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Disciplines

teaching and research disciplines

Turkey’s Safe Zone in Northern Syria and International Law

Turkey’s Safe Zone in Northern Syria and International Law

By Ahmed E Souaiaia*

Abstract: Mere hours before Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, visits with his Russian counterpart in Sochi, his government clarified the purpose of its invasion of Northern Syrian. The Turkish government frames its intervention as partly humanitarian, partly security missions. Considering that Erdoğan has called for such a “safe zone” as early as 2015, the political purpose of the “safe zone” can hardly be ignored. More significantly, the legal status of the proposed “safe zone” must be assessed. In this brief note, I examine the Turkish claims and weigh them against legal standards. Continue reading

Will Zarif’s surprise G7 visit help resolve row?

Will Zarif’s surprise G7 visit help resolve row?

by Xu Hailin, based on conversations with Li Weijian, a senior research fellow with the Center for West Asian and African Studies

Iran has been striving to overcome the crisis in its relations with the US. Although the Islamic Republic has taken some tough steps, such as shooting down a US military drone in June and seizing a British tanker in July, or ratcheting up the rhetoric against the US, Tehran doesn’t want to break down its ties with Washington.

Iran is more concerned about how to get US sanctions lifted, as they have caused a series of problems within the country. So, in addition to taking a tough line against the US, Iran is also seeking help from the international community.

The two countries are locked in a stalemate. The US could continue its maximum pressure campaign, but it is not likely to launch a war against Iran. In the meantime, Iran cannot afford to be stuck in such a stagnant situation much longer. As such, third party forces are extremely important and could play an even bigger role in the future.

During sideline talks at the G7 summit in France on Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held “constructive” talks with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and French President Emmanuel Macron and gave a joint briefing to German and British officials, the BBC reported on Monday. Continue reading

Canada’s labour movement must take a stand against the Saudi arms deal

Canada’s labour movement must take a stand against the Saudi arms deal

by Simon Black and Anthony Fenton*

As Canada’s largest labour organization and the political arm of the labour movement, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has long been a voice for peace, human rights and social justice.

But on one of the most controversial issues in Canadian politics, Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia, it has failed to take a meaningful stand.

Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners are waging war in Yemen. The war has plunged the country into what the United Nations calls “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”

According to a recent UN report, approximately 70,000 Yemenis have died since the beginning of 2016. Hospitals, schools, markets and mosques are common targets for Saudi coalition airstrikes.
Two thirds of the Yemeni population require humanitarian support or protection, 17 million are food insecure, three million have fled their homes and 14.5 million require access to safe drinking water. And as UN Women has found, women and girls bear the brunt of this devastating situation. A 2018 report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights concluded that violations and crimes under international law have occurred and continue to be perpetrated in Yemen.
Canada’s complicity

Canada is complicit in the war in Yemen. The export of made-in-Canada light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia, an approximately $15-billion contract originally signed by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, is now proceeding under export permits approved by the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau.

New export permits for arms shipments to Saudi Arabia have reportedly been suspended pending an indefinite review by the Trudeau government following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But according to recent data from Statistics Canada over half a billion dollars worth of armoured fighting vehicles have been exported through the port of Saint John, N.B., to Saudi Arabia in 2019 alone.

There is credible evidence that Canadian weapons sold to Saudi Arabia are being used in the devastating war in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition continues to commit serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia also has a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of its own citizens.
Where’s the Canadian labour movement? Continue reading

Separate and Unequal: Is State’s Support to Elite Universities a Human Rights Violation

Separate and Unequal: Is State’s Support to Elite Universities a Human Rights Violation

By Ahmed E Souaiaia*

Abstract: On May 11, 2019, the US federal government indicted 50 individuals, charging them with bribery and fraud in a widespread college admission scandal involving wealthy parents, coaches, administrators, and business executives, paying bribes to buy their children’s way into the nation’s elite schools. For weeks thereafter, the public discourse had become engaged primarily with the action of the individuals, secondarily with some schools’ administrators, but not with the role played by the State. I argue that the evidence unearthed for these cases point to a human rights violation because the State has actively participated in perpetuating inequality and economic disparity.

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First, for clarity purposes, I shall define key terms and concepts. I use the word “State” to refer to the modern nation-state governing power, as a legal person that is in social contract with society, which authorizes (through a public mandate, electoral or otherwise) it to assume legal monopoly on the use of violence and taxation and the judicious use thereof. I also define human rights as claims by members of society against the State when the State abuses its powers or fails to treat citizens equitably and fairly. As such, human rights claims are above and beyond criminal and civil claims. With these definitions in mind, let’s consider the facts related to the so-called elite schools’ admissions and to the scandal that ensued and draw appropriate conclusions. Continue reading

Can Iran Close the Strait of Hormuz?

Can Iran Close the Strait of Hormuz?

By Ahmed E Souaiaia*

Since the Trump administration withdrew from the Iran Deal and re-imposed and imposed sanctions on Iran, Iranian leaders indicated that they will close the Strait of Hormuz if they are unable to sell their oil. In the last few months, a number of incidents had occurred with the potential for impacting the flow of oil through the Strait. On Thursday, Iranian authorities said that they shot down a US spy drone over its airspace. Hours later, US military confirmed the downing of the drone, with two corrections: The model of the drone and the location of drone when it was shot down. The former fact (or non-fact) is irrelevant legally, the latter is important. US military said that the drone was shot down while flying in international space.

 

 

 

Both sides agree that the incident took place in the Strait of Hormuz. If the shooting down of the drone took place in the narrowest area, US claim that its drone was flying in international waters would be false because, at that point, there is no international space. The space is either under Iranian sovereignty or Omani sovereignty

It is likely, therefore, that the incident took place on either sides of the Strait, in which case, there are international waters and sovereign waters belonging to Iran, Oman, and UAE. In this case, US and Iran will be under pressure to produce evidence about the whereabouts of the drone at the moment it was shot down. The evidence can be in the form of GPS records, satellite tracks, and/or location of the debris of the downed drone.

Given these escalations, it is also important to understand the legal regimes that govern passage through narrow waterways in general and the Strait in particular.

Continue reading

US is already fighting a conflict with Iran – an economic war that is hurting the wrong people

US is already fighting a conflict with Iran – an economic war that is hurting the wrong people

by David Cortright*

Many are worried about the risk of war with Iran after the Trump administration leaked discussions of a troop deployment in response to claimed threats to U.S. warships in the region.
And in recent days, the rhetoric has only gotten more heated, with President Donald Trump saying a war would be “the official end of Iran.” Iranian officials responded in kind.
But the truth is, the U.S. has been fighting a war with Iran for decades – an economic war fought via sanctions that has intensified over the past year and has already been devastating to innocent civilians in the country.

Not only that, it’s also undermining long-accepted principles of international cooperation and diplomacy, a topic I’ve been researching for the past 25 years.

Carrots and sticks

Many nations have recognized that sanctions work best as tools of persuasion rather than punishment.

Sanctions by themselves rarely succeed in changing the behavior of a targeted state. They are often combined with diplomacy in a carrots-and-sticks bargaining framework designed to achieve negotiated solutions.

Indeed the offer to lift sanctions can be a persuasive inducement in convincing a targeted regime to alter its policies, as was the case when successful negotiations involving the U.S. and Europe led to the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, which ended sanctions in exchange for Tehran shutting down much of its nuclear production capacity.

A year ago Trump withdrew the U.S. from that accord and not only re-imposed previous sanctions but added further restrictions, including so-called secondary sanctions that penalize other countries for continuing to trade with Iran. Continue reading

On Migration and the Hoarding of Resources

On Migration and the Hoarding of Resources

By Ahmed E Souaiaia*

David Frum’s cover story, callously titled, How Much Immigration Is Too Much, is an illustrative example of crude opinions rooted in alternative facts

David Frum’s basic argument is this: The Global South is a shithole, from where all people, especially the “strivers” want to escape to the developed world. The developed world cannot accommodate them and for this reason mainstream politicians should act, or else fascists will rise. The author willfully ignores two basic facts that are the root causes of migration, the uncertain journey to the unknown some people undertake, leaving behind their homeland and their relatives. First, people, like most animals, seek places with concentration of resources. Concentration of resources often result from hoarding and monopolies. Second, mass migration is directly proportional to severity of violent conflicts, corruption, and instability. In other words, people migrate to escape war, genocide, ethnic cleansing, crime, instability, insecurity, and absence of rule of law.

Hoarding is achieved through legal, political, and military instruments. For instance, many poor countries can develop medicine, technologies, and products domestically and with a fraction of the cost of US counterparts. However, patent and intellectual laws prevent indigenous scientists for producing them domestically. People in Bangladesh, for instance, have died because they could not afford to buy US made malaria medicine and because Bangladeshi scientists were prohibited from producing it, though they can do so affordably. There should be a fair arrangement that protects innovation rights while accommodating underdeveloped countries through creative licensing schemes. The side benefit of such accommodation will be few Bangladeshis needing to move to the Global North to escape malaria-caused deaths for example. If Global South countries are not forced into unfair trade deals, their people would not be forced to seek resources and stability elsewhere.

Considering the role played by United States governments since the world wars of the first half of the 20th century, it is easy to see that the largest waves of migrants to the US came from countries that were destabilized through US (and/or allies) military interventions or clandestine operations. Mass migration from Vietnam, for example, was caused by US war in that country. The same applies to people from Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Iraq (after the early 1990’s war), Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq (after the 2003 invasion), Syria, and Libya. And expect the same if the politicization of humanitarian aid in Venezuela persists.

Frum claims that the Global North is disproportionately burdened by the migration waves. That claim, too, is false. According to the most recent data, the least developed countries provided refuge to one-third of the global total of these displaced people–6.7 million. Consider Lebanon, for example: It is hosting as many Syrians as nearly a quarter of its population. Wealthy Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or UAE are hosting none.

Here are some facts, to put the above points in context.

According to reports by the UNHCR, in 2017, 68.5 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes due to violent conflicts; the top five countries are places destabilized directly or indirectly by the Global North:

  • Syria — 6.3 million refugees
  • Iraq — 3.1 million refugees
  • Afghanistan — 2.7 million refugees
  • Yemen — 2.5 million refugees
  • Libya – 1.2 million refugees
  • Somalia — 986,400 refugees

Frum’s argument, is similar to the popular rhetorical narrative that says, people come to America because America is the greatest country on earth and people want to benefit from all the social and economic welfare programs in America. In other words, people migrate because they want free stuff. That is far from the truth. If social and economic welfare is the primary motive behind migration, people, including some Americans, would be lining up to migrate to Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Germany, France, and/or Netherlands because all these countries have standard of living, healthcare, and entitlements programs that are better than those in the United States. But migrants, if they must migrate and if given the choice, will come to America to escape the uncertainty and instability (tariffs, sanctions, sabotage, military action) that America can unleash around the world, including on those European countries with better social programs. Logically, if one must leave their home to escape instability, would it not make sense to move into the home of the source of that instability and the place least likely to be made unstable by other countries. US administrations’ propensity to shut down the economy and normal life in any other country is the main reason it is desired by the peoples whose countries are destabilized by US administrations’ actions. No one wants to leave a home where the fruits of their labor can be safe and secure for them and for their children. However, if there is a bully who can and does turn the controls of normal life on and off at will, it is only reasonable for one to seek refuge where that bully is unlikely to tinker with people’s life and livelihood: in the bully’s home. This truth is self-evident and that is why some anti-immigrant extremists, like Stephen Miller and Jeff Sessions, embraced broad new policies that included making life for immigrants hellishly undesired to not only shutdown immigration but also to force recent migrants out of the United States of America.

Here are a couple of ideas to limit and or even stop migration. First, the wealthy Global North should stop hoarding resources and exploiting other peoples. Share. Second, the Global North should stop waging wars on, interfering in, and destabilizing the Global South countries.

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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Hajj: how globalisation transformed the market for pilgrimage to Mecca

Hajj: how globalisation transformed the market for pilgrimage to Mecca

by Seán McLoughlin*

More than 2m Muslims are currently gathering in Mecca ahead of the annual Hajj, which begins on August 19. As long as they are fit and financially able, the pilgrimage is an obligatory act of worship that followers of Islam owe to God once in their lifetime. Reenacting the faith-testing ordeals of Ibrahim (Abraham, the Biblical founder of monotheism) and his family, Muslims believe that an “accepted Hajj” will cleanse them of all their sins. Their hope is to return home as pure as the day they were born.

But until the introduction of modern transport systems, most Muslims beyond the Arab world had little expectation of completing this fifth and final pillar of Islam. Before the mid-1950s, the number of overseas pilgrims rarely exceeded 100,000 and modern Saudi institutions were still developing. Yet by the early 2000s, the total number of Hajj pilgrims had passed the 2m mark, reaching a recent peak of just over 3m in 2012.

New opportunities for pilgrimage in the jet age have put immense pressure on the infrastructure of Mecca. Hundreds have lost their lives during periodic disasters including fires and stampedes, most recently in 2015. Undoubtedly, the Saudi authorities have invested huge sums in continually seeking to improve facilities and the overall management of the Hajj. Hajj organisers and guides I have interviewed compare overseeing the pilgrimage to hosting the Olympics every year.

Continue reading

Has the Syrian government used chemical weapons in ISIS -held territories?

Has the Syrian government used chemical weapons in ISIS -held territories?

With every military operation in areas held by the so-called moderate opposition fighters, Western governments accuse the Syrian government of having planned to use chemical weapons or of having used chemical weapons. In the latter case, they responded by bombing sites and assets that allegedly enabled the government to use such weapons. So has the Syrian government used chemical weapons and if so, why?

Western governments explain the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons this way. The chemical attacks occurred in areas where the Syrian government encountered stiff resistance. The Syrian government uses weapons of mass destruction to speed up military operations or to force armed groups to surrender. However, based on this reasoning, one would expect the Syrian government to use chemical weapons against the most hardened fighters, again, for speedy victory or to force surrender. 

What qualifies financial services or products to be sharia-compliant?

What qualifies financial services or products to be sharia-compliant?

Economists specializing in the study of Islamic finance and economics have reduced Islamic laws governing financial and economic transactions to two: proscription on receiving or paying “interest” and mandating that investors and developers (lenders and borrowers) share the gains and losses of the enterprise in which they are more or less partners. This theory is widespread but it is based on a very basic, and perhaps outdated, understanding of the primary sources of classical Islamic law. Moreover, most of the works and publications advancing this perspective are built on secondary sources and rarely engage primary materials. This essay challenges the ideas and approaches behind this perspective and proposes a model that takes into consideration the need to protect the poor and the desire to make profit, which is the motivating force behind a thriving economy.
While Islamic scriptures clearly prohibit profiting from the poor, supposedly sharī’ah-compliant Islamic financial and exchange laws circumvent prohibitions and limitations on ribā, monopolism, debt, and risk while failing to address the fundamental purpose behind the prohibitions—mitigating poverty. This study provides a historical survey of the principles that shape Islamic finance and exchange laws, reviews classical and modern interpretations and practices in the banking and exchange sectors, and suggests a normative model rooted in the interpretation of Islamic sources of law reconstructed from paradigmatic cases. Financial systems that overlook the nexus between poverty and usury harm both the economy and poor and middle class consumers and investors rather than addressing the causal relationship between interest-charging models and poverty. This study shows how Islamic Financial Institutions (IFIs) have failed to meet the social requirements they were intended to address and also presents a theoretical framework for Islamic finance and exchange laws that proscribes usurious transactions involving people caught in the cycle of poverty and need.
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