17 August 2017

DEA Scrambles to Increase Budget Tapping Funds from War on Terror

The Washington Spectator

In February 2016, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced that, with the help of some European partners, it had partially busted a “massive” drug trafficking and money-laundering operation being conducted by “Lebanese Hezbollah’s External Security Organization Business Affairs Component (BAC).”
Observers familiar with repeated U.S. attempts to stigmatize Hezbollah with the narco-terrorist label should be forgiven for their skepticism over the renewed charges. Never mind that Hezbollah has never mentioned an External Security Organization; Western experts know best. And clearly, anyone with a “BAC” must be super-serious about drugs.
According to the DEA, members of the Hezbollah BAC had “established business relationships with South American drug cartels, such as [Colombia’s] La Oficina de Envigado, responsible for supplying large quantities of cocaine to the European and United States drug markets.” Proceeds from drugs and money laundering were then allegedly used to buy weapons for the Syrian war effort.
This was not the first time the United States had claimed to catch the Party of God red-handed with illicit substances—although this particular plot was somewhat inferior to previous ones in terms of entertainment value. For years we’ve been treated to breathless reports, often courtesy of concerned neoconservative and Zionist think tanks and individuals, about Hezbollah’s Iran-backed narcotic incursions into our very own hemisphere.
We’ve seen Hezbollah waging “cocaine jihad,” instructing Mexican drug lords in the arts of bomb-making and narco-tunnel construction along the U.S. border, collaborating with Brazilian prison gangs, establishing sleeper cells and training camps willy-nilly, and participating in transatlantic drug runs with great ease—according to one prominent U.S. expert—thanks to Venezuela’s alleged “geographic proximity to West Africa.” In 2010, Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) alerted the Department of Homeland Security to the idea that droves of incarcerated gang members in the United States were suddenly sporting tattoos in Farsi. Another enduring favorite among the fearmonger set is the fact that it is possible to travel by air from Caracas to Tehran, which can only mean bad things.
The Hezbollah-in-our-backyard hype serves a number of convenient functions. It renders the organization a direct threat to the homeland, justifying both continued U.S. militarization of Latin America and ongoing antagonism toward Iran on a global level. Particularly during the final years of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013, U.S. propaganda conflating various national nemeses into a single Islamo-socialist narco-jihadi-terror menace lurking just across the southern border sought to discredit a whole lot of folks in one fell swoop.
As’ad AbuKhalil, a Lebanese-American political science professor at the University of California, Stanislaus, remarked in a recent email to me on the barrage of narco-allegations leveled against Hezbollah: “They actually remind me of the Cold War days when I first came to the United States and I would read fantastic claims by Zionist groups trying to connect any and every Palestinian group to various communist plots worldwide.” Perhaps some Zionist or Saudi propagandists would also like to link Hezbollah to global warming, he suggested. READ MORE AT THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR.

16 August 2017

Does Albania have an America problem?

Middle East Eye

Among the more eccentric features of the Albanian landscape these days are an estimated 700,000 concrete bunkers scattered throughout the country’s farms, mountains, beaches, and city centres - an enduring testament to Albania’s Cold War history of self-imposed isolation under Stalinist ruler Enver Hoxha, who in addition to detecting ubiquitous enemies also banned religion and private cars.

After the fall of communism in the early 90s, certain of Albania’s international enemies were quickly rehabilitated - hence the current existence of a George W Bush Street in the capital of Tirana, a George W Bush statue in the village of Fushe-Kruje, and a (perhaps prematurely erected) Hillary Clinton statue in Sarande.

In his book Modern Albania: From Dictatorship to Democracy in Europe, Fred Abrahams, a special adviser at Human Rights Watch, describes the scene awaiting the convoy of visiting US Secretary of State James Baker in 1991: “[A]n ecstatic mob engulfed the cars, hoping to glimpse the guest from the West. Men threw flowers, kissed the windshields, and tried to carry Baker’s limousine into town.”
Similar enthusiasm was on display for the visit to the Muslim-majority nation of the aforementioned Bush in 2007, when, as Abrahams notes, the Albanian post office also “issued a set of commemorative stamps”.
I myself can safely report that Albania is the only country out of the 60-plus I have visited where my admission to being American has elicited the word “fantastic” in response. During my stay this summer in a small coastal town in south Albania, a town resident found it necessary to set off 4 July fireworks.
Of course, the US has got more than just a stamp collection out of the arrangement. International affection is, after all, meaningless unless it can be exploited for politico-economic gain. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

10 August 2017

Power to Truth

Jacobin

On 6 August, Israel confirmed its intentions to shut down Al Jazeera’s bureau in Jerusalem. The Israeli Communications Minister explained that the decision was “based . . . on the move by Sunni Arab states to close Al Jazeera offices and prohibit their work.”
To be sure, there’s no better way to market oneself as the only democracy in the Middle East than to follow the example of regimes that jail and whip pro-democracy writers.
But the move against Al Jazeera is simply the latest episode in an ongoing war on press freedom and freedom of speech in Israel — a war that itself merely assists Israel’s more physical war on Palestinians, African refugees, and others.
And while Al Jazeera may have temporarily seized the spotlight, we mustn’t forget the lower-profile cases of journalists fighting to speak truth to power.
Take independent Israeli-Canadian journalist David Sheen, for example, who reports regularly on Israeli racism against Africans and other injustices. Sheen is currently being sued for defamation — to the tune of 750,000 shekels (more than $200,000) — by Israel Ziv, former head of the operations directorate of the Israeli army and founder of Global CST, a security consulting firm involved in projects from Latin America to Africa. According to a 2001 article in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, one of Ziv’s nicknames during his army days was “Reich Commander.”
The lawsuit is the result of a January 2017 dispatch by Sheen for Electronic Intifada, in which Ziv appears as one of the top ten “ringleaders in Israel’s war on Africans.” READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

09 August 2017

On the Lebanon-Israel border: A room with a (militarized) view

The Region

My first glimpse of Israel took place in 2006, shortly after the conclusion of what the Lebanese call the July War and the Israelis call the Second Lebanon War—a title that conveniently rounds down the number of times Israel has mercilessly assaulted Lebanese territory.
My friend Amelia and I had embarked on a postwar hitchhiking tour of Lebanon, which in many areas amounted to a tour of rubble, bombed-out bridges, and oil-coated coastline. Over the course of the 34-day conflict, Israel had dispensed with some 1,200 lives in the country, the majority of them civilians.
We arrived late one evening to the south Lebanese town of Kfar Kila, situated directly on the Israeli border, after hitching a ride from a soda delivery truck in the village of Houla. Lacking any sort of plan and dependent entirely on the goodwill of the Lebanese, we made the acquaintance of a young man called Ali who invited us to stay the night at his family’s house and graciously refrained from inquiring as to why the hell we were wandering around a recent war zone in the dark.
Most of Ali’s family had fled northward following the onset of hostilities in July; an uncle had remained behind to look after the cows, four of which were ultimately martyred by the Israeli army. From the balcony of the house one could observe the glittering Israeli outpost of Metulla, which shone in blissfully uninterrupted contrast to the Lebanese side of the border, where electricity cuts continue to be a more regular phenomenon than electricity itself.
The arrival of daylight offered new scenes to behold of Israeli military vehicles and bulldozers, barricades and barbed wire, while also revealing Israel to be distinctly greener than its northern neighbor—a perk, no doubt, of usurping Palestinian water supplies. Ali escorted Amelia and me down the road to Fatima Gate, the old border crossing between Lebanon and Israel where Edward Said famously threw a stone in July 2000, shortly after Israel’s forcible eviction from the country it had occupied for 22 years. It was suggested that Amelia and I throw a stone, as well—an option that was politely rejected in light of the presence of Israeli soldiers burrowed under a heap of camouflage just across the fence.
In subsequent years, the Israelis apparently deemed the existing border fortifications insufficient and took it upon themselves to construct a new-and-improved boundary. Visiting Kfar Kila these days, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d accidentally stumbled upon Donald Trump’s fantasy for the US-Mexico border. A looming cement wall now adds to the myriad ways Israel has militarized and obstructed the regional landscape—all, of course, while supposedly making the desert bloom. READ MORE AT THE REGION.

02 August 2017

The myth of American 'greatness'

Al Jazeera English

As the world has by now been made painfully aware, Donald Trump's preeminent goal as president of the United States is to "make America great again".
But for many students - not to mention victims - of international history, the burning question remains: when exactly was America great?
The answer is surely not to be found in the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945, the lethal chemicals used to saturate Vietnam, or the unexploded munitions that continue to maim and kill people in Laos decades after the secret US war on that country.
Nor, presumably, would Latin Americans slaughtered by US-backed dictators and death squads be able to provide many clues as to the whereabouts of America's historical "greatness".
Ditto for Iraqis, Afghans, Yemenis and other civilian populations consistently over-represented in the US-inflicted "collateral damage" category.
On the domestic front, too, the whole concept of greatness has been rather elusive - unless, of course, we take it to mean a centuries-long tradition of crushing Native Americans, blacks, and everyone else whose dignity can be comprehensively violated in the service of elite socioeconomic domination. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

28 July 2017

Hezbollah’s ‘narco-jihad’: Propaganda on drugs

Middle East Eye

On 8 June 2017, the United States government hosted one of its regular gatherings to discuss the enduring threat posed by that alleged narco-terrorist menace known as Hezbollah - Lebanon’s Party of God.

This particular House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing was titled "Attacking Hezbollah’s Financial Network: Policy Options" and was chaired by Republican congressman Ed Royce, who proceeded to enlighten the audience as to the organisation’s “broad criminal network involved in a range of illegal activities, from drug trafficking to cigarette smuggling to money laundering to counterfeiting”.
Recapping one of the highlights of the previous year, Royce recalled that the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had “implicated Hezbollah in a multi-million dollar drug trafficking and money laundering network that spanned four continents and put cocaine ultimately on the streets of the United States”.
Of course, anyone with a vague grasp of history might find such accusations pretty rich coming from a US government that has literally put cocaine on its own streets by, for example, helping right-wing Nicaraguan Contras profit from the drug trade in the 1980s. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

18 July 2017

Holiday in style at Israel’s ‘anti-terror fantasy camps’

Middle East Eye

Just when you thought the Israelis couldn’t possibly cram any more items into an already overflowing repertoire of preposterous behaviour, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper recently ran a piece titled “Anti-terror Fantasy Camps Are Popping Up Throughout Israel and the West Bank - and Tourists Are Eating It Up”.
(And if that’s not enough preposterousness for you, Haaretz suggests you also read “Israeli army shows fake amputated limbs, paints wounds on kids for Independence Day”.)
The fantasy camp dispatch begins in the illegal Israeli settlement bloceuphemised as “the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank”, where one fine morning tourists from Hong Kong are “pretending to be Israeli army commandos” at a counter-terrorism and security training academy by the name of Caliber 3:
“As their Rambo-like trainer barks out orders, they move their assault rifles into position and, using the Hebrew word for fire, repeat after him: ‘Esh. Esh.’
"‘Louder,’ he demands. ‘I can’t hear you guys. Don’t be so politically correct.’”
While political correctness may not be part of the tour package, lots of other things are - including “a simulation of a suicide bombing in a Jerusalem marketplace, immediately followed by a stabbing attack, a live demonstration with attack dogs and a sniper tournament”.
Super-tough visitors can sign up for a more advanced itinerary entailing “an Entebbe-like hostage-rescue mission”. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

12 July 2017

The long reach of the US border

Al Jazeera English

Earlier this summer, an American friend of mine was returning home from Tunisia, where he had been conducting PhD research.
Checking in for his connecting flight in Paris, he was put on the phone with a representative of US Customs and Border Protection for questioning - since we all know France shares a border with the United States.
Upon reaching America proper, my friend was hauled off for interrogation at the airport in New York on subjects ranging from the details of his Twitter account to the issue of whether or not anyone had suggested he join an armed group in Libya.
You can pick your own moral of the story. One possibility, perhaps, is that academics that insist on showing an interest in certain parts of the world should build detention time into their travel itineraries.
Another - more broadly applicable to the general global population - is that, no matter where you are, the US border can be brought to you. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

29 June 2017

Trump's America: Bring on the hate

Al Jazeera English

It's makeover time for America's Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programme - one of the many examples of US projects that were already bad enough before coming under the fearlessly sociopathic direction of Donald Trump.
Launched during the presidency of Barack Obama, CVE is ostensibly meant to prevent terrorist activity by encouraging the early detection of potential "radicalisation" of individuals.
In practice, it has often resulted in a socially destructive situation in which parents, teachers and other community members are expected to report young people to law enforcement for any activity that might be construed as suspicious.
As we know from recent US history, even the most mundane of activities - such as using a pressure cooker to prepare food - can be suspicious when performed by a Muslim and can even merit a visit from the FBI.
Granted, under Obama some efforts were made to advance the idea that CVE is not Islam-specific.
For instance, the FBI website still offers a ludicrous online activity called "Don't Be a Puppet" - designed for use in schools - in which anyone with nothing else to do can earn a certificate for successfully completing "the FBI's Countering Violent Extremism training".
I gave up after a few minutes, but in those few minutes I did find out that environmental activists can be violent extremists, too. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

28 June 2017

Couscous, capitalism and neocolonialism in Tunisia

Middle East Eye

On the ferry from Europe to Tunisia in May, I met a middle-aged Tunisian man on his way home for a visit from the northern Italian city of Ancona, where he had worked in a plastic factory for the past 15 years. 

The man confessed that he had often questioned his decision to abandon his village near the Tunisian-Algerian border to seek work in Italy, where - contrary to popular belief, he declared - there was little proper food to be found. In his village, he said, his family grew everything they needed. He launched into an enthusiastic run-down of the bread-making process.

Unfortunately for my little-while friend and other global inhabitants, however, the current international economic order does not look kindly on hints of self-sufficiency or agricultural independence.

In a brand-new documentary Couscous: Seeds of Dignity by Tunisian geographer and academic Habib Ayeb, one Tunisian farmer incidentally laments: “You’ll see, in ten years we’ll import sandwiches from Italy. To make a sandwich, we’ll have to go get the flour from Italy.”

The film, which is so beautifully shot that one feels continuously tempted to photograph the screen, deals with issues relating to food sovereignty in Tunisia from the ground up - from the point of view of the small farmer, whose expertise and physical bond with the land have been rejected and violated at every turn by corporate-capitalist agricultural policies designed to wrest as gigantic a profit as possible from the human need to consume food. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.