What is Russia doing in Syria? By Patrick Cockburn

A must read article analyzing the interests of different players in Syrian civil war and ISIS. It is almost impossible for USA to have a cohesive strategy in the current crisis when its allies have contradictory interests of their own. The decision to send American soldiers/advisers to help Kurdish army is a nightmare scenario for Turkey and it may decide to undermine it. Iraq, Iran, Russia and Huzebullah are helping Assad to stay in power. For Shia it is a matter of personal survival and for some oil rich states, especially Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, it is a matter of economic survival because most of the oil fields are located in Shia territory in their countries. For these states, Shia issue takes precedent over ISIS curse. Spread of Shia-Sunni conflict in the world is part of the same strategy by these oil rich states. (F. Sheikh).

The military balance of power in Syria and Iraq is changing. The Russian air strikes that have been taking place since the end of September are strengthening and raising the morale of the Syrian army, which earlier in the year looked fought out and was on the retreat. With the support of Russian airpower, the army is now on the offensive in and around Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, and is seeking to regain lost territory in Idlib province. Syrian commanders on the ground are reportedly relaying the co-ordinates of between 400 and 800 targets to the Russian air force every day, though only a small proportion of them come under immediate attack. The chances of Bashar al-Assad’s government falling – though always more remote than many suggested – are disappearing. Not that this means he is going to win.

The drama of Russian military action, while provoking a wave of Cold War rhetoric from Western leaders and the media, has taken attention away from an equally significant development in the war in Syria and Iraq. This has been the failure over the last year of the US air campaign – which began in Iraq in August 2014 before being extended to Syria – to weaken Islamic State and other al-Qaida-type groups. By October the US-led coalition had carried out 7323 air strikes, the great majority of them by the US air force, which made 3231 strikes in Iraq and 2487 in Syria. But the campaign has demonstrably failed to contain IS, which in May captured Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria. There have been far fewer attacks against the Syrian branch of al-Qaida, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the extreme Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham, which between them dominate the insurgency in northern Syria. The US failure is political as much as military: it needs partners on the ground who are fighting IS, but its choice is limited because those actually engaged in combat with the Sunni jihadis are largely Shia – Iran itself, the Syrian army, Hizbullah, the Shia militias in Iraq – and the US can’t offer them full military co-operation because that would alienate the Sunni states, the bedrock of America’s power in the region. As a result the US can only use its air force in support of the Kurds.

The US faces the same dilemma in Iraq and Syria today as it did after 9/11 when George Bush declared the war on terror. It was known then that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, Osama bin Laden was a Saudi and the money for the operation came from Saudi donors. But the US didn’t want to pursue al-Qaida at the expense of its relations with the Sunni states, so it muted criticism of Saudi Arabia and invaded Iraq; similarly, it never confronted Pakistan over its support for the Taliban, ensuring that the movement was able to regroup after losing power in 2001.

Washington tried to mitigate the failure of its air campaign, officially called Operation Inherent Resolve, by making exaggerated claims of success. Maps were issued to the press showing that IS had a weakening grip on between 25 and 30 per cent of its territory, but they conveniently left out the parts of Syria where IS was advancing. Such was the suppression and manipulation of intelligence by the administration that in July fifty analysts working for US Central Command signed a protest against the official distortion of what was happening on the battlefield. Russia has now taken advantage of the US failure to suppress the jihadis.

But great power rivalry is only one of the confrontations taking place in Syria, and the fixation on Russian intervention has obscured other important developments. The outside world hasn’t paid much attention, but the regional struggle between Shia and Sunni has intensified in the last few weeks. Shia states across the Middle East, notably Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, have never had much doubt that they are in a fight to the finish with the Sunni states, led by Saudi Arabia, and their local allies in Syria and Iraq. Shia leaders dismiss the idea, much favoured in Washington, that a sizeable moderate, non-sectarian Sunni opposition exists that would be willing to share power in Damascus and Baghdad: this, they believe, is propaganda pumped out by Saudi and Qatari-backed media. When it comes to keeping Assad in charge in Damascus, the increased involvement of the Shia powers is as important as the Russian air campaign. For the first time units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have been deployed in Syria, mostly around Aleppo, and there are reports that a thousand fighters from Iran and Hizbullah are waiting to attack from the north. Several senior Iranian commanders have recently been killed in the fighting. The mobilisation of the Shia axis is significant because, although Sunni outnumber Shia in the Muslim world at large, in the swathe of countries most directly involved in the conflict – Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon – there are more than a hundred million Shia, who believe their own existence is threatened if Assad goes down, compared to thirty million Sunnis, who are in a majority only in Syria.

In addition to the Russian-American rivalry and the struggle between Shia and Sunni, a third development of growing importance is shaping the war. This is the struggle of the 2.2 million Kurds, 10 per cent of the Syrian population, to create a Kurdish statelet in north-east Syria, which the Kurds call Rojava. Since the withdrawal of the Syrian army from the three Kurdish enclaves in the summer of 2012, the Kurds have been extraordinarily successful militarily and now control an area that stretches for 250 miles between the Euphrates and the Tigris along the southern frontier of Turkey. The Syrian Kurdish leader Salih Muslim told me in September that the Kurdish forces intended to advance west of the Euphrates, seizing the last IS-held border crossing with Turkey at Jarabulus and linking up with the Syrian Kurdish enclave at Afrin. Such an event would be viewed with horror by Turkey, which suddenly finds itself hemmed in by Kurdish forces backed by US airpower along much of its southern frontier.Click link below for full article.


‘Turkey’s Most Important Woman’ By Alev Scott

Turkey is having its general elections on November 1, 2015. Turkey was the model of stability and democracy among Muslim nations but recently it is going through serious political upheavals. Among the chaos a new woman leader, Figen Yuksekdağ , is emerging. Upcoming election is critical how it moves forward. ( F. Sheikh).

ISTANBUL — Figen Yuksekdağ would be a superstar in a country less suffocated by macho politics.

As co-chair of the party which unexpectedly robbed the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of its ruling majority in June, Yuksekdağ  is one of the most important politicians in Turkey today. She is also the embodiment of the leftist Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) commitment to gender equality, in a country that ranks 120 of 136 on the Global Gender Gap Index. All positions in the HDP are split between a woman and a man as a matter of policy, but it would be ludicrous to view Yuksekdağ as “the token woman.”

Since the age of 17, when she was arrested for the first time in a street protest in southeast Turkey, she earned her political stripes with decades of activism before becoming co-chair of the party at its formation three years ago. She is also the kind of politician who dismisses Tansu Çiller, Turkey’s first — and only — female prime minister, as “a cheap copy of Margaret Thatcher.” It is safe to say Yuksekdağ is not a cheap copy of anyone.

As Turkey steels itself for the snap election called by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for November 1, Yuksekdağ, 44, is at the forefront of the HDP’s battle to retain its presence in Parliament and again deny the AKP its ruling majority. Yet she receives virtually no exposure in Turkish media — even less than her male counterpart, Selahattin Demirtaş — due to major TV stations boycotting HDP members, who have been accused of spreading “terrorist propaganda” by government officials and Erdoğan himself. The ostensible reason lies in the party’s high-profile backing of Kurdish rights and involvement in the now-stalled Kurdish peace process, which was set to end 40 years of conflict between the PKK, a Kurdish militant group, and the Turkish government. The cynical reason is a PR war of attrition against the HDP.

The party, which advocates decentralization of power and minority rights, stormed into Parliament for the first time in June with 13 percent of the vote, clearing Turkey’s uniquely high 10 percent electoral threshold for representation. It was, according to Yuksekdağ, “the most exciting, most hopeful moment in recent political history, perhaps the most euphoric of my life.”

Since then, the country has witnessed what she bluntly calls a “war”: a resurgence of the conflict between Turkish troops and the PKK in the southeast, the most deadly terrorist attack in Turkish history, and physical attacks on HDP members and regional headquarters. If the party gets less than 10 percent of the vote on November 1, the AKP will almost certainly win back its ruling majority — “the worst possible” outcome, according to Yuksekdağ.



“Jeremy England, The Man Who May One-Up Darwin” By Meghan Walsh

( It is interesting read after lecture by Babar Sahib on the same subject. It has some divine dimensions also. F. Sheikh)

“Every 30 years or so we experience these gigantic steps forward. …And this might be it.

                            Carl Franck, a Cornell physics professor”

The 101 version of his big idea is this: Under the right conditions, a random group of atoms will self-organize, unbidden, to more effectively use energy. Over time and with just the right amount of, say, sunlight, a cluster of atoms could come remarkably close to what we call life. In fact, here’s a thought: Some things we consider inanimate actually may already be “alive.” It all depends on how we define life, something England’s work might prompt us to reconsider. “People think of the origin of life as being a rare process,” says Vijay Pande, a Stanford chemistry professor. “Jeremy’s proposal makes life a consequence of physical laws, not something random.”

In the most basic terms, Darwinism and the idea of natural selection tell us that well-adapted organisms evolve in order to survive and better reproduce in their environment. England doesn’t dispute this reasoning, but he argues that it’s too vague. For instance, he says, blue whales and phytoplankton thrive in the same environmental conditions — the ocean — but they do so by vastly different means. That’s because that while they’re both made of the same basic building blocks, strings of DNA are arranged differently in each organism.

Now take England’s simulation of an opera singer who holds a crystal glass and sings at a certain pitch. Instead of shattering, England predicts that over time, the atoms will rearrange themselves to better absorb the energy the singer’s voice projects, essentially protecting the glass’s livelihood. So how’s a glass distinct from, say, a plankton-type organism that rearranges it self over several generations? Does that make glass a living organism?

These are pretty things to ponder. Unfortunately, England’s work hasn’t yet provided any answers, leaving the professor in a kind of speculative state as he doggedly tries to put numbers to it all. “He hasn’t put enough cards on the table yet,” Franck says. “He’ll need to make more testable predictions.” So it remains to be seen where England will land in the end. Other scientists have made similar claims about energy dissipation in the context of non-equilibrium thermodynamics, but none has found a definitive means for applying this science to the origin of life.

So what does God have to do with all this? In his quest for answers, England, of course, finds himself at the center of the classic struggle between science and spirituality. While Christianity and Darwinism are generally opposed, Judaism doesn’t take issue with the science of life. The Rabbinical Council of America even takes the stance that “evolutionary theory, properly understood, is not incompatible with belief in a Divine Creator.”

For his part, England believes science can give us explanations and predictions, but it can never tell us what we should do with that information. That’s where, he says, the religious teachings come in. Indeed, the man who’s one-upping Darwin has spent the past 10 years painstakingly combing through the Torah,interpreting it word by word much the way he ponders the meaning of life. His conclusion? Common translations are lacking. Take the term “creation.” England suggests we understand it not as the literal making of the Earth but rather as giving Earth a name. All throughout the Bible, he says, there are examples of terms that could be interpreted differently from what we’ve come to accept as standard.

That even applies to some of the good book’s most famous players, like Joseph, the ancient biblical interpreter of dreams, who rose to become the most powerful man in Egypt after the pharaoh. Maybe, England suggests, he wasn’t a fortune-teller. Maybe he was a scientist.



‘Ancient civilization: Cracking the Indus script’ By Andrew Robinson



The Indus civilization flourished for half a millennium from about 2600 bc to 1900 bc. Then it mysteriously declined and vanished from view. It remained invisible for almost 4,000 years until its ruins were discovered by accident in the 1920s by British and Indian archaeologists. Following almost a century of excavation, it is today regarded as a civilization worthy of comparison with those of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, as the beginning of Indian civilization and possibly as the origin of Hinduism.

More than a thousand Indus settlements covered at least 800,000 square kilometres of what is now Pakistan and northwestern India. It was the most extensive urban culture of its period, with a population of perhaps 1 million and a vigorous maritime export trade to the Gulf and cities such as Ur in Mesopotamia, where objects inscribed with Indus signs have been discovered. Astonishingly, the culture has left no archaeological evidence of armies or warfare.

Most Indus settlements were villages; some were towns, and at least five were substantial cities (see ‘Where unicorns roamed’). The two largest, Mohenjo-daro — a World Heritage Site listed by the United Nations — located near the Indus river, and Harappa, by one of the tributaries, boasted street planning and house drainage worthy of the twentieth century ad. They hosted the world’s first known toilets, along with complex stone weights, elaborately drilled gemstone necklaces and exquisitely carved seal stones featuring one of the world’s stubbornly undeciphered scripts.

Follow the script

The Indus script is made up of partially pictographic signs and human and animal motifs including a puzzling ‘unicorn’. These are inscribed on miniature steatite (soapstone) seal stones, terracotta tablets and occasionally on metal. The designs are “little masterpieces of controlled realism, with a monumental strength in one sense out of all proportion to their size and in another entirely related to it”, wrote the best-known excavator of the Indus civilization, Mortimer Wheeler, in 19681.

Once seen, the seal stones are never forgotten. I became smitten in the late 1980s when tasked to research the Indus script by a leading documentary producer. He hoped to entice the world’s code-crackers with a substantial public prize. In the end, neither competition nor documentary got off the ground. But for me, important seeds were sown.Indus2

More than 100 attempts at decipherment have been published by professional scholars and others since the 1920s. Now — as a result of increased collaboration between archaeologists, linguists and experts in the digital humanities — it looks possible that the Indus script may yield some of its secrets.

Since the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in Egypt in 1799, and the consequent decipherment of the Egyptian hieroglyphs beginning in the 1820s, epigraphers have learnt how to read an encouraging number of once-enigmatic ancient scripts. For example, the Brahmi script from India was ‘cracked’ in the 1830s; cuneiform scripts (characterized by wedge-shaped impressions in clay) from Mesopotamia in the second half of the nineteenth century; the Linear B script from Greece in the 1950s; and the Mayan glyphs from Central America in the late twentieth century.

Several important scripts still have scholars scratching their heads: for example, Linear A, Etruscan from Italy, Rongorongo from Easter Island, the signs on the Phaistos Disc from the Greek island of Crete and, of course, the Indus script.

In 1932, Flinders Petrie — the most celebrated Egyptologist of his day — proposed an Indus decipherment on the basis of the supposed similarity of its pictographic principles to those of Egyptian hieroglyphs. In 1983, Indus excavator Walter Fairservis at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, claimed in Scientific American2 that he could read the signs in a form of ancient Dravidian: the language family from southern India that includes Tamil. In 1987, Assyriologist James Kinnier Wilson at the University of Cambridge, UK, published an ‘Indo-Sumerian’ decipherment, based on a comparison of the Indus signs with similar-looking ones in cuneiform accounting tablets from Mesopotamia.

Three problems

In the 1990s and after, many Indian authors — including some academics — have claimed that the Indus script can be read in a form of early Sanskrit, the ancestral language of most north Indian languages including Hindi. In doing so, they support the controversial views of India’s Hindu nationalist politicians that there has been a continuous, Sanskrit-speaking, Indian identity since the third millennium bc.


posted by f. sheikh