Archives for December 2012

Some of the best best photos of 2012

Each of the photos below comes from a “best of…” collection. Click on each picture to see the source.

A lenticular cloud formed as high winds blew over the rugged Crazy Mountains in Montana. (James Woodcock, Billings Gazette via Associated Press.)

A Palestinian man kisses the hand of a dead relative in the morgue of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. November 18, 2012. (Bernat Armangue, AP.)

A child wounded by Syrian Army artillery shelling is carried at the entrance of the Al Shifa hospital in Aleppo. (Laurent Van der Stockt, Getty Images.)

A crowd beat a Syrian security officer who infiltrated a funeral for a fighter from the Free Syrian Army, January 27. (Tomas Munita, New York Times.)

A Pakistani girl helps her father herd sheep near the demolished compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan that once housed Osama bin Laden. (Muhammed Muheisen, AP.)

A type of solar explosion called a coronal mass ejection sent solar radiation out from the Sun at 900 miles per second, as seen in an image released by NASA on September 17. (SDO/NASA)

The blood-brain barrier in a live zebrafish embryo. (Jennifer Peters and Michael Taylor.)

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Let’s give up on the Constitution

Constitutional law professor, Louis Michael Seidman, writes: As the nation teeters at the edge of fiscal chaos, observers are reaching the conclusion that the American system of government is broken. But almost no one blames the culprit: our insistence on obedience to the Constitution, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions.

Consider, for example, the assertion by the Senate minority leader last week that the House could not take up a plan by Senate Democrats to extend tax cuts on households making $250,000 or less because the Constitution requires that revenue measures originate in the lower chamber. Why should anyone care? Why should a lame-duck House, 27 members of which were defeated for re-election, have a stranglehold on our economy? Why does a grotesquely malapportioned Senate get to decide the nation’s fate?

Our obsession with the Constitution has saddled us with a dysfunctional political system, kept us from debating the merits of divisive issues and inflamed our public discourse. Instead of arguing about what is to be done, we argue about what James Madison might have wanted done 225 years ago.

As someone who has taught constitutional law for almost 40 years, I am ashamed it took me so long to see how bizarre all this is. Imagine that after careful study a government official — say, the president or one of the party leaders in Congress — reaches a considered judgment that a particular course of action is best for the country. Suddenly, someone bursts into the room with new information: a group of white propertied men who have been dead for two centuries, knew nothing of our present situation, acted illegally under existing law and thought it was fine to own slaves might have disagreed with this course of action. Is it even remotely rational that the official should change his or her mind because of this divination? [Continue reading…]

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On early warning signs of rapid change

George Sugihara writes: At a closed meeting held in Boston in October 2009, the room was packed with high-flyers in foreign policy and finance: Henry Kissinger, Paul Volcker, Andy Haldane, and Joseph Stiglitz, among others, as well as representatives of sovereign wealth funds, pensions, and endowments worth more than a trillion dollars — a significant slice of the world’s wealth. The session opened with the following telling question: “Have the last couple of years shown that our traditional finance/risk models are irretrievably broken and that models and approaches from other fields (for example, ecology) may offer a better understanding of the interconnectedness and fragility of complex financial systems?”

Science is a creative human enterprise. Discoveries are made in the context of our creations: our models and hypotheses about how the world works. Big failures, however, can be a wake-up call about entrenched views, and nothing produces humility or gains attention faster than an event that blindsides so many so immediately.

Examples of catastrophic and systemic changes have been gathering in a variety of fields, typically in specialized contexts with little cross-connection. Only recently have we begun to look for generic patterns in the web of linked causes and effects that puts disparate events into a common framework — a framework that operates on a sufficiently high level to include geologic climate shifts, epileptic seizures, market and fishery crashes, and rapid shifts from healthy ecosystems to biological deserts.

The main themes of this framework are twofold: First, they are all complex systems of interconnected and interdependent parts. Second, they are nonlinear, non-equilibrium systems that can undergo rapid and drastic state changes.

Consider first the complex interconnections. Economics is not typically thought of as a global systems problem. Indeed, investment banks are famous for a brand of tunnel vision that focuses risk management at the individual firm level and ignores the difficult and costlier, albeit less frequent, systemic or financial-web problem. Monitoring the ecosystem-like network of firms with interlocking balance sheets is not in the risk manager’s job description. Even so, there is emerging agreement that ignoring the seemingly incomprehensible meshing of counterparty obligations and mutual interdependencies (an accountant’s nightmare, more recursive than Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on first?”) prevented real pricing of risk premiums, which helped to propagate the current crisis.

A parallel situation exists in fisheries, where stocks are traditionally managed one species at a time. Alarm over collapsing fish stocks, however, is helping to create the current push for ecosystem-based ocean management. This is a step in the right direction, but the current ecosystem simulation models remain incapable of reproducing realistic population crashes. And the same is true of most climate simulation models: Though the geological record tells us that global temperatures can change very quickly, the models consistently underestimate that possibility. This is related to the next property, the nonlinear, non-equilibrium nature of systems. [Continue reading…]

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Capitalism and the good life

Gary Gutting asks: Is capitalism an enemy of the good life? Marxists and other radicals think so. Toward the end of How Much Is Enough?, Robert and Edward Skidelsky (an economist father and his philosopher son) quote one such thinker:

Working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hard-heartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition…so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery.

Readers of Commonweal will be more likely than most to recognize the firebrand cited as Leo XIII in Rerum novarum.

The Skidelskys’ own rhetoric is usually more restrained. The sober line of thought that underlies their engaging, informative, and stimulating book goes roughly as follows. Under capitalism, businesses sell us goods and service that are essential for living well, and most of us get the money to buy these things by working for businesses or, less often, profiting from investments in them. We need capitalism because no other economic system can produce sufficient goods to meet our essential material needs such as food, shelter, clothes, and medical care. But these goods are not enough. A good life mainly depends on intangibles such as love, friendship, beauty, and virtue — things capitalism cannot produce and money cannot buy. Given a sufficient minimum of material goods, the good life does not depend on the world of commerce.

Nonetheless, for most of us, work takes up the bulk of our time and energy, leaving comparatively little for living a good life. Some see their work itself as a pursuit of beauty, truth, or virtue. But most find what they do valuable primarily as a means of earning money to buy material necessities. And capitalist society itself insists that a good life requires much more than a minimum of material goods. A truly good life, it urges, requires fine food, a large and well-furnished home, stylish clothing, and a steady diet of diverting and enriching experiences derived from sports, culture, and travel — all of which are expensive.

We all agree that there’s a limit beyond which more material goods would make little difference to the goodness of our lives. But almost all of us think we are considerably below that limit. In general, then, capitalism works against the good life from two directions. It requires us to engage in work that makes little contribution to our living well, beyond supplying our material necessities, and it urges us to believe, falsely, that a good life is mainly a matter of accumulating material possessions. The Skidelskys sum it up this way: “The irony is that…now that we have achieved abundance [in advanced capitalist countries], the habits bred into us by capitalism have left us incapable of enjoying it properly.”

Their view of capitalism is critical rather than revolutionary. They decry its tendency to sacrifice the human good to the goods of the market, but think we can curb this tendency and harness capitalism’s productive power for our pursuit of the good life. For them, the core problem with capitalism is “economic insatiability” — the intrinsic drive for increasing production (and therefore profits) without limit. The limitless demand for more can even lead, as we have recently seen, to economic catastrophe. More important, capitalism is morally deficient because its drivers are the vices of “greed and acquisitiveness,” which pile up “goods” that take us away from the good life. [Continue reading…]

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Peace envoy warns of escalating toll as 400 Syrians die in one day

The Washington Post reports: The Syrian civil war could claim 100,000 more lives over the next year if the government and the rebels fighting it do not negotiate a settlement, the international peace mediator warned Sunday.

“What is happening in Syria is bad, very, very bad,” said Lakhdar Brahimi, who is charged by the United Nations and the Arab League with seeking a peaceful end to 21 months of hostilities that have killed 44,000 Syrians. Speaking at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Brahimi added: “It is also escalating. If we have 50,000 killed in almost two years and the war stays another year, we will not have 25,000 more, we will have 100,000 more killed.”

Brahimi issued his chilling prediction after one of the deadliest 24-hour periods in the conflict, which began in March 2011. Opposition groups that monitor the death toll said as many as 400 people — more than double the typical daily death toll — were killed Saturday. About half of them were civilians slain in an alleged mass killing carried out by government troops at a petrochemical university in central Syria, opposition groups reported. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas offers the only working diplomatic channel between Israel and the Palestinians

Geoffrey Aronson writes: If it is possible to talk about a “good” war, then Israel’s Pillar of Defense against the Gaza Strip may well fit the bill. The war was a disaster — in human and material destruction. No one would argue otherwise. But it also crystallized a shared interest in stabilizing the conflict between Israel and Gaza — creating an opportunity that the three principal parties to the conflict — Israel, the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and Egypt — recognize and appear determined to exploit.

Gaza has long been the most dynamic arena where Israel and Palestinian interests collide. Battles have been fought with depressing regularity, and the periods of calm are inherently unstable, given the failure to reach a grand diplomatic bargain. But it is also the case that Israel, largely through Egyptian good offices, has since Ariel Sharon’s announcement in March 2004 of his intention to “disengage” from Gaza, enjoyed a more fruitful and successful dialogue with Hamas than with the PLO’s Mahmoud Abbas and the West Bank under his nominal rule. Today, Israel’s Egyptian-mediated dialogue with Hamas represents the only working diplomatic channel between Israel and the Palestinians.

The two-paragraph cease-fire document agreed to by Israel and Hamas on Nov. 21 is the latest example of this workmanlike relationship. Hamas did not sign the document, in keeping with the fiction that Israel is not negotiating with Hamas. This is only a cosmetic convenience however, that reflects the shared, strategic interest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Hamas leadership of Khaled Meshal alike. So too the document itself, which offers something for all parties, except that of Palestine’s president Mahmoud Abbas of course, and his Palestinian Authority(PA), which has been reduced to a facilitator of understandings reached between Israel and the government in Gaza. [Continue reading…]

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Video: Israeli settler right rises in election campaign

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Ode to a flower

Richard Feynman’s friend should have known better than to bait the scientist — yet Feynman’s response proves the point: an understanding of the flower’s cellular structure, its evolution, and the evolutionary function of its beauty are all steps away from the experience of beholding a flower’s beauty.

When Feynman says he might not be “quite as refined aesthetically” as his friend, he’s marginalizing the value of perception, yet a flower is irreducibly an object of perception.

Drill into the structure of a sunflower petal and you may discover the molecular form of the pigments which are the physical substrate of color but you won’t find the essence of yellow since this is only manifest as light, flower, eye, and sentient awareness intersect. Yellow is an experience.

What serves neither art nor science is to treat either as offering a superior method for the appreciation of nature. An artist can profit from a class in cellular biology and scientists can expand their awareness by finding out what it means to open the doors of perception — to be able to see as if seeing the world for the first time.

Science opens doors of exquisite conceptual detail and leads into fascinating fields of exploration, but it doesn’t embrace the full range of the human experience — an experience in which we can be invigorated by losing our selves.

That a scientist and an artist would even be having the argument Feynman describes, speaks above all to a failed educational system.

Who can look carefully at the photograph below and explain why art, poetry, geometry, and biology are not taught in the very same classroom?

We fragment our world into domains of expertise as though no one should be allowed the privilege of exploring the totality.

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Music: Lars Hollmer — ‘Baladeis’

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In defense of difference

Maywa Montenegro and Terry Glavin write: This past January [2008], at the St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Anchorage, Alaska, friends and relatives gathered to bid their last farewell to Marie Smith Jones, a beloved matriarch of her community. At 89 years old, she was the last fluent speaker of the Eyak language. In May 2007 a cavalry of the Janjaweed — the notorious Sudanese militia responsible for the ongoing genocide of the indigenous people of Darfur — made its way across the border into neighboring Chad. They were hunting for 1.5 tons of confiscated ivory, worth nearly $1.5 million, locked in a storeroom in Zakouma National Park. Around the same time, a wave of mysterious frog disappearances that had been confounding herpetologists worldwide spread to the US Pacific Northwest. It was soon discovered that Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a deadly fungus native to southern Africa, had found its way via such routes as the overseas trade in frog’s legs to Central America, South America, Australia, and now the United States. One year later, food riots broke out across the island nation of Haiti, leaving at least five people dead; as food prices soared, similar violence erupted in Mexico, Bangladesh, Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Ethiopia.

All these seemingly disconnected events are the symptoms, you could say, of a global epidemic of sameness. It has no precise parameters, but wherever its shadow falls, it leaves the landscape monochromatic, monocultural, and homogeneous. Even before we’ve been able to take stock of the enormous diversity that today exists — from undescribed microbes to undocumented tongues — this epidemic carries away an entire human language every two weeks, destroys a domesticated food-crop variety every six hours, and kills off an entire species every few minutes. The fallout isn’t merely an assault to our aesthetic or even ethical values: As cultures and languages vanish, along with them go vast and ancient storehouses of accumulated knowledge. And as species disappear, along with them go not just valuable genetic resources, but critical links in complex ecological webs.

Experts have long recognized the perils of biological and cultural extinctions. But they’ve only just begun to see them as different facets of the same phenomenon, and to tease out the myriad ways in which social and natural systems interact. Catalyzed in part by the urgency that climate change has brought to all matters environmental, two progressive movements, incubating already for decades, have recently emerged into fuller view. Joining natural and social scientists from a wide range of disciplines and policy arenas, these initiatives are today working to connect the dots between ethnosphere and biosphere in a way that is rapidly leaving behind old unilateral approaches to conservation. Efforts to stanch extinctions of linguistic, cultural, and biological life have yielded a “biocultural” perspective that integrates the three. Efforts to understand the value of diversity in a complex systems framework have matured into a science of “resilience.” On parallel paths, though with different emphases, different lexicons, and only slightly overlapping clouds of experts, these emergent paradigms have created space for a fresh struggle with the tough questions: What kinds of diversity must we consider, and how do we measure them on local, regional, and global scales? Can diversity be buffered against the streamlining pressures of economic growth? How much diversity is enough? From a recent biocultural diversity symposium in New York City to the first ever global discussion of resilience in Stockholm, these burgeoning movements are joining biologist with anthropologist, scientist with storyteller, in building a new framework to describe how, why, and what to sustain.

The biological diversity crisis is often called the “Sixth Extinction” because an event of this magnitude has occurred only five times in the history of life on Earth. The last was at the end of the Cretaceous period, when the dinosaurs disappeared. In the past couple hundred years, humans have increased species extinction rates by as much as 10,000 times the background rates that have been typical over Earth’s history. This is a crash that, within the scientific community, is causing a slow panic and a wide belief that the dangers of biodiversity loss are woefully underestimated by most everyone outside of science. Yet even those who grasp extinction’s severity haven’t made much of a noticeable contribution to its containment. On May 16 the Zoological Society of London released a report suggesting that since contemporary environmentalism emerged with the declaration of the first Earth Day in 1970, close to one-third of all the wild species on Earth have disappeared. Language conservationists have fared no better: Of the world’s roughly 6,800 languages, fully half — though some experts say closer to 90 percent — are expected to disappear before the end of the century.

Our collective failure to recognize and impede this rampant winnowing of diversity can in part be blamed on the sheer rapidity with which it has advanced. Since only 1900, the human population has increased by a factor of four, water use by a factor of nine, carbon dioxide emissions by 17, marine-fish catch by 35, and industrial output by 40. It’s this expanding human footprint, and the global commerce on which it depends, that unifies the stories of Marie Smith Jones, the Janjaweed horsemen, the disappearing frogs, and the food riots. The transnational flow of people and products, media and information, crops and commodities has never in the history of the planet been so heavy or so fast. [Continue reading…]

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Ten Arab lessons from the past year

Rami G Khouri writes: The year 2012 will be remembered as an important milestone in the development of the modern Arab world, because it has started to reveal the underlying but long-hidden strengths and weaknesses of Arab societies and states. Here is my list of the 10 most significant things we learned from events in the Arab World and the wider Middle East in 2012. First, it is now clearer than ever that there is no such thing as a cohesive, single “Arab World,” as every Arab country follows a different path in pursuing its own political reconfiguration. For the first time ever in their history, ordinary Arab men and women are driving the political changes under way, revealing the variety of identities, sentiments, legitimacies and conditions in different Arab countries, with their own character, nuance and agency.

Second, simultaneously, those 350 million ordinary Arab men and women across the region are expressing some common grievances, attitudes and aspirations. The most significant sentiment they expressed in 2012 is the desire to live a life of integrity and dignity – not to be treated like a serf by one’s own government, but rather to enjoy a basic set of human and citizen rights. Shaping national systems that guarantee those citizen rights via credible constitutions is the hallmark trend of 2012 that is rippling across the Arab region in different forms and at different speeds.

Third, as part of that process, 2012 has taught us not to exaggerate the power, wisdom or political efficacy of Arab Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, who have generally fared poorly in translating their slogans into policies. Thus they are being increasingly challenged by fellow citizens – including some of their own supporters – who are disappointed by the Islamists’ erratic performance in office. [Continue reading…]

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Middle East: don’t rely on the past to predict its future

Peter Beaumont writes: Recent reports from inside Syria paint a grim picture on both sides. In Aleppo, as my Guardian colleague Ghaith Abdul-Ahad described in a vivid report last week, the armed opposition to President Bashar al-Assad remains as split as ever, looting is commonplace and rivalries are multiplying. In Damascus, the situation for Assad and his inner circle continues to deteriorate. The president himself, suggest some accounts, is “isolated and fearful”, almost invisible and unwilling to venture outside. The operational capacity of the forces closest to him to mount operations is also declining even as Russia seems to be moving to distance itself from Assad, if not from Syria itself.

In all likelihood, some end to the regime appears inevitable, if not immediately, then in the not very distant future. The question now being posed is: what happens next? And while the desire to predict and second-guess is hard-wired into our natures, not least the nature of journalists and analysts, it’s probable that we will get it badly wrong.

The tools most commonly used to try to explain complex situations such as conflict, including the predilection for historical analogy to explain current events, are often deeply misleading, as the impressive Kings of War blog of the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London cautioned before Christmas. The reality is that the Middle East is not the Balkans of the 1990s, nor is Egypt revolutionary Iran. “The truth,” the Kings of War concluded, “is we should probably not be surprised by the things that surprise us.”

Indeed, a whole cadre of Soviet studies specialists failed to spot the USSR’s coming collapse. The same could be said of those specialising in the Middle East, who not only failed to predict the Arab Spring, but once it had begun hoped to use the models of Tunisia and Egypt to suggest how other revolutions might turn out.

We cannot say whether Syria after Assad, with its specific social and sectarian tensions, will resemble Libya post-Gaddafi or Iraq post-Saddam. All conflicts and all post-conflict situations are unhappy, or unstable, in their own particular way. [Continue reading…]

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‘The people of Aleppo needed someone to drag them into the revolution’

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reports: The man stands among the blackened, shell-shattered buildings, and reaches up to encompass them in a broad sweep of his wiry arms. “This,” he proclaims, “is the state of Abu Ali Sulaibi.”

The ruined corner of downtown Aleppo does not, of course, constitute a state and nor does it belong to the man claiming it in his name. But as the Syrian civil war has stagnated and Aleppo has fractured into “liberated” neighbourhoods run by different militias, Abu Ali and commanders like him have become the rulers of a series of mini-fiefdoms. These two blocks of the rebel frontline in Saif al-Dawla are his.

Walking through the once prosperous streets, Abu Ali recalls the life he lived here, pointing out the places where he played as a child, went to school and fell in love. He now lives in a small apartment in the heart of the zone with his wife, Um Ali, three daughters, a son, and a cat named Sanjoob, or Squirrel.

Fifty metres from Abu Ali’s sector, across the Saif al-Dawla Boulevard, a similar array of shattered buildings is occupied by government troops. They are close enough that during lulls in the shooting they can continue the conflict by shouting abuse.

Half of the building where his parents used to live has been sheared off by a rocket attack, spilling furniture and a chandelier into the street. The remaining structure serves as Abu Ali’s command centre, where some of his fighters sleep. He stands in the middle of a small living room surrounded by fighters resting under thick blankets on the floor.

“I can’t believe that this is my mother’s living room,” he says. Then, to the men: “Wake up, you beasts!”

As no one stirs, he pulls a pistol from his belt and fires into the ceiling, bringing down a chunk of plaster. The men jump from their mats, grabbing their guns. “That was Abu Ali’s wake-up call,” he says.

Outside, Abu Ali sits on a broken plastic chair set amid the rubble. His fighters, bleary-eyed, sit around him, making Turkish coffee and smoking. There is no food. The men live on one meal a day and many have not eaten since lunch the day before.

A trickle of civilians who braved the sniper fire to reach Abu Ali’s headquarters now come forward, as they do each morning, to ask favours of the chief. Some are trying to salvage their food or furniture, others come to ask permission to scavenge or squat in the empty apartments.

On this morning, six civilians stand sheepishly in front of him: a man in his 50s and his teenage son; a lanky man in a coat that is too big for him; a young engineer in rimless glasses and a bald man with his sister, who wears a black hijab. The civilians stay at a distance out of respect or fearing his unchecked anger.

“What do you want?”

“We want to collect some of our stuff, Abu Ali,” the older man says.

“Not today. Come back on Saturday.”

“But you told us to come on Wednesday.”

“I changed my mind. You should know that this is the state of Abu Ali Sulaibi.” He roars out his catchphrase as much for the benefit of his men as the civilians.

“You are all informers,” he tells the scared civilians. “I know you cross back to government side and report on us.”

“We are not,” says the bald man. “Our hearts are with you.”

“When you say that, I know you are an informer.” Turning to one of his men he says, half-joking: “Wasn’t he the one who was chasing us when we were out demonstrating?” The bald man’s face turns pale.

Abu Ali keeps the civilians waiting for two hours. Then, like a true autocrat, he quickly changes his mind and summons two of his men to take them where they want to go. [Continue reading…]

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Video: Is a diplomatic truce in sight for Syria?

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Mali: The ‘gentle’ face of al-Qaeda

May Ying Welsh reports: We make a flashing signal with our headlights to let them know our car is in trouble.

They drive a wide berth around us at high speed. Unsure who we are, they fear an ambush on their caravan. It is late at night and there are many forces in this Sahara.

After some hesitation, a group of men get out and in a staggered V-shape military formation, guns at the ready, start walking toward us in the dark.

“Al Sallam alaykum.” “Wa alaykum sallam.”

“Are you from Ansar Dine?” we ask referring to the local Malian Islamist armed group.

They do not say yes.

“We are mujahideen in the cause of Allah.”

Exclusive: Al Qaeda urges Mali to reject foreign intervention.

The hair on our necks stands on end.

The fighters look like desert military preachers – members of some stoical sect that took a vow of poverty and jihad. They wear double bandolier ammo belts over austere beige cotton smocks and matching high cropped pants – like inhabitants of Tatooine, the desert planet in Star Wars. These are not outfits one buys at the market, or inherits from a brother or friend. They are uniforms tailor-made to send a message of simplicity.

The men, mostly Mauritanians, are escorting a caravan of trucks loaded with food and medical aid for the people of Timbuktu – a gift from the Higher Islamic Council of Mali.

One picks up a walkie talkie and relays: “They’re just civilians. Their car is stuck in the sand.” A voice in Arabic comes over the line: “My brother, why didn’t you tell us this before?”

The mujahideen set about helping us extricate our car – its wheels churning deeper and more hopelessly into the sand. One enters the driver’s seat to manoeuvre while the others help us push from behind. The effort drags on for an hour.

They banter easily with our team in Tamasheq, the Tuareg language – evidence that they have spent years living in northern Mali where al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) had a mountain base and a tacit agreement with the Malian state.

They do not have to spend all night stuck in the sand with us. Their generosity is impressive, their faces luminous, their voices soft, their manners exquisite. And they have given us the satisfying feeling that we are more important to them than time, or anything else.

Omar, a local Arab travelling with us in his old pick-up truck, is impressed.

“Look my brother,” the mujahideen tell him, “your car is very old, it can’t work. You need to buy a new car.” It is an ingeniously subtle flag – and it elicits the intended response. “I wish you would buy me a new car because I have no money,” Omar says.

The fighters barely need to signal what everyone in this impoverished Sahara long ago came to know: al-Qaeda has money and they can help you with it.

“We can bring you to a path that is even better than money,” they tell Omar, “the path to paradise.”

“I love the idea of jihad,” says Omar, “but I have children and elderly people relying on me. I have to support them and I can’t leave them behind.”

At this moment two of the fighters say almost simultaneously: “If you tasted jihad you would leave all of this and come with us.”

Omar decides to stay the night with the mujahideen who are bedding down in the sand. It will not be possible to reach Timbuktu tonight. [Continue reading…]

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Video: Freeing political prisoners a critical Palestinian demand

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Israeli-Palestinian politician who was on Gaza protest flotilla can stand in election

The Guardian reports: An Israeli-Arab politician who took part in a flotilla of ships attempting to breach the blockade of Gaza in 2010 will be able to compete in the general election in three weeks, after the supreme court unanimously overturned a ban on her candidacy.

A panel of nine judges overruled a decision by the central elections committee to disqualify Haneen Zoabi from seeking re-election as a member of the Israeli parliament. The committee’s decision was based on her participation in the flotilla.

Following the supreme court’s ruling on Sunday, Zoabi said the attempt to bar her from the election was “the result of political and personal persecution against me, against my party and against the Arab public as a whole”.

But, she added, “this ruling does little to erase the threats, delegitimisation and physical as well as verbal abuse that I have endured … over the past three years.”

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Music: Maria Kalaniemi — ‘Arctic Paradise’

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