25 July 2016

Nice, Munich and the terrorism of the West

Middle East Eye

From my base in southern Italy this month, I got to experience Italian television coverage of the aftermath of the 14 July lorry attack in Nice, France, that killed 84 people.
Predictably, coverage entailed headlines like “Islamic Terrorism Everywhere”, which prompted Italians in my midst to unleash lively Muslim-directed curses involving references to various human anatomy and to hyperventilate about how in Europe it was no longer possible to even walk outside without being blown up or otherwise Islamically terrorised.
In certain other parts of the world, of course, it has for years often been a crapshoot of sorts to walk outside - or engage in any number of other mundane activities like playing football, attending weddings, attending funeralssleeping - without attracting the attention of projectiles belonging to the United States or Israel, to name two of the top offenders.
It bears mentioning, on this front, that Italy is itself no minor accomplice to global killing patterns given its service as loyal military ally of the US and launching pad for drone missions. But terrorism by drone doesn’t factor into Eurocentric concerns. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

12 July 2016

Lebanon: 10 Years After the War, an Eternity of Injustice to Go

TeleSUR English

In August 2006, a scandal erupted in the context of the war then raging against Lebanon. From July 12 to August 14 of that year, Israel pummeled the country, flattening entire villages and slaughtering an estimated 1,200 people in the process, the vast majority of them civilians.
The New York Times reported that “the matter has created an uproar on the Internet, where many bloggers see an anti-Israel bias in Mr. Hajj’s manipulations, which made the damage from Israeli strikes into Beirut appear worse than the original pictures had.”For some observers, the devastation and slaughter did not themselves amount to a scandal. Rather, the real crime of the season had been committed by a Lebanese freelance photographer named Adnan Hajj, who was accused of manipulating two photographs for Reuters of an Israeli air raid on Beirut.
The alleged transgression was first publicized by blogger Charles Johnson of the Little Green Footballs website, whose other claims to fame include slamming 23-year-old American peace activist Rachel Corrie — fatally bulldozed by the Israelis in 2003 — as a “terror-supporting child abuser.” No bias there, obviously.
Ethically speaking, it’s clearly wrong for news photographers to engage in politically- or ideologically-motivated alteration of images. But in examining Hajj’s images provided on the New York Times’ website, one is hard-pressed to see how the manipulated image conveys a level of destruction any worse than that conveyed by the original. In both, clouds of heavy black smoke linger over Lebanon’s capital city. As the article notes, Hajj claimed that he was merely endeavoring to adjust the lighting in the photo and to remove a bit of dust.
Even had you wanted to, it would have been difficult to exaggerate the damage inflicted upon Lebanon in the summer of 2006. When my friend Amelia and I hitchhiked around the country a month after the termination of the war, national infrastructure was still in shambles. Bridges had been pulverized, sections of towns and cities had been converted to rubble, and swathes of the Lebanese coastline were coated in oil thanks to Israel’s bombardment of fuel tanks at Lebanon’s Jiyyeh power plant. READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

02 July 2016

Amazon: The final frontier?

Al Jazeera English

Last year, American anthropologists Robert Walker and Kim Hill - of the University of Missouri and Arizona State University respectively - took it upon themselves to write an editorial for the weekly journal Science, entitled "Protecting isolated tribes".
The tribes in question, according to Walker and Hill, are "about 50 isolated indigenous societies across lowland South America … with limited to no contact with the outside world".
According to the prominent human rights group Survival International, there are more than 100 so-called "uncontacted" tribes living in voluntary isolation in the world, the vast majority of them in the South American Amazon.
Walker and Hill's strategy for "protecting" these groups is one of "controlled contact", in which governments initiate well-organised and sustained contact with the tribes and gradually integrate them into the official domestic fold, where their rights can allegedly be better protected. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

28 June 2016

The Honduran Shipwreck: Hillary Clinton’s Coup Turns 7

TeleSUR English

I recently contributed a chapter titled “Hillary Does Honduras” to a collection of essays edited by Liza Featherstone: "False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton."
In her capacity as secretary of state under Barack Obama, Clinton tells us, she and various colleagues in the region jointly “strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras [following Zelaya’s ouster] and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot and give the Honduran people a chance to choose their own future.”While preparing the essay last year, I discovered that a key passage from the hardcover edition of Clinton’s autobiography had been struck from the paperback version. In the original, the current U.S. presidential hopeful outlines her contributions to Honduran politics in the aftermath of the June 28, 2009, coup against that country’s president at the time, Manuel Zelaya.
The problem with the ostensibly democratic pursuit of free and fair elections and Honduran choices is, of course, that it is categorically anti-democratic — not to mention illegal — to forcibly “render moot” a democratically-elected leader.
Zelaya’s great offense, for which he had incurred the wrath of the Honduran right wing and its devoted support group in the United States, had been to allow the Central American country to drift slightly to the left — i.e. away from its established position as the “U.S.S. Honduras,” as it was endearingly called during the Cold War. READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

21 June 2016

Martyrs Never Die: Travels through South Lebanon

Excerpts from the Warscapes e-book available from Amazon

"When Amelia and I arrived to Lebanon in September 2006, having hitchhiked through Syria from Turkey, travel times in the diminutive and normally breakneck-speed nation had been prolonged considerably thanks to missing bridges and other bombed-out infrastructure. Our initial journey from north to south entailed various rides. One was from an Italian businessman in an Alfa Romeo who wanted to know if we were any of the following:
1. UN personnel.
2. CIA agents.
3. Stupid.

Next, a middle-aged Lebanese man with Jesus stickers plastered across the car ceiling wanted to know if we were missionaries. He invited us to his home just outside Beirut, where his family force-fed us French fries and fried fish while exclaiming theatrically over the dangers allegedly posed to regional peace by Hezbollah’s arsenal of Katyushas. . . .

Now, ten years later, I was back in south Lebanon for another hitchhiking trip—partly to relive the good old days, partly to gauge whether at thirty-three years of age I still had it in me. Mostly, though, I wanted to survey the changes Lebanon’s landscape had undergone over the past decade, physical and otherwise. While the “mushroom” of public support for Hezbollah has undoubtedly receded in light of events in Syria, Western and allied media reports of comprehensive dissatisfaction with the party—and of mass desertions by Hezbollah fighters—are willfully misleading. What’s more, many of the countries up in arms over Hezbollah’s participation in the conflict next door have themselves been actively involved in fanning the Syrian flames.

Returning to Lebanon in February 2016 for a weeklong expedition, I was under no illusions that hitchhiking somehow grants one access to the precise dynamics of societies, but I suspected one could sometimes learn more as a wanderer than as a journalist. . . ."

15 June 2016

Even in death, there's no place of rest for Syrians in Lebanon

Middle East Eye

In May, the father of a Syrian acquaintance of mine passed away in Beirut, where the family had fled from Aleppo shortly after the onset of war in Syria. On top of grieving and attending to his grieving mother, “Hassan” had to then sort out a location to bury his father.
It’s common knowledge that life in Lebanon is rough for Syrian refugees, who’ve had to contend with discrimination and violence, deadly winters, intermittent Syrian-specific curfews, and fluctuating and ambiguous rules - including the absurd requirement that poor refugees with no income pay money to obtain a notarised form promising that they won’t work. But death in Lebanon constitutes another headache altogether.
Inquiring at one of the main Beirut cemeteries near the Badaro area, Hassan was told by the security guard on duty that a “donation” of at least $10,000 was necessary to facilitate approval for a burial plot. If he was looking for a cheaper option, the guard said, lesser donations were accepted at the “Palestinian cemetery” next door - apparently referred to as such based on the fact that it hosts the remains of numerous Palestinian fighters from the civil war era.
A quick tour of that cemetery, however, left Hassan with the sneaking suspicion that the relative discount may have in part been a result of underhanded practices by the undertakers, such as digging up and reselling unvisited plots. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

09 June 2016

LETTER FROM ETHIOPIA

The Washington Spectator

In April, the website of the U.S.-led Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) announced that the United States and Ethiopia had signed a new agreement enhancing a “security partnership” in counterterrorism and other realms.
In attendance at the signing in Addis Ababa was Amanda Dory, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, who obligingly made note of “just how progressive and strong Ethiopia is” and how “working together plays a key role in peace and security.”
Of course, the opposite argument can also be made: that American collaboration with the Ethiopian government in fact translates into enhanced insecurity for more than a few folks.
Consider, for example, the situation in the Oromia region surrounding the capital, where widespread protests have followed recent government efforts to displace an untold number of farmers as a means of courting international and domestic investors.
Five days after the announcement of the upgraded partnership with “progressive and strong” Ethiopia, a Horn of Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch reported that, “since November, state security forces have killed hundreds of protesters and arrested thousands in Oromia.”
When I visited the Oromia region in March, area residents pointed out that, while the government had for the moment shelved its land usurpation plans, this wouldn’t bring the dead people back to life.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia happens to jail more journalists than any other African country save its notoriously repressive neighbor Eritrea. Strong? Maybe. Progressive? Not so much. READ MORE AT THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR.


02 June 2016

BDS and the Eternal Holocaust

TeleSUR English

While innocently attempting to access an article on the Haaretz website the other day, I was accosted by a sequence of intrusive advertisements inviting me to “Fight BDS”—the popular boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement that aims to force an end to Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights.
Details on the Eventbrite website specified that the summit — referred to here with the title “Ambassadors Against BDS” — would be held on May 31 at the United Nations headquarters in New York, sponsored by Israel’s permanent mission to the U.N. in partnership with the usual suspects: the World Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, Hillel, and so on. In attendance would be such illustrious personalities as the Vice President of the Supreme Court of Israel and the CEO of SodaStream, which was tragically BDS-pressured into shuttering one of its factories operating in an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank.The ads featured a fabricated image of a graffito consisting of a swastika and the phrase “Jews go home!” Next to this display appeared the information that “This is not 1938”; “this is now!” A final incitement to “Fight against anti-Semitism; Fight against BDS” then materialized, with a link to “more details” about an upcoming venue for said fight: the “First International Summit at the UN against BDS.”
The choice of the word “ambassadors” is perhaps willfully misleading in the context of an anti-BDS conference at the U.N., as the casual passerby is liable to infer that international diplomats will be there on the frontlines. In fact, the term is simply one that Israel regularly uses to refer to its propagandists-in-training; indeed, one of the aims of the gathering as stated on the Eventbrite site was to “cultivate ambassadors ready to fight the battle against exclusion and delegitimization of nations and peoples.”
Never mind that BDS is fighting exactly that battle. Those “peoples” aren’t meant to be included.
It’s unsettling, to say the least, that the U.N. should lend its facilities to an initiative equating BDS with Nazism. It’s like equating symphony orchestras with terrorism; it just doesn’t add up on any plane of reality whatsoever. READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

01 June 2016

Venezuela's apocalypse: The media at war

Al Jazeera English

In one of the more headache-inducing video clips in recent memory, Fox Business Network presents us with its version of the current crisis in Venezuela - where economic mismanagement under the leadership of President Nicolas Maduro has converged with a drop in global oil prices to produce runaway inflation and a shortage of basic goods.
The Fox Business Network website invites us to view a "harrowing video show[ing] starving Venezuelans eating garbage [and] looting".
As anyone acquainted with the network's modus operandi might expect, the footage in question doesn’t exactly render the situation as "virtually apocalyptic" as Fox claims it is.
Fortunately, we have a whole Fox crew to interpret for us what, in fact, we are seeing. Before we get to see anything, programme host Maria Bartiromo issues a "warning [to] viewers" that "this video is very graphic".
Journalist Elizabeth MacDonald chimes in with confirmation: "Yeah, it's graphic and disturbing." READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

28 May 2016

Israel’s Gigantic Nuclear Elephant

TeleSUR English

The online version of a recent Economist magazine article comes equipped with the tantalizing headline “Israel’s atomic angst: A textile factory with a difference.” The summary reads: “One of the world’s oldest nuclear plants helped build the Jewish state’s secret nuclear arsenal.”
The magazine offers a photograph of the Dimona reactor and cupola, complete with the caption: “Tough times in the garment trade.”The textile reference is to a spontaneous alibi deployed in 1960 by an Israeli official accompanying then-U.S. Ambassador to Israel Ogden Reid on a flyover of the Negev Desert. An intensive construction operation near the town of Dimona, site of the now-aging nuclear plant, caught the inquisitive ambassador’s eye — and “textile factory” was apparently the first thing that came to the official’s mind.
And you thought The Economist couldn’t do sarcasm.
The article notes that at a conference in April, representatives of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission reported “1,537 small defects and cracks” in the reactor’s aluminum core. While the typical lifespan of such reactors is said to be 40 years, Dimona has kept on ticking for 53.
Despite having ostensibly done its time on earth, however, there doesn’t seem to be a funeral in sight for Dimona. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz explains that, “for political, scientific and economic reasons, Israel has no capability or desire to replace the core, an operation that would mean building a new reactor.” READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.