Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
At a Christian-Muslim conference in Geneva this week, participants agreed to build a network for "peace teams" to intervene in crises where religious differences are invoked as the cause of the dispute. The idea is that religious differences may not be the real problem in a so-called religious conflict, but rather a means to mobilise the masses in a dispute that actually stems from political or economic rivalries. (Photo: Coffins of two of 52 killed in al-Qaeda-linked attack last Sunday on a Baghdad church, 2 Nov 2010/Thaier al-Sudani)
If outside experts could help disentangle religion from the other issues, the argument goes, that could help neutralise religion's capacity to mobilise and inflame, in the hope of leading to a de-escalation of the crisis.
Is this idealistic? Maybe. However, given the number of crises throughout the world that have religion factored into the equation, it certainly seems worth the effort. Many of these conflicts are not simply battles between religious fanatics, as they may be presented, but calculated agitation by one group against another, usually for political or economic advantage. Some smokescreens are easy to see through, others almost impenetrable.
In his speech to the conference, Jordanian Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal sketched out the problem facing religious experts who undertake such peace missions. "Before considering what to do and how to do it, we are faced with a series of complex social, political and religious puzzles which we must fully understand in order not to make things worse," he said.
A little over a year ago, then-Baghdad Bureau Chief Dean Yates, my former boss, wrote an entry on this blog entitled ‘Is the war in Iraq over?’
Before he wrote it, Dean went to a famed Baghdad park to take the pulse of ordinary Iraqis, who were then cautiously venturing out to public places for the first time in years, a tentative sign that Iraq was finally emerging from height of the violence unleashed by the 2003 invasion.
A spate of bombs targeting churches in Baghdad this week has Iraq's minority Christian community trembling at the prospect of being the next victim of militants trying to reignite war.
Iraqi Christians, one of the country's weakest ethnic or religious groups, have usually tried to steer clear of its many-sided conflict. For the most part, they manage.
from The Great Debate UK:
-Tim Cocks is a Reuters correspondent based in Baghdad.-
For the U.S. military, it's the million dollar question -- or rather the $687 billion question, according to a recent estimate of the Iraq war's total cost. Is Iraq now stable enough for them to take a permanent back seat?
The short answer is no one knows. The only way they were ever going to find out was to leave Iraq's own forces to it and hope the whole thing doesn't come tumbling down. They started doing that on Tuesday when they pulled out of Iraqi cities.
It started with "assalaamu alaykum" and ended with "may God's peace be upon you." Inbetween, President Barack Obama dotted his speech to the Muslim world with Islamic terms and references meant to resonate with his audience. The real substance in the speech were his policy statements and his call for a "new beginning" in U.S. relations with Muslims, as outlined in our trunk news story. But the new tone was also important and it struck a chord with many Muslims who heard the speech, as our Middle East Special Correspondent Alistair Lyon found. Not all, of course -- you can find positive and negative reactions here. (Photo: Iraqi in Baghdad watches Obama's speech, 4 June 2009/Mohammed Ameen)
Among Obama's Islamic touches were four references to the Koran (which he always called the Holy Koran), his approving mention of the scientific, mathematical and philosophical achievements of the medieval Islamic world and his citing of multi-faith life in Andalusia. These are standard elements that many Islam experts -- Muslims and non-Muslims -- mention in speeches at learned conferences, but it's not often that you hear an American president talking about them.
In 2003, when U.S. troops stormed into Baghdad and the statues of Saddam Hussein were pulled down, I think I must have been elated like many other Iraqis. Today, after the six years of bloodshed and slaughter set off by the U.S. invasion, it’s hard to remember that feeling, which must have been one of enormous relief and joy. Instead I am left with mixed emotions, grateful that the horror of Saddam’s rule ended but also deeply saddened by the horrors that followed his fall.
I was eager to live in an Iraq without Saddam. I always hated his brutal rule of Iraq. He had taken us into wars in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed. Iraqis might also easily face death if they spoke out against Saddam or criticized his government. But if you kept your mouth shut and did not join any political party other than his now outlawed Baath party, you most probably would have been left alone.
When Saddam was ousted by the invasion, and Baghdad fell to U.S. troops on April 9, 2003, I thought then that Iraq would finally be at peace after a long period of tough times. I never imagined what followed. It never crossed my mind that tens of thousands would be slaughtered simply for being a Shi’ite Muslim or a Sunni, the two Islamic sects in Iraq. Millions would flee their homes. And that bombs laid by insurgents would mow down thousands more.
I sometimes wondered why did we get rid of Saddam if the killing continued, although for different reasons?
The violence has begun to ebb, but still my relatives and friends are scattered to the winds.
As an Iraqi journalist I have explored the social impact of war on my country. I have interviewed orphans and widows, and people whose limbs were blown off by bombs. It has left my heart full of more pain than I ever thought it could bear.
I have also seen Iraq, amid the violence and fear, embrace new freedoms in politics and also in life: we have cellular telephones and satellite television, both restricted or banned in Saddam’s time. Saddam’s government had long lists of forbidden items. One of them was satellite television. Anyone caught watching international news shows could be sent to prison for six months.
It is clear to me that Iraqi society would not have been allowed to develop had Saddam remained in charge. Now despite the dark years that have passed, we can at least cling to hopes of better times. We have a parliament that we elect, and not one-man rule.
This week, an Iraqi appeals court reduced to one year a three-year prison sentence handed to an Iraqi journalist who dared to throw his shoes at former U.S. President George W. Bush. I was impressed and had to raise my hat to the independence of the judiciary. I asked my parents what they thought the journalist’s sentence would have been had he committed the same offence during Saddam’s times. My mother answered: “He would not only have been executed without trial but all of his family would have been erased from the Iraqi map.”
By Aws Qusay
I’ve long since told my family to stop phoning me in a panic
every evening when they don’t know where I am.
I’m not dead, I’m in traffic.
I live just 15 km from the Reuters office in Baghdad. But
nowadays, with the Iraqi capital divided into countless
mini-cities by concrete slabs and roadblocks, my commute across
town usually takes two and a half hours, sometimes three.
Traffic barely moves at all.
I still remember what my father-in-law told me that fateful day in 2003, as we sat riveted by the sight of American soldiers on television pulling down the iconic statue of Saddam Hussein from its pedestal in a Baghdad square.
My father-in-law, whose brother had fled Iraq after being jailed for a few days after Baathists took the power in 1969 and who was never a Saddam supporter, was reflective.
As soon as my plane landed in Baghdad airport earlier this month, I was struck by how much appeared to have changed since I left in March after more than three years’ reporting in Iraq.
Flights were landing from across the Middle East — Beirut, Amman, Damascus and Dubai — bringing many Iraqis back home after the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday.
In downtown Beirut, resurrected from the rubble of the 1975-90 civil war, one is spoilt for choice of smart restaurants, trendy bars and lively clubs. Performances by sexy Lebanese divas and belly dancers contribute generously to Lebanon’s gross domestic product by attracting Gulf Arab tourists enchanted with Lebanese talent and beauty — not necessarily in that order.
There is isn’t a single international designer who has not found his or her way to Beirut’s elegant boutiques and jewellery shops. On the other hand, Lebanese designers such as Elie Saab are dressing Hollywood stars these days.