World Wildlife Day: How do our actions impact the environment and the animals that inhabit them?

Our actions, and our conflicts, impact negatively on many habitats and the animals within them. In war the environment suffers exploitation and violence just as people do. Actions which would normally be condemned become normalised and are justified in the context of violence.

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Maintaining armies alone is a huge drain on natural resources but deployed armies use vastly more resources. One report suggests that the US military used 190.8 million litres of oil every month during the invasion of Iraq. As well as this, the destruction of infrastructure in Iraq led to huge amounts of pollutants entering fragile ecosystems.

In the heat of war, it is easy to see how the natural world is not an immediate concern. However, the environment is what keeps us all alive. We are sustained and nurtured by the life around us and if we do not show compassion in return we will not continue to experience the world’s bounty.

Resources are limited and in war the present demands more respect than the future. The future belongs to all of those on this planet, including plants and animals. It is not only pragmatic but also morally right to respect this glorious planet.

It is easy to suggest that humans should have a right to peace, but are we not also animals?  We should extend the right to peace to our fellow animals. They are after all sharing this planet with us and many of them, mammals in particular, are able to experience strikingly similar emotional responses to us. Elephants for example have been recorded as experiencing symptoms of a condition similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following heavy poaching.

Looking after our environment not only protects vulnerable species of plants and animals, it can also help to prevent human conflicts from happening in the first place. Resource scarcity is often the catalyst for violence. Water and food shortages are often exacerbated by man-made climate change. Climate change, resulting from overuse of fossil fuels, produces increasingly volatile and unpredictable weather patterns. This in turn leads to loss of crops and livestock in unseasonal and extreme conditions.

The environment and the animals within it are casualties of war which cannot cry out in pain. We must raise our voices for those animals and plants that are destroyed and disregarded. It is in all of our long-term interests to do so. We must fight to preserve the resources needed for peace, even in times of war.

By Eppie Parker

Remembering the Refugees

We say goodbye to 2016 which has been the year of war and more war in the Middle East, and in the West the arrival of Brexit and Donald Trump have heralded a new era of antiestablishmentarianism that some have found disconcerting.

2016 has also been the Year of the Refugee. What follows is a statement signed by some of the participants in the conference on Migration and its Genesis hosted by Initiatives of Change and the Next Century Foundation during World Refugee Week 2016. Please take a look at it. We think you may find it of value.refugee-picture-531 December 2016: The following statement is signed by some of the participants in the conference on Migration, its Genesis and Causes hosted by Initiatives of Change and the Next Century Foundation during World Refugee Week 2016. We believe it represents a consensus view of participants:

Action to support Refugees in recently established camps in the Middle East:

  • 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.
  • That greater emphasis be given to delivering education in refugee camps.

General Action by the international community to ameliorate the refugee crisis:

  • That international governments consult local people regarding actions that affect their wellbeing before taking those actions. And that where possible, most particularly in war torn nations, the international community empower local communities to take control of their own destiny, e.g. by giving them a voice in regard to the dispersal of international aid.
  • We support an expansion of the definition of refugee under international law to incorporate those displaced by environmental disasters, in particular those human-caused. Whilst the current definition of refugee encompasses the persecuted (as well as by de facto practice those displaced by war), a new legal framework is needed to also address the needs of communities affected by climate change where that climate change is life threatening as in cases of famine as a result of severe desertification or in cases of population displacement because of rising sea levels.

Recommendations specific to the United Kingdom:

  • That asylum seekers be permitted to work in the United Kingdom whilst seeking asylum, should they wish to do so.
  • That the concept of “temporary protection” including permission to work and / or study in the United Kingdom for a limited period be further extended beyond the current Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme.
  • That the concept of “humanitarian passports” and of registration for asylum within the region be developed further. The Lawyers’ Refugee Initiative advocates the extensive use of humanitarian visas – that is to say visas for the specific purpose of seeking asylum on arrival – issued in the country of departure or intended embarkation.
  • 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 perhaps be a statutory duty that all Home Office appeals must take place within one year and be grounded on strict criteria. The actual asylum application process should have inspectors who ensure that decisions are made on independent criteria that are generous to genuine refugee claims with a mechanism for withdrawing status for five years on conviction of a crime or proven false information – and fast track citizenship after five years.

Recommendations to the international community of relevance to specific nations in the Arab World:

  • IRAQ: That a special task force be appointed to provide aid and support to IDPs (internally displaced persons) in and from Ninevah, Anbar and Salah ad Din Provinces so that the community in Northern and Western Iraq feel a sense of hope and encouragement.
  • LIBYA: The return of the Ambassadors of the United Kingdom, Italy and France to Libya to support the new internationally recognised government of Libya.

That the international community agree to the request from the new internationally recognised government of Libya for help with land mine clearance – or at the very least technical support and training for land mine clearance.

  • SYRIA: That a ‘track two’ conference be convened which participants would attend without precondition and that would welcome members of the government, key international players and those from any faction of the opposition.

Action to reduce levels of extremism:

  • That the communities in refugee receiving countries be encouraged by faith leaders to welcome to their homes people new to the area of other faiths or cultures  with no agenda other than that of befriending them and offering a listening ear. The West needs to rediscover the dynamic of its own rich spiritual tradition.  At best this has been the engine of social advance, just governance and effective peacemaking for our countries.  Too often as a civilisation we project an image of material self-seeking, and miss the active comradeship we could enjoy with believers from other traditions.
  • All nations of the world face a moral and spiritual challenge. This problem is not unique to the Arab World. The vast majority of Muslims do not follow extreme ideologies. That said a disaffected minority have adopted the apocalyptic ideology promoted by ISIS. Alternative expressions of faith exist that engender a sense of belonging. One such ideology is that known in the Middle East as al-tasalluh al-akhlaqi or الأخلاقي التسلح, based on the same principles as Initiatives of Change – absolute love, honesty, unselfishness, and purity and the practice of listening for God’s guidance. “Sufi” doctrines of this kind should be considered in the search for ideological responses to violent extremism. As an example of this alternative approach see https://www.facebook.com/khawatirmovement/

We also commend the international community to regard refugees, whatever their circumstance, with compassion and mercy. It is our duty to our fellow men and women to treat those in distress with compassion. Compassion is love in action. Although we are not legally obliged to accept refugees, we do have a moral duty to significantly help ameliorate their situation so that they can take temporary refuge in countries neighbouring their own. That duty is a duty to humanity that 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 we are not yet doing enough.

Endorsed and signed by the following members and friends of Initiatives of Change and The Next Century Foundation

Amit Mukherjee, Initiatives of Change India

Chris Evans, Initiatives of Change UK

Dan Parry, Filmmaker

Dr Peter Shambrook, Historian

George Butler, War artist

John Bond, Initiatives of Change UK

Professor Dawn Chatty, The Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford

Reverend Larry Wright, The Religious Affairs Advisory Council

Sabiha Malik, Founder, Sanghata Global

Siwar al Assad, The Aramea Foundation

Suleiman Fortia, Former Member of the National Transitional Council, Libya

The Lord Stone of Blackheath

William Morris, Secretary General, The Next Century Foundation

Lasting peace and prosperity in post-war Iraq?

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The attempt to recapture of Mosul and other key areas in Iraq is now generating a new wave of optimism. With the many challenges being faced including the potential displacement of huge numbers of people and ISIS escaping to fight again under cover of oil fires, it might be a mistake to be too optimistic too soon, however anything that changes Iraq for the better at least brings hope.

What will a post-war Iraq look like? What prospects does life hold out for the Iraq’s people? The most important thing will be to ensure that Iraq becomes a safe space where peace and prosperity can flourish unhindered. This new peace and prosperity must benefit all Iraqis. The Government of Iraq must ensure that it encourages ex-militants from ISIS and the members the various Shia militias currently fighting ISIS to become productive and integrated members of a post-war Iraqi society.

Iraq will also have to either consolidate its current federal arrangement with Kurdistan or opt for a new approach with a form of confederalism that benefits both Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and Kurds.

Written by Marcus Lomax on the 28/10/2016

Language as a bridge and a barrier in Iraq

 

Since the creation of Kurdish Regional Government in Northern Iraq in 1991, political and linguistic disparities have been accentuated between Kurds and Arabs. The number of young people proficient in Arabic in the Kurdish governates of Dohuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah is decreasing. This means that many young Arabs and Kurds no longer have a common language. Language is a very important, but also useful tool, in creating a shared identity. Language in many cases acts as a barrier between Kurds and Arabs in Iraq. However, there is hope that more Arabs will learn Kurdish in order to better understand Kurdish society. Luma Hussein from Al-Noor, a woman’s Non-Governmental Organisation in Baghdad, believes learning Kurdish would benefit her because Kurdistan has more experience in developing civil society organisations. The forced use of Arabic during the Saddam regime has caused Kurds to view the Arabic language as a potential imposition and an attempt to dilute Kurdish identity. Attitudes are however changing slowly since the demise of Saddam. Will bilingualism no longer be the norm in Iraq’s Kurdistan?

Written by Marcus Lomax on the 28/11/201

Battle for Mosul: The Grave Humanitarian Ramifications

Mosul is Daesh’s largest and last remaining bastion of power in Iraq. Victory over Daesh in Mosul is simply a matter of time with Iraqi forces, Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Western firepower encircling Mosul where ISIS have just 5,000 troops. However, there remains critical concern about what comes next; how to provide safety for up to 1.3 million refugees trapped in Mosul? How to re-establish governance in a city brutalised by tyranny?

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The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has confirmed as of 16th October, twenty-seven camps and emergency sites have been prepared with a total of 10,014 plots currently available for 60,084 people. A further 41,744 plots for 250,464 people are planned or under construction. Three camps to the south and southwest of Mosul have been identified as priority sites for the first waves of displacement. However, with a potential of 1.3 million displaced people the UN and other aid organisations are severely underprepared and underfunded to cope with such an exodus of people. Furthermore, there are few safe routes out of Mosul for civilians as the city starts to become immersed in heavy attack, thousands of civilians face great danger of being caught in the crossfire or trapped in the city beyond the reach of any humanitarian aid. Some 5,000 refugees have managed to cross the border into Syria arriving at the Al-Hol refugee camp, where conditions are cramped with a shortage of humanitarian aid. The number of those that have managed to flee Mosul raises the question of whether Daesh fighters will use the same route re-joining Daesh forces in Syria. Even worse, there are claims that Daesh will use the civilians trapped in Mosul as human shields as Iraqi and Peshmerga forces begin to besiege the city.

What happens after the Battle of Mosul is as important as the battle itself. In the aftermath of ISIS occupation, there are no cohesive plans and competing forces will want to translate their military gain into political control. There are bitter sectarian scars between Sunni and Shi’ite Iraqi’s, which could lead to instability in a post-Daesh Mosul. Shia militias were accused of killings; abductions and lootings by Sunni communities in Ramadi and Fallujah after these cities were retaken. Also, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces have already clashed with Shia militia in the province of Diyala. If sectarian strife is inflamed this will be catastrophic for the civilians who remain in Mosul.

 

Trump and US foreign policy in the Middle East

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US foreign interests are, for the most part, bipartisan and both the Democrats and the Republicans have similar views with regard to the US’ main foreign policy objectives. Trump views Israel as a strategic ally in the Middle East as have the Democrats. The major difference is that Trump wishes to adopt a more isolationist approach, which could potentially mean a reduction in military aid to Israel. Donald Trump could challenge the long-standing pro-Israel bias in the US. Although he has promised to protect Israel, he boasts his skills as a negotiator and claims that the negotiations will require a certain level of neutrality.

It is unclear whether Trump’s remarks regarding minorities and Muslims in the United States would translate to any form of foreign policy that would be harmful to the Muslim Middle East. At worst, his disdain could translate into an uncompromising response by Trump to any defiance that threatened US interests in the region (note that earlier this year Trump pledged to send 30,000 US troops into Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS).

Blog post written by Marcus Lomax 19/10/2016

Uncomfortable trio: West, Dictators and Terrorism

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“People talk about the Middle East as if there were only two options: dictatorship or terrorism. However, this is a false dichotomy, both are terrorist groups”.

(Dr Maha Azzam)

This concluding remark by Dr Azzam last night at “Al Qaeda and Beyond: where do Arab dictatorships fit” is a powerful key to interpreting developments in the Middle East. Experts on Yemen, Syria, Egypt and Iraq analysed the relationship between dictators and terrorism, posing the question “why is the West so obsessed with dictatorships?”

In a post Arab Spring world, voices from both Europe and the USA have been advocating a return to dictatorial government in the Middle East. Distant spectators observed democratic revolutions turning into violent uprisings, peaceful protests becoming armed resistance groups and once quiet areas becoming terrorist controlled regions. The focus quickly shifted back home, with many voices denouncing ISIS attacks and asking how all of this could have happened. It is this fear and shock that has lead many to advocate increased support for Assad and Saleh, questioning the possibility of a democratic future in the region.

The history of support for dictatorships by the West is a story as long as colonialism. Even at the time of the Pahlavi dynasty in Persia, Western powers strongly supported dictators throughout the Middle East. A single individual was easier to control than a democratically elected government and his ethnicity could easily be exploited to maintain the divide and rule strategy adopted in colonial times.

It is clear that the West has benefitted from their relationship with dictators since the end of formal colonialism. From the trade deals between Italy and Libya to the military support given to Mubarak by the US, dictators in the region have been strong partners and supporters of Western interests in the area. On the opposite side of the spectrum, whenever an unfriendly government took power, Western democracies resorted to terrorist groups to destabilize the country and re-obtain their control. A classic example was the Taliban in Afghanistan, armed and supported by the US in its quest for a pipeline from Central Asia.

We should not disregard however the use dictators themselves made of terrorist groups. As illustrated by Basher Al Assad releasing jihadist prisoners in the wake of the Syrian revolution, terrorist groups have been widely used by local powers to portray themselves as “the lesser of two evils”. More recently, Sisi has used the threat of ISIS to curb peaceful civil society groups and to justify the brutal actions of Egypt’s army in Sinai. This creates a vicious cycle in which opponents of the government, deprived of their freedom of speech and assembly, resort to armed revolts, justifying increased violence from the government.

Nowadays there are two terrorist movements in the Middle East: state terrorism and religious terrorism. Depending on the time and circumstance, the West has simply opted for one or the other, perpetrating breaches of human rights and the lack of democracy in the region.

By Martina Villa