Syria: Chemical Weapons – What Can the International Community Do?

The Syria conflict has gained renewed intensity after the al-Assad regimes announced its willingness to utilize its stockpile of chemical weapons if the international community were to militarily involve itself; thus ensuring that international activity in the region will not surpass mere sanctions and also suggests that the al-Assad regime may be feeling the pressure of the various opposition groups within Syria.

Despite the Confirmation of Biological Weapons, the International Community Still Can’t Do Anything

Though Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons has been an open secret for the past 4 decades, the Assad’s regime’s announcement is a direct confirmation that Syria does indeed have a chemical weapons arsenal at their disposal.  The announcement targeted the international community, stating that if any foreign intervention in Syria’s civil war would be met with the deployment of chemical weapons.  The weapons include mustard and sarin gases, as well as cyanide, and are capable of being deployed by aircraft, surface-to-air missiles and rockets.  The announcement has sparked renewed animosity towards the regime, as well as towards the eastern powers that still persist in supporting the Assad regime, such as Russia and China.  Though the announcement does spark another international dilemma to be confronted if the community were to begin renewed intervention-talks, it does not present any new looming threat for the opposition groups still fighting throughout the Syrian country.  As the perpetuating conflict in Aleppo demonstrates, the opposition groups are utilizing a hit-and-run, urban-guerrilla warfare against the security forces of the regime.  The chemical weapons are poorly suited for such close-quarters style combat; rather, these weapons are generally most effective against mass formations in open country.  This does pose a problem for neighboring anti-Assad countries, such as Turkey.  Turkey has remained a proponent of direct military involvement and has, in the past, deployed reinforcing troops along its borders and has run military-training exercises as a show of force.  So saying, the foreign powers that constitute the ‘Friends of Syria’ contact group are those most threatened by the weapons and it is for this reason that the recurring hopes for further foreign assistance to the people of Syria will most likely dwindle away again.  Nevertheless, Assad forces have killed more than 15,000 protesters in an attempt to repress what it has called a ‘foreign conspiracy’.  Thus the efforts of diplomacy, embodied by the UN’s Annan plan, have gone nowhere and the humanitarian catastrophe escalates.

“No chemical or biological weapons will every be used.  Unless Syria is exposed to external aggression.” – Jihad Madkissi, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman

Russia, a remaining ally for the Syrian dictator, has refused to budge on its stance against unilateral international action, but they have also warned Assad against using the chemical weapons.  Russia’s defense of Assad can be explained by merely pointing a finger at the current President, that being Putin.  The repression enforced in Russia during the first round of presidential elections represents elements of the Stalin-esque era, as well as the heavy-handedness supporting by Russia and represented by Assad in Syria.  Combined with the installment of loyal office-holders in the regime by Putin, the regidity of the country to liberalization is evident.  So saying, Syria also represents to Russia its last stronghold in the Middle East and is also part of a lucrative bilateral trade agreement, thus making Russia very reluctant to lose such an ally.  Many have stated that if Russia were to withdraw its veto on any and all UN measures, then the international community would be able to respond with force against Assad.  However, the complexities of involvement go beyond the mere reluctance of Russia and the American gun-ho attitude of invasion without knowledge, as in Iraq, cannot be the strategy taken.  If Russia were to continue maintaining strong ties to the Assad regime whilst the international community launched a Libyan-style intervention, the result would be a proxy struggle mired in a protracted civil war.  With great powers funding militias on both sides, entering a period of escalated violence, civilian casualties would dwarf the already high numbers currently.  The situation then would not resemble the relatively successful Libyan intervention, but more so that of the Lebanon civil war which resulted in over 150,000 deaths over decades long span.  So saying, an internationally involved military conflict would not provide the sought after government transition.  As of now the Obama Administration, despite hot-headed criticism from GOP Presidential candidate Romney, has taken the correct diplomatic path towards Russia.  The American government continues to try and persuade Russia, if not to join the Friends of Syria contact group, then at leas ease its objections to sanctions.  The recurring request comes after another recent UN resolution for sanctions was vetoed by both Russia and China.  Nevertheless, even without Russia, the current sanctions and embargoes will bankrupt the Syrian regime – just not as swiftly as desired.

“Our duty today as Syrians is to unify for one goal, and that is to make our country free and democratic.” – Manaf Tlass, Free Syrian Army Brigade General

As said before, much blame for a lack of direct action by the Western community, is directed as Russia.  If Russia were to remove its support for Assad and thus allow the international community an unhindered approach to do as it pleases, the situation in Syria as a whole still represents a variable that is nigh unconquerable.  The international community was able to involve itself in Libya because it was a large country with a small population, allowing the rebel forces there to capture a significant stronghold.  Syria is roughly one-tenth the size of Libya and it has 3 times as many people.  Moreover, the rebel forces in Syria have not been able to take control of any significant part of the country.  A majority of the Syrian population lives in or around Damascus and Aleppo, both of which remain under the regime’s general control.  The Syrian rebels have been able to launch sporadic attacks, but poor organization and a lack of unity has made expansion and coordination impossible.  Elements of al-Qaeda and other religious extremists are fighting with the rebels, as well as members of the country’s various minority groups – Christian, Druze and Kurdish groups.  This divided group stands under the umbrella name of the Syrian National Council, which faces a loyal Alawite hierarchy.  There has been no signs of high-level dissent, mainly due to the connection between the Alawite dictator and the fact that all key military and intelligence posts are held by Shi’ites as well.  There loyalists have remained supportive because they know that in a post-Assad Syria, they will likely be massacred.  The scenario was seen in Libya where Qaddafi loyalists were executed without trial.  Evidently, the Assad regime still remains military strong and thus an international-militaristic-coalition would not be the correct response to topple the regime.

“It would be morally far more satisfying to do something dramatic that would topple Assad tomorrow.  But starving his regime might prove the more effective strategy.” – Fareed Zakaria, Editor-at-Large of TIME Magazine

In retrospect, the international community must stand behind its current plan to constrict the Syrian regime financially, through a series of stricter embargoes and sanctions.  Though Russia and China remain allies to Bashar al-Assad, their support is not the key element in keeping the international community from entering into Syrian with guns blazing.  The reality is that the international community cannot, or at least should not, become militarily involved because of the uncertainty of the Syrian situation represented by a fractured opposition and because Assad does hold a key deterrence tool, that being a large arsenal of chemical and biological weapons.

 

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Syria: Houla Massacre – The International Puzzle Box

The perpetuating Syrian conflict has become a diplomatic crisis due to its recent intensification resulting in the deaths of 100 dissidents in the town of Houla and once again isolating opposing members of the United Nations Security Council on methods of response.

Syria’s Conflict Continues to Polarize the International Community

The international response to the Syrian civil war has been a blitzkrieg of failed resolutions, condemning statements, economic sanctions, and failed observer missions, all of which have been knee-jerk reactions to the inability of the international community to authorize a join resolution of all UNSC member nations to respond with military force.  Despite the evident slaughter of men, women and children in Houla, both Russia and China reiterated their opposition to military intervention in Syria.  Their resolve is also paralleled by the remaining presence of Syrian diplomats in their countries, a juxtaposition to the position of 9 other Western nations that have expelled Syrian diplomats from their embassies.  Along with Japan, the US, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain have all retroactively announce the expulsion of Syrian diplomats in protest of the massacre in Houla.  Nevertheless, the show of force in the Western hemisphere amounts to nothing because of the rigid positions of China and Russia.  Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov stated that Moscow will veto any Council resolution that authorizes foreign military interference in Syria.  Similarly, in Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China opposes regime change by force in Syria. The massacre, another death toll to be added to the genocide, is another reflection of the failure of the Annan ceasefire deal.  Annan’s plan had called on the Syrian government to withdraw heavy weapons from civilian areas and abide by a truce with rebels.  President Assad had promised to abide by the regulations if the rebels were to cease their weapon smuggling and lay down their arms, a clause that clearly represented a security dilemma as the rebels would then be helpless.  Although many attacks have been carried out since the plan was laid out a month ago, the Houla massacre represents the peak of slaughter in the deteriorating county of Syria.  According to Herve Ladsous, pro-Assad gunmen known as the shabiha executed civilians and others were killed by artillery and tank fire, all of which was clearly the responsibility of the Syrian government.  So saying, the polarized positions of Russia and China have kept the full power and authority of the UN at bay, whilst allowing executions and genocide of thousands to continue under Assad.

“We took this action to expel Syrian diplomats in response to the massacre in the village of Houla – absolutely indefensible, vile, despicable massacre against innocent children, women, show at point-blank range by regime thuds, the shabiha, aided and abetted by the Iranians, who were actually bragging about it over the weekend.” – Victoria Nuland, State Department spokeswoman.

In response to the climatic events, the European Union is likely to press the Human Rights Council to recommend the UNSC refer the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court.  Nevertheless, because China and Russia have the power to veto any UN sanctions against Syria, the widespread outrage is unlikely to translate into tough action on the Syrian government.  The dilemma emerging is that members of the international community want different things and do not share the same principles, though mass slaughter being wrong would be one to share.  Russia, China and many 3rd world nations are not victim to the same outrage and gun-ho attitudes of many Western nations.  The repression of a totalitarian regime is not so hard a concept for many to grasp, most especially considering that many nations were victim to repression from Western imperialism.  Despite the demise of the old Soviet empire, the of Putin still represents the hardness of the past.  Though it may be referred to as ugly and not nice, the regimes of the East stand because of their heavy-handedness, as being implemented by Assad to a much greater extent.  Moreover, the repression enforced in Russia during the first round of elections, considered to be rigged, represents elements of the Stalin-esque era.  Combined with the installment of loyal office-holders in the regime by Putin, the rigidity of the country to liberalization is evident.  So saying, Syria also represents to Russia its last stronghold in the Middle East and is also part of a lucrative bilateral trade agreement, thus making Russia very reluctant to lose such an ally.  In the US, the position of Russia and the massacre in Syria has entered the presidential race, with Republic candidate Romney calling Russia’s position heartless and ugly.  Romney has further called for a firmer and more assertive position by the US.  Nevertheless, as with all presidential statement, it is easy to blame and insult but hard to actually come up with an effective strategy or replacement.  The tools with which to approach Russia are not as clear and concise as the GOP candidate presumes.  Many have called for the isolation of Russia through moral and verbal attacks, something that will have as much of an effect as the Anna peace plan in Syria.

“We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives.  This massacre is the most unambiguous indictment to date of the Syrian government’s flagrant violations of its United Nations Security Council obligations.” – Victoria Nuland, State Department spokeswoman

The ties between Russia and China are not easily isolated and cut, and thus attacking Russia with morality questions will undoubtedly lead to more rigidity and opposition by the Russian regime to any Western resolution towards Syria.  Moreover, the cohesive West is not as cemented in its mission towards Syria either.  Israel, a strong US ally in the Middle east, does not want to have  strong Syria nearby and welcomes the thought domestic divide and a weakened enemy.  Israel is surrounded by enemies and the likely repeal of its nonaggression treaty with Egypt, due to its rising Islamist party, will represent another enemy and tense relation for Israel.  Israel is also presented with the encroaching threat of a nuclear Iran, another powder keg tied to the Syrian conflict.  Iran is a strong ally to Assad and is responsible for providing much of Syria’s arms trade and troops, such as the trained shabiha thugs.  If the West were to intervene in Syria, not only would this divide the hemisphere of the West and East into extreme poles, but Iran will most likely drop nuclear talks that are set to resume and thus continue its uranium enrichment, possibly resulting in a volatile nuclear power in heart of the Middle East.  So saying, the cultural and religious divides of the Middle East present an unconquerable task of overcoming or appeasing.  Israel’s existence is already reason enough for many nations to start war, but if Turkey were to involve itself militarily on the behalf of the West, the divides between the Kurdish, Shi’ite and Sunni populations would ignite into a much larger international crisis.

“I made it clear that it is not an open-ended process and that time is coming, sooner rather than later, when the international community will need to make an assessment as to how things are going and what further actions or activities may be necessary.” – Kofi Annan, UN special envoy

In retrospect, the situation for the international community is a looming diplomatic and humanitarian crisis which is only perpetuated by their indecisiveness and polarized members.  The Western nations are attempting to involve themselves in the internal dynamics of domestic politics of a country miles away and in the throes of a civil war, a task nigh impossible without considering the opposition they face from their own member nations.

Iran: Nuclear Talks and the Russo-American Dilemma

The tense relations between Russia and the US, between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, brings rise to concerns over ongoing Iran nuclear talks, set to resume in Baghdad on May 23.

Iranian Nuclear Talks will Require Closer Russo-American Ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin has unveiled a government dominated by loyalists, leaving hopes for reform slim and entrenching Kremlin’s over the economy’s commanding heights.  Along with Putin’s opting out of the G8 Summit, the tense relations between Russia and the US are worrisome for many due to the importance of a strong front being presented by Putin and Obama against nuclear proliferation in Iran.  With President Obama facing his reelection year, talks between the two nation’s will be scarce and wide-spaced, leaving little room for political gobbledygook, stressing substantial progress on relations that have already been strained by the Syrian civil war.  With Russia and America as the two former superpowers responsible for decades of nuclear standoff, they have also assumed the roles concerning nuclear development and proliferation.  America’s pursuit of hegemony has resulted in a staunch policy condemning countries seeking nuclear programs, demanding countries to disarm despite America’s own unwillingness to denuclearize.  So saying, President Obama’s position on an Iranian nuclear program is clear.  Obama has repudiated any intention of adopting deterrence of a nuclear Iran as an acceptable policy option.  Thus, such rigidity could result in an Iranian agreement to live up any resolve to acquire nuclear weapons; President Obama could retreat from his previously assumed rigidity; or there could be war.

“Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.” – Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader

War seems to be a drastic conclusion to draw, as all state leaders are assumed to be rational independent thinkers, yet Iran’s history does not suggest appeasement to be high on the agenda.  Nevertheless, Iran has shown signs of a renewed unwillingness to take seriously these talks between itself and the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia, America and Germany).  Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei has stated that the pursuit of nuclear weapons is considered a grace sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.  The supreme leader has also stated his ultimate goal is to make the state of Israel disappear, as well as to the combat the ‘Great Devil’ represented by the American nation.  The transitions from repressive isolation to willing nuclear talks stems largely from international sanctions imposed on the country in recent years, slowly constricting the economy over the past year.  With both the EU and the USA embargoing Iranian oil shipments, Iran’s oil sits in storage tanks.  Iran’s oil sector accounted for 60% of total government revenue, thus the vulnerability of the regime’s strength to said sanctions is apparent.  A dollar decline in the price of crude oil could reduce the government revenue by as much as $1 billion.  So saying, Iran’s intentions may be to purely seem wiling and cooperative so as to relieve itself from such crippling fiscal constraints.  So saying, most of the countries within the P5+1 remain highly skeptical of Iran’s true intentions and purposes.  Many believe that Iran is using the talks as a stalling tactics so as to buy time to produce the kind of highly enriched uranium necessary for bombs.  The tension of such a situation is very evident considering the danger this would present to America’s prime Middle Eastern ally, Israel, who has already stated its intention to use military force to ensure its security.

“I don’t think there is any question that the impact of this pressure played a role in Iran’s decision to come to the table.  The value of their currency, the rial, has dropped like a rock.” – David Cohen, Undersecretary of Treasury

Iran will seek bargaining leverage in the talks, seeking to drive a wedge between an already strenuous connected group of state leaders.  Iran will see to generate further tensions among its negotiating adversaries while maintaining a tight diplomatic unity of its own.  For this reason, the Russo-American relations must grow into a more coherent P5+1 force with which to deal with the Iranian situation.  With Sarkozy out, Francois Hollande is likely to be more accommodating then the hard-line Sarkozy.  Germany and Britain will rally around US but will do little in ways to provide leadership because of the hegemony represented by Russia and US in this area.  China has become more isolated in recent years, more fixated on its economic interests and need for oil, hence the growing tensions over the Spratly islands. So saying, Russia is the last significant player in the equation. Russia has grown skeptical of American diplomacy but many theorists suggest that it has grown concerned about a possible nuclear-armed Iran, thus more wiling to act accordingly.  With US and Russian relations frayed in the past because of American dominance and unstated aims in Libya, later exasperated by the Syrian civil war, the diplomatic ties between Russia and America will be easily torn asunder by Iranian leaders if not properly dealt with.

Syria: Ceasefire Failure and Violence Spreads Across Borders

On the eve of the April 10th UN-brokered ceasefire, hopes are fading as conflict in Syria burst over the border into neighboring Lebanon and Turkey on Monday.

The Planned Ceasefire has Resulted in Escalated Violence

The unrelenting violence has indicated that the peace plan promoted by international envoy Kofi Annan and initially accepted by both sides was in tatters.  The Assad regime was to have started pulling troops out of urban areas by Tuesday the 10th, paving the way for a ceasefire to start 48 hours after troop withdrawal.  President Assad agreed on the premise that the opposition forces give written guarantees they would stop fighting and lay down their arms, a demand they immediately rejected considering the security dilemma that would position themselves into.  Without such arms, the security forces would face no challenge to their repressive violence that would quickly silence all domestic violence and therefore make redundant any international efforts to intervene.  So saying, the Free Syrian Army was only acting out of self-preservation by rejecting Assad’s plans.  Moreover, the lack of government forces giving any indication of pulling back verifies the intent of Assad and his loyalists.  The development have come after the US State Department said that the Syrian regime was trying to stall for time with its demands for written guarantees from the opposition forces.  Evidently, the failure of yet another international response has come at the price of more Syrians and the neighboring countries, intensifying the call to action to end the repression in Syria.

“The Syrian regime does not understand compromise.  Its ethos is ‘rule or die’.  Therefore, Syria will continue its inexorable slide into full-scale civil war, especially since the chance for effective foreign intervention to stop bloodletting is also zero.” – Augustus Richard Norton, Middle East specialist from Boston University

Monday has proved to be one of the bloodiest days of the uprising despite the truce deal, which should be marked by troop withdrawals from towns and cities.  Activists reported more than 100 deaths, among them at least 30 civilians who died during the Syrian army bombardment in the central province of Hama.  The violence has also claimed the lives of civilians and journalists in neighboring countries, illustrating the international consequences of this civil war.  Lebanese Prime Minster Najib Mikati condemned the Syrian regime and sent his condolences for the death of Ali Shaaban, part of a 3-man crew with Lebanese television channel al-Jadeed, which was filming on Lebanon’s norther border with Syria.  In Turkey, violence broke out as a group of dozens of Syrians sought to cross the Turkish border, the latest of more than 20,000 other refugees.  The group was spotted making its way to the border and both Syrian nationals and Turkish policeman approached the border.  As the two groups met at the border, they were fired upon by unidentified gunmen in Syria, who injured the Syrian refugees, policeman and the translator on the Turkish side of the border.  With the population in both Lebanon and Turkey deeply divided between those who support the opposition and those who still hope the embattled president will remain in power, some fear that such incidents could prove a spark in a very combustible environment.

“We summoned the Syrian charge d’affaires in Ankara, and told him that every Syrian within Turkish territory was under Turkish protection, and we urged him that the fighting on the other side of the border stop.  We said that if this repeats, we will take necessary measures.” – Turkish spokesman

In retrospect, the diplomatic options open to the international community have been exhausted and the internal strife of the Syria conflict has begun to spill over unto neighboring lands, escalating the immediate need for definitive action.  If Turkey was backed by the US and other Western nations, all members of the “Friends of Syria” contact group, then the long-discussed ‘safe zones’ on the Syria side of the Turkish border could be the next step against violence in Syria.  The worsening conditions of the conflict make the situation far worse for the international community, as well as a bad reflection on their inability to respond effectively.  Much of the blame can be laid on the feet of Assad’s international powerhouse friends.  China has supported Assad in his year-long effort to crush the uprising.  Russia, which has defended him in the UNSC and remains Assad’s most important ally, stopped short of pressing him to rein in his army.

Religion: Islam and Violence

After the events of September 11th, the issue of Islam and violence once again came into intense discussion and debate because of its historic correlation to jihad, intolerance and terrorism.

With the Qur'an as Justification, Islam has Massacred Millions

Not aimed at presenting an ‘Islamphobia’ post, this post aims at presenting the religious dimension of violence that goes back to the heart and origin of Islam.  Despite various political, socio-economic and cultural factors contributing to the rise of violence and terrorism in fundamental Islam (as with all religions), Muslims who commit acts of violence and terror in the name of Allah can find ample justification for their actions based on the open-ended verses and teachings of the Qur’an and the saying of Muhammad (Hadith).  Islam’s doctrines and texts are associated with violence, with laws requiring the eradication of what is considered evil by Islamic standard and law, sometimes using violent means.  Throughout history, Islam’s religious texts or precepts have been used to promote violence.  Classically, and in the modern era, Muslims and their leaders, including a large number of jurists, have upheld Islamic ideas, concepts, texts and themes to justify warfare against non-Muslims.  Some suggest that the Qur’an contains at least 109 verses that call Muslims to war with non believers for the sake of Islamic rule, verses that are mostly open-ended and therefore are not restrained by historical context of the surrounding text.  To offer a general illustration of the inherent relationship, it would do to point out that the root word for Islam is al-Slim which means submission or  surrender.  The Qur’an not only calls Muslim to submit to Allah, it also commands them to subdue people of other religions until they are in a full state of submission to Islamic rule.  Evidently, this has inspired the aggressive history of Islam and its success in conquering other cultures.

“And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the place whence they drove you out, for persecution of Muslims is worse than slaughter of non-believers, but they desist, then lo!  Allah is forgiving and merciful!  And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah.” – Qur’an 2:191-193

Many claim that the verses in support of fighting in the Qur’an were for a special historical situation concerning the beginning of Islam.  They argue that since prophet Muhammad was persecuted in Mecca for the first 13 years of his ministry, he was justified in his military actions in the last 10 years of his life in Medina and for the support of the budding Islamic movement.  The problem arises however in that nowhere in the Qur’an are the commands to fight restricted to a special time period of against a special group of people.  Far from being mere history or theological construct, the violent verses of the Qur’an have played a key role in very real massacres and genocide.  This includes the brutal slaughter of tens of millions of Hindus for 5 Centuries beginning around 1000 AD with the Mahmud of Ghazni’s blood conquest.  Both he and the later Tamerlane (Islam’s Genghis Khan) slaughtered an untold number of men, women and children.  Muhammad was a military leader, laying siege to towns, massacring the men, raping their women and enslaving their children.  On several occasions he rejected offers of surrender from the besieged inhabitants and even butchered captives.  One prominent example is of the Qurayza Jews, who were completely obliterated only 5 years Muhammad arrived in Medina.  Their leader opted to stay neutral when their town was besieged by a Meccan army.  The tribe had killed no one from either side and even surrendered peacefully to Muhammad after the Meccans had been turned back.  Yet the prophet of Islam had every member of the Qurazya tribe beheaded, and every woman and child enslaved.  He actually inspired his followers to battle when they did not feel it was right to fight, promising them slaves and loot if they did and threatening them with Hell if they did not.  Evidently, Muslim armies waged aggressive campaigns and the religion’s most dramatic military conquests were made by the actual companions of Muhammad in the decades that followed his death.

“In the Jihad which you are seeking, you look for an enemy and invade him.  This type of Jihad takes place only when the Islamic state is invading other countries in order to spread the word of Islam and remove the obstacles in its way.” – Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Egyptian Islamic theologian

Aiming to avoid a concentrated view on the historic study of Islam’s birth through blood and genocide, Islam as an ideology brings contempt and violence as well.  That Islam sees itself as a theocracy has enormous ramifications for how it regards itself and for the behavior of Muslims.  First it means that Islam is not only a religion but also a political ideology, as Muhammad was a political, military and religious leader.  If the government of the Muslim community is simply God’s community, then no other governments can be legitimate.  Thus, they are all at war with God and as a result, Muslims have divided the world into two spheres known as Dar al-Islam – “the house of Islam” – and Dar al-Harb – those who are at war with God.  Second, it means that Muslims have believed themselves to have manifest destiny.  Since God must win in the end, the Dar al-Harb must be brought under the control of the Muslim government and made part of the Dar al-Islam.  Third, since the Dar al-Harb by its nature is at war with God, it is unlikely that it will submit to God without a fight.  Individual groups might be convinced to lay down their arms and join the Muslim community by various forms of pressure – economic or military.  Because of the need to expand God’s domain by wars of conquest, Islam’s ideology imposes on Muslim the duty to fight for God’s community.  This duty is known as Jihad.  The concept of holy fight or struggle has been particularly incumbent on those on the edges of the Muslim world, where there was room for expansion.  Though highly radical, 9/11 still serves as an example of the intrinsic violence involved in fundamentalism, as the terrorists believed their sacrifices as a just part of Jihad.

“He (the Messenger of Allah) did that and said ‘There is another act which elevated the position of a man in Paradise to a grade on hundred higher, and the elevation between one grade and another is equal to the height of heaven from the earth’.  He (Abu Sa’id) said: ‘What is that act?’  He replied: ‘Jihad in the way of Allah!  Jihad in the way of Allah'” – Muslim 20:4645

The examples of international directed violence committed in the name of Islam is endless.  The affiliation of violence and this religion is made most evident by the religious organizations associated with Islam; Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hezbollah.  The acquisition of the enormous land that belonged to the caliphates was through military force and the brutal suppression of opposition.  However, the golden age of the Muslim Empire began to dwindle after the death of Muhammad.  Following his death, there lacked a clear line of succession which resulted in perpetual internal war.  Sunni and Shia Islam are two major denominations of Islam and therefore, for the sake of simplicity, this post will focus on their internal violence as an illustration of the evident nature of bloodshed that is inherent to Islam.  Sunnis believe that abu Bakr, the father of Muhammad’s wide Aisha, was Muhammad’s rightful successor and that the method of choosing or electing leading endorsed by the Qur’an was in the consensus of the Ummah, the Muslim community.  Shias believe that Muhammad divinely ordained his cousin and son-in-law Ali (the father of his grandsons Hasan ibn Ali and Hussein ibn Ali) in accordance with the command of God to be the next Caliph making Ali and his direct descendants Muhammad’s successors.  This difference has resulted in a jagged schism that has left Shias and Sunnis at odds to this day.

“They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing: But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay they wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks.” – Qur’an 4:89

The Battle of Siffin was the first open hostility between the two sects.  It was fought between Ali and Muawiyah I, on the banks of the Euphrates river.  Following the controversial murder of Uthman ibn Affan, Ali became Caliph but struggled to be accepted as such throughout the Muslim Empire.  Muawiyah, the governor of Syria, was a kinsman of the murdered Caliph, and wanted the murderers brought to justice.  For this reason, Muawiyah rebelled against Ali, who attempted to put down the rebellion.  The battle ended in stalemate and in thousands of casualties.  To the Shia, Ali was the first Imman.  To the Sunnis, Ali was the fourth Caliph Rashidun Caliph, and Muawiyah was the First Caliph of the Ummayyad dynasty.  The event surrounding the battle are highly controversial between Sunni and Shia, and serve as part of the split between the two groups.  More modern examples of the violence conflict are seen in Libya, Syria and Iraq.  In Libya, the tribal organization of the region has left the transitional government unable to stabilize the country because the different Islamist sects are raiding each other’s territories.  In Syria, the opposition forces are mainly Sunni Muslim whereas the leading government figures are Alawite, affiliated with Shia Islam.  As a result the opposition is winning support from the Sunni Muslim states and the regime is publicly supported by the Shia dominated Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah.  The division of Sunni and Shia Islam is also demonstrated in post-US Iraq, in which over 1,000 people have died because of a new wave of sectarian violence.  After the election of the Iraqi Transitional Government, a wave of suicide bombers, believed to be mainly disheartened Iraqi Sunni Arabs, Syrians and Saudis tore through Iraq.  Their targets were often Shia gatherings or civilian concentrations of Shias.

“The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement.” – Qur’an 5:33

The intolerance and hypocritical nature of Islam is evident by it Qur’an verses and history. Islam is intolerant towards the notion of gender equality.  Islam is militaristic, considering Muhammad organized 65 military campaigns in the last 10 years of his life and personally led 27 of them.  Islam is intolerant to other religions, as they discouraged such practices by slaughtering them by masses.  Islam also permitted ownership of slaved the freedom to sexually exploit slaves.  Moreover, despite the fact that Islam prohibits the killing of innocent people, the definition of innocent is rather flexible and has been graded down to the fundamental rule that if someone rejects Muhammad, they are no longer innocent.  Lastly, the incompatibility of Islam and Democracy is also noteworthy, as it bespeaks of its intolerance and tendency to favor dictatorships, repressive regimes and widespread inequality.  Under Islamic law, only Muslim males are entitled to full rights.  Islam is a theocratic system with Allah alone at is head.  Allah’s law is interpreted by a ruling body of cleric.  There is not room for a secular political system in which all people are treated as equals.  The price of challenging Islam is seen by various modern examples of its violent practices.  Hashem Aghajari, an Iranian professor, was given a death sentence because of a speech that criticized some of the present Islamic practices.  Theo van Gogh was assassinated by Mohammed Bouyeri for producing the 10-minute film Submission, critical of the abusive treatment of women by Muslims.  Ehsan Jami was nearly beaten to death in The Netherlands by 3 Muslims for his activities in the Central Committee for Ex-Muslims.  Of course, the more resonating example of Islamic terror and suppression is the Ayatollah of Iran.  Along with announcing Jihad against the US, he has also carried out such practices against Kurds in Iran and categorized the Iran-Iraq war as holy war.  The Ayatollah, along with many Wahhabi fundamentalists, have vocalized their belief in world domination through the Islamic faith; thus, the violent nature of Islam becomes rather apparent.


Syria: Assad Accepts Annan Peace Plan

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has accepted the UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan’s 6-point peace plan to end violence; yet the gesture seems shallow and deceitful, as fresh clashes broke out once again across Syria on Wednesday.

Assad Buys Time by Accepting Annan Peace Plan

Facing growing global pressure over the rising suppression of his regime in the country, Assad had no option but to accept the UN special envoy’s peace proposal.  With the “Friends of Syria” contact group limiting resources through strict sanctions and increasingly stringent rhetoric against Assad’s few remaining allies in China and Russia, the embattled President had nothing to lose by accepting the peace plan.  Nevertheless, timing was likely the key factor in the Syrian government’s response, hoping to delay international response to the humanitarian crisis in his country.  By making this show of grandeur acceptance of peace, Assad has made it much more difficult for western powers to stress the immediacy of the situation in Syria.  US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and other global leaders are expected to discuss ways to assist the Syrian opposition at a “Friends of Syria” meeting in Istanbul this Sunday.  The meeting relies heavily on attendance and UN congruence, which Assad has effectively slowed down, because his consent to this peace plan will force the UN into carrying out long-winded negotiation with the Syrian regime.  Despite flicker of hope, with many seeking to find a thaw in the endless tyranny of the Assad family regime, most remain skeptical and agree that Assad’s agreement is merely a fraud at buying time to repress all opposition once and for all.  With similar delay tactics being used by Assad’s last remaining ally, Iran, in the nuclear talks over its facility Parchin, the skepticism is not unfounded.

“They can keep on negotiating and drag this out, because with every passing week they kill more dissidents.  I think what the regime is hoping is they can crush all of this before anybody moves to help the opposition.” – Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations

The Syrian cooperation with this plan is a transition from its previous blunt rejections of both UN and Arab League peace plans, but the key difference lies in that Annan’s plan does not require Assad to leave office.  With Russia and China standing-by Assad indefinitely, the plan offered Assad an escape from EU and US sanctions while remaining hold of his seat of power; thus, the logic of Assad’s consent is evident considering its leniency.  China and Russia have vetoed recent UN resolution to condemn Assad, securing him from the brunt of the international community and have thus granted him this last opportunity to talk a good game and gain more time.  The protracted crisis has become an international nightmare and yet the only plan lying ahead is to draw the Chinese and Russian into dialogue to stop the fighting and to allow Assad to stay in power.  The plan rests on political dialogue with another party that has a gun to the head of its civilian populace, has the support of the two largest land powers, and has nothing to lose from perpetuating circular negotiations.   Evidently, the Annan peace plan has little to offer to the opposition and will only serve as another stepping stone for the eventual intensification of violence in another month or two.

“It will talk the talk of cooperation with the international community, but not walk the walk on the actual requirements that are necessary, such as really ceasing the use of lethal force against its own people in the streets of Syria.” – Edward Djerejian, US Ambassador to Syria

The Annan peace plan calls for: an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address grass-roots grievances; a commitment to halt fighting and forge a UN supervised halt of violence by the government and opposition groups; timely humanitarian aid; speeding up the release of arbitrarily detained people, including those engaged in peaceful political activities; ensuring freedom of movement for journalists; and respecting peaceful demonstration and freedom of association.  Assad has little to lose by signing the plan as the concessions he will be forced to make include a ceasefire, ensuring humanitarian assistance, a release of political prisoners, allowing entry to journalists, and permitting demonstrations, all of which can be easily reversed relatively quickly.  Meanwhile, the benefits for Assad are far more significant.  Considering that he is being allowed to stay in power and not face trial for crimes against humanity despite killing over 10,000 Syrian citizens, some UN member states view the President’s acceptance of the plan as a positive step providing evidence of the regime’s new willingness to compromise with the opposition.  Moreover, the plan also hurts the opposition which has not been forced to accept the indefinite rule of Assad according to the plan.  Furthermore, the news of Assad’s acceptance will call for negotiation between the exiled opposition government, the Syrian National Council, which is already in rifts and should the negotiations actually occur, the question of who will speak for the opposition will only exacerbate the divisions.  Annan’s plan also represents an impediment to critical funding from the US to Free Syrian Army, assistance that will not be received and will leave the army empty-handed.

“Given al-Assad’s history of overpromising and underdelivering, that commitment must not be matched by immediate actions.  We will judge Assad’s sincerity and seriousness by what he does, not what he says.” – Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State

In retrospect, the Assad regime has been able to alleviate foreign pressure from the international community in the past and will continue to do so through the usual delay tactics and promises of liberalization.  During the Bush administration, Assad came under scrutiny for the regime’s assumed role in the murder of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and for helping move insurgents into Iraq to kill American soldiers.  At moments of increased international pressure, however, Assad was able to escape through promises of possible peace negotiations with Israel and joining Egypt in that peace camp.  Assad succeeded in escaping the Bush administration through such tactics and will do the same to the current Obama administration unless the UN, US and Arab League realize that none of Assad’s promises of laws of parties, elections and media are even remotely true.

 

Russian Elections: The Rise (Fall?) of Putin

The prompt arrival of the presidential elections in Russia have instigated an abundance of media coverage about the inevitable return of Putin to power, a 3rd term in office, but questions remain whether his post-Soviet mentality will survive the calls for democratization.

Will Putin's Post-Soviet Mentality Withstand Popular Demand for Democratization?

Vladimir Putin was president from 200 until 2008 when he helped usher his ally, Dmitry Medvedev, into the Kremlin and became premiere because the Russia constitution sets a limit of two successive presidential terms.  Nevertheless, Putin has remain Russia’s dominant leader and forging a “tough-guy” image in the media, demonstrating his physical capabilities and taking part in unusual or dangerous acts, such as extreme sports and interactions with wild animals.  Despite his correlation to a fraud-tainted parliamentary election in December, Putin has illustrated his political prowess by reversing the drop in popularity to such an extent that many suggest Putin will be elected Russia’s new president with two-thirds of the vote.  Similar to Putin’s previous two presidential terms in 2000 and 20004, Putin will most likely win the election in the first round and a run-off  is practically impossible, dashing hopes of many opposition groups.  The level of popularity for Putin is not entirely unfounded, as Putin’s initial years as President came at a time of unprecedented economic and social decay, mostly a result from the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  During Putin’s presidency, the Russian economy grew for 9 straight years, seeing GDP increase 72%, poverty decrease by more than 50%, and an average monthly salaries increase from $80 to $640.  So saying, why is it that Putin’s popularity has begun to drop?  Why is it that Putin’s past history may conflict with the modernization of Russia, and result in either his usurpation or reversion of polices?

“In spite of everything, Yeltsin’s time saw radical change, with very little control.  The whole time there was something ‘Wild West’ about it, but it lacked the structure to allow a normal society to develop.  It led Putin to power, but a legal-legislative-framework did not exist.” – Gilles Chenesseau, Vice-President of the France-Russia Chamber of Commerce

Despite the evidence of Putin’s fame and glory in Russia, a new age of modernization may soon be challenge to the Soviet era ideals of the former KGB officer.  Putin’s stance on the Western powers is depicted by his prior indoctrination in Soviet ideology, which has impressed upon him, until this day, a fundamental mistrust of the West.  The tension and Russia-US opposition has been most evident in the Arab Spring, in which Russia has failed to support the UN and the international coalition known as “Friends of Syria” in disposing of Bashar al-Assad, the last remaining ally of Russia.  Bashard al-Assad has been supported by the Russian regime since before the collapse of the USSR, demonstrating the correlation between the current Russian state and its ill-fated “evil empire”.  Putin still retains from the Soviet period a great suspicion of the West.  The democratic demonstrations currently on-going in Russia, coupled with the protests against the fraudulent elections in December, is seen by Putin as part of a Western plot to harm Russia.  Putin views much of the recent protests as a continuation of the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in 2005.  In both cases, these former Soviet states decided to choose pro-Western leaders in 2000 and 2004, consequently leading to Putin firmly believing that the West was behind those protest movements, a so-called Western plot, which in the end would come to revert Russia.

“First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.  As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy.” – Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of Russia

Putin’s neurotic view of world affairs stems from the underlining insecurity of the Kremlin that was acknowledged by George Kennan in his Long Telegram.  Russia’s fears emanated from its contact with the economically advanced West, fear of more competent, more powerful, more highly organized societies in that area.  This latter type of insecurity was more eminent in Russian rulers; as the rule of these Russian leaders was relatively archaic in form, fragile and artificial in its psychological foundation, and unable to stand comparison or contact with the advanced political system of Western countries.  Much of this has not changed with Putin’s perspectives; as Putin fears Western influence in Russia after his efforts to restore Russian grandeur through brutish policies, mimicking Bismarck’s “Blood and Iron”, that accomplished restoring territorial and political integrity to the new Russian state.  After the collapse of the USSR, Boris Yeltsin offered hopes to the world of a democratized Russia by introducing capitalism and the free market.  All of this was done too quickly and too chaotically, leaving a country in the midst of social anarchy and economic disparity, all of which Putin sought to put in order.  Instead of extending democracy however, Putin cracked down on media freedoms and made things much more oppressive in Russia.  Putin oversaw a rollback on post-Soviet freedoms during his tenure as president, scrapping gubernatorial elections and introducing tough laws on political parties.

“It can go one of two ways.  It can go the way of gradual reform, in a way that opens up a political system, takes account of different points of views, allows this active generation of people who have grown to use choice in every aspect of their life, and now want choice in their political system.  Or it can go another way: it can go back to repression, after the election.  I think repression will be very difficult; people have lost the fear now and they are ready to stand up for their rights.” – Tony Halpin, Bureau Chief of British Newspaper “The Times”

Putin’s stance as a relic of a Soviet regime, decades now dissolved, will usher in tension between his post-Soviet mentality and the growing vocal majority of democratized youth.  The thaw, of “destalinization” of the USSR under Khrushchev was the first introduction of western liberalism in Russia, but was reverted to an oppressive regime under Brezhnev.  So saying, Putin’s first presidential term was marked by the return of oppressive policies and post-Soviet political repression.  The order and stability brought into the country did instill large level of support and popularity for the Putin regime, but the perpetuation of media and political oppression has transcended the patience of the people.  According to a Levada Poll, the support ratings for Putin has dropped 20%.  Putin will not be able to consolidate his seat of presidential power through the implementation of like-minded policies as previously.  Since his departure as President, the new generations of Russia have been witness to the power of popular protests, the success in neighboring countries, the success in the Arab Spring, as well as the freedom of Western people under the liberal policies they desire.  No longer will Putin be able to repress them with his post-Soviet ideals and if he tries, the repercussion will not be far different from the violent protests in the Middle East and North Africa.  Putin reign of power, and terror if he attempts repression, will be very short-lived if he does not modernize his stance on foreign and domestic affairs.