Israeli Nation-State Law: Legalising Discrimination

Australia will always be my home. My professional ambition is to work in the field of human rights by completing short-term contracts where I report as a program specialist on program fidelity and consult on M&E assurance in the field of education for children and young people. But home is where I am building a stronghold of friends and family, where I love my job and have a stable routine, where I get the chance to go for weekends away hiking and camping, where I feel secure and free. I used to feel trapped in a dead-end job, living with people I did not really get along with and so I would imagine ideas of escape to somewhere else, but it was my life that I needed to change and not my location and right now I can say that Australia is a wonderful place.

I am currently visiting Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem working with young people and exploring and developing my skills, but the restriction to my movements, the fear of even going for a long walk on my own, the sight of teenagers holding weapons and toddlers roaming the streets on their own barefoot in dirty clothing sends shivers down my spine. Only this morning, a young boy was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers in the neighboring Dheisheh refugee camp. Unfortunately, I had a meeting at the Walled Off Hotel with a friend and on my way back I turned the corner to find young people protesting the fatal attack and were throwing stones at the Israeli Sniper Tower in Bethlehem, one hitting my arm by accident as it ricocheted off the wall from the building beside me as I suddenly found myself caught in between the clashes.

My visit to the camp has given me direct access to see how unfortunate the circumstances are for these young boys and girls, all of whom have very limited opportunity to find work or to study, their movements curtailed because they have no money and are confined behind restrictions of the Israeli occupation, continuously belittled and degraded and where their chances of exploring their creativity or other skills remains extremely narrow. To escape that feeling of powerlessness, many turn to crime and form attachments to religious and political ideologies that give them a sense of purpose such as becoming a shahid or martyr dying for their faith, which enables an escape from their unhappy situation by imagining themselves a part of something bigger.

It is whole populations being imprisoned within extreme socioeconomic conditions, internally displaced from their homes and feeling the tension of the constant threat of attack, with overcrowding, poor infrastructure and restricted access to food and water. 42.5% of the population of Palestine are refugees, with UNRWA figures showing a total of 5,340,443 (2017) registered Palestinian refugees across Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, the total increasing when considering worldwide refugees located in other countries. Since 1948 when Israeli forces expelled and displaced Palestinians from their homes known as the al-Nakbah and further perpetuating totals following the 1967 war that ultimately led to occupation of regions in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians remain the longest and one of the largest displaced refugees in the world.

Article 12 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights discusses freedom of movement both internally and the ability to leave, where one shall not be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country. Further to this, the right to self-determination is enshrined in principle within Art 1 (2) of the United Nations Charter, whereby previous to this in the Atlantic Charter by Roosevelt and Churchill, it claimed that “[N]o territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned.” The charter itself in addition to this right clarifies how the principle of self-determination also concerns other territories that assume responsibility to ensure that measures are taken to assist and promote international peace and security so that the interests of the inhabitants are recognised or enabled (Art 73). Israel, on the other hand, has set aside their obligation and indeed continues to disable the conditions necessary for Palestinian self-determination.

Benjamin Netanyahu, who I see as a leader who has done nothing but destroy the remaining prospect for any two-state solution in the region, is chairman of the right-wing Likud Party and current Prime Minister of Israel and the party while supportive of improved Arab-Israeli relations has a strong opposition to Palestinian statehood. The party continuously undermines any potential peace settlements as seen with Netanyahu’ clear and unambiguous statement that Israel will remain in the West Bank with or without a peace deal that unnervingly clarifies an indefinite occupation in the region. The Oslo Accords divided the West Bank into three administrative divisions of A, which is effectively controlled by the Palestinian Authority and is comprised of about 18% of the territory and are separated by Israeli controlled checkpoints that Palestinians would need to travel through to get to other areas even within Area A. Refusal to pass is common as is the constant humiliation and treatment given to Palestinians at these checkpoints. Area B is even more complex, with limited Palestinian control and more exclusivity to Israeli security forces over Palestinian authorities, and Area C is under full control by Israel making up almost 60% of the West Bank’ territories. Palestinians living in Area C are often mistreated and have limited – if any – access to drinking water, and any Palestinian homes built in areas controlled by Israel are demolished. Even within that, Hebron is further divided into H1 controlled by PA and H2 by Israel where within 20% of the city are illegally built Israeli settlements. Palestinians control a small percentage of the land with a much higher population density and limited resources, comparatively to Israeli occupied territories making up the largest with the smallest population of Israeli settlements.

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Criticism of Israeli policy and government is not anti-Semitism and it should not be a tool to assist solidarity and easily dismiss facts. I am not against Israel as a State, on the contrary, but the facts are that there have been continuous attacks and a blatant disregard to international law that clearly showcase Israeli discrimination against the Palestinians, largely confirmed by the recent legislative changes that now sanction discrimination as constitutionally acceptable. The Nation-State Law is not only dangerously discriminatory and intentionally alienates the Arab community of Israel, but any sensible person can see that it is in contravention of basic human rights and has clear ideological roots that borders an almost radical ultra-nationalism in the political spectrum. For instance:

1 (c) – The actualisation of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.

This ridiculous statement claims that only Jewish people have the right to self-determination in the region and is characterised as forcible suppression of Palestinian rights.

3 – The unified and complete city of Jerusalem is the capital of Israel

This remains a contentious issue since Palestinians also claim Jerusalem to be their political capital and the division between East and West Jerusalem is clarity of the ongoing issues. Donald Trump’ recent move to transfer the US Embassy into the region caused widespread protests as it became a reference to the ownership of Jerusalem by Israel. Since the UK originally declared Jerusalem to be an international zone, the west of Jerusalem was taken in 1948 during the war and the east in 1967.

4 (a) Hebrew is the language of the state.

The Arabic language will be removed as an official language and regulated, though afforded “special status” that really means nothing.

7. The state views Jewish settlement as a national value and will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.

This promotes the already highly disputed issue of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, something Netanyahu has eagerly promoted. Prior to the development of Israel as a State, questions about what Israel would actually look like given the largely diverse Jewish communities across Europe – particularly Russia and Poland – where religion is heavily involved in state affairs or conversely to be more secular as promoted by mainly those from the United States continues even today. It is an unanswered civil question that can almost be seen between the residents of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The illegal settlements built in occupied territories in contravention of International Law perpetuate feelings of antagonism and hostility that the Israelis themselves are creating and members of revisionist Zionism continues to remain skeptical to any concessions with Palestine, the assassination of Israeli leader Yitzak Rabin clarity of this deeply hostile Othering that almost suggests that the history and pain from a very long and terrible past continues to be present and unresolved today. Have Israeli citizens found forgiveness for what they have experienced in the past, or do they still believe and fear that everyone is and will always be against them and willing to destroy them? The fear and hostility, the aggression and political adaptation of a far-right nexus are all suggestive of a collective pathology that needs to be addressed, but in saying that when states like Iran scream nuclear annihilation it only enables and justifies Israeli hostility. Everyone deserves to protect themselves. However, the religious or biblical justifications that mobilise such authority in the region where Rabbi’s have recently initiated confirmation of this privileged position by mobilising over 1,000 Israeli settlers to try enter into Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem in yet another blatant disregard to the cultural identity of Islam to the Palestinian people.

To focus on what reconciliation looks like following a history of violence that included genocide against the Jewish people and the psychological effects from such a long history of discrimination and violence has to current political affairs may contribute to a better understanding of how to promote and build peace. Laws that segregate communities and isolate diversity only perpetuate the problem as it reinforces and encourages illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories of Palestine. In addition to this, to promote peace and non-violence amongst the Palestinians who themselves have faced a recent history of violence, occupation and other gross violations of their human rights need to also find forgiveness in order to repair and sustain a state strong enough to build the framework for self-determination. What this forgiveness looks like is difficult to see right now, but I am confident to never give up hope that there will be peace.

 

Darkness Visible: Depression, Anxiety, Disassociation

A story of personal courage and the deliverance from an unrelenting suffering can have a great effect on the motivation of an audience, particularly those that feel crippled in their anguish and cannot appreciate the hope of any release from the prison they find themselves locked in. Indeed, as William Styron states: “The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne.” If one suffers a physical injury, they experience pain and the suffering comes with it, but the elusive and subjective experience of depression is an injury that causes a similar experience of physical pain; the only difference is not knowing where it is coming from. Styron’ short but very powerful memoir Darkness Visible touches on the profound and debilitating experience of depression that almost led him to suicide.

The author of this astonishing memoir begins his personal and heartbreaking decline into depression while at a hotel in Paris, his presence there to accept the prestigious Prix del Duca award for his literary talent. At the time of acceptance, he felt honoured and privileged for the inclusion of his work among many other talented writers. But, it is in France that he begins his tale of the eventual decline into the somber malaise that would almost take his life. “Depression is a disorder of mood, so mysteriously painful and elusive in the way it becomes known to the self – to the mediating intellect – as to verge close to being beyond description.”[1]

Clearly affected by insomnia, Styron confesses to have taken the drug Halcion to aid him to sleep the night before the award ceremony; however his deteriorating condition was clear months in advance as he monitored his own gradual decline of “malaise and restlessness and sudden fits of anxiety.”[2] His previous and lengthy reliance on alcohol was abruptly put to an end that was once used to assist in managing these feelings of anxiety.[3] His depressive state impacted on his capacity to concentrate and his knowledge of medical conditions did not practically assist him to overcome the feelings of “gloom crowding in on me, a sense of dread and alienation and, above all, stifling anxiety,”[4] that he faced. During the ceremony in his honour, he outrageously declined to stay on to the luncheon organised months in advance for him and the members that selected him because of the illness that led to “confusion, failure of mental focus and lapse of memory,”[5] sieged at certain times later in the afternoon by “panic and dislocation, and a sense that my thought processes were being engulfed by a toxic and unnameable tide that obliterated any enjoyable response to the living world.”[6]

But Styron did what many people often fail to do; he sought help, conscious that his mind was dissolving and his distress increasing, he knew that any further denial would lead to a catastrophic result. After the ceremony and other commitments were over, he collapsed onto his hotel bed, entranced by the feeling of “supreme discomfort… a condition of helpless stupor in which cognition was replaced with ‘positive and active anguish’”[7] as well as being afflicted by the inability to sleep, loss of appetite and a decline in the libido. The intensity of his exhaustion gave him the sensation profound misery and self-loathing (what he refers to as depression’ premier badge) that made him “zombie-like”[8] and the storm of madness – or the storm of murk[9] – arrived in time for him to become aware that if this experience of “rare torture”[10] continued it would cost him his life. Death had become a daily presence, where items around them home became instruments to enable this possibility, what he admitted when he chose to visit psychiatrist ‘Dr. Gold’. While Dr. Gold offered consolation, Styron could barely process and describe his ‘desolation’ together with the fact that pharmacology had an impact on his ability to function; while anti-depressants can assist in some serious cases, both psychotherapy and pharmacology did not help.[11]

“The pain is unrelenting and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come.”[12] This eventual hopelessness that the pain of this elusive experience will go away left him in such a wretched state that he chose to throw away his life into the garbage, effectively choosing to die. As he prepared for the necessary arrangements that would lead to his end, one fateful night he had an epiphany. There was a joy available to him and he remembered the hope of happiness that was present; he realised that he could not die, he could not kill himself. The next day, he admitted himself to hospital. His final words to those afflicted by the debilitating illness is to see this hope, that “whoever has been restored to health has almost always been restored to the capacity for serenity and joy, and this may be indemnity enough for having endured the despair beyond despair.”[13]

There are a range of depressive disorders from major depression that can be short-term up to very long term dysthymia and the severity of these experiences can differ, although usually the symptoms are disabling enough to interfere with usual activities and can be characterised by a melancholic change of mood that often slows a person down. While the brain regulates our moods, for many uninformed people the idea that depression is caused solely from a chemical imbalance fails to consider a number of other factors that interact with or trigger the onset of the disease. The cause of depression is just as elusive as the experience itself, but there are a number of physical, environmental and cognitive factors that can influence the development in addition to brain chemicals including genetic, health and wellbeing, as well as drug and alcohol abuse and chronic medical conditions.

Depression is a non-communicable disease and the leading cause of disability worldwide.[14] As Styrone himself indicated, it is a disease.[15] In Australia, there are currently three million people living with depression or anxiety, with an estimated 45% experiencing this debilitating mental health condition in their life and only 35% of those three million accessing treatment to support their recovery.[16] Those living with the condition experience difficulties with personal relationships, careers and their general well-being and become more prone to substance abuse as well as an increased risk of health problems. There are risks that can increase “triggers” such as a loss of a job or financial loss[17] or chronic health conditions such as injuries from a car accident or ailments such as osteoporosis or arthritis.[18] At a global level, depression effects more than 300 million people with the second highest cause of death for young people aged 15-29 is suicide, whereby depression is known to lead to suicide and a total of 800,000 people take their own lives each year.[19]

“The madness results from an aberrant biochemical process. It has been established with reasonable certainty (after strong resistance from many psychiatrists, and not all that long ago) that such madness is chemically induced amid the neurotransmitters of the brain, probably as the result of systemic stress, which for unknown reasons causes a depletion of the chemicals norepinephrine and serotonin, and the increase of a hormone, cortisol.”[20] With a number of medical improvements vis-à-vis technology, brain imaging have enabled scientists to access a more clear picture of the effect depression can have on the brain itself. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) among other sophisticated and computed techniques continue to show that activities in the brain significantly alter when a person is experiencing depression. A person can be affected by chemical neurotransmitters that transmit messages between neurons of the brain and when low levels of serotonin and norepinephrine – organic chemical/hormone – the primary cause an imbalance between these transmissions impair mood and behaviour.

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The regions of the brain that play an important part of regulating mood and ultimately with depression include the amygdala, the thalamus, and the hippocampus all within the limbic system[21] and they are less active or significant reduce in size because of the suppression of the production of new nerve cells in the region[22] and why antidepressants can significantly increase neurotransmitters in the brain. The limbic system “has a major role in producing emotion and motivational behaviour. Rage, fear, sexual response, an intense arousal can be localized to various points in the limbic system.”[23] The amygdala in particular and it is often triggered by highly emotional events (strongly related to fear) including a death of a loved one or a severe car accident, and can affect the thalamus that directs sensory experiences to the cerebral cortex and inputs reactions and how one thinks into proper function. When the amygdala is activated, it initiates the evolutionary ‘flight or fight’ and thus gains immediate access and bypassing the function of the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for sensory, motor and association including learning and decision making. Additionally, the hippocampus within the temporal lobes play a predominant role long-term memory and recollection and the amygdala is can be activated by the experience of fear and a memory of a fearful experience that occurred earlier in life, leading to highly stressful experience that impairs the hippocampus. Thus, as the scans show, those experiencing depression appear to have a smaller hippocampus in size.

The standard reaction and ultimate taboo that renders comments on the subject of mental health concerns to be, “you’ll pull out of it” or “we all have bad days”[24] have only made the subject of depression even more difficult to socially articulate. It could also be why – together with our limited cognitive abilities should the trauma be experienced during childhood – that people often repress trauma that is revived later in life. Depression has been linked to other concerns including anxiety and experiences of disassociation, where feeling of an aching loneliness is accompanied “by a second self – a wraithlike observer who, not sharing the dementia of his double, is able to watch with dispassionate curiosity as his companion struggles against the oncoming disaster, or decides to embrace it.”[25] Disassociation has been termed as: “a mental process of disconnecting from one’s thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity.”[26] This includes feeling a sense of depersonalisation with a lack of control of connection to themselves. Styron shows as dissociative disorders and the eventual loss for any sense of self leads is very closely linked to the experiences of both anxiety and depression. “Nothing felt quite right with my corporeal self; there were twitches and pains, sometimes intermittent, often seemingly constant that seemed to presage all sorts of dire infirmities.”[26] A person who experiences conditions like disassociation, which is descriptive of a detachment of the self from one’s own environment is doing so as a defence mechanism to cope with potentially difficult conditions. Anxiety, can be described as an ongoing and distressing feeling as Styrone felt later in the afternoon that interfered with his daily life.

The onset of all these conditions are not fully known, although there are clear indicators such as social and environmental conditions including peer pressure, domestic issues or difficulties at work, traumatic event or experience, health and well-being including a poor diet, drug and alcohol abuse as well as chronic physical ailments, the experience of depression is unique to every individual because our experiences with the external world are different.  For Styrone, his substance abuse, in this case alcohol, was used for over forty years to become the “magical conduit to fantasy and euphoria, and to the enhancement of the imagination”[27] and was a means to “calm the anxiety and incipient dread that I had hidden away for so long.”[28]

In as much as Styron was influenced by the literary genius of Albert Camus, I too have been greatly inspired by this fascinating memoir that describes the rise and fall of a terrible illness, one in which I too have personally experienced. The lack of control, the horrible pain that one cannot describe, and mostly the helplessness was for me pushed to the furthest of reaches when I was taunted by other people who had neither the compassion nor comprehension for how I was feeling. Unlike Styron, I had no help, no support, but circumstances or “the healing process of time”[29] enabled me to eventually recover, however this memoir shows the importance of seeing professionals for help, of the importance of the love of people around you. The subject has for a long time been taboo and indeed, as a worker with refugee and asylum seekers, mental health concerns still remains taboo for many cultures and something I have experienced first-hand with my family and especially my mother. I highly recommend that everyone reads this concise, but accurately clear picture of this terrible illness.

 

 

[1] 5
[2] 6
[3] 39
[4] 9
[5] 12
[6] 14
[7] 15
[8] 16
[9] 46
[10] 48
[11] 55
[12] 61
[13] 85
[14] Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007. Cat. no. (4326.0). Canberra: ABS.
[15] 5
[16] Op. Cit, Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008).
[17] Price, R.H., Choi, J.N. and Vinokur, A.D. (2002). Links in the chain of adversity following job loss: How financial strain and loss of personal control lead to depression, impaired functioning, and poor health. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 7(4), 302-312.
[18] Jacka, F.N., Pasco, J.A., Henry, M.J., Korn, S., Williams, L.J., Motowicz, M.A., Nicholson, G.C., Berk, M. (2007). Depression and bone mineral density in a community sample of men: Geelong Osteoporosis Study. Journal of Men’s Health and Gender. Vol. 4 (3), pp.292-297.
[19] World Health Organisation, Depression: Fact Sheet, February 2017 http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs369/en/
[20] 46
[21] Op. Cit, Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008).
[22] Ibid.
[23] Dennis Coon, John O. Mitterer, Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior, Cengage Learning (2008) 69
[24] 37
[25] 64
[26] 43
[26] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/dissociation-and-dissociative-disorders
[27] 39
[28] 40
[29] 32

Dante: Love That Moves The Sun And Other Stars

What is love when no one understands you, when no one can see you for who you are? Esse Est Percipi, ‘To be is to be perceived’ as said by G. Berkeley.

Is the sadness you feel real when no one is there to comfort you, when you are alone and lying in bed thinking about how those that have hurt you are completely oblivious to such an experience, perhaps on the contrary where they believe that no wrongdoing exists at all? What happens when you speak of the wrongdoing and they deny you, perhaps reverse this and claim that you are the one with the problem, competing with you to prove they were right and settle the anxiety they feel for their own falsehoods? Playing games to make themselves believe that they are somehow better than you. Is this why when faced with facts they are suddenly stirred with an emotive viciousness that increases as though the louder and more assertive they are, the more right they become and the more people they gather to agree with them, the more likely you will be silenced? And is it the reason why we appreciate the truth with greater clarity when it is uttered through lies, fictitious stories and parables that explain moral symbols that become the hermeneutic source for our subjective capacity to interpret facts without confronting the harsh and abrupt reality of our own failures?

I spent my childhood wishing for a friend that never arrived and my tenderness and love remained protected by the isolation I endured as I hid away from those contemptible enough to enjoy tricking and humiliating me, laughing at my vulnerability and frightening me. The pain even greater when I hoped for kindness that I never received, as though I were manoeuvring through a hellish purgatory, wandering and wondering if there is anyone out there that can genuinely love. For Dante, this is symbolic of what we experience when we become conscious of love and his Divine Comedy is a poetic allegory that divides such an existential reality into what becomes the three stages of our soul’s journey towards God. The Inferno is that moment of consciousness, where one awakens to a reality where our actions and failures or sins become transparent as well as our aloneness on this dark journey towards hell. As we uncover our own self-deception, we see the treachery in others and the lies and games of those within our environment who pretend to goodness when they only seek the indulgences of this false reality. It is only when one admits to this fraudulence and seeks repentance, to apologise for our own misconduct and become morally conscious that enables an escape from hell and ascend toward Purgatorio, the mountain on which we begin to climb toward heaven in order to see the difference between what is genuine or pure and what is false. The desire to reach the summit is the motivation that compels us to become honest with ourselves and though lengthy the process and arduous the climb, we purge the soul of sin by attempting to embody true love. Dante means to show that if one would ever find this heavenly peace, it is only possible through love. To put it succinctly, one begins this divine experience when they genuinely fall in love.

My will and my desire were both revolved,
As is a wheel in even motion driven
By Love,
Which moves the sun and other stars.

Dante’ lifelong love was Beatrice and highlighted in his publications including La Vita Nuova that attempts to exemplify the provincial methods of courtly love in medieval Italy. Her presence in the Divine Comedy indicate her position in the symbolic experience of Dante as he traverses through these realms, initially falling into limbo as she prayed for Dante to be saved by Virgil – who embodies a person that is wise with virtuous attributes – during his decent into the Inferno. It is almost like she desired genuine love that Dante was not yet capable of giving and prayed that he would one day come to her as one wise and authentic. His experience in Purgatorio is a necessary step that he needs to make as he reaches out to Paradiso where Beatrice is then able to guide him toward the attainment of virtuous attributes that could make a man wise and constant. Dante believes that this love is divine and one must love another through God where she becomes the symbol that enables him to reach Paradiso as she embodies the desire for him to become a better man. Thus his admiration is not aroused by the physical beauty that she possessed, where such considerations merely compel a man to turn away from God, but for who she is and that led to the awakening and the transparency of his own soul and improved the clarity of his purpose.

She – as the sun who first in love shone warm
Into my heart – had now, by proof and counter proof,
disclosed to me the lovely face of truth.

Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265 during the late Middle Ages and wrote the epic masterpiece The Divine Comedy in 1321. Love that moves the sun and other stars is reference to a number of cantos (III – XXXIII) in Paradisio. Dante epitomises the work itself, his biography is found within the cantos as it provides us with the magnificence of his imaginative scope and allusions to his own thoughts and experiences. Highlighting the influence of Beatrice in particular, it also includes figures such as Jesus and St. John along with philosophers such as St. Thomas Aquinas that helped solidify his faith in God. His family was embroiled in the politics of the time; clashes between rival factions the Ghibellines who were defeated by the Guelphs for which he was a member, soon thereafter found those loyalties broken when Dante was exiled following a division between the Guelphs (Black and White) that led him to be banished for supposed corruption. The treachery he experienced became a part of the Inferno hell that left him disillusioned for the deception and violence he witnessed, his exile the many years that it took through Purgatorio to learn the wisdom to ascertain the difference between right and wrong, all the while Beatrice stood as a beacon or “holy lamp” that helped light his way to the good life. Her death in 1290 was met with pangs of anguish that it almost appears that her place in Paradiso is his lifelong yearning to be with her in what would become his own paradise. Beatrice Portinari is said to have been a woman of virtue and grace, though he briefly met her in advance of his marriage to Gemma di Manetto Donati, his later encounter with her clearly indicated that he fell in love and she became the muse for his love ballads, none of which mention his wife.

Dante finds himself travelling through a number of spheres in heaven, represented by astronomical or planetary symbols that allude to a series of virtues. Cantos III, for instance, embarks on a lunar journey to the moon when he confesses of his failures and is born again through the love for Beatrice. She became his saviour, a child that she could help gain steady ground about how to live in God’s love or be attuned to what correctly wills or motivates man to reflect with accuracy. A man can find salvation through a virtuous woman; when being pulled by men set on greater harm then good, she struck him with the splendours of the decency that she attached to her heart. Canto X or the Sphere of the Sun alludes to the light of God, to witness the universe and the power therewith in creation and the universe itself can eclipse the worldly attributes for a moment as Dante gives thanks to the monumental reality of the world above.

And there, entranced, begin to view the skill
The Master demonstrates. Within Himself,
He loves it so, His looking never leaves.
Look! Where those orbits meet, there branches off
The slanting circles that the planets ride
To feed and fill the world that calls on them.

A number of figures enter into the celebration of this epiphany, including King Solomon, St. Thomas Aquinas and Boethius that allude to their place in assisting one to reach this venerable awakening. They are rejoicing for Dante finally becoming aware of the fallaciousness of the world below him and where his soul deep within him begin to burn from the joy of abandoning all the lies that tied him to that false reality. It is followed in Cantos XI with, “Those idiotic strivings of the human mind!” The toil of worldly affairs including politics and law, where Dante finally finds peace in his should within the arms of Beatrice and being up high in the heavenly spheres where his soul rests in the light of truth. Here, Dante speaks of St. Francis who takes a wife and loves her despite the objections of his father and others, that his dedication to love a loyal and courageous woman though many feared her that represents the potential poverty of a life lived in the love for God and that one may be at risk of losing family and friends in the commitment to what is good. But Beatrice remains the defining guide, whereby in Cantos XIV she shows Dante that there is yet more truth that he is required to find within him, the eternal nature of this experience and whether one will remain committed in their love for God. Beatrice grows and becomes more beautiful to Dante when she chooses to join the light, perhaps representative of the longevity and growth of the beauty of love in a virtuous woman that renders the clarity of the experience eternal.

And so my eyes, regaining their strength,
Lifted once more. I saw myself alone,
Borne with my lady to a higher good.
Seeing the flares of laughter in that star,
Which seemed now far more fiery than before,
I knew full well that I’d been lifted higher.

We begin to see through the light of God all that is wonderful and so what we ‘see’ or understand continuously increases as we rise higher through the celestial planes. In Cantos XVII, Dante is still troubled and Beatrice continues to help him shed light on his feelings by prompting a discussion with Cacciaguida about the future and the difficulties he may face as was forewarned by Virgil. Contingency is met with the potential uncertainty for the future and that while one may experience hardships, in faith one will also experience events that are wonderful. It is to be courageous to face the contingency. When they reach Cantos XXIII or the Sphere of the Fixed Stars (Eighth Heaven), Beatrice is compared to a mother bird waiting for the sun, the light of Christ and enraptures all who experience this power to expand their thoughts beyond the horizon. The garden, for which Beatrice instructs Dante to look upon, contains a rose that is the Word of God and he can see Mary in the rose, the “Queen of Heaven” (Regina Coeli). By Cantos XXVII, Dante – despite being further from the earth – can now see the details within it with greater clarity, his mind now free from the false burdens that blinded him from seeing such details, the sins for which Beatrice speaks of when a man misuses his free will. He returns to earth in Cantos XXX, the light of dawn slowly drowning the light of the stars until he turns to see the beauty of Beatrice once more and both reached the Paradiso in one another, transcending the material world through love and wisdom.

As she then was – a guide in word and deed,
Her work all done – she spoke again: ‘We’ve left
The greatest of material spheres, rising
To light, pure light of intellect, all love,
The love of good in truth, all happiness,
A happiness transcending every rapture.

The final Cantos XXXIII, Bernard of Clairvaux praises the love of Mary as the foundation for the rose or the Word of God who helped illuminate Dante with the truth and the happiness that followed. Indeed, as Beatrice returns to her place in the rose, which is symbolic of the Queen and Virgin Mother, epitomises that she has satisfied her love for Dante as he gazes into the light of the Empyrean. He now understands God and what is right and good on earth.

As one who has now ascended to Paradiso, the bliss and happiness of finding the Divine love and waiting to meet someone genuine on this journey of mine, I believe as Dante does that love can only be real when two people experience this transcendence from the material realm, from the hellish Inferno where one becomes aware of the reality where there exists corruption, lies, and all things vicious. By seeking the divine love of God, one can redeem themselves and when guided by love, mirror our moral position to become virtuous and wise. Only then can one return to ‘earth’ and see the world for what it genuinely is. The Divine Comedy remains a powerful poetic bildungsroman, an epic of gigantic proportions that remains the heart of medieval Italy and the Italian language itself.

Book Review: Ethical Writings of Maimonides

For centuries, from Aristotle to Confucius, Aquinas and Thoreau, moral philosophers have endorsed the idea that a balanced, moderate regularity of character is an important step towards genuine happiness, that excess or deficiency of any sort and the failure to attain a principled attitude toward guiding and cultivating the self toward this mean will lead to the reverse. Thus, one who leads a life attempting to walk down this dutiful path toward a balanced and constant frame of mind is demonstrative of a noble and even a superior person. As said by Socrates, “with his eyes fixed on the nature of his soul, naming the worse life that which will tend to make it more unjust and the better that which will make it more just… all other considerations he will dismiss, for we have seen that this is the best choice.”[i] This choice to lead a life of virtue and justice and abandoning all that is vulgar, vulgarity being interpreted as “the masses and the most vulgar seem – not unreasonably – to believe that the good or happiness is pleasure. Accordingly they ask for nothing better than the life of enjoyment,”[ii] will allow one to adopt a standard that will link them closer to what is beautiful, namely love and honesty.

So what constitutes perfect virtue? Is it defined by the strength of individual will? Is it how one determines right from wrong, the capacity to overcome the influence of a defective ego, the intelligence and the confidence to be autonomous by engaging independently with the world around them? Is it to identify and distinguish the kind of moral values that are functional, valuable and aesthetical, of what is prohibited, useful and authentic, to be capable of ascertaining intent and to act on and maximise moral principles? It is simply the strength of will, the capacity to overcome the proclivity of the ego and the wayward pleasures of our instinctual drives, to recognise the scope of the activity of leading a morally virtuous life by searching for the golden mean. It is to be courageous enough to deliberately abandon a false environment and find the veracity and sense of honour to pursue a life of virtue, to maintain and personify it. “True virtue can only be grafted onto principles, such that the more general they are, the more sublime and noble they become,”[iii] thus distinguishing between the subjective aesthetic toward a universal aesthetic, the former having the possible inclination to waywardness as it remains dependant on the moral disposition of the individual.

It is for this reason that the disposition of the individual and obtaining the correct character traits necessary to reach true virtue is indispensable. Moses Maimonides discussed in detail the importance of this mean in several of his works including Hilkhot De’ot or the Laws Concerning Character Traits and Eight Chapters aside from his more famed work in Guide of the Perplexed. All of which can be found in the Ethical Writings of Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon), edited by Raymond L. Weiss with Charles Butterworth. Maimonides (1138 – 1204) was born in Cordoba, during the short-lived Moorish Almoravid Dynasty that ruled over present-day Morocco and Spain. Known as Rambam, he trained as a physician that later enabled him to become court physician to the Sultan Saladin and was well versed in medicine both in reading and in writing. His writings stretched out to include Rabbinic Law and Jewish Philosophy and his influence as a scholar has maintained his place as authoritative figure in Jewish law and ethics. His metaphysical and epistemological writings are included in his prolific repertoire but his studies on ethics and virtue exemplify the type of obedience and dedication required to preserve the divine wisdom and the t’amei ha-mitzvot that explained the reasons for the commandments.

According to Maimonides, there exists two types of moral standards in an individual, namely those that are pious and those that attempt to find the golden mean, the former considered to be obligatory since such a characteristic is required to encourage the subjective poise required to engage in the middle way.[iv] In his Laws Concerning Character Traits (27-59), he traverses through eleven commandments that attempt to direct one toward the equilibrium required to reach a state of moral virtue that epitomises the ‘right way’ or as said by Solomon, “Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.”[v] All people have different character traits, different personalities and dispositions, whereby one person may have the calm that another may not as they become intensely angered and impatient. One can be lazy and gluttonous while another ascetic by nature. Maimonides writes about eleven commandments that include 1. to imitate God, 2. to cleave to those who know of God, 3. to love your neighbours, 4. to love converts to God, 5. not to hate brothers, 6. to rebuke, 7. not to put (anyone) to shame, 8. not to afflict the distressed, 9. not to go about as a talebearer, 10. not to take revenge, 11. not to bear a grudge. “The right way is the mean in every single one of a man’s character traits” (29). The golden mean is to find the balance toward establishing a good character indicated by the way they conduct their affairs, by being humble and loving. It is to reach for ‘wisdom’ by finding the mean between the extremes of our character traits before sensibly and continuously practicing until it becomes firmly established.

For Maimonides, it is wisdom to walk in the way of God, to seek the path that leads to God and therefore replicate the virtues or commandments and test your obedience to God as exemplified in the Old Testament. To become “slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, just and righteous, perfect, powerful and strong… and a man is obliged to train himself to follow them and to imitate according to his strength.”[vi] It is to uproot the flaws that one may have and ‘cure’ the ailment of immorality by training oneself to understand opposites. If one is wealthy and has a conceited attitude, he should clothe himself in worn-out, shabby garments that will endure him with much degradation until the haughtiness has left him and he is humbled. Whatever the problem may be that causes one to lose the way of this required balance, the individual should move themselves toward the other end of the same extreme until reaching that unaffected balance. As said by David Hume, “[t]he richest genius, like the most fertile soil, when uncultivated, shoots up into the rankest weeds.”[vii]

Although he discusses aspects of one’s personal conduct, including the way that one may eat or drink, sleep and have sexual intercourse, there is one particular aspect that merits further discussion and that was his view on cleaving to those who lead the way of wisdom. “[A] man needs to associate with the just and be with the wise continually in order to learn [from] their actions,”[viii] and by associating with fools one will ultimately enable evil to prosper within. Accordingly, evil is living without adequate care or thought to this measure of behaviour. The human being, says Kant, is aware of the moral law but has failed to incorporate it into his or her maxim, and is thus fundamentally evil.[ix] Regarding the conduct of ones affairs and perfecting eating habits, the way he or she engages with body and desires, and the consistent consciousness to dedicate oneself to moral well being is not simply for the happiness that it enables but also as a way to keep his or her body healthy and strong. There misery therewith when surrounded by the wrong people will prevent one from conducting their affairs correctly. In On the Management of Health (105-113), any such undesirable people and overindulgence leads to excessive mental and physical health issues where strength is spent and “his life and eyes dimmed”[x] or conversely, improving his character traits by cleaving to those who are wise, modest and righteous, his soul ultimately becomes tranquil.[xi] In similar vein, Confucius states that one should, “make conscientiousness and sincerity your leading principles. Have no friends inferior to yourself. And when in the wrong, do not hesitate to amend.”[xii] But it is not merely the afflictions physically, but the afflictions of the soul and the impact of the misery, anxiety and despair that befall people. The remedy is to enable the soul to eliminate the passions and learn to compose oneself ethically and morally by becoming subservient to what is righteous and good. “Thus the passions will diminish, [obsessive] thoughts will disappear, apprehension will be removed, and the soul will be cheerful in whatever condition a man happens to be” [109].

While it is possible that the ego could choose the wrong people to have and thus misconstrue what it means to be surrounded by the right people, the general rule of propriety is that self-development and dedicating oneself to a life of wisdom would enable the faculty accurately observe right and wrong conduct in others and ourselves. The propriety of character and how people conduct themselves and their affairs is a matter of observation and since depravity of character is expressed through impropriety and the product of their behaviour seen by the fruits they produce, the clarity of choice becomes simplified. Those who embody moral virtue and right or wrong behaviour, who – as Mencius expounds – feels a sense of shame[xiii] and is reverently careful in his conduct and affairs is clearly one of right character and mind. This standard establishes a virtuous culture or environment where members equally possess the same will to moral virtue that enjoin to equally share in the development of principles, a formula known as the Kingdom of Ends.[xiv] For Maimonides, “Certain actions necessarily stem from one soul and other actions from another soul” that therefore exemplify the importance of relations with our fellow community.

In Eight Chapters (59-105), Maimonides critically explores piety and the discipline that encompasses morality. Good moral habits initiates the formation of ethics; by obtaining good moral habits, it becomes that very connection between moral virtue and the social and political. Written as an introduction to Pirqei Avot (Chapters of the Fathers), he attempts to isolate the permissible and erroneous and the relevance of been rational as n instrument to become empowered to control the appetitive desires. The soul has the power but disobedience through transgressions and the highly imaginative fails to enable the will to become subservient to moral virtues. “For example, moderation, liberality, justice, gentleness, humility, contentment, courage, and others.” (65) This disobedience becomes a disease to the soul that is seen externally in the body, taking pleasure in things that are not good for the body and the mind and never reaching physical excellence. His references to statements made by Solomon enables clarity on his combined efforts to involve Biblical connections to his ethical and medicinal approaches.

And the reason for living a life dedicated to finding the Golden Mean? Virtue – which is mental health – and the golden mean are necessary for a healthy life. In his Letter to Joseph (113-129), that he writes to his disciple Joseph Ibn Aknin, it is to lead by example and develop a pattern of excellent. The chapter provides some extraordinary insights into the man himself, about his vision and his enormous commitment to his moral objective. “In sum, if you are indeed my disciple, I want you to train yourself to follow my moral habits” (120). His affection and criticisms shed an amazing light on his dedication to justice and his love of knowledge, or as St. Thomas Aquinas states, “Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.”[xvii] Love is the unity formed through knowledge and establishes a state of happiness resides, making knowledge fundamental to this development. Through Rabbinical law and adherence to the commandments along with the dedication to attain a balance of mind will the adherent become suffused with love. It is not simply the mean itself that supplies the individual with the tranquillity required to be happy, but the righteous ability to discern the right time and way to think and behave, to rationally approach ones own emotions.

By improving your character and reaching a state of clarity in mind and reason, one will enable the qualities necessary to reach the balanced standard that Mainmonides expects. In the Guide of the Perplexed (129-155), which is one of his most famous works, is to guide those possessing positive character traits by learning to understand God. The work is addressed to Joseph ben Judah and elucidates ways of overcoming the disillusionment and existential angst of philosophy and law by understanding the differences between the practical and the subjective or speculative. Having strong theoretical foundations and thus continuously ameliorating knowledge, one can uncover the mental capacity necessary to acquire to attain a solid understanding of themselves and the world around them. That laws are not natural but necessary to manage the natural. “The Law as a whole aims at two things: the well-being of the soul and the well-being of the body. As for the well-being of the soul, it consists in the multitude’s acquiring correct opinions corresponding to their respective capacity” (139). The final chapters, Treatise on the Art of Logic (155-165) and The Days of the Messiah (165-177) continue along with the same themes. By distinguishing biblical themes such as the world to come, formulations that deal with immorality and the benefits of the laws particularly the coming messianic era will provide one with an understanding of repentance. “It has become known that the life of the world-to-come is the reward for performing the commandments and is the good that we merit if we have kept the way of the old referred to in the Torah” (169). Discussing the instrument of logic as a necessary condition of the mind in order to appreciate the correct approach of practical reasoning and to think and behave correctly remains an important aspect to the power of rational thought.

I was compelled to his work for my love of history whether it is ancient or medieval, in this case the latter. I have a strong appreciation for literature such as the Ethical Writings of Maimonides that promotes the value of ethics and the moral concerns relating to our conduct and behaviour. His criticism is harsh, views absolute and his beliefs that the actions of our soul, our intent, the choices that we want to make and whether we are thinking correctly formulate the groundwork necessary to compel the right choices that we act out in reality. The book provides additional insight into rabbinical literature and the significance of moral laws that authoritatively posit the necessity of moral conduct. By finding the golden mean and teaching oneself to discover a proper balance of thought and behaviour, compelled by our desire to lead a virtuous life, Maimonides believes that we can reach both physically and mentally excellence in health and in moral virtue.

[i] Plato, Republic [618e]
[ii] Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics from I.M.N. Al-Jubouri’ History of Islamic Philosophy, (2004) 74
[iii] Immanuel Kant, Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, 2:217
[iv] Raymond L. Weiss, Ethical Writings of Maimonides, Dover Publications New York (1975), 7
[v] Proverbs 4:26
[vi] Weiss and Butterworth, op. cit., 30
[vii] David Hume, Moral and Political Philosophy, Simon and Schuster (2010)
[viii] Weiss and Butterworth, op. cit., 46
[ix] Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Bounds of Mere Reason, 6:32
[x] Weiss and Butterworth, op. cit., 40
[xi] Ibid., 43
[xii] Confucius, The Analects, Chapter XXIV
[xiii] Menicius, Bk. vii., pti., c.vii., v i.
[xiv] Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, 4:439

Exploitation of Syrian Women and Children: Refugee Law In Lebanon and Jordan

As of March 2017, key figures from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that more than 5 million refugees have fled Syria, with 6.3 million internally displaced and a total of over 13 million in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.[1] Turkey has accepted a large number of the refugees, hosting over 2.8 million refugees, comparably with Europe where less than 900,000 applicants since 2011 have applied for asylum, data retrieved from 37 European countries that provide UNHCR with monthly figures.[2] Additionally, countries such as Lebanon has taken in over 1 million and over 650,000 have fled to Jordan, two countries that have not signed the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees adopted in 1951 and further still, the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees that extended the former boundaries that were initially limited to Europe so as to enable universal coverage. Article 1 of the 1951 Convention nevertheless transformed the international status and human rights of refugees by providing a single definition:

“As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”[3]

Like many instruments that developed at the time, the convention strengthened principles particularly relating to the fundamental rights of refugees such as non-discrimination and particularly non-refoulement,[4] the latter where asylum seekers are forced to return back to a country where they there may be a strong likelihood of experiencing persecution in a number of various ways. It also reinforced the universality of international human rights law without exception to State provisions as well as prejudice toward race, religion or country of origin.

Nevertheless, there have been a number of concerns relating to the effectiveness of the Refugee Convention and its Protocol in managing the influx of refugees and demonstrated by the huge number of asylum seekers displaced from the Syrian War. Some of these failures have enabled discussions on reforming the instruments to deal with the crises of asylum seekers to suit the current economic and social conditions and to satisfactorily manage a system fraught with problems. One of these includes the convention’ failure to ameliorate new global changes to social, demographic and national environments that render it ineffective to adequately deal with the logistical, financial and humanitarian aspects of the influx of refugees. While taking a rights-based approach, both the refugee convention and the protocol fail to address the complexities of man-made catastrophes and the unique regional differences that causally play a role in these catastrophes. As such, it has been argued that a holistic approach is required to enable better considerations of regional and cultural attitudes that enhance a decisive clarity of the causes in order to measure, prevent and manage man-made disasters. It is clear, for instance, the dynamics of ISIS in the Middle East, the ramifications of the gulf-war, oil and water politics and the post-colonial economic hardships that have enabled destabilising political regimes demonstrate the necessity for a holistic approach specific to the Middle East.

In order to compare the possible effectiveness of a holistic approach to the concerns raised by the recent influx of Syrian refugees, development of a number of additional instruments that attempt to define the legal confusion on the status of a refugee in other regions have been adopted. In 1999, the Tampere Council – a special European Council meeting held in Tampere – attempted to improve changes to immigration as well as consolidate foreign and security policies through the opportunities that the Treaty of Amsterdam afforded. The Treaty of Amsterdam altered the former Treaty of Maastricht [where the development of supranational institutions such as the European Court of Justice was initiated] and includes a number of protocols and declarations that empowered the European Union to develop legislation that would effectively coordinate policies and procedures more effectively, along with strategies that would strengthen intergovernmental cooperation subject to protecting its own interests. Since then, there has been an ongoing development to improve legislative frameworks that recognise, for instance, the importance of the financial output during an influx of those seeking asylum and thus established the European Refugee Fund [ERF] that administers financial support to member countries to manage and resettle refugees and displaced persons.

Syrian children who have fled into Jordan and Lebanon are being illegally exploited and due to their status are forced into labour rather than schools; despite countries like Jordan being a signatory to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

lebanon_over_70x_of_syrian_refugee_children_forced_into_labor.jpg_1718483346

Representatives that drafted the 1951 Convention also desired signatories to exceed the demands set out in the convention, thus it was not long after that the European Union developed The Qualification Directive.[5] This followed the Temporary Protection Directive[6] that was developed due to the poor management vis-à-vis violence in the former Yugoslavia that resulted in large numbers of displaced persons in the region and thus, under exceptional circumstances such as war, became a process to provide temporary protection. It sought to exemplify minimum standards for refugees, stateless persons or third-country nationals that required international protection and develop a common policy on asylum by advancing the Common European Asylum System Agency (EASO), as well as facilitate better cooperation between member states by improving protection and “affirming the principle of non-refoulement and ensuring that nobody is sent back to persecution.”[7] The Common European Asylum System guaranteed standards of protection where asylum seekers are treated fairly and with dignity. The Qualification Directive established a criterion that would qualify the minimum standards that confirms the status of a refugee and thus regulating the process that determines the granting of international protection. An act of persecution must be sufficiently serious that would violate human rights including act of physical, sexual and psychological or any disproportionate legal prosecution that would result in discriminatory prosecution.

And yet, with what appears to be a small number of refugees from Syria seeking asylum in Europe comparably to other States, none of these instruments have been put to use, on the contrary, it appears that there may either be a hesitation as the limited timeframe for providing asylum for a maximum of up to two years to Syrian refugees is not realistic in relation to the ongoing length of the war, or there is a hidden exclusivity to these instruments limited to the possibility of use in the event of a European catastrophe. UN High Commissioner for Refugees determined that the needs of the refugees require hefty financial support and pledged nine billion at the conference in London.[8] While financial support would enable countries experiencing an influx of refugees to manage the economic strain, it is clear that the ERF may still struggle to manage, whereby OCHA estimates that a total of $3.4billion dollars is required to fund a humanitarian response plan for the life-saving assistance to 13 million Syrians in need of urgent humanitarian support, funding that has only reached 11.3% of this required target.[9]

Other failures also include no guarantee that unaccompanied children will have access to legal representation, along with the absence of provisions that deal with Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), knowing that within in Syria there are 6.3million IDP’s that require urgent assistance. That is, the Convention does not “apply to those refugees who have a status equivalent to nationals in their country of asylum.”[10] It has been argued that the Convention should be reformulated to address these issues however the potential problem to removing and establishing a new convention is that it would still fail to address continuous regional changes that may impact on the development of even more disputes. For instance, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that States “shall not return to a country where there are substantial grounds for believing that there is a real risk of irreparable harm to the child,”[11] and while they clarified the responsibilities of States to ensure how the assessment of this risk should be conducted, this risk is nevertheless open to interpretation. For instance, Suresh v Canada[12] questioned procedural fairness whereby even if a refugee is at risk being tortured, they can be deported to their homeland if they conversely a serious risk to Canadian security. Procedural fairness without the inclusion of assessing unaccompanied minors or other vulnerable groups including women who are pregnant or survivors of serious trauma that have developed serious mental health issues may lead to prejudicial outcomes.

Other global and regional instruments enacted to ensure adequate support for asylum seekers are effectively taking place can act as a catalyst to developing changes to the Middle East. In Africa, for instance, where a number of political and social instabilities have resulted in an influx of refugees, established the Organisation of African Unity and the Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa[13] that attempted to ameliorate a stronger understanding of the legal or political aspects to refugee protection but specific to Africa. Together with the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees[14] in Latin-American, the protection of refugees within the instruments were extended to include a more demographically and culturally appropriate – thus holistic – approach to regional affairs that the Convention and its Protocol were unable to adequately compliment, thus enabling better responses to mass displacement. For instance, while the convention and the protocol are rights-based instruments, OAU Convention seeks to address humanitarian responses to mass influx of refugees by enabling its member States to legislate domestically in order to address and protect all those seeking asylum. It additionally clarified the differences between groups of refugees as a result of a disaster with individual refugees seeking protection.

The United Nations estimates Lebanon is housing 1.14 million Syrian refugees and not being party to the Refugee Convention and Protocol, Lebanese domestic laws that purport any person without legal documentation within its boundaries are considered illegal have left Syrian refugees without legal status. In fact, while Lebanon is constitutionally bound by customary law and other human rights obligations being a signatory to a number of human rights conventions,[15] not becoming party to the 1951 Convention or its following Protocol has left only a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the UNHCR[16] as the only instrument to assist refugees coming from Syria. UNHCR has noted that even with the MOU protection remains notoriously difficult.[17] Domestic legislation in Lebanon governing refugees is extremely limited whereby Law of 1962 regulating the Entry and Stay of Foreigners in Lebanon and their Exit from the Country[18] fails to provide legal protection and other important human rights services for Syrian refugees. Unlike OAU Convention that treats individual and group assessments based on contingent situations such as fleeing war or other man made violence, the provisions of the 1962 law treat individual cases. “Any foreigners who is subject of pursuit or has been convicted for a political crime by a non-Lebanese authority or whose life or freedom is threatened because of political considerations may ask for political asylum.”[19] As such, Syrian refugees in Lebanon are without any legal protection and according to Article 32 of the 1962 Law, can be fined and even imprisoned as illegal entrants.[20] While the MOU signed between Lebanon and UNCHR enables the latter to ensure temporary residence permits are provided as a solution – albeit temporary – to the problem with Syrian refugees, the limited time (of a maximum of nine months) may not be estimative of the realistic timeframes necessary to support them pending the continued violence in Syria. Clarification of renewing residency permits remains ambiguous and any rights including seeking employment are extremely limited, if not non-existent and leaving refugees in an incredibly vulnerable position. This was further delayed when the Lebanese government requested that UNHCR suspend registrations of Syrian refugees in 2015.[21]

The image below exposes the horror of what happened to almost 75 Syrian women who fled the war and were tortured and forced into sexual slavery within ‘Chez Maurice’ in the Lebanese town of Jounieh. Notwithstanding the horrible men involved in this disgusting trafficking incident, it also shows the failure of the government to protect asylum seekers and why it is so important.

LEBANON-SYRIA-CONFLICT-PROSTITUTION-SOCIETY

While Lebanon has recently enacted changes to domestic legislation amid continued discussions relating to the status of refugees, in particular waiving fees for Syrian refugees fleeing the war [a charge of US$200 that was introduced in 2015], this unfortunately excludes a large number who were unable to register with UNHCR, almost half a million.[22] The impact of these failures in Lebanon can have devastating effects to the rights and protection of Syrian refugees since by having no legal status and being at risk of imprisonment, movements become restricted and in order to survive many refugees are becoming victims to exploitation. According to the final report on Syrian refugees in Lebanon by Freedom Fund, incidence of slavery and human trafficking is growing including child labour and marriage, sexual exploitation and forced labour[23] that clearly exemplifies why ratification of the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol is necessary. In addition, children from families without residency permits in Lebanon are unable to obtain a formal education as well as access to healthcare for families including pregnant women whose children are at risk of statelessness. It is also clear that existing regulatory frameworks are modified along with domestic legislation protecting Syrian refugees from harm including exploitation and trafficking is afforded. Although Lebanon is constitutionally bound by the customary law principle of non-refoulement, recent talks between Lebanon and the Syrian opposition to return those seeking asylum – whereby Hezbollah stated that they have been mediating the possible return of refugees from the Arsal border to the Qalamoun region in Syria[24] – that begs the question of whether non- refoulement procedures are adequately adhered.

According to Amnesty International, while Jordan is hosting over 650,000 refugees, in mid-2016 it closed its borders that stranded over 75,000 Syrian refugees between the Syrian-Jordanian borders in the horrific al-Rukban and Hadalat refugee camps within desert conditions.[25] This is not a problem with Jordan alone, whereby Human Rights Watch has also reported shootings against Syrian refugees attempting to enter the country at Turkish borders. Whilst citing security concerns amid threats from ISIS, the strain that Jordan has experienced economically due to the lack of international aid has pressured the government to regulate occupation that only Jordanian citizens are allowed to work in, forcing asylum seekers toward illegal working conditions.[26] Jordan also signed an MOU with UNHCR that enabled recognition of refugee status for a duration of up to six to twelve months[27] but consideration of the massive influx of Syrian refugees was not adequately deliberated as domestic law similarly observe a case-by-case basis.[28] In addition to this, each of the individuals fleeing are required to have documentation, something that clearly may not always be possible considering the situation. Constitutionally, Jordan must adhere to international customary law on non-refoulment, where extradition of political refugees is prohibited.

With the surmounting difficulties along the borders of Lebanon and Jordan, the clarity and necessity of including internally displaced persons within the international framework becomes clear as millions of Syrian refugees are unable to flee. The United Nations– along with reaffirming – has called upon States such as Jordan and Lebanon to become party to the Convention.[29] Regarding the problem of stranded refugees along the Jordanian-Syrian border, comparatively the OAU Convention explicitly reaffirms that in the even where a member state may find it difficult to continue granting asylum it will appeal to other Member States of the OAU to assist in supporting them.[30] As such, the development of a similar regional instrument amongst Middle Eastern States that touch on relevant concerns specific to the demographics and culture would be an important step forward to strengthen a cohesive process for Syrian refugees to adequately manage man-made disasters as well as improve processes for countries such as Jordan and Lebanon to better protect asylum seekers. It will also ensure that compliance to the States’ ratification of the relevant instruments along with a complementarity between the regional and international refugee protection frameworks are adequately observed. Other improvements and regulations would be the consistent pressure to ensure Lebanon and Jordan ratify the 1951 Status of Refugees Convention and its 1967 Protocol, as well as honing down on better domestic legislation that will ensure legal protections are provided to refugees and asylum seekers. With stronger mutual cooperation in the Middle East, the distribution of services to victims of mad-made disasters specific to regional affairs may protect women and children from becoming victims of exploitation.

 

[1] http://www.unocha.org/syrian-arab-republic/syria-country-profile/about-crisis
[2] http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/asylum.php
[3] Article 1 (a)(2) The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951
[4] Ibid., Article 33(1)
[5] Qualification Directive 2004/83/EC
[6] Temporary Protection Directive 2001/55/EC
[7] Directive 2011/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council, 13 December 2011
[8] Supporting Syria & the Region Conference in London on 4th February, 2016
[9] http://www.unocha.org/top-stories/all-stories/syria-us-34-billion-needed-provide-life-saving-assistance-13-million-people
[10] Op. Cit., 1951 Refugee Convention
[11] General Comment No 6 – Treatment of unaccompanied and separated children outside their country of origin, UN Doc CRC/GC/2006/6 (2005)
[12] Suresh v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), [2002] 1 S.C.R. 3
[13] OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, September 10, 1969.
[14] Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, November 22, 1984.
[15] Section B of the preamble of the Lebanese Constitution, Lebanese Constitution (1926), as amended to 1995
[16] UNHCR Regional Office in Lebanon, Country Operations Plan 1 (2004)
[17] UNHCR, Submission by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Compilation Report – Universal Periodic Review: The Republic of Lebanon 2 (Apr. 2010)
[18] Order No. 319 Regulating the Status of Foreign Nationals In Lebanon, Date of Entry into Force: August 2, 1962 (19620802)
[19] Ibid., Article 26.
[20] 1962 Law, Pursuant to article 32 foreigners who enter Lebanon illegally can be imprisoned for one month to 3 years and/or fined.
[21] Human Rights Watch Country Report, Lebanon: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2016/country-chapters/lebanon#4694c7
[22] Human Rights Watch, Lebanon: New Refugee Policy a Step Forward: Open the Door to Legal Status for All Syrian Refugees, February 14, 2017: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/14/lebanon-new-refugee-policy-step-forward
[23] Freedom Fund, Struggling to Survive: Slavery and Exploitation of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, http://freedomfund.org/wp-content/uploads/Lebanon-Report-FINAL-8April16.pdf
[24] http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2017/Feb-11/393177-hezbollah-mediating-safe-return-of-syrian-refugees.ashx
[25] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/09/syria-jordan-border-75000-refugees-trapped-in-desert-no-mans-land-in-dire-conditions/?utm_content=bufferdbc2e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
[26] List of Professions Not Allowed to Foreign Workers, Ministry of Labor, http://www.mol.gov.jo/Portals/ 0/Decisions/closed.pdf
[27] UNHCR Global Appeal 2013 Update: Jordan, UNHCR, http://www.unhcr.org/4ec231020.pdf
[28] Law No. 24 of 1973, art. 12, Al-Jarida Al-Rasmiyya, 16 June 1973, at 1112, http://www.lob.gov.jo/ui/laws/ search_no.jsp?year=1973&no=24 (official website of the Jordanian Council of Ministers)
[29] Declaration of States parties to the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Ministerial Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, Switzerland, 12-13 December 2001, UN Doc. HCR/MMSP/2001/09, 16 January 2002. The Declaration was welcomed by the UN General Assembly in resolution A/RES/57/187, para. 4, adopted on 18 December 2001.
[30] UNHCR, Persons covered by the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa and by the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees (Submitted by the African Group and the Latin American Group)Persons covered by the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa and by the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees (Submitted by the African Group and the Latin American Group) EC/1992/SCP/CRP.6 (6 April 1992)

 

Book Review: The Master and Margarita

I believe that genuine love between two people is possible. Any attempt I make to express this always appears inadequate and yet, images of a breathtaking dance as two melt through and into one another, magnetic lips fastening as a voltaic current sweeps through the body until it ends as both whisper to one another face to face deep into the night, her fingers intertwined through his as she draws her nose towards his neck, her hair gliding down over his chest as she slips away into a long and safe sleep. But they are dreams that cause me nothing but anguish as I can never truly explain the authenticity, the existential aesthetic, the timelessness and whether it is merely me and only me that can love as deeply as I know I can feel. But to reach that authenticity, one needs to truly understand themselves and to understand God or that we are in a universe much greater than we can ever comprehend. When I read the following by Mikhail Bulgakov in his novel The Master and Margarita it almost clearly explained how I felt about the eternal and the indestructable that is expressed between two genuine people who meet one another:

She was carrying some of those repulsive yellow flowers. God knows what they’re called, but they are somehow always the first to come out in spring. They stood out very sharply against her black dress. She was carrying yellow flowers! It’s an ugly colour. She turned off Tverskaya into a side-street and turned round. You know the Tverskaya, don’t you? There must have been a thousand people on it but I swear to you that she saw no one but me. She had a look of suffering and I was struck less by her beauty than by the extraordinary loneliness in her eyes. Obeying that yellow signal I too turned into the side street and followed her. We walked in silence down that dreary winding little street without saying a word, she on one side, me on the other. There was not another soul in the street. I was in agony because I felt I had to speak to her and was worried that I might not be able to utter a word, she would disappear and I should never see her again. Then, if you can believe it, she said:

    “Do you like my flowers?”

    ‘I remember exactly how her voice sounded. It was pitched fairly low but with a catch in it and stupid as it may sound I had the impression that it echoed across the street and reverberated from the dirty yellow wall. I quickly crossed to her side and going up to her replied: “No”.

    ‘She looked at me in surprise and suddenly, completely unexpectedly, I realised that I had been in love with this woman all my life.

Mikhail Bulgakov was born in the Russian Empire in 1891 and is considered one of the greatest playwrights and authors of fiction amongst other greats such as Tolstoy, Gogol and Dostoyevsky. His novel is both a comical and a frightening fable that pirouettes between the literal and the metaphorical. The story is broken into a framed narrative concerning morality and reality that entertains the decline in Russia’ commitment to spiritual love both individually and within a social and political atmosphere during Stalinist era. The plot links the love story between the Master, a writer in despair, his lover Margarita and her sacrificial and almost divine love for the Master verified through the machinations of Satan who tries to tempt her away from such love, along with the symbolic conversation between Yeshua or Jesus with Pontius Pilate.

Allegorical and highly imaginative, the clarity of the semblance between the story and the Stalinist era is easy to discern. Woland, or Satan, delights in the power he has over others, his cruelty almost cheerful and calm and this disinterest is clearly accommodating the characteristic of Stalin himself. One of the particular aspects of Woland’s behaviour is the torment toward the intellectual community of Russia, a resemblance to the painful experiences Bulgakov himself had endured at the time. Initially careful with his artistic approach and early in his career able to successfully write and produce plays, following his move to Moscow the playwright struggled with anguish as is similarly seen with the Master character in the novel as his plays were continuously banned and criticised. By 1929, however, all work by Bulgakov was forbidden and while he sought to emigrate, remained and continued to work despite the authoritarian measures against his creativity. It was during this period he began working on the Master and Margarita.

For Bulgakov, there appears to be an artistic triptych regarding the nature of our existence, namely there exists a psychological line segment where on one end you have good and on the other evil, with the mean being love. The formula, as such, of reaching the midpoint between good and evil is usually followed by proof, a test that verifies the intent and is usually authenticated by taking a leap of faith. The outcome is subjective, but independently so that even through temptation or fear, one can confidently choose love and thus, the midpoint is almost transcending anything that is actually good or evil. “Whatever is done for love always occurs beyond good and evil” [F. Nietzsche] Margarita, despite not being with the Master neither knowing his whereabouts, nevertheless remained dedicated to him. This ‘faith’ in him and the strength or the eternal nature of her love for the lost and tormented soul of the Master is a unique expression between the plotlines of good and evil. Namely, her love is unconditional, transcending the biblical rules or divine laws and overriding any utilitarian or deontological modes of moral action. She loves him and neither good nor evil can change that. “Mother’s love is peace. It need not be acquired, it need not be deserved” [E. Fromm].

Unconditional love therefore involves this sacrificial element, demonstrated biblically with Jesus and in addition to the story there stands another narrative based during the time of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, where a conversation between Yeshua and Pontius Pilate takes place. This biblical aspect to the tale noticeably contrasts with the story relating to Satan or Woland, the Good vs. Evil, thus it is clear that the purpose or intent of the novel itself is about Good vs. Evil in both the individual and in society, the story between the Master and Margarita being about personal love and the rest being about the importance of a divine love or love of God socially and culturally. Under Stalin and Russian Communism at the time, the absence of God and religion in society is symbolically seen through the interactions between Pilate and Yeshua, the former a representation of Russia and the latter of the divine, and becomes an analogy that the absence of faith would ultimately lead to ruin. While rational, Bulgakov used fiction as a prophetic warning that an immoral society as in Russia at the time will lead to disaster and only a moral society can produce a positive and contented environment that is sustainable. “The more the drive toward life is thwarted, the stronger is the drive toward destruction; the more life is realized, the less is the strength of destructiveness. Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life”[E. Fromm]

Love, therefore, is the ultimate maxim and clarity to reach this pinnacle of consciousness can only be done so through choice, through free will as Margarita proved by the choice she made for the Master; the freedom of ones Will is often influenced not just by temptation but also by fear. Lars Svendsen explored the nature of fear in several different areas including political, social and the emotional and purports that fear is caused by our environment – socially and domestically – as it dictates a fear to think independently and be free, thus ‘tempting’ society to trust in the whole outside of oneself [society, family etc &c.]. “[F]ear has become a kind of culturally determined magnifying glass through which we consider the world” [Svendsen 2008]. This is comparative to the Stalin era as is also mentioned by Svendsen, who ruled with Machiavellian tyranny and that the threat of an impending difficulty unconsciously forces one to second-guess the decision making process as an automated reaction and thus mind-controlled. Bulgakov satirised what was essentially a waning morality in Russia at the time. This period was of significant instability and totalitarian violence under the communist regime and the eradication of religious – namely Christian – values. The opening chapter itself finds the devil having a conversation with two who confidently discuss the non-existence of Jesus [biblically referred to a culture forming an ‘anti-Christ’]. The novel parodied disappearing individuals that at the time were a reality under the regime of Stalin as seen by the reactions following events and this is perhaps the reason why Woland or Satan placed particular interest in Margarita, as she herself appears to be the only person who is fearless. “Cowardice is the most terrible of vices”[M. Bulgakov]. In doing so, her fearlessness is the reason for her capacity to love genuinely.

Questions about good and evil are raised through the plotlines, particularly the latter and why evil exists in the world. From an Augustinian perspective, it is due in part because “evil” is not a thing that is created and therefore the source of its existence is merely the will to turn away from what is essentially our nature, our nature being naturally good since all that God created is good. Thus, it is the choice to avoid, turn aside or corrupt the will away from goodness, thus perverting the will and ultimately becoming evil. “Since God is the highest good, he would not allow any evil to exist in his works unless his omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil”[St. Augustine]. Kant offered a secular theory toward the concept of evil, whereby humans by nature are naturally inclined toward goodness but also evil under the umbrella of a radically free will. As a consequence, only by free will are we able to choose what is right and thus when we do not make the choice to do good, we are thus evil. But the latter ‘evil’ is graded into several levels, being:

“The possibility of hubris is accounted for by the concept of freedom. There are thus three levels or gradations of evil: (1) mere counterlegality, (2) the lower level of countermorality, occasional single-cases of evil, and (3) the worse level of evil  “as a rule”… full-fledged evil designates the constitution of an agent or of an agents maxim”[O. Hoffee, 2007].

Thus (1) is a type of failure of will, a morally right person who slips or is too weak to maintain a strong will to commit to any lapse in judgement, whereas (2) is a corruption of the will, an intent of not wanting to perform morally right actions unless there appears an incentive for doing so, thus moral goodness is merely self-interest hidden under the guise of morality. On the other hand (3) is wickedness, that one narcissistically places the self above all moral laws and conforms only to moral laws as a way of promoting the self. This includes an act in which an individual wills with intent to commit evil solely because it contradicts moral laws, a type of wilful arrogance. Whilst it has been argued that Kant’s claim of the worst kind of evil is objectionable since an indication of evil is the level of harm that it produces, it is according to Kant the subjective motive that is evil and not just the outcome. In this instance, perhaps consider a sociopath and the fact that there are many sociopaths who are not actually violent, the latter perhaps because it is not in their own best interest rather than for any moral worthiness.

The similarity with Johann Goethe’ Faustus, a satirical play about striking a deal with the devil, is clear, particularly with the division of the work whereby with Faustus the play is divided into two parts with the first set in reality and the second figurative or subjective. Faust is considered noble in character with his utmost desire for knowledge until Satan or Mephistopheles claims to God that he is capable of luring him away from righteousness. Faust himself is struggling with the existential crises that befalls those that became aware or conscious of the vanity of such pursuits and whilst attempting to alleviate the struggle through ethereal or magical attempts toward an infinite knowledge – since infinity would imply a type of combustion of vanity – he sadly realises the futility and perhaps the trickery of such an attempt. Finally, Faust is seduced by the temptation set by the Devil, particularly through Gretchen with whom Faust is attracted to and ultimately their relationship ends in sorrow and death, only Gretchen herself – when rejecting the final advances to be removed from prison by Faust – is ‘saved’ leaving Faust to remain grievously ashamed.

While it is knowledge or access to knowledge otherwise inaccessible to the human mind and cognition in general that became the desire compelling Faust, his fatal relationship with Gretchen or, ultimately, his failure to understand that love is the answer to his quandary and that the very ‘infinite’ exists in a free will that chooses righteously, the ultimate result is a cyclic return to the very same point of his initial misery. His thoughts at the beginning of the fable when facing his existential crises compelled him to the idea of suicide and thus an exposure of his unhappiness. The outcome of this unhappiness that led him to agree to the advances or temptation of the devil also led to the misery and death of Gretchen and members of her family. This result was Goethe’ exposure of the importance of our moral responsibility toward others as part of our endeavours toward reaching happiness. “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honour.”[Romans 12.9] Hence why Mephistopheles, or the Devil, is banished to the ‘Eternal Empty’ or symbolically the unhappy place of living without the fulfilment one receives when choosing the will to be good. It is a dark or heavy feeling where one can never be satisfied or that place lacking in the longevity required for a peaceful approach toward the entrance gates of infinite happiness that Faust longed for. Since one cannot know love save for the love that they have within and what they are able to give to others, the riddle to love itself is unknown as this ‘within’ or subjective self is infinite, hence why love surpasses knowledge and becomes the very purpose of existence that Faust initially craved for. In the choice to commit to love through our own free Will can the scales between good and evil truly balance. Faust finally tames the desires for war and of his own nature that he experiences happiness, becoming conscious and thus the devil is unable to take his soul due in part to Gretchen’s unconditional ‘sacrifice’ through forgiveness of Faust and in part because of Faust’ dedication to reach the infinite, albeit doing so imperfectly.

The Master and Margarita is a gripping story based within an entirely corrupt Moscow, inhabited by citizens with loose morals and a waning spirituality. Bulgakov manages to entrance the reader by capturing the approaching story in the very first chapter, when Satan himself and his extraordinary entourage gracefully stroll into the city with almost a haughty, arrogant elegance. While fantastic in nature, the bizarre fictional themes reveal within them the very nature of the book, of good and evil and the purpose and power of love. It can be said that reaching happiness is our ultimate motivation, however happiness is reliant on its sustainability and longevity. Desires and a passion for ultimately futile endeavours eventually result in the sorrow and misery one initially attempts to escape from, as seen from the opening scenes of the play of Faustus and continues through with Faust’ relationship with Gretchen. This is the paradox; that in order to reach a state of happiness, one must first traverse through the murky realms of knowledge toward the gates of love; that love surpasses knowledge and yet it is not in knowledge can one attain happiness. From the multiple layers of narrative, stories within stories, metaphors, satire and political and spiritual agendas truly makes the Master and Margarita one of the most successful and inspiring novels of the twentieth century.

Bulgakov is certainly among the very few great writers to have ever lived who is capable at combining fantasy and satire into one complex yet simple whole, just like my other favourites writers Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Haruki Murakami. His capacity and concern for ethical problems that he is able to express using metaphors and surreal situations or plots is irresistible, skilful and admirable.

Dangerous Liaisons in Syria: Is it a Civil War or a Proxy War?

The aggression involving the mass deportations and displacement, ethnic cleansing and evacuations of millions in Europe during World War Two, along with post-war border changes, continued population expulsions and repatriations meant that the prolonged chaos required common standards that would heal the hostilities and build bridges to support people seeking asylum from persecution. The violations against human rights values as expressed by the United Nations Charter of Human Rights[1] along with the precedents set by the Nuremberg Trials meant that the post-war crises in Europe required a multilateral treaty that defined the status of a refugee and the responsibility of state parties to ensure that they grant asylum and uphold the duty to protect all people no matter their nationality. By 1951, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was approved and recognises the right of all people to seek asylum and to be treated fairly and without discrimination. It defined a refugee as having a well-rounded fear of being persecuted and unable to return to country of former residence due to the likelihood of persecution.[2]

The Convention has since been subject to one amendment via the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967) that removed the geographic limitations and enabled a universal reach ahead of the global crises taking place outside of Europe. This included the Middle East particularly after the Six-Day War in 1967 in Israel where the implications of the war increased the pre-existing millions of Palestinian refugees that remain in camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.[3] Continuous hostilities in Iraq, Yemen and Syria and the growing number of forcibly displaced persons from predominately Muslim countries as well as internally displaced requiring humanitarian assistance grown exponentially that numbers of displaced from Syria alone have been estimated at 12.5 million.[4] Of this total, over 1 million Syrian refugees sought protection in Lebanon along with 655,675 in Jordan[5] and both countries are not party to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. With the massive refugee crises exposing the failure to cope with the current framework together with the inappropriateness of international refugee law regulating the influx, considerations about the effectiveness of the Convention and the evolving nature of today’s refugee issues has called for the adoption of new changes to pre-existing international protection regimes that understand changes methods of modern warfare and the relationship between Islam and Democracy.

The modern history of Syria is fairly unique in the Middle East, particularly because those that have held the greatest control over the last century following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire have been the Alawi, a form of Shiite Islam and thus a Muslim minority. For the sake of brevity, you can read in detail my historical comparative between Turkey and Syria here in addition to my analysis of the Syncretistic religions of the Near Eastern region here. France initially occupied areas of the Near East including Lebanon and Syria, but with ongoing sectarian violence and finally the fall of France to the German Nazis during World War Two, a series of favourable events particularly with British authority now playing a role in the region enabled the independence of Syria, officially proclaimed in 1945. Prior to this, France provided the Alawis with the opportunity to access political decision-making during the difficulties that the French faced with sectarian violence in return for their support. Developments in transport and education enabled the historically isolated Alawi community particularly from the Latakia region – who have had a long history of persecution by the Sunni majority – to access to the rest of the country along with positions in the military, factors that reinforced and mobilised social and political solidarity. As such, power was conversely afforded to the Alawi minority over the Sunni majority as the authority of the military strengthened, a military controlled predominately by the Alawi and after a number of coups finalised by the 1963 Syrian coup d’état, the Ba’ath Party seized control of the country.

The hostilities continued in the region including internal leadership upheavals and the ruthless damage against the Syrian armed forces by Israel’ powerful display of military prowess in 1967; in six days, the Israeli forces seized the Golan Heights, destroyed the Egyptian Army and captured the Sinai peninsula and a number of other assaults that incapacitated Syria to defeat. This finally led to the revolution led by Hafez al-Assad who remained President of Syria for decades after 1971 when he – at the time stood as defence minister – overthrew president Noureddin Mustafa Ali al-Atassi and his right-hand Deputy General Secretary, Salah Jadid, the latter – due primarily from the influential and powerful role he played politically – had attempted to remove al-Assad and ultimately backfired. Russia’ political involvement in the country was clear at this time, particularly with Jadid’ relations with the Eastern Bloc and plans to strengthen ties with communism; Nuritdin Mukhitdinov as Soviet Ambassador to Syria playing an influential role in developing closer ties to Russia. Providing armament – becoming the main supplier – and permitting the Russians to lease a naval facility in Tartus, Syria remained an ally as part of Russia’ Cold War efforts against the United States, the latter along with their pre-existing relations in the Middle East particularly with Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey initiated further tensions with Syria.

The deadly arms race in the Middle East is an example of politically and religiously fuelled competition in the region. Russia has become the main supplier of arms to the Assad regime, recently deploying advanced S-400 air defence systems to Syria [allegedly to protect their naval base] that is comprised of mobile missile launchers capable of detecting flying targets and effectively providing the country with battery capabilities that boosts its defensive security, effectively making non-stealth jets inoperable.[6] Similar missile systems were recently delivered to Iran, altering the security balance by closely matching the military powers of Israel and the US, which could thus permit an uninterrupted pursuit of dangerous domestic initiatives including the advancement of its controversial nuclear development program. Though United State’ fleet has been upgraded to overcome the strengthening defence through the development of new stealth assets and long-range bombers including LRS-B or B-21 Raiders,[7] it nevertheless poses a concern that could shift the dynamics and enable Iran to pursue nuclear technology independent of any lethal responses. Hidden under the guise of a peaceful source of power, nuclear facilities that have the technology capable of developing weapons along with a joint Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation could clearly engender a real shift in the balance of power in the region. This is particularly hazardous for Israel, with Iran consistently threatening to ‘wipe Israel off the map’[8] where former Ambassador to Syria Hojatoleslam Akhtari stating, “[t]he only way to subdue the enemies is by refusing to compromise on the goals of the resistance and to remain strong; the future of criminal nations such as the Zionists will be erased from the history books.”[9] Consistent deterioration in diplomatic processes on the nuclear question with Iran vis-à-vis violations of the Paris Agreement – a framework by the United Nations on climate change with assessments on nuclear infrastructure as part of the mitigation strategies to reduce global warming – raises legitimate concerns as to just how dangerous Iran’s military capabilities has become.

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Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider (LRS-B) Long Range Strike Stealth Bomber

The United States’ place in the Middle East is not without its controversy, particularly its involvement in Iraq, oil politics and its relationship with Saudi Arabia. Operation Desert Storm in January, 1991 was a military operation against Iraqi forces in Kuwait where over 100,000 people were killed. Though a strategic success, it was ultimately a failure in the aftermath since the violence continued long after; following the encouragement of minorities in Iraq – including the Shiite and Kurdish minorities – to weaken the regime through rebellion by supplying armament, the United States was party to the ultimate massacre of women, children and men as part of Saddam Hussein’ brutal suppression. The USA grossed $36.2 billion on foreign weapons sale in 2014 and controls almost 50% of the global market on weapons, with Russia coming in second.[10] Is it just an economic battle – one that would afford the greatest power – between two states utilising the differences in political philosophies to justify the onslaught of continuous violence and displacement of millions of lives? Following the Ba’ath party’ successful coup against the leadership of Abdul al-Karim Qasim with the support of the USA, by 1968 a bloodless coup led by General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr meant that the relationship and position of USA deteriorated in favour of the Soviet presence.[11] To challenge this, the USA sponsored – along with the support of the Iranian government at the time due to border disputes – the Kurdish people with armament and the initiative to rebel in exchange for autonomy. It was a fatal and unfilled promise for the Kurds.[12]

The relationship between the United States and Iran dates long before the Iranian revolution, the former known to having a hand in the 1953 coup d’état where documents verify how both the USA and Britain assisted the coup against Mohammad Mosaddeq and replaced by the preferred Shah.[13] It was not long after that oil in the region was privatised with the USA and Britain in control. The growing Soviet influence only compelled further attempts to infiltrate power in the Middle East, including Lebanon where the 1958 crisis exposed President Camille Chamoun’ close relations with the USA and despite the growing frustration between sectarian groups and pro-Western imperialism, President D. Eisenhower nevertheless intervened under what was considered the need to protect Lebanon and the Middle East from the ‘threat of communism’. It is the same reason for the United State’ funding of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. The Iranian Revolution solidified a massive shift in the region when the Islamic Republic of Iran was born through the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini, and though the latter publically confessed an incompatibility between Islam and Communism, deteriorating relations with the United States only compelled closer ties with both China and Russia. Iran shifted toward a coalition that included Syria and soon found itself participating the foreign factious politics as seen with Houthi rebels in Yemen – a Shia Muslim minority – whom they support to aggravate Saudi Arabia. This led the Saudi government in a multi-national coalition of predominately Sunni-Arab states to restore president Abdrabbuh M. Hadi  of Yemen following the rebellion, leading to the deaths, injuries and displacement of tens of thousands of people and a widespread humanitarian catastrophe of an already impoverished state.

The Saudi influence in the region is undeniable and their stratagem in Syria – by supporting the Islamist rebel fighters in Syria – clear along with Qatar and Turkey. Muslim theologian Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab and author of Kitab at-tawhid or the ‘Book of Unity’ and fundamental to the teachings of Wahhabism, took a puritanical approach to the teachings not just of the Qur’an but also of the hadiths and became the primary power in the Saudi region following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The Saudi State has long promoted Wahhabi Islam, an ultra-conservative form of Sunni Islam, and is a major provider of military and financial assistance toward a number of group that adhere to Islamist ideology, channelling assistance through ‘charitable’ funds to poorer, Islamic states that often aid in the construction of mosques and training Imams. In a damning report, the European Parliament[14] identified the Saudi Wahhabi regime along with the Salafi – which is known to be an extension of the former – as supporting global rebel groups with arms and fiscal provisions and thus making them better equipped and capable to fight effectively on the ground, which is a clear advantage in areas of the Middle East for instance. “From the most nebulous organisations to the most organised ones, from smaller cells to the most complex networks, no country in the Muslim world is safe from their operations, crude or sophisticated as they always aim to terrorise their opponents and arouse the admiration of their supporters.”[15] I hardly think a country where women have no rights and people continue to be beheaded for supposed crimes such as witchcraft would have the moral standing to cultivate an ethical approach to international relations.

United Nations Security Council Resolutions on the civil war in Syria where consistently vetoed against by both Russia and China, including S/2016/846 whereby Russian representative Vitaly I. Churkin stated: “After destroying Libya, the troika of permanent Western members of the Security Council had turned its sights on Syria. Furthermore, the French delegation had not put forward a single constructive initiative,” statements that were furthered by United Kingdom with Matthew Rycroft reacting with, “[t]he current tactics being used in Aleppo under the guise of combating terrorism were turning the situation into a catastrophe. The Russian Federation’s commitment was hollow and a sham. Instead of investing in peace and diplomacy, it had cooperated with the Syrian regime, and it was Syrian civilians who bore the brunt of that complicity.”[16] Accusations that the Russian Federation were derailing the resolutions and preventing diplomacy to immediately end the bombing of Aleppo, but Syrian representative went on to defend Russia purporting that the draft text from France was intended to fuel the crisis and enable France the “golden opportunity to revive its colonial power.”[17]

Really, just France? It is clearly not the only country that cares little enough for the millions of innocent women, children and men in the Middle East to say qu’ils mangent de la brioche!

Water politics is certainly controversial as the Taurus mountain regions in Turkey sources the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that provides the water for Syria and the Persian Gulf, threatening the water supply with the effective control of its flow through the construction of dams including the Atatürk Dam funded in part by the United States. The risk is not a joke neither do deterrence theories protect the probability of an outbreak of devastating consequences as exemplified by the drought in Iraq following the Keban Dam built in Turkey and the Tabqa Dam (built in response with the support of Russia) in 1975. In 1990, threats to bomb the Atatürk Dam following vehement protestations from Syria and Iraq due to the temporary reduction – thoughts its effects certainly felt by the two states – of the Euphrates river to fill the dams reservoir had Turkey threatening to completely cut the flow of water; the water flow is currently at 2/3rds of its former capacity prior to the dam. The scarcity of water in the region itself has had devastating effects and to utilise the dam as an instrument of war could lead to a much greater struggle and risk; the former, further displacement, sanitation and environmental disasters that may result in the deaths of millions of lives, whilst the latter and of greater concern, the direct involvement of China – who supports Russia, Syria and Iran – directly into the conflict.

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Atatürk Dam has reduced the water flow down the Euphrates-Tigris by 1/3 than what it was prior to its construction.

It would almost appear that since the decline of Ottoman power – an empire that stretched for hundreds of years in the region – the Middle East as become a hunting ground for gruesome Western hands salivating over the accessible fiscal rewards, manipulating authoritarian puppet states, fuelling religious tensions and sponsoring sectarian divisions that result in a monopoly of power struggles that intensifies hatred and has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the region. The religious divisions between Shia and Sunni Islam only enabling foreign interference. Now with Trump inaugurated as President of the United States of America, one wonders how his mindless leadership supported by the conservative evangelical Christians who have monolithic, premillennialist ideas of the Second Coming as well as a very strong influence on US Foreign Policy, will effect pre-existing adversaries between the superpowers? And what about China, sitting passively in the background as it watches from over the Caucasus Mountains? Are they believed to be Gog and Magog, the devil ousted from Heaven and who deceives (does anyone suspect?) the nations ‘to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea?’ One wonders about the Chinese army multiplying and the consistent increase in spending on military growth with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) the world’s largest standing army. Was Napoleon Bonaparte a military genius or a prophet when he said: “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will tremble the world.”

Has the trumpet been blown?

 

 

[1] Article 14, The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
[2] Article 1 (a)(2)
[3] Brahma Chellaney, Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis, Rowman & Littlefield (2015) 50
[4] Syria Regional Fact Sheet: http://www.care.org/sites/default/files/documents/CARE_Syria_Regional_Crisis_Fact_Sheet_22092015.pdf
[5] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/02/syrias-refugee-crisis-in-numbers
[6] https://www.rt.com/news/361586-russia-s300-supplied-syria/
[7] http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/americas-lethal-new-b-21-vs-the-b-2-stealth-bomber-15352
[8] Mark A. Tessler, A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Indiana University Press (1994) 393
[9] Dwight Jones, The Judas Factor: As Judas Betrayed Christ, America Will Betray Israel, Charisma Media (2015) 113
[10] http://time.com/4161613/us-arms-sales-exports-weapons/
[11] Bryan R. Gibson, U.S Foreign Policy, Iraq, and the Cold War 1958-1975, A thesis submitted to The London School of Economics and Political Science (‎2013)
[12] Bryan R. Gibson, Sold Out? US Foreign Policy, Iraq, the Kurds, and the Cold War. Palgrave Macmillan (2015)
[13] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/19/cia-admits-role-1953-iranian-coup
[14] European Parliament, “The Involvement of Salafism/Wahhabism in the support and supply of arms to rebel groups around the world” Directorate-General for External Policies of the Union, Directorate B [Policy Department]: EXPO/B/AFET/FWC/2009-01/Lot4/23 June/2013.
[15] Ibid
[16] https://www.un.org/press/en/2016/sc12545.doc.htm
[17] Ibid.