Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Great Treks

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer 

Great treks often become the foundational myths of ethnic, religious or political nationalism. The Israelites fleeing slavery in Egypt to enter the Promised Land is the prototype of this type of saga. 

But think also of Puritans crossing the Atlantic to found their theocracy in the New World in the 17th century, or the Mormons, some two hundred years later, escaping persecution in the United States by moving to then-remote Utah.

Then there is the story of the Afrikaners leaving the Cape Colony in the mid-19th century to found republics in the interior of South Africa. And, a more recent example, there is the Long March of the Chinese Communists in the 1930s to regroup and eventually take power in that country.

The exodus from slavery in Egypt is the formative event in creating a sense of Jewish nationhood. After 40 years wandering in the desert, the Israelites conquered Canaan, beginning in the late 2nd millennium BCE, and the Bible justified such an occupation by identifying Canaan with the Promised Land, promised to the Israelites by God.

The Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth in Massachusetts were a group of English people who came to America seeking religious freedom during the reign of King James I. At first they moved to Leiden, Holland, where they remained for about ten years.

In September 1620 the group sailed to the New World where they hoped to make a new life in America. In time their colony flourished and lead the way to establishing religious freedom and creating the foundations of the democracy Americans enjoy today.

In 1844, reeling from the murder of their founder and prophet, Joseph Smith, and facing continued mob violence, thousands of Latter-Day Saints (better known as Mormons) threw their support behind a new leader, Brigham Young.

Two years later, Young led the Mormons on their great trek westward to the Rocky Mountains, a rite of passage they saw as necessary in order to find their promised land.

They crossed into the Great Salt Lake Valley in July 1848. For the next two decades, wagon trains bearing thousands of Mormon immigrants followed Young’s westward trail. By 1896, when Utah was granted statehood, the church had more than 250,000 members.

The Great Trek was a movement of Dutch-speaking colonists into the interior of southern Africa in search of land where they could establish their own homeland, independent of British rule. 

Their determination became the single most important element in the folk memory of Afrikaner nationalism.

The Voortrekkers, with their strong Calvinist faith, hoped to restore their economic, cultural and political unity. The only way open to them was to leave the Cape Colony. 

In the decade following 1835, thousands migrated into the interior, organised in a number of trek parties under various leaders, eventually forming the Orange Free State and South African Republic.

The Long March of 1934-35 was the 10,000-kilometre trek of the Chinese communists, which resulted in the relocation of their revolutionary base from southeastern to northwestern China and in the emergence of Mao Zedong as the undisputed party leader. 

The heroism attributed to them inspired many young Chinese to join the Communist Party during the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Somehow, Bosnia Manages to Hold it Together

By Henry Srebrnik, [Fredericton, NB] Daily Gleaner

Lawmakers in Bosnia-Herzegovina on Dec. 23 approved the formation of a new central government after 14 months of deadlock, raising hopes it will tackle reforms needed to become a European Union candidate country.

The EU sees this as opening the way “for renewed commitment of the political parties to allow for progress on the EU path of the country.”

Brussels currently considers the ethnically divided Balkan country as a potential candidate to one day enter the bloc, though French President Emmanuel Macron is opposed to further EU enlargement, maintaining that the bloc will need 20 years to deal with the continued fallout of the financial crisis in 2008.

Disagreements among Bosnia’s tripartite presidency of an Orthodox Serb, Catholic Croat and Muslim Bosniak over NATO integration had held up the formation of a government ever since election held in October 2018.

The parliament finally agreed upon Bosnian Serb economist Zoran Tegeltija as prime minister. The 58-year-old had previously served as finance minister in Bosnia’s autonomous Republika Srpska.

Despite that, the multi-ethnic polity remains dominated by nationalist rhetoric instead of moving toward rebuilding a country ravaged by three years of war that left at least 100,000 dead following the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

The Washington and Dayton Peace Accords of 1994-1995 that ended the Bosnian War created a consociational, or power-sharing, political system at the national level in the state, regulating relations between the Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Christian Serbs and Roman Catholic Croats, the three “constituent peoples.”

They politically organised a three-segmental society in which none of the segments has an absolute majority. Within this entity, the Serbs have their own unit, the Republika Srpska.

The remaining two groups were then joined in an entity known, confusingly, as the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This part of the country is further subdivided into cantons with either Bosniak or Croat majorities. 

Some cantons are ethnically mixed and have special laws to ensure the equality of all constituent people. However, Bosniaks predominate in the overall entity, to the displeasure of the Croats.
At the national level, the arrangements require proportional and parity representation of the three ethnic segments in the central legislative body.

All important decisions in the state parliament are made by consensus and by qualified or special majorities.

The presidency, as a three-person collective head of state, is formed by the principle of ethnic parity of the three groups; they are elected on separate ethnic lists.

Since most ethnic Croats and Serbs would prefer that their regions be joined to Croatia and Serbia, respectively, this complex agreement is overseen by a High Representative, an international civilian with authority to dismiss elected and non-elected officials and enact legislation.

Since this highly unstable state is organized on an ethno-nationalist ideological hegemony that recognizes mainly the three main ethnic groups, other forms of identity such as class and gender go unrecognized. This is also the case with other minority groups, such as Jews and Roma.

There is no civil society that transcends ethnic identity and even social unrest is redefined in these terms.

Ethnic tensions remain constant. Bosniaks who returned to the Srebrenica, Visegrad and Bratunac areas of Republika Srpska after fleeing during the 1990s war claim they were intimidated by noisy celebrations by Serbs on Orthodox Christmas Eve Jan. 6.

The Bosnian Serbs also celebrated “Statehood Day” on Jan. 9, the anniversary of the founding of their breakaway entity in 1992, even though the country’s Supreme Court has declared this illegal.

The ruling class consists of ethno-political power-entrepreneurs who operate mainly in their own interest, resulting in deep corruption, with those in power appropriating most of its wealth, while government services are often neglected.

Some 23 per cent of Bosnians are living at or below the poverty line. The country’s unemployment rate stands at more than 20 percent and young people are emigrating in search of the opportunities that politicians have failed to generate at home. 

Since 2013, more than 200,000 people have left Bosnia-Herzegovina. On the other hand, last Nov. 7 French President Emmanuel Macron described Bosnia and Herzegovina as a “ticking time-bomb” due to its “problem of returning jihadists” from the Middle East. Not a pretty picture.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Iran and America: What's Next?

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Pioneer Journal
Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force, a part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was killed in an American drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3, sending shockwaves through the Middle East.
What led up to this and how will it affect the situation in the Middle East?
The Islamic Republic and its proxies in Iraq and Lebanon have been, in the past two months, the target of massive demonstrations against the various Iran-backed militias, especially the Popular Mobilization Forces that virtually control Iraq. 

Iranian consulates have been burned even in the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in Iraq.
To deflect popular anger away from Iran, Tehran tried to goad the United States into action, via attacks in the Persian Gulf and against Saudi Arabia, and against U.S. forces, carrying out eleven attacks on American bases since October.

On Dec. 27, Kata’ib Hezbollah, a major militia in the larger pro-Iranian conglomerate, attacked an American base and killed an American contractor. The intention of this killing was presumably to push the United States into a retaliatory strike that would defuse the anti-Iranian demonstrations in Iraq.

But they didn’t foresee the level of retaliation – this was a step too far. U.S. President Donald Trump killed Soleimani as well as Kata’ib Hezbollah commander Abu Hadi al-Muhandis, together with 13 others, as they left Baghdad airport.

Apart from his military skills as a commander, Soleimani gained Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s esteem and trust. This put him in a unique position of power and influence, far above his official post. 

He positioned himself as a symbol of the revolution who worked tirelessly to promote Iran’s status as a regional hegemon. By implementing the “axis of resistance,” he established himself as the Supreme Leader’s top confidant.

Soleimani played an important role in developing the IRGC’s non-conventional conception of war, creating an extensive infrastructure, organized in flexible frameworks that corresponded to shifting local circumstances and changes in the nature of warfare. 

He expanded existing groups, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and, to a lesser extent, Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad into formidable war machines possessing hundreds of thousands of missiles and rockets.

He also transformed the Houthis into a deadly organization that keeps Yemen at war and poses a danger to Saudi Arabia.

Largely thanks to Soleimani, around 200,000 militia personnel are available to Tehran between the Iraq-Iran border and the Mediterranean Sea. These forces have accurate missiles, and good intelligence coverage across the area. His death is truly a blow.

Iran probably assumed that in a presidential election year, Trump would not dare risking a major war. 

The Iranians did not believe the U.S. would decisively respond, as Secretary of Defence Mike Pompeo had threatened. 

They had seen national security adviser John Bolton and other Iran hawks come and go and had judged Trump to be an isolationist. They miscalculated and were caught by surprise.

Iran would like to see a Democrat win the 2020 presidential election and may take steps to help secure that outcome. After all, “meddling” in American contests, if one is to believe the Democratic Party, seems to have become a favourite pastime of authoritarian regimes.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Why Did the U.S. Take Out Iran's Top General?

By Henry Srebrnik, {Saint John, MB] Telegraph Journal
Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani was killed in an American drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3, sending shockwaves through the Middle East.
Why did U.S. President Donald Trump take what many see as a provocative move? The reasons go back to many years of conflict between Washington and Tehran.
Since 1998 Soleimani had been a major player in this struggle, as the head of the Quds Force, the offensive arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the ideological arm of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Quds Force is part of the 125,000-strong IRGC, a paramilitary organization that answers only to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei. It is not part of 350,000-strong regular army.
The Guard oversees Iran’s ballistic missile program, has its naval forces shadow the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf, and includes an all-volunteer Basij force that thwarts dissent domestically with violence. It can potentially mobilise many hundreds of thousands of personnel.
Soleimani was key in expanding Iran’s influence through planning attacks or bolstering Tehran’s local allies.
He provided support to numerous militant groups in the region, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, the Houthis of Yemen, and the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq.
Soleimani helped President Bashar-al Assad of Syria turn back the forces trying to depose him in that country’s civil war, when he deployed upwards of 50,000 fighters to shore up Assad’s tottering regime.
Soleimani’s Iraqi Shia militias, which are integrated formally into the Iraqi security apparatus, have long been the real power in Baghdad. They consist of some 40 paramilitary groups capable of mobilizing 120,000 fighters.
Soleimani also used Iraq as a forward base to target a U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia and to deploy weapons in Syria and Lebanon.
These proxy wars, orchestrated by Soleimani, have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians throughout the Middle East, especially in Syria and Yemen.
Iran and the United States have been adversaries in one way or another since the coming to power of the Islamic regime in 1979.
But in recent years the animosity between them has heightened, particularly since Trump in May 2018 withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement, signed by his predecessor Barack Obama and five other countries in 2015. It was designed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Under the accord, Iran had agreed to limit its nuclear activities and allow in international inspectors. Many, however, asserted that Iran was continuing its program clandestinely.
Trump also imposed crippling economic sanctions on Iran as part of his campaign to exert “maximum pressure” on its regime.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran intensified over the past year. Last May, Washington accused Iran of masterminding attacks against six oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. After Iran shot down a U.S. drone near the Iranian coast, Washington maintained it was over international waters, but Iran said it was over its territory.
In September, drone and missile attacks damaged two key Saudi oil facilities. Both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia linked these attacks to Iran, although Tehran denied any involvement.
Late last month, rockets struck a U.S. base in Iraq, killing an American military contractor. It was the eleventh such attack on an American base in recent years.
In response, the United States bombed bases in Iraq and Syria controlled by Kataib Hezbollah, a unit of the Popular Mobilization Forces.
Pro-Iranian Iraqi demonstrators then converged on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and broke into its compound. Iraqi security officials did not try to stop them.
U.S. Secretary of Defence Mark Esper warned that the United States would pre-emptively strike pro-Iranian forces in Iraq and Syria should there be indications of further attacks.
Following Soleimani’s death, Tehran has announced it will no longer abide by the terms of the nuclear deal. In fact, Iran had begun rolling back key commitments in July.
Khamenei called for three days of mourning after the general’s death and appointed Soleimani’s deputy, Ismail Ghaani, as Soleimani’s successor. Iran also retaliated by firing missiles at two air bases housing American forces in Iraq.
One of Ghaani’s first duties will likely be to oversee whatever revenge Iran intends to seek for Soleimani’s death.