Sunday, October 24, 2010

IIan Pappe Ethnic cleansing in Palestine 1948

This is a really interesting video where Iian Pappe who is a professor at the college of Social Science and International Studies at the University of Exeter in England. He argues that the word "Nakba" does not do justice to what happened in 1948 to the Palestinians, he calls it ethnic cleansing and the man who was the architect of this policy was David Ben-Gurion. This is seems like a very controversial perspective on the topic.

Iran Reaching out to its Neighbor

This NYtimes article talks about Iran's influence on Karzai and the Afgan government. I've heard allegations of massive amounts of corruption and funding of the opium trade etc. But I was shocked to know that Iran just sends millions of dollars to Karzai and his cabinet routinely. There is no question that Iran is trying to increase it's influence in Afghanistan and undermine American and NATO activities. I know in the past when the United States pressured Karzai for reforms he has responded by trying to establish stronger trade relations with Russia (for arms.) I think a lot of the problems Afghanistan is facing or in terms of implementing new policies are rooted in bad leadership. I think the United States had hoped Karzai would be a good puppet however he has turned out to be more like rebellious teenager. I don't think I have to mention the 2009 elections, where there were thousands of allegations of fraud and poor security at voting booths and intimidation. Is Afghanistan also turning into another Middle Eastern regime?
Why is it so hard to find leaders that are truly concerned about their country and their people. This is all to reminiscent of Nepali politics, of course not to the same extent but in terms of leaders lacking any sense of responsibility towards the people.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Afghanistan a big mess?

Every time I read an article on Afghanistan on nytimes or any other site I’m just left so confused as to what U.S. and NATO troops are doing in Afghanistan. I probably do not know all the nitty gritty details of the all the operations but all I hear is Marjah, Kandahar etc. In this article I read there is comment made by General Carter that says “Afghans will tell you, if you have a peaceful Kandahar, you will have a peaceful Afghanistan.” The General follows that comment up by saying “well only time will tell.” But I feel like the U.S. lacks strategy and goals in Afghanistan. Except for the surge of 30,000 troops ordered by Obama last year to overwhelm the Taliban I haven’t heard of a strategy. I also remember some criticisms of the surge approach, just because it worked in Iraq doesn’t mean it’ll work in Afghanistan and that the situation in Afghanistan is far more complicated. It’s not just Sunni, Shia and Kurds we are dealing with. Then there is the problem of Pakistan and the supposed assistance Taliban receives from the ISI. I wonder if the United States should resort to what Professor Luttwak said the Byzantines might have done if they were in the U.S’s shoes, just arm all the ethnic groups and play all sides and let them fight it out.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Blogs the New Coffee Houses? Can it bring political change to the Middle East?

Blogs the New Coffee Houses? Can it bring political change to the Middle East?

The most recent example of the use of the internet and social networking sites would be the Green Revolution in protest surrounding the 2009 presidential elections in Iran. Tweeter was used a way to organize and broadcast instant information and to publicize photos and pictures of clashes between protestors and police.The Iranian government quickly realized the effectiveness of social networking sites and shut down the internet in response to a Ddos (where a lot of computer request to see the site) attack against President Ahamadenjaid’s website. However I will be looking at a more nascent approach to political change, blogging. I read this article on blogging and the author (Marc Lynch) seems to see a lot of potential in blogging as medium of change and to voice concerns that have never been heard in the Middle East (Some of the figures might be dated the article was written in 2007.) However he is hesitant to claim that blogging is the harbinger of Democracy in the Middle East. He references couple examples of how blogging has allowed for publicity of election fraud and other illegal political activities that are known of but is never brought to light by the mainstream media in the Middle East.
The author looks at several different factors that influence the effectiveness of blogging as a medium to influence politics in the Middle East. He first examines who are the bloggers and how many are there. He states that there are 19 million Arabs internet users and they are generally found in urban areas normally part of the youth population. There is some controversy over the exact figure of how many political blogs there actually are figures seem to run from 43600- to a couple thousand. Lynch brings up a good point in that a very small percentage of these blog posts are actually in Arabic. This makes it seem as though the primary audience might be the west (but now there are a growing number of Arabic blogs.) The number of Jihadi and Muslim Brother Hood sites and blogs are growing too. Another problem with blogs is that it isn’t mainstream media not everyone has accesses to this information, and on top of that there are Aggregator that filter and choose not to include certain types of blogs. Not to mention the filtering of sites done by the government.
Blogs have now started to gain more influence in mainstream media with such things as “Blogs: the new opposition voice in Arab politics” a segment on Al-Jazeera network. Egyptian newspapers have started to refer to certain blogs for information. There are conservative American NGOs that create “Arabic-language blog platform which "gives voices to those working for freedom and democracy in the Arab world... and enables them to easily connect and share ideas with their peers.” Seems like an idea that might backfire, as Lynch says who knows who might use the blog for what purposes. Blogs seem to be gaining traction as a new medium to exchange ideas. However as we saw in Iran it is easily shut down or filtered. We have seen that governments are filtering or blocking certain sites. Such is the case in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and Kuwait. This reminds me of the article we had to read by Edward Said’s “Enemies of the State” where he references the case of Egyptian-American intellectual Saadeddin Ibrahim and his illegitimate imprisonment, for his views on normalization with Israel. His point is that all peoples of the Arab world should take responsibility for the power abuses acted by the authoritarian governments. Blogging seems to be that avenue Arabs can use to make Arab leaders accountable. (If the government doesn’t hunt you down and arrests you, I feel like blogging is like a step removed from writing an article in the newspaper and people feel secure in voicing their criticisms of the government and there’s more anonymity.)
The Authors breaks down blogging into three large categories: Activists, Brides and Public Spheres. Activists are those individuals who are directly involved in a political movement who want to organize and disseminate information. These blogs try to organize transnational operations such as the boycott of Danish products. According to the Author the Kefaya movement began in the summer of 2004 and by 2005 the movement grew to have a large internet presence with over 1500 Egyptian bloggers. He uses the example of the May 2005 protest in which bloggers organized a protest of about 100 people and they were met with thousands of “hired thugs and riot police who roughed up peaceful protestors.” He uses the examples of Kefaya movement and how it turned elections in Egypt into a “tense drama,” and the Bahraini bloggers shed light on the shutdown of human-rights organizations into a political cause. The Bridgebloggers are those individuals who want to address the west and to explain their society and cultures. Bridgboggers try to cut through the stereotyped understanding of the Middle East, Arabs and Islam. And finally the public-sphere bloggers are those individuals who are not involved in a specific political movement but have some kind of strife against a domestic issue. The importance of public-sphere bloggers is that it “shows political engagement by Arab citizens,” which is important.
So what does all this mean? I hope it means that blogging has become a forum for free thought in the Middle East that will allow for unrestrained expression which will lead Arab leaders become more accountable to their actions. Maybe, blogging can become the alternative to the sate run news providers. However I don’t think that’s the case, again blogging and internet accesses are limited to a small portion of the Arab population and it hasn’t become part of mainstream media, blogging sites and social networking sites are easily filtered or blocked. But hopefully blogging will gain more momentum and bring political change.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nuclear Optimist: Iran

Kenneth Waltz is a prominent supporter of the nuclear optimist concept. I recently read the debate between Scott D. Sagan and Kenneth Waltz about the need for nuclear weapons. So I wanted use Waltz’s arguments for nuclear weapons in relation to the situation in Iran.

Waltz’s central point in the concept of nuclear optimism is that deterrence works and will always work. Evidence of such claims would be that no two nations have used nuclear weapons during war. We have never had a nuclear war. Deterrence works because both countries have second-strike capabilities, which ensures Mutually Assured Destruction. Waltz uses the case of the Kargil war, where Pakistan troops infiltrated into Indian controlled Kashmir, but the reason the war didn’t escalate was because both nations had nuclear weapons. Indian tested their first nuclear bomb in 1974 and Pakistan in 1998.

There are a couple things I did not understand, If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, It’s only going to have enriched enough uranium for one or two bombs. The deliver device used to strike might only be able to strike Israel or Turkey. In that case is there deterrence between the United States and Iran? There is obviously deterrence between Israel and Iran. But can you have deterrence without MAD? If the United States extended it’s nuclear defense umbrella over the Arabian Peninsula then the United States and Iran would have deterrence, because in the case that Iran fired a nuclear weapon at Riyadh then the United States has the ability to strike back at Iran with nuclear weapons.

Deterrence requires both nations to be rational actors. From what we see in the media President Ahmadinejad looks like a nut case, from his speeches’ at the UN to his denial of the holocaust. Most people claim that the Soviet Union was a rational actor but this is just a historical revisionist conception of history. We don’t have to look too far back to think of Kruschev and his shoe-banging incident. Kruschev also said, “we will bury you” (you referring the United States) in 1956. Mao also said something to the extent, of “Nuclear war with the United States wouldn’t be so bad, at lest the rest of the world would become socialist.” Now if we think about it, these comments and actions are not too different from Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez. Bottom line is that those nations who acquire nuclear weapons always function with causation. The USSR was no more rational then current day Iran.

Non-State actors, one of the fears of all nations is that Iran might give nuclear weapons to Hezbollah. But why? Iran just invested so much time and money to create this weapon, why would they limit their control of the weapon by giving it to an organization. As waltz says why would any nation give away the “crown jewel?” The reason behind Iran’s desire to acquire nuclear weapons comes from its insecurities and the fear of United States. The United States attacked Afghanistan and then took over Iraq after calling it a part of the axis of evil. Iran feels insecure and wants some kind of assured deterrence against the United States. So it’s kind of strange to think that Iran might give away nuclear weapons. And in the case of theft or the possibility of theft the United States should really reach out and say “you can have the weapons” but we are going to help you secure all your sites so there is no theft.

The world can never reach a point where there is zero nuclear weapons or materials. After the USSR collapsed a lot of nuclear material was lost from Eastern Europe. We have no idea where this material is or who has it. As Waltz says “this is the most dangerous of situations,” if all nations disarm and we latter realize that one nation was lying or was hiding their nuclear arsenal, then there would be a sudden rush to rearm again.

What should the United States do in terms of Iran and nuclear weapons? The United States should do nothing because deterrence always works, and will work. If anything the United States should extend their deference umbrella to include Saudi Arabia.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Today the President of Iran Mahmoud Ahamadinejad visited southern Lebanon, where he praised Hezbollah and for there activates. He gave a fiery speech in the border town of Bint Jbail, which was damaged by the 2006 war with Israel. Iran funded a lot the rebuilding in southern Lebanon after the 2006 war. Hezbollah gained a lot of creditability after the 2006 war, and bridged the sectarian gap, in terms of support.

So how did this relationship between Iran and Southern Lebanon develop? It initially began during the regime of Ismail I in the Safavid Empire (out of all the empires in the world, I have grown to have an affinity towards the Safavids.) Ismail pretty much forced everyone to become Shia, from what I can remember there were some Ismailis in Persia (strangely enough a lot of the Muslims in Tanzania and Zanzibar are Ismaili, I know there are a lot of Ismaili’s in India and Zanzibar was a huge port city back in day so that might have influenced it.) Back to the Safavids, Ismail I imported Shia Scholars from Lebanon, which was the hub for shiism at that time. I would love to do more research on how that relationship was kept alive and now has come to the point where Iran is now helping Lebanon rebuild and offering military aid, its interesting to see how things have reversed. The founders of Hezbollah were inspired by Ayatollah Khomeini, which began in the late 80s as a response to Israel’s presence in Southern Lebanon. Hezbollah now has turned into a social service provider, funding hospitals and schools and also functions as a paramilitary group. I was kind of disappointed that Ahamadinejad decided not to throw that rock. I’m not sure why but that reminded me of Kruschev and his shoe-banging incident, maybe because both incidents are so absurd.

Monday, October 4, 2010

EU's Influence on Turkey's Constitutional Referendum

How much of MENA region’s politics and economics are still determined by outside (western) powers, and in what ways?
How could the asymmetries of flows in capital, labor, goods, and services be adjusted?

The first thing that popped into my head when thinking about this question was Turkey and the recent constitutional changes. Turkey was recognized as a suitable candidate for full membership in the European Union in 1999. Turkey’s bid to become a EU member state has been a long and drawn out processes starting in 1959, when it applied to be associate member in the European Economic Community. I’ve always found Turkey interesting in that it’s been a bridge between Europe and the Middle East. What was phrased as the Eastern Question by Western Europe, in relation to eventual decay and fragmentation of the Ottoman Empire still seems to live on. Quite Ironically the Eastern Question now has become should Western Europe allow the 15th largest GDP-PPP into the EU.

The treaty of Balta Liman is consider by some to have opened and integrated the Ottoman economy into the global market. Capitulations were bi-lateral trade agreements in which the Ottoman Empire removed tariffs and regulations; the Treaty of Balta Liman gave British traders exclusive accesses to Ottoman goods. Coincidentally David Cameron the British Prime Minister has been pushing for Turkey’s accession as a EU member state. I find this situation kind of analogues to the past with capitulations. I don’t think anyone has to look to far into history to find evidence of western intervention into the Middle East. But I think Turkey is still struggling with its identity sandwiched between two continents.

The constitutional referendum was amended to satisfy requirements for Turkey’s acceptance into the EU. One of the major changes within the constitution shifts power away from the Judiciary and military to the Executive and Legislative. However there are those who say the pendulum as swung too far in the other direction, and this has laid the groundwork for a power grab by the executive. President Obama congratulated Prime Minster Erdogan on the “vibrancy of Turkey’s democracy.” They’re also those who are worried about the Islamic roots of the Justice and Development Party and how this could be the beginning of the end of secularism in Turkey.

The majority of the opposition to Turkey’s accession into EU comes from Germany, Austria and France. President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 stated “enlarging Europe with no limit risks destroying European political union, and that I do not accept...I want to say that Europe must give itself borders.” I find it interesting that its still a matter of borders and where Europe ends and where the East begins. Mr. Cameron recently said that “Turkey’s accession fell into three categories: protectionists who see its economic power as a threat, “the polarized” who think that Turks should choose between East and West, and the prejudiced who misunderstand Islam.” I agree with all his points that it’s still a matter of drawing that border between where east and west is, and also after 9/11 the fear of Islam and terrorism. In the case of France, they already have a problem with North African immigrants, while Germany already hosts a large Turkish population. But to come back to the main point of how the west still influences the Middle East, turkey essentially amended its constitution to accommodate to EU requirements.

There is also the problem of Cyprus, and how that situation should be handled if Turkey joins the EU. I personally don’t think the EU will accept Turkey as a member sate any time soon. I think it’s a slow process in which Turkey essentially has to prove itself to Western Europe. I had recently found an interesting article on how Turkey is soon to join the European electric grid. As Turkey slowly becomes more integrated with Europe it will eventually change the asymmetries of flows in capital, labor, goods, and services.

Friday, October 1, 2010

South Asian Migrant Workers

I would say I have had the great opportunity to see first hand the amount of migrant workers in Doha and Dubai but I’ve have also been able to see how this phenomenon has ravaged Nepali in terms of demographic changes caused by men leaving to work in the Gulf States. It has also sustained Nepal’s economy through 10 years of civil war. Over the Summer I went trekking in Northwest Nepal and it really opened my eyes to how pervasive this phenomena is. Literally every village that I came across had a large portion of their male youth population working in the Gulf, Korea or Malaysia. I heard numerous stories of abuse and dreadful living conditions.

One of the most disturbing stories I heard was from a man from Kagbeni. He had recently returned from Saudi Arabia six months ago. He told me that he was promised a job in Qatar, but first had to travel to Delhi to get papers. He realized quickly it was all a scam, while in Delhi he was asked for thousands of more rupees to just travel to Qatar. After selling his land in Nepal, he had enough money to travel. He started working at a factory where he stood in front of a furnace all day, poured some chemical substance or something into buckets. He decided to leave the job (I’m not sure how) encouraged by his friends in Saudi Arabia; he found a job at a Sheik’s house. The Sheik would ask him and two other workers to bathe him. He quit the job after 3 days. After he quit the sheik job he started working illegally, therefore the employers had no legal pressure in paying him on time or the promised amount. After a year of working he had decided to send his money back to Nepal, however his employer (I didn’t understand this part of the story too well) set him up and the police arrested him. While being arrested, they also beat him with batons. He had to spend a year in prison where he said he had to fight for food and he clean the clothes of other inmates. He arrived in Kathmandu still wearing his prison clothes, and no money. I have no idea how accurate the story is (assuming somethings might have been exaggerated) however I came across similar stories multiple times, but not to the same extent. I don’t live in Nepal but I’ve heard numerous other stories of terrible working conditions etc. In this case he did work illegal and there was some wrong doing on his part but I don’t think he should have been arrested, beaten, and his money confiscated. I think he should have just been deported.

A Dickson alum recently wrote an article on migrant workers and remittance in Nepal:

I also found an interesting website that lists incidents of migrant worker abuse and news pertaining to the topic:

This is an interesting video where a Saudi representative discusses the topic of sponsorship with a Human Rights Watch representative. Majority of the information we have on abuses comes from Human Rights Watch reports: