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Human Rights: Beyond the Middle East

The media goes to great lengths to pursue their narrative, and in that effort the respective audiences are able to ascertain information about their local environment and beyond, which in some cases includes questionable actions by governments and non-governmental actors. The public is provided access to events that call into question the definition of human rights, and what it means to violate them as well. This semester I opted to take a closer look at what can be deemed violations to acceptable and basic human right norms. Some preconceptions were affirmed, others modified, but all in all it is very complex and there is no singular, easy solution.

As a Political Science major, the occurrences in other countries and how any singular action may affect the rest of the world is extremely interesting to me and is critical to know for someone attempting to enter the field of politics post-graduation. Given the opportunity to take a minor, I decided upon Jewish Studies because I have always found it to very fascinating; from ancient (biblical) times to current day dynamics affecting us here at home and abroad. As a result, I began this blogging journey with what I felt tied in the Political Science, Jewish Studies, and the objectives set forth in this course; the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. Previously, I only considered the Israeli perspective, but in the course of my studies at St. Edward’s I have come to question that assessment; the entire conflict and its history is a series of poor decisions and human rights violations. It all reminds me of the saying “robbing Peter to pay Paul;” taking land through most recent history and ancestry belonged to Palestinians, and then giving that land to Jews. This was a series of actions occurring between WWI with the Belfour Declaration of 1917, followed by President Truman and Great Britain considering the matter to assess the impact of a Jewish state in the region. The British were against it as they did not want to cause turbulence between them and the Arabs in the region, and what began with 100 thousand displaced Jews in Palestine expanded into a formal declaration of the Jewish state in the WWII era. This could be perceived as a being from the perspective of Political Liberalism, as this was an effort reached by several nation-states taking a multi-lateral approach to resolve the Jewish and Palestinian question. Additionally, both the US and GB also approached the multilateral solution from a political realism approach, since they wanted to protect and/or advance their national interests; the British with the Arabs, and the US with creating a strategic regional place for themselves. Complicated and resulting in the conflict that has ensued since the first 100K Jews set foot in Palestine. In 1917, it wasn’t easy to justify a Jewish state, but by the time of Hitler, it wasn’t even a question anymore in the global community.

This state of perpetual statelessness of the Palestinians led me to explore the Kurdish population. I first heard of Kurds while working in Germany where I encountered many Turkish people living in Germany. They seemed to speak of the Kurds with disdain, like a pebble in someone’s shoe. As I researched for my second blog, it came across as though this feeling was not unique to Turks. Cumulatively, the Kurds are the largest displaced population in the world at a whopping 33 million spread across several countries, though the greatest numbers are in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. With the largest amount being in Turkey, a nation who up until recently worked diligently to reform (or at least give the appearance of it) in order to be seen parallel to European nations, it was rather shocking for me realize how disenfranchised the Kurds were in Turkey. Of course, most developing nations change, not because of a change of heart, but rather because there is usually some monetary or political incentive that drives the desire to change; in this case, it was mostly due to Turkey’s ambition to enter the EU. That has become more of a pipedream as Erdogan has shifted from progressive to regressive methods, ultimately becoming more authoritarian. As we learned through this course, many of Turkey’s decisions through the Arab Spring were largely inconsistent with regard to external loyalty, but was consistent with attempting to secure Turkey’s interests. And while attacking and disenfranchising the Kurds violates their basic human rights, it is a rational approach because Erdogan and his predecessors must do what they believe will protect its sovereignty and preserve the nation. Sovereignty comes at a price; that price is sometimes human lives.

Without going very far, the wars in Syria and in Yemen are also escalating the human loss at intrepid amounts. Admittedly, as I communicated in the class presentation, I was very ignorant about Yemen; unfathomably ignorant on it. Beyond the human death toll, instability and rampant malnutrition in Yemen, it is a very intriguing situation. Though different primary stakeholders, Syria and Yemen have an integral commonality; they are subject to external influence from powerful nations. In the case of Syria, it is Russia and the US; whereas in Yemen, it’s a battle between regional powers Saudi Arabia and Iran. Two proxy wars that involves allies like the US and Saudi Arabia supporting opponents backed by Russia and Iran. But who is the ally of the people being slaughtered and displaced? As discussed in the Syria reflection, it becomes increasingly challenging to justify American interests when American made weapons have been identified as doing as much damage as the Russians. Depending on which side of the war one stands, they each believe they are doing the just response for an unjust event. Does Syria’s sovereignty matter more than the lives of those being hurt? And why does that give the US authority to insert itself, yet until recently, we didn’t get involved in Yemen. Why were the violations against the Kurds insufficient to garner Turkey some American justice? Losing Turkey as a strategic post and ally did not seem to be worth sacrificing for the Kurds, one might think. As for Yemen, what economic interests are there for us to defend? It doesn’t seem we had anything to gain, and so we haven’t been much involved. One wonders, is it really human rights and national sovereignty the US and other world powers are championing or is it just rampant political realism and market liberalism?

Continuing with Qatar and their modern-day slavery, I have been following this for a while, mainly since I deployed there and was infuriated by seeing how the workforce (which did not include Qataris) were treated. Because Qatar comes across as pretty stable, it doesn’t draw attention to itself or blatantly take hard lines publicly with regard to wars within the region, it is understandable that people would not think of Qatar as a place that would be guilty of human rights violations like slavery. While it’s not the textbook slavery most Americans are familiar with, it is nonetheless slavery when a person’s travel documents are confiscated, the person doesn’t have an avenue to report harm without fear of retaliation, and especially when a worker cannot freely seek other employment because they are shackled to that which brought them to Qatar. Highlighting the many deaths involved with Qatar’s ambitious World Cup goals, it really begs the question of, when is human life more important that national interest (regardless of how capricious the goals/interests are)? Qatar would have continued its methods if there hadn’t been an uproar. That’s not willing progress, or growing of a conscious; that’s just getting caught and trying to clean up the marred image. Consequently, Iran is just as much a violator of human rights and its barbaric approach to homosexuals, and other grievances it finds to be at contrast with the Q’ran. Stoning, forced blinding, amputations and public hangings are not uncommon, yet many nations still trade with them as if those mechanisms are not concerning or atrocious. When do nations care for human life instead of national interest? How convenient it all is, but can you blame them if they, too, have to seek what will keep their nation viable?

I was really surprised with Saudi Arabia finally considering woman as important enough to make them an integral part of their economic diversity. Its one thing to teach half your potential workforce and leave it without a significant role to play. But now it seems they are taking steps toward incorporating women much more, which is progress. How much was progress out of concern for women versus how much they realized women served an economic interest, we may never know, but the shift in their ideology is a positive one for women in Saudi Arabia. This change elevates Saudi Arabia’s reputation in the global community, and as such provides it with leverage other Middle Eastern nations wish to have for themselves. Saudi Arabia is very astute and has played neutral in the relations between the US and Russia; as it trades with both and seemingly has friendly relations with the US and Russia.

In the process of this research, there wasn’t an issue or conflict that didn’t lead me back to external influence and especially that of the US and Russia. Though the Cold War ended long ago, the battle between the two great powers never ended in reality. It morphed, shifted and blossomed into a new method of confronting each other. Currently, this means they face each other through other nation’s conflicts. They massively support various engagements in the Middle East and in other nations around the world (Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Ukraine, Georgia, etc). While the US and Russia may not be formally facing each other through congressionally-approved war, they are facing off by proxy. This is the safest war to have it seems; use other people’s plights to show your might, minimizing loss of life from their respective citizens, and the fighting occurs outside of their national borders; win-win. I find myself at a conundrum because while I can follow the rational logic that nations take to protect their interests, I also am saddened by the innocent loss of life, as well as annoyed with the hypocrisy nations display through their justification for action or lack of action. I’ve learned a lot in this course, and the answer is still the same; this is a very complex issue with no simple solution.

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Blog 6- Saudi Arabia: Male Guardianship and Economic Future of the Nation

Saudi Arabia basks in its surging influence, strengthened relationship with the US, and economic initiatives to diversify its economy so as to reduce oil revenue reliance. In this process, we can list its support for terrorism, Yemen’s starving population, and suppression of speech, but rather we will look at their silent population; women. Much wealth allows Saudi Arabia to fund benevolent educational programs for their population to study abroad, learn from fine institutions and take what was learned for use in their homeland with the pursuit to better the state. Men and women alike are eligible for these programs. However, despite having an educated society and striving for an equitable place with western states (and influence), Saudi Arabia is listed on Human Rights Watch as supporting abuses through their legal system and culture, particularly against women. So what are these restrictions on women that translate to human rights violations?

Male Guardianship System:

  • adult women must obtain permission to travel, marry, or exit prison
  • required to provide guardian consent in order to work or access healthcare
  • cannot rent an apartment or file legal claims
  • all women remain banned from driving cars
  • disparate opportunities for women in sports and physical education
    • though as recent as Rio Olympics did have 4 women participate

With increased pressure from the global community and its own efforts to be seen on somewhat equal stature as great powers, Saudi Arabia has announced possible changes to directly benefit women.  King Salman ordered a review of the laws, which may yield a pivot regarding guardianship. This review will likely not sit well with hard line conservatives who have had large influence on the politics of Saudi Arabia. However, as part of its economic diversification program for 2030, change is necessary. Loosening the restrictions on women may not directly result in economic gains, but it certainly has the opportunity to do so is the assumption. To note, the Shura Council has been less strict with applying guardianship laws for job applicants. If assumptions come to fruition, women may be driving in the next few years as the King sees that this is a basic human right in the search for economic stability. Looking at the unemployment for men and women alone (2000 – 2016), it is visible that diverting to a new way ahead is absolutely critical to for women, and Saudi Arabia as a whole (World Bank).

It is hard for me to believe this pivot comes from a warm place in anyone’s heart. Capitalism and realism play a huge role in Saudi Arabia’s shift. They know for a fact they need to diversify and they must do so by utilizing their female population. This is especially true if they hope to continue flourishing with Western nations who have a higher standard for women socially and economically. While Saudi Arabia is no beacon of fairness or human rights by any means, some progression is better than none. Women have been subjugated long enough in Saudi Arabia, so while for western women small changes are laughable when compared to the liberties we enjoy, they are massive to a society that is embedded in archaic religious doctrine that leave little to no room for change.

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Blog 3- Syria’s Suffering: Baskin Robbins of Death

By now just about anyone who isn’t living under a rock has heard about the tragedy that is Syria. Using Human Rights Watch as our source for the first evaluation, we begin taking a closer look at events leading to the global concern for the Syrian people. Commencing with the first apparent use of chemical weapons against the population in August 2013, the Assad regime was accused of unleashing this devastation. Though vehemently denied, hundreds of people were killed in Damascus (East and SW, see map “Damascus Attack”) through Sarin gas, though Assad had been forewarned using chemical attacks was a “red line” to not be crossed according to the Obama Administration. This later became the hollow threat heard around the world. It didn’t end there, 2014-2015 saw continued chemical attacks via chlorine barrel bombs in Idlib Province. This, however, continued to be a blameless situation, whereby the regime and Russia blamed opposition forces, and the West (US, GB, FR) blamed the Assad regime. However, also in August 2015, Islamic State militants, who have been taking advantage of the Syrian instability, has also been accused of using chemical weapons by way of mustard gas as they try to advance their agenda. Naturally, this has generated casualties and caused even more to flee, which has resulted in a refugee crisis predominantly felt in Europe and Middle East.

Another direct cause in the refugee crisis is the Assad regimes known and continued ghastly murders of imprisoned detainees in Saydnaya (see map icon “Saydanya”). According to Amnesty International, Assad has this down to a science, assassinating imprisoned civilians who have opposed the regime or alleged to have opposed. Reports claim civilians are tortured, hanged, and ultimately meet their demise. A slaughterhouse, as dubbed by Amnesty International. The victims deprived food, water, and medical care are later buried in mass graves, which human rights orgs like AI deem too massive for the government to not be aware, and or directly authorizing said the atrocities. Human Rights Data Analysis Group has it tallied at “17,723 people killed in government custody between March 2011 and December 2015,” or 300 monthly.

 

Assad does not seem to be following a balanced or humane approach toward his own people, taking actions that would legitimize his government. Considering the five perspectives, the only one I could possibly imagine he is using would be Political Realist; doing anything at all cost for the sake of preserving the state. Sadly, this approach is not only alienating his regime from Western powers, but it is more importantly allowing forces like IS to deepen divisions and openly try to advance their agenda. All the while, the Syrian people are dying or fleeing; void of any other option. The Trump administration appears willing to entertain joining the table with Russia to find “common ground” but who is to know where this strange new alliance will take the Syrian people and the American military.

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Blog 2 – “Home” – The Kurdish Longing

What’s in a name, place, or feeling of “home?” Some would say it is the shared familiarity, culture, language . . . a common threading of identity in a place or location where one could trace roots to and have a right to exist. Kurds are the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East, one would think numbers alone warrant a place for them; outlined, definitive, and sovereign. As seen in the map below, “The Kurdish Presence,” the hiking icons show the millions of Kurds inhabiting these nations:

  • 2 million in Syria
  • 5 million in Iraq
  • 8 million in Iran
  • 18 million in Turkey

These indigenous peoples of the Mesopotamian Plains have the largest presence in Turkey (15-20%), and as a result have been largely marginalized and met resistance from the Turkish government. This is where we will focus today’s question of human rights as it relates to statehood.

It is a war zone; snipers included. The Turkish government has levied what some in the international community would consider harsh and inhumane conditions on this portion of their population. According to the Amnesty International, Kurds have been subject to 24 hour curfews, denial of burial rights according to custom, “severe electricity, water and food shortages in curfew areas, . . . unable to safely leave their neighborhoods to access healthcare, and ambulances have been denied entry by security forces.” The infighting in South East Turkey has seen about 400,000 Kurds displaced. Additionally, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) have been outlawed, making Kurdish concerns in a way nationally and legally banned. The US and the European partners have been seen by the Kurdish people as oblivious, willfully, toward the plight of these stateless people. But why don’t they have a home when in the 1900s Kurds initiated the consideration of a homeland, referred to as “Kurdistan?” It seemed likely when after WWI, upon the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, Western allies allocated a provision for a Kurdish state within 1920 Treaty of Sevres. Yet today, they are still stateless even though Kurds have been successful aiding the war against ISIS/ISIL (PKK, YPG, and PYD). Their efforts have not been rewarded despite their willingness to defend their presence, which has been helping the US-led coalition. Turkey is a globally recognized sovereign state who has shown interest in joining the EU for many years, but the human rights violations prominently continuing against the Kurds is at conflict with EU principles. This places the Kurds in a dire position of perpetual limbo; their plight is known, the sentiment is there, but they are still waiting for action that can result in a realistic location in the Middle East for them. They have had a continued historical and regional presence; the longer this statelessness continues, the higher the probability of conflict that leads to unnecessary deaths on both sides (though mostly Kurdish). With this many people displaced trying to survive in other nations, it seems like it is the right time to persuade Turkey, Iran and Iraq to cede a portion of their border-crossing for the creation of a Kurdish state (they have the largest distributions after all). Iran not being an ally will bring peculiar engagement, but if creating Jews a home was of major importance to the global community after WWII, so should be the effort for a sovereign Kurdistan. These predominantly muslim nations will have more to gain than to lose, if the West and Arab allies work together toward an incentive plan. Until then, the statelessness continues.

 

This gentleman is in a place, willing to fight for it, but when will this Kurd have a place to call home?

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Blog 1 – Over the Border Line: the Israeli-Palestinian Statehood Conundrum

US-Israeli relationship dates back to its creation in 1948. It has been strengthened through foreign aid assistance, shared democratic principles, and mutual concerns and goals in the region. This alliance has developed into joint military exercises, intelligence sharing, and military aid to Israel. This alliance has drawn concern from Israel’s neighbors and tested the resiliency of Arab allied nations in the region. Palestine is not totally left behind though, having received $357 million in foreign aid from the U.S. in 2016. Additionally, the U.S. contributed $355 million to the UN Relief and Works Agency which aided Palestine Refugees (UNWRA); $95 million was specifically dedicated to the West Bank and Gaza. Naturally, aiding to entities at conflict renders the question, can a two state solution ever come to pass? Both claim “right” to inhabit, as seen by the map featuring the Western Wall (Biblical “proof” of Jewish territorial existence), and Al-Aqsa Mosque (continued active center of worship/existence).

The U.S. has long been a proponent of human rights and the spread of democracy; it is here where this week’s blog meets the question of statehood for Palestine and Israel. How do we allow one at the expense of the other? Does this continued U.S. support of two warring nations compromise the American ideological anthem of democracy and basic human rights for all? A single-state solution is not viable for two reasons: each group wants sovereignty resulting from their respective “right” to exist, and a single-state would nullify the Jewish majority in order to justify a “Jewish” state. In the many years of both sides “trying” (used loosely here) to come to an agreement, many lives have been lost and abuses have been dealt from both as well (1987-2014 data). This statehood question for Palestinians becomes murkier with alarming actions by Ramadan Abdullah Shalah. As recent as Feb 2017, he called for joint action between Palestine and Hezbollah against Israel; Hezbollah who is deemed a terrorist organization. In doing so, this call can be seen as rational from the Palestinian perspective; they feel isolated and forgotten in what they deem an Israeli occupation of their lands. Israel, on the other hand cannot afford to allow a single state solution; doing so would end the status of a “Jewish” state, and possible actions Israeli leaders may take to suppress Muslims/Palestinians in order to maintain a political advantage erodes their claim to democracy and human rights. A two state solution is then, the only solution. President Trump most recently shifted from letting Palestine and Israel figure it out, to stating that he would “do whatever is necessary to facilitate the agreement — to mediate, to arbitrate, anything …” after meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. This pivot made reaching a solution not just a nicety of the Trump Administration, rather a crucial goal as part of his legacy. Achieving a palatable agreement is easier said than done, but the following is a short list of what my research has shown is needed for peace:

  • statehood for both
  • mutual recognition
  • return of some settlement areas
  • re-drawn borders of Jerusalem
  • Palestinian rejection of terrorism
  • external monitoring (Arab & Western coalition)
  • economic infrastructure & social investment in Palestine
  • Palestinian creation of approved, small army (Germany/Japan-like)

Only time and actions will tell if a solution (a two-state at that) will occur. It goes without saying, Israel is not leaving the region, and the Palestinians have been in the region since under the Ottoman Empire. Both sides deserve peace, safety, and basic human rights that come along with statehood. What are your thoughts?

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