Blog Archive

Blog Archive – August, 2013

Syria's War of Attrition

August 21, 2013

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Strategists in Syria are doubtless eyeing today’s conflict in Egypt. But they’d be better advised to recall the war fought in nearby Iran and Iraq twenty years ago. Although the nature of that conflict differs in many respects from the one engulfing Syria, it can still be instructive for Syria. A look at that earlier war may reveal a similar US strategy at work too.

The Iran-Iraq war, lasting from 1980 to 1988, was innocuously labeled war-of- attrition. The sinister concept behind war-of-attrition is illustrated in a remark attributed to the wily US diplomat Henry Kissinger, i.e. “I hope they both win”. Which of course implies that they both lose. And in some respects, they did. That lose-lose war was supported through the “dual containment” policy of the USA and Israel against Iran and Iraq.

That both parties win (or lose) may underlie the position of Washington and its allies towards Syria today, namely a policy to keep government and rebel forces destroying one other to the point of mutual collapse.

Criticism of the American administration for withholding military aid to Syrian rebels seems to fall on deaf ears. But a strategy of “containment” through promoting mutual self-destruction may already be in effect. A containment policy towards Syria does not mean inaction; it is a strategy to weaken the Syrian government, rendering it ineffective beyond its borders.

First Syria was essentially isolated through the US-led diplomatic and economic embargo. Then by assuring low level arms flow to rebels (mainly from Arab Gulf allies), the Syrian regime is preoccupied with the armed insurrection. Meanwhile Syrian civic society disintegrates and millions flee. Opposing fighters kill each other and lay waste their country with virtually no cost to the primary adversaries-- Israel, the UK and USA.  (Read Venezuelan advisor Raimundo Kabchi’s comments.)

Let’s be brutally honest. The US government doesn’t care about Syrian people or its civilization or any Syrian democracy. What always angered the US was Syria’s ideological, diplomatic and economic independence and its considerable regional influence. Now, with those perceived threats effectively neutralized by its containment strategy, the US may be content to stay the course. No American blood has been shed and only a few hundred million are needed for so-called non-lethal assistance.

Additional signs that a war-of-attrition in Syria is now Washington’s preferred strategy are, first, a statement by the supreme American commander, General Dempsey, that the Syria war will last a decade. This at the same time the EU decides it too will not arm the rebels. (Dempsey’s declaration that US military action in Syria would carry a monthly price tag of a billion dollars is further evidence of Washington’s distance from the conflict.) Then we see increasing support for humanitarian assistance to millions of Syrians in semi-permanent camps outside their homeland. Finally, along with European allies, the US announces it will admit thousands of Syrian refugees for resettlement.

After years of mutual destruction Iraq and Iran, with no encouragement from western powers, eventually signed a cease fire.

Polarization among Syrians is as fierce as it is daunting. In my view no meaningful help will arrive from outside. How much clearer should this containment policy be to drive Syrians to a cease fire?

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[ Syria's War of Attrition ]

Courthouse Rally for Attorney Lynne Stewart and Eid Prayers

August 08, 2013

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Today is Eid Al-Fitr, marking the end of a month of fasting and feasting, socializing, reading and worship. After morning prayer assemblies, perhaps visits to ancestors’ graves, dressed in gay new clothes boasting our global origins and Islamic fashions, young and old share gifts and depart for parks and playlands, restaurants and picnic grounds for simple pleasures with family and friends. International phone lines buzz as felicitations are exchanged with distant relatives. I feel happy knowing the joy this day engenders. I share Eid Mubaraks.

With American Muslims now part of swelling communities, large and small, across the US, we can get lost in the crowd with abandon. For these few days we can feel that we are everywhere, that we are accepted, that our Eid is an American festival, part of  the country’s unparalleled cultural panorama. Which it is.

So does this make me unMuslim or unobservant if I opt out this year and instead join a political rally? Well, not a political rally as we normally think of them; this is a human rights demonstration, and it will be at the a federal courthouse in Manhattan. It’s a show of support for an individual whose name and history all Muslims in this country should know--Lynne Stewart.

From the 1970s, this noted civil rights attorney championed the rights of citizens unjustly targeted. They were not popular cases but Stewart often succeeded and remained undaunted. About 1993 Stewart turned her attention to injustices – the application of secret evidence, for example-- experienced by Muslims in the US; their treatment, she felt, demonstrated abuse of the Patriot Act and infringement of constitutional rights.

After September 11, 2001, Stewart herself was targeted and ultimately convicted and sentenced, at the age of 70, to ten years in prison. During her trial, while she argued that her charge was an infringement of constitutionally protected client-attorney privilege, the US media (some labeled her ‘terrorist lawyer’) and American Zionist spokesmen, were merciless in their attacks against Stewart.

This at a time when Lynne was already afflicted by cancer. Today almost four years into her imprisonment in Texas Stewart’s health is deteriorating. With last month’s appeal to the Department of Prisons for Stewart’s compassionate release rejected, today’s hearing is an attempt to convince her original sentencing judge (John Koeltl) to overrule that judgment. The defense is asking that Stewart be granted conditional release to be removed to a New York City cancer hospital for treatment and in order to be near her family during what is expected to be her final months. Clemency would be a cause for celebration by civil rights advocates across the US.

US Muslims have been blessed with a largely incident-free Ramadan and Eid. Maybe somewhere, when collective festivities end and we return to school and work and the now routine attacks on our faith, Muslim sisters and brothers will take time to consider the long history and ongoing struggle for civil rights in the USA.

[ Courthouse Rally for Attorney Lynne Stewart and Eid Prayers ]

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