ISIS

Source: Gage Skidmore; URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/24480213852

On several occasions throughout her campaign, Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has mentioned that part of her plan to defeat terrorist organization “The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” (ISIS) consists of killing or capturing its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. She believes that this decapitation strategy will allow the United States to “focus [its] attention [on fighting ISIS],” citing the demise of Al-Qa’ida in Pakistan and Afghanistan on the assassination of founder Osama Bin Laden in 2011. By assuming that the ISIS will react in a similar way to Al-Qa’ida after the removal of a leader, I believe that Secretary Clinton is oversimplifying the comprehensive strategy that we need to employ to destroy ISIS.

What is decapitation?

Terrorism expert Audrey Cronin defines decapitation as “the removal by arrest or assassination of the top leaders or operational leaders of a group.” In the study she conducted for her book “How Terrorism Enders: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns,” Cronin cites several case studies where leaders of terrorist organizations were killed: the assassinations of the Philippines’ Abu Sayyaf leader Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani in the 1990s, of leaders of Chechen groups by Russians in the early 2000s, of Anwar Sadat in 1981, and of terrorist leaders from countries like Egypt, Lebanon, and Palestine by Israel. She concluded that there seem to be no cases where decapitation resulted in the halting of a group’s campaign. Instead, the organization may have evolved to have more of a political agenda, for example with Abu Sayyaf; still, groups often remain and may become more prolific and rampant after a ‘decapitation’ attempt.

There are, according to Cronin, many factors that affect the success of a decapitation strategy; for example, the structure of the organization, “the degree to which it fosters a cult of personality, the availability of a viable successor, the nature of its ideology, the political context, and whether the leader was killed or imprisoned.” With this in mind, we can begin to examine more closely Secretary Clinton’s assumption that getting rid of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi will help defeat ISIS.

Al-Qa’ida

Founded in the late 1980s, Al-Qa’ida’s core leadership, according to the Wilson Center, does not claim to have direct control over the group’s structure. It instead focuses on messaging, strategy, and daily operations. However, the group’s affiliates do have to consult with the leadership before carrying out an attack. The core leadership is made up of a shura council in addition to committees for finance and information sharing.

Since the death of Bin Laden, former head of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has led Al-Qa’ida. The activities of the group have been severely limited from 2011 (and even before that). According to some U.S. officials, the reason why al-Zawahiri has not been as influential as Bin Laden is that he lacks the charisma and combat experience. He has instead, on several occasions, been known as the brains behind Al-Qa’ida.

Source: Hamid Mir; URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hamid_Mir_interviewing_Osama_bin_Laden_and_Ayman_al-Zawahiri_2001.jpg

ISIS

Earlier this year, ISIS released a propaganda video that conveniently detailed the organization’s structure, as experts had previously not known much about it. At the top of the hierarchy is the self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Directly below him are the Shura Council – all of whom were appointed by Baghdadi and have the power to depose him – and the Delegated Committee, which is tasked with overseeing the Wilayats (provinces), the group’s Offices and various Committees (such as those which are appointed to oversee people’s rights and to enforce punishments). The video states that ISIS is made up of over 30 provinces, in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Yemen.

Previous speculations about the structure of ISIS are very similar. They indicate that Baghdadi is at the top, along with his Shura Council. In these versions, Baghdadi also has two deputies – one for Iraq and one for Syria. Both receive reports from 12 governors, all of whom oversee the eight councils that focus in areas from Media, Finance, Intelligence, and Leadership. However, as a result of US operations in the Middle East, both deputies – Abu Muslim al-Turkemani and Abu Ali al-Anbari, were killed in the last two years. Turki al-Binali and Moussa al-Shawakh are the top candidates.

Al-Binali is the second most influential person in ISIS, he led the organization’s Research and Fatwa Department and served as the negotiator for the freeing of American hostage Peter Kassig. Also known as Abu Luqman, al-Shawakh was appointed as the first governor of Raqqa and was the former emir of the al-Nusra front. al-Shawakh is famous for his brutality, his sadistic torture methods, and for ordering the kidnapping of several members of the Free Syrian Army after he accused its members of working with the West.

Comparison

Although there are many similarities between ISIS and Al-Qa’ida, I believe that using a decapitation strategy on the former will not be as successful for several reasons. First, with regard to successor, is it possible that ISIS will inherit a leader who, like al-Zawahiri, is less charismatic and experienced? It is very much so; however, we also have to consider the possibility of whoever becomes the next “caliph” might think they have something to prove and will thus employ more heinous tactics.

It is important to remember that much of ISIS’ success has also come from its online recruitment and propaganda. Al-Qa’ida was not this successful in inciting so many attacks and only in spreading and inspiring people to follow the sermons of cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Even if Baghdadi were killed, there seems to be no evidence that the recent strategies of ISIS to elicit more domestic attacks will fall by the wayside. If one of the two above candidates did succeed Baghdadi, I contend that the group will pursue more aggressive recruitment tactics to seek revenge.

Another pertinent question to ask at this point is: Who has been running ISIS since last year? There have been numerous reports that Baghdadi was incapacitated due to a spinal injury and poisoned. If Baghdadi has not been running ISIS since the emergence of these reports, it is possible that the recent trends in ISIS’ activity – increased online recruitment and limited success in the Middle East – would be the direction of the group after the removal of Baghdadi. This would only further undermine Secretary Clinton’s argument that getting rid of Baghdadi would help the United States focus its attention, as it would be incredibly difficult to focus on the group’s fighters when they could appear anywhere. It would, however, help the United States to start to tackle funding channels and strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

My final question in making the comparison between ISIS and Al-Qa’ida would be: Is it possible that the demise of the core leadership of Al-Qai’da was caused not by the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, but rather the evolving nature of the threat – creation of factions as well as the rise of online recruitment ­– and the birth of ISIS? It can be argued that the core leadership of Al-Qa’ida had, for years before the fall of Bin Laden, not been successful. In fact, most of the coverage of Al-Qa’ida focused on its affiliates, namely the activities of Boko Haram and Al-Shabbab.

I believe that Secretary Clinton’s assumption that going after the leadership of ISIS will devastate the group’s activity is flawed. Though it is possible that it might cause the intended outcome, given the comparison she draws with Al-Qa’ida, it is equally as possible that ISIS will continue to operate and cause chaos wherever their affiliates and fighters are located. If Secretary Clinton does want to go forward with this plan, she must also consider the potential consequences if the targeted killing of Baghdadi were to fail because, as Cronin writes: “the killing of the leader can backfire, resulting in increased publicity for the group’s cause and the creation of a marry who attracts many new members to the organization.”

While I do believe that Secretary Clinton’s strategy is more sound, comprehensive, and feasible compared to Mr. Trump’s, she needs to focus on creating no-fly zones, safe zones, working with allies in the region, cutting off funding channels for the group, and focusing on tackling online radicalization.

By Joshua Shinbrot

Kurdish Peshmerga troops take part in intensive security deployment against the Islamic State in January 2015. Source: Flickr/Times Asi (https://flic.kr/p/qTtEd7)

Yazidi men and women are being massacred. Their girls are being sold as sex slaves. Their boys are being forcibly converted and indoctrinated to form a modern Janissary Corps of suicide bombers and executioners. ISIL (ISIS/Daesh/IS) has been attempting to exterminate the Yazidis for over a year, yet with few exceptions the world has remained silent. All major world leaders know, few care, and none will act. History offers a plethora of examples of the dire consequences of the silence and indifference exhibited by the President of the United States and the leaders of powerful European Countries. This type of apathy allowed for the genocidal murder of approximately 10,000,000 people in the twentieth century: 100,000 in Bosnia, 800,000 in Rwanda, 2,000,000 Armenians, over 1,000,000 Roma, and well over 6,000,000 Jews. ISIL’s ideology seeks to implement a radical seventh century interpretation of Islam by using 21st century weaponry to murder or subjugate all who refuse to embrace their ways. The group most threatened by ISIL is the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, who overwhelmingly reject ISIL’s fanatical interpretation of the Islamic faith.

Today, ISIL is stronger than al-Qaeda was on September 11, 2001. It controls more territory, it is better funded, and it is more successful at recruiting westerners. ISIL’s genocide of the Yazidis is just the beginning. If we are to protect ourselves, our allies, the Yazidis, and Muslims threatened by ISIL, the United States needs to destroy the Islamic State and it must do this now. It’s time to level the territory controlled by ISIL and destroy the major transportation routes the group uses to supply and maintain itself.

President Obama has accurately referred to ISIL as a cancer. However, Obama has failed to properly treat the disease. This aggressive radical cancer requires an equally aggressive treatment. Chemotherapy kills cancer cells, but it kills a lot of normal, healthy cells too. There is no way to destroy ISIL without killing large numbers of innocent people. The Obama administration’s attempts to destroy Daesh have killed many innocent people, but it has failed to make substantial progress in the struggle against ISIL. Drone strikes may kill higher-ups in IS, but it seems that every time this occurs there are plenty of people waiting to take the place of the dead. A 2014 report by The Guardian regarding Obama’s “targeted killing” program indicates that “attempts to kill 41 men resulted in the deaths of 1,147 people.” That means 28 civilians were killed per targeted individual without any substantial strategic gain from their deaths. Those are 28 families who lost an innocent mother, father, brother or sister. Locals lose loved ones, but the terrorists are not defeated.

It is time to take noncombatant immunity seriously. The United States and its coalition partners have a responsibility to ensure that the innocent lives lost during hostilities actually serve to defeat ISIL. If the strategy advocated in this article were implemented, substantial numbers of civilians would be killed. Yet, ISIL would be defeated, the world would know that America will do what it takes to defeat extremism, and international norms against genocide would be strengthened.

Just War Theory demands more than ensuring the proportionality of noncombatant deaths during hostilities. The object of a war with ISIL needs to be the creation of a just and lasting peace. It will not be possible to achieve such a peace without a long-term American presence in Iraq. ISIL is creating a backwards society with apocalyptic aims. The United States and its allies have defeated warped ideologies before. It was accomplished in the post-war occupation and reconstruction of Germany and Japan after World War II.

Unlike in Iraq, the United States never turned its back on Japan and Germany. Even today, there is a massive American military presence in Germany (36,691 troops) and Japan (52,060 troops). If the United States and our coalition partners aggressively work towards post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq, in a few decades, the American military presence in Iraq may look much more like the American military presence in Germany or Japan. There is no simple, fast, or cheap way to resolve the “ISIS Crisis.” Failure to change the strategy for defeating ISIL will only raise the cost of victory over extremism in treasure and, more importantly, in blood.

By Jesse Marks

Syrian Kurdish refugees cross into Turkey from Syria near the northern town of Kobane in 2014. Photo: UNHCR/I.Prickett
Syrian Kurdish refugees cross into Turkey from Syria near the northern town of Kobane in 2014. Photo: UNHCR/I.Prickett

Background

Swelling conflict in Syria has created one of the most complex multilateral and transnational threats facing the Middle East. With over four million Syrian refugees in the Levant and Turkey and nearly eight million internally displaced persons (IDP), the traditional framework of the Levant is quickly transforming the very fabric of modern-day Syria and Jordan, where new challenges arise in maintaining regional stability. Jordan, a nation whose ethnic Jordanian population has become the minority within a matter of decades, faces various threats to its own economic and social stability with the addition of nearly one million Syrian refugees (630,000 registered with UNHCR and an unknown number of unregistered persons as of December 23, 2015). First, the creation of a no-fly, safe zone, enforced by the US-led coalition for Syrians and refugees in southern Syria, is a necessary strategy to provide protection for vulnerable populations in Syria. Second, the provision of work permits to a sizable percentage of legally registered Syrian refugees in Jordan is necessary in insuring a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship between refugees and Jordan. These migrations in Syria and Jordan, if not addressed by the United States and international community, will have negative long-term impacts on regional and international security, human rights, and the resettlement of refugees.

Following the sharp rise of non-state actors (ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra) in Syria since 2014, large swaths of territory and millions of Syrians have fallen under extremist occupation. Many of those facing oppression within their own borders have fled to the Jordanian border or have been scattered throughout more rural regions of Syria. The involvement of international actors via financial, material, and military support, especially lending from Russian airstrikes, further complicates the IDP situation, as attacks often target areas where civilians congregate: markets, schools, hospitals, and residential areas, among other public hot spots. Since July 2015, territorial shifts between combatant groups have inched toward closer to a stalemate in major battleground cities, spanning Aleppo, Idlib, Homs, rural Damascus, and Dar’a according various humanitarian and research organizations (UNHCR, ACAPS, and IOM). Despite the military stalemate, violence continues to escalate, further exposing Syrians in these sensitive areas of conflict, leading to increased displacement of thousands. Among those also affected are Palestinian and Iraqi refugees living in Syria.

Although the situation has steadily worsened since the start of the uprising in 2012, the world only became aware in 2015, when the increasing Syrian IDP exodus, including hundreds of thousands of Syrians fled the Middle East for Europe in search of safety and livelihoods. Increasingly, the option of fleeing to neighboring countries or even risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean became an attractive option for many. There is little doubt that refugees forced to flee to informal camps on the Jordanian and Turkish borders find themselves exposed with minimal access to basic survival needs. Among those are 14,000 refugees currently are awaiting entrance to Jordan’s eastern border just few kilometers from ISIS forces. This highlights the difficulty of accessing refugees and IDP’s who are stranded in informal camps. Because of international borders, negotiations must take place between lead agencies (UNHCR) and governments. These challenges allude to the need of a new strategy to ensure long-term solutions for IDP’s and refugees in Syria.

Safe Zones

The creation of a no-fly, safe zone, enforced by the US-led coalition in southern Syria would provide a long-term solution to meet the humanitarian and protection needs of vulnerable Syrian populations. Many key factors in southern Syria play a vital role in the conception of such a zone including existing relations between southern tribes and Jordan, the presence of the Free Syrian Army, and a large refugee population in Jordan that originated from southern Syria. These factors make southern Syria the ideal location to secure and enforce a safe-zone. This safe-zone will provide alternative settlement for IDPs, as well as ease of access for humanitarian groups to build a community infrastructure, provide human services (healthcare and education), and revitalize economic trade with Jordan- a pillar of Jordan’s economy is agricultural trade with southern Syria. Additionally, the safe zone alleviates the financial and economic burden on Jordan to provide long-term settlement options for refugees by allowing Syrians in Jordan the option to return to southern Syria (where nearly 60% originated according to UNHCR). Likewise, it would slow IDP migrations to the Jordan’s eastern border where border policies have led to the establishment of two informal camps.

The largest obstacle to the establishment of a no-fly, safe zone is the question of enforcement and security. Securing the zone would require two forms of defense, areal and ground. A no-fly zone would be implemented similarly to the no-fly zone established in northern Iraq from 1992 to 2003 enforced by the US-led coalition. The no-fly zone alleviates the greatest threat in the south, aerial barrel bombs. Large areas of southern Syria are protected by the coalition-backed forces in Dar’a, the Free Syrian Army (who have been supporting refugees in the south since 2012). The FSA is comprised of numerous factions of religious, national, and tribal fighting groups. The connection between the FSA and southern Syrian tribes is a major reason for continued Jordanian support for the FSA because of the tribal ties between northern Jordan and southern Syria. Overseeing the defense and the enforcement of the zone as well as municipalities and daily operations would be a government elected in free, open elections overseen by the Syrian National Council.

Legal Employment for Syrian Refugees in Jordan

Due to relative stability, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan remains to be a cornerstone of US strategic interests in the Levant. Yet, in last few years, Jordan’s economy has been significantly strained by the addition of nearly one million Syrian refugees. In September, the Kingdom requested $4.5 billion from donor countries to continue providing for refugees. However, the amount of financial support Jordan receives is expected to decrease in 2016 as the EU tries to stabilize member states receiving large numbers of refugees. With limited space outside of refugee camps, urban refugees (refugees who live outside of camps and are 80% of the total) have limited options for shelter, legal employment, and funding for food. Therefore, many are driven to lower income areas of the country to re-establish themselves (Mafraq, East Amman, Irbid, etc). Housing and food prices have risen significantly while water scarcity continues to worsen. Key players like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Program are providing refugees with limited financial assistance, but there is still a distinct lack of support.

Nearly 440,000 vulnerable refugees either lost all financial assistance or faced large cuts in September 2015. The best strategy to ensure Jordan’s stability amidst a refugee crisis is providing legal work permits for Syrian refugees. Providing financial stability for refugee communities in Jordan is intrinsic to Jordan’s long-term stability and security. The United States, who has invested over $4.5 billion into Syrian humanitarian response since 2012, has a strategic interest in the stability of Jordan (as stated in U.S.-Jordan Third Loan Guarantee Agreement signed in May 2015) whose further intake of refugees threatens its own security. The threat of instability among refugee populations is linked to various factors including access to legal employment opportunities, lack of financial assistance (from international organizations), and negative host community perceptions. Indeed, in the face of difficulty, there is opportunity. Syrians provide a work force to Jordanian employers, both dedicated and highly skilled. Syrians are willing and skilled to work a greater variety of jobs that many Jordanians refuse. According to the WANA Institute (research institute founded by Prince Hassan of Jordan), most Jordanians are largely employed in public administration and defense and represent only 7% of those working in construction and only 2% of those working in agriculture, forestry, and fishing. Because Syrian participation will largely be focused in these sectors, there will not be increased competition for Jordanian jobs. Instead, it provides competition to the large illegal migrant population currently seeking these types of jobs in Jordan. Systematically, illegal migrant workers in Jordan will be replaced with a skilled, legal labor force.

Providing employment for Syrian refugees heavily reduces reliance on the humanitarian sector and international community. It increases financial stability for Syrian refugees thus decreasing the number of refugees requiring resettlement. Employed refugees do not rely as heavily on financial assistance relaxing the burden on international organizations, international donors, and the Jordanian Government. This will have a broader impact and will shift host community perceptions of Syrians as burdens on the economy to active members improving the economy. With increased economy and stability, social development (education, culture, art, and more) can flourish.

In conclusion, certain steps must be taken to ensure the safety of Syrians in Jordan and Syria amidst uncertainty facing the region despite hopes for a peaceful solution in the coming year. Providing safe settlement option is the best strategy that both decreases the number of IDP’s and allows the international community to continue fighting non-state actors. With no solution to the Syrian conflict in sight, intervention must be aimed at lessening the impact of population and refugee migrations in the Middle East and at the international level. Addressing the threat of population movements is necessary for maintaining Jordan’s stability, protecting Syrian IDPs, and slowing the flow of Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe.

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By ZongXian Eugene Ang

The neighborhood of Eminönü in Istanbul, with Süleymaniye Mosque in the background. Source: Author's own photo.

In 2010, Samuli Schielke, an anthropologist working at Zentrum Morderner Orient in Berlin, wrote a paper concerning the anthropological study of Muslim societies that contained the following provocative assertion:

“There is too much Islam in the anthropology of Islam.”

According to Schielke, our studies of Muslim societies—anthropological or not—have often privileged the role of Islam so much that other facets of life become obscured. Indeed, when we premise our studies with titles such as “Muslims in …” or “The role of Islam in …,” we may inadvertently prioritize piety and tradition in our analytical foci—everything becomes all about Islam. The corollary to this is that we become less attuned to the ambiguities and contradictions that almost certainly come with the everyday practice of a perfectionist ethical ideal, in this case the practice of Islam. In doing so, we risk losing sight of the varied and idiosyncratic ways in which Islam can inform and mediate the everyday lives of Muslims.

An important premise to understand Schielke’s critique is to envision everyday life as an amalgamation of different but not separate “worlds.” For a Muslim, the world of Islam, with all its attendant normative ideals, will definitely constitute a part of his or her everyday life. Yet, one should be hard-pressed to say that Islam has an absolute monopoly on his or her subjective experience of the everyday. As Schielke observes in an Egyptian village, “the same people who repent their sins and think about the Afterlife also debate the previous evening’s football match, tell jokes, feel tired and glance at the opposite sex, even with religious stickers decorating the walls and the voice of the Qur’ân in the background.”

Ultimately, Islam is a lived tradition. This means that while Islam does contain a set of normative prescriptions about the ideal way to live, these norms have to be acted out in the context of everyday life, with its mishmash of multifarious, and at times, competing, demands and impulses. The majority of Muslims—like most of humankind—therefore cannot fulfill all the perfectionist ideals of their religion all the time. The result is that Islam-as-envisioned and Islam-as-lived will almost always be different, with the extent of this difference varying across individuals and communities.

This situating of Islam within the framework of everyday life builds upon Talad Asad’s famous characterization of Islam as a “discursive tradition”—a conceptual framework that locates in Islam both the coherence implied in tradition as well as the contestability implied by discourse. By considering the practice of Islam within the vicissitudes of the quotidian, the discursive nature of Islam is expanded: Islamic norms become mediated not only by the debates regarding the correct form of practice, but also the complex interplay of the individual emotions, communal dynamics and societal structures that govern everyday life.

In doing so, the practice of Islam becomes defined not what it is, but by the various interactions surrounding it. This therefore avoids what Shielke thinks is another problem associated with the anthropology of Islam—a preoccupation of trying to define what Islam is. For him, the definition of Islam is not a critical concern. Instead, as he writes, “if we want to understand what it means to live a Muslim life, then we need a grounded and nuanced understanding of what it means to live a life—more urgently than we need a sophisticated theory about what Islam is.”

In any case, while Schielke’s critique is directed within academic circles, his argument does have relevance for all of us. After all, the political salience of Islam is today at an all-time high due to the political turbulence in certain Muslim-majority countries, as well as the specter of Islamic extremism. Hence, even the most ardent hermit today will probably still hear about events and phenomena involving some aspect of Islam, whether real or imagined. As we observe these events then, we become no different from an anthropologist; our gaze onto a society or culture different from our own will be beset by the same vulnerabilities and biases that even specialists fall prey to.

Unfortunately, the cacophony about Islam and Muslims in our contemporary media is evidence that most of us have fallen prey to the very impulse that Schielke is critiquing: the need to reify something—a concept, a religion, a culture, or a community—and imbue it with explanatory value. Islam becomes the singular cause of this event, the principal vehicle of that social movement, and the dominant force in a certain someone’s world-view. In such a case, Schielke’s assertion can perhaps be expanded: there is too much Islam in public discourse about Islam.

The debate over the link between the Islamic State and Islam is perhaps reflective of our collective obsession with Islam. Some of us cannot stop pathologizing Islam, while others are fixated on defending it. In the context of the rise of the Islamic State, everyone now seems to have something to say about Islam—what it is, and what it should be.

Of course, I am not trying to imply that no one has the right to discuss what Islam is, or that Islam should be reduced to mere socio-political and economic processes. As a lived tradition, Islam definitely exerts an influence on how Muslims conduct their lives and is itself constitutive of what Muslims think of it. Nevertheless, just as how Shielke reminds us that Islam as a personal religion is part of the continuum of forces that surround the everyday life of a Muslim, Islam as a world religion should be seen as embedded within the constellation of processes and structures that condition and create our contemporary world.

Speaking of Islam as a lived tradition thus requires recognition of both its internal diversity and its contingency on entities external to itself. The next time you come across a piece of news related to the Middle East or any other Muslim-majority countries and societies then, hold back on “Islam” a little bit. There probably is more to them than just the reified behemoth we call “Islam.”

At the same time, even if Islam is involved in that piece of news, remember that Islam as it is lived—or any social phenomenon for that matter—never simply is; rather, it is always in the process of becoming.

By Patrick Lim

Following the unanimous adoption of UN Resolution 2254, world powers will convene in Geneva in January for the latest round of Syria peace talks. Source: US Department of State

On January 25, representatives of the United States, Russia and other world powers will convene in Geneva for the latest peace talks regarding Syria. This will be the first meeting since UN Resolution 2254 that focused on creating a roadmap for a peace process in Syria, which was unanimously adopted in December. The resolution states that all parties involved will seek to support a nationwide ceasefire in Syria and to establish a “credible, inclusive, non-sectarian governance [structure]” within six months and for free and fair elections, pursuant to a new constitution, to occur within 18 months. Though this resolution may appears to be the first major step towards an end to a violent civil war, the international community should be pessimistic not only about the timelines it sets forth but also about the UN’s and other world powers’ will to see it through and affect real change.

The UN has earned a bad reputation in recent years regarding inaction in Syria. The report “Failing Syria,” which was signed by numerous aid agencies, criticized the actions of states and the failure of the UN to implement previous resolutions pertaining to Syria, namely numbers 2118, 2139, 2165, 2191 and 2204. All of these resolutions except 2204 were agreed upon unanimously. Furthermore, the UN’s reputation has recently come into question because of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Madaya. The town in southwest Syria, close to the border with Lebanon, was the subject of a flash update in early January, which discussed “desperate conditions” in which people were dying of starvation. Food costs rose astronomically, with rice costing as much as $256 per kilogram. There are reports that the United Nations knew about the dire situation for months but were only prompted to act when images of starving children started appearing in news outlets.

Brookings Fellow Michael O’Hanlon expressed his doubts over Kerry’s peace talks. He believes that forcing outside powers to halt arming combatants will cause Assad’s and the Islamic State’s power to solidify, simultaneously harming groups like the Kurds. Therefore, any ceasefire and formation of a new government will “not be built on the foundation of military balance. It would be built on a foundation of sand.” There would be no enforcement mechanism and no body to ensure legitimacy. Furthermore, the new “Syria” would demand high numbers of American soldiers and UN peacekeepers. O’Hanlon argues that the most realistic approach would be to establish a country with autonomous regions, with one or two for the “intermixed cities from Aleppo to Damascus.” He ends by assering that the international community should focus more on the three necessary parts he lists to ending war and finding a feasible political model, given that everyone is still under the illusion that the peace talks will achieve something.

The countries represented in the talks also casts doubts over the sincerity of these talks. In what has been described as a “rare display of unity among global powers,” a close advisor of Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban, said that Damascus was ready to join UN-sponsored peace talks. Moreover, there are reports that the talks could break down over a dispute regarding the Kurds. The Russians demand that PYD, the political arm of the Kurds, be invited as part of the rebel delegation, which has been opposed by Turks and other powers, as they believe the PYD is not “the real opposition.” Yet, the party that will have the most influence over the talks is another point of contention. Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Turkish Prime Minister, was recently quoted as saying that Turkey has the right to a decisive influence over the talks because it hosts 2.5 million Syrian refugees, making it “the second largest Syrian country in the world.” He believes that the conflict is a serious domestic issue that could affect his country in the long term if the right solution is not found. The Prime Minister stated that with Assad in Damascus, no Syrian refugee will repatriate.

Therein lies another problem with Resolution 2254 and the upcoming talks; nowhere in the resolution does it mention the future of Assad. While the deposition of Assad may be a longer-term goal of the United Nations, the body has to ensure that his advisors are not able to assume positions of power too. If so, we may see a situation similar to Egypt post-Mubarak, in which the people had to choose to vote between Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and former associates of Mubarak, thus forcing them to elect the former.

Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Turkish Prime Minister, who believes his country should have “decisive influence” over the peace talks because of the 2.5 million Syria refugees it hosts. Source: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK
Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Turkish Prime Minister, who believes his country should have “decisive influence” over the peace talks because of the 2.5 million Syria refugees it hosts. Source: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK

If the UN resolves the issues pertaining to representation at the talks and appeases Turkey, the pathway to peace is still not simple. It will take decades before the Syrian Civil War comes to an end: the war is not only between rebel groups and forces loyal to the governments but also terrorist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State. Resolution 2254 also affirms that all “Member States [must] prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Al-Nusra Front, and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL… and [must commit] to eradicating the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Syria.” Again, we must be pessimist: the UN Security Council cannot expect to have a new constitution with free elections and a new government within 18 months if the terrorist groups still have a strong presence in the country. Furthermore, even if the international efforts are able to push all terrorist activity out of Syria, the Council will then have to deal with terrorism in Iraq and fear that groups could focus attacks on reclaiming Mosul. Caution must be exercised in the event that any strategies undertaken to achieve Resolution 2254 and peace in Syria may be perceived by many as further involvement of the West, inciting attacks that could take place on Western soil. Questions also have to be raised on how to tackle the groups’ ideology, which will no doubt persist in the country even if the main actors have been dismissed.

In order to achieve peace in Syria, the UN Security Council must stick to the language of the resolution: there must be a “Syrian-led political process.” While the UN may moderate, it must ensure that it does not overstep. However, it must also take steps to rebuild its reputation and ensure that the future of Syria is moving in the right direction – that is, without Assad and his regime. Without taking the proper steps, the peace talks scheduled this year are doomed, much like all previous efforts to end this bloodiest of civil wars.

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By ZongXian Eugene Ang

Contingent of soldiers from the People's Liberation Army of China. Source: Kremlin.ru/Wikimedia.

Last Wednesday, China issued its first policy paper on the Arab world. The document outlines China’s blueprint for strengthening cooperation between China and the Arab states. The release of this policy paper comes just a week before Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first official visit to the Middle East. Xi is scheduled to visit Egypt from January 20 to 22, as well Iran and Saudi Arabia subsequently. The last time a Chinese president visited the Middle East was in 2006, when then President Hu Jintao visited Saudi Arabia.

The combination of these two “firsts” for China with regard to the Middle East is a definite sign of increasing Chinese engagement with the region. The central driving force of this trend lies in China’s burgeoning energy needs: its demand for oil has consistently surpassed domestic oil production since 1993 and has been steadily growing ever since. Given its ample oil reserves and relative proximity to China, the Middle East has become the largest source of crude oil imports for the country. In 2014, the region as a whole supplied China with 3.2 million barrels of oil per day, accounting for 52% of its total oil imports.

Not surprisingly, Chinese interest in the Middle East’s energy resources forms the bedrock of Chinese-Middle Eastern relations. In fact, China’s Arab Policy Paper cites a “1+2+3” cooperation framework, with energy cooperation as the core—the “1” in the framework. It is only with a secured energy supply that China can then facilitate the “2” and “3” of the framework: “infrastructure construction and trade and investment facilitation as the two wings,” and the “three high and new tech fields of nuclear energy, space satellite and new energy as the three breakthroughs.”

The “1+2+3” cooperation framework ties in with China’s “Silk Road Economic Belt” and “Twenty-First Century Maritime Silk Road” (“Belt and Road”) projects, which were also mentioned in the policy paper. This “Belt and Road” initiative effectively envisions a modern-day reincarnation of China’s past overland and maritime trade routes, with “a series of transcontinental railroads, pipelines, ports, airports, and other infrastructure projects” slated to connect China with Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. To bring this idea into fruition, China has provided massive financing to countries along the “Belt and Road” for various infrastructure projects.

If successful, the economic benefits to China and the regions that the “Belt and Road” passes will be immense. Chinese firms will have easier access to key markets and commodities, while the Chinese-financed infrastructure can provide a huge stimulant for the economies of the developing countries in those regions.

Indeed, the engagement of China with the Middle East has largely been in the realm of economics. China has always focused on improving trade and investment ties with the Middle East, while refraining from being a major stakeholder in the region’s political entanglements. In this regard, China’s new Arab Policy Paper represents more of a continuity of, rather than a departure from, prevailing trends in Chinese-Middle Eastern relations. The fact that the section on “Investment and Trade Cooperation” in the policy paper is around twice as long as the other sections is especially telling.

Nevertheless, economic processes do not occur in a vacuum. China definitely needs to consider other policy aspects in its relation with the Middle East, i.e. politics, security, social development, and culture—all of which are also mentioned in the Arab Policy Paper. Of these, the most crucial now are probably politics and security, since they can have direct impacts on Chinese economic involvement in the Middle East.

The escalation of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran recently, in light of Iranians protesters ransacking the Saudi embassy in Tehran on 2 January after Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shia cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, should be a worrying development for China. After all, both Saudi Arabia and Iran are major suppliers of crude oil to China and their regional conflict will definitely threaten its energy security.

At the same time, the Saudi-Iranian conflict has complicated international efforts to address the ongoing civil wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. These sectarian disputes in the Middle East can have spillover effects for China’s own conflict with Uighur separatists, who are fighting for the independence of the predominantly Uighur region of Xinjiang from China. Given that the Uighurs are Sunni Muslims, they may be susceptible to extremist Sunni ideology emanating from the conflicts in the Middle East.

In fact, just last month, the Islamic State released a four-minute song in Mandarin that called upon Muslims in China to take up arms and join its fight against non-Muslims. Moreover, in 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State, named China as one of the countries in which “Muslims’ rights are forcibly seized” and called upon his fighters to attack those countries.

Hence, whether it likes it or not, China is now drawn into the quagmire of conflicts in the Middle East. It has to chart its growing economic ambitions in the region alongside real political and security threats. Just last year, the Islamic State executed Fan Jinghui, who is the first known Chinese national to be killed by the group. In response, the Chinese government committed itself to “enhance anti-terrorism cooperation with the international community.”

That said, whether China will move from the sidelines to become an active participant in the fight against the Islamic State is still an open question. Many experts doubt that China will depart from its “decades-old policy of nonintervention” by providing direct Chinese military support to combat the Islamic State. Yet, if its strategy in combating terrorism in the African continent is any example, China will probably choose to pursue its own anti-terrorism strategy: a reliance on “financial aid and capacity building support for regional militaries” over direct military intervention. In other words, China prefers to help the affected states to fight their own battles against terrorist groups through the provision of economic resources and technical expertise, rather than increasing its military presence in the region.

On the whole, as China becomes more cognizant of the political and security threats facing its economic interests in the Middle East, it will have to recalibrate the nature of its engagement in the region. As the Saudi-Iranian geopolitical rivalry and the threat of the Islamic State intensify, China cannot afford to maintain the status quo. After all, its economic interests are at stake. Nevertheless, it is still unlikely to pursue an activist foreign policy vis-à-vis the Middle East for now. Rather than depart from its noninterventionist policy, it probably will choose to capitalize on what it does best: marshaling its enormous economic resources to effect gradual change. Perhaps, China’s answer to the varied problems of the Middle East is not a turn to political-military activism, but an increased economic assertiveness.

The trade-centric nature of China’s new Arab Policy Paper, as seen earlier, may be one indication of this continuity. If there is to be any change in the status quo of Chinese-Middle Eastern relations in light of President Xi’s upcoming visit to the Middle East, my take will be the following: while it is no longer tenable for China to remain “business as usual” with regard to the Middle East, the only change we might see in the near future may simply be “more business.”

By Ben Jury

Source: Patrik Nygren/Flickr

Ah, the new year. Whether you’re still regretting your overly priced New Year’s Eve Uber or putting off your New Year’s Resolution another day (or year), the writers and editors at the US-Middle East Youth Network are excited to bring you fresh insight on the latest news from the region. We’ve got a number of exciting projects lined up for this year, including collaborations with other universities across the country.

So much has changed in the last year throughout the region. The multilateral nuclear weapons deal with Iran, the ongoing refugee crisis throughout the Middle East and Europe, the terrorist attacks in Paris, and protests against trash and corruption in Lebanon are just a few of the headline grabbers from 2015. Perhaps It was also a watershed year in the war against the Islamic State. With ISIS’s loss of Ramadi’s center just a few days ago, the tide seems to be turning against the terrorist group, though its far too soon to tell what the future holds for ISIS.

Yet so much has remained the same. Five years on, President Obama’s 2009 call for a ‘New Deal’ between the United States and the Muslims of the world rings hollow. Five years on, the Syrian Civil War rages with no end in sight. Continued drone strikes in Yemen and other countries throughout the region put civilian lives in danger. American troops remain stationed in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and more than a dozen other Middle Eastern countries. All the while, private military contractors continue to operate and profit from continued presence in the region.

What we need now from U.S. policymakers and politicians is the resolution to make tangible steps towards Western military disengagement in the Middle East. Similarly, it’s high time that Western multinationals and governments ditch the military-industrial business model in the region and formulate a new strategy to support our supposed allies without treating them like second-class powers. Rather than using predatory and neo-colonial economic policy under the guise of spreading democracy and peace, Washington needs to reconsider its grand strategy for foreign policy abroad. President Obama has a little over a year left in office to realign American strategy towards more equitable and mutually prosperous relations with Muslim countries. It’s time to make good on these high-minded promises.

Whether or not you believe the United States is an empire in decline, it’s clear that America’s role in global politics is shifting. As we move towards a more multi-polar system with Russia, China, and other nations exerting more and more power within and beyond their regional centers, the old model of imperial politics must fade into obsolescence. Remaining a strong global power may well be Washington’s priority. Brute force and coercion aren’t the only ways of preserving American strength and influence in the world, much less in the region. Sending American boots on the ground will always be an unsustainable, quick fix solution to a perennial problem. MENA nations need to build up their own national security infrastructures to combat terrorism and domestic threats to their sovereignty, all the while remaining transparent. Diplomacy, soft power tactics, and fair-minded coalition building with regional actors will ensure the Iran keeps its promises better than anyone.

At the very least, a country’s foreign policy represents its vision for how the world should be. 2016 is a promising year for change, with a number of important elections (including the U.S. presidential election) and global summits. Yet the chance for meaningful change requires political courage. Change in the world, in the Middle East will require bottom-up organizing and active, meaningful participation by the people affected by policy changes. Chances of that happening on a systematic level are slim. After all, only 10% of New Year’s resolutions are successfully followed through with come December 31. Maybe this year, the West will seek a change and follow through.

 

By Kate Moran

Members of the Free Syrian Army preparing to fight, February 2012. Source: Freedom House.

As of writing, the Syrian civil war has been raging for more than four and a half years—or, to be precise, 1,697 days. Since that time, the influence of various players—Bashar al-Assad, the Islamic State in its many forms and reinventions, and any number of rebel and opposition groups—has ebbed and flowed considerably. Who controlled Aleppo today did not necessarily control it yesterday, and will probably not control it tomorrow.

As the conflict wears on and the Middle East becomes even more entrenched in a seemingly endless cycle of political dysfunction and humanitarian crises, power brokers from outside the region have also sought to get involved in what is to date the worst refugee crisis since World War II and one of the bloodiest civil conflicts in recent memory. Foremost among these powers is the United States, which has yet to form a cohesive strategy vis-à-vis Syria and the seemingly unshakable Assad regime. Simply put, U.S. foreign policy in this regard has been a no-strategy strategy. Although the Obama Administration has dabbled in airstrikes and halfhearted threats, it has yet to undertake a clear and comprehensive stance on the civil war, choosing instead to direct its attentions to the symptoms of the conflict, rather than its cause.

This has resulted in increased numbers of Syrians being admitted to the United States under a national refugee resettlement program, and in more money being allocated to humanitarian organizations in Europe working on the ground to provide for those individuals and their families who make the awful calculus to risk drowning at sea in an attempt to cross the Mediterranean and find new life. What the United States hasn’t done, however, is implement a strategy in Syria that both addresses the rising threat of the Islamic State and provides for a viable alternative to the so-called caliphate’s rule.

Last year, the United States launched its first airstrikes in Syria, targeted at Islamic State facilities in its stronghold in Raqqa province. The U.S. military coordinated with five different Arab countries in implementing the airstrikes, a rare display of unity in a region known in recent months more for infighting than collaboration. And by and large, these strikes were successful—taking out strategic facilities and destroying oil reserves key to the Islamic State’s economy. But in destroying these facilities, the surrounding areas have also been affected; civilians have become collateral damage of a conflict they never wanted to take part in, and other infrastructure in Syria has been inadvertently damaged. With the addition of Russian airstrikes in October of this year, targeting not Islamic State but the facilities of rebel groups hostile to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an even greater number of civilian have been affected. Critical resources—like water and electricity, have similarly been affected as a result of the strikes, leaving an already-starved country worse off than before. Ultimately, these airstrikes will only serve to strengthen the Islamic State’s influence in embattled Syria; with no plans to rebuild infrastructure, the United States and its allies are creating a power vacuum that will serve to benefit Islamist extremists and provide opportunities for groups worse than even the Islamic State to establish footholds inside the country. Syria’s masses will be left to languish, and groups like the Islamic State will be the better for it.

Long before “ISIL” rose to prominence in the international media, it was waging its own, local propaganda campaign. Before the brutal beheadings on Youtube, Islamic State representatives were hard at work in Raqqa and in other areas of Syria and Iraq setting up social service organizations, supplying electricity to thousands of citizens who had previously lived without it, implementing media campaigns and winning over supporters. This is not to say that most Syrians genuinely harbored support for ISIL ideology, but rather, that the provision of critical services was an offer too good to refuse.

If the United States truly wants to help Syrians take back their country from the Islamic State, then it is crucial that the country seeks more than a brute-force, military resolution to the conflict. It must also supplant Islamic State’s grip on the social, educational, and financial institutions, and provide an appealing alternative to IS’s rule in Syria and Iraq.

While the Islamic State’s public executions are what the group is best known for today, it has not slowed its social propaganda campaign; in the areas that it controls in Iraq and Syria, they are laying power lines, operating bus routes, and beautifying cities. The world must do the same, and better.

In order to end the Syrian civil war and ensure that it doesn’t continue into its fifth, sixth, or seventh year, the United States and all those who care about the Middle East’s stability must abandon their no-strategy strategies. They must provide for refugees, yes, but they must also provide for the Syrians who remain, and who will be the ones that will rebuild the country when the dust settles and the sun sets on the civil war.

By Ben Jury

The In Defense of Christians Logo. Source: IDC Website

A few weeks ago, I attended a cultural event at the French Embassy a block away from Georgetown during the 2015 In Defense of Christians leadership summit.

In Defense of Christians (IDC) is an American-based non-profit organization whose mission is to “ensure the protection and preservation of Christianity and Christian culture in the Middle East.” With multiple chapters across the United States, as well as one in Toronto, the group advocates and lobbies for persecuted Christians communities in the Middle East. In 2014, the group made headlines after Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) was allegedly booed off stage during his speech at the organization’s national leadership convention solidarity dinner after claiming that “today, Christians have no better ally [in the Middle East] than the Jewish state [of Israel].”

Some past speakers at these leadership conventions include the supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus Carl Anderson, the only Congress member of Assyrian descent Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and many others.

Speakers and staff members repeated this call for recognition frequently at their cultural showcase “Celebrating Christian Art and Culture from the Middle East” at the French Embassy in Washington DC. The event, which featured musical performances by Assyrian musicians and singers as well as poetry recitations and presentations, related to the plight of Middle Eastern Christians. The master of ceremonies at the event repeated the IDC motto: “we must stand together and defend our brothers and sisters in the Middle East” several times, though never seeming to refer to any other group but Middle Eastern Christians.

The focus of the evening, however, was unquestionably the three short documentaries shown in the first half of the evening. The first, entitled The Last Plight, told the story of the Iraqi minorities’ humanitarian crisis after the 2014 ISIS attacks in Mosul and the Nineveh Plains. Sargon Saadi, the director, is a Los Angeles-based Syrian filmmaker. The second documentary, Mountain of Servants, by journalist Daniel Lombroso, chronicles the plight of Syriac Christians in Southeast Turkey, specifically in Tur Abdin. Finally, IDC screened a short trailer for a film entitled Our Last Stand directed by senior IDC advisor Jordan Allot, depicting the situation in Iraq and Syria, as well as the ways Christians in the region defined their land, families, and faith.

The 2015 leadership summit had one clear goal: to successfully lobby and pass legislation in which the United States officially recognizes the mass persecution and killings of Middle Eastern Christians, especially those in the Nineveh Plain and Mount Sinjar, as genocide.

There does not appear to be any overt political motive to officially recognizing these massacres and forced relocations as part of a Christian Genocide. These actions are not being perpetrated by an internationally recognized state that has signed the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations (e.g. the Islamic State). Consequentially, there seems to be no legal recourse with the International Court of Justice or International Criminal Court for such a crime. Additionally, it would be extremely difficult to feasibly order reparations or the return of land to the descendents of those affected, not to mention the inability to effect economic sanctions, considering the Islamic State’s status as a non-state (or quasi-state) actor.

Nevertheless, recognizing the persecution of Assyrian Christians, Yazidis, and other minority groups in the region as genocide will certainly draw international condemnation of the attacks and likely encourage more Western allies forces to join the fight against ISIS. Moreover, genocide recognition would also facilitate the process of healing for the communities who have been the victims of such awful atrocities.

Yet one key factor is left out of this discussion of recognition: the systematic oppression and persecution Palestinian Christians, Muslims, and other religious groups have suffered since the beginning of Israel’s occupation of their lands. Many of the key factors discussed in these videos directly mirror the experience of Palestinians in the present-day state of Israel: forced relocation, systematic and targeted violence and discrimination, among other acts. In Defense of Christians and the proposed legislation remain utterly silent on these issues. When one begs the question why, several possible scenarios play themselves out. IDC may be focusing on the more rampant (i.e. newsworthy) persecution in the Nineveh Plains and elsewhere, rather than the more than the slow burning 67-year occupation of Palestine. Ultimately, the call to recognize the persecution of Middle Eastern Christians by terrorist organizations as a genocide rings false without the acknowledgement of the past genocide and on-going apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories.

A law in Jordan designed to counter the threat of ISIS has led to a crackdown on free speech and civil liberties.
By Alyssa Sims

Amman, Jordan. (Photo: JPRichard/Shutterstock).

The following piece, originally published on July 30, 2015, has been offered up by the author for syndication on our blog. To read the piece as published on New America’s Weekly Wonk, click here.

In 2014, the government of Jordan sued Naseem Tarawnah and his former organization 7iber.com for reporting the news. A controversial law, amended in 2012, required news websites to obtain a license to continue reporting. Tarawnah and his colleagues did not apply for one, and their website was repeatedly blocked by the government.

Today, journalists like Tarawnah are being indicted under another law—Jordan’s anti-terror law, originally passed in 2006 and amended in May of last year. The law is part of a push by the Jordanian government to increase security in response to the rise of ISIS. While the targets of the newly revised law are sympathizers of ISIS living in Jordan, among its side-effects has been the restraint of free speech inside the country. For critics, the reason for the crackdown on free speech is simple: The law is ambiguously written and its vague definition of terrorism leaves journalists—or even everyday citizens using technology—vulnerable to arrest and prosecution before a military, not civilian, court.

“Vague language allows the state (through the courts) to manipulate situations under the guise that everything is open to interpretation,” said Tarawnah, who now operates the website Black-Iris.com, in an email interview. He cited the example of Hisham Moussa, a 21-year-old Jordanian who was arrested under the law after allegedly forwarding a message on WhatsApp, an instant messaging phone application.

Under the law’s authority, activists and opposition leaders have been indicted on different charges that stem from expressing unpopular or contentious ideas.

Tarawnah and other opponents of the law argue that because it defines what is and isn’t terrorism in vague terms, people can be arrested for emails they send or things they post on social media. Under the law’s authority, activists and opposition leaders have been indicted on different charges that stem from expressing unpopular or contentious ideas. Early this year, deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan Zaky Bin Irshaid was sentenced to 18 months in prison for a Facebook post criticizing the United Arab Emirates.

Jordan’s prosecution of Irshaid and others under state security court, a special authority overseeing internal and external threats, is especially unsettling because Western allies and media so often praise Jordan for its comparatively progressive character alongside more repressive regimes in the region. It’s clear that some Jordanian journalists and experts take a different view. They say that the threat of ISIS is being used as an excuse to justify how the anti-terror law has expanded the power of Jordan’s security apparatus.

“Where, say a protest in Saudi Arabia might end very quickly with people being beaten, killed, locked up and tortured immediately (along with Syria or Egypt), Jordan plays it smart. It manages the situation using soft containment, while taking down names,” Tarawnah said in an email. “When the news cycle moves on (and any international spotlight fades), the names are called in. Sometimes they’ll wait months for an activist to slip up and then take them down. Kind of like getting Al Capone on tax evasion.”

Following Tarawnah’s logic, the threat of ISIS is a new means to the security state’s end of policing, and in some cases, curtailing free speech. He also isn’t alone in his critique of the regime’s actions, regardless of its motives. Think tanks and NGOs like Human Rights Watch have acknowledged the military prosecutions of political activists and dissenters under Jordan’s anti-terror law as a threat to freedom of expression. HRW highlighted major problems with amendments to the law, which include its vague wording, in a report released last year.

Jordan’s increased security measures are evident not only in its new uses of anti-terror legislation; they are especially visible along the new border infrastructure. In years past, the borders between Jordan and its neighbors, Syria and Iraq, were porous at best. People could walk back and forth across them without carrying their passports or spending hours at a checkpoint.

But early last month, Jordan completed final construction on a new surveillance system to monitor and control its border with Syria. Built by Raytheon and partially funded by the United States Defense Threat Reduction Agency, this new system—reportedly worth $79 million—boasts cutting-edge radar and surveillance towers in addition to key command, control, and communications capabilities.

Jordan’s border system will also receive additional support from Raytheon in the coming months: software, infrared cameras, power systems, and training for Jordanian operators of the high-tech equipment. Essentially, this system will enable border forces to detect potential infiltrators from miles away. It has been hailed as a big step forward in keeping Syria’s jihadis out of Jordan.

While successful in this respect, however, it has—like the anti-terror law—had unfortunate and unintended consequences. Several major border entry points have been closed and the flow of goods has been disrupted as a result of the new system, which has in turn had damaging economic effects on Jordan’s border communities.

Jordan’s own response to its security challenges also runs the risk of becoming a long-term setback for political freedom and economic stability in the country.

Unfortunately, Jordan’s increased border-security efforts to thwart ISIS have also left many asylum-seekers from Syria stranded in the desert with limited access to food, water, and medical assistance. “Jordan has gone to great lengths to meet the needs of the Syrian refugees,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director of Human Rights Watch in an article posted on their website last month. “But that is no excuse to abandon newer arrivals in remote border areas for weeks without effective protection and regular aid access.”

Many in the international community understand that ensuring the stability of Jordan is paramount in containing ISIS within the terror network’s self-drawn borders. At the same time, Jordan’s own response to its security challenges also runs the risk of becoming a long-term setback for political freedom and economic stability in the country.

Jordan is not likely to change its policies without objection from the international community, but this seems equally unlikely, demonstrated by the U.S.’s large investment in Jordan’s border project. Maintaining the stability and security of Jordan in light of the advances of ISIS just outside the country’s borders is undeniably of paramount importance; however, security and human rights need not be mutually exclusive.

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