Friday, May 26, 2017

French Communist Office: “Does Anyone Live Here Anymore?”

French Communist Office: “Does Anyone Live Here Anymore?”
                                                                                   Saeed Naqvi

Imagination conjures up sounds of the organ as I stand in the shadow of that brooding architectural wonder. It feels like I am at a service for the repose of the dead.

I am brought back suddenly, as in an abrupt Bunuel sequence, by a bearded, kindly looking receptionist, directing me almost in slow motion, towards the elevator to the fifth floor where Laurent Perea, from the International Department of the French Communist Party, a tall, burly man, ushers me into a room, which overlooks a terrace with puddles and bird dropping and torn awnings.

Intimations of mortality are not in the DNA of political parties – unlike, human beings. When the great Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer, builder of Brasilia, set about diligently building the iconic headquarters of the Communist Party of France, from 1967 to 1981, he was firmly in possession of the party’s self-esteem. The great Georges Marchais was the party General Secretary towards the end of the architectural enterprise. The nine floor giant arc, dominates Place du Colonel Fabien, a legendary figure of French resistance against the Nazis. Nearby, to this day surprisingly, is the Stalingrad square.

Faded associations came alive suddenly when the Left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, sprinted so fast on the straight that he found himself among the top four candidates. He was a rank outsider. And yet, 600,000 more votes and he would have been among the two candidates for the crucial run-off. French history could have taken a turn.

Well, the cookie crumbled differently. A 39 year old Emanuel Macron mostly old wine in a new, opaque bottle, won. He heads a movement, En Marche, March Forward but does not have a party. Come the critical June 10, elections to the 577 member National Assembly, all the defeated parties with residual cadres will rush to help Macron block Marine Le Pen, who does have motivated cadres in the drill for tar right politics.

To use a football image, does Melenchon have to be “marked” in the assembly elections? He is fielding candidates in most of the constituencies. Most people outside France appear not to have registered a cardinal point: French Communist Party is also running helter skelter to field as many candidates as Melenchon.

How have cooperative relations during the Presidential election given way to conflict? There are deep differences in interpreting the mandate. Melenchon believes that the 19.6 per cent vote he received as Presidential candidate, should be credited to him. The party places some of the credit at the door of its cadres.

It is a complicated tussle. Let me explain. There are, for instance, 101 “departments” – a department is greater than a district and smaller than a state.

Laurent Perea, who greeted me on the fifth floor, happens to be the Mayor in Dordogne which has four assembly seats. Melenchon insists his influence in Dordogne is paramount and therefore all four seats must go to him. CPF says they should split two seats each. At this level of bickering, talks between Melenchon and CPF collapsed last week.

The appeal of Melenchon, like that of Pablo Iglesias of Podemos in Spain, comes not from having timidly followed some party discipline but for pitching it audaciously for unambiguous change, within the left framework but innovatively, without being hemmed in by rules.

In the Indian context, if, say Kanhaiya Kumar, President of the JNU union, were to break loose from the CPI affiliations, he would have the Pablo Iglesias-Melenchon potential. By universal consent, Melenchon is the best speaker in French public life. Kanhaiya Kumar, likewise, has left even right wing audiences mesmerized by this oratory.

Rather than stride along the straight and narrow, Melenchon projected himself as a friend of the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela; he incorporates into his rhetoric Cuba, the Bolivarian revolution. While the romance was on, CPF tolerated Melenchon’s Bolivarian flourishes. But today the comrade from Pondicherry, P. Dassardane openly chastises President Maduro’s “dictatorship”. Forgotten are the “machinations of US imperialism” against the Venezuelan revolution.

With this level of hostility between the party and the candidate, even their respective sympathizers are not expecting more than a handful of members in the Assembly.

If Melenchon ends up with respectable double digit figures in the House, it will be to the credit of La France Insoumise or Unbowing France which he launched late last year. The one lakh CPF membership was called into urgent session to consider the critical issue: should CPF support Melenchon? Party Secretary General, Pierre Laurent threw his vote behind Unbowing France. Never did he suspect that it was “Unbowing” Melenchon the party was supporting.

Should Melenchon zoom ahead of the party which once supported him, Pierre Laurent will, from the loneliness of the Secretary General’s room, once occupied by Marchais, contemplate the future of the party and the building.

Mirza Rafi Sauda’s description of a deserted palace, shares the mood of Shelley’s Ozymandias.

Sauda describes a voice echoing through the corridors:
“Does anyone live here anymore?”

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Tips For Trump As He Meets Muslim Leaders in Riyadh

Tips For Trump As He Meets Muslim Leaders in Riyadh
                                                                           Saeed Naqvi

On May 21, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Sultan has organized a Muslim Jamboree for President Trump. He will thereby attempt to demonstrate that the entire Sunni world is under Saudi influence.

Trump should check a few facts himself. He should walk across to some of the leaders – Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, for instance.

Sharif will say that he is of Sunni persuasion but he leads a country with various sects of Muslims, including a 20 percent Shia population.

Mohammad bin Sultan will have his ears cocked when he learns that Pakistan’s ex army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif, who now heads the Saudi sponsored Islamic forces in Riyadh, has grown up on Pakistan army’s battle cry “Naaraye Haideri: Ya Ali, Ya Ali”. The very name of Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law and the First Imam of the Shias, is anathema to the Wahabi creed.

Trump may find all of this instructive.

Many in Trumps entourage would have internalized a fallacy that the Saudis are the leaders of the world’s Sunnis. This is far from the truth. Yes, the Saudis are forging and leading an anti Iran front. Saudis are followers of an 18th century extremist Muslim reformer Abdel Wahab. This is quite distinct from leading the Sunnis. Abdul Wahab’s followers include people like Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and Takfiris for whom almost any other sect is an apostate.

When Mohammad Morsi was ousted from the Presidentship of Egypt by the army strongman, Abdel Fatah al Sisi, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, rewarded Sisi with eight billion dollars (and more to follow).

Morsi represented the hard core, Muslim Brotherhood which is something of a nightmare for the Saudis. Thereby hangs a tale. Almost synchronizing with Islamic Revolution which brought the Ayatollahs to power in Iran, happened an even more dramatic event which traumatized Saudi society for years to come but which they pushed under the carpet. Indeed, reverberations from that event explain a great deal of Saudi nervousness to this day.

On November 26, 1979, Juhayman al-Otaybi, a Saudi religious activist and militant, a creature of the Muslim Brotherhood like formation, along with 400 men seized the Grand Mosque at Mecca to protest against the corruption and decadence of the Saudi Monarchy. The siege lasted two weeks. Pakistani, French and US Special Forces had to enter the mosque to flush out the militants. This led to a piquant situation. US and French officers temporarily converted to Islam to be able to enter the great mosque. Trump will be amused by this story.

Far from leading the Sunni world, Saudis are mortally afraid of diverse Sunni schools, most specifically the Ikhwanul Muslimin or the Muslim Brotherhood, which has considerable grassroots support in countries like Egypt and Turkey and the Hamas in Gaza and numerous other societies.

By accentuating the Sunni-Shia divide the Saudis hope to redirect Sunni sentiment against Shiasm and Iran. It wants the Shia-Sunni faultline to supercede the Wahabi-Sunni conflict. The Saudi monarchy’s yen for western razzle dazzle must be downplayed in opposition to austere, Sunni egalitarianism. It does not want the Otaybi phenomenon ever to resurface again. Opposition to Iran is strategic; fear of Otaybi visceral. Remember Wahabi Riyadh and Shia Iran were once twin pillars of western interests in West Asia when the Shah ruled Iran. The Shah never challenged the Saudi monarchy. The Ayatollahs, like the Muslim Brotherhood, consider monarchies unIslamic.

The recent skirmish across Iranian and Pakistani Baloch territories is an extension of Shia-Sunni conflict the Saudis are working overtime to expand. This has the potential of throwing the monkey wrench in the China-Pakistan economic corridor, a key element in China’s One Belt-One Road mega initiative. That ten Iranian soldiers were killed is a serious matter. The Iranian army chief’s warning against further Saudi provocation, cannot be ignored. Unless the Saudis mend their ways, “Mecca and Medina are the only cities that will survive” should an Iranian retaliation become necessary. Tehran seldom speaks in such intemperate tones. Saudi Defence Minister (he is the virtual ruler) Mohammad bin Sultan, claiming ownership of a Pakistani cross border military action is also extraordinary. Whether this displays Saudi design or desperation only time will tell. But what a pathetic mercenary role Pakistan is being assigned in this exchange? If it does not flinch from this game it will get burnt again. Pakistan set up hundreds of Madrasas as hatcheries to help American defeat the Soviets and assist Saudis to nurture Wahabized Mujahideen as a bulwark against Iran. Then in October 2001, US began air strikes in Afghanistan. Gen. Musharraf was forced to join the War against exactly the assets Pakistan had helped nurture. Pakistan is still paying a heavy price. The blow back from that “betrayal” continues.

The difficulty with the Shia-Sunni divide, the Saudis (and Israelis) are trying to delineate, cannot be gauged arithmetically.

When an aggressively communistic offshoot of the Ismaili Shias, the Qarmatians, ruled vast territories from Yemen, Southern Iraq (Kufa), Syria, Bahrain for over a 150 years, beginning in 899 CE, they left behind a culture, traces of which can still be found in, say, Bahrain, a unique country where 70 percent of its Shia population is treated as the opposition by the Sunni rulers. Trump should know that the Bin Khalifas ruling Bahrain have minimal loyalty among the population. Likewise, Mansur Hadi who lives largely in Riyadh under Saudi protection but claims to be the President of Yemen, has a huge question mark on his legitimacy.

Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Pakistan have large and very influential Shia populations. Moreover, the Sufis, turning to Ali for inspiration, have permeated Sunni enclaves extensively.

Fatimids, a sect of Shias ruled a vast empire in North Africa from Tunisia. They founded Cairo in 969 AD. A common saying in Cairo to this day is: “Suuna bil Deen; Shia bil Hawa”, which means Sunni by belief but Shia by culture. Indeed, their rule extended to Sicily. Palermo, Sicily’s capital, was once witness to Moharram processions.

A bequest from the Begums of Oudh (Lucknow) since the 19th century financed scholars in Najaf and Karbala which the Indian government discontinued only when Saddam Hussain came into conflict with Shias in Southern Iraq. The Shia expanse cannot be minimized even by the propaganda machine at Saudi disposal. This Trump should note.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Fair Is Foul And Foul Is Fair In Syria

Fair Is Foul And Foul Is Fair In Syria
                                                             Saeed Naqvi

Like Henry Kissinger, New York Times columnist, Thomas L Friedman, belongs to a growing tribe of strategists who insist that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been overshadowed, indeed overwhelmed, by a much bigger, Shia-Sunni faultline.

Even though Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 hijackers, Wahabism, Salafism, are all traced to Saudi Arabia, the US, Israel and the West in general have developed a high comfort level with Saudi Arabia regardless. In this framework, the West has placed the Shia world in opposition to it.

Was it always like this? Consider this recent historical perspective.

“As we approach the season of the Nobel Peace Prize, I would like to nominate the spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiites, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, for this year’s medal.” The recommendation came from NYT ace columnist, Friedman. For emphasis, he added: “I’m serious.”

This was in 2005. Friedman, was “in” with George W. Bush. In ecstatic pieces for the world’s most powerful newspaper, the NYT, he repeatedly described the occupation of Iraq as history’s greatest effort at democratization.

Americans had come against Saddam Hussain, a tough Baathist and atheist by belief and a manufacturer of weapons of mass destruction. Remember Saddam invoked “Allah” for political mobilization only after the 1992 operation Desert Storm. He had Allah o Akbar inscribed on an otherwise secular emblem as an afterthought.

The eclipse of Saddam brought great relief to Shias in the South – around the holy cities of Najaf, Karbala and oil rich enclaves neighbouring Basra. For the first time the world realized that Shias were an overwhelming majority in all of Iraq.

A triangular situation had emerged – the occupying Americans, Sunni (plus Kurdish) minority and the Shia majority. The Shias, led by Ayatollah Sistani, played a straight political hand. Once occupation had taken place, he encouraged the occupiers against his tormentor, Saddam Hussain.

That is when Friedman was moved to write:
“If some kind of democracy takes root here (Iraq), it will also be due in large measure to the instincts and directives of the dominant Iraqi Shiite communal leader, Ayatollah Sistani.”

“It was Sistani who insisted that the elections not be postponed in the face of the Baathist-fascist insurgency. And it was Sistani who ordered Shiites not to retaliate for the Sunni Baathist and Jihadist attempts to drag them into civil war by attacking Shiite mosques and massacring Shiite civilians.”

Friedman proceeded to compare the Ayatollah with other icons who helped bring democracy to their respective countries – Nelson Mandela and Mikhail Gorbachev.  The quality of democracy that obtains in Russia, Iraq and South must be left for Friedman to applaud.

Rightly or wrongly, Friedman extrapolated from his experience in Iraq. This is at a variance from the fraud Bush’s Defence Secretary, Dick Cheney sought to perpetrate on April 9, 2003, when he had the marines pull down Saddam Hussain’s state at Firdous square and attributed the event to a popular uprising.

Friedman zigzagged along shifting convictions, until by August 2015, he began to show the first signs of tolerating something so totally different from Sistani as to take one’s breath away. In a conversation with Barack Obama he appeared to be nodding agreement on a kind of positive ambiguity about the ISIS.

Sudden and exponential growth of the Islamic State was something of a mystery. It is in the nature of the post colonial media that the views of Developing country elites particularly in the Arab world (except allies like Saudi Arabia, other GCC countries and Jordan) never get reflected in the media. How did the elites in Iraq, Oman, Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Iran and other Muslim countries view the IS phenomenon. Without exception, they described it as an American, French, British, Saudi, Qatari and Turkish cooperative effort. I know first hand. Ask the ambassadors in New Delhi.

If this is what they thought, why were they silent? They were not silent, but their protestations were ignored by the global networks. So hopelessly one sided is the global media, that even shining stars of independent journalism like Seymour Hersh and Robert Fisk are killed by a simple trick of being ignored.

Writing on Donald Trump’s proposed visit to the centres of semitic religions, Riyadh, the Vatican and Jerusalem, Fisk satirically speculates: “Trump will be able to ask Netanyahu for help against the IS without – presumably – realizing that Israel bombs only the Syrian army and the Shia Hezbollah in Syria but has never – ever – bombed IS in Syria. In fact, the Israelis have given medical aid to fighters from Jabhat al Nusra which is part of Al Qaeda which attacked the US on 9/11.”

By universal consent, Fisk is among the most knowledgeable journalist who has lived in West Asia for decades. But the Imperial Information order keeps him outside the ken.

Truth however has a way of surfacing. Let us revert to Friedman’s interview with Obama. Friedman asked Obama why he delayed taking action against the IS when it was in its nascent stages?

Obama replies: “That we did not just start taking a bunch of airstrikes all across Iraq as soon as the IS came in was because that would have taken the pressure off Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al Maliki.”

In other words, by the US President’s own admission, the IS at that stage worked as an asset to apply pressure on Maliki who was in bad adour with the US because he had refused to sign the Status of Forces Agreement with the US ironically on the advice of exactly the person Friedman was recommending for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 – Sistani.

Lo and behold, in his recent column, Friedman is advising Trump to give up the pretense of fighting IS – because that is not in the US (and presumably Israel’s) national interest.

He wants “Trump to be Trump – utterly cynical and unpredictable. ISIS right now is the biggest threat to Iran, Hezbollah, Russia and pro-Shiite Iranian militias.”

“In Syria” Friedman recommends, “Trump should let ISIS be Assad’s, Iran’s Hezbollah’s and Russia’s headache.” In other words, let the IS be a western asset.

A recent cartoon with a most succinct message shows one Saudi ask another:
“We finance wars all around us, when shall we bomb the Jewish state?”

“When it becomes Shia.”

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