15.5.17

In response to CBC, US State Dep denies not listing Hay'at Tahrir el-Sham as terrorist organization, based on statement in Arabic only!

Click for bigger image

Update, July 23, 2017: AlQaeda issues statement urging Hay'at Tahrir el-Sham and Ahrar el-Sham to stop the infighting in Idlib.

Today, the CBC published a damning report on the refusal of the US State Dep to list Hay'at Tahrir el Sham, the latest creation of al Qaeda in Syria, as terrorist organization, and how Canada, following suit, could be unable to prosecute al Qaeda members in courts.  The journalist who did the investigation states: "Canada currently does not list any active branch of al-Qaeda in Syria, the world's most important jihadi battleground."

Through the Twitter account @USEmbassySyria, US State Dep refuted the allegations of the CBC by showing a statement in Arabic (image above) by their envoy Michael Ratney.

I found that posting the statement only in Arabic is dubious.  I read and translated the statement, below, and commented on it on my twitter account

The statement is unsigned.  It is written in a style close to jihadist rhetoric and zeal.  It does not refute the allegations of the CBC investigation and it does not address the legal aspect of the absence of listing of HTS and it gives no proof for it. The absence of listing creates legal conundrum to prosecute HTS members in the US and Canada.  This is of the utmost importance since al Qaeda has recently called its members to strike in West.
US Department of State, office of the special envoy for Syria, March 10, 2017.

Statement of clarification on the position of the US regarding Hay’at Tahrir el-Sham & alQaeda in Syria

We have long warned against the treachery of al Qaeda in Syria, its deception and its attempts to misguide Syrians and their revolution.  We have followed and attended Jolani and his fanatics’ every attempt, even the lowly ones, to hide, uninvited, like parasites inside the body of the Syrian revolution to eat it from the inside. They have hidden themselves under layers of lies.  They have pretended first that they came only to support ‘ahl-al-sham’ (people of Syria) in their victory.  They later pretended, falsely, that their single goal is the ‘conquest of el-Sham).  And now, in their most recent deception, they hide behind their new slogan : the ‘liberation of el-Sham’.  This fanatic group was always the main cause behind our inability, we, the friends of the Syrian people, to fully support the revolution. But with every renaming and renewal of its face, al Qaeda is aiming less and less at the revolution it is trying to destroy, and more and more on its symbols.  We have witnessed these agressions time and again to the point where their destructive operations have aimed at Harakat Ahrar el-Sham (darling of US) and others among the most ardent defenders of the revolution.

In light of these latest developments, we want to clarify the following :

The parent organisation of Hay’at Tahrir el-Sham (HTS) is Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN) who is on the list of designated terrorist organisations.  This classification is valid and neglects the renaming of this group or its merging with other groups.

HTS is a merger and whoever merges with this group becomes part of al Qaeda in Syria, although HTS is not an operation HQ like Jaysh el Fath, and we will act according to this.

The real power in HTS is in the hands of Abu Muhammad al Jolani who is responsible for their operations and his forever goal is the hijacking of the revolution. His means to arrive at this is to vanquish, which is to tyrannize.  As for others like Abu Jaber (Shaykh), they are mere decorations playing only secondary roles.

HTS has learned how to talk to moderates, but this is against the principles of al Qaeda.  The heads of HTS are still clinching to al Qaeda’s means and goals and still obeying Zawahiri.  Their denying this is a lie.

HTS is unable to create facts on the ground to coerce us into collaborating with them.  Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization we are determined to exterminate, and nothing can change this, no political bureau, no international mediation, and no other means of deception.

Al Jolani and his fanatics want to dominate the opposition, like Baghdadi’s organization before them, and we will treat alQaeda in Syria the same way we are treating Daesh.

They (HTS ?) will try to spin this statement by all means and accuse us of being crusaders who want to destroy all true & united Sunni oppositions, but these accusations are only agitation & verbosity.  Did they forget what they did on 911 ?  Did they forget all the crimes they have commited against us and other Muslims ?

It is those who are in alQaeda organization which are our enemies, not Sunnis, not Muslims, not unity.  And they disculpate their sins by considering our friends and allies in the ME, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and others who stood with the Syrian revolution as apostates, which is implausible and ridiculous.

Don’t be deceived by these criminals determined to bring destruction to Syria and bring the Syrian opposition to commit suicide.

Michael Ratney

US special envoy to Syria (unsigned)


9.5.17

Au revoir monsieur Normal

It was the summer of 2012. France had just gotten rid of the agitated Sarkozy and was heaving a sigh of relief.  It had replaced the Bling Bling of Sarkozy, his Rolexes, and his wives, by the self declared Mr. Normal.

We were in Paris, the city that was our home for twelve years, during Mitterrand's two Septennats.  We had voted for Hollande and were happy to see a socialist return to power.

This one summer evening, we were going to visit friends and head out for dinner with them.  We were strolling along Faubourg St Honoré when we noticed a small crowd facing the gate of the Élysées palace. Two guys were standing in front of the crowd with their motorcycles and looking at the gate. We talked to the crowd, who were mainly tourists, some of them Spanish, and understood they were waiting to see Hollande's motorcade leave the Élysée.  The two guys were part of the presidential motorcade.  They were friendly and weren't bothered by our presence.  I wanted to leave.  I thought waiting indefinitely to get a glimpse of Hollande in his car wasn't worth it.  But my husband wanted to wait.  He is a long time admirer of Mitterrand and socialist supporter.

We didn't wait long.  The main gate opened. The presidential motorcade started its slow move toward the exit.  It stopped at the open gate, near the street.  Hollande left his car and came to see us.  I snapped a picture of him coming toward us with my cellphone.

He shook all the hands, asked where we were coming from, when we told him from Quebec, he told us something about incoming provincial elections, it turned out he was in the know, we had extraordinary elections and Parti Quebecois Pauline Marois booted long time Liberal PM Jean Charest from power, barely 2 months after we spoke to Hollande.

Hollande was glowing in the normality of the encounter.   His girlfriend of the time, Valérie Trierweiller, was in the presidential car, she lowered the window and waived at us, smiling.

Hollande was a truly normal president for a country in political turmoil, looking to preserve its uniqueness, with the pressures of the global finance and its sharks. Hollande, among other things in France, went in a bite of one of these sharks whom he kept too close to the Élysée.

Au revoir monsieur Normal.  After you, nothing will be normal at the Élysée and in France's halls of power.




12.2.17

The unraveling of Saudi Arabia and its alliances in Yemen.

On Jan 29, US conducts  special ground op in Yemen targeting alQaeda. 
Allegedly, US special ops miss their target, mainly kill civilians. Hadi gov protests the operation.

On Jan 30, Houthis torpedo a Saudi frigate.  Saudi refuse to acknowledge it was a torpedo.

On Feb 5, Houthis launch a ballistic Borkan-1 SCUD missile on Saudi military outpost near Riyadh.

On Feb 7, Saudi backed Yemen ambassador to the US implicitly states that the US is in the know about the presence of alQaeda among forces fighting Houthis in Yemen and that Saudi backed Yemen gov sees fighting Iran and Houthis as a priority, not alQaeda.

On Feb 7, Saudi Backed Yemen gov withdraws permission for US to use ground troops in special anti terror ops in Yemen. Apparently, this decision has been reversed by Feb 11.

As of Feb, 2017, relations between Saudi Arabia & allies fighting its war in Yemen have been souring.  There was infighting between Egyptian and Saudi troops, the two countries have been drifting apart after Sisi's turn to back the Syrian gov and basically gravitating in Russia's sphere of influcuence in the region. There was also fighting, more than once, between UAE backed militia and Saudi backed militia in Yemen.

As of Feb 12, the Saudi backed Yemeni gov of Hadi seems to be losing the war as the UN is cooking an agreement that will basically devolve part of his powers to a VP.

Saudi leadership is being contested by its own GCC allies and Egypt.  Saudi Arabia's regional leadership is being threatened by its Sunni allies, not by Iran. When is the international community going to open its eyes on this fact?  And why should Yemen and its people continue to pay for the decline of Saudi Arabia and the refusal to see and accept this as fact by the Saudi and the international community?

My tweets on this.

Feb 21:  and the UAE compete in southern Yemen for military, economic & religious dominance. 

March 21: Fearing a repeat of the Aden airport battle with UAE, as well as legal responsibility for the humanitarian crisis from striking Hodeidah port, Saudi ask the UN to step in.  UN refuses. 

Update August 14, 2017:  Since my last update, Saudi & UAE tried, after Trump visit to Saudi Arabia, and failed, in attempt to intimidate Qatar into total surrender, and isolate it, provoking a crisis inside the GCC.  Mohammad Bin Salman, the deputy crown prince has become crown prince, making him appear with no clothes as it is increasingly the UAE who is driving the war on Yemen.

4.2.17

Making sense from chaos: the first two weeks of the Trump presidency.

The uncertainety felt by many, in the streets and in political office, about the Trump administration, has not been helped by the fact that there is little commentariat trying to understand. Most condemn. That’s because pundits are focused on Trump as a person, his (mostly bad) manners, his personal partisan tweets, his provocations, and on each and every detail of them, losing the big picture in the process. The overall feeling is chaos. Trump and his close aides, intentionally or not, add to the chaos, Trump, particularly, by not behaving like a POTUS, not being above the crowd and letting his party do the partisan fight.

I tried to look for something coherent in this chaos.

Alastair Crooke, at Conflicts Forum, has been providing great insight by anticipating from Trump’s career and trajectory. In an article published onJanuary 28, Crooke describes Trump’s business approach as follows:

Trump’s business career was largely comprised of three core strategies 1) Leverage 2) Restructure 3) Brand … in that order. Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s Trump rode a generational decline in interest rates and debt binge to purchase a range of high profile real estate projects including the Grand Hyatt (1978), Trump Tower (1983), the Plaza Hotel (1988) and the Taj Mahal (1988). In the 1990s he went through a total of 6 bankruptcies due to over-leveraged hotel and casino businesses in Atlantic City and New York. In the 2000s he pivoted to move away from debt-driven property investments to building a global brand through the “Apprentice” TV show. Trump will run the country as he ran his businesses …. He will lever, and lever, and lever, and lever … and lever … and then restructure his way to success, or whatever success is defined as, by the broadest measure of popularity at any given time. Trumponomics, if it delivers, will be a supply-side free for all: massive tax cuts, deficit spending to create jobs, financial and energy deregulation, business creation, and trade protectionism – all driving inflation. More importantly, Trump sees bankruptcy as a tool and not an obligation and will have no problem pushing the US to the limits of debt expansion. “I do play with bankruptcy laws, they’re very good to me!” he once said.”

Trump will apply the tools he developped for his businesses but not in the order Crooke mentions, and that’s for two reasons : first, because Trump is not the only driver of the policies of his administration, there is more than one interest group driving his policies, the Christian Right, The White middle class (or the middle class in general), the Neocons (yes, those sticky neocons that manage to infiltrate every administration), the elite of the Republican party, divided more than ever, and second, because the branding is not only an end result, it is also a process, and it is not unique to Trump alone. People who voted for Trump voted for the brand, which they knew in advance. Even Obama was thought of as a brand, the WH social secretary early in Obama’s first mandate, Desiree Rogers, already spoke of the ‘Obama Brand’, only to be chastised by David Axelrod who told her the president is not a brand. Presidential campaigns are based on branding. Trump came with his already established brand and he is not shy about it. This is the reason why Trump as POTUS is like Trump the candidate, with his private twitter account, staying in the fray, commenting publicly on anything that crosses his mind. Those who voted for him and hailed him as CiC voted for this. It is populist, not representative, democracy, it reminds of the early days of the French revolution (ideals aside), when everybody spoke in the assemblies and not one voice rose above the others. Trump is taking these voices who elected him to the Oval office. French revolutionary assemblies achieved little else aside from eliminating the enemies. Trump’s leverage phase, if successful, could achieve only this, eliminating the opposition to his agenda, and little else. But the time when democracies used to achieve anything is gone. Trump’s agenda will create a fighting field where he will be the wrestler in chief.

The leveraging started as soon as Trump took to the oval office. It is being done through executive orders and actions, mostly negative, bans and abolitions of agreements and policies. The leveraging also means destroying, which will be inevitably followed by ‘restructuring’. It serves some purposes : create a social pressure cooker, energise the base, and erect a smokescreen. Take for example the contested ban. Trump’s administration rationale, to make America safe, doesn’t hold scrutiny. The ban applies to countries who are fighting terrorism and know it from the inside, that they may produce refugees-cum-terrorists who may infiltrate the US homeland, because they are occupied in part by these terrorists and have security issues, is possible, but so is the possiblity that terrorists will come from a ‘quiet’ place not targeted by the ban. Saudi Arabia, not targeted by the ban, has some 80000 students in US universities. And this is where most of the 911 terrorists came from. Should Trump anger Saudis, they have pressure means on him. Saudi Arabia is not a quiet place, it has an insurgency in the east, it is fighting an unwinnable war against Yemen with the help of al Qaeda and it is the place where Islamist terrorism struck first, before being exported to the world. Also the Muslim countries not targeted by the ban are known by US officials as main vehicles and financial supporters of terrorism.

It is inconceivable that the US will slap a ban on its ally Saudi Arabia, so it does it for the weakest countries, those who absolutely have no means of pressure on the US. The ban does not serve any security purpose but it serves to cut refugee applications and to please those who voted for Trump thinking that foreigners were taking their jobs, and those who fear terrorism without knowing the what and why of terrorism. It also serves as an attraction against which most opposition to Trump will focus and come to lose its energy on, fighting a ban in courts and in the streets, amid chaos and unrest. Chaos is part of the leveraging, it drains the efforts of the opposition internally, and it puts targeted countries ‘on notice’, externally. To consolidate the ban in the eyes of the Muslim world, Trump sought & obtained the collaboration of Saudi Arabia not condemning the ban, in exchange for the US administration not using JASTA against the kingdom for political purpose.

This is how Trump leverages, by setting goals and using any means, acceptable or not, narrow or wide, that may help him achieve his goals.

The Restructuring. It comes during and after the leveraging and destruction phase. Trump’s leveraging is destructive because it doesn’t respect anything that might amount to an obstacle between him and his goals. It is unprincipled, it is chaotic, it does not fit well with democratic institutions. Eventually, if the leveraging and destruction process is successful, there will be a restructuring and a rebranding of America according, this time, to the Trump brand. Every presidency is tranformative. But Trump’s will be nothing like others’. It is driven by nostalgia and resentement, both powerful emotions carried by a population who feel cheated by its leaders. Other secondary considerations will drive Trump’s agenda, implementing some basic Republican core ideological policies to keep them happy, like deregulation, but nothing that may constitute an obstacle to Trump’s goals. Well, actually deregulation might constitute an obstacle to Trump’s goal to revive the middle class, it is not the program of the fringe of the republican party, the Tea Party was definitely against Wall Street and the bankers. But in a global economy where growth is proving elusive, protectionnism coupled with deregulation can have the effect of redirecting wealth, not redistributing wealth. Kick the can of worms and see what happens.

We now come to the fringe of the American public who hailed Trump to the presidency, ‘the deplorables’. We have a ‘basket’ here made of the fringe of the Republican party betrayed by Bush and of the fringe of the Democratic party betrayed by Obama. What do these people want ? Some want good paying jobs, some want less government, some want both. But it is not what they want that is important, it is what they do not want, what they resent and fear. They resent the multiracial society, US wars abroad, the global corporations, the free trade agreements and the flight of capital as causes in the economic decline, and they are not completely wrong in their analysis of the situation. That’s because in the absence of growth, the cake they have to share is becoming smaller and smaller. So they will get protectionnist economic policies regardless whether these policies work or not. Opinions diverge on this.

On the social side, Trump will try to deliver the policies for which the religious Right got behind him in the first place. These are the disillusioned of the GW Bush administration. Their estimation is that Bush did little for them. They feel they have been used as Bush got busy waging wars on behalf of Israel and the Neocons without fully implementing their agenda. This is where the religious Right drives a wedge between them and the Neocons in the Trump administration, and this is why I believe Trump will do Bush in reverse, he will use the Neocons to serve the religious Right, although this has never been his personal agenda. How Trump will use the Neocons? I’m afraid by letting them wage a war against Iran to advance the most radical items on the agenda of the religious Right. Iran will rally the majority of the Republican party behind Trump, something he can use but only if he feels that he needs it. Let’s pray this won’t happen.

The religious Right has been already served well by Trump. The proposed nomination to the Supreme court of Neil Gorsuch will come with a pro-Life agenda for the disenchanted of social liberalism and its excesses. Listen to Australian philosopher John Finnis with whom Gorsuch studied. He explains how the anti-discrimination and egalitarian agenda of liberals is contrary to real equality of Humanity when it comes to life and death issues, and let me tell you, he is damn right. You may not agree with him but he uncontestably brings to light important and deep human issues that are simply shelved and left undiscussed by liberals, all in the name of political correctness, egalitarianism and anti-discrimination. I have the feeling Trump will deliver for the religious Right, not by conviction, but it will be part of his leveraging of the political field, part of the rebranding too, and also because it is part of one of his closest adviser’s agenda. Karl Rove used the religious Right for the Neocons’ agenda, Steve Bannon and his movement come from the religious Right, they are in the WH now.

The rebranding. Trump will try to reverse the branding of the US by Obama as a liberal post racial society. America will be rebranded as a chauvinistic, traditionalist, illiberal and less multicultural society. I chose chauvinistic instead of White Christian because I think that the program of the fringe is not against Black African Americans, it is mostly against recent non Christian immigration (Muslims), but it targets Blacks insofar as they identify with Muslims and other immigrants. However, we must accept that American chauvinism cannot encompass African Americans because the integration of Blacks as full citizens in US society coincided with an influx in non-European immigration and this integration benefited other races too. In fact, the White founders of the US and the Black founders, their slaves, never gave themselves the chance to forge a national identity encompassing the two races because as soon as they found each other as equals by law, they had to contend with other races. And it is only natural that most Blacks identify with other races than the race of those who oppressed them. Anti-Black racism resurgence might be seen also as a reaction to the transformation of the US into a multiracial society by new immigration. That isn’t to say that there is no racism between non-White races (read the recent 'American Muslims, divided by race').

Foreign Policy. We see in Trump’s foreign policy agenda two concurrent tendencies : to close a deal in Palestine and to attack Iran. The Trump administration surprised everyone when it asked Israel to stop settlement activity recently, while making it clear it does not condemn past settlements. How is that possible ? It will be through Egypt, Saudi and Arab Gulf countries. Surprisingly, Egypt is not on Trump’s ban list despite the recent terrorist attacks on Russian civilians in Egypt and ongoing terrorist activity in the Sinai. This is part of the leveraging, Trump needs Egypt.

Another important element is that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries are already doing business with Israel and they see the non resolution of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict as a hurdle to their business interests. Recently, relations between Egypt and Hamas have been improving. To be sure, any deal for a two state solution will be bad for the Palestinians, but the Palestinian leadership has a history of betraying its people and listening to their Arab backers. Is carving up a two state solution difficult ? Certainely, in the mess that’s the West Bank and Gaza today with their territorial discontinuity, but Israel is about illegal real estate and Trump with his real estate mogul son-in-law intend to close a deal between Netanyahu and the Palestinians or their Arab sponsors. However mediocre and bad the solution might be, and it will be, approaching it from a real estate perspective can be helpful.

This is where things may get touchy with Iran. The Trump administration has ‘put Iran on notice’, whatever this might mean. I do not think the Trump administration is irresponsible to go to war on Iran on a whim, but it will do it, in a way or another, in two cases: First to thank the Saudi for delivering a deal with the Palestinians, second, to distract from its highly radical domestic agenda. It is highly unlikely that Trump will attack Iran. However, he will slap sanctions and try to isolate Iran again. You can say Hello to the return of AhmadiNejad.

Russia. Everybody is hyping about Russia and Trump. But there are many factors that will prevent the Trump administration from being hostile to Russia, let alone going to war against Russia. Trump needs Russia to fight ISIS. Trump also needs Russia because his administration is under attack from the inside and the outside. He already has more than half the world unhappy about him. Trump will need Russia too to close a deal in Israel-Palestine. One thing should be clear : Trump doesn’t care about Europe, he doesn’t care about NATO, he doesn’t care about Ukraine. So far, so good for Russia. However, Trump’s belligerance toward Iran and China, Russia’s close allies, may put Russia in a difficult position, will it trade these alliances for a détente with the US on Europe? This will depend on Europe too. This is something that will be of concern for a second Trump mandate, if there is one, not for the first. So we can sit and watch the neocons hired by Trump to serve in his administration fiddle and busy themselves in destroying Ukraine to get Trump’s attention.

Oh, and Trump is not interested in latin America. Latin America is not in the US sphere anymore, and it hasn’t been for a long time. The revival of the Latin American Right, here and there, in Honduras and Venezuela, won’t change this. Trump essentially sees Latin America as originator of potential immigration and trade problems, nothing more.

There will be no more regime change military operations abroad by the US under Trump and he will leave Syria for Russia. But we can’t exclude the usual Bush and Obama eras' secret ops, extraordinary renditions, black ops, drones, and so on. Trump want to make the CIA happy, and this is what they do best. What is not clear, up to now, is how Trump intends to fight ISIS. He asked his generals to come up with a plan. We shall see.

As for China, it is among the countries 'put on notice' by the Trump administration, but we don't know what this means yet.  The dispute with China will be mostly about trade.  Trump's agenda is focused mostly on trade, on bringing back to the US the big pie of globalisation and keeping it in.

Will Trump change the US if successful ? Probably more than any other president. Will he be successful ? Too early to tell. Will the world be a better place ? With the US busy changing itself from the inside, and not changing regimes and creating security vaccum in other countries, the world will get to breath better.

Update 1 (Sunday Feb 5, 00:05 a.m): Trump administration is signaling it is willing to work with Saudi Arabia. Latest news from Yemen point to an escalation.  Yemen war was launched before the Iran deal was signed to drag Iran in a regional war.  It seems that Trump aims to put more pressure on Iran to drag it into Yemen war.  Iran won't budge.  The people of Yemen and the country will pay for this reckless war.  It is a crime against the people of Yemen.  And t will be the second time the US tries to drag the Islamic Republic of Iran in a useless war.  The Iran Iraq war was done for a similar aim and produced nothing but misery.  But all these collateral wars to get at Iran confirm at least that the US won't attack Iran directly, at least not before exhausting Yemen.

Update 2 (Tuesday Feb 7, 22:24 p.m): Following events lead me to think Saudi Arabia wants a quick exit from the Yemen mess and is trying to leverage Trump into doing the job for them by invoking Iran.

On Jan 29, US conducts  special ground op in Yemen targeting alQaeda.

On Jan 30, Houthis torpedo a Saudi frigate.  Saudi refuse to acknowledge it was a torpedo.

On Feb 5, Houthis launch a ballistic Borkan-1 SCUD missile on Saudi military outpost near Riyadh.

On Feb 7, Saudi backed Yemen ambassador to the US implicitly states that the US is in the know about the presence of alQaeda among forces fighting Houthis in Yemen and that Saudi backed Yemen gov sees fighting Iran and Houthis as a priority, not alQaeda.

On Feb 7, Saudi Backed Yemen gov withdraws permission for US to use ground troops in special anti terror ops in Yemen.

27.1.16

Clash of Civilizations or Clash of Values? The Rhetoric of War and Peace.



Ethical pluralism is focused on individual preferences in modern pluralistic societies.  It does not dictate what is ethical or what is not.  It only creates a space for rational dialogue on the diversity of values aimed at reaching a consensus within the limits of reason.  Ethical pluralism is practised in West for controversial moral issues like abortion, gay rights and Euthanasia.  Although laws are legislated in these cases in some western countries,  in many cases they do not constrain those who oppose them to live by them.  It is believed that ethical pluralsim creates more tolerance and more freedoms for the individual.  The essence of ethical pluralism is that moral codes cannot be forced, they emerge by consensus through a rational discourse and dialogue on values.  

Within western societies, theorizing ethical diversity and pluralism requires a commitment to dialogue within the limits of reason in order to reach a consensus on values.  I am referring here to the Habermasian theory of ethics for modern democratic societies, which Habermas calls ‘Discourse ethics’.  These pillars of ethical pluralism are denied by the West when advancing its own set of values in non western societies. 

As such, western moral values, having emerged by consensus, cannot be forced on other cultures and societies who did not participate in the rational discourse leading to a consensus on these values.  In most non-western societies, values are anchored, not in individual preferences, but in community norms, elders’ wisdoms and local laws, which ancient Greeks used to call ‘nomos’.   Moreover, in most non-western societies, core values are transmitted between generations, not discussed in the public sphere, where they tend to play a cohesive social role in which the individual self identifies more with the community than with the ego.

There is a tension in the West’s approach to values which allows the individual a greater space of liberty within western societies but denies this liberty to individuals in other societies attached to their traditions and the norms of their communities.  In fact, there is a faulty assumption in West that the individual Self in non-western societies is modeled on the western Self, despite historical and cultural differences.  This tension has become palpable with the advent of the globalization of markets, cultures and ideas.  The West stands as the promoter of one set of values, its own, over others.   In many cultures, this tension is being tackled differently, either by total assimilation, peaceful but active resistance, distrust and retreat, or violent resentful extremism directed against the West in the case of Sunni Islam. Colonialism was built on the assumption that the colonized were different in humanity while globalization is built on the assumption that 'there is no such thing as society' (as Margaret Thatcher famously said) whereby only individuals detached from their historical and cultural roots exist as consumers having an infinite set of preferences determined by the markets.

Ethical pluralism, although unequally practised by West, is not part of the relations the West establishes with other societies, where it is assumed that only individuals exist and that they must consume the product of the ethical consensus built by other individuals in West.   What we have witnessed so far since 911 is the forcing and enforcing of western values through military campaigns, invasions and occupations preceded and followed by violent backlashes from extremist fundamentalists.  Post 911, international relations have become a domain of confrontations thought to be confrontations of civilizations and values.

Many Muslims today live in communities, societies and countries which emphasize traditional values and the supremacy of the community over the individual.   However, Muslims are not the only ones who live in traditions which are antagonists to western values, but they are currently the main culture and religion to react and to be targeted by this confrontation of values and it is mainly Sunni Muslims who are engaged in this confrontation.

A broken dialogue on values.

This is the reason why a dialogue on values is urgently needed between the West and Muslims.  Some in the West as well as in Muslim countries do not believe in the of dialogue on values, firmly standing on both sides of the values divide, committed to wars.  But others, and they aren’t many, believe in this dialogue. President Obama articulated his desire for dialogue with Muslims in his Cairo’s discourse early during his first mandate.  But due to many factors, including America’s previous war commitments and voices of confrontation inside his own administration, Obama wasn’t able to act on his Cairo’s discourse. We will never know if Obama was sincere about this dialogue.  But what we know is that he did not blindly follow those who wanted a confrontation to the end with Iran. Recently Ayatollah Khamenei wrote on his twitter account that Obama wrote him a second letter in 2009 full of affirmative accounts about Iran.  Khamenei said he had the intention to reply to the letter but after Obama supported the protests against the government in Iran in 2009 he refrained from doing so.  Obama acted against the voices of confrontation with Iran, but not before the failure of the 2009 colour revolution for regime change.  He finally succeeded in reaching a deal with Iran that, if its implementation is unhindered by more confrontation, should naturally open a dialogue on values between Muslims and the West.

On the Iranian side, the deal reached between Iran and the West silenced the voices of confrontation and opened possibilities to initiate a dialogue between Muslims and the West.  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was first to open this dialogue on the values of Islam with his two letters to western youth (January 2015 letter and November 2015 letter).  Khamenei’s initiatives came in a context of a renewed wave of Sunni terrorism by ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), more barbaric and more sectarian than the terrorism witnessed since 911, and threatening this time the Near East, the Levant and Europe.

While the nuclear deal was being worked out between the West and Iran during the year 2015, many terrorist attacks by Sunni Muslim extremists hit Muslim countries, especially Iraq and Syria, as well as Europe.  Most notable were the attacks in France claimed by ISIS that attracted wide and sustained attention in western media.  ISIS is virulently anti-Iran and anti-Shia.  It promotes a return to the  Sunni Caliphate.  The first attacks were on January 7th at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and on a Jewish surpermarket in Paris and its suburb and killed seventeen and wounded others.  Khamenei’s first letter was published merely two weeks after these attacks.  It spoke of a different kind of Islam, attempting to educate western youth on Islam and the real sources of knowledge on Islam, away from the terrible and negative image that was being presented to the West by ISIS.  The letter was deliberately addressed to youth.  Khamenei argued that dialogue with western leaders was futile because these leaders not only promoted the kind of Muslim extremism embodied by ISIS but also did not appear to be willing to learn about the true religion of Islam and Muslims beyond the terrorists clichés. The second series of attacks in France in 2015 happened on Novembre 13 at the Bataclan concert venue and a café in Paris and killed hundred and thirty people and wounded many.  Ayatollah Khamenei’s second letter to western youth was published two weeks later on November 29.  In it, Ayatollah Khamenei chides the West for its double standards towards the victims of terrorism and for the imposition of western culture by force uniformly on Muslim societies.

Although the lives lost to terrorism in France weren’t more precious than other lives taken by blind terrorism elsewhere, the attacks were alarming, not only because they touched the heart of Europe, its cultural symbols and its youth, but because they threatened to create a greater wedge between European and Muslim populations inside and outside Europe, in neighbouring countries around the Meditterranean basin, and beyond in the Asian and African continents where the majority of Muslims live.  While American neocons, who so much wished for the clash of civilizations after 911, could observe the increasing wedge between Muslims and non Muslims far from their own shores separated and shielded from this clash by two oceans, Europe is increasingly becoming the theatre of the clash.   

A clash of values is not a clash of civilizations

What is the nature of the clash between Sunni extremism and the West?  It is important to make a distinction here between the clash of civllizations and the clash of values.  While the clash of civilizations includes also a clash of values, it is about more than values.  It is confrontational in essence because civilizations aim for self preservation and fight against their annihilation.  The term ‘civilization’ means not only values but a geopolitical, economic and military space.  The clash of values can be resolved through dialogue.  Values tend to evolve slowly and by consensus according to each society’s needs.   They can intersect between two civilizations and they can be passed on peacefully between civilizations. Many civilizations’ values evolve from the inside, but also from contacts with other civlizations.  In the ancient times, these contacts were mostly established through wars.  The citizens of ancient Greece considered non Greeks as barbarians and non humans because ancient Greece was a ‘closed’ civilization.  This perception changed during the Hellenistic period after contacts were made by Alexander the great with other civilizations through conquest and wars. 

The term ‘clash of civilizations’ is greatly misleading.  It implies a confrontation.  It is both a testimony to the neocons’ warring agenda as well as to their backward thinking.  Wars aren’t needed today to establish contacts with other civilizations.  Today’s means of communication are many, multi-level, fast and easy.

The fall of the former communist bloc countries should have led us to a more cooperative, less confrontational world, militarily speaking.  Instead, the neocons created the clash of civilizations to produce more wars and more confrontations to advance American hegemony in a unipolar world.  With 911 and its aftermath, Sunni Muslim terrorism, initially born out from the collaboration of America’s cold war ideology & Sunni Wahhabism against the former communist bloc, set the scene worldwide for a spectacular and threatening clash of values, mistaken for a clash of civilizations.  Wherever there was a clash of values, the neocons created wars resembling a clash of civilizations with their lot of humiliations, provocations and blasphemy of religious symbols,  leading to a greater clash of values, reinforcing in a loop the ‘clash of civilizations’.   

It is Europe and Asia where most people on the planet, and most Muslims live, that are set to take the full impact of this clash being prepared for decades now by the neocons. The neocons’ game in Europe is to treat Europe’s woes resulting from a clash of  values between east and west, between  north and south, with more confrontations and wars. 

This is the post 911 reality created by the neocons. A world that has every possible tool to make communication and dialogue on many issues, including values, easy and natural, yet is locked in confrontations and wars. As often, it takes two to dance.  The neocons’ project to produce a clash of civilizations is greatly helped by Sunni Muslim resentful extremism and its state sponsors.

To be aware of this post 911 reality is to make everything possible to prevent a great war in Europe and its geopolitical surroundings.   And fortunately for us, the majority of Muslims do not want this clash of civilizations which has been hurting Muslim countries and Muslims more than others.  Fortunately for us too, Iran refuses to engage in the clash of civilizations.  Amid the tensions of the post 911 world, Iran has shown the world it can make peace without losing its dignity.  I have argued elsewhere that both the nuclear deal and Khamenei’s letter to western youth form a coherent approach by Iran to treat the woes of Islam and show the West that there is an alternative to confrontation with Islam and Muslims, that there is an alternative to terrorism.

Those in the West who want a dialogue on values with Muslims to peacefully resolve differences instead of a clash of civilizations and wars can now count on Iran’s leadership.   A dialogue on values can be much more enriching than the forcing of western values on Muslim societies.  A dialogue on values doesn’t and shouldn’t end by one set of values taking on another but by finding common ground amid differences.  That’s the essence of communication and diplomacy and the respect for the dingity of others and our common humanity. 

Russia, which has worked hard to end Iran’s isolation, has a diplomacy that instinctively understands the potential of resolving the issue of the clash of civilizations that feeds today’s devastating terrorism eating at the heart of all these civilizations.  Because Russia's neighbour, Europe, is by excellence the theatre for this clash.  And because a clash of civilizations that counts on terrorism to provoke a confrontation of values  will undoubtedly lead to the end of civilizations. 

The US however, despite the nuclear deal and the recent détente with Iran, is still very much sitting on the fence, between war and peace.  Hesitations and mixed messages, as well as Obama’s end of mandate, risk annihilitating the dialogue that the Iran deal is promising, putting the initiative back in the hands of the neocons.

As I wrote in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, a dialogue on values is urgently needed to silence the voices of confrontation.  The clash of civilizations is an idea as backward as the barbaric terrorism it sets out to explain... and fight... by curtailing our civil liberties and creating an artificial wedge between civilizations otherwise destined to increase their common ground in an era of rapid communications where societies are becoming more open and more welcoming.  

The promoters of the clash of civilizations are the new enemies of the Open Society.

23.9.15

Russia's role in Syria: a chance for peace

The Syrian conflict is reaching a breaking point, it has been going on for far too long now and it could go on like this for another five years leading to  the spread of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) both territorially and ideologically and more refugees knocking on Europe’s door.  Regardless of who is responsible for the ISIS phenomenon, political and security void is always fertile ground for groups like ISIS.

Some tried to use the refugee exodus we are witnessing from conflict zones, including Syria, to Europe to push for a military intervention against Assad and break the five-year military stalemate.  But, after Libya, we know, and cannot afford to ignore, that a military victory against Assad will give us the same results as the current stalemate, not to mention the fact that it is not assured at all, as in Libya. A military victory against Assad will embolden ISIS and sends more refugees to the shores of Europe. The region cannot afford one more failing state.

If neither a military action against Assad nor a stalemate will stem the flow of refugee and eradicate ISIS, which are the immediate concerns of rational actors in this crisis,  then adequate action in the Syrian dossier is needed.  And certainely not the kind of action that has been going on, supporting different groups to militarily challenge the government, and certainely not the kind of action some are calling for like a No Fly Zone leading to open military intervention.

With the refugee exodus, Europe has been caught up with the reality of the Syrian crisis.  It is softening its stance on Assad’s departure. The US state department has followed suit.  Kerry's latest declarations with their technical and convoluted terminology to talk about Assad's departure or Russia's presence in Syria are indications of a willingness to compromise.
In fact, the US risks losing its european allies in the halls of power if it doesn’t change its stance on Syria to ease its allies’ concerns.

The time for a political solution is ripe and Russia is well positioned to carve out this solution ; it is cordial with every country in the region and has leverage on every country in the region.  Moreover, Russia, with China in mind too, is the country who stands to lose most if the Syrian confict continues threatening it with terrorism spreading to its territory and its communities.

Russia has two incentives for actively working out a solution to the Syrian crisis, stopping terrorism from spreading and transforming its leverage in the ME into political capital on the regional and international scene.  

But for Russia to convince all actors of the seriousness of its intentions, and to give itself the means of the leverage it intends to exert, it needs to beef up its military presence in Syria.  This is how we should interpret the recent moves by Russia in Syria.  In this, Russia’s task was made easy by its long standing military cooperation and military presence in Syria. 

This is not what some have called propping up Assad or inserting itself in the region. Russia has always been in Syria, it doesn't need to 'insert' itself there.  Russia's interests are in eradicating ISIS because ISIS wants to expand its brand in the Caucasus, and beyond.  Currently, ISIS is becoming a territorial threat to the Eurasian and African continents, America being protected by two oceans (ISIS marines is not for tomorrow.) 

Russia's other interest is in officializing its role as an unavoidable regional player.  Indeed, Russia doesn't seek to become an unavoidable regional player, it already is. Contrary to the US, it has maintained good relations with every country in the region and intends to capitalize on this as well as on its positive role in carving out a deal between Iran and the P5+1.  Iran is the other regional player that has interest to see the end of the Syria crisis.  But while Iran is certainely an important regional player with Saudi Arabia, none of them has Russia's leverage in the region and can be seen as a neutral party.  Russia certainely has Iran's blessings in its moves in Syria and intends to build on them.  

Russia may be seen in some circles in the US and the West as having a partisan stance in this crisis, however, it is currently the party that's most neutral and that has diplomatic channels with every player in the crisis.

Let's see Russia's new assertiveness in Syria and the region for what it is: a chance for eradicating terrorism and a chance for peace.  Russia has proved in August 2013, with the chemical weapons agreement between Syria and the UN, that it is capable of putting the breaks to another catastrophic military intervention in the Middle East, and it is going to do it again.

27.8.15

The Iran nuclear deal, the future of Islam, and Ayatollah Khamenei’s Letter to Western Youth

 Published at Iran's View.

If I were a faithful and pious Muslim and if I were to take a look at the state of the religion of Islam and Muslims today, I would be extremely worried. And even though I am not a Muslim faithful but an Arab secular Christian woman, I can still worry for my Muslim sisters and brothers and the religion of Islam. This is not a selfless concern. The future of minorities in the Middle East depends largely on the state of the Muslim religion, which is the religion of the majority. Also, the Muslim religion and its people are part and parcel of my cultural background, of who I am as an Arab Christian, as much as Muslims of the Middle East are culturally shaped by their presence as pieces in a mosaic of religions and sects, which the region never ceased to be, until al Qaeda and its most notorious branch, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS, came to be.

Again, as an Arab Christian, I was educated not on the holy Qur’an, but on the religion of Islam and its History. I grew up seeing Islam as a religion of conquest and enlightenment in the Arts and Sciences. I grew up seeing Islam as a forward progressive religion. Of course, as in every religion, I could perceive some extremism here and there, some backwardness, but these seemed marginal, or so was my perception during the late seventies, early eighties, until al Qaeda and its most notorious branch, ISIS, came to be.

Since 911, I have been asking myself: what happened to Islam? More so since the emergence and mainstreaming of sectarian killings inside Iraq after the 2003 US invasion and the recent mass displacements of religious minorities by ISIS in the Middle East, the largest since the Ottoman Empire disintegrated.

To answer this question one must understand what happened between the late seventies and the early eighties and how the struggles born out of these years came to their conclusion as the iron curtain fell on the Soviet bloc ushering in a short era of revigorated and unchallenged American and western imperialism.
During these decisive years, we witnessed an Islamic revolution in Iran that rose against western imperialism while another Islamic movement in Afghanistan came to be subsumed, and consumed, by the goals of western imperialism. We also witnessed a war on Iran from the West, with Iraq as a proxy, meant to challenge to the nascent Islamic revolution of Iran. 

These events, which will lead to a profound misunderstanding inside Islam, took place after the strong anti-imperialist sentiment in the Middle East, in which Palestine was the main conduit, was sidelined through a partial peace between Israel and Egypt. The Palestine struggle was buried by partial peace and the Palestinian resistance lost the support of most Arab states. This was going to lead to the still-born Oslo peace process and the slow asphyxiation of the Palestinian struggle, while Israeli settlements flourished as they continue to do until today.

The eighties end with the triumph of western imperialism. But in the Middle East, the Islamic revolution of Iran stood in the way of this triumph, albeit weakened and its society profoundly wounded by the Iraq war. After the end of the Iraq-Iran war and Ayatollah’s Khomeini’s death, the Islamic revolution of Iran had survived but the country was going to spend the next decade rebuilding itself amid a climate of increasing hostility, unilateral and multilateral sanctions.

Iran’s Islamic revolution inspired many and in many ways in the region. Islamist groups and Islamist movements rose in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. Only few survived and those who did, like Hezbollah, did so because they understood the spirit of the Islamic revolution of Iran, as it stood, as an Islamist insurgency, first and foremost, against western imperialism. Hezbollah resonated with the populations of the Arab world because it revived the Palestinian struggle and the struggle against western imperialism. At the same time, Hamas was born to challenge the occupation of Palestine, based on a non-compromising attitude toward the occupation, but with a different spirit marked by the context of inter Palestinian rivalry heavily weighed by outside and competing regional influences.

This is why Hamas and Hezbollah, two groups moved by the same goal for many years, find themselves today at odds because the forces that have been pulling Muslims apart since the event of the Islamic revolution of Iran, not only are still at work today, but they are now aided by scores of terrorist Takfiri groups claiming to be working for Muslims and Islam.

The Islamic revolution of Iran had clearly designated the anti-imperialist struggle as the defining project of modern Islam. But the Islamic revolution of Iran was not the only Islamic movement renewing the search to redefine Islam in modern times. However, the Islamist groups who came before it and most of those who were inspired by it sought a return to an era of Islam before western imperialism to find the tools to challenge western imperialism. 

Thus, the nostalgic return to Islam resulted in ambiguity toward the West. I am thinking here specifically of the Muslim Brotherhood. The ambiguity is in confronting modern western imperialism with conceptual tools that existed before this imperialism. This is at best a flight strategy, at worst, a legitimization of Wahhabism, the gangrene that’s been eating at the heart of Islam. Ambiguity exists also in the fact that running away from modernity prevents these movements from ever understanding imperialism, replacing understanding with mystification, leaving modernity to exert a fascination on their entire ideological conceptual apparatus without ever being able to understand it.

This is a tragic misunderstanding, by the insurgent Sunni branch of Islam, of how to conduct the struggle for relevance against western imperialism and renew the search to redefine Islam in modern times. Western imperialism, in its essence, is about the superiority of science and technology. By choosing nostalgia and pre-imperialist conceptual tools, insurgent Sunni Islam could then only fight western technical superiority and the way of life it implies with increased barbarism. Hence, al-Qaeda and ISIS.

The Islamic revolution of Iran, on the other side, has sought to fight western imperialism with the elements of its alleged superiority; technology. But contrary to other Muslim countries that had sought nuclear technology as a way to achieve military superiority, like the West, Iran sought nuclear technology only for civilian purposes and as a right to achieve equal status, to oppose to western imperialism the right to dignity. Because western imperialism sees itself as superior in status, it refuses dignity to others, to subdued countries, and it does so mainly through technology.

But, no matter how much Iran seeks nuclear energy for civilian purposes and technological research, the West can still be suspicious of Iran’s intentions. The recent deal concluded between Iran and the P5+1 adresses the question of suspicion by claiming that the requirement for trust was replaced by evidence and verification. Moreover, and away from gauging the intentions of the Islamic republic, the West should celebrate Iran’s quest for civil nuclear technology, under verification, on the basis that anything else than progress, including technological progress, will lead to barbarism. Of course, one might argue that technological progress has its own load of barbarism. European colonialism, and later American colonialism, in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and in the Americas, have many features of the barbarism we are witnessing from groups like al Qaeda and ISIS today. But that’s the problem with all technologies, they raise our living standards while at the same time becoming tools of the fundamental Human condition that aspires to God but has the instincts of a beast, so that without Ethics, technology or not, barbarism is always lurking behind the human condition. However, technology gives us at least the promise of lifting us from the condition of barbarism with the hope for a better life.

In renouncing, or more exactly, never wanting nuclear technology for military purposes, despite having the tools and the know-how for nuclear technology, the Islamic republic of Iran chose progress and Ethics over barbarism. It chose to confront western imperialism with both western superiority tools, technology, and its own tools taken from the moral handbook of the Islamic revolution. This is how, Iran’s negotiators unrelentelssly referred to Ayatollah Khamenei’s fatwa against developing nuclear weapons. Recently, Iran’s president Rouhani repeated this in a different form by affirming that Iran will never use its technological knowledge against other countries. This is how, to calm suspicions and ends unjust sanctions, Iran committed on July 14, 2015, to an unprecedented list of demands and inspections, effectively halting any potential imaginary nuclear military program. This ‘renouncement’ comes at a time when Iran is seen as a major player in a region shaken by various threats, conflicts, warfare, displacements, ethnic cleansing, barbarism and terrorism.

How could then Iran relinquish a nuclear military program when it needs it the most? That’s the question that was put forward recently by Vali Nasr. His answer is that pressured at home, the Islamic republic is relinquishing its regional standing to focus on its political survival at home. Nasr opposed in his argument the Islamic revolution survival at home to its regional standing.

I argue here that Nasr’s argument relies on the falase western perception of the Iran Islamic revolution and the false dichotomy between the internal and the external context.

A lot has been said about the internal pressure after the 2009 events in Iran and the idea that these events led Iran to enter the negotiating arena endures today. But it is based on many false assumptions and there is plenty of evidence for this. It was the US, in the first place, who started the process of the negotiations. Concerning the 2009 events, many studies attempted to validate the claim that the elections were stolen by Ahmadinejad but to no avail, Ahmadinejad was the choice of Iranians in 2009 and there was no elections’ fraud as alleged by western media. The wikileaks cables even show it was the US who was pushing the fraud narrative, contrary to the reality on the ground. Concerning the 2009 events too, there were many false assumptions concerning Iranian youth and how they were against the Islamic revolution but a western study shows that these assumptions were false and Iranians youth, in great majority, even those who are critical of the government, have integrated and internalized the Islamic revolution’s conservative values.

About the dichtotomy between the internal and the external context, this dichotomy can be proven false, especially in the context of ISIS, which Nasr recognizes as a threat to Iran. In the context of ISIS, the survival of the Islamic revolution of Iran equals the survival of Islam in general. Because that other branch of Islam which chose barbarism over modernity, as ISIS, its promoters and its mentors do, is taking Muslims on a self-destructive path from which there is no going back. Within the new context of ISIS, there will be victims to protect and dignity to restore to all Muslims so that it is through its Islamic revolution and particular Islamic message open to modernity,that Iran will exert its regional influence and this cannot be done without opening up and getting rid of years of ostracization and sanctions.

Of course, opening up is a risky move for the Islamic revolution of Iran, but it is also an ideological move, it is about Islam, defending Islam against itself by spreading a different kind of islamist message. It is also about rightfully assuming the leadership the Islamic republic of Iran deserves in the region and the world.
Iran did not relinquish its regional influence, isolating its revolution from the world to better save it by accepting a deal on its nuclear program. On the contrary, the Islamic republic of Iran will be exerting its influence differently and even more greatly on Muslims and the Islamic message, simply because in the context of ISIS, the survival of Islam will depend on the survival of the Islamic revolution of Iran, and one might argue that the survival of the Islamic revolution of Iran will depend on the survival of Islam as a whole as a religion well entrenched in modernity. This is the problematic we are facing now in the Middle East, and this is what makes reactionary rulers fear Iran.

After the beginning of the Arab Spring, there was panic among reactionary Persian Gulf rulers that the Islamic revolution of Iran model was going to spread in the region, as this commentator noted, so they unleashed al Qaeda and ISIS against revolutionary and anti-imperialist political Islam as embodied by Iran. This is why, after the nuclear deal, Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif sought to address these fears through a series of visits and diplomatic initiatives to Arab and foreign capitals.
In light of what preceded, one could argue that it is not internal pressure that forced Iran to the negotiating table, but rather a regional context threatening Islam as a whole that convinced the Islamic revolution of Iran that the only way to positively affect Islam and the region, and therefore save its core mission, was to get rid of the imposed isolation and sanctions.

This is why, in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015, one more attack among too many perpetrated by an Islamist insurgency gone bad, and while the only initiative the world could expect from Iran was the initiative around the nuclear talks, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, launched his own dialogue with the West on the Muslim religion and the Islamic message. #LetterForYou was addressed to the western youth and the world, through social media as an attempt to explain Islam away from al Qaeda/ISIS stereotypes.

Ayatollah Khamenei’s letter to the western youth has deeper meaning. It is the continuation of the Islamic republic of Iran’s policy of openness, which complements the nuclear deal.
By opening a dialogue with western youth on Islam, Khamenei’s letter seeks to extend the respect and normalcy gained from merely negotiating as equals with the West to all Muslims and the religion of Islam. Khamenei explains that he chose to address youth because it is too late to correct misconceptions about Islam among adults in West, especially when these misconceptions have been forged also in the West.

Someone has to save Muslims from themselves. The West is not going to do it. The Islamic revolution of Iran has achieved resistance, survival, dignity and respect. It is best positioned to take on the task. And this task starts and ends with an honest conversation about Islam. This is the deep meaning of Iran’s supreme leader letter to the western youth. After the nuclear deal, the Islamic republic of Iran is up to counter the message of barbarism with true knowledge in all domains, in the domain of technology as in the domain of religion.

This mission is of the utmost importance today. If you followed the nuclear deal and you didn’t pay attention to ‘Letter for you’, then you didn’t understand the most important thing about the deal: a dialogue of civilizations on the basis of mutual respect and dignity against the new barbarisms that threaten Islam.

26.7.15

We Are Many: a unique documentary about the Iraq war worldwide protests

Yesterday I went to watch the only screening in Montreal of the documentary about the worldwide protests against the Iraq war on February 15, 2003. The documentary is directed by Amir Amirani.  The main producers are Wael Kabbani & Omid Djalili.

I still don't understand why the producers chose to screen their documentary at the Montreal Just for Laughs festival, because one of the producers, Omid Djalili, is a comedian? It hurts the documentary more than anything else.

I have to admit I was looking forward and waiting to see this movie and think it is a necessary movie.

The documentary lasts one hour and 50 minutes.  It starts with 911 and ends in 2013 with the vote in the UK not to authorize war on Syria. It is well documented and edited.  It describes well the run up to the Iraq war and the social forces that brought us the protests on this unique day of Februray, 15, 2003.

The director and producer had access to the main protagonists in the anti-war movement and to many prominent experts and politicians who voiced their opposition to the war, some before, others, after the war. It has footage of parliamentary sessions about the Iraq war in the UK.

For someone who went to the protests, recalling this moment through the doucmentary can be quite emotional as the documentary succeeds in recreating the context.


The documentary is flawless as long as it stays within the main subject, but it does not stay within the limits of its main subject, and this is an error in my opinion because it misses on some aspects of the Iraq war and the anti-war movement that were not adressed.

The documentary does not adress the failure of the anti-war movement to act on the Libya invasion in particular and the failure of their movement in general.  It does not even mention Libya.

The documentary does not address Israel’s and the Neocons’ role in the push for the war on Iraq.  It even manages to show an Israeli flag in an anti-war protest at the end when Israel’s anti Iraq war protests were marginal.  Israel and its role in this war are totally absent from the movie.

The documentary rightly attributes the vote in UK not to go to war on Syria in 2013 as being a consequence of the changing public mood after the Iraq war. Although this is partial since it is Libya and its Islamist winter that were on the minds during this vote.

The documentary branches to the Arab Spring and the protests in Egypt and tries to establish a link between the Iraq war protests and the 2011 protests in Egypt.  This attempt is unconvincing and part of many attempts to own the Arab Spring. 

Highlights:

Footage of the protests on February 15, 2003.  Although they were insufficient in my opinion.

The resignation of Robin Cook in the house of parliament before the Iraq war vote.

John Le Carre saying about the Iraq war : This is a crime of a century

Bush jocking about Iraq’s WMD at the 2004 Correspondants' dinner association with the press hilarious is a sordid reminder of the complicity of the press in the Iraq war crime.

I recommend this documentary and hope it will gain a larger audience. 


6.7.15

The Iran Talks: Waiting for Godot?


 Original Text in French at RT en Français.


The talks between Iran and P5 + 1, relaunched since president Obama's historic phone call to president Rouhani in September 27, 2013, stand today, a few hours from the self-imposed deadline of July 7, as a set of technical problems. However, behind this technical aspect hide fears and hopes resulting in regional and international reactions oscillating between classical Greek drama and the theater of the absurd. 

Indeed, the Iranian nuclear issue plays on an existential backdrop for some of the actors and their regional allies. The Islamic Republic of Iran wants, beyond the agreement and the lifting of sanctions it entails, some dignity and normality within the international community, through the recognition of its right to civilian nuclear power.  In contrast, the United States and Israel have always seen the Iranian civilian nuclear program as a preamble to the military nuclear program.  Israel's suspicions in particular  derive from the fact that this country has developed its own military nuclear program, to which it never admitted, without any control or verification. Israel continues to produce nuclear weapons, has never signed any international treaty on proliferation and is not subject to inspections by the United Nations Agency for Atomic Energy (IAEA). 

The climate of suspicion accompanies the Iranian nuclear program since the advent of the Islamic revolution, despite the fact that it began under the Shah's regime with the blessing of the West. But the absence of a permanent dialogue and diplomatic channels between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Western countries, and the presence of permanent tensions, as well as Iran's recent rise as a regional actor, have strengthened the climate of suspicion against Iran. On the other hand, Iran is afraid to open up to countries like the US, France or the UK, who do not hide their ambitions of making Middle Eastern governments docile, often by force. 

In 2003, France, the UK and Germany, then closely followed by the United Nations Security Council (UN) and the United States (US), put pressure on Iran to stop enriching Uranium, even for purposes of Research and Development. In conjunction with the UN, a system of unprecedented inspections is established, to which Iran submits as a signatory of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Thus, in 2003 and 2004, Iran voluntarily agrees to suspend its enrichment activities, although not in violation of the NPT, to calm suspicions and pressures. But in 2005, President Ahmadinejad announces the resumption of the nuclear program for civilian purposes. In fact, Iran has always insisted on the civilian dimension of the program and some commentators rightly point out that during the war with Iraq, Iran has never used weapons of mass destruction against Iraqis who have not hesitated to use their chemical weapons, developed with the help of the West, against Iranian soldiers. Iran has also repeatedly insisted on the existence of a fatwa issued by the father of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, against the development of nuclear weapons. But the announcement of the resumption of the civilian nuclear program is not well received in Western capitals and by the members of the Security Council. They gradually impose a regime of unilateral and multilateral sanctions, increasing in severity, peaking in 2010 and 2012 with draconian and punitive economic sanctions by the US, along with a secondary sanctions regime to tighten the noose on Iran 

The culmination of the sanctions, and the feeling in Western capitals of their inability to alter the position of Iran on its civilian nuclear program, as well as a political change in Iran in 2013, open the possibility for the resumption of talks. The US establishes diplomatic contacts with the Iranians secretly as soon as August 2013, few days after the election of Rouhani. These contacts lead to a meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in September 2013 in New York on the sidelines of the General Assembly of the UN, and a call from President Obama to President Rouhani. With the tacit approval of the Supreme Leader of the Revolution, Ali Khamenei, the conditions are ripe to resume negotiations between Iran and the P5 + 1. 

The premise of the Iranian side of the talks is simple: once the civil dimension of the nuclear program is accepted, Iran agrees to give guarantees to calm suspicions about a possible nuclear military program. Therefore, the task of the negotiators is to separate civilian and military dimensions through a process of reducing the Iranian nuclear issue to a series of technical problems; the amount and percentage of enriched uranium, the number of centrifuges, etc... The recognition of Iran's right to a civilian nuclear program is formalized at the beginning of the negotiations in Novembre 2013 in Geneva in what is called the preliminary agreement or the joint plan of action.  The joint plan of action results in a limitation of Iran's enrichment activities, a series of verification by the IAEA and partial lifting of sanctions unfreezing Iranian assets abroad. The subsequent goals of the talks, and not the lesser ones, were going to try to separate the civilian from the military dimensions of the program by implementing processes of verification and control. 

It is clear that reducing the Iranian nuclear issue, for long an  existential problem, to a series of technical problems, is done with the political will to reach an agreement and is made possible by a plethora of highly able scientists and engineers, as well as negotiators. But the existential aspect never left a negotiation arena that has become technical, bringing additional difficulties along the way, despite the fact that the main opponents to a deal with Iran, Israel and the Gulf monarchies, have raised their all-out barrage of objections from the start of the talks.  For it was not until a year and half and two missed self-imposed deadlines, that a framework for an agreement emerges in April 2015, but no final agreement. The framework agreement reduces the number of Iranian centrifuges, halts the construction of new enrichment facilities, poses constraints on the work in some reactors, provides for the monitoring of sites by the IAEA and the lifting of sanctions. Very quickly, the timing of the lifting of sanctions becomes problematic. The US wants to make it conditional on Iran's compliance while Iran expects nothing less than the simultaneous lifting of all sanctions, the timetable for the lifting of sanctions immediately becoming a thorny issue. 

Another thorny issue, which was added to the negotiations, and which was not present at the start, is that of a past and possible military dimension of the program (PMD).  According to investigative journalist Gareth Porter, this question was raised based on information provided by Israel to the US. Porter comes to the conclusion that the information about a possible past military dimension to Iran's nuclear program isn't confirmed by other intel agencies and goes against the religious beliefs of the Iranian leadership. Furthermore, assuming that a military nuclear program existed in the past, it is clear that it no longer exists because neither past IAEA inspections nor inspections requested during the negotiations have been able to demonstrate the existence of such a program. Then asking explanations about a past program is akin to asking Iran to prostrate itself accused and guilty, which goes against creating a productive climate for negotiations. 

But if excessive demands from the US and its ally Israel were to continue, or if these excessive demands were to prevent an agreement or prevent the US from being bound by a possible agreement via a political coup made against the agreement by a hostile and fiercely pro-Israel congress, it is not certain that other countries partaking in the negotiations will follow this path. Indeed, the unity of the P5 + 1 is admirable because their interests  vis-à-vis an agreement with Iran differ and diverge.  And the progress made until now is considerable to be squandered. 

Whatever the outcome of talks on July 7, or after July 7, which may emerge to be the case, there are already two major achievements. The first achievement is the indisputable right of Iran to civilian nuclear energy endorsed by all negotiators. The second achievement is rather psychological, it is the ability of the public, now that the negotiations have taken place, to separate reality from fears, therefore discrediting the propaganda against the Iranian nuclear program. As for the rest, and if we are to believe the latest statements made by John Kerry and Javad Zarif in Vienna on July 5th, it seems that we will have to wait again.
 
Since March 29th 2006