Sunday, August 30, 2015

ISIS Heritage Destruction In Syria Is A War Crime: The UN Must Consider R2P To Stop It Now: New Age Islam’s Selection from World Press, 29 August 2015 New Age Islam Edit Bureau

By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
29 August 2015
Islamic State Pretence And The Upcoming Wars In Libya
By Ramzy Baroud
ISIS Heritage Destruction In Syria Is A War Crime: The UN Must Consider R2P To Stop It Now
By Franklin Lamb
RAB And Extra-Judicial Killings in Bangladesh
By Taj Hashmi
Protests in Lebanon reflect the disease not the cure
By John Bell
Child Marriage Law and freedom of choice
By M Niaz Asadullah and Zaki Wahhaj

Islamic State Pretence And The Upcoming Wars In Libya
By Ramzy Baroud
27 August, 2015
Another war is in the making in Libya: the questions are ‘how’ and ‘when’? While the prospect of another military showdown is unlikely to deliver Libya from its current security upheaval and political conflict, it is likely to change the very nature of conflict in that rich, but divided, Arab country.
An important pre-requisite to war is to locate an enemy or, if needed, invent one. The so-called ‘Islamic State’ (IS), although hardly an important component in the country's divisive politics, is likely to be that antagonist.
Libya is currently split, politically, between two governments, and, geographically, among many armies, militias, tribes and mercenaries. It is a failed state par excellence, although such a designation does not do justice to the complexity of the Libyan case, together with the root causes of that failure.
Now that ‘IS’ has practically taken over the city of Sirte, once a stronghold for former Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, and the bastion of al-Qadhadhfa tribe, the scene is becoming murkier than ever before. Conventional wisdom has it that the advent of the opportunistic, bloodthirsty group is a natural event considering the security vacuum resulting from political and military disputes. But there is more to the story.
Several major events led to the current stalemate and utter chaos in Libya. One was the military intervention by NATO, which was promoted, then, as a way to support Libyans in their uprising against long-time leader, Gaddafi. NATO's intentional misreading of UN resolution 1973, resulted in ‘Operation Unified Protector’, which overthrew Gaddafi, killed thousands and entrusted the country into the hands of numerous militias that were, at the time, referred to collectively as the 'rebels'.
The urgency which NATO assigned to its war – the aim of which was, supposedly, to prevent a possible 'genocide' – kept many in the media either supportive or quiet. Few dared to speak out:
“While NATO's UN mandate was to protect civilians, the alliance, in practice, turned that mission on its head. Throwing its weight behind one side in a civil war to oust Gaddafi's regime, it became the air force for the rebel militias on the ground,” wrote Seumas Milne in the Guardian in May 2012.
“So while the death toll was perhaps between 1,000 and 2,000 when NATO intervened in March, by October it was estimated by the NTC (National Transitional Council) to be 30,000 – including thousands of civilians.”
Another important event was the elections. Libyans voted in 2014, yielding a bizarre political reality where two ‘governments’ claim to be the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people: one in Tobruk and Beida, and the other in Tripoli. Each ‘government’ has its own military arms, tribal alliances and regional benefactors. Moreover, each is eager to claim a larger share of the country's massive oil wealth and access to ports, thus running its own economy.
The most that these governments managed to achieve, however, is a political and military stalemate, interrupted by major or minor battles and an occasional massacre. That is, until ‘IS’ appeared on the scene.
The sudden advent of ‘IS’ was convenient. At first, the ‘IS’ threat appeared as an exaggerated claim by Libya's Arab neighbours to justify their own military intervention. Then, it was verified by video evidence showing visually-manipulated ‘IS’ 'giants' slitting the throats of poor Egyptian labourers at some mysterious beach. Then, with little happening in between, ‘IS’ fighters began taking over entire towns, prompting calls by Libyan leaders for military intervention.
But the takeover of Sirte by ‘IS’ cannot be easily explained in so casual a way as a militant group seeking inroads in a politically divided country. That sudden takeover happened within a specific political context that can explain the rise of ‘IS’ more convincingly.
In May, Libya Dawn's 166th Brigade (affiliated with groups that currently control Tripoli) withdrew from Sirte without much explanation.
“A mystery continues to surround the sudden withdrawal of the brigade,” wrote Kamel Abdallah in al-Ahram Weekly. “Officials have yet to offer an account, in spite of the fact that this action helped ‘IS’ forces secure an unrivalled grip on the city.”
While Salafi fighters, along with armed members of the al-Qadhadhfa tribe, moved to halt the advances of ‘IS’ (with terrible massacres reported, but not yet verified) both Libyan governments are yet to make any palpable move against ‘IS’. Not even the insistent war-enthusiastic, anti-Islamist General Khalifa Heftar, and his so-called “Libyan National Army” made much of an effort to fight ‘IS’, which is also expanding in other parts of Libya.
Instead, as ‘IS’ moves forward and consolidates its grip on Sirte and elsewhere, the Tobruk-based Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni urged “sister Arab nations” to come to Libya's aid and carry out air strikes on Sirte. He has also urged Arab countries to lobby the UN to end its weapons embargo on Libya, which is already saturated with arms that are often delivered illegally from various regional Arab sources.
The Tripoli government is also urging action against ‘IS’, but both governments, which failed to achieve a political roadmap for unity, still refuse to work together.
The call for Arab intervention in Libya's state of security bedlam is politically-motivated, of course, for Al-Thinni is hoping that the air strikes would empower his forces to widen their control over the country, in addition to strengthening his government's political position in any future UN-mediated agreement.
But another war is being plotted elsewhere, this time involving NATO's usual suspects. The Western scheming, however, is far more involved than Al-Thinni's political designs. The London Times reported on August 1st that “hundreds of British troops are being lined up to go to Libya as part of a major new international mission,” which will also include “military personnel from Italy, France, Spain, Germany and the United States … in an operation that looks set to be activated once the rival warring factions inside Libya agree to form a single government of national unity.”
Those involved in the operation which, according to a UK Government source, could be actualized “towards the end of August”, are countries with vested economic interests and are the same parties behind the war in Libya in 2011.
Commenting on the report, Jean Shaoul wrote, “Italy, the former colonial power in Libya, is expected to provide the largest contingent of ground troops. France has colonial and commercial ties with Libya’s neighbours, Tunisia, Mali and Algeria. Spain retains outposts in northern Morocco and the other major power involved, Germany, is once again seeking to gain access to Africa’s resources and markets.”
It is becoming clearer that Libya, once a sovereign and relatively wealthy nation, is becoming a mere playground for a massive geopolitical game and large economic interests and ambitions. Sadly, Libyans themselves are the very enablers behind the division of their own country, with Arab and Western powers scheming to ensure a larger share of Libya's economic wealth and strategic value.
The takeover of Sirte by ‘IS’ is reported as a watershed moment that is, once again, generating war frenzy – similar to that which preceded NATO's military intervention in 2011. Regardless of whether Arabs bomb Libya, or Western powers do so, the crisis in that country is likely to escalate, if not worsen, as history has amply shown.
Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is:
Isis Heritage Destruction In Syria Is A War Crime: The Un Must Consider R2p To Stop It Now
By Franklin Lamb
26 August, 2015
The Ancient Citadel, Damascus: This observer imagines that it’s probably not politically very correct among quite a few, including formerly this observer, to even mention the idea. But is it not the case dear reader that the continuing rampant and irreversible cultural terrorism ravaging Syria will not be halted by an anemic elusive “international political solution” anytime soon? Hence what is warranted for serious consideration at UN HQ and without further delay is a limited and tightly monitored UN-led intervention to end the destruction of our cultural heritage. Specifically by considering a quick short-leashed employment of Responsibility to Protect (R2P)?
“I am seeing Palmyra being destroyed right in front of my eyes. God help us in the days to come. Our darkest predictions are unfortunately taking place,” my friend, Dr. Abdul-Karim, the Director-General of Syria’s Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) recently explained, adding that he was somehow not totally surprised to learn that the Islamic State had destroyed the second century AD Temple of Baalshamin (shown before and after its destruction below)
The temple stood less than 100 yards from the Roman amphitheater where the Islamic State held a summary trial with unanimous verdict and mass execution, killing 25 Syrian army prisoners last spring. Baalshamin was built in AD 17 as a place of worship dedicated to the Phoenician god of storms and the sky, expanded under the reign of the emperor Hadrian in 130 AD and during the time of Queen Zenobia and her husband Septimius Odaenathus, the King of Kings of Palmyra, it evolved into a major worshiping site for a number of deities.
According to locals, and to the surprise of some, Daesh (ISIS) loyalist religious purists have since last May been observed using the pagan temple Baalshamin to pray at Fajr (morning) prayers including the day they murdered archaeologist Khaled al-Ass’ad earlier this month. But even their own place of worship needed to be blow-up on orders of a ranking local IS sheik. And so it was.
Irina Bokova, the chief of the UN’s cultural agency, UNESCO, issued an urgent appeal on 8/24/2015: “This destruction is a war crime under Section 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court crime and an immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity. Daesh (Isis) is killing people and destroying sites, but cannot silence history and will ultimately fail to erase this great culture from the memory of the world.” Ms. Bokova added that the "perpetrators must be accountable for their actions."
The UNESCO Director is correct. The Daesh (ISIS) campaign against humanities cultural heritage isn’t just a violation of international law, but a genocidal assault on the core of our civilization. There are ample legal and historical precedents for judging Daesh’s (ISIS) antiquities destruction a war crime as well as a crime against humanity. “This tragedy is far from just a cultural issue: it’s an issue of major security,” she said “We see clearly how terrorists use the destruction of heritage in their strategy to destabilize and manipulate populations so that they can assure their own domination.” Daesh’s warped implementation of Sharia law and its destruction of cultural artifacts in Syria and elsewhere suggest an organization very similar to past and present totalitarian states which subjugate their citizens while stripping them of all cultural and social individuality. Daesh mimics the genocidal organizations, such as the Mongols, Nazism, Pol Pot and many others that preceded its arrival. Its cultural carnage clearly falls under the legal definition of a war crime and it is the submission of this observer that Director Bokova’s protestations have the force of UN doctrine behind them.
As of today, much of Palmyra is still well preserved and could be saved if we act now. But what’s next on the agenda of the religious purists currently rampaging, so far with impunity, in Palmyra? It’s anyone’s guess. Will it be the temple of Bel, the former center of religious life in Palmyra with its still preserved ancient cella, the inner sanctum dedicated to the sun god? Or will Daesh next destroy the Arc of Triumph on Palmyra’s ancient colonnades, or perhaps the second century AD Roman amphitheater which is currently being used as a trial and execution theater?
Daesh apologists have repeatedly advised this observer that theirs is a carefully thought-out, quite legitimate religion based ideology that they claim includes cultural and religious purity. Some freely admit that in order to control and convert nonbelievers, their swelling ranks of religious purists plan to control culture, the essential context on which civil society is built. This, they insist is absolutely required in order to achieve domination. And if necessary, the death cult claims it is ready to pursue complete annihilation, as they allegedly increase their use of mustard gas and seek WMD’s, in partial preparation for entering some sort of a presumed afterlife.
There are ample recent international legal developments that point toward urgent R2P UN-led action to stop this cultural genocide that horrifies most of us.
International jurists generally agree that to employ R2P against those destroying archaeological sites in Syrian along with our identity as a specie, there must be serious and irreparable harm occurring or imminently likely to occur. Moreover, that the main intention of the R2P action must be to prevent irreversible cultural cleansing, that there are reasonable grounds to believe that only military action would work in this particular case, that the R2P means employed must not exceed what is necessary to secure the defined cultural protection objective, the chance of success must be reasonably high, and it must be unlikely that the consequences of the R2P intervention would be worse than the consequences without the intervention. Lastly, the R2P military action to protect and preserve our global cultural heritage has to be authorized by the UN Security Council.
Caution is warranted in considering using R2P. One only needs to revisit the R2P fiasco unleashed during the summer of 2011 in Libya, where this observer spent many weeks witnessing the ‘civilian protection no fly-zone’ turn into a 14 weeks bombing frenzy killing countless civilians and creating what we see today in what is left of Libya, to appreciate the need to strictly adhere to the above enumerated legal and political strictures. India's UN Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri has argued that "the Libyan case has already given R2P a bad name" and that "the only aspect of the R2P resolution of interest to the international community was using of all necessary means to bomb the hell out of Libya". Puri also alleged that civilians had been supplied with arms and that the no-fly zone had been implemented only selectively.
Despite its misuse in Libya and admitted checkered past, Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is perhaps the most important and imaginative doctrine to emerge on the international scene since the UN Charter and is one of the most promising international legal innovations available to us. It should not be ignored in our reactions to the war being waged to destroy our shared global culture.
Other relevant factors to be considered as the UN Security |Council meets on this subject of Syria, hopefully this week, include the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and in particular to Article 8(2)(b)(ix), which falls under the category of war crimes. Article 8 recognizes the act of ‘intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, historic monuments…as a war crime.”
This observer would argue that the Rome statute codifies the normative definition of crimes against civilized society, including “cultural genocide” and “crimes against humanity.” The inclusion of cultural objects in ICC’s doctrine on war crimes recognizes the apparent limitless nature of our specie’s most depraved predilections to commit unrestrained evil.
Also applicable is the 2/12/2015 UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2199 to respond to the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), as well as the Al Nusra Front (ANF) and other groups associated with Al-Qaida (AQ). Adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, this resolution provides for a range of tools, including sanctions and other binding measures, to degrade these terrorist organizations' ability to carry out brutal attacks. It focuses extensively on terrorist financial support networks, particularly ISIL's raising of funds through oil smuggling, looting and selling of antiquities, kidnapping for ransom and other illicit activities. This resolution builds upon UN Security Council Resolution 2170 (2014), the Council's first major resolution on the ISIL threat that was adopted in August 2014. UNSCR 2170 condemns the destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria, including targeted destruction of religious sites and objects. It notes that ISIL, ANF and AQ-related groups are generating income from the direct or indirect trade in looting and smuggling of cultural heritage items and imposes a new ban on the illicit trade of antiquities from Syria.
Noteworthy is the Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World 2013 and the European Union’s policy on the matter paragraph 211 which states that ‘intentional forms of destruction of cultural and artistic heritage, as it is currently occurring in Syria, should be prosecuted as war crimes and as crimes against humanity.” The UN had adopted the Hague Convention of 1954 which requires signatories to protect “cultural property”—movable or immovable property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people—from destruction and misappropriation even in times of armed conflict. But the Hague Convention has not been applied, must less enforced by most UN Member States.
This observer submits that while that R2P is not currently hardened international law in the sense of being a multinational treaty or enshrined in the UN Charter, law, it is based on respect for the principles that underlie international law, especially the underlying principles of law relating to sovereignty, peace and security, human rights, and armed conflict. It can be argued that given its wide acceptance among the 197 countries comprising the United Nations, that R2P has achieved the status of international customary law.
Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has its origins in the 1990’s failure to respond to tragedies such as the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 and the Srebrenica massacre in 1995. In 2000, Kofi Annan, in his capacity as UN Secretary-General, authored the report "We the Peoples" on the role of the United Nations in the 21st Century and he posed the following question: If humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to gross and systematic violations of human rights that offend every precept of our common humanity?
Time is quickly running out for all of us to answer Kofi Annan’s question and if we reply in the affirmative, to petition our governments and the UN to create a highly mobile, competent, short tethered wide international participation coalition force of fixed duration, perhaps subject to 90-day UN renewal, and to act on our shared international responsibility to preserve and protect Syria’s Endangered Heritage.
Employing R2P should be debated and carefully considered. There do not appear here in Syria to be many other options given the zeal of the jihadists who are hell bent on the imminent destruction of humanity’s shared culture heritage and identity.
If we act quickly, despite the obstacles and fanaticism, human creativity can prevail, buildings and sites are able to be rehabilitated, and many, but not all that that have been destroyed, can be rebuilt.
We have no alternative. Our shared cultural heritage teaches us about tolerance and respect for a diverse humanity. If we rescue our heritage it will help save us from the foibles of arrogance, intolerance, prejudice toward and persecution of our fellow human beings.
It reminds us of our better nature and like the standing bodhisattva, Buddhas to be, helps us all live in a more humane world.
Franklin P. Lamb, LLB, LLM, PhD, Legal Adviser, The Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program, Shatila Camp ( Volunteer with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign (PCRC) Beirut and Washington, DC committed to help achieving the Right To Work and the Right to Home Ownership for every Palestinian Refugee in Lebanon.
RAB And Extra-Judicial Killings in Bangladesh
By Taj Hashmi
26 August, 2015
Of late, an influential ruling party MP has registered his contempt for the latest rounds of extra-judicial killings by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in Bangladesh. It is evident from his statement that he is angry with the paramilitary outfit – which virtually turned into a death squad soon after its creation in 2004 – only because it has started killing ruling party “activists”. Yet one may congratulate the MP for speaking up against extra-judicial killings in the country. Better late than never! However, one wonders if the RAB this time acted on its own, or was under instruction from above!
Civilized human beings everywhere consider extra-judicial killing inhumane, barbaric, and a relic of the pre-modern past. No democracy can allow this barbarism in any name or excuses. Interestingly, while the police in Britain, Australia and New Zealand either carry no firearms, or when they carry, they keep them hidden from public view, one senior Bangladeshi police officer stated publicly early this year, “the Government has armed the police not to play kabaddi with them”, but to use them, he implied. This lack of respect for human life is an important factor behind all extra-judicial killings by law-enforcers in Bangladesh.
It is sad that law-enforcing agencies, which are maintained with taxpayers’ money, have been engaged in extra-judicial or illegal killing of civilians with impunity. It is even sadder that initially Bangladeshis across the board started congratulating the RAB for killing hardcore criminals – mainly killers, muggers and extortionists – in dubious “encounters” or “cross-fires”.
The saddest part of the story is that hardly anybody in Bangladesh who is influential enough to change and modify government policies, has come forward to stop this barbaric, pre-modern system of killing criminals, suspects, and of late, innocent people without giving the victims the due process of law. Unfortunately, most members of the civil society, judges and lawyers, religious leaders, lawmakers and politicians, professionals, traders, students and the hoi polloi in general have not come forward against these killings for the sake of upholding the sanctity of the rule of law, and independence of the judiciary.
Sadly, people across the board seem to have lost faith in the efficiency, honesty and integrity of law-enforcers and dispensers of justice in the country. This is simply ominous. The upshot is the least desirable mass acceptance of extra-judicial killings by RAB among every section of the population in the country. People only grumble when their own kith and kin or party members fall victims to RAB’s “cross-firing”, as the ruling party MP is doing today. It is noteworthy that the average Bangladeshi knows what the expression “cross-fire” implies. Nobody in Bangladesh seems to be convinced by the stories one reads in the newspaper about the so-called “cross-fire” incidents. Hence the use of inverted commas – as we see media doing so – before and after the expression!
It seems, while the people, media, and government agencies are busy playing a cynical hide-and-seek game with each other by tossing the stories of “cross-fire” in the air, the free world looks at Bangladesh with total dismay and disbelief. The UN, human rights organizations, governments and individuals in various countries are worried about the state of affairs in Bangladesh. While others worry about the violations of human rights in the country by law-enforcers, Bangladeshis seem to be blindly following the Machiavellian dictum: “End justifies means”. How long this expediency will sustain, is the question!
What even many highly educated people do not realize, the combination of strong and overpowering government machinery with weak, vulnerable and powerless people does not signify the strength of a country. This happens in autocratic regimes and in colonial setups. And Bangladeshis often forget that they achieved their independence in the name of overthrowing the overpowering influence of the military and law-enforcers, through democracy and the rule of law. While the creation of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) without strengthening democratic institutions and the judiciary in 2004 was an imprudent, shortsighted measure, empowering this law-enforcing agency to engage in extra-judicial killing is simply a gross violation of the Constitution. Unfortunately, the successive governments since 2007 have neither disbanded the RAB nor have they stopped extra-judicial killings.
Extra-judicial killing is normative in dictatorships and autocratic monarchies. Hitler had Gestapo and Schutzstaffel (SS) units, Mussolini had Blackshirts, Reza Shah II had Savak, and Saddam Hussein had Secret Police. Interestingly, the rationales for special guards and police forces have always been maintaining “law and order” and ensuring “crime free” societies. And eventually, the thin line between criminals and political dissidents disappears without being noticed by anybody.
This, however, does not mean that I am comparing the RAB with special guards and secret police of yester years. What I imply here is: there is an inherent danger in empowering any law-enforcing agency with extra-judicial power and authority to kill hardcore killers and criminals. Extraordinary extra-judicial power to kill criminals with impunity often backfires. As now we know, the RAB has killed many suspects and even innocent people in the name of “cross-fire”. Most importantly, there are examples of special forces turning into extortionists and criminal gangs themselves, in various countries.
Although some democratic countries around Bangladesh also condone extra-judicial killings by law-enforcers through so-called “encounters”, Bangladesh has no reason to consider them its role models. Since the “Spirit of Liberation” of Bangladesh was all about ensuring the freedom from fear, hunger, extortion, injustice and unaccountable governance, there is no room for any extra-judicial killing, military rule and one-party dictatorship in the country. Any extra-judicial killing irrespective of the victim’s race, religion, criminal background or political affiliation is an affront to the Constitution and the spirit of Bangladesh.
Since torture, death penalty and extra-judicial killing are not antidotes to violent crimes like murder and rape, extortion and sedition, there is no room for “end justifies means” type Machiavellian thoughts. Those having soft corner for extra-judicial killing must realise, the democratic world is fast abolishing death penalty as a mode of punishment for criminals. Human rights activists in general even consider death penalty as “judicial murder”. In sum, every life matters, and an extra-judicial killing is an extra-judicial killing, immoral, inhumane and unconstitutional.
Taj Hashmi teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University. Sage has recently published his latest book, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan
Protests in Lebanon Reflect the Disease Not the Cure
By John Bell
27 Aug 2015
Another set of political demonstrations has taken off in the Arab world. This time it is in Lebanon, where a summer of rubbish in the streets has triggered street riots reminiscent of Tahrir Square. No one knows what all this portends, some hope and dream of a Lebanon "whole", others dismiss the events or gaze at a conspiracy.
The Lebanese demonstrations come against a backdrop of a country without a president, and with a transitional government barely holding things together. Cabinet decisions cannot be made because of internal disputes over procedures and priorities, including appointments favouring one side or another. All is interlinked in a warp of self-interest, the drive for power and greed trumps clean streets and decency. Welcome to the future.
Before the rubbish issue, there was (and is) an electricity shortage, and wild uncontrolled speeding on the highways, missiles of death disguised as cars. The most basic of state functions is victim to favour, patronage, or the whims of local thuggery.
Indeed, in Lebanon, the state barely exists, it is hollowed out, weakened by narrow agendas, non-state actors and a Lebanese propensity to side with whatever local or regional group serves short term interest - or pays.
Real political change
The response to the mess has been street demonstrations. What else can the citizen do in such a morass? Many of the organisers and protesters are decent, serious people who want real political change. However, after half a decade of such events in the Arab world and elsewhere, there is a question around the efficacy of "the street" as a method.
Also read: How Lebanon's rubbish spurred a budding revolution
In Greece, the demonstrations rose to a very high pitch - before the government folded rapidly in the face of fiscal realities and an economic abyss. In Egypt, they led to a change of government  - and the return of the military, the ultimate establishment power.
In Syria, peaceful demonstrations were outmuscled by the ruthless Bashar al-Assad, and hijacked by extremists. There is indeed the serious risk of "hijack", of other powers taking advantage and filling the temporary void of protests that shake the system.
Tunisia is the only country that has seen some political evolution and a relatively coherent process. Can precarious Lebanon do the same? Those organising the demonstrations today may have all the right ingredients, but they face a well-entrenched and corrupt elite with many supporters. The latter are an underestimated problem: They are regular citizens with reflexes that maintain the status quo.
The reality may be that street demonstrations are more reflective of the disease than the cure. People get fed up and they signal loudly that something is wrong. However, there is a large gap between demonstration and the reform of political systems. The system may need a shock, but sustained and sustainable reform is the real game.
Demanding that vested interests create necessary space is fine, but voting them out may be more effective.
As Maya Baydoun, a Lebanese journalist, said: "The day that Lebanese youth start ridding themselves of worshipping their leaders and warlords, and start electing representatives based on merit not religion, then and only then will Lebanon become a developed country. In the meantime, what's going on is shallow protest and definitely not a revolution!"
Political habits
The larger problem here is one of political habits, at the top and the bottom. Culture diffuses in every direction, down, as well as up. A citizen unused to choosing wisely can go in many strange directions (eg, Donald Trump). This is where the real battle for the decent demonstrators lies: in long term change, and in changing the habits that created the problem.
In Lebanon, the context breeds distrust, and a short term mind-set. I remember a Lebanese woman railing against her leaders and their corruption. Not a minute passed before she told me that she would accept money to vote for x, y, or z. "Why not take advantage when they are," was her logic. Her mind had two separate compartments: how others should behave/how she should behave. The corruption diffuses in every direction, up, down, in, out; she is not a solitary case.
In 2005, the anthropologist Jared Diamond wrote a book called "Collapse - How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed." He explained how societies like the Khmer and the Mayan collapsed. He also mentions how Iceland and the southwest Pacific island of Tikopia were successful in meeting the challenges. Importantly, he indicates as keys to that success "long term planning and willingness to reconsider core values". Neither is happening in Lebanon.
What we may now be seeing is the collapse of Arab states under the combined brew of globalised economics, climate change, resource depletion, and corruption. There is a large mismatch between governance capacities and the challenges ahead. Today's problems may seem like nothing in the face of what's coming.
During my recent summer stay in Lebanon, road rage led to a car chase and a public murder in downtown Beirut. In another case, an army officer was killed point blank for no reason other than the untamed egos of young men. Rubbish piled up in the streets while the young and cool party on rooftops. Scenes from Blade Runner may no longer be as distant as they once seemed.
Stop favouritism and privilege
Lebanon may solve its rubbish crisis in the near future. It may even create a national dialogue to mitigate some of its problems. But, the desire to consume and survive, to forget, seems strong - the impulse for immediate gain may bury the future.
Is there a way out? The question is whether people are ready to pay the price for it, and forego something now for future gain. In Greece, despite the street noise, leaving the euro was not an option. So far, people prefer to pay the price of staying in, with the handcuffs that come with it.
In Lebanon, the price is to stop favouritism and privilege, get out of sectarianism, and out of the games of regional power. It's a decision to abide by the law, even when others don't. It's a tall order but it's the price of avoiding collapse, it's a "willingness to reconsider core values".
The option is there to change political culture, and pursue a sensible system where material and emotional needs of people are clearly met. But, it seems, leaders won't let the Lebanese do it - or they won't let themselves.
Old habits die hard, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step (maybe one step more than a street demonstration). If Iceland and Tikopia can do it, surely Lebanon can.
John Bell is director of the Middle East programme at the Toledo International Centre for Peace in Madrid. He is a former UN and Canadian diplomat and served as political adviser to the personal representative of the UN secretary-general for southern Lebanon and adviser to the Canadian government.
Child Marriage Law and Freedom of Choice
By M Niaz Asadullah and Zaki Wahhaj
August 29, 2015
The government of Bangladesh is presently contemplating a move that would permit girls to marry at 16 with parental consent and/or approval from courts. If the law is passed, it would mark the first occasion that the legal age of marriage has been lowered in the Indian subcontinent since the "Child Marriage Restraint Act" came into effect in 1929.
Despite significant progress in improving gender equality and declining poverty in recent years, Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage among girls in the world: two-thirds of women marry before the age of 18. The current law forbidding the marriage of minors (below the age of 18 for girls and 21 for boys) is frequently
ignored and rarely enforced.
The Bangladesh government argues that denying parents the legal mandate to marry off their daughters can, paradoxically, lead to a higher incidence of child marriage and create further social problems. The logic rests on the idea that with an increasing number of adolescent girls attending secondary school in rural areas and working in the industrial sector, they are more likely to encounter situations where they may be taken advantage of by men, pressured into sexual relationships or persuaded to elope. In traditional society, marriage provides social protection to girls against these threats and, therefore, the reasoning goes, denying parents the legal right to marry off daughters before 18, not only undermines parental agency but also increases the vulnerability of adolescent girl s. A junior health minister remarked last year that the government's proposals to modify the existing child marriage laws were a response to an increased 'tendency to elope' among girls, and 'pressure from rural areas'.
The Bangladesh State minister for Women and Children's Affairs is convinced that a lower age limit, combined with a harsher punishment for breaking the law would be easier to enforce and, ultimately, be beneficial for women. The bill under consideration would increase the maximum penalty from two months to two years in jail. The financial penalty for forcing children into marriage will be increased and changing the bride's official age using a notary public will be prohibited.
This is not the first attempt by the Bangladesh government to amend child marriage laws. Last year a bill was introduced in the parliament to lower the legal minimum age of marriage for women from 18 to 16.
Following strong opposition from both local activists and international organisations -- including Human Rights Watch -- the government announced last October that the legal minimum age of marriage for girls will remain at 18.
The modified bill currently under consideration was also criticized by human rights activists in Bangladesh on the occasion of International Women's Day earlier this month.
These repeated attempts to amend the law suggest that Bangladeshi lawmakers are genuinely concerned about the social challenges caused by the practice of child marriage and the laws governing such marriage. At the July 2014 Girl Summit in London, the government of Bangladesh made a commitment to revise the “Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929” by 2015 and eradicate marriage by girls below the age of 15 by 2021, which places it under added pressure from the international community to act on this issue.
Yet, its approach to and reasoning around the issue seems confused and, may ultimately be counter-productive. It is doubtful that increasing parental agency would improve the security of adolescent girls and lower the incidence of child marriage. In 2014, we completed the “Women's Life Choices and Attitudes Survey” (WiLCAS) that interviewed over 6,000 women aged between 20 and 39 years living across 64 districts of Bangladesh and hence provides a unique perspective to the debate.
About 83% of the married women in our survey had their marriages arranged by their parents or other relatives; 38% were married by the age of 15, and 77% by the age of 18. In response to the question 'what was the most important reason for the marriage?', only 3% mentioned 'parental concern about my physical safety'. By contrast, 72% answered that their 'parents felt it was too good a proposal to refuse'.
Only 14% of women in WiLCAS sample met their husbands without arrangement by their parents. These women were less likely to marry by age 15 (32%) than those who had arranged marriages (39%); and less likely to say that they 'would have preferred to delay their marriage'
(32%) than women who had arranged marriages (40%).
If we focus on women from more impoverished backgrounds in our WiLCAS sample – specifically those whose fathers owned less than half an acre of land and were either day-labourers or artisans – the patterns are very similar: a similar proportion met their husbands without the arrangement of their parents; these women were less likely to marry young and less likely to say that they 'would have preferred to delay their marriage'.
These figures contrast sharply with the narrative of the Bangladesh government that parents tend to marry off their daughters early out of concerns for their safety. Rather, it suggests that women who make their own choice of partners – which access to education and employment opportunities makes possible by providing increased social contact -- are prone to marry later, and more satisfied with their timing of marriage.
In justifying the present bill, the government has pointed out that that legal minimum age of marriage in most developed countries is below 18 years. But it is important to recognise that in most of these societies, arranged marriages are not the norm and the age of marriage is not dictated by social custom. Therefore, children and parents have greater capacity to exercise their agency on the issue. At the same time, functional courts, transparent birth and marriage registration system, life skills training at school, a culture of dialogue at home and child rights protection agencies at the community level further provide checks and balances to ensure that the legal right to marry young is not abused. In this setting, the legal sanction of early marry does not infringe on the human rights of adolescents.
These pre-conditions and institutions do not exist in Bangladesh. The country is consistently ranked at the bottom in cross-country ranking in terms of rule of law index. Lack of governance has undermined the credibility of all institutions including those that are supposed to provide checks to the practice of child marriage.
Our figures and reasoning suggest a different approach to the issue. It is not lack of parental agency, but the lack of agency among adolescent girls themselves which is the main source of their
vulnerability. Increased agency among adolescent girls regarding marriage decisions is likely to translate into delayed marriage. Furthermore, it is an important goal in its right, consistent with Amartya Sen's view of 'development as freedom'.
Therefore, any changes in child marriage law should aim to improve the capacity of adolescent girls to exercise their own choice rather than circumvent it.
M Niaz Asadullah and Zaki Wahhaj are Professor of Development Economics & Deputy Director of the Centre for Poverty and Development Studies (CPDS) at the University of Malaya and Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Kent, respectively.

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