa. Nor in any other Arab or African country, all of which will be regarded as parti-pris.

No, it should be in Britain. After all, we were the ones who created the mess in the first place.

And why not go for the whole deal while we are about it. A conference on all the issues of the South and the North, as all the issues are interrelated, with Northerners fighting for factions in the South and vice-versa. Indeed, with everyone fighting each other.

Worth a shot wouldn’t you say? Perhaps we’ll try it. Somebody should.

Iraq – a Practical Approach to Reconstruction

There are a whole raft of issues in the much fought-over country called Iraq: the Kurdish question; the 2018 elections; getting rid of ISIS; and the rest.

One certainty is that we in the West have bombed countless homes into oblivion in the battle to defeat ISIS. One US strike on Mosul on 17th March of this year, targeting two ISIS fighters on a roof, killed almost 200 people, according to the Human Rights Watch. Whether or not you view Human Rights Watch as a credible source what is indisputable is that much of central Mosul has been obliterated.

Meanwhile there are refugees all over the place in makeshift camps. I hate and have always hated UN speak, whereby refugees who do not cross borders are called IDPs or “internally displaced persons”. A refugee is a refugee is a refugee.

Some of these refugees are the widowed wives of ISIS fighters who, along with their children, are kept in prison camps. They hate us of course. And nobody knows what to do with them.

An answer, not just to the ISIS wives but also to help ameliorate the wider refugee problem, would be to divert Western aid money to post conflict Iraq and to specifically use it to construct social housing in areas we have bombed in the past two to three years. Just the areas we have bombed. Just the houses we have destroyed. To do so is honourable. It was not our intention to hit civilians – but hit them we did. We had good reason for making the air strikes we made. But where we were culpable for the collateral damage and we could and should make amends.

Northern Ireland – the Economy becomes a political issue

Many of us believe in the vision of the Lebanese poet, Khalil Gibran, that of a world without frontiers. I have always disliked nationalism. My creed is all for one and one for all in a brotherhood and sisterhood of mankind.

But I understand nationalism in all its dimensions. I dislike it but I understand it. Irish nationalism, like its cousins in other nations, is an impassioned crucible of love. So it is easy to understand why Sinn Fein wishes to retain its status as a pan-Irish movement. Just as it is easy to understand why so many want an open border between North and South for the free movement of goods.

That’s fine. So why are the Brexit negotiations so pedantically framed that the Irish Border issue comes up for resolution before the trade deal is signed? If there is a successful trade deal there will be no need for a border agreement because goods can and will flow freely regardless. The cart has been put before the horse.

The Brexit vote forced on the British people because of David Cameron’s fear of an emergent UKIP was divisive at best. But it is done. The sooner we get on with life and put it behind us the better. The European Union should be more considerate and less obstreperous.

More considerate because outside the Oxbridge-London-Sussex bubble that remains comfortably isolated from the nation at large, many simply do not care whether there’s a no-deal Brexit. Do your own straw poll if you like. The results may astound you. Many outside of London are more than happy to see the UK crash out of Europe without a deal.

Cutting off your nose to spite your face? Maybe. But Britain imports more from Europe than it sells to Europe, so it’s not the end of the world. But for Ireland and the spirit of the Northern Ireland agreement, the consequences could be dire. Because once you slap in that border, even if only for goods traffic, Irish nationalists may perhaps be enraged.

Economy of Effort – the least difficult way forward in regard to Libya

There are four governments in Libya now:

  • One is the old Congress in Tripoli that won’t go away;
  • Another is General Haftar’s gang that rules the East;
  • Another is the internationally recognised government;
  • And the fourth is the UN-sponsored amalgam whose remit is to bring peace to the country.

And the international powers watch Libya burn. None bar Italy actually have an embassy in Tripoli. The rest of us watch from afar, though it was us who created this mess.

Italy has her reasons for being more proactively engaged of course, the migrant issue being chief among them. The river of migrants from Africa cuts for the coast through chaos-ridden Libya, and hence through the Med to Italy.

A side-issue here. Italian PHD student Giulio Regeni was beaten to death in Egypt in January 2016. Apparently overzealous members of the security services had been prompted to ruthless murder because of his having met Muslim Brotherhood members as part of research for his thesis on trade unionism.

Italy broke off diplomatic relations with Egypt in protest. So Egypt used its influence over General Haftar of Libya to get him to turn off the tap and stop the migration to Italy. Which Haftar, who had clout with the traffickers, rapidly did. As a consequence, Italy renewed its diplomatic ties with Egypt in September 2017.

Meanwhile, ironically, someone Haftar had no power over re-commenced the trafficking. Haftar had cut migration to a trickle. Now, once again, it is a flood.

We the people of Europe pay a price for the Anglo-French adventure in Libya. Unless, that is, you favour the continuation of this gruellingly cruel migration route

But have any of us the courage to have a diplomatic mission in Tripoli, Libya? No. Well only Italy amongst the countries of the world, and they have no real choice.

Understandable, perhaps. They all left for good soon after the US ambassador was murdered in Benghazi.

But now the killing of the wonderful Chris Stephens in 2012 must be put behind us. It’s time to go back, and go back we must. It is an easy and economical step for which there may be huge dividends, and without which the tide of migrants will almost inevitably continue. It is a step we can and must take.

 

Get Real on Russia

Russia hates the West and the West hates Russia. Or so it seems much of the time. All that Russian dastardliness over Ukraine for a start. From a Russian perspective, places like Ukraine and Syria have always fallen within their hegemony, and we in the West are trying to muscle in on their patch. Which is of course true. We are doing just that.

In regard to Russia the scales are reversed. There is far too much emphasis on Russia’s hegemonic misdeeds which are minor in comparison to those of the West (e.g. the catastrophic Anglo-French promotion of war in Libya despite Russian misgivings).

And meanwhile human rights abuses in Russia are almost utterly ignored.

In Russia it is now a crime to “Deny Traditional Family Values” (an anti-gay measure). In Russia, any form of domestic abuse that does not require hospital treatment is no longer a crime. And now there are murmurs about a proposed draconian anti-abortion law to appease the Orthodox Church. We need constructive dialogue with Russia. It is in their interest and it is in our interest.

Meanwhile it was extraordinary to hear British Premier Theresa May accusing Russia of interference in Western elections the other day in her Mansion House speech. We in the West were past masters at interfering in Soviet elections back in the day. We had a whole disinformation department established by my late father’s friend Lord Mayhew. It was called the IRD, or the Information Research Department. It was disbanded by Lord Owen during his tenure as Foreign Secretary in 1977. But that didn’t stop us interfering in the last Russian elections – or that at least is the Russian perception. Nor does it stop us from putting ruthless pressure on Russia even at the most petty level, such as the recent moves to freeze the Russia Today bank account in the UK by the National Westminster Bank.

We need to be wiser and less petty and work together with Russia to build a safer world. Our petty politics should end. Another Cold War serves nobody.

The Challenge that is Lebanon

The entire international community has come forward boldly and forcefully to stop attempts to extend the merciless Sunni-Shiite proxy war being fought out in Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq and Syria, extending to poor little Lebanon.

Lebanon barely functions. Its country lanes strewn with trash because the longstanding rubbish strike made it the dirtiest country on earth. And then there is the influx of countless refugees in their millions, first from Palestine, and now from Syria, with little help from the West to help cater for them.

The trouble for Lebanon is that the two beasts of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are head to head in a war of attrition – or proxy war of attrition if you prefer – which neither can ever win.

Perhaps there might be the political will in the West to bring them to the table over Yemen, where millions go hungry. The reality, in my view, is that Iran has little real control over the Houthis of Yemen. But the issue is that they are perceived as having control. And Saudi Arabia feels it has to respond to Iran’s pursuit of hegemony in areas it perceives as its own backyard – like Yemen – and Lebanon.

The message then for the international community is “Do nothing to provoke war before war is declared”.

There is no civil war in Lebanon. There need be no civil war in Lebanon. And if we tread carefully we can help ensure there will be no civil war in Lebanon.

And credit where credit is due, the international community seems to be doing a great job ensuring that little Lebanon remains safe.

As to the wider issue, they whisper that Iran stands ready to negotiate on a ‘You take Yemen, we take Syria’ basis. But Saudi Arabia does not. So we have an impasse. And meanwhile the common people die. Time someone knocked their heads together.

A Wiser Approach in Regard to the Kingdom of Bahrain

Bahrain has a local population of some three quarters of a million, which marks it as about the size of the size of Washington DC, or the town of Bristol in the UK. And, as pointed out by Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohammed, the Bahrain Ambassador to the UK just this week, Bahrain is the most religiously diverse community in the Arabian Gulf. Bahrain even has a small Jewish community. Their Minister for Culture, Sheikah Mai, talks of tolerance being not an idea, but rather a way of living.

And yet Bahrain suffers from a brutal sectarian divide that sets neighbour against neighbour in a far more noxious head to head than those we are familiar with in Northern Ireland. Policemen are killed for as pastime by Shiite extremists in Bahrain. Whilst the Sunni establishment resorts to countermeasures that are often sledgehammer-like in character.

And what does the international community do? We fan the flames.

Iran for a start. Iran could be helpful. Instead, Iran puts pressure on Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Ahmed Qassim, the spiritual leader of much of the Shiite community (photograph above). He in turn puts pressure on Ali Salman, the longest serving opposition leader in the world, who squares up to the longest-serving Premier (Bahrain has both). And Ali Salman put pressure on the opposition party he heads (Al Wefaq) not to stand at the last election in 2014.

The government’s response being to imprison Ali Salman and shut down Wefaq.

Were Iran to lift its heavy hand all of the above could be reversed. But it won’t. And so the Bahrain government won’t release Ali Salman. Which will make a sham of the forthcoming 2018 elections, as well as increasing the country’s sectarian divide.

And does the international community help? Not really. Not really at all. We browbeat Bahrain for its myriad perceived human rights failings, sometimes justifiably, sometimes less so. And when they do something good, like pass the most socially inclusive family law in the Arab world, a law that allows women to initiate divorce proceedings against their husbands, we fail to notice.

And the international community nags on. So Bahrain, at the behest of the United Kingdom which nags like the rest of them, introduces a remarkable restorative justice law to deal with young offenders. The most progressive in the Arab world. Again no praise.

Of course it is one step forward and two steps back, as prominent figures in the opposition have their nationality revoked or are imprisoned for what many would regard as the most minor of misdemeanours.

So the pressure mounts regarding allegations of torture and Bahrain, in response, appoints an independent Ombudsman to deal with allegations of the mistreatment of prisoners. My point being that progress gets little commendation, and meanwhile there is a cacophony of noise about human rights abuses, much of it of course justifiable, but so loud that it drowns out reasonable debate.

And where should the focus of reasonable debate be in Bahrain? On the 2018 elections of course. For true inclusivity at those elections. That’s what matters now.

Treatment of migrants in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The Next Century Foundation submitted the following a written statement to the Human Rights Council in accordance with its special consultative status at the United Nations. Thirty-sixth session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Agenda item 6. Universal Periodic Review of the UK:

“It is the humanitarian duty of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to offer migrants, who are often refugees from war-torn states, a fair chance to rebuild their lives. The Next Century Foundation notes the concerns expressed in the 2017 Universal Periodic Review. There are major shortcomings on the part of the British government.  Specifically:

  • The UK government is sometimes a poor listener, which can result in inefficient and ineffective dispersal of aid money. Increased communication with refugees, both in the camps to which they have been displaced in the first instance and subsequently in the UK, would inflate their esteem, morale and resolve. Most particularly with regard to those coming from war torn states, the international community in general and the UK in particular could empower local communities in the region to take control of their own destiny by giving them a voice in regard to the dispersal of international aid.
  • An effort should be made to recruit and employ teachers, doctors and nurses or others appropriately qualified who are themselves refugees within the camps wherever possible; and government aid funds should be diverted to this purpose in preference to bringing in Western teachers, doctors and nurses and others to perform these roles. This both lifts morale and provides economic support to key refugees.
  • Within the UK, there are initiatives such as Herts Welcomes Syrian Families, Refugee Action, and the Refugee Council, whose support of the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme has positively affected thousands of migrants. However, the “temporary protection” which this programme permits is inadequate. Under this programme, migrants are offered the chance to study or work for a limited five year period only. We urge that this time period be extended or that they are offered fast track citizenship after five years.
  • Trained migrant professionals are often not permitted to work in the UK whilst seeking asylum. Asylum seekers should be permitted to work in the United Kingdom whilst seeking indefinite leave to remain, should they wish to do so. The asylum seekers allowance is only £36.95 a week, which is evidently very small, especially when compared to the job-seekers allowance of £73.10. It makes life incredibly tenuous and is utterly unfair, given that they are then unable to work legally and become a burden on the taxpayer. However, whilst it is extremely important that refugees and asylum seekers should have the opportunity to work in the UK, it is also important to bear in mind that safeguards need to be put in place to see that they are not exploited by employers and that they are paid a fair wage for the job that they are doing. This is of importance in preventing bad feeling and resentment on the part of indigenous workers (the “immigrants” should not be perceived as a threat to the jobs and terms/conditions of employment of UK citizens).
  • To be granted university places, all migrants whose status has yet to be determined must have lived half of their lives in the UK in order to apply as if they were native citizens. This denial of university education to the majority of young migrants whose status has yet to be determined prevents migrants from rebuilding their lives, and retaining their dignity.
  • The Lawyers’ Refugee Initiative advocates the use of humanitarian visas, or “humanitarian passports” – that is to say visas for the specific purpose of seeking asylum on arrival – issued in the country of departure or intended embarkation. We urge that this procedure be used extensively by the United Kingdom.
  • In order to speed up the processing of asylum applications and reduce legal costs and emotional strain for all involved, we recommend that the Home Office only appeal decisions in exceptional circumstances, and rarely if the case has been under consideration for more than five years. It should be a statutory duty that all appeals by the Home Office take place within one year and be grounded on strict criteria. The actual asylum application process should be based on criteria that are generous to genuine refugee claims with a mechanism for withdrawing status on conviction of a crime – and fast track citizenship after five years.

We should regard refugees, whatever their circumstance, with compassion and mercy. Compassion and Mercy are moral virtues which elevate humanity and therefore our obligation to refugees transcends any obligation we may have to accept economic migrants and / or the free movement of labour and should not be confused with any such obligation – and the UK is not yet doing enough”.

Note: The Next Century Foundation acknowledges the help of Initiatives of Change, an organisation that co-hosted the migration conference that contributed to the preparation of this submission.

The Blade, the Bullet and the Bomb

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