Archives for July 2011

On Norway’s emotional maturity

As Norway has demonstrated this week, anger is often nothing more than the inability to experience grief and acknowledge loss.

Knut Olav Amas writes:

Exactly a week has passed since the twin terror attacks on Norway. As of this writing, the death toll stands at seventy-seven, and more than thirty people, mostly young, are still in the hospital, many of them seriously wounded by the dum-dum bullets used by Anders Behring Breivik. I walked Oslo’s streets again last night, from my newspaper’s office to the Parliament, the government offices, and the cathedral, to observe and understand the grief following the tragedy.

I’ve lived in Oslo for fifteen years, and I’ve never seen my city like this. An ocean of roses is now covering the streets of Oslo and the shores close to Utoya, thirty minutes away, to honor the dead and wounded. These hundreds of thousands of flowers have been brought by a never-ending flow of silent people, young and old. Never before has Norway seen so many people muted for such a long time.

They are also carrying Norwegian flags. We don’t wave our flag all the time the way Americans do, except on May 17th, our national holiday, celebrating the anniversary of the signing our constitution in 1814. In fact, carrying the national flag the rest of the year has been seen as a sign of overwrought patriotism.

Not any longer. Now the flag is again a source of pride, a silent celebration of the joy of being alive and of living in a privileged society. A society where it has long been a virtue to keep a cool head, but not necessarily a warm heart, as the Norwegian author Jo Nesbo noted in the New York Times this week.

In several ways Oslo today reminds me of New York City in the year or so after 9/11: the flags, the flowers, the improvised memorials on street corners and walls. But, more than this, I remember the new and kinder ways people treated each other, transforming the city into a warm, inclusive space. The countless small acts of solidarity in Oslo this week demonstrate that there are other ways to respond to severe threats to a nation than black-and-white thinking. A week later, it’s clear that Norway is working perfectly well even after a traumatic terror attack from within.

The most striking feature of Norway the past seven days is the captivating blend of public emotion and clearheaded, principled liberalism. Leading politicians, including Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Mayor Fabian Stang, have been talking about love, compassion, and consideration. Their words have touched so many of us because they are neither cynical nor calculating—nor are they superficial.

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‘The days of Turkey’s military calling the shots are over’

Anthony Shadid reports:

Fifty years ago, when a populist prime minister tangled with the Turkish military, he ended up on the gallows, the mandate of three election victories little consolation. This time around, the rivalry climaxed with most of Turkey’s military command resigning simultaneously, its leader complaining of powerlessness and bad press.

As Turks grappled Saturday with the shock of the resignations — and an extraordinary moment in modern Turkey’s history — officials scrambled to project a facade of business as usual, even as their critics warned of a creeping authoritarianism engineered by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has governed since 2003.

But in broader ways, the resignations on Friday delivered Mr. Erdogan a perch to reshape a military bound by civilian control, pursue a foreign policy emboldened by the decisive victory of his conservative and populist party in elections in June and pursue constitutional changes that could transform politics here.

The struggle that has posed the most serious danger to Mr. Erdogan — a powerful military willing to act above the law — in many ways appears to have come to an end.

“The days of Turkey’s military calling the shots are over,” said Cengiz Candar, a prominent columnist. “There’s a new equation in the politics of the country, and anyone depending on the military to score points on a political issue has to forget about it.”

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Fighting back against the CIA drone war

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes:

They call it “bug splat”, the splotch of blood, bones, and viscera that marks the site of a successful drone strike. To those manning the consoles in Nevada, it signifies “suspected militants” who have just been “neutralised”; to those on the ground, in most cases, it represents a family that has been shattered, a home destroyed.

Since June 18, 2004, when the CIA began its policy of extrajudicial killings in Pakistan, it has left nearly 250 such stains on Pakistani soil, daubed with the remains of more than 2,500 individuals, mostly civilians. More recently, it has taken to decorating other parts of the world.

Since the Pakistani government and its shadowy intelligence agencies have been complicit in the killings, the CIA has been able to do all this with complete impunity. Major human rights organisations in thrall to the Obama Administration have given it a pass. So have the media, who uncritically accept officials’ claims about the accuracy of their lethal toys.

Two recent developments might change all this.

On July 18, 2011, three Pakistani tribesmen, Kareem Khan, Sadaullah, and Maezol Khan, filed a formal complaint against John A Rizzo, the CIA’s former acting General Counsel, at a police station in Islamabad. Until his retirement on June 25, 2009, Rizzo served as legal counsel to the program whose victims have included Kareem Khan’s son and brother, Maezol Khan’s seven-year-old son, and three family members of Sadaullah (who also lost both legs and an eye in the attack).

In an interview with Newsweek’s Tara McKelvey, Rizzo bragged that he was responsible for signing off on the “hit list” for “lethal operations”. The targets were “blown to bits” in “businesslike” operations, he said. By his own admission, he is implicated in “murder”. Indeed, he boasted: “How many law professors have signed off on a death warrant?” And that is not the full extent of Rizzo’s derring-do: he claims he was also “up to my eyeballs” in Bush’s program of torture in black sites in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

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Why does the US strongly back democracy in one Arab country, but not another?

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‘Full-on warfare by the Syrian government on its own people’

Al Jazeera reports:

Syrian forces have killed nearly 140 people, including 100 when the army stormed the flashpoint protest city of Hama to crush dissent on the eve of Ramadan, activists have said.

Rights groups said it was one of deadliest days in Syria since demonstrators first took to the streets on March 15, demanding democratic reforms and the downfall of the government.

As reports of the brutal crackdown on Hama unfurled, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Turkey condemned the violence, while a US diplomat said it was “full-on warfare”.

AFP reports:

Speaking to the BBC World Service’s Newshour programme, [JJ] Harder [the press attache at the US embassy in Damascus] said: “I think we can safely say it’s full-on warfare by the Syrian government on its own people.”

He said: “This full-on warfare in which the government is engaged in today, I think, amounts to nothing less than a last act of utter desperation.

“They’re killing their own people, they’re sending their tanks into their own cities. It’s ridiculous.”

Asked if he accepted the Syrian government’s contention that its forces were up against armed gangs, Harder said: “There is one big armed gang in Syria and it’s named the Syrian government.

“That’s the armed gang that is pillaging its own cities, that’s the armed gang that is striking terror into the hearts of a lot of these people who are out there who just want to peacefully protest.”

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David Yerushalmi: the White supremacist lawyer leading the anti-Sharia crusade in the US

The New York Times reports on the driving force behind the anti-Shariah movement that has drummed up hysterical opposition to the proposed Islamic center near “ground zero” in New York City and inspired the passage or consideration of anti-Muslim laws in several states.

[The movement] is the product of an orchestrated drive that began five years ago in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in the office of a little-known lawyer, David Yerushalmi, a 56-year-old Hasidic Jew with a history of controversial statements about race, immigration and Islam. Despite his lack of formal training in Islamic law, Mr. Yerushalmi has come to exercise a striking influence over American public discourse about Shariah.

Working with a cadre of conservative public-policy institutes and former military and intelligence officials, Mr. Yerushalmi has written privately financed reports, filed lawsuits against the government and drafted the model legislation that recently swept through the country — all with the effect of casting Shariah as one of the greatest threats to American freedom since the cold war.

The message has caught on. Among those now echoing Mr. Yerushalmi’s views are prominent Washington figures like R. James Woolsey, a former director of the C.I.A., and the Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann, who this month signed a pledge to reject Islamic law, likening it to “totalitarian control.”

Yet, for all its fervor, the movement is arguably directed at a problem more imagined than real. Even its leaders concede that American Muslims are not coalescing en masse to advance Islamic law. Instead, they say, Muslims could eventually gain the kind of foothold seen in Europe, where multicultural policies have allowed for what critics contend is an overaccommodation of Islamic law.

“Before the train gets too far down the tracks, it’s time to put up the block,” said Guy Rodgers, the executive director of ACT for America, one of the leading organizations promoting the legislation drafted by Mr. Yerushalmi.

The more tangible effect of the movement, opponents say, is the spread of an alarmist message about Islam — the same kind of rhetoric that appears to have influenced Anders Behring Breivik, the suspect in the deadly dual attacks in Norway on July 22. The anti-Shariah campaign, they say, appears to be an end in itself, aimed at keeping Muslims on the margins of American life.

Earlier this year, the Anti-Defamation League said:

Yerushalmi has not only actively promoted his conspiratorial vision of Shari’a law, but has also sought to portray all Muslims as a threat. In one March 2006 article, for example, Yerushalmi even went so far as to claim that “Muslim civilization is at war with Judeo-Christian civilization…The Muslim peoples, those committed to Islam as we know it today, are our enemies.”

That same year, Yerushalmi founded the Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE), a “think tank” that has published anti-Muslim, anti-immigration and anti-black materials, as well as New World Order-style conspiracy theories. In 2007, SANE, declaring itself “dedicated to the rejection of democracy and party rule and a return to a constitutional republic [of the original founders of the US],” launched a campaign fueled by suspicion of all Muslims.

That campaign, “Mapping Shari’a in America: Knowing the Enemy,” sought to determine exactly what type of Shari’a every single mosque and Muslim religious institution in the U.S. was advocating. A June 2007 press release announcing the campaign indicated that SANE would work to “test the proposition that Shari’a amounts to a criminal conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government” by investigating and ranking the adherence to Islamic law of mosques and their associated day-schools throughout the U.S. The statement also promised to “advocate for the criminalization of Shari’a” if it felt its targeted investigation into mosques and Islamic day schools proved such a measure necessary.

SANE also proposed legislation that furthering or supporting adherence to Shari’a “shall be a felony punishable by 20 years in prison.” It called on Congress to declare war on the “Muslim nation,” which it defined as “Shari’a-adherent Muslims,” and further asked Congress to define Muslim illegal immigrants as alien enemies “subject to immediate deportation.”

In March, Mother Jones reported:

In a 2006 essay for SANE entitled On Race: A Tentative Discussion (pdf), Yerushalmi argued that whites are genetically superior to blacks. “Some races perform better in sports, some better in mathematical problem solving, some better in language, some better in Western societies and some better in tribal ones,” he wrote.

Yerushalmi has suggested that Caucasians are inherently more receptive to republican forms of government than blacks—an argument that’s consistent with SANE’s mission statement, which emphasizes that “America was the handiwork of faithful Christians, mostly men, and almost entirely white.” And in an article published at the website Intellectual Conservative, Yerushalmi, who is Jewish, suggests that liberal Jews “destroy their host nations like a fatal parasite.” Unsurprisingly, then, Yerushalmi offered the lone Jewish defense of Mel Gibson, after the actor’s anti-Semitic tirade in 2006. Gibson, he wrote, was simply noting the “undeniable Jewish liberal influence on western affairs in the direction of a World State.”

As the New York Times notes, the movement that Yerushalmi has helped inspire is the same movement that shaped the thinking of Norwegian killer Anders Behring Breivik.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, says:

The Oslo perpetrator in his manifesto quoted extensively from the writings of European and American bloggers — including Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller — who promote a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda under the pretext of fighting radical Islam. Because of the reach of the Internet, these ideas float freely across borders and are reinforced by like-minded bigots.

This belief system goes far beyond anti-Islamic prejudice based on simple religious or racial grounds. In a sense, it parallels the creation of an ideological — and far more deadly — form of anti-Semitism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries on the backs of the previously dominant cultural and religious forms of anti-Semitism.

Pamela Geller, who in recent days has been struggling to distance herself from Brievik, has no qualms about celebrating her connection to Yerushalmi. He is, she says, “a man I consider a national treasure…” He is also her attorney.

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Pamela Geller’s ties to violence in Norway

Charles Johnson reveals:

In June 2007, “counter-jihad” blogger Pamela Geller posted the following Email from Norway, from a reader who sounds a lot like the Oslo terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik.

Geller’s post began:

I am running an email I received from an Atlas reader in Norway. It is devastating in its matter-of-factness.
[The email begins] Well, yes, the situation is worsening. Stepping up from 29 000 immigrants every year, in 2007 we will be getting a total of 35 000 immigrants from somalia, iran, iraq and afghanistan. The nations capital is already 50% muslim, and they ALL go there after entering Norway. Adding the 1.2 births per woman per year from muslim women, there will be 300 000+ muslims out of the then 480 000 inhabitants of that city.

Orders from Libya and Iran say that Oslo will be known as Medina at the latest in 2010, although I consider this a PR-stunt nevertheless it is their plan.

From Israel the hordes clawing at the walls of Jerusalem proclaim cheerfully that next year there will be no more Israel, and I know Israel shrugs this off as do I, and will mount a strike during the summer against all of its enemies in the middle east. This will make the muslims worldwide go into a frenzy, attacking everyone around them.

The email Geller had received, continued:

We are stockpiling and caching weapons, ammunition and equipment. This is going to happen fast.

Geller subsequently deleted these lines, and as Johnson and others have established, she deleted them after Breivik’s July 22 bombing and shooting rampage.

If Geller was knowingly in communication with Breivik then she should probably be helping Norwegian authorities with their investigation.

But even if neither in this instance nor any other did she communicate with him, the contents of the email that Johnson has unearthed are no less damning. They suggest that far from condemning those individuals in Norway who she knew were preparing for armed violence, she chose to showcase their plans as though to say, “we’re with you.”

Update: This afternoon, Geller responded to Johnson’s post and acknowledges that after the massacre she removed the sentence from her 2007 post “as I found it insenstive [sic] and inappropriate.” She also says her email correspondent was not Breivik.

The sentence I edited is not an incitement to anything. It refers to self-defense, but I removed it in the light of recent horrific events in Norway. I thought it insensitive. Nothing more.

Everyone has a right to self-defense.

There are no doubt many members of armed militias across America who share Geller’s view that anyone has the right to stockpile weapons, ammunition and equipment in preparation for “self-defense” against the US government, enemies of the White race, Muslims, Jews or whatever groups or entities they happen to have demonized.

Such militias and the philosophies they espouse provide a breeding ground for the kind of paranoia that on occasions results in mass murder.

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Islamists flood Tahrir Square in Cairo in show of strength

Anthony Shadid reports:

Tens of thousands of Egyptian Islamists poured into Tahrir Square on Friday calling for a state bound by strict religious law and delivering a persuasive show of force in a turbulent country showing deep divisions and growing signs of polarization.

The shape of Egypt five months into its revolution remains distinctly undecided, and Islamists have long been the best organized political force in this religiously conservative country. Some activists speculated that their show of strength would serve as a jolt to the secular forces who helped to start the revolution but who remain divided, largely ineffectual and woefully unprepared for coming elections.

Others speculated that it might force groups to pick sides in a country where the glow of unity after President Hosni Mubarak’s fall in February has dimmed amid recriminations over the pace, style and substance of change.

“Islamic, Islamic,” went a popular chant. “Neither secular nor liberal.”

After days of negotiations between the rival factions, the demonstration Friday had been billed as a show of national unity, but adherents to a spectrum of religious movements — from the most puritan and conservative, known as Salafists, to the comparatively more moderate Muslim Brotherhood — vastly outnumbered other voices in a sun-drenched Tahrir Square. The numbers of Salafists, in particular, represented the most definitive declaration yet that they represent a formidable force in Egyptian politics, riding an ascent since the revolution that has surprised and unnerved many secular and liberal activists — and poses new challenges to the Muslim Brotherhood.

“It’s simple,” said Mohammed Awad, a 28-year-old accountant. “We’re stronger than any other force in the country, and we’ve made that clear on this day.”

Steve Negus at The Arabist adds:

A few notes on yesterday’s demonstration in Tahrir, generally viewed as an Islamist show of force. First, the numbers. Based on visual cues (beards, galabiyas), signs and slogans I’m guessing at least 90 percent of those in Tahrir were affiliated with the Islamists, and at least half of those were Salafi. I’m guessing also that this was one of the half dozen largest Tahrir “million” rallies since January. The square wasn’t elbow-to-elbow all the way through, but it was elbow-to-elbow in some spots, and a lot of people stayed camped out on downtown streets where they had gone to pray. I understand why the numbers have alarmed revolutionaries who had come to think of the square as their own space.

There have been some reports that Salafis tried to forcefully take control of a speakers’ stage, but the parts of the demonstration which I witnessed were peaceful. I saw no instances of bullying. Islamists and non-Islamists mingled and argued. I saw one angry anti-Islamist marching up Qasr al-Aini between ranks of weary demonstrators shouting “Egypt, my kind mother/I’m not leaving you to the Brothers!”, yet she did not get much of a reaction.

The Salafis’ slogans were provocative. I didn’t hear the “Obama, Obama, we’re all Osama” or “Shut up secularists!” lines that journalists reported, nor did I see Saudi flags. But the tone of what I did here was pretty defiantly affirmative of an Islamic identity for Egypt, ie, not a civic one. “Raise your head high! You’re a Muslim!” might not sound so bad unless you realize it’s a variation on a far more Christian-friendly original, “Raise your head high. You’re an Egyptian”.

A bit of background: Islamist groups including both Brothers and Salafis had originally planned a Friday rally to oppose the idea of “supra-constitutional principles” proposed by some left/liberals — which as they saw it, was a way for Tahrir revolutionaries to decide what was going to be in the constitution before any elections, and before anyone else had a chance to contribute. But the mostly leftist and liberal groups occupying Tahrir weren’t going to vacate the square, so it looked like there were going to be two rival demonstrations. Islamist and non-Islamists got together and agreed to merge the two rallies and focus on things with which they could agree — ie, swifter trials for officials, justice for the “martyrs”. But the demonstrators to whom I spoke, at least the Islamist ones, were clear that they were there to oppose the supra-constitutional principles, and for Egypt to “remain” Islamic.

Many liberals and leftists considered this to be a bit of an ambush. Look at it from the Salafi point of view, though. They’re already worried that the established political forces, none of whom have got to where they are through elections, are going to shape the constitution behind their backs. They finally get a chance to organize an Islamist show of force to insist that they be listened to, but then it’s decided that they can’t actually be Islamist at it. So, it would have been a minor miracle had the Salafis stuck to the program, and chanted only anodyne, uncontroversial slogans.

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Activists vow daily Ramadan protests in Syria

The Guardian reports:

A sweep by government forces has seized one person every hour during the five-month Syrian uprising and detained them in secret, leaving their families no way to locate them, says a human rights group.

The group, Avaaz, claims 2,918 people have been “forcibly disappeared” since anti-government demonstrations began in Syria on 15 March. Most are accused of being involved in the rebellion that continues to undermine a regime long renowned as the Middle East’s most formidable police state.

An additional 12,617 people also remain in detention; however their incarceration has been declared to family members. Tens of thousands more people have fled from towns and villages in northern Syria in the face of intensive military assaults that Damascus claims are ridding the area of criminals and collaborators.

The scale of the detentions in Syria has been compiled by a network of activists and researchers who have provided information to Avaaz. The group has gathered photos of many of the disappeared and is launching an awareness campaign today.

“Hour by hour, peaceful protesters are plucked from crowds by Syria’s infamously brutal security forces, never to be seen again,” said Avaaz’s executive director, Ricken Patel. “President Assad’s attempt to terrorise Syrians into submission isn’t working, but they urgently need the international community to demand the release of the disappeared and a transition to democracy.”

Al Jazeera reports:

When widespread protests broke out in Syria in March, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime turned to its feared security services to smother the anti-government movement.

The bloody response has so far succeeded where other attempts to put down the “Arab awakening” have failed, and President Assad remains in power.

Verifying the toll of the crackdown is difficult, since the government has banned most journalists and observers, but activists and researchers say more than 10,000 people have been detained and at least 1,500 killed since March. A response of proportional size in the United States, by way of comparison, would have meant more than 136,000 people detained and 20,450 killed.

At least 66 people are believed to have died while in the custody of Syrian authorities, according to a list provided by activists to Human Rights Watch researcher Nadim Houry in June.

Outside audiences have encountered the regime’s brutal response primarily through grainy YouTube footage and second-hand accounts relayed by expatriate activists.

These brushstrokes paint a useful yet broad picture: a dozen people killed in this city, a thousand people protesting in that city.

But first-hand accounts from those who have been through the packed cells of Assad’s jails or those who have come under gunfire from his troops offer a more personal understanding of the uprising.

Recently, Al Jazeera spoke with six men, three of whom were in Syria, and three of whom had left the country. All had been arrested or seen relatives suffer at the hands of the security services.

Their stories, which are available below, portray a violent state system in a spasm of panic, unsure of what it is confronting, yet nevertheless determined to crush it.

Stories of six survivors.

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Libya rebels say Younis killers were ‘Islamist element’

The Guardian reports:

The gunmen who shot dead the Libyan rebels’ military chief Abdul Fatah Younis were members of an Islamist-linked militia allied to the campaign to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, according to a National Transitional Council minister.

After 24 hours of confusion surrounding the death, the NTC’s oil minister, Ali Tarhouni, said Younis had been killed by members of the Obaida Ibn Jarrah Brigade, a militia named after one of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, suggesting that Islamist elements were involved.

Tarhouni told reporters in Benghazi that a militia leader who had gone to fetch Younis from the frontline had been arrested and had confessed that his subordinates carried out the killing. “It was not him. His lieutenants did it,” Tarhouni said, adding that the killers were still at large.

The NTC leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil said on Thursday that Younis had been recalled for questioning to Benghazi but was killed before he arrived. Relatives said they retrieved a burned and bullet-riddled body.

The Gaddafi government has said the killing is proof the rebels are not capable of ruling Libya. Spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said: “It is a nice slap [in] the face of the British that the [NTC] they recognised could not protect its own commander of the army.”

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Federal judge agrees to limit writer’s testimony

The New York Times reports:

A federal judge dealt a setback on Friday to the Obama administration’s crackdown on the leaking of government secrets to journalists, sharply limiting what prosecutors can ask the author of a book about the C.I.A. in court.

Judge Leonie M. Brinkema of the Federal District Court in Alexandria, Va., issued an order that had been sought by the author, James Risen — who is also a reporter for The New York Times — restricting his testimony in the trial of a former Central Intelligence Agency official, Jeffrey A. Sterling, who is charged with providing classified information to Mr. Risen.

Specialists in media law portrayed the ruling as highly unusual, saying it could set an important precedent. While many states have so-called media shield laws that allow judges to quash subpoenas ordering reporters to testify about their sources by balancing the needs of prosecutors with the public interest, the federal government has no such statute.

“I think it’s an important victory for the First Amendment and for freedom of the press,” Mr. Risen said. “The protection of sources will allow for the American press to continue to find and report the truth.”

Federal prosecutors could appeal the judge’s decision. Alisa Finelli, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment on the ruling.

Prosecutors have charged Mr. Sterling with being a source for a chapter in Mr. Risen’s 2006 book, “State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration.” The chapter details an effort by the intelligence agency to sabotage Iranian nuclear research in 2000, portraying the operation as botched in a way that may have helped Iranian scientists gain valuable information about building a nuclear triggering device.

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Roadmap to Apartheid

A message from the makers of Roadmap to Apartheid:

Four years in the making, Roadmap to Apartheid is almost done! Now, we really need everyone’s help to get to the finish line.

Ana Nogueira is a white South African and Eron Davidson a Jewish Israeli. Drawing on their first-hand knowledge of the issues, the producers take a close look at the apartheid comparison often used to describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Narrated by author and activist Alice Walker, the film breaks down the rhetorical analogy into a fact-based comparison, noting where the analogy is useful and appropriate, and where it is not.

There are many lessons to draw from the South African experience relevant to conflicts all over the world. This film is as much a historical document of the rise and fall of apartheid, as it is a film about why many Palestinians feel they are living in an apartheid system today, and why a growing number of people around the world agree with them.

While not perfect the apartheid analogy is a useful framework by which to educate people on the complex issues facing Israelis and Palestinians. Roadmap to Apartheid delves into those issues, comparing the many similar laws and tools used by both Israel and apartheid-era South Africa. The film winds its way through the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Inside Israel itself, showing the audience what life is like for Palestinians in all those areas. Using interviews with Palestinians and Israelis, combined with archival material and anecdotes from South Africans, we will form a complete picture as to why the analogy is being used with increasing frequency and potency.

We have achieved picture lock! This means we are done editing. But there is still a lot to do, and its the most expensive part. Although we have set our goal at $25,000, we are actually in need of $40,000 to pay for all the upcoming costs associated with releasing the film. So even if we reach our Kickstarter goal, please keep donating!

Click here to back this project.

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The News International scandal is just the tip of the iceberg of unelected oligarchies and corporate power in Britain’s democracy

David Beetham writes:

The News International scandal has rightly caused public outrage and led to a sea-change in relations between UK politicians and media moguls. Yet Murdoch’s empire has been only part of a much wider structure of unaccountable power which has exercised a dominant influence over British politics and policy making in the past two decades or more. This ‘unelected oligarchy’ extends to the corporate sector as a whole, including the major financial and banking institutions.

To be sure News International has been unique in its descent to pervasive illegality to maximise sales and profits. Yet it shares the same features that have compromised British democracy from across the corporate sector. These include the use of offshore tax havens, complex legal entities and transfer pricing to minimise the tax contribution of businesses to our public services. They have shared a common anti-public sector agenda which has shaped public opinion and government policy alike: privatisation and outsourcing of government functions and services; cutting the ‘burden’ of government regulation and promoting self-regulation; lowering taxes, especially on business and the wealthy; remedying the deficit in public finances in short order. This agenda has become embedded at the heart of government through a range of corporate stratagems – personal contact with politicians, lobbying power, financing political parties and think tanks, the ‘revolving door’ between business and government appointments, joint partnerships, corporate hospitality, and so on – which have brought governments of all parties under their sway.

The Guardian reports:

Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator at the centre of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, has said that he only ever acted on instructions from his employers.

The day after revelations that Sara Payne’s phone may have been targeted by Mulcaire, who worked for the News of the World for several years before being jailed for intercepting voicemail messages in early 2007, the statement issued by his solicitors firmly pushed the spotlight back on his former News International employers.

Mulcaire said he was “effectively employed” by the News of the World from 2002 until 2007 “to carry out his role as a private investigator”.

“As he accepted when he pleaded guilty in 2007 to charges of phone interception he admits that his role did include phone hacking. As an employee he acted on the instructions of others,” said the statement.

“There were also occasions when he understood his instructions were from those who genuinely wished to assist in solving crimes. Any suggestion that he acted in such matters unilaterally is untrue. In the light of the ongoing police investigation, he cannot say any more.”

Reuters reports:

Rupert Murdoch’s biographer says the Murdoch family will no longer be running News Corporation in 60 days’ time, and predicts a massive shake-up at the company as it tries to detach itself from a family name he describes as “toxic.”

“I think actually the Murdochs have to and will step out of not only day-to-day running, but they won’t have jobs within the company,” writer Michael Wolff told Reuters Insider TV late on Thursday.

Wolff said the days of embattled News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch and his son James were numbered because of their handling of a phone hacking scandal that has engulfed the U.S. company’s British newspaper operations.

He said he expected them to step down within two months.

“To restore credibility and to restore trust to this company, the newspapers have to go and the Murdochs have to go,” said Wolff, a Vanity Fair columnist and editorial director of advertising industry magazine Adweek.

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Why the US military is the greatest threat to US national security

Lawrence Korb writes:

In Congressional testimony over the past week, several high ranking military officers, led by Army General Martin Dempsey, the nominee to become the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have warned about the dire national security consequences that could occur if the defense budget is cut by more than a token amount. Their comments have been reinforced by several Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee. But there are at least five reasons why the defense budget can and should be cut substantially without undo risk.

First, in real or inflation adjusted dollars, it is higher than at any time since World War II, including the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the height of the Reagan buildup. The Korean War peak was $485 billion in FY 1952, Vietnam $409 billion in FY 1968, and the Reagan buildup $546 billion in FY 1985. The baseline defense budget for FY2012 is $585 billion. If one adds in funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the total defense budget for the upcoming fiscal year rises to about $700 billion.

Second, the baseline defense budget has risen in real terms for 13 consecutive years, which is unprecedented in American history. The Korean and Vietnam buildups lasted three years and the Reagan buildup but four. Since FY 1998, the baseline budget has risen from $360 billion to $585 billion or 63 percent. Moreover, the military snuck many items that had nothing to do with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq into the $1.3 trillion war supplemental budgets, for example the F-22 and missile defense.

Third, despite the gusher of defense spending, the military in many ways is no better off than it was 13 years ago. In fact, it may be worse. Its equipment is older, and its forces are training less. This condition is the result of what Admiral Mullen, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the failure to make hard choices. As a result, the Pentagon spent $46 billion on weapon systems it had to terminate and the cost overruns on systems it is currently buying went up by $400 billion. Finally, when pressed, the military leaders themselves have identified nearly $200 billion in savings that could be achieved in the FY 2012-2016 time frame if they operated more efficiently.

Fourth, the military budget must play a role in dealing with what Admiral Mullen calls the greatest threat to our national security, the burgeoning federal deficit which now totals $14.3 trillion. Defense spending now consumes more than half of the total discretionary budget, more than 20 percent of the total budget, up from 16 percent a decade ago, and is at the same level as Social Security and Medicare, which are funded by trust funds.

Fifth, the US is not dealing with an existential threat like we did in the Cold War.

Dempsey and his fellow officers say that cutting the baseline or non-war defense budget by $100 a year billion or by $1 trillion over the next decade will jeopardize our security. Hardly. A $100 billion cut will leave the Pentagon with a baseline defense budget of $480 billion. During the Cold War, the defense budget averaged $450 billion in today’s dollars. And even Secretary Gates admitted we do not need to go back to Cold War levels of defense spending.

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Israeli army attacks Dutch street band with tear gas

Palestine News Network reports:

The Dutch street orchestra ‘Fanfare van de Eerste Liefdesnacht’ (the First Night of Love Brass Band) from Amsterdam was attacked with tear gas today by the Israeli army during their performance in the Palestinian village Kufr Qadum near Nablus, northern West Bank.

The bands tour of Palestine is designed to be interactive, working with children from a refugee camp in the east of Bethlehem and having them play along with the band and dancing in the streets together.

The musicians were confronted with tens of soldiers who shot tear gas cannisters from behind their military jeeps during the musical performance. They then found themselves surrounded with snipers. Several members of the band were injured and suffered from tear gas inhalation.

Kufr Qadum is a village near Nablus that has suffered in recent years from radical jewish settlers who have attacked the villagers, cut down olive trees and set fire to fields. The roads that lead to the village are often blocked by Israeli military checkpoints.

The Dutch music orchestra has travelled around the West Bank for a duration of two weeks to perform in towns, villages and refugee camps. The band consists of 25 musicians with different musical instruments. They were invited by the town council of Kufr Qadum to perform in the village.


Fanfare van de Eerste Liefdesnacht performing ‘Unadikum’ at Yabous Festival in East Jerusalem

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Iran, innuendo, and secret deals with al Qaeda

“U.S. accuses Iran of aiding al-Qaeda,” screams the headline in the Washington Post.

The editors of the Wall Street Journal clearly take satisfaction with the Treasury Department’s announcement that it has exposed a “secret deal” between Iran and al Qaeda:

The Obama Administration has come a long way since the days when it thought it could strike a “grand bargain” with Iran’s mullahs, and yesterday’s move is another good step. Above all, it’s a reminder of why a regime that has no qualms serving as al Qaeda’s facilitator can on no account be permitted to build a nuclear bomb.

But if the presence of an al Qaeda network in Iran implies the complicity of the Iranian government, by the same logic the governments of Kuwait and Qatar — where the same network operates — may also be complicit. And since the US has military bases in both those countries can we not also say that this network is operating under American eyes too?

No doubt the administration’s decision to highlight a Qaeda-Iran connection will please quite a few would-be 2012 presidential campaign contributors, in particular those who share Benjamin Netanyahu’s view that Iran presents an existential threat to Israel.

Paul Pillar writes:

The Treasury Department on Thursday formally designated six members of what it described as “an al-Qa’ida network” under the terms of Executive Order 13224, a designation that has implications regarding the freezing of the individuals’ assets and prohibition of any commercial or financial dealings with them. Such designations have nothing directly to do with states, but there was an additional angle in Treasury’s announcement. The heading of the department’s press release was, “Treasury Targets Key Al-Qa’ida Funding and Support Network Using Iran as a Critical Transit Point”. Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen was quoted as stating, “By exposing Iran’s secret deal with al-Qa’ida allowing it to funnel funds and operatives through its territory, we are illuminating yet another aspect of Iran’s unmatched support for terrorism.”

Whoa—“secret deal”? That’s certainly an eye-catching phrase. It has been known for some time that al-Qa’ida members have been inside Iran. It has been less clear just what the terms of their residence there have been. Most indications suggest that it has been something between imprisonment and house arrest. At least some of the al-Qa’ida people in Iran have been able to conduct business of the group from there, but it is unclear again how much of this business is condoned or even known by the Iranian regime. Probably the most that can be said is that the regime, or elements within it, have reasons to have some dealings with the al-Qa’ida members, notwithstanding the sharp differences in their objectives. Tehran wants to cement and sustain the rule of the Shia Islamic Republic; al-Qa’ida wants to overthrow the established order in the Middle East and establish a Sunni Caliphate.

Despite the provocative phrase “secret deal,” Treasury’s announcement says nothing else about any such agreement. The only dealings it describes all seem to have to do with the imprisonment of al-Qa’ida members. Only one of the six designated individuals, named Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, is described as “Iran-based”; the other five all live and operate somewhere else and are included in the announcement because they are part of the same network as Khalil. The one bit of business Khalil is said to have with Tehran is that he “works with the Iranian government to arrange releases of al-Qa’ida personnel from Iranian prisons.” One of the other five is said to have “petitioned Iranian officials on al-Qa’ida’s behalf to release operatives detained in Iran”—with no indication whether he succeeded. Any connection between the Iranian regime and the group’s other activities involving movement of money and operatives is all a matter of innuendo, at least as far as Treasury’s announcement is concerned.

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Libyan rebels fear rift after death of Abdel Fatah Younis

The Guardian reports:

The death of the Libyan rebels’ chief of army staff, Abdel Fatah Younis, has raised fears of a rift within opposition forces amid speculation that he may have been killed by gunmen on his own side.

The president of the National Transition Council (NTC), Abdul Mustafa Jalil, announced on Thursday night that Younis had been assassinated by pro-Gaddafi agents. But the lack of detail, and the fact that earlier that day Younis had been arrested on the orders of Jalil, have raised questions about the circumstances of his death.

Jalil said that rebels had arrested the head of the group behind the attack but the bodies of Younis, Muammar Gaddafi’s former interior minister, and two colonels also killed in the alleged ambush have not been found.

The rebels said earlier on Thursday that Younis had been arrested on suspicion that his family might still have ties to the Gaddafi regime. Rumours swirled that he was involved in unauthorised contact with the administration he dramatically abandoned in February or had even helped to supply Gaddafi troops with weapons.

Before the announcement of his death, armed men declaring their support for Younis appeared on the streets of Benghazi claiming they would use force to free him from NTC custody.

Minutes after Jalil’s statement at a chaotic late-night press conference at a hotel in Benghazi, gunfire broke out in the street outside. Members of Younis’s tribe, the Obeidi, one of the largest in the east, fired machine guns and smashed windows, forcing security guards and hotel guests to duck for cover.

A tribal split within the opposition could prove catastrophic and plays on western fears of a civil war over Libya’s oil resources – a possibility raised by Gaddafi.

The discord comes a day after the foreign secretary, William Hague, said Britain would recognise the NTC as the legitimate government of Libya and painted a rosy picture of the opposition forces in Libya, praising their “increasing legitimacy, competence and success”.

Adding to the confusion, a security officer, Fadlallah Haroun, told the Associated Press before Jalil’s announcement that security had found three badly burned people. Two of them were dead and one was unconscious, Fadlallah said, adding that one was known to be Younis, though they didn’t know which one.

Jalil said Younis had been “summoned” for questioning on “a military matter” but had not yet been questioned when he was killed. Jalil said it was “with regret” he had to announce the death of Younis and called him “one of the heroes of the 17th of February revolution”.

Younis was not universally trusted within opposition ranks. Many were suspicious of his past links to the Gaddafi regime and troops in the besieged city of Misrata have conspicuously refused to accept orders from him, to the extent of insisting that their fighters are not part of the Benghazi-controlled national rebel army.

During an interview in April Gaddafi’s daughter, Aisha, suggested that Younis was still loyal to her father and declined to answer when asked if the former interior minister was still in touch with her family.

Younis reportedly nearly came to blows with his rival for the army command, Klalifa Hefter, during a meeting in late March. For much of that month both men claimed to be in command of the ragtag rebel forces as they raced west towards Tripoli, only to be thrown back towards Benghazi in chaos and confusion.

Reuters now adds:

Mourners brought a coffin carrying the body of Libyan rebel military commander Abdel Fattah Younes into the main square of Benghazi on Friday, his nephew told Reuters.

“We got the body yesterday here (in Benghazi), he had been shot with bullets and burned,” Younes’s nephew, Abdul Hakim, said as he followed the coffin through the square of the main rebel-held town. “He had called us at 10 o’clock (on Thursday morning) to say he was on his way here.”

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Qassem Suleimani: the Iranian general ‘secretly running’ Iraq

Martin Chulov reports on Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s elite al-Quds Force, who is widely regarded as the most powerful man in Iraq.

In Baghdad, no other name invokes the same sort of reaction among the nation’s power base – discomfort, uncertainty and fear.

“He is the most powerful man in Iraq without question,” Iraq’s former national security minister, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, said recently. “Nothing gets done without him.”

Until now, however, few Iraqis have dared to talk openly about the enigmatic Iranian general, what role he plays in Iraq and how he shapes key agendas like no one else.

“They are too busy dealing with the aftermath,” said a senior US official. “He dictates terms then makes things happen and the Iraqis are left managing a situation that they had no input into.”

Suleimani’s journey to supremacy in Iraq is rooted in the Islamic revolution of 1979, which ousted the Shah and recast Iran as a fundamentalist Shia Islamic state. He rose steadily through the ranks of the Iranian military until 2002 when, months before the US invasion of Iraq, he was appointed to command the most elite unit of the Iranian military – the al-Quds force of the Revolutionary Guards Corp.

The al-Quds force has no equal in Iran. Its stated primary task is to protect the revolution. However, its mandate has also been interpreted as exporting the revolution’s goals to other parts of the Islamic world.

Shia communities throughout the region have proved fertile grounds for revolutionary messages and have formed deep and abiding partnerships with the al-Quds force. So too have several Sunni groups opposed to Israel – first among them Hamas in Gaza.

But Iraq has been Suleimani’s key arena. The last eight years have witnessed a proxy war between Suleimani’s Quds force and the US military, the full effects of which are still being played out, as the US prepares for a full departure from Iraq and Iraq’s leaders ponder over whether to ask them to stay.

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