What on earth was President Trump thinking?

Photo: tihanyitom, pixabay

In this opinion piece ADI’s Greg Barton answers the question most of the world was asking in this piece first published by News Corporation: http://www.couriermail.com.au/rendezview/what-on-earth-was-president-trump-thinking/news-story/deb5391847ac3cdb8fe7fc1663029427

THIS is a question that could have been asked virtually any given week in 2017 but this time it might be even more monumental than most.

In a speech announcing that the US Embassy would be (eventually) moving to Jerusalem Trump explained that “Today, we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more, or less, than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done.”

Which again begs the question, what was Donald Trump thinking?

Despite his words, there is little evidence to suggest that he has actually thought deeply about the path to peace in the Middle East. By now we know that he scarcely gives much thought to American politics, much less to international diplomacy. If he did, he surely would have worked harder to fill the dozens of empty ambassadorships in the Middle East, Asia and around the world (including one in Canberra). On his watch, Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson is gutting the State Department of senior leadership and cancelling many of its most effective programs.

So what is Trump doing? He is doing what he does best: playing to his base. Ever since the 1980 presidential campaign that saw the not-so-Christian Ronald Reagan defeat the very-Christian Jimmy Carter, the strategy to secure the support of the Religious Right has been to promise them Jerusalem. Israel’s conservative Likud has played the same card in the US. Leveraging popular End Times convictions among America Christians that Jesus would return once The Temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem has been a cheap way of buying their support. Or, in other words, promise them everything but give them nothing once you make it to the White House.

Palestinian demonstrators burn posters of President Trump following his declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. (Pic: Musa Al Shaer)

This is an issue where it pays to listen to those who do actually know and care.

According to former American ambassador to Israel and Jewish academic Martin S. Indyk, “You can finesse this all you want, but Jerusalem doesn’t allow for any finesse … They can try to limit the damage all they want, but they won’t be able to, because Jerusalem is such a hot-button issue.”

Daniel Kurtzer, another former US ambassador to Israel agrees, saying “One statement is going to undercut everything they want to do. It will take us out of the game. … You want to shoot yourself in the foot — because it’s good for your base — but you’ve got to understand what you’re doing.”

And on the other side of the argument, of course, is the Palestinians.

“In one blow, President Trump has destroyed not only the chances of any peace but the stability and security of the region as a whole, Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi told the New York Times.

“He has undermined his closest allies in the Arab world. He has given all extremists and nuts all over the world who are ready to commit acts of violence a perfect excuse because he has provoked spiritual sentiments and religious feelings to the point where we don’t know how far the ramifications will go.”

Palestinian protesters chant slogans as they wave their national flags and pictures of late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat during a protest at the main Square in Gaza City. (Pic: Adel Hana)

Jerusalem’s Christian leaders are no less concerned. On the eve of his anticipated announcement 13 Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem wrote to President Trump to tell the so-called leader of the free world, “Our solemn advice and plea is for the United States to continue recognising the present international status of Jerusalem. Any sudden changes would cause irreparable harm. We are confident that, with strong support from our friends, Israelis and Palestinians can work towards negotiating a sustainable and just peace, benefiting all who long for the Holy City of Jerusalem to fulfil its destiny. The Holy City can be shared and fully enjoyed once a political process helps liberate the hearts of all people that live within it, from the conditions of conflict and destructiveness that they are experiencing.”

Despite the recklessness of Trump, however, there is at least one glimmer of hope.

“By ending the fiction of the two-state solution, and moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, Trump has finally made explicit what we all knew implicitly,” commentator and author Haroon Moghul told NBC. “Thus disabused of the charade, the real work can begin. Namely, realising a solution that gives Israelis and Palestinians the equal dignity and sovereignty they deserve, which cannot be realised except through a shared state.”

Greg Barton is Professor of Global Islamic Politics at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University.

A story of rupture and resilience: When did Australia’s human history begin?

A mural in Redfern, Sydney, based on the lyrics of the Joe Geia song ‘40,000 Years’. (Billy Griffiths)

ADIs Billy Griffiths and co authors Lynette Russell from Monash University and Richard ‘Bert’ Roberts from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage at the University of Wollongong argue the discovery of old dates at Madjedbebe does not make the history of the site any more or less significant. It simply reminds us that science, like history, is an ongoing inquiry.  Therefore we should resist the tendency today to homogenise the deep history of the first Australians.

Source: A story of rupture and resilience: When did Australia’s human history begin? – Science News – ABC News

What is the best way to respond to the Rohingya crisis: boycott, sanctions or engagement?

In this piece first published in The Conversation, ADI’s Dr Anthony Ware and co-authors Professor Joseph Lo Bianco from the argue Australia should adopt a critical policy of productive, principled engagement and reject calls for a boycott or sanctions (targeted or general) in Myanmar.

Photo Credit: Mathias Photo Credit: Eick, EU/ECHO, Rakhine State, Myanmar/Burma, September 2013

More than 820,000 Rohingya have now fled Myanmar for Bangladesh, at least 607,000 since August 25. That is more than half the Muslim population of Rakhine State displaced in just ten weeks. The scale of human suffering is mind-numbing, and the destruction vast.

Human Rights Watch has released satellite imagery showing that at least 288 villages have been destroyed, including 62% of all villages in the Muslim-majority westernmost township of Maungdaw. Many have labelled this “ethnic cleansing” or “genocide”.

Read more: ‘They shot my two daughters in front of me’: Rohingya tell heartbreaking stories of loss and forced migration

On September 11, 2017, even the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights declared it appears to be a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing. In light of this, there have been growing calls to boycott Myanmar and impose new sanctions, including by one of our colleagues in Australian academia.

But what is this the best way for Australia to respond?

Boycott or engagement?

In stark contrast to the international outrage, public opinion within Myanmar overwhelmingly supports the relative inaction of the government and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Support for the military action is also very high. Why?

Many people are angry, arguing that the international perception is biased and partial, and based on selective reporting. For example, they note that more than half the non-Rohingya population in Northern Rakhine state has also been displaced, mostly towards the south (admittedly a much smaller number of people, as the Muslim Rohingya who have fled across the international border constitute 95% of all displaced).

Likewise, they point out that the military crackdown that prompted the exodus was in response to attacks on 30 police posts and an army base by Rohingya militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

After all, what sort of security response would we demand if a jihadist group launched co-ordinated attacks on 30 police stations in Australia, Europe or the US? We should hardly be surprised this is how many Burmese feel.

ARSA claimed that its actions were in defence of Rohingya communities, in response to decades of marginalisation, persecution and harassment by security forces. The Myanmar government, for its part, has labelled ARSA a “terrorist” organisation, and raised fears of an Islamic State-sponsored descent into a Syrian-style disaster.

They argue that ARSA’s strategy was precisely to provoke a large exodus to obtain international sympathy. In support of these claims they point out that the ARSA attacks were timed to follow the release of the Kofi Annan Rakhine Advisory Commission report, which contains a comprehensive reform plan that was immediately accepted by the government.

There are many perspectives and fears at play here. All require respectful acknowledgement, as many facts on the ground are not yet established. Neither are all the facts underlying the historical background of this conflict yet clear. It is significant that all major protagonists frame this multifacted crisis very differently.

The Rohingya claim a centuries- or millennia-long history in this land. Most others in Myanmar claim they are recent or illegal Bengali migrants. The name Rohingya is strongly claimed by the Muslims, and hotly contested by others. The politics around names is not incidental in a nation whose own name is disputed.

For now, the massive Rohingya flight – on the back of denial of citizenship and decades of marginalisation – is the principal crisis.

Focus on reconciliation

One thing is clear: the situation in Bangladesh requires immediate humanitarian and political responses. But it is too easy to opt for simplistic, black and white positions.

While responding promptly, we must not lose sight of the need to grapple with the complexities involved in achieving long-term political and cultural reconciliation. We thus reject calls for a boycott or sanctions (targeted or general), and call instead for a policy of productive, principled engagement.

Boycotts and sanctions would be counterproductive, harming prospects for long-term reconciliation for five key reasons.

Read more: ‘World must act to end the violence against Rohingya in Myanmar

First, the Burmese military had a legitimate responsibility to respond to militant attacks on security posts across an entire township area. While their response was disproportionate, and their action may have provoked the attacks, they also have an important role to play in any long-term solution. Their co-operation will not be gained without acknowledging their duty and the difficulties faced.

Second, sanctions will further increase the power of the Myanmar military over the government, and risk even more extreme action.

Third, they will frustrate and delay further democratic reform in the country, weaken the only forces that can control the military, and limit the chances of a resolution to the immediate crisis.

Fourth, they will undermine still nascent efforts to rebuild the educational, health and legal infrastructures and delay the emergence of new leaders who can support much-needed, long-term cultural development.

And finally, decades of recent experience demonstrate that sanctions and boycotts rarely work, and are incapable of generating progressive social and political change.

How can Australia help?

Australia is well placed to support long-term reconciliation and economic development, something disengagement will only undermine.

Only sustained measures built on bilateral and multilateral engagement can support social and political change and address decades of oppression, neglect and communal tensions. The Annan report already provides a good framework.

Australia should lead the international community in pledging to support its implementation. We should strongly state our commitment to principled engagement with those working for progressive change and democratic reform, while committing to long-term plans for the economic development of this, the poorest region of the country.

Read more: ASEAN countries should find a solution to end the persecution of Rohingya

Assistance is required to strengthen the rule of law and rebuild robust educational and health infrastructures which can help promote social cohesion and communal coexistence. Cultural reconciliation through dialogue and civil society interactions will require long-term support.

At the same time, Australia can call for a robust and just process for the repatriation of displaced Rohingya people. This would include guarantees for their security and human rights, transparency and limits on the exercise of military power in the region, and a firm commitment to quickly restoring Rohingya citizenship.

But these calls will be most likely to be effective if made in the context of constructive dialogues.

The recent military operations were grossly disproportionate, brutalising tens of thousands of innocent people. The ARSA attacks and the exodus of the majority of the Rohingya people is testament to the deep-rooted communal basis of this crisis.

But political boycotts and economic sanctions are not the answer. Australia can contribute most productively through critical engagement.

The original article appeared here: https://theconversation.com/what-is-the-best-way-to-respond-to-the-rohingya-crisis-boycott-sanctions-or-engagement-86932


PNG women’s wartime memories cast new light on Kokoda and the Pacific War

ADI’s emerging scholar Victoria Stead argues we have a responsibility to look beyond the dominant narratives of Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, brotherly bonds and mateship and look for women’s stories in the Pacific War. Read her article in the Conversation PNG women’s wartime memories cast new light on Kokoda and the Pacific War

Alberta Doiko described the stories her parents told her about the War when she was a child, sitting around a fire at night time. Like many others, her parents were driven into hiding. ‘My father and mother used to tell me that the War was not good. War came, at that time, and destroyed everything.’ (Victoria Stead)

November 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Kokoda Track Campaign. The campaign involved a series of battles between Allied and Japanese forces during the second world war, along the mountainous 96km track connecting Kokoda Station, in Papua New Guinea’s Oro Province, with the capital Port Moresby.

“Kokoda” has become iconic in Australian national narratives of the war. Its commemoration most commonly invokes images of Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, local carriers who assisted Allied forces, and whose relationships with Australian soldiers are frequently described in terms of “mateship” and “brotherly bonds”.

But there is good reason to look beyond these narratives. Feminist historians and scholars of conflict have urged us to be attentive to the effects of wars on women, as well as to the roles they have played even in seemingly impossible circumstances.

Seventy-five years after the end of the Kokoda campaign, the effects of the war on PNG women have been given relatively little attention. Women are barely represented in the popular museum at Kokoda Station, or in the Australian-funded war memorial in the provincial capital, Popondetta.

Since 2015, I have been working with two Oro women, Margaret Embahe and Mavis Manuda Tongia, to record oral history interviews about women’s wartime experiences in the province. Many of our interviewees have been women; others have been men telling stories about their mothers, grandmothers, or other women.

The time that has passed since the war means that the stories we are collecting are often trans-generational ones, passed down from parents to children, or else the direct recollections of people who were children when the war arrived. Dates and details are sometimes fuzzy. Nevertheless, powerful themes are emerging out of our research, which extend and sometimes challenge the ways the war in PNG is remembered.

Where dominant Australian-authored narratives of the war approach Oro Province as primarily a field of combat between two opposing forces, women’s wartime memories remind us that first and foremost it was home to Papuan families and communities. In the coastal areas of Buna, Gona and Sanananda – where the Japanese forces first landed – women tell stories of villages destroyed, families fleeing to the bush to hide, and struggles to feed children when food was destroyed or inaccessible.

Author provided
Listen Nester Ewada Kokoda oral history

The stories that Nester Ewada’s mother and grandmother told her, for example, invoke the strangeness as well as the danger of that time. The planes that arrived overhead with the first landings seemed to them like “big birds”. They watched as the birds “threw out” strange objects – bombs – and then watched in horror as these landed and exploded. It was all they could do to run.

Other stories tell of brutal sexual violence against Oro women. One of our male interviewees, a former governor of Oro, Sylvanus Siembo, recounted the experience of two women who were gang-raped by Japanese soldiers in the Isivita region. When they fought back, the soldiers cut off fingers from each of their hands.

Siembo met the women many years later during his governorship. Both had married local men after the war ended, but in both cases they had continued to endure violence at the hands of their husbands, the product of shame and anger directed at them because of their rapes. Both had, as Siembo described it, “a lifetime of pain”.

Other narratives we have been recording draw attention to the contributions of Oro women to the Allied war efforts. In the Oro Bay area, Tasman Orere’s mother was one of around 60 local women who were laundry workers, washing the uniforms and linen of the Australian and American soldiers. Other women who were resident in a number of resettlement camps established by the Australian forces worked making roof thatching from sago leaves, used in the construction of buildings in the army camps. For some, these experiences were positive, with the camps remembered as safe places where food was plentiful.

As in all contexts of remembrance, the experiences of Oro women do not add up to a cohesive, singular narrative. Rather, these and other wartime memories represent multiple accounts of a complex, transformative time that is remembered in sometimes ambivalent ways.

Australian interest in Kokoda continues to grow, with the numbers of trekkers along the track now averaging close to 4,000 a year. Seventy-five years on from the Kokoda campaign, we have a responsibility to look beyond the dominant narratives of Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, brotherly bonds and mateship.

Looking for women’s stories in the Pacific War opens our eyes to the domestic spaces within which the war was waged. It draws our attention not only to the 96km of the Kokoda Track itself, but also to the many areas elsewhere in the province and the country that were deeply affected by the war but which have not become hubs of the growing war tourism industry. It reminds us that the war took place in people’s homes, lands and gardens, and it is in these places that its legacies continue to be felt.

Women Remember the War is part of a larger initiative, the PNG Oral History Project, led by Deakin University’s Dr Jonathan Ritchie in collaboration with the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is funding this research through the PNG Governance Facility.

Indigenous workers: the ‘modern slaves’ of Australia?

In this piece arguing for the abolition of the Community Development Program, ADI’s Professor Public Policy Jon Altman, highlights how the Australian government is working closely with the #WalkFreeFoundation and its high-profile chairman Andrew Forrest to eradicate modern slavery globally. He shows how Mr Forrest, a global anti-slavery champion, was the architect of recommendations on which the CDP, a form of modern slavery, is based. He asks ‘what would happen to Australian’s global reputation if the 35,000, mainly Indigenous people on the CDP were added to the number Walk Free quotes in its index?’

Indigenous workers: the ‘modern slaves’ of Australia? | openDemocracy

Sufis need to be involved in peacebuilding

ADI’s Zahid Ahmed is Peace Direct’s Pakistan Local Peacebuilding Expert.  In this piece first published for Insight on Conflict he argues it is important that peacebuilding organisations working on addressing social divisions, such as through inter- and intra-faith (Shia-Sunni) dialogue, also engage Sufis and their devotees in peacebuilding processes. Sufis have a large following in Pakistan and their involvement in peacebuilding activities could strengthen CVE/PVE efforts.

Picture: By Saqib Qayyum (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Pakistan faces the dual threats of terrorism and violent extremism. While the number of terrorist attacks has decreased significantly in the past couple of years, the rising trend in violent extremism is alarming, because it feeds terrorism in Pakistan. To these interlinked challenges, the government’s response has been reactionary. This has been particularly evidenced during the period covered in this report.

In February 2017, an attack on the Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in Sehwan Sharif, Sindh, provided a stark reminder of the extremist threat to Sufism. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed 75 and injured 200 people.

Sidra Rafique has been involved in CVE work for several years. She viewed the shrine attack as an attack on the peace loving people of Pakistan. “Sufi Islam not only preaches love, but also practices a message of spiritual devotion and love for all regardless of their creed, caste, gender or religion,” she says.

Sufism has a strong following in Pakistan, but religious fundamentalists and extremists, especially the ones influenced by Wahhabism, perceive it as un-Islamic. This widespread perception is a major cause of attacks on Sufi shrines in Pakistan.

The government response

In response to the February attack, Pakistan’s armed forces launched Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad. This is similar to Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which was initiated after the terrorist attack on the Army public school in Peshawar, in 2014.

The new operation specifically targets the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, TTP, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terror groups – supporters of ISIS in Pakistan. In the first week of its launch, Radd-ul-Fasaad led to the killing of over 100 militants across the country.

While the government measures its success against terrorism through the decrease in number of terrorism-related casualties, it is important to underline that its National Action Plan (NAP) on terrorism has been largely ineffective in countering the influence of home-grown extremist organisations. This is a reason for which many local scholars claim that intolerance and extremism are on the rise – something that deserves greater attention from the government in relation to countering violent extremism (CVE).

Perspectives from Pakistan

The international community has focused on CVE since the start of the ‘War on Terror’ in 2001. This shift in policy at global levels has led to an increasing focus on peace education interventions in Pakistani madaris (Islamic seminaries). But there is ongoing controversy in Pakistan over when and how to engage with former members of extremism and militant organisations.

While most of the attention of CVE and peacebuilding programmes has been focused on the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa area, it is important to note that violent extremism is a serious problem in many parts of the country.

According to a Pakistani peace scholar, Dr Saeed Ahmed Rid, “the attack on Sehwan Sharif is another proof of the fact that extremism and terrorism are now rising in rural Sindh.”

A Sindh-based peace activist, Sanam Noor, blamed the February attack on the “non-serious attitude of security agencies of the country.”

Noor’s point is valid because the phenomenon of threats to Sufi shrines is not new, and the government could have provided better security, especially at the time of ceremonies like Urs.

Raheel Sharoon of the Diocese of Raiwind – Church of Pakistan has been engaged in interfaith dialogues for many years. He shared feelings of sadness at the Sehwan Sharif attack: “I was not shocked. There has been feeding and nurturing of this of hatred and violence in the name of religion to our populace for almost 35 years. So when we experience this hatred in action, unfortunately it does not ‘shock and awe’ me anymore.”

Another scholar, Abdul Basit said that “Not just the Sehwan Sharif attack, but the assault on Maulana Abdul Ghafood Haideri in Mastung, as well as the attack on Shah Hurani shrine in Khuzdar, clearly indicate that the extremist worldview of ISIS not only ex-communicates Shias, but also apostatises other Sunni groups, which do not subscribe to its extremist ideology.”

Basit added that the Islamic State is deliberately hitting the sectarian and communal fault-lines in Pakistan, which will negatively affect the ongoing CVE efforts. Since its creation, Pakistan has been a divided society, based on ethnic, religious, and sectarian lines, and these dynamics help internal and external terrorist factions operating here. The divisions create challenges for peacebuilding work, which has become more difficult with the increasing presence of ISIS. But this also provides peacebuilders with the opportunity to address such social divisions.

Countering violent extremism

The government and its local and international partners need to devote greater attention to improving the National Action Plan. There need to be more discussions on the scope of the policy and its implementation across the country. The policy should move beyond CVE to preventing violent extremism (PVE), which is as important as having a long-term plan on CVE. Structural issues, such as social divisions based on ethnic, sectarian, and religious lines, need to be addressed to prevent violent extremism.

In this context, it is vital to deal with confusion relating to sectarian organisations, especially the ones that promote violent extremism, by treating them as terrorist groups. The government’s confusion in this matter acts as an encouraging factor for groups promoting violent religious extremism.

It is also important that peacebuilding organisations working on addressing social divisions, such as through inter- and intra-faith (Shia-Sunni) dialogue, also engage Sufis and their devotees in peacebuilding processes. Sufis have a large following in Pakistan and their involvement in peacebuilding activities could strengthen CVE/PVE efforts.

Above all, the relevant government authorities must work side-by-side with civil society groups, local, and international NGOs, to develop a comprehensive plan on CVE/PVE.

Source: Peace and conflict report: June 2017 | Insight on Conflict