25 November 2015

Remembering Operation Condor

Al Jazeera English

Four decades ago, on November, 25, 1975, the Chilean capital of Santiago hosted a meeting of South American intelligence chiefs, military officers, and government officials with a common commitment to exterminating leftism on the continent.

It was the launch of Operation Condor, a collaborative effort between six countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. With the United States' encouragement, the alliance would go on to torture and murder tens of thousands of civilians.

The codename "Condor", an avian emblem of various Andean nations, was darkly appropriate in other ways. In Argentina, for example, some 30,000 suspected leftists were disappeared during the "dirty war" waged by the military junta that seized power shortly after Operation Condor took off; many were dropped from aircraft into bodies of water.
In other words, this wasn't an innocent flight of the condor.

As historian Greg Grandin notes in his book, Kissinger's Shadow: The Long Reach of America's Most Controversial Statesman, the former US secretary of state offered the following - thinly veiled - murderous advice to the junta's foreign minister in 1976: "If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly."
And if the US view wasn't already clear enough, he added: "We understand you must establish authority." READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

24 November 2015

Interpol on the frontlines against terrorism?

Middle East Eye

From 18-20 November, the Spanish city of Seville hosted the sixth Interpol Counter-Terrorism Working Group Meeting on Foreign Terrorist Fighters. Interpol is the world’s largest international police organisation.

According to the Interpol website, the encounter was meant to enable participants from approximately 40 countries “to exchange best practice on how to address and neutralize the threat posed by ISIS and other terrorist groups using expertise gained in the wider conflict zone as a platform to train and plan attacks against Western and other targets”.

Of particular concern are terrorists who, having departed from Europe itself to join the fight, later bring their expertise back home.

An article about the meeting in Spain’s El Pais newspaper reports Interpol’s calculation that, of an estimated 25,000 international fighters, less than one-fourth have been identified - the majority of them in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Hence the apparent need for ever-tighter collaboration and information-sharing between countries fighting on behalf of “civilization,” as Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz characterised the showdown at his inaugural address in Seville.

Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock stressed in his own speech that “information is key to the police battle”. Two days later, it seemed a key battle had already been won on that front; an Interpol news brief announced that Stock had “welcomed the decision by European Union ministers for all EU external border control points to be connected to Interpol’s global databases and for automatic screening of travel documents to be introduced by March 2016”.

In other words, welcome to the age of Even Bigger Brother - and even smaller spaces in which human rights and civil liberties may be asserted. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

18 November 2015

Catalonia's declaration of independence

Al Jazeera English

"They are trying to liquidate the unity of a nation with more than five centuries of history."
This dramatic proclamation was made by right-wing Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, up in arms over the resolution just passed by the parliament of Catalonia committing that region to proceed with preparations to secede from Spain.
With a population of more than seven million, Catalonia accounts for approximately one-fifth of Spain's economic output.
Of course, given the country’s long history of repression of Catalan identity and nationalism, the whole "unity" bit is rather disingenuous. As economist Daniel Raventos, a lecturer at the University of Barcelona, recalled to me in an email, the constitutional enshrinement of the "indivisible unity of the Spanish nation" is in fact a relic of the era of Francisco Franco.
Among his many claims to notoriety, the former dictator outlawed the Catalan language and even the use of Catalan names, as well as the Catalan national dance and other customs.
Meanwhile, if we want to talk about liquidating things, it's no doubt helpful to bring up the wanton elimination of Spanish livelihoods in the aftermath of the financial crisis, which saw youth unemployment soar to nearly 60 percent. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

16 November 2015

Syria Burning


Two of the four chapters of Charles Glass’ new book, Syria Burning: ISIS and the Death of the Arab Spring, begin with jokes. In the first joke, a relic of civil war-era Lebanon, a war-weary Lebanese dog escapes to Syria only to return a couple of months later, to the confoundment of the other dogs:

“Seeing him better groomed and fatter than before, they asked whether the Syrians had been good to him. ‘Very good.’ ‘Did they feed and wash you?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Then why did you come back?’ ‘I want to bark.’”

The second joke, which Glass describes as a Cold War favorite among Syrians, features a survey question posed to citizens of different nations: “What is your opinion of eating meat?” In Poland, the overwhelming response is, “What do you mean by ‘meat’?” In Ethiopia, it is, “What do you mean by ‘eating’?” The Syrian response, finally, is, “What do you mean by ‘what is your opinion’?”

To be sure, freedom of expression hasn’t exactly been the most salient characteristic of the Syrian Arab Republic under the leadership of the al-Assads—first Hafez, who ruled until his death in June of 2000, and now Bashar—although, as the Lebanese dog attests, there were certainly other comforts. Glass notes in his book that, prior to the 2011 onset of the Syrian civil war, the country not only “fed itself” but also boasted health care and educational services that were “among the best in the region.”

During my own first visit to Syria in 2006, part of an extended and somewhat aimless hitchhiking journey with my friend Amelia, Syrians we spoke to who were not fond of al-Assad generally refrained from criticizing him too loudly. They were, however, less hesitant to voice their negative opinions of our souvenir preferences: colorful posters and decals of the ruling family, which we found amusingly ridiculous, and fake Syrian military epaulettes that we sewed onto wife-beaters.

Now, of course, Syria is far from a joking matter. More than 200,000 people have been killed in the war over the past four years, and millions have been displaced. As Patrick Cockburn remarks in the foreword to Syria Burning, it’s difficult to find an account of the conflict that isn’t hopelessly biased in favor of one side—and indeed, it’s Glass’ defiance of this tradition that makes his work valuable. READ MORE AT WARSCAPES.

15 November 2015

Beirut and Paris: A Tale of Two Terror Attacks

TeleSUR English

Where was the global sympathy when a terror attack left at least 44 people dead and 239 others injured in Lebanon?

As news arrived yesterday of terror attacks in Paris that ultimately left more than 120 people dead, U.S. President Barack Obama characterized the situation as “heartbreaking” and an assault “on all of humanity.”

Presidential sympathy had been conspicuously absent the previous day when terror attacks in Beirut left more than 40 dead. Predictably, Western media and social media were much less vocal about the slaughter in Lebanon. And while many of us are presumably aware, to some degree, of the discrepancy in value assigned to people’s lives on the basis of nationality and other factors, the back-to-back massacres in Beirut and Paris served to illustrate without a doubt the fact that, when it comes down to it, “all of humanity” doesn’t necessarily qualify as human.

Of course, there’s more to the story than the relative dehumanization of the Lebanese as compared with their French counterparts. There’s also the prevailing notion in the West that — as far as bombs, explosions, and killings go — Lebanon is simply One of Those Places Where Such Things Happen. The same goes for places like Iraq, to an even greater extent, which is part of the reason we don’t see Obama mourning attacks on all of humanity every time he reads the news out of Baghdad.

The situation in Iraq is also obviously more complicated — not to mention the ones in Afghanistan, Yemen, and other locations on the receiving end of U.S. military atrocities. Why doesn’t it break the president’s heart to order drone attacks and other life-extinguishing maneuvers?

Short answer: because it’s not the job of superpowers to engage in self-reflection. Thus, Obama’s selective vision enables him to observe in the case of Paris: “We've seen an outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians.” READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

Where was the global sympathy when a terror attack left at least 44 people dead and 239 others injured in Lebanon?
As news arrived yesterday of terror attacks in Paris that ultimately left more than 120 people dead, U.S. President Barack Obama characterized the situation as “heartbreaking” and an assault “on all of humanity.”

Presidential sympathy had been conspicuously absent the previous day when terror attacks in Beirut left more than 40 dead. Predictably, Western media and social media were much less vocal about the slaughter in Lebanon. And while many of us are presumably aware, to some degree, of the discrepancy in value assigned to people’s lives on the basis of nationality and other factors, the back-to-back massacres in Beirut and Paris served to illustrate without a doubt the fact that, when it comes down to it, “all of humanity” doesn’t necessarily qualify as human.

This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address: 
 "http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/Beirut-and-Paris-A-Tale-of-Two-Terror-Attacks-20151114-0016.html". If you intend to use it, please cite the source and provide a link to the original article. www.teleSURtv.net/english

14 November 2015

The ‘Hezbollah stronghold’: Dehumanising Dahiyeh

Middle East Eye

Imagine, for one moment, that on 11 September 2001, you turned on your television set to find the following news headlines: “Headquarters of murderous American war machine hit by attacks”; “Epicentre of US financial exploitation rocked by blasts”; “Many deaths as planes hit belligerent global hegemon”.

Chances are you’d view such renderings as al-Qaeda-inspired propaganda and a repulsive affront to the civilians who perished.

When it comes to brutal attacks on cities further from home, however, this exact sort of media approach is shamelessly allowed to fly. It helps, of course, when the people on the receiving end of the attacks have already been so dehumanised as to eliminate the option for civilian identity. Think Iraq or Afghanistan - where, in November of 2001, New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman took the liberty of placing “Afghan ‘civilians’” in quotation marks in order to excuse their slaughter by the US.

Nowadays, Lebanon is an increasingly frequent victim of media efforts that are at once sloppy and pernicious. This is particularly true in the case of Dahiyeh, the southern suburbs of Beirut, which are reduced ad nauseam to a “Hezbollah stronghold”. Google “Hezbollah stronghold” and you’ll see what I mean.

The most recent Google results will pertain to yesterday’s double suicide bombings in the neighbourhood of Burj al-Barajneh, which killed more than 40 people and wounded more than 200. The attacks were claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

31 October 2015

Criminalizing Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

TeleSUR English

On the corniche in Beirut, the Lebanese capital’s seaside promenade, I recently witnessed the following scene: four Syrian boys who looked to be in their early teens were harmlessly partaking of some snacks on a bench when two members of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF) descended upon them on bicycles. Identity papers were demanded, one of the boys was physically searched, and another was made to get down on his hands and knees and painstakingly collect every last sunflower seed shell that had accumulated at the group’s feet while one of the cops inexplicably took photographs of him. (They’ll surely make a great addition to any future brochure showcasing the ISF’s services.)

When my companion approached the boys afterward to ask for details, they claimed the intervention was triggered by their Syrian accents — a plausible hypothesis given the fact that the Lebanese present on the corniche continued to blissfully scatter remnants of their own snacks without meriting attention from the forces of law and order.

The boys added that the police had asked them if they also littered in their own country — to which they had appropriately responded that they could not properly dispose of the sunflower seed shells because the Lebanese government had nowhere to put Beirut’s trash. Indeed, willful incompetence on the part of the state has resulted in an ongoing rubbish crisis, which has meant that, for the past several months, sizable sectors of the capital and environs have found themselves inundated with festering garbage. Needless to say, much of this waste is far less biodegradable than sunflower seeds.

Profiling and harassment are only two of the ways the Lebanese government has complicated Syrian refugee existence. Last October, for example, it flat out stopped admitting refugees, and now requires the ones already present to pay an annual fee of US$200 to remain in the country. A host of other requirements further defy logic: refugees must provide a notarized pledge not to work in Lebanon, as well as copies of a lease agreement or property deed. For refugees who are both poor and forcibly jobless, it’s anyone’s guess where the money for housing — or the US$200 — is supposed to come from. READ MORE AT TeleSUR English.

21 October 2015

For Israel, ‘Human Rights’ Has Meant the Right To Dominate Palestinians

In These Times

Shortly after the conclusion of Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon, a 34-day affair that dispensed with approximately 1,200 (mainly civilian) lives in the latter country, my friend and I embarked on a hitchhiking trip through the rubble. One of our stops was the town of Bint Jbeil, located 2.5 miles from the Israeli border and known as the “capital of the Resistance.” A former focal point of the Hezbollah-managed struggle against Israel’s occupation of south Lebanon, which was forcibly terminated in May of 2000, Bint Jbeil was savagely attacked by Israeli forces in 2006, partly as payback. Much of the town now lay in ruin.
The destruction of property, not to mention friends and loved ones, had somehow not interfered with the south Lebanese capacity for hospitality, and my companion and I were quickly ushered into one family’s living room for coffee. This particular family of five had spent the first 10 days of the war in a basement with a multitude of relatives and neighbors before fleeing northward in a convoy of white flag-waving vehicles, the last of which was pulverized by an Israeli missile.
Thanks to this experience, our hosts’ four-year-old daughter now panicked at the slightest sound. She nonetheless appeared more resilient than my friend and me: After learning that there was a two-foot-long unexploded Israeli aerial bomb lying in the unoccupied house next door, we spent the rest of our visit hyperventilating.
During the 2006 war, the Israeli military saturated south Lebanese homes, yards, and fields with up to 4.6 million cluster bombs, a good percentage of which failed to detonate on impact and thus continue to maim and kill to this day. One of Israel’s excuses for such behavior was that Hezbollah was using south Lebanese civilians as human shields, storing weaponry in area homes and launching rockets from civilian areas. Expanding on the Israeli fabrication that much of Hezbollah’s arsenal was located under civilian beds, then-Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reasoned: “When you go to sleep with a missile, … you might find yourself waking up to another kind of missile.” READ MORE AT IN THESE TIMES.

19 October 2015

Lebanon’s landscape of refugee despair

Middle East Eye

The view from the mental health room at the new Doctors Without Borders (MSF) clinic in the Lebanese town of Majdal Anjar showcases a scene typical of today’s Bekaa Valley. In the distance, a tented settlement housing refugees from Syria is featured against a mountainous backdrop, beyond which lies the Syrian city of Zabadani. This summer, battle sounds from the city reverberated across Majdal Anjar.

As we sit by the window, Tarek Baydoun - one of MSF’s volunteer mental health counselors - mentions an occasional fear that a stray missile will come flying over the mountain. (It wouldn’t be the first case of a direct hit on an MSF healthcare centre, that achievement having already been accomplished by the recent US airstrikes on the organisation’s hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.)
Indeed, for the estimated two million Syrian refugees currently residing in Lebanon, it’s been difficult to put much distance between themselves and the homeland - either physically or psychologically.
According to Baydoun, who often sees four or more patients per day, the most common psychological afflictions facing Syrian refugees involve depression and severe anxiety. In children, enuresis - or bedwetting - is a frequent manifestation of mental strife. The causes of mental troubles, Baydoun says, have to do not only with stressful and traumatic experiences accumulated in war-torn Syria but also with difficulties adjusting to the new reality in Lebanon, where refugees have been given a less-than-warm reception. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

17 October 2015

A new front-line in the war on terror

Al Jazeera English

On August 28, a 17-year-old citizen of El Salvador became the country's first person to be sentenced for "acts of terrorism" on account of his association with alleged gang activity, the Spanish news agency EFE reported. Identified only as Antonio N, the teenager was accused of attacking a group of police with a handmade weapon.
In El Salvador, it is customary to refrain from publishing the full names of minors charged with crimes, but classifying them as terrorists is apparently acceptable.
The case was a litmus test for a new ruling. Four days prior to Antonio N's sentencing, the Salvadoran Supreme Court had decreed that gang membership was now punishable under the 2006 Special Law Against Acts of Terrorism, which can set prison sentences of up to 60 years.
The law has been trotted out on various occasions. A former administrationused it to charge protesters at a 2007 demonstration against the privatisation of water systems. In this case, "terrorism" amounted to blocking roads and throwing stones.
Following the new supreme court decision, both the state and police have been having a field day with additional arrests. Last month, 231 people were taken into custody at a dance party in the city of Apopa, north of the capital San Salvador, where, the Salvadoran online newspaper La Pagina reported, the musical entertainment had included songs "alluding to gangs". READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.