An Interview with peace researcher Jan Øberg
Peace researcher Jan Øberg of Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research was the key note speaker at the Peace Justice Conference in April 2017. I had the chance to conduct a short interview with him about the situation in Syria, the lack of insightful media coverage and the collapse of the United States of America.
by Indrė, student at DNS 2016
Could you please summarise the situation in Syria, what is happening? As it’s so complex, I think many people are lost and don’t know what should be their focus points on this matter.
– If you want to understand Syria, forget for a moment about the violence you see and what the media tells you. Start with the net and various books, with the history of Syria. You will find out that it’s about the environmental crisis, authoritarianism being beaten down, struggle for democracy in a very complex society with a very complex class structure and – in particular – foreign interests (Syria and Iran on one hand and Syria and Israel on the other). Parts of Syria are occupied by Israel dating back to 1967 war. It’s about a civil conflict, about interventionists proxy war involving literally thousands of people, groups, terrorist whatever country it is.
Actors, who are fighting their own conflicts and that with the Syrian government on Syrian territory, against which Syria as a sovereign UN member, has a right to self-defence according to the UN Charter article 51. So, it’s a defensive struggle that they have a right to do, nobody talks about it in those terms. They don’t have a right to kill a lot of people, but they have a right to defend their own country within its borders.
It’s about an economic crisis, attempts at liberalisation (economically and politically) that failed for reasons I have to study more, I am not an expert on it. Anxiety and anger from people, after Assad reform policy, seems a classical reaction, because then you start reforms there are increasing expectations of a better life and if those, suddenly, do not come through, you get angrier, although, you may in the last five years have got a better life, but are worried that it will not continue.
It is about Turkey’s very interesting and very unpleasant role in Syria. Turkey’s warfare and actions leading to riots, rebels, insurgency, opposition and terrorists. Turkey’s government has hosted and trained organisations like al Nusra, the White Helmets.
All in all, if you try to put all these things in a formula that Bashar al-Assad is a bad guy and his personality explains everything – you will never understand Syria. However, that’s what the media has done for 6 years. Thereby legitimating our policies which have destroyed a lot, as you can see in my pictures.
I can’t make this simple because this simplification beyond recognition is done by the media and politicians. I recognise that pattern from Yugoslavia where Milosevic was the leader and Iraq where Saddam Hussein was the leader. No matter some people loved him or not or thought he was a great leader – he kept a country together, at least.
The same with Gaddafi, whom I have no sense of, as I haven’t worked in Libya. Everybody in the West thought he was the main problem. What is common for all of them is: all revered and had positive relationships with the West until a certain moment… When they did something, the West didn’t like, in Saddam’s case, he invaded Kuwait and they said: hey, who the hell do you think you are? Then they turned against him.
Milosevic was the best hand of the US for a long time and then they turned against him. Gaddafi was a man who said: I will not get nuclear weapons. He was received in France and elsewhere as a hero. Kind of. Bashar al-Assad, who was given medals, welcomed in the West as well. Then it appears that in 2011 he is mass killing his own people with gas and that he was Hitler and so on.
I can’t simplify it down to 2 or 3 factors because of course, it goes on for such a long time, has killed so many people. Precisely, because it is so difficult and there are so many interests involved. Literally, we are speaking about the friends of Syria being about 100 countries we are talking about two military alliances with US leadership and we have Russia.
You have Hezbollah and you have Iran involved and then you have all the actions inside and many hundred groups from all over the world, coming to Syria fighting it and earning money and killing each other. Don’t ask me to put this into a very simple formula that everybody could understand easily.
Noam Chomsky was once asked in a BBC interview: Who rules the world? May I ask you the same question?
– Who rules the world? That’s difficult to say. Who tries to dominate the world? Obviously, US. But they are increasingly not ruling because rule means some kind of legitimacy. More and more countries around the world do not find that the US is a legitimate ruler anymore. I think we are moving towards a multi-polar system, where many larger countries, but also smaller ones, will be ruling together. At the moment, you are seeing the end of the US Empire.
You mentioned 10–15 years till it’s breakdown…
– I am too optimistic perhaps, but all empires go down. There is no empire that has lasted forever. It’s a safe prediction. I really think the US is destroying itself at the moment. In terms of legitimacy, trustworthiness, honesty, double standards. Telling all the world not to do what they themselves have done 100 times worse. And I don’t think it creates respect. What they will be able to do, a few more years is to pressure countries, to bomb, to do bad things. That does not make you a ruler. A ruler is somebody, who can be a manager, who can be a leader, somebody who you want to follow, voluntarily, because that country is great to follow.
I grew up in the 50s and everybody said: America is a great country. You couldn’t say anything negative. They produced new goods, they were advanced in car production, they had great presidents, like Kennedy, they have – as the saying goes – saved Europe and they were culturally very vibrant.
Some of the best artists that still live in this world are Americans. You have people like Bob Dylan, for example. I mean, all this, gave America a role to play in the world that was second to none, but it was also voluntarily admiration or respect for the country because what it has done and created.
They are still very good at things like iPhones and that kind of stuff. But the majority of people you meet today around the world, they hate the US. I am sorry to say so. I do meet people, anywhere I go and they are very hateful and critical or they say oh, let these guys play it out. They are crazy – and that started way before Mr Trump… They don’t even have the energy to get angry. Go to Iran, they all say we love Americans, but they don’t like American politics.
Axis of evil might play a role here…
– There is nobody who killed more than since 1945 they’ve done a lot of good to the world but the balance sheet is not positive anymore. They’ve been killing so many people. I mean, they are responsible for the killing of about one million Iraqis in 13 years of sanctions and the occupation and all that. And you tell me that Assad is a great mass killer? Sorry, he has not killed 1 million people.
Simple statistics are forgotten. Or you take the assertion that Russia/Putin had probably influenced the American elections. If you read Los Angeles Times, it will tell you that’s what the US has done 80 plus times around the world. You have this immigration law saying that all Syrians, the country which we now destroyed and bombed, together with six other countries, cannot get in. Not welcome anymore. I myself might not be able to get into the US anymore.
Is that true?
– I am a Danish citizen and I’ve been visiting Iran and Syria. If I want to go to the US today, I need to go to US embassy in Copenhagen as a Danish citizen and go through a conversation and I may or may not get it. I, as a Danish NATO member citizen, to be checked specifically because I’ve been to these two countries and it’s in my passport. This is not good. Free movement of people and all that – it’s all gone.
Do you think there will be a day when each Ministry of Defence in the world will be replaced with a Ministry of Peace?
How do you imagine such a day?
– Not in my time though. You’ve could have asked the same question 40 years ago: Will there be Ministries of Environment? Of course, there will. Good things are happening in the world, but you don’t hear about them, they are not news.
I cannot say there will be no Ministries of Defence. I don’t mind the military, I just want that defensive military would work together with civilian means of defence and we could get rid of the arms race, militarism and all these damn wars. Like I also think there should be police in our societies. If somebody wants to kill my wife on the street, I am happy if there is a policeman who can stop it. The situation what we have is an ongoing militarisation in the world, that’s what I am against.
Student at DNS 2016
There is no empire that has lasted forever. It’s a safe prediction. I really think the US is destroying itself at the moment. In terms of legitimacy, trustworthiness, honesty, double standards.
I hope DNS will teach me the essential pedagogical skills that I will need in order to become the effective activist that I want to become, who uses education as a tool of mobilisation.
I feel it’s a key point to keep questioning what has been considered a norm. I would like to immerse myself into what we assume about learning and teaching and search for alternatives.
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