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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Patrick Gallagher

LEBANON: In Yugoslavia experience, parallels and threats for Hariri tribunal

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Conspiracies, false witnesses, flaming rhetoric and meddling outsiders have characterized the United Nations-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon in recent months.

But this is nothing new for another international criminal tribunal that has seen it all before -- the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Like Lebanon, the Yugoslav court also witnessed personal campaigns against tribunal prosecutors, threats to domestic funding and accusations of excessive spending.

All said and done, after 17 years, the court has indicted 161 people and concluded proceedings against 124.  It managed to weather the political gantlet and continues to carry out its mandate, successfully prosecuting presidents, cabinet members and military commanders.

Although the two tribunals vary in mandate and the scale of their missions, the story of the Yugoslav court can serve as an example of the resilience of international criminal courts of this type, but also a warning.

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IRAN: Senior judiciary official defends chopping off robbers' hands

An Iranian authority is proud to use a particularly severe form of corporal punishment against property criminals. 

Iran's deputy chief judiciary official Ebrahim Raisi came out swinging in support of chopping off robbers' hands, Iranian state radio reported Tuesday.

His remarks come in response to an incident earlier this week in which two prisoners convicted of theft reportedly had their hands removed in the Yazd province central prison.

Raisi praised such punishments in flowery religious terms.

“Thanks to the blessing of the Islamic Revolution, carrying out the divine punishment has been practiced since the establishment of the revolution," he said, according to state radio.

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TURKEY: Kurdish rebels extend cease-fire pending 'positive steps'

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Is this uncharted territory in the 26-year war between Kurdish rebels and the Turkish government?

On Thursday evening, leaders of the Kurdistan Workers Party, known by the acronym PKK, held a news conference near one of their bases in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq to announce a one-month extension to their cease-fire with Turkey. 

The original ceasefire began on Aug. 13 after nearly three months of heavy violence that left at least 100 Turkish soldiers dead. The decision to renew might be attributed to the rebels’ continued hope that Turkey will make positive steps towards peace, such as stopping air bombardments and releasing of political prisoners. 

But in the past Turkey has continued military operations, ignoring the PKK cease-fires.

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ARAB WORLD: Opinions grim about new peace talks

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When Middle East peace talks began this month in Washington, there were glimmers of optimism and excitement over the renewed discourse between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which hadn't engaged in direct talks in almost two years. 

But since then, Arab opinion makers have spoken. And the outlook is grim. 

Between the likely resumption of Jewish settlement expansion, a lack of popular Palestinian approval for peace talks and the looming possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran, most in the region believe that all the hope and fanfare surrounding the round of talks will be in vain. 

Jamal Majdalawi, a leader in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, voiced his pessimism about the talks in a Sept. 2 article in the United Arab Emirates-based Gulf News.

"The direct negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian authority won't work; the Israelis have not given any indications that they will. These negotiations are a way for the Israelis to stall, so they can continue building the settlements, until eventually we find ourselves living on small pieces of land, totally controlled by the occupation and with our dreams of an independent Palestinian state shattered."

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MUSLIM WORLD: Debate over planned mosque near ground zero seen as opportunity to set story straight about Islam

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The debate swirling around the planned Islamic cultural center two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York has been steadily gaining attention in the U.S. and around the world. 

After weeks of protests, fiery comments from the opposition and numerous hate crimes committed against American Muslims, the Islamic world continues to react to the controversy, according to a media analysis by Babylon & Beyond.

While many around the world are outraged over opposition to the cultural center, others see the resistance to the project, called Park51, as an opportunity for Muslims to confront the proliferation of what they see as Western bigotry and set the story straight about their religion.

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LEBANON: Iranian director's Jesus film pulled

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The Iranian director of a controversial show depicting the story of Jesus has criticized Lebanese Christian groups who protested the airing of the serial, which was pulled from the air by two local Muslim-owned stations last week.

"The film was immediately purchased ... by several Latin American countries, which are among major Christian Catholic countries," Nader Talebzadeh reportedly told Iranian TV Channel 2 on Sunday. "Therefore, [Lebanese Christian groups'] protest seems to be political to some extent."

Talebzadeh went on to say that his original 2007 film, which was bought and heavily promoted by the local channels as a religious serial for the holy month of Ramadan, received an award from the Vatican for promoting interfaith dialogue.

But rather than foster dialogue, "The Messiah" sparked angry words from Christians in Lebanon who objected to the film's version of Jesus' story, which is based on a gospel that has been rejected by much of the Christian community but is very close to the Koran's version of events.

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TURKEY: Celebrity lawyer takes on Turkish government, banks for Armenian assets

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The Los Angeles-based Lawyer Mark Geragos is used to representing celebrities like Chris Brown and the late Michael Jackson, but he recently took on a very different kind of case, one with deep personal significance for him.

Last Thursday, Geragos and his team of litigators filed a lawsuit against Turkey and two major Turkish banks seeking restitution for Armenian properties and assets that were seized by Ottoman forces during the mass killings that took place almost a century ago and that many have labeled the first modern genocide.

Turkey denies the killings constitute genocide, and the United States’ federal government has not formally recognized them as such, although 44 states have done so individually. Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee approved a measure to officially recognize the killing of Armenians as genocide, but it has yet to make it to the floor for a vote.

Geragos spoke with Babylon and Beyond in a recent interview about the significance of the case and his personal connection to it:

B&B: You have been involved in some very high-profile criminal cases. How is this lawsuit different for you and the other lawyers involved? It is our understanding that they are all of Armenian descent.

Geragos: We have all had serious cases, but all of us had relatives that were victims… it’s extremely moving and infuses great passion in your work. It’s one of those where you find out what it really means to be a lawyer.

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