GULF (NON) COOPERATION COUNCIL

The increasingly taut Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) finds itself in a state of crisis, the likes of which haven’t been seen in decades. Political issues between the predominantly Sunni Middle Eastern powers, that have always existed beneath the surface, have now erupted – much like Christopher Hitchens did every time he heard the words, “Intelligent Design”. Of all things good and/or bad (depending upon your view of the rather capricious US President) that have followed Donald Trump’s election to the White House, this most definitely is the development which could have the most enduring consequences on a global level.

So, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain decided a few weeks ago to cut diplomatic ties with their enormously rich neighbour, and fellow member of the GCC, Qatar, for alleged regional meddling. Among the many allegations levelled at Qatar is that, through Al Jazeera – a channel owned and funded by the relatively tiny but deceptively wealthy nation, it has been instigating the people of the region to push for democratic reforms and overthrow authoritarian monarchies. It is widely accepted that Al Jazeera was one of the primary catalysts behind the Arab Spring. It has also been alleged that Qatar funds and supports terrorist groups, such as Al-Nusra, in the Middle East. The Qataris, on the other hand, accuse the opposing side of subverting the terms of the GCC, and the UN Charter, by taking unilateral action against them based on unfounded and malicious claims.

Now, the Qataris can’t be absolved of some of their questionable actions. Even the most loyal viewers of Al Jazeera would concede that some of their journalism is disruptive, and rather slanted. (While encouraging people to overthrow a monarchy and push for democracy is a noble act, it looks abysmally hypocritical when one realizes that Qatar itself is a monarchy.) Additionally, there have been well-documented attacks against free speech in Qatar, such as the imprisonment of poet Mohamed Rashid al-Ajami in 2011 for insulting the emir of Qatar in one of his writings. Furthermore, the Qataris have in the past refused to support international sanctions against certain terrorist organizations. In spite of this, though, one is tempted to side with the Qataris in this political tussle due to several reasons. To begin with, Saudi Arabia, the de-facto leader of the protesting faction, is arguably one of the world’s leading sponsors of terror groups. It is widely believed to have funded many terrorist organizations over the years in an attempt to spread its Wahabi ideology. Add to that its grossly illiberal laws, particularly with regard to women, and its medieval punishments, including beheadings, and Saudi Arabia doesn’t look like a country that can claim to hold the moral high ground in this, or any other type of international dispute.

Ever since a land and air blockade was imposed on Qatar, it has come to be viewed as a country that is being bullied by its relatively more powerful neighbours to submit to unjustified demands – one of which is seen as a direct attack on free speech – the call to shut down the Al Jazeera network. Not only has Qatar been able to subsist during this difficult time (with considerable help from Turkey), it has come closer to Iran – which comes as a big blow to Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni-dominated nations of the region. In the short run, at least, Saudi Arabia’s plan to corner Qatar seems to have backfired. Following the poor decision to get his kingdom involved in the seemingly endless war in Yemen, the new Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, along with his father, seems to have made another mistake in foreign policy. After Donald Trump chose Saudi Arabia as his first international destination as POTUS, and spoke openly against Qatar’s alleged funding to terrorists, King Salman was probably emboldened into taking this harsh step against Qatar. He may have felt that with the Americans on his side, he could get Qatar to submit to his demands. He forgot one little thing though – America’s under-fire President alone does not call the shots on their foreign policy.

IMMIGRATION & THE COLOGNE SEX ATTACKS

Germany, along with the rest of Europe, has been on the wrong end of a large scale immigration problem over the last few years. The “sex attacks” on women in Cologne have put the spotlight back on the immigration crisis since it has been reported that most of the perpetrators were of North African and Arab origin. This has given the far right parties in Germany an opportunity to tear into Angela Merkel’s liberal immigration policies

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An increasing number of people in Germany are beginning to feel upset about the way in which Merkel’s administration has tackled the immigration problem. While some countries in Europe, such as Hungary, have made it fairly evident that refugees are not welcome, Germany has accepted over one million refugees in the last year. It is the most sought after destination among the refugees fleeing war and persecution in the Middle East and Africa, among other regions.

Human rights activists and sympathizers will have you believe that Germany is doing no more than it ought to. They believe that it is Germany’s moral responsibility to help these refugees. I don’t agree though. Sure, for me to sit here in a comfortable café in New Delhi and say this, while sipping a cup of hot cappuccino, is easy. I might have felt very differently had I been one among those refugees. However, I would still say that large scale migration to Europe, or any other country for that matter, is just not a viable solution in the long run.

Political instability, terrorism, poverty and other problems in the Middle East and Africa are forcing people to stake their lives and travel to Europe in make-shift boats in search of a better life. Is this a long term solution though? Can we allow the creation of a lop-sided world wherein a few countries are over flowing with an ever increasing population, while other countries are sparsely populated and ruled by a few power hungry maniacs? Instead of accepting migrants in huge numbers or playing ping-pong with them, as some countries are doing, European countries must come together and stop this problem at its root. They must do whatever they can to help bring the problems in “MEA” to an end so that people don’t feel a need to migrate to Europe. The “powers that be” must work together to bring an end to the turmoil in Syria, Yemen and Africa. It’s easier said than done though.

Europe should not have to suffer for the failing of other countries as nation-states. Generally, European countries live in harmonious prosperity (relatively). Why should that become a curse for them? What transpired in Cologne on New Year’s Eve can’t be attributed to migrants alone. However, no one can deny their significant involvement in the despicable incident. Some say that migrants must be given time to settle down in Germany so that they can understand what standard of behavior is appropriate and what is not. I say that if someone needs to be made to understand that he can’t go around groping and molesting women, then he has no place in society, period. Merkel says that immigrants that are found guilty of their involvement in the Cologne incident should be promptly deported (I am paraphrasing here). However, I say that deportation is much too lenient a punishment for such people. No country in the world needs scum bags like them.

 

ISLAM IN EUROPE – ON THIN ICE

The unfortunate events that have unfolded in Europe in the last few days have shaken up the world. The horrific terrorist attacks in Paris seem to have left an indelible mark on the minds of the French. While some are quietly mourning the loss of innocent lives, others are seething with anger against the Muslim community in their country. They blame Muslims and their religion for the events that so tragically transpired in Paris.

Until now, France has been among the most tolerant and secular countries in Europe (It is home to the highest population of Muslims in the region). Muslims have lived peacefully in this part of the world for a long time now. However, after the recent terror attacks, their lives have taken a turn for the worse. Reports of hate crimes against Muslims have seen a sharp increase. They are afraid to step out of their houses in some parts of the country for the fear of getting attacked. They have reported feeling scared and ostracized. While it is wrong to blame innocent Muslims for what happened, and associate them with the twisted idea of religion that the attackers had probably been brainwashed into believing, the anger of the French is understandable.

The ongoing refugee crisis had been a bone of contention among European countries over the last few months. They were finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the seemingly endless number of refugees washing up on their shores every month – they were trying though (every country in its own way). However, with the growing anti-Islamic  sentiment in Europe, and the West in general, not only will it become extremely difficult for refugees to gain entry into these countries, but we might even see a “mini-exodus” of the Muslims already living there. This statement may seem a little too far-fetched at this point in time. Surely, it would take a lot more than a few isolated incidents of violence for Muslims living in these parts of the world to want to, or indeed have to, leave the region and move elsewhere in order to feel safe. One hopes things don’t reach this far. Will they? Only time will tell.

One thing is for sure though – Europe’s patience with Islam, and the problems that it considers to be stemming from it, is fast running out.