International Conflicts: Bridging the Divide

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Conflict Map 2014 Courtesy of the International Institute of Strategic Studies

The recent advancement of the Sunni group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria has led both countries into violent chaos and instability, while Israel and Afghanistan are experiencing similar situations with various militant factions. Similarly Russia and Ukraine are undergoing a different type of exclusion policy orchestrated by their own governments causing unrest between its own people. While the wars or conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have remained prolonged as the problems within their governments have never been addressed, the larger global cause of these conflicts seems to be the policies of exclusion that create an environment which allows radical organizations like ISIS to gain ground. According to Marwan Muasher, How the Iraq Crisis Highlights a Need for Inclusion Policies Across the Middle East, the Iraqi crisis highlights how sectarian conflicts are tearing the Arab country apart with Syria serving as an extreme example. During the Arab Spring, many of its leaders have used the religious and ethnic divides to gain or stay in power while taking away the rights of the non-ruling sectors of society. Muasher explains:

“Governments that have risen to power during the Arab Spring claiming visions of building pluralistic societies have, once in power, embraced exclusionary policies that only benefit certain sectors of society. Inclusionary policies in Iraq and throughout the region must be embraced in order to achieve political pluralism. The Arab world must accept and pride itself on the diversity of its people and allow all voices to be heard. The Arab uprisings demand that all regimes reconsider their policies to allow for differences of views, ethnicities, and beliefs, so they treat every citizen as equal.”

The focus in Iraq and with many of these exclusionary governments should be to build a pluralistic society rather than living in the past. The process itself will be painful and take some time, but each country must take action and responsibility for their own destiny. For democracy to take hold, each country must build a national identity stronger than any individual allegiance by embracing all people regardless of political, cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, and gender equity. Muasher brilliantly and simply points out that the U.S. and international community needs to look at these conflicts not just as military actions to secure the region, but as a transition period for each. The transition period may take years to see progress, however inclusion not exclusion must be embraced in order to having a functioning society as a commitment to pluralism will lead to a sustainable political and economic renewal. In addition, Muasher points out that inclusion in the political process for all parties will allow everyone to feel they have a stake in the system:

“What is worse than the Skyes-Picot agreement, which produced artificial boundaries in the Eastern part of the Arab world, is its dissolution. Ethnically or religiously pure states are not the answer to achieving productive societies. Rather, it will lead to non-viable entities at war with each other. A separated Iraq will only result in more war and strife for years to come.”

If inclusion doesn’t become a standard policy, then not only the Middle East but Afghanistan and Ukraine will also become victims of their own exclusionary policies that so far has caused devastation, death and destruction. Here is a summary of the numerous news stories this week about what exclusion policies can do:

Israeli military masses troops along Gaza border
Jul 8th 2014 4:53PM
JOSEF FEDERMAN AND NAJIB JOBAINJERUSALEM (AP)

On Tuesday, Israel launched its largest offensive in Gaza in nearly two years aiming at numerous targets and killing 19 people in order to end weeks of heavy rocket fire. While Gaza militants unleashed rockets onto Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel mobilized its troops along the Gaza border for a possible invasion making this offensive the heaviest fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas since the 8 day battle in November 2012. In a nationally televised statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the rocket attacks on Israeli communities would not be tolerated. Israel and Hamas have remained bitter enemies over the years with numerous rounds of fighting, however, a truce had ended the conflict in 2012. The fighting continued throughout the day with many Palestinian residents of Gaza running from their homes as Israel continued its airstrikes leaving some with bloody faces and many to pick up the motionless bodies of fellow Palestinians. In addition, many residents, fearing an Israeli ground operation, moved deeper into Gaza to stay with relatives. In southern Israel, hundreds of thousands of citizens were ordered to stay indoors due to the rocket fire from Gaza leaving the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem deserted. According to military Israeli military officials, when asked by Channel 2 TV if a cease fire is possible, the military spokesman replied “Not now.” The U.S. State Department condemned the rocket fire on Israel and hoped Israel’s strong message would deter further attacks, according to spokeswoman Jen Psaki. The escalation on Tuesday has led many world leaders to condemn the actions of Hamas and call for restraint. According to the article:

” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the indiscriminate multiple rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza and demanded an immediate halt to the attacks, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Arab League Chief Nabil Elaraby called for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council to take necessary measures to stop the violence.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned the attacks and urged calm. ‘The people of Israel have the right to live without constant fear for their security; the people of Gaza also have the right to live in peace,’ he said.”

Afghanistan Suicide Attack Near Clinic Claims At Least 16 Lives, Including 4 Foreign Troops
By AMIR SHAH and RAHIM FAIEZ
Posted: 07/08/2014 3:22 am EDT Updated: 07/08/2014 2:59 pm EDT

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah told his supporters on Tuesday that he will claim victory in the country’s election claiming massive fraud caused his rival to take the lead in the preliminary results. In response, the United States warned both camps against seizing power as it would put international financial and security support at stake. According to the article, violence has escalated once again across the country as a suicide bomber struck Afghan and foreign forces near a eastern province clinic in Parwan that killed 16 people. Abdullah will meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday at the Afghan capital on Friday in a bid to defuse the situation. The Afghan Independent Election Commission on Monday said that June 14 preliminary results put former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in the lead for the presidency however no winner has been declared due to millions of ballots being audited for fraud. The article states: “According to the preliminary results, Ahmadzai had about 4.5 million votes, or 56 percent, while Abdullah had 3.5 million votes, or 44 percent. Turnout was more than 50 percent.” In the first round of voting on April 5, Abdullah had more votes with46 percent to Ahmadzai’s 31.6 percent but did not get the majority need to avoid a runoff. While Abdullah refused to recognize this second round of voting, Ahmadzai, a U.S. educated former finance minister and World Bank official, had this to say:

“‘We welcome him (Kerry) coming here, but the real responsibility is up to us and we are hopeful that we will fulfill all our responsibilities,’ he said at a news conference at his home in Kabul. ‘We are prepared to engage in political discussion in order to make sure that we move to insure the legitimacy of the process, its fairness and the acceptance of its results.'”

The election commission does admit that vote rigging had occurred and will audit ballots from 7,000 of the 23,000 polling stations. Abdullah claims that the President Hamid Karzai, Ahmadzai and the election commission were colluding against him. The U.N. mission in Afghanistan called for both candidates to show restraint and take steps to control their supporters in order to prevent civil disorder and instability.

Ukraine takes aggressive stance toward separatists
Jul 9th 2014 2:31AM
By YURAS KARMANAU and PETER LEONARD

On Tuesday, the Ukrainian government announced it would remove  pro-Russia separatists from their reduced area of control and impose new condition before peace talks happen. However, the government will not use air and artillery strikes to regain control of rebel held territories in eastern Ukraine in order to avoid terrorizing civilians. After losing Slovyansk, the militants regrouped in Donetsk where they occupy government building and move around the city. Adrei Purgin, deputy prime minister of the self proclaimed independent Donetsk People’s Republic, said the rebels have 15,000 fighters and will defend the city a major industrial hub of 1 million. More than 400 people have died and tens of thousands have fled during the three month long standoff between the government in Kiev who took power after the ousting of the Russia friendly president in February and rebels. Rebels in Ukraine and nationalists in Russia want the Kremlin to protect insurgents, however Russian President Vladimir Putin remains wary of further sanctions by the West which has already banned visas and asset freezes on Russian officials and members of Putin’s inner circle after Crimea was annexed in March. According to the article, Defense Minister Valery Heletey on Tuesday said the cease fire negotiations will not continue until the rebels lay down their arms which is something the rebels refuse to do.

North Korea Using Psychological Warfare to Bargain with U.S.

We have all witness numerous attempts by North Korea to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with from threats of war against South Korea to attacks on the United States with long range nuclear missiles, however the end result of these threats have left the North Korea with little bargaining power as the United Nations has sanctioned them for repeated offenses and South Korea grows tired of the tantrums. What is the next logical step in North Korea’s psychological warfare? North Korea now hopes to use an old trick from the past that is sure to get the United States’ attention. On Saturday, the Associated Press reported that North Korea will try an American detainee for allegedly trying to overthrow the government complicating an already tense relationship between Pyongyang and Washington. The indictment comes as North Korea has run out of ammo to use against the U.S. and South Korea in order to force bargaining between the nations. North Korea remains angry over U.N. sanctions passed in February over nuclear tests and the ongoing U.S. South Korean drills though most believe the motive behind the indictment is to force its Korean War foes to negotiate on its own terms according to the Associated Press.

The man identified above, Kenneth Bae, also known by his Korean name in North Korean state media, Pae Jun Ho, is a tour operator arrested after arriving with a tour on Nov.3 in Rason which is a special economic zone bordering China and Russia. He is the sixth American detained in North Korea since 2009, however the other detainees were eventually deported or released after high profile diplomatic interventions with some involving President Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. According to the Korean Central News Agency, “The preliminary inquiry into crimes committed by American citizen Pae Jun Ho closed. In the process of investigation he admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple the DPRK with hostility toward it. His crimes were proved by evidence.” Under North Korea’s criminal code terrorist acts include murdering, kidnapping and injuring the country’s citizens can lead to a death sentence or life in jail AP reports.

The actual trial of Bae has not been set and the charges have yet to be announced by the KCNA as little information has been made public. North Korea and the United States do not have diplomatic relations due to the 1050-53 Korean War as the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang represent the United States. Friends, colleagues and activist in South Korea said that Bae is a missionary based in a border town in China who made frequent trips to North Korea to feed orphans , but do not know whether he tried to evangelize while in North Korea AP reports. Officially, North Korea guarantee freedom of religion, however authorities have been known to crack down on Christians who are seen as threats to government because of the western influence. The distribution of Bibles and secret prayer services do carry a penalty of banishment to a labor camp or execution according to defectors from the country.

 

Pope Greets the Faithful As Holy Week Begin with Palm Sunday Mass

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over 250,000 of the faithful gathered waving olive branches and braided palm fronds in St. Peter’s Square to hear and get a glimpse of Pope Francis celebrating his First Palm Sunday Mass addressing the crowd reminding them to be humble and young at heart promising to attend the youth jamboree in Brazil in July. The crowd included a variety of people from tourists to Romans to pilgrims who celebrated the beginning of the Holy Week leading to Easter, Christianity’s most important day. The pope keeping with his unique style broke away from the homily text prepared for him to encourage the faithful to lead simple lives, resist temptation and overall remain optimistic in the face of adversity according to the Associate Press. Francis told the crowd that “Don’t let yourselves be robbed of hope! Don’t let yourselves be robbed of hope!” as the world deals with a crushing economic difficulties and employment crisis. At the end of the two hour Mass, Francis removed his red vestments and wore only his white cassock with skull cap when he climbed into the open top popemobile to meet the crowd. His security team has to work harder than ever as Francis leaned out to shake hands, kiss and pat the heads of infants his body guards passed to him. The Chief bodyguard, Domenico Giani, at one point was sent to give a message to the mother of a child the pontiff passed as the he appeared very tense then broke into a smile one he completed his task the Associated Press reported. The pope also climbed down from his vehicle to kiss a woman in the crowd and chat with her, while another man in the crowd leaned over the barricade to squeeze the pontiff on the shoulder which was unheard of with the reserved Benedict XVI. As an Argentine nun, Sister Emma, commented, “There is no doubt that there will be a new spring for the church, a renewal.”

Palm Sunday marks the day Jesus’ entered Jerusalem then later was betrayed by one of his apostles and sentenced to die on the cross. Francis presided over the Mass that took place on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica under a white canopy saying Jesus “awakened so many hopes in the heart, above all among humble, simple, poor, forgotten people, those who don’t matter in the eyes of the world.” As many of the cardinals sat on chairs during the ceremony, the pope talked about many of the evils afflicting the world including wars, `’economic conflicts that hit the weakest” as well as corruption. Since his election, Pope Francis has made it his mission to help the downtrodden and poor which keeps with the Jesuit tradition as the pope said in his homily that Christian joy `’isn’t born from possessing a lot of things but from having met” Jesus as that same joy should keep people young and “Even at 70, 80, the heart doesn’t age” if one is inspired by Christian joy the Associate Press reports. During the Mass, many of the faithful knelt on the hard cobblestones of the square when the Gospel recounts the moment of Jesus’ death so did Francis kneel on a wooden kneeler. A few olive trees were inserted in the dirt placed around the central obelisk in the square. Holy Week has just begun but there is already a planned change to the tradition with the new papacy. On Holy Thursday, the pope will wash the feet of young inmates at a juvenile detention center in Rome instead of the feet of priests in the basilica as a humble gesture of humility. Other appointments in public will include the Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum on Good Friday night and next Sunday Francis will celebrate Easter Mass in the square.

Human Rights Campaign: Hillary Clinton Announces Her Support for Marriage Equality for All

Hillary Clinton Announces Support For Gay Marriage.

According to the Associated Press, Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodhan VClinton announced Monday her suppirt for gay marriage in an online video by the gay rights advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign explaining that gays and lesbians are “full and equal citizens and deserve the rights of citizenship.” She continued to explain in the six minute video, “That includes marriage” both “personally and as a matter of policy and law.” Clinton’s announcement is sure to get people’s attention as people are already speculating another run for president in 2016 with other potential Democratic contenders being Vice President Joe Biden, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley who all back the right of same-sex couples to marry. The poll of public opinion has changed dramatically on this issue in recent times as Gallup polling last November showed 53 percent of adults approve of gay marriage while in 1996 only 27 percent did. The shift has also take place in political parties as Clinton and Obama in the 2008 presidential election backed civil unions not marriage, but in the 2012 election Obama announced his support of gay marriage so did Democrats who added it to their party’s official platform. The White House spokesman Jay Carney had this to say about Clinton’s announcement: “The president believes that anytime a public official of stature steps forward to embrace a commitment that he shares to equality, he thinks it’s a good thing.”

The GOP opposes gay marriage even though a several Republican stand outs have backed same sex marriages. On Friday, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman became the first Republican senator to announce his support saying he had a change of heart after finding out his son is gay, the Associated Press reports. More than a 100 Republicans submitted “friends of the court” briefs to the Supreme Court to overturn California’s Prop 8 law on same sex marriage ban as the court will discuss it next week. Also up for discussion is the Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as between a man and woman which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 who now believes the act to be unconstitutional and should be overturned. Hilary Clinton is a strong supports of gay rights not only in the U.S., but abroad as well despite keeping a tight lip during her tenure at the State Department however under her watch the U.S. government made it officially policy to promote gay rights around the world. For many citizens of the United States and abroad this has only been a dream up until now and the fight will continue on, but someday will end…one can dream right.

 

 

 

 

Black smoke signals no pope elected at first conclave vote

Black smoke rises from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City indicating that no decision has been made after the first day of voting for the election of a new pope, March 12, 2013. REUTERS-Dylan Martinez

Black Smoke Appeared At Sistine Chapel Chimney

With a thick puff of black smoke from the Sistine Chapel’s chimney, day one of the conclave on Tuesday ends with no conclusive first vote in the conclave to elect a new pope at a time when the Roman Catholic Church really need a leader. The smoke came at 2:41 p.m. U.S. Eastern time leaving the church’s 115 cardinals to meet Wednesday morning to vote for the second day to elect a pope needing at least 77 votes to elect a new pope. There will be up to four votes per day until a pope is elected. If a new pope is elected, white smoke will be released from the Sistine Chapel at 5:30 a.m. (10:30 a.m. Italy), 7 a.m., 12:30 a.m. or 2 p.m. and if no pope is elected then black smoke will rise from the chapel at 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. Times may vary and times are estimated based on previous elections and predictions. The new pope must accept the position before the white smoke is released and as promised if the smoke is released at night then the Sistine Chapel chimney will be lit for onlookers to see the smoke as it was on Tuesday. Of course, as stipulated, if no pope is elected by Friday then the cardinals will pause Saturday for reflection and prayers thus continuing the voting pattern until 34th voting round which will lead to a runoff between top candidates. Once the white smoke is released, the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica will ring as in 2005 and the senior cardinal deacon, French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, will stand on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica shouting “Habemus Papam!” (“We have a new pope!”) then present the new pope with his white papal cassocks to give his first blessing as pope. Thousands watched in St. Peter’s Square as the black smoke poured out of the narrow flue in the rain following a day rich in ritual and pageantry.

After prayer for divine guidance, the cardinals took an oath in Latin to never divulge any details of their deliberation before they secluded themselves behind the chapel’s heavy wooden doors. No conclave in modern times has elected a pope the first day and some cardinals believe it could take four or five days to pick a man to replace the recently retired Pope Benedict. The “Princes of the Church” will spend the night in a Vatican hotel then begin day two of voting in the Sistine Chapel on Wednesday with two rounds of voting one in the morning and two in the afternoon. Voting will continue until a new pontiff is appointed and communication with the outside world will be smoke from the Chapel chimney indicated by black smoke when the voting sessions end with no result and white smoke when a pontiff is elected. Whom ever becomes the 266th pontiff of the Catholic church in its 2,000 year history will face several challenges including sex abuse scandals, infighting within the Vatican bureaucracy and the secularism in its European heartland and beyond. No clear cut contenders have emerged since some want a stronger manager to control the Curia and others calling for a powerful pastor to promote faith around the world. The doors of the Sistine Chapel were closed at 5:34 p.m. after the master of ceremonies, Guido Marini, said “Extra Omnes” or “Everyone Out” asking those no associate with the gathering to leave the room except Maltese Cardinal Prosper Grech, an 87 year old who is too old to participate in the vote, who gave a sermon to remind the 115 cardinal electors of their responsibility.

The faithful gathered in Rome in hopes that a new leader would bring change after a difficult eight year reign by Pope Benedict. As Maria Dasdores Paz, a Brazilian nun who attended the Mass explains to Reuters that the new pope “must be a great pastor with a big heart, and also have the capacity to confront the Church’s problems, which are very great…Every day there seem to be more.” All of the prelates in the Sistine Chapel were appointed by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI or Pope John Paul II and the next pope will certainly defend the traditional moral teachings of the church, but many point out the failures of Benedict and Paul to reform the Curia leaving many feeling that the next pope must be a good chief executive or have good management put in place under him. Several papal candidate have been discussed including Italian and non-Italian prelates with growing pressure to choose a pontiff from somewhere else in the world since only 24 percent of Catholics live in Europe. Only time will tell if the next pope will live up to the position or falter in one respect or another as popes before him have.

Vatican Blasts ‘False’ Pre-Conclave Reporting

Vatican Blasts ‘False’ Pre-Conclave Reporting.

The Vatican on Saturday scolded the media for running defamatory and false reports before the conclave of Pope Benedict XVI’s successor saying these were attempts to influence the election. The Italian newspapers have been running unsourced reports in recent days about the content of a secret dossier prepared for the pope by three cardinals who researched the origins of the Vatileaks scandal in 2012. The reports claim that the revelations in the dossier given to the Pope in December factored into his decision to resign as Pope. The has only said that because he doesn’t have the strength of body and mind to carry on he will resign Feb. 28. The Vatican secretariat of state said on Saturday according to the Associated Press,” If in the past, the so-called powers, i.e., States, exerted pressures on the election of the pope, today there is an attempt to do this through public opinion that is often based on judgments that do not typically capture the spiritual aspect of the moment that the church is living.” He continued in his statement saying, “It is deplorable that as we draw closer to the time of the beginning of the conclave … that there be a widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions.”

Some Vatican watchers claim because the Vatican bureaucracy is heavily Italian that the cardinals might be persuaded to elect non-Italian, non-Vatican based cardinals as pope to force some reform. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, a papal contender, criticized the division, dissent, careerism and jealousies that afflicts the Vatican bureaucracy. The divisions he speaks of were exposed in the document taken from the pope’s study by his butler and leaked by a journalist according to the Associated Press.  The document  itself tells of the petty wrangling, corruption and allegations of a gay plot in the highest levels of the church. The three cardinals who investigated the theft from the Vatican had the power to interview other cardinals to get to the bottom of the dynamics in the Curia that caused the security breach. On Saturday, Benedict lamented the evil, suffering and corruption that has defaced God’s creation, but thanked the Vatican bureaucrats for helping him bear the burden of his ministry with their work, faith, love and faith these past eight years according to the Associated Press.

 

 

First Pope to leave office in 600 years – timesofmalta.com

First Pope to leave office in 600 years – timesofmalta.com.

It is rare in any lifetime to witness a pope being chosen from the college of cardinals but even rarer to see a pope leave before his time is up. In my young existence, I have witnessed both happen and will see another cardinal become a pope of one of the largest church organizations in the world, the Catholic Church. Say what you will, this will still go down in history and will be remember for a long time.

On Monday February 11, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI did the unthinkable and said he will resign on February 28, becoming the first pontiff in 600 years to take such a step. The leader of the 1.2 billions Catholics around the world, Pope Benedict in a statement read in Latin during a church council with cardinals said that he no longer had the strength to fulfill his duties which has shocked the world. As he says,”My strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.” Vatican officials explained that the statement had been translated into different languages before the Pope could make his announcement for immediate dissemination. The decision by the 85 year old German Pontiff who was elected to the papacy in April of 2005 has left many wondering what to do with two living Popes and has caused a paradox for the church as this has not happened in 600 years. A conclave of cardinals expected to be he;d in March will elect a new Pope. Arrangements are underway to provide Pope Benedict with a place of residence which may be a disused monastery on Vatican grounds.

Today on Ash Wednesday in Vatican City, the Pope celebrated his final mass as pontiff presiding over services hours after explaining his decision to the faithful. The mood in St. Peter’s Basilica was somber as the finality of weight of Benedict’s decision registered with thousands of the faithful present, but ended with a standing ovation as Pope Benedict exited for the last time as pope bring tears to eyes of those closest to the man. “We wouldn’t be sincere, Your Holiness, if we didn’t tell you that there’s a veil of sadness on our hearts this evening,” Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Benedict’s longtime deputy, told the pope at the end of the service, his voice breaking. The crowd yelled “Viva il papa!” as the Pope stepped off the altar. By March 31, the church will have a new pope elected as it marks the end of Lent and the celebration of Easter which commemorates the death and resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday.
Benedict explained to his flock why he broke with a 600 year tradition and decided to retire: “As you know, I have decided to renounce the ministry that the Lord gave to me on April 19, 2005…I did this in full liberty for the good of the church.” The Vatican has revealed his final days as pope saying he will attend a farewell ceremony with his cardinals then fly to the papal summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo. Under the timetable, Benedict will be far from the Vatican when he ceases to be pope at 8p.m. on February 28 a deadline he decided on. The College of Cardinals will then organize a conclave where the 117 or so cardinals under 80 will vote to see who will succeed Benedict. Benedict’s final appearance will be on February 27 and is expected to draw a crowd and will allow the faithful to say farewell under happier circumstances than his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, died in 2005.