All posts by Peter Kelly

Peter holds an MSc in International Security from the University of Bristol and a BA in Philosophy and Politics from Durham University. His focus is on security and conflict issues in the western world, Middle East and Africa. He runs the site A Third Opinion at http://athirdopinion.net and www.facebook.com/AThirdOpinion
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Saying Goodbye To The Tea Party

The Republican party is returning to fight for the centre which will return them to power, and Sarah Palin will not be a mistake they will seek to repeat.

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Last week the most internationally mocked American politician was gracelessly tossed out by Fox News, a network under which she had once developed huge popularity as the right-wing’s female star of Obama-bashing and main-stream-media-attacking. Sarah Palin (best known around the world for her portrayals by Tina Fey in Saturday Night Live and Julianne Moore in the less-than-complimentary election film Game Change) has fallen from her heights of media stardom and a doomed campaign to be the first American female vice-president.

However this is not some isolated event of the fall from grace of a single politician, it is part of a wider political shift of the past year in US politics. This shift is the popular collapse of the once powerful Tea Party movement. What had begun with a slow slide in popularity has become a widespread abandonment of the movement and its rejection from the Republican Party within which it once held so much influence. Where only three years ago almost a quarter of voters affiliated themselves with the movement, now less than one in ten do. Where over half of voters once supported it, now just as many see it negatively and support has fallen to under a third. The 2012 presidential election killed the Tea Party, and it is a sign of much larger changes to come.

Three years is extremely fast for a country-spanning ideological movement to collapse, but the Tea Party’s rise was just as spectacular. Emerging in 2007 in the “Boston TeaParty07” event for Ron Paul’s presidential campaign, the Tea Party movement only really began to gather pace in 2009, after the response to the financial crisis became the most important political issue in the Western world. Rick Santelli’s rant in response to the bailout of the collapsing financial institutions of the time created the new movement as he called for a “Chicago Tea Party”. The result was instant. Protests against the bailouts and rising taxes erupted across the United States, rallies which were noticed across the world as the most significant opposition to President Obama’s handling of the financial crisis.

The Tea Party movement reached it’s peak in 2010, over half of the Republican vote was members and the vast majority of Republican politicians owed the fever-pitch opposition to Obama to its grassroots drive. But what did this grassroots owe their support to? Largely big-business and individual billionaire investors with libertarian leanings. Unfortunately this initially very powerful combination between the anti-tax grassroots and their allies in politics and business opened cracks which would break the movement.

This break began shortly after the Tea Party movement began. Raised in the face of Obama’s landslide election victory and his big-government response to the financial crisis the Tea Party was unprepared to face a series of bloody losses to the Obama administration. First the big-bank bailouts and financial stimulus. Then the auto bailouts. Then the healthcare bill. The Tea Party was (and is) not only getting an absolute mauling in national politics but was also losing to successful policies. No matter how huge the airtime dedicated to the “grassroots” movement, funded by big-money donations to media organisations, there was no fighting the tide of goodwill the Democrats faced between 2010 and 2012 as the economy drove towards recovery.

Nor was Obama’s political success the only problem. Tea Party candidates were an increasing embarrassment to the Republican Party. Attempts to run inexperienced grassroots campaigners against experienced Democratic politicians was not as effective as the GOP had expected. Continuous gaffs from Tea Party favourites such as Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann destroyed both candidate’s hopes in 2012 and could be ill-afforded as the Christian-right joined them in self-immolation on women’s rights.

The 2012 elections were the last gasp of an already struggling political movement. In an attempt to secure their vote anti-tax politician Paul Ryan was nominated as Vice President. However not only did securing the Tea Party vote fail to galvanise support and overturn Obama’s huge 2008 majority, it actively damaged the Republican vote. In trying to capture the radical-right during the primaries Republican presidential candidates had completely alienated themselves from the centre, the place where all elections are won and where the vital swing-states lie. After months of predictions of Republican victory the right-wing were stunned to watch Obama waltz to an easy victory spurred by the women, industrial working class, racial minorities and LGBT that the Republicans had offended time and time again in their attempts to spur Tea Party-like activism in the radical right.

Now, with Obama yet again sworn into office, the Republicans are cutting the anchor lines to the Tea Party, Christian evangelist and anti-immigrant right wing which lost them the election they seemed so set to win. The sacking of Palin by Fox News is not just a symptom of the collapse of the Tea Party, but of the entire GOP radical right. The Republican party is returning to fight for the centre which will return them to power, and Sarah Palin will not be a mistake they will seek to repeat.

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Photo Credit: sskennel

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Games with Guns

Written in direct response to Jamiesha Majevadia’s blog “POW! Act Tough On Play Fighting And Vaccinate Against Mass Shootings.

In her article Majevadia requested we stay away from “THAT” debate on video games and promised a follow up on gender issues.  This piece will therefore try and focus away from those issues as much as possible.

The concept of various elements of modern life, from news to video games to swearing, numbing the youth to extreme violence is a common one. The left turns to it as part of its culture of aversion to all violence and suffering, the right turns to it as a scapegoat for gun violence (anything but admit that the guns themselves are the primary culprit for killings involving guns).

However the battle between them has created a situation in western society where they have disproved one another. Liberal focus on clamping down on schoolyard activities under the banner of health and safety has dramatically reduced violent games which used to be the stalwart of (especially boys, gender is an inescapable issue in these arguments) playtime fun. However at the same time as games such as cowboys and indians, cops and robbers or bulldog have faced cutbacks, shootings by youths has skyrocketed. There are hundreds of issues which can explain that fact, but playing cowboy clearly is not one of them.

As someone who shot rifles for years and was part of a military cadet group, I can say without a doubt that guns are exceptionally “cool” in a way many of my peers (mostly female ones, gender rears its head again) simply do not understand. I absolutely love them, the noise, the smell, the physicality, the achievement of blasting down another target. Few things have given me the sheer sense of being awesome (and I mean that in the literal sense, not the slang) as shooting down five 200m targets faster than those around me. I was a very good shot and loved being good; I also thoroughly enjoyed my time in uniform, including two camps at British military bases.

However I’m also aggressively anti-gun politically, in the respect that gun laws should be extremely restrictive and comprehensive. The article I co-wrote with Tom Hashemi should bear witness to that. I have received various threats for my stance in the gun debate and yet continue to passionately argue the case against freedoms to gun ownership even as I plan my next trip down to the pistol range. My experience of violent play as a child or that I have grown up in a low-regulated environment surrounded by rifles has certainly desensitised me to their presence. I have never jumped at gunshots and I have plenty of plastic replicas in my childhood toybox. The concept that this has somehow normalised violence and death or made me any less aware of the danger of these weapons is ludicrous. If anything I have a far greater respectful fear of these weapons than I ever would have done isolated from them.

The idea of guns as “seriously cool” (they are, it’s as undeniable as the coolness of monster trucks, explosions and rugby) does in no way coincide with a flippant attitude towards gun laws and anger at how the pro-gun lobby has betrayed those killed in the United States. Rifle shooting is no less a acceptable sport than the equally violence-based Olympic events of javelin and archery. When correctly safeguarded and protected, guarded by highly trained and vetted professionals, guns are no less dangerous than swords in the hands of fencers. It is ensuring this state of affairs which should be the priority, not clamping down on a child’s playfulness for the whims of the political climate.

Playing with pretend guns as a child is not something that can be simply cut out, it is an inevitable consequence of a child’s competitive nature, playful aggression and the “coolness” that guns will no more shake than will the swords and arrows they also play with.

My only hope is that their play, and the gradual realisation of the concept of death, will slowly teach them the respectful fear that these weapons rightfully deserve.

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Photo Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

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A ‘War On Terror’ Or A ‘War On Chaos’?

The European deployments throughout Africa are an entirely different creation to the US-led “War on Terror”. The European “War on Chaos” is one of pragmatic national interest but also of support for those states who play by the rules and protection for the millions under constant threat of violence.

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Two and a half thousand French forces are being deploying in Mali in the largest European military deployment by any EU state since 2001. Supported by British and then American logistics in under a week the French have advanced against both columns of the advancing AQIM affiliated fighters, halting them completely in the East and beginning a counter-attack in the North. Bombing raids have struck Islamist positions behind the front lines as West African forces begin to arrive to double the foreign troops fighting to defend Mali’s capital.

The situation in Mali is the most significant action by western forces since the NATO operation in Libya, another in which the French military lead the way, flying 35% of the total offensive foreign air missions of the conflict and 90% of the helicopter missions. But even that is a fragment of French military involvement in the last year. They are the most active western state in the fight against Al-Shabaab in Somalia, formed the bulk of the force which ousted Ivory Coast dictator Gbagbo and are a primary contributor to the European army, the CSDP.

France has never been a passive military power. Ever since its founding as the western branch of Charlemagne’s German Frankish Empire it has been at almost constant war. From its constant conflicts with the British of the medieval period it went on to dominate continental Europe with its huge military and financial strength. Napoleon, perhaps the greatest European tactician in history, conquered the entire continent before his army was struck down by disease. In fact if it wasn’t for this disaster and the allied tactic of attempting to avoid ever facing Napoleon’s genius directly in battle he may have created the first truly European state. It went on to build an empire to challenge that of the British and Spanish, fighting stoically through the First World War and ferociously in the Second, though not always on the same side. As the empires of Europe collapsed France fought over the remains of its global power, only admitting defeat after the disasters of Vietnam and Algeria. Now, after years of struggling to regain its place at the forefront of European military strength it is by far the most active of the Western powers outside America.

Much as this may surprise many, fueled by the completely misplaced British-propaganda stereotype of French as the white-flag-wavers of Europe, it’s not quite as surprising to most as the mere idea of European military action, let alone a dedicated EU military force. The mere thought seems alien to American audiences still unused to their new supporting role in conflicts and horrifying to the eurosceptic English. However, the European CSDP (Common Security and Defense Policy) military has grown from a mere token force to the largest coalition army outside the ISAF in Afghanistan. The European force is now significant enough that it has involved itself in twenty-five foreign operations, all separately from NATO. Presently well over 5,000 European forces operate under the EU flag of the CSDP as well as four naval warships. Alone this is a larger force than any of the militaries involved in Afghanistan other than the United States and Britain.

There is a key difference however between the armed forces of the French and EU compared to that of the USA and Britain, none of these forces have been involved in the reputational suicide of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The unilateral invasion, without international support (unlike Afghanistan or any French missions of the last decade) ruined the international status of the two Atlantic powers as supporters of international order and made them as much pariahs to the developing world as the “Axis of Evil” they fought against. Instead European forces, and 4,500 French forces fighting under the tricolour or the twelve stars, represent a force of stability in conflict-torn areas. They come on invitation and international support and yet lack the need for the sometimes crippling restraint forced on UN peacekeepers.

The European deployments throughout Africa and in potential conflict zones across Europe and Asia are an entirely different creation to the US-led “War on Terror”. The European “War on Chaos” is one of pragmatic national interest but also of support for those states who play by the rules and protection for the millions under constant threat of violence. The French-led war for military stability across the world is mirrored by the German-led battle for economic stability at home in Europe. Together they form two arms of increasingly powerful demands for a unified Europe bringing stability to both its own citizens and those of the world at large. The Germans have expressed their support for the new European military and the French are aligned with them in the push for a new centralised European economic system. A new Europe is being born, one regaining the pride and prestige it had lost for almost a century. The US was forged in the fire of the British Empire, states forced to band together into Union to guard against the return of the world’s most powerful force. The Union of Europe may well be forged from the threat of Eurozone collapse and Islamist terrorism breeding from every failed state and unstable region.

The result may well be a split in the Western world. The liberal continental Europe, one built upon consensus and cooperation, is radically different from the relatively conservative United States, swinging violently between neoconservative interventions and proud isolation, too sure of its own exceptionalism. Between them stands Britain, unsure of which road to take. However, as the Atlantic divides the west and the US turns to the pacific, a lonely island may not have the clout to strike fear as its empire once did. As the French fight in Mali and Somalia, and Germany grants the keys to economic power to the European Union, the European War on Chaos will proceed with or without royal Britannia.

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Photo credit: Jerry Gunner

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Una legge democratica e religiosa. Come quella ugandese contro gli omosessuali.

A prima vista potrebbe sembrare un discorso imperialista o neocolonialista, ma la posta in gioco rimane troppo alta: non è possibile che una nazione democratica si faccia promotrice di morte e sofferenza. Si deve agire subito.

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[dropcap]N[/dropcap]el 2009 l’Uganda ha avanzato una proposta di legge contro gli omosessuali, il cosiddetto “Kill the Gays bill”. Il testo comprende due disposizioni che, in pratica, equiparano l’omosessualità all’omicidio, punendo con l’ergastolo coppie gay e trasgressori incensurati. È invece prevista la pena di morte per criminali recidivi, ovvero sieropositivi, figure autorevoli (genitori inclusi) e pedofili, ossia tutti coloro che intrattengano rapporti con minori di 18 anni. Si configura anche il reato di omessa denuncia, punito con una multa e fino a tre anni di detenzione.

Il progetto di legge, condannato dall’opinione pubblica internazionale, si è arenato varie volte all’interno del parlamento ugandese. Le pressioni politiche occidentali furono inizialmente inefficaci, ma a fine 2009 il testo venne smussato, eliminando la pena di morte. Per due anni, a partire dal marzo 2010, la bozza non è stata più discussa, nonostante un tentativo fallimentare avvenuto quell’agosto; adesso è tornata alla ribalta.

Perché insistere su questa legge? Perché “sono gli ugandesi a chiederla”.

A questo proposito, i mass media hanno sempre usato le virgolette, come se riportassero un’affermazione fasulla, da prendere con le pinze o a cui non credere affatto: cosa che invece viene smentita dai numeri. In teoria, se democrazia significa ascoltare le maggioranze, questa legge dovrebbe essere approvata.

Infatti, il 96% degli ugandesi vorrebbe bandire l’omosessualità. Il massiccio supporto popolare a favore di tale misura rispecchia un trend comune a tutta l’area sub-sahariana (escluso il Sudafrica, relativamente liberale): in questa zona, lo stato meno sfavorevole all’omosessualità è la Costa d’Avorio, che registra una percentuale dell’89% tra i contrari. Non che la situazione cambi molto in un contesto più esteso: in Medio Oriente lo Stato più tollerante è quello di Israele, in cui però solo un terzo della popolazione si dichiara aperta nei confronti dell’omosessualità; questa percentuale cala drasticamente in Egitto, fino a scendere all’1%. Il quadro è decisamente migliore in Europa occidentale, ma peggiora gradualmente procedendo verso est: nel sud-est asiatico l’unica eccezione che prevede una maggioranza “a favore” del riconoscimento degli omosessuali è costituita dal Giappone. Nel continente americano, sebbene via sia un orientamento progressista in materia, gli Stati Uniti dimostrano un’intolleranza che non ha eguali nel mondo occidentale.

Omofobia non è la parola giusta per descrivere comportamenti dettati, più che dalla paura, dall’odio, e l’ostilità statunitense attecchisce notevolmente a livello globale. Con i loro sermoni carichi di intolleranza, certi pastori ultraconservatori americani trovano molto seguito in Africa, dove le popolazioni locali sono indotte a temere un presunto contagio omosessuale tra i bambini, che dissemini sia il virus dell’HIV, sia pericolosi pensieri omosessuali. In aggiunta, numerose organizzazioni statunitensi, supportate da predicatori religiosi e corporations internazionali, sono preposte alla diffusione di programmi anti-abortisti ed anti-omosessuali.

Tuttavia, l’intolleranza statunitense non ha bisogno di essere emulata o esportata: piuttosto, questi predicatori ne capitalizzano la versione autoctona, basandosi sulle severe prescrizioni religiose delle vecchie società coloniali, e sul persistere di superstizioni ancora più antiche – che stigmatizzano, ad esempio, l’omosessualità e l’albinismo.

La mancanza d’istruzione ha fatto il resto: i principi sacri delle popolazioni colonizzate hanno finito per diventare ancora più ferrei di quelli dei colonizzatori. Al grido di “conversione o morte”, la cristianizzazione forzata determinò spesso massacri sanguinosissimi, al confronto dei quali appaiono poca cosa le guerre religiose combattute in Europa.  Queste ultime si originavano da questioni interpretative che volevano risalire a principi, stabiliti da Cristo, che regolamentassero società sorte molti secoli dopo la sua nascita – nonostante fosse scritto nei Vangeli che il mondo non sarebbe durato più di un altro secolo (Matteo  16:28, 23:36, 24:34, 26:64, Marco  9:1, 13:30, Luca 9:27, 21:32).

Nel corso della storia, i califfati islamici arabi e gli imperi cristiani adottarono e propugnarono una serie di pratiche sessuofobiche. Inoltre, nei libri della tradizione giudaico-cristiana sono annoverate molte norme in materia di rapporti e pensieri sessuali, talmente paranoiche e restrittive da risultare bizzarre. Nelle ex colonie, tali regole hanno continuato ad avere peso anche dopo che i Paesi industrializzati le hanno dismesse. Quando le popolazioni occidentali hanno iniziato a svincolarsi dai dettami della Chiesa, declassata a mero fattore di identità culturale, anche l’odio per l’omosessualità ha iniziato a svanire. Secondo una stima Gallup, gli Stati più aperti nei confronti dell’omosessualità sono anche quelli che, rifiutando una morale dettata dalla religione, mettono istruzione e libertà di pensiero al primo posto della propria scala di valori.

Così non è per l’Uganda, dove un’applicazione letterale del principio di democrazia tutelerebbe le leggi che mettono al bando l’omosessualità, fino a punirla in qualche caso con la morte. Gli ugandesi lo vogliono, così come la loro religione: di conseguenza, questa legge dovrebbe essere approvata in quanto ritenuta democratica? La risposta è negativa.

Una tale posizione potrebbe apparire imperialista o neocolonialista, ma la posta in gioco rimane troppo alta: non è possibile che una nazione democratica si faccia promotrice di morte e sofferenza. La tutela dei valori di libertà (di espressione, identità, sicurezza) rimane prioritaria rispetto al diritto delle maggioranze all’oppressione legale: un ordinamento democratico, da solo, non basta a rendere civile una società. La difesa dei suddetti valori non riguarda esclusivamente le sinistre, come vorrebbe un’opinione diffusa in Occidente: essi sono i principi fondanti delle stesse società occidentali. Pertanto, una demagogia intollerante, fondata su principi sacri, attecchisce particolarmente laddove l’istituzione della democrazia sia recente, e la morale completamente subordinata alla religione. Ingiustizie come quella ugandese devono essere stroncate sul nascere, per tutelare chi si macchi dell’unica colpa di amare in maniera diversa. Il diritto all’oppressione democratica ha già detto abbastanza: per contrastarlo, si deve agire subito.

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Articolo tradotto da: Antonella Di Marzio

Articolo originale: Uganda’s ‘Kill The Gays’ Bill? It’s Democratic. And It’s Religious.

Photo credit: Todd Huffman

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The Collapse Of The War On Drugs

Trillions spent, hundreds of thousands of lives lost. For what?
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Oil prices are recorded and analysed on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Food prices ignite riots and drive revolutions. However what of the world’s third largest valued industry: drugs? There is no place to look up the average price of a gram of methamphetamine (the best indicator of supply and demand) nor the analysis which characterises the oil industry and makes it such a good indicator of world economic health and regional stability. Drugs may be the most important topic to ever be abandoned by world analysts and the war in drugs the most expensive conflict ever to go unquestioned by the populations who pay dearly for it.
This may, finally, be changing. On December 10th the British House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, one of the most influential groups in the UK, revealed a damning verdict on the world War on Drugs’ failure and the cost of that failure. Just like the several reports such committees have produced for years, criminalisation of drug users and the campaigns to shut down the world’s third most valuable industry was savaged by the use of a real look into these policies.
This is not the first time British drug policy has been questioned. Opposition to present policies have been growing for over two decades. Tension between the British government and the swelling numbers of scientists, advisers and select committees grew to a head in 2009 with the David Nutt controversy.
Nutt is and was a respected expert in drug policy who served for British drug committees for years before the 2009 clash. In 2008 he was appointed as Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. In 2009 he created a double controversy which resulted in his being sacked later in the year. In the first instance he compared the dangers of taking ecstasy to horse riding, finding horse riding thirty times more dangerous. His attempt to underline the almost arbitrary attack on drugs as a dangerous form of recreational activity caused uproar almost the British establishment and the ire of the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. Nutt followed this up with the publication of a lecture re-classifying drugs according to scientific classification of physical dependence, physical harm and social harm. The results embarrassed the British government, showing their policies to be completely undefendable, especially when driven home with statements like “the obscenity of hunting down low-level cannabis users to protect them is beyond absurd”.

The result? Not policy overhaul, but the sacking and public mauling of Nutt as a man who had overstepped his remit as a drug policy adviser who dared question government policy whilst in office. The entire episode ruined the British government’s reputation on drug policy and began the push towards deregulation. This year the controversy emerged again in the form of the first television investigation of ecstasy in Channel 4’s Drugs Trial. The mauling of pro-government Andy Parrott in the show underlined how dramatically the tide is swinging away from the government prohibition-style policies.

The main obstacle is the developed world’s most powerful voting demographic, the over-55s. In the last few decades the only remaining group to have grown up before the huge liberalisation of the 1960s has grown disproportionately large, hoarded huge amounts of the national wealth and completely dominated the electoral polls. Despite the over-65s making up only 15% of the population they take up 25% of the votes in Britain and the over-55s seize almost half the votes alone. This disproportionately rich and influential group also leads the opposition to gay rights, voting and constitutional reform, and medical policy changes such as abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research. However it is also a shrinking demographic, one which halves every two decades to be replaced by generations who grew up in a more liberal period than their predecessors.

This demographic swing is emboldening reform-minded politicians who will always require support from the over-55s to enter office. British PM David Cameron spoke out against government drug policy in his first year in office and the Liberal Democrats have drug policy reform as one of their top priorities. Nor is this a British-centric shift. The War on Drugs is a world issue and one which is facing collapse in many countries. This week the US state of Washington became the first to decriminalise cannabis and Colorado will soon follow, flouting federal laws in doing so. Amsterdam in the Netherlands struck down a new law which would have closed its own drug freedoms to visitors from other countries. Portugal continues to report the huge successes of its own blanket decriminalisation and other countries are beginning to notice.

Many underestimate just how huge the cost this collapsing war has levied on its participants. Thousands of criminalised youths and trillions spent by demand countries, with over one million incarcerated in the US for a cost of $1 trillion in that country alone. The US could save or make up to $80 billion from decriminalising and taxing presently illegal drugs. Thousands dead in distribution countries, with up to 100,000 dead in Mexico alone since the beginning of the US-backed drug cartel crackdown and no signs of success, a figure equal to that of the entire Iraq conflict and significantly higher than Afghanistan. Civil war and devastation in countries of supply such as Afghanistan and Columbia where the drugs fuel militant movements and finance the even more dangerous trade of guns.

Trillions spent, hundreds of thousands of lives lost. For what? Drug policies which over the last decade have been mauled by dozens of experts from science and politics, levying a price voting populations have no idea they are paying. The taboo of taking a critical look at the world’s third most valuable industry and its most expensive conflict is finally being broken to reveal policy based more on ignorant hardheadedness and fear of the tabloid press than any true grasp of the war they are even trying to fight. The momentum is swinging away from prohibition and towards David Nutt, and he may yet get to have the last laugh in the collapse of the War on Drugs.

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Photo Credit: NYC-Metro Card

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L’Unione Africana E La Crisi In Mali

Mentre l’Unione Africana continua a radunare consensi e ad accrescere il suo potere nella lotta per la supremazia nell’area Sahariana, sembra inevitabile la formazione di un esercito indipendente, in grado di contrastare rapidamente le fazioni degli estremisti islamici.

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Quando il Mali settentrionale è finito nelle mani del Movimento Nazionale per la Liberazione dell’Azawad (MNLA), sono stati pochi gli osservatori internazionali a prestare attenzione all’accaduto. Si è trattato di un evento relativamente minore rispetto al colpo di stato che ha avuto luogo nella vicina capitale, alla guerra civile in Libia e agli attacchi degli estremisti religiosi nella Nigeria settentrionale. Ciò nonostante, i riflettori sull’area si sono accesi nel momento in cui sono emersi contrasti all’interno delle forze che avevano dichiarato l’indipendenza dell’Azawad, e il MNLA è risultato sconfitto da fazioni di estremisti islamici.

La disfatta del MNLA, arrivata dopo che questi aveva già battuto l’esercito maliano, ha rappresentato il successo più importante ottenuto delle milizie degli estremisti islamici dalla vittoria sui talebani del 2001. Infatti, se i talebani afgani si stanno convertendo sempre più in una forza moderata, l’Iraq sta ritrovando un suo equilibrio, le forze moderate governano in Africa settentrionale, e le milizie di al-Shabaab in Somalia sembrano ormai quasi esanimi, vien da chiedersi quale soggetto abbia tratto beneficio da questa sconfitta. La risposta reca il nome di Ansar Dine e del Movimento per un’Unica Jihad nell’Africa Occidentale (MOJWA), affiliato ad Al Qaeda nel Maghreb Islamico (AQIM).

Poiché la sconfitta di al-Shabaab appare un’ipotesi sempre più prevedibile a seguito della creazione di un corridoio tra le forze dell’Unione Africana (UA) a Mogadiscio, e le aree sotto il controllo dell’UA, il Mali potrebbe costituire il prossimo fronte per la lotta contro le correnti fondamentaliste islamiche in Africa.

La vittoria del movimento jihadista, ottenuta in Africa Occidentale, ha presupposto la concomitanza una serie di eventi internazionali. Tra questi, va sicuramente considerato l’aumento degli attacchi militari nella Nigeria settentrionale, che ha implicato l’ascesa di una fazione politica e militare denominata Boko Haram. Non si tratta, pertanto, di un conflitto dai caratteri meramente nazionali.  La Nigeria, infatti, è una nazione di medio reddito, ed è un paese relativamente enorme per subire inerme questo tipo di attacchi e questa resistenza da parte di un gruppo ribelle. Non stiamo parlando dell’Afghanistan o dello Yemen, ma piuttosto di uno stato geograficamente ed economicamente simile al Messico, all’Egitto e alla Turchia (secondo le stime più recenti, la Nigeria registrerà la crescita economica più significativa, a livello globale, entro i prossimi quarant’anni). In aggiunta, la popolazione della Nigeria è più ampia, e il suo PIL più elevato, rispetto ai dati registrati dagli altri 14 membri della Comunità Economica degli Stati dell’Africa Occidentale (ECOWAS) a livello aggregato. Per questa serie di ragioni non si può sottovalutare la crescita di Boko Haram avvenuta nel corso degli ultimi dieci anni.

Dopo una decade di crescita, i militanti jihadisti dell’Africa Occidentale attendevano solamente l’occasione propizia per sferrare offensive militari di un certo calibro. Tale occasione è giunta a seguito della Primavera araba. Mentre la Libia soccombeva al caos, decine di islamisti si sono arruolati nelle truppe delle tribù orientali e liberali per prendere parte alle campagne contro Gheddafi. Man mano che il conflitto proseguiva, i suddetti infiltrati si sono muniti dei  migliori armamenti. Infine, dopo l’uccisione di Gheddafi, la vittoria elettorale delle forze liberali in Libia e la conseguente smilitarizzazione, i militanti jihadisti si sono spinti dapprima in Algeria, e in seguito lungo il confine con il Mali.

Il MNLA ha beneficiato moltissimo di questo afflusso di militanti. Sebbene questi combattenti siano stati assorbiti soprattutto tra i ranghi degli estremisti dell’Ansar Dine e del MOJWA, e non dai Tuareg nazionalisti, i tre gruppi costituiscono il pericolo maggiore per l’esercito maliano. Infatti, a seguito della rivolta tuareg, avvenuta tra gennaio e marzo scorso, l’ormai logoro esercito maliano rovesciò il governo e sospese la costituzione. Poco tempo dopo il MNLA ottenne il controllo del nord del paese per essere poi tradito e sconfitto dagli alleati islamisti. Al momento il paese risulta diviso tra un nuovo governo transnazionale e gli affiliati dell’AQIM. La situazione attuale, quindi, è estremamente favorevole allo sviluppo dell’Islam estremista. I gruppi militanti, devoti ad un’interpretazione violenta della Sharia, si dedicano ad assediare aree lacerate dai conflitti, dove è più semplice reclutare uomini privati dei propri diritti, e lo stato si rivela incapace di detenere il monopolio della violenza. Ad ogni modo, nell’ultima decade l’Africa ha iniziato ad organizzarsi per far fronte a questa minaccia in continua espansione. A differenza dell’Afganistan, dove la mancanza di una potenza regionale ha implicato il coinvolgimento dell’alleanza occidentale della NATO, l’UA sta intervenendo gradualmente con l’obiettivo di evitare una disgregazione regionale per la quale gli stati interessati perderebbero il controllo dei relativi territori. In Somalia, le forze dell’UA detengono il controllo della capitale e continuano a demolire i centri di potere di al-Shabaab. Nel Mali l’ECOWAS sta agendo in supporto dell’UA, dopo la decisione di dispiegare 3.300 soldati nelle regioni settentrionali contro gli affiliati di AQIM. Il piano prevede una missione della durata di sei mesi, a partire da dicembre, con l’obiettivo di stabilire delle basi nel sud del paese, per poi procedere verso nord e il confine con l’Algeria, che a sua volta si asterrà dalle operazioni. L’Unione Europea, storico sostenitore dell’UA, si sta a sua volta organizzando per inviare centinaia di consiglieri militari, con la precipua funzione di ristabilire l’efficienza dell’esercito maliano.

L’UA sta seguendo il modello adottato dalla NATO nel periodo successivo alla guerra fredda, il quale contemplava la salvaguardia della sicurezza attraverso l’ordine. I cosiddetti “stati falliti”, in altre parole quegli stati in cui non vige un governo in grado di detenere il controllo dell’intero territorio e del monopolio della violenza, non possono essere ignorati, in quanto rappresentano dei veri e propri focolai di destabilizzazione regionale. Come la NATO e l’UE intervennero al momento del collasso dello stato iugoslavo, allo stesso modo l’UA agisce laddove i militanti islamici lottano per il controllo del territorio. Se l’intervento dell’ECOWAS nel Mali dovesse aver successo, dovremmo attenderci l’utilizzo di ulteriori forze di peacekeeping nella Nigeria settentrionale e nella Libia meridionale, in modo da contenere eventuali tensioni.

Qualsiasi resistenza all’azione militare dell’Unione Africana potrebbe essere giustificata solo per mere ragioni di reputazione: infatti, accettare la stessa implicherebbe ammettere l’incapacità di difendersi con i propri mezzi. Sia il Mali e che la Somalia non possono più permettersi tali considerazioni, diversamente da Libia, Nigeria e Sudan meridionale. In sostanza, la minaccia dell’estremismo islamico rappresenta un pericolo così rilevante da sollecitare l’intervento di tutti gli attori regionali, in favore di altri stati, una volta che la necessità di sopravvivenza di questi ultimi precede qualsiasi altra considerazione.

Molti ritengono che la guerra contro l’estremismo islamico sia una questione che riguardi prevalentemente gli Stati Uniti. Credere a tale ipotesi implica accettare l’idea che, il contesto nel quale il conflitto si sviluppa, sia quello contro i malefici imperialisti americani, rendendo ancora più semplice il reclutamento. In realtà, si tratta di una questione globale. La Russia si scontra spesso con gli islamisti nel Caucaso. Il Pakistan nelle regioni federali, la Cina nello Xinjiang, l’Egitto nella penisola del Sinai, l’Indonesia ad Aceh, la Turchia nella zona curda, l’India nel Kashmir, le Filippine nel Bangsaromo. Ogni regione confinante con il mondo islamico deve contrastare gli estremisti che sono visti come minaccia alla propria sicurezza, al proprio potere e ai diritti umani. Il problema principale della lotta al terrorismo, così come concepita dagli Stati Uniti, ha riguardato l’utilizzo unilaterale della forza, in Iraq come in Afghanistan. D’altra parte, l’UA ha perseguito una strategia multilaterale in tale lotta, coinvolgendo l’UE, l’ONU e le forze locali. Una strategia che è stata recentemente adottata anche in Afganistan, sebbene con grave ritardo.

Contestualmente allo sviluppo economico dell’Africa, che sottende ad un ruolo sempre più importante dei propri attori nazionali nell’arena internazionale, la sua battaglia contro l’Islam radicale acquisirà sempre più rilevanza. Una delle questioni che continueranno ad essere cruciali interesserà l’aumento della forza militare dell’UA, che si sta progressivamente trasformando in una forza militare permanente. Così come l’UE è stata richiamata alla coesione a causa della crisi economica, l’Unione Africana è costretta a combattere in maniera altrettanto unita contro i militanti islamici. Entrambe le potenze internazionali possono essere l’emblema di un allontanamento dalla concezione degli stati nazionali, verso amministrazioni internazionali multilaterali dotate di eserciti indipendenti, e particolarmente attente a preservare la stabilità politica. La natura di queste stesse potenze risulterà più liberale degli stati stessi, e pertanto la crescita del consenso pubblico sui diritti umani sarà in totale contrasto con la militanza islamica estremista.

Sembra inevitabile, di conseguenza,  la formazione di un esercito indipendente in seno all’Unione Africana, in grado di contrastare repentinamente fazioni come quelle di AQIM. L’Unione Europea opera già in Africa centrale in ottemperanza alla politica europea di sicurezza e difesa. Le operazioni militari che si svolgono sotto il vessillo dell’UA e dell’UE sembrano destinate ad ampliarsi, avallate dalla legittimità internazionale. Nel frattempo, sarà la stessa caratteristica violenta dell’Islam a tagliar fuori gli estremisti dalle dinamiche internazionali.

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Articolo tradotto da: Valentina Mecca

Articolo originale: The African Union & The Mali Crisis

Photo Credit: zeepkist

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Gaza – No Good, No Evil

 As long as Israel remains the state of the Jews and Palestine remains the perfect site for Islamic extremists to launch attacks on Tel Aviv, the two can never coexist in complete harmony.
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Palestine protest youth Gaza
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This month Israel launched the first major attack on the Gaza strip in years. Hundreds of missiles rained down from Israel itself, artillery pounded the strip from the coast and tanks lined up on the border ready to roll in with an unstoppable rampage. Over 150 are dead, over a thousand injured, many women and children. The leader of Hamas’ military division is dead, killed by a missile strike which started the hostilities.
Or at least that’s the simplest way to look at it. Israel react completely disproportionately to Gazan rocket attacks, flatten Gaza at the cost of over a hundred innocent lives and then happily continue to go about their slow conquest of the West Bank. It’s an easy image, the demonic Israel oppressing and killing Palestinians almost arbitrarily. It’s a story of good and evil, of the underdog being crushed under the boot of the giant oppressor.
The reason this concept is so powerful is because it’s so easy to grasp. It’s the story-line to almost every good film ever made, from comedies to action in the cinema. People love to root for the underdog, and they love the black and white nature of good and evil. They cheered for Rocky Balboa, Dr. Richard Kimble, Seabiscuit, even Average Joe’s Gym and Po the Panda. Underdog stories of a small good guy against an stronger evil villain are probably the simplest stories to tell, and therefore the easiest to take sides on. This seems especially true of students across the world. Despite being in the best position to take the time to investigate the complex truths of every conflict they seem most likely to resort to simplistic ideological extremes of support.
But reality is never that simple. No, not even the Nazis, and certainly not the Japanese.
The present conflict did not start with Israel’s targeted killing of the military head of Hamas, it started with a weekend of huge numbers of rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel and attacks on Israeli soldiers on the borders. Over two thousand rockets have been fired into Israel in 2012, resulting in repeated evacuations of homes in the south. These attacks in turn were motivated by continued occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza strip. The blockade was the result of the 2008-2009 three-week war where Israel responded to 2,378 missiles launched during 2008 by assaulting the Gaza strip, bringing rocket attacks down to only 190 during 2009, however at the cost of over a thousand Palestinian lives. The war was a result of Hamas’ victory in the earlier elections and defeat of Fatah, which in turn was a result of the 2004 conflict where Israel had attacked the Gaza strip again in response to rocket attacks. The list continues to go back. Gazan rocket attacks are responded to with overwhelming force which stops the rocket attacks but through the use of traumatic violence which convinces more Gazans to turn to violence and launch rocket attacks which is responded to with overwhelming force. The attacks of November 2012 are just the latest in a long cycle.
Who’s to blame? Is it Israel for causing the situation which pushes Palestinians towards extremism? Or is it Palestinians for continuing to resort to attacks which they know full well with be responded to with such a display of force? Is it Israel for blockading the strip and occupying the West Bank, or is it Palestinians who’s attacks created the justification for these moves?
The truth is, neither. It makes things easy to take a side and demonise the opposition as the great evil, but it does not make such a position correct. If you want to really get to the crux of the issue it is all the fault of France and Britain who completely arbitrarily broke up the Ottoman Empire and through doing so caused not only the present Israel-Palestine conflict but also the ongoing Syrian Civil War, Iraqi sectarian conflict and Kurdish conflict through the creation of artificial states which could fit into straight lines. Britain created an Israeli state impossible to defend due to its surrounding highlands filled with enemies; therefore necessitated the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights.
Yes, you can point to the Israeli blockade and the civilian casualties in Gaza. But on the other side of the coin the blockade was necessitated to reduce the huge influx of weapons into the strip which resulted in the rain of rockets of 2008. Civilian casualties are actually extremely low considering the vast number of targeted attacks directed at Hamas military leadership and rocket sites. Over one thousand strikes have taken place, making the casualty rate astoundingly low. Israeli troops even warned Hamas fighters to move civilians before strikes. The Hamas fighters which launched hundreds of rockets over the year knew what they were inviting in return, in fact it is reasonable to argue that Israel has left such a campaign of deterrence too long. The number of rockets fired by Hamas and Israel are almost the same, Israel’s are simply bigger and more accurate. At least eight Palestinian deaths have been executions carried out by Hamas, and several more have been faulty rockets, including many children.
Yes, you can point to the continual threats from Islamists to wipe Israel off the Earth and constant threats of terrorist attacks Israeli citizens live under the shadow of. However Israeli rejection of international law in the West Bank makes Palestinians feel like a sub-people unable even to vote towards the leaders of the power which controls their lives. The Israeli blockade has created terrible conditions in Gaza pushing people towards armed conflict as their only resort in response.
There is no good and evil in this conflict. Both sides have been terrible to one another and have done good things for their own people. The truth of the matter is that the very idea of placing two fundamentally opposing states on the same stretch of land, in an era where without control of high ground it is impossible to defend yourself, is itself ludicrous. Israel cannot be expected to allow Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights or southern Lebanon to become militarised, to do so would be a gross failure of their duty to protect the citizens of Israel. Likewise the Palestinians cannot be expected to endure sub-standard conditions with no true representation or recognition in the face of an ever-advancing wall.
Boycotting Israel will not work, to think it will is naive. Demonising either side as the evil party oppressing the other will not help, it will only goad them further into conflict. Supporting Palestine as a recognised state will not make any difference at all, and will only serve in legitimising a solution which should never have been attempted and may never work. It may be easy to simplify the conflict into an easy duality of good and evil, underdog and oppressor, but it simply is not accurate. Maybe it is time to question the viability of the two-state solution, which has been gradually eroded to the point of irrelevance for over half a century.
The Gaza conflict is the creation of the concept of Israel and Palestine as two states, fundamentally opposed, and yet squeezed into a space too small for the both of them. As long as Israel remains the state of the Jews and Palestine remains the perfect site for Islamic extremists to launch attacks on Tel Aviv, the two can never coexist in complete harmony. The cycle has continued for too long, it is long past time to take a look at the other options.
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Photo Credit: Gigi Ibrahim
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The African Union & The Mali Crisis

As the AU continues to rally and grow in power in the face of the battle over the Saharah, an independent military able to swiftly act against extreme Islamist factions may become an inevitability.

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When northern Mali fell to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), few international observers took note. It was a relatively small event compared to the nearby coup d’etat in the capital, the Libyan civil war and the religious extremist attacks of northern Nigeria. However, when cracks began to form between the forces which had announced Azawad a free state and the MNLA was routed by extreme Islamist factions, heads began to turn.

The defeat of the MNLA, after they had already defeated the Malian army, has been the most significant success by extremist Islamist forces since the Taliban was defeated in 2001. Afghanistan’s Taliban is turning to political moderation, Iraq is calming, moderates rule in northern Africa and al-Shabaab in Somalia is breathing its last breaths. The victors? Ansar Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), affiliates of the North-African Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

With the defeat of al-Shabaab in Somalia almost becoming a forgone conclusion after a corridor was created between African Union (AU) forces in Mogadishu and the other AU-controlled areas, Mali could be the next great front against violent Islamism in Africa.

The victory in West Africa has been a long time coming, and required a series of international events to come about. Increasing militant attacks in northern Nigeria has developed a strong and growing political and military block in the form of Boko Haram. This cannot be waved off as just another conflict in another state. Nigeria is a middle-income and relatively huge state to be facing such attacks and such strong resistance from a rebel group. This isn’t Afghanistan or Yemen, it’s a state listed in a peer group involving Mexico, Egypt and Turkey and is predicted to have the largest GDP growth in the world over the next forty years. It is larger in population and economy than all 14 other Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) members put together. The ten-year long growth of Boko Haram cannot be underestimated.

After a decade rising, West African militants only needed one opening to begin serious military advances. This opening was the Arab Spring. As Libya collapsed into chaos many Islamists joined the ranks of eastern tribes and liberals in the campaign against Gaddafi. As the conflict dragged on they became better armed and hardened by the long conflict. When Gaddafi was killed however it was liberals who won the parliament and action began to disarm the various militia groups, only increasing in the wake of the recent Benghazi attacks. So the militants moved on, across the border into Algeria and then Mali.

The MNLA benefited greatly from this influx of militants. But the fighters were absorbed into the extremist Ansar Dine and MOJWA, not the Tuareg nationalists, the three together forming a major challenge to the Mali military. The Tuareg rebellion began to make serious strides in January and by March the frustrated military overthrew the government and suspended the constitution. Shortly after the MNLA seized control of the country’s North only to be almost immediately betrayed and routed by its Islamist allies. Now the country is divided between the new transitional government and the AQIM affiliates. Extremist Islam breeds in these situations. Extreme militant groups dedicated to a brutal interpretation of Sharia law capture areas already torn by strife, where young disenfranchised men are common and where the state is unable to maintain a monopoly on violence. However, over the past decade Africa has begun to organise itself to face this ever-growing threat. Unlike in Afghanistan where a complete lack of regional power structures necessitated the involvement of the Western alliance of NATO, the AU is increasingly stepping in to avoid regional disintegration when states lose control of their territory. In Somalia AU forces control the capital and continue to demolish al-Shabaab’s power centres. In Mali the ECOWAS is acting with the support of the AU to deploy 3,300 troops against the AQIM affiliates in the north. The plan is a six-month mission from December to June establishing bases in the south and then fighting towards the north and the border with Algeria, a power which is refusing to take part. The EU, a long time ally of the AU, is organising sending hundreds of military advisers to help the Mali military back to its feet.

The AU is following the post-Cold War NATO model of security through order. Failed states where there is no government capable of controlling the full territory and monopolising violence are too dangerous a threat to ignore and more than capable of distabilising whole regions. Just like NATO and the EU stepped in to the collapsing Yugoslav state, so to is the AU stepping in where Islamic militants manage to wrest control of territory. If the ECOWAS intervention in Mali succeeds, expect to see further peacekeeping forces sent in to Northern Nigeria and southern Libya should the situations there worsen.

Any resistance to AU involvement in military affairs is entirely reputational, to accept military assistance is to admit to being unable to survive alone. Mali and Somalia have both crossed the limits where such admittance is long past, whereas Libya, Nigeria and South Sudan have not. This is what the threat of extremist Islam represents, a threat so great that all regional actors are willing to step in to states which are not their own once the pride of those states is overwhelmed by a desperate need to survive.

Many believe, after the much focused upon War on Terror, that the war against extremist Islam is a predominantly US affair. To believe such is to accept the Islamist framing of the conflict, one far easier to recruit for when regarded as a battle against the evil American imperialists. In fact it is a global affair. Russia frequently clashes with Islamists in the Caucasus. Pakistan does so in the federal regions, China in Xinjiang, Egypt in the Sinai peninsula, Indonesia in Aceh, Turkey in Kurdish areas, India in Kashmir, the Philippines in Bangsaromo. Any region bordering the Islamic world faces extremists as a threat to security, power and human rights. The reason that the US War on Terror is so focused upon is largely due to the unilateral use of force in states far away and strange to them. Where the AU succeeds with the help of EU and UN allies is in a multilateral engagement using local forces. This is a technique only recently turned to in Afghanistan and possibly too late.

As Africa continues to develop and some of its nations rise towards global prominence we will hear much more of its battle with violent Islamism. One of the issues which will develop is the growing strength of AU military forces which are undergoing a transition to a permanent AU force rather than than loose coalitions formed by constituent state militaries. Just as the EU is being forced closer by economic crisis, so to is the AU being forced together by Islamic militancy. Both international powers may well together signify a shift away from the nation states of European empires and towards multilateral international governments with independent militaries and a dedication to stability at all costs. By their very nature these powers will be more liberal than the nation states they emerge from and so develop a human rights consensus completely at odds to extreme Islamic militancy.

As the AU continues to rally and grow in power in the face of the battle over the Saharah, an independent military able to swiftly act against factions such as AQIM may become an inevitability. The EU already operates across central Africa with its independent CSDP. Operations under the flags of the AU and EU seem only set to expand with the legitimacy that such allied enterprises provide. By their violent dedication to the crescent, extreme Islamists may well be manufacturing the international order which will snuff them out.

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Photo credit: zeepkist

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Uganda’s ‘Kill The Gays’ Bill? It’s Democratic. And It’s Religious.

Some may call it neo-colonialism, some may call it imperialism, but when the stakes are this high democracy based on ignorance and hatred cannot simply be allowed to plow on towards death and suffering. Action must be taken now.

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In 2009 Uganda proposed the “Kill the Gays” bill, or anti-homosexuality bill. In this bill two provisions are set out which essentially equate homosexual acts to the same level as murder. Single offenders or those in same-sex relationships are faced with a sentence of life imprisonment. Those considered serial offenders – those who are HIV-positive, paedophiles (in Uganda under-18) or authority figures (including parents) – will face the death penalty. Those who knew of any offenders and did not report it would face a fine and up to three years in prison.

The bill, in the face of widespread international condemnation, has bounced back and forth in status in the Ugandan parliament. By the end of 2009 the bill had been softened to drop the death penalty though claims of western pressure were rejected, and by May 2010 it had been shelved. An attempt that August to revive it was defeated, however two years later it is back.

Why? Because ‘Ugandans are demanding it’.

This use of quotation marks seems to have been used in every use of the phrase in media treatment of this story, as if it is not credible, to be taken with a pinch of salt or not to be taken seriously at all. This simply is not the case, and in the purest concept of democracy as rule according to the values and interests of the majority this bill should pass.

96% of Ugandans believe that homosexuality should be rejected from society. Not only is this overwhelming support for the suppression and punishment of homosexuality in Uganda practically beyond question, it is completely in line with the attitudes of the region in general. Outside relatively liberal South Africa the closest a sub-Saharan state comes to supporting homosexuality is the “small” proportion of rejection in the Ivory Coast: 89%.Neither is this a concept restricted to sub-Saharan Africa. Israel is the state most likely to support homosexuality as part of society in the Middle East, yet even here only a third of the population defend it. In Egypt only 1% do. Although Western Europe is overwhelmingly supportive, the further East you go the more this position struggles. In East and South Asia only Japan shows such support. Although the Americas are generally supportive the United States stick out among their neighbours with a rejection unique in what is understood as the “West”.

In fact, the hatred of homosexuality (I refuse to use the term homophobia, “fear” is not the correct term) of the United States is very much part of its influence worldwide. Many publications have chased the influence of ultra-conservative US preachers to Africa, highlighting their influence in hate-filled sermons to fire up local populations against the imagined threat of homosexuals in their drive to infect their children with homosexual thoughts and HIV. Entire US organisations are dedicated to spreading anti-homosexual and anti-abortion agendas worldwide through religious preachers and pressure of, and through, international corporations.

However these preachers are not “exporting” this hatred, no matter what some publications may claim. Instead they are capitalising on an ignorance and hatred which is already present in these regions, one which is created by a combination of a history of superstitious practices vilifying such differences as homosexuality and albinism and colonial rule which enforced strict religious rules.

These rules, enforced by the religious practices of Christian European Empires or the Islamic Arab Caliphates, are obsessed with sex. There is no set of moral rules more obsessed and paranoid about sexual relations and even thoughts than the bizarre declarations of the Judeo-Christian holy books. The effect of the massacres of the American and African populations who would not convert to Christianity dwarfed the religious wars which rocked Europe. Wars fought over different interpretations of how Jesus might have imagined society centuries beyond his birth despite predicting the world wouldn’t last past the first century. (Matthew 16:28, 23:36, 24:34, 26:64, Mark 9:1, 13:30, Luke 9:27, 21:32)

The influence of these extreme conversions or death was to create local populations even more dedicated to the iron rules of holy books than their conquerors. Magnified by the lack of education they benefited from these rules of ignorance and superstition remained even as developed states began to turn their backs upon them. As the West cast aside these foul rules and its populations began to reject the Church in all things but identity so too did the ignorant hatred of homosexuality fade. According to Gallup polling, those states who accept homosexuality as part of society are overwhelmingly those who also reject religion as the fundamental basis of morality, those which place education and freedom of expression and ideas first and foremost.

Uganda, by democratic remit, should enforce the law which bans homosexuality and sends many homosexuals to their deaths. It is what the Ugandan population wants and it is what is demanded by their religion. Should they be allowed to do so because such a measure is democratic? No.

Some may call it neo-colonialism, some may call it imperialism, but when the stakes are this high democracy based on ignorance and hatred cannot simply be allowed to plow on towards death and suffering. Socially liberal values, however they may be despised as left-wing by much of the West, are the fundamental values of western society. Freedoms of expression, identity and from persecution and death are far more important than the decratic right of majorities to oppress those they dislike as they see fit. The persecution of homosexuals across the world is evidence that democracy alone is not enough to produce a civil society. Corruption of morals and ideas by religion and intolerant demagogues are all too common in those societies where democracy is new and where absolute moral deference to authority demanded by religion is widespread. Everything must be done to prevent these injustices and save those who’s only crime was to be born and feel love in a way their neighbours do not understand. Enough with democratic right to oppress, action is needed now.

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Photo credit: Todd Huffman

President Obama looking serious

Good Luck President Obama, You Need It!

Most of Obama’s policies are completely unchanged from those of his predecessor. The War on Terror continues, the drone program has expanded, relations with western Europe remain strong whilst those with Russia remain hostile. But what of the second term?

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President Obama looking serious

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“The best is still to come” was the soundbite which has resonated from Obama’s victory speech last night. Time will tell if this is the case, but the facts are that the US public has overwhelmingly supported the status quo in this time of economic trouble. The President remains in office, the Democrats keep the Senate and the  Republicans keep the House of Representatives. In that respect nothing has changed. But with no future election to worry about, will Obama’s foreign policy change from the Bush spillover which dominated his first term?

In 2001 George W. Bush faced one of the most dramatic changes in international affairs since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Faced with two falling towers and thousands of dead Bush was faced by a US public desperate for answers, for justice and for vengeance. The result of this was the first term of the War on Terror, 2001 in Afghanistan, 2003 in Iraq. Wars that were supposed to be short interventions to create a change in the Middle East became festering pools of suffering for almost a decade. Tens of thousands died across the Middle East, and by his second term Bush was desperately trying to hold together a mission that was going from bad to worse.

Obama inherited that mission. Bush’s surge in Iraq had already stabilised the country ready for a withdrawal Obama only had to keep on target. However, the ongoing mission to attempt to stabilise the Middle East, destroy the leadership of Al-Qaeda and mend relations damaged by the 2003 invasion of Iraq remained the same.

What Obama faced in taking office was a battle between his lofty ideals and promises and reality. His compromise was pragmatic, driving towards aims slowly and cautiously and making no significant and unbalancing changes to the foreign affairs of the second term of Bush.

What did change was so gradual the world’s population at large barely noticed it. There was a shift from the Middle East to the Pacific with troop deployments in Australia and a new agreement with Japan over Guam and further military cooperation. Although this shift has been slowed by the Arab Spring and the continued fighting in Syria, it is symbolic enough to prompt China’s own challenges for the South and East China Sea. There were significant defense cuts which have placed an emphasis on less of everything, but a greater emphasis on technological and training superiority. Obama has orchestrated a gradual lean to a more impartial role in the Middle East than under Bush, one aided by his faux-pas with Nicholas Sarkozy and the intervention in Libya against a secular dictator on the side of Islamists as well as liberals. More generally there has been a shift away from democratic transition by pressure or force and towards a focus on stability. Transition is now pushed towards supporting stable governments and pushing them towards liberal reform. Again, the Arab Spring was an unexpected reversal of this trend. And, of course, Osama Bin laden is dead.

However, most of Obama’s policies are completely unchanged from those of his predecessor. The War on Terror continues, the drone program has expanded exponentially, relations with western Europe remain strong whilst those with Russia remain hostile. But what of the second term? What of 2012-2016?

Well the answer is: Probably much of the same, but don’t expect the US foreign policy world to look the same in 2016 to 2008. The track of Obama’s presidency has been a gently-gently turn from Bush’s policies to Obama’s, and the US should look very much like Obama’s legacy by the end of the next four years. A turn from the Middle East to East Asia, from military intervention to diplomatic and economic pressure, from antagonism of Muslim states to partnerships based on the national interest of influence.These policies have already proved fruitful and will continue to do so. Japanese support for military bases was prevented from collapse just long enough to actually step up cooperation important to limit China’s expanding Pacific potential. Sanctions in Iran have its economy on the verge of collapse and popular support of Ahmadinejad beginning to turn against him. The intervention in Libya and support for the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions has given Obama political capital there not seen for decades. Despite the Benghazi attacks popular support is actually for the US as militant groups were forced out of Eastern towns across the country by anti-extremist protesters.

That said, just like the Arab Spring revolutions, the 9/11 attacks and the fall of the Soviet Union, sudden and unexpected events can throw the best plans into disarray. How Obama deals with potentially disastrous events could change his foreign policy dramatically.

  • Afghanistan: Withdrawal in 2014, if too soon, could devastate the region and NATO’s influence.
  • Syria: The conflict must be restrained to the country to avoid regional collapse.
  • Iran: Although sanctions are working, should Iran turn to desperate measures or should Israel overplay its hand things could turn very dangerous.
  • Yemen: A potential second Afghanistan/Somalia. Though the risk is smaller should the state collapse, the threat of a new front could give extremists a valuable new refuge.
  • South/East China Seas: The competition between the South-Eastern/Eastern Asian powers over the seas is not a battle the US can involve itself in overtly or risk facing backlash. However it is one which needs to be carefully monitored and one where soft power could be at its most important.
  • West Africa: The continued rise of Bokko Haram, Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQM) and other extremist Islamist groups in this region could be a new front in the most need for intervention but with the least popular support for it. So far the US has only been able to give token support for these states, but as things go from bad to worse in Mali this cannot be expected to be the end of the conflicts.

Congratulations Barack Obama, but I don’t envy you in the four years to come. You will face a hostile House of Representatives and a demanding public. You will face the challenge of keeping North Africa on your side and yet still combat Islamic extremism, of limiting China without antagonising it, of realising your potential without ceasing to be pragmatic. Good luck President Obama, you need it.

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Photo Credit: US Army

Afghan policeman helping American soldier

Afghanistan Part 2: The Rise Of ‘Green On Blue’ Attacks

The recent surge of ‘green on blue’ attacks in Afghanistan may be the most successful tactic in the history of this conflict towards this aim, the aim of breaking the will of domestic populations to support the wars for stability and security in the Middle East.

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Afghan policeman helping American soldier

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This is the second part of a two part series on Afghanistan. View the first part here.

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By 2014 the ISAF may well have succeeded in creating an Afghanistan which can be secured by the government, supported by the significant infrastructure and well-trained military developed in the latter half of the conflict. In-fighting between Taliban moderates and extremists and the many groups in the Pakistan federal regions may prevent them developing the strength to challenge government forces. The departure of Western forces may kill off the Taliban’s chief propaganda engine and cut their recruits. The ISAF/UN efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan locals, already having shown some signs of success before the recent resurgence of extremist attacks in the wake of the rise of Pakistan-based groups over the increasingly moderate Afghan Taliban, may yet develop hostility towards yet more violence after the war involving the West is over.

What may result after 2014 is an unknown to even the most knowledgeable military thinkers and strategists. However what the withdrawal itself will show is more solid. What began with the retreat from Mogadishu in 1993 will be completed with that from Kabul in two years time. Western inability to stomach the sacrifice of lives necessary to win such long and non-traditional “bleeding” conflicts may prove the defining element of Western militaries in many conflicts to come. There is no lingering over the death of ever Kenyan to die in the fight of Al-Shabaab nor every Columbian kidnapped and executed by the FARC. Extremist knowledge and use of the strategy, outlined and shown at its most crippling by bin Laden, of goading the west with brutal terrorist attacks into wars which will eventually be defeated by their own public may well be the most devastating development since the advent of nationwide guerrilla warfare in 1800s Spain.

The Taliban will continue to fight to break the hearts of the West to win the minds of their leaders. And they will do so by the use of horrifyingly brutal tactics, by sowing sorrow and despair in those populations least able to cope with them. That is what the ‘green on blue’ attacks symbolise, the massacre of happy Afghans whose only crime was to dance, the murder of raped women and accused homosexuals. This is what terror is, to not know whether the man you taught to bear arms for their own freedom will simply wait till your back is turned before aiming that weapon at your head. Hopelessness and terror is their weapon, and as the ISAF prepares to withdraw they may be giving up their fight against it.

Unfortunately bin Laden was right, and is still winning victories long after his death. The major NATO powers, having not experienced a single conflict on their own soil in over half a decade, have lost the tolerance to violence and death our species had developed over millennia of traumatic and brutal existences. By contrast populations of those states ravaged by war in the Middle East have experienced such constant and repeated violent trauma that death and violence have become normalised. The idea that ten fighters were killed in a raid has become a part of life. In comparison every individual death of ISAF forces is broadcast across world media with sorrowful regret and sentimental remembrance of their life.

I in no way intend to criticise the way the West deals with death. I believe the increasing value placed on lives is a great testament to the culture of individuals rights and the freedom from violence and persecution the West continues to develop. However, it does not lend itself well to war. With every death the Taliban suffers, another willing recruit takes their place. Driven by the trauma of a country which has known no peace, to seek the community, purpose and order of extreme Islamism and with no sense of the sanctity of their own lives, only of that of their purpose. By contrast every ISAF death saps the will to fight of western forces and drives domestic populations away from the idea of a war which is worth fighting.

The recent surge of ‘Green on Blue’ attacks may be the most successful tactic in the history of this conflict towards this aim, the aim of breaking the will of domestic populations to support the wars for stability and security in the Middle East. This colloquial term for the attacks by newly trained Afghan forces on their ISAF allies covers the sudden growth of a new tactic to win the hearts and minds of western audiences. To convince them the war in Afghanistan, possibly a vital one for the fight against Islamist terrorism and regional stability, is both unwinnable and unjust. Why, when ISAF deaths are still so high (despite being nearer half of the losses suffered in the Iraq war), should we believe after a decade that Afghanistan can still be saved? Why, when we dedicate so many of our sons and brothers to the conflict, only to have them killed by those they are trying to help, should we believe the Afghans are deserving of our help?

This has even begun to seep into the highest ranking generals in ISAF forces, commanders vocalising their anger, frustration and sadness at the campaign which continues to drag on with no end in sight. This is no Iraq. The enemy are not collapsing, casualties have not been dramatically reduced by a troop surge, the government is not increasingly powerful or secure. In Iraq both military and civilian casualties dived from their peak after a troop surge which broke the back of extremist elements. In Afghanistan the continuous stream of combatants and extremist preachers from neighbouring Pakistan, outside the reach of the ISAF, is instead breaking the back of western morale. The battle for hearts and minds is one we are losing, it is the strength of religious extremists and their brutal tactics. No where is that more evident than when our hearts fall and minds recoil every time Green turns on Blue.

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Photo credit: The U.S. Army

ISAF soldier in Afghanistan

Afghanistan Part 1: The Failure Of ‘Hearts and Minds’

That ISAF/UN attempt to win over the hearts and minds of Afghanistan has not been a great success, but the campaign by the Taliban to win over those of the domestic populations of the West has been a victory beyond their wildest expectations.

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This is the first part of a two part series on Afghanistan.

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The war for the hearts and minds of Afghanistan may be the most important propaganda campaign to the West since its long and bitter fight against Communism over two decades ago. However, unlike the Cold War, it is not a fight between two powers stuck in a precarious balance of equal and all-powerful military might. This is a war of power so disproportionate that it has made the battle of ideals so much more vital, not less so. In a conflict where the military balance is so one-sided, it is the hearts and minds of those both abroad and at home which have become the battlefield for both sides.

The Taliban could never hope to inflict any defeat on ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) forces large enough to swing the conflict in their favour. To do so would have required numbers, equipment and organisation beyond which the organisation was capable of even at its most powerful. Even the rise of new powerful groups such as the Haqqani network poses no real threat to ISAF forces as a whole. Even a total of three thousand casualties over the last decade is a relatively small loss in real terms against a total strength of over one hundred thousand and very little in comparison to the over twenty thousand Taliban and affiliated fighters killed in the conflict. The worst ever single loss of life for ISAF forces was a helicopter shot down, killing 38.

38 simply isn’t a large loss of life. Six harriers destroyed in the attack on Camp Bastion last month may be a the most serious aircraft loss for the US since Vietnam, but is a drop in the ocean to the US defence budget. With their capability to cause any form of military defeat significant enough to cripple with ISAF forces almost completely out of reach, and the continuing losses to their own more limited forces a constant of their campaign, how is it so many are saying the Taliban is winning the war, and why is NATO drawing out so soon from an unfinished conflict?

The truth lies not in military might and casualty figures but with hearts and minds, and not those of the population of Afghanistan. That ISAF/UN attempt to win over the hearts and minds of Afghanistan has not been a great success, but the campaign by the Taliban to win over those of the domestic populations of the West has been a victory beyond their wildest expectations.

By this I do not mean that the Taliban have succeeded in turning western populations to violent Islamist extremism and a fundamental interpretation of Sharia law. Instead they succeeded in doing exactly what Osama bin Laden set out to do in 2001. Even before the war was launched, Bin Laden stated his aim as to “provoke and bait” the United States into “bleeding wars” on Muslim lands, claiming: “since Americans [...] do not have the stomach for a long and bloody fight, they will eventually give up and leave the Middle East to its fate.”

When the US and UK forces withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014 their greatest defeat will not be military, it will be psychological. They will withdraw with heads hung and eyes lowered. They will return to countries where their home populations have long seen their mission as pointless, unjust or an inevitable failure. Too many have tied the UN-sanctioned, internationally supported mission with the illegal invasion of Iraq which followed.

If ISAF forces retreat from Afghanistan, and it proves too early, before the Afghan government can itself secure the mountainous country and so releasing Afghanistan into a chasm of extremist violence and chaos, it will prove the most significant defeat in NATO history. It will prove the strategic brilliance of Osama Bin Laden and the success of the brutally unjust tactics of friendly fire in the Green-on-Blue attacks. If the Taliban manage to break the Afghan government they will not inherit Afghanistan. After a decade of war they are too weak to consolidate control that they were not even capable of before the 2001 invasion. Instead Afghanistan will collapse in the face of waves of combatants from the Pakistan federal regions and the battle between Iranian Shia and Pakistani Sunnis which will follow. Afghanistan will become a pump for terrorist attacks far greater than anything seen in a decade.

Read the second part of this series here.

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Photo credit: The U.S. Army

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‘Innocence of Muslims’ ‘offends’ Muslims. ‘Well So Fucking What?’

There should be, there must be, no compromise, no backing off the rhetoric of freedom of speech. There is no such thing as the “abuse” of human rights to the freedom of speech.

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censorship offends me

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This week we have seen the killing of Christopher Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, as well as several of his staff. His embassy building was burned, the US embassy in Cairo was raided, its flag destroyed, and one proclaiming the supremacy of God placed in its place. In Tunisia tear gas was fired into crowds to prevent a repeat of those events. In Afghanistan President Karzai condemned not the attackers but the cause, in Egypt President Morsi did not launch an investigation into the failure of Egyptian forces to protect the US embassy but instead prepared to launch legal action against those who provoked the attackers in the US.

The cause of all this? “Innocence of Muslims“. A film. A really bad film. I’ve seen it, it’s horrendous, one of the worst films I have ever seen. The production quality is dreadful, it looks like it was filmed in my closet using a mobile phone by a homeless man and some of his mates from the next alley.

How could the cause and effect possibly be reconciled? Well, because the film was about Mohammed, and it was not complimentary. He was depicted as a brute, a paedophile, a sadistic, egotistical idiot who understood only violence and how to convince people to support him.

Sadly the protesters in the Islamic world are not attacking embassies over the insult to the entire film industry in its butchering of the art which has become film-making. Instead they were attacking and killing people over the offensive they took at this depiction of their prophet. All because the maker was a US-citizen. Just because the maker was a US citizen, an envoy who had done his best to aid the democratic revolution in Libya is dead and so are three of his aides.

How exactly did the western world react to that? Generally, with widespread condemnation. US forces are on-route to Benghazi to heighten security (a little late) and Barack Obama has declared he will bring the guilty to justice.

But the reactions of the Presidents of Afghanistan and Egypt are out of line, they are beyond wrong, they are dangerous. They are validating violence as an acceptable reaction to the crime of “offence”. They are saying that it was right for the Muslims of Europe to riot and kill in reaction to the cartoons and again against the publication of this film. But it gets much worse, because they are not the only ones to react in this way. This is the statement released by the US embassy in Cairo:

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions… Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.

I don’t think the embassy knows what a universal right is, else the word “abuse” could not possibly have been used in that phrase. Can you “abuse” the right to freedom from torture or death? Can you lead a life that is an “abuse” of life itself and so would it be perfectly valid for Islamists to lop off your head? Of course not, and why should freedom of speech be any different? How could the Cairo embassy possibly have validated and sympathised with those Islamists who believe the appropriate response to being offended is to kill innocents?

This goes further than simply a violation of the idea of “universal rights”, it is also a pragmatic nightmare. Too many people have suggested the statement was “pragmatic” in that it may improve relations with Muslims and protect the embassy.

Apparently the term “we do not negotiate with terrorists” is a dead phrase in US diplomacy. Apparently it is perfectly reasonable to respond to irrational acts of violence by attacking the very values your own state stands upon and promotes worldwide. Apparently the best course of action to protect yourselves from further attacks is to give a sympathetic hand to those most likely to attack you by simply joining their side of the argument. Apparently we should just bend over and give over our rights one by one in response to every murderous rampage by those who wish to bind the whole world in the dogmatic and intolerant chains of their extremist interpretation of religion.

I think all of this is best responded to by one of the champions of the educated culture of rights and tolerance we are trying to build, Stephen Fry:

It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights; it’s actually nothing more….. It’s simply a whine. It’s no more than a whine. ‘I find that offensive,’ it has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well so fucking what?

Our reaction to the protests in the Middle East should be exactly that. There should be, there must be, no compromise, no backing off the rhetoric of freedom of speech. There is no such thing as the “abuse” of human rights to the freedom of speech. So what if you are offended? Grow a tougher skin. If your only possible reaction to being offended is violence it is you who has made the act of aggression and should be responded to in kind.

Our reaction to the demands of the Islamists who claim “we are offended” should be a very clear and resounding “Well so fucking what?”

Read a response to this piece: Telling Muslims to ‘Do One’ Is Not Pragmatism.

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Photo credit: jbcurio

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Comments on this piece are strictly monitored. If you do not have anything constructive to say, do not say it.

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Is Multiculturalism Dying?

Christian moderacy does not exist in Muslim communities, whose own moderacy is seen as extreme to their Christian neighbours. Europe is multicultural, but it is intolerant of extremes, and to the moderate Christian and atheist, Islam seems extreme.

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This piece forms part of our series on multiculturalism.

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“Multiculturalism is dead”. That was the position of the most powerful person in Europe, Angela Merkel, two years ago. It marked a major shift in policy, one which was swiftly echoed by the UK’s David Cameron, as the Multiculturalism of the centre-left governments of the noughties was being left by the wayside.

But why? What happened? What has been the legacy of multiculturalism’s heyday?

European tolerance is something which has blossomed since the Second World War in a backlash to the brutal colonialism and eugenics programs practiced across the continent. Western European legal systems have increasingly protected the rights of all, with minorities and individuals gaining increasing protection from persecution by the law. Tolerance is the great victory of the modern Europe, and continues to see strides from year to year. Don’t believe the conspiracy theorists pointing accusing theories at the New World Order swiftly taking control of your government, your minds and your freedom, your freedom has never been so secured.

Part of this has happened over the last two decades, the same time as the rise of multiculturalism as the dominant rhetoric in European liberal democracies. Toleration certainly did well for the movement, reaching its zenith in the absolute priority of showing tolerance to all cultures in every nation, the reduction of hatred and offence. Toleration was a victory which gave rights to the oppressed and launched a war on prejudice and discrimination.

But this tolerance should not be all-encompassing, and with good reason. Tolerance lead to the western regime which watched in denial as the Nazis rose in Germany. Tolerance let the Chinese march into Tibet. Tolerance was in the small whimpers of condemnation as the Tutsis were slaughtered in Rwanda, Saddam Hussein butchered the Kurds and as homosexuals are hung in Saudi Arabia.

Toleration should only go as far as to tolerate those who tolerate others. Not to those who cannot tolerate others themselves. The extreme left and right of Europe have been marginalised to the point of extinction for half a century, the recent economic crises only partially awakening the old beasts which perverted democracy so thoroughly in the early twentieth century. The BNP and National Front of France have never been allowed to grow out of control before being pushed back by the centre-right. The rise of the extremist parties of Greece was shut down by the all-or-nothing authority wielded by the EU holding bail-out cheques. Intolerance in politics has been put to the sword by western and northern Europe, and memories of the past are not about to let them rise once again.

But politics is not alone in being a realm where extremes are seen with suspicion and even intolerance by the centre and majority of northern and western Europe. Religion too has fallen here, as with all other ideologies. Europe is by far the most secular region in the world, states where religion is rarely promoted and even more rarely oppressed. The majority of European states are constitutionally secular and the rest have limited religion’s influence severely. This secularism is backed by the rise of the non-religious. Well over half of European citizens rate religion as “unimportant” to their lives (Gallup poll, 2007–2008). Indeed the death of religion’s influence, dating far back to the European enlightenment, has progressed so slowly but so absolutely that almost no one has noticed its passing. Christian fundamentalism and politics has been left to the US, so absolutely that many Christian-Right parties of Europe have been forced to re-brand.

It is this intolerance towards extremism in any ideology which has lead to an intolerance of Islam, not the last vestiges of the evils of Europe’s past. Europe is a continent where the thought of law dictated by Leviticus seems ridiculous to the point of insane and the concept of a state doctrine of creationism being taught over evolution is plainly incomprehensible. Despite the continued sway of the pope, Christianity has become the tea-and-biscuits of the Church of England, not the fire-and-brimstone of the Vatican.

Enter Islam and the Muslims who follow its creed. Their women wear head-scarves as their holy men dictate, their homelands hang homosexuals and stone women who are raped. Their members appear in the news not for their donations to the Red Crescent but for riots in Paris and Copenhagen and protests at the burials of soldiers returned from war. They set fire to buildings for the drawing of jovial cartoons and demand courts that can judge based on law by the Koran. Dozens die across Europe in honour killings by Muslim families who feel their honour has been tarnished.

For Muslims, many of these things are seen as a bad representation of their faith, and that is true, it only shows the most extreme fringes. But Muslims must think of the anger they felt at the Danish cartoons, at their outrage when France banned the Burka. How many Muslims believe that Sharia law is a vital part of their society, and has a place even in their communities within western countries? Do Christians of France cry in outrage at the banning of crosses worn by public officials, were there riots in response to “life of Brian”? Does the British “Christian Party” hold enough sway to even face mention in national papers?

To the European, these beliefs of so many Muslims are not moderate, they are shocking. It has been decades since any court ruled based on a biblical passage, a century since women began their march to be seen in every way the same as men. Cartoons are drawn on a daily basis poking fun at Jesus Christ and his father and even the most serious of Christian preachers have learned to chuckle.

Islam is, by nature, not any worse or better than Christianity. However in Europe, Muslims regard their faith with much more passion and seriousness than do their Christian counterparts, what of them are left. The battle for gay marriage may be the last one that the Christians of Europe will ever fight, as churches lay empty. By contrast Islamic Mosques are filled day by day by Muslims who hold every word of their holy books close to their chests. These Mosques, however infrequently, produce extremists and even suicide bombers.

Islam is not hated and rejected because of some forgotten legacy of European colonialism, one which the nations of Europe have long had to release as their slide from superpower status progressed, it is rejected because of a culture of tolerance in Europe which has grown hostile to intolerance. The extremes of ideology, the fundamentalism of the right and left wings of politics, or the literalism of Christianity or Islam, have become completely at odds to this culture.

There exists a disjoin between Muslims and the states they have entered in Europe. Christian moderacy does not exist in Muslim communities, whose own moderacy is seen as extreme to their Christian neighbours. Europe is multicultural, but it is intolerant of extremes, and to the moderate Christian and atheist, Islam seems extreme.

FSA fighters in Aleppo with dead Assad militiaman

Aleppo & The Shift Of Killing Power

Unlike in the Iraq War, where modern British and US armour tore apart the ageing tanks of Saddam’s Iraq, in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria the death of armoured forces lies in the humble RPG and landmine, both of which are cheap in a war-torn region, cheap as the rifles wielded by the men who besieged the Bastille.

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FSA fighters in Aleppo with dead Assad militiaman

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The battle of Aleppo continues to rage in Syria, as tanks, helicopters and jets have not alone been enough to displace a rebel movement armed with cheap automatic weapons and shoulder-mounted rockets. Although this may still change, the amount of manpower Assad has dedicated to the battle of Aleppo has left tracts of land across Syria fall into rebel and Kurdish hands. The tide of the battle is turning, and the battle of Aleppo may yet decide the fate of Syria.

As tanks roll into the outskirts they are being faced with far more resistance than expected. Mines have claimed many lives, with others incapacitated or destroyed by an onslaught of RPGs wielded by rebel forces. Far from rolling through in the style of the French liberation of Paris, Syrian armoured forces are barely able to have an impact on the battle so afflicted are they by the repertoire of explosive weapons in the hands of defending militias. Helicopters and aircraft, although effective at handing out destruction, are limited by the distance they must keep between them and counter-attacks by such rocket-propelled explosives, ever more dangerous as evidence of heat-seeking rockets have been found in the hands of the Free Syrian Army. But this is a battle that has happened all ready. It happened in Mogadishu, Somalia against US forces in 1993, it happened in Sirte, Libya in 2011. Armoured forces have, for the first time in their history, been faced with amateur, poorly equipped forces which have still managed to defeat them. It is a shift of power, but not one the world has not seen before.

At Agincourt, 1415, the first major and decisive victory of peasant bowmen over armoured cavalry occurred, an event which shocked Europe. It is a battle still celebrated by the British as one of the greatest battles in their history, alongside their victories over French forces at Trafalgar and Waterloo, and against the Germans in North Africa. Although the British completely ignore the following battle at Patay, where cavalry slaughtered a larger English army of long-bowmen, it heralded a weakness in the nobleman on horseback which had not been questioned for hundreds of years. Something shifted at the battle of Agincourt, not least signified by one of the first known uses of a weapon powered by gunpowder at the battle.

By the time of the late eighteenth century war had become a mess, thousands died in every battle and armies moved so slowly due to their vast size that many wars dragged on for years and ended indecisively. The reason the armies were so large? Gunpowder. It was far easier to give any peasant a weapon they simply point and fire than train them with a longbow or attempt to armour them as a noble. Long gone were the days nobility ruled warfare, now was the time of the peasant armies, and with this power came revolution. Peasants, no longer afraid of nobility on huge horses glad in previously unconquerable plate armour stormed the bastions of the old order. First the French then American revolutions struck, then the devastating Napoleonic wars where a single man of low noble birth conquered almost all of Europe for the first time since Trajan. For a hundred years the revolutions waged on, as the Spanish lost control of South America and Britain’s power waned. Finally the end of noble cavalry as German machine guns manned by factory workers mowed down Russian nobility on the Eastern Front of the First World War.

Things had changed, gone was the monopoly of killing power of the nobility, the old empires collapsing over the new power over death which had been granted to any man able to grasp the trigger of a rifle. But, where the plate armour of the brutal reign of feudal knights had fallen, the power of armour would rise again in the form of tank, plane and helicopter.

When the Germans swept across Europe in 1940 killing power shifted again. The French and Polish armies were smashed by the charge of Panzers in the blitzkrieg, a tactic the West would eventually copy in the Gulf Wars against Iraq. Suddenly the power over death on a great scale was back in the hands of the elite of nations able to afford these giant machines of slaughter, again the nation-state was defended by a monopoly over violence by the rulers of the state.

Why is Aleppo, like Mogadishu and Sirte before it, significant? Because it shows that even the new era of armour can be beaten by the common man. Unlike in the Iraq war, where modern British and US armour tore apart the ageing tanks of Saddam’s Iraq, in these cities the death of armoured forces lies in the humble RPG and landmine, both of which are cheap in a war-torn region, cheap as the rifles wielded by the men who besieged the Bastille. That armour can be defeated at all by non-armoured elements of amateur militia forces aught to shock the modern powers just as much as Agincourt shocked the French.

These decisive battles, won by ill-equipped and poorly-organised militia forces may be one of the defining features of the beginning of the turn of the century for years to come. Along with the shift of conflicts to irregular forces and terrorist attacks, the capability of such forces to bring down the armoured elements of national militaries is a major change from the past century. The days may be gone where Russian tanks easily overran Chechen, Georgian and Hungarian rebel forces, or when a single US helicopter can swing the course of a battle in Afghan highlands. Even as notable advances such as reactive and active armour systems improve the abilities of modern armour, mines and IEDs are now so easy to produce with tremendous power that such defences may never be enough.

This is not to say that armour will not continue to be a decisive feature of warfare, especially that which remains between national militaries, but the fear which once gripped any populace faced with a tank column may be gone. In a world where irregular forces and civil wars are the dominant feature of conflict, the shadow of armoured forces no longer instils such fear where any man can build the road-side bomb capable of reducing such armour to a burnt-out husk. The balance of power has shifted from the national military back to the common people yet again, and this may have consequences far beyond Aleppo.

The increasing vulnerability of tanks to cheap, easily accessible weaponry spells the end of an era of armour dominance. Larger militaries may no longer be able to rely on such weapons of war to secure their dominance over rebellious regions and militia forces. Smaller elite infantry unites already are showing their use in Israeli, British, French and US military forces as long range, low risk, forms of heavy support such as missiles and drones are beginning to dominate national funding. But these forces are expensive and elite, out of the reach of even medium-sized powers and still developing forces. With the fall of armour comes the second end of dominance by national military forces outside the global north, and maybe the Arab Spring will mark a series of revolutions just as the French had done over two hundred years ago.

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First published at A Third Opinion.