Saturday, June 30, 2012

Mocking The Holocaust

It is not only Iran's ayatollahs who mock the reality of the Holocaust.  Its victims also allow themselves to participate in events which trivialize that unspeakable horror.  Reminiscent in a way of what occurred in Rwanda after its UN-unstoppable genocidal war between the Hutsis and the Tutsis when a beauty pageant was initiated as a form of unguent to smooth over hatreds by the illusion of acceptance of various physical characteristics to prove that beauty has many faces.

What exactly was to be proven by the director of Helping Hand, a private group dedicated to the assistance of the estimated 200,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel is puzzling indeed.  The beauty contest, however, seemed to appeal to some who agreed to participate.  Its organizers call it an affirmation of life.  Its critics consider it an appalling example of cruel stupidity.

Fourteen elderly women who managed to survive the Holocaust took their place on the pageant stage in the city of Haifa, well attended by supporters and admirers of the event.  The contestants each regaled the crowd with their personal stories of survival.  Those who approved felt that this event served to assist these women with a positive self-regard.  Many Holocaust survivors living in Israel, live in poverty.

If any manner of event were to have been contemplated perhaps it might have been more appropriate to stage an event that would highlight the obligation of others to ensure that these elderly survivors live the last days of their lives in peace and comfort.  Relieving them of the burden of living in poverty.  If government agencies are not adequately funded to achieve that end, then the organization Helping Hand might find a way to make that a reality.

"There were one thousand survivors there [at the event] who enjoyed the event", according to Shimon Sabag, director of Helping Hand.  "People don't have to see Holocaust survivors mainly as a group of wheel-chair-bound victims", he explained.  Certainly they do not, but on the other hand, those individuals who are survivors of one of life's worst demonstrations of hatred gone amok, could find comfort in other examples of regard for them as survivors.

The event was described as "macabre" by one of its detractors, someone who herself is a head of another survivors' organization.  The 79-year-old contest winner wore a blue and white sash and a tiara.  Beauty contests are peculiar social constructions, emphasizing physical appearance and ostensibly social talents.  They appeal to those who appreciate facade rather than depth and meaning.

The contest winner, Hava Hershkovitz, looked at her having won the pageant as "her revenge, showing how despite the horrors her family went through, her beauty and personality have endured", said Mr. Sabag.  "We should never forgive and forget what they went through, but I find this a very constructive way to show these people remain beautiful."

How utterly pathetic as a yardstick of what has meaning and importance in life.  The contest winner was gifted with a family weekend at a resort.  All of the one hundred contestants were magnanimously given electronic distress buttons.  A fitting end would have been a concerted effort to press those buttons simultaneously.

Jews do have a sense of humour.  They pluck at one another's elbows to recount absurdities to relieve the tension of life.  They are capable of finding amusement in the most bleak of circumstances.  Books have been written documenting the Holocaust as fictional accounts replete with sinister dark humour of victims rising above their plight through hope and humour.

Nothing very amusing about this story, however.

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Another Refugee Crisis

But not just any refugee crisis, according to UNHCR which describes this particular situation between Afghanistan and Pakistan as the "largest and most protracted refugee crisis in the world".  How would they then qualify the Palestinian 'refugee crisis'?  Protracted, most certainly, since although the Afghanis fled their crisis-torn country 32 years ago, the Arab Palestinians fled theirs on a song and a promise well over 60 years ago.

For the Palestinians the United Nations created a very special refugee-assistance supporting body, UN Relief & Works Agency, UNRWA which did not seek permanent refuge and placement for the original estimated 350,000 fleeing Palestinians. It is more concerned with the encouragement of a return than an absorption of those refugees which now claim to number in the multiple-millions.

Pakistan has been burdened with 1.7 million refugees, including hundreds of thousands of others who are unregistered, having illegally migrated from Afghanistan.  The UN High Commissioner for Refugees searches for a solution to yet another seemingly intractable problem of people fleeing their homelands in search of security.  Those refugees can, if developed countries allow, migrate there.

"No country allows illegal immigrants, how it is (sic) possible to legalize something which is illegal?"  A rhetorical question on the part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's information minister, Mian Ifukhar Hussain.  It is in Pakistan's northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where most of these undocumented 400,000 Afghans live.  Shades of Khaled Hosseini's "A Thousand Splendid Suns".

If course the situation began with the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in its futile, death-dealing and utterly impossible determination to stop what they foresaw as an fanatically fundamentalist Islamist government taking over the country and complicating their own stability.  Their installation of a communist Afghani leadership met the inevitable challenges of a people insistent they would find their own solutions.

And, thanks to neighbour Pakistan in collusion with the U.S. CIA, Islamist mujahadeen were trained and armed and given shelter, then sent into Afghanistan to do their sacred duty by Islam which abhors the very idea of a secular-ideological administration in a culture dedicated to the fundamentals of pure Islam.  Pakistan, then and now, with its continuing support of the resulting Taliban, is itself hugely responsible for the plight and the flight of Afghan citizens desperate to escape the ravages of brutal conflict victimizing them.

"We have been accommodating Afghan immigrants for 32 years.  The provincial government cannot take their burden any more, they should go back to their country", huffs Mr. Hussain.  Who should in fact be speaking to the heads of Pakistan's military apparatus, and its secret service, to convince them to put a halt to supporting the Afghan Taliban.

Peace might then proceed to gradually overtake that desperately benighted country.  Perhaps then Afghan farmers would no longer farm poppies, supplying 90% of the world's trade in heroin, preferring instead to be able to adequately feed the population.  And the corrupt government of Afghanistan would be pressured successfully by those in the international forum who fund it, to channel aid where it belongs.

But equally corrupt and far more sinister Pakistan with its paranoia and fearful suspicions about its neighbours' intentions has no wish to become a good and decent neighbour.  And so, migrants desperately seeking shelter enter Pakistan and Iran where they look for personal solutions to generalized miserable social failures.

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Leading Ladies

Going backward in time, in social custom, back to another era entirely.  The people have chosen.  And women in Egypt now have an entirely new, yet very elderly tradition to inform their social norms.  Modesty certain does have its place, yet intelligent choices and logic also have their place.  What practical sense does it make for women living in intemperately warm climates to completely encase themselves in stifling dark-coloured fabrics?

Covering themselves in lengthy garments that do not provide for freedom of air passage, let alone physical movement; awkward, concealing and accepting of a pernicious demand of male-dominated societies that demand their women not be seen nor heard by any but themselves, and even then discreetly.  The Taliban in Afghanistan decreed that all women must wear the burqa, and even so, fully covered and concealed, forbidden to present themselves in public without a male family escort.

To exhibit the foolish and unacceptable effrontery to defy those edicts was to bring down the deserved wrath of young men wielding whips and batons, enforcing rules.  Egypt may not go quite that far as to institutionalize that totally demeaning unequal relationship between women and their modest garb, but since the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is on the cusp of sharing ultimate power with the military, it will come to some vestige of female public constraints.

The Muslim Brotherhood plans to restore friendly relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran which were sundered by the signing of a peace treaty with Israel.  Whether that determination presages a break with Israel is yet to be determined; the Brotherhood has already announced that there are Judaic holy sites within Egypt that will hitherto be off limits to Jewish worshippers. 

Egypt is a sovereign country and it may do whatever it wishes to do.  The women of Egypt who live liberated lives of equality and who dress in whatever manner personally suits them may find their choices somewhat curtailed in the near future.  If, as seems likely, the military and the Brotherhood reach an accord for joint administration, the military will opt to rule the country's foreign relations up to a point, along with its security.

While the Brotherhood will largely content itself with the social aspects of administering the country's fortunes, from finances, the budget and the economy to the social contract in acceptable social presentation that will affect women.  It is doubtful that women would be denied educational and workplace opportunities, but nothing is beyond the realm of possibility in the application of fundamentalism.

Naglaa Ali Mahmoud, wife of president-elect Mohammed Morsi, appears nothing like the wives of former Presidents Mubarak and Sadat.  She is sedately and almost-completely covered in a black all-encompassing robe, absent only the niqab.  To many more westernized Egyptians she exemplifies backwardness.  Yet she appears as well a woman who has involved herself in the social affairs of her people.

While her husband attended university in the United States she did volunteer work, helping women who wished to convert to Islam.  When on their return to Egypt he taught engineering, she instructed young women about marriage duties.  Even in that strictly patriarchal society, Mr. Morsi speaks glowingly of his wife, that having married his cousin eleven years his junior was "the biggest personal achievement of my life.

If that impression remains, despite his having achieved the presidency, there may be hope for Egyptian women, after all.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Well Matched: Venezuela/UN Human Rights Council

 Someone with the conviction of his moral certainty that his country of Venezuela is being socially perverted by the ongoing presence of Hugo Chavez who has ruled the country like a despot, curtailing liberties , enforcing edicts, arresting and imprisoning those who would challenge him, has decided to speak out against the UN Human Rights Council's newest welcome of another human rights abuser to their ranks.

Venezuelan bank president Eligio Cedeno knows of what he speaks when he speaks of the Chavez regime's moral bankruptcy.  Pity that he seems unaware that the UN Human Rights Council champions the morally bankrupt, because they speak the same language, obey the same imperatives, recognize the same values and respect authoritarian might deployed against the helpless and the vulnerable.

Mr. Cedeno served three years in prison, charged with politically motivated crimes.  Even UN human rights experts spoke in condemnation of the sentence meted out to him by the regime.  Venezuelian judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni ordered Mr. Cedeno's release in recognition of the trumped-up charges brought to bear against him, as a critic of the Chavez presidency's administration.

For her troubles the judge was detained as soon as Mr. Cedeno was released.  She and her lawyer were arrested.   Three UN rapporteurs spoke of a "climate of fear" that prevails in Venezuela, exemplified by the arrest of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, insisting that punishing her for doing her job delegitimized the the regime, creating that climate of fear. 

Mr. Cedeno fled the country in justified fear of further persecution, while Judge Afiuni remains incarcerated.  The very same UN Human Rights Council that Venezuela is expected to join as a member sitting in judgement of other countries has this case to consider on their roster.  Mr. Chavez took umbrage at Judge Afiuni's decision in the Cedeno case, calling her a bandit, accusing her of corruption, calling for a jail term of 30 years.

In response to which the Human Rights Council called for her release.  Venezuela has called upon Interpol to arrest Mr. Cedeno, where he is taking refuge in Miami.  Interpol has suspended the request recognizing the connection of political persecution on the part of Venezuela.  A Human Rights Watch report has characterized Venezuela's political atmosphere as reflective of "a precarious human rights situation".

The country's citizens' right to free expression is absent, conditions in the country's prisons are deplorable, and the regime's security agents are actively engaged in extrajudicial killings.  The Human Rights Council will proceed with its intention to welcome Venezuela into its fold.  Certainly other members like Cuba, Nigeria and China will welcome it with open arms.

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United Nations Leadership

A country that poses a very real threat to regional security, one moreover whose human rights record is so perversely blemished manages by some miraculous sleight-of-mind to present as a member in good standing of the United Nations, the very body that has led in exacting economically ruinous sanctions in response to its unauthorized uranium enrichment program.  Yet this very same country is seen quite obviously as one to be respected as witnessed by the fact that the United Nations holds conferences in its capital city of Tehran.

Knowing full well that given that international forum the Islamic Republic of Iran will speak to any topic of general attention, somehow managing to inveigle absurdly slanderous accusations against the State of Israel as being the fount of all evil in the world.  Amazingly, in attendance at these conferences are not only human-rights-abusing states whose record of abuse is only minimally less invasive than Iran's, but also diplomatic envoys of advanced European states.

Their acquiescence to such scenarios is implicit, in that when they become part of such gatherings and are exposed to the incredibly image-damaging rants of the vice-president of Iran vilifying Israel, claiming it to be involved in all manner of pernicious schemes to bring misery to the world, there is no one present who would bother to demonstrate the merest contempt for such mind-boggling and vicious inanities.

And so, those gathering in Tehran for a UN-sponsored conference on drug trafficking hear out instead the ravings of rabidly hateful accusations against a country and its people having nothing whatever to do with the matter under discussion.  But their very presence in the country of a nation whose leaders have gone out of their way to repeatedly threaten violence of obliteration against another country serves to give legitimacy to that country's assertions.

The western delegates at the UN global drug enforcement conference in Tehran were treated to an extraordinary spectacle as Iran's Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi roused himself to an inflammatory speech against Israel, claiming the Talmud "teaches them how to destroy non-Jews so as to protect an embryo in the womb of a Jewish mother".  A perplexing accusation that must have whirled about in the mind of a fanatic determined to instill dread and distaste in the minds of like-minded bigots.

"Zionists", he claimed are responsible for the trafficking of illicit drugs throughout the world.  "You cannot find a single addict among the Zionists", he claimed.  The idea being that Jews infect others with the germ of narcotic addiction, but yet are themselves usefully immune from contracting that very same disease, armoured with the wish, presumably, to destroy other societies, not their own.  This kind of nonsensical, childish nonsense emanating from the mind of a high ranking government official boggles the mind.

The New York Times which appears to have covered the UN-sponsored conference titled International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, wrote that this man with the truly troubled mind echoing the prevailing official opinion of his peers, confidently asserted that Zionists order gynecologists to kill black babies.  What's more, he had inside information that the 1917 Russian Revolution was initiated by Jews - and tellingly, none, he said, died in it.  Though if any of them heard what he had to say they might have died laughing.

That credibility would be given this kind of incredible claptrap by those present and hearing out the hateful messages would simply listen and report on what they had heard, without anyone lifting a voice to challenge the mindset that conceived of such legendary absurdities, speaks volumes about the general atmosphere that dominates at all United Nations-sponsored events.

One Western diplomat present at the event claimed that the 10-minute speech had him "really shocked and surprised".  So shocked and surprised, evidently, that his reason and his voice left him shell-shocked, incapable of responding intelligently, rationally, and with the conviction of having the truth at his recall.  "We've heard speeches like this before but this was so much worse than the usual rhetoric.  This wasn't about drugs.  It seems the Iranians want to create an issue and are deliberately looking to stir things up", the diplomat elaborated.

And as long as those who know better but hold their counsel allow that perfervid nonsense to go unchallenged, Iran will continue to consider its outrageously lunatic and dangerous slanders to be perfectly acceptable, in fact validated by all those who are exposed to it.  Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief responsible for negotiating with Iran on behalf of six world powers with respect to nuclear talks that lead to no solutions whatever, reacted by saying the speech was anti-Semitic, "unacceptable".

Those present at the conference appear to have thought it completely acceptable. 

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Equal Access...Human Rights Violations

"In the increasingly militarized context, human rights violations are occurring across the country on an alarming scale during military operations against locations believed to be hosting defectors and/or those perceived as affiliated with anti-government armed groups, including the Free Syrian Army..."  Extract from report by United Nations investigators

United Nations investigation head Paulo Pinheiro released a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.  That report listed kidnappings and killings by armed opposition groups.  That would be the opposition to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the groups he refers to as terrorists.  And if that designation can be held to the description of those who convey emotions of terror in the hearts of those whom they attack, the opposition certainly qualifies.

Of course, to be entirely fair, so does the Alawite regime of President al-Assad.  His military troops with their orders to defeat the opposition at whatever cost it takes are no less terrorists than the opposition who clearly have among their ranks groups which are identified as terrorists, including members of al-Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood, among others.

And the Syrian government forces include members of the terrorist group Hezbollah, as well as Iran's Republican Guard al Quds units, aiding and assisting the regime.  They are almost equally matched in their proclivity for butchery.  And to deny that this all-out civil war owes much of its steamy hatred to sectarian and tribal animosities is to deny reality.

The United Nations investigators have come to the conclusion that they could not definitely determine who exactly it was that carried out the massacre of over 100 civilians in Houla in late May.  Forces loyal to President al-Assad may have been responsible for many of the deaths based on a preliminary analysis of satellite images, videos and witness interviews.

Which does not entirely preclude the potential of some or all of those deaths having been carried out with the collusion of the opposition.  There appears to be some evidence in support of the rebels, opposition, terrorists, whatever nomenclature seems suitable under the circumstances, having been the real and actual cause of the Houla massacre.

"We can't say things for which we do not have sufficient evidence.  We are in good company because nobody knows exactly what happened in that crime scene", investigation head Paulo Pinheiri informed at a press conference.

And while government troops have the use of artillery, tanks and machine guns in their assaults, rebel forces were increasing their use of improvised explosive devices.  Neutral death-dealing explosives so popular among the Taliban in Afghanistan.  What works there can most certainly work elsewhere.  Deadly devices to leaven the playing field as it were.

Syria's ambassador treats all of this as a smear campaign deliberately embarked upon by the international community wishing to find fault with a country that is legitimately engaged in protecting its citizens from terrorist activity.  "All sides recognize now that the crisis is not attributable to peaceful demonstrations and legitimate demands for reform. "The crisis in Syria is a genuine war", warned Ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui.

The UN investigators expressed their unease with the knowledge that the rebels were increasingly dependent on the use of children as messengers, cooks, medical porters.  Some of whom had been passing across the border with Turkey in their helpful missions tasked to them by the rebel army.  Those children were clearly being exposed to risk of injury and death.

It is questionable whether the UN Human Rights Council will find much amiss in this report.  After all, so many of their respectable members are themselves fully practising human-rights abusers.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Insanely Deranged

Norway's poster boy for lunacy and mass murder in the name of saving civilization from the marauding hordes of religious fanatics has his country's psychiatric experts somewhat puzzled.  That he is certifiably insane most would agree, but not all.  The Norwegian psychiatric community appears to be split in their diagnoses, from concluding that he is a paranoid schizophrenic to other mental derangement measurements.

As, for example, narcissistic personality disorder, autism-spectrum disorder, Tourette's syndrome and paranoid psychosis.  Why not, for the sake of conformity, simply accept them all?

Norway has a compassionate conscience on full display.  Slaughter 77 innocent Norwegians in the name of delusional championing of tradition being overtaken by an alien culture with a sinister intent, and you are logically assumed to be mad.  And mad certainly does describe the fantasies that have occupied the mind of Anders Breivik.  Although he denies, denies, denies that totally unwarranted and certainly unwanted designation.

For he is actually a knight in shining armour - at the very least a self-designed uniform to distinguish his reasoned mission to save European Christendom from its own near-sighted indifference to an organized, fanatic take-over by Muslim crusaders for Sharia and the long-lost-to-be-recaptured Caliphate.  And to bring the attention of Europeans and their politicians to the horrific reality of that gradual assimilation of European culture, history, heritage, religion into Islam's great, gaping maw, the solution is to slaughter young Norwegians.

Well, the gruesomely deliberate and well-orchestrated computer game modelled on the man's favourite sword-and-sorcery-themed World of Warcraft that patiently taught him to aim without wincing, murder without compassion, continue with no glances back, did gain him the attention he craved, although the notoriety his dreadful acts garnered him also highlighted not his vision and his noble sacrifice on behalf of the culture he loved, but his total mind-derangement.
"You do not believe that such things can happen.  I still don't quite believe it."  Breivik's mother

But happen they did.  Her son became hopelessly mired in a maelstrom of emotions gone awry, conclusions bearing little resemblance to reality, solutions that would forever ensure him a place in the history of his country as a monstrous anomaly within a nation of reasoned, sane and deliberate-minded people.  "To send a political activist to a mental hospital is more sadistic and evil than to kill him!  It is a fate worse than death", he declared.

And that, in fact, is the fate that awaits him, irrespective of how the court will finally rule.  History will identify him as a madman.  His incarceration for a life sentence will be subject to renewal after 21 years.  Nothing will obliterate from the nation's memory the horrors this man visited upon them.  And since, according to the experts who closely examined his sagging mind, should the man ever by some slender chance be freed back into society he would most certainly plan and stage another atrocity.

Anders Behring Breivik confessed to a bombing and shooting massacre last summer that left 77 dead in Norway
Photo by Solum, Stian Lysberg/AFP/GettyImages
So the rational solution appears to be that he will remain forevermore within Oslo's Ila Prison.  Either the prison itself as one found to be sane while suffering a multitude of emotional and intelligent excesses causing him to become quite berserk, or within a newly-planned and yet-to-be-built wing of that prison.

For it appears that Norway's Health Directorate has hatched a solution of sorts to his incarceration; the building of a new psychiatric wing within the prison, purpose-built to house this infamous son of Norway.  There he will stay for posterity should he be found insane.

He will be kept in isolation for fear he may attack other prisoners, and they must be protected from him, while he must be protected from the possibility that other prisoners might consider attacking him.  That ruling is expected to be announced toward the end of August.  In anticipation of the designation, and the man's future within the specially-built psychiatric unit, compassionate plans to ensure that he is not too lonely and depressed at his plight have been considered.

Authorities have expressed concern that it is inhumane to restrict Breivik to solitary confinement ad infinitum.  Prison officials are considering introducing "friends" to him to alleviate his lonely future.  Those hired for that purpose will be assigned to play indoor hockey and chess with Anders Behring Breivik.

For while he must most certainly be disciplined for the carnage he committed, he must not suffer mental anguish unduly.

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 Who Rules The Drug Trade?

Ah, the drug trade.  Afghanistan, a fanatically Islamist country, with the prospect of a return to Taliban rule to bring the country back again to the position where it was in, mired in the stone age, when the U.S.-led invasion ousted them, is responsible for roughly 90% of the production of opioid-related drugs, thanks to the huge tracts of land given over to poppy production.

Yet a neighbour of Afghanistan, whose own country of Iran is overrun with drugs feeding the irresistible habit of Iranian addicts, claims that Israel, the declared scourge of nations in the Middle East, controls the world drug trade.  Jews, practising their Islam-accursed religion, and not war lords, Afghani parliamentarians, high-placed Afghan officials who rake in huge profits, yet nothing so much as do the Taliban themselves, those religious scholars intent on turning Afghanistan back to a pure Islamist state.

Iran's deputy vice-president, Mohammad Reza Rahimi, stands and delivers his message of anti-Semitic slander with nary a murmur emitted from the human-rights-supporting lips of those attending a United Nations conference on illegal drug trafficking taking place in Tehran. The UN delegates politely hear out the accusations that slithered through the lips of Mr. Rahimi, that the Talmud teaches to "destroy everyone who opposes the Jews", and that Jews are in complete control of the international drug trade.

This event and the vehemently vituperative accusations levelled against Judaism and Israel by a diplomat of a country that has defied United Nations sanctions and IAEA denunciations over the country's nuclear plans caused none of the delegates present to lift an eyebrow much less protest the absurdly blemished enormity of an accusation that has no basis in reality.  Which led Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to condemn both the United Nations and European representatives present for giving anti-Semitism a pass.

"The fact that United Nations and European Union representatives still participate in conferences in Iran, where anti-Semitism is rampant, makes the Ayatollahs' regime look legitimate while it endangers the entire world", accused Israel's foreign minister.  The "fanatics" who "openly display their plan, which includes destroying the State of Israel", he further added, had reason to feel confident in their assertions; it seems clear enough that regardless of how threatening to the world order the Iranian theocracy is, it shares its benighted vision of Jew-hatred with many other countries of the world.

"Hitler said the same crazy things, and he succeeded in carrying out his program", Mr. Lieberman warned.  A warning that has great meaning and is of immense concern to Jews, but obviously enough, not to those assembled at the UN Tehran-locale conference.  It speaks volumes about the acceptability within the United Nations and at its conferences that a brutal, repressive regime like Iran's is confident of speaking with impunity, imputing to a free and democratic country the dreadful society-destroying activities that are routinely undertaken in countries like Iran, without a murmur of dissent from those present.

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Turkish Fury

"Whatever is needed to be done will definitely be done within the framework of international law.  We have no intention of going to war with anyone.  We have no such intent.  Everyone should know that this kind of action will not remain unpunished.

"Our plane, which had gone to rescue (the pilots), was fired upon.  This situation was brought to an end following a warning from our foreign ministry.  But yes, there was a short period of harassing fire."  Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc 

Statements that appear somewhat contradictory.  But time will tell.  After all, Syrian forces had deliberately destroyed an unarmed Turkish warplane.  Yes, it had overflown slightly into Syrian airspace, but swiftly departed on instructions from Turkish officials, and it was while it was in international airspace that it was shot down.  Not only that, but Syrian forces also fired on a Turkish military transport plane that was searching for the F-4 reconnaissance jet and its two crew members.

The incident would not go "unpunished".  Turkey is big on punishing.  Observe its destroyed relationship with Israel, at one time its closest ally in the Middle East, pre-Islamist Justice and Development Party of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.  Who became incensed when Israel invaded Gaza in an attempt to stop the incessant lobbing of rockets into Israel, accusing Israel of unmitigated aggression. 

Aggravated by the purported blockade-busting Turkish ship carrying 'humanitarian aid' to Gaza, complete with on-board 'activists' who violently attacked Israeli naval commandos boarding the ship, who then responded by defending themselves and in the process dispatching seven of the Turkish 'activists' in self-defence.

The F-4 reconnaissance jet certainly proved its mission to test Turkish air defences - or, alternately, testing the responsiveness of Syrian radar.  Deputy Prime Minister Arinc made reference to Syrian air "elements" having violated Turkish air space no fewer than five occasions "recently", but Turkey had withheld itself from responding violently as Syria had done.

And while Syria claimed that the plane was shot by short-range anti-aircraft fire, proving its contention that the plane was flying low inside Syrian territory, Mr. Arinc insisted the plane was taken down by a laser-guided or heat-guided missile, fully capable of striking the plane in international airspace.  After the plane had left Syrian airspace in response to warnings from Turkish radar operators, they received no advance warning before being struck.

"The rules of engagement of the Turkish armed forces have changed given this new development.  any military element that approaches the Turkish border from Syria, by posing a security risk and danger, will be regarded as a threat and treated as a military target", warned Prime Minister Erdogan, addressing the ruling AK party in Ankara.

"If Syrian soldiers try to organize a cross border attack or try to hit targets within Turkey, like they did a few months ago, then the Turkish army will hit targets in Syria", stated Umit Ozdag, an analyst of Turkish defence policy.  "If they were to hit a Turkish airplane a second time, it could cause a war between the two countries."

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A Splendid Vision of Democracy

That's the accolade given by Iran in response to the recent presidential election that took place in Egypt that has brought the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi to his new position as president-elect of 80 million Egyptians.  And Mr. Morsi has promised Egyptians that he will represent them all, irrespective of gender, religion or ideology.  To further emphasize his commitment to bringing democracy to Egypt, he has officially distanced himself from the Muslim Brotherhood, belying his life-long commitment.

He has also pledged to announce the appointment of no fewer than six vice-presidents, each to represent a different facet of religion, political allegiance, gender.  He has a rather crowded agenda. Somehow mending the broken economy, assuring Egyptians that he will not impose Sharia law, improving employment prospects for those desperate to find work, bringing tourism back to where it left off after the evolution of the revolution of the Arab Spring, among many other imperatives.

 Top of mind for him appears to have been 'normalizing' relations with Iran.  One Shia the other Sunni, but both dedicated to a fiercely fanatical view of Islam.  Where Mr. Morsi's challenger for the position of president, former air force general, former prime minister Ahmed Shafik has gone to Saudi Arabia, no doubt to reassure the Saudis that all is not as bleak as it appears, Mr. Morsi is courting Iran.

"We must restore normal relations with Iran based on shared interests, and expand areas of political coordination and economic cooperation because this will create a balance of pressure in the region", claimed Mr. Morsi, reported by the Fars news agency.  For their part, Iran has hailed Mr. Morsi's victory as a "splendid vision of democracy" that emphasizes the country's "Islamic Awakening".

Something like Iran's last presidential election, a miserably corrupt affair that brought Mahmoud Ahmadinejad back to power by orchestrated acclaim to the disgust and through the objections mounted day after day by opponents of the regime.  That growing backlash that resulted in daily protests and crowds gathering in the streets of Tehran to demonstrate their lack of acceptance of the political coup, was brutally put down by the regime's Republican Guard and police arresting and torturing protesters.

Another splendid vision of democracy so beloved of the Iranian theocracy portraying themselves as the vanguard of a new Islamist vision of Middle East renaissance.  The split between Iran and Egypt resulted from the formal recognition by Egypt of Israel, and the signing of the peace treaty that brought the Sinai back to Egypt and an icy peace between the neighbours, hugely resented by the other Arab and Muslim states as a betrayal of Islam.

"Iran is hoping for Egypt to become a deterrent against an Israeli attack as well as a regional player that Iran can use as a potential counter-balance against Turkey and Saudi Arabia", claimed a Tehran-based diplomat.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ancient Relics/Current Realities

Whose Heritage?

In ancient, biblical times, Jews were dispersed from the Holy Land, from the land they occupied in antiquity, and were forced to settle as refugees in flight from persecution and certain death by those who occupied their land; the ancient Babylonians, the Romans.  They settled wherever they could, and always as inferiors within the societies in which they lived throughout the Middle East and Europe.

The lives of ancient Jews in countries of the Middle East where they took refuge and continued to worship their own singular religion to which was attributed all manner of sinister and threatening tales were always fraught with danger of reprisals for imagined threats to non-Jews.  Pogroms and bloodshed, socially outcast, slandered and scorned, they endured.

In modern times, after the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal, after Germany's Third Reich made their determined effort to rid the world finally of Jews, and when pity and horror after the Holocaust aided Zionism to establish the State of Israel, Jews were finally expelled from the Arab lands of the Middle East where they had found ancient refuge.

Almost a million Jews were deprived of their worldly possessions and thrust out of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and anywhere else they had settled in the region for thousands of years, adapting themselves to life among others like themselves in so many ways, but for their worship.  Just as in the countries of Europe where once they flourished, ancient Jewish artefacts now are prized possessions in museums, though the presence of Jews themselves is rare.

Iraq, once ancient Babylonia, is incensed that its Jewish archives removed by the United States following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, have not been returned to the country.  It treasures its antiquities, although during the invasion and occupation, its museums were looted by opportunists and taken abroad for sale, though many invaluable ancient treasures have since been restored.

Iraq's Tourism and Archeology Minister insists that Iraq is prepared to use "All the means", in attempts to have the Jewish archive returned to them.  Millions of documents that were transferred to the United States are in question, and Iraq now insists they must be returned.  Iraq, bitterly anti-U.S. through its Shi'ite clerics, aligned with Iran, has eradicated the living scourge of Jews from within its borders.

The once-ancient Jewish Iraqi community has been uprooted and dispersed; those that were not murdered made good their escape.  Should ancient Jewish artefacts belong to Jews themselves, or should the country in which they lived lives of desperation and torment insist that the archives are Iraqi in origin and thus belong to them for posterity?

The culture ministry spurns the very prospect of Jews being recompensed for seized property, let alone the very idea of Jews seeking to return to a country, a culture and a society that detests them, yet it insists it must secure ownership of ancient relics that reflect the heritage and traditions of Judaism in Iraq.

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Prolonging The Agony

It's like a Shakespearean play.  "Will no one rid me of this (turbulent priest)?"  Only this is not a monarch groaning about the strait-laced theological demands of a God-ridden priest, but a modern-day government attempting to rid itself of the presence of a man whom their security agencies believe to be a past and perhaps future threat to the stability and security of the country.

It is now a decade since the Government of Canada first attempted to remove Mohamed Harkat from the country.  It used the instrument of the-then relatively new security certificate law for that purpose.  But Mohamed Harkat steadfastly appealed that if returned to his native Algeria his life would be in danger from Algerian authorities.  Why would Algeria be interested in this man if they too did not consider him a threat to their sovereign security?

Judge Simon Noel declared Mohamed Harkat an active and dangerous member of al-Qaeda, in December 2010, when eight years had elapsed between the government's initial attempts to deport the man after his arrest in Ottawa.  But the case has richoted between the Federal Court, the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada for years, as Mohamed Harkat's lawyers have invoked protection under Canadian law.

Twice, judges have ordered him deported as a terrorist.  Twice, higher courts overturned their verdicts, finding that the legal process which reached that decision was placed into question.  The Federal Court of Appeal held that right to fair trial had been compromised, since CSIS had destroyed wire-tap recordings used as evidence to secure his guilt as a sleeper-member of al-Qaeda.

Now, Mohamed Harkat's lawyers have appealed to the Supreme Court to declare the security certificate unconstitutional, and to release Mohamed Harket from suspicion and detention through house arrest.  Equally federal lawyers have appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada to uphold the findings that the Algerian-born man constitutes a threat to the country, and to proceed finally, with his deportation.

Mr. Harkat views his deportation case an unending storm swirling threateningly around his head.  He wants a normal life.  "I live day by day", he says.  And it is excessively unfair, what has happened to their client, according to his lawyers.  On the other hand, has not the government of a free and fair democracy, one under threat by sinister and explosive forces that have struck their deadly blows elsewhere, the right to protect itself and its citizens?

It is amazing that a government is constrained through its own system of justice, unwilling to enable it to remove an identified threat, while the individual who has been implicated through membership in a violently destructive ideology committed to terrorism is able to manipulate the justice system to prolong an intolerable situation - both for himself, as testified by his lawyers - and the country itself.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Voting for Tahrir Square

Hedging their bets is what the analysts did, unable to determine what the final outcome of the latest round in the run-off Egyptian presidential election would result in.  A precipitate announcement of success by the Muslim Brotherhood, claiming to have received over 52% of the popular vote with 90% of the polls counted.  With, unsurprisingly enough, Ahmed Shafiq's supporters claiming the very same for their candidate.  And since he is also the candidate for the military, time will weigh heavily until confirmation occurs.

Regardless, Mohammed Morsi's victory celebration may be short-lived in any event.  The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has taken the precaution of pulling the literal rug of power out from under the Brotherhood foothold.  Their majority presence in the parliament has been nullified and parliament dissolved.  That much they cannot turn back. The SCAF has returned to its former control of the legislature and state budget and is prepared to formulate new rules for the committee it will appoint to draw up a new constitution.

And this time there will be no interference with its intention to insert into that constitution issues and guarantees that will ensure it retains and maintains its power advantage.  Although it heatedly denies that anything remotely resembling a political coup has taken place.  The military is as shattered, they claim, as anyone else that the court reached the conclusion it did, to shut down parliament.  This was not as they envisioned, not at all.

"The presidential election has proved beyond doubt that the revolution was hijacked and excluded from the political scene, which has been seized exclusively by the military and the Brotherhood", complained an Egyptian activist: "I'm too confused to choose from the criminal and the coward - I'm voting for Tahrir Square".  Much good that will do her and the other leftist and liberals who moan that their revolution has been forfeited and abducted.

Ahmed Shafiq, Mohammed Morsi
Both Ahmed Shafiq and Mohamed Morsi have claimed victory in Egypt's election run-off. Photograph: AP

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Israel's Irish Reputation

Now there's an interesting story that raises the possibility that die-hard Israel-bashers may be capable, after all, if they have been endowed with a healthy ration of intelligence, to experience an epiphany as Irish film maker Nicky Larkin obviously has done.  The result of his decision to embark on a trip to the Middle East to spend investigative, open-minded time both in Israel and the West Bank, was the production of a film, Forty Shades of Grey.

It is well enough known that the Irish have opted in to the general support of Palestinian rights, as opposing Israel in view of the accepted wisdom of the brutal Israeli occupation.  In the past, members of the Palestine Liberation Organization had training from the Irish Republican Army in guerrilla-type warfare.  And now, in Ireland, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign represents a more generalized support for the welfare and human rights entitlements of the Palestinians.

Israel recognized as a brutal, repressive foreign element in the geography.  So much so that only six months ago Dublin city council gave its agreement to the enactment of mock executions of "Israelis" at the hands of "Palestinians" in the city's main thoroughfare.  This was a public event organized by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.  Surely a country could hardly be more maligned and held to a standard that bears no relation to reality than the indignities visited upon the reputation of the State of Israel.

As Mr. Larkin writes: "Being anti-Israel has somehow become part of our Irish national identity - the same way we are supposed to resent the English."  And resent the English they do, spitting out the very words in derisive disgust, considering themselves to have been occupied and ill done by, just, as a matter of fact, as have been the Palestinians.  The detestation of the English has primary place in the opinion of the Irish, and it seemed a natural enough progression that Israel would be recognized as a like abusive power.

Resentment, anger and hatred all go hand in hand in a nation that considers itself to have been historically oppressed.  The Irish wallow in their victimization.  Memories are long and unforgiving.  The Troubles take a pre-eminent role in the teaching of modern Irish history, alongside the dreadful potato famine.  Attitudes do not change lightly, people cling to their beliefs determined not to forget nor forgive their perspective of their history, for it is theirs and they clasp it fiercely.

Somewhat like the Palestinians who also treasure their status as refugees whom justice has overlooked, victims of an interloper who took their land by stealth and by force.  That version of history is enshrined in the bitter memory of Palestinians who recognize no other history than that.  And the Palestinians savour the friendship and support given them by the Irish.  Mr. Larkin speaks of his activism as a Palestinian supporter having been spurred by Operation Cast Lead, Israel's response to continued rocket attacks from Gaza.

"I had definite opinions on Israeli foreign policy.  The Irish papers were full of stories of Israeli aggression every day that summer - between flotillas and bombings it didn't look good.  You can't polish a turd", he commented dryly.  Still, he wanted definitive proof, to see for himself how "nasty" Israelis were; proof that his attitude mirroring the prevailing Irish opinion on the matter was a true reflection of the situation. 

In Israel, the Irish filmmaker and his crew were understandably viewed with suspicion.  Israelis are well versed on the hostile attitudes of the Irish against them.  On the West Bank, they were welcomed with open arms.  And there his eyes were opened; not only to the IRA graffiti he saw on the wall of separation, putting a welcome halt to martyr-inflicted mass butchery of Israelis, but neon crucifixes and posters of martyrs.  Martyrs, of course, are suicide bombers, and they were being glorified.
"I was confused by the constant Palestinian repetition of the mantra of "non-violent resistance".  Why put up all the posters of martyrs, if you advocate non-violent resistance?  I was supposed to understand all this somehow because I'm Irish.  But even the IRA didn't below themselves up ... at least not on purpose.  I was also frustrated by the unquestioning attitude of the foreign activists.

"Anything seemed acceptable in the name of the Palestinian cause.  No questions asked.  But would these war-tourists apply this same liberal attitude if it was happening at home in their own country?  If buses were exploding in their own home cities?  If they weren't out here on holidays in their summer playground?"
He pondered these questions and more; introspection his purpose to reveal the truth in all those curious details.  Spent several months interviewing all kinds of people in the geography: "...everyone from Ultra-Orthodox settlers to Marxist Palestinians.  Everybody had an opinion, and everybody was sure that their opinion was right."  He discovered there were no black-and-white issues; there were, instead many shades of grey and many issues involved, a completely complex situation.

Back in Ireland when he published a series of articles in Ireland's most widely circulated Sunday paper, his political shift was obvious and the reaction was swift and mostly condemning.  Descriptive epithets painted him variously, a "Protestant", and a "Mossad agent".  But, he claims, he also was made aware that in the background there existed a hitherto silent group of people who supported his change of perspective.

And he says he is proud that the Irish are beginning to consider the issue of Israel versus the Palestinians in an entirely new light.  He claims that a sea-change in opinion is gradually taking place.  Of course, seeing is believing, and that shift is yet to be seen beyond what Mr. Larkin has experienced.  He takes pride, he says, that outside the front of a Dublin city centre pub, an Israeli flag now flies.

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Suspicion, Betrayal, Outcome

"Shafiq is a person.  You can speak against a person.  But, if you speak against the Brotherhood, you are speaking against the word of God, and you can't challenge that.  It's like Iran."

This is the reasonable-enough explanation of an Egyptian explaining that he and his son intended to vote for Ahmed Shafiq, former general and prime minister personally selected by former President Hosni Mubarak, before his overthrow.  Under Ahmed Shafiq, the man contended, protests, however controlled they would be by the military and the police, would be permitted.

On the other hand, were Mohammed Morsi to be the elected favourite as leader of the Brotherhood's political front, there would be no protests permitted under the Freedom and Justice Party.  'Freedom' and 'Justice' are handy words, connoting nothing in particular when spoken descriptively of an totalitarian Islamist party for whom democracy means persuading the poor through charitable means that fundamentalist Islam will be practised for their own good.

At any such time as the starkly ambitious Freedom and Justice Party might be permitted to rule Egypt, it will be their interpretation of justice that counts; from being an outlawed ideological threat to the political and social system of the country they would have attained legitimacy at long last, and that represents the 'justice' portion of the name.  They would also then have the 'freedom' they have long sought, to impose their rule on the country.

As it is, they are now a removed distance from what appeared inevitable a short week ago.  Troops and riot police have been stationed outside the parliament buildings in the days following the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated legislature, after the surprise Constitutional Court ruling that recognized their fielding candidates for independent seats although they were aligned with the Brotherhood as being illegal.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is now once again fairly firmly ensconced as the ruling power.  The Brotherhood heatedly accuses the military council of buying votes among the 40% of the electorate that has been estimated to turn out to vote.  The compliment was hastily returned by Mr. Shafiq's supporters, citing the Brotherhood's long, careful and patient wooing of the poor to ensure their gratitude for medical and financial support.

Matters have come together rather neatly for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.  When President Mubarak named Farouk Sultan to be elevated from his military tribunal posting to become the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, it had ramifications well into the future.  And that future just happens to be the present time.

The Egyptian left and the liberal contingent who mounted such an impressive campaign, persuading other Egyptians to flock to Tahrir Square resulting in their hallowed victory, rested on their lauded laurels too soon.  They permitted themselves to remain a motley crew rather than becoming a disciplined and determined combined force that would match the collective strength and order of the Brotherhood and the military.

At this point in Egypt, people are fed up with the chaos that ensued with the removal of President Mubarak.  The police presence is no longer as visible, and crime has been allowed to run rampant.  The economy, along with tourism, has suffered in the general unrest and uncertainty.  And the Brotherhood whom many began to trust when they avowed they had no interest in running a candidate for the presidency has lost that trust.

"They betrayed us at the first corner and continue to betray us."

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Who Punishing Whom?

"Anti-polio vaccination teams will not be allowed to administer polio drops among children in North Waziristan", Pakistani warlord Gul Bahadur.

The children living in the mountains of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan have a difficult enough life; deprived of life's comforts, unschooled.  Humanitarian groups attempting to vaccinate them against poliomyelitis may no longer do so, as a result of a ruling by local warlord, Gul Bahadur.  He takes exception to the fact that many humanitarian groups have connections to the United States.

And it is his allies, the Afghan Taliban that have been battling U.S.-led NATO and ISAF troops in Afghanistan.  He takes further exception to the American drones that are striking his tribal region in the high mountainous area of the Hindu Kush that is their home.  Those drone attacks have been highly successful in removing many of the the leaders of the Taliban.  They have also struck and killed civilians.

It's difficult to tell whether Gul Bahadur is more incensed that civilians are being maimed and killed than that members of the Taliban are.  Likely, it is the Taliban connection.  Only a logical conclusion since, if he were the least bit concerned over the safety and health of the local populace of civilians, he would obviously not be in the business of damaging future health prospects of children.

Yet it is the children who are being punished by this tribal leader.  A decision that makes no rational sense.  Rational decision-making is not of a high order to those who base their judgements on religious and tribal customs that date back in the mists of time, with little relation to the modern world.  Those living in those mountainous, government-independent regions are a law unto themselves.

So the humanitarian aid workers who constitute anti-polio vaccination teams may no longer seek to  accomplish their purpose.  If we recall, the Pakistani doctor who decided to work with the CIA to attempt to determine the accurate identification of a mysterious stranger living quietly behind the compound walls in Abbottabad close by a Pakistani military academy, attempted to retrieve DNA samples through the artifice of entry to the compound to offer vaccination to the children living there.

In northwest Pakistan a pickup truck bomb killed around 26 people, wounding 65 others.  They were targeting a tribal leader who has allied himself with the government against the Pakistani Taliban.  That bombing was one of the largest in weeks, and in such numbers of frequency of occurrence and people slaughtered through internecine, tribal warfare is the country mired in a maelstrom of violence.

In Iraq as well, there has been an uptick in violence with Sunni Iraqis - now in the descendancy with the Shi'ites in the ascendancy - targeting Shia pilgrims.  In Iraq this was the third day of bombings to strike at Shi'ite pilgrims in one week alone.  An earlier strike killed over 75 people, and the latest took the lives of 26, close to the Kadhimiya district in Baghdad.

The pilgrims were marking the anniversary of the historical death of Imam Moussa al-Khadim, a great-grandson of the Prophet Mohammad.  The Prophet is venerated by all Muslims, so they therefore have much in common, but those who claim his great-grandson as a saint, are considered by the Sunni sect to be heretics.

The barbarity that Muslims visit on one another is a relic of barbaric times that cling to the Middle East.

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Iranian Regime Supporter/Princeton Scholar

That seems inexplicable.  That a high-level, trusted member of the political-scientific hierarchy of the Islamic Republic of Iran would attain the status of a visiting scholar at a prestigious American university.
Yet, there it is - a man who was formerly a negotiator for Iran with respect to the country's high-grade uranium enrichment and nuclear program, under a former president is now a visiting scholar at Princeton University.

And he has the inside information about his country.  Of which he is obviously a knowledgeable and patriotic member.  He has not denounced the current regime, let alone its aspirations.  He believes that his country is entitled to continue on its determined course to achieve nuclear power in every sense of what is achievable and possible.

And yet he has been given a prestigious post at a university that is one of the most highly respected academic institutions in the country.  One whose reputation as a venue of outstanding scholarship is known world-wide.  During an interview, Hossein Mousavian, from his perch in the United States, the very country that is now using all diplomatic means feasible to turn Iran from its stated course, has stated his opinion.

"I do not expect too much", he states baldly, in reference to the scheduled meetings between the international community and his home country.  The United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia; in effect the permanent members of the Security Council plus one (Germany) are attempting to use deepening economic sanctions as pressure exerted on Iran to convince it to backtrack from its uranium enrichment and nuclear program.

Mousavian is convinced, he claims, that Iran is prepared to proceed with a "big deal".  The price, however, is not right.  Tehran is prepared, according to their former negotiator, to make accommodations to satisfy the West, but not without their own price for that accommodation being met.  Their own price would, of course, include not a cessation of nuclear installations and their use, but an agreement not to produce nuclear weapons.

Given the country's continued and continual secrecy, its covert activities meant to deliberately bypass inspections by the IAEA, and its game plan that it constantly indulges in of promising and then hedging, playing for time and in the interval gaining in their advances of their nuclear program to a point that has startled even those who do not think it can achieve its goal, why believe anything said by a stalwart supporter of the regime?

Yet what he says is given credence.  However crudely he puts it.  "President (Barack) Obama has very limited room to manoeuvre in an election year"; true enough.  But the new proposal meant to restrict Iran's ongoing uranium enrichment in the secretive Fordow plant which Iran refuses to close as requested, has made no inroads in Tehran.  There is no balance, they claim, there are no incentives for Iran to accede to the bargaining table.

"I believe this is diamonds for peanuts", Mousavian remarked on the proposal to supply Iran with radio isotopes and to ease commercial sanctions.  "Therefore this is not something great to offer Iran".  Of course the offer "was deliberately ungenerous" in the process of persuading the Republic that its status will be unchanged under the sanctions program unless and until it relents.

If the stated opinion of Hossein Mousavian, the exchange scholar at Princeton University is anything to go by, Iran will keep stalling, promising then backtracking, gulling those who continue to believe they can bargain 'in good faith' with a country whose guiding principle appears to present a facade of good faith until sufficient time has elapsed to enable it to reach its goal.

The final fait accompli will be the defining feature of the future of the Middle East - and the world at large.

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Peace In Due Time

"We call on the international observers to work for the immediate implementation of the Kofi Annan plan and ceasefire in order to stop the killings in Syria or to return to their home countries."  The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

They are indeed in the process of 'returning to their home countries'; at the very least returning to the base from whence they were deployed by the United Nations as an observer team of hundreds of foreign nationals.  Their observational post in Syria is kaput, finished, done with.  The United Nations has taken the final step of recalling them, citing the very obvious fact that their very lives as objective observers are in the balance.

They have been toothless, incapable of even 'observing' the atrocities committed both by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and by the Free Syrian Army.  Government forces have the upper hand, they are in possession of weaponry that the belligerent upstarts cannot have acquired - not yet.  Furthermore, government forces have the inestimably forceful assistance of their colleagues from Iran and from Lebanon; the al-Quds faction of the Republican Guard and Hezbollah terrorist group respectively.

Calling on the international observers to work for the immediate implementation of the defunct international plan to put a stop to the escalating violence, must have been spoken with tongue firmly in cheek.  It was always obvious that despite Bashar al-Assad's assurances, and the responses of the Free Syrian Army that neither would abide by any peace-aspiring, battle-settling guidelines imposed upon them from the outside world. 

It was delusional at best to place any hope in the possibility that the presence of neutral observers would be the start of a solution to bringing two resolutely brutal and equally entitled-feeling adversaries from striking blows to attain their individual ends; the government to retain its power, the insurgents to mount their bid for equality and freedom from the tyranny that has oppressed them for many decades.  Each side brings their own perspective, and neither has any interest in collaborating toward a peaceful end.

Peace will be achieved when one side or the other prevails, and it looks increasingly as though the regime will not.  Behind the insurgents are other forces, all of them anxious and determined to write their agendas in full living colour on the end result of what is becoming a full-fledged war of attrition, a fully civil war.  The U.S. ambassador to Syria and his colleagues have been meeting at the state department with a senior member of the Free Syrian Army.

The rebel group has presented a "target list" of supplies they would very much appreciate being made available to them.  That list is heavy on weaponry that would include anti-tank missiles and state-of-the-art machine guns, along with surface-to-air missiles.  The strenuous efforts on the part of the U.S. administration to badger, coax, bully and shame Russia into moving along with the rest of the Security Council in condemning Bashar al-Assad has gained them little but frustration; Moscow will not relent, not yet.

And should the U.S. administration themselves relent and agree to provide the rebels with the requested armaments they will be deliberately enabling a more deadly surge in violence, after having excoriated Russia for latterly providing additional Helicopter gunships to the Syrian regime to aid in its battle with the insurgents. 

"The intervention will happen.  It is not a question of 'if', but 'when'.  The Libyans are willing to provide the anti-tank weapons, others are prepared to pay for it", according to an unnamed source. That senior Middle East diplomatic source has made it clear that any such weapons supplied by Libya would be paid for by Saudi Arabia and the government of Qatar, along with 'private donations'. 

The weapons, in fact, have already been assembled and are ready for shipment, in anticipation of the inevitable intervention that will be the final answer to the al-Assad regime.

Turkey, which agitated for the supply of weapons to the Syrian rebels is not quite prepared to permit its territory to be used as a supply route for fear of Syria mobilizing their Kurdish population against Turkey, since Turkey is more than adequately beset by Turkish Kurds mounting violent acts of assaults against Turkey, in agitation for a homeland of their own.

As for reports that heavy anti-tank weapons have already reached the Free Syrian Army, these rumours have been sturdily denied.  The rebels, they insist, remain armed only with RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenades against the grim ferocity of the regime which has untold stockpiles of heavy weaponry. The emphasis here on their vulnerability facing up against a well-armed force.

 Not to mention the dread specter of other potentials; the as-yet-unused, but available stockpiles of biological weapons.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

The Obvious Solution

"This is in many ways a soft military coup.  Now we have the parliamentary power going back to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, they will have their presidential candidate, they have the arrest laws.  So we are going back to square one."  Egyptian Academic Ibrahim al-Houdaiby

Decisive action, that's all it took.  After the suffering agonies of witnessing their power structure wobble and waver under the farce of a democratic free and fair election where the Muslim Brotherhood, that outlawed Islamist group, and its close cousin the Salafists, overwhelmed the Egyptian parliament, leaving the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in a quandary of how next to respond.

Why, the answer is there, compelling and obvious.  Take the country back to square one.  As though Tahrir square never happened, the entire unfortunate occurrence a figment of some lunatic's frantic imagination. And there, in one fell swoop - all right, several, if one includes the army council having first granted powers of arrest of civilians to the military police - the deed was done.

It's like old times.  And, in fact, there is likely little doubt that there are many Egyptians, the quiet, unobtrusive people who just want to get on with their lives, to have the economy and tourism restored, to ensure that subsidized bread and heating oil be once again reliably a fact in their lives.  And above all, the police, detested as they are, back in control, beating back the wave of crime that has engulfed neighbourhoods.

The Supreme Constitutional Court has taken the solemn and sober initiative to set things right.  Recognizing the charade that took place when the one-third segment of independent seats of the parliamentary vote were taken wholesale advantage of by members of the Muslim Brotherhood to help achieve their majority status; a clear violation of rules.  The vote now declared illegal, parliament to be dissolved.

And the outcome of that little manoeuvre?  Why of course, power will remain where it belongs, in the hands of the generals of the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces.  This surprise announcement, this clever chess move, has horrified the Tahrir Square protesters who were also chagrined and outraged when the Muslim Brotherhood cleverly manipulated the vote. Now the  young 'liberals' call upon the Brotherhood to join them in a resumption of "square one" protests.

Separately, the country's Supreme Court also conveniently and legally, according to their reading of the constitutionality of the order of things - until the new constitution has been re-written - validated the appeal by Ahmed Shafiq - a colleague and friend and collaborator and political appointment of former President Hosni Mubarak's - bid for the run-off vote in the presidential election.

A senior Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohammed el-Beltagy, has imputed an impure motive on the part of the Supreme Council, calling it, gasp, a "full-fledged coup".  Imagine.  "This is the Egypt that Shafiq and the military council want and which I will not accept no matter how dear the price is" he warned, in dramatic purple prose.

It may be that he is entirely correct.  Yes: this is the Egypt that Shafiq wants; he has never made any secret of that fact, and he appears to have support growing in strength.

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Creaking Toward Shutdown

Greece has become the tantrum-producing problem child of the European Union.  Their economic plight is not totally unique only to Greece within the EU, but their reaction to the need to present themselves as willing and capable of helping themselves along the road to solvency has been less than inspiring. 

Riots, complaints of outside interests - the European Central Bank a case in point - Germany, for insisting that certain lending safeguards be put in place - deliberately manipulating Greece's problems to their own advantage; desperately angry people withdrawing from the country's banks, all reflect the country's mass denial of reality.

Germany, the singular EU country of financial restraint and capable administration whose citizens know how useful a frugal lifestyle can be to the longevity of one's prospects into the future, now finds itself bailing out the sinking ship of a country that has for far too long pampered its population into believing that the state could provide all the value-added to their lives that they desired - and the blue Aegean is washing over the ship of state's upper decks.

The bailout that the EU has offered to Greece in these anxious times, compelling action to prevent the entire Eurozone from slipping into total chaos is not viewed by most Greeks with thankful appreciation, but huge resentment.  Because what accompanies those huge loans is an obligation that Greeks have no wish to fulfill.  The radical left in Greece is hovering very close to assuming power. 

Syriza is a reflection of the state of mind of young, defiant and angry men insisting that Greece, despite the funding it has received from its European partners, needn't pay it back.  In fact, there's no need to remain with the euro, let alone the European Union, though most Greeks would prefer to remain comfortably ensconced within it. 

Food, shelter and medicine are the kinds of basic needs Greeks focus on.  Becoming increasingly hard-to-afford, and this in particular represents an unspeakable irritant.  Blaming their government for its irresponsibility in acceding to the demands of the electorate has a certain classic ring to it.  Everyone is to blame, and no one is responsible.

The entire EU has been stricken with new signs of economic slowdown, and outright distress.  Britain and France haven't been exempt, and have had to look for ways to tighten their spending, introducing austerity measures that have no more made their governments popular than that of Greece and Spain.  Spain has accepted a bail-out, because it had no other choice, even as it rejects the nomenclature as too embarrassing.

Spain is too large a country with too large a GDP to fail.  Right on Spain's coattails is Italy, another of the EU's heavy hitters that has hit the doldrums.  As went Greece so may they too go.  The national debt exceeds the GDP in Greece.  Unemployment ranks over 22%; 50% for those under 25; reflective, actually of Spain's figures as well.

The European Union is no longer striking committees to formally regulate the correct size and weight of potatoes, acceptable shapes for zucchini, outlawing chimney sweeps, producing exacting measurements for apples, tomatoes, and threatening other countries' sea harvests through the influence of boycotts.  It is wringing its proverbial sweaty hands over the travail brought upon it by not paying attention to things that matter.

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Al-Qaeda's Guiding Hand

Syrian rebels have begun to make impressive inroads into the country's capital.  Just as insurgents and terrorists in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq have successfully infiltrated areas of those country held to be secure, surprising authorities by their ability to evade detection, and succeeding in blowing up government buildings and people alike, so too have the rebels stealthily begun to access neighbourhoods in Damascus.

They attack army and security strongpoints.  Gun battles erupt with loyalist troops, as greater resources are now diverted from the provinces to protect Damascus.  If President al-Assad loses Damascus - which it looks increasingly likely will occur sooner or later - he loses the country.  In the effort to protect his capital urban warfare just as bloody and brutal as the attacks that have taken place in smaller cities where massacres have occurred with the shabiha militias following government troops will surely result.

The Republican Guards are there to do their part in protecting Iran's major ally in the region, alongside the Fourth Armoured division under the command of Maher al-Assad.  Which makes for a very interesting potential; the Republican Guard, Hezbollah and the regime's military on one side, facing off against the Muslim Brotherhood, the rebels and al-Qaeda factions on the other.  Each side determined to repulse the other with deadly force.

Army roadblocks around Damascus and supply lines are coming under attack by the rebels.  The shabiha that once patrolled the capital's neighbourhoods ensuring that no demonstrations took place under cover of night is no longer free to roam as they once were, without coming against the possibility of meeting a rebel-led assault. 

"I think we're heading to the point where the regime will be only in control of the most central parts of Damascus and the airport road.  It may be able to continue mounting raids on other districts, but it will not have real presence there", diagnosed an unidentified Western diplomat remaining in the city despite the closing of the embassies.  Perhaps as addicted to the deadly drama unfolding there as the embedded news hounds.

Rebels are now attacking buses full of shabiha militias brought in by the regime to quell protests.  Anti-aircraft guns and heavy mortar rounds continue to pound the districts where the rebels have retaken towns previously taken by the military, in a round of exchanges of captured territory.  

Back in Damascus, the population is becoming increasingly fed up with government actions.  They have no patience with the fierceness of the government's reaction to the protests that continue to mount.  The middle class in the city, inclusive of Sunni and Christians are losing their fear of the rebels and the imposition of an Islamist government in place of the current one.

The surrender of peace, order and a diminished economy has brought the population to a state of uneasy exasperation with the regime.  "So far the sentiment within the capital is anti-regime rather than anti-Alawite.  But this could change and we could see a more sectarian backlash as the crackdown intensifies" prophesied Julien Barnes-Dacey, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, who studied the situation on a visit to the Syrian capital.

This is not a situation that will have a comfortable conclusion.  As many that have perished, there will be many more.  Both the regime and the rebels have committed atrocities, although the greater preponderance of abductions/arrests, torture, imprisonment, and murder can be lain at the boots of the government.

As the chaos continues to mount in intensity, absorbing greater swaths of the country, the measures and countermeasures taken by the non-state militias that have entered the country representing the sectarian divide will produce a conflagration of unstoppable violence that may with certainty not end at Syria's borders.

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Terrorist Reasoning

"The assassination ... could not in any sense be considered to be a threat to international peace and security".  Statement by Antoine Korkmaz, representing Mustafa Badreddine, one of four Hezbollah assailants implicated in the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 other people.
"In this case, the UN Security Council replaced a national authority, which violates the principle of sovereignty under the UN's charter."  Statement by Emile Aoun, defence lawyer for Salim Ayyash, wanted, like Mustafa Badreddine and two other Hezbollah terrorists for that same explosion and assassination.
It may be incomprehensible to anyone else, but those who are steeped in the aggravated hatred of those precisely like them in every conceivable respect, with the sole exception of their brand of religious authenticity, have a truly distorted sense of reason.  The conception of honour, of moral and ethical fundamentals all seemed reversed and completely out of whack with reality.

Those who excel as predators upon others, seeking to manipulate and control and who resort to the most extreme excesses of violent action, feel entitled because they have assumed the power to proceed in this manner, propelled by their religious conviction.  A conviction that recognizes no excesses since the effort is carried through solely for the propagation of Islamic rituals of faith and surrender.

These lawyers for the defence of several of the four Hezbollah militant/terrorists wanted by the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon, established through a Security Council resolution in May 2007 to establish the truth about the 2005 assassination in Lebanon of its former prime minister and 22 other people, are attempting to thwart justice by claiming that there is no legal authority vested in the special tribunal to investigate the incident.

"The UN Security Council abused its own powers under its Charter" with the setting up the tribunal is the argument set out by these lawyers representing the interests of two of the accused in the murder.  According to their reckoning, the Security Council illegally set itself the task on adopting the resolution to establish the tribunal when it had no authority to do so.

The lawyers compared the assassination and the Security Council's interest in it, to their disinterest in the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war when the various factions warred against one another and 145,000 died.  "Despite this, the international community did not pay any attention in wanting to establish justice.  The STL was unlawfully and illegally established, and therefore we want to ask the court to rule that it does not have the competency to judge."

Rather, the court should relinquish its 'self-assigned' role in this investigation and the resulting charges of murder, along with attempts to bring the four accused to justice before the court itself.  Former prime Minister Hariri's assassination should, on their recommendation, therefore, be turned over to the competence and juridical expertise of the Lebanese courts.

Where intimidation and threats and more death would work their way into the system and guarantee a more palatable outcome for Hezbollah.  The terrorist group which heeds its instructions from Iran and Syria to ensure that Lebanon is kept in thrall to them both.  The struggle by the Lebanese to free themselves of the malign influence and control of Hezbollah has been hugely unsuccessful.

And by this further manipulation it is abundantly clear that Hezbollah has no intention of letting Lebanon slip back into its proudly sovereign, peaceful mode where there was little sectarian unrest, where its large Christian population felt secure, its Druze and Sunni and Shia made an effort to see one another as equally endowed and to be respected.

In response the Special Tribunal for Lebanon's chief prosecutor, Canadian Norman Farrell, referenced the assassination as a terrorist act.  "Clearly terrorist acts fall within the type of acts that constitute a threat to international security."

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

In Allah's Holy Name

"A group of pilgrims were walking and passed by a tent offering food and drinks when a car exploded near them.  People were running away covered with blood and bodies were scattered on the ground."  Wathiq Muhana, Iraqi police officer

There is a wearying sameness to this description.  This is a never-ending war conducted by one segment of a religion against the faithful of another segment of that very same religion.  This is the religion of the 7th Century Middle East Bedouin tribes, the inspiration of a man whose name and memory is now venerated by those who engage in wholesale slaughter but yet who view him as a saint whose name cannot be invoked without a benediction.

This is a religion whose suspicion and hatred toward others of their very own ilk has continued down throughout the ages.  This is a religion that was meant to unify and to pacify, to bring greater understanding between peoples of different tribes and cultures.  Instead it has failed to halt human nature in its seemingly irreversible propensity to fear and hate and to murder.  It is not the sole religion in the world whose faithful fatefully detest one another, but it is the most notable.

In the world today, Muslims whose fanaticism has led them to practise violent Islamist jihad outrank by sheer numbers and outrageously vile murderous techniques any other religious groups who have no wish to recognize the legitimacy of other religions and other people to worship freely as they will.  In today's world, the ancient tribal animosities that set one tribe against another persist, and are magnified by the allure of doing Allah's will.

This is a religion mired in time, refusing to move forward.  And he religion mirrors a group of people whose tribal mentalities remain firmly in the grip of the 7th Century.  These are people whose comfort lies in their heritage and that heritage just happens to be rife with violence and conquest, assassinations and armies on the march.  For the greater glory of Islam.

The rewards tantalizingly offered by the sacred scriptures recommending martyrdom to further the interests of Islam, and guaranteeing irresistible rewards of paradisaical virginal harems to those sacrificing their lives and taking along with them as many innocent people, both Muslim and non-Muslim alike in the process, successfully enlists eager conscripts to the universal cause of the Caliphate.

But beyond control of the outside, non-Muslim world, there is the aggravated bitterness that exists between the two main branches of Islam, where Sunni and Shia detest one another's versions of Islam and saintly antecedents so that they celebrate every opportunity to demonstrate their detestation by launching bloody attacks on one another.  Islam is a sacred religion calling for peace and brotherhood, yet its clerics call also for purity.

And purity is interpreted as continuing into infinity the example of The Prophet who led his savage armies of Islam's jihadists on a never-ending mission to turn the world toward total surrender to Islam.

Iraq's population, whose iron-fisted tyrant ensured that the sects lived in grudging harmony, reverted to kind when the U.S.-led invasion led to Saddam Hussein's overthrow.  In his absence, society has been infiltrated with the menace of jihadists dedicated to the overthrow of order and government other than a fiercely fundamentally theocratic one.

If the Sunnis represented by al-Qaeda-inspired jihadis bomb mosques, it is because they are the wrong mosques.  If the Shia represented by Iran's proxy militias bomb mosques, it is because they too are the wrong mosques.  Shia pilgrims are now the targets in Iraq of Sunni ' insurgents', those who indulge in blood-letting as terrorists who claim themselves to be servants of Islam.

In 2006 and 2007 tens of thousands of Iraqis were butchered; the Shia by the Sunnis, the Sunnis by the Shia.  In the present time with an agreed-upon coalition government purportedly representing Sunni, Shia and Kurdish population blocs, the Shia-led parliament has accused its Sunni counterparts of terrorism, removing the equality quotient and setting the country again at war with itself.

In Allah's holy name.

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An Arab/Muslim Affair

"The situation is dire.  Forget the weapons, people need medicine and food.  As you know, we're in a state of war in Syria.  The army could enter Haffey in minutes if it wanted but it is trying to crush it instead."  Rebel commander Abdulaziz Kanaan

The eyes of the United Nations were refused entry to yet another point of observation entry.  This time from the town of Haffeh.  But this time it was angry residents, crowds throwing stones and metal rods.  The observers had little option but to expeditiously leave.  As they did, three of their vehicles were fired upon, but the UN monitors were spared injury.  If they were being threatened by the military, why not welcome the observers?

Their lack of success in attempting to enter Haffeh of course restrains them from observing what is occurring.  "Activists" inform them that the army is fighting with hundreds of rebels.  The international diplomats are steeling themselves for word of yet another massacre.  In Haffeh the rebels claim they were attempting to smuggle trapped civilians away from the conflict.  Their own fighters are facing down tank and helicopter assaults.

"Every few days we manage to open a route to get the wounded out, so some families were able to escape yesterday", said one activist. Who contend that between the regime's military and the pro-Assad militias two mass killings have taken place in the last three weeks.  Whereas Damascus claims that it is "terrorists" who have committed the atrocities.

Since observers are not permitted entry to view for themselves what is occurring it is anybody's guess.  Both sides, in fact, are skilled in orchestrating events to tell a story they want to be believed.  Each has proven themselves to be equally capable of performing horrific acts of revenge against the other.  And whoever is responsible for those massacres - one, or both - the sectarian divide is becoming even more viral.

The rebels are being armed with more effective weaponry.  Filtered through from Turkey perhaps .  Some EU countries were agitating for just that.  Even as the United States is blaming Russia for delivering more attack helicopters to the regime.  Mortar bombs fired by security forces kill protesters, and soldiers attacked by the rebels die in their numbers as well.

 A UN report on children in armed conflict claims children from nine up have become victims of maiming, arrest, torture, sexual violence and use as human shields.  "In almost all recorded cases, children were among the victims of military operations by government forces, including the Syrian Armed Forces, the intelligence forces and the shabiha militia".

On the other hand, reports have emerged that cannot be ignored of children recruited by the rebel Free Syrian Army.  The army and the militia were accused of placing children aged eight to thirteen in front of the windows of buses transporting military personnel to raid a village.

The rebels call upon the West to protect the civilian population of Syria.  The combined armies of Sunni Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, all three wringing their hands in distress over the regime's brutality, could very well halt the bloodshed.  And this, of course, would have those combined Sunni armies meeting up with their Shia Iranian and Lebanese (Hezbollah) armies aligned with the regime's military.

This is a Middle East scenario.  The tribal/sectarian violence occurring within Syria reflects what has occurred elsewhere in the Arab Muslim world.  It is an Arab/Muslim conflict, and it is for the Middle East to settle for itself.  The West should not intervene because this is not a Western problem.  Each time the West does become involved, it is accused by one of the factions of interference in MidEast affairs.

In the end, the conflict is a kind of background setting for Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, the two sectarian fundamentalist non-state militias with aspirations as proxies to help create a global caliphate; not all that different, in fact, from the aspirations of Iran and Saudi Arabia.  And with the increasing political strength of the Muslim Brotherhood, it will of a certainty claim power in Syria with the departure of President al-Assad.

The most populous Arab state also is preparing itself to welcome, however reluctantly in some quarters, the self-assignment through a heritage of careful planning the current Muslim Brotherhood government-in-waiting in Cairo.

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