Archive for February, 2016

An Open Letter to Ban Ki-moon

By Richard Falk

The post that follows is a modified version of an opinion piece published by Middle East Eye on 6 February 2016. Its focus on the metaphor of ‘shooting the messenger’ has usually been reserved for critics of Israel, and it is only when high officials depart from their scripted roles as faithful servants of the established order that their behavior results in demeaning rebukes.

Israel and its most ardent defenders have been repeatedly guilty of shooting the messenger, thereby diverting attention from the damaging message by defaming the agent who delivered the message. It is a tactic that works, partly because the media finds character assassination more marketable than substantive commentary of a controversial nature.

In my case, being frequently a messenger due to my UN role for six years, the nastier side of the attack tactics was to describe me (and others) as ‘a self-hating Jew’ or ‘anti-Semite.’ I tried to stay on message, largely ignoring the attacks, especially within the UN itself, but media coverage was preoccupied with an assessment of the personal vendetta that was difficult to ignore altogether without seemingly to acquiesce in the allegations.

I should add that my tormenters extended beyond Mr. Ban Ki-moon and included others on the UN Watch mailing list including Susan Rice, then U.S. Ambassador at the UN, and high officials from other white settler countries, including Canada and Australia.

Even the supposedly liberal Samantha Power, although previously a friendly acquaintance, joined the party, calling me biased and ill-suited for the position in statements to the press. She based her attack on the harshness of my criticisms leveled at Israel in my reports that highlighted the mismatch between their policies and practices as the Occupying Power in Palestine with the standards, duties, and principles set forth in the Geneva Conventions.

Dear Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations:

Having read of the vicious attacks on you for venturing some moderate, incontestable criticisms of Israel’s behavior, I understand well the discomfort you clearly feel. Not since Richard Goldstone chaired the group that released the report detailing apparent Israeli war crimes during its massive attack on Gaza at the end of 2008 have Israel’s big political guns responded with such unwarranted fury, magnified as usual by ultra-Zionist media commentary.

Netanyahu has the audacity to claim that your acknowledgement that it is not unnatural for the Palestinians oppressed for half century to resist and resort to extremism is tantamount to the encouragement of terrorism, what he described as giving a “tailwind to terrorism.”

The fact your intention was quite the opposite hardly matters. Read the rest of this entry »

TFF PressInfo # 363: Can we give meaning to the destruction of Syria?

By Jan Oberg

Five years ago

In 2011 when it all began, an educated conflict analyst or otherwise conflict competent person would have said about the conflict in Syria that it was a very complex thing, caused by history, environment, traumas, external factors, the economic situation, etc. And that al-Assad and his government was certainly an important reason but far from the only one.

The conflict expert would have warned against at last four ways of thinking:

a) any interpretation that put all the good people on one side and all the bad people on the other – because there are no conflicts in the world with only two such parties;

b) any idea that the conflict could be solved by siding with the presumed good ones and going against the bad one(s);

c) every attempt to ‘weaponise’ the conflict and increase the level of violence, the duration of the conflict and the human suffering;

d) any and every idea that foreigners would know better than the Syrians themselves – government, opposition and citizens in civil society – what should be a solution.

Finally – the professional conflict and peace worker would have maintained that you can’t make peace by asking one person – not even brilliant ones like Kofi Annan or Staffan di Mistura – with a small team around him and some shuttle diplomacy to succeed with facilitation, consultations, brainstorming, proposal-making, mediation and, finally, some kind of negotiations leading to a peace agreement in what is undoubtedly one of the most complex and ‘hard’ conflicts on earth.

Peace-making requires a completely different approach to not just be a pawn in the wider war game – a game that according to Al-Jazeera today encompasses some 900 military groups – add to that government forces and all the political and civil groups that don’t carry weapons: 1500?

Five years later – at least 250.000 dead people, 3 million refugees and 6,5 million internally displaced people, cities, economy, cultural heritage destroyed – anyone can see that no one listened to such simple conflict rules of thumb.

Conflict and peace illiteracy

The self-appointed and completely un-educated, peace-makers of the international community – presidents, prime and foreign ministers of the US, NATO, Russia, etc. – did about everything else.

It seems to not even occur to them or to the media that Read the rest of this entry »

TFF PressInfo # 362: Iran’s elections and the nuclear deal

By Dr. Farhang Jahanpour
TFF Board member

Lund, Sweden, February 24, 2016

Two general elections are to be held in Iran this coming Friday the 26th – to the parliament (Majles) for the next 4 years and to the Assembly of Experts for the next 8 years.

Their results will be of utmost importance for the Iranian society and politics, for its foreign policy and the Middle Eastern region and – in the light of the nuclear deal – for the world too.

We are pleased to send you some links to essential analyses of these issues by Iranian-born scholar Dr. Farhang Jahanpour, Oxford University and TFF Board member.

Elections in Iran – A test for the regime

Is Iran the most stable country in the Mideast 37 years after its revolution?

Iran is leaning neither towards the West nor the East
Interview with Tehran Times also available here.

The nuclear deal implementation day: A win-win agreement

Views split in both Iran and the US on nuclear deal implementation

Iran moves fast: Can the nuclear deal survive elections in Iran and the US?

These articles exemplify one of three project aims TFF has for it’s multi-year engagement in Iran since 2013 – namely to increase the knowledge about Iran and thereby help change the hitherto unreasonably negative image of it in the West.

Simply put, where knowledge and understanding replace stereotypes and enemy images, the chance of confidence and peace-building increases.

The second sub-project is to help establish academic peace and conflict research at Tehran’s University, and the third is to create an art photography book from various parts of Iran.

Ukraine, a frozen conflict

By Jonathan Power

It’s two years since a mass of demonstrators brought down the centrist government of President Viktor Yanukovych.

We don’t hear much about Ukraine these days, mainly because the foreign journalists, not having too much to do – and often being freelance and therefore only paid by the number of lines they get printed – have gone home or to other hot spots.

Most of the news these days comes out of the Washington-based IMF that repeatedly warns that the economy of Ukraine teeters on the brink and that corruption remains so deep and widespread that it is difficult, to say the least, to get good economic decisions made. Often the government appears to be checkmated by an unsympathetic parliament where the representatives of the oligarchs, who prefer the status quo, wield their power.

To compound the problems – which will surely continue even if Russia, the EU and the US find a common political and military solution – fighting in the east has now resumed. Fortunately, the main truce, agreed at Minsk a year ago by the heads of government of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany, is maintained and these short flare-ups tend to happen every couple of months.

Winding the clock back to two years ago, the demonstrators in the Maidan, Read the rest of this entry »

Human Rights – A permanent challenge

By Johan Galtung

Concluding Remarks, Colloque, Université Catholique Lyon, 5-6 Feb 2016

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10 December 1948 – the two Conventions of 16 November 1966 are international law – was edited by a committee of Men; Older, White, Bourgeois, Lawyers, French: MOWBLF!

Nothing about women’s and children’s rights; wait till the 1980s.

The perspective focuses on individuals, not collectives, peoples.

There are no rights to access to toilet, nor to sexuality: well-mannered bourgeois do such things but do not talk or write about it. Art. 27.2 even protects remuneration for professionals like themselves.

The “human rights=legal claims” discourse defines underdog goals but is silent on topdog goals: status quo. Their justification: “If they rise, they will treat us the way we treated them”. Revenge. In a conflict discourse, all parties have to be heard, for solutions.

But the legal discourse is DMA–Dualist-Manichean-Armageddon; two parties, rights vs wrongs, final battle in the Supreme Court. No accommodation to legitimate concerns of the losing side. The winner takes all.

And they were French. What does, or did, that mean? Read the rest of this entry »

It’s the wars, stupid!

Time for an original US foreign policy

By Jonathan Power

There are three schools of thought in American foreign policy- two you have heard about and a third that is relegated to the background.

The first and arguably the most prominent is the neo-conservative.

These people, in the days of the Soviet Union, were the rabid anti-communists who wanted to beat the Soviet Union into the ground with vastly increased spending on defence. Today they are the ones who supported the extreme right wing agitators who overthrew the middle-of-the-road president of Ukraine, Wiktor Yanukovich. They supported President George Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and want President Barack Obama to intervene in Syria.

The second is the liberal.

Liberals have always wanted to seek nuclear arms limitations with Moscow. They wanted an end to apartheid in South Africa. But many of them also believe in directly interfering in a country that is carrying out inhumane policies. They persuaded President Barack Obama to intervene in Libya’s civil war which left a political mess that has become a haven for ISIS. Some of them have argued for intervention in Syria’s civil war. They also, in tandem with the neo-conservatives, successfully persuaded Obama to pursue an anti-Russian policy in Ukraine.

Then, third, there are the “realists”.

People like the late greats: George Kennan, Hans Morgenthau, Reinhold Niebuhr and Walter Lippmann. In many ways Obama is a realist, although not consistently. He has succumbed to both liberal and neo-conservative advice.

The realists don’t get much airtime. Their advice is usually pushed aside Read the rest of this entry »

Religious Fundamentalism-Extremism-Violence

By Johan Galtung

To navigate these difficult conceptual waters we need some rules. Here are three suggestions (the violence can be direct – as sometimes prescribed by the Abrahamic religions – or structural as by Hinduism):

1. Anchor “religious fundamentalism” in religious scriptures taken literally according to the fundamentalists, not as “interpreted”;
2. Anchor “extremism” in violent action, verbal or physical;
3. Anchor “religious extremism” in violent action justified-legitimized by religious scriptures, by fundamentalists or not.

Fundamentalism has to do with inner faith, belief. Extremism has to do with outer violence against Other, and against Self (like flagellation for being a sinner). Keep them separate. And be careful.

We can have fundamentalism without extremism. The fundamentalist may believe much, beyond the beliefs of others, yet not cross the border to violence. We may say: let him-her do so; it is not obvious that fundamentalists are more violent than non-fundamentalists.

We can have extremism without fundamentalism. Most people exercising violence believe in nothing, beyond “doing their job”.

There are two criteria for “religious extremism”: Read the rest of this entry »

TFF PressInfo # 361: The real news about Nobel’s Peace Prize is here, and it isn’t Trump

By Jan Oberg

Lund, Sweden, February 11, 2016

Thanks to tabloidization – a concept rapidly integrated into even quality mainstream media – you’ve probably heard that Donald Trump has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 2016.

Well, that prize has been thrown out to so many who didn’t qualify according Alfred Nobel’s will – not even with a very liberal interpretation.

But there are two things you may not have seen which have very far-reaching implications and are much more news worthy.

Court case against the Nobel Foundation

One is that three individuals and an NGO filed a brief to open a court case against the Nobel Foundation – and thus implicitly the Nobel Committee in Oslo – to the Stockholm District Court in December 2015 – all about it here.

It’s never happened before and is the result of 8 years of intensive research and public information that you can read about at the Nobel Peace Prize Watch – NPPW.

Its focal case is the prize awarded to the EU about which Desmond Tutu and others have stated that the EU was “obviously not one of champions of peace that Nobel had in mind.”

Open list of nominees for 2016 who do qualify

The other one is that a list has been published of 25 qualified nominees Read the rest of this entry »

On NATO S-G Stoltenberg’s wish for dialogue and NATO’s 2015 report

By Jan Oberg

February 9, 2016

Commenting on NATO S-G Jens Stoltenberg’s wish for dialogue with Russia – a bit odd after all the other provocative initiatives he has spearheaded the last good year or so.

I felt like saying something more general about this outdated paradigm – and why it is dangerous for us all – referring also to the Russell-Einstein Manifesto of 1955.

You may also see it as my statement countering the NATO Annual 2015 Report which lacks every intellectualism, theoretical/conceptual clarity, empathy, peace thinking and – naively – equates military build-up with ‘security’.


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