06 December 2016

Article 522: Letting rapists off the hook in Lebanon

Middle East Eye

The Turkish government, in keeping with its established reputation as a shameless violator of human rights and decency, recently made unfavourable headlines yet again with what international media have termed a “child rape bill” that would have pardoned men convicted of statutory rape provided they marry their victims.

Following protests in Turkey, the measure has been withdrawn but not eliminated. The BBC quotes a female Turkish parliamentarian as defending the bill on these grounds:
“It is about giving normality to young women who have been married underage due to cultural norms, other norms, and now find themselves with their children suffering because their husbands are in prison… One of the examples is when the woman is 15 and the man is 17 [when they marry].”
But while such cases can’t be written off as irrelevant, they certainly don’t justify the institutionalisation of impunity - particularly when a get-out-of-jail-free card is apparently already available in many cases of rape. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

02 December 2016

Lebanon’s very own apartheid wall?

Middle East Eye

News recently emerged in Lebanon that the army had begun constructing a “security” wall - complete with watchtowers - around the perimeter of Ain al-Hilweh, the country’s largest Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of the city of Sidon.
Although the Lebanese government is, for sectarian reasons, not extremely into counting the residents of its country - the last national census was conducted in 1932 during the French mandate - more than half a million Palestinian refugees are estimated to be present, many of them in Lebanon’s 12 official refugee camps.
Over recent years, the Palestinian population of Lebanon has expanded on account of the civil war in neighbouring Syria and the absorption of Palestinian refugees from that country, who have thus been rendered refugees twice over.Although the Lebanese government is, for sectarian reasons, not extremely into counting the residents of its country - the last national census was conducted in 1932 during the French mandate - more than half a million Palestinian refugees are estimated to be present, many of them in Lebanon’s 12 official refugee camps. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

30 November 2016

Darwin’s Mistake

Jacobin

The late Alexander Cockburn, reflecting on the work of decorated New York Times foreign affairs columnist and neoliberal warmonger extraordinaire Thomas Friedman, once observed: “Friedman’s is an industrial, implacable noise, like having a generator running under the next table in a restaurant. The only sensible thing to do is leave.”
But while generators at least serve a rather obvious function, the same can’t usually be said of Friedman, who has just spewed out his latest unnecessarily humongous book Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.
In the nearly eight hundred pages that comprise my electronic version of the manuscript, there is approximately one glimmer of hope: the point at which Friedman remarks that this is “maybe my last book.”
The title Thank You for Being Late is a reference to Friedman’s realization that when his Washington, DC breakfast companions are a few minutes tardy, he can use the time not only to people-watch and eavesdrop on neighboring conversations but also to have ideas. Who knew?
The gist of the book — a product, apparently, of Friedman’s conscious decision to occasionally slow down and think in the age of accelerations — is that the world is becoming a very different place thanks to technology, globalization, and climate change, and that we must adapt to the new reality in order to succeed.
As for why anyone would require seven hundred–plus e-book pages to make this point, it’s safe to assume that one cannot accrue $75,000 speaking fees if one’s book is only one sentence long.
To his credit, for many of these pages Friedman manages to avoid generator-under-the-next-table mode in favor of the far more tolerable generator-in-the-next-room mode. Whole paragraphs are devoted to innocuous, non-aneurysm-inducing subjects such as cow-milking robots, the number of lemur species on the island of Madagascar, the definition of “telex” according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and the dimensions of Bigbelly garbage receptacles with built-in solar panels.
Things get more annoying as Friedman produces typically grating lines like “Attention, Kmart shoppers” and “This ain’t no cloud, folks!” — the latter being the reason we must henceforth refer to “the cloud” in cloud computing as “the supernova.” READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

26 November 2016

Fidel Castro in context

Al Jazeera English

As of the year 2006, Fidel Castro, Cuba's revolutionary leader who has died aged 90, had reportedly been the subject of no fewer than 638 assassination plots by the CIA. 
The Guardian newspaper notes that these had ranged from mundane bombing and shoot-'em-up schemes to more ludicrous proposals, such as one involving "a diving-suit to be prepared for him that would be infected with a fungus that would cause a chronic and debilitating skin disease". 
At first glance, of course, it may seem odd and overreactive that a global superpower would engage in neurotic efforts for over half a century to take out the leadership of an island nation smaller than the US state of Pennsylvania. 
But has it really just been a simple case of neurosis-for-the-sake-of-neurosis? READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

24 November 2016

Zumba-Thons and Other Non-Solutions to Violence Against Women

TeleSUR English

Since 1999, the United Nations has observed Nov. 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Hillary Clinton took the concept and ran with it during her service as U.S. Secretary of State, proclaiming on Nov. 25, 2011, that “empowering women and girls is already a priority of the United States, but we need more countries to step up and take on this challenge.”
According to Clinton, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women was an occasion to remember “the horrific acts of violence against women that take place every day around the world and pledge to recommit ourselves to changing attitudes and ending all forms of violence against women and girls.”
Judging from the U.N. website and fundraising toolkit, violence against women can be counteracted by “orang[ing] the world”— orange being the color selected by the U.N. Secretary General’s UNiTE To End Violence Against Women campaign. Suggested activities range from tweets and Instagram posts containing the hashtag “#orangetheworld” to fundraising events such as a “Zumba-thon, Spin-a-thon, Bowl-a-thon, or other a-thons.”
Never mind that a more straightforward way of reducing “horrific acts of violence against women” might be to terminate devastating military assaults by Clinton’s own country — not to mention those of other countries like Israel, whose shameless slaughter of women as well as children and men is relentlessly endorsed by the U.S. 
Needless to say, the recent election of a decidedly anti-human U.S. head of state doesn’t bode well for the so-called “orange world.” READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

16 November 2016

Israel: The world’s number one ‘master of disaster’

Middle East Eye

In recent days Israeli media has been aflutter with reports that their country has received an unprecedented distinction from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the public health arm of the United Nations. Apparently, this confirms Israel’s position as superstar among nations.
On 13 November, the Times of Israel blared the headline: “UN ranks IDF emergency medical team as ‘No. 1 in the world’”. The Ynetnews website followed suit with “WHO: Israel’s field hospital best in world”, while the Jewish Telegraphic Agency opted for “Israeli army medics named world’s best in disaster relief.”  
The website of Israel’s i24news television channel announced: “Israeli field hospital ranked best in the world by WHO.”
Purged of fanfare, the essence of the story is this: Back in 2013, the WHO developed a classification system for foreign medical teams responding to sudden onset disasters (earthquakes, for example), in order to help ensure preparedness and quality of services as well as facilitate better organised deployment of personnel and equipment in accordance with the situation at hand. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

12 November 2016

On Gangs and Violence: Lessons from El Salvador

TeleSUR English

“What have you heard recently about gangs and violence?”
The Tribune quotes one response from an 11-year-old student named Yaritza in the town of Lourdes, who says she has heard “[t]hat there are a lot of murders.” The article continues: “Officials say nearly 30,000 students have… graduated from the anti-gang program in more than 50 schools in the area.”According to an October article in The Texas Tribune, this is one of the questions appearing in elementary school workbooks provided to El Salvador by the United States as part of an anti-gang education initiative designed to discourage U.S.-bound migration.
Unfortunately, Yaritza has heard correctly: in August 2015, The Guardian reported on El Salvador’s designation as the homicide capital of the world, where three consecutive August days had produced 40, 42, and 43 murders respectively.
The newspaper noted that “[e]ven Iraq – with its civil war, suicide bombings, mortar attacks and US drone strikes – could not match such a lethal start to the week.” READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

02 November 2016

Getting away with murder in Mexico

Al Jazeera English

Every November 2, Mexicans mark the Day of the Dead by honouring deceased loved ones.
Given the disproportionate number of deaths produced by Mexico's US-backed drug war, officially launched in 2006, it is starting to seem like an ever-more tragically appropriate tradition.
In a recent investigative piece for The Nation, Dawn Paley details the "spectacular violence" that has accompanied the drug war project.
"In 2014, Mexico ranked as the country with the third-most civilians killed in internal conflict, after Syria and Iraq. Bodies have been buried, burned, displayed in public places, hung from bridges and overpasses or beheaded and left at city hall."
Estimates vary as to the total number of deaths since the start of the war, but many observers put it at above 100,000.
And this isn't even counting the more than 27,000 Mexicans currently missing or disappeared - by most objective accounts an underestimate - or the 70,000-120,000 Central American migrants estimated to have disappeared while travelling through Mexico since 2006.
According to the state-sanctioned narrative, the violence is the fault of Mexico's drug cartels, period.
But this alibi is more than slightly defective. For one thing, as Paley notes, the cartels "are often indistinguishable from local and state police, and form networks dedicated to extortion, kidnapping, and killing, all of which increases social control and helps to suppress dissent." READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

31 October 2016

Forget Halloween: there's plenty of real-life horror in the Middle East

Middle East Eye

In the Iranian city of Isfahan the other day, I chatted with a carpet vendor who had in his possession two carpets woven by Afghan refugees in Iran.
At first glance, they appeared to be just like any other colourfully patterned carpets, but upon closer inspection one’s eye began to pick out warplanes, guns and tanks among the more typical shapes.
The seller remarked to me matter-of-factly in reference to the Afghan weavers’ products: “That is the world they know” - one in which the terror of war has infused every aspect of existence.
To be sure, it’s a world away from those in the West who, in accordance with the annual cycle of profit-driven holidays, are today celebrating Halloween.
Nothing against horror films or haunted houses, of course, but we might as well exploit the occasion to reflect on the circumstances of people for whom horror and fright constitute a permanent condition rather than an occasional source of controlled entertainment. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

27 October 2016

Media Roll Out Welcome Mat for ‘Humanitarian’ War in Syria

FAIR

As she marches toward the US presidency, Hillary Clinton has stepped up her promotion of the idea that a no-fly zone in Syria could “save lives” and “hasten the end of the conflict” that has devastated that country since 2011.
It has now been revealed, of course, that Clinton hasn’t always expressed the same optimism about the no-fly zone in private. The Intercept (10/10/16) reported on Clinton’s recently leaked remarks in a closed-door speech to Goldman Sachs in 2013:
To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of the air defense, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we’re not putting our pilots at risk—you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians.
Other relevant characters, such as US Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Joseph Dunford (Daily Caller9/26/16), have warned that a no-fly zone in Syria would simply intensify the conflict—which presumably isn’t the best way to hasten its end.
Luckily for those who prefer to rally around illogic, however, plenty of media have already rolled out the welcome mat for peddlers of the “humanitarian” vision of increased Western military interference in Syria.
The New York Times’ self-appointed savior of women, Nicholas Kristof (10/6/16), invoked the plight of a young Syrian girl in Aleppo to conclude that Obama’s alleged “paralysis” on Syria “has been linked to the loss of perhaps half a million lives” in the country, as well as to “the rise of extremist groups like the Islamic State,” among other unpleasant outcomes. We have no “excuse,” we’re told, for “failing to respond to mass atrocities.” READ MORE AT FAIR.