Archive for November, 2014

Obama’s report card

By Jonathan Power

Will the real Barack Obama be allowed to stand up? The New York Times’ columnist and Nobel Prize winner for economics, Paul Krugman, writes in “Rolling Stone, “Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential presidents in American history”.

You wouldn’t know this if you observed the swing towards the Republicans in the recent Congressional elections – the same Republican Party that has implemented a scorched-earth policy against many of Obama’s initiatives.

The truth is he’s made more of a go of it than much of the media has reported.

He came into power inheriting the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. He has emerged as the only full-bloodied Keynesian Read the rest of this entry »

Malaysian Territories: Security and Sovereignty

By Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia has recently experienced maximum insecurity for two extra-territorial sovereign territories: Malaysian Airlines flights MH370 to Beijing and MH17 from Amsterdam. Flights are subject to air traffic rules, but sovereignty was deeply insulted for MH17–possibly also for MH370–and so was the security of the close to 600 on board: dead, possibly killed. The finding so far is that MH17 was hit by “numerous high energy objects”, which–looking at the photos of the cabin wall–aka “machine gun fire”; rather than “hit by a BUK rocket”. MH370: a race to locate the wreckage, by submarines, surface vessels; between China to find, and Australia to destroy, any evidence of crimes?

Intentional destruction of planes entails identification of the perpetrators whoever they are; arraigning them into court and if found guilty punishing them for mass murder. Taking place in international space both should be international, like the International Civil Aviation Organization and the ICC-International Criminal Court. For MH17 Malaysia used Netherlands for the investigation and may prefer Malaysia for the adjudication; two unfortunate decisions. We are dealing with one, possibly two, cases of aggression on civilian planes, themselves incapable of aggression; hence no case for self-defense. The cases are clearly criminal.

So much for space. Conventional borders are on land, sea (EEZ-Exclusive Economic Zone aka Economic Exclusion Zone, between EEZs) and in the air; traditionally defended by land, sea, air military forces against insults by other states, and by police for insults by individuals such as smuggling, drugs, kidnapping, illegal immigration and fishing. The borders are territorial, and the military is focused on national territory. Check out: are there problems anywhere, even conflicts, disputed claims? How will they evolve? Diagnosis, prognosis, and if needed, therapy; standard peace research approaches. Read the rest of this entry »

Putin’s Media?

By Jonathan Power

Moscow, November 18th 2014.

The English language “Moscow News” newspaper doesn’t worry much about censorship. It goes for the jugular on a regular basis. But it is doubtful if President Vladimir Putin gives it a thought. Its audience is almost entirely expatriate businessmen, diplomats and journalists.

For the Russian-language papers and broadcasting channels it is a different story. Over recent years the state has taken over more and more. Still there are chinks of light- sizeable ones, although admittedly Putin could shut these off if he wanted to. One of these is the internet, which suffers only from the censorship of a handful of personal sites and would be impossible to stifle completely given the way “close-downs” can be circumvented.

A contributor to The Moscow News made a good point: Read the rest of this entry »

The Future of Mediation

By Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

Ludwigsburg, German Mediation Congress

Dear Colleagues; the future of mediation is to make ourselves redundant by spreading a conflict solution culture at all levels of social organization, enabling people to handle conflicts themselves. There will be counter-forces from professional mediators to monopolize the job and countercounter-forces from others to become ever better, to be ahead. The latter will win.

Model: the health professions.

Incredible gains were made in human health enabling people to take better care of their bodies: protection against contagious diseases through hygiene, washing hands, brushing teeth; keeping fit with adequate food, water, moving-walking –but care with jogging, unnatural, in the direction of a hospital– against the climate through adequate clothing and housing; against sepsis in wounds adequate cleaning: a minimum of health education. More than the complexities of surgery this gave us 25 more years of life.

For children and adolescents: watch the pathogens bringing illness from the outside as micro-organisms and violent encounters, shocks, excessive heat and cold, fire. After that come structural diseases–malignant tumors, cardiovascular, mental disorders–also rooted in the inside, with genetic predispositions. Too little adequate food and exercise; too much smoking, alcohol and other drugs can be handled with some will to get better. Equally important: an overload of stress and strain, problems and conflicts not handled: our task. Physicians have shared with people washing hands and brushing teeth as hygiene; it is our task to share conflict hygiene with everybody. Read the rest of this entry »

TFF PressInfo # 292: Brisbane – A show of Western weakness

By Jan Oberg

Jan Oberg

No matter what you may think of Putin and Russia this is simply not the way international politics should be conducted, particularly not at the personal level. If it wasn’t an offence to children, one would aptly characterise it as childish behaviour.

Western leaders ignored a brilliant opportunity to meet face-to-face with Vladimir Putin and move forward towards mutual understanding instead of signalling that they want a new Cold War.

Western leaders tell us that Russia is a ”threat to the world”. That obviously serves other purposes because you don’t bully someone you genuinely fear.

The G20 Brisbane should be remembered for its show of Western leaders’ personal display of weakness and conflict illiteracy.

Pummelled Putin punching bag

CNN reports that, during the meeting, Putin took ”pummelling” and was treated as a ”punching bag” by Western leaders from he set foot on Australian soil where his Australian host had sent a deputy minister of defence to receive him.

The Guardian reports that the Russian president approached Canadian Prime Minister Harper with his hand outstretched. Harper reluctantly shook it, then said “Well I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I only have one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine.” ”Bold words” – media called it.

Footage shows Putin sitting alone at a lunch table – like a naughty school boy put in the corner as by his teachers.

President Obama said that we are ”opposing Russia’s aggression in Ukraine which is a threat to the world as we saw in the appalling shoot down in the MH-17”. Read the rest of this entry »

Is Russia on the warpath?

By Jonathan Power

Just before former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev on Saturday made his stunning criticism of the West that, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, it had engaged in “triumphalism”, I was in Moscow. Everyone I talked to said the West had set out to humiliate Russia (not to help rebuild it as it did in Germany after the Second World War).

Gorbachev has long been the West’s pet political darling, (although the New York Times didn’t report this speech) – for undoing the straitjacket that enveloped Soviet society, for allowing the reunification of Germany and for being the major contributor to ending the Cold War.

So the question is will the West listen to him now? Will it listen to his point that the expansion of NATO has made Russia feel threatened?

Will it understand that there is a good reason why he and an overwhelming majority of Russians support President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy? Will it share his fear that “we are on the brink of a new Cold War”?

One of the people I talked to Read the rest of this entry »

Christianity between Jewish and Islamic banking

By Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

Protestant Liechtenstein recently held a conference on making banking shariah compatible, to attract capital from Muslim countries. And no doubt also because the big survivors of the 2008 crisis were China and Muslim countries; China because the focus is not only growth but lifting the bottom up – increasing domestic demand and less dependence on trade in 1991-2004 – Muslim countries because of Islamic banking.

A common Western misunderstanding is that Islam forbids interest; what is forbidden are relations that are only monetary; they should be economic, social, more human, in a broad sense. Just to make money available against interest is out. Purely financial deals selling and buying financial objects–derivatives at any level–for commissions are also out. Banks and other companies have to be in it together.

There is more to it. A bank has to be trustworthy, not at the brink of collapse. A leading Islamic banker in Malaysia said that his capital was 60% debt–deposits, 20% securities, 20% liquidity; he felt confident that he could survive future crises with that portfolio and the solidity of “being in it together”. Calculations for the big banks in the USA indicate operating 95% on debt and 5% on liquidity: highly vulnerable to going down, with depositors in the wake.

As Timothy Geithner points out in his book Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises: Crises will reappear and the “too big to fail” banks have to Read the rest of this entry »

TFF PressInfo 291: Coping With the Loss of a Close Enemy

Perestroika as a Challenge to the West

By Jan Oberg

Jan Oberg

Written April 1990
Published in Bulletin of Peace Proposals 3-1990, pp 287-298 and on TFF’s homepage at the same time

1. Four hypotheses

The West has lost a close enemy, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Which reactions can be discerned and what psycho-political emotions are they indicative of? How did the West cope with the first years of this new post-Cold War situation? Can we mourn the death of an enemy, can we heal ourselves after the loss? How does one learn to live a new life without a close enemy? Has the West done what it ought to do for itself and for the former enemy?

“The West” of course is a term hanging loose. We employ it in this article as meaning interchangeably “NATO, the Western hemisphere, the United States and Western Europe and a few cases, Western or Occidental culture”.

The first hypothesis of this essay is that the West, i.e. the Western part of the Occidental civilization, is traumatized by the loss of its Eastern brother.

The second is that we have discussed far too little what it means for the West and projected all our attention on the Soviet Union, i.e. acted as spectators in a certain sense.

The third hypothesis, therefore, is that the West is increasingly stuck in a self-congratulatory “we have won the cold war and socialism is dead” attitude which only increases the likelihood that it will be taken even more by surprise in the future.

And the fourth hypothesis is that the changes in the Eastern Occidental brother occur simultaneously with a number of challenges within the Western Occidental system and is bound, ultimately, to pose an overwhelming challenge to our own system. There is now an historical opportunity, a new political space and time to be filled by cooperation and exciting visions of a common future. We believe that the West has something to learn from the idea, not the content, of perestroika, i.e. experimenting with deep non-violent change in one’s own system the outcome of which cannot be known with any precision.

Czech playwright and president, Václav Havel, when in January 1990 adressing the Polish sejmen, argued that Eastern Europe should not be seen as a poor dissident or a bewildered prisoner set free but “as someone who has something to offer, namely spiritual and moral inspiration, daring peace initiatives, an unexploited creative potential, an ethos of new freedom and impulses toward bold and quick-moving solutions.” And he rounded off this speech with the following words (author’s translation again): “The most dangerous enemy today is not the dark forces of totalitarianism, intriguers or leagues of gangsters – it is our own dark sides. My program as president is therefore based on the principle of infusing spirituality, moral responsibility, humanity and humility into politics and, thus, insist on there being something higher than we humans, that our deeds shall not disappear into the dark holes of our time but be preserved, somewhere, investigated, evaluated – that we have neither a right nor a reason to maintain that we understand everything or can do everything.”

One may wonder with whom in the West Havel can have a dialogue at this level? Who in the West would respond in these existential and visionary terms? Why is the response of the West first of all Read the rest of this entry »

ISIS in a Sunni-Shia perspective

By Farhang Jahanpour

A shorter version of this article has been published by IPS

When ISIS suddenly emerged in Iraq it declared as one of its first targets the Shi’is and what it called the Safavids. The Safavid dynasty (1501-1736) was one of the most powerful Iranian dynasties after the Islamic conquest.

At its height, it ruled an area nearly twice the size of modern Iran, including large parts of modern Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Eastern parts of Turkey and Syria, and large areas of Western Afghanistan and Baluchestan, the North Caucasus, as well as parts of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

However, what irks the Sunni jihadists most is the fact that the Safavids made the Twelver School of Shi’ism Iran’s official religion, something that has continued to the present time.

The interesting point is that the Safavid dynasty had its origin in a Sunni Sufi order, but at some point they converted to Shi’ism and then used their new zeal as a way of subduing most of Iran. Although there had been some minor Shi’a dynasties in the past, nearly all other major Iranian dynasties, as well as the bulk of the Iranian population, had been Sunnis. Indeed, when the Safavids came to power there were so few Shi’a scholars and clerics in Iran that they had to import some from Lebanon.

The Shi’a zeal of the Safavids was partly due to the fact that they were fighting against the Sunni Ottoman Empire, and therefore their adherence to Shi’ism was mainly political, in order to set them apart from the Ottomans who also carried the title of Sunni caliphs. The Safavids made their capital, Isfahan, into one of the most beautiful cities in Iran and the Middle East as a whole.

The Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905-11) laid the foundations of modern Iran, with a constitutional monarchy. The two Pahlavi kings (1925-1979), while ruling as absolute monarchs, were militantly secular and tried to modernize Iran and turn it into a Western-style country.

The 1979 Revolution in Iran

However, not only did the 1979 Islamic revolution end that period of secular reforms, but it also put an end to a 2,600 year-old Iranian monarchy, and replaced it with a clerical regime based on the principle of Velayat-e Faqih, or the guardianship of Shi’a jurisprudent.

What makes the Islamic revolution unique is that for the first time in the history of Iran, and indeed in the history of Islam, it brought clerics to power. Read the rest of this entry »

Christianity vs Islam: Countercyclicity?

By Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

“Countercyclicity” means that both move through history in cycles, up and down; with one moving up when the other moves down.

Christianity started with its founder crucified, like the first pope St Peter; Christians were tortured, killed, expelled from Jewish Palestine. But then indeed up, as religio licita in the Roman Empire in 313, defined in Nicaea in 325 by Emperor Constantine. The Empire split in 395, with a Catholic Church in the West – contracting, monastic after the Western Empire fell in 476 – and an Orthodox Church in the East, till Constantinople became Istanbul in 1453 – Moscow became “the Third Rome”.

Islam started with the Prophet’s hizrat, migration from Mecca to Medina as city-state under Mohammed till he died in 632. From then till the end of the umayyad Damascus dynasty in 750, Islam covered the lands from Iberia (not Asturias) as the caliphate of Cordoba in 711, to Iran. Moving on, the abassid Baghdad dynasty till the 1258 massacre by Mongols, the sultanates of Delhi in 1192, Pattani now Thailand, Aceh in Sumatra; Sulu and Maguindanao in Mindanao, Philippines in 1405, 1490s.

Ahead of expansionist Christian Magellan 1520-21. After Columbus 1492 – the arch-year of Christian expansion – Read the rest of this entry »


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