“Children and anybody with a free spirit have become terrorists in the eyes of the world.” My Syrian friend and I are discussing the current situation in Idlib. We are both exasperated that the world is standing idly by as thousands of innocent people are murdered or made homeless. Idlib, a governorate in North West Syria, is often portrayed as home exclusively to terrorists and violent Islamist extremists. My friend’s reference to “a free spirit” is his description of the people who participated in the Syrian revolution: those who dared to demand a free and peaceful life including the right to participate in democratic elections and to exercise freedom of speech and assembly without fear of being arbitrarily detained, tortured, executed or otherwise disappeared into the Syrian regime’s nightmarish prison system.
Content warning: mentions drone attacks, conflict, and terrorism.
While the US President, Donald Trump, has made it clear that the US presence in Syria was to carry out the extermination of Daesh, Russia’s intentions have always been to support their ally, Bashar al-Assad. Last September the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, made a surprise visit to Syria to announce that Russia had succeeded in its mission. While both might be correct, it is Putin who is in a more difficult position and the risk that Russia will be dragged further in has become ever more likely.
Syria was an opportunity for Putin’s Russia to flex its muscles on the international stage again after creating trouble in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. Having already interfered in the election in the US and potentially in other elections in Europe, Russia remains largely unchallenged. Sanctions brought about by the US Congress do little to curb the ambitious plans of a nation seeking to relive past glories. Russia continues to forge relations with former satellite states and the lack of US involvement in NATO does nothing to deter the risk of another cold war breaking out in Eastern Europe. Yet, as with so many Western states, Russia has found itself stuck in the political and religious quagmire that is the Middle East.
On September 25th, Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe called for one of those snap elections we all know and love. Unlike Theresa May, when the results were announced almost a month later on October 22nd, Abe managed to pull through and secure himself a majority in the Diet.
Japan is now swinging heavily to the right. With Abe possessing a mandate to attempt implementation of his main objective – revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution – is the country about to embark on a dangerous path of no return?
The Balfour Declaration carries the same incendiary charge as when it was first published a century ago this week.
For most Israelis, the short letter expressing British sympathy for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine continues to be venerated as the first formal recognition from one of the world’s great powers of the legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise.
For the Palestinians it still stands condemned as an act of imperialist chauvinism according to which, in the withering assessment of the (Jewish) writer Arthur Koestler, ‘one nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third.’
The Declaration, so the conventional narrative goes, ignited a slow-burning process of settlement that had been edging forwards since the late 19th century.
This week, Norwich Pride held an emergency demonstration outside City Hall to protest a new wave of abductions, imprisonment, and killing of LGBTQ+ people in Chechnya. Over 50 people gathered on the steps of City Hall to hear speeches from local activists, and to show solidarity with LGBTQ+ people in Chechnya. These acts of solidarity are vital, and it has been encouraging to see similar displays across the country, but our actions must go beyond this.
by Zoe Harding
You know what? Everyone’s writing about how my racist Gran and 17,000,000 of her mates have screwed the UK over. Instead, let’s talk about something positive.
On June 23rd 2016, while the eyes of the world were decisively elsewhere, the Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos emerged from negotiations in Havana with the left-wing FARC rebel group and announced a ceasefire. This ceasefire is the first major break in a fifty-year conflict which has claimed 200,000 lives and left Colombia a mess of drug trafficking and insurgencies. While the deal is nothing more than a ceasefire, it has been hailed by many Colombians as the first step in a peace process that’s been a long time coming.
by Zoe Harding
TW: Sexual assault, rape, genocide.
Last week, we looked at the UN’s recent history of sexual assault and corruption on peacekeeping operations around the world. Despite the best efforts of two secretary-generals and nearly 20 years of reported crimes, the UN has yet to eliminate the persistent problems of ‘transactional sex’ and straight-up assault from among its peacekeeper forces. The crimes are committed both by members of various national militaries contributed to UN forces and by civilian employees, all of whom are currently essentially immune to prosecution. But what is the United Nations doing about it? What other action could be taken?
The United Nations isn’t ignoring this problem, and after the forced resignation of Babacar Gaye, (commander of the particularly abusive MINUSCA mission in the Central African Republic) in August 2015 the organisation has actively begun implementing new measures to prevent this kind of peacekeeper abuse. Unfortunately, the action that’s been taken so far hasn’t been particularly heartening.