Tag: Syria

Millions of migrants are on the march

Tuesday, 1 September, 2015 0 Comments

“It is projected that sub-Saharan Africa will have 900 million more inhabitants in the next 20 years. Of these, at least 200 million will be young people looking for work. The chaos of their countries of origin will push them further north.” So wrote Massimo Nava in Corriere della Sera a week ago.

The European Union is deeply divided about how to deal with the massive migration crisis that’s unfolding on its shore, in its mountains and at its train stations. Border controls are being blatantly ignored and policy is being made up on the fly. The proverb becomes reality: “Every man for himself (and the devil take the hindmost).” Example: A law aimed at discouraging refugees from settling in Denmark comes into effect today.

The plight of millions of human beings, exploited by traffickers and terrorized by religious fanatics, is distressing and only a person with a heart of stone would deny refuge to the exhausted and the traumatized, but beyond the individual and group suffering there’s a bigger challenge that demands an urgent, global response. The mass migration we are currently witnessing is a consequence of the real-time disintegration of states in the Middle East and North Africa. If this is not addressed, these endless waves of the displaced will erode the stability of the host countries. Such instability would turn Europe into a very disagreeable place, for both natives and migrants.

Those who find this kind of scenario apocalyptic, should note that countries and federations that wish to protect their sovereignty and citizens (the real purpose of government, after all) must control their borders. This does not exclude sympathy for those fleeing failed states, but the solution is to stabilize and rebuild failed states, not accept massive, unplanned shifts in population.

If the citizens of Syria, Libya, Eritrea, Bangladesh and all the other places that people are fleeing from cannot have decent lives at home, they’ll try to find better ones abroad. Unless Brussels, Washington, the Arab League, the African Union and ASEAN co-operate on this emergency, the situation is going to get much more frightening and Raspail’s fiction will become fact.

Syria


Germany curbs some surveillance and intercept exports

Tuesday, 20 May, 2014 0 Comments

The Munich company Trovicor claims to be “a leader in communications and intelligence solutions that help law enforcement, national security, intelligence services, and other government agencies fight crime and terrorism.” Thing is, some of those intelligence services happen to be in Syria and Bahrain. The Syrian security services are also said to be customers of Aachen-based Utimaco, which supplies a range of software products, including a “solution to help telecommunications service providers respond to electronic surveillance orders as required by law.” Syborg from the Saarland and the Gamma Group are also in the surveillance and monitoring systems business.

The problem for these firms now is that Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, has decided to stop the export of surveillance and monitoring technologies to authoritarian regimes. Although Gabriel hasn’t presented a list of the black-listed end-users, targets are thought to include Middle East states as well as Russia and Turkey.

According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Gabriel intends to halt the cyber spying exports until the EU adopts more stringent regulations for surveillance technologies and intercept tools, which would then become law in Germany. Legislation is being discussed in Brussels but there’s no clear indication of when it might be enacted.

Eye spy


Shia and Sunni and the Thirty Years scenario

Monday, 27 January, 2014 0 Comments

“This is a conflict which is not only bigger than al-Qa’eda and similar groups, but far bigger than any of us. It is one which will re-align not only the Middle East, but the religion of Islam.” So writes Douglas Murray in the current issue of The Spectator in a piece titled “Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Middle East’s 30 year war.” Murray contends that the slaughter in Syria is, in reality, a proxy war between Saudi and Iran, between the Shia and Sunni factions of Islam. “There are those who think that the region as a whole may be starting to go through something similar to what Europe went through in the early 17th century during the Thirty Years’ War, when Protestant and Catholic states battled it out,” he says, warning that the current savagery will be exceeded in barbarity when the “gloves come off.”

The former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is sounding a similar alarm. “Religious difference, not ideology, will fuel this century’s epic battles” he claimed in yesterday’s Observer. Citing a “ghastly roll call of terror attacks” in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Russia, Burma, Thailand and the Philippines, he declares that these “are perpetrated by people motivated by an abuse of religion. It is a perversion of faith. But there is no doubt that those who commit the violence often do so by reference to their faith and the sectarian nature of the conflict is a sectarianism based on religion.”

If there is to be peace, we need to study faith and globalisation and agree on the place of religion in modern society. With this in mind, in collaboration with Harvard Divinity School, Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation, will launch a website later this year that will provide “up-to-date analysis of what is happening in the field of religion and conflict; in-depth analysis of religion and its impact on countries where this is a major challenge; and basic facts about the religious make-up and trends in every country worldwide.” It’s not a solution, but it is a sign and it’s a necessary sign because the latest Pew report on global religious Hostilities doesn’t make for pretty reading. “The sharpest increase was in the Middle East and North Africa, which still is feeling the effects of the 2010-11 political uprisings known as the Arab Spring.”

Meanwhile, a glance at the devastating history of the original Thirty Years’ War should encourage everyone to work to prevent a modern-day re-enactment.

War


Advent appeal for Syria’s refugees

Friday, 29 November, 2013 0 Comments

The numbers coming out of Syria are numbing. The latest UN report warns of “a generation of damaged children” because more than half of the 2.2 million Syrian war refugees are, in fact, children. Up to 300,000 Syrian children living in Lebanon and Jordan could be without schooling by the end of this year, and the suffering of Syrian refugee children in Turkey is appalling. “Under rain and without shoes, Syrian refugee kids fight for lives in Istanbul” reports Today’s Zaman. Snippet:

“The biggest ethnic group among those who leave for Turkey are Sunni Arabs, who cannot speak Turkish to find a job.On Tuesday, heavy rain hit Istanbul, making it impossible for Syrian refugees to remain in parks. In Istanbul’s Şirinevler neighborhood, for instance, an IHA correspondent photographed several Syrian children, some of whom even lacked shoes and were living under a small tent made of plastic bags.”

As we prepare to celebrate the onset of Advent on Sunday, our thoughts should turn to these most vulnerable victims of the Syrian conflict. Those doing incredible work for Syria’s war refugees include The International Rescue Committee, Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, The International Medical Corps and The International Orthodox Christian Charities. They deserve our support at the time of year when thoughts are meant to turn to “Peace on the earth, good will to men.”

Syrian refugees


Watching Assad, thinking of Auden

Thursday, 19 September, 2013 2 Comments

When asked whether he would be willing to hand over chemical weapons to the US, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, speaking to Fox News, said: “It needs about one billion. It is very detrimental to the environment. If the American administration is ready to pay this money and take the responsibility of bringing toxic materials to the United States, why don’t they do it?”

He murders thousands, he exiles millions and now he wants to make a killing on the deadly weapons he once denied possessing. It’s time to read some Auden. In Time of War was composed in 1937 against the backdrop of the Sino-Japanese war, the occasion of many atrocities, and it holds up a mirror to human nature, especially its tyrannical aspect. Auden characterized the 1930s as “the age of anxiety” and his work deserves re-reading, given the the anxieties of our age.

In Time of War

Songs came no more: he had to make them.
With what precision was each strophe planned.
He hugged his sorrow like a plot of land,
And walked like an assassin through the town,
And looked at men and did not like them,
But trembled if one passed him with a frown.

W.H Auden (1907 — 1973)


That Syrian, er, surrender. Whose idea was it?

Monday, 16 September, 2013 0 Comments

“This is a victory for Syria won thanks to our Russian friends.” Who speaks there? None other than Ali Haidar, leader of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, whose business card is embossed with the surreal title of “Minister of State for National Reconciliation Affairs”.

Speaking about the Kerry-Obama diplomatic triumph in Geneva, Haidar told the Russian state news agency Ria Novosti that it was “the achievement of the Russian diplomacy and the Russian leadership.” Given that Syria is now a Russian protectorate, he would say that, wouldn’t he? But a less partisan observer might be disinclined to agree. Rainy Day has identified three non-Russian contenders for the “Syrian surrender” prize. Let’s start with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Last Monday in London, Kerry was asked by a reporter whether there was anything the Assad regime could do to avoid a US military strike. “Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting [of it], but he isn’t about to do it and it can’t be done,” said Kerry.

“If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in that country would allow avoiding strikes, we will immediately start working with Damascus,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, gleefully running with the Kerry remark, and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem toadfully piped up that his government “agreed to the Russian initiative,” adding that Syria did so to “uproot US aggression.”

Clearly, the Russians were playing opportunist here and Kerry was speaking off-the-cuff so the prize goes to neither. Step up, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and cue Twitter:

Sikorski told reporters that he had “proposed the ultimatum” to John Kerry after getting the support of the European People’s Party during a meeting in Vilnius, and he had also tweeted at the end of August that “Russia can possibly prevent war be declaring that she will secure Syria’s chemical arsenal, which the USSR created.”

Our final contender for the Syrian-surrender prize is The Economist. In its leader of 31 August, Hit him hard, it concluded: “Mr Obama must give Mr Assad one last chance: a clear ultimatum to hand over his chemical weapons entirely within a very short period. The time for inspections is over.” This was read, no doubt, by Kerry, Lavrov, Sikorski, Mr al-Moallem and Mrs al-Assad. The result was a carefully planted “gaffe” in London, an instant follow-up in Moscow, pre-programmed agreement in Damascus and a “breakthrough” in Geneva. Coincidence? Unlikely.

Finally, let’s return to Ali Haidar, the Syrian “Minister of State for National Reconciliation Affairs”. How’s that working out? In today’s Washington Post, Liz Sly writes, “At close of a week hailed as diplomatic triumph, more than 1,000 die in Syria.”


Romney got it right on Putin and Obama

Friday, 13 September, 2013 0 Comments

Mr Putin on the smile “Two decades after the end of the cold war, Mitt Romney still considers Russia to be America’s ‘No. 1 geopolitical foe.’ His comments display either a shocking lack of knowledge about international affairs or just craven politics. Either way, they are reckless and unworthy of a major presidential contender.” So thundered the New York Times on 28 March last year. The cause of its outrage was a piece that the Republican presidential candidate had written for Foreign Policy magazine titled Bowing to the Kremlin. Romney’s summation of Obama’s Russia strategy was devastating:

“Unfortunately, what they are getting is a sad replay of Jimmy Carter’s bungling at a moment when the United States needs the backbone and courage of a Ronald Reagan. In his dealings with the Kremlin, as in his dealings with the rest of the world, President Obama has demonstrated breathtaking weakness — and given the word ‘flexibility’ a new and ominous meaning.”

And so it has come to pass. “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” says Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. President Obama now finds himself in a position where he must depend on the kindness of strangers, like Vladimir Putin. But that strategy didn’t work out very well for Blanche DuBois.


Obama and that Chamberlain feeling

Thursday, 12 September, 2013 1 Comment

Sir Henry “Chips” Channon was an American-born British Conservative politician, author and chronicler. Here’s his diary entry from 12 September 1938:

Chamberlain “Towards the end of the Banquet came the news, the great world-stirring news, that Neville [Chamberlain], on his own initiative, seeing war coming closer and closer, had telegrapher to Hitler that he wanted to see him, and asked him to name an immediate rendezvous. The German Government, surprised and flattered, had instantly accepted and so Neville, at the age of 69, for the first time in his life, gets into an aeroplane tomorrow morning and flies to Berchtesgaden! It is one of the finest, most inspiring acts of all history. The company rose to their feet electrified, as all the world must be, and drank his health. History must be ransacked to find a parallel.

Of course a way out will now be found. Neville by his imagination and practical good sense, has saved the world. I am staggered.”

A year later, the situation was very different. No way out had been found, the world had not been saved and the name of Neville Chamberlain became eternally synonymous with that dreadful term, appeasement.

“I believe it is peace for our time,” said the hapless Chamberlain upon his return from the despot’s Alpine eyrie, and one could not but feel a shiver of déjà vu while listening to the awful speech delivered by President Obama on Tuesday night. Here was a leader who casually drew a red line in the sand, and then found he had to do something about it. Faced with a humiliating defeat in Congress, he has now decided to let the Russians, steadfast allies of Assad, set the agenda on the international stage. And he admitted all this with an air of boredom. “It is hard to believe such a chill man has such warm feelings about the sad end of strangers far away,” wrote Peggy Noonan. “I think this has been one of his big unspoken problems in the selling of his Syria policy.” With her “sad end of strangers far away,” Noonan was deliberately echoing Chamberlain, who said: “How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.”

Knowing that the US president will grasp at any straw to avoid taking military action against Damascus, Vladimir Putin, now writing op-eds for the New York Times, is thrashing Obama in this global PR game. Having presented Obama with the meaningless option of weapons inspection, Russia has saved Syria from immediate attack and ensured that Assad can continue merrily upon his murderous way. It’s all very Chamberlain like.


Obama must strike now

Friday, 30 August, 2013 6 Comments

The spineless stance of the 285 British MPs who hid behind the tainted skirts of the UN last night does not change reality. To let the Syrian tyrant go unpunished now would assure him, and like-minded barbarians, that the proliferation and use of chemical weapons will be tolerated. And that cannot be. If the UK is unwilling to uphold this prohibition, it is even more important that the US does. In the words of The Economist:

The Economist “Because doing nothing carries risks that are even bigger. If the West tolerates such a blatant war crime, Mr Assad will feel even freer to use chemical weapons. He had after all stepped across Mr Obama’s ‘red line’ several times by using these weapons on a smaller scale — and found that Mr Obama and his allies blinked. An American threat, especially over WMD, must count for something: it is hard to see how Mr Obama can eat his words without the superpower losing credibility with the likes of Iran and North Korea.”

Obama must now proceed with a “punishment of such severity that Mr Assad is deterred from ever using WMD again. Hitting the chemical stockpiles themselves runs the risk both of poisoning more civilians and of the chemicals falling into the wrong hands. Far better for a week of missiles to rain down on the dictator’s ‘command-and-control’ centres, including his palaces. By doing this, Mr Obama would certainly help the rebels, though probably not enough to overturn the regime. With luck, well-calibrated strikes might scare Mr Assad towards the negotiating table.”

It’s time to hit Assad. Hard. Otherwise we can abandon civilization to the wolves. In his third year of wavering, two years after stating Assad had to go, one year after drawing — then redrawing — that red line, Barack Obama must act. Alone, if necessary.


Understanding Syria’s first family: like father, like son

Wednesday, 28 August, 2013 0 Comments

“To many people Syria is an object not just of suspicion but of mystery, and Asad’s moves are often seen as both malevolent and impenetrable. In the United States in particular, there is a certain incredulity that a small country with a population of under twelve million should have the effrontery to stand up for itself. Certainly, in defending Arab interests as he sees them, Asad has used skill, stealth and brute force to challenge the interests of others — Israel, its Western backers, and even those Arabs who do not endorse his strategy. Yet there is a poignancy about his story in that the task he assumed twenty years ago was larger than the means at his disposal. As the head of a relatively poor and underdeveloped country, he has had a basically weak hand, forcing him to play his cards close to his chest, a style which does not make comprehending Syria any simpler.”

Asad That’s an excerpt from Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East by Patrick Seale. Since it was first published in 1988, the population of Syria has grown to 21 million but the country is still ruled by the same family, although the favoured spelling is now “Assad”. It’s worth noting, incidentally, that a lot of what Patrick Seale wrote about Hafiz al-Asad a quarter of a century ago applies to his son, Bashar al-Assad. Consider this:

“Asad’s sense of limited resources and permanent siege have undoubtedly had an impact on the way he runs his country and conducts his diplomacy. His regime is a very personal one. He insists on controlling everything and in particular foreign affairs and information because, unlike more powerful leaders who walk away from their blunders, he can ill afford to make a mistake. At every stage he risks being knocked out of the game altogether, and that remains the main hope of his enemies.”

When the old butcher died in June 2000, control of Syria passed to his son, who has made some major mistakes of late and now risks being knocked out of the game altogether.

By the way, does anyone know what Patrick Seale is up to these days? His last column syndicated by Agence Global is dated 30 April. Since then, nothing. That April column is titled, typically, “How Israel Manipulates US Policy in the Middle East.” Like the elder Asad, Seale is obsessed by Israel and this fixation has deformed his writing on the Middle East. Still, he’s an expert on the region and, despite our differences, Rainy Day wishes him well and we hope that he’ll soon be adding his experienced voice to the Syria debate.


It’s time to take sides says Tony Blair

Tuesday, 27 August, 2013 3 Comments

Writing in the Times today, the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says that we have reached a crossroads and he wants to know which direction the West will take. Is it going to be talk or action? Blair demands action. Snippet:

Tony Blair In Syria, we know what is happening. We know it is wrong to let it happen. But leave aside any moral argument and just think of our interests for a moment. Syria, disintegrated, divided in blood, the nations around it destabilised, waves of terrorism rolling over the population of the region; Assad in power in the richest part of the country; Iran, with Russia’s support, ascendant; a bitter sectarian fury running the Syrian eastern hinterland — and us, apparently impotent. I hear people talking as if there was nothing we could do: the Syrian defence systems are too powerful, the issues too complex, and in any event, why take sides since they’re all as bad as each other?

But others are taking sides. They’re not terrified of the prospect of intervention. They’re intervening. To support an assault on civilians not seen since the dark days of Saddam.

It is time we took a side: the side of the people who want what we want; who see our societies for all their faults as something to admire; who know that they should not be faced with a choice between tyranny and theocracy. I detest the implicit notion behind so much of our commentary — that the Arabs or even worse, the people of Islam are unable to understand what a free society looks like, that they can’t be trusted with something so modern as a polity where religion is in its proper place. It isn’t true. What is true is that there is a life-and-death struggle going on about the future of Islam and the attempt by extreme ideologues to create a political Islam at odds both with the open-minded tradition of Islam and the modern world.

Blair is right. We cannot be neutral in this clash of civilizations. Which side are you on?