Monthly Archives: August 2009

Gaza? It’s more than that!

Guest post by Poya Pakzad, Independent Analyst, Denmark.

There is no longer any virtue in reviewing the premeditated US-Israeli massacre in Gaza from December to January. Virtually no disparity exists between the human rights organizations inside Israel or abroad. The record is unambiguously clear. Israel disrupted the “six months of lull”; maintained its “illegal blockade”; committed “grave breaches of international humanitarian law” and denied any attempt at continually offered nonviolent alternatives. As always, Israel reflexively denies any allegation without providing counter evidence. [1]

It’s hardly a challenge to lay bare this methodical pattern in the gladly forgotten record of Israeli aggressions.

No, one must refuse to plunge into this discussion. The largely manufactured hullabaloo serves for the most part to sidetrack attention from the rather palpable steps towards peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

It bears crucial notice that an international consensus on a two state solution to the conflict has long subsisted in an otherwise changing world.  The following assessment is an attempt to elucidate this accord and two immediate discrepancies. (1) Why has the conflict not been settled? And (2), what is the efficacy of the resuscitated appeal for a one state solution? Each question merits a study much beyond the scope of this piece. The purpose of the subsequent text is to inform as well as incite an exchange.

The provisions of the broad agreement are based on the central diplomatic document, issued against the backdrop of the six day war, entitled UN Security Council Resolution 242. The preamble states that there can be no acquisition of territory by force in accord with customary international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. The basic interpretation is a settlement along the “green line” with “minor and mutual adjustments” to uncurl the arbitrary cease fire lines.

The resolution further stipulates that all states in the region have a right to “live within secure and recognized borders.” The latter has been reiterated for decades, even as US-Israeli rejection of the conditions has been the chief motor of occupation since the seventies.

Surprisingly, the right of Palestinians to self determination remained unspoken between the partition of 1947 and the first unanimous international call in the seventies. The change is worth paying attention to. In 1973 the PLO tacitly agreed to a formula of full Israeli withdrawal and full Arab recognition in a General Assembly resolution. Yet another call was made informally through the Security Council in 1976, explicitly putting a Palestinian state on the international agenda. Israel flatly rejected it and the United States effectively vetoed.

In 1980, a Security Council Resolution repeated these legal obligations, the US vetoed and since then US-Israeli rejectionism has been consistent. A change occurred on the other side however, as the Palestinian National Council accepted the two state settlement in 1988 from tacit approval to formal advocacy. This put the US and Israel in total international isolation, deeming every departure point of “peace process” negotiations as a rejection of the consensus.

Today the consensus enjoys the support of authoritative political, legal and human rights bodies. The most representative political body in the world, the General Assembly, presents the modalities of the settlement each year and the vote has been identically lopsided every time. The entire state system is on one side and Israel with the US along with South Pacific atolls on the rejectionist side. In 2004 the International Court of Justice, the highest authoritative legal body in the world, rendered an advisory opinion on the wall Israel has built in the West Bank. The court judged the wall to be illegal; confirmed the illegality of “territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force” and deemed Gaza, the West Bank including East Jerusalem to be “occupied Palestinian Territory.” [2]

What might come as a surprise to the devoted reader of the press is the fact that Hamas since 2005 has been more forthcoming to this consensus than Israel. The first document Hamas signed when they were elected freely and fairly was the so-called Prisoner’s Document in which Hamas declares their agreement with Fatah on the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders – incidentally supported by 77 % of the Palestinian population. It has since been conceded, even by NY Times, that Hamas is willing to negotiate along the lines of the Saudi Peace Plan and to recognize Israel de facto but not de jure. All 22 Arab states have signed the Saudi Peace Plan, which is essentially a transcript of Resolution 242 – including non-Arab states such as Iran. [3]

What has been recognized as the most contentious aspect of the conflict, namely the right of return, has surprisingly not been the most disputed issue during negotiations. At Taba, they accepted a “pragmatic settlement” which wouldn’t change “the demographic character of Israel.” The main problem has been Israel’s unwillingness to have a 1:1 land swap, i.e. the “minor or mutual adjustments” [4]. The right of return is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Resolution 194 of 1949. It is unambiguously supported by the international community, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International (and also in principle by Israeli Jews, who established their own state on the notion of that very right.)

American presidents including Barack Obama have demonstrated time and again, that they are not honest brokers. The institutional permanence of vast diplomatic, economic and military support suggests state guidelines across the political spectrum. The doctrine of policy deems Israel a “strategic asset” in the heart of the energy producing region, serving as “cops on the beat,” effectively “educating” the “savage Arab” into submission. This course of action serves to strengthen US-Israeli intransigence against Palestinians and renders the international corpus of rules null and void. It doesn’t require a doctorate to discover US hegemony in the region and the European Union toddling behind, maneuvering where it can, and obeying where it must.

This can be exemplified by comparing reactions towards state violations of customary norms, such as “serious breaches of the prohibition to use force”, the “right to self determination” and fundamental standards of human rights and humanitarian law. When the Security Council fails to perform in accord with Article VII owing to “the Tyranny of the Veto”, the General Assembly typically doesn’t hesitate to assert its duty by calling for the implementation of economic, financial and diplomatic sanctions, notably in the case of South Africa. Such comparisons can be found in an exhaustive study by Marc Weller and Barbara Metzger from Cambridge University. They conclude a “double standard” granting Israel “complete immunity” from reflexive remedies with regard to Iraq, Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo and East Timor such as “arms embargo,” “sanctions” and “international presence” of monitors and peacekeeping forces. [5]

Israel’s latest defiance of the Council’s calls has likewise been backed by US President Barack Obama’s administration. US support has continued and been amplified apart from Obama’s rhetorical superfluities. The near unanimous European euphoria over the election of Obama is a back hand admission of both its recognition of the double standard and its awareness that it isn’t able to do much without the consent of the Super Power. [6]

Recognizing this milieu of inaction and “facts on the ground”, elements of the left (and extreme right for dissimilar reasons) lends support to the proposal of a one state solution based on the egalitarian principles applied in South Africa and elsewhere. It requires a shift of paradigm terminologically replacing “occupation” with “Apartheid.” Indeed apartheid is a component of the occupation, yet annexation is a far worse crime than any comparable stage of colonization in South Africa. Annexation is an altogether different sort of imperialism, suggesting practically no alteration of behavior even if historical Palestine was to be developed into one state. A single state is no guarantee; take a simple look at the existing ones!

Arguments for a one state solution is usually based on justice – acknowledging quite accurately that the two state solution is far from just. Yet, justice, apart from discussions in academic seminars, is limited in the real world by the fact of feasibility. No one says that Hopi Indians should renounce their claim to their ancestors’ land, but then, no one advocates it either. The arguments become tautological: “No settlement is acceptable unless it’s acceptable.”

If there is a series of steps leading to the one state solution it should by all means be discussed. Trying to create an environment conducive to this settlement today seems impossible and may well be a recipe for further conflict. The idea of boycotts and divestiture requires the active participation of important actors within Israeli society. The struggle in South Africa took decades to establish with mayors already committed to civil disobedience and corporations agreeing to the “Sullivan conditions.” If such a strategy will look like an attack on Israeli society it is likely to be counterproductive. I have seen serious debate regarding the efficacy of the two state settlement. How can you divide Cis-Jordan for example? How can Palestinians realize a “rump state”? Yet, as an interim solution, far from the final status anathema it has become, the struggle for normalization, fulfillment of rights and integration shall continue.

[1] Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “The six months of the lull arrangement,” December 2008 |Human Rights Watch, “Precisely Wrong,” June 2009 | Human Rights Watch, “Rain of fire,” March 2009 | Amnesty International, “Israel/Gaza: Operation “Cast Lead”: 22 days of death and destruction,” July 2009 | Bt’Selem, “Guidelines for Israel’s Investigation into Operation Cast Lead,” February 2009.

[2] International Court of Justice, ”Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” 2004.

[3] Avi Issacharoff, “Poll: 77 % of Palestinians support the Prisoner’s Document,” June 2009, Ha’aretz | Mouin Rabbani, “A Hamas Perspective on the Movement’s Evolving Role: An Interview with Khalid Mishal: Part II,” Summer 2008, Journal of Palestine Studies vol. 37 | Avi Issacharoff, “Meshal: Hamas backs Palestinian state in ’67 borders,” April 2008, Ha’aretz | Amira Hass, “Haniyeh: Hamas willing to accept Palestinian state with 1967 borders,” September 2008, Ha’aretz | Middle East Online, “Hamas calls for Palestinian state in 1967 borders,” June 2009 |Hamas, “We Do Not Wish to Throw Them Into the Sea,” February 2006, Washington Post | Jay Solomon & Julien Barnes-Dacey, “Hamas Chief Outlines Terms for Talks on Arab Israeli-Peace,” Juli 2009, Wall Street Journal.

[4] Ron Pundak, “From Oslo to Taba: What Went Wrong?,” Autumn 2001, Survival p. 31-45, The International Institute for Strategic Studies.

[5] Marc Weller & Barbara Metzger, “Double Standards,” September 2002, PLO Negotiations Affairs Department | for further deliberations see: Yoram Dinstein, “War, Aggression and Self Defense,” 4th ed., 2005, Cambridge University Press p. 302 and David Cortright & George A. Lopez, “The Sanctions Decade: Assessing UN Strategies in the 1990s,” 2000, Lynne Rienner.

[6] The Bush Sr. administration went beyond rhetoric objecting to illegal settlement by denying economic support for them. Oppositely, Obama administration officials state that such dealings are “not under discussion” and that any pressures will be “largely symbolic”: Helene Cooper, “U.S Weighs Tactics on Israeli Settlement,” May 2009, NY Times | Grant F. Smith, “$2.775 Billion in US Aid Supports Israeli Nuclear Weapons Program,” June 2009, Online Journal.

Lebanon’s government deadlock explained

 by Sune Haugbolle.

My last piece on Jumblatt’s defection from March 14 somewhat optimistically predicted a short delay in the government formation process. Since then things have gone really sour again. Here is an analysis of the obstacles and their implications.

Since the June parliamentary elections, the March 14 coalition has failed to use its victory to dictate the terms of a new government. The negotiations have faltered on March 8’s demand for a blocking third of cabinet posts. More deep-seated disagreements over Hizbollah’s weapons and Lebanon’s regional alliances add to the complications.

In July, the two camps appeared to have agreed on a compromise solution granting 15 posts to March 14 (short of a majority) and ten to March 8 (short of veto power), with President Michel Suleiman choosing five and thus having a decisive say. However, in recent weeks disagreement over the exact allocation of ministries has taken the process back to the start, and raised the tone of personal bickering and media slander to its shrillest level since 2008.

Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun has been at the centre of the latest crisis in government formation. On August 16, Aoun demanded that his Reform and Change bloc be allotted the Interior Ministry and that his son-in-law, caretaker minister Gebran Bassil, keep the Telecommunications Ministry for another term.

This uncompromising stance has prompted March 14 to criticise Hizbollah’s inability or unwillingness to mediate. Saad al-Hariri has made it clear that he is unlikely to accept Aoun’s conditions, which means that for now negotiations are deadlocked. Unless there is truth to al-Akhbar’s story from yesterday about a Saudi-Syrian push to kickstart talks, the most likely scenario now seems to be that the deliberations over a new cabinet will be postponed until after the end of Ramadan in late September.

As ever, domestic political wrangling in Lebanon reflects regional power struggles. Courtesy of US rapprochement, Syria has moved decisively out of the cold, and returned to its favoured position as the necessary diplomatic bridge between Iran and the West. Damascus’ relations with Saudi Arabia have yet to improve, as a scheduled meeting between King Abdallah and President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus in late July was cancelled. Syria’s relations with Egypt, another key ally of Hariri, have been deep-frozen because of Egyptian allegations that Hizbollah members have been spying and plotting bomb attacks in Egypt. The first trial took place in Cairo yesterday, and the fallout is surely more bad blood between Egypt and Hizbollah.   

On the other front, Assad has moved to shore up relations with embattled Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad during a state visit on August 19. Here, Assad emphasised the necessity of resolute defence against Western influence in the region.

Syria’s strengthened position indirectly provoked the latest breakdown in government negotiations, when Druze leader Walid Jumblatt declared on August 2 that he would leave March 14. As I argued in my earlier piece, his aim was to hedge against Syria’s rising influence, and his defection has been widely seen as a victory for Damascus.

This is because Jumblatt, who is known for his ever-changing allegiances, has, since 2005, formed one-third of a strong coalition of Christian, Sunni and Druze opposition to Syrian influence in Lebanon, which has dominated Lebanese politics. Although it does not sound the death knell for March 14, Jumblatt’s defection still marks a tide change in Lebanese politics and opens up opportunities for new alliances in the coming months:

First, although Jumblatt has hardly embraced the Syrians, they are in a much stronger position in Lebanon. Hariri, now left with distinctly anti-Syrian Christian allies Amin Gemayel and Samir Geagea, may feel compelled to move towards a more conciliatory position, lest he alienate his Sunni constituency.

Second, while taking no concrete action, Jumblatt has spoken with members of both March 8 and March 14, and is locating himself in a central position between the two without joining either. He has signalled that he will be associating himself with Suleiman, adding to the possibility of a strong conciliatory bloc emerging — which would mediate between the two existing groups — and may also include Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri.

If such a strong third bloc does materialise, Aoun may also be tempted to reconsider his alliance with Hizbollah, which has not landed him the presidency or gained him much actual influence.

The biggest decisions to be taken are surely Saad Hariri’s. As prime minister-designate, and with Suleiman preferring a neutral role, the onus is squarely on Hariri to form a government, but he is left with some hard choices following Jumblatt’s defection. He has several options:

He could of course accommodate Aoun’s demands, which would make him look defeated by Aoun and Hizbollah, but would leave March 8 with no legitimate reasons to oppose a quick government formation.

Alternatively, he could carry through a planned visit to Damascus, which has been postponed. Effectively this would mean giving up his resistance to Syrian influence on the government formation process, particularly as the Syrians have signalled that they want Hariri to visit Damascus before the cabinet is finalised.

Finally, he could continue to oppose Syrian pressure. By not going to Damascus so far, Hariri has been signalling that he intends to resist the Syrian endeavour to re-impose some sort of hegemony over Lebanon. US discouragement of such a visit and Hariri’s reluctance to do business with a regime he believes to be responsible for his father’s assassination are also playing a part. As Michael Young suggested recently, they may have also contributed to the cancellation of the scheduled meeting in Damascus between Abdallah and Assad.

In conclusion, although March 14 would like to see a new government formed, Hariri appears ready to hold out for regional events which would tip the balance in his favour. This could either be US President Barack Obama’s expected Middle East peace initiative next month. While Obama’s peace plan might deflect attention from Lebanon, it could also prompt Syria to work with Saudi Arabia over Palestinian reconciliation and accept a new Lebanese government in return for inclusion in the peace process.  

Alternatively, Hariri could be waiting for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to issue an indictment naming Hizbollah as a participant in the assassination of Hariri’s father, as predicted by the German magazine, Der Spiegel, earlier this year. This would leave Syria weakened and more eager to reach an agreement.

Whatever he does, Hariri holds the keys to further progress. If he chooses to accommodate Aoun’s demand for a key ministry, he may be able to form a new government and hence avoid the more serious choice between openly accepting or rejecting Syrian hegemony. If not, deadlock could well continue at least until the end of Ramadan.

The “genocide” in Darfur. Are former colonial powers really to blame?

A review of Mahmoud Mamdani’s “Saviors and Survivors. Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror ”. Part 1

by Anders Hastrup.

A new book by Mahmoud Mamdani has sparked great controversy among scholars and activists working on Darfur. The title is “Saviors and Survivors. Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror”. This is the first in a series of reviews of the book, where I discuss the main points of the work.

Many reviewers of the book have reacted strongly to the claims of Mamdani’s work, which is understandable since the book aggressively criticizes central figures in the Save Darfur Movement and the journalists whose reporting from the war zone helped kick start the campaign. The attack on the Save Darfur “lobby” and the role of Darfur in the “War on Terror” have caught the attention of many reviewers who eagerly debate these claims. The high pitched, near hysterical, tone of Mamdani’s attacks have provoked equally high pitched replies. This is a shame because two thirds of the book deals. This is a shame since the book is more than just a critique of the Save Darfur Movement. Two-thirds of the book deal with the history of Darfur itself, from the colonial legacy to the role of the region in the Cold War and the Islamist/securalist divide of the rebel movements

The openly provocative statements are at times refreshing and at other times historically inaccurate and illogical. The overall attack on the Save Darfur Movement, and indeed on most of the activist movements and engaged journalists is really controversial and not entirely fair. I shall return to these debates in later reviews. In the historical chapters we find an interesting analysis of the way in which the colonial power of Great Britain rewrote the history of Sudan, and particularly Sudanese Arabs, in a “native” and “settler” paradigm. This particular division has persisted and, claims Mamdani, is the root cause of the perception of the present war in an “Arab” – “African” dichotomy:

“The Save Darfur lobby in the United States has turned the tragedy of the people of Darfur into a knife with which to slice Africa by demonizing one group of Africans, African Arabs. For undergirding the claim that a genocide has occurred in Darfur is another, born of a colonial historiography, that Arabs in Sudan- and elsewhere on the African continent- are settlers who came in from the outside and whose rights must be subordinate to those of indigenous natives.” (p. 300)

This is interesting but not entirely true. Claims like these are typical of the “blame the colonial powers and their artificial division of peoples and places for all the evil that the post-colonial African continent has witnessed” paradigm that shines through much of his book.

Throughout the historical part of the work, Mamdani uses a great deal of sources from well known authorities on the history of Sudan and Darfur, and couples this with a wider historical understanding of both colonial and Cold War legacies. There are factual mistakes throughout the work (the rebel leader Abdul Wahid al Nur is referred to as “Abd el Nur”, for instance, which is annoying). It is, however, spite the flaws, an interesting account, and as a researcher on Darfur I welcome new angles to debate the origins of one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes in the new Millenium.

I have lived and worked in Darfur for about a year and I continue to do research into the patterns and origins of the conflict. I have been interested in looking at explanations of the root causes of the conflict that go beyond the seemingly inherent “historical” opposition between “Arabs” and “Africans” in Darfur and Sudan as a whole. I have looked at landowning issues and the marginalisation of Darfur’s Arab tribes as a result of their lack of fixed territory and I have seen, and continue to see, these issues as key to an understanding of the conflict.

However, when I was in Chad for two months this spring interviewing the refugees who have fled from the horrors of the infamous janjaweed militia in Darfur, I was forced to rethink many of my earlier approaches to the conflict. Listening to people I realised that they themselves clearly saw this as a war of “Arabs” vs. “Africans”. If this is how the war is experienced, then this is their truth, and the truth is local, something Mamdani does not take into account in his conspiracy theories of the hegemonic world order behind the Save Darfur campaign.

In countless interviews people would talk of how the Arab militias told them that the country should be “cleared of all blacks” and that “you are slaves and must leave” while burning, raping and killing their way through Darfur. Mamdani has taken very little time to hear how victims of the conflict themselves have put events into language. For the Darfurian population in the refugee camps of Eastern Chad, the perpetrators are indeed the “Arabs” set out to kill “blacks”. You cannot write off the local experience of blatant racist violence happening here and now as a continuation of a false dichotomy that has its origins in colonial historiography. It is an oversimplification and an exaggeration of the impact of colonial divisions on contemporary realities in Darfur. It is also an arrogant lack of respect for local knowledge and experience of the war on the ground by the people who have suffered through it.

In the two months I interviewed Darfurian refugees in Eastern Chad this spring I heard the same tale over and over again: “The Arabs came, killed my family, raped my wife, burned down my house and forced me to flee saying that the land should be cleared of all blacks”. If I were to follow Mamdani’s line of thought my reply would be: “No, you are not victims of the Arabs. The janjaweed are themselves victims of British colonial historiography that have falsely introduced a “native” vs. “settler” paradigm, which you can clearly find in MacMichael’s “A History of the Arabs in Sudan” from 1922”.

I don’t see the connection between the colonial historiographic legacy and the modern day engagement in the current war from the various interest groups. I don’t think that journalists reporting from the frontline were aware of this particular divide and the “origins” of it when they wrote their articles, telling the world of the extermination of villages by the militias. What I think they responded to was the sheer magnitude of the humanitarian catastrophe that unfolded in the course of a very short time, which they witnessed. I believe the reporting on the war as a war between “Arabs” and “Africans”, that has continued to inform the media coverage of the conflict, is a result of investigative journalism, where reporters took time to listen to the voices of millions of displaced who fled the janjaweed terror.

All the high pitched cliché ridden colonial critique aside, the book is still a refreshing comment and for my own part been it is  a great source of inspiration to continue to do research on the impact of colonial legacy on developments in Darfur, if nothing else then to find out where Mamdani is wrong.

A step in the right direction for Iran’s forgotten languages

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

On May 27, the Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution – a powerful institution in Iranian cultural politics – took a very interesting step. Resolution 2950-88 declares that relevant universities are to be allowed to create two academic units worth of non-obligatory courses in the languages and literatures of ‘native tongues and dialects’. In other words, Iran is going to allow native non-Persian languages to be taught on a regular university level in several provinces. In particular, officials have mentioned Azeri, Kurdish, Turkmen and Baluchi as relevant to the resolution. As far as I can see from the sparse media coverage of the issue, the resolution is not necessarily limited to these languages.

The resolution is interesting for several reasons. First of all, language is at the center of the growing movement for ethnic rights among Iran’s many minorities. The resolution is clearly a concession to this movement and a high level recognition of the demand among minority proponents for the government to implement Article 15 of the Islamic Republic’s constitution. This article stipulates that while Persian is to be the national language of Iran, local languages can be used in education and media. However, there have in effect always been limitations on and discrimination against the public use of ethnic minority languages in Iran.

Secondly, the resolution is important since it is exactly that: a resolution, and not just a proposal. Even though critics were quick to point out that it seemed very much like propaganda in the last days before the elections, the resolution is nonetheless passed and have been publicized. Even if we can expect major delays in its implementation, it will be hard for the ruling elites of the Islamic Republic to back down on this promise. The resolution was passed in the name of ‘strengthening and securing national unity’. The state is clearly aware that minority rights are an explosive issue. They want to preempt a full-fledged ethnic crisis.

Thirdly, we could maybe even call the resolution historic. Under the Pahlavi regime, ethnic minority languages were presented in official state discourse as despised remnants of foreign barbarism and medieval ignorance to be rapidly replaced with the pure Persian tongue of the ‘Aryans’. Tribal populations were subdued, Persian language strictly enforced and kids caught talking in their mother tongues in public schools were punished. The avant-garde of the 1978-9 Islamic Revolution promised freedom for all, language rights and multi-ethnic harmony, which never materialized. Minority media have only been able to work sporadically and under severe pressure, intimidation and repression; intellectuals and poets expressing themselves in non-Persian indigenous languages have been monitored and censored; and until recently, there was no institutionalized academic study of any of these languages in Iranian universities.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that there has already been much skepticism about the resolution. Detractors argue that the resolution falls short of the demands of the ethnic movement: they want public education in the mother tongues from elementary school and up. They argue that in minority regions, children never learn Persian properly because they are analphabets in their own languages. They are supported by studies that clearly show the importance of mother language education for bi-lingual children.

Many remain skeptic if the resolution should even be seen as a sincere move. It is suspicious that it was passed on the eve of the elections and with the attendance of Ahmadinejad himself. Indeed, all opposition candidates talked openly about the ethnic issue and Musavi even promised a similar resolution. This may be no more than Ahmadinejad’s symbolic gesture towards voters amongst the discontented minorities.

Maybe the resolution will just end up somewhere in the vast bureaucracy or turn out in just a couple of showcase examples. Furthermore, it certainly does not look good that it is the Cultural Academy for Persian Language and Literature that is going to decide what languages are suitable and then design courses (even though they are to make these decisions in cooperation with another committee). It would also have been a good idea to set up an open process of cooperation with scholars and intellectuals, and to do some research into resources and perspectives, before announcing the resolution. It does not seem that the Council have done any of this.

It is going to be difficult to live up to the promises inherent in the resolution in a short period. Difficult, but not impossible: there are quite a lot of unofficial teaching materials in Azeri and Kurdish. However, the Islamic Republic will have to be willing to invest in updating and developing new materials, standardizing grammars, training teachers and cooperating with institutions in the Republic of Azerbaijan and maybe Iraq – and with scholars outside the region.

It is, for example, going to interesting to see if Iran is willing to teach with materials such as that of Baku, which is written not in the Iranian Turkic-Arabic alphabet but in the Latin (Azərbaycan əlifbası) alphabet. This would also create some interesting complications regarding the differences between what can be called Northern and Southern Azeri (and maybe even the future emergence of a Standard Azeri?). Furthermore, will there be two sets of teaching materials for the Kurds – one in Kurmanji and one in Sorani?

It will be even more interesting to see what the state will do with Baluchi and Turkmen: languages that have barely been studied and taught in Iran before, and languages that still need much academic attention and research. Iran will be able to learn something from their Turkmen neighbors in Ashgabat – but again, there is the Latin / Arabic divide. As far as I know, Baluchi is not taught in universities in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iranian Turkmen and Baluchi have only recently become literary languages. A whole new branch of academic studies will have to be created. The list of interesting, inter-related questions continues…

But most interesting is that it would put the Iranian state in a precarious position of involuntarily supporting the trend towards increased communication and exchange over the borders that separates these ethnic groups. The alternative is that the Iranian state will develop a half-baked, amateurish set of teaching materials – maybe even of the heavily Persianized kind that made Iranian Azeris protest over the early state radio and TV programming in their mother tongue. That would surely be the recipe for disaster and one must expect the Cultural Academy to be more foresighted than that.

One can only hope that the Iranian state will live up to this new promise. Even though it is far from what proponents of the ethnic movement desire, it is a step in the right direction that will help strengthen national unity.

I’m intrigued. If anyone receives any new information from Iranian universities when the new semester begins, please let me know. I, for one, would love to see a brand new, standardized, government-approved Iranian set of teaching materials in Baluchi and Turkmen!

Another disgusting move by the Danish government

by Rasmus Christian Elling and Sune Haugbolle.

Last night at around 2:30 AM, baton-wielding police forces in riot gear entered a Danish church in Copenhagen where Iraqi refugees have taken sanctuary since May. Seventeen men of the 60 Iraqi men, women and children whose applications for asylum and protests against forced repatriation to Iraq have been rejected by the Danish government are now in custody. Demonstrators were beaten with batons and attacked with pepper spray during an attempt to prevent the forcible relocation of the Iraqis. Five were arrested.

It is nothing less than utterly disgusting how the Danish government – one of the nations that joined US in the war against Saddam Hussein and the occupation of Iraq – can not and will not live up to its humanitarian responsibilities. It is particularly disgusting when Iraq has clearly rejected to receive forcibly repatriated asylum-seekers. Even last night, just hours before the riot police stormed the church, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki stated that there are no agreements for repatriation.

It is also disgusting to see how far right politicians such as MP for Danish People’s Party (and himself a priest!), Søren Krarup, applauding the raid and declaring that the church is not a sanctuary and that it is not “holy”.

The storming of the church was clearly a political ploy initiated by the nationalist forces in Danish politics who claim to represent Christian decency and the Danish national spirit but in reality have destroyed Denmark’s image across the globe. It is sad to see that the Danish government is in effect coerced and ultimately, under the power of, these nationalist forces.

The responsible politicians will hide behind legislation and the supposed “independence” of Danish police to make decisions about when and how to carry out orders. They will fail to acknowledge the connection between the war that brought these people here and their current predicament.

But the sad fact is that these same politicians have contributed to a gradual change in our society, which is reflected in other European countries too. And which means that large parts of our society today are standing idly by, or even applauding the heavy-handed treatment of innocent people caught in a cross-fire of politics. Our society has become dominated by a cynical view of “other” people and of human beings in general. It is a sad day for Denmark and for human compassion.

It’s that flippin’ Jumblatt again!

by Sune Haugbolle.

Summer’s almost gone, and CUMINet is coming back to life. And so, it seems, is Lebanese politics. Walid Jumblatt – the eternal flip-flopping turncoat of Lebanese politics – yesterday announced that he is parting ways with the March 14 coalition. Jumblatt, who has been hinting his departure for a while, chose an awkward moment to announce it, just days before a new cabinet was expected to be sworn in.

Jumblatt’s latest volte-face raises an interesting questions: how many times can a Lebanese leader change sides before losing credibility? Well, Jumblatt may just have made a 180 too many – he has certainly made a few through the years.  The problem is that his influence is not what it once was on the Lebanese scene. So while his latest move is obviously bad news for March 14, it may not sound the death knell for the tattered coalition. They still have the International Tribunal to fight for and too keep them united – not a small thing, and not an objective Jumblatt’s departure is likely to change.

What are his reasons for leaving? The first and most important is security. Jumblatt has seen the return of Syria as a powerful hegemon in Lebanon since the end of the Bush era, and even before. Courtesy of the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Syria, Damascus has moved decisively out of the cold. In that sense Jumblatt is not foreshadowing anything this time (an ability observers often praise him for), but merely reacting to well-established facts.

It is doubtful that we will see Jumblatt kiss and make up in Damascus any time soon, given the amount of garbage (‘Nazis’) he managed to throw at Bashar al-Asad and his regime over the last four years. But he will be hoping that at least he will not be seen as an arch-enemy of Damascus any longer.  

Furthermore, being surrounded by Shiite neighbours, his Shuf Mountains fiefdom needs neighbourly relations with an ever stronger Hizbollah to improve rapidly. And he knows that relinquishing the tough stance on Hizbollah’s weapons propagated by some of his, now former, allies in March 14, is the ticket that will allow him to enter into friendlier relations with the Shiite party.   

It is not yet clear where exactly Jumblatt will place himself in the, now re-shuffled, jigsaw of Lebanese politics. But the most likely move would be to join President Suleiman and possibly Nabih Berri in a third block the role of which will be to mediate when March 14 (or what is left of it) and March 8 are at loggerheads in a new coalition government.

Due to Jumblatt’s announcement cabinet seats, which were ostensibly all but lined up on Monday, will now have to be reshuffled, and a new government may not be formed before the end of this week or early next week.