Friday 22 Feb 2019 | 23:32 | SYDNEY
Friday 22 Feb 2019 | 23:32 | SYDNEY

Weekend catch-up: Islam and ISIS, Bibi in DC, Nemtsov, drones, India's budget and more



7 March 2015 08:00

Bringing together the best Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.

How is the Islamic world responding to the threat of ISIS? Two pieces addressed this question on The Interpreter this week. The first is from Lauren Williams who wrote on the Lebanese Sunni political party, Future Movement, and how similar groups throughout the Middle East may represent the moderate voices needed to counteract the extremist rhetoric of ISIS:

It's fair to say that the majority of Lebanon's Sunni Muslims don't subscribe to ISIS and al-Nusra's radical doctrines; the presence of radical groups has even united the rival factions to set aside their domestic disputes in the face of a common enemy, and a national dialogue between the March 8 and March 14 camps has made progress.

But at a time when Sunni identity is increasingly linked to an existential battle against their Shiite adversaries, secularism rings hollow, especially when backed up by poverty and neglect. The Future Movement and the Sunni leadership need to tap into and reverse Sunni grievance, and provide a moderate religious counter-narrative in response to the more successful recruitment campaigns of ISIS and al-Nusra. It must regain the trust and respect of Sunni Lebanon and restore it's position as the champion of Sunni Islam. It can do this by promoting its moderate Islamic credentials while offering economic and financial support to its main constituents in northern Lebanon.

Vanessa Newby also wrote a very good piece on how the Arab world views ISIS:

My sense is that most Middle Easterners recognise that ISIS does not reflect genuine Islamic values and believe the group is just opportunistically seeking power. A survey of the region in 2014 found ISIS received almost no support in Arab states. Interestingly, Sunni support for ISIS is described as high by some Western and Israeli commentators.

However, 'almost no support' is not the same as 'zero support', and in Egypt and Jordan, active support for ISIS has emerged. It is fair to assume that in these cases socio-economic factors are partly to blame, something President Obama referred to in his speech at a recent anti-extremism summit. The summit received minimal attention from Middle East media owing to the local belief that US policy in the region is the root cause of extremism there, and because states at the coalface of extremism, such as Lebanon, did not attend. Local politics also play a role. In Egypt, support for ISIS is in part a response to the Government's crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic groups.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his highly anticipated and divisive speech on the Iran nuclear negotiations in Washington on Tuesday. Anthony Bubalo had this take on Bibi:

In effect, therefore, Bibi argued that America should just walk away.

But then what? He didn't argue the case for imposing more sanctions on Iran, perhaps because he understands that sanctions have not prevented Iran from developing its nuclear program to date. And while increased sanctions over the last year have helped bring Iran to the negotiating table they are unlikely to be sustainable in the longer term, given their reliance on Russian and Chinese cooperation.

Nor did he say anything about military action, perhaps in the knowledge that even among many Republican allies there is little appetite for dragging America into another costly war in the Middle East.

Prominent Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was murdered in central Moscow last weekend. He had been investigating Russian military involvement in eastern Ukraine before his death. Matthew Sussex wrote on Russia's fractured liberal opposition:

Nemtsov knew he might be killed. He had spoken of the possibility as recently as a fortnight ago. Yet his death is more than just a sign that liberals are once again potential execution targets. It will be a vital test of opposition to Putin's rule inside Russia. Nemtsov's murder has already caused popular outrage, as evidenced by this morning's march in Moscow. If it sparks widespread civil disobedience, it will be a sign that Putin's seemingly immovable spot at the apex of Russian politics is vulnerable. But if the liberal intelligentsia accept it meekly and with only token protests, it will demonstrate the direct opposite: that there is still no realistic alternative to the government in the Kremlin.

Rodger Shanahan deconstructs a story in The Australian about Prime Minister Tony Abbott:

According to the story, the PM raised an operational planning idea in his office and then sought the advice of Australia's 'leading military planners'. Not the normal way of doing things, for sure, but plausible. By the time I got to the second paragraph, however, my 'sloppy journalism' warning light began flashing. And when I noticed that the article failed to define who 'Australia's leading military planners' were, the light stopped flashing and just stayed on.

New Zealand is planning to send soldiers to assist in training efforts in Iraq. But Robert Ayson says the deployment decision actually reflects a divided political leadership:

But on one issue Prime Minister Key seems firm. New Zealand's forces will be in Iraq for only two years and then they will come out. As this exit date comes before the next general election in New Zealand, in theory at least National is not committing any future government to continue the mission it has started. But at that point the trans-Tasman partners may be in different positions. In one interview Mr Key said he expected 'Australia will stay longer, so they'll either backfill with more people of their own or maybe they'll find another training partner or whatever.'

It looks more likely that Australia will acquire armed drones from the US. Ben FitzGerald argues that, alongside making sure that the Australian Government develops the right regulations and norms to govern their use, Australia also needs to make sure that other nations in the region use them in line with the global rules-based order:

The greatest risk to Australian interests is not that other nations will acquire drones and use them against us (if it were, buying drones of our own would not be a remedy). The more likely risk is that some nations will use them in ways that undermine the rules-based international order that Australia subscribes to, or will increase regional instability through risky use (such as China flying a drone toward the Senkaku islands in September 2013). These incidents are likely to increase in frequency as nations acquire drones and seek to push the boundaries of international norms or re-establish them in their favour.

Julian Snelder on how China's infrastructure handled the annual holiday migration of China's increasingly mobile middle class:

Today there are 154 million cars on China's roads, up tenfold in 15 years. Not surprisingly, the explosive growth in the car population and the new-found joys of driving home resulted in horrendous traffic jams during chunyun, made more treacherous by snowstorms and an alarming accident rate. Chinese drivers are stoic and complaints are seldom aired. Even the not-so-open road offers mobility and freedom to workers that was unattainable just a few years ago. The misery of the last train home is fading, and the true liberation of China's workers is drawing nearer: when they don't all have to go on vacation at the same time.

What was in the first budget of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's new government in India? Leon Berkelmans took a look at subsidies:

The new Indian Government brought down its first full-year budget last weekend. It has been keenly anticipated. Business Standard claimed: 'The market is expecting the Union Budget to be path-breaking, similar to the one in 1991, which led to the liberalisation of the Indian economy.' 

As it was, the budget did not live up to that billing, but such expectations were unrealistic. The 1991 budget is legendary, formulated in a time of crisis. But with growth in India now reported to be 7.5%, there is no such acute urgency pervading the corridors of power. The budget, nonetheless, was received well. The Financial Times said that the package 'moves things in the right direction'.

Andrew Carr previewed a new book he has just published, Winning the Peace: Australia's Campaign to Change the Asia-Pacific:

Australians sometimes wonder if their nation has a grand strategy. I think it did. It was called 'Engagement' and it has now come to an end.

Beginning in the 1950s and 60s and re-doubled in the 1980s and 90s, Australia's leaders began a historic turn of their nation from West to East. For many this is believed to be a still-distant goal. After all, most of us don't speak an Asian language, too many don't realise Bali is in Indonesia, and our foreign policy keeps looking toward the Middle East and singing sweet notes about the Anglosphere.

Yet on the terms the Engagers actually sought, the policy has been thoroughly achieved.

Cautious about culture and history, their terms of success were focused on gaining economic and political access as a basis for influence and security. Today, Australia's top six export markets and five of our top six import markets are in the Asia Pacific, with the US the only Anglosphere nation to feature prominently in both lists. Politically we have guaranteed ourselves a seat at the table of all of the region's major forums. We have created and reformed institutions, and helped shape the region's values and norms on such key issues as trade, non-proliferation and irregular migration. We no longer fear economic or political isolation as we once did. This is our region and we are no longer the odd man out or even the odd man in, but thoroughly at home.

Stephen Grenville asks if the TPP will be a good deal for Australia:

If the peer-pressure dynamic of plurilateral agreements often fosters progress, this can also work to our disadvantage if our interests have been overridden. Just as we had no choice (for political reasons) but to sign off on the Australia-US FTA, not signing up to the TPP if it is finalised would be an admission of failure at the political level. We'll sign on, even to a disadvantageous treaty.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Montecruz Foto.

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