15 December 2017

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Islamophobia: A brand that sells

Middle East Eye

When Saudi Arabia announced in September that females would be permitted to drive as of mid-2018, prominent anti-Islam campaigner Ayaan Hirsi Ali tweeted a "Yippeee!" and a "Congratulations to all the women of the KSM."
Lest followers assume she was referring to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - the alleged 9/11 mastermind known as KSM - the ever-meticulous Hirsi Ali then tweeted an apology for the typo and a correction: "Should be KSA: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."
But her fervent dislike has been somewhat ameliorated by the rise this year of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - latest despotic darling of the New York Times - whom Hirsi Ali lauded in her own recent Times dispatch for his "modernisation efforts", thanks to which Saudi Arabia might in 10 years "look more like the United Arab Emirates, its prosperous and relatively forward-looking neighbour".
To be sure, as the two neighbours currently spearhead the forcible starvation of Yemen, one can only hope the Saudis will absorb some other lessons in modernity from their Emirati counterparts, so well-versed in the crushing of human rights and souls.
In the meantime, Hirsi Ali has ensured her own enduring prosperity by continuously broadcasting to the world the existential perils posed by radical Islam - a topic she accuses leftists and other pesky members of humanity of treating as taboo.
Equally taboo, it seems, is the matter of the impressive series of fabrications upon which Hirsi Ali’s entire career is built - the exposure of which has not interfered in the least with her institutionalisation at Harvard, Stanford, and other prestigious outfits. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

04 December 2017

Celebrity 'charity': A gift for a vicious system

Al Jazeera English

When movie star George Clooney married human rights lawyer and fashion icon Amal Alamuddin in Venice back in 2014, the Entertainment Tonight website declared that "it was charity that came out as the real winner" of the multimillion-dollar nuptial festivities. 
The reason for the alleged win was that proceeds from certain wedding photos were said to be destined for - you guessed it - "charity", that favourite celebrity pastime that so often translates into massive PR points and saviour-hero credit, not to mention tax breaks.
We non-celebrities have been so conditioned to perceive charity as something unconditionally positive - rather than a commodification and exploitation of faux altruism - that we don't seem to notice reality's conspicuous absence from the feel-good world of celeb-philanthropy.
Case in point: reports that rock star Bono's anti-poverty foundation ONE managed in 2008 to channel a mere 1.2 percent of the funds it raised to the people it purported to be assisting have done nothing to interfere with the man's portrayal as some sort of messiah for Africa.
In the case of the Clooneys, who now preside over their very own Clooney Foundation for Justice, celebrity worship and Amal-mania have also precluded sound judgement. Objectively speaking, it would seem that "justice" is not really an option in a world in which human rights lawyer-philanthropists by the name of Amal Clooney wear outfits costing $7,803. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

27 November 2017

Saudi Arabia, like the Nazis, uses 'hunger plan' in Yemen

Middle East Eye

Last month, Saudi Arabia expanded its repertoire of ludicrous antics by bestowing citizenship upon a robot named Sophia - a move presumably meant to augment the veneer of modernity and progress the tyrannical Saudi authorities strive to maintain.
In a recent interview with the Khaleej Times, an Emirati newspaper, Sophia speculated that "it might be possible to make [robots] more ethical than humans" and that there are only two options for the future: "Either creativity will rain on us, inventing machines spiralling into transcendental super intelligence[,] or civilisation collapses."
Granted, many members of the global human population are presently grappling with far more mundane issues - such as how to survive under Saudi-led bombardment and blockade, as happens to be the case in neighbouring Yemen. There, residents might be forgiven for assuming civilisation had already collapsed.
Forget rains of creativity: the Saudis and their partners in crime have instead rained destruction on Yemen, in addition to presiding over an impending famine. Instrumental to the war effort is the United Arab Emirates, a territory that similarly seeks to conceal its brutal essence behind a facade of modern development, flashy buildings and malls with ski slopes. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

22 November 2017

Press Freedoms Shattered As Erdoğan Imposes Control

The Washington Spectator, picked up by Newsweek

In January 2011, then–prime minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan descended upon the southwestern Turkish coastal town of Fethiye to talk the public’s ear off on subjects ranging from the importance of stricter alcohol and tobacco laws to the importance of keeping up with the “modern” world.
I attended the lecture, which was held at an outdoor venue close to the town’s seaside promenade. Security measures included relieving all guests of their pens and other potential dual-use items, resulting in a heap of writing utensils, lighters, and pieces of fruit outside the event’s entrance.
Six years later, as now–President Erdoğan sets his sights on Leadership for Life—who said tyranny wasn’t modern?—the mountain of confiscated pens has acquired greater retroactive significance in light of the Turkish government’s ramped-up war on the press. In the aftermath of the failed July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, the assault on the media—not to mention the rampant detention of academics, human rights workers, pro-Kurdish politicians, and other perceived enemies of the state—has reached spectacular new levels.
Though the blame for the coup has officially been pinned on Fethullah Gülen, the Islamic preacher and former Erdoğan ally who is based in the United States, the government’s general aim seems to be to kill as many birds as possible with one stone. And a seemingly eternal state of emergency is helping make that dream a reality.
The statistics often defy comprehension. In an April essay for The New York Times Magazine, Suzy Hansen offered a rundown of some of the casualties of the post-coup-attempt purge: “Fifteen universities, 1,000 schools, 28 TV channels, 66 newspapers, 19 magazines, 36 radio stations, 26 publishing houses, and five news agencies have been shut down.”
In December, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Turkey “account[ed] for nearly a third of the global total” of imprisoned journalists. Last September, Reuters observed that among the television channels shuttered for allegedly disseminating “terrorist propaganda” was one “which airs Kurdish-language children’s cartoons.”
A July 2017 Reuters dispatch explained that “Turkish prosecutors are seeking up to 43 years in jail for newspaper staff” at Turkey’s Cumhuriyet paper, who were “accused of targeting Erdoğan through ‘asymmetric war methods.’”
The crime in question involved less-than-loving coverage of the government crackdown and other matters. As The Guardian has noted, Cumhuriyet “also embarrassed the national intelligence service by revealing that it had transported weapons to rebels in Syria under the guise of humanitarian aid in 2014.”
In Erdoğan’s Turkey, apparently, engaging in critical journalism is considered more warlike than, say, helping to fuel an unimaginably bloody conflict in Syria. Furthermore, there’s clearly no better way to combat asymmetric warfare than by throwing a disproportionate number of journalists in jail.
Luckily for the government, there are numerous cooperative Turkish media outlets to compensate for the traitorous ones. Perusing Turkey’s massively popular Posta newspaper this summer, for example, I found plenty of valuable information on subjects like Adriana Lima’s holiday in Bodrum, the number of kilos gained and lost by Turkish celebrities, and the annual incomes of the respective Kardashians. Amid all the bikinis and colorful photographic bombardment, it was easy to miss the tiny box with a two-sentence report on the more than 100,000 Turkish civil servants .sacked since the coup. READ MORE AT THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR or Newsweek.

21 November 2017

Thanksgiving: The annual genocide whitewash

Al Jazeera English

When I was a schoolchild in the United States a couple of short decades ago, I spent my time acquiring important life skills - ranging from how to fake a wrist fracture in order to obtain a purple cast, to how to craft a teepee replica out of a paper bag.
The latter art was perfected in accordance with the holiday of Thanksgiving, which arrived each November to great fanfare, and which, in addition to teepee replication, required my classmates and I to mass-produce turkey drawings, paper Pilgrim hats, and modified, feathered headdresses.
These materials were then incorporated into our reenactments of the "original" Thanksgiving feast: that mythologised, gastronomic encounter of 1621 between Pilgrims and Native Americans that now serves as a cornerstone of the fairytale version of US history.
On the surface, it may seem that there's not much to criticise about a holiday based on gratitude and eating - especially when it's accompanied by absurd spectacles like the presidential turkey pardon.
But a glance at the historical context of Thanksgiving reveals a thoroughly nauseating affair. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGISH.

17 November 2017

Flashback: When the US armed Iran

Middle East Eye

In defence of his recent decision to decertify the Iranian nuclear deal, US President Donald Trump explained: "We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout."
This was, of course, pretty rich coming from the leader of a nation that has unleashed all manner of violence -including nuclear-against the inhabitants of this planet.
But hey: the September 2017 Iranian missile launch-that-wasn't - news of which Trump himself broke on Twitter - could have been really violent!
On that particular occasion, even the normally subdued Associated Press was propelled to borderline sarcasm: "As president, Trump could easily have checked with the CIA or other intelligence agencies to verify whether Iran had actually test-fired a missile." 
To be sure, Iran has long been demonised in the US - and not just by the Republicans. Recall Hillary Clinton's endearing warning that America could "totally obliterate" the country in return for an attack on Israel. In short, because the Islamic Republic has dared to complicate US-Israeli designs in the Middle East, it has found itself repeatedly portrayed as an apocalyptic threat to life on earth.
In his 2002 State of the Union address in which he unveiled the "axis of evil" concept, then-US President George W Bush warned that "Iran aggressively pursues these weapons [of mass destruction] and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom."
Never mind that America's favourite shah - who ruled Iran until the 1979 revolution - was anything but "elected", or that the 1953 CIA-orchestrated coup against Iranian secular nationalist Mohammad Mossadegh wasn't exactly compatible with indigenous hopes "for freedom". READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

06 November 2017

The Israeli war on reality

The Region

For the duration of its existence, Israel has busied itself with creating “facts on the ground”—for the ultimate purpose of masking its violent usurpation of Palestinian land and supplanting reality with a cheerier narrative of justice, democracy, and other good stuff.
In one crucial preliminary stage of the disappearing act, the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 entailed the eradication of some 500 Palestinian villages—in addition to 10,000 or so Palestinian lives—and the expulsion from Palestine of approximately three-quarters of a million people.
And ethnic cleansing is hardly a thing of the past: now, nearly seven decades later, Palestinians continue to be slaughtered at regular intervals, as their remaining bits of territory compete with the proliferation of Israeli facts on the ground.
Meanwhile, Israel’s perverse interpretation of the “right of return” boils down to a situation in which Palestinians from Palestine can’t go back but any Jew in the world can settle in Israel (granted, Jews with black skin have a fantastically tougher time).
With the advent of the internet era a whole new terrain opened up for conquest and exploitation—and Israel’s valiant propagandists have wasted no time in disseminating what we might call “facts on the net.”
Google “capital of Israel,” for example, and you’re presented with the answer “Jerusalem” along with a mini-photo collage, map, and the invitation to “plan a trip and points of interest.”
This despite the fact that not a single country in the world—Israel notwithstanding—recognizes Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. READ MORE AT THE REGION.

21 October 2017

Let's face it: We have an epidemic of sexual harassment

Al Jazeera English

Every so often in the United States, a scandal erupts to temporarily demolish the country's marketed image as a pioneer in gender equality and related rights.
The name of the current scandal is, of course, Harvey Weinstein - the millionaire Hollywood film mogul accused of sexual assault by an ever-expanding number of women, as his decades-long impunity appears to be coming to an end.
Weinstein, however, is merely the tip of the iceberg. In a recent New Yorker piece titled All the Other Harvey Weinsteins, actress Molly Ringwald writes about her own history as a victim of sexual harassment in the film industry, noting, "I never talked about these things publicly because, as a woman, it has always felt like I may as well have been talking about the weather."
But at least meteorological discussions aren't generally met with the shame, recrimination, and victim-blaming that so often attend accusations of sexual assault in a society plagued by the phenomenon.
As for the fate awaiting the perpetrators of such misconduct, Ringwald remarks, "And the men? Well, if they're lucky, they might get elected President." But at least meteorological discussions aren't generally met with the shame, recrimination, and victim-blaming that so often attend accusations of sexual assault in a society plagued by the phenomenon.
Cue the soundtrack of the current US president, who is known for - among other antics - his endearing observations about "grab[bing]" women "by the p****". READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

19 October 2017

Who wins from casting Hezbollah as a new terror bogeyman?

Middle East Eye

On 10 October, the United States announced multimillion-dollar rewards for "information leading to the location, arrest, or conviction in any country" of Talal Hamiyah and Fu'ad Shukr, said to be "key leaders" of Lebanon's Hezbollah. The bounty for Hamiyah has been set at "up to $7 million"; for Shukr, it’s merely "up to $5 million".
In the accompanying US State Department press briefing on "US efforts to counter Hezbollah", Ambassador-at-large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Nathan Sales, and National Counterterrorism Center Director, Nicholas Rasmussen, competed to see who could emit the most words without saying anything of substance.
A couple of takeaways: despite pretending to be a political party in Lebanon, Hezbollah is a "terrorist organisation" that is "rotten to its core", with a decades-long "penchant for violence". Created by Iran to "foment instability… across the world", it is currently "determined to give itself a potential homeland option as a critical component of its terrorism playbook" (translation: Hezbollah is plotting attacks on the US). "[O]ur work related to Hezbollah is every bit as much of a priority as our work against al-Qaeda and ISIS."
And of course, no discussion of the Lebanese group would be possible without trotting out this pet factoid: "Prior to September 11th… Hezbollah was responsible for the terrorism-related deaths of more US citizens than any other foreign terrorist organization"- namely via the 1983 bombing of the US embassy in Beirut and the "even more deadly attack on our [Beirut] Marine barracks in October of 1983 which killed 241 Americans."
Leaving aside the fact that Hezbollah didn't officially exist in 1983, the enduring hype over the barracks bombing fails to account for the detail that the Marines are by definition a military force - and as such were perceived as occupiers by certain sectors of the Lebanese population. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

12 October 2017

Time to Declare War on the US ‘War on Drugs’ in Latin America

Upside Down World

At a meeting with U.S. law enforcement officials earlier this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressed his dismay at perceived inertia on the domestic drug war front: “Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs is bad … It will destroy your life.”
Plenty of folks would no doubt agree with the latter point—including the victims in the following trivia from American historian Howard Zinn: “[B]ack in the 1950s, [the US Central Intelligence Agency] had administered the drug LSD to unsuspecting Americans to test its effects: one American scientist, given such a dose by a CIA agent, leaped from a New York hotel window to his death.”
When President Richard Nixon launched the War on Drugs in 1971, he denounced drug abuse as “America’s public enemy number one,” but various sectors of the American public have long faced a more formidable enemy in the government itself. Consider, for example, the diary entry from Nixon’s former chief of staff noting that the president had “emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the Blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”
The drug war, it seems, was one way to do it — at least judging from the institutionalized discrepancies in drug-related sentencing and the general enthusiasm for throwing Black people in jail.
Of course, the U.S. War on Drugs has also been great fun for the rest of the world, particularly the countries lucky enough to be located in the United States’ “backyard,” where the drug menace has justified all manner of militarization, arms sales, and support for right-wing governments and movements.
It’s no coincidence that Venezuela, Bolivia, and other contemporary obstacles to the desired hemispheric order are consistently lambasted with narco-charges, while ultra-right-wing characters like former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe are hailed as exemplary political specimens — despite, you know, appearing on a 1991 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency list of “the more important Colombian narco-traffickers contracted by the Colombian narcotic cartels.”
The United States’ own complicity in the international drug trade is a rather well-kept secret, thanks in large part to a useless mainstream media, in which deviation from the establishment line can result in ridicule, ostracization, and — as in the case of former San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb — ruin. In a series of reports in 1996, Webb suggested that there had been a connection between the crack cocaine epidemic that had devastated black communities in South Central Los Angeles in the early 1980s and the fact that CIA-backed Contras had at that time been engaged in drug running to the US. Thoroughly maligned and discredited, Webb went on to kill himself in 2004. READ MORE AT UPSIDE DOWN WORLD.