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Scotland, Nationalism, and Freedom

By , September 30, 2014 4:33 am
What would have been the flag of independent Scotland, alongside the British flag (Photo: Lawrence Lew / Flickr)

What would have been the flag of independent Scotland, alongside the British flag (Photo: Lawrence Lew / Flickr)

Cross-posted from the Globe Monitor.

Scotland recently rejected freedom, and voted in favor of staying in the United Kingdom. Of course, this will not be the last time we hear from Scottish nationalism, and voices for self-determination and recognition will continue to be heard, until sovereignty is achieved and Scotland’s earns its rightful place among the nation-states of the world.

However, apart from setting a paradigm in self-determination for the rest of the world, the Scottish referendum also gave us a lesson in the ground realities of history and nationalism.

From The Annals of History

1707 was a big year for both England and Scotland. Voluntary acts passed by the Scottish and English parliaments led to the Union of the two countries, and resulted in the creation of the Parliament of Great Britain. Back then, there were several ideological pillars on which the Union rested: the British Empire, the Royal Navy, Protestantism, et al.

Yet, after over 300 years, all of these ideological notions have either perished or become virtually dormant. Thus, when Norman Davies predicted in 2012 that the United Kingdom no longer deserves to be “united”, it seemed like the only plausible and logical choice for Scotland to take the next step forward and head towards liberty.

On Nationalism

The desire to have one’s own nation-state, or at least to be recognized as a nation-state, can have either of these two causes:

1. Being forced to be a part of some other country or nation.

2. Being eater to be apart of one’s own country or nation.

In the first case, secessionist movements in the erstwhile Soviet Union serve as the biggest examples. Kremlin’s policies in 1920s-30s created a jigsaw puzzle of pseudo-ethnic entities all around USSR, and this eventually led to ethnic outbursts and nationalist movements towards the end of the twentieth century.

The second case, on the other hand, is a typical showcase of pure nationalism. It is not enough to be recognized as a part of one state; nationhood is mandatory. Both Scotland and England, for the rest of the world, were one entity in terms of identity: British. However, being British is not the same as being Scottish, or being European. This is where the concept of nationalist identity comes into play: ethnic distinctions can be extinguished over a period of time, but national distinctions tend to stick around.

As such, being a part of UK not only undermines one’s Scottish identity, but also deprives him/her of a pan-European supra-national identity.

The Question of Scotland

So why did Scotland vote ‘No’?

British nationalism is a political consequence. It has been constructed, not built. Thus, each time a constituent state of the United Kingdom rethinks its identity or wishes to change the status quo, London’s political considerations come into play. UK can preserve itself (at least as of now) by citing economic, social, territorial and even religious reasons. Practical constraints, if properly manipulated, can overshadow nationalist sentiments. An independent Scotland can perform well — ‘can’ is not the same as ‘will’.

In that case, when will Scotland attain freedom?

Eventually.

Once again, take up the case of Soviet Union. Much like London, Kremlin too had constructed a sense of nationalism all around USSR. Soviet identity came before other ethnic or regional ones. However, the day Perestroika promised a sense of freedom, it triggered nationalist sentiments and the Union collapsed.

In a similar fashion, England has promised a good deal of stuff to Scotland. David Cameron made every emotional appeal that he could come up with, just to retain Scotland in the United Kingdom. This is where things get interesting: the Scottish people will now expect these promises to be delivered, and going by UK’s record, it might not be an easy task.

Appraisal

All said and done, Scotland will have to wait for its freedom. Speaking of waiting for freedom, there are a lot many nations currently doing the same, albeit each of them has a different story to tell.

For instance, the likes of Scotland and Quebec have done their homework in self-determination, and even though the referenda have not offered a breakthrough yet, legal and political status of such nations is no longer questionable.

On the other hand, cases such as Bangsamoro in The Philippines or the various nationalist movements all over Europe, such as Northern Cyprus, Aragon and Andalusia, still have a long journey to cover both in terms of recognition and self-determination.

Freedom movements and nationalist tendencies all over the world have their own social, cultural, historical and sometimes territorial backgrounds. Thus, we need to judge each case in its own context. Scotland’s ‘Yes’ vote would have shaken the boundaries of the United Kingdom, both literally and metaphorically. However, the ‘No’ vote too will have a tectonic impact: neither UK nor Scotland will ever be the same! It is only a matter of time before Scotland and various other nations achieve their destiny and fulfill their quest for statehood. Right to national identity can only be delayed, not denied.

Sufyan bin Uzayr is the author of Sufism: A Brief History and the editor of the Globe Monitor.He writes for several print and online publications, and regularly blogs about issues of contemporary relevance at Political Periscope. You can also connect with him using Facebook or Google+ or email him at [email protected].

Foreign Policy In Focus

Iraqi Minorities Press for Militias to Fight Islamic State

By , September 30, 2014 4:31 am

BAGHDAD — Iraqi minority groups are pressing to set up militias to defend themselves against extremist group Islamic State, but complain they face resistance from a central government fearful that this would inflame separatist sentiments.

The militias would be part of a U.S.-backed plan for a national guard. Members of these ethnic and religious minorities said they would wait until the government passes legislation setting up the force so as not to add to the country’s chaos.

The minorities behind the push–particularly Yazidis, Turkmen and Christians–have borne the brunt the rapid advance of Islamic State, while the Iraqi military has failure to confront the Sunni insurgents. Their minority groups’ appeals to set up their own militias to defend themselves are growing louder.

Fanning fears of leaders in Baghdad, Christians are pressing for their own semiautonomous region in northern Iraq, much like the one the larger Kurdish minority group already has. The Yazidis already have an active militia that has been battling Islamic State militants for months.

“There is a fear of dividing the country due to demands made by different groups in Iraq,” said Ghassan al-Husseini, an adviser to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. “We believe that all minorities have the right to defend themselves, especially in their own areas. But we also believe it should not be away from the government.”

Mr. Abadi and other officials acknowledge that given the Iraqi military’s advanced state of disrepair, small ethnic and religious groups should be allowed to fight back and, in some cases, with close government supervision, receive arms and training from the state.

But the same officials worry that these calls to arms will lead to calls for autonomy and may end up wresting political authority from Baghdad in a country already on the brink of splitting apart.

Iraq’s political discourse already echoes with demands for independence. Leaders of the Kurdish minority have their own semiautonomous region and military force, which has received an influx of international aid. The Kurds have talked about holding a referendum on independence.

The oil-rich southern city of Basra has asked loudly for more ownership over its petrol resources.

Some Sunni tribes in the country’s west have made common cause with Islamic State militants against the government.

The central government has sought to tamp down talk of separatism. In a news conference on Sunday, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said calls for independence were “constitutional but inconvenient.” In a recent Friday prayer sermon, the powerful Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani warned against dividing Iraq under the pretext of fighting Islamic State.

The national guard program is meant to formalize the various irregular militias that have filled the void left by Iraq’s shattered military following Islamic State’s initial advance since June. While the details have yet to be ironed out, the plan would offer light weapons and armor to local forces who would fight mostly in their territory and under the command of local governments. Proponents said it would allow ethnic and religious groups to police themselves while also putting them under government oversight.

That could help curb wartime sectarian abuses while allowing the central authority in Baghdad to present itself as the sole force safeguarding the country, said Zaid al-Ali, an Iraqi-American researcher and author of The Struggle for Iraq’s Future.

“If you allow Turkmen, Yazidis or Christians to retake these areas, basically you’re saying that you’ve given up,” said Mr. Ali. “My impression is that they don’t want to give the impression that they have given up on keeping people safe.”

Minority leaders said progress on the new law has been delayed. While resentful of the government’s slack pace, most insist on convening fighting forces within the limits of the law so as not to be seen as contributing to Iraq’s disintegration.

“The federal government should pay more attention to the different groups in the country,” said Hassan Toran, a member of parliament from the Turkmen Front, the political representation for the estimated half million Iraqi Turkmen. “We tried in the past to form armed groups, but the government declined to accept them.”

Many leaders within the Turkmen minority, who speak a language with roots in Turkish, would like to carve an independent state out of the violently contested, multiethnic province of Kirkuk.

Some of Iraq’s approximately half million Christians have pushed for a semiautonomous region in the northern Nineveh valley–a stretch of barren land now almost entirely occupied by Islamic State.

During the early days of the insurgency in June, some Christian leaders instructed adherents to put on military uniforms to give off an intimidating air of militancy, said Bassim Bello, a Christian activist and the mayor of Telkif in Nineveh. But that didn’t last, he said.

The most organized and effective minority fighting force belongs to the Yazidis, an ancient religious group whose persecution at the hands of Islamic State fighters first prompted U.S. intervention in August.

Yazidi leaders say their 15,000 to 20,000 fighters have been engaging their enemies for months near the northern Sinjar Mountains. While Yazidi leaders have been the quietest among other minority groups about demanding more autonomy, they still resent the lack of government aid.

“We are fighting by ourselves and no one is helping us,” said Samer al-Sheikh, the son of Baba al Sheikh, the Yazidi political leader. “We requested that the Iraqi government and the Kurds help us, but nobody cares.”

Safa Majeed and Ghassan Adnan contributed to this article.

Assyrian International News Agency

Jewish and Chaldean Leaders Urge Action in Iraq

By , September 29, 2014 10:49 pm

Metro Detroit’s Jewish community joins with our Chaldean neighbors calling upon the Obama administration and Congress to take immediate, concrete, forceful action to rescue, protect and provide desperately needed humanitarian aid to Christians and other minorities in Iraq.

Chaldeans and Assyrians in Iraq have been targeted for their Christian faith by ISIS and others in an unabashed ethnic-cleansing campaign. Thousands have lost their lives, hundreds of thousands have lost their homes and possessions, and the list of victims grows literally by the hour.

The world is aware of this genocidal devastation, but it has failed to take definitive steps necessary to end the imminent threat against these innocent victims. Congress passed nonbinding resolutions in 2010 (S. Res. 322 and H. Res 944) calling on the Obama administration to work toward ending the marginalization and persecution of ethnic minorities in Iraq. Last month, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2170 condemning gross, widespread abuse of human rights by extremist groups in Iraq and Syria, and demanding that UN member states impose sanctions on the funding and shipment of arms from their citizens to ISIS.

While such measures are important, they are woefully insufficient to meet and deflect the threat faced by Iraqi Christians. The White House and Congress must come together immediately to do the following:

Lead a coalition of willing governments, non-government organizations (NGOs) and other groups to provide direct military protection for Christian and other minority communities threatened by ISIS and other terrorist groups. With innocent lives on the line, this is not the time to be timid in the use of protective military force.

Liberate the 250,000 residents trapped in Christian and other minority villages in the Nineveh Plains, and find a long-term plan to safely resettle them elsewhere in Iraq.

Work with the Iraqi and Kurdish governments and others, as called for in House Res. 683, to establish corridors of safe passage for embattled civilians to reach secure interim humanitarian sites for their respite and recovery.

Provide sufficient direct humanitarian aid and compensation to the threatened and displaced.

Determine durable solutions for the repatriation of displaced persons when possible, and for their resettlement in third countries.

Pass the Nineveh Plain Refugee Act (H.R. 5430), a bipartisan measure to swiftly and significantly increase the issuance of refugee visas by the United States.

Encourage third countries to increase the number of refugee visas they issue to Iraqi refugees.

At a time when hundreds of thousands of lives hang precariously in the balance, the U.S. must not just join coalition efforts. It must convene and take the lead in such efforts.

Supplied by Dr. Richard Krugel, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit; and Alex Stotland, chairperson of the Anti-Defamation League – Michigan Region Advisory Board.

Assyrian International News Agency

Jewish and Chaldean Leaders Urge Action in Iraq

By , September 29, 2014 10:49 pm

Metro Detroit’s Jewish community joins with our Chaldean neighbors calling upon the Obama administration and Congress to take immediate, concrete, forceful action to rescue, protect and provide desperately needed humanitarian aid to Christians and other minorities in Iraq.

Chaldeans and Assyrians in Iraq have been targeted for their Christian faith by ISIS and others in an unabashed ethnic-cleansing campaign. Thousands have lost their lives, hundreds of thousands have lost their homes and possessions, and the list of victims grows literally by the hour.

The world is aware of this genocidal devastation, but it has failed to take definitive steps necessary to end the imminent threat against these innocent victims. Congress passed nonbinding resolutions in 2010 (S. Res. 322 and H. Res 944) calling on the Obama administration to work toward ending the marginalization and persecution of ethnic minorities in Iraq. Last month, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2170 condemning gross, widespread abuse of human rights by extremist groups in Iraq and Syria, and demanding that UN member states impose sanctions on the funding and shipment of arms from their citizens to ISIS.

While such measures are important, they are woefully insufficient to meet and deflect the threat faced by Iraqi Christians. The White House and Congress must come together immediately to do the following:

Lead a coalition of willing governments, non-government organizations (NGOs) and other groups to provide direct military protection for Christian and other minority communities threatened by ISIS and other terrorist groups. With innocent lives on the line, this is not the time to be timid in the use of protective military force.

Liberate the 250,000 residents trapped in Christian and other minority villages in the Nineveh Plains, and find a long-term plan to safely resettle them elsewhere in Iraq.

Work with the Iraqi and Kurdish governments and others, as called for in House Res. 683, to establish corridors of safe passage for embattled civilians to reach secure interim humanitarian sites for their respite and recovery.

Provide sufficient direct humanitarian aid and compensation to the threatened and displaced.

Determine durable solutions for the repatriation of displaced persons when possible, and for their resettlement in third countries.

Pass the Nineveh Plain Refugee Act (H.R. 5430), a bipartisan measure to swiftly and significantly increase the issuance of refugee visas by the United States.

Encourage third countries to increase the number of refugee visas they issue to Iraqi refugees.

At a time when hundreds of thousands of lives hang precariously in the balance, the U.S. must not just join coalition efforts. It must convene and take the lead in such efforts.

Supplied by Dr. Richard Krugel, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit; and Alex Stotland, chairperson of the Anti-Defamation League – Michigan Region Advisory Board.

Assyrian International News Agency

Baylor Hosts Panel About ISIS’ Persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria

By , September 29, 2014 5:07 pm

Baylor Hosts Panel About ISIS’ Persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria

By Kristianna Gross

Posted 2014-09-29 21:31 GMT

WACO — As world leaders come together to take on the brutality of ISIS, thousands of Christians are fleeing from their homes to nearby countries.

Baylor University hosted a panel discussion on “The Crisis Facing Churches in Iraq and Syria.”

Three professors with close ties to the area talked about their personal experiences and described ISIS’ persecution of Christians and other religious minorities.

Just last month, ISIS captured hundreds of Yazidis and Christians alike and offered them a choice, either convert to Islam or face death.

These kinds of acts are forcing thousands of Christians to seek refuge in nearby countries, like Turkey.

One of the speakers, Ph.D. Abdul Saadi described what he’s been told it’s like to be a Christian in the area.

“Our very existence as an ethnic group in Iraq, which we have been there for the last 7,000 years, we were eradicated; we were kicked out in less than seven hours.”

Saadi went on to say that dealing with ISIS isn’t just a Middle East problem, it’s a global issue.

“It is a problem and a crisis for everybody, not only the Christians in the Middle East, but the Muslims in the Middle East, most of the Muslims in the Middle East, it’s a crisis against the whole entire world.”

Saadi says ISIS should not be dismissed as radical, terrorist group because they are proud to be that.

Each of the speakers emphasized that one way Americans can help is to keep Christians in the Middle East in their prayers and to be a voice for the thousands of Christians who don’t have one.

Assyrian International News Agency

Bangladeshi Workers Organize to Protect Their Most Valuable Export: Themselves

By , September 29, 2014 11:27 am
bangladesh-migrant-domestic-workers-labor-rights

Women attend a gathering on safe labor migration in Jessore, Bangladesh (Photo: Nafisah Ula)

May: Banani, Dhaka, Bangladesh

“Mariah” is a small woman with an unexpectedly intense stare. All of us in the hotel conference room crane our necks to see her as she rises to address the table of advocates and NGO representatives gathered for a meeting on safe migration.

She declares her story: she has just returned from Jordan, where she had been working as a domestic worker. To get there, she had sold her land—she needed every penny she could scrounge.

When she arrived in Jordan, Mariah soon discovered that she would be forced to work in “five different houses, for five different wives.” She slept only three hours a night and was beaten when she finally worked up the courage to ask for her salary. Eventually her desperate husband was able to reach a local NGO and start the process for her rescue.

While Mariah is free, she has nothing to show for her work, and the NGO interpreter next to me pointedly notes she is lucky that her husband accepted her back, implying sexual abuse at the hands of the employer family.

I am here as part of a delegation of labor rights advocates organized through the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center to exchange ideas around human trafficking, migration, and union organizing in Bangladesh. In the evolving global economy, migrants facing virtual indentured servitude abroad—and coming home to debt and social isolation—feels like the new normal.

Next to Mariah at the table is “Akhtar,” who trembles as he tells the group that his wife has been missing for five months. Tears fill his eyes as he shares his futile efforts to go through the recruiting agency that sent her overseas. He spreads out papers: contracts, identity documents, and correspondence, creased and discolored—like he has been carrying them around in the hopes of meeting someone who can intervene.

I watch from the other side of the room as he points and explains each paper to the two government officials who had spoken earlier—the same government officials whose pitiless advice following Mariah’s story had been, “people should know the name of the agency they are giving money to, and memorize the phone number of the embassy.” I feel a flicker of hope as they study the documents while we watch, but it’s hard to tell what the outcome here will be. Several days after this meeting I learned that the even the Bangladeshi embassies in countries where migrant Bangladeshis work are not able to properly respond to workers in crisis.

In Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries on the planet, more than 157 million people live on about 57,000 square miles of land. That’s a population greater than Russia’s living in a country smaller than the state of Illinois. We heard over and over again that Bangladesh’s prime economic resource is its abundance of people—and indeed, alongside agriculture and garment manufacturing, “labor exporting” is a pillar of the economy. In 2013, more than $ 13 billion was sent home from Bangladeshi migrants working overseas.

The national government officials we met with seemed at once detached from the suffering of migrant workers yet proud of the quality of their “exports.” On the local level, where officials and NGOs seem to work collaboratively to educate Bangladeshis about safe migration, we saw a more complicated picture. Labor migration is a rare viable option to support a family in a poor country like Bangladesh, but these small local partnerships are not reaching enough of the population. Because of these gaps, potential migrants might still take risks in desperation, like working with dalals (middlemen) who cheat them with few consequences.

But the dalals are not the only problem. The Bangladeshi government has yet to effectively regulate even the “registered” recruiting agencies, which charge enormous and erratic fees. And even as they are quick to point to unscrupulous middlemen as rogue actors, these agencies often contract dalals to find them potential migrants. Bangladeshi recruiters told us that they have to bid for the contracts from the receiving countries, which hold all of the bargaining power, and the costs are passed on to the migrant. Migrants sell property and borrow huge sums in order to pay the fees to migrate—only to have no guarantee that they will actually be paid fairly, if at all, when they arrive.

Advocates in Bangladesh are pushing for lower, fixed fees based on destination country, but acknowledge that the best outcome for migrant workers would be a “zero-fee” system implemented on a global level.

In the Unites States, where migrant and domestic workers are excluded from many of the federal protections extended to other workers, labor rights activists are also pushing for such a system.

May: Mirpur, Dhaka, Bangladesh

At the Technical Training Center (TTC) in Mirpur, one of 42 centers in the country that teach more than 30 trades, we tiptoe into ongoing classes for domestic workers. In Bangladesh, outgoing domestic workers are required to have 21 days of training before they depart. Most of that time is spent learning practical skills like using household appliances. Through an innovative partnership with the Bangladeshi Migrant Women Workers Association (BOMSA)—a group founded by returned female migrants—domestic workers also get three days of “know your rights” training.

The first room we enter is hot, the lights are off, and two ceiling fans whirr above us, working diligently to cool the room. Twenty-five women sit in neat rows on mats on the floor. Two desks are situated at the front of the room, though they are not being used by the two teachers—organizers from BOMSA, who are pacing energetically as they question the students about what they’ve learned so far. “Where are you going?” they ask the students for our benefit. Ten are going to Dubai, six to Lebanon, five to Jordan, and two each to Qatar and Oman.

The teachers review some tips for self-preservation, encouraging the women to surreptitiously carry a phone number for BOMSA and to record their passport numbers. Some women will hide the numbers on an Arabic prayer card, while others will sew them into the hem of their clothing. It’s hard to fathom that this level of concealment would be necessary for someone going on a government-sponsored work visa, but one returning worker told me that it’s not uncommon for employers in the Gulf to require the newly arrived domestic worker to immediately shower, and then search and confiscate all her documents while she bathes.

Finding creative ways to hide these lifelines is just one part of the “technical training” offered by the TTCs. Other advice included opening two bank accounts (one for yourself and one that your family at home can access) and learning some “shaming” words and gestures in Arabic to thwart aggressive husbands who may try to cross boundaries. Our interpreter and Solidarity Center staffer, Liya, works hard to keep up with the energetic, almost shouting, teachers who lead the students in repetitions of these phrases.

Moving into the next room, a much bigger crowd of women have already taken their seats on the mats. The room is a rainbow of brightly colored cotton and silk set against a spartan model kitchen and living room. Our BOMSA teacher squeezes past the crowd, gets to the podium, and asks the students to recite the rights of migrants. They hold one finger up: “I have the right to a job.” They hold a second finger up: “I have the right to be paid.” A third finger, “I have the right to be free from harassment.” Fourth: “I have the right to contact my family.” All five fingers go up: “I have the right to safely return to my family.”

At this point, I expected their fingers to form into a fist, a sign of power. But instead, they wiggled their fingers and used the imagery of a star. A star: an acknowledgement that these women are driving the economy, that they’re stars and heroes for taking this risk of migration in order to help themselves, their families, and their country.

Paradoxically, I learned later that the reason the Dhaka TTC was so crowded compared to other regional centers was because many women wanted to take their training secretly, or at least privately, in a different city far from their villages because they were ashamed of being migrant domestic workers. As important as they are to the economy, not just in Bangladesh but globally too, domestic workers are still facing marginalization and a lack of respect for their contributions.

Back in the BOMSA office for a lunch break of rice and vegetables, I immediately spot a poster proclaiming: “DOMESTIC WORKERS ARE WORKERS!” and urging support for International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189.

The convention, passed in 2011 and since ratified by 14 countries and counting, was historic: it was the first convention to specifically address the widespread labor exploitation of domestic workers—including migrants as well as natives. Domestic workers, including members of an AFL-CIO delegation from the United States, were present and active in the discussions, reports, and voting that led up to Convention 189′s passage. In the time leading up to the convention, domestic worker organizing groups from across the globe formed into the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF). The IDWF has the potential to restore power and pride in domestic work and to amplify community organizing as a tool in places like Bangladesh.

While Bangladesh has not signed on to Convention 189, there is an IDWF-affiliated national domestic workers association working to push for ratification. And the Solidarity Center, BOMSA, and other local organizations are working overtime to educate potential migrants about safe migration and labor rights. Our delegation observed everything from courtyard meetings of 15 people to an event in an open-air market with more than 100 people. The groups are filling a critical information and services gap, yet they are struggling to keep their doors open.

While our group was there, we met with workers from many sectors—garment manufacturing, construction, domestic work, technology—who all shared similar challenges related to poverty, fraud, debt, discrimination, and abuse—whether at the hands of the factory owner, the dalal, the recruitment agency, or the household employer.

bangladesh-migrant-domestic-workers-labor-rights-

Women in Dhaka receive training in migrant domestic work—and their rights. (Photo: Gregory Cendana)

September: Washington, DC, United States

It has been four months since I returned to DC from Bangladesh, but I can see the faces of the women I met just as clearly as ever.

As a social worker turned organizer on the issues facing domestic workers here in the United States, I’ve noticed that my work hasn’t changed as much as I thought it would. Cultivating identity, power, and self-determination are steps not only to healing, but also to justice in the workplace.

The incredible, growing union movement in the Bangladeshi garment sector that sprung up after the horrific tragedy at Rana Plaza is one example of what can be achieved when anger and devastation are channeled into organizing. That movement is being led by an army of young women organizers. There is so much potential to create change, but a labyrinthine global system of recruiters, subcontractors, and employers is complicating the pathway to decent work.

Beyond organizing and services on the ground in Bangladesh, government action is sorely needed. The United States has a supportive role to play here: from including stronger labor rights as a condition of trade and development assistance to supporting the government of Bangladesh as it negotiates agreements with destination countries to level the playing field for Bangladeshi workers, who remain among the most vulnerable in Asia.

On the global level, a commitment to banning recruitment fees charged to workers and guaranteed inclusion of all workers, including migrants, in fundamental labor rights protection is a starting point to make a dent in this kind of exploitation.

The United States can set an example by expanding federal-level protections for domestic workers who were cut out of the New Deal , and by finally passing legislation that would ensure transparency and monitoring of foreign labor recruiters who bring workers to the United States. Like in Bangladesh, domestic workers on temporary visas in the United States face exceptional risk. These workers include women working for diplomats and international officials at the UN and World Bank, but also young people who come on J-1 visas as au pairs to provide essential domestic work to American families yet are virtually invisible in the eyes of the U.S. government.

There’s an inkling of change on the way, but making it real will require a global culture shift beyond legislation. Last year’s Senate immigration bill included strong provisions on transparency and monitoring for workers on temporary visas. But the au pair recruitment and placement agencies are aggressively lobbying lawmakers to remove au pairs from the protections should a new bill be introduced this year. As other sectors of organized domestic work gain bills of rights and wage increases through worker organizing, we’ve witnessed an urgency to keep this invisible sector of domestic work underpaid, isolated, and poorly regulated so it can remain a source of cheap childcare, and increasingly, eldercare.

From Bangladesh to Qatar to the United States, legislation protecting migrant domestic workers is sorely needed. But in the lack of legislative action, education and organizing within migrant domestic worker communities—and the public—appears to be the best hope to put the brakes on this downward spiral.

Tiffany Williams is a senior staffer for the Global Economy Project of the Institute for Policy Studies and the coordinator of the Beyond Survival Campaign at the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

Foreign Policy In Focus

British Couple Accused of Being Anti-Muslim for Singing About a Pig

By , September 29, 2014 11:25 am

British Couple Accused of Being Anti-Muslim for Singing About a Pig

By Katherine Timpf

Posted 2014-09-29 18:24 GMT

A British couple is claiming that they were accused of anti-Muslim racism and thrown off of a bus for singing a song about a cartoon pig to their autistic baby daughter.

Nick Barnfield and Sara Cleaves said they were singing the Peppa Pig theme song and imitating the character in an effort to calm their crying 15-month-old while returning from a hospital visit in Sheffield to their home in South Yorkshire earlier this month.

According to the couple, a woman then complained to the driver that their behavior was clearly a racist reference to the fact that Muslims cannot eat pork.

“She was saying, ‘You’re irresponsible parents teaching your child to be racist. You shouldn’t be singing that to your daughter, it’s a song about pigs and it’s racist,’” Barnfield said.

Barnfield said the driver then ordered them to leave the bus, even though they were still two miles away from home. When the family tried to get onto another bus, he said, the driver immediately told them to leave.

“The driver from the other bus had obviously radioed out to other buses and told them not to let us on,” he said.

Barnfield said it took the family more than two hours to walk home.

Footage of the incident depicts a woman talking to the couple and the driver, as well as the couple leaving the bus.

A spokesperson for the bus company, First, said that the driver has denied that racism accusations were a factor in the incident. The company is still investigating.

Assyrian International News Agency

President Obama’s Twisted Nuclear-Weapons Legacy

By , September 29, 2014 5:45 am

The new National Nuclear Security Administration plant in Kansas City. (Photo: NNSA)

The Obama administration’s nuclear policy was on the receiving end of a one-two punch from the New York Times. First, on September 22, in a piece titled U.S. Ramping Up Major Renewal in Nuclear Arms, William Broad and David Sanger wrote about a new nuclear manufacturing facility in Kansas City and upgrades to the Lawrence Livermore, Sandia, and Los Alamos national laboratories, as well as at the Pantex manufacturing facility (among others). It’s all “part of a nationwide wave of atomic revitalization that includes plans for a new generation of weapon carriers. A recent federal study put the collective price tag, over the next three decades, at up to a trillion dollars.” A useful infographic outlining the upgrades can be found five paragraphs into the Times article. 

If you don’t follow nuclear weapons policy, your reaction may be: “Wait, what? I thought Obama was the disarmament president.” He was — for a brief shining moment. In the first major foreign policy address of his presidency in Prague, President Obama proclaimed “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” Awarding him the Nobel Prize was an attempt to get him to stick to his words. Apparently Obama didn’t see it that way. Broad and Sanger write:

… that modest rebuilding of the nation’s crumbling nuclear complex would speed arms refurbishment, raising confidence in the arsenal’s reliability and paving the way for new treaties that would significantly cut the number of warheads.

Instead, because of political deals and geopolitical crises, the Obama administration is engaging in extensive atomic rebuilding while getting only modest arms reductions in return.

The authors revisit how, after trading nuclear modernization for Republican support the New START treaty, it’s been constant backsliding for the Obama administration. Broad and Sanger write that

… to win Senate approval of the treaty, Mr. Obama struck a deal with Republicans in 2010 that would set the country’s nuclear agenda for decades to come.

Republicans objected to the treaty unless the president agreed to an aggressive rehabilitation of American nuclear forces and manufacturing sites. Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, led the opposition.

… Under fire, the administration promised to add $ 14 billion over a decade for atomic renovations. Then Senator Kyl refused to conclude a deal.

Facing the possible defeat of his first major treaty, Mr. Obama and the floor manager for the effort, Senator John Kerry, now the secretary of state, set up a war room and made deals to widen Republican support. In late December, the five-week campaign paid off.

Gary Samore, who served as the president’s White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction from 2009 to 2013, explains the most recent obstacle to preventing the growth of the nuclear-weapons complex.

“The most fundamental game changer is Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, … That has made any measure to reduce the stockpile unilaterally politically impossible.”

If arms control and disarmament are always the first initiatives thrown overboard when tensions run high between the United States and Russia, progress will always be one step forward and two steps back. Periods of low tension are few and far between the two powers and, besides, as New START can attest, much less progress in arms control and towards disarmament is achieved during quiet periods than you might expect. In spite of that, write Broad and Sanger

The Obama administration says it sees no contradiction between rebuilding the nation’s atomic complex and the president’s vow to make the world less dependent on nuclear arms.

“While we still have weapons, the most important thing is to make sure they are safe, secure and reliable,” said Mr. Poneman, the deputy energy secretary. The improvements, he said, have reassured allies. “It’s important to our extended deterrent,” he said, referring to the American nuclear umbrella over nations in Asia and the Middle East, which has instilled a sense of military security and kept many from building their own arsenals.

The “safe, secure and reliable” argument has become as tiresome as “extended deterrent.” Both would be immaterial if the United States showed genuine leadership on disarmament instead of always trying to make nonproliferation the horse that pulls disarmament’s cart, instead of the other way around as spelled out in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The second punch was a Times editorial the next day titled Backsliding on Nuclear Promises. The editorial board wrote that

… investing tens of billions of dollars in modernizing and rebuilding America’s nuclear arsenal and facilities [and after making] good progress in making nuclear bomb material more secure around the world, Mr. Obama has reduced his budget requests for that priority. [It’s] a shortsighted and disappointing turn.

The board referred to the deal that President Obama made with Republicans to procure their votes for New START as “a Faustian bargain, promising to spend $ 84 billion to upgrade aging nuclear weapons over the next decade, a $ 14 billion increase over the regular $ 70 billion modernization budget.”

Furthermore

Not only is this spending unwise and beyond what the nation can afford, multiple studies by the Government Accountability Office have described the modernization push as badly managed.

… Worse yet, the administration is making a foolish trade-off — pouring money into modernization while reducing funds that help improve security at nuclear sites in Russia and other countries where terrorists or criminals could get their hands on nuclear materials.

It’s gratifying that the New York Times — especially Broad and Sanger, notorious for propagating the conventional wisdom on Iran’s nuclear program — has chosen a moment when relations between the United States and Russia are inflamed to remind us that modernizing nuclear weapons and building and upgrading facilities will only fan the flames.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Iran Threatens to Attack ISIS ‘deep’ Inside Iraq

By , September 29, 2014 5:42 am

Iran Threatens to Attack ISIS ‘deep’ Inside Iraq

Posted 2014-09-29 06:12 GMT

(AFP) — Iran will attack Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) inside Iraq if they advance near the border, ground forces commander Gen. Ahmad Reza Pourdestana said in comments published on Saturday.

“If the terrorist group [ISIS] comes near our borders, we will attack deep into Iraqi territory and we will not allow it to approach our border,” the official IRNA news agency quoted Pourdestana as saying.

ISIS controls a swathe of territory north of Baghdad, including in Diyala province, which borders Shiite Iran.

The United States launched air strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq in August and has since widened them to Syria, where the group has its headquarters, as part of an international coalition to crush the group.

Iran is a close ally of the Shiite-led government in Iraq and has been unusually accepting of U.S. military action in Iraq against the jihadists.

It has provided support to both the Iraqi government and Iraqi Kurdish forces fighting the militants and has dispatched weapons and military advisers.

But Tehran, a close ally of the Damascus government, has criticized air strikes on Syria, saying they would not help restore stability in the region.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said he rejected a U.S. offer to join the international coalition it has been building against the militants.

Assyrian International News Agency

U.S. Military Limits Warplanes Used for Islamic State Bombings

By , September 29, 2014 12:00 am

U.S. Military Limits Warplanes Used for Islamic State Bombings

The U.S. is relying mostly on warplanes already positioned in the region for its air war against the Islamic State, as opposed to dispatching a major buildup of aerial forces that happened in previous campaigns.

The set inventory illustrates the slow, methodical nature of the air-to-ground battle that the Pentagon says will go on for some time. A Pentagon official said there are no plans to send additional U.S. aircraft into the theater.

Since the start of the air campaign on Aug. 8, U.S. Central Command has been choosing predominately small tactical targets in Iraq. It so far has held off from targeting harder-to-find objectives in urban environments where the Islamic State, also called ISIL and ISIS, maintains headquarters, start-up regime offices, courts and military installations.

The emerging strategy appears to be to wait for Iraqi Security Forces, still in a reorganization stage, to tackle those targets. Iraqi troops have seen limited action so far. President Obama has ruled out American ground forces.

“The administration’s approach is the least risky in hazarding American lives or committing to a protracted ground campaign, but is also least likely to change conditions on the ground,” said Dakota Wood, a military analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

The bottom line: This is not a blitzkrieg or a vaunted “shock and awe” operation that would be aimed at quickly reversing the Islamic State’s gains in Syria and Iraq.

“Air without ground is a terribly expensive way to deliver explosives that have minimal lasting effect, especially when the enemy possesses very little that he is critically dependent upon that can also be targeted by air,” said Mr. Wood, a former Marine Corps officer who did planning at Central Command.

The coalition is adding aircraft from France and England. In the first strikes on Syria, the Pentagon said 10 aircraft from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates played a role.

In Central Command’s public rundown of targets, it has not mentioned the various Islamic State installations set up to run captured Iraqi cities, such as Mosul, the terrorist army’s largest conquest since swooping in from Syria in June.

As of Friday, the coalition had conducted a total of 243 strikes in Syria and Iraq over 50 days — an average of five per day.

“What air war?” asked Jon Ault, a retired Navy fighter pilot. “If we’re going to endanger the lives of our young warriors, then let’s turn them loose and let them do what they’re trained to do. Sending them in harm’s way with so many limitations is dangerous and cruel. We could bomb ISIS into oblivion in a matter of days, if not hours.”

The go-slow approach allows the U.S. to damage the Islamic State when and where it can until American advisers complete the task of reorganizing Iraqi Security Forces into units willing to fight. Once that happens, an Iraqi counteroffensive would, in theory, scatter the terrorists into the open and retake pivotal ground, such as the cities of Tikrit and Mosul.

“Sortie rate and number of aircraft will be driven by targeting,” said retired Gen. Merrill McPeak, the Air Force chief of staff during a very different kind of air war — the full-force 1991 Desert Storm. “I suspect it’s a small target set and, therefore, a low sortie and aircraft commitment.”

Noting that the administration’s prime objective is to defeat the Islamic State’s violent ideology, Mr. McPeak said: “You can’t carpet-bomb an idea, or at least you shouldn’t try to.”

The U.S.’ main aerial workhorses are Tomahawk cruise missiles, as well as the Air Force’s B-1B bomber, F-15E Strike Eagle, F-16 Falcons and the radar-evading F-22 Raptor. The U.S. military is relying on one aircraft carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush, and its F-18 Hornets. Desert Storm, whose target list included many of Saddam Hussein’s regime elements, required six carriers in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.

Assyrian International News Agency