The trumpet has sounded, world democracy at stake

By Ameen Izzadeen
Tomorrow Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, a country founded on the principles of freedom and equality, will be completing one year in office. Has the world become a better place under his stewardship? The answer is an emphatic ‘no’.
Since time immemorial, the good people have tried to make the world a better place. The slogan ‘Towards a better tomorrow has motivated many philosophers, world leaders and reformists to rise and right the wrong. They faced many a challenge. Many were killed because they dared to question the wrong. In the battle between the good and the bad, the latter seems to have prevailed.
As a result, with each passing day, the world becomes more and more unlivable. With the rise of unbridled capitalism, the deterioration has been fast. This is because most of our leaders today, the trustees of our welfare, are self-centred and avaricious for power and wealth. Bad leaders are least concerned about making a better tomorrow. Good leaders, on the contrary, are concerned about tomorrow. Where does Trump fall into and how will the next generation remember him?
Under Trump, needless to say, justice, freedom, democracy, human values, our environment and our very existence have come under threat. There is a global erosion of democracy and value-based politics while the threat of war is on the rise.
His one year in office has virtually brought the nuclear clock dangerously close to midnight. Next Thursday, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists will host a live international news conference at 1500 GMT (8.30 pm Sri Lanka time) to tell the world how close we are to the doomsday because of Trump. At present the clock is set at three minutes to the hour.
With Hawaii and Tokyo issuing warnings of incoming missiles from North Korea in what was later being trotted out as a mistake or coincidence, some analysts believe that these mistakes were deliberate and aimed at preparing the people for a war with Pyongyang. As Trump is unpredictable and apparently not receptive to saner counsel, his amateurish political adventurism could fast track the nuclear holocaust that will turn this world into a wretched hell, fit only for the living dead.
Mercifully, as Trump marks his first year in office, the tension in the Korean peninsula over North Korea’s missile politics has somewhat eased with talks being held between the two Koreas amid the prospect of the athletes of two Koreas marching behind one flag at next month’s Winter Olympics in the South Korean city of PyeongChang.
Well, Trump, in an apparently unscrupulous move, seized on the opportunity to claim that the de-escalation was largely because of his aggressive stand which saw him proudly claim that the United States’ nuclear button is bigger and more powerful than the North Korean one.
With Trump in office the nuclear clock’s hands can only be advanced, not set back, as he, in addition to nuclear jingoism, has pooh-poohed the dire warnings about climate change. During the campaign for the presidency, Trump said climate change programmes were a “waste of money” and that climate change itself was an “expensive hoax”. Once in power, he wasted no time to pull the United States out of the Paris climate deal which set the ambitious target of limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Last month, more than 16,000 scientists from 184 countries published a warning to humanity advising that we need to change our wicked ways to help the planet. To the irrational president who wants to make America great again at a terrible cost to the environment, such warnings make little sense.
The world under Trump is not a better place is also the ruling of Freedom House — an independent watchdog dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world. In its latest report titled “Democracy in crisis”, Freedom House says, “Political rights and civil liberties around the world deteriorated to their lowest point in more than a decade in 2017, extending a period characterised by emboldened autocrats, beleaguered democracies, and the United States’ withdrawal from its leadership role in the global struggle for human freedom.”
Under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, autocrats the world over, especially in the developing world, feared the United States’ response with regard to human rights violations. Despite criticisms over the war on Libya and extrajudicial killings, the Obama administration attempted to arrest the democracy decay that began with President George W. Bush’s war-on-terror policies, under which human rights concerns had been ignored to give priority to whatever anti-terror measures.
Today, democracy worldwide has been battered and weakened. In Europe and elsewhere, electoral victories of rightwing populist leaders who are anti-immigrant and anti-minorities are attributed to the Trump legacy marked by comments such as ‘shithole’ countries. In Trump’s speeches overseas, rarely does he mention the words democracy and human rights. On the contrary, he “expressed admiration and even personal friendship for some of the world’s most loathsome strongmen and dictators” (Freedom House 2018 report).
The Trump legacy provided fertiliser to the growth of “charismatic strongman politics”, according to a survey published by the World Economic Forum ahead of next week’s annual sessions in Davos. Trump will address the sessions on the last day.
With the US not pushing the human rights agenda as it had been in the past, Myanmar could carry out the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minorities, the Philippines’ President could carry out his extrajudicial killing of alleged drug peddlers and Israeli soldiers could beat and arrest Palestinian children. Saudi Arabia could ignore international appeals to lift the naval blockade on Yemen where millions of people are dying of starvation and disease — without food and medicine. In all these cases, the culture of impunity is preposterous.
Justice is an essential component of democracy. Trump’s decision to recognise the whole of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was a blow to global justice and a contempt of international law and moral principles.
Though he is presiding over the most buoyant economic conditions of any recent US president in his first year, his popularity is plummeting. To prop up his popularity, he apparently feels he needs to placate the rightwing vote base, to whom international democracy erosion is a non-issue.
Since Trump is not speaking against oppression, 2018 will not be a year of democracy, freedom and global justice. The United States’ withdrawal from the global democracy struggle takes place at a time when China and Russia – countries which give an autocratic interpretation to democracy — are emerging as alternative power centres. Whatever criticism of the US foreign policy in the past, democracy campaigners have looked to the US for support. Where can they turn to when democracy is under threat? The bigger question is: Wither democracy, freedom, human rights and liberal values in a China-led future world order?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Protests in Iran: The need for reforms and unity

By Ameen Izzadeen
It is no secret that the United States, still smarting over a series of setbacks the 1979 Iranian revolution has delivered, has a state-funded programme to destabilize Iran. It is also no secret that the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and other pro-US Arab nations are part of this covert programme.
However, so far, the Iranian government has somehow weathered the threats. When the popular revolution led by the Shiite clergy ousted the pro-American regime of the Shah in 1979, many in the West believed the change was only a passing cloud. But the Islamic republic has been surviving for 38 years, despite in the 1980s a devastating nine-year war against Iraq which was backed by the West and the Arab Gulf states, sabotage by terrorist groups such as Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEQ) and Jundallah, tough economic sanctions, cyber warfare, assassinations of its nuclear scientists, and intermittent uprising, the latest of which was only last week.
That Iran has seen during its post-revolution existence only two large-scale public protests, which lost steam no sooner they hit the streets, vouches for the relative stability of the country’s political system. Yet, Iran’s leaders cannot afford to dismiss last week’s protests, which began in Iran’s second largest city, Mashhad, on December 28, as part of a western conspiracy, though they could very well be. The protests were widespread, though, crowd wise, they were smaller, compared to the 2009 post-election protests in the capital, Teheran. They even spread to the religious city of Qom, a stronghold of the revolution. The protests are a reminder that Iran’s problems require sweeping socioeconomic and political reforms to meet the aspirations of Iran’s youth, who have not lived through the repressive rule of the Shah or seen the sacrifices their parents made for the revolution. The social media savvy generation clamors for well-paying jobs, high standard of life, and more political and economic freedom. Iran has been adopting reforms and relaxing some strict rules regarding social behavior such as the Islamic dress code, but the discontent appears to grow much faster than the speed at which reforms are introduced.
The protests were also a public outcry against the prolonged sluggishness of the economy which had not picked up much, despite some sanctions being lifted following Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with six world powers.
Yet Iran is not a basket case. Despite 38 years of economic sanctions in one form or another, the country has emerged as a regional power, strong enough to prop up the Syrian regime, help neighbouring Iraq to defeat the ISIS terrorists, fiancne the Hezbollah militias in Lebanon, develop nuclear technology, make its own medium range missiles, anti-tank missiles, drones, aircraft and motor vehicles and take strides in heavy industry.
Iran has in recent years improved ties with China, Russia, Turkey and Qatar and expressed willingness to join China’s Belt-and-Road Initiative to attract investments aimed at giving the much needed fillip to the economy. But the problem is that the economy which derives much of its revenue from oil and gas production is largely state controlled. The private sector remains largely marginalized. During President Hashemi Rafsanjani’s economic reforms in the early 1990s, the private sector thrived, but the momentum died out, with the conservatives or hardliners taking the upper hand, while reform-minded popular presidents such as Mohamed Khatami and Hassan Rouhani looked on powerless.
Socioeconomic and political factors give only one side of the story. The government’s lenient approach to the protests at the initial stages indicated that it recognized the causes for the public protests. Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also acknowledged legitimate demonstrations against economic conditions. The government began to crack the whip only after it feared that the people could be misled and that the protests could be hijacked by a few subversives backed by foreign governments. With government supporters staging massive counter-demonstrations, the anti-government protests, where for the first time slogans were raised publicly against the spiritual leader, gradually withered away.
It is widely known that the MEQ — listed as a terrorist group by the United States — maintains close relationship with the CIA and Israel’s secret service Mossad. The Israeli intelligence outfit is also the handler of the Sunni Jundallah group in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province
The US has a long history of meddling in Iran’s internal affairs. Last year, the CIA released documents confirming that it engineered the coup that overthrew Iran’s democratically elected government in 1953. Operation Merlin and Operation Olympic Games were some of the other failed CIA covert programmes aimed at destabilizing Iran after the 1979 revolution.
Undeterred, the axis comprising the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia, among others, continues its efforts to subjugate Iran, which has a long history of resisting foreign invasions. Obsessive Iranophobia has pushed some Arab nations to embrace Israel and even US President Donald Trump’s outrageous plan to hand over the whole of Jerusalem to Israel, with no regard for the Palestinians’ insistence that East Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.
As the Iranian protests drew wide coverage in the Western media, Trump, a fanatical Iran hater who wants to scrap the Iran nuclear deal, took to Twitter to back anti-government demonstrators. “Big protests in Iran. The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!” Trump’s said in his tweet.
In response, Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei also took to Twitter, slamming Trump as unstable and having “extreme and psychotic episodes.”
The twitter war apart, the US backing for Iran protests exposes the double standards with which the US approaches world politics. Trump did not tweet when food riots erupted across Egypt in March last year. There were no Trump tweets to urge Saudi Arabia to lift the blockade on Yemen, so that humanitarian assistance could reach the starving Yemeni people. There were no tweets in support of protesters who demonstrate for democracy and human rights in Bahrain which hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet. He would definitely not tweet calling on Israel to release 16-year-old Ahed al-Tamimi who has become the symbol of Palestinian resistance.
Iran — with 80 million people in a 1.64 million square kilometre land area – is no pushover. It is capable of countering attacks from the US, Israel or any other hostile power. Its people are united in the face of foreign aggression. This is why the US or Israel has not dared to attack Iran. Its enemies think their best bet is dividing the Iranians by pointing out that the country is spending its hard earned money to prop up Syria and the Hezbollah at the expense of the Iranians: Perhaps, a case of tweeting Trump bearing gifts! The Iranians might do well to keep in mind that the success of the US formula for invasion is the divisions within the target country. This has worked in Iraq and Afghanistan.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Trump gambles with aid, but Pakistan has the ace

By Ameen Izzadeen
The United States President Donald Trump’s first tweet for 2018 concerning foreign relations should have been on North Korea. Instead, he targeted Pakistan. His tweet was not spontaneous. Trump appeared well briefed by his advisors. Otherwise, he would not have known how much aid Pakistan had received in the past 15 years. What is Trumpish in the tweet is the hallmark provocative tone with a thick coat of imprudence, as was also evident in the subsequent North Korea tweet where he ridiculously boasted about his finger being kept on a bigger and more powerful nuclear button than the North Korean leader has.
“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the past 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit… They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” Trump bellowed in his tweets, prompting a chorus of protests from Pakistanis across the political divide.
The tweets were followed by action to stop aid. Brandishing foreign aid as a weapon to punish weaker states, Trump’s United Nations envoy Nikki Haley announced the US was withholding $255 million in aid to Pakistan. Palestine and several other countries were also added to the aid-cut list.
In Islamabad, the government summoned the US ambassador to register its disappointment and convened the National Security Council to discuss the developments. The NSC said in a statement that Trump’s insensitive comments “negated the decades of sacrifices made by the Pakistani nation”.
Pakistan could not be blamed for US failures in Afghanistan, the statement said, adding that accusing allies would not lead to the establishment of peace in Afghanistan.
Pakistan was once the United States’ most allied ally in Asia, for the two countries were bound by four defence agreements during the Cold War. Despite its leadership role in the Afro-Asian Solidarity Movement, Pakistan threw its weight behind the US-led defence bloc within the first decade of independence itself. The two nations first signed the Mutual Defence Assistance Agreement in 1954. This was followed by Pakistan joining the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) and the Baghdad Pact, and signing a bilateral defence cooperation agreement.
Yet, when Pakistan was in crisis during its wars with India, the US conveniently failed to come to its aid, reasoning out that the defence arrangements were aimed at meeting the threat from the Soviet Union, not India. These agreements gradually became defunct. In 1979, Pakistan joined the Non-Aligned Movement. But the very year, military cooperation between Pakistan and the US increased, with the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan. Ten years later, when the Soviets left Afghanistan, the US degraded Pakistan in favour India that had just begun opening up its economy.
US officials’ rant against Pakistan was nothing new. In recent years and months, Senior US officials and military commanders have publicly questioned Pakistan’s commitment to the US-led war on terror. They include former Defence Secretary Robert Gates, the present Defence Secretary James Mattis, and present Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. They complained that Pakistan was not doing enough, but they did not negate Pakistan’s contribution outright, like Trump has done.
How can they? After all, no country that joined the US war on terror had made so much of a sacrifice at so huge a cost to its national security and sovereignty.
Cricket star-turned-political party leader Imran Khan in a series of tweets hit out at Trump, calling him “ignorant and ungrateful”.
“…. Our society became radicalised and polarised as we helped CIA create jihadi groups; then, a decade later, we tried to eliminate them as terrorists on US orders,” said Khan who leads the opposition Tehreek-e-Insaf. He was referring to the US role in nourishing the Afghan Mujahideen and later the Taliban.
When the war on terror was about to be unleashed on Afghanistan in 2001 following the Spetember 11 terror attacks on the United States, Pakistan was warned by US defence bosses that if it did not join the war, it would be bombed back to the Stone Age . Still reluctant to join the war despite the threat, the then military ruler Pervez Musharraf war-gamed to assess Pakistan’s ability to take on the US, in case it refused to join the war. He did not want his country to become another Laos, where the US dropped more than two million tons of ordnance from 1964 to 1973 during the Vietnam War. Besides, at stake were Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and facilities. In addition, a bombed-out Pakistan without its nuclear weapons would only invite India to invade and annex Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Musharraf joined the US war and allowed the US to launch attacks from Pakistan’s air bases. Pakistan’s sovereignty became a mockery, with the US using Pakistan’s very own bases to kill Pakistani civilians during raids on terrorist hideouts.
In return, what Pakistan got was bloody mayhem. The 33 billion dollars Trump was trumpeting about were not development aid to Pakistan, but the money was largely in military aid directed at meeting the cost of waging America’s war.
The price Pakistan had to pay was heavy. A country that had produced widely respected Islamic scholars and philosophers was devastated by the so-called Islamic terrorism of unknown origin. Foreign investors and tourists avoided the country. As a result its economy suffered. Major international sports events have not been held in Pakistan since a bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketers came under attack in 2009. According to a report prepared by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, 81,000 Pakistanis had died by the end of 2013 due to the war on terror. Pakistan government statistics say more than 48,000 Pakistani civilians and 26,000 militants died in the war on terror. The number of Pakistani soldiers who have died in America’s war on terror was around 6,000. In contrast, the number of US soldiers killed in the war on terror in the Af-Pak (Afghanistan-Pakistan) region was just 2,300.
Yet, US policy makers continue to blame Pakistan, perhaps, in a bid to cover up their dismal failure in Afghanistan – both militarily and diplomatically — after 16 years military operations. They accuse Pakistan of hunting with the US and running with the terrorists. The charges cover providing safe haven to the Taliban, especially the Haqqani network, Pakistan’s alleged role in providing safe haven to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the garrison city of Abottabad and the closing down of supply routes for Nato troops.
The aid cut to Pakistan is not new. In 2015, the Obama administration held back US$ 300 million. However, if Pakistan officially withdraws from the war on terror, it will do much good for the country and its people. Instead, it should enhance defence relations with China, an all-weather friend, which came to Pakistan’s defence in the wake of Trump’s tweet. The US will then realise it cannot survive in Afghanistan without Pakistan’s support, for the military supplies have to come through Pakistan.

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Trump’s populism: Civilisation at stake for 2018

By Ameen Izzadeen
The year that will be ending in two days is remembered for many seismic events of political significance.
The dawn of the year was mired in political uncertainty, with the ratification of the biggest upset in the US political history — the victory of maverick property tycoon Donald Trump over the favourite Hillary Clinton at the November 2016 presidential election, despite allegations of a secret Russian deal and several women accusing him of sexual misconduct.
His predecessor Barack Obama ended his two terms on an optimistic note marked by a historic deal to save the planet from an environmental Armageddon, an accord with Iran to halt that country’s nuclear programme and thereby yet another war in the Middle East, and a brave last-ditched effort to force Israel to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian land. But the White House’s new multibillionaire upended the momentum towards global peace and justice. He is now seen to be dragging the country’s international standing to the gutter levels in defiance of world public opinion. The civilisaiton itself is perhaps at stake for 2018.
Obama won the Nobel Peace prize, for his election stirred hopes for world peace. On the contrary, Trump’s election has spelt only chaos to the world, with the twitter-happy maverick president withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate deal, while he is threatening to undo the Iran nuclear agreement and, in an outrageous move, killed the Palestinian peace hopes, by recognizing the whole of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The world is certainly not a better place but a more dangerous place now. With the liberal democratic principles the US has stood for more than two centuries being thrown to the wind, Trump, whipped up Islamophobia to placate his hardline constituency and issued a travel ban on citizens of six Muslim-majority countries. He is banking on xenophobic populism to keep his hopes alive for reelection though his popularity rating is taking a plunge.
His poor judgment in foreign policy has eroded the United States’ global leadership role. In one of his first foreign policy acts, Trump withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), one the few mechanisms the Obama administration had in place to check China.
The US apparently has squandered its global leadership role. The world is moving towards multipolarity, as evidenced in the China-centric Belt-and-Road Initiative and Russia’s intervention in Syria.
His response to North Korea’s defiant missile and nuclear tests was at best rhetoric and at worst a policy of hitting A to intimidate B, as seen in the dropping of “Mother of All bombs” on an Afghan village. Often, Trump blamed China for North Korea’s provocation. North Korea in the meantime developed long range missiles capable of reaching any part of the United States. However, the North Korean crisis provided the US an excuse for a military buildup in the Korean peninsula. Obviously, China and Russia saw the US deployment of Thaad missiles in South Korea as a hostile move against them.
Although six of the 11 US carriers are in the Indo-Pacific region, China has almost annexed the nine-dash sea territory in the South China Sea and expanded its burgeoning blue water Navy to cover much of the Indian Ocean, through which 80 percent of China’s oil imports come.
While Trump, besieged by the Robert Mueller special investigation into the Russian role in the 2016 US elections, plays populist politics and wavers in the foreign policy realm, China’s President Xi Jintao etched his name and policy in the Chinese Constitution, raising his position to the stature of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. At the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th Congress in Beijing in October, Xi emerged as the undisputed leader. This week, a report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) in London predicted that in 15 years, China would overtake the United States as the world’s strongest economy. But studies by others say it could happen even before that.
When Obama was president, the US navy regularly challenged China’s claim to disputed territories in the South China Sea, often leading to tense situations. Such activities are few and far between after Trump took over. As the US foreign policy making machinery moves in many directions – the Pentagon promoting one policy, the State Department another, the Congress yet another and the White House in yet another — China continues to reach out to the world with its investment diplomacy, which US and India see as a neo-colonialist bid to turn debt-ridden countries into Beijing’s satellite states.
To counter China’s rise, the US, India and Japan have formed an informal defence alliance. But Asia will benefit and its economic growth will be faster, if Asian giants such as China, India and Japan come together in a trade alliance. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership which China promotes could be the first step to eliminate mutual suspicion among Asian nations. Sadly South Asian grouping SAARC could not hold its annual summit for the second year running because of bitter rivalry between India and Pakistan.
Trump’s faltering foreign policy saw Russia playing a bigger role in the Middle East, considered an exclusive domain of the US. Russia’s resolute military campaign against ISIS forced the US also to join the Iraqi government’s military operation against the terror group. As a result, 2017 will be remembered as the year the terror outfit ISIS was defeated and its self-declared caliphate crumbled. But the ISIS is not destroyed completely. It is active in Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Egypt’s Sinai and even in the Philippine’s Marawi. Its operatives acting as lone wolves struck terror this year in several European cities such as Barcelona and Manchester.
As hope grows for a solution to the Syrian conflict which has unleashed the worst ever refugee crisis in the post-World War II era, millions of people suffer from starvation and thousands of children die of cholera and other diseases in impoverished Yemen, where a Saudi Arabia-led alliance is fighting Houthi rebels said to be backed by Iran. The Iran factor is also one of the reasons for Saudi Arabia and some of its Arab allies to break ties with Qatar and impose an economic blockade on the tiny but rich Gulf state.
Saudi Arabia itself was shaken by a political earthquake recently when the new crown prince Muhammad bin Salman ordered the arrest of several princes and top businessmen in what was claimed to be an anti-corruption drive. In the absence of a peace overtures to end the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the Middle East will remain a powder keg for 2018 also, especially also in view of Trump’s Jerusalem move.
The biggest story for Europe in 2017 was Brexit or Britain’s exit from the European Union. As the year comes to an end, Britain and the EU have come to a basic agreement with regard to outstanding issues.
For Africa, it was the stepping down of Robert Mugabe after more than three decades in power. After it became clear that Mugabe’s wife was being groomed as the next leader, a benign military coup forced Mugabe to quit and hand over power to ousted vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Overall, 2017 is a year of error, terror, power games and little peace.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Jerusalem: Trump plays Herod for Christmas

By Ameen Izzadeen
Pardon me for visiting you with another article on Jerusalem. This is because I believe Jerusalem is more dangerous a flashpoint than the North Korean missile issue.
More than 100 years ago, a series of events loaded with skullduggery and backstabbing laid the foundation for the violence that the Middle East has been witnessing ever since. Of great historic significance were British spy T.E. Lawrence’s (better known as Lawrence of Arabia) secret meetings with Arab tribal leaders and Britain’s pledge to offer the Arabs a kingdom extending from the Mediterranean coast to the borders of Iran – an area covering what is today Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and the large parts of the Arabian Gulf region, including what is today’s Saudi Arabia. In return, the Arabs were asked to rebel against their Ottoman caliph, a Turk and Muslim, during World War I.
The promise of a mega Arab kingdom was also made in a series of letters in 1915 between Britain’s Cairo envoy Henry McMahon and Makkah’s governor Sherif Hussein, a great-grandparent of the present day ruler of Jordan.
But when the Arabs launched their revolt in June, 1916 and joined in their hordes the British army in what was condemned by Ottoman Islamic scholars as a breach of Quranic injunctions, the Brits had already stabbed the gullible Arabs in the back. A month before the Arab revolt, unknown to the dimwitted Arab tribal sheikhs, Britain and France signed the so-called Sykes-Picot agreement – named after British diplomat Mark Sykes and French diplomat Georges Picot. They threw Lawrence’s pledge and McMahon’s letters into the dustbin of history. In terms of this agreement, the two European powers carved up the Arab territory of the Ottoman regime which allied with Germany and faced defeat in World War 1.
In another knife-in-the-back move, in December 1917, Britain made the outrageous Balfour declaration that allowed European Jews to set up a state in Arab Palestine. A month after this declaration, General Edmund Allenby and his Egyptian Expeditionary Force entered Palestine to formally begin the British colonial rule. But they encountered tough resistance from the Ottoman army in what is known as the Battle of Jerusalem. When Jerusalem fell to Allenby’s forces, the then pro-Zionist British Prime Minister David Lloyd George called it “a Christmas present for the British people”.
Call it treachery, betrayal, rebellion, Arabism, or whatever derisive or dignified word, the Arabs are paying a bloody price – the Ottoman scholars would call it divine punishment — for their support to the Brits. Instead of the ‘promised’ united Arabia including Palestine, the Arab world was divided into ‘dependent’ nation states incapable of standing on their own feet – incapable of defending themselves without the help of the Western powers.
What an irony, 100 years after the British double crossing and 70 years after the Arabs lost East Jerusalem in the 1967 war with Israel, it took another Ottoman Sultan in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to come to the aid of the Arabs and Palestinians.
To the Palestinians’ relief, the Organisation of Islamic Countries is headed by Turkey, instead of a pro-American Arab nation like Saudi Arabia or Egypt. Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt sent only third level representation to the emergency OIC summit in Istanbul last week. Moreover, the Egyptian-sponsored United Nations Security Council resolution on Monday did not even mention the United States by name. Egypt may call it diplomacy, but some may see it as subjugation to the United States, the only sponsor of Israel’s oppression of Palestinian people in occupied territories.
For Saudi Arabia and its allies such as the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain, the bigger worry than Jerusalem is Iran’s rise as a regional power. Instead of talking peace with Iran and working out a regional peace arrangement, Saudi Arabia and its allies have thrown their collective weight behind the enemies of the Palestinian cause – the United States and Israel, countries which seem to relish on the Arabs’ fear of Iran.
In their sectarian-driven vengeful campaign against Iran, the Saudis would not even mind friendship with Israel. Israeli media reports point to regular contacts between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
It is also alleged that the United States’ President Donald Trump, had obtained the nod of Saudi Arabia well ahead of his Jerusalem declaration and that there was a behind-the-scene deal for Saudis to promote Trump’s new peace plan without East Jerusalem. A December 3 New York Times report said the Saudis had summoned Palestinian Authority President Abbas to force him to accept Trump’s peace plan, where, instead of Jerusalem, the neighbouring town of Abu Dis that overlooks the Dome of the Rock mosque was offered as the Palestinian capital. Independent Palestine would be a collection of small territories with no contiguity.
The Saudis have denied the New York Times reports. On Wednesday, they reiterated their position asserting East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Incidentally, the statement came after a meeting between King Salman and Abbas. It was Abbas’ second or third visit to the Saudi capital in two months and it came ahead of yesterday’s crucial United Nations General Assembly vote on a resolution supporting East Jerusalem as the capital of future Palestinian state. Is Abbas, who has rejected the US as a peace broker, being browbeaten to accept the truncated peace plan of Trump or face a Saudi aid cut?
For Palestinians, it is East Jerusalem or death. But Trump also has taken the Jerusalem issue personally and stepped up his offensive.
The US, isolated on Monday at the UN Security Council where it used its veto power to kill yet another attempt aimed at resolving the Palestinian issue in a peaceful manner through the UN mechanism, took to political thuggery in a depraved bid to stop a UN General Assembly resolution that calls on the world body to denounce Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Ahead of the resolution which was passed with a huge majority on Thursday, Nikki Haley, Trump’s hit woman at the UN, warned nations that she would report back to the US president with the names of those who support the resolution.
Hailing her highhandedness and forgetting the Christmas spirit, Trump — perhaps acting like a King Herod and his massacre of the innocents during Christmas — threatened to cut funding to countries which opposed the US stand. “All these nations take our money and then vote against us at the Security Council and they vote against us potentially at the Assembly… Well, we’re watching those votes,” he said at the White House.
Will the American people take notice of the voting pattern and ask why the United States is isolated? Why is the US hell bent on upholding injustice whereas the rest of the world cries for peace and justice?
It is not North Korea that befits the description ‘the most dangerous country’. Rather it is Trump’s United States. If the eccentric president can ignore world opinion with regard to climate change and Jerusalem, what guarantees do we have that he would not defy world opinion and use nuclear weapons?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)
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Jerusalem: Let’s rebuild it on the principles of justice

By Ameen Izzadeen
Warning: This article may contain ideas that religiously sensitive readers may find disturbing, despite efforts to keep the article balanced.
When religion and politics mix, the combination can produce either a just socio-political-and-economic order or a hypocritical world order that justifies oppression, injustice and racism.
In the United States, the First Amendment which seeks to keep Church and State separate was introduced to protect religion from the corruption of politics — and politics being abused by some corrupt religious leaders.
Yet, secularism in politics is a myth not only in the United States but also in states such as Turkey and India where secularism is constitutionally promulgated. Religious beliefs and prejudices do play a major role in shaping world politics. The most recent example is the United States President Donald Trump’s statement recognizing Jerusalem, the whole of it, as the capital of Israel, with no regard for international law, world public opinion and, above all, the Palestinian people’s right to live.
His decision was not based on justice or international law. Rather the maverick President was apparently seeking to appease a Zionist casino mogul, who made a multimillion dollar political investment in Trump’s presidency, and some of the pro-Zionist Evangelical Christians, Trump’s core vote base.
For these evangelicals, the Trump statement was a fulfillment of a prophecy regarding the second coming of Jesus Christ. According to their theology, God still loves the Jews, despite their rejection of Jesus’ mission and their role in the crucifixion. These orthodox or hardcore evangelicals say that as the end time nears, the Jews will experience a religious rebirth and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. This would spark a series of cataclysmic events culminating in the Battle of Armageddon, the last war of humanity. But it would also cause the Jews to finally accept Jesus as their savior. After all this occurred, Jesus would return in glory and God’s kingdom — a thousand-year reign of peace. And it would begin in Jerusalem. (http://edition.cnn.com/2017/12/08/opinions/jerusalem-israel-evangelicals-end-times-butler-bass-opinion/index.html).
Most Catholic and mainstream Christian theologians, especially churches embracing liberation theology and espousing social justice, do not subscribe to this apocalyptic interpretation.
More than a dozen patriarchs representing Palestinian Christians and Jerusalem’s main churches have, in a letter to Trump, rejected his Jerusalem declaration.
“Our oppressors have decided to deprive us from the joy of Christmas,” Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the former archbishop and Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, told his congregation.
“The Bible originated in Palestine, not in the Bible Belt (in the US), but people in the Bible Belt read the Bible in a way that really makes our lives difficult,” said Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem.
Pope Francis, last week, reiterated that East Jerusalem was an occupied territory. He appealed to the international community to respect the city’s status in keeping with “the relevant resolutions of the United Nations.”
The Catholic Church, Protestant churches, the Egyptian Coptic Church, Iraq’s Chaldean Christians, the Greek Orthodox Christians and several other US denominations have expressed their opposition to Trump’s move.
Yet, some influential Christian groups in the US are seeking to fast track the second coming of Jesus. If Jesus were to come today, whom will he support – the oppressed Palestinians who live a life of humiliation under the Israeli gun or the Zionists who have usurped the Palestinian land, their freedom and their dignity? See Mathew 25:31 onwards.
If the Zionists and their US supporters could interpret their scriptures and history the way they want in their attempt to justify their stance on Jerusalem, should not the Palestinian Muslims and Christians also have the right to interpret the scriptures and their history to assert their claim for Jerusalem?
The Quran in reference to Jerusalem says: “Glory to (God) Who did take His servant (Muhammad) for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque (in Makkah) to the farthest Mosque (in Jerusalem), whose precincts We did bless, in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth (all things).” – Chapter 17 Verse 1.
The Muslims also believe in a prophecy regarding the second coming of Jesus and has a narration of Jerusalem vis-à-vis events leading to end times.
Which interpretation or which religion does international law recognise?
The Zionists say Jerusalem has been their historic capital for 3,000 years. Famous Palestinian intellectual Edward Said, linguistic professor at the Colombia University, said the Zionist claim was not the only claim to this land. “It’s a claim among many others.”
He insisted that the Arabs had a much greater claim to the land of Palestine because “they have a longer history of inhabitance, of actual residence in Palestine than the Jews did.” The overall Jewish actual inhabitance in Palestine throughout history, according to him, amounted to 200 to 260 years, much less than the Arabs’ 1,192 years.
The professor, who wrote “Orientalism”, a highly acclaimed critique on Western prejudice of matters East, would say the land of Palestine was inhabited or conquered by many other peoples throughout history and they included the Canaanites, Jebusites, the Assyrians, the Philistines, the Babylonians, the Israelites, the Archaemenids, the Seleucids and others.
So history has many versions.
Laws are based on principles of justice, equality and human rights. A legal system is just only if it is applied without discrimination, be it economic status, social standing or religious beliefs of the people.
Issues subjected to law’s intervention — especially a matter as contentious as Jerusalem, with followers of different religions making rival claims — should be sorted out in terms of principles of a ‘universal religion’ accepted by all. The universal religion – call it humanity — comprises core values every established religion seeks to promote – core values such as compassion, love, justice, peace, equality and the truth without contamination.
Legends like Mahatma Gandhi believed in the universal religion. That is why Gandhi could say “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs… Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.”
In this abstract universal religion, there is no place for claims such as a people being “chosen”. Chosen does not mean superiority over other humans. If one insists that Jews are the chosen people, and therefore superior to others, aren’t they advocating racism, instead of eliminating it, as the universal religion demands? God cannot be a racist God. God’s universal religion dictates that no one human being is superior to another human being. Superiority is not judged by one’s birth into a particular race, caste, tribe or economic class, but by one’s righteous action. The more one is righteous and just, the more she or he is close to God.
In terms of the universal religious values such as compassion and cohabitation, the Jews have the right to live in Palestine and Israel has a right to exist within the 1967 borders, side by side with the state of Palestine — but certainly not as colonialists to continue the imperialistic projects of, first Britain, and now the United States.
The Third Temple should not be and cannot be built on oppression and injustice.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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O Jerusalem, Jerusalem: The world cries for thee

By Ameen Izzaden
Wednesday night’s decision by United States President Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, showing only utter contempt for the aspirations of the Palestinian people, has pushed the prospects for peace into a black hole, never to see light again.
Hopes of a peaceful solution to the Palestinian crisis are now virtually dead. Days and hours before Trump made the announcement, Pope Francis and world leaders, including close allies, expressed serious concern, while US State Department officials warned of grave repercussions. But Trump, being Trump, dismissed saner counsel and dropped a nuclear bomb to kill millions of people’s hope for peace. Invoking the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, he did what his predecessors dared not. In what he boasted was a fulfillment of yet another campaign promise, he announced that the US embassy would be shifted to Jerusalem in recognition of the city’s status as the capital of Israel. In his statement, there was nothing for the Palestinians, but it had everything Israel wanted.
What a Christmas gift for the Palestinians, especially the Christians, who on Wednesday night switched off Christmas lights at Jesus’ traditional birthplace in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, in protest against Trump’s speech.
Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a ‘Big Thank You’ address in Jerusalem, minutes after Trump ended his short speech in Washington DC. Hours later, recovering from the jolt, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian leadership would never acknowledge Trump’s declaration. “This is a reward to Israel,” Abbas said adding that Trump’s move encouraged Israel’s “continuing occupation” of the Palestinian territories.
Trump’s toxic announcement will only lead to further radicalization of the Arabs and Muslims, worsening the mayhem in the conflict-ridden Middle East where peace is not even a museum piece.
Most Palestinians have long renounced violence in the hope that dialogue will help them establish their independent state with East Jerusalem as capital. But now, it will be more difficult to persuade them to keep faith in non-violence.
Perhaps, Trump’s action is part of a plan to provoke the Palestinians to resort to violence, so that Israel could take tougher security measures and seize more Palestinian land. Some see Trump’s action as a move to placate Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson who made a 100 million dollar campaign donation on a guarantee that Trump would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Or were Trump’s Jewish son-in-law and Middle East envoy Jared Kushner and pro-Zionist Vice President Mike Pence prodding him?
Trump displayed he had no compunction about further victimising the Palestinian people. Well, this is nothing new to the United States which has over the years protected Israel from international censure for committing ethnic cleansing, killing Palestinian and Lebanese children, using banned weapons such as white phosphorous bombs, demolishing houses, destroying farms, building illegal settlements in occupied land, denying food, medicine, water and electricity to the Palestinians, and imprisoning thousands of activists. If these are not crimes against humanity, what are they?
The Palestinian people have been forced to suffer this injustice since the British colonialists committed the original sin by issuing the infamous 1917 Balfour Declaration that allowed the European Jews to carve out a country for them from the Ottoman Province of Palestine.
For Trump and his supporters, the Palestinian people are non-humans. They probably do not know that the Palestinian people have been living in the area for centuries even before Jerusalem changed hands from Byzantine rule to Muslim rule in 637 AD. With the spread of Islam, most people in the new territories embraced Islam.
The fact that the Palestinians are very much the sons and daughters of the soil just as the Jews are is lost on the besieged American president who is facing a probe on collusion with Russia to win the presidential election.
Little does Trump realize that his action goes contrary to international law, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits a foreign occupier from annexing or altering the boundaries of an occupying territory.
Now that Trump has crossed the Rubicon, what’s next? Certainly, it is not peace. Trump has made peace impossible in Palestine. A two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital has been put on stake and set ablaze. Neither Israel nor the US will, even after Trump is gone, agree to return to status quo ante, vis-à-vis Jerusalem, the 5,000-year-old city, holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Jerusalem houses the Jewish Temple built by King Solomon, whom the Muslims regard as a prophet of God and call him “Sulaiman Alaihissalam (peace be upon him)”. On the East Jerusalem side, the Temple mount houses the Aqsa mosque, the third holiest place of worship for Muslims after the two mosques in Makkah and Madina. As an article of faith, Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad visited the Aqsa mosque in a night journey and experienced a heavenly ascension.
Netanyahu on Wednesday night promised that there would be no change in the status of the Aqsa mosque, which is administered by Jordan, under whose purview was East Jerusalem, before Israel occupied it during the 1967 war.
What are the options for the Palestinians, now that Trump has snatched from them their dearest Jerusalem, al-Quds, the thorniest issue in many peace talks? Can they push for one-state solution and become citizens of Israel? Israel fears the one-state solution because the Arabs will be more in numbers. Besides, such a prospect goes against Israel’s vision for an “exclusive” Jewish state.
Should the Palestinians return to the armed struggle? Palestinian group Hamas yesterday called on the Palestinians to launch an Intifada. Palestinians have no true friends in the Arab and Islamic world. To retake East Jerusalem, no Arab leader will declare war against Israel, a nuclear power. Neither will they impose an oil embargo on the US, similar to the one King Faisal of Saudi Arabia spearheaded in 1973. When the then National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger warned King Faisal that if the Arabs went ahead with the oil embargo, the US would use force, the wise and widely respected king replied: “You are the ones who can’t live without oil. We come from the desert and our ancestors live on dates and milk and we can easily go back and live like that again.”
Sadly, there are no leaders like King Faisal today in the divided Arab world. Weeks before the Trump announcement, reports said Saudi Arabia was allegedly working with the US for a Middle East solution that included a proposal to bring Jerusalem under international control.
Saudi Arabia urged Trump not to go ahead with the Jerusalem move, but Trump had only had disdain for Saudi Arabia though the kingdom in May in a bid to curry favour with the new US president signed US$ 380 billion worth deals, including US$ 110 billion arms purchases.
In a statement yesterday, the Saudi royal court described the US action as “unjustified and irresponsible”. That’s it. Period.
Yes, there will be protests and even violent incidents, but there won’t be a reversal of Trump’s move. The Arabs and Muslims have lost Jerusalem.

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