Thursday, July 20, 2017

Muslims return to CAR to find their homes are gone

Remember Daghestan, remember Chechnya during the Stalin era when hundreds of thousands of Muslims were ethnically cleansed from their native homelands to be settled in Siberia and other faraway territories on false charges of being collaborators for the Germans during World War 2? It took several decades before the Soviet government, under a new leadership, confessed to their crime and allowed the victims, or more properly their children and grandchildren, to return home. When they returned they found their homes seized and occupied by Christian Ossetians. And it has never been the same for those descendants of Stalin's victims. They continue to make headlines in the global press, sometimes in the wrong side of prevalent history of our time. It is a sad story!

We are seeing a repeat of the crime in Central African Republic. To find out more, read below or click here.

Muslims return to CAR to find their homes are gone

Observers warn that if land and property are not returned, there will be no peace in the Central African Republic.

Bangui, Central African Republic - M Babakir Ali cuts a lonely figure sitting on a plastic chair outside a rundown cafe in the PK5 district of Bangui.
Once the owner of five houses and 18,000 square metres of land in the Foulbe district of Pk13, on the outskirts of Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, Ali is now reduced to a pair of jeans and a short white sleeved shirt. The thin vertical stripes are faintly visible beyond the creases. He is a refugee in his own city.
"I left for Chad in January 2014 because of what happened on the streets of Bangui," Ali says.
Ali says he watched as bodies of young Muslim men were dragged through the streets of the capital and then piled at a local mosque in what was to signal the changing fortunes for Muslims in the country.
He was right.
In early January, Muslims in the PK5, PK12, PK13 districts of Bangui were hunted down, mutilated, burned alive and left on the streets. Muslims in the towns of Bossangoa, Bozoum, Bouca, Yaloke, Mbaiki, Bossembele and others also fled, as Anti-balaka embarked on a reign of terror across the northwest and southwestern regions.
Ali gathered his family, and fled to neighbouring Chad, too.
With the unrest in Bangui lifting in 2016 as the country neared elections, he decided to come home.
But he knew he would face a new struggle on his return.
"I knew my houses and my land, that everything had been taken," 45-year-old Ali says. "I knew I would be coming back to nothing."
Ali speaks in short and abrupt sentences. The already battered plastic chair bends and shifts with his every gesture. There is a calm dissonance in his moist, jaundiced eyes even as he explains that his property was sold to a third party by a local chief.
"I am not the only one. So many from my district have returned, and have nowhere to go," Ali says, looking away.

'Exodus of historic proportions'

Thousands have been killed since the Central African Republic fell into a slow-churning civil war following a coup in 2013. Close to a million others fled their homes fearing catching a stray bullet or becoming the victims of targeted killings.
At first, when the Muslim-led Seleka rebels took Bangui, the Christian community was attacked.
Later, when Christians formed self-defence groups into what became known as the Anti-balaka, and many Seleka rebels disarmed, the Muslim minority was attacked.
Muslims were shunned, forced to flee into enclaves and displaced camps or into neighbouring Cameroon or Chad in a cascade of violence.
Amnesty International warned of "a Muslim exodus of historic proportions". And when the Muslims left, their homes, property and lands were confiscated, sold or occupied.
In June 2016, the country held presidential elections and a new government led by President Faustin-Archange Touadera was voted in. Security returned to the capital Bangui.
Under a sizeable UN peacekeeping force, many thousands of people like Ali began returning to districts in and around Bangui.
But many others refuse to come back, either out of fear or because they have no home to return to. One-fifth of the country's population is currently either displaced internally or abroad in neighbouring Chad, Cameroon or the Democratic Republic Congo.

Reclaiming property

Humanitarian organisations in Bangui are concerned that if left unresolved, unlawful and illegal occupation of homes or properties could easily become another driver of conflict in a country already overwhelmingly riveted on land, resources and power.
"Addressing housing, land and property is a crucial component of sustainable peacebuilding efforts," Ingrid Beauquis, spokesperson for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Bangui, says.
"If people displaced by violence cannot return to their communities, reclaim their property or relocate with the support of authorities, small conflicts over land may escalate to violence, communities may remain divided, and long-term stability may become impossible," Beauquis told Al Jazeera.
The NRC has been working with the local government in tackling what they call Housing, Land and Property (HLP) rights in an effort to facilitate the process of returning homes and land to the rightful owners. But results have varied.
For instance, out of the 475 cases the NRC is directly mediating, including illegal selling and occupation, destruction and encroachment of land or houses, just 18 cases have been successfully solved.
But resolving these cases is complicated.
For instance, Ali's family is one of 280 households who has been reportedly displaced in the PK13 district. Given the sensitivities of broaching an issue that encompasses theft, sectarianism and desperation, simply asking the new occupants to leave is not possible.
"Once we verify all 280 cases, the local community and local authorities will approach the secondary occupants," Beauquis says.
But amid mass displacement, insecurity and a crisis of authority, the government is simply unable to prioritise housing, land and property rights.
"We have to work with local leaders and movement on the cases is dependent on their willingness to push ahead with the cases." Jennifer Jecolia, a programme coordinator with the NRC, says.

Justice for social cohesion

Jean Emmanuel Gazanguenza's pinstripe suit hangs from his gaunt body. The mayor of Begoua or PK12, one of the 134 district of Bangui, chooses his words slowly and meticulously. His organised thoughts are a far cry from the chaos that is his desk: a melange of reports and loose papers, unopened envelopes, an assortment of plastic pink roses that remarkably match the surrounding four walls of his office.
Gazanguenza says that it was only a few months ago that he was displaced too, and that he only just moved back home and into his office.
He says that his office has identified 231 houses in his district that were sold illegally. A majority of which originally belonged to Muslims, he admits.
"Many regret what they did, because they never had issues before and they realise they got carried away in the chaos," he says.
Gazanguenza is clear that people will need to get their lot back.
"Else we will have a problem here," the mayor says slowly. "If people feel that there is impunity, then everyone will do what they like, and there will be revenge," he says, his hands slowly forming a steeple.
"Justice and reparation are necessary for social cohesion," he says.
But even he understands that this is easier said than done.
Part of the problem is many home or property owners, especially outside the capital Bangui, simply do not have title deeds.
If individual owners have the financial capability to approach the courts, the country's property law does not sufficiently protect the rights of the displaced to return to their property. In circumstances where title deeds or ownership cannot be established, the displaced have simply nowhere to turn.
According to the NRC, a new framework law on property is currently being drafted with the dual ambition of protecting the very particular rights of the displaced and helping to facilitate the resolution of future land or property conflicts.
But like so many other facets of CAR, law enforcement is likely to remain a major obstacle, especially outside the capital, the NRC says.
As it stands, the state starts and ends in Bangui. The countryside remains firmly within the ambit of armed groups. Groups belonging to the Seleka or Anti-balaka can be observed running towns and villages often in the full view of UN peacekeepers.
Even in Bangui, individuals who want their land back are most likely to find traction via the NRC or through their local mayors, who focus on discussions and negotiations in an effort to have secondary occupants give up the stolen property.
Forty-five-year-old M Osman from PK13 lost five of his houses in 2013. Osman is still not able to return to his properties because they have been occupied by people who were displaced by the violence themselves.
M Osman left for Chad in 2014 after his son-in-law was murdered. He subsequently returned two years later to find all his property had been taken [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]
In Osman's case, the NRC, together with the head of the district, approached the new residents and explained that the owner wanted to return. They agreed to leave. But Osman is still not convinced that the area is safe enough for Muslims to return. Until more Muslims return, he won't go back.
"I told them that I will give them one month notice before I want to move back," Osman told Al Jazeera. Until then, he will be living in the PK5 district.
It is not clear how much longer people will wait. Noumou Waziri, 60, an Imam who lost his home and his mosque in PK13 in 2014, says he continues to remind people to be patient.
"I tell them not to take revenge. I tell them that despite what has happened, we do not accept that people can take action in their own hands."
Ali agrees that vigilantism is not the solution, but his response is a little more cryptic.
"I came back because this is my home. I didn't want to live as a refugee," he says. "But if the land is not returned, it means we cannot live together."

Yemen: the other war ravaged country

Here are 3 news items about Yemen.
Yemen Policy Is Creating More Terrorists - argues Adil E. Shamoo and Bonnie Bricker.
The Saudi policy right from its inception has been criminal, and needs wholesale condemnation from the civilized world. Here is the link to read about latest Saudi crimes that killed 20 civilians in  South Yemen.
Buoyed by American support in recent years, like Myanmar, they are not allowing UN Aid Flight to Yemen. What a crime against humanity! Now the  Yemenis are finding Somalia, long a killing field because of Western influence in the horn of Africa, aided by Kenya, to be safer than their own country. This in spite of the sad fact that Somalia is facing its worst famine since 1945.

Massacre of Mosul revealed

More than 40,000 civilians were killed in the devastating battle to retake Mosul from Isis, according to intelligence reports revealed exclusively to The Independent – a death toll far higher than previous estimates.
To read more, click here.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Israel’s Secret Arab Allies

Israel’s Secret Arab Allies
TEL AVIV — United States and Israeli officials seem convinced that a regional peace agreement between Israel and the Arab world may be in the offing. On his recent trip to the Middle East, President Trump said that a “new level of partnership is possible and will happen — one that will bring greater safety to this region, greater security to the United States and greater prosperity to the world.” The main stumbling block remains the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an emotive issue that still carries strategic weight in Arab capitals. Yet the president isn’t completely wrong. Across the Middle East these days, often away from the headlines, Israel finds itself deeply involved in Arab wars.
The clearest manifestation of what is frequently called “the new Middle East” can be found in Syria. Mr. Trump himself infamously alluded to Israel’s strategic reach when he told visiting Russian diplomats about information obtained by covert Israeli intelligence operations against the Islamic State. According to subsequent reports, Israeli military intelligence had hacked into the computer networks of Islamic State bomb makers in Syria. A few weeks later, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel was intensifying its security and intelligence cooperation with Jordan in southern Syria to stave off Iranian gains in the area.
Israeli-Jordanian cooperation was not, in itself, news. Israel shipped Cobra attack helicopters to Jordan in 2015. And the Israeli government has had a policy, dating back to 1970, of buttressing Jordan’s stability. Yet there is a major United States-led coalition operation being run out of Jordan to support the various Syrian rebels groups. An open question is whether, or more likely how, Israel is now involved.
What’s no longer at question is the role Israel plays in its own border region with Syria. As recent reports have made clear, Israel has been working since at least last year to create a friendly “buffer zone” on the other side of the Golan Heights. A dedicated Israeli military unit acts as a liaison for civilian aid and basic foodstuffs going in, and wounded Syrians — including rebel fighters — coming out to Israeli hospitals. The Wall Street Journal reported in June that rebel commanders even claim they receive cash from Israel, which is used to pay salaries and purchase arms and ammunition. This “Good Neighborhood” policy, as it’s known in Israel, is aimed at persuading the local Syrian population to reject Iranian and Hezbollah entreaties.
From its southern border, Israel has assisted Egypt in its protracted counterinsurgency campaign against Sinai Province, the Islamic State’s local affiliate. Here, too, Israeli officials are circumspect about speaking openly on cooperation — and local media are, as in similar cases, often censored from reporting what they already know. High-level military coordination and intelligence sharing are givens. Yet according to a former senior Israeli official quoted by Bloomberg News, Israeli drones have over the past several years directly attacked militants in the Sinai Peninsula — with Egypt’s consent.
Israel has peace and diplomatic agreements with Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, so military ties with them may not come as a complete surprise. Less well known, however, is the increasingly close relationship with the Arab Gulf states, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Such ties are often referenced only obliquely by Israeli government ministers as “shared interests” in the security and intelligence realms against the common Iranian threat. Yet in recent years, reports have surfaced about clandestine meetings between Israeli intelligence chiefs and their Gulf counterparts. Meir Dagan, the former Mossad chief, allegedly traveled to Saudi Arabia in 2010 for secret talks about Iran’s nuclear program. Public encounters with retired Saudi Arabian officials are now commonplace, whether in Washington, Munich or even Jerusalem. Business ties are growing, too, including the sale of Israeli agriculture but also cyber, intelligence and homeland security technology to the Gulf (usually through third parties).
Taken as a whole, Israeli activities in Syria, Jordan, the West Bank, Egypt and the Gulf can no longer be viewed in isolation from one another. Rather, Israel is now involved in the Arab world’s military campaigns — against both Iran and its proxies, as well as against the Islamic State. It remains to be seen whether this is merely a temporary marriage of convenience against common foes or the start of an enduring strategic realignment.
Regardless, it is likely to last for some time. The region’s wars show no sign of abating in the near future. At the very least, Israel is no longer viewed as the central problem plaguing the Middle East. For this reason, Mr. Trump urged the Arab states to “recognize the vital role of the state of Israel” in the region’s affairs. Absent significant movement on the Palestinian front, this new Israeli role isn’t likely to bring a full and public normalization of relations or an end to the region’s conflict. But it may help win the current wars, and with it, a semblance of Middle East peace.

Saudi King’s Son Plotted Effort to Oust His Rival

As next in line to be king of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Nayef was unaccustomed to being told what to do. Then, one night in June, he was summoned to a palace in Mecca, held against his will and pressured for hours to give up his claim to the throne.
By dawn, he had given in, and Saudi Arabia woke to the news that it had a new crown prince: the king’s 31-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman.
The young prince’s supporters have lauded his elevation as the seamless empowerment of an ambitious leader. But since he was promoted on June 21, indications have emerged that Mohammed bin Salman plotted the ouster and that the transition was rockier than has been publicly portrayed, according to current and former United States officials and associates of the royal family.
Mohammed bin Nayef had been confined to his palace, United States officials and associates of senior royals have provided similar accounts of how the elder prince was pressured to step aside by the younger one
To read the full news, click here.

Secretary Tillerson, It’s Time to Phone Iran, writes Trita Parsi

When ten American sailors found themselves captives of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps in the Persian Gulf last year, then-Secretary John Kerry secured their freedom in less than sixteen hours. He used a remarkable instrument to score this stunning victory: A telephone.
Within hours of their capture, Kerry had his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, on the line. They spoke five times that evening, but they already had a deal by the second call. The subsequent conversations served to handle logistical issues and resolve problems and misunderstandings that arose along the way.
For instance, at one point U.S. Navy ships and helicopters were approaching the Iranian island where the sailors were kept. “Please tell your navy not to get close,” Zarif told Kerry, his tone revealing the urgency of the matter. “We don’t want a military confrontation. But if your planes get close, we will have serious trouble.” Kerry immediately hung up and called General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to urge him to pull back. “We’re risking potential escalation here,” Kerry told the general. “They were giving us positive indications that they are gonna release these guys, so we should back off the helicopters for now and test if this is real.” Dunford complied, and a dangerous confrontation was avoided. To prove that the sailors were safe, Zarif emailed a picture of them from his Gmail account to Kerry’s State Department email.
It had taken two years of intense discussions and negotiations for Kerry and Zarif to build the rapport that enabled them to so quickly resolve unforeseen crises such as that of the U.S. sailors. But once the channel of communications and the rapport had been established, its utility and efficiency was unquestionable. Indeed, the sailors’ incident could have ended up as another prolonged hostage crisis. Instead, most Americans have not even heard of their mishap.
Today, there are many unforeseen crises that risk bringing the U.S. and Iran—indeed, the entire Middle East—into direct confrontation. The U.S. and Iran have a shared interest in defeating ISIS in Iraq, but after the fall of Mosul, the balance of their interest may lead them in a more confrontational direction. A similar dynamic is playing out in Syria, where the U.S. already has shot down Iranian drones and bombed Iranian-sponsored groups. Moreover, tensions in the Persian Gulf are rising as Saudi Arabia appears to have received a green light from the Trump administration to double down on confrontation and bullying.
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had no illusions about the end goal of the Saudis. The Saudis always want to “fight the Iranians to the last American,” he told his French counterpart in 2010. Since then, the Saudi appetite for a U.S.-Iran war has only grown.  
Despite these hotspots, the Trump administration and Secretary Rex Tillerson have allowed the hotline with Tehran to go cold. Despite the significant risk of war, not a single phone call has taken place between Tillerson and Zarif. Not a single attempt at resolving the tensions diplomatically has been made.
When asked about diplomacy with Iran during his visit to the Saudi kingdom, Tillerson said that he had no plans to reach out to Iran, although he didn’t rule it out in the future.
That is simply not good enough. It is the foremost responsibility of the President and his administration to keep America safe and to only put American servicemen and women in harm’s way once all other options have been exhausted.
On both of these counts, the Trump administration doesn’t just fail, they fail abysmally because they haven’t even tried. The United States is about to sleepwalk into yet another devastating war in the Middle East without a debate as to whether such an escalation lies in the U.S.’s national interest, and without the Trump administration even giving lip service to diplomacy. Other potential foes in the world observe this behavior as they consider the payoff of peaceful engagement with the U.S. versus conflict. Do we want to send those actors the message that the U.S. shoots first and asks questions later?
The George W. Bush administration at least had the decency to lie to the American public when it sold the electorate the Iraq War. And however skewed and faulty, the Iraq War was preceded by a debate and a vote in Congress. Though President Bush eschewed diplomacy, he nevertheless presented a deeply flawed case as to why diplomacy no longer was an option. Trump and Tillerson simply don’t even bother.
The Trump administration’s recklessness is endangering America and putting American servicemen and women at risk. If Tillerson was supposed to be the adult in the room steering Trump in the right direction, he needs to start to act the part.
Before the escalation with Iran reaches a point of no return, diplomacy must be given a chance. That responsibility falls on Mr. Tillerson. The former Exxonmobil CEO has Zarif’s number. It’s time he places a call.
Trita Parsi is the author of Losing an Enemy – Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy. He is the president of the National Iranian American Council.

Hateful messages against Democratic candidate in Arizona is shameful

Republican Arizona Senator Jeff Flake has come to defend a woman who wants to unseat him after she received hateful messages about her Muslim religion. But the entire incident shows where America is heading. Bigotry is still a major threat to its so-called American characteristics that have denied the USA for decades. With the emergence of populist leaders like Trump in the USA and others like Le Pen in Europe, we are seeing resurrection of neo-fascism. It is sad and shameful.

Democratic candidate Deedra Abboud, 45, came under attack after she posted a campaign message on Facebook with an image of the US Constitution.
The post prompted an onslaught of cyberbullying, including comments about Ms Abboud's religion.
Mr Flake, 54, expressed his support for Ms Abboud on Twitter.
"Hang in there @deedra2018. Sorry you have to put up with this. Lots of wonderful people across AZ. You'll find them," he tweeted on Tuesday.
The senator also posted a link to an op-ed in The Arizona Republic calling out the online attack on Ms Abboud, which came after she posted a message about separation of church and state.
"Almost 250 years ago a group of dreamers came together and sketched out a revolutionary vision. No longer would they be shackled to the whims of a distant government, nor bound to the religion of an idiosyncratic king. They set out to forge their own futures, determine their own destinies, and follow their own faith," she wrote.
"In their infinite wisdom, the Founding Fathers decreed that this nation would separate church and state, and in doing so protect both institutions. Government would be free from religious overreach, and religion would be free from government interference."
Facebook users began flooding her page with comments saying there was "no room for Muslims in our government. Nice try though you are quoting the Muslim brotherhood".
Another user wrote: "Nice try but your first love is Satan (AKA Allah) and your second love is to a litter box your 'people' come from. You are as American as Chinese checkers."
Ms Abboud, a Phoenix-based lawyer, thanked Mr Flake for his response.
"Thank you @JeffFlake for leadership in rejecting behavior that doesn't reflect our American values. AZ's amazing people deserve more than this", she tweeted.
Ms Abboud, a native of Little Rock, Arkansas, is running for Mr Flake's seat in the August 2018 Democrat primary. If she wins, she would challenge Mr Flake in the general election that autumn.
Mr Flake has come to the defence of Muslims in Arizona before.
In the wake of President Donald Trump's executive order in January, which targeted seven Muslim-majority countries, the Republican said in a Medium post the White House was right to be concerned about national security, but that it was "unacceptable when even legal permanent residents are being detained or turned away at airports and ports of entry".
"Enhancing long term national security requires that we have a clear-eyed view of radical Islamic terrorism without ascribing radical Islamic terrorist views to all Muslims," wrote Mr Flake, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees.
He also attended a service at a Scottsdale mosque in December 2015 to show his support amid harsh, anti-Muslim rhetoric from then-Republican presidential candidate, Mr Trump.
"My hope and prayer today is that isolated voices calling for division are overwhelmed by the chorus of voices in this room today calling for acceptance, tolerance and inclusion," he said at the time.