Friday, September 04, 2015

A Requiem for Alan Kurdi

Absurdity and deep sadness. Those were the feelings I had when I accidentally came across the photo of Alan Kurdi, the three-year old Syrian refugee that drowned off the coast of Turkey en route to Greece. Why has the world failed to act?

The answer is complicated, but the picture itself humanized the invisible tragedy that is going on around the world today: we are living through a period where there are more refugees or internally displaced people now than anytime since 1945. According to a recent report, 73 million people -- or one percent of the global population -- have been forced to leave their homes in the past 4-years. Most come from the Middle East, where 13 out of the 22 million people in Syria have been displaced. These numbers are mind boggling. The human suffering is unimaginable.

Much of the discussion of the international refugee crisis revolves around the irresponsibility of nations not taking in more refugees. The EU has come under heavy criticism for its immigration policies and yet what is the cause of these crises and who should be playing the most important role in mitigating this vexing problem?

The cause of these crises are bad policies by regional actors and the United States. Although regional actors and the United States are the primary cause of this problem, regional actors need to play the biggest role in mitigating this crisis. While help from the EU would be great, the onus should be on Arab states -- especially the wealthy gulf monarchies -- to help solve this crisis. These countries should shoulder the burden for the devastation in the region that has often been enabled or exacerbated by their policies. Saudi Arabia in particular needs to step up, as it has done next to nothing to resolve the refugee crisis and in fact has been a huge contributor to it because of its inane intervention in Yemen and its arming of insurgents in Syria.

The refugee crisis will get worse if states don't step in and do something. Until states act, NGOs and non-state actors will continue to provide whatever minimal support they can on the ground. But that is not a long-term, tenable solution. The only solution is for the states in the Middle East to come up with a plan to reduce regional conflicts and provide for refugees. Until this happens, the world will have to stand witness to more Alan Kurdis.

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un

Sunday, April 05, 2015

California Drought Tests History of Endless Growth

As I keep arguing, we will keep hitting more and more of these thresholds in the years and decades to come.

In the 19th century, the key issues were imperialism, industrialization, and growth.

In the 20th century, the key issues were democracy vs. communism, rapid population growth, and the creation of new nation-states.

In the 21st century, the key issues in my estimation will be sustainability vs. growth, climate change, and whether or not civilization will survive.

Adam Nagourney, Jack Healy, and Nelson D. Schwartz, California Drought Tests History of Endless Growth, NY Times, 4-5-15

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Why Pakistan Must Not Get Involved In Yemen

Saudi Arabia launched a series of air strikes in Yemen on Thursday and announced that it is leading a coalition of ten states against the Houthis. The Houthis are a Shia group that overthrew the government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in January of this year. They are currently in control of the capital Sana’a and much of Northern Yemen. The Houthis are aiming to expand their control over all of Yemen and are supported by Iran. Iran is a strong supporter of the Houthis and has lashed out against Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners for its attacks in Yemen. However, Saudi Arabia views the Houthis as an existential threat to Sunni states in the region. In response to this perceived threat, Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners have launched operation “Decisive Storm” to defeat the Houthis.

Saudi Arabia has asked Pakistan for support in this campaign. Although Pakistan has a deep strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia, it must not get involved in Yemen because it does not advance its interests in the region, will serve to antagonize both the domestic and international Shia community, and the legality of military action is questionable at best.

Pakistan’s strategic interests will be hurt if it gets involved in this military campaign. Although Pakistan has a deep economic and military relationship with Saudi Arabia, it has a budding relationship with Iran that needs to continue to improve. Pakistan has been developing a stronger economic and security relationship with Iran over the past several years. Bilateral trade continues to improve, with nearly $900 million worth of trade conducted last year. Furthermore, increased security cooperation is helping to secure the porous border between Iran and Baluchistan. Finally, the cost of non-involvement for Pakistan’s relationship with Saudi Arabia remains lows, especially because of the strong ties between Nawaz Sharif and the Saudi royal family. Non-involvement will not substantively hurt Pakistan and Saudi Arabia’s relationship, while involvement on behalf of Riyadh in Yemen will significantly hurt Islamabad’s relationship with Tehran. The costs for involvement far outweigh any strategic gains.

Any involvement by Pakistan in this conflict will antagonize both the domestic and international Shia communities. It is estimated that 20% of Pakistan’s population is Shia, giving it the second largest Shia population in the world with up to 40 million adherents across the country. The large Shia population in Pakistan has experienced prejudice and attacks in the past, with the most recent attack being a suicide bombing at a mosque in Peshawar last month that killed 19 people. As this conflict is being framed by Saudi Arabia as a Sunni versus Shia showdown, Pakistan’s involvement on behalf of Saudi Arabia will be perceived by the Shia community as further proof of the Pakistani state’s bias against them. Pakistan cannot afford to further alienate this important community, especially at a time of heightened religious polarization across the country and world. 

Pakistan must not get involved in Yemen because the current coalition against the Houthis is operating outside of the confines of international law. According to Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, a state cannot get involved in the affairs of another state unless it is being attacked. Saudi Arabia is not being attacked by the Houthis and thus its military strike can be viewed as an abrogation of the principle of non-intervention into sovereign states. Although supporters of intervention will argue that Saudi Arabia’s actions are justified in order to support the deposed government of Yemen, without an explicit United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force, the current attack is not legally sanctioned. An illegal intervention into another state is not a position Pakistan should support, especially given the vocal critique by politicians like Imran Khan that U.S. drone strikes are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. Given the extreme antipathy by many Pakistanis towards the violation of its sovereignty, Pakistan should avoid doing that which it generally condemns.

Although Riyadh would like the support of Islamabad in its current campaign against the Houthis in Yemen, Pakistan must avoid getting involved in this conflict. Involvement in the conflict will not advance Pakistan’s strategic interests and will instead hurt ties with Iran and the Shia community. The costs for noninvolvement are extremely low and even though numerous states are participating in this conflict, they appear to be doing so outside of the confines of international law. Pakistan should adopt a realist position on this conflict and remain steadfast in avoiding Saudi Arabia’s coalition against the Houthis in Yemen.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

I Am NOT Charlie Hebdo

Freedom of speech is a fundamental freedom that can help to advance liberty in society. With liberty, minority opinions can be defended and heard. But freedom of speech can also be used to advance reactionary projects of hate and bigotry. This reactionary project has been embraced by right-win segments of French society in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks. Instead of reviving France's tradition of liberté, égalité, and fraternité, many of those who have embraced Charlie Hebdo are only serving to promote further divisions in French society. Charlie Hebdo has decided to double-down on its inflammatory content and there have already been numerous attacks on Synagogues, Mosques, and Muslims across the country.

If 8-10% of your country adheres to a particular religious faith and you go out of your way to marginalize and antagonize them, how do you think they will feel? Will this serve to advance freedom of speech or the project of liberté, égalité, and fraternité?

For those who believe that this "I am Charlie" slogan is somehow a liberal defense of freedom of speech, consider this thought experiment. Say Fox News was on the receiving end of a terrorist attack. Then all of a sudden people started walking around saying "I am Fox News" and replaying over and over again their most bigoted commentary. How effective would this tactic be to defending freedom of speech?

Equating poor content and inflammatory organizations with freedom of speech actually hurts freedom of speech advocates. Freedom of speech is fantastic. But when you spread hate content through hateful organizations, this only serves to create deeper divisions across society. This reduces the civility of 'civil' society and, in the end, does not help advance the cause of freedom of speech or liberté, égalité, and fraternité. Instead it helps advance the goals of reactionary bigots. Anomie increases and ultimately everyone loses. For all of these reasons and more, I am NOT Charlie Hebdo.