28 October 2014

Lebanon’s Marine Corps renaissance

Middle East Eye

Last week, the Marine Corps Times ran the following headline: “Beirut mission renewed: Marines take pride in returning to guard embassy.”
According to the article, the reinstatement of US Marines as full-time guards at the US embassy in Beirut after more than 30 years “is a notable milestone for those who fought to maintain stability in Lebanon, a country oft-wracked with religious and ethnic tensions.”
“Stability,” of course, is the perennially stated objective of US policy vis-à-vis Lebanon. In practice, said policy includes things like annual multibillion dollar donations and rush shipments of weapons to the state of Israel, which intermittently uses its presents to batter Lebanon and other Arab territories.
The Marines’ previous full-fledged fight to allegedly “maintain stability” over 30 years ago occurred in the context of US military intervention in the Lebanese civil war under the guise of peacekeeping—a guise that was difficult to maintain when US warships started shelling select ethno-religious groups. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

23 October 2014

Fearmongers are us: The Worldwide Caution

Middle East Eye

Earlier this month, the US State Department announced that it was “updating the Worldwide Caution to provide information on the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against US citizens and interests throughout the world.”
The update appeared in the “Travel Alerts & Warnings” section of the department’s website, which regularly advises Americans of possible international existential perils ranging from jihadist militants to pernicious diseases to severe weather patterns.
The website specifies that the new warning has been issued in replacement of the Worldwide Caution of April 2014 - after all, God forbid US citizens be permitted to go for more than six months without being reminded that the whole world is out to get them.
The threats are arranged geographically (Europe, Africa, Central Asia, and so on), and - as you might expect - consist primarily of Islamic extremist groups, with some non-extremist ones and pirates thrown in, as well. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

20 October 2014

Cuba's war on Ebola

Al Jazeera

Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported: "In the medical response to Ebola, Cuba is punching far above its weight."

While the world stood accused of "dragging its feet" following the onset of the epidemic, the Post noted, the diminutive island had "emerged as a crucial provider of medical expertise in the West African nations hit by Ebola".

One hundred and sixty five health care professionals had already been dispatched to Sierra Leone - the largest team thus far sent by a foreign nation - and nearly 300 additional doctors and nurses were being trained for deployment to Liberia and Guinea.

Cuba's response to the Ebola crisis is in keeping with its tradition of accruing international brownie points via contributions to global health. Back in 2009, the New York Times mentioned that, over the past 50 years, Cuba had "sent more than 185,000 health professionals on medical missions to at least 103 countries".

Obviously, this has created many opportunities for pointed comparisons between the Cuban system and that of its imperial neighbour to the north, which prefers a destruction-based foreign policy. A female Cuban doctor based in Venezuela once commented to me on the discrepancy: "We also fight in war zones, but to save lives." READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

19 October 2014

Fanning the anti-Syrian flames in Lebanon

Middle East Eye

On 14 October, a dispatch appeared on the website of Lebanon’s prominent MTV television channel: “Dear HRW, I Don’t Want to Be Assaulted!!”
It has since been removed but is still accessible via the Google cache option.
Written by Maria Fellas, the piece takes issue with a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report criticising the curfews for Syrian refugees that have been implemented in at least 45 municipalities across Lebanon. The nation officially hosts about 1.2 million refugees from Syria, a figure that doesn’t take into account unregistered people.
According to HRW, the curfews “violate international human rights law and appear to be illegal under Lebanese law” - with the uncertainty perhaps stemming from the fact that Lebanese “law” can often be ambiguous at best. The report notes that such measures restrict human movement on the basis of nationality and “contribute to a climate of discriminatory and retaliatory practices” against refugees. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

14 October 2014

Fighting for the right to be elite in Beirut

Middle East Eye

A recent Vice headline, “Fighting for the Right to Party in Beirut,” puts the reader in an interesting position: you can’t tell if you’ve read it before or simply always knew it was destined to one day materialise on the Vice website.
Mary von Aue, the author of the piece, introduces the “juxtaposition of political tension and flagrant partying” as seen in “bars [that] offer coke-fueled benders down the street from Hezbollah headquarters.”
A party scene plus Hezbollah, all in one city - what better fodder for sensational non-insight into the region could we possibly want?
According to von Aue’s version of Lebanese history, “nothing has survived civil war, foreign invasion, 800,000 refugees [a substantial underestimate], and a regular stream of targeted bombings like Beirut’s club scene.” Lest her audience accuse the partiers of political apathy, von Aue contends that nightlife has simply “become yet another medium in the culture of dissent.”
To be sure, one is hard-pressed to think of a nobler example of “dissent” and resistance to the status quo than frequenting opulent establishments known for rejecting customers based on physical appearance. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

08 October 2014

Dismantling public space in Beirut

Middle East Eye

On the final Saturday in August, Horsh Beirut - the Lebanese capital’s largest park and pine forest - was open to the public for three hours.
This should have been anti-climactic news; after all, what is public space if not space intended for public use? But the park, which is practically the only green spot that catches one’s eye when looking at maps of Beirut, has in fact been closed to the majority of the city’s residents for over 15 years.
The park was devastated during the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990, with much of the damage inflicted by the invading Israeli army in 1982. It was subsequently rebuilt in collaboration with the Île-de-France region, which comprises Paris and surrounding areas, and remained closed to allow replanted trees to grow.
Nagi El Husseini, previously a coordinator for the French municipality’s urban planning and development activities in Beirut, described to me the scenario that followed the completion of the park in the 1990s. At first, he said, only French citizens were permitted entry - a fitting tribute, no doubt, to Lebanon’s former colonial masters.
The list of permitted park patrons gradually expanded to include all foreigners, or at least all foreigners meeting the definition of human being as conceived of in Lebanese society. Ethiopian housemaids and Bangladeshi sanitation employees, for example, need not apply. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

04 October 2014

The mental costs of cost cutting in Spain

Al Jazeera

This summer, various Madrid residents met their demise in a rather unusual fashion: They were killed when rotten tree branches fell on top of them.

In June, a 38-year-old man was wiped out while visiting Retiro park with his two young children. A 72-year-old man was the victim of a falling branch in September. As Spain's English-language publication The Localnotes, the period in between these two incidents played host to "20 other tree-related accidents that have injured Madrid residents in central city streets - including a seven-year-old girl … and [have] smashed cars, terraces and other property".

The article mentions that Madrid's right-wing mayor Ana Botella had come under fire from opponents "for slashing public spending on street and park maintenance", although the fatalities have prompted a different kind of cuts: Botella has now dispatched "a team of specialists and foresters to chop down 'suspicious' trees in Madrid's emblematic [Retiro] park".

Of course, tree branches are far from the only existential hazard facing the inhabitants of austerity-afflicted Spain. Pervasive public spending cuts have spelt acute insecurity for the non-elite - a typical byproduct of the process of securing countries for foreign capital. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA.

03 October 2014

3 Questions About the Malta Shipwreck

TeleSUR English

Last month, a shipwreck off the coast of the island nation of Malta dispensed with a large quantity of asylum seekers from various nations who were attempting to migrate to Europe. The media put fatality estimates as high as 500.
According to reports from survivors, the vessel was deliberately rammed and sunk by the traffickers in charge of the operation — who, having already collected the requisite fees for passage from the migrants, apparently saw no further need for their human cargo.
Numerous Palestinians were on board, having made the near-seamless transition from existing under Israeli bombs this summer to existing at the mercy of seawater. An NBC News article tells the post-shipwreck story of a 27-year-old man named Khamis from the Gaza Strip, who managed to survive both events:
Khamis was able to cling to a life-ring along with six others. "But one after the other, over the next day and a half, the group began to slip beneath the waves," according to IOM [International Organization for Migration] cultural mediator Ahmed Mahmoud…
Soon it was just Khamis and a 14-year-old boy clinging to the life-ring, and the pair told each other their life stories in a desperate bid to keep awake. The teenager was trying to get to Europe to meet his mother who suffered from a severe heart problem. But eventually he also slipped under the water.
I recently wrote to Neil Falzon, director of the Malta-based human rights NGO aditus, with some brief questions related to the shipwreck. As Falzon makes clear, the inhumanity of human smugglers is merely one by-product of a fundamentally inhumane system. READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

02 October 2014

Maryam al-Mansouri in imperial context

Middle East Eye

Last week, Maryam al-Mansouri became - at least temporarily - the face of the international coalition that is bombing sections of the Middle East in accordance with Barack Obama’s alliterative pledge to “degrade and… destroy” the Islamic State (IS), also known as ISIS or ISIL.
The 35-year-old native of Abu Dhabi and the first female pilot in the United Arab Emirates air force, Mansouri was reported to have led F-16 airstrikes against IS targets in Syria.
Following this revelation, social media entered into a fit of ecstasy; the Associated Press noted “many users taking delight in the rebuke [Mansouri’s leading role] implied toward the militants’ ultraconservative ideology.”
On 24 September, Oula Abdulhamid, a research assistant at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), tweeted: “Take that #ISIS!” The attendant image was a meme featuring the text: “Hey ISIS. You were bombed by a woman. Have a nice day.”
A formidable Zionist think tank that cooks up such thoughts as that of“using covert means” to provoke a war with Iran, WINEP’s concern for women’s rights is, you might say, strategically limited. For example, thewanton Israeli slaughter of women in the Gaza Strip is not a form of female oppression that is generally recognised by the organisation. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.