Informed Comment

Syndicate content
Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion
Updated: 7 hours 43 min ago

Iraq’s Growth Industry: Free-Lance Civilian Bomb Disposal

Thu, 22 Sep 2016 - 11:24pm

By Kamal al-Ayash | Ramadi | ( | – –

Locals are struggling to get rid of the explosive booby-traps the Islamic State left as they withdrew from Ramadi. For one group of daring locals, defusing the bombs has become a lucrative new job opportunity.

In the central Iraqi city of Ramadi, it is no longer unusual to see individuals who look like ordinary civilians dismantling improvised explosive devices left behind by extremists as they withdrew from the city late last year. In fact, the extremist group known as the Islamic State, or IS, left behind so many improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, that the military and local security authorities don’t have the manpower or time to defuse them all. And locals, who know their way around a bomb, have been quick to take up the slack.

Some of them are former members of the military, others are moonlighting from the police or army to make some extra money and some are ordinary civilians with mechanical or engineering backgrounds who have learned how to defuse the IEDs, often using less sophisticated methods than dedicated bomb squads.

Faleh al-Marsoumi got involved in the lucrative new trade because it was taking far too long for authorities to come to his home and remove the booby trapped explosives. The usual procedure involves asking engineers who work for the local authorities to come and dismantle the dangerous devices.

“To defuse the IEDs, I only need relatively simple tools, such as a few screwdrivers, pliers and some electrical wiring.”

Having heard that there were unofficial bomb disposal experts now working in the city, al-Marsoumi decided to pay one of these to clear his property. He had heard that the bomb disposal crews gathered on the outskirts of the city and that one could request them to come and work, in a similar way that one could employ freelance construction workers and manual labourers.

“I asked taxi drivers and store owners near where the disposal experts were supposed to gather but they were all afraid to introduce me to these specialists because what they do is against the law,” al-Marsoumi says.

Unable to find any of them al-Marsoumi decided to educate himself. “I watched some videos on the Internet about how to remove IEDs,” he says somewhat ingenuously about how he learned the job; he was actually already working in electrical engineering, at a generator repair workshop in the central city so he had some experience in the field. Al-Marsoumi started by removing the IEDs he found on his property and then helped out friends in their houses. Eventually he began charging for his services – and this has proven so lucrative that he quit his repair job and now IED disposal is his only work.

“There are three of us now working together and we charge some of the lowest prices in the market,” al-Marsoumi told NIQASH. “There are some who charge double what we do.”

To clear a house the team charge between US$300 and US$700. Clearing a car of IEDs costs US$200.

“We work in three stages,” al-Marsoumi explains. “First we go and inspect the site, then we find the explosives, then we defuse them. The property owner is responsible for calling the security forces to take away the components and the actual explosives and bury them. Even with our primitive equipment we have been able to defuse around 1,500 IEDs. This is a noble profession,” al-Marsoumi concludes.

It’s also a dangerous job and at the moment it is not legal either. But al-Marsoumi and others who work defusing IEDs believe that it might not be against the law for long. They are talking about founding their own companies as soon as the government does what they believe it will do, and privatizes the tasks.

“We know that local authorities and the central government have been negotiating with international specialists and we believe it is going to become legal for Iraqis too,” al-Marsoumi explains.

Mines on display in Iraqi Kurdistan

Another Ramadi man doing this job is 53-year-old Amir al-Suwaydawi. He used to serve in the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein but was one of those who lost their jobs after the US-led invasion of Iraq, when the army was largely disbanded. When the extremist IS group were first driven out of Iraq, al-Suwaydawi used to help guide military engineers to where the IEDs were hidden. Many of these were former colleagues. However, when he saw how the various engineering teams worked, watching how they dismantled the IEDs, he realized he could do the job too. He also realised it could provide him with a new source of income.

“I figured out that I could do this and that I only needed relatively simple tools, such as a few screwdrivers, pliers and some electrical wiring,” al-Suwaydawi says. “The job also requires experience and courage – and I have both of these.”

Al-Suwaydawi describes himself as “a good magician”, removing the effects of “black magic” in his home town.

Because the work is not legal, al-Suwaydawi says that he and other IED-experts only get jobs via word of mouth and that their network is a closed one based on trust. It’s obvious that the job is dangerous too. “We have lost friends and colleagues,” al-Suwaydawi admits. “Often as a result of inexperience and recklessness.”

There are a lot of people getting into this business, adds al-Marsoumi, and some of them are motivated by greed. They don’t have any experience with explosives, they just want to make money, he says. “And many have died because they don’t know how to deal with explosives,” al-Marsoumi notes. “We have also lost many brothers who did not learn from the experiences of others, which could have saved their lives and allowed them to avoid problems – most importantly, tribal problems.”

Having the support of their own tribes is very important to those who work defusing IEDs. Society in Anbar is dominated by tribal customs, clan connections and tribal justice. This means that if, for example, a member of one tribe hurts or kills, or damages the property of, the member of another tribe, then there must be some sort of retribution, often financial. Tribal connections are an important safety net for the men doing this work, in case they make a mistake or fail to defuse an IED properly.

Another of the men working in the defusing trade is moonlighting from his regular job with the local police. The man, who wished to be known only as Abu Haffar (in English, the master of digging), said he enjoyed his part-time work a lot because he didn’t have to take orders and there were no set routines.

“I am running my own business and it’s a lucrative one,” he admits. “I never dreamed I’d be doing this for a living but I do know a lot about explosives and I also have a data base that guides me, showing how to deal with different kinds of explosives.”

It takes a toll; Abu Haffar points out he knows that some of the other people working in this sector have to take drugs to steady their nerves. Without them they wouldn’t be able to work, he adds.

“It’s a dangerous adventure, this job,” he concludes.


America’s New Reality: Mad Bombers, Merchants of Death, & Lawmaking Harlots

Thu, 22 Sep 2016 - 11:07pm

By Tom Engelhardt | ( ) | – –

Recently, sorting through a pile of old children’s books, I came across a volume, That Makes Me Mad!, which brought back memories. Written by Steve Kroll, a long-dead friend, it focused on the eternally frustrating everyday adventures of Nina, a little girl whose life regularly meets commonplace roadblocks, at which point she always says… well, you can guess from the title!  Vivid parental memories of another age instantly flooded back — of my daughter (now reading such books to her own son) sitting beside me at age five and hitting that repeated line with such mind-blowing, ear-crushing gusto that you knew it spoke to the everyday frustrations of her life, to what made her mad.

Three decades later, in an almost unimaginably different America, on picking up that book I suddenly realized that, whenever I follow the news online, on TV, or — and forgive me for this but I’m 72 and still trapped in another era — on paper, I have a similarly Nina-esque urge.  Only the line I’ve come up with for it is (with a tip of the hat to Steve Kroll) “You must be kidding!

Here are a few recent examples from the world of American-style war and peace.  Consider these as random illustrations, given that, in the age of Trump, just about everything that happens is out-of-this-world absurd and would serve perfectly well.  If you’re in the mood, feel free to shout out that line with me as we go.

Nuking the Planet:  I’m sure you remember Barack Obama, the guy who entered the Oval Office pledging to work toward “a nuclear-free world.”  You know, the president who traveled to Prague in 2009 to say stirringly: “So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons… To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same.” That same year, he was awarded the Nobel Prize largely for what he might still do, particularly in the nuclear realm.  Of course, that was all so 2009!

Almost two terms in the Oval Office later, our peace president, the only one who has ever called for nuclear “abolition” — and whose administration has retired fewer weapons in our nuclear arsenal than any other in the post-Cold War era — is now presiding over the early stages of a trillion-dollar modernization of that very arsenal.  (And that trillion-dollar price tag comes, of course, before the inevitable cost overruns even begin.)  It includes full-scale work on the creation of a “precision-guided” nuclear weapon with a “dial-back” lower yield option.  Such a weapon would potentially bring nukes to the battlefield in a first-use way, something the U.S. is proudly pioneering.

And that brings me to the September 6th front-page story in the New York Times that caught my eye.  Think of it as the icing on the Obama era nuclear cake.  Its headline: “Obama Unlikely to Vow No First Use of Nuclear Weapons.”  Admittedly, if made, such a vow could be reversed by any future president.  Still, reportedly for fear that a pledge not to initiate a nuclear war would “undermine allies and embolden Russia and China… while Russia is running practice bombing runs over Europe and China is expanding its reach in the South China Sea,” the president has backed down on issuing such a vow.  In translation: the only country that has ever used such weaponry will remain on the record as ready and willing to do so again without nuclear provocation, an act that, it is now believed in Washington, would create a calmer planet.

You must be kidding!

Plain Old Bombing: Recall that in October 2001, when the Bush administration launched its invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. was bombing no other largely Islamic country.  In fact, it was bombing no other country at all.  Afghanistan was quickly “liberated,” the Taliban crushed, al-Qaeda put to flight, and that was that, or so it then seemed.

On September 8th, almost 15 years later, the Washington Post reported that, over a single weekend and in a “flurry” of activity, the U.S. had dropped bombs on, or fired missiles at, six largely Islamic countries: Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia.  (And it might have been seven if the CIA hadn’t grown a little rusty when it comes to the drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands that it’s launched repeatedly throughout these years.)  In the same spirit, the president who swore he would end the U.S. war in Iraq and, by the time he left office, do the same in Afghanistan, is now overseeing American bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria which are loosing close to 25,000 weapons a year on those countries.  Only recently, in order to facilitate the further prosecution of the longest war in our history, the president who announced that his country had ended its “combat mission” in Afghanistan in 2014, has once again deployed the U.S. military in a combat role and has done the same with the U.S. Air Force.  For that, B-52s (of Vietnam infamy) were returned to action there, as well as in Iraq and Syria, after a decade of retirement.  In the Pentagon, military figures are now talking about “generational” war in Afghanistan — well into the 2020s.

Meanwhile, President Obama has personally helped pioneer a new form of warfare that will not long remain a largely American possession.  It involves missile-armed drones, high-tech weapons that promise a world of no-casualty-conflict (for the American military and the CIA), and adds up to a permanent global killing machine for taking out terror leaders, “lieutenants,” and “militants.”  Well beyond official American war zones, U.S. drones regularly cross borders, infringing on national sovereignty throughout the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa, to assassinate anyone the president and his colleagues decide needs to die, American citizen or otherwise (plus, of course, anyone who happens to be in the vicinity).  With its White House “kill list” and its “terror Tuesday” meetings, the drone program, promising “surgical” hunting-and-killing action, has blurred the line between war and peace, while being normalized in these years.  A president is now not just commander-in-chief but assassin-in-chief, a role that no imaginable future president is likely to reject.  Assassination, previously an illegal act, has become the heart and soul of Washington’s way of life and of a way of war that only seems to spread conflict further.

You must be kidding! 

The Well-Oiled Machinery of Privatized War: And speaking of drones, as the New York Times reported on September 5th, the U.S. drone program does have one problem: a lack of pilots.  It has ramped up quickly in these years and, in the process, the pressures on its pilots and other personnel have only grown, including post-traumatic stress over killing civilians thousands of miles away via computer screen.  As a result, the Air Force has been losing those pilots fast.  Fortunately, a solution is on the horizon.  That service has begun filling its pilot gap by going the route of the rest of the military in these years — turning to private contractors for help.  Such pilots and other personnel are, however, paid higher salaries and cost more money.  The contractors, in turn, have been hiring the only available personnel around, the ones trained by… yep, you guessed it, the Air Force.  The result may be an even greater drain on Air Force drone pilots eager for increased pay for grim work and… well, I think you can see just how the well-oiled machinery of privatized war is likely to work here and who’s going to pay for it. 

You must be kidding!

Selling Arms As If There Were No Tomorrow: In a recent report for the Center for International Policy, arms expert William Hartung offered a stunning figure on U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia.   “Since taking office in January 2009,” he wrote, “the Obama administration has offered over $115 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia in 42 separate deals, more than any U.S. administration in the history of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.  The majority of this equipment is still in the pipeline, and could tie the United States to the Saudi military for years to come.”  Think about that for a moment: $115 billion for everything from small arms to tanks, combat aircraft, cluster bombs, and air-to-ground missiles (weaponry now being used to slaughter civilians in neighboring Yemen).

Of course, how else can the U.S. keep its near monopoly on the global arms trade and ensure that two sets of products — Hollywood movies and U.S. weaponry — will dominate the world’s business in things that go boom in the night?  It’s a record to be proud of, especially since putting every advanced weapon imaginable in the hands of the Saudis will obviously help bring peace to a roiled region of the planet.  (And if you arm the Saudis, you better do no less for the Israelis, hence the mind-boggling $38 billion in military aid the Obama administration recently signed on to for the next decade, the most Washington has ever offered any country, ensuring that arms will be flying into the Middle East, literally and figuratively, for years to come.)

Blessed indeed are the peacemakers — and of course you know that by “peacemaker” I mean the classic revolver that “won the West.”

Put another way…

You must be kidding!

The Race for the Generals:  I mean, who’s got the biggest…

…list of retired generals and admirals?  Does it surprise you that there are at least 198 retired commanders floating around in their golden parachutes, many undoubtedly still embedded in the military-industrial complex on corporate boards and the like, eager to enroll in the Trump and Clinton campaigns?  Trump went first, releasing an “open letter” signed by 88 generals and admirals who were bravely standing up to reverse the “hollowing out of our military” and to “secure our borders, to defeat our Islamic supremacist adversaries, and restore law and order domestically.”  (Partial translation: pour yet more money into our military as The Donald has promised to do.)  They included such household names as Major General Joe Arbuckle, Rear Admiral James H. Flatley III, and Brigadier General Mark D. Scraba — or, hey!, one guy you might even remember: Lieutenant General William (“Jerry”) Boykin, the evangelical crusader who made the news in 2003 by claiming of a former Somali opponent,  “I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol.”

Somehow, those 88 Trumpian military types assumedly crawled out of “the rubble” under which, as The Donald informed us recently, the Obama administration has left the American high command.  His crew, however, is undoubtedly not the “embarrassment” he refers to when talking about American generalship in these years.

Meanwhile, the Clintonites struck back with a list of 95, “including a number of 4-star generals,” many directly from under that rubble, and within the week had added 15 more to hit 110.  Meanwhile, members of the intelligence community and the rest of the national security state, former presidential advisers and other officials, drum-beating neocons, and strategists of every sort from America’s disastrous wars of the last 15 years hustled to line up behind Hillary or The Donald.

If nothing else, all of it was a reminder of the bloated size and ever-increasing centrality of the post-9/11 national security state and the military-industrial complex that goes with it.  The question is: Does it inspire you with confidence in our candidates, or leave you saying…

You must be kidding!

Conflicts of Interest and Access to the Oval Office:  Let’s put aside a possible preemptive $25,000 bribe to Florida’s attorney general from the Donald J. Trump Foundation to prevent an investigation of a scam operation, Trump “University.”  If that “donation” to a political action committee does turn out to have been a bribe, no one should be surprised, given that The Donald has long been a walking Ponzi scheme.  Thanks to a recent superb investigative report by Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek, consider instead what it might mean for him to enter the Oval Office when it comes to conflicts of interest and the “national security” of the country.  Eichenwald concludes that Trump would be “the most conflicted president in American history,” since the Trump Organization has “deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians, and even criminals” in both allied and enemy countries.  Almost any foreign policy decision he might make could hurt or enrich his own businesses.  There would, in essence, be no way to divest himself and his family from the international Trump branding machine.  (Think Trump U. writ large.)  And you hardly need ask yourself whether The Donald would “act in the interests of the United States or his wallet,” given his prior single-minded pursuit of self-enrichment.

So much for conflicts of interest, what about access?  That, of course, brings up the Clintons, who, between 2001 and the moment Hillary announced her candidacy for president, managed to take in $153 million dollars (yes, that is not a misprint) for a combined 729 speeches at an average fee of  $210,795.  That includes Hillary’s 20-minute speech to eBay’s Women’s Initiative Network Summit in March 2015 for a reported $315,000 just a month before she made her announcement.  It’s obviously not Hillary’s (or Bill’s) golden words that corporate executives truly care about and are willing to pay the big bucks for, but the hope of accessibility to both a past and a possible future president.  After all, in the world of business, no one ever thinks they’re paying good money for nothing.   

Do I need to say more than…

You must be kidding!

Of course, I could go on.  I could bring up a Congress seemingly incapable of passing a bill to fund a government effort to prevent the Zika virus from spreading wildly in parts of this country.  (You must be kidding!)  I could discuss how the media fell face first into an SUV — NBC Nightly News, which I watch, used the video of Hillary Clinton stumbling and almost falling into that van, by my rough count, 15 times over four nights — and what it tells us about news “coverage” these days.  (You must be kidding!)  I could start in on the constant polls that flood our lives by confessing that I’m an addict and plan on joining Pollers Anonymous on November 9th, and then consider what it means to have such polls, and polls of polls, inundate us daily, teaching us about favorable/unfavorable splits, and offering endlessly varying snapshots of how we might or might not vote and which of us might or might not do it day so long before we ever hit a voting booth.  (You must be kidding!)  Or I could bring up the way, after five years of assiduous “research,” Donald Trump grudgingly acknowledged that Barack Obama was born in the United States and then essentially blamed the birther movement on Hillary Clinton.  (You must be kidding!)

I could, in other words, continue welcoming you into an increasingly bizarre American landscape of war and peace (without a Tolstoy in sight).

Still, enough is enough, don’t you think?  So let me stop here and, just for the hell of it, join me one last time in chanting: You must be kidding!

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2016 Tom Engelhardt



related video added by Juan Cole:

The Ring of Fire: “Trump’s Pay-To-Play Bribery Scam Is Getting Uglier”

Why the Boeing & Airbus Sales to Iran are a Big Effing Deal

Thu, 22 Sep 2016 - 12:30am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the real power center for the American government, has issued licenses to Airbus and Boeing allowing them to sell commercial airliners to Iran.

President Obama ordered the licenses, defying the Republican-controlled Congress, which doesn’t want any easing of the US economic boycott on Iran.

Vice President Joe Biden called the signing of Obamacare a “big effing deal” but did not use the euphemism. These purchases are also a huge deal

First, it is highly unethical to make it difficult for Iran to buy civilian aircraft. Iran’s fleet is positively ancient and only 162 of its 250 planes are able to fly, with the rest grounded for lack of spare parts. The US embargo on this sector is endangering civilian noncombatants every day and it is therefore a war crime. Americans opposing these transactions should be ashamed of themselves. Women and children fly on those planes, and only a pervert and a coward wants to kill innocent children.

Second, it is crazy to give away the Iranian market (nearly 80 million people and an oil state which is very rich) to e.g. European manufacturers. American workers need good-paying jobs, and selling airplanes to Iran will generate them.

Third, Boeing just became a major lobbyist for the JCPOA, the deal with Iran signed by President Obama. That deal had not had a great many supporters inside the US, after decades during which Iran and the US have demonized one another. The JCPOA is much more likely to survive and be deepened if at least some big corporations come to support it (it makes them money).

BBC Monitoring translated Mehr news agency, Tehran, in Persian 1601 gmt 20 Sep 16; as saying that Iran’s Naft Airlines actually already has received its first Boeing 737 plane.

“Following the nuclear agreement, we signed a contract with Boeing to buy four 737 jets. One of those purchased aircraft was delivered to Naft Airlines two days ago,” Nourollah Rezai Niaraki, the CEO of Naft Airlines, told the semi-official Mehr news agency . . .

Following last year’s landmark nuclear agreement and the subsequent lifting of sanctions on its economy, Iran bought 118 Airbus and 80 Boeing jets to modernise its ageing fleet.

Iran actually will only buy 112 Airbus planes because originally it was also purchasing six big heavy airliners that weren’t suited to the Iranian market. Some observers wondered if the 6 cancellations were the result of American pressure, but Iranian officials denied that that is the reason. BBC Monitoring translates,
“Asghar Fakhrieh Kashani, a deputy roads and urban development minister, told the semi-official Young Journalists’ Club (YJC) the decision had been made due to the large size of the six airliners. “We did not pull out because of the Americans sabotaging [the deal]. The real reason was that airliners did not technically comply with our demands. These six jets are very heavy and used for long-distance journeys.” – (Iranian Young Journalists’ Club website, Tehran, in Persian 0750 gmt 20 Sep 16.)

The Iran deal has been a disappointment to the Iranian public because it hasn’t actually produced many new economic benefits for Tehran. These aircraft purchases are likely the beginning of a whole new set of relationships.

The thicker the trade networks between countries the less they can afford to go to war with one another. So that’s why this is a big effing deal.

Related video:

Press TV: “Airbus receives first US license to sell planes to Iran”

Montazeri recording surfaces condemning mass killings that Haunt Iran’s Revolution

Wed, 21 Sep 2016 - 11:20pm

By Golnaz Esfandiari | ( RFE/RL) | – –

Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, once in line to become Iran’s supreme leader, has come back from the grave to haunt the Islamic establishment that punished him for openly criticizing the regime’s mass killing of political opponents in the late 1980s.

The release of an audio recording made in 1988 of Montazeri lashing out against the authorities for carrying out a fatwa issued by the father of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, against enemies of God and state has opened the lid on one of the Islamic republic’s darkest and most secretive chapters.

Montazeri paid dearly for his vocal criticism of the killing of an estimated 5,000 regime opponents in the late 1980s, including members of the banned Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), leftist groups, and others.

Aside from Montazeri’s memoirs published in 2000, the true extent of his resistance to the culling was unproven, and officially questioned. But his voice of opposition comes through clearly in the grainy audio released in August on his official website, maintained from Iran by his family.

“In my view the biggest crime in the history of the Islamic republic, for which history will condemn us, has been committed at your hands,” Montazeri tells a group of judiciary officials involved in the executions, including current Justice Minister Mostafa Purmohammadi. “Your names will be written in history as criminals.”

The prominent theologian paid for his stance. Montazeri fell out of favor with the clerical establishment, lost his status as Khomeini’s hand-picked successor and deputy, spent five years under house arrest, and was scorned for his support for the opposition Green Movement before his death in 2009.

But the emergence of the audio — released, his son Ahmad Montazeri says, to counter attempts to distort history and to confirm the claims made in his father’s memoirs — has the establishment on the defensive again and has recreated an environment of retribution.
Ahmad MontazeriAhmad Montazeri

Caught in the crossfire of accusations is a conservative lawmaker who has called for the regime to come clean about the mass killings, leading parliament to form a commission to consider whether he should be removed as deputy speaker.

The authorities in Tehran have also gone after Ahmad Montazeri, who has been interrogated extensively and now faces charges for posting the audio.

‘War Against God’

The executions were carried out in the last days of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, after Ayatollah Khomeini declared that apostates and those who had taken up arms against the Islamic republic were “waging war against God” and should be sentenced to death.

The secret fatwa was issued shortly after members of the banned Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) who were based in Iraq at the time and supported by Saddam Hussein — made a last-ditch incursion into Iran known as Operation Mersad.

The incursion, which came less than a week after both Iran and Iraq had agreed to a UN-backed cease-fire to end the war, was swiftly and definitively repulsed by the Iranian military, resulting in the deaths of thousands of MKO members on the battlefield and thousands more in the ensuing mass killings of imprisoned members of the organization.

But it was not only members of the MKO whose fates were determined by the death committees. Over a five-month period in late 1988, tens of thousands of Iranians would be grilled about their religious beliefs and political affiliations, pressed on their willingness to sacrifice their lives for the Islamic republic — by walking through minefields, for example — and strong-armed to denounce their comrades on state media.

A wrong answer would almost certainly end in death by hanging or firing squad.

Mehdi Aslani, a former member of the leftist Fedayeen Khalq organization who served time in Gohardasht prison near Karaj, survived two appearances before the death committee in August 1988. Luck saved him the first time, when his questioning was interrupted by a telephone call. When he was called before his interrogators a second time a few days later, he was better prepared for the key question: “Are you a Muslim or a Marxist?”

“By then I and some others had realized that those who defended their beliefs and reiterated that they were Marxists would be without any doubt executed,” Aslani told RFE/RL by telephone this month. “Therefore, during my second session with the death committee, I said that I’m a Muslim who doesn’t pray.”

Aslani was sent back to his cell but would learn that many of his fellow prisoners did not survive.

“The only thing the Islamic establishment has not managed to do is to silence this voice of protest,” says one survivor.

The Iranian establishment has rarely acknowledged the executions, which critics and survivors say had been planned months in advance in an attempt to purge the prisons of regime opponents. The authorities have long enforced a news blackout on the issue, and harassed victims’ families seeking answers.

Damage Control

Justice Minister Purmohammadi defended the mass killings following the release of Montazeri’s audio, saying, “We’re proud to have carried out God’s order regarding the hypocrites [eds. a term used by Iranian officials to refer to MKO members] and stood up strongly against the enemies of God and the [Iranian] nation.”

But the position taken by Purmohammadi and other officials led deputy parliament speaker Ali Motahari, an outspoken conservative lawmaker, to make a surprising call for an investigation into the mass killings. He suggested in August that officials were pointlessly repeating slogans about the crimes of the MKO, which he said had killed his own father, without addressing the public’s questions surrounding the executions and revealing possible mistakes or negligence.
Ali MotahariAli Motahari

In response, some 35 lawmakers signed a complaint letter against Motahari calling for his dismissal as deputy speaker, and a committee has been established to consider the matter.

Others, too, have struck out in the face of criticism.

Assembly of Experts member Ayatollah Mohammad Reyshahri, who as intelligence minister was believed to have appointed the ministry’s representatives to the death committees, has called on those running Montazeri’s website to explain whether “the release of the audio after so many years hadn’t been with the aim of harming the Islamic establishment, whitewashing the [crimes of the] MKO, and taking revenge on the late imam [eds. a term used in Iran to refer to Ayatollah Khomeini].”

The Assembly of Experts, meanwhile, has called the release of the audio an attempt to “sanctify those who betrayed the Iranian nation.” And Mohammad Reza Naghdi, commander of the Basij militia, has said the executions of MKO members were carried out based on “Islamic, international, and domestic legal and religious principles.”

The Secrets Are Out

Speaking to RFE/RL in August, Ahmad Montazeri explained simply that it had been said that the documents revealed in his father’s memoirs, which included the wording of Khomeini’s fatwa, “are not real or that they’re not correct. This audio file confirms those documents.”

On September 5, he announced on social media that he had been charged with “acting against national security” for releasing the audio, which he removed from the website following a request by the Intelligence Ministry.

But death-committee survivor Aslani suggests that the Iranian authorities can no longer ignore the issue, comparing the release of the Montazeri audio to the discovery of the black box of a crashed airplane.

“We’re hearing the account of one the pilots,” he says, adding that “the only thing the Islamic establishment has not managed to do is to silence this voice of protest.”

Germany-based lawyer Sahar Mohammadi, who lost her mother and several other relatives in separate executions in the 1980s, says the tone of Montazeri’s voice and his apparent outrage hint at the magnitude of the mass killings. She expressed outrage that those involved “are still ruling, they’re still killing, and they’re saying they did the right thing.”

Paris-based Mojatab Taleghani, whose nephew was among those executed, says the official reaction does not come as a surprise. “They’re all accomplices in this crime, not defending themselves would be a confirmation that they’re criminals, as Montazeri called them on tape,” he said.

Taleghani, the son of one of the key figures of the 1979 revolution, Ayatollah Mahmud Taleghani, says those involved in the executions “exterminated a generation of Iran’s youth, they exterminated a generation of political activists who could have potentially opposed them.”

RFE/RL’s Radio Farda broadcaster Mohammad Reza Yazdanpanah contributed to this report


Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

Stopping the War on Children

Wed, 21 Sep 2016 - 11:15pm

Kevin Watkins | ( Project Syndicate ) | – –

On the twentieth anniversary of the Machel report, the international community must draw a line and stop the war against children.

That war takes many forms. In some cases, children are front-line targets. Rape, forced marriage, enslavement, and abduction have become standard tactics for groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, and their counterparts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia. Killing kids for attending school is viewed as a legitimate military strategy.

In other cases, children are under attack from both state and non-state actors. In South Sudan, since the eruption of conflict in 2013, government and rebel forces have killed, raped, and recruited children into armed groups. So brutal, systematic, and widespread are the attacks that it seems highly likely that they are carried out with the highest level of political authorization. And, indeed, according to a UN Human Rights Council report published earlier this year, South Sudanese government forces have been heavily implicated in such activities, which may explain why no one has been held accountable for the May 2015 murder of 130 children in Unity State.

Children are also collateral damage, which stems from the relentless erosion of the laws and norms designed to protect civilians in conflict zones. In Syria, children living in Aleppo, Homs, and other cities have been barrel-bombed and gassed by government forces acting in open defiance of international law. The sanctity of schools and health centers is a dead letter: more than 25% of all schools in Syria have been destroyed or forced to close.

Political leaders in Saudi Arabia clearly regard the Geneva Convention, the legal pillar of protection for civilians, as irrelevant. Last August, a Saudi Arabian airstrike on a suburb of Saada, Yemen, hit a school and killed ten children. This was but one episode in a larger trend of attacks on schools, health centers, and markets. Over the last year, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has struck four health facilities supported by the non-governmental organization Doctors Without Borders.

The current violence against children is a far cry from what Machel envisaged two decades ago. Following her recommendations, in 1997 the General Assembly established a Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, to identify and report to the Secretary-General and Security Council on parties in conflicts that are responsible for persistent and egregious violations.

The special representative monitors six types of violations of children’s rights: killing and maiming, sexual violence, military recruitment, attacks on schools and health centers, abduction, and denial of humanitarian access. Each is barred by international law, including the 1949 Geneva Convention, which requires parties in a conflict to protect civilians and maintain unimpeded humanitarian access, and the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the world’s most widely ratified human-rights treaty, which provides a comprehensive list of children’s rights.

Violence against children persists not because of a deficit of rights, but because of what Eva Svoboda of the Overseas Development Institute describes as a crisis of compliance. The international community is failing to uphold the laws, norms, and rules that define civilized standards. To put it bluntly, killing, maiming, and terrorizing children has become a cost-free enterprise.

The crisis of compliance starts at the top of the UN system and trickles down, through the Security Council, to the General Assembly and member governments.

Consider the Saudi campaign in Yemen. Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia was put on the UN secretary-general’s “list of shame” for bombing Yemeni civilian targets and killing children. By June, however, it had been removed from the list following intensive lobbying by the Saudi government and its arms-supplying American and European allies. Regardless of these allies’ intent, the signal they sent is clear: protecting lucrative arms deals takes precedence over protecting children’s rights.

The endless cycle of reporting on violations of child rights is in danger of becoming a pantomime. While the special representative’s office has done an excellent job exposing attacks on children – and in some cases negotiating the release of child soldiers – the punishments do not fit the crimes.

As world leaders gather in New York this month for the 71st Session of the General Assembly, it is time to reassert the values underpinning UN human-rights provisions. The only way to end impunity for heinous crimes against children is by enforcing genuine accountability – and by bringing the perpetrators to justice.

At a minimum, institutions such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights should be collaborating far more closely with the UN special representative. But so vast is the scale of the problem, and so deeply embedded the culture of impunity, that bolder initiatives may be needed. Given the failure of existing institutions, it may be time to establish a new one – an International Criminal Court for Children, authorized to investigate and prosecute state and non-state actors for war crimes against kids.

We have collectively allowed human-rights laws to become irrelevant paper tigers. But if there is one cause that can rally a divided world, it is surely the protection of children in warzones.

Kevin Watkins takes over as CEO of Save the Children UK in October.

Project Syndicate


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Aleppo’s Children: What Life Is Like for Children in War-Torn Syria | NBC Nightly News

US College Course on Palestine Reinstated after Cancellation under pressure from Israel Lobbies

Wed, 21 Sep 2016 - 11:13pm

By IMEMC | – –

University of California, Berkeley, has reinstated a course on Palestine that was cancelled under pressure from pro-Israel groups, according to a press release.

Palestine Legal said, according to WAFA, that the university reinstated the student-led course titled “Palestine: A Settler-Colonial Analysis”, following an outcry from students and faculty describing the action as a violation of academic freedom, shocking, and unjustifiable.

Palestine Legal also sent a letter to the university chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, on behalf of Paul Hadweh, the student giving the course, warning that the suspension infringed on First Amendment rights and principles of academic freedom.

Following the outcry, executive dean of the College of Letters and Science, Carla Hesse, announced in a statement that the course is reinstated.

“I hope we can now focus on the challenging intellectual and political questions that this course seeks to address,” said Hadweh, a senior student and course facilitator whose family is originally from Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank.

“I await an apology from Chancellor Dirks, and Dean Hesse,” explained Hadweh. “The university threw me under the bus, and publicly blamed me, without ever even contacting me. It seems that because I’m Palestinian studying Palestine, I’m guilty until proven innocent. To defend the course, we had to mobilize an international outcry of scholars and students to stand up for academic freedom. This never should have happened.”

Liz Jackson, staff attorney with Palestine Legal who represents Paul Hadweh, added, “This is a victory for Paul who spent eight months going through all the recommended and mandated procedures to facilitate a course. It’s also a victory for the 26 students who enrolled and had their academic studies severely disrupted, and for students and scholars across the U.S. who are facing a coordinated attack on the right to speak and study freely about Palestine-Israel.”

Echoing the concerns of Israel advocacy groups, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks had justified the suspension with concern that Hadweh’s course “espoused a single political viewpoint and appeared to offer a forum for political organizing.”

Jackson explained, “The university’s response should have been that academic freedom protects the rights of faculty and students to tackle difficult and even controversial questions. The extra scrutiny on scholarship relating to Palestine is obvious here. The university does not censor Israeli studies classes because they have a ‘political agenda’ or ‘ignore history’, although that case can also be made.”


Top Six US Problems worse than Terrorism

Wed, 21 Sep 2016 - 12:43am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Every time a person of Middle Eastern heritage who ought to have been committed to an insane asylum but wasn’t (because rich people who don’t want to pay taxes successfully lobbied to get rid of insane asylums) commits violence, our press and politicians hit the panic button. This is so even though you are more likely to die falling in your bathtub than of terrorism.

So here are some problems that are demonstrably worse than terrorism:

1. Guns. Between 2001 and 2013, over 400,000 Americans died of gunshot wounds. In the same period, 3,380 died of terrorism. One problem seems orders of magnitude more important than the other, despite the numbers being skewed by the inclusion of the highly unusual mass-casualty event of 9/11. Averaged out, about 282 Americans have died in terrorism per year (it falls to more like 9 if you start in 2002). per year. We are told we have to spend trillions, mobilize police and the military, and give our all to end terrorism.

2. Cigarettes . These nasty nail coffins result in more than 480,000 deaths annually in the USA. But Big Tobacco CEOs are not being threatened with deportation.

3. Suicide: 42,773. Expanded mental health care and ore government-funded suicide crisis centers might help, but no one on Capitol Hill is in a frenzy about this one. Veterans are particularly at risk here. Again, Congress don’t care.

4. Automobile collisions (they aren’t “accidents) killed 38,000 people last year, a big rise. Lots of things could be done to decrease this number radically. For instance you could make automobile keys that drunk people don’t have enough coordination to use. But no one cares enough to do them.

5. War on terror. Nearly 7,000 Americans have died prosecuting the war on terror. My guess is that well over half a million human beings have died in it. There is no evidence that the war in Iraq, e.g. had any effect in reducing terrorism, and there is every reason to think that the invasion vastly expanded the scope of ME war and terrorism.

6. Heat waves kill as many as 1400 Americans each year. Climate change will cause that statistic to rise 20 times over, to 27,000 a year, in the coming decades. That is, over a 50-year period, some 1,350,000 people will die that otherwise would not have. Yet no one is speaking of deporting the CEOs of big hydrocarbon companies.


Related video:

SCOTUS Rejects Philip Morris Appeal In Smoker’s Death

Welcome to Masdar City: the ultimate experiment in sustainable urban living

Tue, 20 Sep 2016 - 11:40pm

By Susan Lee | (The Conversation) | – –

Ten years ago in the United Arab Emirates, a new settlement was started from scratch, with the aim of becoming “the world’s most sustainable city”. Masdar City was designed to be zero-carbon and zero-waste, home to a population of 40,000 people, with an additional 50,000 commuters, in an area of six square kilometres. Today, it’s playing a crucial role in the development of sustainable design and technology.

Around the world, access to a reliable and plentiful energy supply is becoming increasingly critical. Urban populations continue to grow and demand even more energy. At the same time, vital resources such as water are becoming increasingly scarce, and rising levels of CO₂ and a warming global climate are adding to the stress on the Earth’s system.

All of this means that Masdar’s function as a test bed for innovations in fuel efficiency and renewable energy is more important than ever before. As part of a recent study, my colleagues and I took a closer look at the new technology on show in Masdar. Here’s what we found.

Going for green

The streets and buildings of Masdar City are specially designed to be energy efficient. In line with traditional Arab design, Masdar City’s shaded paths and narrow streets are designed to create a pleasant space for walking in the region’s hot climate. Its buildings are only five stories high, lining narrow streets with rooftops covered with solar panels, while street-level “solar canopies” provide shade for pedestrians.

The entire city is oriented north-east to south-west, to benefit from cool winds at night and to minimise the incoming heat during the day. The main buildings – the Siemens Building, the IRENA Building and the Incubator Building – are highly insulated and energy efficient, with three quarters of their hot water produced using solar energy. They also have angled facades to minimise the amount of glare and heat from the sun.

For transport, the city currently uses 13 “personal rapid transit” (PRT) carts, or driverless pods. These ferry commuters from a car park at the city’s outer edge to the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, which uses Masdar as a “living laboratory” to conduct research on sustainable urban development.

There are also a number of electric vehicles available for public use, which run on a 16kWh lithium-ion battery with a maximum speed of 130km per hour. These can be recharged at charging stations throughout the city. Electric buses also provide access for residential areas.

Sustainable technology

Masdar City is home to some of the most advanced solar energy technology in the world. Perhaps the most ambitious project is SHAMS 1, a stand-alone 2.5km², 100MW Concentrated Solar Power plant. This plant was built about 100km from Masdar, at an estimated cost of US$600m (£453m). It is one of the largest of its type in the world, and displaces 175,000 tonnes of CO₂ annually – equivalent to the emissions of 29,000 UK homes.

The SHAMS 1 plant generates electricity from the sun’s heat. But Masdar City is also supplied by another 0.2km², 10MW solar plant, which uses photovoltaic technology to turn the sun’s light into energy. What’s more, there’s a 1MW photovoltaic panel on the roof of the Masdar Institute, while the solar panels atop the Masdar headquarters generate 340,000kWh per year – enough to power 94 average UK homes.

Other initiatives include a solar cooling project to lower the temperature inside buildings, and a geo-thermal cooling project, which involved digging two wells reaching 2.5km deep, one for drawing hot water, and one for re-injecting the water after the heat has been extracted.

A 45m-high wind tower in Masdar City takes inspiration from traditional Arab technology. It produces a cooling effect, by directing hot air up and out of its surrounding area, as well as bringing cooler air from above down to the surface. Also, a 100kW thermal power plant is being established, which will convert solar energy into thermal energy through a set of reflective mirrors.

Power usage in Masdar City is monitored through one management system, and portrayed through a series of screens inside the buildings. There are no light switches or taps in the city – all of these features are controlled by motion sensors, to prevent waste.

Inspiring cities

Despite Masdar’s many successes, there is still room for improvement. It needs to establish more permanent residents who can contribute to its growth and development. What’s more, further work is required on transportation, as technology in electric cars has advanced rapidly, and has in some ways superseded the pods.

And while Masdar City has enabled the development of state-of-the-art, energy-saving buildings and exciting new technologies in a hostile, arid environment, not all of the solutions on show would work for other cities. For one thing, it’s costly: the Abu Dhabi government has committed US$15 billion (£11.3 billion) to the project. What’s more, while Masdar City started with an empty site, established cities have to work around existing infrastructure.

Even so, as the global climate changes, warmer summers are expected to become more likely, so any case studies which show how buildings can be modified to mitigate the heat will be useful. In this way, and many more, Masdar City will continue to provide other cities around the world with inspiration to help them become more robust, resilient and sustainable in the face of global challenges.

Susan Lee, Research Fellow, University of Birmingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Masdar Institute of Science and Technology: “Masdar Institute Class of 2016”

Native American Rights and Health versus Pipeline Cowboys

Tue, 20 Sep 2016 - 11:14pm

By Chip Ward | ( ) | – –

Americans who don’t live in the West may think that the historic clash of Native Americans and pioneering settlers is long past because the Indians were, after all, defeated and now drive cars, watch television, and shop at Walmart.  Not so.  That classic American narrative is back big time, only the Indians are now the good guys and the cowboys — well, their rightwing representatives, anyway — are on the warpath, trying to grab 640 million acres of public lands that they can plunder as if it were yesteryear.  Meanwhile, in the Dakotas, America’s Manifest Destiny, that historic push across the Great Plains to the Pacific (murdering and pillaging along the way), seems to be making a return trip to Sioux country in a form that could have planetary consequences.

Energy Transfer Partners is now building the Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.7 billion oil slick of a project.  It’s slated to go from the Bakken gas and oil fracking fields in northern North Dakota across 1,100 miles of the rest of the Dakotas and Iowa to a pipeline hub in Illinois. From there, the oil will head for refineries on the Gulf Coast and ultimately, as the emissions from fossil fuels, into the atmosphere to help create future summers so hot no one will forget them.  Keep in mind that, according to global warming’s terrible new math, there’s enough carbon in those Bakken fields to roast the planet — if, that is, the Sioux and tribes allied with them don’t stop the pipeline. 

This time, in other words, if the cavalry does ride to the rescue, the heroes on horseback will be speaking Lakota.

Last Stand at Standing Rock

If built as planned, the Dakota Access Pipeline will snake through the headwaters of the Missouri River, a life-giving source of fresh water for millions of people who live downstream, including Native Americans.  It’s supposed to pass under that river just a few miles from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation that straddles North and South Dakota.  Protestors point out that, eventually, the pipeline is likely to leak into that vital watershed and the contamination could prove catastrophic.  The Army Corps of Engineers, which green-lighted the project’s design, and Energy Transfer Partners have continued to insist that there is no such risk — even though, suspiciously enough, they decided to change the pipeline’s route to avoid the water supply of North Dakota’s capital, Bismark.  As ever, tribal leaders point out, they were ignored rather than consulted in the planning stages, even though the project was to pass directly through their lands. 

When the Keystone XL Pipeline, slated to bring especially carbon-heavy tar sands from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast, was killed thanks to years of fierce environmental protests, the stakes were raised for the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Keystone was a disaster for the energy industry.  In its wake, opponents claim, the new project was fast-tracked without the usual environmental reviews so that construction could be completed before a Keystone-style opposition formed.  Fast as they were, it turns out that they weren’t fast enough.

Keep in mind that such a project wasn’t exactly a first for the native peoples of the region.  In the wake of their defeat and confinement to reservations in the nineteenth century, they lived through a profound transformation of their landscape.  Settlers let cattle loose on meadows cleared of wolves, cougars, and bears.  The rude stamp of progress followed: fences, roads, dams, mines, sawmills, railroads, power lines, towns, condos, resorts, and in the twenty-first century, vistas increasingly pockmarked with fracking’s drill rigs and service roads. 

In the Dakota prairies, hundreds of species of grass and flowers were replaced by monocultures of soy and corn, while millions of cattle were substituted for herds of free-roaming bison.  As recently as the 1950s and 1960s, the neighboring Sioux and Cheyenne lost 200,000 more acres of valuable reservation farmland to dams built without their permission.  Entire villages had to relocate.  The Dakota Access Pipeline is just the latest of these assaults and yet, in every way, it’s potentially more disastrous. As Lakota Chairman David Archambault puts it, “To poison water is to poison the substance of life.”

Slaughter, internment, and neglect were bad enough, say tribal leaders, but threatening the people’s life-giving water was the last straw. As a result, thousands of Native Americans drawn from 280 tribes across the country and even around the world are now camping out at the construction site where the Dakota Access Pipeline nears the tip of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.  Almost two million signatures have been gathered on a petition opposing the pipeline; dozens of environmental groups have signed on to the resistance; and tribes nationwide have expressed their solidarity. 

On September 3rd, the private security guards hired by Energy Transfer Partners used pepper spray and dogs on those trying to block the pipeline.  This eruption of violence halted work until U.S. District Judge James Boasberg could rule on the tribe’s request for an injunction to block construction while its case was heard in court.  On September 9th, while conceding that “the United States’ relationship with Indians has been contentious and tragic,” he denied that request. Then, in a move described even by the Sioux as stunning, the Obama administration suddenly stepped between the protesters and the pipeline construction crews.  The Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and even the Army Corps of Engineers called for a halt to the process until the permitting procedure could be reviewed.

Although putting an oil pipeline under a major river should have triggered an environmental review, the Corps chose not to do one.  Now, it will take a second look.  The administration also committed itself to finding better ways to include Native Americans in future land-use decisions. 

Where this goes next is anyone’s guess.  The construction halt could, of course, be lifted if the protesters were to disperse under a false sense of victory.  The Sioux now plan to litigate vigorously against the pipeline.  One prediction, however, is easy enough.  The unity and purpose experienced by the people in that encampment will resonate powerfully for years to come.  A movement has been born along the banks of the Missouri River.  

Native Americans have played the crucial role in this campaign to “keep it in the ground,” just as they were leaders in the successful struggle to block the Keystone XL Pipeline, the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline that would have carried dirty crude across Canada to the Pacific, and the building of a massive coal export port on Canada’s Pacific coast.  As Native American leader Winona LaDuke puts it, “For people with nothing else but land and a river, I would not bet against them.”

This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the cowboys have been engaged in a not-so-old-fashioned range war over who can best manage 640 million acres of public lands now owned collectively by the American people.  Backed by the Koch brothers and their American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, legislators across the American West, where most of the public lands are located, are calling on the federal government to cede control and management of them to counties and states.  This would include some of our most beloved national parks.    

In Utah where I live, the Republican-dominated legislature has put forward the Public Lands Initiative (PLI).  It’s the latest round in a 30-year feud pitting conservationists and businesses tied to tourism and recreation against ranchers and miners.  At stake: whether to give the last publicly controlled wild places in the state formal wilderness status and federal protection or (though this isn’t often directly said) let private interests exploit the hell out of them.   Every few years the Utah legislature’s “cowboy caucus” has pushed just such a “wilderness bill” filled with poison pills and potentially devastating loopholes that the local conservation community can’t abide. 

Billed this time as a potential grand bargain to settle who controls public lands and how they can be used, the PLI has proven no different.  It was, in fact, generated by local fears that President Obama might use his wide-ranging powers under the Antiquities Act to create a new national monument in the state as he left the Oval Office.  This was exactly what Bill Clinton did in 1996, establishing the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument on 1.9 million acres of land in southern Utah’s spectacular canyon country, already the home of five national parks. 

That 1906 act, passed while Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House, gives the president wide-ranging authority to create national monuments from public lands in order to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features.  Since activities like drilling for oil and gas, mining, timber cutting, and grazing are barred or tightly restricted on such protected lands, Western politicians tend to regard them as a tool wielded by conservationists to suppress economic development. 

Grave Robbing for Fun and Profit 

Sure enough, the nightmare of the cowboys is being realized.  A coalition of five tribes, all either presently in Utah or claiming ancestral lands there, is now pushing a bold proposal for just such a national monument — a park co-managed by the five tribes and the National Park Service (which in itself would be a significant first for the Native American community).  It would include 1.9 million acres of the ancestral grounds of the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain, and Ute Indian tribes and would be known as the Bears Ears after the area’s most famous landmark, twin buttes that are said to resemble a bear’s ears.  

Interior Secretary Sally Jewel recently toured the proposed monument and was amazed by what she saw, including spectacular cliff-house ruins, as well as paintings and rock carvings depicting clan signs, shamanic visions, and ghostly herds of bighorn sheep and elk.  Bears Ears would possess more than 100,000 archaeological sites, including many of the oldest and most spectacular ruins in the United States.  Members of the coalition of tribes regard them and the ground littered with their ancestors’ artifacts and bones as sacred. 

A grassroots group, Utah Dine Bikeyah, did extensive groundwork collecting data and interviews to create cultural maps of the region.  The extraordinary archaeological and historical record they built effectively made their case that the ancestors of the coalition tribes have relied on that landscape for hunting, gathering, and ceremonial activities for centuries. The Utah conservation community, which had mapped out its own plans for such a monument, stepped aside for the tribal proposal.

Protecting the Bears Ears is considered an urgent matter.  A mere handful of rangers currently patrol thousands of square miles of rugged canyons where the looting of archaeological sites for fun and profit is a rural tradition.  In remote outposts like Blanding, Utah, Indian grave robbing was considered an acceptable family pastime until agents from the FBI infiltrated the black market for artifacts and busted a prominent local family. Ute leader Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk expresses a motivating concern of the tribal leaders. “Without swift action,” she says, “we fear that the archaeological and cultural riches of the Bears Ears will suffer shameful, disgraceful dissolution and obliteration.”

Her fear is well founded.  In recent years, for instance, rural county commissioners have led illegal all-terrain-vehicle rallies on a route through Recapture Canyon that Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rangers shut to motorized traffic because it crosses several key archaeological sites.  State and county politicians were not content to challenge the BLM’s closure of that canyon in court.  Instead, they openly promoted such rides to defy the feds.  The last of these protests in 2014 did, in fact, significantly damage unprotected archeological sites.  The indigenous community saw it as a shocking show of disrespect, like driving directly over cemetery graves.  The well-armed vigilantes who rode through Recapture Canyon were led by Ryan Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy and the famous hothead of the Bundy clan.

You may remember the colorful Bundy boys.  After all, they became the stars of the “cowboy rebellion” against federal regulation on public lands.  In 2014, BLM rangers were dispatched to Nevada to remove Cliven Bundy’s cows from lands on which they had been grazing illegally for 20 years.  The feds claimed that he owed the taxpayers a million bucks in unpaid grazing fees.  He, on the other hand, insisted that such public lands belonged to the ranchers whose grandparents first grazed them.  The rangers sent to enforce the law were met by hundreds of armed cowboys, many of whom took up sniper positions around them.  Faced with such overwhelming firepower and the prospect of bloodshed, they withdrew and a range war was on.

The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight 

That retreat in Nevada undoubtedly emboldened the Bundy clan and their militia allies to seize Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January 2016.  Well-armed, they occupied the visitor center at that bird refuge, leaning on every cowboy cliché in the book.  They dressed the part with chaps, boots, buckles, and Stetson hats, carried American flags, and regularly posed with their horses for news photographers. 

In the end, despite the Marlboro Man look and the Clint Eastwood demeanor, the Bundyites came across as the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.  The “constitutional revolution” they wanted to spark by seizing Malheur fizzled amid a festival of cognitive dissonance and irony: men carrying assault rifles and threatening to use them proclaimed themselves “peaceful protesters” and, while declaring it off limits, attempted to “return” land to the American people — land that they already owned. Federal agents eventually arrested all of the principal players in both the earlier Nevada standoff and the Malheur fiasco, except for one killed at a roadblock when he charged armed rangers and reached for his gun.  Trials began on September 7th and are slated to last for months.  

Given the open hostility of state and local politicians to the protection of sacred sites, as well as their willingness to break the law and offer tacit support for vigilantes like the Bundys, tribal leaders decided to take their concerns about protecting their ancestral grounds to the top.  A delegation traveled to Washington and met with President Obama, while a media campaign was begun to persuade others to endorse the plan. 

A broader coalition of tribes and the conservation community rallied to the idea, especially because it was the first time that Native American tribes had proposed such a monument.   The vision of a park to honor sacred indigenous lands, shaped and directed by Native Americans themselves, caught the public imagination.  The New York Times and Washington Post have both written editorials urging the president to create such a park and Utah polls show a solid majority of citizens in favor of it.

Peace Pipes, Not Oil Pipes 

The genocidal policies that accompanied settlement across North America crested in Sioux country at the close of the nineteenth century.  The survivors of the vanquished indigenous nations there were interned on reservations.  Their children were taken from them and sent to boarding schools where their hair was cut, and their language and ceremonies banished.  This was — and was meant to be — a form of cultural genocide.  In the Bears Ears and Sioux country today, however, the culture of Native Americans endures.  The descendants of those warriors who died defending their homeland and of those children taken from their families and their native cultures have proven remarkably resilient.  They are once again defending their world and, as it happens, ours too, because even if you don’t share the Missouri River watershed, you live on a planet that is being rapidly transformed by the sort of toxic cargo that will fill a future Dakota Access Pipeline. 

In the Hollywood Westerns of my youth, Indians were often one-dimensional villains who committed atrocities on good white folks trying to bring civilization to the frontier.  As with so many notions I inherited in my youth, reality has turned out to be another story. 

Certainly, before the onslaught of colonialism, the way indigenous people across the planet viewed what we now call our environment has come to seem like sanity itself.  The land, as the Sioux and other tribal peoples saw it, was a living being saturated with spirits that humans should both acknowledge and respect. 

The Indians whom the cowboys and bluecoats fought didn’t share European concepts of cash, property, profit, progress, and, most importantly, technology. Once upon a time, we had the guns and they had the bows and arrows, so we rolled over them. But here’s the wondrous thing: a story that seemed to have ended long ago turns out to be anything but over. Times have changed, and in the process the previous cast of characters has, it seems, swapped roles. 

An economy hooked on carbon is threatening life on Earth. The waters of seas and oceans are warming fast; the weather is becoming unpredictable and harsh.   Perhaps it’s time to finally listen to and learn from people who lived here sustainably for thousands of years. Respecting Sioux sovereignty and protecting the sacred sites of tribes in their own co-managed national monument could write the next chapter in our American story, the one in which the Indians finally get to be heroes and heroines fighting to protect our way of life as well as their own. 

Chip Ward, a TomDispatch regular, co-founded HEAL Utah and wrote Canaries on the Rim and Hope’s Horizon. Returning from hiking trips in the Bears Ears, he long kept his knowledge of the ruins he visited to himself, fearing the vulnerability of ancient cliff houses and granaries to looters.  He is hopeful that they will now get the protection they deserve.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2016 Chip Ward



Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “Bernie Sanders Joins Dakota Access Pipeline Protest”

Obama: End terrorism like that in New York by Destroying ISIL in Mosul, Iraq

Mon, 19 Sep 2016 - 11:40pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

President Obama met yesterday with Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi and discussed the coming campaign to take the northern Iraqi city of Mosul away from Daesh, entirely destroying the terrorist organization’s territorial power in Iraq. Obama expects the campaign to be launched before the end of 2016, and said that the world would have to step up with contributions to rebuild Mosul in the aftermath (the only way to ensure that Sunni Arabs continue to reject radicalism and are reintegrated into Iraq is to ensure their economic prosperity and political dignity– something the government of Shiite hard liner Nouri al-Maliki [PM 2006-2014] never realized).

Obama’s vision for Mosul will face challenges. First, the city will be liberated in part by hard line pro-Iranian Shiite militias, whose presence is not welcomed by the Sunni Arab Mosulis, and who have sometimes committed reprisal attacks against Sunni families they see as collaborators. Likewise, Kurdish fighters of the Peshmerga will play a key role, which again may disturb a lot of Sunni Arabs. The Baghdad government of al-Abadi and its army still have to prove to the Sunni Arabs of the north that they are national and not sectarian. Finally, international calls for help face a lot of aid fatigue in the wake of the refugee crisis kicked off by the US invasion and destabilization of Iraq. Getting the G8 to pledge aid for Mosul and actually collecting the pledges are not the same thing.

Al-Bawaba reports that the arrival of hundreds of US troops at the Qayara base south of Mosul, and the focus of Iraqi military commanders on securing the city after the assault, show that the launching of campaign to take Mosul from Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) is near.

Yesterday, Daesh attacked Kurdish Peshmerga checkpoints northeast of Mosul but was repelled.

Mosul is the third largest city in Iraq, after the capital of Baghdad and the southern port of Basra. Unlike the other two, it is largely Sunni Arab. It probably still has a million people, down from two million before its population brought Daesh in, in summer 2014, in hopes of escaping the rule of then prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, a hard line Shiite. The Mosul uprising against the Baghdad government was not itself fundamentalist in character, even if it allowed Daesh into the city. In a 2012 poll some 75% of Sunni Arab Iraqis said they wanted a separation of religion and state, and most had been shaped by the secularism of the left-leaning Baath Party 1968-2003. The Sunni Arabs of Mosul just had come to see al-Maliki’s rule as oppressive and sectarian, and wanted out from under it.

Some 500,000 Mosul residents immediately escaped once Daesh took over (the Mosul political elite thought they could handle the guerrillas but the latter took over and screwed them). In the past two years my educated guess is that another half million have gotten out (sometimes at the price of turning their property over to Daesh). From accounts of Iraqi journalists who have sneaked in and out, it appears that by now everyone in Mosul is miserable and would welcome the Iraqi army, even if it is being sent by a Shiite prime minister, Haydar al-Abadi.

The military campaign against Daesh, however, will not be prosecuted only by the Iraqi Army, which probably is still too weak to win it (the army collapsed in 2014 and only some units are back up to speed after US training and equipment, especially the special operations counter-terrorism regiment). Al-Abadi has pledged, over the objections of Sunni Arab notables from the north, that Shiite militias will play an significant role in the liberation of Mosul.

Hadi al-Amiri, head of one of the major militias, the Badr Corps, announced yesterday that no foreign land troops would be involved in the battle of Mosul. He admitted, however, that there would be foreign (i.e. mainly American) air support. In part, he was rejecting the idea that Turkish troops might play a role in the assault. The other issue is the Americans. The Badr Corps has a close relationship to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (indeed is its Iraqi offspring) and its members are sensitive to charges of abetting imperialism by fighting shoulder to shoulder alongside US troops.

The US special ops forces at Qayara, however, are not a war-fighting infantry but rather will advise the Iraqi army on tactics once the campaign begins. Al-Amiri may not be happy about this US support role, but he can honestly say that American infantry won’t be part of the assault. He underscored that the Shiite militias will definitely play a central role in the assault on Mosul, alongside the Iraqi Army and the Peshmerga Kurdistan paramilitary. (The involvement of the Kurds in conquering a Sunni Arab city is also a touchy issue, especially since expansionist Kurdish nationalists have in the past vowed to incorporate Mosul into their Kurdistan superprovince of Iraq.)

Iraqi military intelligence has managed to get large numbers of free cell phones to Mosul residents. Its spokesman assured them that Daesh does not have the technical capability to tap these cell phones and cannot know what is said on them. The Baghdad government is urging Mosul residents to call its officials and to convey to the army the vulnerabilities of Daesh inside Mosul.


Related video:

The White House: “President Obama and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi”

Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek: First Minority Awardee for Best Actor in a Drama in 18 Years

Mon, 19 Sep 2016 - 11:24pm

TeleSur | – –

It took nearly two decades, but the the first [minority] actor to win an Emmy for the role of Best Actor in a Drama has just been named. Egyptian-American Rami Malek swooped the award Sunday night, for his demiurgic role as Elliott Alderson in the drama-thriller television series, Mr. Robot.

Malek plays the protagonist in the series—a hacking prodigy that battles with mental illness. After just one season of the show, he’s impressed enough not only win Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Sunday, but a Golden Globe earlier this year as well.

“I play a young man who is, like so many of us, profoundly alienated,” Malek said during his acceptance speech, as reported by Fusion. “I want to honor the Elliotts. There’s a little bit of Elliott in all of us.”

The show also features of host of strong women characters, which is innovative in the sense that hacking is typcically portrayed as being a field dominated by men.

Malek has won the award in this category 18 years after Andre Braugher, who won in 1998 for his role in Homicide: Life on the Street.

Malek opened his acceptance speech with a line from Mr. Robot:

“Please tell me you’re seeing this, too.”

Via TeleSur


Related video added by Juan Cole:

“Rami Malek on 2016 Emmy Win: “Times Are Changing” | E! Live from the Red Carpet

Syria: Are Russo-Iranian and US-Saudi interests converging enough for a Ceasefire?

Mon, 19 Sep 2016 - 11:23pm

By Mohammed Nuruzzaman | (Informed Comment)

The Syrian civil war is now in its sixth year, with occasional ceasefire deals made and violated by the warring parties being a cyclical process. The latest ceasefire agreement brokered by the U.S. and Russia, which came into effect on September 12, is standing on shaky grounds. The U.S.-led coalition air raid on Syrian army troops in Deir ez-Zour, an ISIS-controlled eastern Syrian province, has killed nearly a hundred soldiers prompting a strong warning from Russia that the ceasefire agreement was at risk. It is a serious reminder that peace in Syria, through a negotiated settlement of the conflict, remains as elusive as it has been since the Arab Spring violence broke out in March 2011.

Tragically, the Syrians are paying the ultimate price of the war, in blood and treasures. They are the real losers. A total of 470,000 Syrians were killed by the end of 2015, with another 1.9 million Syrians wounded; the economic loss incurred between 2011 – 2015 stands at US $255 billion. These estimates are reported by the Syrian Center for Policy Research, a Damascus-based think tank. Additionally, 6.5 million Syrians are internally displaced and 4.8 million Syrians have become refugees in neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and some European countries. The war has virtually obliterated most of Syria’s economic assets, infrastructure, institutions and human resources, pushing the country literally back to pre-modern period.

There are two oft-cited reasons why the Syrian civil war continues unabated. The first is the complex internal nature of the war. The chasms between the Al-Assad government and the numerous rebel groups have widened so much in the course of the war that they keep defying any initiatives for political reconciliations. The government and the opposition rebel groups, who often engage in infighting, operate from a matrix of zero-sum game calculations – either “we” or “they” survive the war. The capture of territories in eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq by the ISIS has simply added further complexities to the war. The second reason is the takeover of the war by external parties – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the U.S. and Russia that train, financially support, supply arms and ammunitions and intervene to aid their respective allies in Syria. That means the Syrians hardly have any control over the war or their own fate.

Beneath the complex dynamics of external involvements is a host of calculated interests each external power is pursuing and willing to protect at any costs. For Iran, Syria has been the only Arab strategic ally, especially since the beginning of the Iraq–Iran war (1980 -1988). Their alliance relationship, despite big ideological (secular Ba’athism versus Islamic government) and cultural (Arab versus Persian) differences, solidified after they had signed a mutual defense cooperation agreement in June 2006, a military measure that sought to minimize post-2003 U.S. threats to Tehran and Damascus.

Iran sees the loss of Syria to the anti-Assad rebel groups as an irreparable loss of the vital strategic link Damascus provides to the anti-Israel Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah. Tehran came to the defense of the Al-Assad government to protect two interests – i) to maintain its strategic weight in the Middle East as a safeguard against Western military pressures to totally dismantle its nuclear program, though it concluded a nuclear deal with the U.S. in July last year; and ii) to protect its national security in a vast sea of hostile and unfriendly powers – the Arab adversaries on the west coast of the Persian Gulf, the presence of U.S. military forces all around Iran, and a resurgent Turkey and a hostile Israel on the north and northwestern borders. Despite domestic economic ills, the Iranians have bankrolled the Al-Assad government by providing at least $6 billion per annum since 2013, in addition to credit lines to finance imports of food and energy. Tehran also convinced Hezbollah to commit troops to defend their common ally – the al-Assad government.

What Iran is looking for in Syria, at a minimum, is the guarantee that any government in Damascus, headed by Al-Assad or not, must accommodate Iranian interests, and that the hostile Arab powers led by Saudi Arabia must not have the upper hand in Damascus to deny Iran the use of Syria as a supply conduit to Hezbollah. Neither Saudi Arabia nor is the West ready to accept the minimum Iranian interests and this is what compels Iranian decision-makers not to back away from their post-Arab Spring Syria policy.

Saudi Arabia, Iran’s arch rival, sees itself as “the regional Arab leader”, a position it is ready to defend militarily and financially. The fall of Saddam’s Iraq in 2003 to the invading U.S. forces – a traditional bulwark against Iran and the decline of Egypt as the Arab world’s natural leader after the fall of Hosni Mubarak have motivated Riyadh to fill in the leadership vacuum. In Syria, the Saudis have sought the goals of containing Iranian influence by toppling the Al-Assad government and to install a pro-Saudi Islamist government to delink Iran from Hezbollah, an objective the U.S. and Israel also share. Back in late 2013, Riyadh launched the Army of Islam, an umbrella organization of fifty jihadist groups, to simultaneously fight the Al-Assad government and the ISIS caliphate. Although its interests have often diverged from that of the U.S. (in terms of a direct American military intervention to unseat President Bashar Al-Assad), Riyadh has refurbished the rebels with arms and money, mostly in collusion with the U.S. The Saudi rulers still remain committed to the overthrow of the Al-Assad government – an objective the Iranians vehemently oppose by consistently insisting that only the Syrians could determine the fate of President Bashar Al-Assad.

Turkey’s initial Syria policy, that posed extra challenges for Iran but largely supported the Saudi policy of regime change in Damascus, backed the Syrian branch of Muslim Brotherhood forces. It also openly sided with the ethnic Turkoman rebel groups while being worried about the empowerment of Kurdish separatist forces in southwestern Turkey and their influence in Iraq and Syria. After failing to secure regime change in Damascus, Turkey’s overriding concern has been to keep Syrian Kurds, led by the socialist-oriented YPG forces, under control and deny them any opportunity to establish a Kurdish mini-state in northeastern Syria. That was the principal motive driving Turkey’s recent incursions into Syria, though officially Ankara justified that as a war on ISIS fighters. In the wake of the abortive July 15 coup, Turkey seems to gradually pivoting to Russia, a major strategic shift that closely support Russian and Iranian goals in Syria.

The U.S. had initially pursued a regime change policy, best epitomized in the catch phrase “Assad must go”, but lacking the will to go for it seriously. Apparently, Washington was more worried about an acceptable alternative to the secular Al-Assad government; neither did it like to see a Saudi-supported Islamist government in Damascus nor a violent ISIS controlling the major parts of Syria. The changed U.S. objectives more resembled that of Israel – a preference for a weakened Al-Assad government constantly fighting the insidious rebel groups and presiding over a “rump state”, with territorial jurisdiction limited to the Damascus province, would pose no threat to Israel but weaken Iran and its ally Hezbollah.

But Russia, a traditional ally of Syria with a naval base in the Mediterranean seaport of Tartus, dramatically changed the course of the civil war by directly intervening to prop up the Al-Assad government. The Russian intervention sent shockwaves across the region and further challenged America’s waning influence in the Middle East. The intervention may be Russia’s return to the Soviet-era military activism for global influence, an attempt to fill in the gradual U.S. exit from the region or a sheer necessity to fight the Islamists in the Caucasus and in the Middle East to secure homeland security. The crude message is that Russia, after successful intervention in Ukraine, is a serious power-broker in the Middle East. While Russian and Iranian interests mostly converge in Syria, principally the defense of ally Al-Assad government and a possible defeat of the rebels, they are at serious odds with Saudi and U.S. interests.

The diverse and contradictory interests of the internal and external parties are effectively nipping the required political chemistry for a meaningful Syrian peace process in the bud. The only area where their interests strike a chord is the urgency to fight and eliminate the ISIS caliphate. Two requirements are there to fulfil before a perfect chemistry can be found. First off, there must be a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia for a shift from mutual antagonisms to promoting minimum understanding on regional issues. Riyadh and Tehran compete on a wider regional scale and a comprehensive regional approach, with recognition of each other’s minimum interests, can avoid the current turmoil and human tragedies in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. What the Middle East is painfully experiencing is no less than an Armageddon, a tragic situation Iran – Saudi rapprochement can avoid. Secondly, a similar understanding is also a basic requirement between the U.S. and Russia that can aid a détente process between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Currently, Moscow and Washington are unsuccessfully trying military means to solve the Syrian conflict, which is squarely a political problem awaiting diplomatic solutions. The sooner the regional and external parties join hands, the better for the Syrians and for the Middle East region.

Mohammed Nuruzzaman is Associate Professor of International Relations, Gulf University for science and Technology, West Mishref, Kuwait; E-mail: ; Research Webpage


Related video added by Juan Cole:

RT: “7-day ceasefire in Syria over, unclear if it will be renewed”

Can Education for Tolerance help Muslim-Christian Relations in Europe?

Mon, 19 Sep 2016 - 11:16pm

By Rose Delaney | (Inter Press Service) | – –

ROME, Sep 19 2016 (IPS) – Although 20 million Muslims reside in Western Europe, establishing social harmony between the Muslim community and their European counterparts has proved exceedingly challenging.Much to the dismay of international humanitarian agencies and anti-racism activists,the language of exclusion and prejudice persists.

Since the turn of the century, Muslims, the world over, have been subjected to harsh discrimination and harassment. This was triggered by the 2001 terror attacks which rapidly spread anti-Islamic sentiments across the US.The fear surrounding Muslims and the “brute terror” they are widely thought to inflict, has now resulted in the widespread diffusion of religious racism across Europe.

Prior to the extremist-led terror attacks, there was a relative lack of concern for minority groups in Europe. Now, the growth in animosity directed at the Muslim community is increasing at a robust rate.

The modern phenomenon of Islamophobia can be related to leading literary critic, Edward Said’s, theory of “orientalism” wherein Arabs and other Muslims were traditionally labeled as the “other.” In other words, the scapegoat for Western society’s ills. This also draws back to the 19th-century theorist, Arthur de Gobineau’s, description of an age-old “reciprocal repulsion” between Muslims and Europeans.
Across Europe, Muslims continue to be the victims of ethnic profiling, violence, and discrimination.

Nowadays, we can see these “archaic” racist doctrines emerge and re-establish themselves in a modern context ,through sustained racism against Arabs and Muslims which may be characterized as none other than “Contemporary European Phobic Discourse”.

In France, the 20th-century writings of political theorist Charles Maurras are still prevalent today. Maurras was instrumental in setting up the movement “Action Française”, whose primary objective was the restoration of the French nation through the presence of a strong monarchy powered by Catholicism.

Maurras xenophobic rhetoric targeted Jews and Mediterranean foreigners amongst a host of other minorities. His writings have acted as a major “intellectual” influence of contemporary Far-right movements including the French “National Front.”

The rise of Far-right movements in France is particularly perilous to the Muslim community, whose numbers now exceed 4 million. Muslims become the targets of these political movements, subjected to discrimination, assumed to be affiliated with extremist groups due to media manipulation and fear-mongering.

The anti-Islamic prejudice, accentuated by a series of terror attacks, was brought to light this August when the French State Council attempted to ban the wearing of the “burkini”. Although the ban has been suspended, the mindset that created an environment conducive to such an extreme measure indicates a deep societal divide between Muslims and Westerners.

In Italy, the Muslim population now surpasses 1.5 million. In spite of this vast number and a wider acceptance of secularism , both the Italian state and society remain committed to Catholicism and thus far, a move towards the recognition of Islam has not been made. In addition, there is a range of far-right political parties which are deeply opposed to Islam.

In both France and Italy, racism is commonplace. Discriminatory acts against Muslims are encouraged by the phobic discourse of Far-right parties. In France, for example, 756 anti-Muslim aggressions were enumerated in 2014. There has also been an increase in anti-Muslim violence perpetrated by police in both countries.

Even in Germany, which has acted as a model of tolerance, there are now stirrings of extreme right-wing movements which run counter to the mainstream. The UK, home to some 3 million Muslims, remains the European country where Muslims are best protected by the law and the activities of the police. In spite of this, there has been a rise in Islamophobia triggered by right-wing movements such as the British National Party.

Across Europe, Muslims continue to be the victims of ethnic profiling, violence, and discrimination. Today, 19 of September, The Geneva Centre for Human Rights and Global Dialogue Advancement and Global Dialogue hosted the conference “Muslims in Europe: the road to social harmony” which aims to establish the illegality of racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance against Muslims. The Geneva Centre advocates for a prohibition on the incitement of religious hatred and violence and the recognition that Islamophobia should specifically be the object of sanctions under international law.

In the opening of today’s “Muslims in Europe” conference , Chairman of the Geneva Centre, Dr. Hanif Al Qassim, remarked that the meeting was called as an expression of solidarity with all victims of blind terrorism which targets Muslims and Westerners alike.

Dr. Al Qassim emphasised that all world religions encourage peace and harmony, but distorting their message in order to use them as instruments of conflict is a sham. Muslim communities are today being caught between a hammer of the imminent danger of terrorist groups and the anvil of growing Islamophobia and the emergence of xenophobic populism in some European countries.

He concluded by stating that the meeting should act as an opportunity to discuss the path towards social harmony in Europe for Muslims, whilst keeping with the Geneva Centre’s key objective of fostering interreligious and intercultural dialogue.

According to the former head of a United Nations agency, Algerian diplomat and Secretary General of the Geneva Centre, Idriss Jazairy, “social harmony begins at school.” Jazairy emphasised that teaching our children about the benefits of social harmony lies at the heart of the European Enlightenment.

The French philosopher Voltaire once said that while you may not necessarily agree with what someone has to say, you must “fight to the death” for them to have the right to say it. Jazairy encourages us to apply Voltaire’s philosophy in the context of rising Islamophobia.

In this way, future generations will practice the belief that, in spite of religious or ethnic differences, everyone has the right to live in a globalised world free from the setbacks of racism and prejudice.

Via Inter Press Service


Related video added by Juan Cole:

APIC Media: “Top 40 Muslim Football Soccer Players European Leagues 2016”

5 Signs that Wind Power in the US is suddenly going Massive

Mon, 19 Sep 2016 - 12:15am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Iowa Utility Board has approved a $3 bn. MidAmerica wind farm project which will be the country’s largest, due to come on line in 2019, and which will generate enough electricity to power 800,000 homes! I looked this up, and there are only about 1.2 million households in Iowa! This one project could power 2/3s of the state’s homes! Of course, you still have commercial uses of power, and then the transportation sector includes 4.3 million registered vehicles, which are almost all fueled by carbon-emitting petroleum. But still, you have to wonder if Iowa will be the first 100% green energy state. (Iowa has the advantage of being a midwest wind corridor; some other areas of the country, like the Deep South, are much less well endowed in this regard– though they have loads of sunlight that they are wasting for lack of solar panels). Already, 31% of Iowa’s electricity is from wind.

Xcel Energy in Colorado and several partners, including the Danish firm Vestas Wind Systems, are planning a $1 bn. wind farm complex that would power 600,000 homes. About ten percent of those funds will be spent on new transmission lines to bring the electricity to Denver and Boulder where it is most needed. Colorado has about 2 million households, so this wind farm would power nearly a third of them.

Dallas may be HQ for a lot of Big Oil concerns, but Texas’s heart increasingly belongs to wind power. Amazon is building a 253 megawatt, hundred-turbine wind farm that will generate enough electricity to power 90,000 homes. Amazon has already built five other wind farms to power the servers behind its cloud computing services, and has in the past year jumped in its energy use from being 25% renewables to 40%! That the big tech companies can be shamed into spending their money this way by Greenpeace is an excellent sign for the future. The more large corporations go green, the more their lobby in Congress will offset that of Big Oil and Big Gas.

Not only is the fuel for wind power free, but the turbines are getting cheaper and cheaper, a trend that experts think will accelerate, as Reneweconomy writes:
“Specifically, the surveyed experts anticipate wind energy cost reductions of at least 24% to 30% by 2030, and 35% to 41% by 2050 due to larger and more efficient wind turbines, lower capital and operating costs, and other advancements.”

Finally, Germany, Denmark and other countries have seen some of the best economies in wind farm construction in the area of offshore turbines. These machines can be larger and the wind out there is stronger. Offshore wind is not even in its infancy in the US, with the Providence, Rhode Island, facility scheduled to begin operation in October. But scientists estimate that there is enough wind power off the shores of California and Hawaii to power 500 million homes! There are only about 125 million households in the United States. The Federal government is now letting bids for a 765 megawatt offshore complex off San Luis Obispo in California. That is nearly 3 times more powerful than the Amazon facility mentioned above. California’s legislature just passed a mandate requiring the state to get 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2050 (that’s not nearly good enough but I predict that they will reach the goal much earlier than expected).


Related video:

Newsbeat Social: “Amazon to Build Largest Wind Farm Yet”

Can Palestinians fight their Displacement with Oral History?

Sun, 18 Sep 2016 - 11:23pm

By Thayer Hastings | (Al-Shabaka) | Ma’an News Agency | – –

Oral history has a long precedent in Arab and Palestinian culture that stems from a broader oral tradition. In the years immediately following the Nakba of 1948, the Arab tradition of the hakawati (storyteller) was used, according to Nur Masalha, to shore up a defense against erasure of culture and memory among Palestinians. Since then, oral history has served as a prominent counter narrative in the context of active settler colonialism throughout Palestine and colonialism’s afterlives in the Arab world. It is a primary method through which Palestinians engage collective events of trauma or mobilization.

For Palestinians in the homeland as well as in exile, oral history production centers around a common experience of displacement. Around 67 percent of Palestinians are displaced: The most recent estimates put the global Palestinian refugee and internally displaced population at nearly 8 million. By locating the oral history process in the idea of a space such as a village ethnically cleansed during the Nakba, displaced communities forge a physical center even after depopulation.

Rosemary Sayigh, through her work in Lebanon’s refugee camps in the 1980s, was among the first to systematically document Palestinian oral history. In 1983, Birzeit University developed one of the first programs in the Arab world to teach oral history. The Islamic University of Gaza founded its Oral History Center in 1998 to collect oral histories from the Nakba and the 1967 Naksa.

While a more formal production of Palestinian oral history production thus began decades ago, it is currently experiencing a surge. Historian Beshara Doumani dubbed this wider phenomenon of preservation a “Palestinian archive fever.” In April 2016 the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded a $260,000 grant to the Palestinian Oral History Archive housed at the American University of Beirut, where a team is digitizing and coding 1,000 hours of interviews with refugees from 135 Palestinian villages who fled during the Nakba.

Other recent productions include journal articles as well as themes for magazine and journal issues, conferences and community workshops, audio interviews, and the Nakba Museum project in Washington, DC. The new Palestinian Museum located on the campus of Birzeit University, inaugurated in May 2016, may also come to serve as a prime oral history institution. In addition, Sayigh continues her engagement through such projects as history books for Palestinian children in refugee camps that use oral history — told by the children themselves — as content.

Since its origins, Palestinian oral history production has been concerned with recording the testimonies of the aging Nakba generation, but also with creating a platform for displaced communities and their ownership over knowledge. In the context of Palestinian statelessness, Zionist Israeli state archives extend settler colonialism into the spaces of knowledge preservation and production where Palestinian narratives are erased or exploited.

Three decades after concerted Palestinian oral history efforts began, oral history projects now traverse four or more generations of displaced Palestinians. Because of its emphasis on social history and marginalized perspectives, oral history work has the potential to create a space for diverse multigenerational experiences. This can be leveraged as a counter-archive to ongoing settler colonial erasure.

Palestinian oral history as activism

The field of oral history production has already seen enormous contributions from Palestinians worldwide, giving its practitioners opportunities for advancing a community approach designed to combat ongoing displacements in Palestine. However, while Palestinian oral history production is vast, few initiatives have been explicit about oral history’s relationship to activism, save for one: Palestine Remembered.

Palestine Remembered, a digital project founded by Salah Mansour, demonstrates a recent multimedia approach to the use of Palestinian oral history for activism. The al-Nakba’s Oral History Project, launched as a subsection of Palestine Remembered in 2003, now contains more than 600 interviews with Nakba survivors or descendants of survivors. The interviews are drawn explicitly into the realm of activism and advocacy through a section titled “The Conflict 101.” The section situates dispossession as central to the narrative, and the oral history portal is contingent on the direct participation of displaced communities. Interviews are coupled with maps and photographs that advance a counter narrative to Zionism, with the interviews providing content to bolster a counter-cartography. The platform as a whole curates oral history, cartography, photography, and other content around a narrative of resistance.

While recording stories of Palestinian elders who witnessed the Nakba is more urgent than ever, oral history also has the potential to amplify community struggles to defend against current displacements by documenting protests, legal battles, and cultural expression. This provides a space for a counter narrative that is particularly useful to Palestinian communities living under Israeli rule, whether in the Occupied Palestinian Territory or in Israel, or for Palestinians marginalized by other governments.

A networked and activist oral history practice can prioritize community building and autonomy from structures of Israeli state domination while strengthening Palestinian ties across fragmented Palestine and the diaspora. This is particularly crucial at this juncture, as the Israel State Archive has announced changes that will result in restricted access to documents, including those regarding confiscated Palestinian property that could shed light on Israeli land seizures.

The growth of worldwide Palestinian oral history production initiatives comprises the basis for a network in which campaigns could be amplified. Palestine Remembered and the Beirut-based Palestinian Oral History Archive are two of the main recent actors establishing this groundwork through documentation and digitization. Together and with others they can share common methods and resources and mobilize oral history in creative and powerful ways. One potential avenue for such networked activism is to support specific communities that are defending themselves against displacement.

Legal roadblocks and local avenues for success

Two communities in urgent need of oral history as an activist practice are the neighboring villages of Attir and Umm al-Hiran in the northern Naqab. These villages immediately south of the Green Line of the West Bank are home to around 1,000 residents and are under immediate threat of expulsion, much like the nearby South Hebron Hills villages including Susiya. A recent Israeli High Court ruling has slated Attir and Umm al-Hiran for demolition and replacement with a Jewish-only town and a Jewish National Fund forest.

Residents and allies are organizing a defense, but appealing such cases within the Israeli court system is fraught with obstacles. Israeli courts are known to deny oral testimonies as proof of Palestinian land claims.

For example, in 2015, the Israeli High Court rejected the oral testimonies to residence and ownership of the al-Uqbi family of the unrecognized al-Araqib village in the Naqab. The court does not include in its definition of ownership the Palestinian Bedouin legal culture of oral contracts, a system that long preceded the Israeli state. The court ruling was significant in that it legitimized state expropriation of indigenous land, a law-based method that furthers settler colonialism and is also seen in Australia, North America, and South Africa.

While the Israeli government and courts reject claims by Palestinian citizens of Israel and non-citizens alike, the value of oral history work is in producing narratives unconstrained by the contortions needed to survive the ethnic-based exclusionary logic of the Israeli legal system. Essentially, the practice generates an alternative history that stands in contrast to lawmaking and other modes of officialdom.

By extending backward, narratives autonomous from the state’s discourse show how precarious and temporary Israeli laws or previous regimes of rule (British and Ottoman) can be while reinforcing community identity. Working outside of and in opposition to the legal discourse highlights the law’s limitations and affirms indigeneity in the face of settler colonial law. It therefore also extends forward, creating alternative narratives and opens the space for planning how to implement the right of return. This can be seen in designs of digital villages based on the memories of pre-Nakba generations. Oral history opens spaces of possibility by mobilizing multigenerational stories of rootedness.

In a context in which the legal system is designed to reject Palestinian existence, to be successful advocacy work must foster an approach that can function independently of state institutions. Advocacy and activism can be designed to bolster the vibrancy of communities by addressing localized needs.

An activist use of oral history production frames community building as a form of self defense by filling needs for localized knowledge and literature. Whether in the Naqab or across Palestine, other essential projects include documenting village histories, establishing networks for public action and protest, and strengthening informal organizations to promote civil society.

Attir and Umm al-Hiran are particularly important sites for activism because, despite notable exceptions, Palestinian communities of the Naqab do not receive equivalent attention, support, or resources as do those of the West Bank or the Galilee. The result is that Palestinians and those concerned with the plight of Palestinians are largely unaware of and misunderstand the conditions for the community in the Naqab who face severe attempts at displacement. For this reason and others, Attir and Umm al-Hiran are prime candidates for activist intervention in the form of oral history, including, for example, the production of a variety of advocacy materials for a community at risk of its second displacement since 1948.

Orienting oral history towards justice

While the act of recording personal experiences — particularly those that challenge dominant narratives and structures — is activist in nature, oral history is well-suited for more organized and systematic activism, advocacy, and community mobilization. Especially in the face of ongoing displacements and a denied right of return, a collective body of Palestinian oral history production can be leveraged by activists to advocate for land and other claims and to defend communities against displacement.

There is a pressing need for reorienting an understanding of advocacy and activism toward community building on the local and collective levels. Rights appeals to international actors — the dominant mode of Palestinian advocacy today — can and should derive from a prioritization of local audiences and needs. Oral history production necessarily anchors activist and advocacy efforts in communities’ own narratives.

In addition to prioritizing local audiences and needs and leveraging a widespread oral history network, oral history activists could also draw from and contribute to comparative initiatives:

  • The US-based Groundswell network includes a number of oral history organizations and practitioners that focus explicitly on leveraging oral history for “movement building and transformative social change,” in which personal stories are used to refute marginalization. Groundswell can provide lessons on mobilizing oral history for organizing and advocacy through a network.
  • The San Francisco-based Anti-Eviction Mapping Project and its online oral history and data analysis directly challenge landlord abuse and urban displacement. Though the contexts of displacement in San Francisco and the Palestinian case differ vastly, translating across them offers a model that leverages oral history as an organizing tool in addition to its established role as a repository for memory. The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project conducts oral history work through “deep descriptions” that provide complete stories rather than sound bytes. By avoiding one-dimensional depictions of people, such oral history also seeks to challenge normative framings of advocacy work.

Digitization makes a comparative and better networked Palestinian oral history possible. Along with dozens of well-established oral history initiatives, such as Birzeit University’s online catalog of historical resources including oral history interviews, there are many small-scale family or community-based oral history practices that often go no further than the homes of those who recorded them. The groundwork for leveraging a widespread oral history network is primed for a step forward. Both established Palestinian oral history work and upcoming work, such as that of the Palestinian Oral History Archive in Lebanon, can be oriented toward justice and social change.

Originally published in full on Al-Shabaka’s website on September 15, 2016.

In this Al-Shabaka policy brief Thayer Hastings analyzes the importance of oral history in the Palestinian context and its potential as a tool for activism. Al-Shabaka is an independent non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and foster public debate on Palestinian human rights and self-determination within the framework of international law.

Via Ma’an News Agency

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect Ma’an News Agency’s editorial policy.

See also Palestinian Oral History Archive


Related video added by Juan Cole:

AUB: “The Palestinian Oral History Archive, lest we forget ”

The myth and history of Sunni-Shia divide

Sun, 18 Sep 2016 - 11:21pm

By Amir Ahmadi Arian | ( OpenDemocracy ) | – –

Sunnis and Shias have lived together in peace for centuries, and up to the new millennium have barely had a history of bloody conflict. Why now?

Head of the Shiite opposition, left, and Sunni Muslim leader of a liberal opposition party, right, hold a sign reading “No Sunni, No Shia: One unified nation” on March 6, 2011.Hasan Jamali/AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.

The sectarian elements of a conflict

The Middle East is a mess from which no one can claim exemption. The invasion of Iraq and the Syrian civil war have pulled all the already beleaguered regional governments into tragic quicksand, where alliances and animosities constantly shift. Everyone is stuck in an overly complicated nexus of relations, and the future is so murky no political leader can put forth a plausible way out. The world powers are also in this up to their eyeballs, seeming even more confused than the regional players.

There are, however, undeniable facts: everybody knows Iran and Saudi Arabia are on opposite sides, that Iran is a Shia state, so are its regional allies, and the Saudis are Sunnis, as are their allies. Looking at this picture, many conclude that the Middle East is on fire because Sunnis and Shias are fighting out a belated battle to determine who is the legitimate heir to Muhammad’s legacy.

It would be self-deceiving to say the sectarian element doesn’t exist in the current conflict. The debate must be over its salience and relevance, and more importantly, its inevitability. A brief look at mainstream media in the west shows that a substantial portion of commentators regard this sectarian tension as the main factor, and an inevitable one.

With considerable frequency, we read that an ancient religious divide is fueling the war, that the doctrinal differences have set the leaders of two rival nations in competition, that the root cause of the problems in the Middle East is that Iran and Saudi Arabia cannot acknowledge the legitimacy of each other’s interpretation of Islam, that the ancient split between these two sects gave rise to ISIS, which marks the beginning of Islam’s 30 year war, and the region will not see the light of peace until the rival sects slug it out. Washington has been frequently attacked for disregarding this religious fissure, from both the left and right

A brief look at recent history undermines this essentialist reading. The ongoing conflict is anything but ancient, and could easily be traced back to a specific period in the twentieth century: the early 1970s, when the shock of the oil boom caused dramatic changes in Iran and Saudi Arabia and paved the path to the Islamic revolution in Iran and the rise of the Saudis as a wealthy regional power.

Those simultaneous events stimulated both countries to spread their tentacles into the rest of the region and cultivate a geopolitical competition between them. Before that, not only were things quiet, but Iranians and the Saudis even cooperated during the cold war to hold the so-called ‘red threat’ at bay.

The Iraq war and the Syrian conflict, neither of which was sectarian in its beginning, intensified this minor tension. It could have been contained if the disastrous invasion of Iraq had not happened. It would have been forgotten if the masses that poured into the streets in 2011 – to bring about a thoroughly nonsectarian political uprising – had seen their demands fulfilled.

Events took a different turn, and the sectarian flames were fanned in the process. But even then, as Joby Warrick shows in his excellent book, it took a ruthless thug like Abu Musab Zarqawi and his gang, who later on established ISIS, to bring the sectarian tension to the fore. There is a document that could rebut all the arguments for the inevitability of the sectarian war: a letter Ayman al Zawaheri penned to Zarqawi in July 2005, where he unequivocally called the attacks on the ordinary Shias unacceptable. At the time, Zawaheri was the second man of al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden.  

So the sectarian component is anything but integral to the Muslim world. But it is there, undeniably, blatantly, playing itself out on the ground, irreducible to politics, taking lives, staring us in the face, and challenging us to account for it. It is true that the American sledgehammer cracked Iraq and unleashed unbridled turmoil, but there must be a reason that the crack spread along sectarian lines.

Even if we assume that the tension began around the oil boom and boiled over later, it still begs the question of why this contemporary conflict’s point of reference is fourteen centuries ago, the day Muhammad died in Medina. The available analyses usually fall short of making the connection, thus failing to explain centuries of bi-sectarian quiet and its current eruption.

The dawn of the crisis

Thanks to the historians of early Islam, al-Tabari in particular, we know plenty about the mayhem in the aftermath of the death of Muhammad. After the prophet’s death, the whole community of Muslims in Arabia sunk into a crisis over his successor. Sunni scholars later argued that Muhammad had no living son, which means god considered him the last prophet, and Muhammad never appointed anyone as his successor, which means he had full trust in the community of Muslims.

Shia scholars would argue that Muhammad did pick his successor, named Ali, his cousin and son-in-law, as the best choice for carrying the torch. They also contend that the prophet intended to make it clear on his deathbed, but Ali’s enemies thwarted the message.

Shortly after Muhammad’s death, a shura was held, which Ali boycotted, and against all odds, Abu Bakr becomes Muhammad’s first successor (Khalifah). Here the initial crack emerges: the Sunnis hold that Ali abandoned one of the greatest achievements of Islam, the sacred Islamic community. The Shias see in the story a connivance, a sinister usurpation of Ali’s right to succession. 

As time went by, the history of early Islam grew bloodier. The respect for Muslim blood evaporated and factional politics ran amok. The assassination of Othman, the third Calif, is a symbolic incident: the third Calif was murdered by the son of the first Calif while reading the Quran. Especially in the Levant, or what is now Iraq and Syria, the bitter reality of power politics eclipsed spiritual unity. Muslims, divided along the line that separated Ali from Ayesha, Muhammad’s last wife, accused each other of betrayal and warred all too often. This new stage culminated in the most important incident in the history of Shiism.

Twenty years after the death of Ali, his son Hussein leaves Arabia to fight Yazid, son of Muawiyah, whom he considered the usurper of the Islamic empire. Along the way, the news arrived that Yazid had carried out a massive crackdown in Kufa, the stronghold of Hussein’s supporters, and killed many of his followers. Consequently, the army of Hussein whittled down to Hussein’s family and seventy two of his most loyal followers. Hussein decides to move ahead, the unavoidable massacre notwithstanding.

The Sunnis consider this decision foolhardiness, the Shias ultimate sacrifice. The result is the same: the most horrific and traumatizing bloodshed in the history of Islam, in which four thousand soldiers encircled Muhammad’s grandson, his family and loyal followers, cut their access to water, massacred them, and finally, on the day known today as Ashura, killed Hussein and chopped his head off. That massacre came to reside at the heart of Shiism, and sowed the seeds of a strife that has haunted Islam to this day.

But, what is the relevance? What connects those events of early Islam to the mess in contemporary Middle East? Despite the catastrophe, Sunnis and Shias have lived together in peace for centuries, and sporadic battles aside, up to the new millennium barely had a history of bloody conflict. Why now?

Monotheism according to Freud: a comparative glance

If Ashura rings a bell for the Christian reader, it should. The similarities between Hussein and Jesus are too many to miss: both were powerless, decent men who rose up against the powers that be, and by an act of sacrifice debunked the tyrant’s claim to faith. Both deaths were tragic enough to spark centuries of mourning, and beget new religious doctrines. The story of Jesus and the Jews, therefore, might give us some clue regarding the roots of the current conflict in the Islamic world.

Sometime in 1939 in London, when the persecution of Jews in Germany had reached an unprecedented high and the second world war was to engulf Europe, the old heartbroken Sigmund Freud, having fled his beloved Vienna for London to spend his last years in exile, sat down to pen the last installment of his study of Judaism

In the second part of the book Freud reiterates the core ideas of Totem and Taboo, describing how the killing of the father at the hand of ancient brothers founded human society. In Moses and Monotheism, he takes patricide as the foundation of monotheism as well, contending that the monotheistic god is the murdered father elevated to divine status. He also draws a brief comparison with Islam, claiming “the inner development of the new religion, however, soon came to a standstill, perhaps because it lacked the profundity which, in the Jewish religion, resulted from the murder of its founder.” The Shias would beg to differ: for them, the murder of Hussein and his family in Karbala is no less compelling than the crucifixion is for Christians. 

Freud reads the history of religions as torturous paths towards growing up. On top of the killing of the father, the tensions and wars that occur in early phases of religions amount to massive childhood traumas in a person. Just as traumas have an incubation period and come back to bite later in life, the historical traumas of religions lay latent for long periods, sometimes centuries. We repress traumas to make life endurable, but the repressed is bound to return. Shouldn’t we attribute a part of religious and sectarian wars in history to the traumas they underwent in their childhood?

Freud’s uncharacteristically gloomy book tells us that historical and religious scars do not fade easily. Every major development in history, at its conception, has been scar-stricken. The scar at the heart of Islam is no exception: the discontent created in the shura turned into a scratch by the war of the Camel, and a deep scar by Karbala. Traumas like that don’t simply go away, but they can be controlled, just as this trauma was contained for hundreds of years.

The history of the last two centuries in the Middle East amounts to successive blows at all the forces that contain the childhood trauma of Islam. Brutal colonialism, titular kings who did little more than pander to their western masters, any number of secular dictators whose blind brutality empowered reactionary clerics, severely damaged centuries of peaceful coexistence across the Islamic world.

The disastrous invasion of Iraq was the last straw. It tore apart the last tissues that held this battered body together. Just as the emergence of Hitler ruined peaceful existence in the already suffering Europe, and opened up the scar at the heart of Judeo-Christian societies that originated in the crucifixion of Jesus at the hand of his fellow-Jews, Bush’s invasion of Iraq served as the match in a barrel of dynamite.  

Therefore, Shia-Sunni tension is as inevitable and integral to Islam as any other religious, sectarian tension is integral to any other religion. Thanks to the sheer amount of violence heaped upon the Middle East for centuries, the childhood trauma of Islam has exploded onto its surface.

The catastrophe is traveling along sectarian lines, and world leaders are watching it transfixed. Every now and then they come up with cosmetic peace plans, which never work, because this kind of scar will not be healed by political maneuvering and sly brinksmanship. Only fundamental commitment to peace on all sides can bring this to an end. In the absence of honest cooperation across warring factions, the scar will continue to bleed, until the body is irrecoverably dead.

About the author

Amir Ahmadi Arian is an Iranian writer and translator, PhD graduate of comparative literature from the University of Queensland, currently enrolled at NYU’s creative writing program. In Iran, he has worked with various newspapers and magazines, and published more than 200 articles on the culture and politics of Iran and the Middle East.

Via OpenDemocracy


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Iran-Saudi Arabia feud impacts Hajj ritual | DW News

Dear Generation Z: So sorry for bequeathing to you terrorism hysteria and all those Wars

Sun, 18 Sep 2016 - 11:11pm

By Peter Van Buren | ( | – –

I recently sent my last kid off for her senior year of college. There are rituals to such moments, and because dad-confessions are not among them, I just carried boxes and kept quiet. But what I really wanted to say to her — rather than see you later, call this weekend, do you need money? — was: I’m sorry.

Like all parents in these situations, I was thinking about her future. And like all of America, in that future she won’t be able to escape what is now encompassed by the word “terrorism.”

Everything Is Okay, But You Should Be Terrified

Terrorism is a nearly nonexistent danger for Americans. You have a greater chance of being hit by lightning, but fear doesn’t work that way. There’s no 24/7 coverage of global lightning strikes or “if you see something, say something” signs that encourage you to report thunderstorms. So I felt no need to apologize for lightning.

But terrorism? I really wanted to tell my daughter just how sorry I was that she would have to live in what 9/11 transformed into the most frightened country on Earth.

Want the numbers? Some 40% of Americans believe the country is more vulnerable to terrorism than it was just after September 11, 2001 — the highest percentage ever.

Want the apocalyptic jab in the gut? Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley said earlier this month that the threat remains just as grave: “Those people, those enemies, those members of that terrorist group, still intend — as they did on 9/11 — to destroy your freedoms, to kill you, kill your families, they still intend to destroy the United States of America.”

All that fear turned us into an engine of chaos abroad, while consuming our freedoms at home. And it saddens me that there was a different world, pre-9/11, which my daughter’s generation and all those who follow her will never know.

Growing Up

My kids grew up overseas while, from 1988 to 2012, I served with the State Department. For the first part of my career as a diplomat, wars were still discreet matters. For example, though Austria was a neighbor of Slovenia, few there were worried that the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s would spill across the border. Suicide bombers didn’t threaten Vienna when we visited as tourists in 1991. That a war could again consume large parts of the globe and involve multiple nations would have seemed as remote to us vacationers that year as the moon.

Even the big war of the era, Desert Storm in 1991, seemed remarkably far away. My family and I were assigned to Taiwan at the time and life there simply went on. There was no connection between us and what was happening in Kuwait and Iraq, and certainly we didn’t worry about a terror attack.

It’s easy to forget how long ago that was. Much of the Balkans is now a tourist destination, and a young soldier who fought in Desert Storm would be in his mid-forties today. Or think of it this way: either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump on entering the Oval Office next January will be the fifth president in succession to bomb Iraq.

When September 11, 2001, arrived, I was on assignment to Japan, and like everyone, as part of a collective trauma, I watched the terrible events on TV. Due to the time difference, it was late at night in Tokyo. As the second plane hit the World Trade Center, I made sandwiches, suspecting the phone would soon ring and I’d be called to the embassy for a long shift. I remember my wife saying, “Why would they call you in? We’re in Tokyo!” Then, of course, the phone did ring, and I ran to grab it — not out of national security urgency, but so it didn’t wake my kids.

My daughter’s birthday falls on the very day that George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq. I missed her celebration in 2003 to stay at work preparing for the embassy to be overrun by al-Qaeda. I missed her birthday again in 2005, having been sent on temporary duty to Thailand to assist the U.S. Navy in setting up a short-term base there. When the naval officers mentioned the location they wanted to use to the Thai military liaison accompanying us, he laughed. That’s taken, he said, but you didn’t hear it from me, better ask your own people about it.

Later, I would learn that the location was a CIA black site where the country I then represented was torturing human beings.

Looking back, it’s remarkable to realize that, in response to a single day of terror, Washington set the Middle East ablaze, turned air travel into a form of bondage play, and did away with the best of our democracy.

Nothing required the Patriot Act, Guantánamo, renditions, drone assassinations, and the National Security Agency turning its spy tools inward. The White House kept many of the nastiest details from us, but made no secret of its broader intentions. Americans on the whole supported each step, and later Washington protected the men and women who carried out each of the grim acts it had inspired. After all, they were just following orders.

Protocols now exist allowing the president to select American citizens without a whit of due process for drone killing. Only overseas, he says, but you can almost see the fingers crossed behind his back. Wouldn’t an awful lot of well-meaning Americans have supported a drone strike in San Bernardino or at the Pulse club in Orlando? Didn’t many support using a robot to blow up a suspect in Dallas?

Back in the Homeland

The varieties of post-9/11 fear sneak up on us all. I spent a week this summer obsessively watching the news for any sign of trouble in Egypt while my daughter was there visiting some old embassy acquaintances. I worried that she was risking her life to see a high school friend in a country once overrun with tourists.

So I want to say sorry to my daughter and her friends for all the countries where we Americans, with our awkward shorts and sandals, were once at least tolerated, but that are now dangerous for us to visit. Sorry that you’ll never see the ruins of Babylon or the Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq unless you join the military.

Arriving back in the U.S., my daughter called from the airport to say she’d be home in about an hour. I didn’t mention my worries that she’d be stopped at “the border,” a new name for baggage claim, or have her cell phone confiscated for daring to travel to the Middle East. An immigration agent did, in fact, ask her what her purpose was in going there, something even the Egyptians hadn’t bothered to question her about.

I also wanted to apologize to my daughter because, in our new surveillance world, she will never really know what privacy is. I needed to ask her forgiveness for how easily we let that happen, for all those who walk around muttering that they have nothing to hide, so what’s to worry about. I wanted to tell her how sorry I was that she’s now afraid of the police, not just for herself but especially for her friends of color. I wanted to tell her how badly I felt that she’d only know a version of law enforcement so militarized that, taking its cues from the national security state, it views us all as potential enemies and believes that a significant part of its job involves repressing our most basic rights.

I’m sorry, I want to say to her, that protesters can be confined in something called a “free speech zone” surrounded by those same police. I want to tell my daughter that the Founders would rise up in righteous anger at the idea of the police forcing citizens into such zones outside a political convention — and at the fact that most journalists don’t consider such a development to be a major story of our times.

As I sent her off to college, I wanted to say how sorry I was that we had messed up her world, sorry we not only didn’t defeat the terrorists the way Grandpa did the Nazis but, by our actions, gave their cause new life and endless new recruits. Al-Qaeda set a trap on 9/11 and we leaped into it. The prison American occupiers set up at Camp Bucca in Iraq became a factory for making jihadis, and the torture chambers at Abu Ghraib remain, like Guantánamo, an infomercial inviting others to pick up a weapon.

The New Normal

My daughter is not naïve. Like many of her classmates, she’s aware of most of these things, but she has no point of comparison. What fish truly sees the water around it? And imagine how much harder it’ll be for her future kids. Her adult life has been marked by constant war, so much so that “defeating the terrorists” is little more than a set phrase she rolls her eyes at. It’s a generational thing that’s too damn normal, like Depression-era kids still saving aluminum foil and paper bags in the basement after decades of prosperity.

I’m truly sorry that her generation copes with this by bouncing between cynicism and the suspension of disbelief. It was, in a way, that suspension of disbelief that allowed so many, including older people who should have known better, to accept the idea that invading Iraq was a reasonable response to an attack on America by a group of Saudis funded by Saudi “charity” donations. By now, “well, it wasn’t actually a crime” is little short of a campaign slogan for acts that couldn’t be more criminal. That’s a world on a path to accepting 2+2 can indeed equal 5 — if our leaders tell us it’s so.

We allow those leaders to claim that the thousands of American troops now stationed in Iraq are somehow not “boots on the ground,” or “ground troops.” Drone strikes, we’re told, are surgical, killing only bad guys with magic missiles, and never purposely hitting civilians, hospitals, children, or wedding parties. The deaths of human beings in such situations are always rare and accidental, the equivalent of those scratches on your car door from that errant shopping cart in the mall parking lot.

Cleaning Up After Dad

If anyone is going to fix this mess, I want to tell my daughter, it’s going to have to be you. And I want to add, you’ve got to do a better job than I did — if, that is, you really want to find a way to say thanks for the skating lessons, the puppy, and that night I didn’t get angry when you violated curfew to spend more time with that boy.

After the last cardboard boxes had been lugged up the stairs, I held back my tears until the very end. Hugging my daughter at that moment, I felt as if I wasn’t where I was standing but in a hundred other places. I wasn’t consoling a smart, proud, twenty-something woman, apprehensive about senior year, but an elementary school student going to bed on the night that would forever be known only as 9/11.

Back home, the house is empty and quiet. Outside, the leaves have just a hint of yellow. At lunch, I had some late-season strawberries nearly sweet enough to confirm the existence of a higher power. I’m gonna really miss this summer.

I know I’m not the first parent to grow reflective watching his last child walk out the door, but I have a sense of what’s ahead of her: an American world filled with misplaced fears.  Fear is a terrible thing to be sorry for, and that in itself can be scary.

Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during the “reconstruction” of Iraq in We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. A TomDispatch regular, he writes about current events at We Meant Well. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent. His next work will be Hooper’s War, a novel of World War II in Japan.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2016 Peter Van Buren

Via (


Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “Right-wing Terrorists Kill More Americans Than Islamic Extremists”

George Clooney Report Ruffles Feathers in South Sudan

Sun, 18 Sep 2016 - 1:00am

TeleSur | – –

The report “can only jeopardize the pursuit of peace and stability,” South Sudan representatives said.

A new report claiming that South Sudan’s leaders have exploited the country’s ongoing civil violence has been criticized by the country’s government. It comes as the world’s youngest nations stands on the brink of a renewed civil war.

The 66 page report, “War Crimes Shouldn’t Pay” was published Saturday by Sentry, a U.S.-based watchdog co-founded by Hollywood actor George Clooney and details how leaders plundered the country and stripped the country of money.

The South Sudan government challenged the report, casting doubt on whether the sources used by the report were legitimate. Spokesperson for President Salva Kiir, Ateny Wek Ateny, said that the report “can only jeopardize the pursuit of peace and stability in my country where the distrust and lack of authority are key factors of violence.”

“We will make sure that each of those allegations are challenged with a counter forensic and legal analysis of the shortcomings of this report,” Ateny said.

A local South Sudan newspaper said it was shut down by the government after it ran the report on its front page.

Sentry made special mention of President Kiir and his family as well as former Vice President Riek Machar and other close government associates who partook in corrupt practices such as fraud, insider trading, and suspect transactions.

The money that the South Sudan elites were able to obtain was then hidden in various international ventures including resource companies, banks, real estate and luxury cars, according to Sentry.

“South Sudan’s military and political elites are widely reported to have constructed a kleptocratic regime that has captured and controlled nearly all profit-generating sectors of the economy,” the report read. “Direct perpetrators of violence, and those acting on their behalf, have benefited from the plunder of South Sudan’s public wealth.”

South Sudan is the world’s youngest nation, having just gained independence from Sudan in 2011. A civil war then erupted in 2013 after Kiir sacked Machar as his vice president for allegedly plotting against him. Instances of violence have recently been rising, and many believe the country is on the edge of returning to civil war.

Tens of thousands have people are estimated to have been killed in the ongoing violence which is largely bases along ethnic associations.

People fleeing the violence has reached one million according to the most recent estimates by the United Nations Refugee Agency. International organizations are also concerned about massive number of child soldiers that have been recruited in the country.

The U.S. has welcomed the Sentry report saying that it supported the South Sudanese people.

“The Department of State is pursuing measures it can take to deter corruption by South Sudanese officials,” the department said in a press statement Wednesday.

Via TeleSur


related video added by Juan Cole:

AP: “Clooney Unveils Report on South Sudan Corruption”

In Massive Intel Error, US Kills 80 Syrian Troops, Helps ISIL Advance

Sun, 18 Sep 2016 - 12:45am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In a massive intelligence failure, the US Air Force hit a Syrian military installation in Deir al-Zor that it thought was Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). But it turned out to be the Syrian Arab Army position at Deir al-Zor military airport. The strike killed 80 soldiers and wounded another 100. Deir al-Zor is one of two provinces significantly controlled by Daesh in Syria, the other being its home base of al-Raqqa. The mistaken strike wily-nilly strengthened Daesh.

Russia immediately took propaganda advantage of the error, suggesting archly that the United States must covertly be supporting Daesh. That’s pretty low. In fact, Russia had done very little against Daesh itself, while the US has expended a good deal of effort against it.

Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, stormed out of a UN session where Russia made these charges and where Russia called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. Power accused the Syrian government of continuing to hold and to deploy chemical weapons.

The error did reflect not on American intentions but on the tactics it is using to intervene in Syria. Air strikes from 30,000 feet are always open to being inexact, and to producing civilian casualties and destruction of infrastructure. Moreover, the US is hostage to local informants for information on targets, and sometimes they turn out to be double agents or mentally fragile or have other reasons for delivering false intel to the US military.

The problem with a mistake of this Himalayan proportions is that it will be extremely difficult in the aftermath to convince Syria that the US did not intentionally aid Daesh.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBS Evening News: “Russia: Coalition airstrike kills dozens of Syrian troops”

The Green Current: A Superhero

Sat, 17 Sep 2016 - 11:48pm

By Juan Cole | (Graphic Novel)

Ali Saleh was an ordinary American teenager at Dearborn High. His father, Dr. Mahmoud Saleh, who had been born in Egypt, was a photovoltaic engineer. He made an epochal discovery that would make solar panels highly efficient and almost free. A coworker in his laboratory, Jack Tradu, was covertly an industrial spy and let a Big Oil corporation know about the threat.

The CEO, Whittier Comstocker, ordered a hit on Dr. Saleh. He was kidnapped by the mob and killed at a fracking site. But Saleh had fought back and the hit man, Beau X. Franke, got drenched in fracking sludge, turning him into a monstrous oily creature, the Slick. The Big Oil corporation was delighted to use him thereafter for sabotage.

Ali and his family were frantic when his father did not come home for several days. His mother tearfully called Dr. Tradu but could not get any information on his whereabouts. Ali found his father’s passkey and sneaked into the lab on the weekend. He found the Slick in his father’s office and tried to take on the monster. It arranged for him to slip on its trail of muck, and Ali fell into the photovoltaic equipment, setting off an explosion. He gained the ability to tap into sun, wind, wave and geothermal power and transform them into electricity with his own body.

Ali Saleh is the Green Current.

He will not rest until he destroys Slick and brings to justice the evil corporation that killed his father. He will recover his father’s stolen research, so that the world can be saved from destruction at the hands of carbon emissions and global warming.

In the meantime, Ali’s mother Nadia has determined to get a job at her husband’s old lab, to try to find out what really happened to the love of her life.

to be cont’d . . .