TFF PressInfo # 334 – Getting Russia right

By Jonathan Power

Even today in many different ways the US and Russia remain close. There is cooperation in space, not least the International Space Station. The US regularly hires Russian rockets to launch its crews to the Station and to launch satellites. Russia sells advanced rocket engines to the US. Russia allows war material en route to Afghanistan to pass through its territory on Russian trains.

Russia worked hand in glove with the US to successfully remove the large stocks of chemical weapons possessed by Syria. It shares intelligence on Muslim extremists including ISIS. Conceivably it could enter the battle against ISIS.

It has encouraged Western investment including joint oil exploration of the Artic. Recently it stood side by side with the US and the EU as they forged an agreement with Iran on its nuclear industry. At the UN Security Council Russia and the US voted together for a resolution approving the agreement. President Barack Obama phoned President Vladimir Putin to thank him.

US diplomats are now conceding that Russia’s claim that the neo-fascist so-called “Right Sector” in Ukraine is wrecking havoc is true. The Right Sector in the eyes of many was a key – and violent – element in the success of last year’s Maidan demonstrations that toppled President Viktor Yanukovich.

When the Russian, French and German foreign ministers hammered out an agreement with the support of Ukraine’s parliamentary opposition for Yanukovich to step down at the next election the West totally “forgot” about it in the next few days as the Maidan demonstators drove Yanukovich into exile. Washington and other Western capitals supported the “democratic revolution” rather than demanding the fulfillment of the agreement. No wonder Putin was livid.

What is now needed in Western capitals is an acknowledgement that they have not always got Russia and Putin right.Read More »

TFF PressInfo # 310: Terrorism – small dot in a larger picture

By Jan Oberg

Jan Oberg

What is terrorism? Why do we talk much more about that than other types of deaths? Why is the word misused? What has nuclear weapons – that politicians and media hardly ever talk about – got to do with terror? Why should we all be careful not to exaggerate the phenomenon of terror?

10 x more terrorism than before 9/11

Tell you what: I’ve been critical of the ”war on terror” since September 12, 2001 and particularly since 10/7 when the war on Afghanistan started. If the War on Terror was the answer to 9/11, the U.S. and its friends asked the wrong questions.

Because, what has been the result?

According to U.S. statistics at the time, in the years up to the horrific crime in New York, about 1,000-1,500 people were hit by terror per year worldwide; 1/3 of whom died, the rest were wounded. Most of it happened in South America, some in Europe; small groups such as Baader-Meinhof.

Almost 3,000 were killed on 9/11, many nationalities, far from only American citizens. (About 30,000 die annually from shooting each other).

Today? About 18,000 were killed in terror in 2013.
Although data may not be directly comparable or definitions be the same, the difference between 1,500 and 18,000 cannot be explained by methodological and other variations.Read More »

TFF PressInfo # 299: 2014 no good! May all good forces unite in 2015!

By Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

Here is a list of 15 current conflicts-violence relations, avoiding identifying conflicts with violent conflict arenas:

USA-Japan-South Korea vs North Korea vs China

USA-ASEAN vs China-Taiwan and Japan vs Korea over China Sea islands

USA-NATO-Japan vs China-Russia-SCO over encircling

USA-EU vs Russia over Ukraine-Georgia membership in NATO-EU

USA-led coalition/NATO vs Many, diverse parties in Afghanistan

USA-led coalition/NATO vs Many, diverse parties in Iraq

USA-Shia-Iran(?) vs Arabia-Sunni-caliphate/ISIS-Turkey(?)

Kurds vs Turkey-Syria-Iraq-Iran over autonomy

Israel vs Palestine over The Holy Land/Cana’an

USA-Israel vs Arab-Muslim countries over Israel vs Palestine

USA vs 134 states over terrorism using state torture-sniping-droning

USA-UK-Canada-Australia-New Zealand (“Five eyes”) vs the World, spying

USA vs China (USA-EU vs Eurasia) over the shape of geopolitics

USA-UK-France-Italy-Norway vs Libya-Mali-Sudan-Somalia etc. in Africa

USA vs Latin America/Caribbean over equality of the Americas

The most striking feature is, indeed, the presence of one country, USA, in almost all of them. Why? Read More »

TFF PressInfo 291: Coping With the Loss of a Close Enemy

Perestroika as a Challenge to the West

By Jan Oberg

Jan Oberg

Written April 1990
Published in Bulletin of Peace Proposals 3-1990, pp 287-298 and on TFF’s homepage at the same time

1. Four hypotheses

The West has lost a close enemy, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Which reactions can be discerned and what psycho-political emotions are they indicative of? How did the West cope with the first years of this new post-Cold War situation? Can we mourn the death of an enemy, can we heal ourselves after the loss? How does one learn to live a new life without a close enemy? Has the West done what it ought to do for itself and for the former enemy?

“The West” of course is a term hanging loose. We employ it in this article as meaning interchangeably “NATO, the Western hemisphere, the United States and Western Europe and a few cases, Western or Occidental culture”.

The first hypothesis of this essay is that the West, i.e. the Western part of the Occidental civilization, is traumatized by the loss of its Eastern brother.

The second is that we have discussed far too little what it means for the West and projected all our attention on the Soviet Union, i.e. acted as spectators in a certain sense.

The third hypothesis, therefore, is that the West is increasingly stuck in a self-congratulatory “we have won the cold war and socialism is dead” attitude which only increases the likelihood that it will be taken even more by surprise in the future.

And the fourth hypothesis is that the changes in the Eastern Occidental brother occur simultaneously with a number of challenges within the Western Occidental system and is bound, ultimately, to pose an overwhelming challenge to our own system. There is now an historical opportunity, a new political space and time to be filled by cooperation and exciting visions of a common future. We believe that the West has something to learn from the idea, not the content, of perestroika, i.e. experimenting with deep non-violent change in one’s own system the outcome of which cannot be known with any precision.

Czech playwright and president, Václav Havel, when in January 1990 adressing the Polish sejmen, argued that Eastern Europe should not be seen as a poor dissident or a bewildered prisoner set free but “as someone who has something to offer, namely spiritual and moral inspiration, daring peace initiatives, an unexploited creative potential, an ethos of new freedom and impulses toward bold and quick-moving solutions.” And he rounded off this speech with the following words (author’s translation again): “The most dangerous enemy today is not the dark forces of totalitarianism, intriguers or leagues of gangsters – it is our own dark sides. My program as president is therefore based on the principle of infusing spirituality, moral responsibility, humanity and humility into politics and, thus, insist on there being something higher than we humans, that our deeds shall not disappear into the dark holes of our time but be preserved, somewhere, investigated, evaluated – that we have neither a right nor a reason to maintain that we understand everything or can do everything.”

One may wonder with whom in the West Havel can have a dialogue at this level? Who in the West would respond in these existential and visionary terms? Why is the response of the West first of all Read More »

Al-Baghdadi, Self-Proclaimed Caliph of the Islamic State (Part 2)

By Farhang Jahanpour

Part 1 of this series

A shorter version of this article has been published by IPS

When Ibrahim al-Badri al-Samarrai adopted the name of Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Quraishi and revealed himself to the world as the Amir al-Mu’minin (the Commander of the Faithful) Caliph Ibrahim of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the whole world had to sit up and take notice of him.

The choice of the long title that he has chosen for himself is most interesting and symbolic. The title Abu-Bakr clearly refers to the first caliph after Prophet Muhammad’s death, the first of the four “Orthodox Caliphs”.

The term Husseini presumably refers to Imam Hussein, the Prophet’s grandson and Imam Ali’s son, who was martyred in Karbala on 13 October 680. His martyrdom is seen as a turning point in the history of Islam and is mourned in elaborate mourning ceremonies by the Shi’ites throughout the world on the 10th of Muharram each year, which is accompanied with many processions and self-flagellation.

Both Sunnis and Shi’is regard Imam Hussein as a great martyr, and as someone who gave up his life in order to defend Islam and to stand up against tyranny.

Finally, al-Quraishi refers to Quraish, the tribe to which the Prophet of Islam belonged.

Therefore, his chosen title is full of Islamic symbolism.

According to an alleged biography posted on jihadi Internet forums, al-Baghdadi is a direct descendant of the Prophet, but curiously enough his ancestors come from the Shi’a line of the Imams who descended from the Prophet’s daughter Fatimah.

According to this alleged biography, al-Baghdadi derives his lineage directly from nine Shi’a Imams, “Ali Al-Hadi, Muhammad al-Jawad, Ali al-Rida, Musa al-Kazim, Ja’far al-Sadiq, Muhammad al-Baqir, Ali Zayn al-Abidin, Husayn Bin-Ali, Ali Bin Abi-Talib, right up to the Prophet’s daughter Fatimah and ending in Prophet Muhammad himself.”

Despite his great hostility towards the Shi’is, is this genealogy a way of portraying himself as the true son of the descendants of the Prophet, thus appealing to both Shi’is and Sunnis?

According to the same biography, al-Baghdadi was born near Samarra, in Iraq, in 1971. It is alleged that he received BA, MA and PhD degrees in Islamic studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad. It is also suggested that he was a cleric at the Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal Mosque in Samarra at around the time of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. (1)

According to a senior Afghan security official, al-Baghdadi went to Afghanistan in the late 1990s, where he received his early jihadi training. He lived with the Jordanian militant fighter Abu Musab al-Zarqarwi in Kabul from 1996-2000. (2)

It is likely that al-Baghdadi fled Afghanistan with leading Taliban fighters after the US invasion of Afghanistan following 9/11.

After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Zarqawi and Read More »

Out of Afghanistan

By Jonathan Power

October 21st, 2014

The Soviet Army invaded Afghanistan in December, 1979 and withdrew, exhausted and demoralised, 10 years later. In Moscow a joke had long circulated: “Why are we still in Afghanistan?” Answer: “ We are still looking for the people who invited us.”

The same is true for the Americans and NATO who are now moving through the exit door. They came to obliterate Al Qaeda after 9/11, 2001.

There was certainly no invitation issued by the Afghan government, then controlled by the militant Taliban. The US was angry that Afghanistan sheltered Al Qaeda and didn’t have the time of day to discuss an invitation.

After an air and ground campaign it savaged Al Qaeda. Its rump, including its leader, Osama bin Laden, fled to the barely accessible mountains of Pakistan. Ordinary Afghans had never really liked al-Qaeda and they certainly never equated their home-grown Islamist movement, the Taliban, with the Arab-led extremists.

Yet the US and its allies were not prepared to declare victory and leave. They changed the goalposts Read More »

ISIS, militarism and the violent imagination

By Richard Falk

Richard Falk

Before ISIS

The beheading of American and British journalists who were being held hostage by ISIS creates a truly horrifying spectacle, and quite understandably mobilizes the political will to destroy the political actor who so shocks and frightens the Western sensibility, which is far from being free from responsibility for such lurid incidents.

Never in modern times has there been a clearer example of violence begetting violence.

And we need to ask ‘to what end?’ Political leaders in the West are remarkably silent and dishonest about what it is that they wish to achieve in this region beset since 2011 by a quite terrifying outbreak of political extremism, whether from above as in the cases of Syria, Egypt, and Israel or from below as with ISIS and al-Nusra.

It is difficult to recall that at the start of 2011, just three years ago, progressive voices around the world were inspired by the Arab upheavals, especially in Egypt and Tunisia, that burst upon the political scene unexpectedly.

These extraordinary events appeared to repudiate the prevailing patterns of authoritarian, exploitative, and corrupt collaboration between oppressive domestic elites, neoliberal economic forces, and the regional imperial juggernaut that had kept this humanly disastrous reality stable for so long. Yet even during that time of optimism about the Arab future, a closer scrutiny of what was happening disclosed many reasons to be worried. It is helpful to look to this recent past to have some comprehension of the perplexing present.

A Revolutionary Spirit Without Revolutionary Action

The goals of these upheavals were far too ambitious to be realized by such limited challenges directed at the established order. These movements were essentially confined to getting rid of a hated ruler. Read More »

TFF PressInfo: Violence against children has become an epidemic

By Jonathan Power

Three Israeli teenagers murdered on Palestinian soil. One Palestinian boy burnt to death whilst alive in an apparent retaliation. Over the years of conflict thousands of children have been killed although many more on the Palestinian side than the Israeli.

According to the Old Testament’s Book of Numbers, Moses, when leading the trek to the “Promised Land”, once ordered all the women and children in one hostile tribe in their way, the Midianites, to be killed. Moses is as an important figure to Muslim theologians as he is to Jewish yet I’ve never come across the writings of a major theologian in either religion loudly condemning this mass murder.

The killing of the innocents in the “Promised Land” goes on three thousand years later. Last year eight Palestinian children (six boys and two girls) were killed and 1,265 were injured in the occupied Palestinian territories either by Israeli settlers by Israeli security forces. No Israeli children were killed in 2013.

Four Palestinian boys were killed by Israeli security forces in the Al Jalazun, Jenin and Ayda refugee camps. Incursions into the camps increased by 60 per cent compared with 2012. The 1,235 children injured in the West Bank (155 under the age of 12) are more than double the number injured in 2012 (552). 49 children were injured directly by Israeli settlers. Eight Israeli children were injured in Israeli settlements by Palestinians. Read More »

Nonviolent Geopolitics: Law, Politics, and 21st Century Security*

By Richard Falk

In this short essay, my attempt will be to articulate a conception of a world order premised on nonviolent geopolitics, as well as to consider some obstacles to its realization. By focusing on the interplay of “law” and “geopolitics” the intention is to consider the role played both by normative traditions of law and morality and the “geopolitical” orientation that continue to guide dominant political actors on the global stage.

Such an approach challenges the major premise of realism that security, leadership, stability, and influence in the 21st century continue to rest primarily on military power, or what is sometimes described as “hard power” capabilities. [1]

From such a perspective international law plays a marginal role, useful for challenging the behavior of adversaries, but not to be relied upon in calculating the national interest of one’s own country. As such, the principal contribution of international law, aside from its utility in facilitating cooperation in situations where national interests converge, is to provide rhetoric that rationalizes controversial foreign policy initiatives undertaken by one’s own country and to demonize comparable behavior by an enemy state. This discursive role is not to be minimized, but neither should it be confused with exerting norms of restraint in a consistent and fair manner.

My intention is to do three things:

• to show the degree to which the victors in World War II crafted via the UN Charter essentially a world order, which if behaviorally implemented, would have marginalized war, and encoded by indirection a system of nonviolent geopolitics; in other words, the constitutional and institutional foundations already exist, but inert form;

• to provide a critique of the realist paradigm that never relinquished its hold over the imagination of dominant political elites, and an approach has not acknowledged the obsolescence and dangers associated with the war system;

• and, finally, to consider some trends in international life that make it rational to work toward the embodiment of nonviolent geopolitics in practice and belief, as well as in the formalities of international law.Read More »

The New World Order?

By Richard Falk

There is no more reliable guardian of entrenched conventional wisdom than The Economist. And so when its cover proclaims ‘the new world order,’ and removes any ambiguity from its intentions, by its portrayal of Putin as a shirtless tank commander with menacing features.

No such iconography accompanied the last notable invocation of the phrase ‘new world order’ by George H. W. Bush in mobilizing support for a forcible response to the Iraqi invasion and annexation of Kuwait in 1990, the dirty work of Saddam Hussein. Read More »