Saturday, January 30, 2016

Solace Scarce, Seeking Haven

"To our shame, some have not yet learned the lessons of the past."
"Some say the Holocaust never happened that it was all lies. What angers me is that they sit in the parliament here. Holocaust deniers are elected to the European parliament."
"Some insult or attack people because they’re Jewish or support Israel destroying cemeteries, spray-painting on graves, spitting on young people wearing a kippa."
"In the Europe of today, Jews are again afraid for their lives; they ask themselves if it’s safe to go to the synagogue, if their children will be protected at school. Young people are asking whether to raise their children in Europe, and are considering leaving because they don’t feel secure."
"Without the Jews, Europe would not be Europe."
Martin Schulz, President, European Parliament
Another annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day has come and passed. In Poland, the observance of the liberation of Auschwitz anniversary has taken place. Elderly Jews who are Nazi concentration camp survivors in their ever-diminishing numbers were there, at the site, to hold white roses as a symbol of hope, endurance and survival during a commemoration ceremony at Buchenwald extermination camp, close to Weimar, Germany, but it was at Auschwitz and other camps located outside Germany where most of the extermination of Jews took place.

Fully seventy-one years have passed since the liberation of the death camps and the full horror of the Third Reich's concerted, complex and determined effort to annihilate Europe Jews was fully unveiled to a world unable to conceive of a master plan of such magnitude. In the ferocity of the emotional disgust of a world in which a monstrosity of anti-Semitism driven by complicity of ordinary people could take place concluding in the murders of six million Jews, an aura of penitential guilt settled over Europe.

Anti-Semitism in all its viral pathological irrationality and viciousness was no longer to be tolerated in public. In an act of general atonement, the United Nations Security Council voted to permit Jews to re-establish in their ancient homeland a renascent geography of their very own. A place of comfort and of haven, where a common spirit could be maintained in dedication to the preservation of world Jewry. And there, Jews were informed, they would find safety and security.

And there Jews thought they would and they laboured to make that a reality, with the full knowledge that their journey would be a difficult one augmented by the need to take up arms in their own defence to stave off a series of collective military attacks by their nearest neighbours in the Middle East. Little did Israel anticipate that in defending itself against constant attacks from the spectrum of Arab states to the closer presence of Arabs calling themselves Palestinians they would live to see the Final Solution reborn under a new guise.

Defence in Israel, and a quandary in Europe which, having outlived its Holocaust-era guilt is now itself conflicted with the quantum presence of its own Arab and Muslim populations bringing with them their historical, cultural, religious animus against Judaism and rage against the presence of a Jewish state in a Muslim territory. Anti-Semitism has been reborn in Europe with a deadly vengeance. Little wonder Jews who have lived for a thousand years in Europe and more now find it increasingly less of a prospect for future well-being.

"We must be honest enough to admit that more than 70 years after the Shoah, anti-Semitism is still alive in our 'civilized' European Union", spoke a statement from Federica Mogherini, the European Union's chief foreign affairs representative. And so, in cyclic predictability for Jewish existence and survival from never-ending attacks and threats of more, immigration from Europe to Israel is growing apace, in lock-step with Islamic extremist attacks and the unleashing of Europe's own native hatred of Jews propelled by the presence of their Muslim counterparts.


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Gulf Exploitation of Migrant Domestics

"There isn't a sort of task force to check if domestic workers are being afforded their rights or not."
Rothna Begum, researcher, women's rights in the Middle East, Human Rights Watch

"She feared that they might try to harm her or kill her, so she tried escaping through the window."
"The recruitment agency told her that she would be able to make a lot of money and help her family out of poverty."
Vijayakumari Shankar, India
Relatives of Kasthuri Munirathinam hold a photo and copies of her employment documents. Photo: ArunSankark/The Associated Press

Kasthuri Munirathinam is 55 years of age, a mother of four living in southern India. She had borrowed funding to enable her to marry off her daughters, and was unable to repay her debts. Rescue came in the form of recruitment through an agency which promised her the opportunity to earn a thousand Saudi riyals monthly as a live-in maid in Saudi Arabia. She was among countless others from India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines for whom such promises and the employment that would fulfill their financial needs led them to work as servants in the oil-rich Persian Gulf.

A mere few weeks after her employment began, however, using two of her saris as a rope, she attempted to climb from a third-floor window to the ground below. Soon afterward she landed in a  hospital bed in Riyadh. She had complained to Saudi authorities that she was not being given enough to eat and she was being horribly overworked. Saudi authorities, needless to say, have no interest in such complaints, but her employers certainly did. They locked her in a room, and this resulted in her attempt to escape.

Her makeshift rope failed its purpose, however, and in the resulting fall she was so badly injured that the amputation of her arm was required. Her employer contended that she was mentally unstable. The precarious plight of migrant workers across the Gulf is tied in with the sponsorship system that binds migrants' livelihood and residency visas to the employer. Domestic workers numbering roughly two and  a half million are women who live with their sponsor, and labour laws in Gulf Arab nations don't typically extend to domestic workers.

Those domestic workers' lives are at the mercy of their employers. The situation is dire, and the Government of India is well aware of the fact that their nationals are being exploited in such circumstances. In this particular case India's foreign Ministry has urged that an independent inquiry be undertaken, stressing the employer should be charged with attempted murder, while the family would be content with monetary compensation since the woman will no longer be capable of working. The fall also caused a back injury for which she had undergone surgery.

Domestic workers from the Philippines India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Ethiopia work as nannies and live-in maids, labouring six and seven days a work. In Saudi Arabia alone over 2.8 million Indians work in low paying jobs. Rothna Begum, the Human Rights Watch researcher, points out that though India and Saudi Arabia had signed a labour cooperation agreement securing the rights of domestic workers and their employers, actual application of the law lags.

Domestic workers attempting to leave an abusive situation under Saudi law can be found guilty of breaching immigration laws since visas for residency are inextricably linked to the employer who must consent to a worker transferring employment elsewhere. A bylaw was issued in 2013 allowing one day off a week and a paid vacation every two weeks for domestic workers. Under Saudi labour law other workers are limited to eight hours of daily work whereas domestic workers can be required to work up to 15  hours.

Saudi Arabia is one of the largest employers of domestic workers in the world. The International Labour Organization states that about a third of the 784,500 foreign domestic workers in the kingdom are men who work as drivers or gardeners. The female majority work on average 64 hours a week. The second-highest number of domestic migrant workers from Asia are located in Kuwait with about 660,000 in total.

In Kuwait, its parliament approved a law allowing rights to domestic workers such as a weekly day off, and 30 days of annual paid leave, along with a 12-hour working day with rest. Bahrain, in contrast, includes domestic workers under its labour law, while excluding them for many of the provisions such as limits on working hours. In Oman, the UAE and Qatar, according to Ms. Begum, labour laws do not apply to domestic workers.

It was revealed last year by Amnesty International, that under Qatari law no limits apply on working hours for the country's 84,000 female domestic workers, nor are there any requirements to permit them a day off. Workers' own embassies impress upon them the advised option to walk away from pressing charges against employers since the national system might be inimical to their favour or the legal process too complex.

In Muslim countries, standards to prove that sexual assault has occurred are stiff, where capital punishment is common for rapists and women who report having been raped could conceivably face the charge of being involved in "illicit relations" as a default, until or unless the rape charge is proven. "There simply isn't the kind of follow-through and careful investigation that you can expect. It can give the impression that the legal system is protecting sponsors from scrutiny".

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Using All The Means

"We've had enough. We are saturated by Arabs and things are boiling over. But it is pointless to speak about this because there is no solution."
Pascal Moulin, supporter of Marine Le Pen's National Front

"The dream of the Arabs is to be French, but with my face and my name I can't ever be French in this country."
"We are so used to discrimination and stigmatization that we are no longer shocked by it. Our community cannot go any lower than it already is."
Hadj Jellal, coffee shop manager, Marseilles
Soldiers on patrol in Nice
Soldiers on patrol in Nice. Human rights groups and UN experts have criticised the continuation of the state of emergency. Photograph: Lionel Cironneau/AP

The port city of Marseille has been settled for the past seventy years with Muslims from Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. This represents generations of French Muslims. The result of a gradual, then an accelerated influx of Muslims in France has not been an integration of culture and social mores but an incorrigible separation, mutual distrust and arms-length hostility. In turn this has occasioned discrimination and lack of opportunity, poverty, unemployment and anger.

The Paris banlieues are dingy, dark, crowded and miserable, seething with rage and impotence. When, on occasion, a breakout of young men celebrate their rage by a rampage of torched vehicles, France takes notice. French gendarmes enter the banlieues at their risk, and as a result, far prefer not to, so the areas remain crime-ridden, drug-infested and perfect breeding grounds for Islamism where vengeance is a gruel consumed with hot passion.

Policeman with gun and tape near Bataclan
Image caption Police officer on guard near the Bataclan concert hall--Getty Images
After the well orchestrated Paris attacks that took place on Friday, November 13, leaving 130 people dead and countless injured, an atmosphere of expectant dread permeates the public consciousness. They have been warned time and again to be aware and observant. They have been warned by authorities that this will not be the last of such attacks. The attackers were French and Belgian Muslims, born and raised in those countries, aided by a few terrorists who had filtered into Europe in the wake of the flood of Syrian refugees.

France is flush with Muslims, in numbers that exceed any other European country, with Germany bringing up the rear. The problems that both countries have faced, will continue to face, are enormous. None of which would be so daunting as the simple fact that Islam is not conducive to living in harmony with the democratic principles of the West. Islam's goal is clear to all but the most blinkered; to achieve the final dominating conquest.

Muslims, in turn, though they represent the second most populous world religion, growing faster than any other, feel beleaguered and ill done by, loyal to a fault to their religion and all of its fixed and immutable dictates. If there is a solution, it has eluded the most resourceful intelligence minds. And so, France, months after their latest devastating blow from Islam, has extended its state of emergency, fearing to relax its vigil.

The state of emergency in place since the November attacks in Paris, ignoring United Nations experts, is being extended. The state of emergency, stated French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, must remain in place for the "necessary" period of time, "until we can get rid of" Islamic State. "As long as the threat is there, we must use all the means", he stated with finality.

The big unknown is, will it help, and can the ethos behind the ideological thrust of Islamic State ever be gotten rid of since needless to say, that ethos and that ideology represents the very basic thrust of Islam which insists on complete surrender.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Best-Laid Plans ....

"What we've learned is that you can't really leave. The local forces need air support, intelligence and help with logistics. They are not going to be ready in three years or five years."
"You have to be there for a very long time."
Senior Pentagon official

"No matter what happens in the next couple of years Afghanistan is going to have wide ungoverned spaces that violent extremist organizations can take advantage of."
"How long does it take to grow a 15-year-pilot? It takes about fifteen years. We're starting a little late with the Air Force." 

Brigadier General Wilson Shoffner, U.S. military spokesman, Afghanistan

U.S. soldiers near forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan. © Lucas Jackson

It is the resilience of the Taliban, of al-Qaeda, their ability to recruit, to infuse their recruits with the indoctrinating ethos of triumphalist Islamism that enables them to restore themselves to their previous capacity, each time they are beaten back. They withdraw, they wait, they refresh their arms and their vigour, their commitment and their passion, and they draw in greater numbers to once again reclaim what they lost.

Where at one time the presence of NATO troops met the Taliban at every juncture in their decade of spring offensives and winter withdrawals, sending them back to the remote and hostile mountains, crossing into the wild, ungoverned Pakistan mountainous preserves of rigid Islamism meant that established al Qaeda training camps were destroyed, they too have been restored as breeding grounds for new combat-ready fighters prepared to meet the enemy.

A rival has entered the geography with the presence of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, draining the Taliban and al-Qaeda of some of their fighters, attracted to the allure of a perceived winner, one whose dread presence sends shivers of fear down the spines of those who have seen their reputations precede their presence. Now the al-Qaeda training camps have been augmented with the presence of ISIL counterparts, jostling for territory and acclaim.

Where a few short months back the remote training camps were bleeding suicide bombers making incursions into government-held areas calling on their U.S. trainers and aerial defences to engage, the growing presence of Islamist fighting forces has forced the U.S. administration to abandon its plans to withdraw in the pretense that Afghan police and its military were sufficiently well prepared to defend their country.

It was a shallow pretense, of a military without discipline, lacking unity and command, with conscripts abandoning their posts in impossible-to-maintain numbers. Confidence that the time to leave Afghanistan to Afghans has come and it has gone, and U.S. military commanders are now preparing for a long stay in reflection of the vulnerability of the Afghan government to ongoing militant assaults.

"This is not a region you want to abandon", commented Michele Flournoy, former Pentagon official. "So the question is, what do we need going forward, given our interests?" The interests being, more or less, ensuring that the jihadists who had mounted the most debilitating, devious and destructive assault on American territory in the very heart of the homeland, will never be given the opportunity for a repeat performance.

The "exit strategy" that has involved long, exhaustive preparations, inclusive of which has been the training of Afghans to be responsible for themselves, has become an impossibility. The long-range view now is that any kind of exit is nowhere in sight. Even though the Taliban proved, year after year, their endurance and incorrigible devotion to jihad would not be stifled, even by the best-equipped, most disciplined fighting force in the world, American commanders were still caught by surprise at their resilience and renewed force of presence.

It will take much, much longer for military precision and best-practise military professionalism to eventually penetrate the Afghan psyche, and America, because it sees little other option, has once again nominated itself as the means by which it can be achieved, despite past disappointments in attempting to instill in a reluctant Afghan force the kind of self-reliance based on military competence and confidence that could translate into an effective military.

This file photo shows US Army soldiers on the Pakistan-Afghan border. (By AFP)
US Army soldiers on the Pakistan-Afghan border. (By AFP)

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Within Evil's Dark Malice

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  • In Poland, 2,900,000 Jews were exterminated; 88 percent of Polish Jews met their death during the Holocaust.
  • In Belorussia, 245,000 of its Jews were annihilated, representing 65 percent of its Jewish population.
  • In Bohemia/Moravia those numbers were 80,000 death, 89 percent of its Jewish demographic.
  • Germany itself collected a mere 55 percent of its Jewish citizens to murder 130,000 during the Final Solution. 
  • For Greece 65,000 of its Greek Jews were rounded up and slaughtered, representing 80 percent of its Jewish citizenry.
  • Although 90,000 French Jewish lives were extinguished, this number represented only 26 percent of its Jewish citizens.
  • Hungary sacrificed 70 percent of its Jews for a total of 450,000 murdered.
  • Italy under fascist Mussolini surrendered 20 percent of its Jews, where 7500 met their deaths.
  • Latvia managed to dispose of 77 percent of Latvian Jews when 70,000 were sent to death camps for disposal.
  • Lithuania exceeded Latvia's cleansing accomplishing a 94 percent death rate in the murder of 220,000 Lithuanian Jews.
  • The Netherlands handed over 106,000 Dutch Jews for a 76 percent clearance.
  • Slovakia rendered to the Final Solution an 80 percent majority of its Jews when 71,000 were exterminated.
  • Ukraine surrendered 60 percent of its Jewish population in the deaths of 900,000.
  • Yugoslavia, with a death rate of 80 percent of its Jews, waved off 60,000 into the death chambers.
  • Austria: 50,000/36%; Belgium: 25,000/60%; Bulgaria: 11,400/14%; Denmark: 50/1.3%; Finland: 7/2.8%; Great Britain: 130; Luxembourg: 1950/50%; Norway: 870/55%; Russia: 107,000/ll%; Romania: 270,000/33%.
Numbing numbers in their totality, difficult to comprehend let alone interpret as the reality of destroyed lives of men, women and children; the hale the halt and the infants among them. Solely because they were Jews. Deliberately to destroy the presence of Jews in Europe. Had the Axis powers triumphed the extermination program would have continued.

From 1941 to 1945 Britain interned on Mauritius 1500 Jews anxious to travel to Palestine. The British Navy sank a ship in 1939 with Jews attempting to enter Palestine. A number of Jews were deported by Britain to camps on the Channel Islands during its German occupation. Thousands of Jews were deported by Britain to Athlit and Cyprus; thousands more shipped to British internment camps, while some were deported to Germany.

Switzerland curtailed the flow of Jewish refugees into its embrace through a policy of refoulement enforced from 1938 until 1944. Still, some 30,000 found refuge in or passed through Switzerland, while 10,000 were turned away. Trains en route to concentration and death camps in the
East were routed through Switzerland, but its prewar Jewish population of 12,000 was withheld from the Nazis.

The black hell of the Holocaust was illuminated with occasional examples of the "Righteous Among the Nations", a Talmudic distinction describing any who risked themselves to help save others' lives, even utter strangers. Some distinguished themselves by responding to that inner call for compassion, like Oskar Schindler, while others hid Jews in their homes and others yet assisted Jews to cross borders toward safety, while diplomatic status was used on occasion to issue transit visas or grant citizenship to fleeing Jews.

These righteous hearts are honoured at Yad Vashem in Israel, and a tree is planted -- to honour each who valorously gave of themselves -- to express a living testimony to their heroism.


When Never The Twain Shall Meet

"When neighbours are Turks and so is everyone at work, you just don't meet that many Germans."
"I would never say that I am not German, owing to the fact that I was born here and have a German passport, but I love Turkish traditions and I cannot identify with any German traditions."
"They say there were Muslims who do this [sexually molest German women], so if  you are a Muslim you might do it, too. I am afraid the prejudices will become worse and that Turkish people will have to deal with it."
"They always say, talking generally, that you are a good Turk but that the rest of the Turks are not. They tell me it is weird that my parents can't speak German. They'll say, 'Fifty years have passed and you are still here. Why don't you go away?' This is something every Turk has heard."
"I am torn between being a German in Turkey and a Turk in Germany. In Turkey they always call me a German girl and do not accept me as a Turkish girl, and when I am in Germany they do not accept me as a German girl."
Sevilay Tan, 19, German Turk

"You can see it [attitudes] changing. Germans have actually asked me if I say 'yes' to ISIL."
Galip Daslik, 19, German Turk
Sevilay Tan and Galip Daslik (Matthew Fisher / Postmedia News)
Sevily Tan and Galip Daslik -- Matthew Fisher Postmedia News

"[They are wrong, those who] say we are Nazis without any discussion. I am not right wing. I am a libertarian. My problem is one of civilization. They do not want to integrate."
"I have tried to read the Qur'an but this is not a book that allows for self-reflection. I see women who aren't free and I see this demanding attitude while always claiming they are the victims. I do not make a distinction between Islam and radical Islamists."
"We fear to lose our freedom, our liberty, our values, our culture. It is not only Germany that will be destroyed. It's all of Europe. From the outside Germany still looks normal but if you look behind the scenes society is collapsing. Within five or ten years Germany will be completely changed. Our systems, whether it is health care or education or other structures, will be falling apart. Our schools are already a mess." 
Tatjana Festerling, 51, novice politician, Pegida: Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West
Protestors on the streets of Leipzig.
Photo: Germans protested against the country's refugee intake in the wake of mass sexual assaults in the city of Cologne. (AFP: Tobias Schwarz)

"They [Pegida] are crushing our beautiful city's reputation. Foreigners become afraid here. They have changed the climate in the streets. They are not a majority but a lot of people who lost their jobs after reunification do not see what we have in Germany. That we are so rich and so blessed."
Carolyn Hendschke, Dresden tourism office
A poll taken in December of 2015 resulted in the finding that 48 percent of those asked wanted Chancellor Angela Merkel defeated in the next election. According to 47 percent of those polled, Chancellor Merkel had done a poor job of handling the refugee crisis. The anti-immigration sentiment is running high in Germany amid fears of terrorism. Polls show that the right-wing Alternative for Germany has moved ahead of the Green party with the support of over ten percent of voters.

Ms. Festerling had been a member of AfD, and then she joined up with Pegida, switching once she lost her job as a press officer for a German railway company. She had posted on Facebook images of a Pegida demonstration that had turned violent last fall in Cologne, and this led to her firing. More recently she was among the major speakers at a right wing, anti-migrant rally in Leipzig. There, she accused Muslim asylum seekers of declaring a "sex jihad" against "blond, white women". Dozens were arrested.

The views Ms. Festerling expressed, however, are gaining growing support from Hungary, to France and Scandinavia. In an interview, she alludes to Germany's dark past, focusing on the horrors of the Holocaust. Germany, she says, is "an open psychiatric ward. We need to develop a new self-esteem. To make decisions with self-respect and to watch out for ideologies and terrorism. The chancellor says we are a cold people full of hate and must be avoided. Nobody actually looks at what we say. Nobody in the ivory towers wants to put any of this up for discussion."

And then there are the two 19-year-olds, Sevila Tan and Galip Daslik, born and raised in the Ruhr region of German, their German impeccable, who considered Turkey to be "our country". They plan on graduation from university; to marry, acquire some savings, and move together to Turkey. It was their grandfathers who had emigrated as "guest workers" in the early 1960s to take up work in coal mines and steel factories when Germany was experiencing a shortage of workers.

Identity dilemma pushes young Turks to leave Germany for Turkey
(Photo: Sunday's Zaman, Mühenna Kahveci) Some 63,000 Turks returned to Turkey from Germany in 2013, making the number of returning Turks in six years rise to 256,000

Germany had the idea that the guest workers would simply work as needed and contracted in Germany and then return to Turkey once their temporary immigration program ended in the 1970s. It just didn't work out that way, despite the German government refusing to give permanent residency status, let alone German citizenship to those Turkish workers who insisted they weren't prepared to leave Germany.  Even when they were offered cash incentives to return to Turkey.

In 2000 a law was passed allowing children and grandchildren of the original guest workers to take out German citizenship. But they remained in their original ethnic enclaves, which maintained a separate existence from mainstream Germans. The factories still employ tens of thousands of the four million Turks that remain in Germany. Germany's largest mosque was built in the Duisburg suburb, not far from the tall factory smokestacks that were partially responsible for Germany's post-war economic turnabout.

The massive Melkez mosque aside, most Turks in the Ruhr region simply don't feel part of Germany, its culture and its history, not its future. They feel that irrespective of how long they live in Germany they will never be accepted as Germans.

The Merkez mosque in Duisburg. (Volker Hartmann / AFP / Getty Images)
The Merqez mosque in Duisburg -- Volker Hartmann/AFP/Getty images

Terror in Paris. Alleged sex assaults in Cologne. The refugee crisis that has gripped the EU for more than a year is morphing into something else: A debate on the future of Europe and the role nearly 20 million Muslims will play in it. But the dilemma isn’t new. From the Arctic Circle to the ‘no-go zones’ of Marseille, the Post’s reports on a crisis decades in the making.
The Merkez mosque in Duisburg. (Volker Hartmann / AFP / Getty Images)
The Merkez mosque in Duisburg. (Volker Hartmann / AFP / Getty Images)
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Monday, January 25, 2016

Exploiting Besieged Syrians

"They have provided detailed information on shortages of food, water, qualified physicians, and medicine. This has led to acute malnutrition and deaths among vulnerable groups in the town."

"Siege tactics, by their nature, target the civilian population by subjecting them to starvation, denial of basic essential services and medicines."
"Such methods of warfare are prohibited under international humanitarian law and violate core human rights obligations with regard to the rights to adequate food, health and the right to life, not to mention the special duty of care owed to the well-being of children."
Paulo Pinheiro, chairman, UN commission of inquiry documenting war crimes in Syria

"We saw people who are clearly malnourished, especially children, we saw people who are extremely thin, skeletons, that are now barely moving." 
"We saw people that are desperate, people that are cold, people that angry, people that have almost lost hope that the world cares about their plight." 
"Many more will die if the world does not move faster."
Yacoub El Hillo, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator, Syria
"You could see many were malnourished, starving. They were skinny, tired, severely distressed. There was no smile on anybody's face."
"The children I talked to said they had no strength to play." 
Elizabeth Hoff, WHO representative, Damascus
Residents, who say they have received permission from the Syrian government to leave the besieged town, walk past Syrian Army soldiers as they depart after an aid convoy entered Madaya, Syria January 11, 2016. Reuters/Omar Sanadiki
"Twelve people died last week, six of them children. There are 1,500 patients here suffering chronic diseases which require treatment or medicine which is not available. People are eating grass, and rice of it's available."
Dr. Omar Hakim, Moadhamiya, Damascus

Aid was finally able, through the agreement of the regime authorities, to reach desperate people in Madaya northwest of Damascus. This is where government forces have been starving out the residents, viewing them as supporters of the Syrian Sunni rebels. It was from Madaya that photographs of skeletal residents reached the notice of the international public, evoking outrage that such medieval tactics of siege warfare were taking place. 

But, in fact, this is what Bashar al Assad's forces have been engaging in, among other atrocities of barbarism throughout this conflict. It is all about punishing Syria's Sunni majority for criticizing their Shiite Baathist government in its elevation of the Alawite minority, as members of Assad's own tribal-sectarian community. 

Those workers with the United Nations who brought humanitarian aid through their convoy to Madaya two weeks earlier described horrendous conditions of severe malnutrition leading to death. While Madaya's population of 42,000 is suffering gravely, there is an estimated 400,000 people living in siege conditions, according to the United Nations.

An additional four million Syrians whose situation is tenuously existential as a result of "hard to reach areas", also pose a problem for which a solution is nowhere to be seen. Other than miraculously removing the source of all the problems, the Alawite government of Bashar al Assad and liberating Syria from its malign influence and bloody attacks on civilians who happen to practise the 'wrong' form of Islamic allegiance.

Madaya was not even on the list of the "besieged" communities whom aid groups estimate total in excess of a million, effectively doubling the number that the United Nations claims to have been affected by the government siege tactics. In the UN's humanitarian plans for Syria the language has been altered to remove the words "siege" and "besieged", for the obvious purpose of mollifying Assad. 

The softened language perhaps a bit of bait to bring him to a negotiating table for peace talks. Even though his officials have as good as stated they will be present to listen, and nothing more.

The UN plan stresses that ISIL and other rebel groups are also engaged in laying siege to Shiite towns. However the numbers of regime-surrounded populations vastly outnumber by 49 to 52 those under siege by rebels. Moreover, the regime's planes fly on missions to drop relief supplies to those besieged by ISIL or rebel groups. Something that the rebels obviously have no resort to.

Stockpiles of aid are planned to be delivered by Care International to areas being attacked by the regime. "We have to fill warehouses so that if routes are closed, people inside have a chance to survive for as long as it takes for the international community to negotiate", explained Abu Fares, a volunteer using contact networks to bring supplies into areas of Homs province surrounded by regime forces.

Syrians on Monday outside the rebel-held town of Madaya, which is besieged by pro-government forces including the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah. Louai Beshara/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Hezbollah has denied that its siege on behalf of the regime has resulted in deaths or starvation. They claim that rebels have taken possession of humanitarian aid rather than distribute the food and other supplies equally among the residents. Their purpose, it was claimed, was to sell to those who had the wherewithal to buy what was available. And the entire controversy was completely contrived, they charged, with the population of Madaya exploited in a propaganda campaign to discredit the Syrian regime.

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"Anti-State Activity"

"[Otto Warmbier] was arrested while perpetrating a hostile act against the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] after entering it under the guise of tourist for the purpose of bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity at the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation."
Korean Central News Agency
Otto Fredrick Warmbier
University of Virginia student and Ohio native Otto Fredrick Warmbier is seen in an undated photo posted to his Facebook page

"We don't have enough information about this case, but it's always a risk for any U.S. citizen to go to North Korea."
"You have to be careful in a way that we wouldn't think of as normal."
John Delury, American international relations expert, Yonsei University, Seoul

"In addition to continuing political pressure to exhort the DPRK to improve human rights, it is also now imperative to pursue criminal responsibility of the DPRK leadership."
Marzuki Darusman, UN special rapporteur
A 21-year-old American has ample time now to muse on the thrills of exciting the notice of North Korean authorities as someone plotting against the people's republic. If he can get close to a computer any time soon he can update his Facebook postings with some material about his impressions of North Korea's prison system. He appears to have a penchant for unusual experiences, and he certainly appears self-motivated to expose himself to such experiences.

It is not yet known, while it may be at some future date, how he feels about being the fourth Westerner to be incarcerated in the lunatic asylum ruled by its Great Leader Kim Jong Un. They may, at some time, wish to compare notes. It certainly is a puzzle to most people who have curious streaks about the world at large why it is that some among them court this kind of situation where they make themselves vulnerable to becoming some despot's victim.

Why it is that people with such an intense sense of adventurous curiosity seek such challenges from which no influence is capable of extracting them; they are left to their own survival devices under extremely trying circumstances that could and should be avoided at all costs. Is it bragging rights that so consume their attention as to pursue these unusual adventures? The ambition to write a book about perseverance under trying circumstances?

In some instances people are taken hostage while attempting to undertake a mission of some sort on behalf of a body such as the United Nations. But a recent college graduate embarking on a New Year's holiday deciding to take it in Pyongyang, North Korea?  He is described by the University of Virginia as an "intellectual risk taker". He might consider trying to persuade his captors that he is a personal friend of Dennis Rodman sent to give greetings to the Great Leader.

In the meantime, he can take comfort with the U.S. State Department's message that "The welfare of U.S. citizens is one of the Department's highest priorities."

He was detained at Pyongyang airport on January 2 ahead of a flight back to China
Otto Frederick Warmbier, from the University of Virginia, was in North Korea for a five-day New Year trip and was detained at Pyongyang airport on January 2 ahead of a flight back to China

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Neglect and Tragedy

"My first reaction was a feeling of heartsickness, because we were in charge of monitoring this project. Then I felt shock and grief."
"Usually the monitoring entity should be in place when the first tier of a disposal site is compacted. When we entered, they'd already filled in to the fifth tier."
"By late November, we had found it had problems with stability, removal of obstructions, compactness and elevation."
Bian Yuxiang, senior construction engineer, Shenzhen J-Star Project Management Consultants
Chinese rescuers work at the land slidesite. The landslide that hit southern China's Shenzhen on December 20, 2015 was China's second industrial disaster in four months.

It was meant to be a temporary project, a dump in Shenzhen, China. Local authorities in the municipality had contracted with Long Huamei's Shenzhen Yixianlong Investment Development Company to operate the dump. This was a company whose professional focus was primarily for projects such as garden design, street cleaning and waste disposal. But it thought the the dump project in Hong'ao Village on Shenzhen's outskirts represented an opportunity to make a profit.

Oversight of the project was in the hands of the district urban management bureau. It was assigned there since the dump was considered to represent a transitional project, not a permanent project requiring more stringent checks and oversight. The bureau itself was engaged in minor issues such as illegal parking and litter. They had a casual hands-off attitude, feeling the situation well looked after by the contracted firm.

Many of the buildings at the industrial park in the city of Shenzhen were destroyed or badly damaged.

And then Shenzhen Yixianglong Investment decided to contract out the dump project to a local company, Shenzhen Luei Property Management. Both companies more or less ignored approval rules, safety warnings and the complaints of nearby residents that the dump was unstable. There was also an engineering firm attached to the project, engaged to monitor work associated with it. And that engineering firm, Shenzhen J-Star, warned for months of the risks related to the  Hong'ao Construction Waste Dump project.

Once they began working on the project in September, J-Star cited problems that had bypassed inspection; cracked drainage and other risks. The urban administration bureau appeared disinterested. In mid-December, a J-Star official reviewed his firm's concerns at a meeting with representatives of Yixianglong Investment along with officials from the urban management bureau as well as an earlier engineering consultant company, where agreement was reached to suspend dump operations.

The dump as a temporary measure took advantage of the presence of a quarry situated on a hill overlooking the village. That quarry looked temptingly like a solution to the problem of rapid growth leading to massive construction waste requiring to be placed somewhere. Residents and workers located nearby were concerned that the growing mound was unstable. "It began to rise slowly, but then it began to grow faster", observed Zhang Guisheng, a factory worker.

Finally, another emergency meeting was struck when all those concerned discussed the safety concerns and it was agreed that no more waste should be piled onto the existing site. The matter seemed settled, if only temporarily so. But instead of being settled, it had just been set aside, and the dump trucks kept arriving with the construction loads. Four days after the meeting that resulted in the agreement to suspend operations, the unstable dump piled with construction waste gave way.

Rescue efforts underway at the industrial park in northern Shenzhen. Photograph from the Shenzhen Fire Department’s official Weibo.

A massive landslide of debris collapsed and 69 people were killed, on 20 December. It was a dreadful disaster that could and should have been averted. An investigation was launched by the government. "The local government knew what was going on, because people complained", an exasperated Mr. Zhang noted. "Nothing happened." Well, nothing happened to ensure that safety was uppermost in concern, but now that 69 people have died and buildings in the path of the landslide were destroyed, action has been taken.

Long Huamei of Yixianglong is in police custody and so are another two dozen managers and officials. The Shenzhen police on January 15 stated that Zhang Juru, executive director of Luwei had been arrested, while six others had made themselves scarce. A more traditional note of self-reproach was struck when Xu Yuan'an, head of the district urban management bureau that approved the dump, committed suicide.

Rescue workers look for survivors on December 22, 2015.

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Cold Haven From A Hot Crisis

"It is more than we expected and we do not deny the challenge. But it is an opportunity in the sense that this will give us a more robust workforce while helping people in need."
"We don't have a problem with this, but we do understand how it could get out of control if it is not managed. We have dealt with it well so far. I am proud of our citizens and of our moderation."
Finland Finance Minister Alexander Stubb

"These people require assistance and I have nothing against them. But I doubt that it is good for Finland. ... Who knows how it will work out in ten or 20 years?"
"While I am not against Muslims, I am against their cultural ideas. How can we possibly agree with them about their attitude toward women? If they want to be part of our lives, they have to understand us."
Raili Vapaavuori, 85, retiree, Helsinki

"I am trying to figure out if they really need help. They have new clothes, the best iPhones. I've seen them take out wads of 100- and 500-euro notes to pay for a cup of tea."
Erja Salmela, 40, housewife, mother, Lapland
An Iraqi family with small children waits at a security checkpoint to be taken to a police registration center in Tornio, Finland. The Washington Post

They come from Pakistan, from Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria, at the end of a trek that has taken them from Turkey through Greece, the Balkans, Germany and Sweden. They didn't stop at any of those places, their final destination was, of all places, Finland. And to reach Finland they went by foot, boat, train and bus, a month-long arduous journey of high expectation.

Once in Finland in Tornio, a truly northern border outpost, they board buses to be taken for formal registration and a series of security checks. Which is when the country's Red Cross takes over. They will be housed and provided for. They will be given assistance to familiarize themselves with their surroundings. To help while their claims for asylum are being processed.

Finland's 5.4-million citizens have looked on as their government has taken in about 30,000 refugee claimants in the past year. Of the total, 14,000 asylum seekers passed through the northern edge of the Gulf of Bothnia, 100 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle, the town of Lapland. This is hugely unusual for Finland, considered to be a racial, culturally homogeneous society. Other European countries like Sweden and Germany do have a history of welcoming foreign immigrants, Finland not.

Predictably, hundreds of Finns presented a human barrier of protest against the entry of so many foreigners to their country, at the Tornio crossing several months ago. To emphasize their distrust of strangers and their unwillingness to have them join them in a country that has been up until the present distant enough so that most people would not want to travel there, stones were thrown and fireworks set.

A civilian street patrol group naming itself the "Soldiers of Odin" was denounced by the government for protesting the presence of Muslims in the wake of the well-publicized New Year's Eve sex assaults that took place in Cologne, Germany, and other cities across Europe. Similar assaults took place as well in the Finnish capital of Helsinki.

Fleeing civil war and the terrorism now prevalent in the Middle East, as well as the violence and oppression in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan the migrants obviously are in search of a more promising future than what they could imagine would be theirs, remaining in their countries of origin.

"We're happy to adjust. We love the Finns. This country is my country. I will live here in peace", said Ali Ahmed Abbas, a Sunni hairdresser from Baghdad forced to flee Iraq threatened by death on the part of his Shia Iraqi neighbours and now eager to bring his wife and child to Finland at the earliest opportunity.

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Straining Cordiality

"Taking full account of all the evidence and analysis available to me I find that the FSB operation to kill Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev and also by President Putin."
"[There is] strong circumstantial evidence that the Russian State was responsible for Mr. Litvinenko's death."
British High Court Judge Robert Owen

"We regret that a purely criminal case was politicized and darkened the general atmosphere of bilateral relations."
"We had no reason to expect that the final findings of the politically motivated and extremely non-transparent process, which has been skewed to achieve the predetermined, 'needed' result, would suddenly become objective and unbiased."
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova
"I am hoping that this 'polonium process' will dispel a myth about the impartiality of British justice." "The results of the inquiry made public today once again confirm London's anti-Russian stance, tunnel thinking and the unwillingness of the British to establish the true cause of Litvinenko's death."
former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoy

"I think it's a very proper and fair finding because nobody in the Russian hierarchy would dare to order such a murder without Mr. Putin's approval."
Alex Goldfarb, author: Death of a Dissident
 Alexander Litvinenko, pictured shortly before his 2006 death, accused the Russian president of involvement in his killing while on his death bed in London

Long held to be a fact, and the cause of strained relations between London and Moscow, it has now been unequivocally held by a British government-authorized inquiry to be a fact that former Russian national Alexander Litvinenko who turned from being a former KGB operative to acting as a spy for British intelligence was ordered placed out of commission by President Vladimir Putin. The former KGB agent, as a traitor to his homeland, detested Russia's President who was once a KGB agent himself.

And using KGB tactics, it seems evident enough that Mr. Putin's regime simply ordered the removal of a nuisance, just as has been done in all too many instances with Russian journalists, politicians and others critical of the government and its leader. But those assassinations, readily denied and never solved, took place in Russia itself, although to be sure in the past skilled assassins plied their trade on behalf of Russia in the international theatre.

Choosing to deliver death by stealth through a horrible means of achieving that end in London, did come with its diplomatic risks.

But if Vladimir Putin is known for anything, it is for taking bold strokes and then blandly issuing invitations to his accusers to give proof of his involvement. The inquiry named the two men who poisoned Mr. Litvinenko with a deadly radioactive material not accessible to just anyone unless some nuclear state authority might make it available to them. Their identities were well enough known; Mr. Litvinenko himself named them, just as he named the author of the conspiracy-to-murder.

They were named as accessories to the murder after Mr. Litvinenko's death in 2006 after the polonium that had been slipped into his tea during a meeting between the three men -- Andrei Lugovoi, Dmitry Kovtun, and Mr. Litvinenko had taken place -- and Moscow had refused London's request to hand them over for trial. Since then Mr. Lugovoi has become a Russian parliamentarian, one who characterizes the charges against him as "absurd".

A file photo of Russian politician Andrei Lugovoi [Misha Japaridze/AP Photo]

Mr. Putin has demonstrated effectively time and again that no one is permitted to blacken his name. And Mr. Litvinenko accusing Vladimir Putin of orchestrating the assassination must have known with whom he was dealing, since he accused him repeatedly of corruption, violence and every conceivable ill-doing he could think of. There is no distance obviously sufficiently remote to outreach to silence an inconvenient and irritating critic.


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Middle East Intervention

"I don't think we should expect any major results. Assad really believes that time is on his side, that he is winning, that the opposition is in tatters."
Fawaz Gerges, professor, Middle Eastern politics, London School of Economics

"It [opposition] is a political term, not a military term. Whenever you hold a machine gun, you are a militant, you are a terrorist, whatever you want, but you cannot call 'opposition' people who hold machine guns or any kind of armaments."
"What we are doing in parallel besides fighting terrorism, we need to make the dialogue, but the concrete steps should follow at least a major defeat of the terrorists and the government takes control of a major area that has been captured by the terrorists."
Syrian President Bashar al Assad 
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with a journalist from the Chinese Phoenix Television Channel in Damascus, in this handout picture provided by SANA on November 22, 2015 © SANA

It wasn't all that long ago that Syrian President Bashar al Assad had very good reason to understand that his regime was on its death ropes. The knell of its demise hovered close on the horizon with the many successes of the rebels, along with the Islamists that had predictably flooded Syria. With the regime exercising its violent spleen on its Sunni Syrian population, punishing civilians for their perceived support of the Sunni rebellion, the Islamic State militants were getting the upper hand as far as amassing territory was concerned.

Iran's support through its al-Quds division of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, the intervention and aid of the seasoned Hezbollah fighters, and Iran's Shiite militias did give Assad some breathing room, but it simply wasn't enough. The Sunni-backed Islamist groups were moving ahead, pushing back the Alawite regime and threatening its stronghold. What it took, presumably, was a visit from the Iranian general to Moscow, to convince the Kremlin that their interests would be impaired if they did nothing.

So in came the Russian military, denied strenuously at first, as is the Russian way, then finally confirmed with a firm pledge that Russian airstrikes would target the nemesis of the West, the Islamic State groups primarily. Except that ISIL as targets of Russian air strikes was incidental to Moscow's support for the regime's battle with its own Sunni rebels, and it was they who bore the brunt of the attacks with predictable results, since they had no air power of their own.

The U.S. was unwilling to commit to a combatant-assistance role in the civil war in Syria; burnt too often in involvement in Middle East and Muslim conflicts. Nor was the Obama administration interested in fighting a proxy war with Russia over Syria. Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya loomed large in shadowy memory as rebukes to American military interventions. So action was ruled out and inaction seeped into the picture by default, which led to the emergence of Russian President Vladimir Putin, guaranteeing the survival of a tyrant who slaughters his own.

In the process of that disengagement from the power structure the United States alienated its traditional allies who perceived him as submitting both to Tehran with its own ambitions to become the power broker of the region, and to Moscow which was willing to share with Iran that ambition. The result has been a humanitarian disaster that has slopped over into neighbouring countries straining their resources, and further along into Europe, causing a landslide of reaction and agitation for the European Union's cohesiveness.

A girl carrying a baby inspects damage in a site hit by what activists said were airstrikes carried out by the Russian air force in the town of Douma, eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria, January 10, 2016.

And now, because of Russia's muscular intervention that is being reversed and the opposition divided. There is an estimated thousand feuding militias and they disagree about strategy and purpose and they violate one another's strengths. It was the rebels themselves that have crushed their effectiveness by their divisive bickering.

Hand in glove with the aircraft, helicopters and tanks that Russia is advancing to pound the Victory Army, rebel and Islamist morale has plunged. Flying close to 200 sorties daily has permitted Assad the effective offensive on the ground, covered in the air. Talks in Geneva have become another arguing session over who should go, who not. Anyone heading off to Geneva would be guilty of "high treason", so proclaimed the leader in Syria's al-Qaeda group; as good a threat of death as any other statement.

It has been a struggle, a learning process which hasn't quite been learned, that the removal of a tyrant in the Middle East will present a vacuum that will inexorably be filled and unsurprisingly, given the general dysfunction of tribal and radical sectarian groups, filled by a vicious menace whose attitudes and atrocities make the tyrant's exploits appear mild by comparison. Radicalization and fragmentation has been the result everywhere that rigid authority has been removed, from Iraq to Yemen, Libya to Syria.

 And wherever Sharia law has been imposed to complement the administration of Islamist groups whose fundamentalism is a reflection of 'authentic' Islam, schools become segregated, women must wear the full coverings of niqab or burqas, and the basic infrastructure of civil life is neglected while ethnic and religious minorities are given the generous choice of either fleeing or converting to Islam. And the Islamists busy themselves destroying any vestiges of ancient religious artefacts, venerated symbols of the heritage and the past of the region.

There, then is the choice in the Middle East; settle for the unnerving presence of a tyrant for whom the very concept of human rights is as foreign as it is for those who move in to replace him if he is removed, or prepare to see the outrages committed by that tyrant multiplied beyond belief by his successors.


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