26 August 2016

Honduras and Israel: A New Special Relationship

TeleSUR English

In the aftermath of the 2009 coup in Honduras, I had the opportunity to interview deposed President Manuel Zelaya, who, having been kindly escorted in his pajamas to Costa Rica by the Honduran military, had then resurfaced in Tegucigalpa and taken refuge in the embassy of Brazil. The interview took place via an intermediary inside the embassy, who conveyed my questions to Zelaya.
One topic we touched on was a comment the left-leaning Zelaya had made concerning “Israeli mercenaries” operating in Honduras. This had unleashed a predictable hullabaloo in international media, with commentators tripping over each other to portray the besieged leader as an anti-Semite extraordinaire on some sort of permanent acid trip.
In my write-up of the interview, which was published in an insignificant publication, I happened to point out that Israeli mercenaries weren’t exactly foreign to the Central American landscape. When the piece came out, the publisher of another insignificant publication—to which I had contributed some anti-coup articles—threw a fit. How dare I bring the Israelis into it; I would alienate all of Washington!
Now that the coup has restored Honduras to its rightful position as glorious hub of right-wing extremism, it’s even easier to bring the Israelis in. And current Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández knows it.In my write-up of the interview, which was published in an insignificant publication, I happened to point out that Israeli mercenaries weren’t exactly foreign to the Central American landscape. When the piece came out, the publisher of another insignificant publication—to which I had contributed some anti-coup articles—threw a fit. How dare I bring the Israelis into it; I would alienate all of Washington!
He’s currently pushing the country’s Congress to approve a military cooperation agreement with Israel that he swears is “fundamental to the growth of the Honduran nation.” READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

22 August 2016

Disappearing the disappeared in Lebanon

Middle East Eye

On 30 August, the International Day of the Disappeared will once again be observed.
In Lebanon, where an estimated 17,000 persons are still missing on account of the “civil” war that ravaged the country - with plenty of outside help - from 1975 until 1990, it will mark yet another year of unanswered questions for family members of the victims.
Earlier this year, I spoke with one such family member: a silver-haired man named Abed, whose younger brother, Ahmad, joined the PLO in 1983 at the age of 17 and then promptly disappeared.
Over pineapple juice in the garden of his home in the tiny south Lebanese village of Maaroub, Abed recounted the decades of futile searches for Ahmad.
During one period, the family was strung along by an enterprising fellow involved in a missing persons scam industry; in exchange for several hefty payments, he produced what he claimed was an official paper from a prison in Aleppo, Syria, confirming that Ahmad was being held there.  
An eventual visit to the jail by a Lebanese politician destroyed that myth. Reports that Ahmad had been spotted at Lebanon’s notorious Roumieh Prison also proved unfounded and the family continued to allow for the possibility that he had been delivered into the hands of either the Syrians or the Israelis by some sympathetic Lebanese formation. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

10 August 2016

Can a new UN leader change the Middle East?

Middle East Eye

As the hour draws near for the changing of the UN guard - the selection of a new secretary general - many observers have signed up to the campaign for a female leader to take the organisation’s reins for the first time in its more than 70 year history.
There are several women among the current candidates to replace Ban Ki-moon whose 10-year term expires in December, although none has done particularly well in straw polls.
But while men should certainly not continue to dominate the international scene for the rest of eternity, there’s also the question of what any individual - regardless of gender - can bring to the UN in terms of organisational change.
In the Middle East, for one, the odds of charting a new course are slim to none.
Let’s inspect one Middle Eastern country whose experience with UN operations has spanned various decades and secretaries general: Lebanon, the host of UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

07 August 2016

Security for a Post-Human World

TeleSUR English

Last summer, I received an email invitation to a terrorism conference in Tehran—the only problem being that the email was addressed not to me but to the former head of the Pakistani military. (I eventually finagled my own invitation, as well, and was able to attend as myself.)
This summer, a new addition was added to my arsenal of misdirected correspondence with the arrival to my inbox of an email bearing the subject line “Northwestern University startup - Indoor security drone.”
The email continued: “Of course, a guard still must be on site in case a human presence is required, but we believe the new technology can fundamentally change indoor security. Since you're the expert, I wanted to ask for your thoughts on how an indoor drone could be used.”In the message, the founder of a robotics startup at Northwestern University in Illinois informed me that “we're making an indoor autonomous security drone to help security guards patrol by collecting video, images, and 3D maps remotely.”
When I responded with a request to find out for whom, exactly, the dispatch had been intended, the young man wrote back: “Honestly, I used [digital services marketplace] Fiverr to purchase a $5 gig from a Bangladeshi guy who said he’d help me find a contact list of people in the security industry. He gave me a list of 11,000 contacts in a few hours.”
Ah, the wonders of technology. We can only hope that the actual production of the drones will be conducted in just as professional a fashion.
As for the notion that the devices might “fundamentally change indoor security,” there are presumably no truly revolutionary changes in store given the already existing landscape of mechanized hyper-surveillance in the United States—characterized by ubiquitous security cameras and other installations ostensibly meant to safeguard law and order.
Granted, most Americans have not yet progressed to that special level of familiarity with drones that certain blessed populations of the earth enjoy.
In the Gaza Strip, for example, the buzz of Israeli drones overhead is an acoustic mainstay of everyday life — and essentially a means of continuously terrorizing the inhabitants of the besieged coastal enclave. READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

06 August 2016

Pokemon Go: When reality just isn't enough

Al Jazeera English

As if human beings did not already have enough excuses for keeping their eyeballs permanently fixed on one variety of screen or another, a new all-consuming distraction has burst forth into existence to further challenge the apparent tedium of reality.
The phenomenon, of course, is Pokemon Go, the "augmented reality" mobile phone game that debuted in early July and rapidly amassed more daily users than even such institutionalised addictions as Twitter.
It has soared to unprecedented popularity especially in the United States, where its developer - Niantic Inc - is also based. . . .
At first glance, Pokemon Go might seem at least less pernicious than other experiments in reducing the human race to automaton status, in that it forces players to get out, move around, "experience" things - and perhaps crash into a police car or get robbed in the process.
But the fact is that the whole enterprise still feeds into the idea that life itself should be a video game - which happens to be the same premise that underlies, for example, the high-tech warfare of drones and other methods of remote-control killing. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

25 July 2016

Nice, Munich and the terrorism of the West

Middle East Eye

From my base in southern Italy this month, I got to experience Italian television coverage of the aftermath of the 14 July lorry attack in Nice, France, that killed 84 people.
Predictably, coverage entailed headlines like “Islamic Terrorism Everywhere”, which prompted Italians in my midst to unleash lively Muslim-directed curses involving references to various human anatomy and to hyperventilate about how in Europe it was no longer possible to even walk outside without being blown up or otherwise Islamically terrorised.
In certain other parts of the world, of course, it has for years often been a crapshoot of sorts to walk outside - or engage in any number of other mundane activities like playing football, attending weddings, attending funeralssleeping - without attracting the attention of projectiles belonging to the United States or Israel, to name two of the top offenders.
It bears mentioning, on this front, that Italy is itself no minor accomplice to global killing patterns given its service as loyal military ally of the US and launching pad for drone missions. But terrorism by drone doesn’t factor into Eurocentric concerns. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

12 July 2016

Lebanon: 10 Years After the War, an Eternity of Injustice to Go

TeleSUR English

In August 2006, a scandal erupted in the context of the war then raging against Lebanon. From July 12 to August 14 of that year, Israel pummeled the country, flattening entire villages and slaughtering an estimated 1,200 people in the process, the vast majority of them civilians.
The New York Times reported that “the matter has created an uproar on the Internet, where many bloggers see an anti-Israel bias in Mr. Hajj’s manipulations, which made the damage from Israeli strikes into Beirut appear worse than the original pictures had.”For some observers, the devastation and slaughter did not themselves amount to a scandal. Rather, the real crime of the season had been committed by a Lebanese freelance photographer named Adnan Hajj, who was accused of manipulating two photographs for Reuters of an Israeli air raid on Beirut.
The alleged transgression was first publicized by blogger Charles Johnson of the Little Green Footballs website, whose other claims to fame include slamming 23-year-old American peace activist Rachel Corrie — fatally bulldozed by the Israelis in 2003 — as a “terror-supporting child abuser.” No bias there, obviously.
Ethically speaking, it’s clearly wrong for news photographers to engage in politically- or ideologically-motivated alteration of images. But in examining Hajj’s images provided on the New York Times’ website, one is hard-pressed to see how the manipulated image conveys a level of destruction any worse than that conveyed by the original. In both, clouds of heavy black smoke linger over Lebanon’s capital city. As the article notes, Hajj claimed that he was merely endeavoring to adjust the lighting in the photo and to remove a bit of dust.
Even had you wanted to, it would have been difficult to exaggerate the damage inflicted upon Lebanon in the summer of 2006. When my friend Amelia and I hitchhiked around the country a month after the termination of the war, national infrastructure was still in shambles. Bridges had been pulverized, sections of towns and cities had been converted to rubble, and swathes of the Lebanese coastline were coated in oil thanks to Israel’s bombardment of fuel tanks at Lebanon’s Jiyyeh power plant. READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

02 July 2016

Amazon: The final frontier?

Al Jazeera English

Last year, American anthropologists Robert Walker and Kim Hill - of the University of Missouri and Arizona State University respectively - took it upon themselves to write an editorial for the weekly journal Science, entitled "Protecting isolated tribes".
The tribes in question, according to Walker and Hill, are "about 50 isolated indigenous societies across lowland South America … with limited to no contact with the outside world".
According to the prominent human rights group Survival International, there are more than 100 so-called "uncontacted" tribes living in voluntary isolation in the world, the vast majority of them in the South American Amazon.
Walker and Hill's strategy for "protecting" these groups is one of "controlled contact", in which governments initiate well-organised and sustained contact with the tribes and gradually integrate them into the official domestic fold, where their rights can allegedly be better protected. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

28 June 2016

The Honduran Shipwreck: Hillary Clinton’s Coup Turns 7

TeleSUR English

I recently contributed a chapter titled “Hillary Does Honduras” to a collection of essays edited by Liza Featherstone: "False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton."
In her capacity as secretary of state under Barack Obama, Clinton tells us, she and various colleagues in the region jointly “strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras [following Zelaya’s ouster] and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot and give the Honduran people a chance to choose their own future.”While preparing the essay last year, I discovered that a key passage from the hardcover edition of Clinton’s autobiography had been struck from the paperback version. In the original, the current U.S. presidential hopeful outlines her contributions to Honduran politics in the aftermath of the June 28, 2009, coup against that country’s president at the time, Manuel Zelaya.
The problem with the ostensibly democratic pursuit of free and fair elections and Honduran choices is, of course, that it is categorically anti-democratic — not to mention illegal — to forcibly “render moot” a democratically-elected leader.
Zelaya’s great offense, for which he had incurred the wrath of the Honduran right wing and its devoted support group in the United States, had been to allow the Central American country to drift slightly to the left — i.e. away from its established position as the “U.S.S. Honduras,” as it was endearingly called during the Cold War. READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

21 June 2016

Martyrs Never Die: Travels through South Lebanon

Excerpts from the Warscapes e-book available from Amazon

"When Amelia and I arrived to Lebanon in September 2006, having hitchhiked through Syria from Turkey, travel times in the diminutive and normally breakneck-speed nation had been prolonged considerably thanks to missing bridges and other bombed-out infrastructure. Our initial journey from north to south entailed various rides. One was from an Italian businessman in an Alfa Romeo who wanted to know if we were any of the following:
1. UN personnel.
2. CIA agents.
3. Stupid.

Next, a middle-aged Lebanese man with Jesus stickers plastered across the car ceiling wanted to know if we were missionaries. He invited us to his home just outside Beirut, where his family force-fed us French fries and fried fish while exclaiming theatrically over the dangers allegedly posed to regional peace by Hezbollah’s arsenal of Katyushas. . . .

Now, ten years later, I was back in south Lebanon for another hitchhiking trip—partly to relive the good old days, partly to gauge whether at thirty-three years of age I still had it in me. Mostly, though, I wanted to survey the changes Lebanon’s landscape had undergone over the past decade, physical and otherwise. While the “mushroom” of public support for Hezbollah has undoubtedly receded in light of events in Syria, Western and allied media reports of comprehensive dissatisfaction with the party—and of mass desertions by Hezbollah fighters—are willfully misleading. What’s more, many of the countries up in arms over Hezbollah’s participation in the conflict next door have themselves been actively involved in fanning the Syrian flames.

Returning to Lebanon in February 2016 for a weeklong expedition, I was under no illusions that hitchhiking somehow grants one access to the precise dynamics of societies, but I suspected one could sometimes learn more as a wanderer than as a journalist. . . ."