Take me to the river…

Macro photography of water waves

Not just any river. In the well-known song by Al Green, the river alluded to is the Jordan, the lowest river in the world, and because of the area it flows through, it is regarded as holy to Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike. The song references baptismal cleansing and what could be interpreted as less spiritual as it alludes to teenage lust. It was covered by many bands seeking to emulate the soulful voice and style of Green, and it …

Read more…

Israel and Palestine: The victims of victims…

The current violence in the Middle East is profoundly depressing. Your heart goes out to the poor Palestinians who are stuck between the extremists of Hamas and the extremists of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). John Oliver had a pretty good take on the situation in Last Week Tonight: This week’s David McWilliams podcast with Tom Friedman was a good overview of the complexity of the situation. The excessive response of the IDF is nothing short of pure murder and …

Read more…

Where do Syria and Assad go from here?

The war in Syria has been drawing to a slow, violent end for almost two years now. Since Russia started to increase its military support for the Assad regime in September 2015, there has almost been an inevitability that the government forces would hold out and eventually reclaim most of the country. This was accentuated by the deafening silence from most Western nations as rebel held Eastern Aleppo was levelled by the Russian air force. To the ‘moderate’ rebels groups, …

Read more…

Misogyny bullying and brutal violence; what is there to worry about in the Middle East?  

My eldest daughter, a primary school teacher, returns to Qatar this weekend as do hundreds of young people from these shores supporting the education systems across the Middle East.  With developments over the summer I felt anxious as we said our farewells; she was sanguine as young people are.  Having left the Emirate in June just after the borders and airspace were closed, and sanctions imposed by a coalition cobbled together by Saudi Arabia, no fresh chicken or milk were …

Read more…

Britain’s Postwar Wars

The list of wars involving the UK since 1945 is long and chaotic. Looking at some of them especially the most recent does suggest some themes which are not especially encouraging when one considers the prospect of British involvement in Syria. In the early post war period most of the conflicts Britain was involved in were either against expansion of communism (Greece and Korea) or else imperial entanglements. Greece and Korea had fairly clear objectives and the prospect of functional …

Read more…

Your Guide to Israel’s General Election

Israel goes to the polls on St Patrick’s Day to elect a new parliament, which in turn will either confirm incumbent Binyamin Netanyahu in office or oust him in favour of the centre-left. The St Patrick’s Day connection? If Netanyahu loses, he will be replaced by a man whose father was born in Belfast’s Clifton Park Avenue and whose grandfather was Chief Rabbi of Ireland. Polls indicate that it will be a close run thing, with 11 lists, many covering …

Read more…

After Haass: US must understand it has absolutely no dog in a sectarian fight…

Interesting that although Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan appeared on Fared Zakaria’s Global Public Square on Sunday (h/t Ruarai) there was absolutely no mention of Belfast or Northern Ireland. There was, however, a fascinating contemporary analogue at play regarding the role of sectarianism in the Middle East. Richard Haass: These are societies that have never really dealt successfully with modernity. You’ve never had a clear divide between the religious and the secular. People confuse democracy and majoritarianism. There’s not a …

Read more…

Peace Process Parallels: Northern Ireland and the Middle-East

In the wake of the UN decision to recognise the state of Palestine (albeit not as a full member of the UN) it seems timely to return to the question of parallels between the peace process here and in the Middle East, most recently highlighted on Slugger in relation to remarks by former US envoy Richard Haass. The decision by many firm allies of the US to support the Palestinian bid despite US opposition was one of the most striking …

Read more…

Londonderry born imperial policeman remembered

Many thanks to my old colleague Kevin Connolly, BBC Middle East correspondent  and a former Ireland correspondent for keeping his old antennae in good working order to discover the remarkable character of Londonderry born Sir Charles Tegart, commissioner of police in colonial India and Palestine. As Kevin says, they don’t make them like  that any more. I don’t know the name – I wonder if anyone out there does? Brian WalkerFormer BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor …

Read more…

“It was a trivial problem that… occurs every year”

Just your average family gathering at Christmas, with a bit of an argument about the seating cleaning arrangements… Scuffles have broken out between rival groups of Greek Orthodox and Armenian clerics over a turf war in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. Bemused tourists looked on as about 100 priests fought with brooms while cleaning the church in preparation for Orthodox Christmas, on 7 January. Palestinian police armed with batons and shields broke up the clashes. Groups of priests have clashed …

Read more…

The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday (Neil MacFarquhar)

Bookcover of The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday by Neil MacFarquhar

With perhaps the longest title of any book I’ve read this year, The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday: Unexpected Encounters in the Changing Middle East gives an insight into the lives of people living in Middle East through the eyes of journalist Neil MacFarquhar. MacFarquhar’s father was a chemical engineer who supervised an Esso refinery and a water desalination plant. His family lived on the Libyan coast in Marsa Brega alongside a community of other …

Read more…

Irish Ship to Gaza sabotaged

The Irish Ship to Gaza campaign have reported sabotage to their vessel, MV Saoirse, which they claim was carried out by Israeli agents. The MV Saoirse was to participate in another Free Gaza flotilla aimed at breaking through the Israeli blockade to bring aid to the Gaza region. Al Jazeera are reporting this as the second incidence of sabotage this year. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not softening significantly from last year’s line, judging by recent comments reported by Ha’aretz (which also has concerns about the …

Read more…

President Obama’s speech on the Middle East and North Africa

President Barack Obama is due to give an open-air speech on Dublin’s College Green on Monday afternoon. That a huge crowd will be there to hear him is not in doubt. Neither is the President’s speech-making ability. Indeed, it has been one of the hallmarks of his presidency and the campaign which preceded it. Remember the foreign policy speech he gave in Berlin in July 2008 to an estimated crowd of 200,000? It was great. He spoke about the US …

Read more…

Osama Bin Laden killed in Pakistan

The BBC are reporting that Osama Bin Laden has been killed in a US special forces raid on a compound in Abbottabad, 60 miles north-east of Islamabad. From the BBC: After a “firefight” Bin Laden was killed and his body taken by US forces, the president said. Mr Obama said “no Americans were harmed”. US officials said Bin Laden was shot in the head after resisting. US media reports said that the body was buried at sea to conform with …

Read more…

Tunisia. Egypt. Where next?

First Tunisia. Now Egypt. The dominoes are toppling. Autocrats across the region and beyond are trembling as 2011 becomes the year of people power. Where next? That’s the question on the perspiring lips of despots and dictators everywhere as they realise that even the dollars, arms and political might of the United States can’t be counted on to save them from their people’s demand for human rights. The Economist has come up with a rather fun way of predicting which …

Read more…