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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fr Larry Wright

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The Next Century Foundation at the United Nations – Intervention on Human Rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

The Next Century Foundation took part in the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. During the General Debate on Item 4 “Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention” the NCF delivered an oral intervention on the issue of human rights violations in the Syrian Arab Republic. The Next Century Foundation urged the Syrian Arab Republic to establish a mechanism to monitor prisons and provide safeguards that ensure abuse and torture in the country is brought to an end.

The Next Century Foundation at the United Nations – Intervention on Discrimination and Intolerance against Women

The Next Century Foundation took part in the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. During the General Debate on Item 9 “Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance” the NCF delivered an oral intervention on the issue of gender discrimination in the Arab States urging them to take the necessary steps in order to improve women’s conditions, following the recent example of Bahrain.

Saving Syria: Sami’s Peace Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key parts of the Peace Plan:

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

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.

 

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