The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘Hillary Clinton

Does Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani deserve to die? Who does?

with 4 comments

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is a young Iranian woman who was sentenced to death by stoning in Iran, a sentence that sparked an international outcry over  a practice that many see as archaic and barbaric. Since the initial sentence was handed down, the twists and turns in events since then have moved rapidly.

The initial sentence was handed down by a court in Tabriz in May 2006, she was charged with committing adultery (despite the alleged incident occurring after the death of her husband) and was sentenced to 99 lashes, which was carried out. Then, in September she was convicted by another court, the details of which are still rather shaky, of adultery and of being an accomplice in the murder of her husband. But wait, is she being put to death for adultery? Or for murder? Or for both? Statements made by officials aren’t very conclusive:

“In the first place, the allegation was murder,” the lawyer [this is Ashtiani's lawyer talking] told Babylon & Beyond. “She was accused of killing her husband, but as her children forgave her … she was pardoned and there was no more allegation against her. But to complicate the case, the court raised the issue of adultery.”Sharifi declined to outline Ashtiani’s role in her husband’s death, saying it would be just too darn shocking for the public. [LA Times]

Despite the original cases being in 2006, developments this year have come thick and fast, here’s a roundup:

Some things to consider about the Iranian judicial system: while the judicial code is fundamentally based on Shi’a Islamic law, there are a number of innovations and adaptations that make Iranian law fundamentally unique. Chief among these are the introduction of circumstantial evidence (not just direct evidence) and an appeals process for the death penalty that give a High Court (not local courts) final say, two things that are not elements of traditional sharia law.

Having said that, neither of these are particularly likely to have an impact on Ashtiani’s case. The involvement of a High Court means that all the international pressure can have more impact than in a local case, there is also the paradox that the Iranian state will not want to appear like it has been influenced by “the West”. This would be an embarrassment to the regime and set an unwelcome precedent of foreign intervention being successful.

And while the presentation of circumstantial evidence certainly appears to make things more just, there are a number of other fundamental problems, such as the fact that the testimony of a male witness is still worth more than that of a woman (literally, it states that two female witnesses equal one man), and the difficulty of establishing rape, as opposed to adultery, when the alleged victim is a woman.

Personally, I oppose all forms of the death penalty, because I, like Albert Camus, believe it absurd for the State to kill a human being for such abstract and seemingly irrational reasons as concepts of “revenge” and “punishment”. Thus, I sincerely hope that Ashtiani is pardoned and can walk free, home to her two children. However, it must be noted that criticisms on this basis that are leveled at Iran by the US Government are also somewhat absurd.

In Hillary Clinton’s statement linked above, she says that the Department of State is “troubled by the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who garnered international attention for her verdict of death by stoning.” One wonders what specifically about Ashtiani’s case so troubles Clinton. Is it the fact that the means of execution will be stoning? Does this mean that Clinton wouldn’t condemn Iran if the means were changed to hanging? And what of  reports of stoning in other countries, such as Saudi Arabia (which is a US ally)? Or is it the fact that Ashtiani’s guilt, especially the murder charge, is seemingly not believable? In which case, to what extent would the US Government be willing to make statements on the judicial affairs of another country’s courts?

According to Amnesty International, a list of countries that used the death penalty in 2007 includes, apart from Iran, the United States itself, as well as US allies such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq and Taiwan, all in the top 10. Rather than selectively condemning high-profile cases such as Ashtiani’s, in countries that the US considers foes, it would make more sense to rethink the death penalty itself. Presumably the US Department of State wouldn’t look at each and every case to see if it was delivered fairly. Let alone the fact that it also carries out assassinations, outside the scope of the courts, on its own citizens.

Let me be clear. I strongly oppose the execution of Ashtiani. Yes, having read the news (largely organised by a mainstream media relying on the same sources and pushing the same narrative), the charges seem trumped up and yes, Iran’s human rights record is terrible. But the main reason for my opposition to her execution is that it is fundamentally absurd to execute a human being for past actions.

The broader debate should not be about pointing fingers at the questionable Iranian judicial process, such calls seem tainted by bias and selectivity and, pointed by Western hands, may do more harm than good in the largely adversarial political narrative between Iran and the West. The broader debate should be about whether our own hands are clean. Why should the State have the right to take the life of one of its citizens, not as a preventative measure, not as a successful deterrent, but purely based on some absurd concept of vengeance? What, specifically, is the benefit of this to the citizens of the State?

By all means, get involved in advocacy to save Ashtiani’s life, but also spend some time thinking about whether the death penalty in your own country makes rational sense. Remember, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is a young mother with two children. She does not deserve to die. Neither to do any of the other human beings currently languishing on death rows all over the world. Their deaths will not solve anyone’s problems.

Written by alexlobov

August 18, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Syrian Scuds & Israeli Settlements

leave a comment »

It’s been a Middle East fest for the Obama Administration today with several key pieces of news being discussed. An issue that’s dominated discussion over the past few days is the alleged transfer of scud missiles from Syria to Hizbullah in Lebanon, with Hillary Clinton fielding questions on it on Thursday. Israeli President Shimon Peres has accused Syria of sending Scuds to Hizbullah. Syria denies the charge and says Israel may be using the accusation as a pretext for a military strike. (Daily Star)

The National gives a succinct roundup of the latest phase in Syrian-Israeli games:

Syria wants the Golan Heights back, but Israel does not feel the necessity to make concessions to a weaker adversary. Israel wants Syria to break its ties to Iran, but Damascus will not abandon an alliance that gives it more influence. When the two countries have engaged in indirect talks, most recently under Turkish mediation, they have been interested in theatrics, not progress.

FP’s Blake Hounshell, in a controversially titled post, cannot understand why Syria would do something like this, given its position:

For all the figures you read in the press about the size of Syria’s military and its vast arsenal of tanks, the country is essentially a tin-pot dictatorship with little ability to project power beyond Lebanon, where for decades it has dominated its smaller neighbor’s domestic affairs.

That post drew the ire of a Syrian embassy spokesman in Washington that fired back:

How can the “dumbest country” outmaneuver the strongest country in the world, and its superpower, along with the numerous Western and other countries that followed in its footsteps and that tried to isolate it? How can the superpower, during its previous administration, work so diligently on isolating “the dumbest country”, yet end up being isolated itself (former Bush-official and current Obama-appointee, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffery Feltman: “consequently, the United States, not Syria, seems to be isolated”; Senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel in a 2008 op-ed: “our policy of non-engagement has isolated us more than the Syrians.”)?  how can the “dumbest country” face all these economic sanctions imposed by the superpower, while simultaneously achieving some of the highest economic growth figures in the region and being considered one of the top ‘frontier markets’?

It seems this Scud fiasco is provoking a broader discussion about Syria’s position in the region and the future of Syrian-Israeli talks as well as Obama’s policy of engagement.

UPDATE: There is growing doubt about whether this transfer actually took place and, it seems, certain US officials at least, agree that Syria is usually not a dumb country:

“We don’t think Scuds of any shape or size have been moved to Lebanon,” one of the officials said.

“The Syrians aren’t always known for making the right political calculations. But in this case, surely they realize that transferring this kind of weapons system to Hezbollah — and especially to Hezbollah in Lebanon — could lead to serious consequences,” the official added. [Khaleej Times]

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has rejected President Obama’s request to halt settlement construction in East Jerusalem:

The aides said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered his government’s position to Obama over the weekend, ahead of the arrival Thursday of the US president’s special Mideast envoy, George Mitchell. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the contact between the two leaders was private.

The State Department responded via spokesman Philip Crowley who told reporters that the long-standing Israeli position on settlement in East Jerusalem is understood but that the status quo cannot last. There has also been talk of a “gentleman’s agreement” between Obama and Netanyahu whereby Israel won’t publicly announce a freeze in East Jerusalem so as not to lose face but will not announce any new settlement building either. This, to me, at least seems the most likely case. While it’s obvious that Netanyahu cannot afford to to be seen as if he is giving in on this issue so as to preserve his coalition in Israel, neither would he want to rock the boat further by announcing more settlements, considering the shit-storm the last announcement caused.

The other piece of US-MidEast news today has been further talk of renewed Iran sanctions in May. Read the full story here.

US-Israeli relations hit 20 year low. Crisis?

leave a comment »

A Palestinian protester runs with a burning tyre during clashes with Israeli police. Image Credit: AP/Gulf News

It seems the fiasco of the 1600 slaps received by Joe Biden has escalated somewhat, newspapers are now calling it a ‘crisis’. The big piece of news came when details of a telephone conversation between Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu came to light.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley described the nearly 45-minute phone conversation in unusually undiplomatic terms, signaling that the close allies are facing their deepest crisis in two decades.

Clinton called Netanyahu “to make clear the United States considered the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship and counter to the spirit of the vice president’s trip,” Crowley said. Clinton, he said, emphasized that “this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America’s interests.” [WaPo]

Strong words perhaps, but it remains to be seen how the relationship and the supposed damage that has occurred to it will unfold. Israel’s response so far has been to order an enquiry into the matter, which will probably turn into the usual political obfuscation of the truth. I’m not entirely sure what this enquiry is even supposed to ascertain. According to Khaleej Times:

“The prime minister has decided to create a committee bringing together ministry directors to examine what happened during vice-president Biden’s visit and lay down rules to ensure such incidents are not repeated in future,” a government spokesman said.

But it’s clear what happened. An ill-advised announcement about settlement expansion plans in East Jerusalem was made at an inopportune time, showing more signs of arrogance in the Israeli government’s approach to peace. This is nothing new. As for, ‘rules’, what possible rules can be laid down? Something like, let’s make controversial announcements at more opportune times when we’re less on the international diplomatic radar? What’s the point of the exercise?

The latest is the following from Haaretz:

Instead of accepting Netanyahu’s partial apology and letting bygones be bygones, Obama issued a stern warning to the Israeli prime minister and is now demanding that he take “specific actions” to show he is “committed” to the U.S.-Israel relationship and to the peace process itself.

Netanyahu is still governing a fragile and cumbersome coalition which includes a good number of prominent right-wingers who are against any negotiation and any compromise over East Jerusalem (some over the West Bank altogether). Where, up until this point, Bibi has ridden the trend of defiance against Washington and reaped its domestic political benefits, with this added pressure to actually maintain the diplomatic relationship and the ball now firmly in his court, what happens next remains to be seen.

An editorial in Haaretz:

There is one reason for the crisis: Netanyahu’s persistence in continuing construction in East Jerusalem, in placing Jews in Arab neighborhoods and evicting Palestinians from their homes in the city. This is not a matter of timing but substance. Despite repeated warnings and bitter experiences, he stokes the flames over the conflict’s most sensitive issue and is bound to get himself in trouble. Netanyahu has made it clear by his actions that American support for Israel, especially essential now in light of the Iranian threat, is less important to him than the chance to put another few Jews in the Sheikh Jarrah or Ramat Shlomo neighborhoods. Even if Netanyahu’s adversaries in the U.S. administration have exploited his misstep to push him into a corner, as his “associates” will certainly argue, a statesman as experienced as he should have been especially careful.

There was news today that the statesman placed a few calls to Europe, namely Merkel and Berlusconi, telling them that Israel has no plans to “accelerate” the pace of settlement construction in East Jerusalem. Bibi is probably trying to cut his losses and limit the fallout from the 1600 slaps after the Quartert (The US, Russia, the EU and the UN) also condemned the settlement announcement. It should be noted that, in all public statements to this date (including the announcement of the enquiry), Bibi has expressed vehement condemnation… but only at the timing of the announcement, rather than the announcement itself. This is of course understandable, Bibi still holds the ideological position of support for housing expansion in East Jerusalem, but I wonder if he thinks vehement condemnation of timing will be enough to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

Speaking of his ideological position, Aluf Benn in Haaretz seems to think that the shit has hit the fan, so to speak, for Netanyahu who “has reached the moment of truth, where he must choose between his ideological beliefs and political cooperation with the right on one hand, and his need for American support on the other.” Benn rightly points out that Obama has been fearful of exerting too much pressure and causing the fragile coalition to collapse, creating an volatile and unpredictable power vacuum. Better the devil you know? We soon shall see.

I’m predicting some sort of diplomatic overture, a few public statements about peace and some efforts to restart peace negotiations. Netanyahu probably knows that some well-mannered stalling is now his safest route but I’m sure he has on intention of actually taking any real action. He still can’t afford to rock the boat in the Knesset, even if he wanted to. The Obama administration, while mindful of being treated like a doormat and losing face in the eyes of the international community, is also mindful of its own domestic problems over health care and wars and its need to get reelected. It can’t afford a total public break with Israel right now. The name of the game right now is not ‘actions’, at least not the sort we expect, it’s face saving and politics.

In other ‘action’-related Israeli news, Israel has put the West Bank on lockdown and restricted access to the Al Aqsa mosque after increased clashes with troops in response to the East Jerusalem announcement and the usual frustrations with living under occupation. UAE Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan has said that Arabs won’t continue to support Middle East peace talks until Israel halts colony expansion, putting further skids on the peace process which now appears completely dead in the water.

Hillary backpedals over settlement praise, Goldstone Report is buried in Congress

with 2 comments

Hillary Clinton. Photo: AP.

In Israel-related news, the media today had to make a decision over what was more relevant. Do we report on Hillary Clinton’s furious back-pedalling over her statements regarding the fairly irrelevant, and existent in name only, peace process? Or do we instead report on US Congress predictably landslide-voting to bury the Goldstone Report, the irrelevance of which seems to be growing by the day? Predictably, the media felt that a foreign policy gaffe by the Secretary of State was an opportunity too good to pass up, and happily plumped for the former. And why not? Didn’t anyone else think that Clinton falling all over herself to appease AIPAC was amusing? As in, depressingly amusing, but hey this is Israel-Palestine we’re talking about, it’s always going to be somewhat morbid amusement.

So Clinton says to Al-Jazeera in Morocco:

“I think, as you know, President [Barack] Obama clearly said he wanted to see an end to settlement activity,”

“That had never been requested prior to any negotiation entered into by any representative of either the Palestinians or the Israelis.”

After her trip to Morocco, Clinton flew to Cairo to deal with the aftermath of her gaffe committed in previous days, to talk to “Egyptian leaders” as the Star Tribune reports. VOA reports that she’s meeting Uncle Hosni.

The NZ Herald has the following to say:

Clinton’s comments in Jerusalem appeared to reflect a realisation within the Obama Administration that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Government will not accept a full-scale settlement freeze and that a partial halt may be the best lesser option. Her appeal seemed designed to make the Israeli position more palatable to the Palestinians and Arab states.

But the ever-present question begs. If the settlements are illegal, and if the Obama administration ‘unequivocally’ opposes them, then why can’t the Obama Administration put more pressure on the Netanyahu Government to halt them entirely. There has been precious little evidence of any real pressure on Netanyahu, in fact Bibi, and other pro-settlement folk, have been glowing with pride over his constant ‘victories’ over Obama. So why bother saying that you’re against something ‘unequivocally’ but do nothing tangible to actually stop it? Ah yes, well, that’s called empty rhetoric, ladies and gentlemen, and Obama’s Administration seems to be very good at it… until now when the rhetoric spills over into weird fawning, as Clinton’s statements the other day indicate. What Clinton terms ‘positive reinforcement’ to the rest of us looks like diplomatic genuflection.

As per the words of the Hillary, “We need to work together in a constructive spirit toward this shared goal of a comprehensive peace.” Indeed, the Netanyahu Government’s spirit has been very constructive – constructive of settlements in the Occupied West Bank, not sure how ‘comprehensive’ the peace is going to be though, unless the Palestinian residents of the West Bank are simply built over with cement.

Oh and about that Goldstone report? Yeah Congress voted 344-36 to bury that baby, something that Mondoweiss called “Pyongyang-style”. That linked post also contains a list of the “Nays” in case you’re American and want to write a letter to your local congressman congratulating him or her for possessing some modicum of cojones. I believe Gregg from The Majlis, who live-blogged the debate from Congress, pretty much sums up how the rest of us feel about this vote.

But it’s not all bad news, folks. Mondoweiss:

My sources tell me that the total of 36 No’s and 22 voting Present is actually a giant improvement over, say, the Lebanon votes that typically were in the 400 range, Yes-wise.

Progress!

Written by alexlobov

November 4, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Road to regression: the Israel-Palestine peace process

with one comment

Why can't we all be friends? (AP Photo/ Rina Castelnuovo, Pool)

Why can't we all be friends? (AP Photo/ Rina Castelnuovo, Pool)

Ah, the peace process. Israel and Palestine, India and Pakistan, China and Tibet, Syria and Israel. So many countries, so many statements, such little action.

This morning’s yawnworthy/WTF news of the day (depending on your state of mind) news are the lack of political developments on the Israel/Palestine front. Hillary Clinton asked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to go ahead with negotiations without the precondition that Israel stop building settlements. Abbas said no, Netanyahu comes off as sounding – in the American press – as the benevolent man who wants peace but can’t talk to anyone who sets any conditions.

We’re not just back to square one here folks, we’re regressing back in time. One of these days I’m just going to paste an old news item from the ’90s, replace the names and it’ll be as accurate.

Parting note: today’s must read on Israel and US relations - Gideon Levy in Ha’aretz: America, stop sucking up to Israel.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

November 1, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Hillary Clinton's trip to the Middle East

with 2 comments

 

Abu Dhabi-based paper The National has an interesting write-up by Dr. James Zogby on US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent trip to the Middle East, an obviously important one for the fledgling Obama administration and their future efforts in the region.

Some choice quotes that I found to be of interest:

She was constructive on many fronts: chiding Israel for its failure to open the borders of Gaza enough to allow the transport of relief assistance and supplies; publicly criticising Israeli settlements as “unhelpful, and not in keeping with obligations entered into under the Roadmap”; and expressing concern with the Jerusalem municipality’s plans to demolish Palestinian homes, noting that “the ramifications” of this action go “far beyond the individuals and families affected”.

and some interesting remarks about the Gaza assault and Palestinian situation:

Mrs Clinton declared: “A child growing up in Gaza without shelter, healthcare or an education has the same right to go to school, see a doctor and live with a roof over her head as a child growing up in your country or mine. 

A mother and father in the West Bank struggling to fulfil their dreams for their children have the same right as parents anywhere else in the world to a good job, a decent home and the tools to achieve greater prosperity and peace. Progress towards the goals we seek here today is more likely to grow out of opportunity than futility; out of hope than out of misery.”

Dr. Zogby rounds out his article with the following words of, what I think is, wisdom:

Digging ourselves out of the deep hole dug during the past eight years will not be easy. Political realities in the US and on all sides in the Middle East will require that peacemakers confront real problems and ingrained bad behaviour. 

The process will be slow and, of necessity, require incremental movement and careful management. During this period, substantive and constructive criticism has a role in pushing the effort forward, but not uninformed grousing.

At the end of the day, i think Zogby is right. I’ve heard a lot of sniping from both sides about this issue, be it ultra-right wing Republican hand-wringing to the tune of “Obama has gone too soft on the Arabs, Israel’s destruction is now assured, he’s going to let the terrorists win, etc.” or similarly shrill yelling on the left about how Obama/Clinton are just echoing Bush/Rice policies in the MidEast, how nothing is going to change, etc.

The fact of the matter is, change in this region is going to be politically difficult for any US President and waiting for miracles to happen is counter-productive. This system of two party democracy means that any party in power will have to somehow ocus on consolidating power, budgets have to be approved by Congress, as do many other things, so the matter is not in Obama’s hands alone and he has to be politically clever about how he goes about it, as he was during the Gaza debacle.

I am still patient enough to give this Administration more time. Let’s continue to wait and see.

Written by alexlobov

March 9, 2009 at 6:25 am

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.