Is Marine Le Pen in bed with Putin?

The Daily Beast reports: On May 11, delegates from Europe’s political fringes travelled to Donetsk, the occupied ‘capital’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), for a forum to mark the first anniversary of the proclamation of the Russian-backed separatist entities in Ukraine. This in itself is unsurprising since far-right politicians have been used on several occasions to lend a veneer of legitimacy to Russia’s puppet statelets and sham votes since the invasion of Crimea last year.

The attendance roster for this confab included some familiar pro-Putin faces such as French far-right Member of European Parliament Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, Italian nationalist Alessandro Musolino and German neo-Nazi journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter, who moonlights as Kremlin propaganda channel RT’s German “expert” on the Middle East. But this time there was one surprising name in the bunch: Emmanuel Leroy.

Leroy was billed as representing the French charity, Urgence d’Enfants Ukraine (UEU), led by Alain Fragny, a former member of the extreme-right Bloc Identitaire. UEU is a suspicious organization that promotes pro-Russian and pro-separatist propaganda on its websites and is rather opaque with regards to its structure and operations. Leroy was also named by the official site of the DNR leadership as one of the initiators of the forum back in March this year.

But this infamously reclusive figure on France’s far-right is a far more interesting and important figure than any of the other political outliers to have participated in pro-separatist events.

Leroy is a former member of GRECE (Groupement de recherche et d’études pour la civilisation européenne, or the Research and Study Group for European Civilization), an extreme, ethno-nationalist think tank, formed in 1968 and headed by Alain de Benoist, whose name appeared in a leaked list of potentially sympathetic contacts purportedly drafted by the Russian ultra-nationalist, Aleksandr Dugin. GRECE promotes ethnic nationalism as a bulwark against race-mixing, placing great emphasis on pre-Christian Nordic culture, which left the group at odds with the Catholic mainstream of the Front National, France’s increasingly popular far-right party, which last year won two seats in the French senate. [Continue reading…]

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Risking death in the Mediterranean: the least bad option for so many migrants

Patrick Kingsley reports: Sobbing and shaking, Mohamed Abdallah tries to explain why he still wants to risk crossing the Mediterranean Sea in an inflatable boat. He sits in a migrant detention centre in Zawya, Libya, surrounded by hundreds of fellow asylum seekers who nearly died this week at sea.

They survived only after being intercepted, detained and brought back to shore by Libyan coastguards, ending a week in which they went round in circles, starving and utterly lost. But despite their horror stories, Abdallah, 21, says the journey that his fellow inmates barely withstood – and that killed more than 450 others this week – is his only option.

“I cannot go back to my country,” says Abdallah, who is from Darfur, in Sudan. He left for what is now South Sudan in 2006, after he says his village was destroyed in the Darfur war, his father died, and his sisters raped. But in South Sudan, another war later broke out. So he made his way through the Sahara, a journey that he says killed his brother and cousin, to Libya. And there last year, he was witness to his third civil war in a decade – a war that still drags on, its frontline just a few miles from the camp at Zawya.

“There is a war in my country, there’s no security, no equality, no freedom,” Abdallah says. “But if I stay here, it’s just like my country. There is no security, there is violence. When you work, they take your money.”

He worked in a soap shop, and saved up to pay local smugglers for the boat to Europe. But just as he hoped to complete the payment, he was robbed, and then arrested. The recounting of his ordeal brings out first the tears, and then a conclusion: “I need to go to Europe.” [Continue reading…]

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Europe’s war on migrants — while we argue, thousands perish in the Mediterranean

By Heaven Crawley, Coventry University

The latest refugee deaths in the Mediterranean – 700 people drowned when the overcrowded fishing vessel in which they were travelling from North Africa capsized of the coast of Libya follows a similar tragedy last week in which 400 people perished.

In October 2013, more than 360 people – mostly from Eritrea – lost their lives when their boat caught fire and sank off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa. In September 2014 more than 500 migrants were deliberately killed at sea. The attack allegedly occurred after the migrants refused to board a smaller boat in the open water and the traffickers reportedly laughed as they drowned, hacking at the hands of those who tried to cling to the wreckage. Witnesses report that as many as 100 children were on board.

In the absence of official records, or bodies to count, it’s hard to say exactly how many people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) released a report in late September 2014 putting the number at 3,072, accounting for 75% of worldwide migrant deaths. But with so many lost at sea or along the way, the real figure could be far higher.

[Read more…]

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The rise and fall of PEGIDA: how the anti-Islam movement has changed German politics

Derek Scally writes: The grassroots Islam-critical movement appears to be imploding after a mass walkout of leading figures on Wednesday. But whether it goes under or not is far less interesting than the effect it has had on German politics.

In just three months it grew exponentially via Facebook, stripping away the politically-correct veneer of German public debate to reveal – and reactivate – the slumbering intolerance beneath.

For many it’s a worrying sign that populism is in, Islam is fair game and Germany’s race to the political bottom is on. A pertinent question posed by Pegida’s rise and possible fall is: who stands to benefit?

The nascent Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Saxony could offer a political home to the 25,000 people who marched through Dresden to express concern at the supposed “islamisation of the west”.

The AfD pulled in nearly 10 per cent at its first state election in Saxony last September by going beyond euro criticism to appeal to conservative voters’ worst instincts: warning of “criminal” foreigners and protesting against mosques. [Continue reading…]

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Who can become a head of state?

A new Pew Research analysis finds that 30 of the world’s countries (15%) belong to a unique group of nations that call for their heads of state to have a particular religious affiliation. From monarchies to republics, candidates (including descendants of royal monarchies) in these countries must belong to a specific religious group.

This list includes Lebanon, which requires its president to be a member of the Maronite Christian Church. On Wednesday, Lebanon’s parliament will make a ninth attempt since May at filling the office.

More than half of the countries with religion-related restrictions on their heads of state (17) maintain that the office must be held by a Muslim. In Jordan, for example, the heir to the throne must be a Muslim child of Muslim parents. In Tunisia, any Muslim male or female voter born in the country may qualify as a candidate for president. Malaysia, Pakistan and Mauritania also restrict their heads of state to Muslim citizens.

Two countries, Lebanon and Andorra, require their heads of state to have a Christian affiliation. Lebanon also has a religious requirement of its prime minister, who must be a Sunni Muslim.

Two other countries require the heads of their monarchies be Buddhist: Bhutan and Thailand. And one country, Indonesia, requires the official state belief in Pancasila to be upheld by its head of state. Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country; Pancasila is a summation of “common cultural elements” of Indonesia, including belief in God.

A handful of countries do not require a particular religious affiliation for heads of state, but do limit candidates for the office to laypersons. Eight countries, including Bolivia, Mexico and El Salvador, specifically prohibit clergy from running in presidential elections. In Burma (Myanmar), the president is prohibited from being a member of a religious order.

Countries where the head of state is a ceremonial monarch.In addition to the 30 countries in this analysis, another 19 nations have religious requirements for ceremonial monarchs who serve as their heads of state. Sixteen of these, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, are members of the Commonwealth of Nations with Queen Elizabeth II – also known as the Defender of the Faith – as their head of state. The other countries in this category are Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Before Americans start feeling too smug about the secular traditions of this country, it’s worth being reminded about one of the most irony-laden clauses of the U.S. Constitution: the natural-born-citizen clause.

Only a “natural born” American can become president — a native American, one might say, so long as it was understood this didn’t actually mean a native American.

Only a nation of immigrants invested deeply in an a relentless denial of its own history could fabricate such a contrived definition of what it means to be a real American. “Natural born” is really just another name for xenophobia.

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Xenophobia inside the FBI

The New York Times reports: The F.B.I. is subjecting hundreds of its employees who were born overseas or have relatives or friends there to an aggressive internal surveillance program that started after Sept. 11, 2001, to prevent foreign spies from coercing newly hired linguists but that has been greatly expanded since then.

The program has drawn criticism from F.B.I. linguists, agents and other personnel with foreign language and cultural skills, and with ties abroad. They complain they are being discriminated against by a secretive “risk-management” plan that the agency uses to guard against espionage. This limits their assignments and stalls their careers, according to several employees and their lawyers.

Employees in the program — called the Post-Adjudication Risk Management plan, or PARM — face more frequent security interviews, polygraph tests, scrutiny of personal travel, and reviews of, in particular, electronic communications and files downloaded from databases.

Some of these employees, including Middle Eastern and Asian personnel who have been hired to fill crucial intelligence and counterterrorism needs, say they are being penalized for possessing the very skills and background that got them hired. They are notified about their inclusion in the program and the extra security requirements, but are not told precisely why they have been placed in it and apparently have no appeal or way out short of severing all ties with family and friends abroad. [Continue reading…]

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Islamophobic ‘pinstripe Nazis’ take to the streets in Germany

The Guardian reports: Its members have been dubbed the “pinstriped Nazis” and they refer to their demonstrations as “evening strolls” through German cities. But on Monday night, an estimated 15,000 people joined Pegida, or Patriotic Europeans Against Islamisation of the West, in a march through Dresden carrying banners bearing slogans such as “Zero tolerance towards criminal asylum seekers”, “Protect our homeland” and “Stop the Islamisation”.

Lutz Bachmann, the head of Pegida, a nascent anti-foreigner campaign group, led the crowds, either waving or draped in German flags, in barking chants of “Wir sind das Volk”, or “We are the people”, the slogan adopted by protesters in the historic “Monday demonstrations” against the East German government in the runup to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Associating themselves with the freedom demonstrations has given Pegida protests an air of moral respectability even though there are hundreds of rightwing extremists in their midst, as well as established groups of hooligans who are known to the police, according to Germany’s federal office for the protection of the constitution.

“The instigators are unmistakably rightwing extremists,” a federal spokesman said.

It was the ninth week in a row that Pegida had taken its protest on to the city’s streets in the eastern German state of Saxony.

Its first march, advertised on Facebook and other social media, attracted just 200 supporters. By last week the figure had risen to 10,000. By Monday night it had grown to an estimated 15,000. [Continue reading…]

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Aviva Chomsky: What’s at stake in the border debate

The militarization of the police has been underway since 9/11, but only in the aftermath of the six-shot killing of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, with photos of streets in a St. Louis suburb that looked like occupied Iraq or Afghanistan, has the fact of it, the shock of it, seemed to hit home widely.  Congressional representatives are now proposing bills to stop the Pentagon from giving the latest in war equipment to local police forces.  The president even interrupted his golfing vacation on Martha’s Vineyard to return to Washington, in part for “briefings” on the ongoing crisis in Ferguson.  So militarization is finally a major story.

And that’s no small thing.  On the other hand, the news from Ferguson can’t begin to catch the full process of militarization this society has been undergoing or the way America’s distant wars are coming home. We have, at least, a fine book by Radley Balko on how the police have been militarized.  Unfortunately, on the subject of the militarization of the country, there is none.  And yet from armed soldiers in railway stations to the mass surveillance of Americans, from the endless celebration of our “warriors” to the domestic use of drones, this country has been undergoing a significant process of militarization (and, if there were such a word, national securitization).

Perhaps nowhere has this been truer than on America’s borders and on the subject of immigration.  It’s no longer “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  The U.S. is in the process of becoming a citadel nation with up-armored, locked-down borders and a Border Patrol operating in a “Constitution-free zone” deep into the country.  The news is regularly filled with discussions of the need to “bolster border security” in ways that would have been unimaginable to previous generations.  In the meantime, the Border Patrol is producing its own set of Ferguson-style killings as, like SWAT teams around the U.S., it adopts an ever more militarized mindset and the weaponry to go with it.  As James Tomsheck, the former head of internal affairs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, put it recently, “It has been suggested by Border Patrol leadership that they are the Marine Corps of the U.S. law enforcement community.  The Border Patrol has a self-identity of a paramilitary border security force and not that of a law enforcement organization.”

It’s in this context that the emotional flare-up over undocumented Central American children crossing the southern border by the thousands took place.  In fact, without the process of militarization, that “debate” — with its discussion of “invasions,” “surges,” “terrorists,” and “tip of the spear” solutions — makes no sense.  Its language was far more appropriate to the invasion and occupation of Iraq than the arrival in this country of desperate kids, fleeing hellish conditions, and often looking for their parents.

Aviva Chomsky is the author of a new history of just how the words “immigration” and “illegal” became wedded — it wasn’t talked about that way not so many decades ago — and how immigrants became demonized in ways that are familiar in American history.  The Los Angeles Times has hailed Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal for adding “smart, new, and provocative scholarship to the immigration debate.” As in her book, so today at TomDispatch, Chomsky puts the most recent version of the immigration “debate” into a larger context, revealing just what we prefer not to see in our increasingly up-armored nation. Tom Engelhardt

America’s continuing border crisis
The real story behind the “invasion” of the children
By Aviva Chomsky

Call it irony or call it a nightmare, but the “crisis” of Central American children crossing the U.S.-Mexican border, which lasted for months amid fervent and angry debate, is now fading from the news.  The media stories have been legion, the words expended many.  And yet, as the “crisis” leaves town, as the sound and fury die down and attention shifts elsewhere (even though the children continue to arrive), the real factors that would have made sense of what’s been happening remain essentially untouched and largely unmentioned.  It couldn’t be stranger — or sadder.

Since late June 2014, the “surge” of those thousands of desperate children entering this country has been in the news.  Sensational stories were followed by fervent demonstrations and counter-demonstrations with emotions running high.  And it’s not a debate that stayed near the southern border either.  In my home state, Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick tearfully offered to detain some of the children — and that was somehow turned into a humanitarian gesture that liberals applauded and anti-immigrant activists decried.  Meanwhile the mayor of Lynn, a city north of Boston, echoed nativists on the border, announcing that her town didn’t want any more immigrants.  The months of this sort of emotion, partisanship, and one-upmanship have, however, diverted attention from the real issues.  As so often is the case, there is so much more to the story than what we’ve been hearing in the news.

[Read more…]

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The attack at the Jewish museum in Belgium highlights what?

Following the arrest of Mehdi Nemmouche, a French citizen who is suspected of killing four people at a Jewish museum in Belgium two weeks, the “big eye-opener … is that he had recently returned from Syria,” writes Jason Ditz at Antiwar.com.

Seemingly, the oft-repeated predictions that Western Muslims, radicalized in Syria, are destined to come home and terrorize their fellow citizens, are coming true.

The Jerusalem Post reports:

French President François Hollande confirmed that a suspect had been arrested and repeated his country’s determination to do all it could to stop radicalized youths from carrying out attacks.

French media reports said Nemmouche was also suspected of having stayed with jihadist groups last year while in Syria, where Islamist insurgents have been playing a major part in the three-year uprising against President Bashar Assad.

Muhammad Merah, the Franco- Algerian who died in a police shootout in Toulouse in March 2012 after killing three soldiers and four Jews, three of them children, also had links with Islamist insurgents. His sister, Souad, has since disappeared and is believed to be in Syria with a companion and her four children.

Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen said that “there must be a lot of Merahs coming back [to France] from Syria.”

According to intelligence specialists, the largest number of European jihadists is in Belgium, a country with a sizable number of North African Arab immigrants.

It’s disturbing that the perspective of some members of the antiwar movement, the Western political mainstream, and the anti-immigrant European far right have come into such close alignment.

But buried in the Jerusalem Post report is a detail that should have garnered more attention: Nemmouche’s own attorney’s explanation about the radicalization of his client.

Salifa Badaoui said that Nemmouche “was not frequenting the mosque [and] was not talking about religion at all….He became radical only in jail, after falling into minor criminality during his adolescence.” Nemmouche served time in prison in 2009 and 2012.

In other words, if we are to understand the process of radicalization that may have led to the murders in Brussels, we should be giving as much if not more attention to Nemmouche’s experiences in France rather than those in Syria.

Last year, Reuters reported:

In France, the path to radical Islam often begins with a minor offence that throws a young man into an overcrowded, violent jail and produces a hardened convert ready for jihad.

With the country on heightened security alert since January when French troops began fighting al Qaeda-linked Islamists in Mali, authorities are increasingly worried about home-grown militants emerging from France’s own jails.

But despite government efforts to tackle the problem, conditions behind bars are still turning young Muslims into easy prey for jhadist recruiters, according to guards, prison directors, ex-inmates, chaplains and crime experts interviewed over the last few months by Reuters.

“I have parents who come to me and say: ‘My son went in a dealer and came out a fundamentalist’,” said Hassen Chalghoumi, imam of the mosque in Drancy, a gritty suburb north of Paris.

As petty criminals become radicalized in jail, the society to which they return is inclined to reinforce their experience of alienation and solidify their ideological conclusions.
In 2012, France 24 reported:

French Muslims have become the target of a marked increase in Islamophobic violence and actions, as well as incendiary statements by politicians, over the last two years, according to a report by a leading anti-racism observatory.

The number of racist acts against Muslims in France is increasing “alarmingly”, according to the country’s National Observatory of Islamophobia, whose president has called for overt Islamophobia to be taken as seriously as anti-Semitism, which is a criminal offence in France.

According to a report by the Observatory, which claims to fight “all forms of racism and xenophobia”, “in 2011 the number [of anti-Muslim attacks] was up 34% on the previous year … but what is happening in 2012 is alarming. Between January and the end of October there were 175 reported Islamophobic acts, a 42% increase compared with the same period in 2011.”

The report highlighted the occupation of a building site of a new mosque in Poitiers, near Paris, by 74 members of the extreme-right splinter group “Generation Identity”, who chanted hostile “warlike” slogans against Islam and Muslims.

The Observatory’s President Abdallah Zekri told FRANCE 24 that the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in France could be partly explained by “the tense socio-political atmosphere in France being driven by a resurgence of the far right”.

The huge success of Le Pen’s National Front in this May’s elections suggests that European leaders have less reason to highlight the threat posed by jihadists returning from Syria than they should fear the huge wave of xenophobia now sweeping the continent.

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NYPD shuts down worthless unit that spied on Muslims

The New York Times reports: The New York Police Department has abandoned a secretive program that dispatched plainclothes detectives into Muslim neighborhoods to eavesdrop on conversations and built detailed files on where people ate, prayed and shopped, the department said.

The decision by the nation’s largest police force to shutter the controversial surveillance program represents the first sign that William J. Bratton, the department’s new commissioner, is backing away from some of the post-9/11 intelligence-gathering practices of his predecessor. The Police Department’s tactics, which are the subject of two federal lawsuits, drew criticism from civil rights groups and a senior official with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who said they harmed national security by sowing mistrust for law enforcement in Muslim communities.

To many Muslims, the squad, known as the Demographics Unit, was a sign that the police viewed their every action with suspicion. The police mapped communities inside and outside the city, logging where customers in traditional Islamic clothes ate meals and documenting their lunch-counter conversations. [Continue reading…]

There aren’t too many occasions on which we can celebrate the effectiveness of the Fourth Estate in identifying and thereby curtailing the abuse of state power, but hats off to the Associated Press for running their Pulitzer Prize-winning probe into the NYPD’s Islamophobic intelligence operations.

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Xenophobia in Russia at an all-time high, experts say

a13-iconPaul Goble writes: Xenophobia and hate crimes against members of other ethnic groups, after having declined in Russia between 2009 and 2012, have now risen to unprecedented levels, the result of what many see as the Putin regime’s backing for ethnic Russian pride, according to experts in Moscow.

In yesterday’s Yezhednevny Zhurnal, Vera Alperovich says that “the outburst of ethnic violence” in Russia “is visible even to the uninterested observer” and that the main victims are migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus who suffer both from organized attacks and individual violence.

Two other trends are especially worrisome, she writes: the growth in the number of attacks by organized groups and increases in the number of attacks against anyone with a dark skin, Jews, ethnic Chinese and Roma (gypsies), the latest confirmation that xenophobia tends to spread from new targets to old ones, especially if officials do not counter it.

2013 was a record year in terms of the number of attacks against immigrants, she says, and she recounts some of the most notorious cases, including the July violence in Pugachev in Saratov oblast. What made that clash stand out is that ultra-right groups were not involved; instead, the population appears to have acted more or less spontaneously. [Continue reading…]

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The Boston bombing and immigration

Andrew Rosenthal writes: Rep. Steve King, Republican of Iowa has … said that “[in light of the Boston bombings] we need to take a look at the big picture” before proceeding with immigration reform.

So, let’s look at the big picture. The slain older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had a green card, while the surviving younger brother, Dzhokhar, is a naturalized citizen. As I said, they both arrived here fairly recently.

But then, so did Lu Lingzi, one of the three people killed in the explosions. She was from China, a graduate student at Boston University who played piano and liked dogs and blueberry pancakes.

The Tsarnaevs’ 26-year-old carjacking victim was also born in China. According to a Boston Globe story on his harrowing experience “his quick-thinking escape…allowed police to swiftly track down” the brothers, “abating a possible attack” on New York City.

Guess who else was foreign born? The gas station clerk who sheltered the carjack victim and called 911. His name is Tarek Ahmed. He is 45 years old,. He told a Times reporter, Wendy Ruderman, that he is Muslim and came here from Egypt seven years ago.

Mr. Ahmed also told The Times: “I love this country. My heart goes out to everybody who is affected by this.”

The story of the Boston marathon attacks is not just about two immigrant brothers suspected of committing a horrific act of violence. It is also about the foreign residents and immigrants they victimized and those who assisted in their capture.

The “big picture” is the same as it ever was: Visa shortages and the millions of people living in the shadows, doing jobs no one else wants.

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No human being is illegal

Rebel Diaz Arts Collective, South Bronx

As others have said: judge a state’s respect for human rights by the way it treats its prisoners.

In what kind of country would people, convicted of no crime, be put into solitary confinement because they are mentally ill, or gay, or Muslim?

The United States — a country that dehumanizes many foreigners by branding them illegal aliens.

How pervasive and bipartisan is xenophobia in America?

Consider the response to drone warfare. Thousands of people have been killed in Pakistan provoking nothing more than a very marginal outcry over here. Why? Because none of the dead have been Americans.

Only after three U.S. citizens were killed in drone strikes in Yemen did the legality of Obama’s assassination program start to receive wider scrutiny and for most of those Americans troubled by the issue, concern about a disregard for the constitutional rights of Americans, seemed to be uppermost in their minds.

This is a nation that bathes in a sense of its own innocence. Its innocents can take for granted that all are presumed innocent until proven guilty — unless they happen to be foreigners.

When it comes to foreigners suspected of being terrorists, suspicion is as good as conviction. “Suspected terrorist” and “terrorist” are not exactly exchangeable terms since the exchange only goes in one direction — by dropping the qualification “suspected.”

Add to the xenophobia the racism that pervades what remains a white-ruled society and it should come as no surprise that the worst treatment for some of the least fortunate among us is often dished out to those whose double offense is that they are both foreign and have darker skins.

The New York Times reports: On any given day, about 300 immigrants are held in solitary confinement at the 50 largest detention facilities that make up the sprawling patchwork of holding centers nationwide overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, according to new federal data.

Nearly half are isolated for 15 days or more, the point at which psychiatric experts say they are at risk for severe mental harm, with about 35 detainees kept for more than 75 days.

While the records do not indicate why immigrants were put in solitary, an adviser who helped the immigration agency review the numbers estimated that two-thirds of the cases involved disciplinary infractions like breaking rules, talking back to guards or getting into fights. Immigrants were also regularly isolated because they were viewed as a threat to other detainees or personnel or for protective purposes when the immigrant was gay or mentally ill.

The United States has come under sharp criticism at home and abroad for relying on solitary confinement in its prisons more than any other democratic nation in the world. While Immigration and Customs Enforcement places only about 1 percent of its jailed immigrants in solitary, this practice is nonetheless startling because those detainees are being held on civil, not criminal, charges. As such, they are not supposed to be punished; they are simply confined to ensure that they appear for administrative hearings.

After federal immigration authorities caught up with him, Rashed BinRashed, an illegal arrival from Yemen, was sent to a detention center in Juneau, Wis. He was put in solitary confinement, he says, after declining to go to the jail’s eating area and refusing meals because he wanted to fast during Ramadan.

Federal officials confined Delfino Quiroz, a gay immigrant from Mexico, in solitary for four months in 2010, saying it was for his own protection, he recalls. He sank into a deep depression as he overheard three inmates attempt suicide. “Please, God,” he remembers praying, “don’t let me be the same.” [Continue reading…]

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Liberal racial hypocrisy

Falguni A. Sheth writes: Since the reelection of President Obama, liberals have made some bold admissions. Commentators like Touré Neblett of MSNBC’s The Cycle have enthusiastically and repeatedly defended the president’s authority to launch drones against anyone, including American citizens, if he suspects that they are “trying to kill us.”

At no point in his several defenses did Touré reconcile his position with once-popular Constitutional precepts that every person should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and know the charges and evidence against him, and have the right to a fair trial. Neither did he explain why ordinary Americans should suspend their longstanding skepticism of politicians in power or withdraw the demand that the president and Congress be accountable for their actions, especially the taking of someone’s life.

Sadly, Touré isn’t alone in trusting the president’s complete discretion to decide which individuals are threats to American safety. Other liberals, from Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, to Touré’s MSNBC colleague Krystal Ball, to liberal bloggers also admit to a higher level of comfort with President Obama’s overseeing of otherwise troubling policies such as secret kill lists, targeted killings, and preemptive detentions of suspected terrorists. They are joined by 54% of Americans, who agree that the Obama Administration should have the discretion to kill anyone alleged to be senior al-Qaeda members.

The hoopla has been described by other pundits, liberal and conservative, as hypocrisy or, more accurately, shameless political double standards. Why exculpate a Democratic president for the same troubling, and extrajudicial, policies once engaged in by a Republican president? They’re right, of course. But there’s another double standard to worry about: one that assumes brown/black foreigners shouldn’t receive the same benefit of the doubt about their guilt that is regularly given to other Americans. It can only be ascribed to a racial double standard, one consistent with an aggressive jingoism. [Continue reading…]

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How do you define American?

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When Israel’s guns go silent, its demons roar

Gideon Levy writes: This fall a culture war, no less, broke out in Israel, and it is being waged on many more, and deeper, fronts than are apparent. It is not only the government, as important as that is, that hangs in the balance, but also the very character of the state. Our way of life is about to change, from cradle to grave. For this reason, it could be the most pivotal battle in the country’s history since the War of Independence.

We always knew that a few years without an external threat could strain the delicate seams: When the guns go silent, the demons roar. But no one predicted such an outburst of demons of every kind, all at once. The assault on the existing order is an all-out war, on every front; a political tsunami, a cultural flood and a social and religious earthquake, all still in their infancy. Those who call this an exaggeration are trying to lull you to sleep. The defeats and the victories up to now will determine the course of events: In the end, we will have a different country. The pretension of being an enlightened Western democracy is giving way, with terrifying speed, to a different reality – that of a benighted, racist, religious, ultranationalist, fundamentalist Middle Eastern country. That is not the kind of integration into the region we had hoped for.

The ferocious combined assault is highly effective. It targets women, Arabs, leftists, foreigners, the press, the judicial system, human rights organizations and anyone standing in the way of the cultural revolution. From the music we listen to, to the television we watch, from the buses we ride to the funerals we attend , everything is about to change. The army is changing, the courts are in turmoil, the status of women is being pelted with rocks, the Arabs are being shoved behind a fence and the labor migrants are being forced into concentration camps. Israel is barricading itself behind more and more walls and barbed-wire fences as if to say, to hell with the world.

There is no single guiding hand mixing this boiling, poisonous potion; many hands stir the revolution, but they all have something in common: the aspiration to a different Israel, one that is not Western, not open, not free and not secular. The extreme nationalist hand passes the antidemocratic, neofascist laws; the Haredi hand undermines gender equality and personal freedoms; the racist hand acts against the non-Jews; the settler hand intensifies the hold not only on the occupied territories but also deep into Israel; and another hand interferes in education, culture and the arts.

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Unholy alliance: Israel’s right and Europe’s anti-Semites

Israel's ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor accidentally smiles while rubbing shoulders with French ultra-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Adar Primor writes: Marine Le Pen hit the jackpot. She invited about 100 diplomats to a luncheon last week during a visit to UN Headquarters in New York. Four accepted: There were the envoys from Trinidad and Tobago, Armenia and Uruguay, who obviously are of no concern to her at all. But the entrance of the fourth guest, Israeli UN Ambassador Ron Prosor, made the event a sensation and worth her whole trip.

No official American representative agreed to meet with France’s extreme-right leader. Neither did any leader of the Jewish community. She failed in her attempt to stage a photo op at the Holocaust Museum, and skipped the visit. The French ambassador to the UN sent a sharp message that she is persona non grata in the United Nations building. But the Israeli envoy? He shook her hand and spoke of the importance that must be accorded to a wide variety of opinions.

“We flourish on the diversity of ideas,” Prosor said. “We talked about Europe, about other issues and I enjoyed the conversation very much,” Prosor was quoted as saying. Even before he went into the hall where the luncheon was being held, he told shocked reporters that he was a “free man.”

The Foreign Ministry now claims there was a misunderstanding; the ambassador “thought he was attending an event hosted by the French UN delegation. When he realized his error, he skipped the meal and left.” User comments on leading French news websites over the weekend were derisive, including all the French equivalents of LOL and ROFL in response to the explanation.

No one believes it was a coincidence. Prosor is a proven professional. He would certainly want to forget the fact that he became the first representative of the Jewish state to meet with a leader of the National Front. He would probably be happy to smash the camera that documented the smiling encounter. But his mistake did not happen in a vacuum. It has the odor of a symptom. The odor of a very unholy alliance being formed between members of the Israeli right-wing and a number of the most nationalistic and anti-Semitic figures in Europe. Over the past year, among visitors to Israel were the populist Dutch leader Geert Wilders, the Belgian racist Filip Dewinter and the Austrian successor to Jorg Haider, Heinz-Christian Strache.

These politicians, like Le Pen, have exchanged the Jewish demon-enemy for the criminal-immigrant Muslim. But they have not really discarded their ideological DNA. The Israeli seal of approval they seek to get is intended to bring them closer to power. Le Pen herself has decided to leave behind the anti-Semitic scandals of her father, Jean-Marie. She wants to make the National Front a popular and legitimate party.

She is already popular (19 percent in the polls). Legitimate? In two interviews she gave to Haaretz in the past, she attacked President Jacques Chirac for his historic 1995 declaration in which he took, in the name of France, responsibility for Vichy war crimes. She adamantly refused to denounce French fascist crimes and showed that she cannot really disengage from her father, his heritage and her party’s Vichy and anti-Semitic hard core.

It is easy to guess what would happen to an Israeli ambassador if he found himself at an event hosted by the “disgraced” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – or, perish the thought, at a Hamas or Hezbollah event. The earth would tremble. Even tar and feathers would not be enough under such circumstances. But Le Pen is blonde and she has blue eyes. Oh, and she hates Muslims.

Let us hope the incident at the United Nations will not give her votes that will allow her to repeat her father’s sensational results in the 2002 French presidential elections, and go on to a second round in the upcoming French elections.

We must see a complete and public disavowal by Israel to prevent an ostensibly minor incident from becoming an accident of history.

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Patriotic American Muslims viewed with suspicion by many fellow citizens

Which religious group of Americans has the most positive view of their fellow American Muslims? American Jews.

Which religious group of Americans has the greatest appreciation for religious pluralism in America? American Muslims.

American Muslims and American Jews have almost exactly the same level of support — about 80% — for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The least level of support comes from Protestants — 69%.

Only 56% of Protestants believe that Muslims living in America have no sympathy for al Qaeda.

48% of Muslim Americans say that they have personally experienced racial or religious discrimination in the last year.

These are some of the findings from a new Gallop poll on Muslim Americans.

Christian Science Monitor reports:

A poll released Thursday revealed curious contradictions in the Muslim-American community, which is more enthused about its country and president than any other religious group, yet is the least politically active and faces the greatest discrimination.

The Gallup poll on American religious groups offers a counterpoint to the stereotype that Muslims in the US lead isolated lives because they do not feel comfortable fitting in or associating with mainstream American culture. Moreover, it also offers insights into the Muslim-American experience – from how dramatically the election of President Obama affected them to how little they trust the activists who work on their behalf.

In total, the poll paints a picture of a community characterized by optimism but still seeking acceptance among its fellow citizens.

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