Israeli fighter jets during a 2011 demonstration
Stewart M. Patrick and Andrew Reddie

Israel’s January 31 aerial attack on a Syrian research facility and arms complex has raised once again the thorny question of when preemption against a developing threat may be justified under international law—as opposed to simply strategic calculation. Predictably, the Israeli bombardment elicited a hail of criticism from some regional and global players. Syria has threatened to retaliate, while Iran has suggested that Israel would regret its violation of Syrian sovereignty. The Russian response, however, was particularly intriguing, since it highlights an ongoing disagreement over the circumstances in which the use of force may be warranted.

In the aftermath of the Israeli strike, Russia’s foreign ministry stated, “if this information is confirmed, then we are dealing with unprovoked attacks on targets on the territory of a sovereign country, which blatantly violates the UN Charter and is unacceptable, no matter the motives to justify it.”

Russia, of course, has a long history of defending the principle national sovereignty, particularly as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. In their complaint, Russian officials invoked paragraph four of Article 2 of the UN Charter, which reads, “all Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state….” In Moscow’s view, this uncompromising statement renders the Israeli attack on Syria unacceptable under international law.

In fact, international law contains greater ambiguities than Moscow admits. Article 2 must be read in conjunction with Article 51of the UN Charter, which reads, “nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations.” From a legal standpoint, the question is, was the Israeli attack a legitimate response to a perceived threat?

Barak last month in Davos (World Economic Forum)

Judgement about the legality of armed force in instances of self-defense typically have to pass what is often referred to as “the Caroline test” of imminence. In 1837, British forces attacked a U.S.-flagged steamboat (the SS Caroline) being used to supply rebels in Upper Canada against the British colonial government. In his famous analysis of the incident, the U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster exculpated the British. “Even supposing the necessity of the moment authorized them to enter the territories of the United States at all, they did nothing unreasonable or excessive.” The act was justified, inasmuch as the “necessity of self-defense was instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation.” Subsequent international legal development has generally embraced this idea insofar as self-defense is allowed in anticipation of attacks that are imminent, though the precise contours of this standard remain contested.

Much more problematic is the launching of a “preemptive” attack against a threat that is developing but not yet imminent. A decade ago, in its 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States PDF, the administration of George W.Bush enunciated a right to “preemption”. The basis of this controversial doctrine was that in an age of catastrophic threats, the United States needed the leeway to launch armed attacks to protect itself from catastrophic threats that were emerging but not yet fully realized.

Israel has not acknowledged the strike, so it has not provided any legal justification, but its actions fall on the preemption side of the line. Experts speculate that it had three purposes. The first was to destroy Syrian heavy weapons, including SA-17 surface-to-air missiles, that Israel worries could be transferred to Lebanon, helping Hezbollah upgrade its offensive capabiltiies. The second was to warn Damascus not to use (or lose control of) its biological and chemical weapons, which had been the subject of research at the facility. The third was to signal to Iran Israel’s readiness to launch devastating attacks if the Iranians approach nuclear weapons capability.

As outgoing Defense Minister Ehud Barak said cryptically in Davos, the attacks provided “another proof that when we say something we mean it.”

From Israel’s perspective, the failure of the UN Security Council to act to stop the bloodshed in Syria—and prevent the spillover of weapons to its neighbors, mitigates the violation of Syrian sovereignty. The action should also be placed in the context of past missions targeting suspected nuclear facilities in Osiraq, Iraq, and Deir ez-Zor, Syria.

(IDF)

Clearly, Israel holds a broad view of what constitutes its self-defense. This view is sustained by the fact that Israel and Syria have failed to sign a peace agreement following their most recent conflagration in 1982. For their part, Israel and Hezbollah have remained at odds following conflict in 2006 while Israel, along with the United States, has labeled them a terrorist organization. These geopolitical concerns explain the circumspect reaction from Washington. As Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta explained drily, “the United States supports whatever steps are taken to make sure these weapons don’t fall into the hands of terrorists.”

Israel’s use of force may be a prudent act of statecraft. Whether it is formally legal is another matter, and doubtless of secondary concern in Jerusalem.

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Ideas

Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam

Born some eight centuries ago, the famed poet and philosopher Rumi offered ideas on religion that bear little resemblance to the brand of Islam being imposed right now in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.

The work of 13th-century poet Rumi still resonsates today

Mihir Chitre

Among the various Afghan cities that the Taliban has invaded and apparently "reclaimed" in recent weeks is Balkh, a town near the country's north-western border. Interestingly, it was there, about 800 years ago, that a man called Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born.

Some see the grotesque exhibitionism of the Taliban advance as a celebration of Islam or a "going back to the roots" campaign. As if followers of Islam were always like this, as if every willing Muslim always propagated austerity and oppressiveness. As if it was always meant to be this way and any shred of liberalism was a digression from the quest of the religion.

In fact, a look at the history of the religion — and of the region — tells a different story, which is why there's no better time than now to rediscover the wisdom of the poet Rumi, but without doing away with its religious context.


In a world where Islam is a popular villain and lots of terrible acts across the world in the name of the religion have fueled this notion among the West and among people from other religions, it's paramount that we understand the difference between religion as a personal or spiritual concept and religion as an institution, a cage, a set of laws created to control us.

Why do you stop praying?

To begin with, and largely due to the film Rockstar, the most famous Rumi quote known to Indians goes like this: "Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there's a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi's original Persian verse, however, uses the words kufr (meaning infidelity) and Imaan (meaning religion), which was translated as "wrongdoing" and "rightdoing." To me, the original verse surpasses the translation with a vital, often missed, often deliberately forgotten, interpretation, which is to highlight the fact that there is humanity, love and compassion or a certain kind of mystical quality to life beyond the concept of religion and that is the ultimate place, the place where Rumi invites us to meet him.

It would be incorrect now to read this and think of Rumi as irreligious. In fact, he was quite the opposite. But his interpretation of religion was personal, spiritual and not institutional or communal or exhibitionist.

In one of his poems, translated by Coleman Banks as "Love Dogs" in English, a man who has stopped praying to God because he never got a response meets "Khidr," an angel messenger, in his dream:

Why did you stop praising (or praying)?

Because I've never heard anything back.

This longing you express is the return message.

To me, through this poem, it's clear that Rumi advocates for a personal relationship with God. In fact, he goes on to say that being true to God is to long for his validation or nod, that life is longing.

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevl\u00e2na Museum in Konya, Turkey

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevlâna Museum in Konya, Turkey — Photo: Georges Jansoone/Wikimedia

Don't sweep the history of Islam with the broom of radicalism

For those familiar with the European literature of the 20th century, I could say that this echoes the ideas of Samuel Beckett. But remember: Rumi lived 800 years ago, at the heart of what we call the "Muslim world." To equate Islam on the whole with repressiveness and hostility, as many of us do today, might just be a criminal contradiction then.

It's also interesting to note that after the Quran, Rumi's is probably the most widely read work in the Islamic world, which suggests that Rumi's ideas, which may sound too progressive for anyone remotely associated with Islam in today's world, have, in fact, been accepted and cherished by the Islamic world for centuries. Sweeping the whole history of the Islamic world with the broom of radicalism wouldn't then be the fairest assessment of either the religion or of radicalism.

This physical world has no two things alike.
Every comparison is awkwardly rough.
You can put a lion next to a man,
but the placing is hazardous to both.

(From the poem: "An Awkward Comparison")

It's tragic that the Taliban has ravaged the same place with their own power-hungry, totalitarian interpretation of the religion which once produced a mind that embraces it with wide arms of warmth and peace and refuses to be compared with other followers of the same.

How to cure bad habits?

It is vital for us to separate groupism or communalism, which often escalates to barbarism, from the thought it is based on. It is vital then to read and reread that what Rumi sees as religion is the private association with God. It is also vital to mark the emphasis on individuality in Rumi's thought.

All the Western ideas of liberalism are based on the idea of individuality, which in turn is based on post-renaissance European thought. Asian philosophy is contrasted with its Western counterpart in the fact that it is rooted in mysticism as opposed to individuality.

Islam itself has long had a tradition of mysticism that is known as Sufism. Sufism is a sort of an inward dimension of Islam, a practice that encourages a direct, personal connection with the divine, a spiritual proximity to the omniscient that transcends the physical world and temporarily subverts immediate reality.

Sufism is the quest for the truth of love and knowledge, without necessarily always distinguishing between the two. Rumi was known as the Mevlana (Maulana) and his poetic collection Masnavi meaning "the spiritual couplets" is known as the Persian Quran. He was no doubt a mystic, a Sufi, and one who strongly endorsed the personal, for the most intimately individual is the truly spiritual.

Rumi might remain unparalleled in not just the Islamic world but also in the world of philosophy and poetry across the globe. Another thing that he will remain is dead. The Taliban, on the other hand, at least for now, looks rampant and alive.

It is now up to us, the other people who are alive, and the ones who are going to be born — not just Muslims but everyone else as well — to choose which interpretation of Islam we uphold or react to, how we read history, and what we borrow from it.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

(From the poem: "My Worst Habit")

I think what we, as a world, need now more than ever is to be sent back to Rumi.

https://thewire.in/culture/re-reading-rumi-in-the-time-of-the-taliban
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