Friday, June 02, 2006

 

Kinshasa On The Potomac: Ahmadinejad In His Own Words

Kinshasa On The Potomac: Ahmadinejad In His Own Words

Thursday, June 01, 2006

 

East Timor As A Typology For A New Environment



New York, NY - The conflict in East Timor is perhaps the starkest and most recent surfacing of the multifaceted nature of post-Cold War political conflict. In contrast to the broad ideological fears, allegiances, rivalries, political interests, arms races, and balancing strategies of the Cold War between Superpowers, political power struggles of the international system today mirror the events taking place in East Timor.They appear proximate (a military splintering) but are in fact representative of a deeper and richer lethal cocktail consisting of four parts of failed leadership, four parts of development challenges, and two parts historical animosity. As such, well-known theories of politics are once again challenged in this, an unprecedented era of politics defined by its positioning in an unfamiliar void somewhere between perpetual peace and perpetual conflict.

Failed Leadership

An Australian-led expeditionary force was dispatched into East Timor this week to manage the unfolding political unrest occurring in Dili. Many blame the unrest on Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri for failing to demonstrate effective national leadership. Since East Timor's independence on May 20, 2002, Dili has found itself mired in a crises of legitimacy suffering from allegations of favoritism, corruption, and mismanagement. For example, Dili squashed the 600 soldiers who protested in March against ethnic discrimination in the ranks of the military. Following this event, the splintered military troops regrouped to prepare for a face-off with the remaining elements of the state’s fractured police apparatus. "Alkatiri is a criminal and should face justice," says the rebels' charismatic young leader, Lieutenant Commander Alfredo Reinado. The public, in other words, does not trust nor recognize the government and therefore does not respond to government actions or policies. The diversity of the East Timorese people, who speak more than 30 local languages, compounds Alkatiri’s failures to uphold the East Timorese public trust. Moreover, President Xanana Gusmao's more popular status as a warrior-politician who battled against Indonesian occupiers during the early seventies in an intense jungle war highlights Alkatiri’s history in exile during the same period in Mozambique. The public has a particularly passionate "beef" with the Indonesian military who, during its 24 year occupation, executed a scorched-earth policy against East Timorese guerilla fighters, resulting in the deaths of 180,000 people, more than 75 percent of the population displaced, and the debilitation of almost 70 percent of the country’s physical infrastructure.

Low-Level Political Animosities (Beef)

There is also a deepening divide between Easterners and Westerners of Timor-leste society. Easterners regard themselves as the primary interlocutors for the Indonesian occupation, and Westerners are perceived as being too close to Indonesian West Timor, just across the border, according to Christian Science Monitor. According to the Minorities At Risk Project, the poorly-defined border between now-independent East Timor and the Indonesian province of West Timor remains incredibly porous, increasing the risk of both intentional crossings and unintentional confrontations. Additionally, Indonesian Atransmigrasi programs have brought Muslim and Bugis migrants, who have already clashed with ethnic East Timorese Catholics. There are also lingering tensions between the majority of Timorese, who voted for independence in August 1999, and the minority who became identified with one of the pro-Indonesia militias.

Development Challenges

Jane Perlez (NYT) reports that “Poverty and Violence Sink Grand Plans for East Timor.” The claim is certainly noteworthy. East Timor suffers from: a 50 percent unemployment rate, an illiteracy rate among the highest in Asia, and a growing population with unmet needs, many of whom live on just $1 a day. Moreover, according to press reporting, Australian troops thwarted attempts by a group of thousands of refugees displaced by the current unrest attempted to loot 50- kilogram sacks of rice.

On the other hand, there is also an upside. East Timor’s economy may benefit from the income of its rich off-shore oil deposits if it can resolve overlapping claims with Australia. And despite Perlez’s conclusion, the country’s development—particularly in its urban sectors—has improved markedly according to several indicators including fertility, access to water, and overall GDP. Still, according to UN, Timor-Leste is one of the world's least developed countries. Incomes are low, with per capita GDP estimated at only US$478. Very few people have received an adequate education, and more than half the population is illiterate. Nutritionlevels are low, and more than two in five children under five are underweight.
However, the country is still in the process of recovering from the destruction and trauma that followed the 1999 referendum. As with many countries undergoing structural changes towards development, it must play catch up to wealthier countries in order to meet the goals neccessary for measurable improvements. These improvements are not like ordering fast-food. They are slow and jagged. East Timor still must overcome, for example, its economic and cultural lag driven primarily by a colonial past, civil war, and armed conflict. According to East Timor’s Millennium Development Report:
Between 1953 and 1962, the average annual growth in GDP was just 2%. Money started to arrive thereafter and there was a sudden increase in economic growth, which averaged 6% per annum. Nevertheless, this was not sufficient to overcome decades of under-development and by 1974 the per capita income was still at US$98. The economy was dominated by agriculture, with subsistence living patterns, and coffe as the main cash and export commodity. The formal private sector was almost non-existent and the fluctuations in international coffee prices led to numerous balance-of-trade deficits. These conditions did not shift much during the time of Indonesian occupation.


http://devdata.worldbank.org/AAG/tmp_aag.pdf

Scholars continue developing the concept of political "human secuirty." East Timor's unrest certainly illustrates the need for better conceptual foundations for human security. It provides evidence to support the idea that national sovereignty is being reduced and the notion of "national interests" is becoming even more problematic than before Sept 11 and the GWOT, (Jervis 2006) as the international community, within and between nations, undergoes the messy calculus of establishing "how things ought to be" for the next milennium.

[1] Working Definition of Human Security. HumanSecurity.org
http://www.humansecurity-chs.org/activities/outreach/frame.pdf#search='definition%20of%20human%20security'
The objective of human security is to safeguard the vital core of all human lives from critical pervasive threats, in a way that is consistent with long-term human fulfillment. Human security take its shape from the human being: the vital core that is to be protected. Institutions that undertake to protect human security will not be able to promote every aspect of human well-being. But at very least they must protect this core of people’s lives.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

 

Immigration Reform: Why?


Arlington, VA - The Senate today approved new legislation to amend current immigration policies, voting to create a new guest-worker program and give those illegally in the U.S. a chance to gain legal status, according to the Washington Post.
The Senate bill was approved 62-36 and is now set to be debated in the House.
There seems to be scant debate over what is driving an apparent movement to reform federal immigration policies effecting Southern states. There are clear arguments in favor of such reform organized around the following two drivers:

NATIONAL SECURITY

Securing borders, goes the argument, helps to identify potential terrorists who may enter the US from Mexico. The Senate legislation would provide 6,000 National Guard troops to support Border Patrol agents, aerial surveillance and a 370-mile fence along the Mexican border.

This argument is fallacy. Based on recent history, terrorists have indeed entered through the US-Canadian border. No officials are urging for reforms of immigration across northern borders. A fence and an increased presence of personnel along the expansive US-Mexico border is not enough to secure it. Moreover, whatever negative impacts US-Mexico border movement has had on US states are the result of state and local economic policies (or lack thereof). These policies are largely responsible for managing the incentives or disincentives our southern friends face when making the choice to relocate illegally. As such, many federal resources will be applied unnecessarily to an issue that is best left to be managed by state and local officials on a differential basis--the root of the "problem." Moreover, states already fail to heed federal immigration policies due to the cost-benefit for localities to support illegal labor. For example, circumventing the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, many employers of illegal workers have taken to using unrecorded revenue receipts--to the deliberate blind eyes of local officials. True that illegal immigration influences US economic trends. However, many of the benefits of Mexican immigration are not highlighted enough. For examples: long-term demographic relief for social security, increased competitiveness with the low-wage forces of Asia and Latin America, and tax revenue. [Mixed federal/state messages - Tucson encourages Mexicans to cross our borders. See: www.vamosatucson.com (Web site in Spanish). A local study, according to Tucson Citizen, found that Mexicans spend about $360 million a year in Tucson. Arizona attracts 22 million Mexicans each year, a statewide study showed, but there's no breakdown on how many come here. The findings of this study demonstrate that Tucson does much to attract foreign visitors, but does not do as much to ensure that they do not stay].

FISCAL MANAGEMENT

Senator McCain argues, "These people are here to work." He continues "And they're doing jobs that most of us don't have the will to do. . . . They're not risking their lives to come into this country with a goal of freeloading off of us."
That the Senate measure would increase the number of visas available each year to skilled workers from 65,000 to 115,000, establishes a countervailing economic pressure that will work against the effective management of immigrants by business and state interests. As these workers demand a higher wage, there will be a host of negative economic implications that the Senate measure does not address.
According to Bloomberg, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that administration of the Senate's immigration policies would cost $54 billion over the next 10 years, offset by $66 billion in new revenue the immigrants would contribute in taxes. A smarter "reform" should aim to eliminate the former. Tucson follows the example of the broader US immigration policy: to encourage foreign investment and migration while ignoring our failures to manage those who are persuaded into the US entire. Federal backlogs, bureaucracy, and an outdated INS structure are the roots of several challenges. There is no incentive to buttress state/federal migration management synergy, failures to monitor visitors, and failures in protecting the integrity of the US labor force. These issues are not addressed by a wall--no matter how tall--border patrol agents--no matter how numerous--or unenforced laws--no matter how repressive.




See: Irene Bleomraad, Harvard University; Greta Gilbertson, Fordham University; Audrey Singer, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

BearStearns. "The Underground Labor Force Is Rising To The Surface."
Robert Justich and Betty Ng, CFA
http://www.bearstearns.com/bscportal/pdfs/underground.pdf

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

 

Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Members Target US Geopolitical Influence



Lake Tahoe CA - The trends of expansion and stronger relaionships bewteen SCO member
states deserves the notice of the international community for several
reasons.

Although we cannot yet fully estimate the implications of a larger and closer SCO, we can be certain that many of its interests are not compatible with the trajectory of current US foreign policy interests in central Asia and Middle East. In June of 2005, Washington requested permission from SCO's Council to attend a summit being held in the same month as an observer but was turned down. Moreover, signs of warming relations between China, Russia, and Iran deserve particular attention, due to Washington's increasing concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions. A People's Daily commentary on April 13 reads: "The real intention behind the US fueling the Iran issue is to prompt the UN to impose sanctions against Iran, and to pave the way for a regime change in that country. The US's global strategy and its Iran policy emanate out of its decision to use various means, including military means, to change the Iranian regime. This is the US's set target and is at the root of the Iran nuclear issue."

Gennady Yefstafiyev, a former general in Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, wrote: "The US's long term goals in Iran are obvious: to engineer the downfall of the current regime; to establish control over Iran's oil and gas; and to use its territory as the shortest route for the transportation of hydrocarbons under US control from the regions of Central Asia and the Caspian Sea bypassing Russia and China. This is not to mention Iran's intrinsic military and strategic significance."

On the other hand, that the members states are adopting behaviors amenable to liberal trade policies is a positive sign. Trade encourages, if not forces, states to engage in practices they may not be accustomed to such as executing confidence building measures, rule of law, peaceful negotiation, information exchange, and diplomatic cooperation (perhaps against US interests). Despite that the inclusion of new members into the organization is all but assured, as recently as January 16 2006, the organization's secretary general Zhang Deguang, quoted by Xinhua news agency, said: "Absorbing new member states needs a legal basis," suggesting that no such legal basis had yet been created. To be sure, when states learn to "behave" it does not assure against conflict but may decrease the likelihood of military action. Put in another way, the coagulation of interests being forged within the halls of the SCO may serve as a 21st century paradox. That is, the very behaviors--oil and gas dealings that exclude the US, economic growth, and capital exchanges--that are seemingly working against US policy objectives may prove--in the long run--to teach SCO member states that cooperation is more profitable than aggression. Whether or not these such lessons translate into future cooperation with Washington is certainly far from clear. The sheer size of the bloc acting in oppositional concert--China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and now Mongolia, Iran, India and Pakistan--may enable terrible disruptions for Washington around the world.

However, imports into the US alone from Russia in 2005 totaled 15,278,619,000; from China, 243,462,327,000; and from Iran 174,694,000. The relative weights of these values against countries' respective legitimate economic backgrounds is not insignificant. The benefit of potentially weakening economic relations with the US and its allies from geopolitical aggression by the SCO states, may prove to be more allusive than any other outcome. So the question of what benefits are expected from the bloc's current policy trends--balancing, increasing political or economic influence--remains quixotic. This mystery raises the idea that any seller must have a buyer to complete a sale. True that the bloc has things we need--especially oil. However, for the bloc to signal offensive politiking in the great game at a time when US influence is so great and its domestic politics hawkish, can only serve to provoke aggression and escalation and ruin the greens for everyone (particularly the poor).

Sure to follow are accusations of US hypocrisy. The Bush administration has already created a global perception of the US as an offensive hegemon. Such accusations do not lead to understanding or better decision-making. The US is a hegemon provoked to aggression by unprecedented attack and empowered by a hawkish and ideological administration. Suffice, for now, is the idea that two non-optimal strategies don't make a right one, and never has it been so. When shall we learn?

NTL, the trend is now clear. Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) members are targeting US geopolitical influence Last year, Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref, along side officials from countries granted observer status--Pakistani
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, and Indian Foreign Minister Natwar
Singh--encouraged leaders of the SCO states (China, Russia,
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan) to consider the
path to Iran's full membership into the SCO. This year, the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization (SCO) is expected to welcome into its
membership countries it previously granted only observer status.
Mongolia, Iran, India and Pakistan, will become full members,
according to Asia Times. [http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/HD18Ad02.html]

Further, the SCO states have adopted a low-key but obvious position against several US foreign actions, namely in Afghanistan and Iraq. During its most recent summit, SCO officials not only suggested that the U.S.-led coalition forces in
Afghanistan should announce a timetable for withdrawal, they also
demanded mechanisms to limit to outside interference in a country's internal affairs, according to Asia Times. This suggests that if the SCO continues to expand and deepen, US geopolitical interests or specifically, strategic defense positioning, hydrocarbon supplies, current and future military and economic interest-alliances, UN Security Council deliberations, and actions against terrorism, around the world--outside the jurisdiction of the original group of five--are less than assured for Washington.

Also noteworthy is that on 10 November 2004, India Daily reported, "Russian President Putin is taking a lead role in the most powerful coalition of regional and superpowers in the world. The coalition consists of India, China, Russia and Brazil. This will challenge the superpower supremacy of America." … "He [Putin] wants to establish a long-term Russian footprint in Latin America in order to expand Moscow's geopolitical influence in the region. Brazil is very open to the coalition concept where these large countries support each other in terms of trade, economics, international politics and defense."

The article continues, "Just this single strategic move means that the new coalition embraces just over three quarters of the world's total population, eighty percent of its natural resources, and a majority of technical and scientific experts. Nor does it end there, because the coalition automatically includes the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which is presently comprised of China, Russia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Dangerously for America, the coalition will soon have another important member, Iran."

“A mere two months ago, the news of a China-Kazakhstan pipeline agreement, worth US$3.5 billion, raised some eyebrows in the world press, some hinting that China's economic foreign policy may be on the verge of a new leap forward. A clue to the fact that such anticipation may have totally understated the case was last week's signing of a mega-gas deal between Beijing and Tehran worth $100 billion. Billed as the "deal of the century" by various commentators, this agreement is likely to increase by another $50 to $100 billion, bringing the total close to $200 billion, when a similar oil agreement, currently being negotiated, is inked not too far from now. The gas deal entails the annual export of some 10 million tons of Iranian liquefied natural gas (LNG) for a 25-year period, as well as the participation, by China's state oil company, in such projects as exploration and drilling, petrochemical and gas industries, pipelines, services and the like. The export of LNG requires special cargo ships, however, and Iran is currently investing several billion dollars adding to its small LNG-equipped fleet," according to the same article.

On 2 December 2004, the block on external energy supplies to America from Iran, who is outfitting its production to meet Chinese demands, was implemented thereby forging a noteworthy security alliance...


TBC

 

A Debate: Religion In Ethnic Conflict



Washington, DC - Religious conflict is commonly mentioned along side ethnic conflict but it is not common to find that the role it plays has been made clear. Watson & Boag (2000) write:

For many commentators, when wars are described as "religious" or "ethnic" this serves both to imply the irrational and incomprehensible bases of the conflict, and represent the beliefs and actions of participants as alien, backward or primitive.

The true causes of conflict are always difficult to ascertain. Conflicts often involve a mix of factors geopolitical realities, socio-economic differences, ethnic rivalries, and religious differences, for examples. Social scientists and the media at times couple religious conflict along with ethnic conflicts.

RELIGION'S ROLE: TWO PERSPECTIVES

More Important

There are two sides to the debate over religion's role in politics. Some argue that religion's role is central to driving conflict. Samuel Huntington, for example, in his commonly cited "clash of civilizations" theory, holds that the majority of conflicts in the post-Cold War era, including ethnic conflict, will be along civilizational fracture lines with differing religions on each side. Juergensmeyer (2000) in his timely work, Terror in the Mind of God, explains that "cosmic" pathologies of religion play key roles in various terrorist movements around the world.
Jonathan Fox, (2002) a preeminent scholar on topics involving religion and international affairs, has conducted the most salient research on religion and ethnic conflict to date. Fox posits that religion and ethnicity have been major causes of domestic conflict in the post Cold War world. He examines the nexus between religious and ethnic causes of conflict and finds that while "the primary causes of ethnic conflict are non-religious ethnic issues, the majority of ethnic conflicts involve religious issues." Fox also argues "religion can cause ethnic conflicts when the religious beliefs of an ethnic group are threatened by another group or when religious laws are believed to call for conflictive action."

Laitin identifies the main cause for ethnic conflict as being a collective fear for the future based on experiential memory of past. Like Fox, Laitin identifies ethnicity, political ideologies, and religion as root causes of group mobilization. Triggers (Brown 1996) are widely known as the circumstances that precede conflict. The distinction between root causes and triggers are important to point out here. Root causes refer to the underlying conditions that exist around a conflict scenario while triggers constitute more proximate events or factors that cause a conflict to escalate. Only by identifying triggers, argues Brown, can we plan against the precipitation of an escalation. Additionally, collective fear combined with collective perceptions of otherness (diversity and diffidence) also creates a "security dilemma" and a climate amenable to triggering military conflict.
America's perceptions following the tragedy and shock of the 9-11 attacks also introduce substance into the debate about religion's role in current affairs. The 9-11 attackers were after all committed to and seemingly driven by a particular brand of Islam. As such, America's fear of Islam the world's second largest and quickest growing religion and, by extension, religion's role in the post-Cold War world has heightened concerns about what is to come in the next decades.

Less/Not Important

Sadowski (1998) rejects the popular argument that the end of the Cold War era thawed "ancient religious rivalries" and points out most ethnic conflicts are expressions of "modern hate" and largely products of the twentieth century and not "ancient rivalries." Sadowski cites several examples: "Bosnian Serbs imagine that they are fighting to avenge their defeat by the Ottoman Turks in 1389; Hutus declare that Tutsis have "always" treated them as subhumans; and IRA bombers attack their victims in the name of a nationalist tradition they claim has burned since the Dark Ages. But these mythologies of hatred are themselves largely recent inventions." Religious rivalry or any other "ancient rivalry" does not, argues Sadowski, greatly help embroilsodern day ethnic embroilments if they not only failed to exist among the same groups fighting today before the evolution of nation-state politics but occurred after.
Other scholars (Crawford & Lipschultz 1998) say that globalization or specifically advances in communications technologies has fostered group anxieties about losing touch with their roots and identity in the wake of political and economic compression (Turkle 1995). As such, group identities have become blurred against the background of a global connectivity and market expansion. These factors have left groups, more than any other time in history, both highly insecure and highly aware of out-group difference.
Benjamin Barber's (1996) warning that we face a future of "Jihad vs. McWorld" is a nice iteration of a stateless "virtual corporation" that some argue may spark (or has already sparked) revolt by nation-less peoples againcorporationsimilated by a world of corporatism.

Fox's essay, "The Ethnic-Religious Nexus: The Impact of Religion on Ethnic Conflict" posits that "since the end of the Cold War, religion and ethnicity have been major causes of domestic conflict. Fox's examination relies on information from the Minorities at Risk data set as well as information collected by other studies. His findings also show "that while the primary causes of ethnic conflict are non-religious ethnic issues, the majority of ethnic conflicts involve religious issues." Further, Fox argues, "religion can cause ethnic conflicts when the religious beliefs of an ethnic group are threatened by another group" or "when religious laws are believed to call for conflictive action." Finally, his study explains how "Occasionally, this involvement of religion can transform a secular conflict into a religious one."

One challenge in using the MAR Project is identifying mobilization based on a religious basis. Religion to the extent that it is characterized by a set of beliefs, actions, and experiences, (Peterson, et al 1998) is included in the MAR Project's grouping of differences among communities. According to the MAR Project, These are communal groups that differ from others principally in their religious beliefs AND RELATED CULTURAL PRACTICES, and whose political status and activities are centered on the defense of their beliefs. [caps mine] The challenge is one of drawing lines around how a religious practice is different from and outside related cultural practices. Ethnic Tamils, for example, are united to each other by their common religions beliefs, but also by the Tamil language and culture. Some 80 percent of the Sri Lankan Tamils and 90 percent of the Indian Tamils are Hindus, according to grievancery of Congress. How does one outline a religious greivance of the Tamil community against the Sinhalese community particularly when a sense of general human insecurity, fear, or hatred already exists around on a mishmash of differences? Sen (2006) stipulates that "the rational fool of theoretical economics the self-serving calculator with no attachments but to his or her immediate well-being is a myth." Like Fox and Huntington, Sen also recognizes that conflict may involve more than self-interest but also emotional pressures. However, Sen ultimately argues that caste, creedominantmunity are not cemented at birth, that they do not dominante other elements of identity and that highlighting religion ignores other elements of Muslim tradition including science. Lumping together a diverse society with religion is a false step, according to Sen.

Fox's assertions raise problems. Fox asserts, "Since the end of the Cold War, religion and ethnicity have been major causes of domestic conflict. However, he also says, “that while the primary causes of ethnic conflict are non-religious ethnic issues, the majority of ethnic conflicts involve religious issues." The problem at hand is how religious difference between ethnic groups has been one of the primary causes of ethnic conflict if such religious differences existed at a time when the same ethnic groups with the same cultural practices lived in peace, as Sadowski points out. Additionally, Fox (2000) himself finds, out of the 337 minorities in the MAR data set, 53 percent belong to the same religion and denomination as the majority group in their state. Another 11 percent belong to different denominations of the same religion as the majority group. Thus, most ethnic conflicts do not even have the potential to involve issues of religious identity.

The Indian Tamils, for example, share linguistic, religious, and cultural ties with the Sri Lankan Tamils but the two are considered distinct groups. Furthermore, the two groups have differing aims with respect to the Sinhalese-dominated government. The Tamil case then illustrates that from the same religious group, there are two differing desires. This demonstrates the possibility that the game group can hold differing political grievances. Members who constitute one sort of group should therefore not, as Sen argues, be lumped together even as they may share a common religion, for example. Additionally, Kurds differ linguistically, culturally, and racially, but not religiously from Iraq's Sunni Arab group. Also notable is that the English conquest of Ireland occurred at a time when both countries shared a common religion. The former were still Catholic at the time. It was not until Henry II had broken with the Pope over Rome's refusal to grant his divorce that Henry set himself up as the head of the Catholic Church in England, and demanded that everyone recognize his newly claimed authority.

Moreover, religion's role in ethnic conflict cannot be understood a part from the cultural heritage of warring groups. Cultural heritage is defined as "the practices, representations, expressions, as well as the knowledge and skills, that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize," according to UNESCO. Cultural heritage may be influenced by religion, but it is also shaped by a variety of other values that are not religious. (See "Civil Religion," Bellah).

Cases

Most Kurds are Sunni Muslims and belong to the Shafi and Hanafi Schools of Islam. However, significant minorities of Kurds are Shia Muslims, and primarily live in the Kermanshah and Ilam provinces of Iran and Central Iraq ("Al-Fayliah" Kurds). Turkish Alevis are also a Kurdish religious minority. The remaining Kurds are mostly either Christians, Kurdish Jews, Yazidis or Agnosticists.

Country Religious Context Situation
Iraq Nearly 80% of the population of Iraq is Arabic-speaking, while over 95% is Muslim (Sunni and Shiite) in religion. There are about twice as many Shiites as Sunnis, the latter sect being more numerous throughout the majority of Arab countries. The hilly uplands of NE Iraq are primarily inhabited by Kurds, who are Sunni Muslims; other large minorities of Iraq include Turkomans (Turks), Armenians, and Assyrians. In 1974 the Iraqi government sought to impose its plan for limited autonomy in Kurdistan. The Kurds rejected it, and heavy fighting erupted. Iraqi attacks on the Kurds continued throughout the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88), culminating (1988) in poison gas attacks on Kurdish villages to quash resistance and in the rounding up and execution of male Kurds, all of which resulted in the killing of some 200,000 in that year alone.

Iran Islam entered the country in the 7th cent. A.D. and is now the official religion; about 90% of Iranians are Muslims of the Shiite sect. The remainder, mostly Kurds and Arabs, are Sunnis. Colonies of Zoroastrians (see Zoroastrianism) remain at Yazd, Kerman, and other large towns. In addition to Armenian and Assyrian Christian sects, there are Jews, Protestants, and Roman Catholics. The Kurds, who constitute approximately 7% of Iran's overall population, have resisted the Iranian government's efforts, both before and after the revolution of 1979, to assimilate them into the mainstream of national life . After the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran (1979), the government launched a murderous campaign against its Kurdish inhabitants as well as a program to assassinate Kurdish leaders.

Syria About 75% of the country's inhabitants are Sunni Muslims. There are also significant numbers of Shiite Muslims, especially the Alawites, who live in the Jabal al-Nusayriyah; Druze, who live in the south, principally in the Jabal al-Duruz; and smaller Muslim sects; all of these groups comprise about 16% of Syria's population. The largest Christian groups are the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, and the Syrian Orthodox, together comprising about 10% of the population. During the French mandate period in Syria (1920-1946), Kurds were allowed to organize politically and permitted to publish books and periodicals in their own language. Over time, while French relations with the Kurds soured, Arab and Kurdish Syrians maintained relatively peaceful relations during this period and the two communities joined together in agitating for Syrian independence.

Turkey The mainstream Hanafite school of Sunni Islam is largely organized by the state, through Turkey's Department of Religious Affairs. Modern Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemalenacted a constitution 70 years ago which denied the existence of distinct cultural sub-groups in Turkey. As a result, any expression by the Kurds (as well as other minorities in Turkey) of unique ethnic identity has been harshly repressed.

The religious dimension to ethnic conflict, whether a significant factor or not, is not more important than acknowledging the potential dangers of poorly managed and strong societal "us" versus "them" mentalities. Finally, how religious difference between ethnic groups has been one of the primary causes of ethnic conflict, as Fox asserts, when such religious differences existed at a time when the same ethnic groups lived in peace remains in question.

 

First Post

Blogging is difficult at the start! I'd like to take the opportunity to formally intiate my blog by posting its first commment. I look forward to developing what is meant to serve as my online diary of thoughts on relevant issues of the day.

My most important hope for this blog is that it will remain above par. I do not wish any sacrifice of its relative quality for visibility.

Second, I shall make an effort to keep my entries incisive and analytical. Many of them will be brief but some will be longer. They should always address issues relevant to news events, noticable trends, theories, or prospects with respect to international affairs, political science, or poverty. Infrequently, I expect to post personal journal entries of travels or significant personal events.

Lastly, my comments are, of course, my own arguments. They are presented neither as absolute opinion nor conclusive fact. I aim to attract comments from everyone who desires to contribute in an informed manner.

As always, thanks for visiting.

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