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.

GREAT FOR INDIA: TRUMP OR HILLARY?

Contrary to what Trump would have you believe, America is still a great country. However, the same can’t be said about its presidential election this year. Both of this year’s nominees have a (let’s just say) “questionable” reputation. While Hillary’s supporters consider Trump a megalomaniacal, tax-evading, and women-abusing criminal, the “deplorables” consider Hillary a devious woman – someone who should be rotting in jail, instead of campaigning to be the next Leader of the Free World.

Say what you want about the two nominees but come 8th of November, one of them will become the 45th president of the United States of America. Just like every other country in the world, with the possible exception of the Philippines, India is eagerly awaiting the election results.  One wonders, though, which of the two nominees will be a better friend to India. While there is no way to predict the correct answer right now, my money is on Donald J. Trump. Here’s why:

India’s biggest problem, for the longest time, has been its hostile neighbour, Pakistan. Even though its economy has been floundering for several years now, Pakistan has continued to grow stronger militarily. Using its military power, and its ever-growing nuclear arsenal, Pakistan constantly tries to counter India’s rise as a global player. With no money to fund its expansionist agenda, the Islamic “Republic” relies heavily on aid money that is given to it by, among other countries, the United States of America. Given Trump’s allegedly hostile, and unfair, attitude towards Muslims, it is likely that he will deal with countries like Pakistan with a firm hand. Unlikely to appreciate the many reasons, most of them tacit, behind America giving aid money to Pakistan, Trump may put an end to this policy altogether. Hillary, having had a say in America’s policies for several years now, is unlikely to do so.

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Trump wants many things; migration into the United States of America, however, is not one of them. Now, can “President Trump” possibly stop all migration to America? No, he can’t. He wouldn’t want to either. What he can do, though, is punish, and stop the inflow of, illegal immigrants. In USA, illegal immigrants from Mexico significantly outnumber those from India. If Trump does what he claims he will, and reduces the number of illegal immigrants in America, then Indians that wish to migrate to America legally will benefit in the long run.

Trump, rather imprudently, considers India a Hindu country and evidently, has a favourable view of it. He has also expressed his desire to work closely with India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. In an attempt to reach out to the American Indian voters, Trump borrowed PM Modi’s famous election slogan, and in one of his recent campaign videos said, “Ab ki Baar, Trump Sarkaar” (Translation – This Time, Trump’s Government). Clearly, President Trump would be more likely to formulate pro-India policies, than would President Clinton.

The election campaign is almost over. Both nominees have their strengths, and obvious weaknesses. Hillary has the advantage of having been in government. Trump, on the other hand, has the advantage of never having been in government, which enables him to freely criticize some of America’s unpopular policies to get people to vote for him. America knows what it’ll get with Hillary. Trump, though, is a surprise package. So, which one of the two nominees will prove to be the better President for USA, and the world? No one knows. However, if Trump becomes the next President of the United States of America, for most Indians, it may not be such a bad thing.

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.

 

Mankind’s Worst Creation

Mankind has a long history of creating its own problems and then fighting over them. And dare I say, Religion is one of them. Today, religious differences lead to a multitude of violent acts all over the world. Life would be much better if everyone focused only on being a good human being, regardless of their religious beliefs, caste, sect etc. However, this is far from what happens.

Most people are very passionate about the beliefs of their respective religions; they swear by the “Holy Books” and Gods that their religion teaches them to believe in. The Christians swear by the Bible, the Muslims by the Quran, the Hindus by the Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta and the list goes on. Anything or anyone that goes against their religious beliefs is unacceptable to them.

If you ask Dr. Zakir Naik, a Muslim evangelist, to point out mistakes in the Bible or to point out the contradictions between what is written in the Vedas and what Hindus actually practice, he will end up talking for hours. And make no mistake; he will cite specific references from these books to prove what he says. He does make some interesting points, by the way.image 2 religion

Similarly though, if you ask David Wood, a Christian Apologist, to point out ayats (verses) in the Quran that are controversial or scientifically incorrect, he will do just that and post a video of it on youtube, faster than you can snap your fingers (which I’m sure is considered immoral according to some religious beliefs anyway 😛 ). He makes some good points too, citing specific references. Wood will tell you that Jesus is God, whereas Dr. Naik will ridicule that claim and say that Jesus was just a messenger of God, much like the other prophets before and after him. One thing is for sure – both of their lectures will really make you think, although Wood’s lecture will make you laugh as well (This man’s got one hell of a sense of humor). They will both argue over whether Jesus was born of a virgin birth and whether or not he was crucified. People believe what they want to because there is no certain way of finding out which religious teachings about Jesus Christ are correct. Islam and Christianity have different beliefs about him and his life on Earth. Then again, there are different beliefs about Jesus within Christianity as well.

Evangelists such as Dr. Naik and David Wood can spend a lot of time pointing out inconsistencies and mistakes in each others’ religious books simply because these inconsistencies do exist. Religious books of almost all religions contain vague and controversial verses. I do not think this would’ve been possible if any of these scriptures were indeed the ‘Word of God’. People fail to critically examine what is written in these books and a lot of times, do not even follow what is mentioned in them. Yet, the moment someone says or does something which they consider to be blasphemous to their religious beliefs, they all go up in arms. Sure, this is not how all of us react but a lot of us do. Politicians (they’re the same in every country) take advantage of this reaction and use it to attain their political goals. That is why we see so many instances of people killing one another over religious differences.

Most countries in the Middle East are witnessing mindless acts of violence between the Shias and the Sunnis. These 2 sects of Islam have differing views on who should have succeeded Prophet Muhammad after his death. In the Middle East, people feel more connected to their sect, than they do to their country. The borders between these countries are beginning to blur since religious identity takes precedence over national identity in these areas. The proxy war between the Sunni-majority Saudia Arabia and Shia-majority Iran is being played out all over the world, especially in the Middle East.

The atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar by Buddhists, in the name of religion, are despicable. The conflict between Isreali Jews and Palestinian Arabs looks set to go on forever and has already led to the death of millions of people. All of these conflicts do not exist due to religion alone. There are many other geopolitical, economic and resource-related reasons behind them. However, religious differences play a prominent role in all of these conflicts.

Such differences wouldn’t have existed if Mankind had not created the concept of Religion. Regardless of what any preacher says, no evidence on the face of the Earth can prove that God created it. We have created it ourselves, and all the unnecessary problems that come with it. The most unfortunate fact of this situation is that Religion is the one creation of Mankind that cannot be destroyed or made to go away. It is here to stay. It has claimed millions of lives already, and sadly, it will continue to claim many more in the years to come.

WHOSE REFUGEE IS HE ANYWAY?

The immigration crisis in Europe has been bad for a while now, and it appears to be getting worse. Violence, a poor quality of life, political unrest, fear of persecution and other reasons have led to a large number of people from Northern Africa and the Middle East, fleeing to Europe, in the hope of being able to lead better lives there. The situation in these parts of the world has become so bad over the last few years that every day, thousands of people, with little regard for their safety, board fragile boats that are not fit for the sea by any means, and set sail for Europe. Now, a number of these boats drown on their way, but miraculously, quite a few of them make it to European countries such as Italy, Greece etc.

On reaching the shores of Europe, these refugees feel that the worst is over and that they can finally get on with their lives by moving to European countries of their choice, or even settling down in Italy. However, little do they know that their struggle for survival is not quite over.

This is just the beginning of another struggle; a struggle to find a permanent home. Countries such as Italy and Greece initially help these refugees. They accommodate them in their refugee camps, feed them and provide medical aid to those who need it. However, what follows is an unfortunate, human Ping-Pong match – A match played among the countries of Europe to determine who will take care of these refugees permanently.

No one country wants to accommodate and help rehabilitate all of these refugees on its own. Italy, for instance, has accommodated a large number of refugees over the last few years. However, it wants other countries from the European Union to help shoulder the burden. The Italians believe that just because their country, due to its location, is among the most accessible countries for these refugees, they should not have to take in all of the refugees and resettle them in different parts of Italy. The Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, feels that Europe is not doing its bit to help resolve the problem. And he is right.

Under to the Dublin regulations, refugees must apply for asylum in the first country of their entry to Europe. Italy believes that this rule is unfair. Why should Italy, or Greece for that matter, have to accommodate all of the refugees that wash up on their shores, only because they are the most accessible of the EU countries?

Until recently, people in Schengen countries could travel to other countries that are part of the Schengen agreement, without any problems. However, in light of the ongoing immigration crisis, a number of countries such as France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland have tightened security at their borders. This has resulted in the accumulation of a large number of asylum seekers within the borders of Italy. The French security forces have been catching refugees in their areas and dumping them back into Italian territory. A number of other countries around Italy are doing the same. It has become like a human Ping-Pong match. Men, women and children are being treated like objects. They are picked up from different parts of France and Austria and dumped back into Italy.

Recently, the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, refused to take back migrants who applied for asylum in Hungary and fled to other parts of Europe before their cases were decided. The Hungarians have also decided to erect a fence on their borders to help eliminate illegal immigration into Hungary.

The Italians are irate at these developments. Renzi has warned that if Italy does not receive adequate support from the rest of the EU to deal with this problem, they will resort to “Plan B”, a plan that will “first and foremost, hurt Europe”. Renzi wants the European Union to help forge repatriation agreements with African Nations, and to share the cost of returning home ‘economic migrants’. However, no help appears to be forthcoming.

The situation is a complete mess at the moment. A few countries are suffering, whereas the other member states of the European Union are not bothered about the ongoing crisis. In their attempt to look after their own interests, they seem to have become a little too selfish. They have left countries such as Italy and Greece to tackle the problem on their own. Italy has declared that it will not accept a “Selfish Europe”. Will the European Union be able to find a viable, long-term solution? Maybe.

One thing is for sure though. If the European Union does not find a solution that is acceptable to all of its member states very soon, this problem threatens to spiral out of control.

INSECURITY – HOW IT SHAPED THE WORLD

Over the last century, the world has seen a number of significant events unfold. Far too many have taken place, for all of them to be listed here. The First World War, the Holocaust, the Second World War, the Cold War, the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, and the invasion of Iraq by Uncle Sam are just a few of the important, and unfortunate events that took place in the 20th century.

All of these events are related to each other. The political intricacies and reasons behind these events can be discussed until the cows come home. However, all of these events can be considered to have been caused by one thing, a deep sense of insecurity among the political leaders of that time. Let’s take a look at each one of them.

Several political, economic and territorial causes led to the commencement of the First World War. The arms race in the preceding years, unresolved territorial disputes, military tension, and colonial rivalry, all played a role. It would not be possible for me to list down and dissect each and every cause of the war. In spite of having differing views on what led to the war, most prominent historians would agree that the misunderstandings that existed among some countries at the time played a key role in bringing about this war of epic proportions. During the 1910’s, due to a number of reasons, some actual and some “perceived”, tensions were running high in Europe. The increasing sense of insecurity among the world powers of the time was palpable. They felt that, in order to protect their ‘Strategic Interests’ (a word that is thrown around even today, each time a country does something inexplicable), they needed to act before their adversaries. The growing opinion among them was that if they did nothing then they would stand to lose to those who did. Things happened, big decisions were made and bam – the First World War had begun. Did the assassination of Franz Ferdinand finally break the camel’s back? It probably did. But the objective of this post is not to discuss such “technicalities”.

The Holocaust is among the most tragic events that the world has ever seen. Adolf Hitler, together with his Nazi allies, tortured and killed millions of Jews in Germany and German-occupied territories. Hitler hated the Jews. He was suffering from a “Superior Race” syndrome. However, Israeli historian and scholar Yehuda Bauer is of the opinion that the Holocaust was triggered because of some Germans living in “an illusionary world of Nazi imagination, where an international Jewish conspiracy to control the world was opposed to a parallel Aryan quest.” Hmm… How can we sum up this view in one word? Oh, I know! Sheer Insecurity! Okay, that’s two words, but you get the point.   

What led to the Second World War? The answer to this question is very simple – a gazillion reasons that can’t be discussed at length here. However, what is certain is that the overly aggressive policy of the Germans, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, made other powerful countries of the time feel “insecure”. They knew that they would need to act in order to keep the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany in check. In his attempt to further the dominance of Germany in the region, Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland. The rest, as they say, is history. The Second World War began, led to a lot of carnage and ultimately, effected changes in the world that can be seen to this day. The most important among them was the formation of the United Nations.

Now, let’s take a moment to look at the Cold War between Uncle Sam and the Soviets. If the Cold War is Major League Baseball, then “Insecurity” is Babe Ruth. Poor analogy? I think so too. What I wanted to convey was that the feeling of “Insecurity” is inseparable from the Cold War. The Americans and the Soviets did all that they could to outdo each other during this war. Why? Primarily because they were insecure of one another. The Americans were the first to reach the Moon, and took great pride in having done so, especially at the expense of the Soviets, who were also doing all that they could to attain superiority in spaceflight capability. Mankind was always bound to reach the Moon someday. However, it happened sooner, rather than later, thanks to the “Space Race” that began between the two world powers due to their own insecurities.

One of the many results of the Cold War was the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. Soviet tanks first rolled into Afghanistan in 1979, in order to protect the idea of Communism in the country. The Soviets could not afford to let another country veer away from the concept of Communism. They felt that if they were to delay making their move then the Americans would seize the opportunity that was created by the growing unrest and instability in Afghanistan. They did not want to allow the Americans to use Afghanistan as a strategic military base for themselves. Basically, they were just “Insecure”. The results of this decision turned out to be disastrous for the Soviets, thanks to the help given to the Mujahideen by the Americans (with Pakistani assistance). When the Soviets finally left Afghanistan, under ignominious circumstances, the Americans had finally avenged the humiliation that they had faced in Vietnam, due to Soviet involvement. The insecurity among the high ranking officials in the Soviet Union had led to an embarrassing defeat in Afghanistan, among other consequences, for the Soviets.

The Americans, with their allies, invaded Iraq in 2003 and overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein. George Bush and Tony Blair claimed that the mission of the coalition forces was to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and bring Saddam’s support of terrorism to an end. Evidently, Bush Jr. was insecure of what Saddam Hussein could do if he were to successfully build weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately for the coalition forces, it later emerged that Iraq was invaded on faulty evidence and apparently, no WMD’s were found in Iraq. There were a number of other reasons too that drove George Bush to invade Iraq. However, what is apparent here is the great sense of “Insecurity” among the Coalition forces towards Saddam Hussein and his regime.

Insecurity among powerful people has had a profound impact on the world in the past. However, it is not over just yet. To this day, the foreign policies of a lot of countries stem more from a sense of insecurity, than coherent logic. Countries that are part of the Indian Subcontinent illustrate this statement. If China were to conduct a joint military exercise with India, then those who call the shots in Pakistan would start working overtime to think of ways to foil such a plan. If the Pakistani Premier were to make a visit to the US, then India would most definitely be wary of such a visit. The insecurity and apprehension between the Israelis, and the Palestinians or the entire Arab World for that matter, is well documented too. This just goes to show how insecurity has always played a major role in World Politics and continues to do so.

Like I mentioned in my previous post though, there are always two sides to a coin. What I call insecurity may also be viewed as preemption. It can be argued that it is essential for a country to be able to anticipate the next move of its adversaries and act proactively, instead of waiting to see what they do and then react to it. Would I disagree with such an opinion completely? Maybe not.

I, for one, believe that far too many decisions have been made by world leaders in the past that were based more on their insecurities, than on concrete evidence. Perhaps, if such decisions were lesser in number, the world would have been slightly different today.