Tag Archives: Hope

A Prayer in the Time of Pandemic

8 Apr

A Prayer in the Time of Pandemic

 

Affirming spirituality as the power over life and death I aspire to achieve

this spirituality that is nothing other than the blending of love and mystery

cherishing wonder at a precarious precipice, respecting knowledge

prayer seemed a weakening of spirit, a reaching out to the void, pretending

that there was someone there ready to respond, a metaphysical crutch in times of need

evading the loneliness of being when that other in our dreams is silent when and if we awake

we need not, must not, give up hope against hope, as nadezdha mandelstam never did

we need not, must not, cling to promises that can’t be kept, pretending as paul did when

praising abraham as he “believed against hope in hope” taking the greatest risk

put more simply, still falsely, in hebrews 11:1-“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things

not seen,” the assurance invented to banish uncertainty burglarizes

truth, demeaning faith as mere submission to authority, as refusal to live life fully, as refusal of the enchantments of

uncertainty, instead of continuing up mountains to heights where justice dwells, climbing as the air thins, sustained by

love by starlight truly certain and real

 

yet we can lean to see and understand anew, pushed by the crisis of the earth to open eyes more widely, prayer will be

loosened from moorings of church and state, only then becoming truly sacred: so realized, prayer becomes fervent

hope, not needing to be uttered as if a cry of desperation no longer needing assurances or false promises, prayer

becomes love and attentiveness a stone thrown from land far out falling beyond sight in an ocean of uncertainty

 

yet not lacking courage to stare at bodies piling up in churches, morgues overflowing, funerals on hold, statistics

replacing stories so that suffering stays abstract, leaders standing stiffly almost at a loss for words for the first time

ever, yet uttering prime time moonshine language as addressing sheep, confusing optimism with hope, curbing

science and scientists, treating misinformation, market-driven and gut-generated as knowledge, even wisdom

 

yet we go on listening restlessly waiting for a few words exhibiting love uncertainty, losing patience with what we hear

nightly we turn inward for knowledge for wisdom for love and outward for love for friendship invisible communities all

over the planet bonded by these fervent hopes are gathering the strength to be ready for whatever comes tomorrow

and stand by this prayer

Iran’s Gulf Peace Proposal: HOPE

7 Oct

[Prefatory Note: My interveiw on the Hormuz Peace Endeavor (HOPE); Gulf Peace & Security—Javad Heiran-Nia (Oct 6, 2019), to be published in Farsi.]

 

1-President Rouhani, President of Iran, in his speech at the UN General Assembly depicts Iran’s plan for Persian Gulf security and sub-regional order. What is your assessment of this plan?

As I understand President Hassan Rouhani’s plan it concentrates upon regionalizing the protection of navigation and safeguarding of energy flows in the Persian Gulf with a particular emphasis on providing security for oil tanker traffic. The proposal comes against a background of months of warmongering threats, harsh sanctions, and dangerous incidents that pose unacceptable risks of provoking violent incidents, and even war. The Hormuz Peace Endeavor as set forth by Rouhani, with the brilliantly appropriate acronym of HOPE, relies upon, and proposes a regionalization of responsibility as the recommended method for upholding future peace and security, vesting exclusive authority for this new undertaking in countries with territories neighboring the Persian Gulf. To make the plan operative, and contribute to a broader stability, the Rouhani plan insists on the prior removal of U.S. military forces from the Gulf countries as a vital precondition. This is an understandable, and constructive, vital element in this innovative approach, yet it is likely to be such a major stumbling block as to make HOPE a non-starter. Such an outcome would be sad and discouraging, and it would be up to enlightened governments and an aroused public opinion to prevent this from happening.

In its most fundamental features, HOPE should be perceived as an initiative that contrasts with the American backed Alliance for Safety and Protection of Maritime Navigation (MESA). The suggested initial membership of MESA consists of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Australia, UK, and of course the US. MESA is an undisguised geopolitical alliance structure that presupposes the perpetuation, and even the aggravation, of present conflict patterns rather than proposing a scheme that looks toward reconciliation. The dominant members of MESA are global actors that have a colonial past in the Middle East, while its regional members are central players in the anti-Iran coalition. The contrasting visions of HOPE and MESA security for the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz could not be more divergent.

I agree with the motivations for the arrangement as outlined by President Rouhani in his speech to the General Assembly. It is structured in a manner that identifies security with peace, regional presence, and territorial proximity, and seeks both the exclusion of global geopolitics and a sidelining of sectarian tensions, which is to be achieved by the inclusion of the Sunni-led Gulf Cooperation Council GCC) in the administration of the plan. HOPE also favors giving the UN a supervisory and backup role, while showing respect for international law. As would be expected, MESA conspicuously ignores the UN and international law. I wish that political conditions allowed HOPE could become the framework for reducing tensions and establishing a Gulf peace system, which if successfully implemented would likely have additional stabilizing effects throughout the Middle East. HOPE could also set a valuable precedent for resolving other intra-regional conflicts non-violently, especially those rooted in legacies of colonial exploitatiion.

 Unfortunately, the initiative seems unrealistic at this time given the way geopolitics is being practiced in the region as epitomized by the ‘maximum pressure’ approach adopted by the Trump presidency, which includes unlawful sanctions inflicting severe hardships on the Iranian people. This shift to coercive diplomacy is also leading to the total breakdown of the 2015 JCPOA, which while operational, had met regional nonproliferation concerns until the provocative Trump unilateral withdrawal from the agreement in 2018.

The United States will doubtless refuse to remove its military presence from the Gulf, and will almost certainly be supported in that posture by several Arab governments, most notably Saudi Arabia, and by the non-Gulf state of Israel whose leverage in Washington should never be overlooked. In justification for this refusal it would be argued that without the military capabilities of the U.S. there could be a breakdown of internal order in several Gulf countries. This prospect point both to the crippling lack of self-confidence on the part of the monarchies on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf. It calls attention to the awkward reality that several of these government would likely collapse if not propped up by the American military presence.

The wider concern surrounds the widely held view that such an American disengagement from the Gulf would alter the regional balance of power throughout the Middle East. Further, it would be assumed that the new balance would swing in favor of Iran if the event U.S. agrees to end its military presence in the Gulf sub-region even if it does so gradually, and in a manner coordinated with the effective implementation of HOPE. Overall, such a process would undoubtedly contribute to peace and stability throughout the entire Middle East.

 

 2- The important point of this plan is to give the United Nations a supervisory role. This role did not exist in Iran’s earlier plans for the Persian Gulf. Why is such a role justified for the UN?

The UN role is essential and highly desirable, but would only become feasible in the event that it enjoyed the passive backing, that is, at least the absence of active resistance,  on the part of the United States and Saudi Arabia. For reasons set forth in the prior response, it seems wildly improbable to expect any acceptance of a UN role in relation to any proposal of the sort that Rouhani outlined so long as Donald Trump is the U.S. President. Even without Trump, there would likely be strong resistance in Washington, Riyadh, and Tel Aviv to the removal of American military forces. The UN could not undertake such a delicate mission without the genuine political backing of the Arab Gulf countries, and this cannot be obtained under current conditions without encouragement by the United States.

 

3-While the United States seeks to link Persian Gulf security to the Bab al-Mandeb Strait and the Shamat region, Iran believe that the security 0f Persian Gulf region is belong to this region. Linking Persian Gulf Security to Other Areas Doesn’t it complicate the region’s security issues?

 

The agreement is only understandable and constructive if limited in its scope to the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. Introducing other areas within the scope of the plan makes it even more unlikely to be seriously considered, much less politically capable of realization. An expanded ambition for HOPE introduces several complications into a setting that is already an almost impossible diplomatic impasse. Such broadening would also make opposition to the initiative seem more reasonable. Iran should maintain its advocacy of HOPE as the alternative to the kind of precarious situation that exists presently, which would likely deteriorate further if the counter-plan of MESA becomes operational.

 

4-The United States is working to make the issue of Persian Gulf security more international in the form of a maritime coalition and more countries entering the Persian Gulf. Iran, however, believes that regional security should be provided by regional countries, including the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council, along with Iran and Iraq. Which perspective will find the dominant aspect?

The underlying conceptual issue is whether to entrust the security of the Persian Gulf to an arrangement that relies on an accommodating initiative overseen by regionalgeopolitics rather than to continue the high-tension pressures exerted by globalgeopolitics. In the abstract such reliance makes great sense, but if the proposal is evaluated politically is seems situated more in the realm of utopianism rather than in the domain of pragmatic problem-solving, The political difficulty with a regional approach is the question of whether enough trust exists, or can be brought into being, to embark on a plan that so undermines the intrusive regional role of the United States and requires a highly unlikely show of national self-confidence by the Gulf monarchies. Any removal of the U.S. as military supporter of the conflictual status quo, as already suggested, would be fiercely resisted given the present atmosphere by at least Israel and Saudi Arabia, and maybe by others as well, including the UAE and Egypt.

It should be remembered that ever since World War II, and to some extent earlier, the West regarded control of the Persian Gulf and the region to be a high strategic priority. After World War I the region was effectively subject to the authority and administration the European colonial powers. This European security arrangement persisted until the U.S. displaced Britain and France in 1956 in the aftermath of the Suez Operation, which had the unexpected outcome of shifting global management of regional affairs from Europe to the United States.

The Carter Doctrine, as enunciated in 1980 in the context of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, made it clear that the United States was committing itself to recourse to  a major war, if necessary, to keep the Soviet Union from increasing its regional influence in ways that threatened Western control over access and supply lines associated with energy markets in the Gulf.

After the Cold War ended, the increasingly conservative American foreign policy establishment saw the Middle East as replacing Europe as the core of its global strategic ambitions, and interfered in the internal affairs of several countries believing it could solidify this ambition for regional hegemony in the Middle East by promoting regime change in countries that resisted its geopolitical policies in the region, centering on Gulf oil, Israeli security, and nuclear nonproliferation. The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 became another policy rupture that made the American homeland seems vulnerable to extremism that emanated from the Islamic world, although ironically its ally Saudi Arabia with which the U.S. had a Special Relationship was closely and visibly linked to this mega-terrorist while Iran, the supposed adversary, had no connection whatsoever. Nevertheless, the Middle East became a primary combat zone in the new American emphasis on global counterterrorism, which along the way produced the first battlefield without borders in human history, while hostility toward Iran was actually intensified.

The 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq shattered the viability of a Washington option to impose its political will on crucial Middle East countries beneath the banner of ‘democracy promotion,’ counter proliferation, and counterterrorism, but it didn’t transform alignments or give rise to any intention to disengage militarily, although there were significant shifts in tactics after the Iraq disaster. The failure in Iraq to produce a stable sequel to the autocratic rule of Saddam Hussein reminds us that the confrontation between Iran and the West can be traced back to the 1953 coup, notoriously engineered by the CIA. This epic instance of a regime changing intervention restored the Shah to power, displaced the democratically elected nationalist leader, Mohammed Mossadegh, from power 25 years later, handed out economic prizes to the largest American oil companies, reasserting colonialist priorities at the expense of Iran’s inalienable right of self-determination.  It also led to Islamic Republic, a total repudiation of both the internal and international goals of what had been hailed by Washington in 1953 as a great strategic victory.

This historical narrative suggests that for the United States to give HOPE a chance it would have to become willing to repudiate its approach to Gulf security maintained over the course of more than 60 years. Yet HOPE offers the region and Washington a new opportunity to realign its foreign policy with peace, justice, international law, and the authority of the UN. The plan outlined by President Rouhani should be further developed by the government in Tehran. It should be presented to the world as a serious and constructive proposal. As such it would constitute a formidable diplomatic challenge to the ways of war, threat, and risk that currently prevail and cannot end well. HOPE needs to win the struggle to convince world public opinion before it can expect to achieve the intended, highly desirable, diplomatic breakthrough. Such a result would be a great victory for those forces dedicated to peace, justice, and law, and not only in the Gulf.

 

 

 

Hope, Wisdom, Law, Ethics, and Spirituality in relation to Killing and Dying: Persisting Syrian Dilemmas

12 Oct

 

            In appraising political developments most of us rely on trusted sources, our overall political orientation, what we have learned from past experience, and our personal hierarchy of hopes and fears. No matter how careful, and judicious, we are still reaching conclusions in settings of radical uncertainty, which incline our judgments to reflect a priori and interpretative biases. As militarists tends to favor reliance on force to resolve disputes among and within sovereign states, so war weary and pacifist citizens will seek to resolve even the most extreme dire conflict situations by insisting on the potentialities of non-violent diplomacy.

 

In the end, even in liberal democracies most of us are far too dependent on rather untrustworthy and manipulated media assessments to form our judgments about unfolding world events. How then should we understand the terrible ongoing ordeal of violence in Syria? The mainly polarized perceptions of the conflict are almost certain to convey one-sided false impressions that either the atrocities and violence are the work of a bloody regime that has a history of brutal oppression or that this hapless country has become the scene of a proxy war between irresponsible outsiders, with strong religious sectarian overtones of the Sunni/Shi’ia regional divide, and further complicated by various geopolitical alignments and the undisclosed ambitions of the United States, Russia, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and others. Undoubtedly, the truth lies at some point between the two poles, with many ambiguities, undisclosed interferences, and assorted unknowns undermining our capacity to reach any ‘objective’ understanding, and leading many to discount the extremely dirty hands of all the major participants, seen and unseen, so as to permit a clear partisan position of being for or against.

 

The difficulties are even greater. If, in contrast, we seek to interpret the conflict from all angles with as much detachment as possible, the result is likely to be paralyzing so far as action is concerned. There is too much uncertainty, secrecy, and complexity to give rise to the clarity needed to shape policy with any confidence, and without confidence killing or allowing the killing to continue, no responsible conclusion can be reached. In effect, only over-simplification, that is, polarized interpretations, are capable of overcoming passivity, but at a high cost. Arguably, in relation to the Syrian maelstrom, passivity functions as a political virtue, or put differently, as the lesser of evils.  

 

In such a situation, assuming we repudiate proxy and geopolitical agendas as the desired bases for determining the future for Syria, what should we hope for? A rapid end of the violence, some sort of now unimaginable accommodation between the two (or many) sides in the struggle, a recognition by the various ‘interested’ third parties that their goals cannot be attained at acceptable costs, an abdication by Bashar al-Assad, an arms embargo uniformly enforced, the completely implausible emergence of constitutional democracy, including respect for minority rights. Merely composing such a wish list underscores the seeming hopelessness of resolving the situation in as acceptable manner, and yet we know that it will somehow be eventually resolved.

 

From the perspective of the Syrian factions and participants, so much of their own blood has been spilled, that it probably seems unacceptable and unreliable to be receptive at this point to any offer of reconciliation, and when the only hope is for either an unconditional victory for the self or the extermination of the other. And with such extremist attitudes, it is not surprising that the bodies keep piling up! What are we to do when every realistic trajectory adds to an outcome that is already tragic?

 

My approach in these situations of internal conflict has been to oppose and distrust the humanitarian and democratizing pretensions of those who counsel intervention under the alluring banner of ‘the responsibility to protect.’ (R2P) and other liberal rationales supportive of military intervention, what Noam Chomsky tellingly calls ‘military humanism.’ Yet in concrete situations such as existed in Kosovo in 1999, Libya in 2011, and Syria today, to counsel a passive international response to the most severe crimes against humanity and genocidal atrocities would seems to deny the most elemental ethical bonds of human solidarity in a networked, globalized world, bonds that may turn out in the near future to be indispensable if we are to achieve environmental sustainability before the planet burns us to a crisp.

 

            There are structural issues arising from the statist character of world order in the post-colonial era that make political choices in such situations of bitter internal conflict a tragic predicament. On the one side, is the statist logic that endows territorial governments with unconditional authority to sustain their unity in the face of insurgent challenges, a political principle given constitutional backing in Article 2(7) of the UN Charter, prohibiting UN intervention in internal conflicts. This statist logic is deeply confused and contradicted by legitimizing the inalienable and emancipatory right of self-determination conferred on every ‘people,’ and not on governments. In the background, as well, are the various non-Western collective memories, uniformly bad, of colonial rule, and wellfounded contemporary suspicions that humanitarian interventions, however described and unwittingly, represent attempted colonialist revivals, both ideologically and behaviorally.  

 

On the other side of the policy fence, there is an odd coalition of liberal internationalists who sincerely regard intervention as an essential tool for the promotion of a more humane world along with more cynical geopolitical strategists who regard conflict zones, especially where large oil reserves exist, as targets of opportunity for extending Western interests. Further, normative confusion arises from the drift of practice on the part of the UN that has been understood to vest in the Security Council unlimited competence to interpret the Charter as it wishes. (See World Court decision in the Lockerbie case, which coincidentally involved Libya) In this regard, the rhetoric of human rights has been used to circumvent the Charter limits restricting UN competence to address conflicts internal to states: for instance, the Security Council in 2011 authorized a ‘No Fly Zone’ for Libya that was immediately converted by the NATO intervenors into a de facto mandate for ‘regime change’; the whole undertaking was validated for most advocates of the broadened undertaking because it freed Libya from a murderous dictatorship; others approved, believing that the operation involved a proper invocation of the R2P norm, and still others endorsed the intervention on the basis of its supposed post-conflict state-building successes, avoiding chaos, and especially the rather impressive efforts to base the governance of Libya on democratic procedures. As the situation continues to evolve, there exists controversy as to how to assess the positive and negative aspects of post-Qaddafi Libya.

 

In evaluating our positions for or against a given intervention, should our sense of strategic motivations matter? For instance, the Kosovo intervention was at least partially motivated by the desire in Washington and among many European elites to show that NATO was still useful despite the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of the Soviet threat that generated the alliance in the first place. Do such strategic considerations matter if indeed the people of Kosovo were spared the kind of ethnic cleansing endured not long before by the people of Bosnia, culminating in the genocide at Srebrenica in 1995? Might it not be claimed that only when strategic incentives exist, will an intervention be of sufficient magnitude to be effective? In effect, altruism alone will not produce effective forms of humanitarian intervention. Does the existence of double standards matter? Certain crimes against humanity generate an interventionary response while others are overlooked, for instance, the persisting collective punishment of the people of Gaza. Should we drink from a glass that is only half full? The same question applies to the recent surge of criminal prosecutions under the authority of the International Criminal Court.

 

There are other ways of evaluating what has taken place. For example, should the consequences of intervention or non-intervention color our assessments of the policy choice? Let’s say that Kosovo evolves in a constructive direction of respect for human rights, including those of the Serbian minority, or in contrast, becomes repressive towards of its minority population. Do we, should we, retrospectively reexamine our earlier view on what it was preferable to do back in 1999? And finally, should we give priority to the postulates of human solidarity, what might be called ‘moral globalization,’ or to the primacy of self-determination as the best hope that peoples of the world have of achieving emancipatory goals, recognizing that the grand strategies of the geopolitical actors are indifferent, at best, and often hostile to such claims?

 

My argument reduces to this: in such a global setting we cannot avoid making disastrous mistakes, but to renounce the effort to find the preferred course of action, we should not withdraw from politics and throw up our hands in frustration. We can expose false claims, contradictions, double standards, and we can side with those who act on behalf of emancipatory goals, while not being insensitive to the complexity, and even contradictions, of ‘emancipation’ in many political settings. There are often ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ sides from the perspective of international morality, international law, and global justice, but not always. When all sides seem deeply ‘wrong’ as in Syria, the dilemmas for the engaged global citizen is heightened to the point where the only responsible posture may be one of humility and an acknowledgement of radical uncertainty. In such circumstances, the most salient moral imperative is to refrain from acts that are likely to intensify the violence, intensify suffering, and increase dying and klling. This may not be a heroic political posture, but it may offer the most constructive response to a particular mix of circumstances, minimizing prospects of further escalation.

 

            Finally, it is not very helpful to observe, ‘time will tell whether this was the best response.’ Perhaps, we can learn for the future about factors overlooked that might have altered our assessment, but our past decision was based on what we knew and perceived at that time, and should not be revised by taking account of subsequent developments. In some situations, such as the many struggles of oppressed and occupied peoples, it seems desirable to be hopeful even in the face of the realization that the eventual outcome could bring deep disappointment. We should, I feel, as often as possible be guided by our hopes and beliefs even when, as nearly always, we are confronted by the dilemmas of radical uncertainty. We should also do our best not to be manipulated by those media savvy ‘realists’ who stress fears, claim a convergence of benevolence and interests, exaggerate the benefits of military superiority, and especially in America serve as the self-appointed chief designers of exploitative patterns of geopolitically shaped security.

 

            With hope we can often overcome uncertainty with desire, and engage in struggles for a just and sustainable future that celebrates human potential for moral growth, political enhancement, and spiritual wisdom.

            Without hope we fall victim to despair and will be carried along with the historical current that is leading nation, society, civilization, species, and world toward catastrophe.

 We live in what can be described both as the Information Age and cope daily with information overload. We are supposed to shape policy on the basis of knowledge, yet when it comes to crucial issues such war/peace or climate change, we act and advocate without sufficient knowledge, or even ignore an informed consensus, and what is worse, we put aside law, ethics, and our spiritual sensitivities.

Finally, to think, act, and feel as a citizen pilgrim provides the necessary foundation for hope, and its two sisters, wisdom and spirituality.