The Great Debate UK

from Paul Smalera:

What real Internet censorship looks like

Lately Internet users in the U.S. have been worried about censorship, copyright legalities and data privacy. Between Twitter’s new censorship policy, the global protests over SOPA/PIPA and ACTA and the outrage over Apple’s iOS allowing apps like Path to access the address book without prior approval, these fears have certainly seemed warranted. But we should also remember that Internet users around the world face far more insidious limitations and intrusions on their Internet usage -- practices, in fact, that would horrify the average American.

Sadly, most of the rest of the world has come to accept censorship as a necessary evil. Although I recently argued that Twitter’s censorship policy at least had the benefit of transparency, it’s still an unfortunate cost of doing global business for a company born and bred with the freedoms of the United States, and founded by tech pioneers whose opportunities and creativity stem directly from our Constitution. Yet by the standards of dictatorial regimes, Internet users in countries like China, Syria and Iran should consider themselves lucky if Twitter’s relatively modest censorship program actually keeps those countries’ governments from shutting down the service. As we are seeing around the world, chances are, unfortunately, it won’t.

Consider the freedoms -- or lack thereof -- Internet users have in Iran. Since this past week, some 30 million Iranian users have been without Internet service thanks to that country’s blocking of the SSL protocol, right at the time of its parliamentary elections. SSL is what turns “http” -- the basic way we access the Web -- into “https”, which Gmail, your bank, your credit card company and thousands of other services use to secure data. SSL provides data encryption so that only each end point -- your browser and the Web server you’re logging into -- can decrypt and access the data contained therein.

By blocking SSL, Iran has crippled Tor, a program that enables Internet users to anonymize not just their content but their physical location as well. Tor is a very common workaround for users in totalitarian regimes to access Twitter, Gmail, Facebook and other services. It’s hard to come up with an apt analogy for Iran’s unprecedented blockage -- it’s not just that the letters you send are read by the Post Office and photocopied for their records, it’s that the Post Roads themselves have been closed off, so you can’t even send a letter in the first place. That’s the net effect of blocking SSL in Iran.

from The Great Debate:

What does Iran want?

Dennis Ross, until recently in charge of Iran in the Obama White House, has outlined why he thinks strengthened sanctions have created an environment in which diplomacy may now work to block Tehran's development of nuclear weapons. At the same time, it is being reported that Iran has finally responded to a European Union letter requiring that renewed talks focus specifically on ensuring that the Iranian nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.

These are important developments, but they leave out half the equation. What can Iran hope to get from nuclear talks with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China -- plus Germany? Iran will certainly seek relief from sanctions, which have become truly punishing. But they will want more.

from Afghan Journal:

America in Afghanistan until 2024 ?

The Daily Telegraph  reports that the status of forces agreement that the United States and Afghanistan are negotiating may allow a U.S. military presence in the country until 2024 .  That's a full 10 years beyond the deadline for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops and handing over security responsibilities to Afghan forces.

The negotiations are being conducted under a veil of security, and we have no way of knowing, at this point at least, if the two sides are really talking about U.S. troops in the country for that long. ( The very fact that a decade after U.S. troops entered the country there is no formal agreement spelling out the terms of their deployment is in itself remarkable)

from FaithWorld:

Concern about Islamists masks wide differences among them

holding up korans

(Hamas supporters hold up copies of the Koran at a protest in Gaza City December 26, 2010/Mohammed Salem)

Part of the problem trying to figure out what Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood or Tunisia's Ennahda party would do if they got into any future power structure in their countries is knowing what kind of Islamists they are. The label "Islamist" pops up frequently these days, in comments and warnings and (yes) news reports, but the term is so broad that it even covers groups that oppose each other. Just as the Muslim world is not a bloc, the Islamist world is not a bloc.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Wikileaks on Pakistan

iran pakistanIn the State Department cables released by Wikileaks and so far reported, the most eye-catching as far as Pakistan is concerned is a row with Washington over nuclear fuel.

According to the New York Times, the cables show:

"A dangerous standoff with Pakistan over nuclear fuel: Since 2007, the United States has mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove from a Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device. In May 2009, Ambassador Anne W. Patterson reported that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts because, as a Pakistani official said, “if the local media got word of the fuel removal, ‘they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons,’ he argued.”

from The Great Debate:

America, Iran and a terrorist label

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Who says that the United States and Iran can't agree on anything? The Great Satan, as Iran's theocratic rulers call the United States, and the Islamic Republic see eye-to-eye on at least one thing, that the Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) are terrorists.

America and Iran arrived at the terrorist designation for the MEK at different times and from different angles but the convergence is bizarre, even by the complicated standards of Middle Eastern politics. The United States designated the MEK a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997, when the Clinton administration hoped the move would help open a dialogue with Iran. Thirteen years later, there is still no dialogue.

from Global News Journal:

Iran’s Ahmadinejad tells UN capitalism’s dying

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a U.N. General Assembly session on poverty this week that capitalism is on the verge of death and that it's time for a new economic system.

"The discriminatory order of capitalism and the hegemonic approaches are facing defeat and are getting close to their end," Ahmadinejad said at a summit meeting assessing progress on achieving U.N. goals to drastically reduce poverty by 2015.

from The Great Debate:

The U.S. war in Iraq is over. Who won?

The end of America's combat mission, after seven and a half costly years, has raised questions that will provide fodder for argument for a long time to come: Was it worth it? And who, if anyone, won?

It's too early to answer the first question, according to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a man of sober judgment. "It really requires a historian's perspective in terms of what happens here in the long run ... How it all weighs in the balance over time remains to be seen."

from Afghan Journal:

Saving Afghanistan from its neighbours

(A view of the tent in Kabul where the jirga will be held.Reuters/ Ahmad Masood

(A view of the tent in Kabul where the jirga will be held. Reuters/Ahmad Masood

Walking into a giant tent at the foothills of Kabul, you are conscious of the importance of jirgas throughout Afghanistan's troubled history.  These assemblies of tribal elders have been called at key moments in the country's history  from whether it should participate in the two World Wars to a call for a national uprising against an Iranian invasion in the 18th century.

Next week's jirga is aimed at building  a national consensus behind Afghan President Hamid Karzai's effort to seek a negotiated settlement of the nine year conflict now that the Taliban have fought U.S. and NATO forces to a virtual stalemate and the clock on a U.S. military withdrawal has begun.

from Global News Journal:

Volcano chaos: A pointer to potential Iran/Gulf smoke disruption?

volcanoAs if they didn’t have enough to think about, planners trying to pin down the unintended consequences of a strike on Iran may be required to reorder their lengthy worry list.

The concern? Iceland’s volcano, or rather, the vivid reminder the exploding mountain provided to governments of the importance of civil emergency planning.

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