This latest article in the New York Times highlights the ongoing suffering in Syria:
Fifty miles off the southeastern coast of Sicily, the refugee boat first appeared as a gray spot on the horizon, rising up or dipping away with the churn of the Mediterranean. Then, as an Italian Coast Guard rescue ship drew closer, the small boat came fully into view, as did the dim figure of a man, standing on the bow, waving a white blanket.
A child wore a SpongeBob life jacket. Smugglers had left them alone with a satellite phone and an emergency number in Italy: Save us, they pleaded to the Italians before the phone went dead. We are lost.
Capt. Roberto Mangione shouted for everyone to stay calm as he positioned his Coast Guard ship alongside the listing trawler. The Syrians, pale and beleaguered, started clapping. They had been at sea for six days, drinking fetid water, enduring a terrifying storm. One man combed his hair, as if preparing to greet his new life. A woman named Abeer, dazed and exhausted, thought: salvation, at last.
“I had nothing left in Syria,” she explained after stepping onto the rescue boat. She had fled with her husband and three teenage children. “We came with nothing but ourselves to Europe.”
The Syrian exodus has become one of the gravest global refugee crises of recent decades. More than two million people have fled Syria’s civil war, most resettling in neighboring Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. But since this summer, refugees have also started pouring into Europe in what became for many weeks a humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. Over five months, Italy’s Coast Guard rescued thousands of Syrians, even as hundreds of other migrants, including many Syrians, died in two major shipwrecks in October.
Just imagine, in decades to come, if not sooner thanks to vital leaks, both the US and UK will have to face history’s glare for ongoing colonial policies in the “war on terror”.
In April 1957, five unmarked lorries left the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur and drove to a Royal Navy base in Singapore with their cargo of files detailing the secrets of Britain’s rule in Malaya. Their destination was, in the words of one official, a “splendid incinerator”.
This “discreet” mission in the closing days of British rule over what became Malaysia was one of hundreds of similar operations. As the sun finally set on the Empire, diplomats scurried to repatriate or destroy hundreds of thousands “dirty” documents containing evidence that London had decided should never see the light of day. Some 50 years later, the sheer scale of the operation to hide the secrets of British rule overseas – including details of atrocities committed during the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya – is revealed in documents released today by the National Archives in Kew, west London.
The so-called “migrated archive” details the extraordinary lengths to which the Colonial Office went to withhold information from its former subjects in at least 23 countries and territories in the 1950s and 1960s.
Among the documents is a memo from London that required all secret documents held abroad to be vetted by a Special Branch or MI5 liaison officer to ensure that any papers which might “embarrass” Britain or show “racial prejudice or religious bias” were destroyed or sent home.
The ramifications of the operation to conceal the resulting archive of 8,800 files – a closely guarded Whitehall secret until the Government recently lost high-profile court cases – are still being felt in compensation claims for victims of atrocities committed under British rule from Kenya to Malaya.
Relatives of 24 Malayan rubber plantation workers allegedly murdered by British soldiers in the Malayan village of Batang Kali in 1948 returned to the Court of Appeal this week to try to overturn a ruling that the British government cannot be held responsible for the massacre.
The glorious, zany, surreal and beautiful world of US film-maker Wes Anderson is a joy to behold (and a welcome respite from human rights abuses).
His latest is a short film delight, Castello Cavalcanti:
My weekly Guardian column is here:
Australia has an identity crisis that has never been resolved. Are we a US client state, happy to host any number of American troops and spying assets, or a fully integrated part of Asia? Do we crave true independence, or are we happy to remain America’s ‘deputy sheriff‘ in the Pacific region?
There’s nothing stopping Canberra from having close relations with both worlds, but our regional posture over the last decades has shown a muddled understanding of how to achieve this. We usually arguably prefer to remain tethered to an arrogant Anglosphere whose influence is waning.
When we do look to Asia, it’s not solely about business ties enriching Australian corporations. We too often back the most autocratic regimes imaginable, such as Indonesia’s Soeharto (fans of former prime minister Paul Keating should recall his fondness for one of the most brutal leaders of the 20th century). Canberra’s complicity in the Indonesian occupations of East Timor and West Papua also signals a willingness to ignore human rights for the sake of political expediency.
Australia’s love of foreign conflicts are infamous; this is noticed across (particularly Islamic) Asia. We marched in unison with the US in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq – three devastating wars which we comprehensively lost. A decent nation, unlike our own, would offer an apology and compensation for having civilians pay a hefty price for our aggression, or for polluting the ground with deadly chemicals. Our brutishness is not forgotten by the millions of occupied people who experienced it first-hand; terrorism is born this way. Billions of dollars in annual foreign aid isn’t enough to buy us the forgiveness that’s required.
The current diplomatic storm between Australia and Indonesia highlights the myriad of problems with a country Tony Abbott claims is “our most important relationship.” The ability of president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) to disrupt Australian government policies on asylum seekers, the live cattle trade and intelligence sharing shows how vulnerable Canberra is in its relations with our northern neighbour.
We deserve the embarrassment and awkwardness and yet surveillance state backers, such as Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian, claim to be confused over Jakarta’s anger – but just imagine the outrage in Australia if leaks emerged showing SBY snooping on Abbott’s mobile phone (which may well be happening now). Also never forget that Jakarta already operates a brutal network of spies on its own citizens in Papua; nobody’s hands are clean.
Abbott’s response has been predictable; this is a man who sees nobility in the anglosphere, conveniently ignoring the colonial legacies of their rule. As for the Labor party, it has no credibility on the issue because the spying occurred under their watch. A Royal Commission into Australia’s out of control intelligence and security services is the least Abbott should be doing. With new revelations appearing almost daily following Snowden’s leaks, only the most loyal propagandist for unlimited state power would claim that his documents haven’t led to a vital public discussion over the excessive scope of state intrusion on privacy and liberty.
The real scandal of Canberra’s current problems with Indonesia is that we are helping the US with its dirty work. Tapping SBY’s phone and gaining its contents has interest for both the US and Australia, but SBY and his wife aren’t the only targets – in all likelihood, Indonesian civilians with no connection to terrorism or extremism are also being monitored. Snowden documents prove that close allies of the US, such as Britain, allow Washington open access to potentially millions of their own citizens. Australia could be equally supine.
The sheer scale of worldwide snooping, assisted by compliant allies such as Australia, has been exposed by Snowden’s leaks. He should be immediately granted asylum in Australia (his liberty is undeniably threatened in his homeland) for such services to local and international understanding of US behaviour (much of which is illegal, something that doesn’t seem to bother the NSA’s most passionate supporters). An adversarial media should interrogate governments and officials of all stripes and not make life comfortable for those in power.
So where to for Australia’s relationship with Asia? A mature nation treats its neighbours with respect and engagement. Trust takes more than presidential or prime ministerial visits. Speaking out against human rights abuses should also be crucial for Australia. An independent stance means having constant public discussions about the role of a former colony entering the 21st century in a region that likes the idea of declining US hegemony.
And in the meantime, let the leaks continue, and increase – for sunlight always scares the powerful who act in secrecy, too often outside the law.
Robert Fisk on the winners and those who are pissed that a war against Tehran may not now happen:
It marks a victory for the Shia in their growing conflict with the Sunni Muslim Middle East. It gives substantial hope to Bashar al-Assad that he will be left in power in Syria. It isolates Israel. And it infuriates Saudi Arabia and Qatar and Kuwait and other Sunni Gulf States which secretly hoped that a breakdown of the Geneva nuclear talks would humiliate Shia Iran and support their efforts to depose Assad, Iran’s only ally in the Arab world.
In the cruel politics of the Middle East, the partial nuclear agreement between Iran and the world’s six most important powers proves that the West will not go to war with Iran and has no intention – far into the future – of undertaking military action in the region. We already guessed that when – after branding Assad as yet another Middle Eastern Hitler – the US, Britain and France declined to assault Syria and bring down the regime. American and British people – those who had to pay the price for these monumental adventures, because political leaders no longer lead their men into battle – had no stomach for another Iraq or another Afghanistan.
Iran’s sudden offer to negotiate a high-speed end to this cancerous threat of further war was thus greeted with almost manic excitement by the US and the EU, along with theatrical enthusiasm by the man who realises that his own country has been further empowered in the Middle East: Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. Assad’s continued tenure in Damascus is assured. Peace in our time. Be sure we’ll be hearing that Chamberlonian boast uttered in irony by the Israelis in the weeks to come.
Amira Hass is a leading journalist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Two recent columns show the direct and daily assault on Palestinian lives that too rarely appears in the Western press.
And this month’s George Orwell Prize for excellence in misleading language, for rose-colored ink and for doing a hell of a job on sugarcoating lies, goes to…
Yes, clap your hands for the happy winner, the planning and licensing subcommittee of the Civil Administration’s Supreme Planning Council. Its excellence was revealed in full in its decision dated October 24, 2013, which relates to the request for approval of a master plan for construction filed by the Arab village, er, assemblage of Susya.
The West Bank village, which has a population of 300 (dispersed over 40 households), filed five different versions of the master plan, and the prize-winning committee rejected each of them. It wrote that for the sake of the rights of Palestinian children and the expansion of their horizons, and for the sake of the rights of Palestinian women and their salvation from lives of poverty, in order to prevent a rift in society and out of consideration for the limited abilities of the Palestinian Authority, these Arab residents of Susya should move to the nearby city of Yatta, which will provide them with the infrastructure necessary for their development.
With this decision, the subcommittee has devised an innovative, refreshing take on one of the Ten Commandments: Jews to Area C, Arabs to Area A.
Israel the persecuted has for years been fending off anti-Semitic attacks against it. One particularly wicked accusation is the claim that we are a colonialist entity that has stolen and continues to steal land from the Arabs, for the good of the Jews. This decision provides brilliant linguistic tools in the heroic struggle of our country to expel the Arabs and settle Jews in their place, by framing it publicly as an act of enlightenment, love of the people, and the adoration of order and modern planning. Our warm recommendation is to make use of this text in discussions on building the Jewish town of Hiran on the ruins of Umm al-Hiran and on building a national park on the lands of Isawiyah.
Anyone who has worn a uniform past or in present, whether speaking on the record or off, immediately “knows” that the latest terror attack and what looks to soldiers as the latest attempted terror attack does not signify the beginning of a third Intifada. Or, they “know” it does signify such a beginning, and it’s all because of the peace negotiations or because of Palestinian incitement, or both. Relying on the knowledgeable military brass is a fixed Israeli reflex; it is part of the balance of power and part of how the Israelis exert control over their subjects.
Whoever said 100,000 Palestinians have unfinished business with the Israel Defense Forces took it a step further creating the impression that he really knows and thinks, and does more than calculate tallies. But the starting point for calculation is somewhere else completely: There is no Palestinian whose score with the State of Israel is settled – whether he lives in forced exile or whether he lives within the borders of Israel, or in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. There is no Palestinian without a personal and familial history of injustice that was caused by, and is still caused by Israel. Just because the Israeli media does not report on all the injustices Israel causes day in and day out – even if only because they so numerous – does not mean they go away and neither does the anger they cause. Therefore, according to the correct calculation, the number of attacks by Palestinian individuals is relatively microscopic. This small number shows that for the vast majority of Palestinians – passing, murderous and hopeless revenge is not an option.
How to be a vacuous and morally void magazine is far too simple.
Here’s Human Rights Watch’s Iain Levine with the story:
What were they thinking?
Someone, somewhere in the depths of luxury magazine Elle thought it was a good idea to feature “North Korea chic” in September’s edition of the magazine (the page was subsequently replaced).
“Some iteration of the military trend stomps the runways every few seasons,” the article purred. “This time, it’s edgier, even dangerous, with sharp buckles and clasps and take-no-prisoners tailoring.” Dangerous indeed for those actually in North Korea and subject to being executed for simply watching a foreign video. Or for those beaten to death.
It didn’t take long for the world to render its judgement – outrage on social media condemned Elle for its breathtaking ignorance and insensitivity.
The magazine’s mea culpa quickly followed: We regret the reference to North Korea in our post on the season’s military trend, and have removed the image. We apologize to those we offended. It wrote on its website.
It’s worth pausing to consider where the outrage over “North Korea Chic” stems from.
Human rights activists become used to hearing distressing stories of cruelty and brutality against the powerless and the innocent. It is the price we pay for helping to bear witness and demand justice.
But even for the more hardened amongst us, North Korea, provides some of the worst and most gut-wrenching stories imaginable: torture, starvation of children, beatings, random killings, forced labor in brutal camps.
Michael Kirby, a retired Australian judge, who heads a UN panel into the crimes of North Korea, admitted that he had been reduced to tears by some of the testimonies he had heard.
Ironically, Elle is a magazine that seeks to contribute to the debate about “rebranding feminism”. In a recent interview, Elle’s UK editor declared: “We have always been forthright, smart, brave, and intelligent.”
In October, my colleague, John Sifton, attended one of the sessions of the UN inquiry on North Korea. Hetweeted: “North Korea escapee says mother gave her the starving baby while she went out to find food somewhere. The baby died in her arms.” And then “witness is now crying”.
Yes, Elle has removed the North Korea page but one can’t help wonder why Elle thought it “forthright, smart, brave, intelligent” to trivialize the totalitarian regime of North Korea in the first place. Rather than just apologize for offending, why not use its powerful media platform to call out North Korea for its notable cruelty, not its style.
Brant Rosen is that rare breed, an American Jewish Rabbi who remains outspoken about Israeli crimes against the Palestinians.
He’s been profiled in the New York Jewish Forward newspaper:
It was on December 28, 2008, soon after Israel launched its punishing military campaign in Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead, that Rabbi Brant Rosen hit the “send” key for a blog post that he believed could well pitch him out of his pulpit.
“We good liberal Jews are ready to protest oppression and human-rights abuse anywhere in the world, but are all too willing to give Israel a pass,” Rosen had typed out as Israel’s bombs were falling on Gaza — part of a massive response, with numerous civilian casualties, to rockets fired into Southern Israel by the Palestinian faction Hamas, which controls the territory.
“What Israel has been doing to the people of Gaza,” Rosen, 50, wrote on his blog, Shalom Rav, “is an outrage.”
The young rabbi, then a decade into his tenure as spiritual leader of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, a 520-household synagogue in Evanston, Ill., concluded his 221-word post with these sentences: “There, I’ve said it. Now what do I do?”
That rhetorical question came from a writer whom Newsweek had named earlier that year to its list of the top 25 pulpit rabbis in the United States.
Today, Rosen, 50, heads the rabbinical council of a group called Jewish Voice for Peace, which makes him a high-profile official with an organization on a much different kind of list: the Anti-Defamation League’s “Top Ten Anti-Israel Groups in the U.S.” for 2013.
JVP, which is No. 6 on the list, does not just criticize Israel’s fundamental policies toward the Palestinians and Iran, while claiming its position as a matter of Jewish values. The group contains a range of Israel critics, from self-described left-wing Zionists who favor some form of binational state to outright anti-Zionists. And it supports boycott, divestment and sanction campaigns against targets it views as involved in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. As an organization, it is determinedly agnostic on whether Israel should be governed as an explicitly Jewish state.
An October 2013 report from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs underlines how unusual Rosen’s profile is. Of 552 rabbis from varied points on the political spectrum that the council polled, nearly 40% said they sometimes or often avoided expressing their true feelings about Israel.
“[Rabbis] frequently find themselves fearful of, or caught in the maelstrom of, tension regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and their personal views about it,” the JCPA report said.
Rosen said the report’s findings were consistent with his own observations regarding his colleagues. “Most rabbis just don’t engage in Israel at all. They don’t fit in the AIPAC route,” he said, referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful mainstream pro-Israel lobby. “But they’re also afraid to speak their truth on this issue…. I confess I was like that for a long time.”
Rosen’s credo for his own congregational leadership is a famous journalistic motto: to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” If he had not become a rabbi, Rosen said, his longtime dream had been to become a newspaper columnist.
Understanding the mentality, background and reason for asylum seekers coming to Australia is vital to humanise their stories.
The New York Times magazine has an incredible feature in its magazine this week, written by Luke Mogelson (background to the story here) and photographed by Joel Van Houdt, that stunningly captures the challenges, heartache and uncertainty of refugees desperately wanting to settle in Australia from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond.
This is one of the most lyrical and moving pieces of journalism I’ve read in ages:
It’s surprisingly simple, from Kabul, to enlist the services of the smugglers Australian authorities are so keen to apprehend. The problem was that every Afghan I spoke to who had been to Indonesia insisted that no Western journalist would ever be allowed onto a boat: Paranoia over agents was too high. Consequently, the photographer Joel van Houdt and I decided to pose as refugees. Because we are both white, we thought it prudent to devise a cover. We would say we were Georgian (other options in the region were rejected for fear of running into Russian speakers), had sensitive information about our government’s activities during the 2008 war (hence, in the event of a search, our cameras and recorders), traveled to Kabul in search of a smuggler and learned some Dari during our stay. An Afghan colleague of mine, Hakim (whose name has been changed to protect his identity), would pretend to be a local schemer angling for a foothold in the trade. It was all overly elaborate and highly implausible.
When we were ready, Hakim phoned an elderly Afghan man, living in Jakarta, who goes by the honorific Hajji Sahib. Hajji Sahib is a well-known smuggler in Indonesia; his cellphone number, among Afghans, is relatively easy to obtain. Hakim explained that he had two Georgians — “Levan” and “Mikheil” — whom he wished to send Hajji Sahib’s way. Hajji Sahib, never questioning our story, agreed to get Joel and me from Jakarta to Christmas Island for $4,000 each. This represents a slightly discounted rate, for which Hakim, aspiring middleman, promised more business down the road.
A few days later, we visited Sarai Shahzada, Kabul’s bustling currency market. Tucked behind an outdoor bazaar on the banks of a polluted river that bends through the Old City, the entrance to Sarai Shahzada is a narrow corridor mobbed with traders presiding over stacks of Pakistani rupees, Iranian rials, American dollars and Afghan afghanis. The enclosed courtyard to which the corridor leads, the exterior stairwells ascending the surrounding buildings, the balconies that run the length of every floor — no piece of real estate is spared a hard-nosed dealer hawking bundled bricks of cash. The more illustrious operators occupy cramped offices and offer a variety of services in addition to exchange. Most of them are brokers of the money-transfer system, known as hawala, used throughout the Muslim world. Under the hawala system, if someone in Kabul wishes to send money to a relative in Pakistan, say, he will pay the amount, plus a small commission, to a broker in Sarai Shahzada, and in return receive a code. The recipient uses this code to collect the funds from a broker in Peshawar, who is then owed the transferred sum by the broker in Sarai Shahzada (a debt that can be settled with future transactions flowing in reverse).