At Large

At Large

The Sacrificial Love of Lebanon’s Christians

By 4.18.14

I recently returned from the Middle East, where I captured stories for a film project about Christians living their faith in the face of crippling persecution. In Beirut, Lebanon, I spoke with two Lebanese Christians, Georges Maalouly — a 48-year old, Orthodox father of three — and his friend Father Joseph — a priest at St. Tetla’s Catholic Church. They explained how Christians in Lebanon are coping with the arrival of more than a million refugees from Syria.

Most Syrian exiles are Sunni Muslims, and their arrival has started to drastically alter Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance of Sunnis, Shiites and Christians. Economically, Syrian workers are driving down wages, and refugees place a severe burden on Lebanon’s already overtaxed and underfunded infrastructure. Despite this, many Lebanese Christians are choosing to help meet the needs of these refugees.

Jordan: The civil war in Syria has been raging for over three years. How has the conflict affected the Lebanese people? What challenges have you faced? How do you balance fear and compassion?

At Large

Ready to Join the International Community?

By 4.16.14

The United Nations Human Rights Council angered Iran by renewing the mandate of monitor Ahmed Shaheed, who has criticized Tehran’s abuses. His work remains vital as long as Iran violates its citizens’ most basic rights.

At the same time nuclear negotiations continue. Dealing with Tehran could turn into the Obama administration’s greatest foreign policy success or another disaster. If the interim Geneva agreement leads to permanent denuclearization of the Islamic Republic of Iran, President Barack Obama can claim an achievement nonpareil. If the effort collapses, he will look dangerously naïve.

Everything depends on whether Tehran, and not just President Hassan Rouhani, is serious. No surprise, many analysts — and more importantly, paladins of Capitol Hill — remain skeptical. And that doubt has fueled efforts to impose new sanctions, which would impede if not kill efforts to reach a final accord.

If Iran is serious about joining the community of nations, it should demonstrate that commitment in practical ways. One of the most important symbols of Iranian irresponsibility today is its ruthless persecution of religious minorities. 

At Large

Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom Doesn’t Belong in a Museum.

By 4.11.14

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the sound of nails scratching on the Blackboard Jungle. The body ostensibly honored Kiss, Cat Stevens, Nirvana, and Peter Gabriel, among others, by inducting them into their club last night at a party at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. But the real honor goes to all those bands—Def Leppard, The Cure, Cheap Trick, etc.—snubbed from the guest list. "Yeah, yeah, yeah" and "Be-Bop-A-Lula" and "Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom" don’t belong cooped up behind a glass case in a museum.

The Sex Pistols understood this when they refused attendance at their induction a few years back. “Next to the SEX PISTOLS rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain,” the punk rockers announced in 2006. “Were not your monkey and so what?” They redundantly added: “Were not coming.” The Sex Pistols may never have nailed the music. But here, as in so much, they grasped the attitude—even in their intentional grammatical faux pas. 

At Large

The Whistleblower vs. Mugabe at the UN

By 4.1.14

Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is a corrupt authoritarian. The United Nations is a wasteful, inefficient organization that tolerates corrupt authoritarians. Unfortunately, the two don’t make beautiful music together.

But not everyone at the UN is corrupt. One hero is Georges Tadonki, a Cameroonian who for a time headed the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Zimbabwe. The others are three judges in a United Nations Dispute Tribunal who last year ruled for Tadonki in a suit against the venerable international organization.

Soon we will find if members of a UN appeals panel possess equal courage. That ruling is expected soon with rumors circulating that these judges might reverse course and absolve the organization of misconduct.

In 2008 President Robert Mugabe, who took power in 1980, was busy ruining the former British colony. Elements of the rule of law and democracy survived in Zimbabwe, but Mugabe and ZANU-PF, the ruling party, employed violent intimidation to preserve control. They were quite prepared, like Samson, to bring down the temple. Good governance was the last thing on their minds.

At Large

Nigeria’s Internal Insecurity State

By 3.28.14

ABUJA, NIGERIA—Like so many developing states, Nigeria showcases poverty while exhibiting potential. People are entrepreneurial but the state is exploitative. Wealth is made but too often stolen. Evidence of security—which really means insecurity—is everywhere.

Americans also suffer from crime, of course. But most of us fly around the country without giving the matter much thought. We hop into our cars without a bodyguard joining us. There are areas a smart traveler wouldn’t go. But most folks in the U.S. rarely imagine the potential of a daylight robbery or kidnapping.

Not so in Nigeria, however. I traveled with a journalist group on a business tour. We were met by representatives of the organizer, along with a driver and two national policemen armed with AK-47s. When we convoyed with figures of business or political note the guard multiplied dramatically.

All of my hotels around the country—Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt—had metal detectors. High walls and gates manned by armed security personnel. And multiple security guards, at the entrance, wandering the grounds, and even stationed by the elevators on each floor overnight.

At Large

The Classroom Plot

By 3.12.14

A demand for segregation of the sexes. A requirement for Islam-focused religious studies.

A ''Trojan Horse'' plot to remove Principals who won’t comply.

Welcome to Britain’s latest struggle with Sunni Islamist extremism — the battle of the classroom.

On Friday, the Birmingham News local news outlet to Britain’s second largest city — reported that self-styled ''jihadists'' are seeking to destabilize a number of Birmingham schools.

Their target — those institutions that will not yield to their agenda.

At Large

Pain in the India Partnership

By 3.7.14

Of late, the news from India has been dismaying. Economic growth according to the International Monetary Fund has declined to 4.6 per cent for fiscal 2014, nowhere near the high single digits achieved in recent years that delivered tens of millions out of poverty. Inflation estimated at almost 10 percent for 2013 is a major challenge for the Reserve Bank of India, the nation’s central bank. Aggressive deregulation of massive government bureaucracy which had come to be known as License Raj has stalled, as has privatization of state-owned enterprises with the decline of the Rupee and investor confidence. Foreign direct investment has also been a disappointment, reflecting unease about tax policies, political risk, and governance. Agriculture, which employs over half the work force but represents only 17 percent of GDP, has not received the emphasis of the Green Revolution which started in the late 1960s.

At Large

Six Years and Counting

By 3.4.14

Twenty years ago, Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates, decided to reinvent itself as the financial and business hub of the Middle East — a latter day Hong Kong and Singapore rolled into one.

The leaders planned a frenzy of building activity, but lacked skilled managers to oversee the projects. They found expatriates to do the job, Americans and other Westerners. Zack Shahin of Ohio was one of them. He joined Deyaar, a developer formed by local investors. He became its CEO and oversaw several major projects. The board was so pleased it awarded him a $100,000 performance bonus.

Then, on March 23, 2008, undercover agents walked into a meeting and took him away without explanation. He was kept in solitary confinement for days and finally ordered to sign a document in Arabic (which he could not read) confessing to misappropriating company money.

At Large

What Will Putin Do?

By 2.26.14

“Fluid” is the one word that describes the rapid flow of events in Ukraine over the last five days. The unpopular President, Viktor Yanukovych, decamped from Kiev for parts unknown; the parliament appointed a new government; finance officials kept telephone lines busy talking with European and U.S. Treasury counterparts to try to put together a $35 billion aid package needed to bail out the country’s damaged economy.

The bailout would take weeks and, put through the International Monetary Fund, would require unpopular reforms such as currency devaluation and reductions of state subsidies of natural gas (which comes from Russia).

That, in turn raises a very big question: What will Putin do? To keep his plans to himself, he has stood aside, letting Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expand the Russian narrative to the effect that the months of protest were the work of paid “foreign” agents; that Yanukovych’s ouster was a “coup” and the new government is “illegitimate.”

At Large

Afghanistan Realities

By 2.24.14

Has anyone asked what exactly the United States seeks to have in a post-Karzai Afghanistan? Presumably Washington has given up on the idea of a traditional Western democracy. The country is just not culturally disposed in that manner. Pashtun tribal councils dominate in their primarily south and eastern regions and similar socio-ethnic situations exist in the northern and western areas of Tajiks, Hazara, and Uzbeks. Smaller ethnic groupings spread around the nation. For the ordinary American citizen footing the bill, there has been no explanation as to why Afghanistan is strategically important to the U.S. There are no dominoes to fall; there is no great energy wealth to protect or seaways to dominate.