Monday, March 31, 2014

The Old/New Afghanistan

"Women, you know we will defend your rights and your dignity."
Abdul Rasul Sayyif, Afghan war lord, al-Qaeda mentor, presidential candidate

Photo: AFGHANISTAN : Afghan presidential candidate and hardline Islamist Abdul Rasul Sayyaf (c)
AFGHANISTAN : Afghan presidential candidate and hardline Islamist Abdul Rasul Sayyaf (c) addresses a election campaign rally in Kandahar Monday. Taliban gunmen abducted a provincial election candidate in northern Afghanistan, officials said, five days ahead of national polls Islamist militants have vowed to target.— AFP
This generous assurance given to black burka-clad women quietly sitting in the audience of an election rally. This is a man they can trust, a man they can place their best interests in. And should they decide to vote for him, he will protect women's rights, their dignity. On the stump, he avers that he is in favour of female doctors and teachers. All in Sharia style, of course, separated from men as is proper, for never the twain should meet until marriage when bondage is women's fate.

The women of Afghanistan will of necessity be required to adjust their expectations yet again. The intervention of the West was but an eyeblink of time that creased the culture but did not dent it. Life will go on as it always has, for Islam demands that it must, and in the Islamic way. Abdul Rasul Sayyaf has been around; he fought with jihadists, a honour shared by all mujahadin during the Russian invasion.

When he speaks, people listen, though when he appears in public a phalanx of armed guards ensures his security in a country where assassination takes place swiftly, finally, endlessly. The crowd knows him and they know his Islamist credentials, a recognition made manifest by cries of "Death to America. Death to England." Hands thrust into the air the cries of "Death, death, death" are shouted at the rally; no more need to be said, the message is complete in and of itself. A symptom of Islamic faith.

Mr. Sayyaf occupied a place of honour under the Taliban rule of Afghanistan. Inviting Osama bin Laden to move from Yemen to Afghanistan, he was a soulmate in Islam of the planners of 9/11. A dozen years have gone by since then, international troops entered the country to capture al-Qaeda and disarm the Taliban; billions of international aid was funnelled into the local economy, building government infrastructure, courts, medical centres, schools, business opportunities.

And now, the international community, their militaries and their humanitarian NGOs are scaling back, the former to completely return home, the latter to remain where their business has stationed them, and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf is prepared to support a leading candidate with his influential connections. General Abdul Rashid Dostum who is accused of atrocities against prisoners, along with other war crimes, also presents as a support to the triumphant presidential candidate.

Once a Taliban stalwart, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf now presents himself as anti-Taliban, prepared to work with the West, to permit a small contingent of American forces to remain in Afghanistan rather than see complete withdrawal. This is the man whom the 9/11 Commission Report cited as a mentor to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who masterminded the Twin Towers attack.

In Kabul, where Western aid and encouragement to modernize and move beyond the strictures of ancient cultural and religious roadblocks to social-political advancement has taken hold, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf is recognized for the brutality of his past activities, commanding his forces to slaughter thousands of Hazaras, Shiite minorities considered infidels to Islam by Sunni conservatives, in the 1990s.

Human Rights Watch considers him a war criminal. That shouldn't stop him, however, from moving on to attaining great heights of power and influence in the new Afghan government.

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Clash of Expert Opinion

"To give up on that much debris so quickly -- they were talking about pieces 23 metres long -- I don't know how you don't follow up on it and have a look. Up until a few days it was the key -- now we just pick up and more 700 miles away ... I wonder if there is a bit of additional information that excludes that debris."
John Gallo, experienced search expert

"We have moved on from those search areas to the newest credible lead."
"The analysis is in fact the same form as we started with. I don't count the original work a waste of time."
John Young, Australian Maritime Safety Authority
Gale halts search for lost plane
The Boeing 777 was just leaving Malaysia-controlled air space when the final words were heard. Photograph: Greg Wood/Pool/EPA
Nor, evidently does Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott, confident that he has ordered the right trajectory in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. No time limit should hamper the search, through frustrated expectations, or weighing the costs involved; that, despite the seeming best efforts of aviation experts to decipher clues based on the last-known contact and radar and satellite sightings, the search will continue.

What seems to be wasting time in a directionless, frantic effort to discover wreckage somewhere in the vast ocean off Perth, Australia where the Indian Ocean in the massive area being searched has not yet given up any of its floating jetsam to connect to the Boeing 777 with its 239 souls aboard, is, in reality, a methodical sweep of a massive area where the plane is believed to have surrendered itself as a gift from the sky to the sea.

That most likely prospect, sealing the fate of all aboard does not sit well with grieving families, much preferring, understandably, while the mystery continues and even deepens, to believe that something unexpected, something not yet discerned has temporarily waylaid their family members. David Gallo whose experience helped in the two-year search for the flight recorders when an Air France plane crashed in the Atlantic in 2009, has joined the bereaved families in their confusion.

The decision to abandon the areas where the debris flow spotted by satellites might lead to solid information puzzles him. Analysts, he feels, may be in possession of more information than they have been authorized to release. Precisely the impression of the families waiting to hear word that their family members' whereabouts have finally been traced.

But ostensibly the diagnosis of 'new information' has led to the belief that the Boeing 777 was not flying at the imagined speed that would take them to the dauntingly large area the fruitless search has scoured for the past week or so. The plane, it is now felt, was travelling at a speed higher than imagined and in so doing would have gone through more fuel than thought. Which could lead one to the avenue of thought that travelling at a higher speed would move it further as well, until the fuel gave out; so it's a toss-up, isn't it?

Still the search effort that had its place in the Strait of Malacca, then moved south to the remote southern Indian Ocean, now has shifted again, north to calmer waters, about 2,000 kilometres west of Perth. Winter is approaching in that hemisphere, bringing more storms and more search-inclement conditions. Although Malaysia formally announced almost a week ago that the plane had crashed, and there could be no survivors, no sign of wreckage has been confirmed.

Re-imagined data from satellite sources have re-directed the search. Three Australian P3 Orions, a Japanese P3, a Chinese Il-76, a Korean Orion, a U.S. Poseidon, and two Malaysian C-130s are feverishly searching for detritus, along with eight ships. Australian Navy Commodore Peter Leavy in an update, stated no debris that could be linked with the flight has been found. Before, the search was in a desolate, isolated area of the ocean. Now, the search zone is in shipping lanes, frequently visited.

Satellite imagery up to now has guided the search with various countries taking part, all attempting to discover where the plane went down. That proverbial needle in the haystack has been transliterated to a blackbox/flight recorder in the vastness of the very deep, blue sea reluctant to surrender its drowned treasures.

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Revival of Anarchy ... Calls for ... Invasion

"The ministry of interior has asked us to disband, but we are not willing to. It is like asking a man to become a woman, as it is normal that any man wants to protect his homeland."
"The government gave up Crimea without a shot and now it is facing further trouble in the east of our country and not doing anything about it."
Major Viktor Kulyk, deputy commander, Ukraine National Guard

Pravyi protests 1
Supporters of the right wing party Pravy Sector (Right Sector) protest in front of the Ukrainian parliament in Kyiv on March 27, 2014. - [GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images]

Guards are on duty wearing military fatigues at Kyiv's newly-created national guard headquarters. A map on the wall in an operations room on the headquarters interior flags their units from Lviv in the west to Donetsk in the east. In total the national guard numbers roughly 3,000 men prepared to mobilize speedily, should the anticipated Russian invasion begin.

Originally known as "hundreds", reflecting the fact that each unit was comprised of 100 volunteers, the militias began as self-defence units formed to protect the crowds in Independence Square from former President Yanukovych's security police. A month later, the militias now represent a challenge, a growing one, to the new government. In their numbers they still parade in formation around the Maidan, armed with clubs and sticks.

Pravyi protests 3
Supporters of the right wing party Pravy Sector (Right Sector) stand ready during a protest in front of the Ukrainian parliament in Kyiv on March 27, 2014. - [GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images]

Joining them are other militant enthusiasts whom their critics describe as the unemployed, and ne'er-do-wells, society's antisocial elements, thugs. Yesterday's revolutionary heroes become the gangsters of the future. Pravy Sektor, the largest of all the militias claiming to have access to weapons looted from government armouries, is widely considered to be made up of such elements.

The death of one of their senior leaders, Okeksander Muzychko on Monday, shot dead by police as he purportedly resisted arrest, has set the stage for a collision between the Right Sector group and authorities. Right Sector's leader, Dmytro Yarosh intends to run as a candidate in May's presidential elections. His militias marched on parliament on Thursday and Friday, threatening to attack unless Arsen Avakov, the interior minister resigned.

On Vladimir Putin's very own cable news and Internet service, the Russia Today network (RT), which is "absolutely independent", of government, and especially does not serve Vladimir Putin, RT describes the Ukrainian government as illegitimate and dangerous. RT describes "Ukraine's coup-imposed government", and "the coup-installed authorities" and "the February military coup which brought ultra-nationalists to power".

Ultra-nationalists being code for fascist.

One  online heading this week said "Democratic vote, govt without fascists needed in Ukraine before any talks." The station reported that a gang of Ukrainian ultra-nationalists robbed passengers on a Russian-Moldova train and took possession of items only from people carrying Russian identification. Another report claimed under the heading of "Revival of anarchy" that vigilantes in eastern Ukraine have been hunting down people they accuse of being "pro-Russian thugs", and beating them.

Setting the stage for Russian troops to enter stage left to rescue their Russian compatriots from threat of harm, or worse, from the fascist Parvyi Sektor militias. Oh, of course and from the fascist Ukrainian government.

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Syrian rebels allowed to attack Latakia from Turkish soil under Turkish air cover. Iran raises Cain in Ankara

Syrian rebels allowed to attack Latakia from Turkish soil under Turkish air cover. Iran raises Cain in Ankara

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 29, 2014, 10:45 PM (IST)
Intense fighting for Kasab in northwest Syria
Intense fighting for Kasab in northwest Syria
Turkey has ratcheted up its intervention in the Syrian war to an unprecedented level, according to exclusive debkafile military and intelligence sources. For the first time in the three-year conflict the Turkish army is allowing Syrian rebel forces, including the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, passage through Turkish territory for their offensive to capture the northwestern Syrian coastal area where the Assad clan’s lands are situated. 
Ankara’s support for the rebels is inclusive: Turkish troops are posted at the roadside with supplies of ammo, fuel, food, mechanical repair crews and medical aid for rebel forces as they head north. The Turkish air force gives them air cover and Turkish agents arm them with surveillance data on Syrian military movements ahead.

The Syrian fighter jet shot down on March 23 just inside the Turkish border was in fact downed in a dogfight with Turkish warplanes, while trying to bomb the rebel convoy heading for the new combat arena. Both sides preferred to stay quiet about the incident and its causes.

The rebels receiving Turkish military support are disclosed by our sources as belonging to two militias: The Syrian Revolutionaries Front under the command of Jamal Maarouf, which has gathered in remnants of the disbanded Free Syrian Army; and the Islamic Front, sponsored until recently by Saudi intelligence.  They number around 4,000 fighting men including elements of the Nusra Front.

With powerful Turkish backing, this force has been able to carve a very narrow corridor into northwest Syria from the tall Jabal al-Zawiya in the Idlib region up to a point near Syria’s northern Mediterranean coast, thereby severing the northwestern link between Syria and Turkey.
This was the first time rebel forces had gained full control of a strategic corridor. First, they had to battle through and capture the towns of Kazab, Khirbet and Samra northwest of the coastal town of Latakia.

The Syrian army is throwing air, armored and heavy artillery strength against the rebels to stop them firming up their positions in those towns, while also aiming to regain command of the Syrian-Turkish border region.

The fighting Saturday, March 29 was most intense around Kasab.

This new development in the Syrian war raises two questions:
1. For how long can the Syrian rebels hold out against constant battering by superior military strength?
2. If the rebels are thrown out of their new positions, will the Turkish army come to their aid?  If so, it would be Ankara’s first outright military incursion into Syrian territory and the first intrusion by a NATO member in its civil conflict.

Our sources in Ankara report that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is in favor of going ahead. He is vehemently opposed by the Turkish chief of staff.

It is this argument which triggered the banning of YouTube by the Turkish government Friday, March 28 - not the important municipal elections taking place Monday. A leaked recording published anonymously purported to reveal a conversation between Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, spy chief Hakan Fidan and a general discussing how to drum up a pretext for a Turkish attack inside Syria. A voice identified as that of Fidan appeared to suggest a missile assault as the pretext for a Turkish invasion.

Erdogan and Turkish intelligence chiefs are convinced that the leak was orchestrated by generals who are against deeper Turkish involvement in the Syria war.

In the meantime, debkafile’s Iranian sources report that Tehran was so jittery about this turn of events that a Iranian military delegation was rushed to Ankara, arriving Saturday, to force Erdogan to take his hands off the Syrian war by any means, including a threat to suspend oil supplies. The two sides are still talking.

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What Crisis in Ukraine?

"[Mr. Obama informed Vladimir Putin that a diplomatic solution] remains possible only if Russia pulls back its troops and does not take any steps to further violate Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty."
White House statement
President Vladimir Putin spoke during a ceremony with newly appointed high-ranking military and interior officers at the Kremlin on Friday. Credit Pool photo by Alexey Druzhinin
Western governments are convinced of the belief that Moscow is gathering a fully equipped army on the border with Ukraine, in preparation for an invasion of eastern Ukraine. President Obama warned on Friday that Russian troops were "massing along that border", making it plain enough that there are suspicions of what is yet to come that an hour-long telephone conversation which President Putin had initiated between the two, did not dissipate.

"It may simply be an effort to intimidate Ukraine -- or it may be that they've got additional plans", theorized President Obama. Intelligence analysts conclude that Russia is focused on the three elements required for a sustained offensive in eastern Ukraine; artillery, supplies and communications -- under the screen of military exercises. Satellite images have provided U.S. assessments of between 40,000 to 50,000 troops within striking distance of Ukraine.

That's a swiftly impressive increase from the 30,000 that had marched to the border a mere week earlier. But then, events have moved on a whirlwind of decisions and implementation of those decisions. Mr. Putin decides, the Kremlin rubber-stamps, and the orders are issued and followed with exemplary speed. It is as though all of Russia is focused on restoring itself to its former glory in the belief that Ukraine is Russian.

The diplomatic channels opened after the telephone conference between the two presidents has resulted in nothing other than U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meeting in France with Russian foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to "discuss next steps". Discussing next steps may have taken place, as both men agreed between themselves that it would be far preferable to find a 'diplomatic solution' to the current crisis than for the tension to continue at the current level.

But President Putin, while assuring President Obama that heavens, no, Moscow has no intention of marching further into Ukraine, nor for that matter anywhere else outside of the Russian Federation, has made similar sincere declarations on previous occasions, only to abruptly surrender to a change of mind, soon afterward. So the concerns of a trip-wire tension remain unabated. 'Will he or won't he' appears to absorb the minds of eastern Europe and NATO countries.

Russia, emphasized the Russian president, is extremely alarmed at "a continued rampage of extremists" intimidating authorities and residents "in various regions and in Kyiv". Odd, that, since Ukrainian authorities and residents are quite, quite upset at the prospect of Russia's continued threats to the integrity of their borders and their population and on fairly good grounds, given the recent yank-back of Crimea, its territory, assets and citizens.

U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove (good thing he wasn't named Breedwar), NATO's supreme commander in Europe, offers another possibility. The contemplation of a Russian plan to move from Ukraine's eastern border past Crimea to Odessa and Transnistria, to leave Ukraine landlocked. What was that speech last week in Moscow on the annexation of Crimea, by a smoulderingly triumphant Putin?

Pain at the Russian collapse of empire, and even before that: "After the revolution, the Bolsheviks ... may God judge them, added large sections of the historical south of Russia to the Republic of Ukraine." In obvious reference to Kharkiv and Donetsk and the remainder of southeastern Ukraine.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Insulting Islam

"They hatched a conspiracy to push out the residents of the colony. They contrived a case and got it filed by a person who was close to me."
"I am innocent."
Sawan Masih, Pakistani Christian

"In Pakistan, even being accused of blasphemy is equivalent to being sentenced."
"The blasphemy laws in Pakistan are used to settle personal vendettas."
Xavier Williams, president, Christian group, Life for All Pakistan
An angry mob reacts after burning Christian houses in Lahore, Pakistan, Saturday, March 9, 2013. A mob of hundreds of people in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore attacked a Christian neighborhood Saturday and set fire to homes after hearing accusations that a Christian man had committed blasphemy against Islam's prophet Mohammed, said a police officer. Placard center reads, " Blasphemer is liable to death." (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)
Associated Press

The death penalty for insulting the Prophet Mohammed. A more grave, grievous crime cannot be imagined by the faithful of Islam. It is an unforgivable crime, one so dreadful in its resonating violence against the faith that it must be punished by death. Never again would someone who assaulted the sanctity of the Prophet's name be able to repeat his intolerable offence. And his/her death would serve as a caution to all others who dare to insult Islam.

It cannot be known how many people languish in jail in Muslim countries which enforce capital punishment for any who are accused of blasphemy. In some Muslim countries, antipathies between Muslims and Christians are so great that false testimony is often given intending the accused to come to harm through false witness. Although the penalty of death is seen as required to ensure that respect and honour for Islam and its Prophet be ensured, it is possible that intervention can commute the sentence.

It is also possible, in a country like Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Iran, for example, that those who come to the defense of the accused, even faithful Muslims, court death themselves through assassination by incensed Muslim fanatics. It has occurred often enough, even for Muslims of the rank of a governor, who in attempting to defend a Christian woman accused of slandering Mohammed, was killed by his own bodyguard in revenge for a perceived slight of Islam.

Now another case in Pakistan, a country where a young girl can be accused by an imam of desecrating the Koran by tearing pages and placing them in a bag she carried. Causing panic and terror in her Christian community, and pleas for mercy, that the child not be arrested, jailed and sentenced to death on the word of a malevolent Muslim cleric. In the more recent instance, a Christian has been accused by a Muslim friend of insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

Muslim mobs attack a Christian area of Lahore after blasphemy allegation. (M. Ali photo)
Muslim mobs attack a Christian area of Lahore after blasphemy allegation. (M. Ali photo)

Sawan Masih was convicted during a hearing held in the jail where he has been incarcerated; held there in hopes of avoiding violent protests. Accused during a conversation with his friend of speaking ill of the Prophet, word quickly spread in the eastern city of Lahore. Swiftly, thousands of Muslim protesters began marauding in a Christian neighbourhood known as Joseph Colony. They torched Christian homes and churches and pandemonium and terror ensued.

Police only looked on as homes, shops and churches were destroyed in Lahore. (M. Ali photo)
Police only looked on as homes, shops and churches were destroyed in Lahore. (M. Ali photo)

Mr. Masih and his supporters insist that the incident was a fabricated one, meant to lead to success of an underhanded plot to seize land. Even if the government of Pakistan withholds committing an accused to the death penalty, the very issue is sufficient to arouse passions to the extent that rampaging mobs will carry out the death sentence on behalf of the state, with the assurance that in so doing they are committing to god's will as pious Muslims.

More than 180 homes and shops were reduced to rubble in Islamic rampage in Lahore. (M. Ali photo)
More than 180 homes and shops were reduced to rubble in Islamic rampage in Lahore. (M. Ali photo)

Following the rampage through the Christian colony, police arrested 83 suspects, including the man who lodged the complaint of blasphemy. So far, though a year has passed, no one has been convicted. A call has come from Amnesty International for Mr. Masih's release, and for those guilty of attacking Christian homes to face justice.
"Failure to do so will effectively send the message that anyone can commit outrageous abuses and excuse them as defence of religious sentiments", commented David Griffiths, Amnesty's deputy Asia Pacific director.
What a curious case of naivete.

Pakistani men, part of an angry mob, react after burning …

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The Aftermath of Horrific Realities

"You cannot measure the consequences of war and conflict by counting the number killed. You have to count the survivors and what happened to them."
"The health outcomes aren't good."
Duncan Pederson, World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Mental Health, Montreal

"We're not just starting to see PTSD, we are in the thick of it. It's an extremely big problem and we're not keeping up with the suffering."
"Will we come out of it quickly. I don't think anyone knows, but we need to work or study or do something that allows us to think of something other than death."
Naasso Munyandamutsa, Rwandan psychiatrist

"The whole thing is just so pervasive, you probably need 10,000 counsellors to even begin to make a difference. For most of us in other countries, the problem is anxiety, and this is ten times deeper than that. It's a huge challenge."
Delanyo Dovlo, World Health Organization Rwandan representative
Young people gather in Amahoro Stadium in Kigali for the 18th commemoration of Rwanda’s genocide, in 2012. Photo by Sue Montgomery/The Gazette

Young people gather in Amahoro Stadium in Kigali for the 18th commemoration of Rwanda’s genocide, in 2012. Photo by Sue Montgomery/The Gazette

The question is: How do vulnerable young children survive the horror of witnessing atrocities so brutal that their minds would be forever in a state of confused derangement over the loss of parents, siblings, extended family, leaving them as children to cope on their own and attempt to surmount that horror? Over a quarter of the Rwandan population now suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.

Each of the country's 43 district hospitals sees between 15 and 25 patients a day for psychiatric problems. Its first addiction facility, recently opened, treats 300 to 400 people a month, from age 16 and up. There are six psychiatrists serving 11.4 million Rwandans. A UNICEF national trauma survey that took place a year after the genocide took place warned of problems to come.

Of the estimated 99.9 percent of Rwandan children who witnessed violence during the genocide, 79.6 percent had at least one death in their family; 69.5 percent witnessed someone being killed or injured, and 31.4 percent witnessed rape of sexual assault. Those children in the UNICEF study are now young adults, and the trauma of their experiences has left them still struggling to understand what they experienced.
In 1994, at the Munigi refugee camp near Goma, a Rwandan child cries at his dying mother's side. Associated Press file photo
In 1994, at the Munigi refugee camp near Goma, a Rwandan child cries at his dying mother's side. Associated Press file photo
On April 7, Rwanda mourns the 20th anniversary of the genocide that befell it. And every April 7 there is a national recognition of the genocide, with a national week of mourning. The very churches and schools where hundreds of thousands of desperate Tutsis sought refuge, but found death instead, stand as memorials, testament, if any were required, of their torment. An estimated 300 people butchered each hour of one hundred days of slaughter.

Those young adults still struggling to understand what their young eyes were assaulted by in one hundred days of butchery where neighbours, former friends and even relatives by marriage viciously used machetes, nail-studded clubs and spears engaged on mass slaughter. Their minds cannot help but wander helplessly in the direction of the same question repeated without answer; what would make Hutus turn on that segment of the citizenry known as Tutsis?

This is an entirely different country now than it was twenty years ago. It present as clean, safe, and swiftly developing to embrace and meet all of the advanced indices the United Nations' eight Millennium Development Goals by next year. The very picture of success in living standards for Africa, achieving a list of targets agreed to by all countries in 2000; inclusive of pledges of poverty reduction and universal primary education provision by 2015.

And while the country becomes an information-technology hub, installing over 1,600 kilometres of fibre-optic cables and a 4G network covering 95 percent of the country, many among its population are barely managing to function. An estimated 600,000 people who lost both parents and have little to no access to psychological support, plagued by stress, epilepsy, unable to sleep, resorting to alcohol and drugs for relief.

Jonathan Nettal, a psychotherapist working for a Canadian NGO called Hopethiopia/Rwanda, counsels 19- to 23-year-olds how to help one another, even while traumatized. A native of Montreal whose grandparents are Holocaust survivors, Mr. Nettal teaches small groups of ten to 15 people coping skills. "So you have more calm, people are more supportive, more socially connected, and that's a huge resource in terms of post-traumatic resilience."

Think about it: how do you cope as a teen when you've just been informed you were conceived through mass rape. That venomous, self-destructive mind-flood of shame, confusion and anger must be confronted and dealt with. Mental illness in Rwanda is a dire issue, where thousands of "genocidaires" (perpetrators) live among their victims.
Egidie walks arm in arm with her son, Bertrand, who was born after Egidie was raped several times by many men during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Through counselling, they have learned to accept the horrific past and love each other. (Neither wanted their last names published) Photo by Sue Montgomery/The Gazette

Egidie walks arm in arm with her son, Bertrand, who was born after Egidie was raped several times by many men during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Through counselling, they have learned to accept the horrific past and love each other. (Neither wanted their last names published) Photo by Sue Montgomery/The Gazette

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If the Israeli presence in the West Bank, and the "settlements" from 1967 on, are the root cause of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, then why does Article 14 of the 1964 PLO Charter call for the destruction of all of Israel?
Because Judea and Samaria had no recognized sovereign, apart from the Ottoman Empire, prior to the illegal Jordanian occupation, the current Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria cannot possibly be designated as illegal.
It seems therefore that nothing Israel offers that is less than 100% of its entire land -- in other words if Israel agrees not to exist -- will affect the Palestinian Authority's willingness to make peace.
In a world ablaze, European governments and companies still see fit to boycott Israeli companies and products from the so called West Bank. The boycotting parties claim to base their actions on the fact that the West Bank is occupied territory and that the Israeli presence in the West Bank is the one true obstacle to durable peace.

It is apparently unbeknownst to them that both premises are entirely false.

In the West, the so-called "Green Line" is usually referred to when the "peace process" is being evaluated. Someone usually states that Israel should retreat behind this Green Line in order to maintain legitimacy and legality. The Green Line is allegedly synonymous with "the Borders of 1967." This is a highly misleading semantic trick. By asserting the Green Line as the borders of 1967, the case is made to sound as if this is the border from whence the Israelis started an aggressive expansion. The truth is the opposite. The Green Line is in reality the armistice line of 1949: the border where the Arab war of extermination was halted and where the Israelis finally prevented the attempted genocide of their people.

The term "occupied territories," even if not correct, is enough to nonplus the average Israel supporter and send left-wing and Muslim front groups into a twist. It is probably worthwhile to examine the legal accuracy of the term "occupied" as it is applied to the West Bank.

First, it is important to realize that the West Bank had no legally recognized sovereign prior to 1948. After the proclamation of the state of Israel in 1948, which then counted a scarce 660,920 Jewish inhabitants, Israel, literally on the day of its birth, was immediately faced with a war of extermination launched by Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, complemented by Saudi Arabian forces fighting under Egyptian command and a Yemeni contingent.

During this effort to obliterate the nascent state, Jordanian forces took control of the area that had, from biblical times, been known as Judea and Samaria. The Jordanians, in 1950, changed this name to the "West Bank" [of the Jordan River], apparently in an attempt to semantically strengthen their case of "occupation" by making the territory sound as if it were a legitimate part of their East Bank. The move also appears to be an attempt to delegitimize Israel's claim to the area by de-Judaizing its name[1] -- a strategy first adopted by Roman emperor Hadrian, when he changed the country's name from Judea to Palestine, after a nomadic maritime people, the Philistines, who had been in constant armed conflict with the Jews.

Moreover, only Britain, Iraq and Pakistan recognized the Jordanian occupation of Judea and Samaria. The rest of the world, including Jordan's Arab allies, never recognized the Jordanian occupation of Judea and Samaria as legitimate, let alone legal. The same goes for the Gaza Strip, only there, it was the Egyptians who ended up illegally occupying the area after the 1948 war of extermination.

During the Six Day War of 1967, Israel was faced with another war of extermination launched by its Arab neighbors. To survive yet another attempted genocide, Israeli forces conducted, in response, a war of defense in which the Israel Air Force destroyed Egyptian aircraft before enemy troops could reach Israel's fragile borders. In the process of this defensive war, the Israelis ended up expelling the Jordanians from the part of Jerusalem they occupied and the West Bank of the Jordan River: Judea and Samaria.

Because Judea and Samaria had no recognized sovereign, apart from the Ottoman Empire, prior to the illegal Jordanian occupation, the current Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria cannot possibly be designated as illegal. After all, from whom are they occupying the area, save from the former Ottoman Empire? The area can only be correctly designated as "disputed" territories, just like Kashmir, the Western Sahara, Zubarah, Thumbs Island, and a lengthy parchment of other disputed territories.

It has been alleged -- originally by diplomats of the Arab and Muslim world, and later parroted by a gullible European political elite -- that to leave this dispute unresolved blocks not only the peace process but also the general stability of the region. Any impartial examination of facts, however, shows that the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria has no significant relationship to either the "peace process" or regional stability. It is probably just irresistibly convenient for autocrats to keep telling diplomats to focus on Israel and the Palestinian problem to throw them -- as well as their own people -- off the scent of their own questionable governance.

If the Israeli presence in the West Bank, and the "settlements" from 1967 on, are the root cause of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, then why does Article 14 of the 1964 PLO charter call for the destruction of all of Israel? "The liberation of Palestine, from an Arab viewpoint, is a national duty. Its responsibilities fall upon the entire Arab nation, governments and peoples, the Palestinian peoples being in the forefront. For this purpose, the Arab nation must mobilize its military, spiritual and material potentialities; specifically, it must give to the Palestinian Arab people all possible support and backing and place at its disposal all opportunities and means to enable them to perform their role in liberating their homeland."

In 1964, there was not a single Israeli in Judea and Samaria, nevertheless the PLO called for the obliteration of Israel. It is this '64 PLO mentality that has pervaded the upper echelons of Palestinian administration ever since. With the signing of the 1993 Oslo accords, although PLO leader Yasser Arafat said 'yes' to peace, in the period following his actions led to the first massive wave of terror attacks, known as the "Second Intifada." In 2000, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak made Arafat an offer that shocked the world. Barak offered the PLO nearly everything it demanded, including a state with its capital in Jerusalem; control of the Temple Mount; the return of approximately 97% of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip, and a $30 billion compensation package for the 1948 refugees.[2] Arafat turned this deal down. In 2008, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas almost 98% of the West Bank, and again accepted nearly all Palestinian demands. Olmert too, was turned down.

It seems therefore that nothing Israel offers that is less than 100% of its entire land -- in other words, if Israel agrees not to exist -- will affect the Palestinian Authority's [PA] willingness to make peace. The Arabs rejected a plan to partition the land, they did not want peace when there were no Israelis in Gaza, the West Bank or the Jordanian-occupied eastern part Jerusalem, and have repeatedly turned down generous peace offers.

Judea and Samaria are not occupied territories, and the Israeli presence there has no relationship to the PA's willingness to make peace.

Why then would European governments and companies boycott the region? They do not boycott other comparable regions. Even more revealingly, in 2006, the EU even actively aided an occupying power, Turkey, by approving a $259 million aid package for Turkish occupied Northern Cyprus.

Anti-Israel protestors in Melbourne, Australia in June 2010. (Image source: Wikimedia/Takver)

Why these double standards and what do they tell us about the morality -- or lack thereof -- of the people who hold them?

As Thomas Friedman once wrote "Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest."

[1] Wim Kortenoeven, De Kern van de zaak

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Just like everyone else living under the rule of law, if we Muslims are afraid of our community "passing judgement" on us, we should not be committing crimes in the first place.
Also, as we Muslims here have chosen to live in the West, we should abide by its rules. Nobody is holding us here against our will.
What differentiates civilized societies from others is the rule of the law, where everyone must abide by the rules or face consequences. Nonetheless, as a Muslim living in the West, I have come to see that many of my fellow Muslims living in the West seem to expect a free pass when they break the law by using their religion as an excuse. Unfortunately, as the Western legal system is possibly afraid to be labelled "Islamophobic," this approach seems to work for some of them. Will the European legal system change its plea options into: "Guilty, Not Guilty, No Contest and Islam"?

In January 2013, an 18 year old British Muslim man who raped a 13 year old British girl was spared jail because he claimed he was not aware that it was illegal for him to have sex with the girl, since his education left him ignorant of British law. He added that he went to a madrassah [an Islamic religious school], where he was taught that "women are no more worthy than a lollipop that has been dropped on the ground".

The rapist, Adil Rashid, admitted he had met the young girl online and travelled to a different town in the UK to have sex with her. Still, if he is able to use the internet for grooming a young girl living miles away, how could he claim ignorance of the British laws, which he could have searched easily online? Besides, how could you grow up in a country and then claim you did not know its laws because you belong to a different religion?

Also, didn't he defame his own religion, Islam, by claiming it taught him that women are worthless?
Had a non-Muslim Briton said that in court; we probably would have seen a backlash from the Muslim community here and most likely protests in the streets.

Also, where is the Muslim community's rage and protest against what that rapist said? Or do they actually agree?

To me, this rapist has used his religion to avoid a prison sentence, and it worked for him; he raped a child and walked away with a suspended jail sentence. I wonder if we Muslims realize that cases such as this do even further damage to our image; in fact, I wish I had seen Muslims in the UK demand that rapist go to prison -- otherwise, our silences could mean that we either agree to what he said about Islam, or that we simply do not care. If so, why do we protest and fill British streets with anger whenever a cartoonist, a writer or a politician merely criticizes our religion?

Earlier this year, a British Muslim convert, Rebekah Dawson, refused to give evidence in court because the judge refused to let her wear her burka which shows only her eyes. Dawson, who is being tried for intimidating a mosque's guard, was earlier allowed to attend the court's sessions wearing her burka; the covering set a precedent that might open the door for other legal controversies, such as: will Islamist women in the UK start demanding that they keep wear the burka for their passport photos? How could the British passport, immigration and driver's licensing systems function if women are to be allowed to cover their faces for radical Islamist purposes?

Rebekah Dawson, pictured here in a jihadist video, refused to testify in a London court without her burka.

According to sharia law, Muslim women are not allowed to cover their faces in Mecca while performing pilgrimage rituals -- a hadith (teachings of Muhammad) says: "a woman in Mecca is not allowed to wear a niqab nor gloves." This text was confirmed by Islamic scholars as saheeh [exact] by renowned Islamic Scholar Al-Albani [Al-Sahih Al-Jami'i, number 7445]. Why would they accept that in Mecca but refuse to show their faces in a British court?

Further, an Iranian asylum seeker, threatened with deportation from the UK to France, demanded to remain in the UK because his 11-year old daughter wears a burka, which is banned in France, and asserting that deporting them to France would violate her religious rights.

Ironically, in this man's native Iran, women commonly wear a scarf as a head cover, not a burka. The man might know that, but he also might be using Islam as an excuse to remain in the UK.

The court, in fact, should be asking the little girl if her father is forcing her to wear the burka, an act that would constitute a serious violation of her human rights and could amount to child abuse.

In a different case, a British judge banned the press from reporting on the trial of two Muslim lawyers, a brother and a sister -- accused of cheating to avoid a speeding ticket -- to save them from allegedly being shamed in the eyes of their community "because members of their family would pass judgment if the case was reported."

But what about non-Muslim defendants -- don't they have communities and relatives who also would "pass judgment" if their trials are reported?

What we see are Muslims in the West trying to get special legal treatment by using their religion as an excuse, and we also see an established judicial system bowing down to their demands perhaps because it is afraid to look anti-Islamic or worse, be labelled as "Islamophobic".

After a challenge by the Daily Mail newspaper, the judged lifted the ban. Nonetheless, the precedent has been set and we shall doubtless see more of us Muslims asking for more special legal treatments.
Just like everyone living under the rule of law, if we Muslims are afraid of our community "passing judgment" on us, we should not be committing crimes in the first place. Also, as we Muslims here have chosen to live in the West, we should live by its rules. Nobody is holding us here against our will.

How can we keep blaming Western societies when they develop fear or discontent about our faith when they keep reading news of us using our religion as an excuse when we break the law?

We Muslims should be more concerned with how we ourselves destroy our faith's image, not with others.

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Turkey begins espionage probe after Syria leak

A demonstrator hold pictures of Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen (R), during a protest against Turkey’s ruling AK Party (AKP), demanding the resignation of Erdogan, in Istanbul Dec. 30, 2013. (Reuters) 
Turkish authorities have launched an espionage investigation into a leaked audio recording in which top officials appeared discussing a possible military intervention in Syria.

The leak, described by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as immoral, prompted the government shutdown of YouTube, where the recording was shared.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had called the leak an act of espionage and an “open declaration of war against the Turkish republic.” In a statement, his office called eavesdropping on a top-secret meeting an attack on Turkey’s security and said those responsible would be severely punished.

The investigation raised fears of possible government crackdown on political opponents ahead of the local elections on Sunday.

Erdogan and his aides have blamed the Hizmet movement of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally whose followers have influence in the police and judiciary, of running a dirty campaign of espionage to implicate him in corruption ahead of crucial nationwide municipal elections on Sunday.
“Tomorrow we will teach those liars and slanderers a lesson,” Erdogan told a jubilant crowd of supporters in Istanbul’s working class Kartal district on Saturday, vowing his ruling AK Party would triumph at the polls.

Gulen has vociferously denied orchestrating the leak scandal, but those close to his network have said they fear a heavy crackdown once the local elections have passed.

Local authorities in the eastern province of Erzurum moved Friday to cancel Gulen’s special “green passport,” often issued to high-ranking officials. The authorities said Gulen had obtained the passport in 1991 through irregular means, according to Turkish media reports.

Police overnight briefly detained Onder Aytac, a prominent writer and journalist known to be close to the Hizmet movement, on suspicion of having information about the bugging of the foreign ministry meeting, the Hurriyet newspaper said, according to Reuters.

CNN Turk meanwhile reported Erdogan’s lawyers asked prosecutors to take precautionary measures to stop both Aytac and Emre Uslu, a newspaper columnist, academic and former senior anti-terrorism police official, from fleeing abroad.

Aytac said in a statement on the Hizmet-affiliated Samanyolu news website that he had been asked whether he was a spy and how he had known so much about the content of the leaked recording, after he discussed it on a television program.

I made my assessment as an academic in that program. They are trying to intimidate people who think like me in this election process, he said in the statement.

Government officials declined to comment on whether an investigation into the leak had begun, saying any probe would be a matter for the judiciary. The state prosecutor’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

Senior officials said in February that Turkey would launch a criminal investigation into an alleged parallel state backed by Gulen, which they accuse of orchestrating the graft scandal and illegally tapping thousands of phones over years.

Erdogan’s government has already reassigned thousands of police officers and hundreds of prosecutors in a purge after the corruption investigation burst into the open on December 17 with the detention of businessmen and three ministers’ sons, Reuters reported.
Gulen’s network has said it is the victim of witch hunt.

Today’s Zaman, a newspaper close to the network, said on Saturday Erdogan had filed legal complaints against its editor and deputy editor, as well as its contributors Aytac and Uslu and a former Istanbul police intelligence chief.

Meanwhile Fatih Altayli, editor-in-chief of the mainstream Haberturk newspaper who openly decried government pressure on the media in a television interview last month, said in a column on Saturday that he was stepping down.

With great regret I see that an era of ‘militant journalism’ has started, he wrote, decrying what he portrayed as an increasingly polarized media landscape in Turkey with a lack of independent voices.
The corruption scandal and anti-government protests last summer have grown into one of the greatest challenges of Erdogan’s 11-year rule, and his critics fear that what they see as his authoritarian instincts will only deepen if the AK Party puts in a strong showing in Sunday’s polls.

A senior government official on Friday described the crisis as one of the biggest in Turkish history.
The bugged Syria meeting involved intelligence chief Hakan Fidan discussing possible military operations in Syria with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Deputy Chief of military Staff Yasar Guler and other senior officials.

Erdogan denounced the leak as villainous while Davutoglu called the posting a declaration of war, an apparent reference to the escalating power struggle with Gulen.

[With Reuters]
Last Update: Saturday, 29 March 2014 KSA 18:23 - GMT 15:23

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MH370 stays missing for want of data-sharing among intelligence searchers

MH370 stays missing for want of data-sharing among intelligence searchers

DEBKAfile Special Report March 28, 2014, 7:50 PM (IST)
The hunt for the missing Malaysian airliner
The hunt for the missing Malaysian airliner
All of a sudden Friday, March 28, the search for the Malaysian airliner still missing after three weeks, switched to a new site, 1,120 kilometers north of a part of the Indian Ocean where the day before 300 objects were hailed as “the most credible items yet.” The explanation for this sudden shift to a new area was that the Boeing 777 was traveling faster than previously estimated, had used up more fuel and had therefore flown a shorter distance into the Indian Ocean. The new information based on the analysis of radar data placed the new “credible search area” between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca. 
So what about the “credible items” found earlier? All the various experts including radar specialists would say was that the new area was more convenient for the search. They regretted the waste of time and resources expended in shifts every few days from place to place.

After the plane went missing on March 8, satellites, planes and ships focused first on the Bay of Thailand, and then the Andaman Sea near India, before looping round to Central Asia and settling briefly on Kazakhstan. They then hared off to a broad patch of Indian Ocean between Australia and Antarctica.

Now they have moved north to a new search area of approximately 319,000 sq. km. which Australia’s investigation agency determines is “the most credible lead to where debris may be located.”
What keeps on driving the search in so many directions?

1. The searchers are groping in the dark. They have still not turned up a single piece of information or material evidence as leads to the location of the Malaysian flight or the cause of its disappearance. Their only guides are speculation about which way the currents in any presumed crash site may have caused the wreckage to drift.

2.  Last week, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, in an attempt to bring this tragic episode to some conclusion, cited data provided by the British Inmarsat’s new technology as evidence that the plane had ended its flight in the Indian Ocean and all 239 aboard were lost.

Radar experts explained that Immarsat picked up “pings” from debris sighted up to 2,000 miles in the sea distant from Perth after 17 days in the water.

Five days after this dramatic discovery, the searchers and the Malaysian authorities appear to have forgotten all about it and are chasing a new theory, that the plane traveled faster and its route was shorter than first estimated.

3.  The governments involved in the search, the US, China, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, are using their resources not just to locate the missing Boeing, but for purposes of their own: a) Trials of their innovative intelligence and military technology; b) Checking out the satellite and electronic cyber resources of fellow-agencies engaged in the hunt and c)  Discovering the outer limits of their colleagues’ intelligence capabilities and range in one of the most forbidding places on earth.

The lessons these powers are drawing from their own and their rivals’ performance are providing them with a study text on their comparative strengths and weaknesses in the event of potential sea, air or cyber conflicts.

It is worth noting in this regard that neither Russia nor France has volunteered to help Malaysia in the search. France’s contribution would be especially valuable in the light of its experience in the search for the Air France flight which crashed in the Atlantic in 2009 en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. Neither was prepared to expose its satellite and intelligence resources to the competition.

The fourth week is likely to focus on scouring the sea bed for the black box of MH370. But if nothing substantial crops up yet again, the disappearance of the Malaysian airliner will have to go down as one of the unsolved mysteries of modern aviation.

The only chance of cracking it lies in all the governments taking part in the search setting aside their rivalries, pushing their experts and agents into one room and ordering them to come clean and piece together all the data they have collected. Perhaps then a true picture will finally emerge. But that is not about to happen.

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