Archive for AlJazeera English

Pepe Escobar: The Horror, The Horror

Posted in Loon Politics, Loon Violence with tags , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2012 by loonwatch

Pepe Escobar tears apart US Empirical hegemony worldwide, specifically its immorality, hypocrisy and deadly consequences in Afghanistan:

The horror, the horror

“We must kill them. We must incinerate them. Pig after pig… cow after cow… village after village… army after army…”  – Colonel Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now

Hong Kong – It started way before a lone killer, a US Army sergeant, married with two children, walked into villagesin Panjwayi, southwest of Kandahar city, and “allegedly” went on a shooting spree, leaving at least 16 civilians dead.

This was Afghanistan’s Haditha moment – as in Iraq; or My Lai – as in Vietnam.

It had been building up via the serial drone-with-Hellfire bombings of tribal wedding parties; the serial secret US Special Forces’ “night raids”; the serial “kill team” murders in 2010; the ritual urination onto dead Afghans by “our men in uniform”; and last but not least, the Quran burnings in Bagram. Mission … accomplished?

According to the latest Post-ABC News poll – conducted even before the Kandahar massacre – 55 per cent of Americans want the end of the Afghan war.

US President Barack Obama once again stressed that 10 years into a war that has cost at least $400bn, the “combat role” of NATO troops will end in 2014. According to Obama, Washington only wants to make sure “that al-Qaeda is not operating there, and that there is sufficient stability that it does not end up being a free-for-all”.

Al-Qaeda “is not operating there” for a long time; there are only a bunch of instructors “not there” but in the Waziristans, in the Pakistani tribal areas.

And forget about “stability”. The “Afghan security forces” that will be theoretically in charge by 2014, or even before, are doomed. Their illiteracy rate is a staggering 80 per cent. At least 25 per cent become deserters. Child rape is endemic. Over 50 per cent are permanently stoned on hashish, on steroids.

The level of mistrust between Afghans and Americans is cosmic. According to a 2011 study that became classified by the Pentagon after it was leaked to the Wall Street Journal – the American military essentially view Afghans as corrupt cowards while Afghans see the American military as coward bullies.

Get a Saigon 1975 moment now or in 2014, the facts on the ground will remain the same: Hindu Kush-rocking instability.

Toss the COIN and I win

Afghanistan was always a tragedy trespassed by farce. Think about NATO’s original 83 restrictions on the rules of engagement, which led, for example, to a rash of French soldiers killed in 2008 because France, pressed by the US, stopped paying protection money to the Taliban; or think about Berlin calling it not a war, but a “humanitarian mission”.

Internal battles – unlike Vietnam – became legend. Such as the COINdinistas – the counter-insurgency gang, supported by then Pentagon chief Bob Gates – invested in a “new mission” and a “new military leadership”, winning against Vice-President Joe Biden’s CT PLUS strategy, as in less soldiers on the ground doing counter-terrorism.

The winner, as everyone remembers, was rockstar General Stanley McChrystal, who insisted that the Biden plan would lead to “Chaosistan”, which happened to be the name of a classified CIA analysis.

Stanley McChrystal – a Pentagon spokesperson during the March 2003 invasion of Iraq – badly wanted to change the culture of NATO and the US Army in Afghanistan. He wanted to destroy the culture of shoot-first-and-blow-shit-up and go towards “protecting the civilian population”. In his own words, he stressed that “air-to-ground munitions” and “indirect fires” against Afghan homes were “only authorised under very limited and prescribed conditions”.

He prevailed – shielded by his rockstar status – only for a brief moment.

Meanwhile, even if on one side the State Department, the DEA and the FBI would be warning about nasty drug smugglers and assorted criminals, on the other side the CIA and the Pentagon, praising them for good intel, would always win.

And everything was fully justified by an array of reluctant warriors/liberal hawks in places such as the Center for a New American Security – crammed with “respectable” journalists.

Hamid Karzai won the Afghan elections by outright fraud. His half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai – then provincial council chief in Kandahar – was free to keep running his massive drug business while dismissing elections (“the people in this region don’t understand it”).

Who cared if the Afghan government in Kabul was/is in fact a crime syndicate? “Loyal” local commanders – “our bastards” – increasingly got funding and even dedicated Special Forces as personal advisors to themselves and their death squads.

McChrystal, to his credit, admitted that the Soviets in the 1980s did many things right (for instance, building roads, promoting central government, education for boys and girls alike, modernising the country).

But they also did a lot of things terribly wrong, such as carpet-bombing and killing 1.5 million Afghans. If only Pentagon planners had the presence of mind to read Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1970-89 (Profile Books), by former British ambassador Rodric Braithwaite, drawing on a wealth of Russian sources from the KGB to the Gorbachev Foundation; from the internet to a spectacular book by the late General Alexander Lyakhovsky.

You have the right to be misinformed

The Pentagon will never accept the withdrawal date of 2014: it goes full-frontal against its own Full Spectrum Dominance doctrine, which counts on scores of US bases in Afghanistan to monitor/control/harass strategic competitors – Russia and China.

The way out will be a ruse. The Pentagon will transfer its special operations to the CIA; they will become “spies”, not “troops on the ground”.

This will mean, essentially, an extension ad infinitum of the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, which carried out the targeted killing of over 20,000 “suspected” Vietcong supporters.

And that leads us to the current CIA director, media-savvy General David Petraeus and his baby – COIN field manual FM 3-24, the Pentagon’s answer to William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell as the marriage of counter-insurgency with the war on terror. And this, even after a 2008 RAND study titled How Terrorist Groups End stressed that the only way to defeat them was through a good old law enforcement operation.

 Afghan killings strain relations with US

Petraeus couldn’t care less. After all, his “information operations” – as in all-out media manipulation, coupled with the massive distribution of the proverbial suitcase full of US dollars – had won “his” and George W Bush’s surge in Iraq.

Proud Pashtuns were a much tougher nut to crack than Sunni sheikhs in the desert. They went so low-tech – fabricating tens of thousands of IEDs with fertiliser, wood and old munitions – that they in fact froze US technology dead in its tracks, leading to endless Pentagon newspeak reports on “vast increase in IED activity”.

Since Obama’s inauguration, the Pentagon had been playing extra-dirty to extract the exact war they wanted to carry out in Afghanistan.

They got it. Petraeus went on non-stop spin mode on “progress”. Local populations were “becoming more receptive” to US troops, even as a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) – the cumulative knowledge of 17 US intelligence agencies – remained grim.

Petraeus did what he does best: he remixed the NIE. He never admitted that the war would be over by 2014.  He cranked up airstrikes, unleashed Apache and Kiowa attack helicopters, tripled the number of night raids by Special Forces, authorised a mini-Shock and Awe, totally levelling the town of Tarok Kolache in southern Afghanistan.

After yet another US massacre in February 2011 in Kunar Province, with 64 dead civilians, Petraeus even had the gall of accusing Afghans of burning their own children to make it look like collateral damage. Good for him. At the time, his relationship with Obama was even improving.

The Obama administration is, in fact, convinced that Obama’s surge, led by Petraeus and scheduled to finish by September, has left Afghanistan “stable”, at least in the region known as “regional command east”; that’s what Petraeus dubs “Afghan good enough”.

Most of the country is in fact “Talib good enough”, but who cares? As for burning babies, cynics might qualify it as a feature of American exceptionalism. One just has to remember the Amiriya Shelter in Baghdad on February 13, 1991, when no fewer than 408 children and their mothers were burned to death by the US.

I’ll never look into your eyes… again

How not to remember the inimitable Dennis Hopper as the psychedelic photojournalist in Apocalypse Now, talking about Colonel Kurtz/Marlon Brando: “He’s a poet-warrior in the classic sense…”

“Poet-warrior” McChrystal was convinced Afghanistan was not Vietnam; in Vietnam the US was fighting a “popular insurgency”, unlike Afghanistan (wrong: the many strands bundled under the moniker “Taliban” have become more popular in direct proportion to Karzai’s disaster, not to mention that in Vietnam the official Pentagon spin was that the Vietcong were never popular).

Generals, anyway, don’t go on Kurtz-style killing sprees. Petraeus was promoted to unleash Shadow War Inc at the CIA. After he was sacked following a profile in Rolling Stone magazine – how rockstar is that? – McChrystal ended up rehabilitated by the White House.

He taught at Yale, went into consulting, is making a fortune on the conference circuit – distilling wisdom about “leadership” and the Greater Middle East – and was made an unpaid adviser to military families by Obama.

McChrystal sees Afghanistan as stuck in “some kind of post-apocalyptic nightmare”. Conrad’s “the horror… the horror…” is perennial. The Pentagon’s key lesson from Vietnam was how to seal off the horror, how to put it in boxes, and how to, voluptuously, embrace it.

So it’s no wonder McChrystal could not possibly see that he was starring as the remixed Colonel Kurtz – while Petraeus was a more methodical, but no less deadly Captain Willard. Unlike Vietnam, though, this time there won’t be a Coppola to win the war for Hollywood. But there will be plenty of Hollow Men left at the Pentagon.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times. His latest book is named Obama Does Globalistan(Nimble Books, 2009).

AlJazeera English: JDL and Far Right Parties Find Common Ground

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2011 by loonwatch


This is not new.

JDL and Far-Right Parties Find Common Ground

(AlJazeera English)

Right-wing movements previously associated with anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi ideologies are increasingly opting for a surprising tactic to garner legitimacy within mainstream politics: Forging alliances with extremist Jewish organisations under the banner of fighting “Islamisation”.

“Far-right parties are professing a new found love of Israel as a way of escaping their past anti-Semitism and racism, and to justify their prejudice towards European Muslims as not being racist,” Toby Archer, a researcher who studies far-right parties and the “counter-jihad blogosphere”, explained to Al Jazeera. “Parties like the British National Party (BNP) in the UK, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, and the National Front in France are all coming out from a neo-fascist past.”

These parties have stopped using anti-Semitic rhetoric, Archer said, which had prevented them from attracting support. It is important to distinguish between the traditional far-right, who are historically anti-Semitic, and the populist new-right, who have emerged in the last two decades and partake in an anti-Muslim discourse, he said.

The English Defence League (EDL) closely linked to the BNP, a right-wing anti-Islamic extremist group based in the UK. The EDL has gained notoriety for its aggression against British Muslims and its links with neo-Nazi groups. Last year, it moved to garner support within the Jewish community by officially opening a Jewish Division open to “represent the Jews who are fighting against Islamisation,” according to a statement.

Tommy Robinson, a spokesperson for the EDL, said one of the group’s fundamental beliefs was that as a “shining star of democracy”, Israel has the right to defend itself.

“Far-right parties are professing a new found love of Israel as a way of escaping their past anti-Semitism and racism, and to justify their prejudice towards European Muslims as not being racist.”– Toby Archer, researcher

Yet a number of recent demonstrations held by the EDL have continued to be marked by anti-Semitic rhetoric, critics say. In a 2010 demonstration held in Cardiff, EDL members burnt anti-Nazi flags.

BNP leader Nick Griffin has referred to the Holocaust as “the Holohoax” and was convicted in 1998 for distributing material likely to incite racial hatred. He has voiced his support for the EDL and its members. Griffin believes that the EDL is helping politicise young people in the UK. “At least they’re trying to do something,” he said of the EDL. “It’s crude and a bit rough… but we shouldn’t condemn them for being a bit rough and ready…”

Invitation accepted

Signs of lingering anti-Semitism within the UK’s far-right have not stopped the Jewish Defence League (JDL), a group the US Federal Bureau of Investigation considers a “violent extremist organisation”, from eagerly accepting a partnership with the EDL.

In January 2011, JDL Canada organised a rally in support of the EDLMeir Weinstein, national director of the JDL in Canada, defended its stance, saying the EDL is “taking issue with radical Islam” and supports Israel. Shortly after the rally, mainstream Jewish organisations in Canada publicly distanced themselves from the EDL.

James Clark, an activist with Stop the War Coalition in Canada, has faced the JDL at several rallies. He believes that Jewish groups are shifting towards far-right nationalists, rather than the other way around.

“The JDL has tried to move their politics to the right,” he told Al Jazeera. “They are quite a fringe organisation, but made a bit more respectable by more mainstream Zionist organisations that give them a platform; organisations who support them, but don’t feel safe saying the same thing in public.”

He added that the JDL is obsessed with Muslims and the Muslim community, and prays on the irrational fear that Canada might soon be run by Sharia Law.

The JDL also purports to have significant influence over the Canadian government, who Clark describes as “far and above the US government as Israel’s best friend”.

According to Weinstein, the JDL was able to sway the government from banning George Galloway, a pro-Palestinian British MP, from entering the country in 2009 due to his outspoken sympathies for Hamas.

For Daniel Freeman-Maloy, a Canadian activist and research student at the European Centre for Palestine Studies at Exeter University, the JDL is the product of a larger issue.

“[As Jews] we want to exist, and take measures to ensure we do exist… we will ally ourselves with anyone who will fight alongside us against that evil.”
– Meir Weinstein, national director of JDL in Canada

“It is important to highlight that this is not an isolated group”, he told Al Jazeera. “It is a symptom of unapologetic ethno-religious chauvinism that has been left to develop unchecked.”

Weinstein, however, sees it as a fight for survival.

“[As Jews] we want to exist, and take measures to ensure we do exist,” he said. “We take that seriously, and we will ally ourselves with anyone who will fight alongside us against that evil.”

Shaky theological convergence

While the US has been credited with having the most visible pro-Israeli rhetoric, JDL supporters in the US seem to be somewhat different than those in Canada and Europe.

In the past, the US JDL chapter has been linked to a string of bombings against Arab-American targets. It is suspected of carrying out the assassination of Alex Odeh, the regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the planned attack on Arab-American Congressman Darrell Issa.

Max Blumenthal, a journalist following right-wing movements, believes that the US JDL chapters no longer represent as extreme a viewpoint as they once did, but have now gone mainstream.

At a rally in November 2011, Texas Governor and Christian right representative Rick Perry was seen hugging Dov Hikind, a former leader of the JDL.

For Blumenthal, the alliance between the US right-wing and Jewish extremists is forged on a theological convergence.

“Christians who are sympathetic to the JDL mentality are Christian-Zionists”, he explained. “They are waiting for ‘the Rapture’, and part of the fulfillment is the gathering of all Jews into Biblical Israel, which means the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.”

Ironically, part of the Rapture mythology is that all non-Christians will perish on that day, including Jews.

The fight for Israel

In Europe, the JDL appears to be expanding. They have recently opened a UK branch (French, German, Swedish, Danish and Austrian chapters are already in existence) and an all-encompassing European umbrella organisation. The JDL Europe’s membership is reported to be around 3,000, with more than 5,000 supporters.

Steven Weigang, founder and chief executive officer of the JDL Europe and the German branch, said the group is “necessary to prevent another holocaust. The anti-Semitism is growing in Europe and we can’t just stand on the side-lines.”

He reaffirmed that JDL Europe shares the views of JDL Canada and its relationship with the EDL, without addressing the EDL’s links to the BNP.

Right-wing groups are gravitating towards the JDL, rather than the other way around, but more in terms of policy towards Israel rather than sharing the same ideology, Weigang said.

“I think the Right in Europe is moving towards sharing our politics”, he said. “The Europeans feel that what is [happening] in Israel [is] on the agenda… I am not sure if they share the same visions as we do. They maybe say it, but they don’t mean it.”

“It is necessary to prevent another holocaust. The anti-Semitism is growing in Europe and we can’t just stand on the side-lines.” – Steve Weigang, founder and CEO of JDL Europe

In France, the JDL has always maintained an active role: It is known for accosting pro-Palestinian rallies, vandalising property, and lobbying the government whenever it perceives pro-Palestinian gestures. In September, the French chapter of the JDL called on its members with military experience to go “defend” the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Samuel Ghiles Meilhac, a historian who specialises in the French Jewish community, told Al Jazeera that there has been a distinct shift in the community from its previous alignment with the left towards the right.

While representatives of mainstream Jewish organisations are not associated with right-wing parties like the National Front at the moment, Meilhac thinks this could change. In recent years, the National Front has been pandering to Jewish voters by focusing on a “common enemy: the Islamisation of Europe”.

“Most people who are part of the Jewish mainstream in France remember the 1970s and 1980s when the National Front were making jokes about what happened in World War II,” Meilhac said. “But the question is: If the extreme right doesn’t make references to the Jews now, will there still be people in the Jewish mainstream powerful enough to reject them?”

Follow Nour Samaha on Twitter: @Samahanour

AlJazeera English: Footage Shows a Dead Muammar Gaddafi

Posted in Loon Politics, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2011 by loonwatch

When NATO backed rebels entered Tripoli in late August, it spelled the end of the Gadaffi regime. His reported death today marks the symbolic end of the Gadaffi era. There is no shadow of a doubt that Gadaffi was a dictator, that much is clear from numerous human rights and amnesty reports.

Now marks a new beginning for Libya.

Unlike the Egyptian revolution, the Libyan uprising was tainted by Nato’s involvement; it was not a victory purely by the people, of the people and for the people. It is hoped that the forces of self-determination and true democracy will prevail over those trends that are either open to, or already have been co-opted by foreign interests.

Needless to say, the Islamophobes are already instigating the doomsday scenario. Robert Spencer says in a blog post titled, “Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Gaddafi has been captured”:

It is likely that the new America-backed regime will compete with the Gaddafi regime in its hatred for America and the West, and become noted for being even more anti-American than he was.

It goes without saying that one should take Spencer’s words with a heavy grain of salt, after all such pessimism on his part is born not out of a true analysis of Libya as it is today but out of a deep seated hatred for Islam and Muslims. For Spencer Muslims can only ever live under dictatorship and oppression.

Footage shows Gaddafi’s bloodied body

Footage obtained by Al Jazeera shows the body of the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi following his death in Sirte.

Al Jazeera has acquired exclusive footage of the body of Muammar Gaddafi after he was killed in his hometown, Sirte.

Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, vice chairman of Libya’s National Transitional Council, confirmed that the ousted leader had been killed on October 20, 2011 near Sirte.

“We announce to the world that Muammar Gaddafi has been killed at the hands of the revolutionaries,” Ghoga told a news conference in Benghazi.

The news came shortly after the NTC captured Sirte after weeks of fighting.

France’s ruling party discusses Islam

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2011 by loonwatch
The protester’s banner reads ‘the veil in front of your eyes is much more dangerous than the veil on my hair’

It is not enough to ban face veils and have that law implemented on April 11, 2001 but Islam as a religion has to be criticized and debated. (hat tip: Europeans Against Islamophobia)

France’s ruling party discusses Islam

UMP members hold criticised debate about Islam’s place in secular France, days before ban on face veils is implemented.

France’s conservative ruling party has held a controversial debate on the practice of Islam, rejecting charges of bigotry and saying that airing the issue could help stem the rising popularity of the far-right.

President Nicolas Sarkozy had called for Tuesday’s discussion on Islam and secularism to address fears that some overt displays of Muslim faith – including street prayer and full-face veils – were France’s secular identity.

The UMP party were considering 26 ideas officials said were aimed at bringing France’s stringent laws decreeing the separation of church from state into step with the times.

Even before it began, the debate had been tarnished by criticism from religious leaders, a boycott by France’s largest Muslim group, and the absence of Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

“For weeks, everything possible has been done to stop this meeting taking place … but we have not yielded to those pressures … because it is the French people who asked us for it,” Francois Cope, the secretary-general of the UMP party, said.

“One less problem is one less electoral argument for Marine Le Pen,” he said.

With his popularity at record lows a year before a presidential election, Sarkozy has been accused of seeking to woo back right-wing voters increasingly drawn to the National Front party under its new leader Marine Le Pen.

Controversial proposals

The proposals discussed on Tuesday include banning the wearing of religious symbols such as Muslim headscarves or prominent Christian crosses by day-care personnel and preventing Muslim mothers from wearing headscarves when accompanying school field trips.

Another proposal would prevent parents from taking their children out of mandatory subjects including gym and biology.

The debate could lead to a legislative bill in the National Assembly, where the UMP has a majority.

Under the ban, women who wear the face-shrouding veils risk a fine, special classes and a police record.The round-table came as a new law banning garments that hide the face is to take effect on April 11.

Islam is France’s second biggest religion after Roman Catholicism. Interior Minister Claude Gueant says there are five to six million Muslims in the country.

Tuesday’s discussion brought together several ministers, chief rabbi Gilles Bernheim and representatives of other religions, but no Muslim clerics.

Muslim groups have accused the conservative UMP of stigmatising their faith.

Critics from the opposition Socialist party contend the debate is an electoral ploy aimed at appealing to voters who could be swayed by the National Front.

Jean-Francois Cope, the UMP leader, insisted on Monday that France needs clearer rules about how Muslims should adapt their religious practices to French society.

“The practice of Islam in France is not the burqa. It is not prayers in the street,” he said.

‘Easing’ social tensions

In some neighbourhoods with large Muslim immigrant communities, the lack of mosques or prayer rooms means crowds gather on sidewalks and cobblestone streets at prayer times.

Cope tried to distance himself from the National Front. “They denounce [Muslim practices]. We are making proposals” to ease social tensions, he said.

The leaders of France’s main religions have expressed concern about the debate, saying it is not the right forum for such a discussion.

“We were not for this debate in the format that was presented,” France’s chief rabbi, Gilles Bernheim, told reporters. France has western Europe’s largest Jewish population.

Singh Ranjit, of the group Sikhs of France, said, “This concerns all of us because we all have difficulties as religious minorities when it comes to the relationship we have with the authorities.”

The debate has also taken on an international dimension.

A former foreign minister of the Comoros Islands, a largely Muslim nation in the Indian Ocean, said on the sidelines of the debate that France’s influence goes beyond its geographical limits.

“Unfortunately because of what they call quarrels within France, people don’t measure the impact that France has all over the world.”

Al Jazeera English Blacked Out Across Most Of U.S.

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , on January 31, 2011 by loonwatch

Al Jazeera English Blacked Out Across Most Of U.S.

WASHINGTON – Canadian television viewers looking for the most thorough and in-depth coverage of the uprising in Egypt have the option of tuning into Al Jazeera English, whose on-the-ground coverage of the turmoil is unmatched by any other outlet. American viewers, meanwhile, have little choice but to wait until one of the U.S. cable-company-approved networks broadcasts footage from AJE, which the company makes publicly available. What they can’t do is watch the network directly.

Other than in a handful of pockets across the U.S. – including Ohio, Vermont and Washington, D.C. – cable carriers do not give viewers the choice of watching Al Jazeera. That corporate censorship comes as American diplomats harshly criticize the Egyptian government for blocking Internet communication inside the country and as Egypt attempts to block Al Jazeera from broadcasting.

The result of the Al Jazeera English blackout in the United States has been a surge in traffic to the media outlet’s website, where footage can be seen streaming live. The last 24 hours have seen a two-and-a-half thousand percent increase in web traffic, Tony Burman, head of North American strategies for Al Jazeera English, told HuffPost. Sixty percent of that traffic, he said, has come from the United States.

Al Jazeera English launched in the fall of 2006, opening a large bureau on K Street in downtown Washington, but has made little progress in persuading cable companies to offer the channel to its customers.

The objections from the cable companies have come for both political and commercial reasons, said Burman, the former editor-in-chief of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “In 2006, pre-Obama, the experience was a challenging one. Essentially this was a period when a lot of negative stereotypes were associated with Al Jazeera. The effort was a difficult one,” he said, citing the Bush administration’s public hostility to the network.

“There was reluctance from these companies to embark in a direction that would perhaps be opposed by the Bush administration. I think that’s changed. I think if anything the Obama administration has indicated to Al Jazeera that it sees us as part of the solution, not part of the problem,” Burman said.

Cable companies are also worried, said Burman, that they will lose more subscribers than they will gain by granting access to Al Jazeera. The Canadian experience, he said, should put those fears to rest. In Canada, national regulators can require cable companies to provide certain channels and Al Jazeera ran a successful campaign to encourage Canadians to push the government to intervene. There has been extremely little negative reaction over the past year as Canadians have been able to view the channel and decide for themselves. “We had a completely different process and result here in Canada — a grassroots campaign that was overwhelmingly successful,” said Avi Lewis, the former host of Al Jazeera’s Frontline USA. (He now freelances for Al Jazeera while working on a documentary project with his wife, Naomi Klein.)

Media critics have begun to push for Al Jazeera’s inclusion. “It is downright un-American to still refuse to carry it,” wrote Jeff Jarvis on Sunday. “Vital, world-changing news is occurring in the Middle East and no one-not the xenophobic or celebrity-obsessed or cut-to-the-bone American media-can bring the perspective, insight, and on-the-scene reporting Al Jazeera English can.”

Al Jazeera follows a public broadcasting model similar to the BBC, CBC and NPR and is largely funded by the government of Qatar, which Burman said takes a completely hands-off approach to content. Al Jazeera is the scourge of authoritarian governments around the Middle East, which attempt to block it. The network, however, covers much more than the Middle East, and now has more bureaus in Latin America than CNN and the BBC, said Burman. “As proud as we are of our Middle Eastern coverage, we are in other places in the world that are never, never seen on television in American homes,” he said.

Burman said that he will use the experience with the Tunisia and Egyptian uprisings in upcoming meetings with cable providers as the network continues its push. Comcast did not respond to requests for comment.

“Why in the most vibrant democracy in the world, where engagement and knowledge of the world is probably the most important, why it’s not available is one of these things that would take a PhD scholar to understand,” Burman said.

UPDATE I: A reader emails to say that Al Jazeera programming is also being carried by the satellite channel LinkTV, which can be found on channel 9410 on Dish Network and 375 on DirecTV.

UPDATE II: Another reader emails to say that Al Jazeera broadcasts over some of the Pacifica stations, including WBAI (New York, 5-6 AM, 99.5 FM), KPFA (Berkeley, 6-7 AM, 94.1 FM) and KPFT (Houston, 5-6 AM, 90.1 FM).


Soumaya Ghannoushi: Islamophobia Acting Like Free Speech

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2010 by loonwatch

An interesting piece from Soumaya Ghannoushi published at AlJazeera English.

Islamophobia acting like free speech

by Soumaya Ghannoushi

The caricatures of Prophet Muhammad first published in the Danish Jyllands-Posten then reprinted in a string of European newspapers have exposed the gulf separating the West from the Muslim world.

The cartoons and the reactions they have sparked across the Muslim hemisphere, many have conjectured, symbolise the confrontation between two irreconcilable value systems, one based on the Enlightenment tradition, the other clinging to religious dogma.

These simplistic explanations would have stood a better chance of being accepted if the majority of those offering them had been more vocal in denouncing the continuous assault on free speech in Western societies in the name of the war on terrorism. The reality is that the controversy over freedom of expression and its limits is a symptom of an infinitely deeper crisis affecting the relation of the West, European and Atlantic, to the vast Muslim world from Tangier to Jakarta.

Nothing happens in a vacuum. Since we are historical beings, we cannot be detached from our hermeneutical tradition and historical condition.

Only by reference to these contexts are our actions understandable. Any explanation of the cartoons crisis that does not take into account the explosive climates of the post-September 11th world and the rise of the right wing in Europe and the United States is bound to remain superficial.

Islam, which had lain forgotten during the cold war and the obsession with the communist threat, has now come to the fore, penetrating into the heart of the public domain.

It is no coincidence that the cartoons were published in Denmark in a right-wing paper under a right-wing government then reprinted in countries notorious for their hostility to their Muslim minorities and opposition to the cultural and racial diversity of today’s European societies.

That reactions to the cartoons have been so passionate should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following developments in the Muslim world closely. To Muslims, the caricatures vividly brought back the scenes of Israeli bulldozers demolishing Palestinian homes in Jenin, the invasion of Afghanistan, the fall of Baghdad, terrors of Abu Ghraib and humiliations of Guantanamo Bay.

Cultural arrogance was added to political aggressiveness. Muslims have grown used to the torrent of terrifying images that associate them and their faith with the most horrifying of practices, from violence and cruelty to fanaticism and oppression. When it comes to Islam, all boundaries and limits could be dispensed with. The unacceptable becomes perfectly acceptable, proper and respectable.

The truth is that today racism, intolerance, xenophobia, and hatred of the other hide behind the sublime façade of free speech, the defence of “our” values and protection of “our” society from “foreign” aggression.

Let us not be deceived about this rhetoric of liberalism and free speech. The Danish cartoons have nothing to do with freedom of expression and everything to do with hatred of the other in a Europe grappling with its growing Muslim minorities, still unable to accept them.

Muhammad, who had been depicted in medieval legends as a bloodthirsty warrior with a sword in one hand and a Quran in another, is now made to brandish bombs and guns. Little seems to have changed about Western consciousness of Islam.

The collective medieval Christian memory has been recycled, purged of eschatology and incorporated into a modern secularised rhetoric that goes unquestioned today.

The medieval world abounded with hostile stories, folktales, poems and sermons of Muhammad where the imagination was given free reign.

About Muhammad, or “Mathomus” all could be said since, as the 11th-century chronicler Guilbert of Nogent had put it: “One may safely say ill of a man whose malignity transcends and surpasses whatever evil can be said about him” (Dei Gesta per Francos, 1011).

Guilbert’s Muhammad, like that of most medieval authors, bears little resemblance to the historical Muhammad, or his journey.

Just as in the Danish caricatures, he appears as a scoundrel who used licentiousness and the promise of paradise with its many beautiful virgins to lure men into following him. His career was devoid of virtue. His vast empire was built on slaughter and bloodshed.

In the popular Chansons de Geste, written from the 11th to the 14th century at the height of crusading fervour, reflecting sentiments and beliefs that were widely accepted, Muhammad and his followers, the “Saracens” are described in the most grotesque of terms.

Creatures of Satan, they are painted with huge noses and ears, blacker than ink with only their teeth showing white, eyes like burning coals, teeth that can bite like a serpent, some with horns like the antlers of stags.

Humans inherit their prejudices as they do their language. Europe has inherited an enormous body of stereotypes of the Muslim elaborated in the course of many centuries of confrontation with Muslim civilisation.

Islam could not be regarded with the same detached curiosity as the far away cultures or beliefs of China or India. Islam was always a major factor of European history.

As the historian Richard Southern put it, Islam was Latin Christendom’s greatest problem, a mighty military and cultural challenge, dazzling in its power, wealth, learning and civilisation.

In the heart of Europe, its poor northerly neighbour, it generated an array of emotions that ranged from fascination to fear and resentment.

When in the 11th century European writers began to form a notion of what it meant to be European, they found themselves faced with a powerful Islam, which they were neither able nor willing to understand.

Islam was integral to the European notion of the self. The encounter with the Muslim other was fundamental to the formulation of the Western world view, particularly in the centuries that began in the Crusades and culminated in the dismemberment of the Ottoman empire.

By forcing the continent to find ways of concerted action, Islam encouraged Europe towards a stronger sense of “self” and a stronger sense of the “other”. In more ways than one, Islam was Europe’s midwife.

In the tense post September 11th climate, with its pre-emptive strikes, growing military interventions and increasingly powerful right-wing parties, the medieval arsenal of fantasies and stereotypes of Islam and Muslims has been brought back to life. Gone are the devils and Antichrists of medieval legends and polemics.

But their bleak outlook on Islam and the Muslim lingers on unchanged. It survives in an essentialist self-enclosed discourse centred on a mythical pure self permanently pitted against an imaginary dehumanised, demonised Muslim other.

In the past as in the present, religion, culture and the politics of fear are placed at the service of the great games of dominance and mastery.

Make no mistake about it: This is a political conflict that speaks in the language of culture and religion. The conflict is not between “we” and “they”, not between cultures and civilisations, but within the same cultural and political front.

The battle must be fought, a battle against intolerance, hatred, myth of cultural superiority and will to hegemony over the other.

Soumaya Ghannoushi is a researcher in the history of ideas at the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London.

The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position or have the endorsement of Aljazeera.

Ghannoushi is currently writing a book on Western Representations of Islam Past and Present.


Marwan Bishara: Israeli Religious Forces on the March

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2010 by loonwatch


Marwan Bishara is an interesting political analyst and host on AlJazeera. His program, Empire is a very insightful view into the modern political landscape and how the power brokers in that landscape are shaping the world. He has penned a penetrating piece on AlJazeera’s website about the rise in the IDF of Jewish religious-nationalists. A fact that will make the Israel-Palestine issue even harder to resolve, while also raising the spectre of an inevitable religious war. This piece was written at a favorable time considering our last piece on the ignorance of Bill Maher.

Israeli Religious Forces on the March by Marwan Bishara

As the Israeli Palestinian ‘peace process’ marches in place, religious-Zionism is marching into the leadership of the Israeli army, rendering an improbable peace mission impossible.

If as expected their number continues to increase at the same rate, no future Israeli leader will be able to evacuate Jewish settlements in the context of a peace agreement.

The radicalisation of Israeli society and polity is evident not only in the most right wing government in the country’s history, but also in the make up of its professional military.

Recent revelations in the Israeli media show how the Israeli military, which was once a bastion of ‘secular Zionism’, is slowly but surely falling under the influence of extreme religious Zionism with a wider role for radical rabbinical chiefs.

The disproportionately high numbers of religious-nationalists in elite units and the combat officer corps is transforming the Israeli military and its relationship to the occupation and illegal settlements.

Dramatic increase

In 1990, the year before the peace process started between Israel and its neighbours, two per cent of the cadets enrolled in the officers’ course for the infantry corps were religious; by 2007, that figure had shot up to 30 per cent.

Moreover, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz:

“This is how the intermediate generation of combat officers looks today: six out of seven lieutenant colonels in the Golani Brigade are religious and, beginning in the summer, the brigade commander will be as well. In the Kfir Brigade, three out of seven lieutenant colonels wear skullcaps, and in the Givati Brigade and the paratroopers, two out of six. In some of the infantry brigades, the number of religious company commanders has passed the 50 per cent mark – more than three times the percentage of the national religious community in the overall population.”

Worse still, according to the Israeli Peace Now organisation, the number of religious nationalists continues to grow at a worrying rate.

Its sources estimate that “more than 50 per cent of the elite combat units now are drawn from the religious nationalist sector of Israeli society”.

Professor Stuart Cohen of Bar Ilan University estimates that during the second intifada (2000-2002) the overall number of religious Zionist soldiers – as defined by those who wear knitted caps, or kippah seruga – in the infantry units may be roughly twice their proportion of the Jewish male population as a whole.

Many of these soldiers live in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Some live in so-called ‘illegal outposts’, which the International Quartet (the US, UN, EU and Russia) insists on dismantling and which Israel considers ‘unlawful’ according to its own narrow standards.

And increasing numbers live in the so-called “illegal outposts”, or those new Jewish settlements considered illegal by the International Quartet (the US, UN, EU and Russia) and according to Israel’s own narrow standards.

Despite Israel’s commitment under the 2003 ‘roadmap for peace’ to evacuate tens of these outposts, they remain standing and are even expanding.

A ‘higher authority’

Clearly, many of those who live in the settlements cannot be expected to help evacuate their own homes if such a time comes. And they are making it known.

Recently, soldiers in the infantry brigade waved placards with the slogan “we did not enlist in order to evacuate Jews” as they paraded in Jerusalem to mark the end of their training.

A number of rabbis have issued religious edicts against such evacuations.

Most of these religious Zionist settlers see settlement in the occupied West Bank (using their biblical names Judea and Samaria) or the overall “land of Israel”, which includes the territories occupied in 1967, as a religious duty.

Although Ariel Sharon, a former Israeli prime minister, succeeded in evacuating the marginal Gaza settlements in 2005, it is doubtful that any such evacuation from the tens of small scattered settlements in the West Bank is possible.

The nationalist religious camp is making it clear that the ‘word of God’ as they see it, takes precedence over the secular leadership.

Reportedly, the top military brass is quite fearful of such a scenario.

Soldiers and settlers

Lately, there have been reports about tensions between the Israeli military and some of the most violent settlers as the military tries to reign in some of their more extreme provocations.

In general, however, the military has been the settlers’ best friend and defender in the occupied territories.

And despite increased settler violence and vandalism against adjacent Palestinian towns and villages, the occupation army has been no less than complicit in the daily harassment of Palestinian residents and farmers.

Many settler-soldiers seem to deploy around their settlements, allowing them to man check points and harass and humiliate Palestinians at road blocks, turning the country’s military into their own private militias.

In the process, Palestinians find themselves held hostage by an Israeli government that has neither the will, nor increasingly the capacity, to deal with the settlement issue – the engine of violence and the terminator of the two state solution.

Eventually, they will march straight into a destructive religious war that is far harder to contain in or outside the ‘Holy Land’.