17 March 2018

Iran and Honduras: A Tale of Two Protests

The Washington Spectator

When scattered protests broke out in Iran at the end of December, Donald Trump took enthusiastically to Twitter to interpret the events for the rest of the world: “The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The US is watching!”
And again: “The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!”
The press breathlessly followed suit. As Oxford-based historian of modern Iran Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi observed on December 30, “Within the space of some 24 hours, nearly every mainstream Western media outlet has inclined to assimilate legitimate expressions of socio-economic distress and demands for greater governmental accountability into a question of ‘regime change.’”
Unsurprisingly, no such ruckus was elicited by events much closer to home—in that part of the so-called U.S. “backyard” known as Honduras—where protests following November elections that were widely denounced as fraudulent had reportedly left at least 31 dead by the beginning of January.
Indeed, the United States has never watched too closely for human rights violations in Honduras—perhaps because the United States is itself often complicit. (Not that the gringos haven’t been implicated in abuses in Iran: the 1953 CIA coup that overthrew Mohammad Mossadegh, the demo- cratically elected prime minister, comes to mind, as does the ensuing reign of the notoriously repressive shah, a dedicated U.S. ally and obsessive purchaser of American weapons.)
Back in the 1980s, for example, Honduras was the playground for the CIA-trained death squad Battalion 3-16, while also serving as a launchpad for the U.S. Contra war on neighboring Nicaragua—a lengthy affair that was blatantly irreconcilable with even the most forgiving of human rights standards. READ MORE AT THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR.

04 March 2018

Elections, migrants, and a fascist renaissance in Italy

Middle East Eye

Earlier this year, Italian politician Attilio Fontana warned radio listeners that the "white race" was under existential threat thanks to the usual suspects: immigrants.
The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera quotes his analysis as follows: "We must decide whether our ethnicity, our white race, our society should continue to exist or should be erased."
Fontana is a member of the political party known until recently as the Northern League (Lega Nord), before the "Northern" qualifier was dropped to accommodate right-wing maniacs in central and southern Italy.
The League, commanded by European Parliament deputy Matteo Salvini, is part of what is described as a centre-right coalition, although it is anyone's guess how the "centre" fits in. Led by the Forza Italia party of Italy's recurring affliction, Silvio Berlusconi, the coalition is predicting favourable returns in Italy's general election on 4 March.
According to Salvini, who is also quoted in the Corriere della Sera article, the problem with immigrants is not so much "skin color" as the "Islamic presence in the country," which has resulted in a situation in which "we are under attack; at risk are our culture, society, traditions, and way of life ... Centuries of history are at risk of disappearing if Islamisation prevails."
Salvini credits the late Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci with having prophesied the attack, which indeed she did, in numerous unhinged rants on subjects ranging from alleged Muslim plots to blow up Saint Peter's cupola in Rome to equally nefarious Muslim schemes to replace European mini-skirts with chadors and cognac with camel's milk.
(Nor did Fallaci confine her ominous forecasts to the European continent. She also lambasted US universities for permitting persons by the name of Mustafa and Muhammed to study biology and chemistry despite the threat of germ warfare.)
In 2006, Fallaci threatened to explode a mosque and Islamic centre slated for construction in Tuscany, no doubt a rather ironic solution to the problem of terrorism.
Salvini, meanwhile, may have a particular problem with Muslims, but that doesn't mean that all other "others" are off the hook. The League has pledged mass deportations of asylum seekers to Africa, while Berlusconi has put the number of prospective deportees at 600,000.
Despite a long history of misdeeds - from tax fraud to mafia ties to infamous "bunga bunga" parties - billionaire Berlusconi is back in the game yet again, although he is barred until 2019 from holding office.  READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

22 February 2018

Review: The Wrong Story: Palestine, Israel, and the Media

Middle East Eye

In 1988, his final year of service as New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief before being appointed diplomatic correspondent in Washington, Thomas Friedman gave an interview to the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, in which he proposed some symbolic concessions to the Palestinians in order to keep them in line.
The Palestinians must be given "something to lose", argued Friedman, because "I believe that as soon as Ahmed has a seat in the bus, he will limit his demands."
Writing shortly thereafter, Noam Chomsky wondered whether a prominent journalist might also be promoted to the post of chief diplomatic correspondent by "urg[ing] South Africans to 'give Sambo a seat in the bus', or propos[ing] that Jews be granted something to lose, because 'if you give Hymie a seat in the bus, he may limit his demands'".
Now, three decades later, Friedman remains regrettably institutionalised at the Times, despite having told the nation of Iraq to "suck on this". But even without his assistance, the US newspaper of record has exhibited enthusiastic dedication to traditions of Orientalist contemptuousness and other forms of bias.
In a new book titled The Wrong Story: Palestine, Israel, and the Media, Greg Shupak, a professor of media studies at the University of Guelph in Toronto, undertakes to document- and correct - the warped media narrative on Palestine-Israel. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

04 February 2018

Is Mexico the most dangerous country on earth?

Al Jazeera English

In 2006, Mexico launched a war on drugs with the fervent backing of its ever-helpful neighbour to the north, the United States of America.
Now a bit more than a decade later, some 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed thus far as a result, with an additional 30,000 or more disappeared and a continuous discovery of unmarked mass graves.
Recent reports suggest that 2017 was, in fact, Mexico's most violent year, in terms of homicides, since the Mexican government began publicising crime data in 1997. More than 29,000 murders were recorded last year alone. 
And what do you know: Drugs continue to flow into the US, where the proscription of mind-altering substances that are in sky-high demand is precisely what has rendered the drug business in Mexico so lethally lucrative in the first place. 
Arturo Cano, a journalist with the prominent Mexican newspaper La Jornada, once commented to me on the perverse symbiosis that has long characterised the US-Mexico relationship: "Mexico provides the cheap labour and the US provides the deportees. Mexico provides the dead and disappeared and the US the armies of drug users". 
Cano went on to invoke a lament attributed to former Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz, who died in 1915: "Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States". 
Indeed, thanks to acute geographical misfortune, Mexico has been an easy target for economic abuse by its northern neighbour - entailing magical forms of "free trade" in which the US is permitted to freely bombard the Mexican market with subsidised products while driving several million Mexican farmers out of business. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

01 February 2018

US continues trafficking in deceit with Hezbollah ‘narcoterrorism’ unit

Middle East Eye

Last month, the US Justice Department announced the launch of an exciting new project: the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team (HFNT), which will continue the US effort to paint the Lebanese group as the epitome of global evil and criminalise its supporters.
The announcement comes on the heels of a December 2017 three-part Politico "expose", tantalisingly headlined: "The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook."
Who knew that the president who dropped 26,172 bombs on seven Muslim-majority countries in a single year - while wildly increasing US military aid to Israel - was an old softie on the Party of God?
Providing helpful ammunition to the current administration of Donald Trump, the Politico article highlights allegations that Obama recklessly ignored Hezbollah's "narcoterrorist" activity in order to appease Iran in the run-up to the beloved nuclear deal.
Never mind that drug trafficking is fundamentally at odds with Hezbollah's religious orientation; reality has never been a prerequisite to manufacturing threats.
According to Fox News, the HFNT will "begin its work by reviewing investigations stemming from Project Cassandra" - a decade-long operation overseen by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). 
The existence of Project Cassandra, Politico notes, was first revealed in 2016 along with the operation's target: "the drug- and weapons-trafficking unit known as Hezbollah's Business Affairs Component". (Hezbollah, for its part, has never mentioned a Business Affairs Component, but US law enforcement agencies clearly know best.) READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

16 January 2018

The United States: Addicted to special forces

Al Jazeera English

The Special Operations forces of the United States - currently 70,000-strong and thus larger than the regular militaries of many sizable countries - occupy a very special place in US national mythology. 
According to TIME Magazine, Special Ops "heroes" are the "planet's most skillful soldiers" and "toughest warriors" - operating in their very own "secret world". 
Newsweek hails them as "dead accurate, lethal and all-but-silent. They are the military's elite - highly trained badasses armed with bullets and brains in equal measure".
The obsequious glorification of "badass" warriors is of course hardly surprising, given that US society has been inculcated to view international relations as a sort of video game in which the US gets points for blowing things up.
More surprising, perhaps, are the dimensions of the oh-so-secretive world.
In a recent dispatch, investigative journalist and author Nick Turse reveals that Special Operations forces were active in no fewer than 149 countries in 2017 - meaning that the "secret world" has managed to encompass 75 percent of the globe.
This record high is courtesy of US President Donald Trump, that self-appointed "very stable genius" who is now building on the special forces frenzy fuelled by his predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush.  READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

05 January 2018

How Western media got it wrong on Iran protests

Middle East Eye

Ever since scattered protests broke out in Iran last week, US President Donald Trump has taken time out of his busy schedule of threatening North Korea with nuclear annihilation to bombard Twitter with his eloquent assessments of "Iran, the Number One State of Sponsored Terror".
The gist of the Trumpian analysis is this: "The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The US is watching!"
Never mind the ongoing huge pro-government demonstrations in Iran, or the fact that, if we want to talk about food, the US happens to be currently backing the forcible starvation of Yemen by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (two entities that apparently don't require much "watching").
As usual, the dutiful Western media has laboured to uphold an appropriately reductionist view of Iran, a country that has long been in US crosshairs for its insistence on challenging imperial designs on the region.
In a 30 December dispatch for the Jadaliyya website, Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi, an Oxford-based historian of modern Iran, notes the speed at which concerned Western observers gleefully glom onto any peep of public discontent in the Islamic Republic:
"Within the space of some 24 hours [from the start of the protests], nearly every mainstream Western media outlet has inclined to assimilate legitimate expressions of socio-economic distress and demands for greater governmental accountability into a question of 'regime change'."
Iranian protests against unemployment and other legitimate internal grievances, Sadeghi-Boroujerdi continues, are almost inevitably depicted in terms of “a fundamental question of legitimacy about the system; which in turn can only be solved when said system is swept away in its entirety". READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

27 December 2017

Remembering Cast Lead: How corporate media continue to justify Israel's criminal excesses

Middle East Eye

Palestine, now approaching its 70th anniversary of usurpation by Israel, has long been recognised as a laboratory for fine-tuning punitive Israeli policies and techniques.
As the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network has extensively documented, the "ongoing colonisation of Palestine and the accompanying atrocities" have enabled Israel to develop "great expertise in repression", while "exporting these tools and methods on an industrial scale has become crucial to Israeli economic political power".
But Palestine has served as another kind of laboratory, one in which certain Western media figures and other upstanding characters work to perfect their talent for exonerating - and even encouraging - Israeli atrocities.
Since 27 December marks the ninth anniversary of the launch of Israel's Operation Cast Lead - a 22-day affair that dispensed with some 1,400 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip - we might as well start with the analysis by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times of that particular operation.
As Friedman saw it at the time, Cast Lead was simply "the latest version of the longest-running play in the modern Middle East, which, if I were to give it a title, would be called: 'Who owns this hotel? Can the Jews have a room? And shouldn't we blow up the bar and replace it with a mosque?'"
Of course, seeing as Israel was, as usual, doing most of the "blowing up" - and that Palestinian civilians perished at a rate of approximately 400: 1 vis-a-vis their Israeli counterparts during Cast Lead - some observers might have suggested alternate titles for the bloody spectacle, such as: "Why does Thomas Friedman have a job? And shouldn't we convert the New York Times office into a landfill?"

This became especially true when Friedman went on to advocate for war crimes by recalling Israel's alleged "education of Hezbollah” in its 2006 war on Lebanon and prescribing a similar educational approach to Hamas in Gaza. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

24 December 2017

Coca-Cola: Red-and-whitewashing the empire

Al Jazeera English

This month, the New York Times reported that US President Donald Trump consumes a "dozen Diet Cokes" daily - often delivered by "household staff he summons via a button."
Who knows? Maybe overdosing on all-powerful US corporate brands will help the president "Make America Great Again".
In the meantime, a Washington Post article has taken Trump's Diet Coke habit and run with it, citing a recent study according to which "people who drank diet soda daily were three times more likely to develop stroke and dementia than those who consumed it weekly or less."
Also mentioned in the article is the possibility of weight gain owing to "artificial sweeteners [that] can confuse the brain and the body". 
Suggestions of a correlation between soda consumption and deleterious health effects, including diabetes and heart disease, are, of course, nothing new - although Coca-Cola has in the past sought to distract public attention from the bad news by funding more industry-favourable narratives.
To be sure, Coca-Cola is hardly the only culprit in a world so saturated with soft drinks, fast food and other counter-nutritional items that one often wonders how humans are even still alive.
But as the Coca-Cola Company website boasts, Coke is the "most popular and biggest-selling soft drink in history", with an estimated 1.9 billion beverages served globally every day. 
In other words, it's a gigantic part of the problem. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

15 December 2017

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Islamophobia: A brand that sells

Middle East Eye

When Saudi Arabia announced in September that females would be permitted to drive as of mid-2018, prominent anti-Islam campaigner Ayaan Hirsi Ali tweeted a "Yippeee!" and a "Congratulations to all the women of the KSM."
Lest followers assume she was referring to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - the alleged 9/11 mastermind known as KSM - the ever-meticulous Hirsi Ali then tweeted an apology for the typo and a correction: "Should be KSA: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."
But her fervent dislike has been somewhat ameliorated by the rise this year of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - latest despotic darling of the New York Times - whom Hirsi Ali lauded in her own recent Times dispatch for his "modernisation efforts", thanks to which Saudi Arabia might in 10 years "look more like the United Arab Emirates, its prosperous and relatively forward-looking neighbour".
To be sure, as the two neighbours currently spearhead the forcible starvation of Yemen, one can only hope the Saudis will absorb some other lessons in modernity from their Emirati counterparts, so well-versed in the crushing of human rights and souls.
In the meantime, Hirsi Ali has ensured her own enduring prosperity by continuously broadcasting to the world the existential perils posed by radical Islam - a topic she accuses leftists and other pesky members of humanity of treating as taboo.
Equally taboo, it seems, is the matter of the impressive series of fabrications upon which Hirsi Ali’s entire career is built - the exposure of which has not interfered in the least with her institutionalisation at Harvard, Stanford, and other prestigious outfits. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.