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International Law

Academic Integrity and the Problem of Profiting from Slavery and Racism

Academic Integrity and the Problem of Profiting from Slavery and Racism

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
Abstract: Teaching future generations is indeed a costly endeavor, especially when governments allocate little or no money to higher education. Universities’ administrators are always under extreme pressure to keep their institutions afloat. However, as learning and training institutions, universities instill values and norms that guide future citizens and professionals towards a better future. Therefore, the source of money is just as important as the amounts of money for universities and for the people they serve. It has been revealed that Georgetown University would not have survived if it did not profit from selling hundreds of human beings and participate in the cruel slave trade. Ostensibly, Georgetown is unable to totally break from its legacy of profiting from slavery and racism. Its dependence on money provided by Muslim individuals and/or Islamic regimes with a history of human rights abuses, sectarian, and racist practices raises questions about its ability to overcome and dispose of both Catholic and Islamic legacies of depravity and decadence.
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About 200 years ago, to save Georgetown College, priests sold human beings thus fully endorsing and profiting from the brutal, dehumanizing institution of slavery. To date, we’ve learned of the existence of records documenting at least 272 human beings, like Mr. Frank Campbell, who were sold so that that college would survive to become the institution we now call Georgetown University.  Evidently, for these priests, the survival of an educational institution outweighed the abuse of the dignity of hundreds of human beings. Today, to gain prominence as an elite university, Georgetown has established financial ties to individuals and governments with social and ideological affinity to racism, sectarianism, and absolutism. Georgetown’s connections to Wahhabism and individuals who are interested in whitewashing that sect adds to the University’s legacy of exploitation in pursuit of elitism and financial advantages. Recently, Georgetown’s dark history with slavery was brought to the forefront once again when one of its faculty members used dubious logic and absolutist interpretation of ancient texts to argue that slavery is morally justified in Islam, a position that conforms to that held by groups like ISIL and al-Qaeda.

In an audio recording, the director of Georgetown’s Alwaleed Ibn Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Jonathan Brown, is heard equivocating: “The Prophet of God had slaves… There’s no denying that. Are you more morally mature than the Prophet of God? No you’re not.”  The implication is that, since, reportedly, Prophet Muhammad had slaves 1400 years ago, it is morally right to own slaves and it is morally right to continue to own slaves today. While Georgetown sanctified the university and relativized slavery in the 1830’s, today, one of its faculty sanctifies Muhammad and relativized slavery the same way ISIL sanctifies the “Islamic State” and relativized slavery, rape, and religious and sectarian cleansing.

Parents sending their children to learn from faculty members who use this kind of logic and embrace a morality rooted in absolutist reading of contested texts should be concerned. Muslims who seek guidance from a scholar associated with an endowed chair funded by the ruling family of Saudi Arabia, demonstrably known for its abuse of human dignity, should be wary about the recasting of Wahhabism as Sunni Islam. Besides the conflict of interest and the methodological absurdity, Brown’s assertions are flawed for many factual and logical reasons.
 
First, there is no absolute evidence that Prophet Muhammad owned slaves. Those who contend that Muhammad had slaves rely on oral reports (written down three centuries removed from the time of Prophet Muhammad) invoked, preserved, and transmitted by figures who owned and even abused slaves themselves. Therefore, to emphatically assert that there is no “denying that Prophet Muhammad had slaves” amounts to suggesting the existence of a fact beyond any reasonable doubt. There is doubt beyond reasonable levels about events that took place more than 1400 years ago, especially when all the textual evidence is derived from only one school of thought: Salafism.  Indeed, leaders and wealthy individuals gave Prophet Muhammad slaves as “gifts” but he emancipated them: the women became his wives and the men became his mawāli (i.e. mu`taq [freed], as was the case with Zaid (given to him by the wealthy Khadijah, who married him later). However, many of the aristocracy of Arabia, who were absorbed into the newly established Islamic state, continued to own slaves. Considering that it was this aristocracy that monopolized most leadership positions after the death of Prophet Muhammad, it is easy to figure out why the institution was kept alive and by whom.
 

Second, while the Quran did not explicitly abolish slavery as a matter of law, the text and tone of the Quran left no doubt that enslaving human beings was morally wrong and that emancipating slaves was morally right. Moreover, the Quranic text consistently avoided the use of the word “slaves” [`abīd]. It referred to persons already in servitude as “what your right hands previously possessed” [mā malakat aymānukum] instead. Importantly, this wording, with the verb “possess” or “own” conjugated in the past tense, indicate that such a state of being lacks permanence. In other words, those who were enslaved before the start of Islam will continue to be so, but no new ownership of slaves shall be initiated moving forward. With that being the case, whether Prophet Muhammad had slaves or whether he was “more morally mature” becomes immaterial. The text of the Quran explicitly determined that slavery is immoral and it established a path (atonement and substitute for religious obligations with valid reason) to making it illegal. In fact, most proscribed acts were first judged morally contemptuous before they were explicitly prohibited in the Quran. The gradual prohibition of wine [khamr] is a good illustrative case in point.

Third, perhaps members of Brown’s audience were not “more morally mature than the Prophet of God.” However, inspired by the Quranic teachings, the same Prophet of God whom he is using to justify slavery made it abundantly clear that,

a. All human beings are equal in dignity,
b. Freeing slaves is moral,
c. Enslaving humans is immoral,
d. True belief in God is possible only when a person is free,
e.  The natural state of being for humans is to be free, and
e. Freeing slaves allowed a person to atone for unintentional homicide, breaking the oath, breaking the fast during Ramadan, and other “sins” and criminal offenses.

To override these established norms that became part and parcel of the Quranic and jurisprudential norms in favor of an analogy based on the chance that Prophet Muhammad may have had slaves is absurd. Because even if we were to assume that Prophet Muhammad had slaves, Prophet Muhammad had also determined that slavery is abhorrent. It follows, then, that it is immoral independent of him having had slaves or not. 

Fourth, the Quranic discourse is known for its graduate proscription of entrenched practices and social behavior not through abrupt prohibition. Subsequently, even if Prophet Muhammad may have had slaves in the early days of his life and the life of his disciples, it is likely that that practice would have been proscribed with time given the repugnancy of the institution and dehumanizing implications.

Fifth, considering the entirety of Quranic sanctions, it is certain that the dignity and sanctity of human beings cannot be overruled by the mere practice or temperament of the Prophet. After all, the Quran is dotted with passages admonishing Prophet Muhammad for some of his practices. In a plethora of passages in the Quran, Prophet Muhammad was reproached for his poor judgement concerning his actions relevant to certain war booty [fay’], forms of taxes, treatment of persons with disability, and other matters. Most Sunni Muslim scholars hold that Muhammad, like all other Prophets, is fallible in matters not related to purely religious matters. Therefore, he might have erred in economic, military, social, and administrative matters—including owning slaves if it were to be proven that he did own salves after being characterized in the Quran as immoral.

Sixth, most Sunni Muslim scholars believe in the principle of abrogation, which essentially contextualizes legal edicts and justifies temporary or permanent revocation of social and legal practices. Per Sunni exegeses, passages of the Quran were abrogated by later passages of the Quran and so were units of Hadith. Subsequently, the existence of a passage in the Quran or a tradition from the Sunna does not necessarily mean that laws that might be derived from it are still in effect.

Seventh, like many other Traditionist Muslims, Brown privileges reports found in Sunni collections of Hadith and Tafsīr. He ignores, or is unaware of the rich body of religious, legal, and political texts produced and preserved by Ibadi and Shia Muslims, which provided fuller narratives and contexts especially regarding the most divisive and controversial events and ideas. The logic Brown employs is common among many Traditionist Muslims (ahl al-ḥadīth), too. For them, it would suffice to point to an event or an act purported to be from the formative period of Islam where lived the Predecessors (salaf) for such an act to be applicable to all human beings and in all times. Their reasoning is simple: If something was practiced or said by the Prophet, his Disciples [ṣaḥāba), or the Predecessors in general, then it is binding—part of the canon. Traditionism, the method of deriving ethical and legal judgments, was foreign to Muslim scholars of the first three centuries of Islam, who were primarily Reasonists (ahl al-ra’y].

The methodological and logical flaws in Brown’s reasoning are further weakened by historical and substantive facts. With the rise of Islam and before the death of Prophet Muhammad, and because of the restrictions and measures that encouraged the emancipation of slaves, a person can end up in servitude only through two paths:
1. During war: members of the defeated armies who were not part of a prisoners’ exchange deal or whose ransom is not paid will be “owned” by the victorious army as spoils of war. Since there were no facilities at that time to house them, captives were distributed among fighters who took part in the campaign.

2. By birth: children of two slave parents continued to be considered slaves and remained under the ownership and responsibility of the person who had owned their parents until they are freed or sold. Once a slave is freed, even in jest, they are permanently freed and the pronouncement of their freedom cannot be withdrawn or revoked.

The legal rule that prohibits re-enslaving persons who were freed, the religious edict commanding believers to free slaves to atone for a variety of sins and offenses, the restrictions of entry paths into slavery, and the ruling that determined emancipation of slaves being praiseworthy, with time, all such factors would have necessarily led to slave-free Islamic societies. That point was in fact anticipated in Islamic law, when an alternative (feeding the poor) to emancipating slaves for atonement or substitute for obligations purposes was made available. Indeed, Islamic regimes that continued to rely on slaves for their economic prosperity resorted to raiding distant communities and kidnapping peoples who would be forced into servitude, as did a number of rulers from the Umayyad,  Abbasid and Ottoman dynasties.

Brown spent most of the ninety-minute-long talk highlighting the cruelty associated with the treatment of slaves in other civilizations. However, given the cruelty practiced by ISIS in the name of Islam and the abuses unleashed by the Saudi ruling family, also in the name of Islam, and given that he holds academic chair established by members of the Saudi ruling family, most of the time should have been spent speaking against the atrocities committed by some Muslims against other Muslims and non-Muslims. Instead, Brown glossed over the practices committed by many Muslim rulers throughout Islamic history, giving credence to the racist narrative championed supremacists (non-Muslims and Muslims), like Turkey’s Erdogan, who refused to take responsibility for Ottoman crimes by arguing that “Muslims do not commit crimes of genocide.” The same argument was made by an Australian legislator when his country debated the ratification of the convention proscribing the crime of genocide: “It [genocide convention] deals with a crime of which no Anglo-Saxon nation could be guilty… None of the crimes that are enumerated in it could ever be committed by the Anglo-Saxon race.” Indeed, as is the case with any dominating empire, Muslims who headed some of these powerful governments have committed crimes and many Muslims remained silent, when heads of governments, in their name and on their behalf, committed genocides, crimes against humanity, and failed to abolish slavery. Enslaving human beings was wrong then despite its rootedness in society and it is abhorrent now that there is no socioeconomic argument to justify it. There should be no equivocation, no qualification of who treated slaves better, and no hesitation in characterizing it as a crime against humanity. 

The crucial step for achieving Islamic societies free of slavery is for the holders of chairs of Islamic studies to speak forcefully about the nature of the struggles that defined Islam as a social movement before it was hijacked by theologians who were interested in sanctifying institutions, concepts, and persons while abusing the dignity of human beings. To that end, Muslim scholars must emphasize the place of critical and truth-centered interpretation of key events in Islamic societies during the formative period. Many of Islam’s ethical and legal norms were authored or transmitted by the generation of leaders who came after Prophet Muhammad. But that generation is also responsible for much bloodshed and abuses. The Umayyad rulers, who the Saudi rulers emulate today and from whom they draw legitimacy, carried out some of the most genocidal wars against Muslims who opposed their rule and challenged their practices. The Ottoman Sultans, too, committed genocides and oppressed indigenous communities. That, and many other important facts, ought to be revisited so that a credible leadership can stop the bloodshed, end the carnage, and break the cycle of abuse in modern Islamic societies.
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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.

Which Middle-Eastern countries agree with the ban?

Which Middle-Eastern countries agree with the ban?

Neither the announcement of a nominee for the supreme court vacancy nor any other event were able to push down the Muslim Ban from the national and global news headlines. Even the man sitting in the White House could not avoid it. Three of his tweets on Saturday will create more problems for his administration than solve existing ones.
First, in support of the Muslim Ban, he claimed that “certain Middle-Eastern countries agree with the ban.” We did the research: Only two countries, out of all Middle Eastern countries, made statements that could be construed as an endorsement of the Muslim Ban, United Arab Emirate and Saudi Arabia. 
 

Saudi Energy Minster defending Muslim Ban

These countries are neither model democracies nor can their rulers speak in the name of the majority of the peoples of the Middle Eastern countries, let alone Muslims. 
It is ironic that this administration, given its emphasis on the need to fight terrorism, would rely on a country that is implicated in the 9/11 attacks and that is the subject of a legislation from Congress about its possible connection to terrorist acts that killed American citizens.

  

The POTUS’ tweet could explain why Saudi Arabia was left out of countries whose citizens are barred from entering the United States. Given the fact that Saudi Arabia falsely presents itself as the defender of Sunni Muslims and its rulers as the “servants of the two holy places,” the POTUS may have thought that he can call on the rulers of the kingdom to issue a fatwa decreeing that the Muslim Ban is not  anti-Muslim. Apparently, even the Saudi rulers could not burn whatever “Islamic capital” they may have left among naive Muslims on supporting an order that American judges reject. Which takes us to the other tweet.
 

This administration has accused those who protest its actions and platform as sore losers who are attempting to delegitimize a legitimate president. Reasonable position, indeed. However, when the POTUS uses language that is intended to delegitimize a judge appointed by a president from his own political party, all credibility is lost. 

 Calling a judge who was appointed by a Republican president and who was approved without a single dissenting vote “so-called judge,” gives others reasons and license to call him, the so-called president.
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http://www.amazon.com/Contesting-Justice-Women-Islam-Society/dp/0791473988?tag=a0645739-20

 

A leading Saudi Salafist fighting in Syria admits to committing war crimes

A leading Saudi Salafist fighting in Syria admits to committing war crimes


The peaceful protest movement in Syria wanted political and constitutional reform so that all Syrians are included and that the Syrian people have the final say in who governs and on the source (constitution) of their authority to govern. Salafists do not believe in a constitution that is derived from the will of the people. They believe in imposing a particular and specific interpretation of Islamic traditions from the top down. 

For militant Salafists, the imposition of sharia, as they see it not as seen by the majority of Muslim scholar, was the end goal. The presence of many religious, sectarian, and ethnic groups in Syria made that vision incompatible with a Syrian society that is too diverse to reduce to a single monolith. These diverse communities knew that their struggle is existential, since Salafists framed the conflict as one between “Sunni Muslims” (Salafists), on one side, and apostates (murtadd), Alawites (nusayris), Shias (rawafid), and crusaders (salabiyin) on the other side. Salafists’ actions in Syria reflect this framing of the conflict. They accused residents of towns that are predominantly inhabited by these communities of supporting Assad and they forced them out or placed them under siege. Members of the security forces were summarily executed. In most cases, these acts were videotaped and posted on social media to frighten civilians and force them to submit to their rule. Recently, the chief religious mufti of one of the largest armed groups in Syria admitted to committing war crimes by killing prisoners based on their religious affiliation

In an interview with a Lebanese paper, Abdallah al-Muhaysini, a leader of Jaysh al-Islam, which is a cover for Jabhat Fath al-Sham (aka Jabhat al-Nusra), Istaqim kama Umirt, and Ahrar al-Sham confirmed what has been reported since the start of the war in Syria. He admitted that his fighters target civilians who are “rawafid” and that they killed captured “nusayris” immediately. Salafist groups usually use derogatory sectarian names for warring parties to frame their war in Syria as being aimed at purging that country from non-Salafists.
This admission would have serious legal implications for individuals and governments known to have supported these groups, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Al-Muhaysini has had elaborate connections to foreign intelligence services and he formed working relations with all Salafist fighting groups in Syria which he urged to unite in a single army. He threatened those who refuse the unification. The admissions to war crimes and his threats could lead to his assassination.

Deficiencies in the arguments for a U.S. war on Syria and the perils of military intervention in Syria without UNSC authorization

Deficiencies in the arguments for a U.S. war on Syria and the perils of military intervention in Syria without UNSC authorization


by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

UNSC
Answering a reporter’s question if bombing Syria is needed in order to preserve his credibility since he was the one who set a red line, President Obama replied: “First of all, I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world’s population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war. Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty…”

It is true that international law and treaties have prohibited the use of certain weapons nearly a century ago. But UN Charter, the backbone of international law, also had established the proper response to any breach of these treaties. Outside the doctrine of self-defense from an imminent threat, no nation should attack another UN member state without authorization of the UN Security Council (UNSC). If nations were to act unilaterally, would U.S. leaders ratify a treaty that would allow, say the Soviet Union or China, to bomb the U.S. for actually using illegal weapons in Vietnam and other places?

The credibility of the President and that of the United States government will be further eroded if the President stubbornly rushes to war without UNSC resolution or making the case for self-defense. Attacking Syria under any other pretext will add to the image of the U.S. as being a bully who acts above the law and for suspect reasons. The UNSC could not act without evidence and part of that evidence was being collected by UN Inspectors who were in Damascus when the chemical attacks took place. Curiously, however, President Obama wanted to attack Syria (some expected an attack on Thursday) when UN Inspectors had just arrived to the scene.

Administration officials will point out that they sought UNSC approval but China and Russia were not supportive. The Chinese and the Russian leaders have argued that military action can be taken only when credible evidence of use of chemical weapons is presented. Russia’s president went further declaring that his country would support military action against any party in Syria should evidence be presented to the UNSC. That position seems more credible and logical than that of someone wanting to act first and ask questions later.

The Administration justified its desire to unilaterally attack Syria by arguing that (1) Russia and China are preventing the UNSC from acting, (2) the U.S. has enough evidence to prove that Assad and only Assad could and have used chemical weapons, (3) the killing of civilians near Damascus is too obscene to ignore, (4) only the regime has the capability to deploy chemical weapons, and (5) military action is the only way to force Assad to come to the negotiating table.

These are utterly weak arguments and grossly inaccurate statements.

First, Russia and China said that they did not see any credible evidence that identify the perpetrators and that they have evidence of their own that the Syrian opposition groups possessed chemical weapons and have used them in the past. In fact, allegations of use of chemical weapons in at least three other places were the reason for sending the UN Inspectors to Syria in the first place.

Second, there is always room for additional evidence to convince responsible members of the UNSC to authorize an extraordinary act, such as attacking a sovereign nation. Moreover, if the UNSC veto system is what is preventing the UNSC to act responsibly, the U.S. should join other nations that are calling for reform. But to complain, now, about the use and abuse of the veto when the U.S. has used and abused it more than the other four nations combined is indeed hypocritical and that is what erodes the President’s credibility and that of the nation’s.

Third, the slaughter of Syrians became obscene when the peaceful uprising was militarized and when Qatar and Saudi Arabia provided dangerous weapons to fighters with sectarian agenda, not today. Administration officials are quick to cite that 100,000 Syrians were killed. But what they will not cite is that 56,000 of 100,000 were killed by the rebels. In fact, 41,000 of the victims are Alawites—Assad’s sect. This disproportional killing of minorities is what sustains the regime: many Syrians belonging to Alawite, Druze, Shi`i, and Christian minorities think that Assad is the only man standing between them and a Taliban-like regime. Just Thursday, al-Qaeda affiliates took over a Christian town forcing frightened residents to flee; a mass slaughter is expected unless government forces retake the town soon. Recently, al-Nusra fighters have attacked Kurdish towns, forcing many residents to seek shelter in Northern Iraq. The Syrian regime could have collapsed during the first three months if the world community provided a credible alternative that will protect minorities from al-Qaeda affiliates and their sponsors.

Fourth, it is not an established fact that only the regime has the capability to deploy chemical weapons. That conclusion is not based on hard evidence; it is based on deductive and inductive reasoning. Be that as it may, it is reasonable to believe otherwise. Briefing leaders from the Friends of Syria group, the leader of the Free Syrian Army stated that he commands more than 80,000 disciplined troops who were members of Syrian armed forces and defected. With that being the case, is it inconceivable that some of the officers who defected know where some of the chemical weapons are and how to deploy them? Given the level of cooperation between the rebels, is it inconceivable that such information and knowledge was passed to extremist groups? Given the determination of Qatar and Saudi Arabia to overthrow the regime at any cost, is it inconceivable that such regimes provided crude chemicals that could be weaponized to rebels? Rebels have overrun many military installations in the past, is it inconceivable that they found some chemical weapons at those sites? Indeed, the brutality of the regime as described by its opponents is matched only by the cruelty of some rebel groups as described by the videos and statements they themselves have released. To romanticize the rebels and deaminize the government is destructive political bias or willful ignorance.

Fifth, the idea that the Syrian regime needs to be convinced by an act of war to attend political talks is factually untrue. It is the so-called National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces that refused to attend the proposed talks known as Geneva-2, not the regime. The U.S. administration is in fact incapable of convincing the opposition groups to attend Geneva-2 because Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey are opposed to a political settlement.

Lastly, the Administration (see Kerry’s statements to Congress) is twisting the fact to support its case for war when it quantified the rebels by stating that “moderates” are stronger than “extremists.” One does not need classified intelligence these days to know that that is not true. Still, the CIA, foreign intelligence communities, and NGOs have all concluded that al-Qaeda-like rebelsare stronger and better equipped than fighters of the Free Syrian Army, the so-called moderate opposition.

For any nation, the only way to start a war against another country without UNSC authorization is in self-defense. The President needs to make the case that the Syrian government is an imminent threat to United States’ national security. He needs to make that case to the American public and Congress. The credibility of the UNSC is in acting within the framework set for it by its member states. Starting a war unilaterally will weaken the only international regime that strives to maintain world peace and security. The President ought to think about the long term effects of his rush to war. After all, public opposition (under 29% support the attack provided that there are evidence that Assad used CW against civilians) to his desire to act in Syria was due, in part, to another U.S. president’s rush to start another illegal war in Iraq. He ought to stop the cycle not perpetuate it.

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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. 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.

Attack on Syria,multilateral approach to resolving this crisis remains a crucial instrument

Attack on Syria,multilateral approach to resolving this crisis remains a crucial instrument

by Henelito A. Sevilla, Jr.* 

Recent gas attack to a civilian population in the suburbs of Syria that led to the death of hundreds of Syrian was undeniably a crime against humanity and merits an international intervention. The attack was the “largest mass killing of the Syrian Civil War” and the “most deadliest chemical weapons attack” in the region since former President Saddam Hussien used poison gas to kill thousands of Kurds during the Halabja massacre on March 16, 1988 in Southern Kurdistan, Iraq.


For many of the countries in the world, the gas attack against Syrian civilians is a wake up call that civil war in Syria has indeed crossed the “red line” and must be addressed immediately to stop the increasing number of killed civilians and to make sure that such kind of attack will not be repeated again.

In response to this attack, major countries in the world such as the United States, France and Great Britain have both sent a clear and strong signal that they will run after the criminals and prosecute them accordingly for the crime committed against humanity. Despite the absence of strong evidence, there had been a strong allegation regarding the possible involvement of the Assad regime in the issue-an allegation which has categorically been denied by the Assad regime. Russia has also come to Assad side citing that western countries have no proof of Assad regime’s involvement of the attack.

Until a final UN report is provided, here are at least three possible angles we need to look at on who and what motivates this attack:

a. That allegation of Assad regime involvement in gas attack may be true given that the regime has reportedly been keeping nuclear and chemical weapons;
b. That Syrian rebels are involved in the attack and eventually put the blame on Assad’s regime to encourage western intervention; and
c. That some imported militias especially Islamists are behind the attack to complicate the possibility of reaching agreement and compromise between the rebel groups and the regime.

Until United Nations’ inspectors complete the final investigation and release a report, it will be difficult to identify the responsible party for this criminal act. Hence, any military effort targeting the regime’s forces on the grounds may not provide a solution. Instead it will complicate the problem.

In addition to this, any move to intervene militarily -either limited or in full scale- without the blessings of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) will not only violate international law but above all question the moral and ethical objective of the military intervention. It will question the fundamental principle of intervention to protect the Syrian civilians on the ground and lastly it would simply contribute to the escalation of the conflict to the highest level where more damages and more lives will be lost.

Therefore, any intervention in Syria must be carefully calculated and must be carried out through the auspices of the United Nations Security Council and not just by one of few powers. Multilateral approach to resolving this crisis remains a crucial instrument.

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*Henelito A. Sevilla, Jr is an Assistant Professor at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines, Diliman. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Tehran, a Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Shahid Behesti, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran and Bachelor of Science in International Relations at the King Faisal Center for Islamic, Arabic and Asian Studies, Mindanao State University, Marawi City, Philippines.

Revolutions and rebellions and Syria’s paths to war and peace

Revolutions and rebellions and Syria’s paths to war and peace

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Another massacre in Syria: click  on image to view video


In less than a month, peaceful Tunisian and Egyptian protesters ousted two of the most authoritarian rulers of the Arab world. The human and economic costs: a total of about 1100 people dead (300 in Tunisia and 800 in Egypt) and some decline in economic growth. These were the dignity revolutions. In contrast, the Syrian peaceful uprising quickly turning into armed rebellion is now 22 months old with over 60,000 people (civilians, rebels, security and military officers, women and children) dead, more than 4,000,000 persons displaced from their homes, and destruction estimated at $70 billion. This is now, without doubt, an ideological/sectarian civil war. Short of a genocidal outcome, the only path to peace is that which relies on reconciliation and dialogue. There can be no preconditions because all sides have blood on their hands at this point. This reality, and the staggering numbers cataloging death and destruction might, forces all sides to reassess their previously held positions. Ideologues who wanted to bend the path of a legitimate peaceful revolution to meet their narrow political and sectarian ends can no longer ignore this reality and the state of the country. The fast emerging developments support these hypotheses.


Earlier this week, the president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (the National Coalition), Mouaz al-Khatib, announced that he is ready to talk directly with representatives of the Syrian regime. He insisted however, that the regime releases 160,000 detainees and renew or extend expired passports for Syrians living outside the country. Meeting on Wednesday in Cairo, some members of the National Coalition slammed al-Khatib, accusing him of straying from the Doha agreement, a document on the basis of which the National Coalition was formed.

In the light of the disagreements, one must ask: why did al-Khatib offer to hold direct talks with representatives of the regime? For answers, we must look at the recent events related to the Syrian crisis. I will highlight some of these events that could reconstitute the National Coalition or force the resignation of its current president.


1. Immediately after the formation of the National Coalition, the U.S. administration placed one of the main Syrian armed groups, Jabhat al-Nusra, on the list of terrorist organizations. The measure created a filter that limited the flow of arms into Syria. The legal implications of the label of terrorism split the opposition and tempered Saudi and Qatari enthusiasm for arming it. The categorization of the opposition into terrorist and non-terrorist groups was further enhanced by France’s intervention in Mali and the French media’s accusation of Qatar of supporting extremist groups in the Maghreb.

2. Three weeks ago, Assad gave a speech in which he called for reconciliation talks that excluded opponents he called “terrorists.” Syrian officials said this week that political opposition figures could return to Damascus for “national dialogue” and that any charges against them would be dropped. In the same speech, Assad announced plans for a reconciliation conference with opposition figures “who have not betrayed Syria.” He totally ignored plans by the UN envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, who, according to some observers, was close to bridging the gap between Russian and American plan for solving the Syrian crisis. Assad’s speech practically rendered Brahimi’s efforts irrelevant.

3. This week (on Thursday), EU foreign ministers agreed to keep in place the ban on exporting arms to the Syrian opposition. This decision was a upset to efforts by some leaders of the National Coalition who met earlier in the week (Monday and Tuesday) to ask for $500 million and arms. The meeting, which al-Khatib did not attend, failed to provide the National Coalition with any tangible support. Moreover, early last week, France’s foreign minister acknowledged that there is no indication whatsoever that Assad is about to be overthrown and he communicated this new assessment to the so-called “Friends of Syria” when representatives of about 50 countries and organizations met in Paris. Initially, the National Coalition planned to announce the formation of a government in exile during this meeting. But the lack of enthusiasm “delayed” the announcement.

4. Compared to the failed meetings in Paris and Cairo, several other international gatherings about Syria were held around the world and have produced actual results that could help the Syrian people mitigate the economic and political problems they face. One of such meetings was held in Kuwait to raise money for Syrian refugees and displaced civilians. This meeting was not political and perhaps because it was not political it was very successful. More than $1.6 billion was raised in two days. Importantly, the meeting, which was attended by representatives of many countries, including Russia and Iran, highlighted the extent of human suffering and the horror of war. Although the Syrian government was not represented, its authority was nonetheless preserved since the money that is intended to be used to help displaced Syrians inside and outside Syria will be managed by a UN agency, which will coordinate parts of its activities with the Syrian government. This fact could explain al-Khatib’s comment about expired passports. Apparently, he realized that despite France’s (and a handful of other countries’) recognition of the National Coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people, Assad’s regime is still the only legitimate government in Syria. A second gathering was held in Geneva and it brought together about 300 representatives of the so-called “civil opposition” and international NGOs. The participants issued a declaration calling on the world community to take steps to end the violence in Syria on the basis of the International Geneva Agreement. Specifically, the participants agreed to “negotiations between the opposition and the regime to implement the International Geneva Agreement, for issuing a constitutional declaration to create a Government with full power to administrate this stage, and work to bring about fair legislature and presidential elections, under international supervision.”

5. This week, too, more shocking images of horror emerged: 80 bodies of Syrian civilians were pulled out of a river near Aleppo. The images showed more victims of summary executions. The Syrian government accused “terrorists” of kidnapping and executing civilians living in neighborhoods known for their support to Assad. The opposition groups accused the regime of the brutal killings. Only an independent investigation could determine the identity of the victims and the perpetrators. Nonetheless, regardless of the identity of those who committed this horrible crime, the images remain shocking. The horrific scene of bodies scattered along the river bank made more people realize that the agony of the Syrians is indescribable.

6. Adding to these crucial developments, a spokesperson for the National Coalition announced today (Friday) that “Syrian National Coalition President Moaz Alkhatib will meet U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.” Reacting to this announcement, Lavrov’s deputy Gennady Gatilov tweeted, “Media reports about the upcoming Munich meeting… are not true.” It is not surprising that Russia would hesitate in granting al-Khatib a high profile meeting given that the latter, when he was selected to head the National Coalition, demanded that “Russia apologizes to the Syrian people.” Russian officials are unlikely to agree to a multilateral high profile meeting that includes a figure they characterized, then, as “amateur.” In other words, this proposed meeting might turn into a series of one-on-one conversations to assess the situation and suggest a path forward. It is unlikely that such a meeting, even if it were to happen, will result in a breakthrough given the gap between Russia and U.S. positions on Syria and the disagreements within the National Coalition.

Notwithstanding this public dissent, and in the light of all these important developments, it is likely that some leaders on both sides are now convinced that there must be an end to the bloodshed, suffering, and destruction. Al-Khatib might be one of them. After all, and despite being attacked by his colleagues from the National Coalition, al-Khatib appeared on an Arab television after the Cairo meeting and declared that he is master of his own decision. He said that he stands by his statement on talks with the regime. He also said that he was not pressured or enticed by anyone or any country but his stand is based on his personal concern for the lives and welfare of the Syrian people. When asked if he is acting in contravention of consensus among the leaders of the Coalition, he replied, “the Coalition members have agreed always to alleviate the pain and suffering of the Syrian people.”

Indeed, al-Khatib’s new position might be dictated by his realization that Syria could not and should not endure this horror for another 22 months. It is also possible that he finally realized that the support promised by the sponsors of the National Coalition may never materialize. In a sense, his about-face regarding talks with the regime to which he previously vowed not to talk is either an act of political maneuvering or a cry of despair. Perhaps, now, the Syrians can trust each other and rely on one another and put an end to an unwinnable civil war. Relying on the regional and world powers has proven to be a costly participation in a proxy war that is devastating the country and further pushing Syrians to the brink of sectarian and ideological war that will certainly fragment the Syrian society and destabilize the entire region.
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. He is the author of a number of books and articles. Opinion herein are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Free Syrian Army may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity

Free Syrian Army may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Armed opposition groups operating inside Syria may have violated international humanitarian law by committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Arguably, some members of the Syrian troops may also have committed similar violations. However, the self-incriminating evidence released by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups is simply overwhelming. The evidence used in this research note is gathered from documents, images, and videos released by both parties (the FSA and the Syrian government) and not independently collected from the field.


The materials examined show deliberate acts that contravene the Geneva Conventions, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and other treaties and customary laws (including classical Islamic law). The evidence is based on 12 months of monitoring websites and social media used by the Syrian warring parties. Thousands of video clips and hundreds of articles and images were examined leading to these disturbing and alarming conclusions.

Some groups affiliated with the FSA have conducted frequent raids on security forces check points and military outposts and captured soldiers and then executed them. In a number of videos, unarmed soldiers are shown with their hands tied behind their backs, gagged, and blindfolded, then shot dead execution style. Other videos show corpses of soldiers piled in trash dumps. A video released on October 3rd by the FSA group called Jabhat al-nusrah (communiqué 95) shows the bodies of 20 soldiers on the side of the road. The group identified them as “20 infidels from the troops of Assad captured and killed in Aleppo.”
      

Other videos depict armed opposition groups interrogating civilians (who bear signs of torture on their faces and bodies), accusing them of being members of the shabbihah (government supporters), and then executing them in public. These are serious violations, and are war crimes (under the Geneva Conventions, and the ICC Treaty) since they endanger protected persons (prisoners of war and the wounded and sick).


While Article 17 of the Fourth Geneva Convention provides that the “parties to the conflict shall endeavor to conclude local agreements for the removal [of noncombatants] from besieged or encircled areas,” overwhelming evidence emerged showing that armed groups placed civilians in harm’s way. Numerous documents show that armed groups, many of whom are from outside the city (and from other countries), have occupied residential neighborhoods in Aleppo and are endangering the lives of civilians. Some of the FSA groups laid siege to towns and bombarded them simply because in the majority of residents belonged to Shiite sects or were of Kurdish ethnicity. Armed groups occupied residential homes, and snipers used them to attack security forces. All these acts are known to cause harm to civilians and their property and can be classified as “deliberately endangering noncombatants,” which is also an egregious violation of the laws of war.

Some of the armed groups affiliated with the FSA use language that express contempt for other religious and ethnic groups, and express intent to “cleanse” Syria of non-Sunni Muslims. This basis for war violates international norms for the protection of minorities and the prohibitions on genocide.

  

It may be the case that the FSA leadership does not support such acts, but there was no evidence whatsoever that the FSA leadership or their foreign supporters intervened to stop these practices. In fact, as the New York Times reported, most of the financial and military support provided by foreign countries ends up making its way to the kind of groups that are suspected of committing these violations.


Given recent developments in the body of humanitarian laws, countries involved in support of groups involved in such activities could be liable for these crimes. The ICC Treaty for instance, holds the perpetrators as well as the enablers responsible for the same crime. Reportedly, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey have provided financial and military aid to the FSA. If these reports are true, these states are complicit in the crimes committed by the FSA.

It is in the interest of peace and in the interest of the Syrian civilians that these unconscionable and abhorrent criminal acts stop and that the perpetrators are brought to justice. It cannot be the Syrian people’s wish or aspiration to replace a brutal authoritarian regime with a criminal, genocidal one.
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. Opinions expressed herein are the author’s, speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Israel will not bomb Iran this year

Israel will not bomb Iran this year

I recognize that it is injudicious to make emphatic predictions like this one and it is especially impolitic to do so without access to all information. In this case however, all critical information is publicly available. The only important piece of information that we don’t know is whether or not Iran has or is close to having a nuclear bomb. But all those who are supposed to know don’t really know. The most recent estimate suggests that Iran could have the capacity, the knowledge, and the material to produce several crude nuclear bombs within one year. Similar claims were made at least five other times in the past 25 years.

Increasingly, talking about Iran as a nuclear threat is becoming an exclusive hobby for politicians. Although some of the Arab regimes feel equally threatened by a nuclear Iran, only Israel seems to emerge as the subject of this threat. Israeli leaders have made it clear that a nuclear Iran is an existential threat and that they will do whatever is necessary to eliminate that threat, including a preemptive military attack. Unexpectedly, some U.S. officials, including Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, went as far as setting a time for such an Israeli military strike: this spring. Nonetheless, here are several reasons why, in my opinion, Israel will not attack Iran this year.

ONE: If past behavior is a predictor of future actions, we know that Israel attacks other countries without announcing its intentions. Israel attacked its neighbors’ nuclear installations twice before but it never announced it beforehand. In 1981, Israel destroyed an unfinished Iraqi nuclear reactor without warning. In 2007, Israel was thought to have demolished a nuclear facility in the early stages of construction in an airstrike on Syria. Regarding the second attack, Israel is yet to officially take credit for the bombing. Israel has a habit of responding to any real or perceived threat by taking it out without warning as it did in 1986 when its airplanes bombed the PLO headquarters in Tunisia, again without warning. In all cases, Israel did not announce its intention let alone a timetable.


TWO: When Israel attacked the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear reactors, the strikes did not ignite a full scale war because neither country retaliated militarily. Israel knows that attacking Iran will unleash retaliatory strikes if not a full scale war. Indeed, Israel may have the control over when to start this conflict but it does not have the ability to control when the ensuing conflict ends. This in and of itself makes an attack on Iran like no other attack and Israeli leaders cannot risk a prolonged war that could force many Jews to leave the country.

THREE: To attack Iran, Israel must fly over at least one other country before reaching Iranian airspace. Israel must prove that an attack on Iran is necessary for it to even start a conversation with Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and/or Iraq for permission to use their airspace. Out of all these four countries, Saudi Arabia is the country most eager to see Iran weakened but it is unlikely that the regime there will consent to an Israeli attack on Iran via Saudi Arabian airspace for internal political reasons.



FOUR: Without a UNSC resolution authorizing military intervention against Iran, an attack on Iran will be illegal. The events at the UNSC of last week show that China and Russia will not allow such a resolution. One of the reasons Israel did not take credits for attacking the Syrian site and the assassination of Iranian scientists is the legality of such acts. Once a precedent is established whereby countries can simply attack other sovereign nations based on perceived—not imminent—threats, the trend could easily spiral out of control and Israel will find itself victim of a practice it had started. In this particular case, Iran could invoke a strategic agreement they signed with the Syrians and use that country, Lebanon, and Iraq to retaliate with ground war, not just via long range missiles. In other words, Israel may have the initiative of starting an attack but Iran will be able to decide on launching a war and control how long such a war would last.


FIVE: Generally, only authoritarian regimes may undertake irrational acts without calculating the full ramifications. Indeed, Netanyahu, who espouses extremist views, is a person who could take such rash decisions, too. However, Israel is a state with divested powers and decisions are generally made in consultation with heads of the various governing institutions. The risks of an attack on Iran are too great to overlook by all the decision makers in Israel.


SIX: Most western leaders argue that the military solution (assuming that it is actually a solution) should be a last resort. China and Russia favor diplomatic compromise. U.S. and some European leaders favor economic sanctions. Israel wants assurances that Iran is not allowed to become a military nuclear power. Western sanctions against Iran are now at unprecedented levels and that suggests that Israel may have promised some western leaders that it would not carry a military attack as long as they keep pressuring and isolating Iran. A Military strike would not isolate Iran; it may provide it with many sympathizers.

SEVEN: Publicly at least, the only reason Iran sees Israel as an enemy is because of the latter’s unsettled dispute with the Palestinians. If the Israelis and the Palestinians reach a peace agreement, Iran will have no claim over Israel and the nuclear issue will be moot. The Arab Spring is imposing a new reality and one of the consequences of this new reality is the pressure on Palestinians to seek the input of the people and live by the results of that input. Just this week, the main Palestinian factions reached a new agreement to form a unity government. The new government will be tasked with overseeing the elections and these elections will determine the next generation of Palestinian leaders. Israel will then have an opportunity to settle the dispute with an elected Palestinian leadership or face more isolation. The Gaza War destroyed its alliance with Turkey; rejecting the new Palestinian leadership will alienate more of its discrete Arab friends such as Qatar. This is not likely scenario though unless a fair elections actually take place.

The widely accepted assumption is that a nuclear Iran will–not could or may–attack Israel. The reality is different. First, there is the nature of the weapon that renders it useless since, once a nuclear weapon explodes in that narrow strip of land, it will not discriminate between a Jew and a Muslim. Given that Shiite Muslims are a stone’s throw away from Israel’s northern border, Iran is unlikely to use such a weapon. Second, the Iranian hostility towards Israel is rooted in the same premise of Muslims’ hostility towards Israel and that is the dispute over Palestinian statehood. So there is no special case that makes Iran more hostile than the Saudis for example. So the problem is more about geopolitics and less about ideology or religion. In the end, the Iran-Israel conflict is not any different from the regional conflict originating from the colonial era. In that context, Israel’s problems will not be solved with the elimination of the so-called Iranian threat. It must deal with the problem in its regional and global dimensions. The fact remains that, after loosing Turkey and Egypt and possibly soon Jordan as friendly nations, Israel is more isolated that Iran in the region. Will it bomb all these unfriendly nations to submission one after another, too, after bombing Iran and surviving the aftermath? 
For these and many other reasons, the world will continue to resist Israel’s call to attack Iran without actual progress in solving the Palestinian matter.
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. He is the author of the book, Contesting Justice. Opinions expressed herein are the author’s, speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

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