14 April 2014

The al-Qaedification of Lebanon?

Middle East Eye

A Lebanese friend who recently accompanied me to Tripoli in northern Lebanon decided that no city tour was complete without a late-night drive down Syria Street — in the wrong direction. Syria Street is the frontline of ongoing fighting between the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh and the mainly Alawite Jabal Mohsen, which killed 27 people in just 12 days in March.
When our drive coincided with the sudden explosion of nearby fireworks, I showcased my battle readiness by cowering on the floor of the car. As for the battle readiness of more resilient entities, the proliferation of al-Qaeda flags in Bab al-Tabbaneh perhaps underlined the contribution Syria's war is making towards the professionalism of some participants in Lebanon's domestic strife — providing as it does a training ground for militants. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

13 April 2014

Uganda: Doing Israel's dirty work

Al Jazeera

While contemplating potential locations for a Jewish homeland over a century ago, Theodor Herzl - the father of modern political Zionism - proposed Uganda as a temporary refuge for persecuted Jews.
Ironically, Uganda is now on the receiving end of other persecuted peoples, this time African refugees who have sought asylum in Israel only to be imprisoned in detention facilities and then returned to the African continent.

As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in a February 2014 article titled "Israel secretly flying asylum seekers to Uganda", harsh conditions in the detention centres plus nominal financial compensation have facilitated the deportation of many migrants under the guise of "voluntary departure".

The article quotes the Israeli director of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants on this non-solution to refugee plight: "[I]t is known that Uganda deports asylum seekers to their countries of origin." READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

10 April 2014


Al Jazeera America

It is perhaps fitting that I was in Barcelona — a city intimately associated withGeorge Orwell’s participation in the Spanish Civil War — when I first learned of Spain’s forthcoming Citizens’ Security Law. A decidedly Orwellian item, it proposes fines of up to 30,000 euros ($41,000) for “offensive” slogans against the country and up to 600,000 euros ($824,000) for unauthorized street protests.
I arrived in Barcelona on March 29. Thousands of people — students, trade unionists, pensioners — were marching against this law and other oppressive measures that the Spanish government is currently pursuing. These include a reinstatement of archaic abortion regulations and the continuation of the austerity program, conceived after the 2008 financial crisis to meet the European Union’s demands, that has ever since been the subject of protests nationwide. (The crisis has intensified calls for secession from Spain in the region of Catalonia and its capital Barcelona — an effort that could presumably also be considered “offensive” to the country.) READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA AMERICA.

03 April 2014

Linking the Fort Hood shooting to terrorism

Al Jazeera

On April 2, US Army Specialist and Iraq war veteran Ivan Lopez opened fire at Fort Hood military base in Texas, killing four people - including himself - and injuring 16.

According to Fort Hood commander General Mark A Milley, Lopez had "behavioural and mental health issues". He was under evaluation for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The New York Times reported that, "[i]n Washington, intelligence officials said they were investigating potential terrorist connections to the shooting, but so far had no evidence to suggest any". The Washington Post concurred: "[S]enior US law enforcement officials said the incident did not appear to be linked to any foreign terrorist organisations."

The trotting out of the possibility of terrorist connivance in the incident is, of course, unsurprising. In fact, the terrorist menace has become so institutionalised in US discourse and analysis that one half-expects to open the newspaper in the morning to find reports to the effect of: "A collision on such-and-such highway killed four people last night. Terrorism did not appear to be the motive."

In this case and in other cases of intra-military violence, official reminders of the ever-present terrorist threat serve to justify the deployment of US soldiers abroad to combat said threat. But it's hardly difficult to see that "war on terror" venues like Iraq and Afghanistan can exacerbate or even trigger "behavioural and mental health issues". READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

17 March 2014

America’s war on immigrants

Al Jazeera America

As the interminable debate in Washington over immigration reform wears on, undocumented migrants in the U.S. continue to exist at the mercy of law enforcement efforts that defy all pretenses of justice and legality.
Earlier this year, Al Jazeera America reported on the stop-and-frisk-style raids being conducted in New Orleans by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to boost migrant deportation quotas. In that article, a Honduran immigrant recounts his experience of being handcuffed and shackled in the back of an ICE vehicle, which had been deployed to round up undocumented people using racial profiling techniques, saying, “I heard one of the agents say to another, ‘This is like going hunting.’ … And the other responded, ‘Yeah, I like this s---.’” READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA AMERICA.

04 March 2014

Remembering Hugo Chavez

Al Jazeera

In 2009 in the northern Venezuelan city of Barcelona, I approached an elderly street sweeper and asked to purchase her baseball cap, which was red and featured a Hugo Chavez-related slogan.

As I saw it, the item would be an optimal addition to my collection of revolutionary paraphernalia, which thus far consisted of posters, flags, and a CD containing various musical performances by Chavez himself - most of them upbeat numbers critiquing the Venezuelan political opposition.

The woman, however, refused the offer despite my best efforts at capitalist persuasion. I left empty-handed.

Such levels of devotion to the former president, who died one year ago, are not uncommon among sectors of the Venezuelan population.When my friend and I inserted ourselves into the February 2009 pro-Chavez referendum campaign as a means of acquiring oversized pink Chavez t-shirts, we caught a glimpse of the individual commitment and collective energy sustaining Venezuela's Bolivarian project, and were treated to more than one teary-eyed tribute to its leader.  READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

19 February 2014

Towards another coup in Venezuela?

Al Jazeera

Five days after violent anti-government incitement in Venezuela led to the deaths of three people, the US State Department issued a press statement declaring: "The allegations [by President Nicolas Maduro] that the United States is helping to organise protestors… is baseless and false. We support human rights and fundamental freedoms - including freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly - in Venezuela as we do in countries around the world."

Of course, US commitment to such freedoms is called into question by its own operating procedures, which have included police beatings of peaceful protesters and the incarceration and torture of whistleblower Chelsea Manning. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

17 February 2014

Lebanon’s Tribunal: The Argentine Connection


Nine years ago Friday, former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and twenty-two others were killed in a massive explosion on the Beirut corniche.
Despite Lebanon’s entrenched tradition of unsolved political assassinations—dating back to 1951 and continuing to the present day—this particular killing was deemed by the then-government of Fouad Siniora to merit an international tribunal in The Hague, established by the United Nations Security Council.
Following all manner of complications and delays, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) finally kicked off last month with the trial of four Hezbollah members. A fifth suspect was inserted into the lineup this week, necessitating further delays. READ MORE AT WARSCAPES.

07 February 2014

No Mistaking Arabs for Civilians

On February 4, the Jerusalem Post announced that Tal Nachman, a 21-year-old captain in the Israeli army had been “shot dead by friendly fire ... after being mistaken for a terrorist near the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip."
Nachman was reportedly shot in the back while sleeping on the top deck of an Israeli armored personnel carrier – not really a trademark behavior of Israel’s enemies. But the extreme paranoia with which Israeli army soldiers are inculcated can occasionally lead to such mistakes.
Arab civilians, on the other hand, are no strangers to such cases of mistaken identity. READ MORE AT AL-AKHBAR.

27 January 2014

Mexico's 'vigilante monster'

Al Jazeera

Mexico's army and federal police were recently deployed to the Mexican state of Michoacan to deal with the ongoing battle between the Knights Templar drug cartel and vigilante groups known as "autodefensas".

Formed in February 2013 as a response to the state's unwillingness and inability to safeguard its people, these self-defense forces have succeeded in "liberating" a number of areas from cartel control, and have refused to comply with orders to disarm.

According to an AP report titled "Mexico Gov't Faces Vigilante Monster It Created", the US State Department "said that the warring between vigilantes and the cartel is 'incredibly worrisome' and [that it is] 'unclear if any of those actors have the community's best interests at heart'".

This is a curious assessment coming from an entity that prefers to showcase its concern for Mexican community interests by destroying Mexico's agriculture and industries via free trade schemes and by converting the country into a battlefield in the war on drugs. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

21 January 2014

E-radicalisation and Islamophobia

Al Jazeera

A concise news item in the January 6 edition of the British Independent  bears the headline: "Muslim mothers should be trained in computing 'to help to spot radicalisation'."

The article summarises the findings of a study conducted by the London-based women's charity JAN Trust:
"The study of 350 Muslim women, conducted between last June and October, found that 92 percent did not understand the term 'online radicalisation', nor that their children could be radicalised online. It said three-quarters of all mothers surveyed had seen or heard their children accessing Islamic lectures, yet 90 percent were unaware of their content."

No matter, of course, that the majority of people in the world presumably do not understand the term "online radicalisation". Such unawareness is apparently only cause for concern when associated with a certain religious cohort. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

Jihad on Drugs


In a recent ThinkProgress article called “What Everyone Should Know About Legal Pot and Terrorism," Zack Beauchamp warns that “there’s a clear and increasingly tight relationship between illicit drug profits and terrorism."
Offered in support of Beauchamp’s thesis is the alleged fact that Hezbollah “pockets millions by distributing drugs from South America in Africa and the Middle East … Because illegal drugs flourish in the same places and spaces that terrorist organizations do – the poorly governed, poorly policed global shadows – a mutually beneficial relationship between drug dealers and terrorists emerges with alarming frequency."
This analysis acquires slightly different implications in light of this week’s confirmation of the longstanding mutually beneficial relationship between the US government and certain Mexican drug cartels. According to an investigation by Mexico’s El Universal newspaper, the United States collaborated for years with the notorious Sinaloa cartel – among others – against rival outfits. READ MORE AT AL-AKHBAR.

11 January 2014

Reassessing the Syrian Spillover


As Lebanon accrues more carnage to its violent CV—most recently with the deadly bombings in downtown Beirut and the southern suburb of Haret Hreik—the media has increasingly rallied around the mantra that terrorism in Lebanon constitutes a “spillover” from the war in Syria.
According to the mainstream media chorus, this is thanks to Hezbollah's decision to participate in the Syrian conflict on the side of the government of Bashar al-Assad—and there is surely a connection. Hezbollah's intervention, however, is repeatedly cast as the fundamental starting point in the timeline of Lebanese current events, after which all other occurrences become reactive in nature.
This anti-cerebral, anti-historical approach to journalistic analysis leaves much to be desired. READ MORE AT WARSCAPES.

06 January 2014

The real danger of Uruguay’s pot legalization

Al Jazeera America

In December, Uruguay became the first nation in the world to legalize the production, sale and consumption of marijuana. While the International Narcotics Control Board, a body of experts established by the United Nations, condemned the move as a violation of international drug treaties, other observers consider it an alternative model in the debate over drug policy — and one to watch closely.
President Jose Mujica’s logic is that the decriminalization of marijuana will undermine drug cartels by depriving them of the lucrative nature of the trade in illicit substances. Newsweek quoted Mujica’s reasoning: “How do you combat drug trafficking? By stealing away part of the market.”
The law, which, among other things, will allow registered Uruguayans older than 18 to buy pot over the counter from licensed pharmacies, is a milestone in the war on the war on drugs — the fight against influential interests, both American and foreign, that profit from the war on drugs and, in fact, depend on its continued existence. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA AMERICA.

31 December 2013

Judges and Jurors in Beirut


On Friday morning, my Beirut apartment shook to the sound of an explosion. My roommate and I made our way to the site of the blast downtown with the help of a man on a street corner who, pointing in two different directions, remarked drily: “If you want to see the bomb go that way. If you want to go shopping go that way.”

To be sure, such violence has long been a part of the Lebanese landscape. So too have the self-appointed tribunals that spring up in the aftermath of political assassinations. READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

29 December 2013

Fun with chronology: misreporting the Israeli assault on Gaza

Al Jazeera

The New York Times' rendering of recent violence on the border between Gaza and Israel is a shining example of the chronological sleights of hand that have come to characterise mainstream reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Isabel Kershner's December 24 dispatch, "Killing and Retaliation at Gaza-Israel Border Continue Violent Cycle", sets up the timeline as follows:
"An Israeli labourer who was repairing the security fence along the border with Gaza was fatally shot on Tuesday by a Palestinian sniper, according to the Israeli military, and Israel immediately responded with airstrikes and tank and infantry fire against targets it associated with militant groups in the Palestinian coastal territory."

The seeming cause-and-effect relationship is emphasised by two photographs appearing side by side at the top of the article. On the left: the body of the sniper victim. On the right: the body of the three-year-old Palestinian girl cast as unintended collateral damage in the photograph's caption: "A shell killed her as Israel, responding to the sniper attack, struck targets it associated with militant groups."

Buried in a paragraph in the second half of the article, however, is the following detail: "On Friday, Israeli forces fatally shot a Palestinian man who approached the border fence separating Gaza from Israel."

As it turns out, the Friday in question occurred four days prior to the Tuesday sniper fire and military assault. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

16 December 2013

Fighting terror with terror

Al Jazeera

On December 12, the New York Times reported that "what appeared to be the second American drone strike in the past week" had killed at least 11 people in Yemen, as they drove home from a wedding. The article offered additional noncommittal details such as that "[m]ost of the dead appeared to be people suspected of being militants linked to Al Qaeda."

Reuters supplied a different version of the incident, citing 15 fatalities and a claim from local security officials that a party of wedding attendees had been "mistaken for an al Qaeda convoy".

The ease of confusing wedding guests with terrorists has, of course, been demonstrated time and again in the war on terror, as evidenced by mainstream media headlines over the years such as "US bomb blunder kills 30 at Afghan wedding". Funeral attendees have also been popular targets, a practice discussed in Glenn Greenwald's 2012 dispatch for Salon: "US again bombs mourners." READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

28 November 2013

On Israel's collective amnesia: 'Could we kill an Arab?'

Al Jazeera

A few years ago, the Israeli Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs unveiled an English-language website with the aim of repairing Israel's image, which was said to be under unfair attack abroad.

Jerusalem Post article marking the debut of the (now defunct) site noted that it "provide[d] hasbara material related to current events, tips for the 'novice ambassador', myths and facts about Israel and the Arab world, and lists of Israel's most prominent achievements in science, medicine and agriculture".

Among alleged image-improving factoids listed by the ministry was that "[a]n Israeli invention for an electric hair removal device makes women happy all over the world." The catalogue of "myths" included that the West Bank settlements are an obstacle to peace - a notion debunked on the website as follows: "The Palestinian Authority sees the roots of the conflict as being the '1948 settlements', whereas the facts show that the settlements were founded after the 1967 war."

Via this attempted sleight of hand, the ministry endeavoured to dismiss the problematic issue of 1948 by triumphantly "proving" that the post-1967 settlements were indeed established after and not before 1967 -  something that no one argues with anyway.

The real myth, of course, is the one propagated by Israel, whose refusal to atone for, or even acknowledge, that the crimes upon which the nation is founded constitutes the principal obstacle to peace. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

17 November 2013

Israel's other silent war

Al Jazeera

A recent Jerusalem Post op-ed on "South Africa's obsession with Israel" resurrects complaints regarding the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, which during its 2011 session in Cape Town concludedthat "Israel's rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid."

The op-ed author reasons that, "[i]f… supporters of the tribunal were honestly concerned with the lives of Palestinians, why then was there not a single word mentioned about the abuse of Palestinians by Arab regimes such as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait, who keep them stateless, refuse them access to higher education and do not allow them the vote?"

This critique conveniently ignores the fact that Palestinian statelessness is a direct result of the establishment of Israel, whose initial crime of ethnic cleansing granted Arab regimes the opportunity to engage in such abuses. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

08 November 2013

Socialism in One Village


Back in 2003, a friend and I acquired jobs at an avocado packing facility in a village in Andalusia not far from where two of my father’s relatives were executed by Franco. For three and a half euros an hour, we stood by a conveyor belt and alternately clipped avocado stems, arranged the fruit in boxes, and arranged the boxes on wooden pallets.

Each activity was accompanied by unironic reminders from the factory bosses to work como una máquina, although they eventually realized that such rhetoric was less effective in increasing our output than the provision of boxed wine and cognac in plastic cups.

Our spare time was spent consuming the same refreshments in other venues where elderly villagers reminisced about periods of mass regional starvation and counted the number of days remaining until the Christmas lottery. Andalusia appeared permanently and inevitably repressed by the state, the aristocracy, the euro, and a host of related demons. Beyond palliative cognac and lottery ticket purchases, there seemed little that could be done.

Not once did we hear of nearby Marinaleda, star of a new study by Dan Hancox called The Village Against the World. A self-proclaimed “utopia towards peace,” the central Andalusian village currently boasts 2,700 inhabitants and some delusions of grandeur. Hancox notes, “In most parts of the capitalist world, ‘another world is possible’ is just an idealistic rallying cry. In Marinaleda, it’s an observable fact.”  READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

05 November 2013

Why migrants die

Al Jazeera

In 2001, a Palestinian friend of mine attempted to go to Europe.

Holding only a travel document for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon - one of the more useless bundles of paper currently in existence - he appealed to a Turkish mafia ring in Istanbul, and was promised passage to Greece in exchange for $1,000. 

Thus began an odyssey of sorts in which my friend was packed onto a series of overcrowded boats. The first broke down off the coast of Turkey, the second sank, and the third deposited its human cargo in the vicinity of the Turkish city of Izmir, which the migrants were told was Greece. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

31 October 2013

GMOs and politico-corporate incest

Al Jazeera

The annual World Food Prize - self-advertised as "the foremost international award recognising … the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world" - was presented to three scientists in a ceremony earlier this month.

One of the recipients is an executive at Monsanto, the US-based biotech firm and Vietnam War-era manufacturer of the lethal defoliant Agent Orange.

Another recipient belongs to Syngenta, the Swiss agribusiness giant that recently sued Europe for daring to temporarily ban dangerous pesticides linked to the decimation of bee populations. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

23 October 2013

An Israeli 'spy eagle' has landed?

Al Jazeera

An October 17 report from Jerusalem-based AP correspondent Aron Heller begins:
"Israeli eagles dangerously endangered by pesticides, electrical wires and poachers now apparently face a new threat: Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas.
Hezbollah's Al-Manar website recently boasted of capturing an eagle that carried an Israel-labeled transmission device on its back and claimed the bird was an Israeli spy. It said hunters in central Lebanon shot down the bird and found devices on it as well as a copper ring on its leg that reads 'Israel' in English followed by letters that refer to Tel Aviv University. The fate of the eagle remains unclear."

Heller goes on to quote ornithologist Yossi Leshem, a Tel Aviv University professor, who complains that "[t]he whole field of conservation is based on regional cooperation and not this nonsense …. It's not enough that they kill people, now they are killing birds too." READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

15 October 2013

Writing Dershowitz's obituary

Al Jazeera

After half a century of service at Harvard University, law professor Alan Dershowitz is preparing to retire.

A recent article in the Harvard Gazette quotes Dershowitz’s musings on his legacy outside academia:
"'I hope people will at least analyze fairly what I’ve tried to do in those two areas where I’m most well-known: representing unpopular defendants in criminal cases and helping to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. I don’t expect that I will be represented fairly, but I’m going to do what I can do bring that about', he said, mentioning his plan to rebut his obituary in advance in case news outlets don’t accurately reflect his life".

In the interest of fairness and accuracy, let us review some of Dershowitz’s alleged contributions to conflict resolution in the Middle East. As it turns out, his "help" in this field also revolves around the practice of defending criminals. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

04 October 2013

Do-it-yourself cartography of the Middle East

Al Jazeera

A recent offering from the New York Times Opinion page is an infographic titled "How 5 Countries Could Become 14".

Featuring analysis by Robin Wright—distinguished scholar at the United States Institute of Peace and the Wilson Center—it depicts prospective divisions of Libya, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen into territories with predictable names like Sunnistan, Shiitestan, Alawitestan, and Wahhabistan.

Despite the fixation with the –stan suffix, there is no polity called "Palestan". READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

30 September 2013

Breeding terror in Guantanamo?

Al Jazeera

A September 18 dispatch from Reuters announces:
"A former prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay US naval base died fighting for anti-government rebels in Syria, according to an Islamist opposition group which posted a video of his funeral on YouTube".
Held in Guantanamo from 2002 until 2006, Moroccan-born Mohammed al Alami is reportedly the first former prisoner to perish in the war in Syria. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA

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