In his visit to India, Barack Obama pressed unsuccessfully for India to set specific carbon limits. Nevertheless, he did get agreement from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the USA and India would pursue vigorously non-carbon energy sources, including nuclear and renewables such as solar.
That was a better outcome than
href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/25/world/asia/25climate.html"> would have been anticipated based on Indian cabinet members’ statements just last spring. They blamed most of the increased CO2 in the atmosphere on the wealthy countries and hinted that it would be unfair to impede Indian economic growth now, given that India had put relatively little of the extra carbon into the atmosphere.
This situation is sort of like if a bunch of people with water hoses were filling an inflatable swimming pool but were tied up so that if the water got too high they would drown. Saying that you didn’t help fill it at the beginning and so should be allowed to put extra water in makes no sense if that policy would drown you.
Modi is known as a proponent of solar energy, though like Obama he has an “all of the above” approach to energy, including an insouciant attitude toward deadly coal.
href="http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/01/26/us-india-breakthrough-on-climate-change-nuclear-power-pave-way-for-paris"> Alan Neuhauser writes: “Obama agreed to help finance Modi’s planned $100 billion expansion of solar power in the next seven years, from 20,000 to 100,000 megawatts.”
Just for comparison, note that the total US solar installed capacity today is also only 20,000 megawatts.
India was originally planning to double its solar energy by 2020, to 40,000 megawatts. But even before the meeting with Obama,
href="http://cleantechnica.com/2015/01/25/india-plans-100-gw-wind-energy-capacity-2022/"> India had decided to go for 100,000 megawatts by 2020.
Obama has pledged help in funding this five-fold increase.
One Indian government project backed by the World Bank will
href="http://cleantechnica.com/2014/12/20/largest-solar-power-plant-world-750-mw-solar-power-plant-india-gets-world-bank-financing-commitment/"> create a 750 megawatt solar facility in Madhya Pradesh, which, when finished, will be the largest such solar plant in the world.
But the fact is that government policy and foreign aid will help along a process that will also grow because of market forces.
By the end of this year, 2015,
href-"http://www.pv-tech.org/news/india_commercial_rooftops_to_reach_grid_parity_next_year"> commercial rooftop solar panels in India will be grid parity or less. That is, it will be cheaper to have solar panels on the roof of a business than to use coal or natural gas. Moreover, you don’t know how much natural gas will cost 20 years from now (especially if India starts using a lot of it), but you can lock in cheap solar rates for 25 years.
Since 2010, the cost of solar panels has declined 62 percent, and similar price falls are likely in the next few years. In sunny India, within five years it will be crazy for people not to put up solar panels.
25% of India still lacks electricity (i.e. some 300 mn. people), and if they electrify with coal that will be disastrous for climate change and human welfare. But if they get it from solar and wind, they will save money and the earth all at once.
The world carbon dioxide output
href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2764323/China-US-India-push-world-carbon-emissions-up.html"> rose to 40 billion metric tons last year. India’s output was up 5%.
But the increasingly cheap solar panels will attract Indian businesses and building owners. Things will change quickly once they begin changing.
href="http://youtu.be/8UOBlCF5DvE"> CNN: “Obama Guest of Honor at India’s Republic Day Festivities”
The hall at the International Criminal Court in the Hague was packed today as the trial began of former US Vice President Richard Bruce Cheney [they always give all three names of suspected felons in the newspaper.]
The ICC justices begin with the first charge, that Mr. Cheney ordered the torture practiced by the Central Intelligence Agency on over 100 prisoners, 21% of them later recognized to have been falsely accused. Prisoners were abused anally, waterboarded, slammed against walls, threatened, an arm was broken, one died from exposure. Mr. Cheney denied that these techniques were torture, to the astonishment of sitting senators. And he continues to advocate the continuation of these methods.
Cheney’s attorneys object. “Your honors, there is no evidence that Cheney ordered torture.”
One of the judges leans over the bench. “Is it not true that Mr. Cheney told NBC News on September 16, 2001, “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will.”?
Attorney: “That is not proof that he ordered torture.”
Judge: “He used the first person plural, “we,” and he used the imperative, “have to.” The very grammar indicts him. Moreover, he said in 2011 that he continued strongly to urge the use of waterboarding on prisoners. He is committed to the dark side.”
Attorney: “Those individuals actually carried out waterboarding. They did not simply advocate their use.”
Judge: “Julius Streicher was quite rightly hanged after the Nuremberg Trials for having done no more than write newspaper articles urging crimes against humanity.”
Attorney: “Surely you are not calling Dick Cheney a fascist and war criminal?”
Judge: “Let us move on to the next charge. Mr. Cheney launched a war of aggression on Iraq, under false pretenses, that was illegal in international law and has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths.”
Attorney: “The vice president feared Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.”
Judge: “Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, and UN inspectors continually said so. In any case, there are only two grounds for war in the United Nations charter: 1) self-defense and 2) UN Security Council authorization of the use of force against a danger to world order. Iraq did not attack Mr. Cheney’s country, and the UNSC did not authorize the use of force.”
Attorney: “The US Congress authorized the war.”
Judge: “Unfortunately for your client, we consider that to be just another war crime by a different branch of government, not exculpatory.”
Attorney: “Mr. Cheney was not the commander in chief and could not order that war. George W. Bush was on top of the issues and in complete control.”
Judge: “Now you are just saying silly things.”
Attorney: “It was worth a try.”
Judge: “They kept Cheney informed of the torture program but not George W. Bush or Colin Powell. This was Cheney’s baby. Not only did Mr. Cheney launch an illegal war of aggression, he set off a chain of further crimes. The Nuremberg judgement observed, “To initiate a war of aggression . . . is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” Mr. Cheney is also responsible for the torture at Abu Ghraib, for massacres of non-combatant populations, and for the displacement of 4 million Iraqis. He made a fifth of the country homeless and created millions of orphans and widows.
Attorney: “There is no evidence that Cheney ordered any of those things.”
Judge: “Did he advocate them?”
Attorney: “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.”
Judge: “You are stalling. What about the outing of Valerie Plame, the CIA undercover field officer whose cover Mr. Cheney blew? Did not President George H. W. Bush say, “Even though I am a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are in my view the most insidious of traitors.”? ”
Attorney: “That was Richard Armitage and Bob Novak.”
(Beirut) – Egyptian authorities need to take clear action to end the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) following the country’s first trial on the crime ending in acquittals, Human Rights Watch said today.
A trial this month in Egypt centered on the death of a 13-year-old girl in 2013. The doctor who cut the girl and the girl’s father who took her to the doctor were acquitted on November 20. The case highlights the need for serious steps by authorities to end FGM including implementation of the law and a national strategy to raise awareness of the harms of FGM. The public prosecution recently filed an appeal against the acquittal.
“Female genital mutilation is banned in Egypt but the practice continues possibly because there is a lack of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions,” said Rothna Begum, researcher on women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa for Human Rights Watch.
FGM involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical purposes. It interferes with the natural functioning of the body and has no known health benefits. The practice may lead to a variety of immediate and long-term health consequences, including severe pain, shock, infection, complications during childbirth affecting both the mother and the child being born, as well as long-term gynecological problems.
On June 6, 2013, 13-year-old Sohair al-Batea died following an FGM procedure after she had an allergic reaction to penicillin. Dr. Raslan Fadl Hallawa acknowledged performing the procedure, but claimed it was for medical purposes and not FGM. He and Sohair al-Batea’s father came under investigation. The public prosecutor initiated criminal proceedings in March 2014 charging the doctor with manslaughter for causing the girl’s death by negligence, running a medical facility that does not meet medical requirements to treat patients, endangering the girl’s life, and committing the practice of female genital mutilation. The prosecutor charged her father with endangering her life and forcing her to undergo FGM.
Since the law banning FGM was amended in 2008, this single case of prosecution has resulted in a trial. Activists have reported that lack of prosecutions are due to local officials considering FGM to be a private family issue rather than dealing with the crime of FGM itself.
Egyptian authorities need to take steps to ensure effective implementation of the law criminalizing the harmful procedure by ensuring that there is adequate investigation and prosecution of those who carry out the FGM procedure, Human Rights Watch said. The government needs to initiate a national strategy to end FGM by raising awareness of the mental and physical harm it does, and of the law banning it.
“This case was an important test of Egypt’s legislation criminalizing female genital mutilation,” Begum said. “It is clearly not enough to just put a law on the statute books; it must be enforced.”
According to the memorandum of the public prosecutor on the case dated March 10, 2014, as available on Shorouk news website, the evidence included a testimony from health inspector Ahmed Mosa, which described that the girl’s genitalia was cut and that she died from shock or circulatory failure. An initial post-mortem forensic report found that the doctor had not tested her for hypersensitivity to the penicillin that was used in the procedure which led to her death. An additional report from an expert committee headed by a senior forensic doctor stated that they could not confirm whether this was a FGM procedure or another medical procedure, as the doctor has claimed. The memorandum also includes investigation notes such as the father’s testimony. He initially said he took his daughter for the FGM procedure, but then changed his testimony to claim she was experiencing abdominal pain. The public prosecutor concluded from the reports and its investigation that the procedure carried out was female genital mutilation.
The initial charge of manslaughter by negligence was settled out of court, with the doctor paying the family 5,001 Egyptian pounds (around US$700). On November 20, 2014, the minor offenses court in Agga, in Dakahlia governorate north east of Cairo, found the two men not guilty on the remaining charges. Human Rights Watch was not able to obtain the full verdict including the reasoning behind the acquittal.
According to a lawyer from the Women’s Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness, the public prosecutor filed an appeal with the minor offenses appeal court in Mansoura, capital of the Dakahlia governorate.
In 2008, after the death of an 11-year-old girl following a FGM procedure, the Child Rights Law No. 126 amended the Penal Code to provide that anyone who causes injury through performing female genital mutilation can be sentenced to imprisonment for three months to two years, or fined between 1000-5000 Egyptian pounds (approximately US$700). The Sohair al-Batea case was the first case to go to trial on charges relating to female genital mutilation.
“Egypt may have a law on the books, but the lack of meaningful prosecutions or any convictions for such a widespread problem sends a message that it is okay to carry out FGM,” said Rothna Begum. “The authorities must send a clear message to the police, prosecution and the courts on investigating and prosecuting those who perform FGM.”
Female genital mutilation is a widespread practice in Egypt. A 2008 demographic and health survey found that 91 percent of girls and women aged 15-49 years had undergone FGM. The study also suggested that the practice may be on the decline, with rates among women under age 25 at around 80 percent, compared with women aged 25-49, among whom between 94 and 96 percent were subject to female genital mutilation.
In 2007, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, who is the highest Islamic authority, issued a fatwa (religious edict) that FGM was forbidden in Islam. However, some clerics continue to openly advocate the practice. The 2008 survey found that just under half of all women aged 15-49 believed that FGM was a religious requirement and just over half felt that the practice should continue. Whatever the reasons cited, FGM is an act of violence that is irreversible and without medical justification, and which has a lasting negative impact on girls’ and women’s physical, mental, and sexual health.
“Despite some signs that FGM might be decreasing, it still remains a widespread problem,” Begum said. “If Egypt wants to show it is serious about ending FGM, it must put in place a national strategy in addition to its law, with the inclusion of religious and community leaders, healthcare professionals, teachers, and civil society to raise awareness on the harms of FGM.”
The national strategy should include support for victims of FGM including medical and psychosocial assistance and it should establish official mechanisms to monitor the progress of eradication efforts.
Egypt is required under international human rights treaties to hold private actors accountable for violence against women, including FGM. As recently as November 4, 2014, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which monitor implementation of children’s rights and women’s rights treaties that Egypt has ratified, issued a joint recommendation calling on states to eliminate harmful practices and formulate holistic strategies to end FGM.
“Iraq no longer exists.” My young friend M, sipping a cappuccino, is deadly serious. We are sitting in a scruffy restaurant across the street from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It’s been years since we’ve last seen each another. It may be years before our paths cross again. As if to drive his point home, M repeats himself: “Iraq just doesn’t exist.”
His is an opinion grounded in experience. As an enlisted soldier, he completed two Iraq tours, serving as a member of a rifle company, before and during the famous Petraeus “surge.” After separating from the Army, he went on to graduate school where he is now writing a dissertation on insurgencies. Choosing the American war in Iraq as one of his cases, M has returned there to continue his research. Indeed, he was heading back again that very evening. As a researcher, his perch provides him with an excellent vantage point for taking stock of the ongoing crisis, now that the Islamic State, or IS, has made it impossible for Americans to sustain the pretense that the Iraq War ever ended.
Few in Washington would endorse M’s assertion, of course. Inside the Beltway, policymakers, politicians, and pundits take Iraq’s existence for granted. Many can even locate it on a map. They also take for granted the proposition that it is incumbent upon the United States to preserve that existence. To paraphrase Chris Hedges, for a certain group of Americans, Iraq is the cause that gives life meaning. For the military-industrial complex, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Considered from this perspective, the “Iraqi government” actually governs, the “Iraqi army” is a nationally representative fighting force, and the “Iraqi people” genuinely see themselves as constituting a community with a shared past and an imaginable future.
Arguably, each of these propositions once contained a modicum of truth. But when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 and, as then-Secretary of State Colin Powell predicted, broke the place, any merit they previously possessed quickly dissipated. Years of effort by American occupiers intent on creating a new Iraq out of the ruins of the old produced little of value and next to nothing that has lasted. Yet even today, in Washington the conviction persists that trying harder might somehow turn things around. Certainly, that conviction informs the renewed U.S. military intervention prompted by the rise of IS.
So when David Ignatius, a well-informed and normally sober columnist for the Washington Post, reflects on what the United States must do to get Iraq War 3.0 right, he offers this “mental checklist”: in Baghdad, the U.S. should foster a “cleaner, less sectarian government”; to ensure security, we will have to “rebuild the military”; and to end internal factionalism, we’re going to have to find ways to “win Kurdish support” and “rebuild trust with Sunnis.” Ignatius does not pretend that any of this will be easy. He merely argues that it must be — and by implication can be — done. Unlike my friend M, Ignatius clings to the fantasy that “Iraq” is or ought to be politically viable, militarily capable, and socially cohesive. But surely this qualifies as wishful thinking.
The value of M’s insight — of, that is, otherwise intelligent people purporting to believe in things that don’t exist — can be applied well beyond American assumptions about Iraq. A similar inclination to fanaticize permeates, and thereby warps, U.S. policies throughout much of the Greater Middle East. Consider the following claims, each of which in Washington circles has attained quasi-canonical status.
* The presence of U.S. forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances American influence.
* The Persian Gulf constitutes a vital U.S. national security interest.
* Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies.
* The interests of the United States and Israel align.
* Terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat.
For decades now, the first four of these assertions have formed the foundation of U.S. policy in the Middle East. The events of 9/11 added the fifth, without in any way prompting a reconsideration of the first four. On each of these matters, no senior U.S. official (or anyone aspiring to a position of influence) will dare say otherwise, at least not on the record.
Yet subjected to even casual scrutiny, none of the five will stand up. To take them at face value is the equivalent of believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy — or that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell really, really hope that the Obama administration and the upcoming Republican-controlled Congress can find grounds to cooperate.
Let’s examine all five, one at a time.
The Presence of U.S. Forces: Ever since the U.S. intervention in Lebanon that culminated in the Beirut bombing of October 1983, introducing American troops into predominantly Muslim countries has seldom contributed to stability. On more than a few occasions, doing so has produced just the opposite effect.
Iraq and Afghanistan provide mournful examples. The new book “Why We Lost” by retired Lieutenant General Daniel Bolger finally makes it permissible in official circles to declare those wars the failures that they have been. Even granting, for the sake of argument, that U.S. nation-building efforts were as pure and honorable as successive presidents portrayed them, the results have been more corrosive than constructive. The IS militants plaguing Iraq find their counterpart in the soaring production of opium that plagues Afghanistan. This qualifies as stability?
And these are hardly the only examples. Stationing U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia after Operation Desert Storm was supposed to have a reassuring effect. Instead, it produced the debacle of the devastating Khobar Towers bombing. Sending G.I.’s into Somalia back in 1992 was supposed to demonstrate American humanitarian concern for poor, starving Muslims. Instead, it culminated in the embarrassing Mogadishu firefight, which gained the sobriquet Black Hawk Down, and doomed that mission.
Even so, the pretense that positioning American soldiers in some Middle East hotspot will bring calm to troubled waters survives. It’s far more accurate to say that doing so provides our adversaries with what soldiers call a target-rich environment — with Americans as the targets.
The Importance of the Persian Gulf: Although U.S. interests in the Gulf may once have qualified as vital, the changing global energy picture has rendered that view obsolete. What’s probably bad news for the environment is good news in terms of creating strategic options for the United States. New technologies have once again made the United States the world’s largest producer of oil. The U.S. is also the world’s largest producer of natural gas. It turns out that the lunatics chanting “drill, baby, drill” were right after all. Or perhaps it’s “frack, baby, frack.” Regardless, the assumed energy dependence and “vital interests” that inspired Jimmy Carter to declare back in 1980 that the Gulf is worth fighting for no longer pertain.
Access to Gulf oil remains critically important to some countries, but surely not to the United States. When it comes to propping up the wasteful and profligate American way of life, Texas and North Dakota outrank Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in terms of importance. Rather than worrying about Iraqi oil production, Washington would be better served ensuring the safety and well-being of Canada, with its bountiful supplies of shale oil. And if militarists ever find the itch to increase U.S. oil reserves becoming irresistible, they would be better advised to invade Venezuela than to pick a fight with Iran.
Does the Persian Gulf require policing from the outside? Maybe. But if so, let’s volunteer China for the job. It will keep them out of mischief.
Arab Allies: It’s time to reclassify the U.S. relationship with both Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Categorizing these two important Arab states as “allies” is surely misleading. Neither one shares the values to which Washington professes to attach such great importance.
For decades, Saudi Arabia, Planet Earth’s closest equivalent to an absolute monarchy, has promoted anti-Western radical jihadism — and not without effect. The relevant numbers here are two that most New Yorkers will remember: 15 out of 19. If a conspiracy consisting almost entirely of Russians had succeeded in killing several thousand Americans, would U.S. authorities give the Kremlin a pass? Would U.S.-Russian relations remain unaffected? The questions answer themselves.
Meanwhile, after a brief dalliance with democracy, Egypt has once again become what it was before: a corrupt, oppressive military dictatorship unworthy of the billions of dollars of military assistance that Washington provides from one year to the next.
Israel: The United States and Israel share more than a few interests in common. A commitment to a “two-state solution” to the Palestinian problem does not number among them. On that issue, Washington’s and Tel Aviv’s purposes diverge widely. In all likelihood, they are irreconcilable.
For the government of Israel, viewing security concerns as paramount, an acceptable Palestinian state will be the equivalent of an Arab Bantustan, basically defenseless, enjoying limited sovereignty, and possessing limited minimum economical potential. Continuing Israeli encroachments on the occupied territories, undertaken in the teeth of American objections, make this self-evident.
It is, of course, entirely the prerogative — and indeed the obligation — of the Israeli government to advance the well being of its citizens. U.S. officials have a similar obligation: they are called upon to act on behalf of Americans. And that means refusing to serve as Israel’s enablers when that country takes actions that are contrary to U.S. interests.
The “peace process” is a fiction. Why should the United States persist in pretending otherwise? It’s demeaning.
Terrorism: Like crime and communicable diseases, terrorism will always be with us. In the face of an outbreak of it, prompt, effective action to reduce the danger permits normal life to continue. Wisdom lies in striking a balance between the actually existing threat and exertions undertaken to deal with that threat. Grown-ups understand this. They don’t expect a crime rate of zero in American cities. They don’t expect all people to enjoy perfect health all of the time. The standard they seek is “tolerable.”
That terrorism threatens Americans is no doubt the case, especially when they venture into the Greater Middle East. But aspirations to eliminate terrorism belong in the same category as campaigns to end illiteracy or homelessness: it’s okay to aim high, but don’t be surprised when the results achieved fall short.
Eliminating terrorism is a chimera. It’s not going to happen. U.S. civilian and military leaders should summon the honesty to acknowledge this.
My friend M has put his finger on a problem that is much larger than he grasps. Here’s hoping that when he gets his degree he lands an academic job. It’s certain he’ll never find employment in our nation’s capital. As a soldier-turned-scholar, M inhabits what one of George W. Bush’s closest associates (believed to be Karl Rove) once derisively referred to as the “reality-based community.” People in Washington don’t have time for reality. They’re lost in a world of their own.
WASHINGTON, Nov 20 2014 (IPS) – The recent killing of an Arab youth by the police in the Israeli Arab village of Kafr Kanna, outside Nazareth, the ongoing bloody violence in Jerusalem, and the growing tensions between the Israeli security services and the Arab community in Israel could be a dangerous omen for Israeli domestic stability and for the region.
Should a third intifada or uprising erupt, it could easily spread to Arab towns and cities inside Israel.
Recent events clearly demonstrate that the Arabs in Israel are no longer a quiescent, cultural minority but an “indigenous national” minority deserving full citizenship rights regarding resources, collective rights, and representation on formal state bodies.
Foreign media is asking whether Palestinians are on the verge of starting a new intifada in Jerusalem, the Occupied Territories, and perhaps in Israel. Ensuing instability would rattle the Israeli body politic, creating new calls from the right for the transfer of the Arab community from Israel.
As Israeli politics moves to the right and the state becomes more Jewish and less pluralistic and inclusive, the Palestinian community, which constitutes over one-fifth of the population, feels more marginalised and alienated.
In response to endemic budgetary, economic, political, and social discrimination, the Arab community is becoming assertive, more Palestinian, and more confrontational. Calls for equality, justice, and an end to systemic discrimination by “Israeli Arab” civil society activists are now more vocal and confrontational.
The Israeli military, police, and security services would find it difficult to contain a civil rights intifada across Israel because Arabs live all over the state, from Galilee in the north to the Negev in the south.
The majority of Arabs in Israel are Sunni Muslims, with a small Druze minority whose youth are conscripted into the Israeli army. The even smaller Christian minority is rapidly dwindling because of emigration.
The vast Muslim majority identifies closely with what is happening at the important religious site of al-Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Islamic State’s territorial expansion in Iraq and Syria and the rise of Salafi groups in Sinai and Gaza will surely impact the Arabs in Israel.
In addition to Arabic, Palestinians in Israel speak Hebrew, travel throughout the country, and know Israel intimately. A potential bloody confrontation with Israeli security forces could wreak havoc on the country.
Israeli Arab Spring?
Based on conversations with “Israeli Arab” activists over the years, a possible “intifada” would be grounded in peaceful protests and non-violent civil rights struggle. The Israeli government, like Arab regimes during the Arab Spring, would attempt to delegitimise an “Israeli Arab Spring” by accusing the organisers of supporting terrorism and Islamic radicalism.
One Palestinian activist told me, however, “The protests are not about religion or radicalism; they are about equality, justice, dignity, and civil rights.”
Analysis of the economic, educational, political, and social status of the 1.6 million Arabs in Israel shows not much improvement has occurred since the bloody events of October 2000 in which 13 Arabs were killed during demonstrations in support of the al-Aqsa intifada. In fact, in welfare, health, employment, infrastructure, public services, and housing the situation of Israeli Arabs has retarded in the past decade.
For years, the Arab minority has been called “Israeli Arabs” because they carry the Israeli citizenship or the “’48 Arabs,” which refers to those who stayed in Israel after it came into being in 1948.
Although they have lived with multiple identities—Palestinian, Arab, Islamic, and Israeli—in the past half dozen years, they now reject the “Israeli Arab” moniker and have begun to identify themselves as an indigenous Palestinian community living in Israel.
Arab lawyers have gone to Israeli courts to challenge land confiscation, denial of building permits, refusal to expand the corporate limits of Arab towns and villages, meager budgets given to city and village councils, and limited employment opportunities, especially in state institutions.
In the Negev, or the southern part of Israel, thousands of Arabs live in “unrecognized” towns and villages. These towns often do not appear on Israeli maps! Growing calls by right-wing Zionist and settler politicians and their increasingly virulent “Death to Arabs” messages against the Arab minority have become more shrill and threaten to spark more communal violence between Jews and Arabs across Israel.
Deepening fissures in Israeli society between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority will have long-term implications for a viable future for Arabs and Jews in Palestine.
The Arab community expects tangible engagement initiatives from the government to include allowing Arab towns and villages to expand their corporate limits in order to ease crowding; grant the community more building permits for new houses; let Arabs buy and rent homes in Jewish towns and ethnically mixed cities, especially in Galilee; increase per capita student budgetary allocations to improve services and educational programmes in Arab schools; improve the physical infrastructure of Arab towns and villages; and recognise the “unrecognised” Arab towns in the Negev.
Depending on government policy and regional developments, Israeli Arabs could be either a bridge between Israel and its Arab neighbours or a potential domestic threat to Israel as a Jewish, democratic, or multicultural state. So far, the signs are not encouraging.
The Islamic Movement, which constitutes the vast majority of the Arab community, is also becoming more cognizant of its identity and more active in forging links with other Islamic groups in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem.
The growing sense of nationalism and Islamisation of the Arab community is directly related to Israel’s occupation policies in the West Bank, continued blockade of the Gaza Strip, and refusal to recognise the Palestinians’ right of self-determination. Long-term government-minority relations in Israel, whether accommodationist or confrontational, will also affect American standing and national interest in the region.
Although secular activists within the Arab community are wary of the Islamist agenda, they seem to collaborate closely with leaders of the Islamic Movement on the need to assert the political rights of Israeli Arabs as full citizens.
In 2006-07, Arab civil society institutions issued three important documents, known collectively as the “Future Vision,” expressing their vision for the future of the Palestinian community in Israel and its relations with the state.
The documents called for “self-reliance” and described the Arab minority as an “indigenous, Palestinian community with inalienable rights to the land on which it has lived for centuries.” The documents also assert the Arabs in Israel are the “original indigenous people of Palestine” and are “indivisible from the larger Palestinian, Arab, Islamic cultural heritage.”
Arab activists believe that recent Israeli policies toward the Palestinian minority and their representatives in the Knesset are undermining the integrationist effort, empowering the Islamist separatist argument, and deepening the feeling of alienation among the Arab minority.
Recent events clearly demonstrate that the Arabs in Israel are no longer a quiescent, cultural minority but an “indigenous national” minority deserving full citizenship rights regarding resources, collective rights, and representation on formal state bodies.
Many of the conditions that gave rise to the bloody confrontation with the police on Temple Mount over a decade ago, including the demolition of housing, restrictions on Arab politicians and Knesset members, restrictive citizenship laws, and budgetary discriminatory laws remain in place.
A decade ago the International Crisis Group (ICG) anticipated the widespread negative consequences of discrimination against Israel’s Arab minority and its findings still stand. Perhaps most importantly, the organisation judged the probability of violence to remain high as long as “greater political polarization, frustration among Arab Israelis, deepening Arab alienation from the political system, and the deteriorating economic situation” are not addressed.
In order to avoid large-scale violence, the ICG recommended that the Israeli government invest in poor Arab areas, end all facets of economic, political, and social discrimination against the Arab community, increase Arab representation at all levels in the public sector, and implement racism awareness training in schools and in all branches of government, beginning with the police.
A poor, marginalised one-fifth of the Israeli population perceived as a demographic bomb and a threat to the Jewish identity of the state can only be defused by a serious engagement strategy—economically, educationally, culturally, and politically.
If violence and continued discrimination are part of Israel’s long-term strategy against its Arab minority to force Arab emigration, it is unlikely that the government would implement tangible initiatives to improve the condition of the Arab minority.
Accordingly, communal violence in Israel would increase, creating negative ramifications for regional peace and stability and for U.S. interests in the eastern Mediterranean.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.
Edited by Kitty Stapp
Emile Nakhleh is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”
1. Morocco has announced that the first of a planned five solar mega-plants will go operational in 2015. The North African country, which is poor in hydrocarbons, has awarded the bid to a Saudi-based company. Morocco intends to generate 2 gigawatts of energy from solar, in an ambitious program that will cost $9 bn. It hopes to export some of that electricity to Europe. Morocco is ideal for solar energy, having enormous reserves of sunlight. Morocco plans to get 42 percent of its own energy from renewables like wind and solar by 2020.
When I asked my colleague in Gaza about her biggest dream, her answer made an impression on me: “I dream of what life would be like with 24-hour electricity.”
This was the answer of a single, mid-career, Western-educated, professional woman who lives in the more affluent part of Gaza City. Her response suggests the depth of despair among Palestinians throughout Gaza.
Day-to-day life in Gaza between Israeli attacks is unworthy news for Western mainstream media. As a result, few people are aware that electricity in Gaza is a luxury, with blackouts lasting 16-18 hours — every day.
This bitter reality has warped people’s lives for years now, as they must plan their daily activities around the 4-6 hours when they anticipate electricity, even if that means waking up to put laundry in the washing machine in the middle of the night.
Contrary to common belief, the severe under-supply of electricity in Gaza is not new, and not a result of the latest military aggression.
Gaza has not had uninterrupted electricity since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994. In an attempt to compensate for the Israeli disruption of Gaza’s power supply, the Palestinians established their first power generation plant in 2004.
Ever since, Israel has regularly limited the supply of electricity and industrial fuel needed to operate this only power plant in Gaza. Israel’s ability to deny families in Gaza the energy they need is nothing less than collective punishment of Palestinians — punishment whereby an entire community is made to pay for the acts of a few.
Separating Gaza’s electricity supply from the political conflict is a step long overdue. Access to electricity — a basic necessity that much of the world, including Israeli citizens can take for granted — should not be conditional upon outcomes of future negotiations.
Continued darkness in Gaza serves no one.
During Israel’s military aggression on Gaza this past summer, Israel again bombed the sole power plant in Gaza. (Israel bombed the same plant on June 28, 2006.)
In a July 29, 2014 article about the latest destruction, the Guardian quoted Amnesty International which stated, “the crippling of the power station amounted to collective punishment of Palestinians.”
Amnesty went on to note that, “the strike on the plant will worsen already severe problems with Gaza’s water supply, sewage treatment and power supplies to medical facilities.”
On September 14, 2014, less than 50 days after the Israeli strike on the plant and less than a month after the cessation of fighting, the Middle East Monitor reported that the CEO of the Gaza Electricity Company, Walid Sayel, announced that Gaza’s power plant was ready to work, pending fuel supply.
“The Turkish minister of energy,” the item continued, “had said that his country is ready to send a floating 100 megawatt power plant to Gaza after obtaining the necessary permits (from Israel).” As Palestinians in Gaza try to move on, none of the players involved in the latest debacle, foremost among them Israel, is being held accountable.
The barrier is not simply being without fuel for the power plant. The issue is much more complex and calculated.
If Turkey were serious about helping, their floating power station would already be in Gaza’s territorial waters even if they had to face down the Israeli navy and risk an international incident to bring electricity to Gaza. If the Palestinian Authority were serious, we would not have to witness the CEO of a Palestinian power plant begging for the funds needed to get the power plant running.
And most importantly, Israel has the capacity to provide Gaza with continuous electricity immediately. According to international law, as the occupying power, Israel has sole responsibility to remedy this issue immediately.
To the governments and leaders who just returned to Cairo for another round of ceasefire negotiations with no timeline or end in sight, I challenge them to first focus on this basic and humane step: Give the people of Gaza access to electricity.
It would be a basic step in easing the stresses of life in Gaza where loved ones can’t check in with one another when cell phones can’t get charged, email and Skype calls are not predictable, and having back-up generators for hospitals is literally a matter of life and death.
As what was intended to be a five-year peace process crawls into its third decade, an entire generation of Palestinian children in Gaza who were born in the early 1990s are now turning 16, 18, and 20 years old. Their generation has never known a time that didn’t require candles to be able to study after dark due to intermittent electricity.
Israel has the capacity to stop power interruptions today. Sympathetic nations have the influence to insist that Israel does this. If international leadership cannot agree that providing electricity to the people of Gaza — a very achievable goal — should be an immediate priority, how can we possibly imagine that the larger political issues can be resolved anytime soon?
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect Ma’an News Agency’s editorial policy.
Sam Bahour is a business consultant living in Ramallah. He serves as a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network and blogs at www.epalestine.com.
Hamas is a movement of political Islam that has often deployed violence, which it terms resistance to occupation and which Israel and the US see as terrorism. But the US State Department was quick to put distance between it and Netanyahu’s views, dissenting from his crazy quilt of equivalencies.
Here are the top 5 differences between Hamas and ISIL:
1. Hamas has foresworn attacks on the United States and other Western countries, presenting itself as a national liberation movement against Israeli military occupation (an occupation that has lasted since 1967 in Gaza). ISIL on the other hand has called on radicals to attack the US and Europe.
3. Hamas has not concertedly attacked non-Muslims, and, in fact there has sometimes been good cooperation between it and the Eastern Orthodox church. In contrast, ISIL attempted to ethnically cleanse the Yazidis and has threatened Christians and other minorities.
4. Hamas has concluded ceasefires with Israel, however imperfect on both sides. ISIL was kicked out of al-Qaeda for declining ever to make a truce even with its own allies.
5. Hamas has a civilian wing that ran for elective office in 2006 and won the Palestine elections. ISIL has no civil wing and is profoundly opposed to holding elections by party.
Hamas is a horrible fundamentalist organization (created in part by Israeli conniving and by the horrible conditions under which Palestinians in Gaza are made to live by the Israeli government), but it isn’t ISIL. And neither is like Iran, which is a Shiite state (Hamas and ISIL are hard line Sunni fundamentalists). Netanyahu comes close to racism in painting all Muslims with an extremist brush that is for him invarying. His own Likud movement was perfectly willing to turn to terrorism when it did not get its way, but not all Zionists or all Israelis would have approved. Netanyahu is doing propaganda and so cannot afford insightful oppositions.
“Michele Bachmann took the stage at the Values Voters Summit today, and fired up the crowd with shots at President Obama and Hillary Clinton, as well as a firm call for the U.S. to keep killing ISIS terrorists until they surrender.
Bachmann cracked a few jokes at the top, including a dig at MSNBC and a wonder of whether Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner would miss her more.
She talked up her strong stand against the Obama administration, especially on foreign policy. Bachmann said Obama is “the first anti-Israel president in history.” And as for Clinton, Bachmann recommended another goal for the former Secretary of State to accomplish: “permanent retirement!”
Bachmann also talked about how to combat the threat of ISIS.”* Ben Mankiewicz, Jimmy Dore (The Jimmy Dore Show), John Iadarola (TYT University) and Brian Unger break it down.”
“An ISIS group has threatened to assassinate Twitter employees who close down accounts linked to the extremist group. The group tweeted urging “lone wolves” in the US and Europe to target the social media service by directly attacking their employees. We take a look at the threat, in this Lip News clip with Elliot Hill and Mark Sovel.”
Juan adds: I’m with Mark Sovel on this one. Calling for lone wolf attacks means that the individual doesn’t actually have an organizational capacity to carry out threats. Also the NYT’s Rukmini Callimachi casts doubt on the provenance of this tweeted threat:
@jricole FYI I believe the source of this tweet against Twitter employees is not a bone fide member of ISIS. Ask @JonathanLKrohn
Calling the bottom of a river a “bed” is a metaphor. Imagine the river restlessly sleeping on its muddy mattress. But when we’ve so internalized a metaphor that we forget it is a figure of speech, as with the phrase “river bed,” it is called a “dead metaphor.”
Labor Day is, alas, akin to a dead metaphor in contemporary America. There was a time when, as in 1936, the unionized auto workers could make effective demands from their employers, for higher wages and better working conditions. Workers no longer get better off in today’s USA. They are often summarily dismissed if they try to unionize. They are badly paid. Good jobs have been switched out for bad jobs. Tax policy has been manipulated by the wealthy and corporations, who have bought Congress and state legislatures, so as to ensure that the rich get richer, and richer and richer.
The US has one of the worst records on wealth and income inequality in the advanced industrialized world. This situation is bad for everyone. Rich people still only need one or two refrigerators. Many poor people can’t afford any. Having a small number of super-rich and a large number of poor means that refrigerator manufacturers can’t sell as many refrigerators as they could in a more equal society, which means that they can’t hire many workers, which reduces the number of jobs in the manufacturing sector.
So as we burn dead meat and play frisbee in a warming climate, we could stop to consider the lives of the laborers we are theoretically honoring:
“According to every major data source, the vast majority of U.S. workers—including white-collar and blue-collar workers and those with and without a college degree—have endured more than a decade of wage stagnation. Wage growth has significantly underperformed productivity growth regardless of occupation, gender, race/ethnicity, or education level. ”
2. EPI observes that the lost decade comes on top of previous decades of wage stagnation, going back to about 1970, which reversed the era of wage growth after World War II:
“This lost decade for wages comes on the heels of decades of inadequate wage growth. For virtually the entire period since 1979 (with the one exception being the strong wage growth of the late 1990s), wage growth for most workers has been weak. The median worker saw an increase of just 5.0 percent between 1979 and 2012, despite productivity growth of 74.5 percent—while the 20th percentile worker saw wage erosion of 0.4 percent and the 80th percentile worker saw wage growth of just 17.5 percent.”
3. Only 11.3% of wage and salary workers belong to unions in 2014. This is down from about 35% at the peak of the movement in 1954, and down from 20% in 1983. This vast decline in unionization is not because workers don’t want the protections of union organization. It is because state legislatures have deliberately passed laws aimed at weakening unionization rights and because large corporations have systematically fired workers who tried to unionize, despite this practice being supposedly illegal.
4. Income inequality is greater than at any time since 1928. Workers are taking home a smaller slice of the overall pie, while the wealthy and superwealthy are walking away with the lion’s share. It is not in fact clear that most financiers are more important to you than your plumber, but the former make hundreds of times what the latter does. Pew Research Center remarks,
“U.S. income inequality is the highest it’s been since 1928. In 1982, the highest-earning 1% of families received 10.8% of all pretax income, while the bottom 90% received 64.7%, according to research by UC-Berkeley professor Emmanuel Saez. Three decades later, according to Saez’ preliminary estimates for 2012, the top 1% received 22.5% of pretax income, while the bottom 90%’s share had fallen to 49.6%.”
Wealth ownership inequality is even greater than income inequality: “the highest-earning fifth of U.S. families earned 59.1% of all income, the richest fifth held 88.9% of all wealth…”
5. Although there are signs of a halting recovery from the massive job losses that began in 2008 as a result of Wall Street corruption and reckless business practices, the new jobs added pay substantially less than the ones that were lost. USA Today observes,drawing from a report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and IHS Global Insight,
“The jobs regained since the recession have, as a whole, been lower paying than the ones lost. According to the IHS report, the average annual income of jobs lost between 2008 and 2009 was $61,637, while the average for those gained through the second quarter of 2014 was $47,171. This amounts to a wage gap of 23 percent and $93 billion in lower wage income . . . Jobs in low-income fields such as hospitality, which pay around $21,000 a year, replaced jobs lost in high-paid sectors such as manufacturing, which pay $63,000, the report found. ”
And, you guessed it, the top 5 percent in contrast have made out like bandits in the same period.
Mitch McConnell really does not care about our problems. The way he talks about the needs of average Americans, you’d think we were his sworn, personal enemy.
At a Koch Brothers Summit in Dana Point, California this summer, the conscience-less, corporate shill basically promised our country’s head on a gold platter to his billionaire gang of perverse, psychotic donors.
In a leaked audio-recording, the Kentucky Republican swore to devote himself to the singular task of more fully lining the pockets of his audience: people so rich they could survive any tragedy, any sort of economic downturn, another of McConnell’s government shut-downs, effortlessly and without a care.
His words are revealing:
No money can be spent to do this or to do that.
Let’s stop right there. “This or that,” huh? What is “this or that?” Everything non-billionaires need?
We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency. All across the federal government, we’re going to go after it.
We’ve known for a while McConnell and his donors are contemptuous of the non-rich but it’s a bit of an eye-opener to see that these essential issues are mere objects of annoyance to the unimaginably privileged. Those whose only fear is that the lowly masses may take an unnoticeable crumb of their corrupt and ill-gotten fortunes.
And we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage (inaudible)—cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment—that’s a great message for retirees; uh, the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse, uh. These people believe in all the wrong things.
Perhaps one of the most offensive parts is his use of the term, “gosh darn.” Really, Turtle? You’re nothing less than ruthless, cussing would probably be the kindest thing you’ve done all week.
The fact that we live in a time of historic income inequality is no accident. It’s been engineered by puppets like McConnell. The standard CEO, who now earns eight-figures, is paid roughly 257 times what the average worker earns. Economists concede that while we need inequality to thrive, the level of inequality we currently have is unsustainable. They support the Democrat proposed minimum wage hike to $10.10 an hour, which would lift 4.6 million people out of poverty:
That’s a significant increase in the quality of life for our worst off that doesn’t require the government to tax and spend a single additional dollar. And, given that this policy is self-enforcing with virtually no administrative costs while challenging the employer’s market power, it is a powerful complement to the rest of the policies the government uses to boost the living standards of the worst off, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, Medicaid, etc.
A higher minimum wage will lead to a significant boost in incomes for the worst off in the bottom 30th percent of income, while having no impact on the median household.
Seems like a no-brainer, but, it would make McConnell’s wealthy donors sad. So Turtle-brain will fight it.
And student loan reform?
Forty percent of households headed by someone under the age of 35 are saddled with student debt, unable to buy homes, raise families and secure their futures. This doesn’t just hold back individuals — it holds back our economic recovery. Meanwhile, Congress manufactures false debt crises instead of solving this very real one… The United States could and should do much more to help middle- and low-income families afford postsecondary education — especially at a time when our economic growth depends on an educated workforce.
This loathsome obstructionist vows to not even allow a debate on the very things stopping members of the middle and lower classes from getting anywhere in life. Gee thanks Turtle breath, you’re a stand-up guy.
The mounting evidence that we need real economic reform on every level is undeniable but it’s so clear this shell of a man is barely even in possession of himself. The lengths to which McConnell’s donors own him comes through in these cow-towing reassurances that he will, in fact, eviscerate the middle class and poor like a dutiful little boy. What a disgrace. He’s no leader.
McConnell’s thug-filled audience is living proof of the bizarro-world extent to which greed can corrupt. I can’t imagine why these billionaires are never satisfied. Why are they so afraid of allowing hard-working, average people to live with some small semblance of comfort and dignity? What more do they need?
McConnell is, and for a very long time has been, nothing but a detriment to the government and the country. He is the opposite of a patriot and is not fit to lead. It’s time for him to hole up in his shell where he can only cause harm to himself.
If prime minister-designate Haydar al-Abadi in Iraq is to hope to defeat the so-called “Islamic State” (actually a kind of mafia made up of serial murderers and marauders), he must find a way to re-incorporate Iraq’s Sunni Arabs into the government, which has been dominated by Shiite religious parties since 2005, partly because of Neoconservative US preference for Arab Shiite rule under the Bush occupation.
Al-Abadi has succeeded in getting a pledge from the largely separatist Sunni Kurds to hold off on leaving Iraq and to participate in his government at the cabinet and parliamentary level in Baghdad. (Kurdistan is an ethnic super-province a little like French-speaking Quebec in Canada, but with much more autonomy from the central government; Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani has threatened to hold a referendum within six months on complete secession and independence).
A Sunni Arab political bloc, al-Hall (“Solution”), led by Jamal al-Karbuli has sent a letter to al-Abadi detailing their demands. Al-Karbuli (or al-Karbouli) had led a faction within the old Iraqiya party coalition which has been the main vehicle of Sunni parliamentary politics in recent years. He blames Iraq violence and bombings on Shiite Iran.
They want the thousands of Sunni Arab detainees (accused of anti-government activity by outgoing prime minister Nouri al-Maliki) given an amnesty;
They want a fair distribution of cabinet seats and government jobs (the only kind of reliable jobs there really are in Iraq) with regard to the Sunni Arabs, tens of thousands of which were fired in the past decade and replaced with Shiites;
They want the constant Iraqi army shelling of Sunni Arab towns and villages in the north and west halted;
They demand the return to the Sunni Arab community of religious endowments (waqf) for mosques and other religious purposes, which they maintain have been usurped by the Shiites;
They demand the expulsion of Shiite militias from Baghdad and the largely Sunni or mixed Sunni-Shiite provinces.
A spokesman for al-Abadi said that the incoming prime minister was willing to consider the demands sent over by al-Karbuli, but that they could not be seen as prerequisites for forming a new, inclusive government, which would be putting the cart before the horse. Many of them require executive authority, which al-Abadi does not have until he becomes prime minister, and which is still held by lame duck prime minister al-Maliki.
The demands of the al-Karbuli block reveal the situation as seen by Sunni Arabs, and they help explain why so many Sunni Arabs in Mosul and elsewhere preferred even rule by IS thugs to continued occupation at the hands of al-Maliki’s forces. They see themselves rather as African-Americans in Ferguson, Mo., do, as constantly coerced, imprisoned at disproportionately high levels, and kept as an economic underclass by systematic discrimination.
Of course, there is more than one side to the Iraq story, and al-Abadi can hardly suddenly turn on the Shiite militias offering paramilitary support against IS, or cease a military campaign to expel IS from Iraq. But some of what al-Karbouli is asking for, especially on the political and economic side, is obviously necessary if Iraq is not to permanently splinter.
The Iraqi military advanced toward Tikrit from the west this time, rather than, as with last month, the south. The claimed to have killed 23 IS fighters and to have taken some small suburbs of the city, but that they had to call off their campaign Tuesday afternoon is eloquent as to their failure. They included forces from the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Interior, and Shiite volunteer militias, all supported by the Iraqi Air Force. Unlike with the Kurds fighting to take back the Mosul Dam from IS in the north, there is no report of close air support from the US.
One of the Iraqi military’s goals was to relieve the village of Amirli, which is inhabited by Turkmen Shiites and had been under siege from IS in Tikrit. IS as a hyper-Sunni terrorist organization despises Shiite Muslims and has carried out mass executions against them.
The 45 million African-Americans in the United States are unequal before the law vis-a-vis European-Americans and becoming moreso. In the age of Jim Crow (the white South’s attempt to prevent them from having the full rights of citizens after their emancipation from slavery), African-Americans often were denied the right to vote and were subject to arbitrary, summary judgement and even lynchings. They could not so much as drink from the same water fountain as European-Americans.
Although segregated drinking fountains haven’t reappeared, in many ways the right wing in the United States has largely undone the advances of the 1965 voting rights act.
In many states parolees and ex-felons cannot vote. KQED notes, some 6 million ex-felons are disenfranchised in the US. Since African-Americans are sentenced at startlingly higher rates than European-Americans, the burden of loss of voting rights falls especially heavily on them.
“Disenfranchisement laws disproportionately affect African Americans: in 2010, 1 of every 13 African Americans of voting age — about 7.7 percent nationally — was disenfranchised, a rate more than four times greater than with non-African Americans. In some of the strictest states — including Florida, Kentucky and Virginia — more than 20 percent of the African American population was disenfranchised, the report found.
Republican Party-pushed “voter i.d. laws” are aimed at making it harder for those who do not have drivers’ licenses, i.e. the poor who take the bus to work, to vote. African-Americans are especially hit by these laws, which often now also forbid early voting so as to foil the African-American churches’ programs of busing voters in.
“From Michael Brown to Renisha McBride to Jordan Davis: how black people who are killed get portrayed in the media — and the courtroom — has often led to outrage. And after the deaths of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, the hashtags #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, #APHeadlines and #DangerousBlackKids are one way people have flipped the script.”
ISIS conquests across northern Iraq have been comprehensive in recent weeks. Taking control of large parts of the region, they declared a Caliphate last month. And one group who have especially suffered at their hands are the Christians that have been a part of the region’s landscape for almost two millenia.
Following ISIS’ consolidation of power in the region, these longstanding communities have faced brutal treatment. In what can only be considered persecution and discrimination of the highest degree, ISIS has targeted the Christians of Mosul by daubing their homes with the Arabic letter N – marking them out as Nasarah, Christians.
In a concerted and deliberate plan of ethnic cleansing, ISIS then offered Christian families three choices: convert to Islam, pay the Jizya tax (a tax of 14g of pure gold that Christians must pay in addition to normal taxes for the privilege of their faith), or leave their homes. Anyone who could not pay or refused to convert to Islam was threatened with death.
In these circumstances and fearing the worst, many chose to flee and Mosul – just recently home to thousands of Christians – has been emptied of this ancient community. Stripped of all their possessions, even medicines, many were forced to walk 70km to safety, eventually heading to Dohuk in the Kurdish region of the country. The 15 Christian families who chose to stay in Mosul, did so by converting to Islam in order to to retain their homes and possessions. But the homes of those who left the city were confiscated as the property of the newly formed “Islamic State”.
This forced exodus has ended the significant Christian presence in Mosul that predated the coming of Islam by several centuries. In a region that has seen the rise and fall of many political powers, ISIS’ policies undermine the long co-existence of Muslims and non-Muslims in the region.
In Mosul, ISIS militants have begun to desecrate the city. They are physically rendering it into their extreme, minimalist interpretation of Islam. And their actions have not solely focused on Christian buildings. The ancient tomb of Jonah (a major landmark in Mosul which was venerated by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike) has been levelled and Shi’a shrines and mosques have been destroyed too.
In their bid for “Islamic purity”, the ISIS militants have particularly targeted Christian buildings. The diocesan headquarters of the Syrian Catholics in in Mosul has been torched, having existed since the late nineteenth century. All crosses from the 22 churches in Mosul have been removed and churches have been turned into mosques or destroyed.
Death of an ancient community
With Christian communities extending out of Mosul and across the Ninevah plains, ISIS has also extended its focus on the surrounding countryside. Militants seized the ancient Mar Behnam Monastery, reputedly founded on the spot where the royal Sassanid brother and sister, Behnam and Sara, were martyred in the 4th century then home to Syrian Catholic monks. The monks were expelled and refused permission to take any of the holy relics housed in the monastery.
This raises real fears that these historic items, together with the manuscript collections there, will be destroyed. There is also the likelihood that the monastery, parts of which date from the 13th century and number amongst a handful of buildings in Iraq that survive from the Mongol Il-Khanate period, will be desecrated and destroyed.
Christians have lived in Iraq since close to the religion’s birth – they first began to settle in the region around the 2nd century and must be counted as amongst the earliest witnesses to the Christian faith. Their churches and monasteries have been an integral part of the landscape for centuries, producing some of the finest examples of architecture. The communities have lived in relative accord with their Muslim neighbours down the centuries, each contributing to each other’s cultures.
Following the 2003 Allied offensive, Christians in Iraq have endured many atrocities, the most notable being the massacre on October 31 2010 at the Our Lady of Salvation Church in Karrada, Baghdad. Now the Christians, who have contributed in many different ways to the culture and economy of Iraq, do not meet ISIS’ stringent definitions of who is acceptable.
Their persecution raises the real possibility that this ancient community will be eliminated from its homeland in Iraq. It also marks the end of the notion of “civilised dialogue”, a tenet that has lasted since the Abbasid period where Muslims and non-Muslims lived alongside each other. It is paradoxical that ISIS, who aim to emulate the Caliphate of old, instead adopts tactics that can only be described as brutal and befitting of uncouth barbarians.
Dr. Erica C D Hunter is the Lecturer in Eastern Christianity, Dept. for the Study of Religions, SOAS. She is also Chair, Centre of Eastern and Orthodox Christianity, Department for the Study of Religions, SOAS, University of London. She is the organiser of the highly successful annual Christianity in Iraq Seminar Days (inaugurated 2004). For further details see easternchristianity.com. In 1987 she first met the Christian communities of Iraq. Between 1989-1990 she was the Gertrude Bell Fellow of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq and worked on the collections of incantation bowls (written in Syriac, Aramaic and Mandaic) in the Iraq Museum. She still maintains close contacts with the Christian (and Mandaean) communities both in Iraq and in the diaspora.
Juan Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. For three decades, he has sought to put the relationship of the West and the Muslim world in historical context. His most recent book is Engaging the Muslim World (Palgrave Macmillan, March, 2009) and he also recently authored Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). He has been a regular guest on PBS’s Lehrer News Hour, and has also appeared on ABC Nightly News, Nightline, the Today Show, Charlie Rose, Anderson Cooper 360, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, the Colbert Report, Democracy Now! and many others. He has given many radio and press interviews. He has written widely about Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and South Asia. He has commented extensively on al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Iraq War, the politics of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Iranian domestic struggles and foreign affairs. He has a regular column at Truthdig. He continues to study and write about contemporary Islamic movements, whether mainstream or radical, whether Sunni and Salafi or Shi`ite. Cole commands Arabic, Persian and Urdu and reads some Turkish, knows both Middle Eastern and South Asian Islam. He lived in various parts of the Muslim world for nearly 10 years, and continues to travel widely there.