Iraq’s Innocent Children – When will their Suffering End?

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Item 3 on the 6th of March 2018, Children in Armed Conflict.

Mr President. The bi-product of armed conflict is often devastation to the lives of innocent children, whether during conflict, or in the aftermath. Whilst travelling in Iraq in late 2017 the Next Century Foundation was given alarming reports of the treatment of the families of ISIS fighters. We have heard similar reports from Northern Syria.

In both locations there are camps in which the families of ISIS fighters are being detained. The families were detained without warning, and given no reason for or information about the duration of their detention at these camps. Many of these families have had their identity documents confiscated meaning a definite inability to leave. Likewise, there have been reports of the destruction of civilian property, and of villages and of the removal of livestock owned by those who are now in these camps. This has been corroborated by satellite imagery obtained by Human Rights Watch. By early 2018, over 200 families had been placed in these camps in Iraq over several weeks with 220 such displaced individuals arriving at the camp near Daquq, South of Kirkuk, Iraq, the most prominent of these camps. Children are of course amongst these numbers and there are young children and infants that are growing up in these camps. The imprisonment of women and children who have committed no offense is illegal and the Next Century Foundation wishes to express its concern over the situation as there has been no fair reason presented for the holding of these people or for their treatment. Having declared victory against ISIS, Iraq should be investigating these prison camps and rectifying the situation in order to work towards a better future for these Iraqi people and those children who are part of Iraq’s future. The continued use of these ‘prison camps’ and the current treatment of these many families could potentially be regarded as a war crime, in view of the fact that these families could be considered forcibly displaced.

This issue is not exclusive to Iraq. In northern Syria there are four Kurdish-run camps in which around 800 families from approximately 40 different countries are being held because of their alleged association with Islamic State fighters. Whilst there is the possibility that many of these families do indeed have fathers, sons or brothers who have fought or are fighting for ISIS, collective punishment is illegal. There is no reason to punish those who have done nothing wrong. There has also been little assistance given by the home nations of these families to address this problem, thus far only Russia and Indonesia have worked with Kurdish authorities to have their nationals repatriated.

In these circumstances, it really is the innocent women and children who are suffering. Their detention in such camps, and the treatment they endure, is abhorrent. The young children who have been forced out of their homes and are now living in these conditions are experiencing the fallout of a conflict that is not theirs. It is a necessity for both Iraq and the international community to respond and take action.

Don’t Forget Me

And, sir, it is no little thing to make mine eyes to sweat compassion”, (William Shakespeare, Coriolanus).

This is my last blog post for The Next Century Foundation. During my time at the NCF, I addressed several hot issues, speaking about different situations and topics, even very controversial ones, which have sometimes generated harsh reactions. I suppose it is inevitable if you are speaking about politics, human rights, dictators, victims or perpetrators. These social fabrications give us a social identity and lead us to often take on conflicting and controversial positions, dictated by interests, simple visions or specific goals. In such circumstances, the “political animal” inside each of us reveals itself trying to impose its own point of view.

However, in spite of the ideas and values that humans can have, every person is made up of feelings and emotions. Before being classified as political animals, humans are sentient beings, with emotions and feelings which define us and make us unique. The same sort of emotions and feelings that are gradually being extinguished with the frenetic and uncontrolled evolution of this world. And today, I want to talk about this. Today I want to talk about who we are. Today, I want to write about the emotions, hopes and feelings that define us and how this world is changing them. And I will do it by speaking through the lense of one of the generations that, more than any other, is experiencing this change in full; a generation that particularly expresses the contradictions of our society but also the dreams and the betrayed hopes: my generation, that of the Millennials.

We live in strange times. Times of great uncertainties, immense fears, incessant and fast changes. I am the son of a generation that has been living through the golden years of development, where entrepreneurs would invest in the job market and believed in the value of their employees. Years where politicians would constantly strive to find new ways to improve people’s lives. The high level of births, the prolific job market, the certainty of the future, the first and the second car, big savings, the summer holidays by the sea or in the mountains. And then the great investments, the incentives to progress, research and development, the high general morale, the man on the moon, the hope for a future of well-being for everyone.

But sometimes expectations about the future are bigger than what reality has to offer and, just like a bubble that swells excessively, sooner or later reality explodes right in your face. And here, all of a sudden, we have a system where the excessive well-being and the immeasurable potential of the third industrial revolution clashes with the individual economic interest. The big industries and multinationals come into play and alter the balance. Human greed grows stronger and stronger while the big multinationals knock on the doors of politics for some “boosts”. And there you go; the first agreements born to maximize profits by damaging workers’ rights; national factories shutting down to re-open in those countries where labor costs 1$ a day, or renegotiating workers’ union achievements with politicians in exchange for a few bribes or support during election campaigns; the high transnational finance getting hold of large company shares and becoming the main protagonist of a new global perverse game. The cost of labor for multinational companies drops dramatically while working hours increase. As a consequence, the price of produced goods decreases. Small and medium-sized businesses close or fail for they cannot compete with similar standards, whereas those able to make it through are the big names of industry or those entrepreneurs who, through criminal support, have managed to reach out to and influence politicians to get some extra procurement contracts or personal favors. The West becomes the center of unbridled capitalism, with no rules, with no ethics or respect. Everyone for themselves. It is against this backdrop that my generation, the Millennials, is born. The first true generation without any clue about its future.

The final blow comes with 2000 and all its technological capacity. It started with the first mobile phones and laptops on a large scale, up to smartphones and tablets. Technology moves; the great giants of Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon develop; technological power becomes incredibly significant. And here’s Black Friday, the purchases with a click, the ads in every corner of the city, superfast transportation and trains in the underground every minute. The illusion of a world as a global, super-technological and limitless village is born. A sense that all this frantic lifestyle is necessary and inevitable emerges.

The savings of our parents are spent in this super-technological world while employment becomes more and more an urban legend. The new contemporary frontier of slavery 2.0 is born. Jobs poorly paid with meal vouchers; fixed-term contracts; easier layoffs; unbearable working hours. The prediction of Charlie Chaplin in his movie, Modern Times, comes true. Man becomes a productive factor with no rights, little money and a need to spend money without worrying too much about the future. It is the betrayal of the dream of a global Californication that we all expected: a happy world with more freedom and less problems to think about; a world where everyone can work and build a better and sustainable future.

But man’s greediness has shattered this dream. The betrayal from a global political class of spineless servants of high finance and powerful world lobbies has sanctioned the end of this dream. And while constitutions drown in an ocean of decay, my question is, what is left of all this?

On the one hand, there is an army of clueless kids, educated in the best prep schools which are financed by international magnates, who repeat as robots notions of economic and political theories aired on televisions and published in newspapers by those same people responsible for such a global delirium. Those same theories that legitimized the unbridled capitalism that is crushing us; theories such as those of the great industrialization or those that ultimately justified the plundering of the marvelous African countries or wars of interest such as those in Iraq or Libya.

On the other hand, there are people who live in the moment, who believe in what the World tells them to believe, only able to find their own identity in the television culture of the Big Brother, phony talk shows or in the trashy pop-porn culture spread throughout the day by MTV. George Orwell’s predictions have never been so true, huh?

And then, what remains is a people of perfect strangers.

I turn around every day, in the train, on the bus, down the street, and I see hundreds of people far away. People with a blank look on their face, lost in the void or on the screen of their smartphones. Lonely, sad, aloof people, with not much of humanity left; people walking quickly through the streets remorselessly hitting whomever is in their path because they are too intent on continuing their virtual conversation with someone miles away; people unable to express emotions or feelings; people too busy masking their loneliness behind the perfect image of their virtually perfect life on Instagram; depressed people no longer connected to reality; people who get together and break up through a telephone because they are incapable and afraid of meeting or knowing each other in a normal, real, natural way. And finally, people unable to associate, to connect, to unite and resist the power, or to oppose unjust decisions.

So what is left of feelings, of humanity, of us being people? For some reason, I’ve always been afraid to answer this question. Particularly, in the last period of my life.

During my time at The Next Century Foundation, I have been able to reflect a lot on politics, religion, people and the complicated relationships that bind us to each other and that bind us to society. I have not really ever considered anything I am writing right now. Not because I did not think about it but rather because this complex machine of intertwined relations, politics, economy, religion and power is difficult to fully understand and, above all, to make it work. And in this sense, in the end you end up accepting it because you understand that things are almost always impossible to change, peace will always be difficult to establish, power will always preserve itself and religion will always be used as a political tool to manipulate the masses. So, almost passively, you end up accepting the status quo of things. Almost like a condition of the universe, immovable and immanent. Everything has always been this way and it will always be this way.

At least until this World decides you are the next target and this status quo affects you in person, lashing out at you with all its strength. And then everything changes. You withdraw, let yourself down, look for explanations, seek yourself and your role in the world. You frantically turn around to find yourself, unsuccessfully. And you cannot help but compare your situation to that of the contemporary world, that of a world that perhaps will never change; and that of the Millennials, that of a simple person surrounded by lonely individuals, unable to sense or feel emotions in one of the largest cities in the world. You wonder if maybe it is just the natural order of things that you eventually have to accept, because perhaps that is how it works, because it has always been and will always be like this. In the last few months of my life, I have been looking for an answer to this question, without luck.

Until something happens; that deus ex machina you need to get you out of trouble. And here comes the answer to your questions. Something that helps you to understand; something like a trip to Holland, a beer with a trusted friend, an exhibition of an artist or walking in the rain in the streets of London without a destination. And it is at that precise moment that when you look into people’s eyes – those you’ve been so reluctant about or that you’ve lost hope in – you suddenly see something different, something you’ve never seen before, something that changes your perspective. And you can suddenly feel a vibe, a feeling, a sparkle that leads you through their eyes. And, like a flash in a pan, you are able to feel all the power and the emotions that each of them has locked within and that can be conveyed through their story or personality. Pure energy, pure emotions, pure humanity. The people’s smiling faces at the Tulip market in Amsterdam; the encouraging wink of a friend down at the pub that – around a pint and some good indie-rock in the background – shows you the right way of looking at things; the power of humanity in the symbolic life scenes of Banksy’s works that lead you to reflect on the true nature of people and humanity; the feeling of the rain falling on your skin in the gray of London’s streets that brings you back to life and connects you to reality again. Your prospects start to change and now you can see things differently. Suddenly you can find an answer to that question in that stream of people and things around you.

And, like a flashback, everything suddenly made sense.

During my time at the Next Century Foundation, I met ambassadors, Lords, religious leaders; I even spoke to the World for 2 minutes before the UN Human Rights Council. All exceptional experiences. However, I now understand that none of these experiences would have made sense without a particular detail that each of them has in common, the confrontation with people. Before the NCF I had not realized how even simply talking with people is essential; how much people can express through their words, their looks or their smiles. And, above all, I had not realized how effective it is to be able to talk with them to try to solve problems.

This is exactly what humanity is. Humanity is talking, confronting each other, solving problems together, uniting different and opposite perspectives. When you can achieve that; when you can take your eyes off your smartphone for a moment and you turn around; when you abandon the social and political fabrications for a moment and drop the mask they gave you, it is only then that you see potential and opportunities in those stranger’s faces rather than indifference and solitude. In that precise moment, you can hear the flow I was talking about earlier. And you understand that that potential is unimaginable and terrifies governments and institutions, and shakes the establishment. Just like the stories I tried to tell you about so far in my articles. And whether it is the Christmas truce or the international mass mobilization for the death of a young man in Egypt, you realise it is all about looking at the world from another perspective. If some people managed to refuse to fight, to kill and be killed, on European soil a little less than a century ago, destroying the socio-political fabrication of wars; if some people managed to get together to protest against a fierce dictator in Egypt without being afraid of the consequences; if one man could revolutionize his country after being imprisoned for 27 years, upsetting the entire institutional set-up based on violence, lies and terror; if other great men like Martin Luther King or Gandhi or so many others have managed to mobilize millions of people around an idea of peace, justice or freedom, then we too can change this mad world.

It is all about being able to channel those vibes into positive, collective paths. And you can only do it through dialogue, confrontation and associationism. Talking and dealing with people, precisely. Alexis de Tocqueville once said that the only way to resist power in a positive and constructive way is through the democratic instrument that starts from the bottom, by means of associationism from the municipal level, from small realities.

People are the solution to the world’s illnesses. And the positive dialogue that you can have with them. Social Capital. It is so simple. The greatest evils of our generation come from this absurd lifestyle that is offered to us in the form of well-being, technology and comfort. Loneliness, depression, indifference, hatred and division are all the fruit of a society that tends to divide us and speculate on our collective incapacity to react, associate and confront each other. It is that simple, and we are the cure.

It is possible. And you can find the proof around you. Turn off the TV, put down your smartphone for a moment. Go down the street, talk to people, listen to what they have to say. Take a hike in the park, maybe in the pouring rain. Try to feel something. Go to the pub, read a newspaper and comment on the news with bystanders. Have a coffee or a beer with them. Ask them how they are and give them a smile. Everything will change, everything will be different.

And speaking of smiles.

Once, a bearded man told me that if you try to smile while walking down the street, this will positively influence your attitude towards others and, above all, your self-confidence. I will never forget those words. I recently tried to do it often and, I’ll tell you something, it worked. If you try to walk down the street smiling at the people you meet, most of them will reply with a smile. And you will feel different as well, more secure, more positive towards others and the world. It’s all about that. Those emotions and feelings I was talking about before. They can come out, if triggered.

We only have to reconsider our values, our priorities for a moment. What we want from life and what we are looking for. And above all, remember who we are and where we come from, always. Love every single rise and fall and take them as an opportunity to grow and improve yourself and the world around you. I think this is the solution, the cure for the ills of mankind. Creating a community of people based on diversity and dialogue. Only then can we overcome all this. And we, Millennials, have boundless potential to do so.

By the way, I have gone too far. And now it’s time to conclude this post.

My time at the NCF gave me a lot. I grew up a lot professionally but mostly as a person. I owe you a lot, William and Veronica, to your kindness and warm welcome. I was welcomed and treated like a son. You gave me a lot to think about and work on. You gave me a smile in tough times and support when needed. And for this, thank you.

Then there is you, Rory, William and Yousef. Some young minds full of passion and desire to change things. You are fantastic. Every day, I saw in your eyes that power and passion of which I spoke about right above, waiting just to be fully exploited. And I know you’ll find a way to do it, it’s just a matter of time.

You were my second family here, in this gigantic crazy world of sharks. I’ll never forget that. And I’d like to conclude this blog post with this thought, while sipping my double espresso in some coffee shop somewhere in London and listening to these fantastic notes of Redemption Song, one of Marley’s masterpieces. He succeeded! He succeeded in uniting people around words of peace and hope. Like Hendrix’s solo or Mercury’s unique voice or even the Boss playing a piano version of Thunder Road. This is the right time, the perfect moment.

Ciao NCF, a presto!

Luctor et Emergo ex Flammis Orior, Per Aspera ad Astra

#lastblogpost #peoplehavethepower #believe #change #ciaoncf

 

Time for a fresh approach to Human Rights in Syria – and everywhere

This week Vladimir Putin visited Bashar al-Assad in Syria. This is also the very week on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Because of which, the Next Century Foundation would like to reiterate some of the values and principles it believes in and the significance of Human Rights to all peoples of this world.

The Human Rights issue affects the entire global population. Rather than transient national glory, the pursuit of Human Rights is an achievement of which the entire human race can be rightfully proud. Every human being, regardless of their race, sex, religious belief, nationality, language, birth, property or other status, is inherently entitled to inalienable rights and those rights are embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By standing up for Human Rights we defeng the principle of human dignity, and recognise the equal moral worth of every individual.

Whilst we certainly believe in the symbolic importance of marking this occasion, concrete measures must be taken to uphold human rights where they are constantly and flagrantly violated. Abuses of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic have made headlines for almost seven years now, with international reports condemning what many regard as the indiscriminate ruthlessness of the Syrian military and the Mukhabarat’s oppressive methods, ranging from torture to alleged mass prisoner executions. Similarly many are horrified by the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by opposition insurgent groups.

The barbarism of Daesh and the Nusra Front is well known, and their crimes are well documented. Groups such as Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam, deemed ‘moderates’ by Arab and western governments,  have also resorted to terrorism and caused civilian deaths on numerous occasions.

Human Rights mustn’t be used as a political tool. As long as we pick and choose who to punish and who to pardon, human rights will not be firmly upheld and respected anywhere.

On the Syrian dossier, we call on the UN to condemn all violators of human rights in a balanced and proportionate way. The Syrian authorities have often complained, with some justification, about what they consider to be impartial or biased UN reports. If both sides are scrutinized fairly, President Assad’s government may feel reassured, and the Syrian government could potentially soften their position on allowing UN monitors greater access. A United Nations which protects human rights without political considerations, and slams those who abuse them, whoever they may be, would gain the trust and confidence of all parties to any conflict.

Human Rights can be upheld more effectively without resort to the traditional method of imposing economic sanctions. In the vast majority of cases, sanctioning a country has devastating impact on the civilian population as opposed to the political authorities. This is the case in Syria today. It is the Syrian people who pay the price for the alleged sins of the government. In Russia, sanctions have barely impacted Russian President Vladimir Putin or his inner circle, whilst simultaneously rallying more Russians behind their leadership who, as statistics indicate, have grown to despise the West more than ever before. We support a different approach to encouraging respect for human rights. It is our conviction that greater liaison between governments called into question and the international community can ensure that human rights abuses no longer go unchecked.

#syria #humanrights #russia

 

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.

Syria Can Now Heal

The Syrian conflict has reached a crucial stage. With the imminent destruction of ISIS in the east, and the creation of four major de-escalation zones to the west, the stage is set for renewed attempts to bring the fratricidal war to an end.

To the surprise of most observers, the de-escalation zones established by the United States and Russia have been respected by the warring parties. Statistics show a highly significant reduction in the number of casualties and the general level of violence. There have been a number of reconciliations between the Syrian government and factions of the moderate opposition over the past two years, particularly in the rural suburbs of Damascus, as was the case in Qudsayah and al-Hameh. Amnesty has been granted to insurgents and army-defectors, something we never saw during the initial phase of the crisis.

Russian President Vladimir Putin outlined his objectives in Syria in an interview with Charlie Rose in late September 2015, emphasising three major points:

  1. The importance of the fight against terrorism to Russia’s national security
  2. The importance of preserving Syrian statehood
  3. “…creating the necessary conditions for the political process” to resume

Now that the first two objectives have been satisfied, there is no reason to delay the third. Unlike previous attempts, the new round of peace talks must include the entire spectrum of the opposition and the Syrian government. All factions of the Syrian people must be represented. Picking and choosing some opposition groups to speak on behalf of the others is unacceptable. Further, those who take the lead at the negotiating table should represent Syrians on the ground.  Certain figures in the opposition have no real political relevance and are unknown to Syrians, yet they are constantly put in the forefront when they head the mainstream opposition delegations.

There is a serious concern amongst religious minorities that an extremist Islamist system is the only alternative to the current government, and this fear has often been ignored. Western governments that have enthusiastically supported certain opposition groups must recognize and understand this fear. Controversial entities such as Ahrar al-Sham or Jaysh al-Islam are often legitimized as part of the acceptable opposition despite their explicit hatred of “the infidel” and allegations of their involvement in mass killings of civilians alongside the Nusra Front. Promoting a secular and democratic Syria is hardly compatible with the vision of Islamist hardliners. Secularism is the only guarantee for the safety of religious minorities in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society.

The Geneva peace process is to be seen in tandem, and not in conflict, with Astana. One should complement the other. The Astana agreements have materialised, providing a solid basis for the Geneva talks to generate positive results and build on the successes of Astana.

Finally, both sides should act in good faith. The only priority must be the interests of the Syrian people. For the talks to succeed, both sides must be prepared for compromise and willing to make reasonable concessions. Imposing preconditions at this stage is counterproductive. It has become clear that there cannot be a viable military solution to the Syrian conflict, and no side can achieve a decisive military victory over the other.

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

On Power and Leadership, Love and Hope

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.

William Morris LL.D.

Secretary General, The Next Century Foundation 10 October 2017

Raqqa’s Civilians: The Weapons, or the Collateral, of War?

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Since 2015, the US-backed coalition the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Russian-backed Assad army have regained many of the IS strongholds, diminishing the presence of Daesh in Syria and Iraq.

Most recently in July 2017, the recapture of the city of Mosul spread both national and international hope that the current capital of ISIS’ ‘Caliphate,’ the Syrian city of Raqqa, will now face the same fate.

With the battle now well underway, Nowruz Ahmed, who sits on the military council of the SDF, claimed that the city will be recaptured within no more than two months. Such a statement has been endorsed enthusiastically by the international community.

Amidst such an encouraging prediction, the effect on the civilians held hostage in the IS stronghold will be devastating unless action is taken immediately. In Mosul alone, an estimated 40,000 civilians were killed due to (among many factors), (i) the immense firepower used to extract IS fighters from the city, and (ii) IS’ brutality against civilians, especially using them as ‘human shields’ against the incoming enemy.

Western governments estimate that approximately 18,000-25,000 Syrians remain in the besieged city of Raqqa, with an estimated 50% being children. The City had a prewar population of a quarter of a million and any estimate of the number of civilians still present has to be little more than a guess. Save The Children has called for an immediate ceasefire of fighting, on all sides, to allow civilians to escape safely from the city.

US-backed SDF fighters are working tirelessly to extract civilians from the city. However, reports from Raqqa suggest IS fighters have caught onto this fact, so are concealing themselves as SDF soldiers in order to recapture fleeing civilians. Once recaptured, civilians are either tortured and executed, or added to IS’ growing (guesstimates range from 7,000-20,000 large) human shield.

A dilemma arises for the international community. How should we help the oppressed civilians in Raqqa amidst growing violence? In attempting to safely extract them from the city, it is clear a huge amount of suffering is accrued. Nonetheless, by not working to extract civilians, they risk making more civilians the collateral of the war against IS. If the SDF and Assad forces use the same immense firepower in Raqqa as our allies did in Mosul, it means the civilians of Raqqa will suffer the same fate as the civilians of Mosul.

However, with the best intention, we cannot concur with Save The Children that a cease-fire is the right option. IS’ heinous treatment of civilians highlights their desperateness to maintain their strong hold over Raqqa. In any case, a cease-fire is highly unlikely as it would give credence to their Caliphate. More turmoil would likely result.

Placing a prediction on the length of the operation to remove IS from Raqqa, as Nowruz Ahmed did, is not wise. The operation must conform to standards of warfare worthy of the UN charter, therefore must first and foremost protect the safety of civilians. The fight to eradicate IS cannot be conducted without respect for the Geneva Conventions.

 

Unanswered questions following the Defeat of Isis in Mosul

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Iraqi forces have been celebrating the liberation of Mosul after three years of occupation by Islamic State. The victory has given rise to questions about how to ‘win the peace’ by safely rebuilding a more stable and peaceful country.

Now that ISIS may soon be militarily defeated, the real challenge begins, that of offering an ideology of fair play and inclusiveness as an alternative to the ISIS ideology of exclusiveness. Younger generations who have been educated under ISIS have been inspired by their message. Measures could and should be taken to turn them away from such ideologies.

A power vacuum will be left behind in the territories formerly held by ISIS.

While the liberation of Mosul offers a beacon of hope, consider the challenges ahead and the continued desperation of those in Mosul who still face homelessness, hunger and oppression. The city may have been liberated, but fear continues to rule the streets of Mosul.

The Iran attacks, the power of unity and the role of social media

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A deadly terrorist attack carried out by ISIL in the capital of Iran on the morning of June 7, put the country into a state of crisis. Attackers targeted two of Iran´s most crucial national symbols, the parliament and Ayatollah Khomeini´s mausoleum, and killed at least 12 people while leaving 42 injured. Jayad Zarif, Iran´s foreign minister was one of many to condemn the attack and pointed out that terrorism is on the increase, not only in Iran but on a global scale. Undoubtedly, Zarif is right. On May 22, a suicide bombing during an Ariana Grande performance at the Manchester Arena claimed the death of 23 people, and only two weeks later on June 3 a van drove into civilians on London Bridge and people got stabbed with knives close to Borough Market. But what precautions are necessary to prevent events of such character and to fight violent extremism in general ?

Like President Rouhani recently stated after the Iran attacks, it is of the utmost importance that world leaders find common ground and unite against acts of terrorism. Unity, not only among head of states, but also among members of civil society is crucial. People need to stand together in such fatal times and spread awareness about the evil represented by the acts of violence carried out by Daesh. First and foremost, social media can function as a platform teaching the youth about Daesh´s savage ideology and their evil world view, and simultaneously informing non-Muslim communities about the real values of Islam in order to prevent the spread of Islamophobia. Unity and cohesion after all, between states and among civilians, can have a tremendous impact on the fight against terrorism and undermine the power of extremist groups.

 

In condemnation of the terrorist attacks

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A day after the horrible terrorist attack on London Bridge and Borough Market in which seven people lost their life, the London Academy of Iranian Studies (LAIS) published the following article:

“The recent barbaric terrorist attacks in London and Manchester are the work of inhumane individuals. These acts of terror by individuals masquerading as Muslims, are against the very letter and spirit of the Qur’an and Islamic law. In Islamic law neither in peace nor war, is it permissible to kill civilians, or cause terror and chaos in society. Their crime is a crime against humanity.

We are filled with sorrow and grief for the victims, and honor the men and women in uniform who risk their lives in combating these heinous acts of terror, and admire the cohesion and spirit of unity in British society who do not give in to terror, and answer the terrorist call for division, chaos and hate, with unity, order and love.

The Muslim community in Britain and across Europe must rise up against the savagery perpetuated by those who proclaim to be Muslim but their actions reveal their evil nature. First, Peace loving Muslim communities must vocally condemn these acts, and vocally and in action oppose those who support the cancer of terror that has spread across the globe by Wahabbism. Second, Muslim communities must take back the mosques in their local area from the preachers of hate who poison the mind of our youth and are financed by the Wahabi movement originating in Saudi Arabia.

Third, as a community we must use social media to combat the campaign of hate and terror of Daesh (ISIS) and like minded groups. Our social media campaign must work on two general fronts, first to promote the true Islam, which is the Islam of peace and dialogue, the Islam of stability and respect for differences of opinion, and teach our youth that the savage ideology of Daesh and all those who support it or hold the same world view is opposed to Islam and condemned by Islamic law and the majority of Muslims. To do this the works of Muslim thinkers in the West such as Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr is of great use and benefit. Second, Daesh and its followers aim to divide our communities across Britain, they aim to cause an atmosphere of Islamophobia, an atmosphere of hate, we must confront this in our social media campaign and inform our fellow citizens in Europe that we stand side by side in opposing these barbaric terrorist movements.

We will stand united in the face of terror, we will say no to hate, and we will defeat the ideology of hate which has taken the lives of thousands of individuals from all walks of life and all faiths across the globe.”

The attack on Britain’s parliament

We are profoundly saddened, as is everyone we know, by the lone wolf attack on Britain’s parliament by an individual who must presumably be an ISIS / Daesh sympathiser.

What makes a man commit an atrocity of this kind in which innocent civilians are killed? Any attack that deliberately targets civilians is morally repugnant in the eyes of humanity at large, and is to be presumed utterly reprehensible in the eyes of any God the attacker may or may not believe in.

The worst of it is that any atrocity is by definition one of the worst crimes conceivable because atrocity breeds atrocity as retribution breeds retribution and a cycle of violence is spawned.

Forgiveness is difficult; moreso for some of us when we suppress our natural reaction to those that target the innocent. And in this instance a number of the injured were children. And the natural reaction of at least some of us is to wish any such attacker may burn in hell.

However there is a place beyond forgiving – for some acts can never be forgiven except by the righteous and there are precious few of those in this world. But there is a place beyond forgiving in which we show compassion, mercy and love to our enemies and their victims alike.

The enemies of humanity (whether Daesh / ISIS, or Al Qa’idah, or indeed any who deliberately target non-combatants of any kind) expect and deserve our outrage. Indeed they often act as they do in order to provoke our hatred.

We defeat them best, and their entire ideology of exclusivity, when we find it in our hearts to offer them our pity, and face down their self-consuming hatred with our own ideology of inclusivity, compassionate mercy, and love.

God will judge them, we should not. Nor should we allow extremists the satisfaction that their actions may have in some way instilled in us any sense of fear in regard to tomorrow. We have no need to worry about tomorrow. God is already there.