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A Recently Translated Novel Lays Bare the Horrors of Assad’s Syria

July 14 2017

In his semi-autobiographical novel The Shell (originally published in Arabic in 2008), Mustafa Khalifa—who spent the years from 1982 to 1994 as a political prisoner in the notorious Tadmor prison—tells the story of a Syrian arrested and held prisoner on trumped-up charges. The book, writes Kyle Orton, is not only a powerful and moving account but also one that can be instructive to those in the West still enamored of the idea of partnering with Bashar al-Assad to defeat Islamic State (IS):

The notion that IS, a symptom of the war Assad started, could be treated with a narrow counter-terrorism strategy—in isolation from broader conflict—was always a fantasy. The recent collision between the coalition’s anti-IS war and the [Syrian] civil war is merely the intrusion of reality: it was one war all along. As the U.S.-led coalition was destroying the caliphate, it was parceling out territory to various contenders in Syria, changing the political and military balance in the wider war—mostly against the rebels, from which IS had taken most of its territory.

Still, for many Westerners, there is something that just doesn’t quite compute; Assad is a bad guy, [Westerners admit], but IS [is composed of] monsters! They drown people in cages and enslave Yazidis—medieval savagery that must surely be everybody’s priority. . . . The Shell helps break down this illusion [of a moral distinction] between a jihadist organization that revels in its brutality and a regime that proceeds in silence with a system of near-indescribable cruelty on a scale Islamic State cannot even dream of.

Khalifa’s protagonist, Musa, is living in Paris. Returning to his home country, he is picked up by the security services, tortured by being folded into a tire and caned on his feet until he passes out, and then thrown in a cell. Musa will remain in detention for the next thirteen years. Formally held, despite being an atheist of Christian background, as a suspected member of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, Musa will never be charged with any offense, and only finds out in the last few months of his captivity the trivial [crime] that landed him in prison.

Read more at Fathom

More about: Arabic literature, Bashar al-Assad, ISIS, Politics & Current Affairs, Syria, Syrian civil war

 

Why Cutting U.S. Funding for Palestinian “Refugees” Is the Right Move

Jan. 22 2018

Last week the Trump administration announced that it is withholding some of America’s annual contribution to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the organization tasked with providing humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees and their descendants. To explain why this decision was correct, Elliott Abrams compares UNRWA with the agency run by the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), which provides humanitarian aid to refugees who are not Palestinian:

One of [UNHCR’s] core missions is “ending statelessness.” [By contrast, UNRWA’s] mission appears to be “never ending statelessness.” A phrase such as “ending statelessness” would be anathema and is found nowhere on its website. Since 1950, UNHCR has tried to place refugees in permanent new situations, while since 1950 UNRWA has with its staff of 30,000 “helped” over 5 million Palestinian “refugees” to remain “refugees.” . . . UNRWA has three times as large a staff as UNHCR—but helps far fewer people than the 17 million refugees UNHCR tries to assist. . . .

The argument for cutting funding to UNRWA is not primarily financial. The United States is an enormously generous donor to UNHCR, providing just under 40 percent of its budget. I hope we maintain that level of funding. . . . The argument for cutting funding to UNRWA instead rests on two pillars. The first is that UNRWA’s activities repeatedly give rise to concern that it has too many connections to Hamas and to rejectionist ideology. . . .

But even if those flaws were corrected, this would not solve the second and more fundamental problem with UNRWA—which is that it will perpetuate the Palestinian “refugee” problem forever rather than helping to solve it. . . . [T]hat the sole group of refugees whom the UN keeps enlarging is Palestinian, and that the only way to remedy this under UN definitions would be to eliminate the state of Israel or have 5 million Palestinian “refugees” move there should simply be unacceptable. . . .

Perpetuating and enlarging the Palestinian “refugee” crisis has harmed Israel and it has certainly harmed Palestinians. Keeping their grievances alive may have served anti-Israel political ends, but it has brought peace no closer and it has helped prevent generations of Palestinians from leading normal lives. That archipelago of displaced-persons and refugee camps that once dotted Europe [in the aftermath of World War II] is long gone now, and the descendants of those who tragically lived in those camps now lead productive and fruitful lives in many countries. One can only wish such a fate for Palestinian refugee camps and for Palestinians. More money for UNRWA won’t solve anything.

Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Israel & Zionism, Palestinians, Refugees, U.S. Foreign policy, UNRWA