(H/t Danny Postel)
Politico reports: In 2014, Vian Dakhil’s stirring plea for international intervention helped inspire President Barack Obama to order airstrikes and launch a humanitarian effort to rescue thousands of Yazidi Iraqis who were trapped on a mountainside under assault by Islamic State.
A year later, Dakhil, one of two Yazidi members of the Iraqi parliament, says her people have been abandoned by Washington and the international community.
In an emotional, at times tearful, on-stage interview at POLITICO’s “Women Rule” event Wednesday morning in Washington, Dakhil described a full-blown humanitarian crisis — 420,000 Yazidis living in refugee camps in tents with mud floors, women and girls continuing to be kidnapped, 2,200 girls in captivity as sexual slaves, and survivors returning from the horror of ISIL captivity with no resources for psychological support. Thousands of orphans have no homes.
Dakhil, who is credited with saving many Yazidi women and girls from ISIL captivity, said she was not contacted by U.S. officials after the initial announcement. A letter to Michelle Obama received no response, she said. [Continue reading…]
Neil Macdonald writes: Mark Toner, the suave U.S. State Department spokesman, arrived in the briefing room Monday unprepared for what was coming.
Two days earlier, American airstrikes had obliterated a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, operated by Doctors Without Borders. The attack killed 22 people, including several staff members.
By the time Toner took to his podium, U.S. military officials had already given conflicting versions of what had happened.
But the underlying message was the same: There had been Taliban militants near the hospital and, in defence of American and Afghan troops, an American airstrike had inadvertently and tragically killed civilians.
Clearly, in Toner’s mind, the attack was a Pentagon matter. His briefing book contained some words of condolence to families of the dead, and evidently not much more.
Then Matt Lee of the Associated Press asked a question.
Lee began by reading aloud a State Department statement issued in August 2014 after an Israeli missile attack killed several people at a UN school in Gaza.
“The United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school,” said the State Department at the time. “The coordinates of the school, like all UN facilities in Gaza, have been repeatedly communicated to the Israeli Defence Forces.”
The statement continued: “The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians.”
So, asked Lee, does that sentence about the presence of militants not justifying strikes that endanger innocent civilians stand as U.S. government policy?
Toner, having seen where this was going, dived into his official condolences, but quickly ran out of prepared messages.
He looked up: “Uh, you know, these are difficult situations, uh, it was I think … an active combat zone.”
Lee wasn’t going to be put off.
U.S. forces in Afghanistan, he told Toner, had been given the coordinates of the hospital, “much as the IDF had been given the coordinates of the school in Rafah” in Gaza.
Toner evaded: “I think it’s safe to say that, you know, this attack, this bombing, was not intentional,” he replied, asking for “a pass” until the investigations by U.S. agencies are completed.
Lee then expertly closed the trap.
After the “disgraceful” Israeli attack, he pointed out, the State Department declared itself “appalled” even before any investigation had begun.
“So. Can you say now … that this shelling of this hospital was disgraceful and appalling?”
At that, Toner just gave up, and re-read the condolence lines. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: From the early days of his presidency last year, President Ashraf Ghani knew he faced a national security threat in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz. He installed a new governor, a new police chief and a new head of intelligence, and spoke of turning Kunduz into an example of what better governance could accomplish. Instead, it has become a sobering testament to the cost of failed governance.
The fall of the provincial capital, Kunduz City, to the Taliban nine days ago was partly born of years of disgust with and distrust in the main representatives of the central government there: a succession of corrupt or ineffective governors and aides, and a horde of Afghan Local Police militiamen who were more often abusive than responsible.
Interviews with officials and residents of Kunduz indicate that despite Mr. Ghani’s vow to improve things, frustrations in the province had been boiling even before the Taliban’s recent assault. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: On a humid night in Rafah recently, six Palestinian smugglers sat around a backyard table, ticking off the damage that Egypt has done to their tunnels over the past two years.
It dropped dynamite and floated poison gas into them. It filled them with sewage.
Last year, it took the extraordinary step of razing more than 3,000 homes on its side of the border to create a buffer zone that would seal off access to the tunnels, creating a humanitarian catastrophe in the process.
Now, the smugglers fear that Egypt has settled on a strategy that could spell doom for their trade: flooding the tunnels so they collapse. Within the past month, Egypt has flooded part of the nine-mile border area twice, causing two tunnels to cave in completely and damaging 10 or so more.
Only about 20 of 250 tunnels are still operating — the worst situation smugglers can remember. They find themselves waiting nervously for the flooding to begin again. [Continue reading…]
In mid-August, TomDispatch’s Michael Klare wrote presciently of the oncoming global oil glut, the way it was driving the price of petroleum into the “energy subbasement,” and how such a financial “rout,” if extended over the next couple of years, might lead toward a new (and better) world of energy. As it happens, the first good news of the sort Klare was imagining has since come in. In a country where the price of gas at the pump now averages $2.29 a gallon (and in some places has dropped under $1.90), Big Oil has begun cutting back on its devastating plans to extract every imaginable drop of fossil fuel from the planet and burn it. Oil companies have also been laying off employees by the tens of thousands and deep-sixing, at least for now, plans to search for and exploit tar sands and other “tough oil” deposits worldwide.
In that context, as September ended, after a disappointing six weeks of drilling, Royal Dutch Shell cancelled “for the foreseeable future” its search for oil and natural gas in the tempestuous but melting waters of the Alaskan Arctic. This was no small thing and a great victory for an environmental movement that had long fought to put obstacles in the way of Shell’s exploration plans. Green-lighted by the Obama administration to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, Shell has over the last nine years sunk more than $7 billion into its Arctic drilling project, so the decision to close up shop was no small thing and offers a tiny ray of hope for what activism can do when reality offers a modest helping hand.
As Klare makes clear today, when it comes to the burning of fossil fuels, reality — if only we bother to notice it — is threatening to offer something more like the back of its hand to us on this embattled planet of ours. He offers a look at a future in which humanity, like various increasingly endangered ecosystems including the Arctic, may be approaching a “tipping point.” Tom Engelhardt
Welcome to a new planet
Climate change “tipping points” and the fate of the Earth
By Michael T. Klare
Not so long ago, it was science fiction. Now, it’s hard science — and that should frighten us all. The latest reports from the prestigious and sober Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) make increasingly hair-raising reading, suggesting that the planet is approaching possible moments of irreversible damage in a fashion and at a speed that had not been anticipated.
Scientists have long worried that climate change will not continue to advance in a “linear” fashion, with the planet getting a little bit hotter most years. Instead, they fear, humanity could someday experience “non-linear” climate shifts (also known as “singularities” or “tipping points”) after which there would be sudden and irreversible change of a catastrophic nature. This was the premise of the 2004 climate-disaster film The Day After Tomorrow. In that movie — most notable for its vivid scenes of a frozen-over New York City — melting polar ice causes a disruption in the North Atlantic Current, which in turn triggers a series of catastrophic storms and disasters. At the time of its release, many knowledgeable scientists derided the film’s premise, insisting that the confluence of events it portrayed was unlikely or simply impossible.
Fast forward 11 years and the prospect of such calamitous tipping points in the North Atlantic or elsewhere no longer looks improbable. In fact, climate scientists have begun to note early indicators of possible catastrophes.
Mother Jones reports: Citing “damning evidence of war crimes,” Amnesty International has condemned America’s continued support of Saudi Arabia’s air war in Yemen. In a report released yesterday, the human-rights organization called on the United States to stop selling bombs, fighter jets, and combat helicopters to the Saudis
The nearly seven-month-old conflict, which pits Saudi Arabia and a coalition of allied states against anti-government rebels, has claimed thousands of civilian lives. More than two-thirds of those were killed by Saudi-led air strikes, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. While Saudi Arabia claims to only be targeting military targets, bombs have been dropped on power stations, water supplies, schools, hospitals, and a camp for displaced people.
The United States has been aiding the Saudi-led coalition with weaponry, logistics, and intelligence support. Washington and Riyadh inked $90 billion in arms deals between 2010 and 2014, and at least another $7.8 billion in new arms deals have been announced since Saudi Arabia’s air campaign began in March. Among the remnants of American-made bombs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have found on the ground in Yemen are two types of cluster bombs. Cluster bombs are banned by more than 100 countries because of the risk they pose to civilians. [Continue reading…]
Climate Progress reports: As erosion and rising seas destroy their land, residents of Newtok, Alaska, are hopeful that their community can be saved before the threats of climate change engulf their village.
About 500 miles west of Anchorage, the Yup’ik Eskimo community has begun the elaborate process of relocating their village nine miles away from its current location. The community has become a news centerpiece in recent years, commonly being referred to as “the sinking village.” The devastating effects of the world’s changing climate are predominately evident in Newtok, and it is being considered as a possible national model for moving entire communities that are facing the effects of climate change.
The State of Alaska is currently seeking a portion of a nearly $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC) grant which helps to move and assist threatened villages and adapt to the threats posed by climate change. In the NDRC proposal released Friday, Alaska State officials are proposing $62.6 million of the NDRC grant money be used for relocating 62 families from Newtok to new homes in a town called Mertarvik. They are also seeking funding $162.4 million in relief for for three other vulnerable areas — Emmonak, Galena and Teller. Newtok is the only community that has begun a physical move thus far. [Continue reading…]
H A Hellyer writes: This week at the conference of Britain’s ruling party, the Conservatives, prime minister David Cameron raised the issues of extremism and integration in Muslim British communities. Last week, the “Britishness” of one of the Muslim contestants in The Great British Bake Off, a television cooking show, was queried, and a Muslim woman who models for H&M found herself at the centre of a similar experience. The Muslim cook in a headscarf, Nadiya Hussain, won the contest to wide acclaim. But in 2015, the issue of “Muslims and Britain” still does not seem to have been resolved, even though it has been discussed for quite some time.
When Mariah Idrissi accepted an offer to model for fashion retailer H&M while wearing her headscarf, she probably expected some opposition from mainstream society. Yet, few could have quite predicted the barrage that came from some quarters. An otherwise reasonable conservative English commentator, Peter Hitchens, took the opportunity to raise the alarm. He suggested that it wouldn’t be long before Britain had “veiled Muslim Cabinet ministers, TV newsreaders and judges” and that this was “all part of a slow but unstoppable adaptation of this country to Islam”. As a result, non-Muslim women would eventually be pressured to “conform” by disappearing “beneath scarves and shrouds”.
It was a rather peculiar claim. Britain is a tolerant democracy, with a special role for the Anglican Church. All of that ensures that faith is generally respected within the confines of the rule of law. Already, there are Muslim women with headscarves who serve the United Kingdom as civil servants and lawyers – why would Cabinet ministers or judges prove to be some kind of dreaded milestone? The excellent journalist Fatima Manji is already a popular face on TV screens via her work on Channel 4. Has that, somehow, led to undue pressure on even her colleagues to wear headscarves, let alone the rest of the British population? Obviously not.
But Hitchens is hitting at a particular issue, as is Mr Cameron, and others, albeit from a variety of angles. The issue remains: is it possible for Muslims to be discussed in public discourse simply as British citizens, rather than problematic in some way? [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: In the backwaters of Eastern Europe, authorities working with the FBI have interrupted four attempts in the past five years by gangs with suspected Russian connections that sought to sell radioactive material to Middle Eastern extremists, The Associated Press has learned. The latest known case came in February this year, when a smuggler offered a huge cache of deadly cesium — enough to contaminate several city blocks — and specifically sought a buyer from the Islamic State group.
Criminal organizations, some with ties to the Russian KGB’s successor agency, are driving a thriving black market in nuclear materials in the tiny and impoverished country of Moldova, investigators say. The successful busts, however, were undercut by striking shortcomings: Kingpins got away, and those arrested evaded long prison sentences, sometimes quickly returning to nuclear smuggling, AP found.
Moldovan police and judicial authorities shared investigative case files with AP in an effort to spotlight how dangerous the nuclear black market has become. They say the breakdown in cooperation between Russia and the West means that it has become much harder to know whether smugglers are finding ways to move parts of Russia’s vast store of radioactive materials — an unknown quantity of which has leached into the black market.
“We can expect more of these cases,” said Constantin Malic, a Moldovan police officer who investigated all four cases. “As long as the smugglers think they can make big money without getting caught, they will keep doing it.”
In wiretaps, videotaped arrests, photographs of bomb-grade material, documents and interviews, AP found a troubling vulnerability in the anti-smuggling strategy. From the first known Moldovan case in 2010 to the most recent one in February, a pattern has emerged: Authorities pounce on suspects in the early stages of a deal, giving the ringleaders a chance to escape with their nuclear contraband — an indication that the threat from the nuclear black market in the Balkans is far from under control. [Continue reading…]
With the world’s focus firmly on the European response to the refugee crisis in recent weeks, attention has been diverted away from the humanitarian needs of the Middle East itself.
Only a minority of refugees have fled to Europe, with the majority of Syrians travelling across neighbouring borders to Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. These movements of people have placed considerable pressure on already stretched public services, and children – one of the most vulnerable groups – are being severely affected.
Hundreds of thousands of them are at risk of becoming ill, malnourished, abused and exploited – and for the vast majority, they have no access to education.
A significant proportion of the 13m children reported by UNICEF as deprived of an education in the Middle East, are from Syria. With limited and interrupted education, what does the future hold for these children – and for the future of Syria?
The Washington Post reports: Compared to many Iraqis, Mohammed Falah concedes that his life isn’t so bad. He has a career, a home.
Nonetheless, the 24-year-old civil engineer from Baghdad plans to fly to Turkey next week to join the surge of migrants and refugees making a bid for a better life in Europe. It is part of what Iraqi officials describe as a new “brain drain” as young graduates seize what they perceive as a rare opportunity to leave a country racked by violence.
More than 50,000 Iraqis have left the country over the past three months, according to the United Nations, joining the hundreds of thousands making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.
Nearly 3.2 million people have been forced to leave their homes since Islamic State militants began to seize Iraqi territory early last year — the fastest-growing displacement crisis in the world.
Iraqi officials, however, say a disproportionate number of those leaving are not among the displaced, but educated young men who can afford the journey.
“I saw this wave of young people who were going, many of my friends going, and I saw this as a chance,” said Falah, who hopes to make it to Germany. “I’m in a better position than many people, but I want to make a better future for my family.”
Unlike many displaced families who make the potentially deadly journey together, Falah plans to leave his wife and 6-month-old daughter behind in Baghdad, hoping they can join him legally once he has settled.
The Iraqi government does not keep figures on the number leaving, but Joseph Sylawa, a member of the Iraqi parliament committee for migration and displacement, said the number is estimated to be as high as 1,000 a day.
“It’s a death blow,” he said. “Without its young people, Iraq will never be able to rebuild.” [Continue reading…]
Peter Beaumont writes: A weekend of febrile violence in the West Bank and east Jerusalem has led to growing fears of a third Palestinian intifada. One of the latest victims was a 13-year-old boy killed by Israeli forces during clashes outside a refugee camp in Bethlehem.
Abdel Rahman Shadi, who lived in Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, was struck in the chest by Israeli fire and died after undergoing emergency surgery in Beit Jala hospital on Monday – the second youth to be killed in 24 hours.
There is concern among diplomats and analysts in the region that the escalating violence could turn into a new intifada, or uprising. Four Israelis were killed in attacks by Palestinians on Friday and Saturday.
The front page of one mass-circulation newspaper on Sunday stated simply: “The Third Intifada.” Elsewhere in the Israeli media, columnists were more circumspect. Some asked whether the latest events fitted the pattern of the two previous intifadas, which began in 1987 and 2000, and if not, how the current escalation could be curbed before becoming one.
Not only in the Israeli media has the question been asked. The issue was given added urgency by the Facebook posting of Muhanad Halabi, a 19-year-old Palestinian student who stabbed two Israeli men to death in the Old City on Saturday, who linked his actions directly to a “third intifada”. [Continue reading…]
Ayesha S. Chaudhry writes: Since the days of colonialism, Muslim women have become hyperpoliticized pawns in larger ideological struggles, and women’s bodies bear the burden of marking which “side” a society belongs to, by either donning the veil or removing it. Europeans are not the only ones politicizing women’s bodies – Muslim-majority countries have engaged in similar tactics, expressing their commitment to Islamism (e.g. Iran today, Saudi Arabia) or secularism (Iran under the Shah, Turkey) through forced veiling or de-veiling.
Neither forced veiling nor de-veiling actually serves the interests of women, though secularists argue that de-veiling “saves” women from patriarchal oppression, and Islamists argue that veiling “saves” women from an objectifying male gaze that turns them into sex objects. In both arguments, a woman’s emancipation or subjugation is measured by the amount her body is covered or uncovered. Both arguments infantilize women, expressing a profound mistrust in their ability to make decisions in their own self-interest. Caught in the middle, Muslim women simply cannot win.
In this context, it is especially important to put women first, to give women space to chart their own journeys, and to allow the veil and lack thereof to have meanings beyond their patriarchal origins. [Continue reading…]
In an interview* late last year, Yassin Al Haj Saleh, one of Syria’s leading political dissidents, was asked: What do you think the Western left could best do to express its solidarity with the Syrian revolution?
I am afraid that it is too late for the leftists in the West to express any solidarity with the Syrians in their extremely hard struggle. What I always found astonishing in this regard is that mainstream Western leftists know almost nothing about Syria, its society, its regime, its people, its political economy, its contemporary history. Rarely have I found a useful piece of information or a genuinely creative idea in their analyses. My impression about this curious situation is that they simply do not see us; it is not about us at all. Syria is only an additional occasion for their old anti-imperialist tirades, never the living subject of the debate. So they do not really need to know about us.
David Bromwich, a professor of English Literature at Yale and stalwart of the American antiwar left, exemplifies the trend which Saleh describes.
For him, Syria is a nest of bloodthirsty Islamists fighting a religious war at the behest of foreign powers. The opponents of Assad that Western governments hoped would be the instruments of regime change are a ragtag mob entrusted with a fantasy. The only thing we really need to know about Syria, apparently, is that we should stay out.
Perhaps like Patrick Cockburn, Bromwich welcomes Russia’s direct intervention in the war. He seems to believe that Russia, by virtue of its closer proximity, has a genuine interest in the fate of Syria, yet the fate of Syrians is another question.
In an exercise in textual criticism, Bromwich’s current concern is Washington and the media’s resuscitation of the term moderate — a term around which, he says, the West has long contrived its fantasies.
The fact that the professor makes a living from analyzing language might explain why he has more interest in the words used by New York Times reporters than he has in the lives of Syrians.
But as a leftist, how did he forget what it means to be a humanitarian? How can he show so little interest in the lives of the Syrian people?
In his latest commentary, the refugee crisis doesn’t get a single mention.
Turkey is now warning that Russia and Iran’s escalating intervention in the war may lead to millions more refugees fleeing the country.
In that event, don’t expect Russia to assume any responsibility.
On September 9, while the refugee crisis in Europe dominated the Western media, Russia’s state-funded RT.com reported:
The head of the Federal Migration Service, Konstantin Romodanovsky, told TASS on Wednesday that Russia is ready to accept refugees from Syria on condition that they violate no laws.
He added that Russian authorities were studying asylum applications from Syrian citizens and rendered help to these people, but noted that “historically European countries are more appropriate as refuge for Syrians than the Russian Federation.”
The report offered no explanation of what makes European countries more appropriate. Maybe it’s simply the fact that they have more liberal immigration policies than Russia.
After Samar Kriker sought refuge in Russia, having been rescued in the Mediterranean by a Russia-bound tanker, he was then confined in a detention center cell for 23 hours a day. After his asylum application was rejected, he was expected to be deported back to Damascus.
For those whose cause is resistance to American imperialism, stories such as that might look like mere distractions, promulgated to stir unreasoned sentiment. If we keep our gaze high enough, there will be no risk of seeing the people below.
*Charles Davis’ article, “Anti-imperialism 2.0: Selective sympathies, dubious friends,” drew my attention to this interview.
Charles Davis writes: The new imperialism is caring a bit too much about the suffering of people who are being brutalized by a regime which is not currently an ally of the United States – and the new anti-imperialism is not giving a damn at all, solidarity that extends beyond the border permissible only if the drawing of attention to their plight could not possibly be used as ammunition by the “humanitarian” militarists of the American empire. The world, in this view, is divided into but two camps: those with America and those against it, with the good anti-imperialist’s outrage dialed up if the atrocity can be linked to the United States, as well it should be, but dialed down to total silence if it’s not.
This is, of course, the “anti-imperialism” of the reactionary, in more than one sense: How a person of the left responds to a pile of dead women and children is in effect dictated by how the U.S. government itself responds, the advocate of the poor and forgotten consigning foreigners to their fate – “not our problem, pal,” as one popular liberal congressman essentially put it on cable TV – if their interests have the misfortune of being perceived as aligned with America’s, the left’s commitment to internationalism abandoned for an inverted form of muddled nationalism that sees U.S. imperialism as not just one factor to consider in a complex world, but the only factor relevant in how we in the imperial core should view what happens on the rest of the globe. And if your cause is sullied by the perception it’s America’s cause too? The leftist sounds just like that liberal who sounds like Pat Buchanan: Sorry, pal, if you wanted our solidarity you should have been born somewhere that better lends itself to a black-and-white anti-imperial critique. [Continue reading…]
By Christian Christensen
“When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace. And that’s made brothers and sisters out of every race — out of every race. America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect.”
These are eloquent words. Words of justice and understanding. Words of reconciliation. They are the words of President George W. Bush – spoken at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. on September 17, 2001 – a mere 6 days after the Al Qaeda attacks that killed almost 3,000 in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. They are also the words of a President who said that Jesus Christ was the political philosopher who had influenced him the most. And, they are the words of a President who, using falsehoods on Iraqi WMD and links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as moral and legal justifications, would green light a military invasion and occupation of Iraq that would leave hundreds of thousands of civilians dead and an entire region destabilized.
Fast-forward 14 years to the candidacies of Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Would either man utter the words uttered by Bush, let alone only days after the 9/11 attacks?
Gideon Levy writes: Only rarely does a cliche as well-worn as this one hit the mark so precisely: The writing is on the wall, indeed. My readers will pardon me; no response, explanation or analysis seems more pertinent, at this juncture, when the danger of a third Palestinian Intifada breaking out seems greater than at any time in the last decade. Anyone claiming to be surprised has not been living in the Middle East over the last 10 years. Anyone who claims to be surprised has, along with most Israelis, been burying his head in the sand for a decade. The only surprising thing is that a renewed uprising has taken a decade to occur.
Israeli security figures are still trying to minimise the obvious, insisting that this is only a “wave of terror,” not an Intifada. They said exactly the same thing when the two previous Intifadas erupted. When the first Intifada began, I met members of the entourage of the then Minister of Defence Yitzhak Rabin, visiting the United States at the time, in a large New York department store. There was no reason to hurry home to Israel, they said; everything was under control. Nor was the second Intifada exactly anticipated. Yet both erupted, intensely, the second worse than the first. The dimensions of the third will be greater still.
Not yet clear is whether the events occurring right now will develop into a full-blown Intifada or not, but meantime there will be no period of quiet between the Jordan River and the sea any time soon. It’s true that there have been various factors preventing, thus far, the outbreak of a third Intifada: the heavy price paid by the Palestinians for the second Intifada that failed to achieve anything whatever for them; the absence of a leadership moving the people toward another broad uprising; internal Palestinian divisions, greatly intensified in recent years, between Fatah and Hamas; the international isolation of the Palestinians amid growing international indifference; and the slightly improved economic situation on the West Bank. [Continue reading…]