Donald Trump’s candidacy has redefined how presidential candidates should act and speak, running a campaign that has shocked many Americans. Trump’s huge base of support can be put into context by comparing him to another charismatic leader: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Listen to how the two polarizing figures share common ideals and strategies, understand how each has gained popular support, and consider the repercussions of each of their respective movements.
In 2012, pictures emerged of US soldiers in the Helmand province guarding poppy fields. These fields are the sources of opium, which is used to make heroin. Afghanistan is currently the supplier for 90% of the world’s heroin. The United States should invest in destroying the poppy fields in Afghanistan for three reasons: to stop the rampant addiction in the region, to stop the illegal drug trade, and to help the Afghani government gain more control of the Taliban. In order to do this, the US should negotiate with the Afghani government to have the Drug Enforcement Agency Kabul Country Office take a greater lead on drug operations in Taliban controlled regions, address the the ways that heroin is leaving the country, and offer alternative occupation for those who currently work in poppy fields.
As of 2014, the US spent $8 billion in Afghanistan for counter narcotics. There is about 824 square miles (224,000 hectares) of land used for poppy cultivation in 2014. While clearly rampant throughout the country, growing poppies is illegal under Afghan law. This drug trade accounts for over a third of the Taliban’s income. The terrorist group profits from taxing poppy farmers and merchants, getting money from the truckers and opium labs, and selling to international narcotics cartels. The largest cultivation province is the Helmand province. Coincidentally, there are US troops still stationed in the Helmand province. The US may be avoiding eradication of the poppy fields in fear of potential consequences for local farmers under Taliban rule. However, allowing the illegal production to continue is not the answer to employment issues in the country.
By getting rid of the poppy fields, Afghanistan can better address the growing problem with drug addiction. The number of drug addicts in Afghanistan has gone from 1.6 million in 2012 to 3 million in 2015, accounting for 10% of the population. Furthermore, the drug that once was transported into the country is now supplied domestically, building upon the existing child addiction problem. Without the money to feed their children, parents have resorted to using puffs of heroin to help stave off hunger. This quick solution has terribly detrimental long-term effects on children. Repeated use of heroin changes the physical structure as well as the physiology of the brain. This creates an imbalance within the brain that is very difficult to fix. Long term use affects decision-making abilities, ability to regulate behavior, and responses to stressful situations. While there is no quick fix for opium addicts, decreasing the amount of heroin available is a start. Furthermore, addressing addiction will help ensure a stable Afghani government in the future.
From another angle, eliminating the Taliban’s drug source can effectively slow down the drug trade. The number heroin addicts in the US has been rising exponentially in the last decade. Decreasing the amount available generates a feedback effect that also lowers the number of addicts. With fewer addicts, less money will need to go into drug treatment–in turn helping the US government save money on future aid expenses. Similar trends would be seen in other countries considering that Afghanistan sources 90% of the drug.
Furthermore, removing heroin would cause the Taliban to lose a third of its budget and affect its capabilities to fight. While the US government has been working with the Afghani government to gain power back from the Taliban, the fundamentalist movement still maintains a strong grip in Afghanistan. Although a smaller budget may not destroy the group, it would slow down their ability to attack. With fewer attacks and the Taliban searching for other avenues of income, the Afghani government can have a better chance at dismantling the terrorist organization.
However, there are people that reside within the Taliban controlled regions. Although this accounts for only 6.4% of the population, many of these people that are working in the poppy fields rely on the drug trade. While this is already part of the strategy used by the United States, more funds should be dedicated to finding other avenues of income for local people.
Furthermore, eradicating the poppy seeds should only be one part of the solution. The US should negotiate with the Afghani government to have the DEA Kabul Country Office take a greater lead on drug operations in Taliban controlled regions. Within any unstable and weak government, corruption runs rampant; there has been much evidence indicating corruption in Afghanistan. Therefore, if the US is able to take greater control of the drug reduction operations, there may be better oversight to prevent corruption. Part of the DEA’s approach should involve addressing the different ways that heroin is leaving the country. This may require stricter airport security or border control. If the Taliban has less funds, less resources, and less ways of selling the heroin, it will be substantially weakened, which may ultimately allow the central government to reclaim control more easily.
Since last March, violence has increased in Yemen’s war between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition. The latter, in what many consider a proxy war, aims to restore the Yemeni government and resist Iran’s attempt at flexing its political and religious muscle in the region. The war is also witnessing the growing existential threat of Ansar al-Shari’a, a terrorist organization that the US Department of State designated as an alias of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in 2010.
Amidst the major political and religious Saudi Arabia-Iran tensions and additional alliance-foe complexities in Yemen, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is also playing a surprisingly major role in fighting against the Houthi rebels and AQAP, alongside the Saudi-led coalition. Generally known for its secularism and peacefulness, why is this tiny, young Gulf country heavily involved in a war 1,500 kilometers away from home?
The United Arab Emirates, founded by His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in 1971, has been a member of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) since its establishment in 1981. One of the integral foundations of the GCC is joint military cooperation, to which the Arab members agree to cooperate and defend their sovereignty, stability, and interests from domestic and external threats. The UAE, along with the rest of the predominantly Sunni GCC members, hence have a distinctive reason to resist a Shiite Iran’s attempt to gain influence in the region. The Houthis, aligned with Iran, practice an offshoot of Shi’a Islam known as Zaydism. With a Sunni population of over 80%, the future of Yemen poses great anxiety for the UAE. An alliance with Iran could severely affect its own and the Gulf’s delicate religious stability, should the Iran-backed Houthis prevail in Yemen. It would be particularly detrimental to the Gulf countries if Yemen, a neighboring country with significant territorial size, transforms into a Shi’a dominated government, potentially increasing Iran’s influence in the region at the expense of the UAE’s military and economic interests. Hence, since the beginning of its involvement in the Saudi-led coalition, the UAE has carried out extensive air raids through warplanes against the Houthi rebels.
In addition to Iran-backed Houthi rebels, radical terrorist groups, especially Ansar al-Sharia, pose a potential, yet severe existential threat to the UAE. In recent years, the UAE has arrested several domestic terror cells that were found to be “support networks” for groups with ties to Al Qaeda. The UAE is still a relatively safe country with few terror-related incidents. However, due to the latest rise in terror-related activities throughout the region, the country has nonetheless increased its counter-terrorism security and vigilance throughout the years. The UAE trains and arms local recruits for the fight against AQAP, as well as captures its strongholds in Yemen. In April, with the military support of the Yemeni military and local tribes, the UAE carried out a major Al-Qaeda defeat by securing the Yemeni port city of Mukallah from AQAP. As this city holds Yemen’s second largest port, AQAP has acquired substantial revenue by imposing taxes on the shipment of goods. With this major defeat, the UAE and its local partners managed to choke off one of AQAP’s major sources of financial support.
The UAE’s heavy involvement in Yemen is also attributed to its growing status as a powerful regional trade partner. Less than fifty years old, the country has experienced rapid development and a flourishing economy. Despite its diversifying sources of income, including an ever-expanding tourism industry and robust foreign trade networks, the UAE still remains one of the world’s leading oil producers. Its yearly oil exports contribute to twenty-five percent of the country’s GDP. The UAE heavily depends on Bab-el-Mandab, a narrow but vital strait situated between Yemen and the Horn of Africa that bridges the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. In 2013, approximately 3.8 million bbl/d (barrels per day) of crude oil and refined petroleum products flowed through the strait to Europe, the United States, and Asia. If Iran circumvents the Saudi-led coalition through the assistance of the Houthi rebels and gains control over the strait, the trade traffic at Bab-el-Mandab will be heavily impeded. In 2012, Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, another narrow strait located in the Persian Gulf where one-fifth of the world’s oil and forty percent of the world’s energy passes. A similar Iranian dominance over Bab-el-Mandab through sea mines, interdiction of trading ships, air and land-based attack systems will greatly affect the UAE’s ability to export its oil. Closure of the strait will prevent the UAE, along with the rest of the Gulf exporters, from reaching the Suez Canal and other pipelines efficiently. If the UAE loses access to the strait, they would have to reroute through the southern tip of Africa, leading to increased transit time and heavier costs. Hence, the UAE needs to exert significant efforts against the Houthi rebels, and thus Iran, to ensure that neither of the two cooperating groups affects traffic flow of the strategically situated strait.
Regional alliances and trade routes aside, perhaps the most significant reason for the UAE’s involvement in Yemen is the opportunity to project itself as a credible, powerful military ally, especially to the United States. As American ties between Turkey and Saudi-Arabia deteriorate, and while Egypt faces domestic challenges, the UAE has emerged in recent years as a staunch ally of the United States. Commonly known as “Little Sparta” by US officials, the UAE is the only Arab country to host an American military base (Al-Dhafra) with F-22 raptors, as well as the US’s busiest overseas port of call, Jebel Ali. As the country continues to transform into one of the world’s leading commerce and financial hubs, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has sought to strengthen the Emirati military to also become regionally and internationally influential. Combined with its fierce anti-Islamist rhetoric, renowned women empowerment, and secularism, the UAE’s young yet powerful military has greatly appealed to the West. While neighboring countries, such as Qatar, downplayed its role in raids against regional extremists, the UAE proudly projected images of Major Mariam al-Mansouri, the female fighter pilot, known internationally for her involvement in the strikes against the Islamic State. The war in Yemen thus serves as a strategic opportunity for the UAE to show the world its ability to effectively mobilize forces and assure the United States, one of its main military partners, that it is indeed a credible, reliable regional ally.
As the United Arab Emirates continues to fight in the war in Yemen, there are evidently many costs, including troop losses through its heavy involvement in military operations overseas. Despite this, the UAE serves as a paradigm for other other Gulf countries. Shedding its traditional military efforts of only protecting the country from internal threats, the UAE has evolved into a powerful country in the Middle East that has been able to heavily invest in its military in recent years, alongside other aspects of development. The UAE’s willingness to cooperate with similar agendas to its own has helped itself gain strong alliances with various countries around the world, including the US. Ultimately, other wealthy Gulf states should also take a page out of the Emirati playbook to preserve their own stability and security, while additionally protecting their neighboring countries.
The article has been revised for clarity.
November 13, a day that will surely be ingrained in the nightmares of thousands, began as any other day in Paris, with the promise of an exciting evening of friends, food, and music. No one predicted the horror that would ensue as the sun set, namely that a group of strategically organized terrorists would infiltrate various locations throughout the city. At 9:20pm explosions erupted in the locality around the Stade de France, triggering the beginning of multiple attacks. Over the next four hours, cafes and restaurants were targeted in a slew of bombings and shootings, culminating at the Bataclan Concert Hall. Those hoping to enjoy an evening of rock music headlined by the American band, Eagles of Death Metal, instead faced a group of armed militants that entered the venue and opened fire at unsuspecting crowds. Within a few hours, the city of Paris was consumed by panic and terror as thousands fled these targeted centers in search of safe havens from the attacks.
The city of Paris lost 130 lives throughout the course of the night and 351 people were left injured. An attack meant to indiscriminately stir fear not only in France, but globally, has successfully shaken spirits worldwide. Empathy for France was instantaneous as social media reacted in support. Facebook instituted a safety check system, a tool previously reserved for natural disasters, allowing users in Paris to notify their loved ones of their status. Feeds flooded with profile pictures donning a blue, white and red filter in solidarity. Across all social media platforms, people showed their support using the hashtag #prayforparis, and governments worldwide showed their solidarity, projecting the French flag over their monuments and gathering to discuss collective action. Just two days after the attacks, world leaders met at the G20 World Summit in Turkey, vowing to increase military response against IS. Since the World Summit, an international coalition including the USA, France, the UAE, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and recently Britain, has formed using air strikes to bomb IS targets in Syria aiming to weaken the organization’s strongholds. With the ever-increasing support for France and the reactionary discussions among government heads, the Paris attacks marked a pivotal point in the war against IS and its affiliates. Claiming responsibility for the horrific attacks, IS has demonstrated its ability to not only effectively inflict its militant terror tactics within its territorial strongholds but also to extend this destructive reach internationally.
But what does this social response and acceleration in government action tell us? The terrorist attacks in Paris and the response that followed showed a collective empathy that cut across national boundaries, but also conversely emphasized the stark contrast in the attention garnered by terrorist attacks in other regions. With everyone from celebrities to prominent government officials making statements and sending their condolences and prayers to Parisians, one begins to wonder why other countries do not receive the same treatment. For instance, earlier last year a suicide bomber killed 12 people during a funeral in eastern Afghanistan. In April, al-Shabab militants attacked and killed 147 at Garissa University in Kenya, most of whom were students. Just a day before the attacks in Paris, a suicide bombing orchestrated by ISIS hit the city of Beirut killing 43 people. These are but a few of the acts of terrorism this past year and the majority of these brutal incidents share one common factor: none garnered the outpouring of global attention and empathy that the Paris attacks had.
My intention is not to shame the solidarity shown for Paris, but to highlight the stark contrast between how these events are treated. This contrast makes it impossible to continue ignoring the chronic perception that terrorism occurring in countries situated in regions more prone to violence, such as in the Middle East and Africa, can be waved aside as normal or habitual occurrences. At the G20 Summit in November, President Obama referred to the events in Paris as not just an attack on France but as “an attack on the civilized world.” This raises the question as to how and what we can identify as “the civilized world?” This loaded statement calls forth the idea that world governments, popular media, and ordinary individuals dismiss some regions as backwards and their confrontations with violence as the unfortunate but dismissible status quo—until bombs go off in their own backyards. What is most distressing is that attacks subsequently launched against terrorist organizations often result in the upheaval and loss of many innocent civilian lives; consider the civilian death toll in the War on Terrorism following 9/11 and the warzone that Syria has become. Civilians in countries that seem to be too “uncivilized” to foster global attention or completely lost in micro-aggression, are often neglected and their already chaotic surroundings decimated.
So what does this mean for the future in the aftermath of the Paris attacks? It is clear that IS and its affiliates will not stop anytime soon in their ongoing terror rampage. They have already claimed sequence of more attacks, since the Paris events. In Nigeria two bomb attacks carried out by Boko Haram killed 31 and injured 72. This past week a suicide bomber—and suspected member of IS—killed 10 in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square and the organization also orchestrated a series of attacks in Jakarta leaving 2 dead and 20 injured. A new IS propaganda video, titled “Paris Has Collapsed,” was released on November 20th glorifying the Paris attacks and vowing continuation of threats to not only France, but also the U.S. The hacker-activist group known as Anonymous also released a list of future IS targets it claims to have uncovered suggesting plans for strikes in the U.S., Indonesia, Italy, and Lebanon. Additionally we also see the domino effect IS attacks have on its ongoing rivalry with Al Qaeda for Islamic supremacy. Shortly after the Paris attacks, Al Qaeda launched an attack that killed 19 in a Mali hotel on November 20th. A dangerous future of competition between the two organizations is becoming progressively more apparent.
The West, or the “civilized world” as described by President Obama, is entering a state of emergency as the war against terrorism escalates indefinitely. The next steps will undoubtedly bring massive change to the international sphere. In this, we must remember that government and social response can empower terrorism as much as it can end it; justice is our duty but retaliation is not. We cannot permit ourselves to repeat the mistakes following 9/11 with an emergency response that does not consider further consequences in war-torn countries. For every innocent life lost in distant battlefields and each person at home that allows their fear to turn them away from the idea of human rights, plays into the hands of terrorist organizations moving us towards an increasingly militant global climate fueled by terror.
My prayers go out to all those affected by the recent terrorist attacks and those who continue to experience the aftermath of past episodes. Your stories will not go forgotten.
In light of recent radical Islamic terrorist attacks worldwide, individuals everywhere are feeling uneasy and unsafe. The topic of national security has moved to the forefront of political agendas and has become an integral part of international discussions. In the United States, 49% of citizens are worried that they, or someone in their family, will become a victim of terrorism. This percentage is the highest it has been since the year following 9/11. According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, “Over three-quarters of Americans doubt the nation’s ability to stop ‘lone wolf’ terrorist attacks by individuals acting on their own.” Additionally, 59% of Republicans, 38% of Independents, and 15% of Democrats support a ban on all Muslims wishing to enter the United States. For a nation that prides itself on freedom and equal opportunity for all, these are surprising numbers, which reveal the success of radical extremists in their ability to create widespread fear and anti-Muslim sentiment.
In an effort to learn more about the goals and recruitment strategies of ISIS, a colleague and I recently interviewed Mubin Shaikh—an ex-extremist turned counter-terrorism operative, and author of the book Undercover Jihadi. Born in Canada, Shaikh was raised Muslim and became influenced by the radical ideas of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. He began actively recruiting other young Muslims for the cause of jihad. After the events of 9/11, however, he questioned Islamic extremism and travelled to Syria, where he underwent deradicalization—a process he defines in his interview as “a full cognitive shift away from extremist thinking.” Upon his return home, he began working undercover with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in the “Toronto 18” case, in an effort to prevent extremist attacks. Today, he works to stop radicalization using social media to directly engage Islamic State sympathizers, while also speaking out against Islamophobia, which he believes only fuels and encourages radicalization.
What many people do not understand is that the fulfillment of ISIS’ agenda is actually dependent upon worldwide discrimination against Muslims—all Muslims, even moderate, peaceful, law-abiding Muslims. According to Shaikh, “It would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious how easily people are falling into that trap. ISIS has actually written a document in which they wrote and said ‘we will commit these attacks so as to create retaliation on Muslims to make them feel so isolated and marginalized that they will be pushed into our waiting arms.’”
Shaikh is referring to both a manifesto called “The Black Flags from Rome,” as well as the February edition of ISIS’ online magazine, Dabiq, in which the Islamic State warned, “Muslims in the West will soon find themselves between one of two choices.” This statement was published in the weeks following the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris—an abhorrent act that only heightened the pre-existing tension between French Muslims and their fellow citizens. The group boasted that the attack had “further [brought] division to the world,” and “eliminated the grayzone,” representing the coexistence between Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbors. The text further explains that Muslims living in the West will soon feel so isolated and marginalized, they will be forced to “either apostatize … or [migrate] to the Islamic State, and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens.” The term “crusader” is the title given by ISIS to every Western soldier, civilian, and politician, regardless of party or nation.
In the weeks following the most recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, ISIS has seen their goal come to fruition—innocent Muslims everywhere have been experiencing acts of violence, hatred, and discrimination at the hands of angry, fearful Western citizens. Many in the West believe that Islam is a religion that promotes violence, without understanding that the majority of Muslims are peaceful. Shaikh explained that ISIS manipulates the Quran, “cherry-picks” verses, and uses phrases out of context in order to piece together an outline for their violent mission.
In a more recent interview with VICE, Shaikh reemphasizes that widespread Islamophobia provides a major advantage to ISIS recruiters: “The sad reality is, you have people on the right who might as well directly take the marching orders from ISIS because they’re doing the work for them.” ISIS targets individuals who feel isolated and rejected. Youths are an easy target given their desire to formulate their own identity and find a community to which they belong. Shaikh comments, “Your brains are still developing until your mid-twenties. That’s a time when you’re susceptible to influences from adults, community members, and religious members.” ISIS preys on the vulnerability of ostracized youths, reaching out to them via social media platforms such as Facebook, Skype, Twitter, Instagram, etc. “They’ll take screenshots and continue to engage you until they feel like they can successfully recruit you,” says Shaikh. He also solemnly discusses the impossibility of quitting ISIS once an individual has been recruited: “Their lives are destroyed. And it will be very, very difficult for them to leave that place. Some of them have been executed because they were creating ‘too many problems’ because they wanted to go home.”
While widespread fear and anger might seem inevitable in light of current events, Shaikh encourages individuals to educate themselves on the goals and strategies of extremists, and to resist the temptation to perpetuate the anti-Muslim sentiment which only further fuels radicalization and polarization.
“It is nationalism which endangers nations, and not the other way round.” –Ernest André Gellner (British-Czech philosopher and social anthropologist)
French President Francois Hollande recently issued a statement that his country is prepared to open its borders and welcome 24,000 migrants seeking asylum over the next two years. This statement, issued on September 7, 2015, is part of a new plan designed by the European Union to accept and appropriately distribute the massive exodus of refugees fleeing from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other surrounding nations. When asked to comment on French polls that indicated 55% of the national population was opposed to accepting more refugees, Hollande responded that asylum is a constitutional right and a moral duty, and that “France’s image and standing in the world were at stake.”
In light of the recent terrorists attacks on Paris, and amid reports that one of the attackers held a Syrian passport, Hollande has emphasized the necessity of making proper background checks prior to accepting these refugees. Hollande has declared war on ISIS, but made it clear that France will maintain its “humanitarian duty” and promise to welcome refugees over the next two years.
While many refugees initially identified Germany as the most ideal place to relocate with supposed security and job opportunities abound, other European countries are now offering comparable conditions and welcoming the migrants. In fact, because Germany has been accommodating such a massive influx of individuals in recent months, France has offered to help by offering an expedited asylum application to migrant families arriving in Munich: temporary housing in France along with a two-week approval process as opposed to the usual six-month process.
These recent political and cultural strides made by France are particularly notable given the nation’s sticky history with immigration and ethnic tension. Having just spent a month living and learning in France, I can attest that it is challenging to go more than a day without hearing an allegation that the presence of ethnic minorities, foreigners, and immigrants creates a grave problem for the nation. A commonly held belief among French traditionalists is that these groups directly threaten and compromise the very essence of true “Frenchness.” Many harbor a sense of nationalism that transcends the concept of national pride and actually results in extreme and egregious discrimination—for example, some believe that to be truly “French” is to be white, Catholic, and multi-generationally French. This statement parades as protectionism when in reality it is rooted in racism. This has created an ongoing and very heated dialogue surrounding immigration policy in the last century.
This French perception of nationalism (hopefully) seems foreign to us in the United States. Our nationality law is based on the principles of jus soli (Latin for “right of soil”), meaning that individuals gain immediate citizenship upon being born in the U.S. This has subsequently created the notion that America is a mixing pot of racial identities—our sense of national pride comes from being united as American, not from being one united race. In contrast, most states in Europe, Asia, and Oceania grant citizenship based on principles of jus sanguinis (Latin for “right of blood”) or a restricted version of jus solis—as is the case in France. Under this philosophy, individuals become citizens depending on their parents’ citizenship and not by birthplace. This has fostered and accentuated the cultural division in France between natives and immigrants which has resulted in the emergence of a perceived social hierarchy. Because of this heated history and conflicting cultural dynamic, President Hollande’s decision to welcome refugees in spite of opposition (and in spite of recent events) deserves recognition.
France’s situation forcibly evokes a particularly challenging set of questions: at what point should international leaders place a greater emphasis on obligations to humanity than on obligations to their own national interests? How do leaders of the Western community in particular negotiate or reconcile national interests with moral duty? Is there such a thing as a moral duty to the international community? According to the UNHCR: “Since, by definition, refugees are not protected by their own governments, the international community steps in to ensure they are safe and protected.” In fact, in the past few decades 142 nations have signed on to both the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 protocol. By signing this international treaty and its 1967 amendment, the UNHCR states nations are essentially agreeing that “refugees deserve, as a minimum, the same standards of treatment enjoyed by other foreign nationals in a given country and, in many cases, the same treatment as nationals.”
While we have historically seen that most national actions, even humanitarian ones, are often out of self-interest, it is my sincere hope that international authorities will continue to improve and open their borders to those in need. Afterall, those of us born in Western nations with relatively safe conditions could have just as easily been born into a nation experiencing a crisis. Wouldn’t we then hope and pray for assistance and asylum in the E.U.? In the U.S.?
This debate reminded me of an excerpt from Shakespeare’s play “Sir Thomas More.” Sir Thomas More is a lawyer, sent to address an angry crowd of individuals rioting to get rid of “those immigrants” or “strangers.” Shakespeare delivers a powerful message that transcends time and place when More challenges the natives to consider what they would do if they had to flee their home country:
“Whether would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbor? go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,–
Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the elements
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? this is the strangers case;
And this your mountanish inhumanity.”
(Sir Thomas More, Act II, Scene IV)
This is the stranger’s case—the immigrant’s case. For many, it’s near impossible to fully comprehend the plight and experiences of today’s refugees, but so important to try. While it’s challenging to reconcile national interests with humanitarian needs, our nationality shouldn’t supersede our humanity.
Syria today is, put simply, a catastrophe. Caught in a vicious cycle of violence, a civil war rages. The government commits war crimes against its own people. Rebels retaliate. The resultant instability of the country practically invites in the terrorist group known as Daesh, ISIS, ISIL, or Islamic State. But as millions of displaced citizens flee the country en masse, the president presides over the situation with an eye to the future.
Bashar al-Assad, despite his almost reluctant ascension to power in the wake of his father’s death, has been the president of Syria for the past fifteen years, and given the extreme nature of the ongoing civil war he clearly does not intend on relinquishing that power. In fact, he appears to be manipulating his country’s dire situation to his own political advantage. Between his strategic strikes on Syrian opposition forces, his response (or lack thereof) to the threat of Islamic State (IS), and now Russia’s involvement on Assad’s behalf, the Syrian president is positioning himself to remain the only viable leader for Syria.
Since March 2011 government forces have been under investigation by the UN into human rights violations, and since 2013 the regime has been accused of chemical weapons use against its own citizens. But recently the focus has shifted from Assad’s alleged war crimes to his strategic targets. The United States claims that pro-Assad forces have been targeting moderate, Western-backed rebels, rather than more dangerous jihadists like Jaish al-Fatah, an alliance including extremist groups like the Nusra Front. This choice is clearly deliberate, based on politics rather than on military strategy. Assad maintains his appearance of fighting for Syrian stability by defeating the violent rebels. But the decision to battle specifically more moderate opposition permits extremists to thrive, cultivating fear in the Syrian people. Thus, Syrians must turn to Assad for deliverance.
Similarly, Assad and his supporters have strategically responded to the Islamic State invasion of Syria. From the beginning when IS took control of oil production facilities, the regime has continued to buy from these same facilities, literally feeding IS funding. Furthermore, Assad believes that IS does not pose the most direct threat to Damascus. So he focuses his military forces on rebel groups rather than on IS, essentially allowing the organization to conquer some areas in the north of Syria, recruit sympathizers, and terrorize the rest of the population. But Assad does not ignore the imminent threat of IS. On October 4th, just days after Russia began its airstrikes, he warned during an Iranian TV interview that failure in Syria’s campaign against IS would “destroy the Middle East.” This combination of inaction against IS and public statements about the dangers it poses only serves to increase levels of concern, both in Syria and in the international community, demonizing IS and elevating Assad as the more reasonable leader.
Already Assad has a strong base of support, which has mobilized against his opposition often using brutal tactics. By relying only on his most trusted units during the initial insurgency in 2011, Assad managed to hone the Syrian Army down to totally committed regime supporters. Reinforcing the Syrian Army are pro-Assad militias, mostly consisting of Alawites led by distant Assad family members, but also including minority groups desperate to defend their communities against opposition fighters. Finally, both Iran and Hezbollah provide direct support to pro-Assad efforts. But now an even stronger ally, a major global power, has joined forces to fight for Assad – Russia.
On September 30, 2015, Russia began airstrikes in Syria, allegedly contributing to the effort against IS and “terrorists” in Syria. However, from day one of the airstrikes U.S. officials, including Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, claimed that these air strikes were not on IS-held territory. Instead, many have struck Syrian opposition forces, including U.S.-backed “moderates.” Indeed, as Russia’s involvement in Syria has increased, its focus has proved to be the rebels. This is because the Russian definition of “terrorists” is the same as Assad’s – any group opposing the government. President Vladimir Putin has acknowledged that Russia’s priority is to ensure that President Assad remains in power (contrary to the wishes of the majority of the international community), so it follows that the primary targets for Russian attacks are the non-IS Syrian rebels who pose the gravest threat to Damascus.
Russia and Syria have maintained a close relationship since Syria achieved independence and aligned with the Soviet bloc during the Cold War. Over the course of that relationship, the two countries have developed economic and cultural connections, most important of which appear to be Russia’s warm-water port at Tartus and its lucrative arms exports to Syria. For Putin, it is critical that Assad remains in power in order to prevent a potentially catastrophic regime change in Syria and prove the strength of authoritarian leaders. Stakes are high now that Russia has committed tangible support to Assad by commencing air strikes; at this point, Assad’s failure would make Russia look weak as well. So Assad can rely on Putin’s pride and stubbornness to ensure that he will receive all the support Russia can provide, paving the way to eventual victory.
Once the opposition forces are neutralized by the Russia-Syria team, Islamic State will be Assad’s only enemy left in Syria. And with an international coalition, led by the United States, already battling IS, this particular “Daesh” brand of Islamism will eventually be crushed, leaving Bashar al-Assad as the last man standing – just as he planned.
by James Walker – Editor in Chief
Summer has begun, and life at UCLA has taken on the gentle ambiance of a half empty campus, basking in the glorious SoCal sunshine. Nervous freshmen and transferees can be spotted exploring the buildings in anticipation (or perhaps dread?) of the Fall, half the faculty have vanished to do research, and the other half wish they had, too. During this lull, it behooves us as students to reflect upon the past academic year, in order to take stock of where things stand for those of us fortunate enough to be in college, both here in California, and across the globe.
As the (retiring) Editor in Chief for the Generation, I like to think that there is a kind of fraternal connection between all of us who strive to increase our understanding of the world. As students with an interest in foreign affairs, it is important that we look not only at the academic objects of our interest, but also the people who will be our contemporaries in the years to come – the students who make up the global cohort of tomorrow’s leaders, researchers, (and with any luck) friends with whom we hope to make the world a better place. Therefore, as we cast a wary eye across the past year, it is a little sad to see just how many challenges have been faced by our contemporaries, and how many more they are likely to face in the future.
Perhaps there is no better example of this than Egypt. As regular readers of the Gen will know, we were fortunate enough to host Ahmed Maher on campus last year. Subsequent to his visit with us, he was arrested and sentenced to three years hard labor, and his youth and student based organization, the April 6th movement, was declared a terrorist organization and banned outright. Other student groups have also been targeted by the security forces, with tactics that included the use of tear gas and baton charges at Cairo University, resulting in multiple injuries, and even death.
Much the same (depressingly familiar) tactics were also on display in Sudan, where student protesters are regularly attacked by government forces with tear gas and riot police. One incident earlier this year resulted in multiple arrests, injuries, and the death of a third year economics student at the University of Khartoum, Ali Abaker Mussa Idris. Not to be outdone, the Ethiopian government has apparently instigated a shoot to kill policy, with up to 47 students killed during protests at secondary and university campuses around the country.
Not all students are subject to deliberate violence by their governments, however – some are simply exposed to horrific violence through neglect and indifference. This was the case at the Rift Valley Institute of Science and Technology in Kenya, where hundreds of students battled with the police for several hours after the brutal rape of a first year female student. The students were protesting the lack of security available to them – the police responded by attempting to disperse the crowd with tear gas and live rounds.
Lest anyone think I am focusing too much on Africa, a quick look over the state of play in Europe will demonstrate that there are no regional boundaries to the challenges that students face. For example, it is worth remembering that students were one of the most vocal groups to take to the streets in the Ukraine earlier this year. They participated in many of the protests against the Yushchenko regime, and were targeted by the security forces in the lead up to the current geopolitical crisis that is enveloping the state.
Likewise, in Turkey the role of students as the advanced guard of social protest has singled them out as primary targets by the state. A recent funeral for a student killed in the Gezi Park protests quickly degenerated into a battlefield when the security forces used tear gas and water cannons on the gathered mourners, resulting in two additional deaths. The number of students arrested by the Erdogan government over the past year is simply astounding, turning what was a small, localized protest against the destruction of a city park into a fully fledged social movement for regime change.
In a somewhat less violent, yet still politically charged crisis, students across Spain brought major cities to a standstill over the issue of tuition rises and spending cuts – both of which are problems that should resonate with UC students. Unlike here at UCLA, however, the protests in Spain involved hundreds of riot police in full gear, burning trash cans, and running street battles with stone throwing and mass arrests. This link contains some jarring pictures of a modern day student protest in a developed state, and is well worth a look.
Turning to the Americas, the formula looks pretty much the same: student protesters met with tear gas, water cannons, live rounds, mass arrests, and death. A case in point, the students of Chile have been out on the streets for years now in ever increasing numbers. In one incident this year over 20,000 students attended a mass rally in Santiago, to protest for education reform. The tear gas and water cannon quickly followed.
Taking a more proactive route, in Venezuela pro-government militias have apparently taken to simply executing student leaders who dare to stand up to the regime. Daniel Tinoco, a prominent student leader, was gunned down in the street while manning a barricade in the city of San Cristobel. He is probably the most prominent of more than 20 people murdered over the past few months due to their participation in such activities.
So what are we UC students supposed to make of all this? We have troubles of our own, of course, as the graduate and undergraduate protests of last quarter can attest. However, they do seem somewhat tame in comparison. This is not to suggest that the issues faced by students right here are not challenging – simply that the environment in which we find ourselves is less dangerous than for our contemporaries.
Having said that, it is with a heavy heart that we must turn to the epidemic of campus shootings that continue to plague the United States. It is beginning to feel as if you cannot turn on the news without hearing about another mass killing at a US campus. I would list the incidents from the past year, but it is simply too long, and too damned depressing. As UC students we are directly affected, due to the horrific events at our sister campus last month, in which six people lost their lives, and we collectively lost our naivety.
The heartbreak of the UCSB shooting is only compounded by the fact that, as opposed to the deaths of students cataloged above, in many ways the events here are self-inflicted. It is not an oppressive government we need fear, but the kid sitting next to us in class. This is a challenge every bit as desperate as any of the ones covered, but it is also one that we can play a part in helping to solve.
If I can offer one piece of advice from looking at the world of student activism, it is that change only comes about through action. All across the globe students are standing up for what they believe in. They put everything on the line to try and improve their situation, their lives, their countries, and we must try and do the same. Take the summer to reflect, and then take a stand and help to make things better – work on gun control, or mental health access, or campus safety training, or whatever else it is you feel is the most significant way to make a difference – just do something. After all, your job is to help mold the future, and there is no time like the present to get started.
By Erica Anjum
A young woman in Orange County, California, theoretically has access to the same opportunities as a young man; except, it is still socially acceptable for her not to take advantage of her rights. As the most coveted variety of freedom is one that is easy to casually reject, in some ways and in some places today, it is better to be a woman than a man. In Saudi Arabia, however, it is definitely still highly preferable to be a man.
In both developed and developing nations, women continue to be denied rights, and in places, personhood. In the landscape of gender-inequality, Saudi Arabia remains perhaps the most notorious for its treatment of women in contemporary times. Even conservative neighboring states such as Yemen, where women stroll the streets shrouded head-to-toe in traditional black burqas, cite proudly that at least their women can drive and vote.
Nonetheless, the last few decades have witnessed monumental strides for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia: public education has been made available to women since the 1960s, and they now comprise over half of college graduates. Women have permission to work, although they only represent 14% of the current workforce. Furthermore, in 2011, King Abdullah announced that women would also be allowed to vote and run in municipal elections for positions in the Majlis Al-Shura (a government advisory group), although not before 2015. For the first time in history, a Saudi woman was even sent to the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
There is a catch, however, to all of it: male guardians (fathers, brothers, husbands) still choose whether the women in their families can pursue education, work, travel, who they marry, and whether they can seek needed medical attention. Women must still be accompanied by male relatives when they leave the house, must adhere to strict dress codes; and of course, Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world where they are still not allowed to drive. Moreover, laws to protect victims of rape and domestic abuse are weak and insufficient at best.
The status of women in Saudi Arabia has historically been systematic and institutionalized: expectations and exclusion are formally incorporated, upheld, enforced (and deviations punished) via the legal framework. More so than the actual status of women which is certainly in itself deplorable, this institutional aspect is perhaps what has encouraged such widespread and eager criticism of Saudi practices: during this more enlightened era, it is wrong to criticize the culture of another people, but it is always acceptable to criticize their government.
However, institutions are culturally embedded and this may pose an even bigger challenge to progress than the laws themselves. For example, the October 26, 2013 “Driving Protest” inspired men like Sheikhs Nasser al-Omar and Mohammed al-Nujaimi to quickly organize and voice their concerns to the King. These men fear that further extending rights to women will lead to the overall moral debasement of Saudi society and may also have long-lasting political consequences. Behind these fears, the suspicion persists that Western imperialism, and perhaps even an intentional attempt by foreign powers to weaken the Kingdom, lurks underneath progressive platforms. Consequently, not only are activists socially persecuted, stalked and threatened, success at organizing and protesting is often swiftly met with indefinite periods of incarceration.
Surprisingly, many of the kingdom’s women quietly back the rightist hardliners. Some have even formed women’s groups to guard against the evils of Western culture penetrating and defiling the Kingdom’s values and politics. While there are activists within the country, their inability to gain popular support over the years and orchestrate a mass protest demonstrates how deeply ingrained conservative traditions are throughout most of Saudi society.
Interestingly, even activists such as 60 year old psychologist Madiha al-Ajroush state that they “don’t want to break any laws,” while pursuing their agenda. Thus, it appears that even the rebels have not broken free of the culture of acquiescence long imposed on women via Saudi traditions. Nor do they seem to be in a hurry to divorce such values as they pursue progressive reforms.
Furthermore, as the Saudi brand of Islam is almost indistinguishable from the local culture, dissatisfaction with change often surfaces as accusations of un-Islamic behavior. For instance, Princess Reema Bint Bandar al-Saud, who runs a Harvey Nichols Department store in Riyadh, recently received a phone call from an irate customer regarding the Princess’s choice to play music in the store. The complaint came from one of her most frequent shoppers-a woman who has spent thousands of dollars during each of her many visits.
Princess Reema decided to do away with the music but has continued to push for something even more controversial: building a staff of female employees. While the Princess believes women’s empowerment and inclusion are imperative for the Kingdom’s future prosperity, the women who work for her are frequently driven by more immediate economic needs. For them, joining the workforce generally is not a political statement, act of rebellion, or even a matter of pride. In fact, they and their families often hide the truth from others like teenagers hide tattoos from their parents. The laws may have relaxed, but the taboos remain strong.
Amusingly, conservatives may be right to worry about Western imperialism shaping Saudi culture and politics, albeit not through the direct and targeted interference by foreign governments that the Sheiks have generally feared. Travel, education abroad, social media, and satellite television have proven to be highly effective vectors for transferring cultural values. As this 21st century form of imperialism has resulted from simply opening channels for information exchange as well as increased mobility across borders, it is more difficult to combat. War cannot be waged against some foreign “other” as the perpetrators are the country’s own citizens.
For example, Princess Reema’s father served as ambassador to the United States for 17 years: she herself grew up in Washington D.C. and attended George Washington University. Her American upbringing and education has no doubt influenced her outlook and drive for strengthening the role of women in Saudi society. Likewise, women such as Madiha Al-Ajroush and the others who participated in the Driving Protest, learned how to drive and obtained their licenses abroad.
Of course, a few rebellious princesses and well-to-do professionals will not be enough to precipitate constitutional changes. Before any laws pass, cultural values must shift at a more popular level. Fortunately for the rebels, it does appear that exposure to the norms and practices of other cultures is slowly shaking the rigid adherence to traditions which has characterized the nation’s men, but more importantly, women, for so long.
Meanwhile, the activists continue to have humble goals. They are neither looking for a revolution, nor for an aggressive campaign launched by sympathizers from neighboring and distant nations to help their cause. They do believe, however, that a new generation that has wholeheartedly embraced the global culture of hashtags and retweets can ultimately bring about the progress they have so long waited for.
by James Walker
Editor, The Generation
CAIRO – Ahmed Maher, architect of Egypt’s 2008 April 6 Youth movement and Nobel nominated political activist has been on hunger strike for the past two weeks. Maher, who visited the UCLA campus twice in the last year, continues his policy of non-violent resistance from within Torah Prison in the lead up to his appeal hearing on January 8.
Maher was arrested and charged with violating a controversial new law in Egypt that criminalizes gatherings of more than ten people. After voluntarily surrendering to authorities on November 29, he and two fellow activists, Ahmed Douma and Mohammed Adel, were convicted on December 22 and sentenced to three years hard labor. The three were convicted on charges of rioting, thuggery and the use of violence against security officers.
Maher has been kept in solitary confinement since his transfer to Torah, according to reports smuggled out of the prison. He has been denied access to writing materials, but managed to send out a number of messages written on toilet paper. Sources close to Maher confirm that he has been on hunger strike since December 25.
History of Activism
Maher first came to prominence during the 2011 uprisings against Hosni Mubarak. As one of the principal founders of the April 6h Egyptian youth movement, Maher became a vocal opponent of the Mubarak regime, and a lynchpin in the electronic resistance efforts of Egypt’s “Arab Spring.” Since that time, he has continued to be an outspoken advocate for democratic reform, first against the perceived autocratic presidency of Mohammed Morsi and later against the military-installed Provisional Government of Acting President Adly Mansour.
Maher was nominated for a Nobel prize in 2011, alongside April 6 co-founder Israa Abdel Fattah, in recognition of their sustained efforts to promote non-violent change in Egypt. The organization has over 70,000 active participants and includes a strict code of conduct for members. During his recent visit to the UCLA campus, Maher described the extensive process applicants must go through to demonstrate a commitment to the non-violent ethos of the group before they are considered active members. Maher’s conviction on charges of violence have been seen by some as an attempt to denigrate the organization’s reputation and undermine its legitimacy.
Since the Egyptian coup d’état in July of 2013, the group has come under increasing pressure from Egyptian authorities. Maher has suggested that the military junta demonstrates the return of the remnants of the Mubarak regime to power in Egypt, negating the gains of the 2011 revolution. In a message from the prison dated Dec 10th, Maher states that “All the corrupt figures of the Mubarak era are back and the abuses of human rights have increased…it is now crystal clear that this is a war against the January 25th revolution.” In addition to the new regulations outlawing public gatherings, the current government has also instigated a severe crackdown on dissident groups, designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and declared a state of emergency in response to mass protests throughout the country.
International responses to Maher’s conviction have been critical. Both the United Nations and the European Union have expressed concern over the suppression of political dissent and the targeting of democratic activists by the regime. In the United States, the State Department expressed deep concern over the worsening climate for freedom of assembly in Egypt and the notion that the conviction of opposition leaders and human rights advocates sends a “chilling message to civil society at large.”
In response to the heavy handed tactics of the police in suppressing political demonstrations and dissent, the Obama administration announced a temporary freeze in aid to Egypt in October, although Secretary of State John Kerry was quick to clarify that this was not intended as a punishment against the military regime. Calls for a stronger response from the administration against the suppression of democratic ideals in Egypt have gone unheeded.
International human rights activists and civil society actors have rallied around the convictions as proof of the anti-democratic and authoritarian nature of the interim government. A strong presence on Facebook and Twitter has gathered momentum in the build-up to the next court appearance in an effort to show solidarity with the pro-democracy movement in Egypt. A web-page (http://www.jan25solidarity.com) has also been launched to coordinate advocacy efforts and to focus international attention on the case.
Maher, Douma and Adel will have their appeal hearing on Wednesday, January 8.