All posts by Alex Clackson

Alex is currently a student at York University studying MA International Relations. He hopes to combine his theoretical knowledge of politics with his experiences of living around the world (including Russia, Malta and, currently, the UK) to contribute to society.

The Syrian Conflict: Time to Start Thinking Outside the Box

As the conflict drags on, and as more people continue to suffer, it is time to start putting new ideas on the table, and partitioning Syria is certainly one of the suggestions that could work.

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap]n end to the violence and conflict in Syria is not in sight, far from it. The UN estimates that around 100,000 have died in the conflict so far and the number is set to rise as both the Assad regime and the rebel movement refuse to end the bloodshed. Many suggestions have been put forward which aim to bring an end to what has been the bloodiest out of all the Arab Spring uprisings. Some believe that arming the rebels is the answer. The supporters of this claim are the UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the French President Francois Hollande and the USA. Russia, on the other hand, has put forward a diplomatic solution which aims to bring both sides of the Syrian conflict to the negotiating table. Britain, France and the USA favour a diplomatic solution as well, however they claim that Assad will never join the negotiations when he is winning on the ground, thus the need to arm the rebels to create a stale-mate.

However in this article I will argue that both of the above proposals are unlikely to reap any substantial results and therefore out of the box thinking is required.

An argument against arming the rebels

There seems to be a consensus among many, that if President Assad was removed from power, Syria would go back to normality and a start of a new and bright era could begin. However, such a view is obscured by a shallow thinking: Assad is bad, rebels are good. Over the last few months, such a view has suffered a great dent, due to the grotesque and vile actions by some of the rebels- atrocities against the Syrian minorities, such as Christians, inhumane treatment of enemy soldiers, harsh treatment of civilians in rebel held areas, among other despicable incidents. Some argue that these actions are only committed by an extremist minority who do not represent a more liberal faction fighting Assad.

Such a claim in itself provides two reasons for why arming the rebels would not work. Firstly the claim correctly points out the fact that the rebel movement is deeply fractured. There is a civil war, in the civil war. There have been many reports of rebel groups fighting each other and murdering fellow generals. Secondly, this leads to the natural conclusion that if Assad were to fall right now, the conflict in Syria would not end. It would simply shift from rebels fighting Assad and fighting each other, to rebels fighting each other to a greater extent. If weapons were provided to the opposition, these would eventually be used to kill fellow opposition groups, thus leading to more bloodshed. Even if the Arab Spring in Syria began with Syrians wanting more democracy and freedom, right now the conflict has become a sectarian and religious war, between Shias, Sunnis and hardened Islamists. Iraq should be the perfect example of how getting rid of a dictator for its own sake does not lead to positive results. Despite over 10 years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq is still plagued by sectarian violence, almost on a daily basis. Syria is even more diverse than Iraq, therefore there is a grave possibility that the violence would be enhanced.

Further reason to doubt the appeal of arming the rebels are claims that the people living in rebel held areas are deeply dissatisfied with the opposition movement, mainly due to the implementation of strict Sharia laws, which the majority of Syrians are not in favour of. Furthermore, there is a strong possibility that, if these rebels were to win, they would initiate mass atrocities against Assad supporters as part of their revenge. This has happened in Libya after the fall of Qaddafi.

Diplomacy as an end in itself is unlikely to work

Undoubtedly supporting Assad in this conflict would also be unthinkable, given the scale of destruction and deaths that have endured over his watch. For this reason some suggested that negotiations ought to take place where both sides agree to a ceasefire and a transitional government, eventually leading to proper democratic elections where the Syrian people will be able to decide how and who should govern the country. In principle this is a viable idea, certainly more so than the plan to arm the rebels. In practise, diplomacy is unlikely to work, since the rebels and their Western backers have set a pre-condition that Assad should step down. Understandably Assad and his support will never agree to such a condition, firstly because he is winning on the ground, and secondly because the rebels and the West have no political legitimacy to ask him for such a move.  Only the Syrian people have the legitimacy to remove their current leader, yet, as well documented, many Syrians continue to support Assad. To have a legitimate transitional government and legitimate future elections, Assad has to be a part of them, to allow the people the chance to once and for all decide whether they want Assad in or out. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the opposition will agree to this move, therefore breaking down any prospective positive outcomes from negotiations

Partition Syria

Unless either the West or Russia decide to end the conflict with a comprehensive victory for their respective sides (a move which is unlikely to occur), the stalemate between Assad and the rebels looks to continue. There is a dangerous possibility that Syria may turn into a new Afghanistan and Iraq, with violence and bloodshed continuing for decades. To prevent such an outcome, Syria may have to be partitioned into some parts that will be governed by Assad, and other parts governed by certain factions of the opposition. For now, Assad will never agree to such a plan when he is winning on the ground, when Russia continues to show undisputed support and when the West is so indecisive. Even if Assad were to win the civil war (which is unlikely as it is hard to see the Western powers allowing this to happen), the extremist rebels would continue to cause a nuisance as they would continue to receive financial and military support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Partitioning Syria would look similar to the Russia and Chechnya situation, where technically Chechnya is part of Russia, but has a status of a republic and some limited independence, with their own leader.

Heavy negotiations would need to take place among the Syrian players to arrive at a common outcome and nobody is suggesting that this would be a simple procedure. However, as the conflict drags on, and as more people continue to suffer, it is time to start putting new ideas on the table, and partitioning Syria is certainly one of the suggestions that could work.

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Photo Credit: World Shia Forum

Time For Palestine To Join The Arab Spring

Palestinians must decide whether they want to continue living in dire conditions under a brutal Israeli regime or take the plunge, join the Arab Spring and strive for the opportunity to achieve justice and freedom for themselves.

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As uprisings continue to sweep the Arab region, from the North African country of Tunisia all the way to Syria and Bahrain, it is rather astonishing that the Palestinians have not jumped on the bandwagon and joined the Arab Spring movement. After all, it would have been a timely opportunity to join the momentum of those revolutions that continue to strike the region in hope of achieving freedom from brutality. It would have also put the Western nations in a difficult situation. Western Europe, together with the United States, has been very supportive (at least in rhetoric) of the Arab Spring, playing a crucial role in overthrowing Gaddafi and continuing to be an important player in the Syrian civil war. It is well known, however, that the West-especially the United States-shows undeniable support towards Israel. This was witnessed during the last Israeli attacks on Gaza when the United States blamed the Palestinians for the conflict. For this reason, a Palestinian uprising would put the United States in a peculiar position. Could America really continue to show full support to the Syrian rebels and Egyptian civilians, who are once again demonstrating on the streets against their current leader Morsi, yet deny the Palestinians the opportunity to protest against the many grievances: Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the ghetto-like Wall that separates Gaza from the rest of humanity, the illegal settlements, the unfair treatment of Palestinians living in Israel, the shootings of Palestinian children on the Gaza border, the lack of food and clean water due to the Israeli blockade and against the constant threat that Israel will strike again any minute. While western nations are notoriously known for their hypocritical stance when it comes to their foreign policy in the Middle East (which usually reflects their own national interests), the denial of the Palestinian right to rise up against Israel would set in stone what the majority already fear: the West’s lack of concern for human rights of others.

Though the Arab Spring started in 2011, the uprisings are still in full swing and therefore it is not late for Palestine to join the movement. It would be essential for the Palestinians to carry out a peaceful protest (i.e. no rockets from Hamas and no killings of Israelis), but nevertheless a protest that sends out a clear message that they will not back down until some progress is made. This would deny Israel their usual defence: that Palestine is an aggressive region and poses a threat to Israeli national security. This protest should not be about borders, or about a potential creation of the Palestinian state, but about a simple desire to be treated like human beings rather than caged animals. The majority of the international community already support the Palestinians. Not only has Palestine been granted the status of an observer non-member state at the UN, but the reports by the United Nations continue to condemn and criticise the inhumane actions of Israel. If Israel were to retaliate with violence and force against a peaceful uprising by the Palestinians, the Jewish state would risk more alienation from the international community and more disapproval from the general public around the world. A nation cannot continue to survive with a long queue of enemies.

In 2011, the Arab populations took the leap of faith. Many knew that their uprisings could lead to brutal response from their dictators. Some were aware that perhaps they would not survive to see the end of authoritarianism in the Middle East. Yet as the saying goes, when you have nothing, you got nothing to lose. The Palestinians have suffered to the point of near-total submission. However they must use the inspiration from their fellow Arabs who made the decision that enough is enough. Emiliano Zapata, a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution against the dictatorship in 1910 said that “it’s better to die upon your feet than to live upon your knees”. The Palestinians must now make the choice between whether they want to continue living in dire conditions under a brutal Israeli regime or take the plunge, join the Arab Spring and strive for the opportunity to achieve justice and freedom for themselves.

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Photo Credit: Joi

La guerra è davvero inevitabile?

Se l’umanità vuole davvero emanciparsi dall’illogicità della guerra, deve iniziare a reagire e a classificarla con gli stessi aggettivi che si riservano, oggi, alla schiavitù e ai sacrifici umani: disgusto e disprezzo.

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[dropcap]G[/dropcap]uerre e conflitti appartengono alla storia dell’umanità quasi dall’inizio dei tempi. La nostra stessa civiltà è contraddistinta dall’insegnamento, a scuola, di un gran numero di guerre, a partire dall’età medievale e arrivando sino ai nostri giorni. Di conseguenza, tali fenomeni si sono radicati così profondamente nel nostro vissuto al punto che diamo subito per scontato, e normale, che le varie dispute tra le nazioni debbano risolversi in sanguinosi scontri fratricidi.

Forse è questo il motivo per cui la maggior parte dei cittadini non protesta a sufficienza contro le guerre. Ad esempio, si prenda il caso del Regno Unito: senza dubbio migliaia, se non milioni, di cittadini erano adirati contro la decisione del governo inglese di partecipare ai conflitti in Afghanistan, Iraq e Libia. Ciononostante, tale rabbia è rimasta inespressa e covata, senza tradursi in una protesta di massa contro la guerra. Così, mentre gran parte della società inglese si lamenta ancora per l’atteggiamento guerrafondaio avuto dalla Gran Bretagna negli ultimi anni, al tempo stesso accetta, banalmente, che partecipare ai conflitti sia ormai parte del nostro modo di vivere e intendere il mondo.

Se analizziamo la questione nel dettaglio, ci rendiamo conto che, forse, tra le invenzioni del genere umano, la guerra è la più illogica di tutte. Certo, alcuni potrebbero contestare che la guerra sia un fenomeno naturale, e poiché noi essere umani altro non siamo che animali, ci comportiamo come tali, combattendo e massacrandoci gli uni con gli altri. In effetti, si tratta di una osservazione logica, che però non considera il fatto che la specie umana sia l’unica al mondo capace di usare la propria lingua, non solo per produrre rumori, piuttosto per comunicare, elaborare linguaggi, e a creare i presupposti per l’azione diplomatica. Altri ancora potrebbero sostenere che, nonostante gli sforzi della diplomazia, alcune dispute per decidere chi comandi e debba dettar legge non possano essere risolte pacificamente. Sebbene la storia confermi una simile asserzione, ancora una volta non si tiene conto dell’esistenza di alcune società che non hanno mai utilizzato la guerra per risolvere le proprie controversie. Gli stessi buddisti, il sistema dei kibbutz in Israele e anche l’Islanda sono soggetti che non sono mai stati coinvolti in guerre internazionali. Anche in tal caso, gli scettici potrebbero obiettare che le suddette minoranze non rappresentano il quadro generale; il punto fondamentale, comunque, è che gli esseri umani, come in questi casi, sono in grado di vivere senza rimaner coinvolti in alcun conflitto. Alcuni affermano che, invece, siano le armi l’elemento da estirpare: fin quando queste saranno a disposizione delle nazioni, la guerra sarà inevitabile. In riferimento a questa ipotesi, è utile ricordare l’esistenza di un certo numero di Paesi sprovvisti di forze armate, come Andorra, Costa Rica, Liechtenstein e Grenada. Probabilmente, però, le ragioni più convincenti contro l’inevitabilità della guerra risiedono nel progresso dell’umanità: storicamente anche la schiavitù, il sistema delle caste, la sudditanza del genere femminile, le dittature, e finanche i sacrifici umani erano considerati fenomeni naturali e inevitabili. In definitiva, quindi, non bisognerebbe abbandonarsi all’idea che, solo perché qualcosa appare consueta e “normale”, debba rimanere immutata e incontestata nel tempo.

Mettendo in pratica ciò detto, ci si dovrebbe chiedere se i recenti conflitti nel Medio Oriente, e quelli possibili contro Siria e Iran, siano davvero segnati dall’ineluttabilità degli eventi. I governi occidentali sostengono che la diplomazia non funziona contro gli spietati e sanguinari terroristi che operano in Medio Oriente. Piuttosto, il recente aumento del numero di attacchi terroristici nella regione, che hanno innalzato il livello di insicurezza come mai prima d’ora, dovrebbe dimostrare che non si risponde alla minaccia terrorista attraverso invasioni e occupazioni militari. Attualmente l’Iraq è una palude disastrata, in cui le esplosioni delle autobombe scandiscono la quotidianità del Paese. Gli Stati Uniti hanno abbandonato l’Afghanistan a causa del crescente numero di vittime (in totale, si contano circa 2000 caduti tra gli americani e un numero imprecisato tra la popolazione afgana). Il continuo rifornimento di armi ai ribelli siriani ha provocato un netto aumento di vittime civili, e l’invasione dell’Iran produrrebbe solamente conseguenze catastrofiche nell’intera regione. Forse, la migliore soluzione sarebbe di lasciare alle popolazioni mediorientali le proprie responsabilità, visto che sarebbero in grado di risolvere da sole i relativi problemi. Dopotutto, è necessario ricordare che la transizione più pacifica dopo la Primavera Araba è avvenuta in Tunisia, un Paese in cui l’Occidente ha svolto un ruolo minoritario.

In conclusione, se la morsa dei conflitti dovesse stringere il Medio Oriente e i paesi arabi nei prossimi anni, a causa dei repentini cambiamenti geopolitici e della relativa instabilità provocata, i Paesi occidentali dovrebbero incoraggiare il dialogo tra le diverse fazioni in guerra tra loro, piuttosto che etichettarsi come gli inventori della pace e della diplomazia, e incoraggiando la violenza allo stesso tempo. In effetti, l’Europa ha attraversato e vissuto le guerre più terrificanti: proprio per questo motivo, i Paesi occidentali dovrebbero evitare che simili atrocità avvengano altrove. Alcuni teorici delle relazioni internazionali sostengono che le democrazie non combattono mai tra loro. Di sicuro, però, le democrazie hanno giocato un ruolo decisivo nel promuovere e causare conflitti in altre aree del mondo. Per questo, se l’umanità vuole davvero emanciparsi dall’illogicità della guerra deve iniziare a reagire e a classificarla con gli stessi aggettivi che si riservano, oggi, alla schiavitù e ai sacrifici umani: disgusto e disprezzo.

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Articolo tradotto da: Giuseppe Paparella

Articolo originale: Is War Inevitable?

Photo Credit: James Sheehan / theriskyshift.com

The Algerian Hostage Dead: NATO Is Responsible

While the West may be reluctant to put more boots on the ground due to the growing frustration from the general public, we are likely to see more military interventions this decade.

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What do Libya, Mali and Algeria have in common? The three nations have played a pivotal role in the political domino effect culminating over the last week. At least 48 hostages are now thought to have died in a four-day siege at an Algerian gas plant. In response to the Algerian hostage situation Mr Cameron said his government will continue to focus on fighting terrorism: “There is no justification for taking innocent life in this way”.

These are typical words attributed to a politician speaking in the generic foreign policy language. However David Cameron has failed to mention that NATO also played its part in the Algerian hostage crisis. Algerian crisis is a direct consequence of the current Mali conflict and the Mali conflict is the direct result of the Libyan conflict in 2011 as those who supported Gaddafi were thrown out from the country for being black and had nowhere else to go except to join the Mali terrorist groups.

And since it was Cameron and his “peace-seeking” NATO states who encouraged the violence in Libya and helped to carry out a regime change operation, it seems NATO are at least partially responsible for the Algerian hostage crisis. Politics works in funny ways.

Let us examine each claim individually starting with Libya.

The mission to oust Gaddafi and kick start a new dawn for Libya has been claimed by the West to be a success. Yet an uncomfortable truth rarely mentioned in the Western media remains- hundreds of African migrant workers in Libya accused of being mercenaries for Col Muammar Gaddafi were imprisoned and tortured by fighters allied to the new interim authorities.

Indeed it is heavily documented how the victorious rebels were hunting after African mercenaries and the latter had no choice but to escape from the destruction-stricken country. These mercenaries found a new home- Mali. Additionally there are irrefutable claims that homes have been looted, and women and girls beaten and raped. Perhaps removing Gaddafi was a success for the Western nations, but the country is currently in turmoil and is still mostly run by heavily armed mercenaries.

It is clear that the West had a lot of interest in removing Gaddafi. While the UN gave the authorisation to protect the Libyan civilians, this objective turned into a regime change operation. It is not surprising that Russia and China continue to veto any resolutions in regards to Syria as they understand that another aim to protect the Syrian civilians would simply mean regime change in Syria.

We can only speculate what interests the West has in the region. A number of theories have been put forward: oil, a step towards eventually attacking Iran, protecting Israel, all of the above. While impossible to know the truth, it is clear that the West has a grand strategy for the Middle East and Africa.

And so we arrive at the second stage of the domino effect. The current conflict in Mali seems in many ways to mirror the conflict that took place in Libya. Rebels are trying to take over the country and overthrow the government. There is however one difference. The current Mali government is a friend of France whilst Gaddafi refused to get on his knees for the Western powers.

A popular argument used by the politicians is the claim that Libya was a dictatorship while Mali is a democracy and therefore the West has a responsibility to protect Mali from radical extremists. However if this claim was true then the West would have already intervened in Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However these authoritarian states have good relations with the West and are therefore safe from NATO interventions.

Indeed those who claim that the Mali government are not executing their own civilians like Gaddafi did may be shocked to find that there are growing reports by Amnesty International of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses in Mali, as troops battle Islamist militants in the West African country.

Residents of Mopti, in the centre of the country, told the Observer of arrests, interrogations and the torture of innocents by the Malian army. Amnesty International says that it has documented evidence of abuse by the Malian army, including extrajudicial killings. It says that in September, a group of 16 Muslim preachers composed of Malian and Mauritanian nationals were arrested then executed by the Malian military in Diabaly. It seems like the French government is trying to protect those that are carrying out human rights abuses.

Undoubtedly the rebels are not saints either. Nevertheless there has to be some consistency from the West. Claiming to be against Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein as they killed own citizens, while at the same time supporting the regimes in Mali, Bahrain and Jordan, who also treat their citizens with cruelty is simply hypocritical.

Of course this is not the first time a Western power has supported brutality. It is also imperative to mention the case of Syria here. Mr Hollande has claimed that the reason why his country is supporting the Mali government against the rebels is because the rebels are Islamic extremists whilst the rebels in Syria are secular.

Mr Hollande’s remarks are are simply wrong as it is well known that a large section of the Syrian rebels are also radical Islamists. The radical rebels who have connections to Al Qaeda seem to be having more influence on the Syrian population than the Free Syrian Army who claim to be secular.

And so thanks to the continuous hypocritical interventions by the Western nations we have arrived at a situation where a BP gas site has been assaulted by terrorists. Whilst undoubtedly investigations will be carried out, it seems more than likely that the terrorists who have carried out the hostage mission are in some way linked to the rebels in Mali.

It is well known that in life, a particular action always leads to a particular consequence. This is called the butterfly effect. International politics is not immune from this phenomenon, as something that began as a mission by the West to oust Gaddafi in 2011 has ended with Western citizens being taken hostage in Algeria. I say “ended” yet it is probable that this is just the beginning of more violence and conflict which will spread to other parts of Africa.

This is rather useful for the NATO states as America and other Western nations have been itching to find an excuse to send more military to the continent now that the Middle East has been “conquered” and squeezed completely dry. And while the resource-plenty and flourishing Africa will now be the new victim of Western interventions, our media and politicians will continue to tell us that our governments are fighting to make the world a safer place by annihilating the terrorists – the same terrorists that arise through Western interventions in the first place.

Just yesterday David Cameron has announced that the war on terrorists will go on for decades and NATO interventions will switch from Afghanistan to North Africa.

Interventions are a destructive cycle. The West intervenes in other regions as a police state under a pretext of supporting democracy, but end up opening a can of worms. Extremism spreads to nearby regions and the locals are angered by the continuous meddling of the West in their affairs and therefore join the terrorist groups which encourages the West to intervene more.

It becomes a permanent circle, or better known as a perpetual war. Alternative solutions to intervention do exist. Empowering regional bodies and governments through international development programs, foreign aid and cooperation are viable alternatives to militarism. While the West may be reluctant to put more boots on the ground due to the growing frustration from the general public, we are likely to see more military interventions this decade. Due to the development of unmanned drones and other rocket-type weaponry, NATO is likely to continue to intrude in the Middle East and Africa. It seems the West never learns.

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Photo credit: US Army Africa

Israel’s Deadly Game of Politics

Desperate times call for desperate measures and it seems Israel has decided that the only way to deter Palestine from achieving an observer state status at the United Nations is to destabilise the region and use the argument that Palestine is not ready to become a state due to its violent and confrontational nature.

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On Wednesday 14th November Israel killed the military commander of Hamas in an airstrike on the Gaza Strip. Hamas said Ahmed Al-Jabari, who ran the organization’s armed wing, Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam, died along with a passenger after their car was targeted by an Israeli missile. Jabari has long topped Israel’s most-wanted list. Israel blames him for a string of attacks, including the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit in 2006. The Israeli military says its assassination of the Hamas military commander marks the beginning of an operation against Gaza militants.

The consequences of Israel’s actions were already noticeable just a few hours after the announcement as immediate calls for revenge were broadcast over Hamas radio and smaller groups also warned of retaliation: “”Israel has declared war on Gaza and they will bear the responsibility for the consequences,” Islamic Jihad said.” There is now a real chance that this event can lead to another full-blown conflict similar to the three week conflict in 2008 and 2009.

However perhaps a full blown conflict in the region is exactly what Israel wanted. On the 29th of November, Palestine will put in a resolution to upgrade the status of Palestine to that of a non-member observer state in the organization. Unsurprisingly Israel with the support of the United States have opposed this move arguing that it will hinder real negotiations, despite the fact that the majority of UN members believe Palestine should be granted a full state membership at the international organisation. Israel has bluntly said that they will consider partial or full cancellation of the Oslo Accords if the United Nations General Assembly adopts the resolution. On Sunday, the Foreign Ministry sent an urgent cable to all Israeli representatives around the world, asking ambassadors to deliver a number of messages to senior officials in those countries as soon as possible. “You are asked immediately at the beginning of the work week to contact the foreign ministry, prime minister’s office, national security adviser or president’s office and request to do all possible to halt the Palestinian initiative because of its far-reaching consequences,” the cable to the ambassadors said. As opposed to the decisions of the UN Security Council, General Assembly decisions cannot be vetoed, therefore the USA cannot play its ace card to prevent Palestine achieving its objective. Despite strong pressure from Israel, the Palestinian President has defiantly said he will not back out from his plan to table the resolution at the United Nations.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and it seems Israel has decided that the only way to deter Palestine from achieving an observer state status at the United Nations is to destabilise the region and use the argument that Palestine is not ready to become a state due to its violent and confrontational nature. Hamas have always argued that asking the UN to grant Palestine a member status would be purely symbolic and would not achieve anything on the ground. For this reason, it is likely that Hamas will retaliate against Israel after the death of Al-Jabari, which is exactly what Israel wants them to do. Abbas is likely to plead to Hamas not to seek revenge at such a crucial time for the Palestinian state, but Hamas (who are already on cold terms with Abbas) are unlikely to listen, giving Israel more ammunition to claim that Palestine is a divided nation and thus do not deserve a place at the United Nations.

While many claim that it would be purely a symbolic matter if Palestine were to become an observer non-member state, the consequences are far greater than that. Netanyahu is fully aware of the fact that the new status as a non-member state would allow Palestine to be accepted as a member of the International Criminal Court of the UN in The Hague and demand Israel and its leaders be tried for war crimes. This is a very serious threat to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian land and teh Israeli officials will not take this lightly.

One may argue that the two events (UN resolution vote on the 29th November and Wednesday’s assassination of the Hamas militant) are purely coincidental in their close timing. But as Roosevelt said: “In politics nothing happens by accident”. Not much else needs to be said.

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Photo Credit: Lilachd

Are Protests A Complete Waste Of Time?

As the NUS prepares for another round of protests on the 21st of November, one can only ask whether it is a waste of time or a vital action that may lead to positive results.

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20th October 2012 saw one of the largest protests in recent years. Titled “A Future That Works”, around 150,000 students, activists, politicians and other members of the public filled the streets to voice their disapproval and anger at the public cuts, welfare budget cuts and against austerity measures put forward by the Coalition government. Additionally the protest aimed to change the way politics works in Britain. Their objective is to create a nation which pays workers a living wage, where bankers do not get high bonuses, where the government ensures the inequality between the rich and the poor is shrunk.  These objectives are not new and throughout the years citizens have demonstrated against their government’s policies in hope of change. But does change ever come?

Undoubtedly some protests can have devastating effects on the governments. The Arab Spring is a perfect example of small scale marches turning into full-blown revolutions which resulted in regime change in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Protests have also had a positive impact in America where slavery and segregation were abolished thanks to the protests and marches organised by Martin Luther King. Finally, Gandhi had an innovative idea of protesting – peaceful non-violent civil disobedience which led to the independence of India from the British Empire.

However, recently a large number of people have claimed that protests do not achieve anything and looking back over the last few years it is understandable why that is the case. Almost a million marched against the war in Iraq in 2003, yet the march did not prevent the invasion. Thousands of students marched against the rise in tuition fees, yet once again the results were unsuccessful. One has to also ask what the Occupy Movement has achieved over the last year except media coverage.

Evidently some protests and marches achieve their aim and some do not. Perhaps one explanation for this could be the cause of the protests. While most marches have some validity, one can argue that marching against authoritarian regimes and against slavery and segregation is far more important than marching against a tuition fee rise or austerity measures. In addition, some of the causes which have been successful are quite objective. Anyone with any sense of morality would agree that racism, slavery and life under a dictatorship is wrong and thus it was inevitable that change would eventually come. Austerity measures, education cuts and even the invasion of Iraq are issues which are less clear cut and can be viewed as rather subjective.

Does that mean that less important matters should be left untouched by activists and protesters?  Absolutely not: the secondary aim of marches is to illustrate the dissatisfaction of citizens against a particular policy and additionally to spread the narrative among the public who may not be aware of the damage these policies may be causing. This is exactly what the protests against the invasion of Iraq, against the tuition fee rise, and the most recent austerity march has achieved: the illustration of anger at the government and widespread media coverage attracting others to the cause.

Let us also not forget that student demonstrations can be very effective. For example, thousands of students took over the university as part of the uprising of the Polytechnic University of Athens. As a result the military junta stormed the university gates using tanks. The outcome was the killing of many students by the dictatorship, however, a few days later a nation-wide uprising took place against the junta. This demonstration resulted in the creation of the famous legislation known as the Students Asylum or Academic Asylum. This law was introduced to protect freedom of thought and expression on campuses in 1982, when memories of Greece’s repressive military dictatorships of the late 1960s and early 1970s were still raw.

So where does this leave modern day protests and marches? As the NUS prepares for another demonstration on the 21st of November, one can only ask whether it is just another waste of time or a vital action that may lead to positive results. From the examples given in this article it is clear that many marches do create change, regardless of whether it takes weeks or years. In addition these marches can achieve much more than transformation of the society. They can ensure the government is well aware that their citizens are not prepared to stand back and let the establishment make unpopular choices. Demonstrations keep the government on their toes and ensure politicians are always accountable for their actions. For these reasons, protest and demonstrations are vital ingredients of our political system and have an intrinsically important role to play in society.

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Photo credit: Selena Sheridan

Prisoners Should Be Allowed To Vote. No Question.

The answer to preventing criminal re-offenses lies in ensuring that criminals serve their sentences, but never lose their perception that they are still citizens of a nation, and should act like one when they come out of prison.

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Prison convict trapped society

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A brawl is brewing between the European Court and the Coalition government in Britain. The former wants to implement a law which allows the prisoners to have a vote during elections, while David Cameron has defiantly said during Prime Minister’s Questions that the prisoners will never get the vote under his government.

It may perhaps seem like common sense that prisoners should lose their right to vote. After all, they have lost their right to freedom due to committing a crime which has in some way disadvantaged the society, thus they should have no say in the shaping of the society. Nevertheless such a judgment is not truly thought through properly. The purpose of putting criminals into prison is twofold: to protect the community and to hopefully punish the criminals so that they will not re-offend again once they are out. However, Britain has an appalling record of criminals who commit crimes repeatedly. 1 in 3 people who appear before a judge have committed on average 15 crimes before. It is obvious that the search for the holy grail of turning criminals into lawful citizens is still lost. I believe that one of the reasons for this is the fact that prisoners become completely alienated from society once in prison. One may argue that this is the whole point of imprisonment, however is it not essential, and more important to ensure that criminals do not re-offend. One way of preventing re-offenses is to ensure that prisoners do not feel segregated from the rest of the country. Unfortunately, preventing prisoners from voting is doing just that. By taking away the prisoner’s freedom to play a role in who governs the country, society is sending a message to prisoners that he or she is no longer part of that society. This undoubtedly will lead to the feeling of isolation and, in due course, re-offending. After all, following the convict’s freedom from prison, why should he or she feel the need to abide by the law when he or she feels psychologically distanced from the society which made these laws?

If the British government wants to see the figures for re-offending diminished, then the country as a whole should not treat prisoners like sub-class citizens or animals, but instead treat them as citizens who deserve to serve their punishment, but still have a vital role in shaping society. If Britain allows prisoners to vote, it will at least psychologically ensure that the prisoner feels welcomed and senses some compassion which hopefully will ensure he will not re-offend again once the freedom is given back to him.

The debate on whether criminals should be punished or rehabilitated has been discussed for many years now. I believe the real answer does not lie in whether the government disciplines them harshly or treats them as “sick” people who just need to be cured with care just like one is cured from a common cold. The answer lies in ensuring the criminals serve their sentence but never lose their perception that they are still citizens of a nation, and should act like one when they come out of prison.

Whether this method will be effective is undoubtedly debatable. However as the government is yet to find away to curb re-offending, perhaps this method should at least be given a thought.

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Photo Credit: Alakhai85

George Osborne’s Welfare Cuts: A Necessary Step

There are plenty of opportunities out there to get some form of qualifications and work your way up towards an average salary which is able to support a small family. Not only is having a job beneficial to the economy, but it also creates a positive atmosphere in a particular community and in the nation as a whole.

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the welfare state is proof of god

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During his Party Conference speech on the 8th of October George Osborne has proclaimed that the Government will press ahead with plans to cut £10 billion from the welfare budget by 2016-17 on top of the £18 billion cuts already under way. Osborne has secured the agreement of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, something he said would be necessary in order to avoid additional cuts in other Whitehall departments. The announcement, made in Osborne’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, will set the Tories on collision with their Liberal Democrat coalition partners.

Nick Clegg told his party’s conference last month that he would not allow “wild suggestions” of a £10 billion cut in welfare, while Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said, “We simply will not allow the books to be balanced in a way that hits the poorest hardest.”

The rhetoric by George Osborne will undoubtedly create new tensions between the political right and left, between the supporters of cuts and the supporters of spending to kick start the economy. It is perhaps too easy to claim that George Osborne is taking a typical Conservative means to end the deficit – cut the funding to the poorest while the rich are left unscathed. I am going to lay down all my cards on the table and truthfully say that I am personally not a fan of the Conservatives. In fact I am a member of the Green Party therefore in theory I should despise any policies put forward by the Tories. However, George Osborne and his team are onto something with their idea on cutting the welfare budget and in this article I will explain why.

When I immigrated to Britain in 2001 from Russia, I was surprised to learn that thousands of people in this country are able to be unemployed yet still live fairly comfortably. In Russia, if a citizen does not have a job, chances are he may end up on the streets. Even as a young child back then I was proud that a country like Britain looks after their citizens who were unlucky enough to be jobless. But as I grew older I realised an uncomfortable truth, that many of these jobless citizens chose to be unemployed and made the jobseekers benefits their life choice. As I studied the whole purpose of the welfare system, I learned that benefits were meant to be a safety net for the society rather than something people jump on in order to escape employment and watch Jeremy Kyle instead. It angered me that some people choose to live their whole life on welfare benefits and I began supporting the Conservative Party for a number of years.

Yet even now, as a centre-left individual, I believe that there should be cuts to the welfare budget. Having watched a programme recently on a council estate in Blackburn and having heard some young people on the programme claim that they are on benefits “because it’s just easier than getting up early every morning” I thought it was time for the government to take some measures.

George Osborne put forward an idea that families who have children for the sake of receiving child benefits will also feel the full wrath of the welfare cuts. Once again, I have to agree that this is a necessary action to take.  In my short lifetime, I have lived in some poor areas and I was saddened to see poor families having children for the sake of having more cash rather than because they genuinely wanted to create a family. Not only am I a believer that it is wrong to bring children into this world if you are not able to financially support them, but I am also a believer that bringing up children without fully understanding the responsibilities it will entail to bring these children up properly will create a nasty vicious circle. This circle goes round as follows: a financially poor mother has a child, the father of the child is long gone, the mother is unable (or does not want to) bring her child up properly, the child grows up with no respect towards society and his country and thus also takes the life of a benefit scrounger and/or a criminal.

Ultimately it is important to change the culture of Britain. Irrespective of my leftward-leaning ideology, I am happy to announce my belief that some citizens of this country must stop relying on Jobseeker’s Allowance and child benefit to get through life. There are plenty of opportunities out there to get some form of qualifications and work your way up towards an average salary which is able to support a small family. Not only is having a job beneficial to the economy, but it also creates a positive atmosphere in a particular community and in the nation as a whole.

Having said all of that, I undoubtedly understand that the current economic situation in Britain is dire and the rate of unemployment is high. Of course citizens who genuinely cannot find a job must receive benefits in order to support themselves while they search for employment. Nevertheless, there are far too many people who see benefits as “free money” rather than a safety net, and against all odds, I am therefore supporting the policies by George Osborne to cut the welfare budget.

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Photo credit: Bettysnake

Is War Inevitable?

If we as humanity are to carve a path away from the illogical concept of war, we must start treating wars with similar attitude as towards slavery and human sacrifice: disgust and contempt.

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Arlington National Cemetary. Is War Inevitable?

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Wars and conflict have been a part of our human history almost since the beginning of time. We as a civilization have grown up learning in schools about the vast number of great wars from the Medieval Ages all the way to the modern days. War and conflict have been engrained so much into our way of life that we almost instinctively assume that disputes between nations which end up in a bloody conflict is almost normality. Perhaps this is why the majority of citizens do not do enough to protest against wars. Let’s take the United Kingdom for example. Undoubtedly thousands, if not millions, of Brits were angered by the British government’s involvement in recent conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Yet this anger does not truly transform into mass action against conflict. While much of society is displeased with Britain’s warmongering over the years, many simply assume that war is just a way of life.

If thought through in detail war is perhaps the most illogical creation of mankind. Some might argue war is natural, because we humans are animals, and animals often fight and kill each other. This is a valid point; however it does not take into account that humans are the only species on our planet that can use their tongues not just to make noises, but to communicate with language, leading to a beautiful possibility of diplomacy. Others may argue that despite diplomacy, some disputes cannot be solved without the use of violence to measure who is the strongest and thus who makes the rules. While history may back this point up, once again it does not take into account that there are some pockets of society who have never utilised war to resolve a dispute. Buddhists, Kibbutzim in Israel, and even Iceland have never been involved in international wars. A skeptic may argue that such small minorities do not represent the overall picture, but the vital point here is the fact that humans are capable of going through lifetimes without conflicts. Some people argue that guns are to blame for wars, thus as long as nations have some sort of military equipment, war is inevitable. Yet there are a number of nations without armed forces like Andorra, Costa Rica, Liechtenstein, Grenada and others who seem to survive well without militarisation. Perhaps the strongest arguments against the idea that war is natural and inevitable is the fact that at some point during our human history, slavery, the caste system, inferiority of women, dictatorship, human sacrifices were also considered natural and inevitable. Ultimately simply because something seems normal and inevitable now does not necessarily mean it is right to follow through with it.

To put the above theory into practice, one has to ask themselves whether the recent wars in the Middle East and possible future conflicts with Syria and Iran are also inevitable. The Western governments claim that diplomacy will not work with the “barbaric” and “ruthless” terrorists that operate in the Middle East. Yet the fact that the amount of terrorist attacks in the region have increased and that levels of insecurity are higher than ever should demonstrate that the invasions and occupations are also not the answer. Currently Iraq is a crippling disaster with car bombs explosions happening practically every day. The USA has given up on Afghanistan due to rising deaths (2000 deaths for the American troops and countless civilian deaths for the Afghan population). The supply of arms to the rebels in Syria has increased the death total dramatically and the invasion of Iran will lead to catastrophic consequences in the whole region. Perhaps the best option to take is to leave the Middle Eastern region alone. Undoubtedly there are a number of vital problems that need addressing in the region, but the Arab populations are more than capable to solve these themselves. After all, the most peaceful transition of the Arab Spring happened in a county where the West played a minor role (Tunisia).

Evidently conflict and violence will grip the Middle East for some years to come due to instability and recent drastic change. Nevertheless, Western nations frequently claim that they are the creators of peace and diplomacy. Perhaps instead of encouraging violence, the West should live up to its claims and encourage dialogue between different factions in the Middle East. After all, Europe went through the most horrific period of wars and if we have learned anything from that period, it is to not let it happen again somewhere else. Some theorists claim that democracies never go to war with each other. That may be true, but unfortunately over the years democracies have played a crucial role in adding fuel to wars elsewhere. If we as humanity are to carve a path away from the illogical concept of war, we must start treating wars with similar attitude as towards slavery and human sacrifice: disgust and contempt.

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Photo credit: James Sheehan / theriskyshift.com

Putin: From Hero To Zero?

As opposition grows in the former Soviet state, is Vladimir Putin’s credibility diminishing in the eyes of the Russian people despite his recent re-election?

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Putin

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s Putin took the oath to become President, an office he first occupied 12 years ago, he said that serving Russia “was the meaning of my whole life”. If that is the case then he certainly has done a good job so far. During the Putin era, Russia has changed considerably. The country has doubled its GDP, paid off its foreign loans, reasserted its regional influence and tricked the Russian citizens into thinking that Russia is an authentic democracy.

Yet not all is well in the quest for Putin to serve Russia without any hindrance. The protests seem to be only growing in strength and their cry for political representation and respect is growing louder. Putin could have left politics 12 years ago as a hero and as one of the best leaders of Russia. Yet he decided to come back for more and test the crowd’s patience. To understand why Putin decided to do that is not easy as not much is known about the man behind the steal exterior.

By observing how he ruled the state of Russia during his first term as President, it is possible to argue that Putin is certainly power hungry and has an uncontrollable need to regulate power using the institutions he built up himself. As his time as President wore on around the year 2004, Putin succumbed to the urges to consolidate control and purge potential rivals. The money which flooded in through oil and gas sales certainly helped Putin to stamp his authority and more importantly keep the Russian citizens happy by increasing their wages and pensions. The price that the people had to pay was authoritarian control under Putin and a lack of decent opposition, be it political opposition or a truly free press.

In exchange for loyalty (often in the form of votes), officials further down the bureaucratic chain, from regional governors to local police chiefs, can oversee their fiefdoms however they like, collecting millions or allowing abuse to flourish. On a more international level, the current Chechnya President Ramzan Kadyrov also sits in the pocket of Putin as he said in the Russian newspaper in 2009: “I am wholly Putin’s man. I shall never betray him; I shall never let him down. I would rather die 20 times.” Ultimately Putin has built a peculiar set of relationships. His game plan is: support me and I might support you back. Disobey me and you will regret it. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former multi billionaire Russian tycoon who was put in prison certainly learned the hard way not to disobey Putin.

Nevertheless, how will Putin be able to deal with the masses of protestors who disobey him? Russia’s profound economic and social transformation during Putin’s tenure has created for the first time a true middle class, largely comprised of educated urban professionals living in Moscow. As this section of Russian society has become more secure financially, they are beginning to worry about having a political voice. The recent upsurge in technological advances and internet access in Russia, with greater access to the Western media, has also helped to ensure that the middle class ask for more.

It is ironic how the same people who want Putin out are the ones who have to thank him for ensuring their economic and social stability. Some may call them ungrateful, yet in every normal democracy, it is the citizen’s right to ask for fair elections and last December’s parliamentary elections which were marked by widespread evidence of falsification certainly didn’t not meet the standard required by the people of Russia. The problem does not merely lie within the confines of urban cities; rising standards of living in small villages are leading to higher expectations and local grievances, whether about poor infrastructure or particularly corrupt officials with discontent directed back at Russia.

The way Putin has dealt with the above problems is simple: he has provided the citizens with choices and freedoms everywhere except politics. The Russians can now afford to open their own business, travel abroad on holiday and become part of the consumers as witnessed in the West. As long as the citizens are given the freedom to make something decent out of their lives, not many of them will bother protesting in the freezing Russian streets. Having said that, if Russia continues to feel the effects of the global economic crisis and financial stability continues to falter, the citizens may turn on Putin at the flick of a finger.

We are still yet to see where Putin takes Russia during his new Presidential term in office. If he plays his cards right, he may still keep his status as one of the best politicians in the country. However, if his bluff fails, he may end up going from hero to zero and he would have nobody to blame but himself.