Only a matter of time before Palestinians rise up

Gideon Levy in Haaretz in commanding style:

One day the Palestinian people will rise up against their occupiers. I hope this day comes soon.

It’s true that this scenario seems unrealistic right now. The Palestinians are still bleeding from the second intifada, which only brought disaster upon them (and the Israelis). They are divided and torn, with no real leadership and lacking a fighting spirit, and the world has tired of their distress. The Israeli occupation seems as strong and established as ever, the settlements are growing, and the military is in complete control, with all the world’s governments silent and indifferent.

On the other hand, it is impossible to imagine that this scenario will not materialize. To our south, the Egyptian people are struggling over the nature of their regime, in a way that can only inspire awe. To the north, the Syrian people are also doing this, albeit in a much crueler fashion. Could it be that only the Palestinian people will forever bow their heads, submissively and obediently, to the Israeli jackboot? Don’t make the minister of history laugh.

The regimes against which most of the Arab nations are rebelling were generally less brutal than the regime of the Israeli occupation. They were also less corrupt, in the broad sense of the word. Most did not take over the lives of their subjects day and night, did not so drastically restrict their movement and freedom, did not systematically abuse and humiliate them in the manner of the Israeli regime. Moreover, they were not foreign regimes.

Therefore, the events at Tahrir Square will surely be replicated one day in Ramallah’s Manara Square. The masses will flood the Unknown Soldier’s Square in Gaza, push into Police Square in Hebron and storm all the checkpoints along their way. It is hard now to imagine it happening, but it is even more difficult to imagine that it will not.

From Jenin to Rafah, they are enviously watching the wonders of Tahrir Square. Can anyone seriously think these scenes and this spirit will not affect Balata? Not sweep through Jabalya? The first is under Israeli rule, while the other is supposedly controlled by Hamas, and yet residents of the two places cannot even meet with each other. How much longer will they accept this?

Yes, it will happen one day. The masses will rise up against the settlements and checkpoints, against the army barracks and the prisons. And at that point, the Israeli Arabs will no longer stand idly by. They are also watching what’s happening at Tahrir Square and also realize they deserve a different regime and a different country.

It seems to happen when you least expect it. No Military Intelligence report will predict it, and no Shin Bet field coordinator will warn about it. The defense minister will act shocked, the prime minister will convene urgent consultations, and the finance minister will post something on Facebook. The president of the United States will call for calm, and who knows, maybe will send a special envoy. The world’s most powerful and especially most moral military will try to restore order, but the new order will assert its control over the army as well.

As with other unjust and evil regimes, which are always destined to fall, this regime also will fall – it’s just not clear when and how. Sometimes these regimes fall in the wake of terrible bloodshed, as in Syria, and sometimes they fall on their own, like a tall tree whose trunk has rotted, as happened in the Soviet Union, South Africa and Eastern Europe. One day it will happen here, too; there is no other way.

It would be best that this day come soon; too bad it hasn’t come yet. The Israeli public, which didn’t know how to end its occupation regime on its own, will also act surprised, and offended. Again they will say that “there’s no partner,” that “they’re like animals,” but no one will take these statements seriously. Israel will again play the victim, but few will be able to identify with it anymore.

Why is it best that this happens soon? Because as time passes, the damage and rage accumulate. Because there is no chance that Israel will end the occupation voluntarily. Because justice cries out for it to happen. Because whether the solution is one state or two, an Israel that isn’t an occupier, that is just and egalitarian, will be a different and infinitely better place to live.  

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Only the incredulous believe official narratives over Syria

It’s a rare journalist who travel across Syria and reports honestly about the situation. Past the PR. Beyond the lies told by the government and “rebels”. The Independent’s Patrick Cockburn (the man has fine form) explains in this essential piece:

Every time I come to Syria I am struck by how different the situation is on the ground from the way it is pictured in the outside world. The foreign media reporting of the Syrian conflict is surely as inaccurate and misleading as anything we have seen since the start of the First World War. I can’t think of any other war or crisis I have covered in which propagandistic, biased or second-hand sources have been so readily accepted by journalists as providers of objective facts.

A result of these distortions is that politicians and casual newspaper or television viewers alike have never had a clear idea over the last two years of what is happening inside Syria. Worse, long-term plans are based on these misconceptions. A report on Syria published last week by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group says that “once confident of swift victory, the opposition’s foreign allies shifted to a paradigm dangerously divorced from reality”.

Slogans replace policies: the rebels are pictured as white hats and the government supporters as black hats; given more weapons, the opposition can supposedly win a decisive victory; put under enough military pressure, President Bashar al-Assad will agree to negotiations for which a pre-condition is capitulation by his side in the conflict. One of the many drawbacks of the demonising rhetoric indulged in by the incoming US National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and William Hague, is that it rules out serious negotiations and compromise with the powers-that-be in Damascus. And since Assad controls most of Syria, Rice and Hague have devised a recipe for endless war while pretending humanitarian concern for the Syrian people.

It is difficult to prove the truth or falsehood of any generalisation about Syria. But, going by my experience this month travelling in central Syria between Damascus, Homs and the Mediterranean coast, it is possible to show how far media reports differ markedly what is really happening. Only by understanding and dealing with the actual balance of forces on the ground can any progress be made towards a cessation of violence.

On Tuesday I travelled to Tal Kalakh, a town of 55,000 people just north of the border with Lebanon, which was once an opposition bastion. Three days previously, government troops had taken over the town and 39 Free Syrian Army (FSA) leaders had laid down their weapons. Talking to Syrian army commanders, an FSA defector and local people, it was evident there was no straight switch from war to peace. It was rather that there had been a series of truces and ceasefires arranged by leading citizens of Tal Kalakh over the previous year.

But at the very time I was in the town, Al Jazeera Arabic was reporting fighting there between the Syrian army and the opposition. Smoke was supposedly rising from Tal Kalakh as the rebels fought to defend their stronghold. Fortunately, this appears to have been fantasy and, during the several hours I was in the town, there was no shooting, no sign that fighting had taken place and no smoke.

Of course, all sides in a war pretend that no position is lost without a heroic defence against overwhelming numbers of the enemy. But obscured in the media’s accounts of what happened in Tal Kalakh was an important point: the opposition in Syria is fluid in its allegiances. The US, Britain and the so-called 11-member “Friends of Syria”, who met in Doha last weekend, are to arm non-Islamic fundamentalist rebels, but there is no great chasm between them and those not linked to al-Qa’ida. One fighter with the al-Qa’ida-affiliated al-Nusra Front was reported to have defected to a more moderate group because he could not do without cigarettes. The fundamentalists pay more and, given the total impoverishment of so many Syrian families, the rebels will always be able to win more recruits. “Money counts for more than ideology,” a diplomat in Damascus told me.

While I was in Homs I had an example of why the rebel version of events is so frequently accepted by the foreign media in preference to that of the Syrian government. It may be biased towards the rebels, but often there is no government version of events, leaving a vacuum to be filled by the rebels. For instance, I had asked to go to a military hospital in the al-Waar district of Homs and was granted permission, but when I got there I was refused entrance. Now, soldiers wounded fighting the rebels are likely to be eloquent and convincing advocates for the government side (I had visited a military hospital in Damascus and spoken to injured soldiers there). But the government’s obsessive secrecy means that the opposition will always run rings around it when it comes to making a convincing case.

Back in the Christian quarter of the Old City of Damascus, where I am staying, there was an explosion near my hotel on Thursday. I went to the scene and what occurred next shows that there can be no replacement for unbiased eyewitness reporting. State television was claiming that it was a suicide bomb, possibly directed at the Greek Orthodox Church or a Shia hospital that is even closer. Four people had been killed.

I could see a small indentation in the pavement which looked to me very much like the impact of a mortar bomb. There was little blood in the immediate vicinity, though there was about 10 yards away. While I was looking around, a second mortar bomb came down on top of a house, killing a woman.

The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, so often used as a source by foreign journalists, later said that its own investigations showed the explosion to have been from a bomb left in the street. In fact, for once, it was possible to know definitively what had happened, because the Shia hospital has CCTV that showed the mortar bomb in the air just before it landed – outlined for a split-second against the white shirt of a passer-by who was killed by the blast. What had probably happened was part of the usual random shelling by mortars from rebels in the nearby district of Jobar.

In the middle of a ferocious civil war it is self-serving credulity on the part of journalists to assume that either side in the conflict, government or rebel, is not going to concoct or manipulate facts to serve its own interests. Yet much foreign media coverage is based on just such an assumption.

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Public ignorance over Iraq carnage largely due to media blindness

When countless journalists refuse to take responsibility for accurately reporting on the reality of wars in Iraq, Syria or Libya, it’s unsurprising that the effect on civilians can be so easy ignored. Medialens explains:

Last month, a ComRes poll supported by Media Lens interviewed 2,021 British adults, asking:

‘How many Iraqis, both combatants and civilians, do you think have died as a consequence of the war that began in Iraq in 2003?’

An astonishing 44% of respondents estimated that less than 5,000 Iraqis had died since 2003. 59% believed that fewer than 10,000 had died. Just 2% put the toll in excess of one million, the likely correct estimate.

In October 2006, just three years into the war, the Lancet medical journal reported ’about 655,000 Iraqis have died above the number that would be expected in a non-conflict situation, which is equivalent to about 2.5% of the population in the study area’.

In 2007, an Associated Press poll also asked the US public to estimate the Iraqi civilian death toll from the war. 52% of respondents believed that fewer than 10,000 Iraqis had died.

Noam Chomsky commented on the latest findings:

‘Pretty shocking. I’m sure you’ve seen Sut Jhally’s study of estimates of Vietnam war deaths at the elite university where he teaches. Median 100,000, about 5% of the official figure, probably 2% of the actual figure. Astonishing – unless one bears in mind that for the US at least, many people don’t even have a clue where France is. Noam’ (Email to Media Lens, June 1, 2013. See: Sut Jhally, Justin Lewis, & Michael Morgan, The Gulf War: A Study of the Media, Public Opinion, & Public Knowledge, Department of Communications, U. Mass. Amherst, 1991)

Alex Thomson, chief correspondent at Channel 4 News, has so far provided the only corporate media discussion of the poll. He perceived ‘questions for us on the media that after so much time, effort and money, the public perception of bloodshed remains stubbornly, wildly, wrong’.

In fact the poll was simply ignored by both print and broadcast media. Our search of the Lexis media database found no mention in any UK newspaper, despite the fact that ComRes polls are deemed highly credible and frequently reported in the press.

Although we gave Thomson the chance to scoop the poll, he chose to publish it on his blog viewed by a small number of people on the Channel 4 website. Findings which Thomson found ‘so staggeringly, mind-blowingly at odds with reality’ that they left him ‘speechless’ apparently did not merit a TV audience.

Les Roberts, lead author of the 2004 Lancet study and co-author of the 2006 study, also responded:

‘This March, a review of death toll estimates by Burkle and Garfield was published in the Lancet in an issue commemorating the 10th anniversary of the invasion. They reviewed 11 studies of data sources ranging from passive tallies of government and newspaper reports to careful randomized household surveys, and concluded that something in the ballpark of half a million Iraqi civilians have died. The various sources include a wide variation of current estimates, from one-hundred thousand plus to a million.’

Roberts said of the latest poll:

‘It may be that most British people do not care what results arise from the actions of their leaders and the work of their tax money. Alternatively, it also could be that the British and US Governments have actively and aggressively worked to discredit sources and confuse death toll estimates in hopes of keeping the public from unifying and galvanizing around a common narrative.’ (Email to Media Lens, June 12, 2013. You can see Roberts’ comments in full here)

Indeed, the public’s ignorance of the cost paid by the people of Iraq is no accident. Despite privately considering the 2006 Lancet study ‘close to best practice’ and ‘robust’ the British government immediately set about destroying the credibility of the findings of both the 2004 and 2006 Lancet studies. Professor Brian Rappert of the University of Exeter reported that government ‘deliberations were geared in a particular direction – towards finding grounds for rejecting the [2004] Lancet study without any evidence of countervailing efforts by government officials to produce or endorse alternative other studies or data’.

Unsurprisingly, the same political executives who had fabricated the case for war on Iraq sought to fabricate reasons for ignoring peer-reviewed science exposing the costs of their great crime. More surprising, one might think, is the long-standing media enthusiasm for these fabrications. The corporate media were happy to swallow the UK government’s alleged ‘grounds for rejecting’ the Lancet studies to the extent that a recent Guardian news piece claimed that the invasion had led to the deaths of ‘tens of thousands of Iraqis’.

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The Cold War is back and arms dealers are laughing

Global powers rarely learn from history. Instead, they look to find ways to influence others with a range of sticks and carrots. Hello, weapons manufacturers, stop smiling.

Michael Klare in TomDispatch:

Did Washington just give Israel the green light for a future attack on Iran via an arms deal?  Did Russia just signal its further support for Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime via an arms deal?  Are the Russians, the Chinese, and the Americans all heightening regional tensions in Asia via arms deals?  Is it possible that we’re witnessing the beginnings of a new Cold War in two key regions of the planet — and that the harbingers of this unnerving development are arms deals?

International weapons sales have proved to be a thriving global business in economically tough times.  According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), such sales reached an impressive $85 billion in 2011, nearly double the figure for 2010.  This surge in military spending reflected efforts by major Middle Eastern powers to bolster their armories with modern jets, tanks, and missiles — a process constantly encouraged by the leading arms manufacturing countries (especially the U.S. and Russia) as it helps keep domestic production lines humming.  However, this familiar if always troubling pattern may soon be overshadowed by a more ominous development in the global arms trade: the revival of far more targeted Cold War-style weapons sales aimed at undermining rivals and destabilizing regional power balances.  The result, inevitably, will be a more precarious world.

Arms sales have always served multiple functions.  Valuable trade commodities, weapons can prove immensely lucrative for companies that specialize in making such products.  Between 2008 and 2011, for example, U.S. firms sold $146 billion worth of military hardware to foreign countries, according to the latest CRS figures.  Crucially, such sales help ensure that domestic production lines remain profitable even when government acquisitions slow down at home.  But arms sales have also served as valuable tools of foreign policy — as enticements for the formation of alliances, expressions of ongoing support, and a way to lure new allies over to one’s side.  Powerful nations, seeking additional allies, use such sales to win the allegiance of weaker states; weaker states, seeking to bolster their defenses, look to arms deals as a way to build ties with stronger countries, or even to play one suitor off another in pursuit of the most sophisticated arms available.

Throughout the Cold War, both superpowers employed weapons transfers as a form of competition, offering advanced arms to entice regional powers to defect from each other’s alliance systems or to counter offers made by the other side.  Egypt, for example, was convinced to join the Soviet sphere in 1955 when provided with arms the West had refused to deliver.  In the late 1970s, it moved back into the American camp after Washington anted up far better weapons systems.

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The last thing Syria needs, or the Middle East, is more Western “engagement”

Stunning Simon Jenkins piece in The Guardian that explains why Western imperialists, of the liberal and conservative kind, just need to butt out of the Middle East:

There could no more dreadful idea than to pour more armaments into the sectarian war now consuming Syria. Yet that is precisely what Britain’s coalition government wants to do. The foreign secretary, William Hague, seemed on Monday to parody his hero Pitt the Younger by demanding “how long must we go on allowing … ?” and “what we want to see is …”. Who is this we? But even Pitt would never be so stupid as to declare war on Syria, which is the only morally sound outcome of Hague’s rhetorical mission creep.

For two years pundits have proclaimed the imminent fall of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. High on Arab spring, they declared he would fall from the logic of history. Or he would fall because western sanctions would bring him down. Or he would fall because the media, as in the novel Scoop, were with the rebels and had decided they would win.

Assad has not fallen. He is still there, locked in the lethal Muslim schism that resurfaced with the demise of the region’s secularist dictators. These have now almost all gone: the shah in Iran, Najibullah in Afghanistan, Saddam in Iraq, Mubarak in Egypt, Gaddafi in Libya. They had faults in abundance, but they succeeded in suppressing religious discord, instilling rudimentary tolerance and keeping the region mostly in order. This was in the west’s interest, and the rulers, like those in the Gulf, were supported accordingly.

Turning turtle and abetting their downfall may yet prove the most disastrous miscalculation of western diplomacy since the rise of fascism. Prior to the Iraq war, Saddam persecuted the Shias, but their shrines were safe and intermarriage was common. After the war, Sunni and Shia are torn asunder, with a death toll of ghastly proportions. Similar agony may soon be visited on the Afghans. Libya’s Tripoli is more unstable now the west has toppled Gaddafi, its fundamentalist guerrillas spreading mayhem south across the Sahara to Algeria, Mali and Nigeria.

These upheavals might have occurred without western intervention. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were largely self-starting. Islamist parties often came to power, because they offered an alternative discipline to the existing regimes. But the west’s sudden zest for “wars of choice”, its meddling in the politics of Pakistan and its sabre-rattling in Iran have created a cause on to which neoconservative Islamism could fasten.

Al-Qaida was in 2000 a tiny group of fanatics. America and Britain have portrayed it as an all-powerful enemy, apparently lurking in support of every anti-secularist rebellion. Cameron calls it “an existential terrorist threat… to inflict the biggest possible amount of damage to our interests and way of life”. Yet stabbings and bombings do not constitute an “existential threat”. The UK is a stronger culture than Cameron appears to believe. There is no threat to its existence, while the chief damage being done to its way of life comes from the incompetence of its government.

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I’m looking at you, liberal/imperial interventionists

Handy lessons that should be observed by all before advocating the bombing of Iran/Syria/Libya/anywhere. Foreign Policy’s Steve Walt:

#1: You frequently find yourself advocating that the United States send troops, drones, weapons, Special Forces, or combat air patrols to some country that you have never visited, whose language(s) you don’t speak, and that you never paid much attention to until bad things started happening there.

#2: You tend to argue that the United States is morally obligated to “do something” rather than just stay out of nasty internecine quarrels in faraway lands. In the global classroom that is our digitized current world, you believe that being a bystander — even thousands of miles away — is as bad as being the bully. So you hardly ever find yourself saying that “we should sit this one out.”

#3: You think globally and speak, um, globally. You are quick to condemn human rights violations by other governments, but American abuses (e.g., torture, rendition, targeted assassinations, Guantánamo, etc.) and those of America’s allies get a pass. You worry privately (and correctly) that aiming your critique homeward might get in the way of a future job.

#4: You are a strong proponent of international law, except when it gets in the way of Doing the Right Thing. Then you emphasize its limitations and explain why the United States doesn’t need to be bound by it in this case.

#5: You belong to the respectful chorus of those who publicly praise the service of anyone in the U.S. military, but you would probably discourage your own progeny from pursuing a military career.

#6. Even if you don’t know very much about military history, logistics, or modern military operations, you are still convinced that military power can achieve complex political objectives at relatively low cost.

#7: To your credit, you have powerful sympathies for anyone opposing a tyrant. Unfortunately, you tend not to ask whether rebels, exiles, and other anti-regime forces are trying to enlist your support by telling you what they think you want to hear. (Two words: Ahmed Chalabi.)

#8. You are convinced that the desire for freedom is hard-wired into human DNA and that Western-style liberal democracy is the only legitimate form of government. Accordingly, you believe that democracy can triumph anywhere — even in deeply divided societies that have never been democratic before — if outsiders provide enough help.

#9. You respect the arguments of those who are skeptical about intervening, but you secretly believe that they don’t really care about saving human lives.

#10. You believe that if the United States does not try to stop a humanitarian outrage, its credibility as an ally will collapse and its moral authority as a defender of human rights will be tarnished, even if there are no vital strategic interests at stake.

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Obama’s war on terror could last for decades

The open-ended nature of this “war”, plus a plethora of global targets, should make us concerned. Resistance is vital.

Here’s Charlie Savage in the New York Times:

A top Pentagon official said Thursday that the evolving war against Al Qaeda was likely to continue “at least 10 to 20 years” and urged Congress not to modify the statute that provides its legal basis.

“As of right now, it suits us very well,” Michael A. Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, said, referring to the “authorization to use military force,” often referred to as the A.U.M.F., enacted by Congress in 2001.

The statute authorized war against the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and those who harbored them — that is, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Lawmakers are considering enacting a new authorization, because the original Qaeda network has been largely decimated, while the current threat is increasingly seen as arising from terrorist groups in places like Yemen that share Al Qaeda’s ideology but have no connection to the 2001 attacks.

That possibility has elicited a decidedly mixed reaction. Human rights groups that want to see the 12-year-old military conflict wind down fear that a new authorization would create an open-ended “forever war.”

Some supporters of continuing the wartime approach to terrorism indefinitely fear that the war’s legal basis is eroding and needs to be bolstered, while others worry that a new statute might contain limits that would reduce the power that the Obama administration claims it already wields under the 2001 version.

And still others say that whatever the right policy may be, Congress should protect its constitutional role by explicitly authorizing the parameters of the war, rather than ceding that decision to the executive branch.

In a hearing on Thursday of the Senate Armed Services Committee, where Mr. Sheehan made his remarks, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, argued that the statute should be updated, citing the “dramatically changed landscape that we have in this war on Muslim extremism and Al Qaeda and others.”

He pressed the acting general counsel of the Pentagon, Robert S. Taylor, to say whether the 2001 law authorized war against Al Qaeda’s associated forces in Mali, Libya and Syria.

Mr. Taylor said that as a matter of domestic law, the authorization did grant such authority if groups in those countries had affiliated themselves with the original Al Qaeda and became “co-belligerents” in the conflict.

“So we can expect drone strikes into Syria if we find Al Qaeda there?” Mr. McCain asked. Mr. Taylor said he did not want to speculate.

Under questioning by Senator Joe Donnelly, Democrat of Indiana, Mr. Sheehan said he believed that the Nusra Front, a rebel group in Syria, was a Qaeda affiliate and that the executive branch could use lethal force against it if it believed the group threatened American security. But when pressed to say whether it did pose such a threat, he declined to say. “I don’t want to get in this setting into the decision making for how we target different organizations and groups around the world,” he said.

Senator Angus King, independent of Maine, noted that the 2001 statute said nothing about “associated forces” of Al Qaeda. He said the administration’s theory had “essentially rewritten the Constitution here today” because it was up to Congress to declare war. “I don’t disagree that we need to fight terrorism, but we need to do it in a constitutional way,” he said.

But Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, argued that the administration’s interpretation of its wartime authority was correct, and the authorization did automatically extend the war to others that aligned themselves with Al Qaeda and “joined the fight against us.”

In 2011, Congress enacted a statute declaring that the 2001 authorization allowed the indefinite detention of members and supporters of Al Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces, even if not linked to the Sept. 11 attacks. But a judge has blocked the statute, questioning whether mere supporters and associated forces are covered by it. The Obama administration has appealed the ruling.

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Our online tolerance for brutality in war

Barely a day passes when another horrific video doesn’t emerge from Syria, showing either the “rebels” or government forces engaged in some act of terrorism/death/flesh eating.

The New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson:

I first heard about the Syrian rebel who was supposed to have eaten a heart on Monday, when a friend who lives in Beirut tweeted something cryptic about abuse videos. Against my better instincts, I opened one of the links he attached to his tweet. It showed soldiers (or was it militia members? Rebels? It can be hard to tell in Syria, sometimes) beating prisoners, whipping them with ropes. In the YouTube sidebar, there were a host of other videos, some tagged in Arabic and others in English, broadcasting their sickening contents: “18+, Basher Assad Soldiers Mutilating,” and so forth. After the warnings about graphic content, whatever video there is simply rolls, and whoever has chosen to click on it, whether over or under eighteen, watches it, and then lives with what he or she has seen.

Such videos have increasingly come to represent a new weapon in modern wars-by-terror. The phenomenon is not unique to Syria. One recent, much-commented-on video depicts the decapitation-by-chainsaw of a Mexican gang member by rival narcos. Violent networks around the world seem to have taken inspiration from Al Qaeda in their efforts to terrorize captive societies by filming, and broadcasting, the executions of their enemies. This began, to my knowledge, when Al Qaeda filmed Daniel Pearl’s decapitation, in 2002, and was followed, during the Iraq War, with a raft of real-life snuff videos courtesy of Al Qaeda and its allies: Margaret Hassan, a kidnapped British relief worker; the young American Nicholas Berg; many who got less attention because they were not Westerners. How many have we heard described in news reports since then? Usually, our television channels and newspapers have shown discretion, and what we have seen is, at most, merely a screenshot of the hostage looking abjectly into the camera—but we all know what came next. Most of us, I suppose, never think of actually looking up the video that shows the deaths themselves, because that would be prurient, brutal, and yet we all know they are out there. And, no doubt, there are plenty of people who do look for them.

It’s sobering to acknowledge that, for a previous generation of television viewers—not so long ago—the most terrifying thing they had ever seen (and for many it induced enduring fears) was the shower scene in “Psycho.” That’s so much “Captain Kangaroo” compared to what we can watch today, and if there were ever any question that what one sees on a screen has before-and-after consequences, consider these videos from the world’s killing grounds. If you want to see what someone looks like as he is stabbed, as he is told he is about to die, as he is beaten to death, or cut into pieces, it is all just a click away.

Once, some years ago in Iraq, where I was spending long periods of time reporting, I decided I had to look at one of these videos. Kidnapping and decapitation in front of a video camera was the nightmare fate that potentially awaited all of us there, and, on a Web site that offered a couple of dozen, I chose one at random to watch. It depicted the decapitation of a middle-aged Turkish trucker whose crime had been to carry cargo between Turkey and Baghdad, which was then under American military control. According to Al Qaeda’s extreme interpretation of what made an enemy, his was a crime that merited death, for the goods he ferried to Baghdad meant that the American troops, or the puppet government they defended, would be equipped with toilet paper, or mineral water, or gasoline.

In war, you kill a man, and, to take away the fear that you feel, you objectify him, you humiliate him, before or after his death; you exult in his death; you persuade yourself you have truly conquered him. This ritual is as old as mankind, and it is something we unlock every time we go to war, or cheerlead others into fighting a war for us. Maybe ninety-nine out of a hundred soldiers, or some even greater number, will limit themselves to doing what they have to do, and kill because they must, because their society asks them to, telling them that it is us and them, or because everyone around them is doing it, too, and because of the belief that if they don’t, they will be killed. But some number will also feel the need to desecrate the corpse, will pose for photos with it, will cut off an extremity, or eat a part of that body in an attempt to vanquish not just the flesh of the dead victim but his spirit, too—and, perhaps, destroy their own.

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Lessons in real journalism from Jeremy Scahill

The author of the New York Times best-seller Dirty Wars explains to PBS’s Tavis Smiley on what important journalism means and why it’s far too rare:

Tavis: Let me start before I get into the text, just as we’re talking about this, where it is that this commitment to being a truth-teller comes from. What in your background, what in your upbringing, what in your family, what in your training – I know you started out with my good friend Amy Goodman at Democracy Now. But tell me how this became your vocation, your calling in life.

Scahill: Both of my parents are nurses, and I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They were social justice-minded people. I grew up in an Irish-Catholic family and my dad was very big on liberation theology, so we sort of learned a different part of the faith when we were growing up, and I think that was really influential, this idea that all of us in some way should have a preferential option for the poor, and that we have some obligation in our life to stand with people who are victims.

I wanted to be a schoolteacher, actually, when I was growing up, and then a funny thing happened where I found out I’m not a good student myself at university. (Laughter)

So I had left school in, I guess it was like ’95, ’96. I had dropped out of college and I hitchhiked to D.C., and I was living and working in this homeless shelter called the Community for Creative Nonviolence, and I was listening to a lot of talk radio at the time.

I heard this voice on the radio talking about the rebels who were trying to overthrow Mobutu Sese Seko, the U.S.-backed dictator in Congo, and it was Amy Goodman. I had never heard anything like that, so I started writing her letters.

I said I don’t have any journalism experience, but if you have a dog, I’ll walk your dog or I’ll wash your windows. Like, I wanted to be a part of that world. I think Amy had to decide whether to, like, get a restraining order against me or, like, let me volunteer. (Laughter)

So I started off as a coffee runner for Amy, and I learned journalism as a trade rather than – I didn’t view it as a career. I still don’t view it as a career; it’s a way of life. I got to go to all the – I started off, I went to Nigeria, and then I went to Iraq.

At the beginning, I was just sort of making my way, like, just by luck, kind of, and figuring out how to do this stuff, and I remember the first time when I went to Iraq in 1998 and I was doing a story in Basra in the south of Iraq.

I said, “This is what I want to do. I want to tell stories of people who live on the other side of the barrel of the gun that is U.S. foreign policy. I want to tell their story. That’s how I started in journalism.

Tavis: Speaking of journalism, all of this starts with asking questions and asking the right questions. I’m not naïve in asking this question, but why, then, are there so few Jeremys, so few Amy Goodmans? Why are there so few people in a medium called journalism that are afraid to ask the tough questions?

Scahill: I think we live in a sort of infotainment society right now. It’s more important what JWoww and Snookie and the real housewives of whatever city are doing than what’s happening in a place like Somalia, with the real widows of Mogadishu.

I think part of it is that you see corporate advertising driving the priorities of news organizations. That’s not to say that there aren’t excellent reporters, and some of them work for big corporate media outlets.

But many of my journalists don’t even report in English. They’re working for Arabic-language publications and they’re covering the war in Syria right now, or they’re on the ground in Libya.

We hear about it when a famous American correspondent goes missing somewhere, but there are scores of journalists who get killed or go missing every year and we hear nothing about it because they’re not famous on our airwaves.

So I think there is heroic journalism that’s being done around the world, and real journalism, but I think part of it has to do with our culture. We’re a sort of Ritalin society right now where everything is expressed in 140 characters on Twitter, and that passes as journalism or media coverage.

So just to be able to sit with you and have a conversation longer than three minutes is unusual in our society right now.

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20th century Middle East is disappearing but what replaces it?

Astute Patrick Cockburn in Counterpunch on how the new imperial powers are intent on creating a new reality that may ignore the majority of the populations:

In the aftermath of the First World War, Britain and France famously created the modern Middle East by carving up what had been the Ottoman Empire. The borders of new states such as Iraq and Syria were determined in keeping with British and French needs and interests. The wishes of local inhabitants were largely ignored.

Now, for the first time in over 90 years, the whole postwar settlement in the region is coming unstuck. External frontiers are no longer the impassable barriers they were until recently, while internal dividing lines are becoming as complicated to cross as international frontiers.

In Syria, the government no longer controls many crossing points into Turkey and Iraq. Syrian rebels advance and retreat without hindrance across their country’s international borders, while Shia and Sunni fighters from Lebanon increasingly fight on opposing sides in Syria. The Israelis bomb Syria at will. Of course, the movements of guerrilla bands in the midst of a civil war do not necessarily mean that the state is finally disintegrating. But the permeability of its borders suggests that whoever comes out as the winner of the Syrian civil war will rule a weak state scarcely capable of defending itself.

The same process is at work in Iraq. The so-called trigger line dividing Kurdish-controlled territory in the north from the rest of Iraq is more and more like a frontier defended on both sides by armed force. Baghdad infuriated the Kurds last year by setting up the Dijla (Tigris) Operations Command, which threatened to enforce central military control over areas disputed between Kurds and Arabs.

Dividing lines got more complicated in Iraq after the Hawaijah massacre on 23 April left at least 44 Sunni Arab protesters dead. This came after four months of massive but peaceful Sunni protests against discrimination and persecution. The result of this ever-deeper rift between the Sunni and the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad is that Iraqi troops in Sunni-majority areas behave like an occupation army. At night, they abandon isolated outposts so they can concentrate forces in defensible positions. Iraqi government control in the northern half of the country is becoming ever more tenuous.

Does it really matter to the rest of the world who fights whom in the impoverished country towns of the Syrian interior or in the plains and mountains of Kurdistan? The lesson of the last few thousand years is that it matters a great deal. The region between Syria’s Mediterranean coast and the western frontier of Iran has traditionally been a zone where empires collide. Maps of the area are littered with the names of battlefields where Romans fought against Parthians, Ottomans against Safavids, and British against Turks.

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While BDS surges globally, Murdoch’s organ in Australia fiddles

While Israel continues daily to brutalise Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and Stephen Hawking’s decision to back BDS causes waves around the world, it’s comical to read Rupert Murdoch’s Australian desperately hoping that the Zionist state would just get some love. After praising Israel for singing lullabies to Palestinians recently, today’s editorial merely deepens the level of delusion. Long may it continue:

An outbreak of common sense at the University of Sydney is welcome. Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence has rejected support from the student council (and one of his own academics) for the anti-Israel boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaign.

“I do not consider it appropriate for the university to boycott academic institutions in a country with which Australia has diplomatic relations,” said Dr Spence. As it should, one of our premier seats of learning is standing up for freedom of expression, democracy and liberal intellectual engagement. The BDS push came from Associate Professor Jake Lynch – a paradoxical show of intolerance given he heads the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.

Student activists and Greens MPs who have given succour to the often anti-Semitic BDS campaign should pause to think. Incongruously, these pro-Arab demonstrators focus on one of the few Middle Eastern countries where Arabs have a free vote and hold seats in a democratic parliament. We could take their commitment to human rights more seriously if occasionally they protested against atrocities inflicted upon Arabs by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, or blood-letting between Hamas and Hezbollah, or, in the past, the cruelty of Saddam Hussein. But on Arab aggression the protesters see, hear and speak no evil.

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Unembedded Robert Fisk on alternative view of Syria

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