British government under pressure to impose total ban on Hezbollah

A fighter walks past a tank bearing a Hezbollah flag in the Qara area, in Syria's Qalamoun region, on August 28, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 25 January 2018

British government under pressure to impose total ban on Hezbollah

LONDON: The British government is under renewed pressure to outlaw Hezbollah in the UK by making no distinction between its military and political wings.
In the House of Commons, Labour chair of the friends of Israel Joan Ryan moved a motion on Thursday that called for Hezbollah to be designated a terrorist organisation and for Britain to impose a complete ban to bring it into line with Canada, the US, the Arab League and the Netherlands. 
Currently, Hezbollah’s military wing in is proscribed but not its political organisation which is based in Lebanon and supported by Iran.
“There is no distinction and we need to be clear about that,” Ryan said in the UK parliament.
She listed the string of deadly attacks carried out by Hezbollah in recent decades and said the organization, “Has wreaked death and destruction throughout the Middle East” while helping to drive Iran’s expansionism in the region.
 Hezbollah’s mounting military capability poses a growing threat to the Middle East she continued. “It has trebled the size of its fighting force from 17,000 to 45,000 men…it now has an estimated 120,000 to 140,000 rockets and missiles – an arsenal larger than that of many states.”
Ryan also accused the group of “aiding and abetting the Assad regime’s butchery in Syria”.
UK government policy currently opposes changing the designation for fear of further destabilizing Lebanon.
Speaking in favour of full proscription, Conservative MP David Jones said that "Hezbollah is the most destabilising influence in Lebanon," and described the group as "a dangerous, aggressive terrorist organisation." 
Ian Austin was one of several Labour MPs to defy a party briefing note circulated prior to the debate advising MPs to vote against a full ban and stating that: “Full proscription could be a move against dialogue and meaningful peace negotiations in the Middle East.”
“The idea Hezbollah is a partner for peace is misguided,” Austin said.
Speaking in support of the motion, Conservative MP Theresa Villiers said Hizbollah had been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks around the world, with the “most notorious” at a Jewish centre in Buenos Aries, Argentina where a bomb killed 85 and injured hundreds in 1994. An Argentinian inquiry pointed the finger at Hezbollah and Iran. 
Villiers added that Hezbollah been a “deeply malevolence presence in the Syrian civil war”. 
The Ryan motion has not received support from the UK government or the Labour shadow cabinet and is unlikely to gain traction.
But Ryan said: “Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation, driven by an anti-semitic ideology which seeks the destruction of Israel. It has wreaked death and destruction throughout the Middle East. It makes no distinction between its political and military wings, and neither should the British government. “
David Ibsen, the executive director of the Counter Extremism Project, said that Hezbollah itself does not recognise a distinction between these entities and emphasised the need for “a new realism in the UK about the nature of Hezbollah.”
“There is no ‘military’ and ‘political’ wings of Hezbollah, it is one pernicious terrorist organisation founded and bankrolled by Iran. Hezbollah’s top officials brazenly acknowledge this fact.”
Arab governments have expressed mounting concern over Iran’s growing sphere of influence in the Middle East and its use of Hezbollah to engineer an expanded role in regional conflicts.
A statement released by the Arab League last November accused Tehran and its proxy of destabilising the region.
Ibsen said: “Thousands of Hezbollah fighters made the crucial difference in Syria for Bashar al-Assad and have trained Houthi rebels in Yemen on behalf of their Iranian benefactors.”
A spokesperson for Syria Solidarity UK outlined the “extensive crimes against Syrian civilians” carried out by Hezbollah, which “took part in the mass displacement of hundreds of thousands” of people in Aleppo and other areas.
“The failure of British MPs to come together to protect civilians in Syria has allowed Hezbollah to expand, has increased the threat of terrorism, and has worsened the refugee crisis,” the spokesperson said.
Pressure to extend the ban has intensified in recent weeks following a US crackdown on Hezbollah’s international financing networks with the launch of a new ‘narco-terrorism’ task force to investigate the group’s cross-border drug trafficking and money laundering activities.
During a speech on January 12 in which he described the Iranian regime as “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror,” President Trump called on all US allies to re-classify Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organisation and take stronger steps to “confront Iran’s other malign activities.”
Visiting Lebanon on Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury’s Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing Marshall Billingslea “urged Lebanon to take every possible measure to ensure (Hezbollah) is not part of the financial sector,” according to a statement by the US embassy in Beirut.
Hezbollah is one of 60 groups listed as foreign terrorist organisations by the US State Department.
In addition to bringing the UK’s position into closer alignment with Trump’s hardline stance on Iran, a move to extend the ban would also answer voices from the Israel lobby, which has repeatedly called for a crackdown on the group.
Michael McCann, director at the Israel Britain Alliance, described the UK’s designation of Hezbollah as “wrong headed” and said it “bears responsibility for the murder of innocents across the globe.”
“Hezbollah’s operations breach the 2000 UK Terrorism Act and the group must be banned, it’s that simple,”  he said.


Jakarta literary festival aims to give a voice to the voiceless

Updated 16 min 53 sec ago

Jakarta literary festival aims to give a voice to the voiceless

  • The four-day festival features authors from the Middle East and Africa
  • The festival unites international authors with dozens of fellow writers from Indonesia

JAKARTA: The inaugural Jakarta International Literary Festival commenced on Tuesday evening with a focus on bringing together writers and literary works from the Global South. 

Festival Director Yusi Avianto Pareanom said that the organizer, the Literary Committee of the Jakarta Arts Council, wanted to emphasize the importance of creating balance in a discourse that has been dominated by work from the Global North.

The four-day festival features authors from the Middle East and Africa, such as Legodle Seganabeng from Botswana, Adania Shibli from Palestine, Bejan Matur from Turkey, Zainab Priya Dala from South Africa, Shenaz Patel from Mauritius, Momtaza Mehri from Somalia and many authors from Southeast Asian countries.

The festival unites international authors with dozens of fellow writers from Indonesia at the Taman Ismail Marzuki arts and cultural center in Jakarta between Aug. 20 and 24.  

“Our theme ‘Fence’ highlights that we want to unlock and deconstruct the barriers that separate us, so that these writers can get to know each other,” Yusi told Arab News. 

“From authors like Adania Shibli, we can enrich our knowledge about Palestine and its literary scene. There are plenty of ways to portray a situation. Through Shibli, we can get understand Palestine through its literary side.

“By featuring Bejan Matur, we know that there is another prominent Turk author apart from the world-renowned Orhan Pamuk,” he added. 

Shibli delivered her keynote speech titled “I am not to speak my language” at the opening of the festival, in which she described how the Israeli occupation has silenced Arabic-speaking Palestinians.

“The phenomenon of Palestinians taking refuge in silence whenever they are around Hebrew speakers in Palestine or Israel is not unfamiliar,” Shibli said.

She added that decades of military occupation had made speaking in Arabic a fraught experience. 

“Colonialism, however, does not only show contempt toward the colonized, their history and their culture by silencing them, but also toward their language,” she said.  

Shibli described how the nationality law, which the Israeli government passed in July 2018, strips Arabic of its designation as an official language and downgrades it to a special status. 

“Arabic was downgraded from a language into a threat a long time ago,” she added. 

Yusi said that what Shibli described in her speech is relevant to similar situations in other countries, including Indonesia. 

Multilingual Indonesia has more than 700 actively spoken local dialects, with 652 of them verified by the Ministry of Education and Culture. Many of the remaining dialects are in danger of dying out due to diminishing speakers, especially among the younger generation.