Hawking: What’s Happening in Syria Is an Abomination

February 18, 2014

The British physicist Stephen Hawking recently published an essay calling for coordinated global action to end to the horrible civil war in Syria. Excerpts follow, with link to full article below.

“The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that the universe had existed for ever. The reason humanity was not more developed, he believed, was that floods or other natural disasters repeatedly set civilisation back to the beginning.

Today, humans are developing ever faster. Our knowledge is growing exponentially and, with it, our technology. But humans still have the instincts, and in particular the aggressive impulses, that we had in caveman days. Aggression has had definite advantages for survival, but when modern technology meets ancient aggression the entire human race and much of the rest of life on Earth is at risk.

Today in Syria we see modern technology in the form of bombs, chemicals and other weapons being used to further so-called intelligent political ends. But it does not feel intelligent to watch as more than 100,000 people are killed or while children are targeted. It feels downright stupid, and worse, to prevent humanitarian supplies from reaching clinics where … children are having limbs amputated for lack of basic facilities, and newborn babies are dying in incubators for lack of power.

What’s happening in Syria is an abomination, one that the world is watching coldly from a distance. Where is our emotional intelligence, our sense of collective justice?

We must work together to end this war and to protect the children of Syria. The international community has watched from the sidelines for three years as this conflict rages, engulfing all hope. As a father and grandfather I watch the suffering of Syria’s children and must now say: no more.

We now know that Aristotle was wrong: the universe has not existed for ever. It began about 14bn years ago. But he was right that great disasters represent major steps backward for civilisation. The war in Syria may not represent the end of humanity, but every injustice committed is a chip in the facade of what holds us together. The universal principle of justice may not be rooted in physics but it is no less fundamental to our existence. For without it, before long, human beings will surely cease to exist.”

[Read Full Article]

Feb 11, 2014: Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance

February 9, 2014

Day We Fight Back . org

[Learn More]

Film about Peace & Reconciliation: “Sweet Dreams”

December 10, 2013

“Sweet Dreams” is a documentary about a group of women in Rwanda who formed a female drumming troupe and use it to present an example of reconciliation and peace. As the film shows, the women also founded Rwanda’s first ice-cream shop.

The 1994 genocide in Rwanda was presented in mainstream news media as if it were a sudden flash of hatred and killing, unanticipated and inexplicable. In fact, animosity between the Tutsi and Hutu people of central Africa had simmered — and occasionally boiled over into violence — for many decades — even centuries. It is due in part to traditional rivalries over land between herders (e.g., Tutsis) and farmers (Hutus). However, in Rwanda’s case, traditional animosities were exacerbated by colonial powers — France and Netherlands — placing the minority Tutsis in power over the majority Hutus. Militias and rebels on both sides committed atrocities in the decades preceding the 1994 genocide of Tutsis (and peaceful Hutus) by Hutu extremists and their collaborators.

Rwanda’s post-genocide government has worked in many ways to try to cool citizens’ anger and desire for revenge: trying perpetrators in formal and informal courts, holding annual “remembrance” events, offering counselling to victims and even perpetrators. The government, like many Africa governments, also wants to raise the country out of poverty. But government efforts to heal citizens’ physical and psychic wounds and develop Rwanda’s economy are not the only story.

“Sweet Dreams” shows a group of concerned citizens working to foster peace and reconciliation while also breaking down traditional gender boundaries. The drumming troupe is unusual in many respects. First, it consists of women, who in traditional Rwandan society were banned from even touching drums. Second, the drummers are Tutsis and Hutus, with victims, orphans of victims, wives of perpetrators, and children of perpetrators. Third, the troupe formed a business cooperative, and with the guidance of two women who own an ice-cream shop in Brooklyn, introduced Rwanda to ice cream.

The film shows the cameraderie of the drummers, presents their thoughts about how the drum troupe helps them and their audiences heal and grow, and describes the difficulties the women had in starting a totally new type of business for Rwanda.

Highly recommended.

Links to further information about the film:

Related Previous PeacePundit Posts:

US Drone Strikes Have Prominent Critics

October 22, 2013

The US program of using unmanned drone aircraft to launch missile attacks against ground targets in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen is drawing some prominent critics.

The Obama administration, which increased the use of drone-launched attacks significantly compared to the Bush adminstration, has consistently defended the use of drones as an imperfect but necessary tool in combatting terrorist organisations. For example:

Predator drone

Predator drone

People in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen have protested since the drone-attacks began. Peace activists have similarly argued against the use of offensive weaponized drones on the grounds that they cause many civilian casualties and are counterproductive. How much weight do their protests carry with the administration? We all know the answer: very little.

Now, at last, other, more well-known and well-respected people and organizations are speaking out against the use of combat drones:

  • Jimmy Carter: Jimmy Carter savages US foreign policy over drone strikes. According to the former President, drone strikes and targeted assassinations abroad have seen the US violating human rights in a way that “abets our enemies and alienates our friends”.
  • Arianna Huffington: ‘Signature Strikes’ and the President’s Empty Rhetoric on Drones. Huffington writes: “The missiles from the drones might be exploding in Pakistan and Afghanistan and Yemen, but the fallout will impact us here at home for years to come.”
  • Malala Yousafzai: Malala to Obama: “Drones Fueling Terrorism”. The 16-year-old Pakistani student whom the Taliban shot for promoting educating girls, who won Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize and the EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and who was nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, recently met with President Obama. Afterwards, she told reporters: “I … expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.”
  • Amnesty International: Amnesty criticizes US drone program in Pakistan. A report issued by the organization documents several civilian casualties of drone attacks in Pakistan and calls on the US to investigate those attacks and possibly to change its policies concerning the strikes. Amnesty expressed concern that the attacks discussed in the report and others may have resulted in extrajudicial executions or war crimes. Estimating civilian casualties is highly error prone, but Amnesty’s report estimates the number of people killed by drone-attacks in Pakistan to be 2,065-3,613, of which 153-926 were thought to be civilians.
  • Human Rights Watch: Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda. A report from Human Rights Watch says that US drone airstrikes against alleged terrorists in Yemen have killed civilians in violation of international law. The report examines six US targeted killings in Yemen. Two of the attacks killed civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws of war; the others may have targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civilian deaths. The report concludes that the strikes are creating a public backlash that undermines US efforts against Al-Qaeda. [Read HRW report] [View HRW video summarizing report]
Predator drone firing missile

Predator drone firing missile

Perhaps momentum is building for an international campaign to ban the use of combat drones, similar to the campaigns to ban land-mines and chemical weapons, which both won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Related PeacePundit Posts

Muslims Not Spared in Nairobi Mall Attack

September 27, 2013

Al Shabab, the Somalia-based group responsible for the Sept 21 attack in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, tweeted as its gunmen launched the attack that they were taking care not to harm Muslims. They claimed to be letting Muslims leave the mall. Their spokespeople repeated this several times over the four-day-long siege. In an email to The Associated Press, Al Shabab’s spokesperson wrote that their jihadis “carried out a meticulous vetting process” so Muslims would not be harmed. A few witnesses reported seeing some of the gunmen briefly question people before either letting them go, taking them captive, or shooting them outright.

First of all, even if the attackers had been “meticulous” about letting Muslims escape the carnage, the attack would have been no less horrific, brutal, criminal, and cowardly. Killing innocent civilians is never justifiable, regardless of who does it or why.

However, let’s set the record straight about Al Shabab’s claims of taking care not to harm Muslims: it is false propaganda, probably intended to win sympathy from Muslims around the world. The Al Shabab gunmen did not take care. They were not meticulus. They did not spare Muslims.

The following articles and video interviews document known Muslim victims of the attack. As further bodies are identified and survivors are debriefed, this list will undoubtedly grow.

Another Muslim, Abdul Haji, a Kenyan citizen, was a major hero in helping rescue people trapped in the mall during the attack. In fact, one of the most often-seen photos to emerge from the attack shows Haji rescuing a four-year old girl who had been hiding from attackers with her mother [Read Rescue Story] [View Photo]. In the following interview, Haji recounts events as he remembers them. In the interview, he states strongly that attacking innocent civilians, especially women and children, is not Islamic. [View Interview]

Related PeacePundit Posts

Open Letter to President Obama: Don’t Attack Syria

August 31, 2013

Dear President Obama,

I oppose air-strikes or any military action against Syria. The Syrian government is accused of killing people with gas. The insurgents we are supporting have killed many people too, possibly even with poison gas.   Airstrikes will kill people, including innocent civilians, with bombs and missiles.  Either way, people die.

You argued in your speech (see below) that the Syrian government killed over a thousand people, including children, with poison gas. The U.S. has killed more than that ghastly number of civilians, including children, with our airstrikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is no such thing as immoral vs. moral ways of killing people.

Too many people have already died in Syria.  Please don’t kill more people.

Here are steps forward that would be better than simply launching US-led airstrikes:

  1. If the US government has evidence that nerve-gas attacks occurred and were carried out by the Syrian government, and not by opposition groups, they should produce that evidence to convince the international community of nations that something should be done in response.
  2. If the US government produces such evidence, the international community of nations — in the form of the United Nations, or better, the Arab League — should act, not yet another US-dominated phony “coalition”, which will only further inflame anti-US sentiment around the world.
  3. The action taken should not consist of military attacks. It should consist of a strict and strong arms embargo to the entire region — including those fighting the Syrian regime. If the Syrian people want to fight a civil war, let them do it with sticks and stones.

Sincerely,
Peace Pundit

Relevant Articles

Related Previous PeacePundit Posts

Bad Week for Civilians, Afghan and US

April 8, 2013

The last seven days have been bad for US and Afghan civilians in Afghanistan. On Saturday, a young US diplomat was killed when a bomb exploded near the convoy she was riding in. On Sunday, ten Afghan children were killed and other civilians were wounded in a US airstrike that also killed a Taliban leader.

Excerpts of the stories and links to the full stories follow.

6 Americans, doctor killed in Afghan attacks

Associated Press, Saturday, April 6, 2013

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Militants killed six Americans, including a young female diplomat and an Afghan doctor Saturday in a pair of attacks in Afghanistan on Saturday. It was the deadliest day for the United States in the war in eight months.

The violence … illustrates the instability plaguing the nation as foreign forces work to pull nearly all their combat troops out of the country by the end of 2014.

The attacks came just days after insurgents stormed a courthouse, killing more than 46 people in one of the deadliest attacks of the war, now in its 12th year.

The three US service members, two US civilians and the doctor were killed when the group was struck by an explosion while traveling to donate books to students in a school in the south, officials and the State Department said.

Officials said the explosion occurred just as a coalition convoy drove past a caravan of vehicles carrying the governor of Zabul province to the same event.

Another American civilian was killed in a separate insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan, the US military said in a statement.

It was the deadliest day for Americans since Aug. 16, when seven American service members were killed in two attacks in Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban insurgency. Six were killed when their helicopter was shot down by insurgents and one soldier died in a roadside bomb explosion.

A US official who spoke on condition of anonymity said several other Americans and Afghans, possibly as many as nine, were wounded. The State Department said four of their staff were wounded, one critically.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the attack in Zabul and said the bomber was seeking to target either a coalition convoy or the governor. “We were waiting for one of them,” Ahmadi said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “It was our good luck that both appeared at the same time.”

The deaths bring the number of foreign military troops killed this year to 30, including 22 Americans. A total of six foreign civilians have died in Afghanistan so far this year, according to an AP count.

[Read entire story]

US airstrike kills Taliban leader, Afghan children

By Azam Ahmed, New York Times, April 8, 2013

KABUL — A US military airstrike in eastern Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan killed as many as 18 people, including at least one senior Taliban commander, but also women and children, raising the thorny issue of civilian casualties for the third time in roughly a week.

The attack occurred during a joint mission of Afghan and US special operations forces targeting a high-profile Taliban commander in Kunar Province, Afghan officials said Sunday. … US forces called in an airstrike to level the home of the commander, Ali Khan, officials said.

In addition to killing Khan and at least four other Taliban fighters, as many as 10 children were killed in the strike, and at least five women were wounded, said Abdul Zahir Safi, the governor of Shigal district, where the attack occurred. Afghan officials believed they were the relatives and children of the Taliban commander.

The deaths of Afghan civilians in NATO strikes have long been a sticking point between President Hamid Karzai and his Western allies. Harsh criticism by Karzai led to stronger rules on airstrike use by US forces last year, effectively halting air attacks on population centers and homes.

Civilian casualties at the hands of foreign forces have dropped dramatically since then, though such strikes bring intense anger among the Afghan population when they happen.

Karzai has basically prohibited his own armed forces from requesting supporting NATO airstrikes after an incident in the same district of Kunar, Shigal, in February 2012 killed 10 civilians.

On Sunday, Karzai’s office issued a statement criticizing the deaths in the Kunar airstrikes, and called for an investigation into civilians deaths there.

The civilian death toll on Saturday added to two incidents in Ghazni Province in the past eight days, when four police officers were killed during a NATO airstrike and two children died in a helicopter attack.

A spokesman for the coalition forces said all of the allegations of civilian casualties remain under investigation. …

US military commanders have insisted that airstrikes can be crucial to protecting soldiers’ lives…

[Read entire story]

Related Previous PeacePundit Posts

Kenyan Elections 2013: Reports from Nairobi

March 6, 2013

In December 2007 through early 2008, intense post-election violence in Kenya killed over 1000 people and injured and displaced tens of thousands more. The 2013 elections, so far at least, have been mostly peaceful. Violence has been scattered and relatively focused. For example, armed men, allegedly from the Mombasa Revolutionary Council (a separatist group), attacked police, then ambushed those who responded, killing several.

PeacePundit has a friend on the ground in Nairobi Kenya who has been sending updates on the situation there: Natasha Martin, founder of G.R.A.C.E. USA, a non-profit that promotes sustainable development and education in countries hit hard by HIV/AIDS.

Election News from Kenya

From: Natasha Martin
Date: Monday, March 4, 2013 (Election Day)
Subject: Election News from Kenya

I have been watching the procedures all evening on my tiny TV in the middle of nowhere at the edge of the Nairobi National Park.

The most impressive aspect to me is the demonstration of patience and determination to vote that is so evident in the faces and comments of so many who stood in line for more than 8 hours (in many instances) in the hot sun with nowhere to sit or anything to eat. Understandably, tempers flared occasionally but not for the reasons that caused such carnage last time.

These are peaceful elections with what is likely to be the highest voter turnout ever. The unacceptably long waits are said to be due to the remarkably high turnout. It remains to be seen how the leaders’ loyalists will react tomorrow.

What the MRC did in Mombasa is most regrettable. This group has been causing trouble for some time now. I do not know what efforts were made to “contain” them before.

Most of the expatriates I know have gone abroad for some days. I shall be leaving on Wednesday evening for London on the way home.

I walked to the Masai Lodge to pick up my newspapers and get some lunch. It was quiet everywhere with the staff planning when best to leave to vote if they had not done so early this morning. No one talked politics anymore. They are making their choices and keeping quiet about it.

I do not want to stay up half the night but I am not sure that I can go to sleep at 10:00 PM as I had planned when the outcome is not known.

Natasha

From: Natasha Martin
Date: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 (Election Day + 1)
Subject: Re: Election News from Kenya

We are hanging on here while the returns are extremely slow. A variety of technical glitches with the high-powered system tied with the extremely high voter turnout means that, as I write, just under 40% of the ballots have been counted. For the Presidential race, Uhuru Kenyatta has 2.8 million and Raila Odinga has 2.1 million. They are not even half-way to the end. Now, people are beginning to ask questions about “credible, free and fair”. The Independent Electoral Board is being responsible, providing the public with updates every 2 or 3 hours. The expectation is that we shall have final answers tomorrow as they remind us that legally, they have 7 days within which to provide the final tally and announce winners.

For the first time since the new constitution was introduced, the Kenyans are voting in their completely new government: Governors, Senators, Women’s representatives to Parliament, MPs, etc. Of course it takes a lot more time in the voting booth, with complaints that the public was not given enough civic education and a disturbing number of rejected ballots: well over 200,000. For this, there will be an audit. In some areas, having to resort to manual counting again is raising concerns about credibility.

I do not know how much the occasional skirmishes and attacks on individuals are showing up in your news, painting a picture of lawlessness. Take those with the proverbial grain of salt. What is abundantly clear is that Kenya is not anywhere close to voting on issues. Tribalism is alive and well. You can see areas where one or the other Presidential candidate will garner more than 90% of the vote. We can only hope that whoever wins is able to govern in a way that makes it clear that tribe has no place in good government and no one is playing favourites.

And so to bed. Tomorrow is another day for which we pray that peace will continue to prevail. Many thanks for your prayers personally and for this country.

Natasha

Related PeacePundit Posts

The Inevitable Blowback from Combat Drones

February 26, 2013

The Associated Press reported last week that civilian casualties in Afghanistan from US drone strikes increased in 2012 over 2011.

I wonder if US Military Officials, and the President who is their Commander in Chief, ever consider the possible blowback from US drone strikes in Afganistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere.

First there is the ground-level blowback that occurs when young people in targetted areas are very quickly turned into anti-US combattants by having their relatives and friends blown to pieces by remote control.

But there also will be airborne blowback: drones deployed and launched by hostile countries or organizations. Does it not occur to US military leaders that drone technology is not the exclusive domain of the US — that it can and will be developed and deployed by other countries? For example, recently Iran brought down a US “stealth” drone — not stealthy enough apparently — and now is busy reverse-engineering it.

In the not-too-distant future, I foresee the following:

  • Drones deployed by Germany, France, England, Russia, Israel, China, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, South and North Korea, as well as some non-state organizations.
  • US military bases, convoys, and ships targetted by drone attacks.
  • Security teams for US officials traveling abroad having to keep an eye on the skies overhead in addition to their current duties.
  • US tourists abroad being hit by drone attacks.
  • Attacks inside the US by drones from other countries, including even supposed allies like Israel, when they locate someone in the US who they consider an enemy.

My wife and I travel a lot outside the US, including many developing countries, so I really don’t look forward to the future I’ve outlined above. But I fully expect it to come about. What is to prevent it? US military might? Not likely. It hasn’t stopped car bombings, rocket attacks, or kidnapping; why would drone attacks be different?

Recent Noteworthy Articles about Drones:

Related PeacePundit Posts

Pakistani Kids Hold Vigil for US Shooting Victims: Now Can We Stop Bombing Them?

December 17, 2012

We are devastated by last week’s senseless killings of innocent children and teachers at the elementary school in the Sandy Hook community of Newtown, Connecticutt.

Touchingly, a group of children in Pakistan held a candlelight vigil in sympathy with the victims and survivors of that horrific attack.

Pakistani kids vigil for U.S. shooting victims

[See original photo]

“V FEEL UR PAIN AS YOU WOULD FEEL OUR PAIN.”

Hmmm. Do we feel their pain?

Now, let’s all contact our elected representatives and ask them to please stop drone-bombing Pakistani kids.

Related PeacePundit Posts


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.