On Tuesday 22nd December, the Greek parliament unanimously voted to recognise Palestine as an independent state. The vote came amid a visit from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to Athens. The resolution recognises a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The historic resolution was adopted in the presence of Palestinian leader Abbas. In his speech before the Greek parliament he stated that “Greek parliament’s initiative further contributes to the foundation of the Palestinian state.”
Greece now joins dozens of other countries and is one of nine EU member states that accords recognition to Palestine. The momentum to recognise Palestine as a state is increasing. Sweden was the last EU country to recognise Palestine’s independence. After Sweden’s official move, Sweden’s foreign minister Margot Wallstrom said, “We hope that this will show the way for others.” Seven other European countries have recognised Palestine: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Slovakia, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Romania. An overwhelming majority of countries in Africa, Asia and South America have also recognised the state of Palestine. A total of 136 countries have now made the move.
Since its election last January, Tsipras’ government had made a promise to recognise Palestine as a state. Following the decision, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced that “Palestinian Authority” would be replaced by “Palestine” in all Greek government documentation. Nonetheless the resolution is considered symbolic as it is non-binding. Greek officials have also maintained that the vote “will not disturb good relations with Israel.”
It is great to see more European countries moving towards recognising a Palestinian state. Greece’s move shows more states are willing to work towards peace and a viable solution to the Palestinian issue.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sparked controversy on Tuesday at the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, when he accused a Palestinian religious leader of being behind the idea of the Holocaust. Netanyahu insisted that Hitler had only wanted to expel Jews from Europe until he met Mufti Haj Amin Al-Husseini in 1941, who inspired and convinced Hitler to exterminate European Jews instead.
Netanyahu told the audience:
“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews and Haj Amin Husseini went up to him and said if you expel them, they’ll all come here (Palestine)…’So what shall I do with them?’ he (Hitler) asked, ‘burn them’ (Husseini responded).”
Extremely inaccurate and inflammatory, Netanyahu’s rhetoric has received great attention from world leaders and from the public through social media. His claims have been mocked and were met with outrage all over the world, as well as in Israel and among the Jewish community.
It is clear that Netanyahu is exploiting a terrible historical crime for a political advantage and to further spread his anti Palestinian propaganda. This dangerous historical distortion that Netanyahu has created, does not sit well with leading scholars and historians of the Holocaust and with the German government. German chancellor Angela Merkel later went on to clarify that Nazi Germany was very much responsible for the Holocaust which is apart of German History and nothing could change that. By attempting to put Palestinians at the center of the Holocaust, Netanyahu continues to demonize the Palestinian community and more dangerously, tries to change history for political purposes.
Mufti Haj Amin Al-Husseini was the former grand mufti of Jerusalem and a Palestinian nationalist leader from 1921 to 1937, he was known for his anti Zionist view and although he allied himself with Hitler, there is no evidence to suggest that he told Hitler to persecute Jews. Not only have scholars and historians examined the minutes and transcript of the meeting between Hitler and Al-Husseini where there is no mention of exterminating Jews, but also Hitler only met Al-Husseini in November 1941, months after the mass killing of Jews in concentration camps had already begun. So where exactly did Netanyahu get these words from? Or is he fabricating dialogue?
The uproar caused by Netanyahu’s remarks continues as he currently visits Berlin to meet U.S. secretary of State John Kerry and Angela Merkel to discuss the recent rise in violence between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters.
It is unlikely that Netanyahu’s words will be forgotten and it is clear that he will have a hard time fixing what he broke.
A year ago, the Obama Administration announced that it would begin a campaign of airstrikes in Syria to target ISIS fighters. However these strikes have led to increasing numbers of civilian deaths. Civilian casualties of US air strikes are commonly reported in Afghanistan and Pakistan, however the ongoing violence in Syria has meant that civilian fatalities from U.S. air strikes in Syria are less known or have been merely dismissed. Like most U.S. drone and air strikes, they are unauthorized and no approval was sought to enter the Syrian airspace from the Assad Government. Thus technically making the strikes a violation of international law.
There have been over 2,000 US led coalition strikes in Syria alone this past year, which have killed hundreds of ISIS fighters. Allegations of civilian harm have not been adequately investigated and thus the exact number of civilian deaths is unclear. However the deaths are certainly far more than the U.S. Central Command (Centcom) admits. The death toll ranges from 200 to 498 according to Airwars, a group that monitors the international coalition’s airstrikes against ISIS. 100 of those deaths are supposedly children. Centcom, who are in charge of carrying out the air strikes, are formally investigating only five incidents of civilian fatalities. They announced they would only investigate incidents where they have received “credible” evidence. However Airwars has been tracking up to five times more civilian casualty events. The ability to verify these events is limited due to the dangers of visiting Syria, particularly areas that are under ISIS control. However incidents with civilian fatalities are taking place on a much greater scale than the U.S. will ever admit. Neutralizing civilian areas from military operations is becoming increasingly difficult as ISIS continues to gain a strong hold in areas in Syria.
The war in Syria has left millions displaced and thousands killed. If the U.S. weren’t to intervene with air strikes, they would be under scrutiny. Syrians although frustrated at the strikes, know they are not being actively targeted. An important distinction to make is that the U.S. air strikes are taken with precision and aim to avoid hitting civilians while attacks by other factions including the al-Assad government itself sometimes appear to be actively targeting civilians.
Although the current air campaign has been described as the most precise and disciplined in the history of aerial warfare, this shouldn’t mean that we should accept the deaths of civilians as collateral damage.
ISIS continues to target the Yazidi community in their campaign to “purify” Iraq.
Yazidis are an Iraqi religious minority that originate in Northern Iraq, predominately in the autonomous Kurdistan region as well as in the Nineveh Plane and Sinjar region of Ninevah Provence. Although some Yazidis speak Arabic, many speak Kurdish; and all Yazidis consider themselves a distinct minority.
Thousands of Yazidi men have been killed by ISIS in an attempt to diminish their population, and thousands of women and children have been abducted and forced into slavery. The Yazidi community says that ISIS is still holding more than 3,500 of their women and girls captive.
ISIS has implemented a program of systematic sex trafficking for abducted Yazidi girls. The organisation’s theology of rape has become deeply enshrined in their radical belief system. They first began kidnapping Yazidi women in August 2014, in Sinjar, Iraq. While the group at first tried to deny that they were sexually exploiting women from the Yazidi community, they finally acknowledged their sexual enslavement of Yazidi women in the October 2014 issue of their magazine Dabiq. ISIS ideologues offered justification for the enslavement of Yazidis by explaining how they consider slavery permissible under Islamic Law. The jihadists argue that capturing and raping Yazidi women is justified and not a sin because Yazidis do not believe in Islam. These ideologues further argue that it is their religious duty to kill or enslave members of the Yazidi community as a part of their jihad against their enemies.
Many survivors and escapees have recalled their traumatic experiences and the brutal nature of ISIS. Yazidis have spoken about being systematically raped, imprisoned and physically and emotionally abused by ISIS. However some women who have escaped after enduring sexual violence believe that their “honour” will be tarnished if they speak about what they have been through. Survivors face social stigma from within their own community when they return home. Many others in captivity have turned to suicide as a response to the constant sexual abuse by ISIS.
ISIS considers the continued existence of Yazidis incompatible with their goal of establishing an Islamic State and therefore have deliberately targeted Yazidis and used strategies that aim to erase the Yazidi culture, religion and bloodline. ISIS is aiming for the systemic destruction of the entire Yazidi population.
ISIS’s attacks on the Yazidi community amount to a genocide, however apart from UN expressions of “extreme concern,” very little has been done to protect and assist the Yazidi community.
In the past year, four secular bloggers have been hacked to death in broad daylight in Bangladesh, while many other writers including poets and journalists have received death threats. These violent killings highlight the serious threat to freedom of expression that persist within Bangladesh and needs to be addressed.
Bangladesh was established as a secular state in 1971, however 89.7% of the population are Muslim. There is ongoing tension between Bangladesh’s secularists who want to maintain the country’s tradition of separating religion and state, and the Islamists who want to establish an Islamic state. While Bangladesh’s authorities have arrested several suspects thought to be responsible for these attacks, none have been punished as of yet. The Bangladesh government doesn’t seem to be doing much to protect secular bloggers. Indeed, the Bangladesh government has even arrested and jailed a number of secular bloggers for “defaming Islam.”
Niloy Neel, formally known as Niloy Chatterjee, is the fourth and most recent blogger murdered. On August 6th, a group of men armed with machetes broke into his flat in the capital, Dhaka and hacked him to death. Neel was a critic of religious fundamentalism and extremism which put him on the target list of Islamist militants. Prior to his death, Neel had received many death threats from Islamist radicals. When he took the case to local authorities however, his complaint was never taken seriously. Ansarullah Bangla Team, an al-Qaeda inspired Islamic extremist group in Bangladesh later claimed responsibility for the killing and warned of more to come.
Two years ago, Islamist hardliners tried to get the government to adopt a blasphemy law that would jail those whom criticized Islam or God. The four men that were killed this year were part of a list of 84 “atheist bloggers,” drawn up by Islamic groups and widely circulated around the country. At first the aim of the list was to get the government to arrest the 84 bloggers and charge them with blasphemy. Ever since, death threats to secular bloggers have been on the rise and protection from government authorities remains non-existent.
Unlike other countries in the region such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, Bangladesh has never been a centre for terrorism. However Islamic militancy is on the rise in Bangladesh with both home-grown militant groups and international ones, including al-Qaeda. In the past Bangladeshi authorities had made it difficult for Islamist groups to establish themselves within the country. The rise in the number of attacks on secular public figures is proving that the government needs to implement more stringent counter terrorism strategies.
Three of four of these four murdered bloggers notified authorities that they were being followed or had been receiving threats and feared for their lives, however no action was ever taken to protect them. Hundreds of secular activists have protested and made calls for justice, and it is clear that the government needs to do more. The authorities have certainly made arrests, but there is a clear danger to secularists in Bangladesh, who are being identified, tracked and targeted. These murders attack free speech and ferment fear, and the Bangladesh government needs to make it clear that attacks on freedom of religion and expression will not be tolerated. The government must counter violent extremism to ensure that these attacks do not become the norm in the country.
In the wake of a spate of deadly terrorist attacks in Tunisia this year, the democratically-elected Tunisian Parliament has adopted a new anti-terror law aiming to counter any future threats from Islamist militants and extremists. The introduction of this law is harsh and a step back in Tunisia’s ongoing journey to democratisation. However, the Prime Minister, Habib Essid, maintains that the law is a necessary step forward in order to tackle the rise of terrorist activity in Tunisia.
The legislation comes after the attack that claimed the lives of 38 tourists, 30 of whom were British, on June 26th on a beach resort in Sousse, a heavily tourist populated region in Tunisia. The terrorist organisation ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attack, and isn’t their first attack in Tunisia. Back in March, ISIS took responsibility for an attack on the Bardo Museum in the capital of Tunis, leaving 21 tourists dead. These two attacks have had a significant effect on Tunisia’s tourism sector, which provides roughly 400,000 jobs to Tunisians and accounts for 14.5% of Tunisia’s GDP.
The legislation re-introduces the death penalty for those convicted of terrorism charges and jail sentences for those whom express support for terrorism. The bill also provides an increase in phone tapping powers for investigators and authorities. Suspects of terror offences can also be detained for up to 15 days without access to a lawyer; which inevitably minimizes their lawyers’ ability to put forward an effective defence. This comprehensive increase in power, bestowed to authorities, has been heavily criticized among sectors of Tunisian society. The bill has been debated in parliament for many years, but was only put forward following the recent attacks. The legislation was rushed to parliament too quickly to have a proper debate with adequate scrutiny. After just three days of debate, the bill passed with 174 votes (at least 109 votes were needed to pass it) and only ten abstentions. With the bill now in law, it will act as Tunisia’s new counter-terrorism strategy.
Tunisia, a rare success story of the Arab Spring, has been in a peaceful transition to democracy ever since the overthrow of President Ben Ali, however, many NGOs and advocacy groups have condemned the legislation, arguing instead that it threatens the already fragile democratic structure of Tunisia. Many concerns have been raised regarding the return of capital punishment after a lengthy moratorium in Tunisia, as well as the undermining of civil liberties due to the increased power in citizen phone tapping. While Mohamed Ennaceur, the President of the Assembly, maintained that the newly adopted law is a historic moment for Tunisia and is a reassurance for citizens and tourists in Tunisia. What is clear about this legislation is that it is sacrificing Tunisia’s democracy for its safety and security.
Despite Tunisia’s successful uprising, the Tunisian army and security forces, have had to tackle with the rise of Islamist militancy. Tunisia is concerned about the vast security vacuum that has been left to grow in Libya due to the ongoing civil war between two rival governments, which has given groups such as ISIS an opening to spread chaos in Libya. More than 7,000 Tunisians have left their country to fight for ISIS in Syria, more than any other country in the world, which poses a significant security challenge for the Tunisian authorities. Along with the new law, Prime Minister Essid has proposed an unrealistic plan to build a sand barrier along the Libyan border, as a strategy to counter a potential Islamic State spill over.
Tunisia is in a critical phase of democratic reconstruction and this regressive law will certainly derail Tunisia’s long path to democratisation. The law no longer safeguards the rights of defendants and the significant increase in power among authorities and security services is likely to reverse Tunis’ effort to rid the country of authoritarianism. It is clear that the elected leadership in Tunisia has forsaken their democratic mandate and opted for short-sighted authoritative power over long-term state-building. It is worth noting however that prior to the new law, there wasn’t a significant effort or measures in place to address extremism in Tunisia. Nonetheless, the perennial question remains. Is it necessary to curtail democracy for security measures in order to fight extremism?
The use of drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan has always been deeply controversial. Whilst the drone campaign has certainly achieved some of its goals, it has also led to the death of countless civilians and an increase in levels of extremism. Afghanistan remains by far the most heavily drone-bombed country in the world, but now as U.S. troops slowly withdraw from Afghanistan, and with a new government secured in place, drone strikes don’t seem to be winding down. Rather, unmanned U.S. drone strikes have stepped up this year, in both Afghanistan and in areas of Northern Pakistan.
U.S. drone strikes in the region began back in 2001 as a tactic to persecute the “War on Terror”. Although the surgical strikes began slowly, daily drone use escalated quickly and became one of the key war strategies in the fight against insurgents. The drone programme has expanded significantly under the Obama administration, with deaths from drones six times that of the preceding Bush administration. Dozens of armed drones continue to fly over Afghanistan and Pakistan every day and regularly release their weapons.
Today, U.S. drones are used to achieve one goal; to neutralise terrorist operatives, principally those of al-Qaeda. The U.S. government has claimed that they were able to eliminate up to 70% of al-Qaeda’s leadership with the use of drones however there has been no accurate verification of this. Furthermore, civilian protection from such drone attacks remains poor, with civilian losses continuing to be viewed as acceptable. Due to the complex intermix of insurgents with the civilian population, thousands of innocent men, women and children have perished from drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The exact toll of civilian deaths has never been accurately reported, partly because the Obama administration employs a disputed method of counting civilian casualties, where all military-age male deaths in a strike zone are considered combatants. From the data available, 17-24% of all drone strike related deaths are civilians.
Other than civilian deaths, there remain other repercussions of such strikes; drones have a serious counterproductive effect when it comes to reducing extremist combatants. Drone strikes are known to have increased negative sentiments towards the U.S. government among the local populace. This anti-government sentiment stretches out to the Afghan government as well, though the Afghan National Unity Government has remained silent on the issue of drones. This negative sentiment from drone strikes inevitably provides an incentive for people to take up extremist Islam and join militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Drone strikes hamper Afghanistan’s ability to progress towards peace and development, something that the ‘War on Terror’ was fighting for. Yet President Obama continues to ignore the CIA’s warning about the “possibilities of backlash.”
Drones have given the US the ability to strike anyone anywhere, regardless of national boundaries and they are a direct violation of international law. Drones violate both Afghanistan and Pakistan’s sovereignty and undermine human rights, but there hasn’t been much of an attempt to stop the targeted attacks. While the administration of Hamid Karzai, who was president of Afghanistan from 2004 to 2014, demanded that the strikes be conducted with more moderation, his successor, president Mohammed Ashraf Ghani, has said little on the issue in order to decrease U.S.-Afghan tensions. The increasing civilian death toll and the increase in radicalisation as a result of the strikes doesn’t seem to be enough to justify the end of drone usage.
The drone issue remains complex. Apart from the collateral civilian damage, the attacks do undeniably play a significant role in challenging militants and supporting ground military operations. Reports have also shown that the strikes have managed to destroy large stocks of militant arms and ammunition. It continues to be argued that drones are the safest form of modern warfare and are the way forward; and although this might be false, what is the alternative if drone strikes were halted?