30 June 2015

Anthony Bourdain in Beirut: Parts still unknown

Middle East Eye

While employed as US Secretary of Defence under George W Bush, Donald Rumsfeld gave the oratorically challenged president a run for his money with the following statement:
“As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
It’s perhaps fitting, then, that Rumsfeld recently finagled a mention from Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef and host of the CNN show “Parts Unknown.” In a dispatch on the CNN website regarding his latest, overly enthusiastic episode about Beirut, Bourdain writes about the Lebanese capital:
“It's a place I've described as the Rumsfeldian dream of what, best-case scenario, the neocon masterminds who thought up Iraq, imagined for the post-Saddam Middle East: a place Americans could wander safely, order KFC, shop at the Gap. Where dollars are accepted everywhere and nearly everybody speaks English.”
In the next paragraph, Bourdain acknowledges that what he has just said is “an egregious oversimplification” - an assessment we can pretty safely file under the category of known knowns.
But there’s still a surplus of unknowns, such as why in god’s name anyone would cast Rumsfeldian dreams in a favourable light or cite the prospect of dollar-based KFC transactions as part of the reason “EVERYONE should visit” Beirut. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

28 June 2015

The Honduran meltdown: Made in USA

Al Jazeera English

In May 2005, US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick appeared at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington to rally support for CAFTA, a free trade agreement between the US, the Central American countries, and the Dominican Republic.
In his remarks, Zoellick played up the notion that, for Central America and the DR, the agreement would "strengthen democracy through economic growth and open societies based on the rule of law", while also entailing various perks for the gringos; a T-shirt reading "Made in Honduras", he enthused, would likely contain over 60 percent US content.
The deputy secretary and future president of the World Bank went as far as to assert that, "In many ways, CAFTA is the logical culmination of 20 years of democratic and social progress in Central America, nurtured and encouraged by the United States."

Never mind that, 20-some years ago, the United States was nurturing things like Battalion 3-16,described by the Baltimore Sun as a "CIA-trained military unit that terrorised Honduras for much of the 1980s". READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

23 June 2015

Lebanon’s tortured reality

Middle East Eye

In the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004, American officials and media apologists did their best to cast the torturous goings - on at the Iraqi prison as the work of an isolated group of bad apples - an alleged anomaly that unfairly tarnished the image of the otherwise munificent US armed forces.
Far from an aberration, however, these bad apples were instead symptoms of systemic putridity, the inevitable byproduct of an imperial setup predicated on the violation of human rights at home and abroad.
The diminutive nation of Lebanon is now enjoying its own mini-Abu Ghraib moment following the release, this past weekend, of leaked footage of members of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF) beating and torturing Islamist inmates at Roumieh prison outside Beirut. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

18 June 2015

The refugee's guide to summer holidays

Al Jazeera English

Some years back, Wanderlust magazine published a list of 20 "astonishing" complaints made by British holiday-makers to travel agents following excursions abroad.
These included: "The beach was too sandy," and "On my holiday to Goa in India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry." Another traveller complained: "It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England [but] it only took the Americans three hours to get home."
Some British tourists have now found further faults with international holiday destinations on account of the current overlap of high tourist season and high migrant season on certain picturesque Mediterranean isles.
A recent article in the Daily Mail Online details the tribulations of vacationers on the Greek island of Kos, where thousands of refugees and other "straggly migrants" have compromised the aesthetics of the landscape with no regard for the needs of Brits on package tours. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

16 June 2015

The "Values" of Mainstream Journalism: Shilling for the IDF

WARSCAPES

Last month, the New York Times published an article by Isabel Kershner that was not entirely distinguishable from an Israeli army press release.
In it, she presents allegations made by officials from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and related entities that Hezbollah is frenetically militarizing south Lebanese villages. The small town of Shaqra, for example, is reported to contain a whopping “400 military sites and facilities belonging to Hezbollah.”
The upshot, according to Kershner’s Israeli sources: There will be many civilian casualties in the next war between Israel and Lebanon, and it will be Hezbollah’s fault.
Twelve paragraphs into her PR stunt, Kershner admits that “the Israeli claims could not be independently verified.” As I happen to be in Lebanon at the moment—albeit with infinitely fewer resources at my disposal than the New York Times, which operates a bureau in Beirut—I rented a car and drove to the villages singled out by the Kershner-IDF duo. I compiled my findings in an essay for Middle East Eye.
The 400 military sites allegedly saturating Shaqra were nowhere to be found, but a number of other village amenities were on display. As I wrote in my piece, these included “some houses, some farms, some hair salons and clothing stores, a colorful establishment offering ‘Botox filling,’ an equally colorful establishment called ‘Magic Land,’ a painting of Che Guevara, a pond with rancid water, and a graffito reading ‘THUG LIFE.’”
In short, Israeli claims really can’t be independently verified—which means Kershner’s experiment in militarized journalism should have never taken place, especially since it preemptively justifies civilian slaughter.
Shortly after the launch of Kershner’s offensive, blogger Richard Silverstein confronted Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren on Twitter regarding the article’s problematic nature. Rudoren informed him that it was “not my story,” at which point Silverstein reminded her of her position as bureau chief and the two continued their exchange via direct messages, the transcript of which Silverstein subsequently forwarded to me. READ MORE & LIKE AT WARSCAPES.

15 June 2015

Jihad versus jihad: Lebanon's shifting role in regional conflict

Middle East Eye

Off the coast of the south Lebanese city of Tyre, located close to the border with Israel, a warship recently appeared on the horizon.
Having reflexively feared it was an Israeli vessel, my flatmates and I eventually determined that the boat was merely part of the vast arsenal possessed by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Not once did the thought occur to us that the ship might have belonged to the Lebanese military, which is chronically under-equipped.
One reason for the army’s relegation to a bottom-tier fighting force is the domestic political inertia courtesy of sectarian leaders who are loath to see a cross-sectarian institution thrive. Another is that the United States and other concerned parties have in recent history been careful to supply the Lebanese state solely with equipment that does not pose an existential threat to Israel - night vision goggles, for example.
Israel, of course, is permitted to engage in plenty of existential behaviour vis-à-vis its northern neighbour, with the help of all sorts of advanced machinery speedily delivered from the US. In addition to slaughtering civilians, the Israeli army have also regularly targeted installations and personnel belonging to both the Lebanese army and UNIFIL, despite the fact that neither entity is particularly known for lifting a finger against the Israelis, except to compile tallies of Israeli army violations of Lebanese territory and airspace.
Enter Hezbollah, whose battle résumé includes chasing the occupying Israeli army out of Lebanon in 2000, thwarting an Israeli victory during the summer 2006 war, and otherwise humiliating the most powerful military in the region. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

04 June 2015

Can Rudy Giuliani Save El Salvador?

TeleSUR TV English

For the United States, the Cold War was an existential struggle with international leftism. But in reality, it was one big misnomer that spilled untold quantities of third world blood.

During one particular stretch of the lengthy affair, the U.S. backed a regime in El Salvador as it racked up approximately 40,000 political murders. Former Atlantic editor Benjamin Schwarz put it bluntly: “[T]here is no escaping the fact that the success of the U.S. policy was built on a foundation of corpses.”

What this corpse-based “success” constituted, of course, was a defense of the sanctity of capitalism against nefarious thoughts to the contrary — among them the idea that the Salvadoran peasantry should not be eternally dominated by an abusive elite.

Now, several decades later, capital is once again perceived to be under threat in the small Central American nation, necessitating novel forms of guidance from its imperial neighbor to the north.

The latest neoliberal emissary to descend upon El Salvador is none other than former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, imported to the country in May by the Salvadoran National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP) to advise the government on the worsening security situation. Following the abandonment last year of a gang truce, the homicide rate has skyrocketed.

One can pretty safely assume that any institution boasting the words “private enterprise” in its title is going to prioritize security for financial investments over security for other things like human beings. READ MORE AT TeleSUR TV ENGLISH.

30 May 2015

15 years of Lebanese ‘liberation’?

Middle East Eye

The 25th of May was a big day in Lebanon.
On the one hand, it was the fifteenth anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from the southern section of the country following a brutal 22-year occupation.
On the other, it was the first anniversary of Lebanon’s lack of a president - a post that shows no signs of being filled any time soon despite repeated parliamentary pseudo-efforts to elect one.
Though the liberation of the south and the current presidential void may seem to have little in common, there is a link of sorts. After all, the Lebanese state’s perennial inability to act as such goes a long way in explaining the circumstances of the Israeli withdrawal, which came about via a concerted campaign by Hezbollah and other non-state actors rather than through any government-sponsored effort.
But 15 years later, just how liberated is Lebanon? READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

28 May 2015

A drug war made in Mexico?

Al Jazeera English

In February 2013, the New York Times' Thomas Friedman made a curious prediction: that Mexico would beat out India and China as "the more dominant economic power in the 21st century".

Descending briefly upon the city of Monterrey, "Mexico's industrial/innovation centre", Friedman determined that, despite prevailing problems involving "drug cartels, crime syndicates, government corruption and weak rule of law", something remarkable had happened: "It's as if Mexicans subconsciously decided that their drug-related violence is a condition to be lived with and combated but not something to define them any longer."

According to Friedman's unique access to the Mexican psyche, the new national self-identity involved free trade agreements (Mexico had signed "more than any country in the world"!) and attendant phenomena such as dismally low wages (phrased more euphemistically, of course).
Never mind that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which came into effect in 1994, has played a crucial role in fuelling not one but all of the problems listed by Friedman - which would seem to hint that his fit of neoliberal ecstasy was perhaps a tad out of place.
'Free trade'
In a new book called A Narco History: How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the "Mexican Drug War", Mexican novelist Carmen Boullosa and Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Mike Wallace document NAFTA's passage as an essential godsend for the drug trade, the lucrativeness of which has greatly exacerbated official corruption. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

22 May 2015

Turning a south Lebanese village into Israel's next target

Middle East Eye

As we approach 25 May - the 15th anniversary of Israel’s forced withdrawal from Lebanon following a nasty 22-year occupation - it seems the Israelis are itching for another showdown.
This, at least, is the hunch one gets after perusing Isabel Kershner’s recent New York Times dispatch, datelined Tel Aviv: “Israel Says Hezbollah Positions Put Lebanese at Risk.”
An example of militarised journalism par excellence, it reads a bit like a press release for the Israel Defense Forces, in which Israeli army officials and experts sound off on Hezbollah’s alleged activities in south Lebanon.
Kershner makes a half-hearted attempt to glaze her report with a veneer of impartiality by continually casting the allegations as what “Israel says”  (e.g. “Israel says the situation is similar in the Gaza Strip, where, it says, Hamas is using the same tactic of hiding its forces among civilians”).
But the fact of the matter is that Israel is given so much space in which to say things that one begins to wonder why the Times doesn’t give up trying to make a buck off of subscriptions and instead start invoicing the IDF for PR services. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.