Saturday, February 02, 2013

A Road-Weary Warrior This Way Comes: Robert Fisk in Canada

A Road-Weary Warrior This Way Comes: Robert Fisk in Canada

by C. L. Cook

2 February, 2013

February began with an address to a packed auditorium at the University of Victoria by renowned reporter Robert Fisk, the full-house attending to hear the penultimate performance of the English journalist's country-wide Canadian lecture tour, 'Arab Awakening: But are we hearing the truth?'

Enduring the tenth of his eleven cities in twelve days schedule, a visibly jet-worn Fisk entertained and educated the appreciative crowd with anecdotes and some background of his near four decades-long career living in and reporting from the Middle-East, (Fisk has called Beirut home for more than thirty-five years) while providing his analyses of both the so-called "Arab Spring" and that movement's interpretation in the Western press.   

Not just England's single-most "decorated" war correspondent, Fisk has also received more international journalism awards than anyone, including being voted International Journalist of the Year seven times.

His work is also recognized by human rights organizations, who have awarded him a slew of honours and awards, among them being: the Jacob's Award for radio coverage of the first Gulf War, and the Orwell, David Watt, and Gelhorn Prizes. He's received honorary Doctorates from the University of St. Andrews, Adelaide University, the American University of Beirut, and two from Trinity College Dublin, and more. He also holds a PhD in Political Science, earned at Trinity.

'Mr. Robert' is too the author of six books, the most widely regarded of these perhaps being 2005's 'The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East,' and 'Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War,' released in 1990. His latest, an anthology of his journalistic writings, is 'The Age of the Warrior' (2008).

Clearly not someone just fallen from the turnip truck.

For the uninitiated, those whose news comes directly or perhaps solely from "mainstream" sources like the Globe and Mail and CBC, and others well used to the daily tripe Canada's media combines spoon feed the masses, statements like; "No War on Terror really exists," or; "The [Israeli] Wall is infinitely more monstrous than Berlin's" must astound, or at least sound just a little outlandish; but, coming from the man who interviewed Osama bin Laden on three separate occasions, stood amongst the corpses of Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, and filed stories from the heart of the battle for Baghdad during America's 2003 invasion, Fisk's opinion carries a rare credibility that's difficult to question, even if emanating, as it does, so far from the regular and reassuring blandishments informing both the corporate and state news.

Sadly though, there is a dated ring revealed by his rejection of the changing information/media landscape. Fisk reiterated his disdain for internet-gleaned news, computer keyboards, blogs and "citizen journalist" bloggers - and even e-mail! (e-mail too, Mr. Robert!?). Of course, I'd heard, read, and seen him express his predilection for last century methods; heard, read, and watched him say so on the internet. After all, who besides the Independent is going to feature Fisk's discomfiting reports, and how else are people living half a world from London going to access that necessary reportage? This stodgy, and slightly annoying attitude made me think twice about his latest title, and made me wonder if this warrior journalist may be feeling his age. 

For the growing number who turn first to the computer, or any of the dizzying array of other newly available media interfaces, there wasn't a lot of news in Robert Fisk's presentation. He did provide his view of what he witnessed not too very long ago in Syria, (informing the government enjoyed as much as 70% public support in Aleppo and some other areas of the country), and there was some interesting analysis of the current situation in Mali; one audience member querying Fisk on the R2P, or Responsibility to Protect doctrine, used to justify intervention in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia by Bill Clinton's coalition in the 1990's, and more recently invoked to justify the destruction of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. Of this he said he had "very mixed feelings," believing it to be something of a "dodgy concept" comparable to Adolf Hitler's wars of aggression in Europe. On the subject of Libya's former dictator, Fisk likened the fates of Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Yasir Arafat to once useful tools of the West made disposable by changing circumstance.

Interesting too was his assertion that, at bottom the problem was the fact we in the West had "lost faith in God," whilst those, largely Muslim populations in the Middle East, had not lost faith and struggled now to understand why they, rather than reaping God's rewards for their fidelity were suffering at the hands of the unbelievers. On this, Fisk says;

"What you've got is a people who have largely maintained and kept their faith in God, and asked themselves: How can it be they are oppressed; humiliated: Financially, economically, socially, militarily, educationally, culturally by a people who have lost their faith? And that question, I think, lies at the centre of the crisis between East and West. It is not about Wars on Terror; this is trash which is being fed to you, if you want to come eat it. I think that that is the question we have to confront and talk about. I think what we've got to do, if we're going to do that, is stop sending our soldiers on these crazed adventures to Muslim countries; these countries do not belong to us."

January ended with an Israeli air raid into war torn Syria. There are at time of writing still conflicting reports as to what the target, or targets of those initial bombing raids were. More reports are now coming in, (across my internet wire) of further death and destruction dealt by Israel to its neighbour Syria. It is a ratcheting up of the constant pressure the region has felt these last years, and now seems to be a potential spark for a much broader war involving Iran - the war Israel and its benefactor the United States of America has covertly waged for a half-dozen years.

Though it promises to envelope Robert Fisk's adopted home, the prospect of war spreading to Lebanon was one of the more interesting and timely topics sadly left undisturbed during the Victoria 'Arab Awakening'  lecture. That eventuality, should it come to pass, would pity more than only that nation.

Robert Fisk's tour was sponsored by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East and supported at the University of Victoria by the Social Justice Studies Program and CFUV Radio.

High Alert: Israel's Broadened Bombing Campaign over Syria Threatens Greater Regional War

Israel’s bombing of Syria escalates threat of wider war

by Bill Van Auken - WSWS

1 February 2013

Wednesday’s bombing of a Syrian military site by Israeli warplanes has ratcheted up the danger that the Western-backed civil war in Syria will spill over into a broader regional conflagration.

Unnamed US officials cited by the New York Times claimed that the target of Wednesday’s dawn air strike was a military convoy carrying arms that were supposedly destined for Hezbollah, the Shia political movement and militia in Lebanon.

The Syrian government, however, said that air strikes were directed against a military research center in Jamraya, in the Qasioun mountain range about three miles west of Damascus. It said that two workers at the center were killed in the bombing and five others were wounded.

“Israeli warplanes violated our airspace at dawn today and directly struck one of the scientific research centers responsible for elevating the resistance and self-defense capabilities in the area of Jamraya in the Damascus countryside,” Syria’s military said in a statement published by the official Sana news agency.

The Syrian regime charged that the air strikes had been facilitated by coordinated attacks on the part of the US-and Western-backed “rebels” against the country’s radar networks and air defense systems.

“Late Wednesday, a US official said the accounts of two targets—a convoy of weapons and a military site—weren’t mutually exclusive,” the Wall Street Journal reported. 

The official suggested that the convoy was attacked inside the military facility. How Israel determined that it was carrying weapons bound for Hezbollah across the border in Lebanon has not been clarified.

For its part, the Israeli regime has maintained a complete silence on its act of aggression against Syria. The New York Times late Thursday described this silence as “part of a longstanding strategy to give targeted countries face-saving opportunities to avoid conflict escalation.”

According to this perverse reasoning, Syria’s public statement on the attack—rather than the attack itself—was responsible for “increasing the likelihood of a cycle of retaliation.”

The air strike was reportedly carried out by four Israeli warplanes that flew low over Syrian territory before firing as many as a dozen missiles into the complex.

The Lebanese Daily Star quoted residents of the Jamraya area who said that they were woken by blasts at the military site. “We were sleeping. Then we started hearing rockets hitting the complex and the ground started shaking and we ran into the basement,” a woman who lives next to the complex told the Lebanese newspaper.

Another Syrian, who has a relative working inside the military site, told Reuters: “It appears that there were about a dozen rockets that appeared to hit one building in the complex. The facility is closed today.”

The extreme right-wing government of Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed that it fears the nearly two-year-old civil war in Syria will lead to advanced weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah or the Western-backed Islamist militias. In reality, as it begins its third term in office, the Netanyahu government is exploiting the crisis in Syria to carry out military strikes aimed at weakening its potential adversaries and paving the way for a new eruption of open warfare.

According to US officials, the alleged convoy headed to Lebanon was not carrying chemical weapons or any other offensive arms, but rather Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, which would be capable of hitting Israeli fighter-bombers, helicopters and drones.

As NBC News put it, “They would remove Israel’s critical freedom of flight over Lebanon.” The Israeli regime has exercised this “freedom” repeatedly in the last several days. On Wednesday, the Lebanese army reported that Israeli warplanes had carried out two sorties over Lebanese territory, circling for hours on Tuesday and returning before dawn on Wednesday.

More importantly, this unchallenged control over Lebanon’s airspace is critical for Israel if it is preparing yet another war against the country to its north, which it last invaded in 2006, destroying much of its infrastructure with air and sea bombardments and killing over 1,100 people.

This eventuality was strongly suggested by a top Israeli military commander. On the eve of the air strike on Syria, Major-General Amir Eshel, the chief of Israel’s air force, declared that Israel was now engaged in a “war between wars” and that “this campaign is 24/7, 365 days a year. We are taking action to reduce the immediate threats, to create better conditions in which we will be able to win the wars, when they happen.”

Eshel said that Tel Aviv was trying “to keep [our] efforts beneath the level at which war breaks out,” but added, “… if there is no alternative—maybe it will.”

The Israeli attack was carried out after prior consultation with the Obama administration in Washington, which, like Tel Aviv, has maintained a guilty silence over the air strikes. Indeed, the only official US response came in the form of a statement by the White House deputy national security advisor, Ben Rhodes, who issued a warning to Syria that it should not “further destabilize the region by transferring weaponry to Hezbollah.”

Israel’s carrying out a so-called “preventive” military action, i.e., unprovoked aggression, against a sovereign territory was clearly not seen by the US administration as “destabilizing.” This was just the latest in a long line of such criminal actions, carried out by Washington’s ally, including last October’s attack on an alleged weapons factory in Sudan and endless violence against the Palestinian populations in the occupied territories of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

The Israeli air strikes were condemned by the Russian government, which called them “unprovoked attacks on targets on the territory of a sovereign country, which blatantly violates the UN Charter and is unacceptable, no matter the motives to justify it.”

Iran, Syria’s closest regional ally, warned that the “Zionist regime’s attack on the outskirts of Damascus will have grave consequences for Tel Aviv.” Previously Tehran had warned that it would treat an attack on Syria as an act of aggression against its own territory.

In Lebanon, President Michel Suleiman denounced the Israeli attack as “flagrant aggression” and accused Israel of “exploiting the developments in Syria to carry out its aggressive policies, indifferent to all the humanitarian and international treaties.”, an Israeli military intelligence web site with close ties to the Israeli secret services, reported that the strike on Syria had “touched off high military alerts across the region,” including on the part of a Russian fleet of 18 warships in the eastern Mediterranean, the Lebanese and Jordanian armies and US forces based at the Incerlik air base in Turkey, as well as US special operations troops deployed in Jordan.

The US-backed Israeli attack on Syria is only the beginning of what threatens to explode into a far wider war, including against Iran, dragging the entire region into a bloodbath and endangering the lives of millions.

BDS 2013 Campaign

#BDS #Boycott Israel Campaign 2013

The boycott of Israeli products and companies supporting Israel is a peaceful means of putting international pressure on apartheid Israel and follows in the footsteps of the successful boycott against South African apartheid. Help end Palestinian suffering by boycotting Israel today!

Friday, February 01, 2013

Syria's First Responders

Syria’s First Line of Defense: Dial 133

by Franklin Lamb - CounterPunch

Damascus - There are more than 9000 of them. Predominately young but of all ages. Volunteers everyone. Often risking their lives just to come for a twelve hour work-shift, as many as seven days a week at the Syrian Arab Republic Red Crescent Society (SARCS) Emergency Operation center.

Located at The New Zahera (blooming flowers) Hospital in Damascus just to the south of Yarmouk refugee camp, SARCS has its main emergency response teams HQ. It is here where Syrians, some Palestinians and even a few from the region and the West receive training as qualified para-medics. Maybe two-thirds of those this observer spent a day with a few days ago are students and graduates. Nationalists all, and in the main, but not everyone, supporting the government, but sympathetic towards whomever can end the killing and return life even to “pre-events normalcy”.

In the Operations Center main room, volunteers take phone calls and as they are being spoken to they stare at a large computer screen that shows a Google Earth close up view of the areas where emergency responders are urgently needed. Some of the volunteers, being tech savvy, have outlined and regularly update with a green line, the most recent safest routes to the crisis that their ambulances should take. The dispatchers get input from police, neighbors, even troops and “others” advising them which streets are currently relatively safe for travel. Periodic snipers is a fact of daily life for the responders whenever they are “on mission.

One shift manager told this observer that something the operations room really wants to help them with their work is something he called “google live,” which can track activity as it happens. His team has two problems as they try to secure this capability. One problem is that GL is forbidden by the US-led sanctions. But frankly, his team could care less and already knows how to hack into something to secure it. The main problem is that they need Syrian government approval to set up Google live and they are hoping to get it soon. This GL capability will help SARCS emergency teams get to their destination faster and safer.

The main emergency operation center is an exciting beehive of activity staffed by friendly people urgently working to help others. Dressed in bright orange overalls plainly marked with “SARCS” in red letters. As are their dozen ambulances and other vehicles. The reason? To emphatically distinguish themselves from the other rescue vehicles operated by the Ministry of Health. The reason this is important is because rebels types of do not histitate to target their ambulances with RPG’s and other weapons whereas the Al Nursa Front and others insist SARCS ambulances will not be targeted. For example, the day Yarmouk Palestinian Refugees camp was bombed three weeks ago leaving many dead and three times the number wounded, SARCS ambulances raced into the camp and pulled out 30 victims in half a day.

Volunteers advised this observer that the reason their vehicles are rather less likely to be targeted is that SARCS strictly complies with the Hippocratic oath and keeps politics out of their work as best they can. As this observer witnessed several times first hand, when an emergency call comes in on the # 133 line, the dispatcher asks only the location, injury assessment if available, employing the Red, Yellow, Green system. No questions are asked whether the victim is pro or anti-government, sect, nationality, or political affiliation. If the victim has a weapon the ambulance driver instructs friends of the victim at the scene to take the weapon as none are allowed on the stretcher or in SARCS vehicles. While giving medical care it is prohibited for SARCS volunteers to inquire about political views or details about the circumstances surrounding the injury.

An observer might conclude that this is one of the reasons that SARCS emergency response teams have won the general trust of Syrians and NGO’s, who by Syrian law are obliged to work with and consult with other departments of SARCS, such as Disaster Management, to get the international aid as fast as possible to where it is most needed.

There are places and times that the emergency vehicles cannot go. More than four dozen SARCS volunteers have been reported killed or injured while performing their humanitarian work. Every bombing and disaster in Syria these days brings more applications to join the SARC volunteer teams. Such is the character of the Syrian people, an amalgam of their history, culture, Arab nationalism and resistance stance.

Current shortages for emergency services in Syria include medicines, medical equipment, fuel, food boxes, blankets and cooking utensils. Some of these shortages are the direct and foreseeable result of the US-led sanctions daily targeting the civilian population of Syria with the hope that riots from the cold, malnourished, suffering civilian population will cause the elected Government of Syria to falter and the Western goal of regime change will follow. As the history of sanctions targeting civilian populations makes plane, these inhumane sanctions fail in their political objectives and simply engender the wrath of the civilian population which frankly inures to the political benefit of the government in power.

As current events are demonstrating, the designers of the US-led sanctions, who are housed on the second floor of the US Treasury building in Washington DC, including the Office of Financial Assets Control (OFAC) , have once more failed to understand the nature and the quality of the Syrian people.

One wonders if the same process unfolding the past few weeks of whereby foreign interests, now may be realizing they have committed major “assessment errors” in Syria and reportedly reassessing their objectives, may now be willing to come to the negotiating table which currently has on it four serious proposals for discussion.

Only the presence of those currently absent from the dialogue table is needed to end the killing and start rebuilding homes, hospitals, infrastructures of every sort and equally essential, democratic freedoms for everyone in Syria.

Waiting also is the Syrian population, and the Syrian Arab Republic Red Crescent Society (SARCS) emergency responders, who 24/7 are doing life-saving national and humanitarian work for their country and for anyone who calls their emergency responders on 133.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and is reachable c/o

Good Wars Gone Bad: The Persisting R2P Myth

The Good Intentions That Pave the Road to War

by Diana Johnstone - CounterPunch

Paris - Opposing genocide has become a sort of cottage industry in the United States.

Everywhere, “genocide studies” are cropping up in universities. Five years ago, an unlikely “Genocide Prevention Task Force” was set up headed by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former defense secretary William Cohen, both veterans of the Clinton administration.

The Bible of the campaign is Samantha Power’s book, “A Problem from Hell”. Ms. Power’s thesis is that the U.S. Government, while well-intentioned, like all of us, is too slow to intervene to “stop genocide”. It is a suggestion that the U.S. government embraces, even to taking on Ms. Power as White House advisor.

Why has the U.S. Government so eagerly endorsed the crusade against “genocide”?

The reason is clear. Since the Holocaust has become the most omnipresent historical reference in Western societies, the concept of “genocide” is widely and easily accepted as the greatest evil to afflict the planet. It is felt to be worse than war.

Therein lies its immense value to the U.S. military-industrial complex, and to a foreign policy elite seeking an acceptable pretext for military intervention wherever they choose.

The obsession with “genocide” as the primary humanitarian issue in the world today relativizes war. It reverses the final judgment of the Nuremberg Trials that:

War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone, but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.

Instead, war is transformed into a chivalrous action to rescue whole populations from “genocide”.

At the same time, national sovereignty, erected as the barrier to prevent strong nations from invading weaker ones, that is, to prevent aggression and “the scourge of war”, is derided as nothing but a protection for evil rulers (“dictators”) whose only ambition is to “massacre their own people”.

This ideological construct is the basis for the Western-sponsored doctrine, forced on a more or less reluctant United Nations, of “R2P”, the ambiguous shorthand for both the “right” and the “responsibility” to protect peoples from their own governments.

In practice this can give the dominant powers carte blanche to intervene militarily in weaker countries in order to support whatever armed rebellions they favor. Once this doctrine seems to be accepted, it can even serve as an incitement to opposition groups to provoke government repression in order to call for “protection”.

One among many examples of this cottage industry is a program called “World Without Genocide” at the William Mitchell College of Law in my home town, Saint Paul, Minnesota, whose executive director Ellen J. Kennedy recently wrote an article for the Minneapolis Star Tribune which expresses all the usual clichés of that seemingly well-meaning but misguided campaign.

Misguided, and above all, misguiding. It is directing the attention of well-intentioned people away from the essential cause of our time which is to reverse the drift toward worldwide war.

Ms. Kennedy blames “genocide” on the legal barrier set up to try to prevent aggressive war: national sovereignty. Her cure for genocide is apparently to abolish national sovereignty.

For more than 350 years, the concept of “national sovereignty” held primacy over the idea of “individual sovereignty.” Governments basically had immunity from outside intervention despite human-rights violations they perpetrated within their borders. The result has been an “over and over again” phenomenon of genocide since the Holocaust, with millions of innocent lives lost in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Congo, Guatemala, Argentina, East Timor — the list is long.

In fact, Hitler initiated World War II precisely in violation of the national sovereignty of Czechoslovakia and Poland partly in order, he claimed, to stop human rights violations that those governments allegedly perpetrated against ethnic Germans who lived there. It was to invalidate this pretext, and “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”, that the United Nations was founded on the basis of respect for national sovereignty.

Of course, there is no chance that the United States will abandon its national sovereignty. Rather, all other countries are called upon to abandon their national sovereignty – to the United States.

Ms. Kennedy’s lengthens her list by arbitrarily grouping disparate events under the single label of “genocide”, mostly according to their place in the official U.S. narrative of contemporary conflicts.

But the significant fact is that the worst of these slaughters – Cambodia, Rwanda and the Holocaust itself – occurred during wars and as a result of wars.

The systematic rounding up, deportation and killing of European Jews took place during World War II. Jews were denounced as “the internal enemy” of Germany. War is the perfect setting for such racist paranoia. After all, even in the United States, during World War II, Japanese American families were dispossessed of their property, rounded up and put in camps. The result was not comparable, but the pretext was similar.

In Rwanda, the horrific slaughter was a response to an invasion by Tutsi forces from neighboring Uganda and the assassination of the country’s president. The context was invasion and civil war.

The Cambodian slaughter was certainly not the fault of “national sovereignty”. Indeed, it was precisely the direct result of the U.S. violation of Cambodia’s national sovereignty. Years of secret U.S. bombing of the Cambodian countryside, followed by a U.S.-engineered overthrow of the Cambodian government, opened the way for takeover of that country by embittered Khmer Rouge fighters who took out their resentment against the devastation of rural areas on the hapless urban population, considered accomplices of their enemies. The Khmer Rouge slaughters took place after the United States had been defeated in Indochina by the Vietnamese. When, after being provoked by armed incursions, the Vietnamese intervened to overthrow the Khmer Rouge, they were condemned in the United Nations by the United States for doing so.

Some of the bloodiest events do not make it to Ms. Kennedy’s “genocide” list. Missing is the killing of over half a million members of the Indonesian Communist Party in 1965 and 1966. But the dictator responsible, Suharto, was “a friend of the United States” and the victims were communists.

But while ignoring over half a million murdered Indonesians, she includes Bosnia on her list. In that case, the highest estimate of victims was 8,000, all men of military age. Indeed, the NATO-linked International Criminal Tribunal (ICTY) has ruled that the 1995 Srebrenica massacre was “genocide”. To arrive at this verdict, despite the fact that the alleged perpetrators spared women and children, the ICTY found a sociologist who claimed that since the Muslim community of Srebrenica was a patriarchy, murdering the menfolk amounted to “genocide” in a single town, since the women would not return without the men. This far-fetched judgment was necessary to preserve “Bosnia” as Exhibit A in the case for NATO military intervention.

It is generally overlooked that Srebrenica was a garrison town where the Muslim men in 1995 were not all natives of that originally multi-ethnic town and had been carrying out attacks on surrounding Serb villages. Nor have Western media given much attention to the testimony by Srebrenica Muslim leaders of having heard the Islamist party leader, Alija Izetbegovic, confide that President Clinton had said that a massacre of at least 5,000 Muslims was needed to bring the “international community” into the Bosnian civil war on the side of the Muslims. Those Muslim leaders believe that Izetbegovic deliberately left Srebrenica undefended in order to set up a massacre by vengeful Serbs.

Whether or not that story is true, it points to a serious danger of adopting the R2P principle. Izetbegovic was the leader of a party which wanted to defeat his enemies with outside military aid. The world is rife with such leaders of ethnic, religious or political factions. If they know that “the world’s only superpower” may come to their aid once they can accuse the existing government of “slaughtering its own people”, they are highly motivated to provoke that government into committing the required slaughter.

A number of former U.N. peacekeepers have testified that Muslim forces in Bosnia carried out the infamous “Marketplace bombings” against Sarajevo civilians in order to blame their Serb enemies and gain international support.

How could they do such a horrid thing? Well, if a country’s leader can be willing to “massacre his own people”, why couldn’t the leader of a rebel group allow some of “his own people” to be massacred, in order to take power? Especially, by the way, if he is paid handsomely by some outside power – Qatar for instance – to provoke an uprising.

A principal danger of the R2P doctrine is that it encourages rebel factions to provoke repression, or to claim persecution, solely to bring in foreign forces on their behalf. It is certain that anti-Gaddafi militants grossly exaggerated Gaddafi’s threat to Benghazi in order to provoke the 2011 French-led NATO war against Libya. The war in Mali is a direct result of the brutal overthrow of Gaddafi, who was a major force for African stability.

R2P serves primarily to create a public opinion willing to accept U.S. and NATO intervention in other countries. It is not meant to allow the Russians or the Chinese to intervene, say, to protect housemaids in Saudi Arabia from being beheaded, much less to allow Cuban forces to shut down Guantanamo and end U.S. violations of human rights – on Cuban territory.

U.S. intervention does not have a track record of “protecting” people. It is easier to imagine an effective intervention where none has been attempted – for instance in Rwanda – than to carry it out in the real world.

In December 1992, a Marine battalion landed in Somalia in “Operation Restore Hope”. Hope was not restored, Marines were massacred by the locals and were chased out within four months. It is easier to imagine an effective intervention where none has been attempted – for instance in Rwanda – than to carry it out in the real world.

For all its military power, the United States is unable to make over the world to its liking. It has failed in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The 1999 “Kosovo war” is claimed as a success – only by studiously ignoring what has been going on in the province since it was wrested from Serbia by NATO and handed over to Washington’s ethnic Albanian clients. The “success” in Libya is publicly unraveling much faster.

Like all the R2P advocates, Ms. Kennedy exhorts us “never again” to allow a Holocaust. In reality there has “never again” been another Holocaust. History produces unique events which defy all our expectations.

But what, people ask me, if something that dreadful did happen? Should the world just stand by and watch?

What is meant by “the world”? The Western ideological construct assumes that the world should care about human rights, but that only the West really does. That assumption is creating a deepening gap between the West and the rest of the world, which does not see things that way. To most of the real world, the West is seen as a cause of humanitarian disasters, not the cure.

Libya marked a turning point, when the NATO powers used the R2P doctrine not to protect people from being bombed by their own air force (the idea behind the “no fly zone” UN resolution), but to bomb the country themselves in order to enable rebels to kill the leader and destroy the regime. That convinced the Russians and Chinese, if they had had any doubts, that “R2P” is a fake, used to advance a project of world domination.

And they are not alone and isolated. The West is isolating itself in its own powerful propaganda bubble. Much, perhaps most of the world sees Western intervention as motivated by economic self-interest, or by the interests of Israel. The sense of being threatened by U.S. power incites other countries to build up their own military defenses and to repress opposition militants who might serve as excuses for outside intervention.

By crying “genocide” when there is no genocide, the U.S. is crying wolf and losing credibility. It is destroying the trust and unity that would be needed to mobilize international humanitarian action in case of genuine need.


DIANA JOHNSTONE is the author of Fools Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions. She can be reached at

A shorter version of this article appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on January 25.

Tracing Mexico's Student Movement

#132 Mexican Student Movement Confronts New President 


A YouTube video sparks a mass student movement protesting against newly elected President of Mexico Enrique Pena Nieto

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cashing In: Security Firms Poised to Strike It Big in Africa


No Security Firms for African Refugees: Opportunities and War in Mali

by Ramzy Baroud

The British security firm G4S is set to rake in massive profits thanks to crises in Mali, Libya and Algeria. Recognized as the world’s biggest security firm, the group’s brand plummeted during the London Olympics last year due to its failure to satisfy conditions of a government contract. But with growing unrest in North and West Africa, G4S is expected to make a speedy recovery.

The January 16th hostage crisis at Algeria’s Ain Amenas gas plant, where 38 hostages were killed, ushered in the return of al-Qaeda not as extremists on the run, but as well-prepared militants with the ability to strike deeply into enemy territories and cause serious damage. For G4S and other security firms, this also translates into growing demands. “The British group (..) is seeing a rise in work ranging from electronic surveillance to protecting travelers,” the company’s regional president for Africa told Reuters. “Demand has been very high across Africa,” Andy Baker said. “The nature of our business is such that in high-risk environments the need for our services increases.”

If Algeria’s deadly encounter with al-Qaeda was enough to add then north African country to private security companies emerging African market, Libya must be a private security firm paradise. Following NATO’s toppling of the regime of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his brutal assassination in Sirte on October 20, 2011, numerous militias sprung up throughout Libya, some armed with heavy weapons, courtesy of western countries. Initially, such disturbing scenes of armed militias setting up checkpoints at every corner were dismissed as an inevitable post-revolution reality. However, when westerners became targets themselves, ‘security’ in Libya finally became high on the agenda.

Many private security firms already operate in Libya; some were even present in the country before the former Libyan government was officially overthrown. Some of these firms were virtually unknown before the war, including a small private British firm, Blue Mountain Group. The latter was responsible for guarding the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, which was torched on Sep 11 last year. It later emerged that the attack on the embassy was preplanned and well-coordinated, resulting in the death of four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. It remains unclear why the State Department opted to hire Blue Mountain Group, as opposed to a larger security firm as is usually the case with other western embassies and large companies that now vie to reconstruct the very country that their governments conspired to destroy.

The lucrative business of destroying, rebuilding and securing has been witnessed in other wars and conflicts spurred on by western interventions. Private security firms are the middlemen that keep local irritants from getting in the way of post-war ‘diplomacy’ and the work business giants.

When a country eventually collapses under the pressure of bunker busters and other advanced weapons, security firms move in to secure the realm as western diplomats start their bargaining with the emerging local elites over the future of the country’s wealth. In Libya, those who contributed the biggest guns were the ones that received the largest contracts. Of course, while the destroyed country is being robbed blind, it is the local population that suffers the consequences of having brute foreigners with guns watching their neighborhoods in the name of security.

It must be said that the new Libyan government has specifically rejected Blackwater-style armed contractors – as in having boots on the ground – fearing provocations similar to those that occurred in Baghdad’s Nisour Square and similar killing throughout Afghanistan. The aim in Libya is to allow smooth business transactions without occasional protests provoked by trigger-happy foreigners. But considering the deteriorating security in Libya which has been created by the systematic destruction of the central government and its entire military apparatus, a solution to the security vacuum remains a major topic of discussion.

Private security firms are essentially mercenaries who offer services to spare western governments the political cost of incurring too many casualties. While they are often based in western cities, many of their employees come from so-called Third World countries. For all involved, it’s much safer this way, for when Asian, African or Arab security personnel are wounded or killed on duty, the matter tends to register, if ever, as a mere news item, with little political consequence, Senate hearings or government enquiries.

Mali, a west African country that is suffering multiple crises – military coups, civil war, famine and finally an all-out French-led war – is the likely next victim or opportunity for the deadly trio: western governments, large corporations and of course, private security firms.

In fact, Mali is the perfect ground for such opportunists, who will spare no effort to exploit its massive economic potential and strategic location. For years, the west African country has fallen under political and military western influences. The year 2012 represented a text-book scenario that ultimately and predictably lead to western intervention that finally took place on January 11, when France launched a military operation supposedly aimed at ousting armed Islamic extremists. The military operations will last “as long as necessary,” declared French President Francois Hollande, echoing the same logic of the Bush administration when it first declared its ‘war on terror.’

But as inviting as the Malian setting may seem, it is equally intricate and unpredictable. No linear timeline can possibly unravel in simple terms the crisis at hand. However, all arrows point to large caches of weapons that made their way from Libya to Mali following the NATO war. A new balance of power took hold, empowering the ever-oppressed Tuareg and flooding the country with desert-hardened militants belonging to various Islamic groups. Two symmetrical lines of upheavals developed at the same time in both the north and south parts of the country. On one hand, Tuareg’s National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) declared independence in the north and was quickly joined by Ansar Dine, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA). On the other hand, US-trained army captain Amadou Haya Sanogo made his move in the southern part of the country in March, overthrowing President Amadou Toumani Touré.

The Malian storyline developed so rapidly, giving the impression that there was no other option but imminent confrontation between the south and the north. France, Mali’s old colonial master, was quick to wave the military card and worked diligently to enlist west African countries in its war efforts. The plan was for the intervention to appear as if it’s purely an African effort, with mere logistical support and political backing by their western benefactors. Indeed, on Dec 21, the UN Security Council approved the sending in of an African-led force (of 3,000 soldiers) from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to chase after northern militants in the vast Malian desert.

That war was scheduled for Sep. 2013, however, to allow France to form a united western front and to train fragmented Malian forces. But the militants’ capture of the town of Konna, close to the capital Bamako, has reportedly forced France’s hand to intervene in Mali and without UN consent. The war which was waged in the name of human rights and Mali’s territorial integrity, has already sparked outcries from major human rights organizations regarding crimes committed by foreign forces and their Malian army partners. However, what seems thus far as an easy French conquest has left other western powers licking their chops over the potential of having access to Mali, which is unlikely to have a strong central government anytime soon.

On Jan 25, the African Press Agency's page on Mali was filled with news items about eager western involvement in solidarity with the French war buildup. It ranged from “Italy to send aircraft to help transport troops to Mali” to “Germany pledge aid to Africa for Mali intervention.” All calls for political dialogue, especially as ethnic strife is likely to devastate the country for years to come, seem to fall on deaf ears. Meanwhile, according to APA, the UK is offering help to Mali in finding a ‘political roadmap’ aimed at security the ‘political future of the West African country.’

As France, the US and EU countries determine the future of Mali through military efforts and political roadmaps, the country itself is so weakened and politically disfigured beyond any possibility of confronting outside designs. For G4S and other security firms, Mali now tops the list in Africa’s emerging security market. Nigeria and Kenya follow closely, with possibilities emerging elsewhere.

From Libya to Mali a typical story is forming, coupled with lucrative contracts and massive opportunities of all sorts. When private security firms speak of an emerging market in Africa, one is to safely assume that the continent is once more falling prey to growing military ambitions and unfair business conduct. While G4S is likely to polish its tarnished brand, hundreds of thousands of African refugees (800,000 in Mali alone) will continue their endless journeys into unfamiliar borders and unforgiving deserts. Their security matters to no one, for private security firms have no room for penniless refugees.

- Ramzy Baroud ( is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of His latest book is: My Father was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press).

Bibi in Toon Town: The Lobby and Israel's Crimes

Cartoon Politics: Rupert Murdoch, The Pro-Israel Lobby And Israel’s Crimes

by David Cromwell - Media Lens

A crucial element of pro-Israel political lobbying is the reprehensible smearing of justified criticism of the Israeli state as 'antisemitic'. Thus, a recent cartoon by Gerald Scarfe in the Sunday Times provided a convenient target for outrage.

Scarfe had depicted Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, building a wall that encased the bodies of Palestinians depicted in various states of agony. The mortar was blood-red and the caption said: 'Israeli elections: Will cementing peace continue?'

Netanyahu's party had just won the most seats in the recent closely-contested parliamentary elections in Israel. The wall was clearly a reference to the 'separation barrier' which Israel claims is there to protect its citizens from Palestinian attacks, but which is in fact being used in a cynical land grab to expand the borders of Israel.

The cartoon was clearly a strong, even shocking, image. But Scarfe, perhaps best known for his illustrations accompanying Pink Floyd's classic album The Wall, has a long history of acerbic and brutal caricatures, often depicting blood. And he was surely making a valid political point about Israel's brutal treatment of Palestinians and the state's endless colonial expansion, all under the guise of a mythical 'peace process'.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews, which is ardently pro-Israel, linked to Zionist propaganda interests and a supporter of Israeli attacks on Gaza, submitted a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission alleging that the cartoon 'is shockingly reminiscent of the blood-libel imagery more usually found in parts of the virulently antisemitic Arab press.' This is the myth dating back to the Middle Ages that Jews murdered children and used the blood in religious ceremonies.

The Board's 'anger was heightened' by the cartoon being published on Holocaust Memorial Day: 'a day meant to commemorate the communities destroyed by the Nazis and their allies in the mid-20th century.'

Israel's UK ambassador Daniel Taub said:

'The image of Israel's security barrier, which is saving the lives of both Jews and Arabs from suicide bombers, being built from Palestinian blood and bodies is baseless and outrageous.

'The use of vicious motifs echoing those used to demonize Jews in the past is particularly shocking and hurtful on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, but the crude and shallow hatred of this cartoon should render it totally unacceptable on any day of the year.'

Meanwhile the speaker of Israel's parliament, Reuven Rivlin, wrote to his UK counterpart to express 'extreme outrage'.

The essential message beneath the barrage of opprobrium was: Thou shalt not criticise Israel.
Rupert Murdoch: A Friend Of Israel

Initially, the Sunday Times had stood firm. On the afternoon when the storm broke, the paper 'defended' the publication of the cartoon, and 'denied that [it] was antisemitic.' In a statement, the paper described Scarfe's imagery as 'typically robust', adding:

'It is aimed squarely at Mr Netanyahu and his policies, not at Israel, let alone at Jewish people. It appeared yesterday because Mr Netanyahu won the Israeli election last week.'

Martin Ivens, the acting editor of the Sunday Times, said:

'The last thing I or anyone connected with the Sunday Times would countenance would be insulting the memory of the Shoah or invoking the blood libel.'

But the 'typically robust' argument quickly collapsed when the Sunday Times owner Rupert Murdoch stepped into the breach later that day, declaring via Twitter:

'Gerald Scarfe has never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times. Nevertheless, we owe major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon.'

It had not taken long for Murdoch, a self-declared 'friend of Israel', to stamp hard on his 'acting editor' Ivens who, despite his pedigree as a pro-Israel columnist, had probably just demonstrated that he is not the safe pair of hands his master would have liked. So much for editorial independence and the 'free press'.

Anyone in a responsible position in Murdoch's news empire, as with the corporate media generally, is under considerable pressure to be favourable towards Israel. Murdoch's pro-Israeli position is reflected in his newspapers, and his editors are made well aware that they have to follow the 'strong views' which he spends considerable time and force imposing upon them.

In March 2009, the American Jewish Committee honoured Murdoch with their 'National Human Relations Award'. Only weeks after the brutal onslaught by Israeli forces on Gaza in Operation Cast Lead - with around 1400 Palestinians killed, including more than 400 women and children - Murdoch had this to say to his audience:

'My friends, I do not pretend to have all the answers to Gaza this evening. But I do know this: The free world makes a terrible mistake if we deceive ourselves into thinking this is not our fight.

'In the end, the Israeli people are fighting the same enemy we are: cold-blooded killers who reject peace ... who reject freedom ... and who rule by the suicide vest, the car bomb, and the human shield.

'Against such an enemy, I will not second-guess the decisions of a free Israel defending her citizens. And I would ask all those who support peace and freedom to do the same.'

Accepting an award in 2010 from the Anti-Defamation League for his support of Israel, Murdoch decried the global 'ongoing war against the Jews' and made clear his disdain for criticism of Israel:

'When Americans think of anti-Semitism, we tend to think of the vulgar caricatures and attacks of the first part of the 20th century.

'Today it seems that the most virulent strains come from the Left. Often this new anti-Semitism dresses itself up as legitimate disagreement with Israel.'

Sam Kiley, the former Times Africa correspondent, said that he left the paper in 2001 because of pro-Israeli censorship of his reporting on the Middle East. Kiley said that Murdoch's close friendship with the then Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, and the media mogul's heavy investment in Israel, were the reasons behind his decision to resign.

Kiley wrote that:

'In the war of words, no newspaper has been so happy to hand the keys of the armoury over to one side than the Times.'

He added:

'The Times foreign editor and other middle managers flew into hysterical terror every time a pro-Israel lobbying group wrote in with a quibble or complaint and then usually took their side against their own correspondent.

'I was told I should not refer to "assassinations" of Israel's opponents, nor to "extra-judicial killings or executions".

'No pro-Israel lobbyist ever dreamed of having such power over a great national newspaper.'

Murdoch's executives were so anxious to avoid irritating their boss that when Kiley interviewed the Israeli army unit responsible for killing a 12-year old Palestinian boy, he was asked not to mention the dead child in his piece.

'After that conversation, I was left wordless, so I quit,' Kiley said.

According to Isi Liebler, an Australian Jewish community leader who now lives in Israel, Murdoch's 'affection' for the state 'arose less out of his conservative sensibility than from his native Australian sympathy for the underdog fending off elites seized by conventional wisdoms'. Liebler added:

'He's met Israelis, he's been to Israel, he's seen Israel as the plucky underdog when the rest of the world saw Israel as an occupier.'

The danger that Murdoch and his News International empire represent to democracy has been well documented. His power to curb criticism of the Israeli state, indeed to promote its agenda, is part of this bigger picture.

The Sunday Times Apologises For Its 'Terrible Mistake'

Jonathan Cook, an independent journalist based in Israel, noted of the hyerbolic pro-Israeli response to Scarfe's cartoon:

'As Holocaust Day comes round again, Israel has taken advantage of the occasion to teach the world a lesson. Not, of course, a lesson about the Holocaust's universal message but one that Israel can exploit to shut up its critics.' (Facebook, January 29, 2013)

Cook pointed to a column in the liberal Israeli Haaretz newspaper by Anshel Pfeffer, 'Haaretz's arbiter of all things anti-Semitic', who had actually found nothing antisemitic in the cartoon even, Cook noted, 'using his hyper-sensitive measurements.'

Pfeffer was meticulous in explaining why the howls of outrage, manufactured or otherwise, were wide of the mark. He gave four reasons why the cartoon was not at all antisemitic:

'1. It is not directed at Jews: There is absolutely nothing in the cartoon which identifies its subject as a Jew. [...] Netanyahu is an Israeli politician who was just elected by a quarter of Israeli voters, not a Jewish symbol or a global representative of the Jews.

'2. It does not use Holocaust imagery: [...] there is nothing in Scarfe's cartoon that can put the Holocaust in mind. Perhaps someone thinks that the wall should remind us of the ghetto, but don't forget, Scarfe is the original designer of Pink Floyd's The Wall. Should the Sunday Times have not published the cartoon on International Holocaust Memorial Day? Only if one believes that is a day in which Israeli politicians have immunity from being caricatured. [...]

'3. There was no discrimination: [...]. Netanyahu's depiction is grossly offensive and unfair, but that is only par for the course for any politician when Scarfe is at his drawing-board. Scarfe has spent his entire career viciously lampooning the high and mighty - Netanyahu is in illustrious company.

'4. This is not what a blood libel looks like: Some have claimed that the blood-red cement Netanyahu is using in the cartoon to build his wall indicates a blood libel motif. Well of course it's blood but is anyone seriously demanding that no cartoon reference to Israeli or Jewish figures can contain a red fluid? [...]'

These sensible arguments were presumably not to the fore when, at 4pm on January 29, 'representatives of the Jewish Community met with the Sunday Times Senior Editorial Team and News International Corporate Affairs.' Following the meeting, acting Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens issued a craven apology in which he said:

'Everyone knows that Gerald Scarfe is consistently brutal and bloody in his depictions, but last weekend - by his own admission - he crossed a line. The timing - on Holocaust Memorial Day - was inexcusable. The associations on this occasion were grotesque and on behalf of the paper I'd like to apologise unreservedly for the offence we clearly caused. This was a terrible mistake.'

In his 2000 book, The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, Norman Finkelstein noted that the Holocaust 'has been used to justify criminal policies of the Israeli state and US support for these policies' (pp. 7-8). And Noam Chomsky has observed that the Israeli state has long 'consciously manipulated' the Holocaust to promote its own interests.

The 'terrible mistake' of the Sunday Times, along with the rest of the corporate media, has been to overlook, indeed facilitate, this shameful reality.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sanctions Taking Syria Down the Iraq Road

Barring Medicines in Syria… US-led Sanctions Contribute to the Destruction of Syria’s Millenary History

by Franklin Lamb - Al Manar English

What a difference a week can make. The heaviest snow in Syria in a quarter-century, some claimed, last week’s storm closed for a time even the main highway from Damascus to Beirut.

But that was then and now its spring in Damascus, or so it feels to those of us used to New England Januarys. It’s nearly downright balmy here. Spring flowers are bursting out all over and the city parks are crowded with mothers pushing baby carriages, kids playing and young lovers cooing softly on the park benches. Park workers are raking the dead leaves and others trimming the palm trees and piling the branches neatly on flatbed trucks.

What “civil war”? What “crisis”? One is tempted to ask himself even though there continues to be intermittent “thuds” and a jet streaking overhead now and then en route apparently to one of the suburbs where clashes erupt intermittently.

It’s been a rough winter and perhaps we are just experiencing here a false spring. Yet one senses a palpable sigh of relief and even some optimism while talking to citizens, NGO staffers and some officials. It could be partly the wonderful weather but perhaps also a realization that a corner may have been turned, peace and security will be restored and the killing ended. Some refugees are to be seen returning to Damascus. Syrians and Palestinians from Lebanon — yet there are still traffic backups with cars piled high with personal belongings crossing over to Lebanon at the Masnaa border checkpoint. Meanwhile the Ministry of Interior in Damascus has pledged various forms of help to those who heed the governments call to “come back home to your people.”

Energized by the exhilarating park ambiance this observer decided to walk to UNESCO headquarters for an appointment. Plus it can be kind of tough at times to find a taxi these days.

Perhaps I should have remained in the park. Lord knows that this observer has experienced his share of irate women shouting at him over the years. Being raised by three older sisters and a no-nonsense German/Italian mother- all of them unmercifully wanting to correct my behavior was a mere harbinger of things to come. But, even with this “training”, I was ill prepared for what the lady at the UNESCO office here in central Damascus unleashed on me.

And I had not done the lady wrong.

Except, perhaps, that I happen to be an American and there is plenty of anger here among the Syrian public, the NGO’s, and increasingly the international legal community among others — not toward the American people but toward the US government — over the effects of its sanctions which are severely and illegally targeting the civilian population. At the same time they are directly contributing to prospects of irreparably damaging many of this millenary country’s historic sites.

According to archeological experts here, Syria, with its six UNESCO world heritage sites testifying to its deserved reputation as being one of the most archeologically well-preserved cradles of civilization, may soon to be the most wantonly destroyed in modern times (Iraq being the other). This frequently-predicted catastrophe is a result, not only of war in the usual sense, but war in its more subtle form of US-led sanctions aimed at political regime change.

Of particular concern to UNESCO, whose UN mandate includes registering and protecting World historical sites, is the preservation of the Ancient Cities of Damascus, Bosra, Palmyra, Aleppo, Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’ at Salah El-Din, as well as the ancient villages of Northern Syria.

This week, the Syrian Directorate of Antiquities and Museums has released its detailed report of acts of vandalism and illegal excavations by armed groups and foreign thieves across Syria. The Directorate has documented violations against archeological sites and Syrian museums, as well the emerging phenomenon of artifact forgery. In Aleppo, the Antiquities division reported that al-Diriya caves in Samaan Mountain suffered from acts of sabotage, adding that “terrorists have looted the equipment of excavations, wooden columns and timbers.”

Also, this week, Human Rights Watch issued a report that Saudi-Qatar-US backed militants destroyed religious locations following a four-day investigation in the provinces of Latakia and Idlib. According to HRW, a Husseiniyah (a congregation hall for Shia commemoration ceremonies) was destroyed by the militants in Idlib, while two Christian churches were looted in Latakia. The Middle East director at the Human Rights Watch, Sarah Leah Whitson claimed that Syria “will lose its rich cultural and religious diversity if armed groups do not respect places of worship.”

Against this backdrop, it is not totally surprising that my UNESCO hostess, less than half a minute after I entered her office, literally threw at me a statement in French from Director Irina Bokova of the UNESCO HQ in Paris. It read:

“I am deeply distressed by the daily news about the escalation of damage to cultural heritage throughout Syria. We saw damage to the Citadel in July and the souks ten days ago, and the Umayyad Mosque, heart of the religious life of the city, one of the most beautiful mosques in the Muslim world, is being severely endangered. In Northern Syria, the region of the Ancient Villages inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2011 is heavily struck and it seems that the invaluable Saint-Simeon Byzantine complex might have been torched.”

Before I could finish reading, the lady exclaimed: “These testimonials from the past!…” raising her voice and glaring at me while pointing to the posters of Syrian historical sites on her wall, “the destruction of this heritage for which your sanctions are partly responsible. Your government is responsible today and will be tomorrow, for the whole of humanity.” When I was eventually able to get a word in sideways, I explained that I had come to her office precisely because I have been studying the immoral, illegal and “un-American” sanctions and that I was spending my time in Syria learning first-hand about the sanctions’ utter disregard for the humanitarian concerns of the Syrian people — in contravention to what one hears repeatedly from US officials.

When I added, I don’t know any Americans who would condone what the Congress and our government have been doing, if they knew the facts on the ground, she did calm down a bit and said she understood what I was saying and more or less agreed. She then mentioned a national poll conducted on 13 January by the Better World Campaign, an organization that works to support U.S.-U.N. relations, that showed that 83 percent of US citizens believe it is important that their country provide funding to UNESCO and want the US to lift its sanctioning of UNESCO and pay its withheld budget contribution, which accounts for 22% of the UN specialized agency’s budget.

“Let me tell you something!” she exclaimed and launched into describing the dire effects of the current US-led sanctions on UNESCO’s work in preserving and protecting historical sites. In her view, the American assault on UNESCO and its work began when UNESCO committed a sin in March of 2011 by admitting Palestine as a full member.

She explained: “For months our offices had been warned by Israeli officials and then Americans, that there would be a big price-tag were we to admit Palestine.” And there was. In October 2011, the U.S. cut off funding to UNESCO as payback for admitting Palestine as a member and in November 2012, the United States was one of nine member states out of 193 in the General Assembly who, on behalf of the Zionist occupiers of Palestine, tried to unsuccessfully bar Palestine from gaining non-member observer state status at the UN.

UNESCO and some other NGO staff here claim that much of the damage here could have been prevented if there was a lifting of the US 2011 cut-off of UNESCO’s budget. As a direct result, UNESCO cannot even replace more than 400 staffers who left from normal attrition or even hire “neighborhood watch,” local volunteer personnel, to coordinate the guarding by of many archeological sites around Syria.

Regarding the other layers of US-led sanctions targeting the civilian population here, a survey by NGO’s on the impact of the fake “medicine and foods” exemptions will soon be released. Its indictment of the US-led sanctions is severe. Contrary to Washington and NATO mythology, the “medicine and foods” exemptions do not exist in reality because suppliers of both fear being accused of violating the great number of sanction details. Washington and Brussels are acutely aware of this fact.

Among the data that will be presented in the soon-to-be released analysis, are cases of cancer patients who need weekly medicines but are now only able to receive them twice a month, with the expected dire consequences. The same obtains for many other long term care patients who need specific medicines, even as generic as penicillin, which are no longer available as they were before the US-led sanctions.

Just as I was preparing to leave her office, she softened a bit and asked this observer. “See here, I generally like Americans who we come in contact with here but how can you explain these sanctions — or those in Iraq or Afghanistan that have killed so many?”

I tried to explain that we have a culture clash in America that means that many Americans overwhelmingly support UNESCO and the work of all sixteen of the UN Specialized Agencies but we also have politicians like Arizona Senator John McCain and South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham who never saw a war they did not like. The former just returned from another visit to the region and apparently learned nothing except that he still wants a military solution.

The latter, who is known for his jokes on Capitol Hill that as a “true southerner” he never got over the American Civil War or what it did to American society, has repeatedly expressed his view of US “economic” sanctions by declaring recently, “Sanctions are good but they need to be tougher! Cut the bastards off at the knees.”

Senator Graham also noted his agreement with former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who made the repulsive statement that the deaths of 500,000 children in Iraq from a US “economic sanctions” regime that “exempted foods and medicine” but in reality was a starvation program “was worth the price.”

Ironically, it was the arch-nemesis of the Confederacy, Yankee General William Tecumseh Sherman, who might agree with Graham regarding sanctions against a civilian population. What has bothered Senator Graham since he first studied the Civil War in school, according to one Congressional source, is that the Yankee February 17, 1865 captured Graham’s state capital of Columbia, South Carolina. It was not pretty and most of the central city was destroyed. But the Yankee and the Confederate might just agree on targeting civilian populations with economic sanctions. Wrote Sherman, shortly before his March to the Sea which fatally cut the south in two:

“We are not fighting against enemy armies, but against an enemy people, young and old, rich and poor, and they must feel the iron hand of war in the same way as organized armies.”

I left the UNESCO office sort of crestfallen. Not because of the lady’s roughness with me, but rather because of the realization, yet once again, that our species quite simply does not learn much from history and apparently will repeat it until the end of times. May God protect the people, everywhere, from the politicians.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and can be reached c/o

ZDT: The Battle of Algiers Through a Jaded Eye

The Movie “Zero Dark Thirty” Wishes It Was But Isn’t

by Peter Lee - China Matters

As the moving finger of chaos hovered over Mali and Algeria last week, I took another look at Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 masterpiece, The Battle of Algiers.

Torture scene in Pontecorvo’s “The Battle of Algiers.”

I am somewhat puzzled that this movie is not at the heart of the Zero Dark Thirty debate. Because in many ways, perhaps intentionally, ZDT is the mirror-image doppelganger of Algiers.

Both of them effectively employ an objective documentary style to depict a brutal, successful exercise in counter-terrorism.

And both of them deal with torture.

In The Battle of Algiers, torture works! Right away! In the very first scene! Short-circuiting any need for liberal handwringing or right-wing defensiveness for the next two hours of the film!

The film opens with Colonel Mathieu, the supremely able, intelligent, and ruthless commander of the French counter-terror effort in Algiers against the Algerian National Liberation Front or FLN, striding in to confront a scrawny, scraggly, beaten little man surrounded by a crowd of sturdy, confident French soldiers in crisp camo (in an interesting irony, Pontecorvo revealed that the “soldiers” were cast from students from Kabilye—an Algerian district known for its light-skinned Berbers– at the local university).

“He’s come clean,” a soldier tells the general and, sure enough, in the very next scene the troops are outside the refuge of FLN leader Ali la Pointe, setting in motion the final confrontation that will 1) serve as the framing for a movie-length flashback depicting the FLN’s struggle in Algiers against the French and 2) signal the virtual annihilation of the FLN as a significant force inside the city.

The big difference, between the two films, of course, is perspective.

In Algiers, we are immersed in the perspective of the Algerian revolutionaries. Even in the first scene, before anyone is introduced or anything explained, we witness the misery and anguish of the distraught informant, his chest disfigured by the flame of a blowtorch, who, as he is clad in French camo to serve as Judas goat by the cheery soldiers, runs to the window and cries out in despair before knuckling under to a soldier’s matter-of-fact persuasion: “Do you really want another round?”

In Zero Dark Thirty, the emphasis is on the determination, forbearance, and the frustration of the torturers, especially Jason Clarke, as they struggle to crack the Bin Laden case.

Here I must thank ZDT director Karen Bigelow for seconding my previous assertion that she has a fascination with torture as a transgressive test of heroism (for the torturer), not as a police tactic. In astatement she gave to the LA Times as part of her effort to repair and advance the prospects of ZDT as best-picture Oscar bait, Ms. Bigelow stated:

I think Osama bin Laden was found due to ingenious detective work. Torture was, however, as we all know, employed in the early years of the hunt. That doesn’t mean it was the key to finding Bin Laden. It means it is a part of the story we couldn’t ignore. …

Bin Laden wasn’t defeated by superheroes zooming down from the sky; he was defeated by ordinary Americans who fought bravely even as they sometimes crossed moral lines, who labored greatly and intently, who gave all of themselves in both victory and defeat, in life and in death, for the defense of this nation.

Unfortunately for Ms. Bigelow and ZDT, I think that most people—including most Oscar voters—reflexively sympathize with the torturee, rather than the torturer.

And that is what gives Pontecorvo’s film a great deal of its power. It immerses us in a world—and shows us the faces and motivations–of people who do things that can and do get them tortured. (One can only thank the movie gods that the filmmakers did not—or could not—follow through with their original plan of parachuting Paul Newman into the script as a western journalist in order to give Western audience somebody to identify with.)

Given America’s foreign policy obsession with the Muslim world and Arab politics over the last decade, it is surprising that The Battle of Algiers doesn’t come up more often.

There was a mini-boomlet of interest in 2003, when the Pentagon announced a screening to educate officers on the dynamics of urban counterinsurgency during the difficulties in Iraq. And there was a flurry of showings on the 50th anniversary of Algerian independence last year. But the film is pretty much MIA.

I guess it has something to do with the Marxist politics of Pontecorvo.

Anti-communist conservatives presumably hate TBOA for its sympathetic portrayal of anti-Western lumpen militancy.

But it certainly made modern neo-liberals uncomfortable that the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground reportedly screened TBOA as a training film (presumably skipping over the parts where the militant organization is totally destroyed by The Man) and, perhaps, inspired efforts to consign the film to the end-of-history rubbish heap as a piece of naïve agitprop.

Therefore, I detect certain anxious efforts to disparage the film’s impact and its relevance with derisive sneering along the lines of “Well, your precious people’s revolution didn’t turn out so great in the end, now did it?”

Certainly, the Algerian revolution turned to shit with the usual alacrity—even during the period depicted in the film there were apparently some factional rubouts and after independence there was a great deal of unpleasant fighting between rival armed groups and a quick resort to authoritarian rule, punctuated with the suspension of the second round of democratic elections in 1991 to prevent a victory by the Islamist Party, the FIS.

However, the hope and enthusiasm depicted at the close of the movie—when, in 1962, two years after the French win the “Battle of Algiers”, the French occupation crumbled before a wave of national unrest and insurrection originating beyond the capital—was real.

And Pontecorvo does not shy away from showing the bloody dynamics of the struggle from the FLN side as well as the French side. French torture practices are shown in a brief montage including hanging, electric shock, burning, and our old friend, waterboarding (for a devastating, in-depth look at how the torture regime in Algeria worked, and didn’t work, read Dr. Darius Rejali’s 2004 piece inSalon). But the centerpiece of the film is the horrific simultaneous terror bombing of a bar, a milk bar filled with teenagers and a baby, and the downtown Air France office in Algiers by the FLN, using Arab women in European disguises to place the explosives.

The Battle of Algiers paints a convincing picture of the collapse of Western colonial rule, a process that even a no-holds-barred commitment to torture and the triumphant dynamiting of Ali la Pointe in his lair cannot forestall.

Zero Dark Thirty, on the other hand, puts us inside the national security bureaucracy instead of out on the Arab street, and depicts the devotion of all this torture, anger, and effort toward the destruction of a single man—Osama bin Laden—perhaps in the vain hope that the forces that obsess and threaten the United States will die with him.

Pontecorvo demonstrated a perspective that was more Marxist-objective than Leninist-doctrinaire or Maoist-groupie in a film he made for Italian television, Return to Algiers, in 1992.

Fortunately, the film with English subtitles has been posted on Youtube and you can join the five hundred or so people who have already seen it there. It is well worth digging out the six clips (takes a bit of doing) and watching.

Pontecorvo records the rancor and frustration following the suspension of the 1991 elections. When he tries to return to his old haunts with his film crew, he is harassed and harangued by bearded Islamists. In the Casbah, housewives point out the general decrepitude and neglect of their homes, making Pontecorvo draw the conclusion that the revolutionaries have taken the place of the French—both as privileged insiders, and as targets for the revolutionary resentment of the insulted and injured poor of Algeria.

He reports on the fear and anger of educated women at the threat of the threat of Islamic anti-feminism; he also interviews some giggling girls who would prefer that their school institute sex segregation.

After a lot of miserable contention, the government media informs the public that the visiting European is the filmmaker responsible for The Battle of Algiers, and Pontecorvo and his crew finally get some love from the crowds on the street in Algiers. And he films a probing interview with Mohamed Boudiaf, the exiled FLN warhorse installed in the presidency by the military after the election fiasco, just before the old man was assassinated.

As far as Pontecorvo is concerned, you get the image of a filmmaker prepared to look reality in the face, both in 1966 and in 1992.

Kathryn Bigelow also wants to look reality in the face. Too bad it’s the face of a torturer.

Peter Lee edits China Matters. He can be reached at: chinamatters (at) prlee. org.

Our Great Dismal

The Great Dismal: “What we speak becomes the house we live in.”

by Phil Rockstroh

“Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.” — Albert Camus:

The repercussions of our acts — the constructs we create — endure well past the dissolution of our convictions and desires. Our actions exist as living architecture that surrounds the breathing moment. Future generations will dwell in the world we erect, thought by thought, deed by deed.

And what if we construct an architecture of evasion and deception?

What does such a place look like? If you live in the current day U.S., take a perusal around you.

Take in our culture’s shoddily constructed, ugly, prefab, commercial structures — its archipelago of strip malls, fast food outlets, suburban, shitbox housing developments –gaudy mcmansion to cookie cutter trackhouse. Glance at its corporate state media, a self-perpetuating, self-referential dominion devoted to hype and hustle — a 24-7, enveloping sales pitch contrived to evoke the misplaced fear and manic compulsion required to create an unquestioning desire to consume ever proliferating arrays of unneeded, commercial products, as, all the while, its soul-defying criteria is internalized and the system’s byproduct — climate chaos – roils land, sea and sky of our besieged planet.

This is the world we have made. We tend to believe that our present day actions will pass into the shadow of memory, but they will remain in the world as ghostly architects of the future.

And this is where we stand, at present: We are transmigrating through a cultural landscape showing significant evidence of decline — a collective, psychical wasteland, defined by media mirages, political legerdemain, and ecological devastation. We find ourselves in an era in which arrogance and cupidity are enthroned while the veracities of the heart wander in the wilderness.

Presently, cunning is lauded as a virtue, yet steadfast compassion is viewed as weakness. Our ancestors would have regarded our predicament as catastrophic — a loss of soul…thus making it imperative that the gods be appeased — or else travail will follow travail.

We know these spurned and vengeful gods as alienation, as displaced rage, desperate anomie, as cultural atomization, inertia and decay.

The latest electronic gadget will not bring you balm; your guns will not preserve you; and it is evident the nation’s political class will not assist us.

How does one avoid being drowned in dumbness?

An inner conviction — a deep-dwelling knowledge akin to grace exists within — when your opinion on a matter aligns with the realities at hand. Often, one must stand against rising currents of worldly, wrongheaded opinion — a cacophonous flood of stupid; a raging torrent of collective pathology.

This is when your own inner idiot and delusion-prone maniac can be of service to you. Ergo, you can think like your adversaries e.g., Smart can envisage Stupid and Crazy, but Stupid and Crazy cannot comprehend what is intelligent and sane.

Thus, as surging tides of stupid crash upon you, you can breathe, with amphibian-like mutability, in the rarefied air of wit and knowledge, and you can breathe, as well, when immersed beneath the floodwaters of surging stupid and inundating insanity.

There are times when a bauble-bedazzled idiot can serve as a role model, because he knows how to surrender to the joys of his heart. But, because you are not an idiot, there is no need to surrender to idiocy.

This evokes the question: What is it that I should give myself over to with idiotic abandon?

There is a vast difference between going supine before one’s oppressors and surrendering to the vast, ineffable order of the heart of creation. The task is ongoing — and arduous, even, at times, terrifying.

It involves a drowning — a baptism of sorts, but of the poetic (not fundamentalist) variety — a washing away of calcified habit and a rebirth by an immersion in the embracing waters of a larger order — one that is not defined by a compulsion for domination of the things of the world one cannot control.

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” ― Aristotle

Subject to the status quo politics of late stage capitalism, we find ourselves stranded in the era of The Great Dismal.

Because a small cadre of elitist elements own the means of manufacturing and control of imagery and storyline, it is difficult to envisage the epic drama inherent to our circumstance.

As an example, the fate of the earth’s biosphere and its capacity to sustain human life is being subjected to an unfolding, desperate campaign — craven as it is noxious — in its intentions, scope, and side affects, by the elite of an arrogant order to maintain their grip on privilege and power. By propaganda and coercion, they proceed, with cult-like conviction, on a course of catastrophic folly involving a race to secure and exploit the remaining resources of our ecologically taxed planet (the only planet available to us). If their agendas remain unchecked, the biosphere will be rendered unviable to our species.

In an era of urban alienation, suburban atomization, corporate state domination of the public realm, and electronic media saturation of the human psyche, in an era when desire is defined by consumer impulsiveness, individual liberty is circumscribed by debt, and freedom monitored by the dehumanizing apparatus of the national security state panopticon, one hears the lament — I don’t even know how to go about embodying the truths of my heart…How do I even begin to glide along the pollen path of my soul? 

First ask yourself, how powerfully does the longing live with in you? Does it blaze through your blood? Does it bestow a love of life itself? Does it provide you with a love so potent that it allows you to even love the obstacles in your path? Do you love your adversaries like a Delta bluesman who wails in lamentation about the treachery of a dirty, lowdown betrayer? 

Notice this: It is the obstacles along your way that have given impetus to inspiration. The antidote is contained in the dragon’s venomous bite. Passion’s path winds through the monster of the world.

“I feel the beautiful, beating heart of God in the monster of the world.” — Federico García Lorca

What did you expect — a perpetual glide across eternal pools of bliss while lounging upon some kind of cosmic pool toy? There would only be a tinkling top to such music; it would be devoid of the heartbeat of an earthbound bottom — the vital rhythm section of the monster’s heart.

Here at the crossroads of Eternity and the Living Moment, and near the last exit ramp of Empire’s End, the roadside attractions have become more than a bit empty and garish i.e., a Cracker Barrel of the bottomless cravings attendant to the marketing of counterfeit desires.

“What we speak becomes the house we live in.” — hafiz

Is it any wonder then, in the U.S., enmeshed as we are in the consumer paradigm of late capitalism, that we exist within a Landscape of Nada that is reflective of an inner Architecture of Nowhere?

Sterile malls and ugly strip malls, big box stores, fast food outlets, convenience stores and agora-devoid subdivisions — these flimsy, banal structures, we have conjured into existence by our hollow, poetry-devoid incantations.

Wasteland within. Wasteland extant. The word and the landscape are one.

So what is the Grail that will restore the dry, sterile landscape to fecundity? And whom does the Grail serve? And where can it be located?

The question pertains both to where and to whom. The who in question is you. And the where is: the living landscape of your stalwart heart. The first step in allowing the wasteland to bloom is a reclamation of empathy and the embrace of imagination.

Or else, all you hold dear will be rendered dust and ash — and find dismal dominion in the indifferent winds of fate.

“Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.”– Rene Magritte

We must sing the world back into vital and vivid being. The heart will awaken once the task has begun. Art bestows flesh on phantoms; music spins garments for reborn flesh.

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” — Plato

The Imagination is a charming seductress, an enchanter of harsh Verities. Baudelaire averred that when we love we have found a means of subsisting on the essence of invisible flowers. A sublime forgetting and relearning takes hold, as lovers take up residence in redolent air.

The act of looking upon the world as if it is the face of your beloved can serve to lift life’s burdens over grim landscapes, like Chagall’s lovers wafting over dour, quotidian rooftops, beneath which squat the compulsive folly of foolishly earnest men.

Bring an end to the Empire of Endless Burgers by giving voice to inspiration. Bring down the walls of airless, gated subdivisions of the mind with the heart’s reverberant soundscape.

Without your voice, nothing is possible, and nowhere is where you are bound.

Therefore, the only sound choice becomes…to arrive singing.

Words, Phrases, Sentences — they are more than simply verbal constructs. They are living things — the progeny of the union of the image-plangent soul of earth and sea — and the holy spirit’s lambent, inhuman illuminations. We know them as the dance of affinities attendant to the mating rituals of eros and logos — the Word and Flesh made one.

At paradigm’s end, buffeted and shaken — yet held enthralled within the maelstrom — by the vast and sweeping scope of unsolvable governmental/cultural forces — we feel the pull of a gravity that feels akin to love. We yearn for some remedy, like lovers whose blazing love threatens to burn away all their moorings and upend all they know.

Thus, rejoice in this: There is rebirth, dwelling deep, in the irreparable problem we know as the world.

Find solace in the knowledge that poets (who should not be imagined as an elitist covenant of the elect — but those who have chosen to avail their hearts to the art of living in a poetic manner) are out there now: wounded by beauty; indentured to logos.

And even when exploring our current day wilderness of alienation, poets are laboring to limn a psychical map of its terrain of terror and beauty. All who live pass through this soul-plangent landscape.

Know this: It is an illusion that you have ever been alone, even within the nadascape comprising The Great Dismal of the current era.

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at and FaceBook.