Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

Israel desperate for regional war?

Savvy piece by Larry Derfner in +972 magazine. The lack of mainstream criticism over Israeli actions against Syria reveals the agenda; install a pliant thugocracy in Damascus. Good luck with that:

People in this country [Israel] have been worried that the fighting in Syria is going to “spill over the border,” and now Israel, unprovoked, unattacked, has gone and bombed Syria twice in the last 72 hours. Is anyone in this vibrant democracy protesting? I haven’t heard it.

That’s because the missiles from Syria and/or Hezbollah haven’t started falling here. So far so good, people figure. As long as we get away with it, hooray. If, however, our neighbors to the north start retaliating with some of their tens of thousands of rockets and missiles on the Israeli home front or other targets, maybe then people here will wonder why we decided now of all times to punch Syria and Hezbollah in the nose.

What was the Air Force trying to do – stop Assad’s chemical weapons from falling into the hands of global jihadists, the same ones who supposedly can’t be deterred because they have no address? No. Both times, the Air Force reportedly hit not chemical weapons but caches of long-range, accurate, conventional missiles that came from Iran and were meant not for “undeterrable” global jihadists without an address, but for Hezbollah, which has an address and is being deterred very nicely by Israel – so far.

Why did Israel take out these missiles? The Israeli official quoted after Friday morning’s attack said it was to prevent Hezbollah from obtaining “game-changing” weapons. Which game was in danger of being changed? The game of Israeli military superiority, of the Israeli “qualitative edge.” The rules of this game are that Israel continually flies spy planes over Lebanon, bombs Syria now, and may bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities later, secure in its belief that the targets can’t do much in return – like bring down Israeli spy planes over Lebanon with anti-aircraft missiles (which were hit in January), or terrorize the home front with long-range, accurate missiles (which were hit Friday and yesterday).

In other words, Israel’s air strikes in Syria were meant to maintain its ability to carry out continued acts of aggression against its enemies without fear of challenge. This is the game, and this is what Israel doesn’t want anyone to change.

The strange thing, though, is that Hezbollah and Syria, as noted, already have tens of thousands of rockets and missiles, some of which can hit anywhere in Israel. How much of a difference would these Fateh-110 missiles that Israel destroyed in the last couple of days have made in Hezbollah’s hands? It doesn’t seem there was anything so urgent about bombing them; it seems Israel did it because it believes there was no real risk involved, as former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told Army Radio, as quoted in Haaretz.

Yadlin said that he doesn’t expect Syria to retaliate. “A confrontation with Israel would bring more danger, not responding would let Assad maintain the upper hand in the fight against the rebels.”

So far, there are no reports of people being killed in the Israeli attacks, although there are reports of injuries from last night’s strike on a military research center. But how long can Israel’s luck hold out? How many more times can it attack Syria without Syria or Hezbollah hitting back?

(UPDATE: The New York Times on Monday quotes a doctor at Syria’s military Tishreen hospital saying at least 100 soldiers were killed and dozens of people were injured. It also quotes a senior military official saying dozens of elite troops were killed.)

Could that be what Israel wants? Could Israel also be trying to draw Iran into the fray and give it an excuse to hit Tehran? At any rate, is the possibility of a regional war something that doesn’t scare Israel, so it sees no risk in taking out a few batches of advanced weapons before Hezbollah gets them?

One thing is sure – Israel is provoking a war. (Imagine what this country would do if some enemy attacked its weapons sites.) Meanwhile, the Obama administration is backing Netanyahu and the generals 100 percent. As for this country, there isn’t a word of protest from anyone, certainly no one who matters. Israel may or may not be at war in the very near future, but if it isn’t, it won’t be for lack of trying.

18 comments ↪

Dr Strangelove at the White House over Syria

This would be comical if the situation in Syria wasn’t so serious. This reporting, via the New York Times, shows the complete inability to understand that Washington isn’t the arbiter of what happens inside Syria. Nor should it be. This is ineptitude framed as serious policy. Besides, there are countless forces backing the “rebels” and they’re mostly dictatorships. Nowhere in the calculations is a serious effort towards negotiations and a less militarised environment:

Confronted with evidence that chemical weapons have been used in SyriaPresident Obama now finds himself in a geopolitical box, his credibility at stake with frustratingly few good options.

The origins of this dilemma can be traced in large part to a weekend last August, when alarming intelligence reports suggested the besieged Syrian government might be preparing to use chemical weapons. After months of keeping a distance from the conflict, Mr. Obama felt he had to become more directly engaged.

In a frenetic series of meetings, the White House devised a 48-hour plan to deter President Bashar al-Assad of Syria by using intermediaries like Russia and Iran to send a message that one official summarized as, “Are you crazy?” But when Mr. Obama emerged to issue the public version of the warning, he went further than many aides realized he would.

Moving or using large quantities of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and “change my calculus,” the president declared in response to a question at a news conference, to the surprise of some of the advisers who had attended the weekend meetings and wondered where the “red line” came from. With such an evocative phrase, the president had defined his policy in a way some advisers wish they could take back.

“The idea was to put a chill into the Assad regime without actually trapping the president into any predetermined action,” said one senior official, who, like others, discussed the internal debate on the condition of anonymity. But “what the president said in August was unscripted,” another official said. Mr. Obama was thinking of a chemical attack that would cause mass fatalities, not relatively small-scale episodes like those now being investigated, except the “nuance got completely dropped.”

As a result, the president seems to be moving closer to providing lethal assistance to the Syrian rebels, even though he rejected such a policy just months ago. American officials have even discussed with European allies the prospect of airstrikes to take out Syrian air defenses, airplanes and missile delivery systems, if government use of chemical weapons is confirmed.

An Israeli airstrike in Syria on Thursday, apparently targeting advanced missiles bound for the Shiite Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, highlighted the volatile situation. With Syrians already dying by the thousands from conventional weapons, Mr. Obama now confronts the most urgent foreign policy issue of his second term, one in which he must weigh humanitarian impulses against the risk to American lives. After about two years of ineffectual diplomacy, whether or how he chooses to follow through on his warning about chemical weapons could shape his remaining time in office.

The evolution of the “red line” and the nine months that followed underscore the improvisational nature of Mr. Obama’s approach to one of the most vexing crises in the world, all the more striking for a president who relishes precision. Palpably reluctant to become entangled in another war in the Middle East, and well aware that most Americans oppose military action, the president has deliberately not explained what his “red line” actually is or how it would change his calculus.

“I’m not convinced it was thought through,” said Barry Pavel, a former defense policy adviser to Mr. Obama who is now at the Atlantic Council. “I’m worried about the broader damage to U.S. credibility if we make a statement and then come back with lawyerly language to get around it.”

While Mr. Pavel favors a more active response to the killings in Syria, others worry that Mr. Obama may have trapped himself into going too far. Zbigniew Brzezinski, a national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter, told Bloomberg Television that military involvement in Syria would risk “a large-scale disaster for the United States.”

Further complicating the president’s choices is the murky nature of the evidence against Syria, a constant concern because of the lingering memories of mistaken intelligence on Iraq’s weapons a decade ago. American intelligence agencies have medium to high confidence that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, but it is not completely clear who was using them.

The Obama administration recognizes that the rebels and their supporters have an incentive to assume or even exaggerate the use of such weapons because it may be the one thing that could draw in direct Western military intervention against Mr. Assad. The rebels have access to information online about the effects of the weapons, so they may know what symptoms to describe to make their claims seem real.

That makes physical samples crucial — a challenge in a chaotic environment of conflict where there are few functioning health facilities and little reliable electricity, not to mention roads that are often impassable because of the danger of attacks. Still, residents in areas of suspected attacks have collected evidence like urine, soil, dead birds and hair. In one case, a local group dug up the corpse of a man to remove head and nose hair and place it in plastic vials, then posted a video of the process online.

Yet in turning the matter into an international “CSI” case, Mr. Obama may have set a standard of evidence that could never be met.

While concerns about Syria’s chemical arsenal go back years, apprehension rose sharply last July when American intelligence agencies detected signs that the Assad government was moving part of its huge stockpile out of storage. There was some evidence that the Syrian military was mixing chemicals, a possible indication that they were being prepared for use.

The reports grew more disturbing, if still fragmentary, by the weekend of Aug. 18 and 19. Denis McDonough, then the president’s principal deputy national security adviser and now the White House chief of staff, coordinated a series of urgent classified meetings in the West Wing. “It was a catalyzing event,” said one official involved.

The advisers reviewed an array of pre-emptive military options and quickly discounted them as impractical. The evidence was not strong enough to warrant a pre-emptive strike, they concluded, and military officers said the best they could do with airstrikes or commando operations would be to limit the use of chemical weapons already deployed.

Mr. Obama’s advisers also raised legal issues. “How can we attack another country unless it’s in self-defense and with no Security Council resolution?” another official said, referring to United Nations authorization. “If he drops sarin on his own people, what’s that got to do with us?”

21 comments ↪

Inside the devastating war for Syria

The conflict has now been going for more than two years and many in the mainstream media have given up reporting. There are notable exceptions. This remarkable footage (shot by Olly Lambert and screened by PBS Frontline) must be seen.

Lambert writes movingly about the realities of war journalism in ways that happen far too rarely:

Six months ago, I was on a bed in a Turkish hotel, a few miles from the Syrian border. I was waiting for my fixer Abdulqader to come back to the room we shared.  He has a hell of a reputation for helping journalists “get inside” (the euphemism of choice among correspondents operating in Syria).

Before that day, I’d only met him once, for just a few hours, in a hushed and somewhat secretive meeting in the corner of a hotel foyer in Istanbul.  Two hours into our second meeting, I was sat in my boxer shorts in our shared room, our beds only inches apart, and the next day we were going to try to sneak into Syria for an extended stay in possibly the world’s most dangerous war zone.  In friendship terms, it was “in at the deep end.”

I kept wondering if I should be more scared. The smugglers who were helping us cross the border were full of horror stories about their friends being killed in airstrikes, or so-and-so “disappearing near Homs.” Then there was the casual warning I’d been given:  ”There’s been a lot of shelling on the road you want to take …” It alarmed me at first, but then I caught myself wondering how much danger this last line really indicated — the road we wanted to take stretched for miles, and people were vague about when it was actually shelled.  It sounded to me then like I was being advised not to drive on a highway because there’d been a car crash there the previous week.

We crossed into Syria the next day, and it took two more to reach our filming destination: the Orontes River valley in Idlib province. It’s a beautiful stretch of Syria’s rural heartland, peaceful for generations, but now a sectarian fault line: On one side of the river, Sunni fighters of the rebel Free Syrian Army hold sway. On the other side, less than a mile away, Alawite villagers remain fiercely loyal to the government, and were protected by a line of well-armed regime checkpoints.

On our second day on the rebel side, the army positions shelled the village we were living in.  The sound was almost innocuous at first — a distant pop, a pause of about 20 seconds, and then a vicious crunch as the shell landed nearby.

After the fourth explosion, we headed to the makeshift field hospital to see what had happened. As I got out of the car, someone grabbed my hand and pulled me into a rudimentary emergency room.

There on a metal gurney was an elderly man, probably mid-60s, lying on his back, his face covered in dust, and his right leg blown off at the knee, a shredded flap of skin dangling from his bloodied stump.  The medical team looked resigned, and gave me vague shrugs that I took to indicate their impotence, or their familiarity with a scene like this. I looked at the old man lying on the table in front of them. He was semi-conscious and shivering. He died a few minutes later.

The man who had brought me in pulled at my sleeve and took me into the room next door. It was completely dark.  He flicked a switch on his cigarette lighter to produce a tiny torch light, and shone its weak beam into the room to reveal two badly injured men lying in the darkness. The nearest man was making a strange, hoarse, stuttering sound that I realized was his faltering breath. The second man was reaching out to the man lying next to him, his cousin it turned out, and was saying, in Arabic, “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah.” He wanted these to be his last words.

The quiet, dark horror of the scene froze me for a moment.  I asked myself, quite deliberately, if I realized what I was looking at. I found myself slipping into that weirdly safe mental space, a kind of filming autopilot. I took the lighter from my guide’s hand, and shone the torch beam onto the men in the dark. I concentrated on keeping the camera steady. I asked the people behind me to be quiet so I could get good, clean sound of the dying man’s last words.  I told myself I could think about it later.

Outside the hospital, a truck had pulled up with three mangled corpses in the back.  A crowd had gathered around it, but a path quickly opened up and I was pushed through to film the bodies. ”Film, film,” people around me urged. It was a horrendous sight, and I flicked the camera to automatic — I didn’t trust my reactions to this.

A man was standing in the truck, holding something up for me to film. The sun was in my eyes, and I couldn’t see. Then the man slipped into silhouette, to reveal the awful outline of a severed foot, dangling there in his hand, displayed as evidence. For a few seconds, I forgot to breathe.

By the second week, I could hardly sleep.  I lost all confidence in what I was doing. There was no privacy. I got the shits. I was bitten to pieces by mosquitoes. And I became increasingly aware of my split perspective on what I was seeing:  I’d experience total sensory and emotional overload, and then find myself thinking solely about framing or continuity, or about how this story would “work in the edit.”

It got worse.  One day, we heard we’d finally been granted an interview with Jamal Maarouf, the leader of the Martyrs of Syria Brigade, the most powerful rebel faction in the region.

We were summoned to  meet him in an anonymous house in the small village of Al-Bara, and I’d only just started filming when the house shook as a regime jet flew overhead, dropping the most almighty bomb on the village.  I was standing in the doorway trying to see the plane when the blast knocked me to the ground.  It had landed 300 meters away.  Even Jamal looked shocked.

8 comments ↪

If I ruled the world

I was asked by Osman Faruqi, editor of the University of New South Wales student newspaper Tharunka, to write a column:

The role of the US hegemony is over. Washington no longer controls the world by charm and force. It’s a multipolar planet with countless centres of power. Wouldn’t this be something to celebrate?

In theory, yes. But then, all of a sudden, in a long session of the United Nations Security Council, an Australian from Sydney is appointed to the new position of head chief to manage an unruly earth. Unlike the Secretary General, this individual wields real power to bring change.

That person is me. After thanking my parents and atheist deities, I give the following speech:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your belief in me. It is an honor to assume this position and I pledge to use it responsibly.

At this time in world history, it’s vital to speak truths that many of you will find unpalatable. The vision for a better world is easy to convey. Who doesn’t want a cleaner and safer planet for our children? But getting there is the challenge and, from today onwards, the following policies will be implemented with your generous consent.

The last centuries have seen countless countries commit genocide and gross human rights abuses. Without serious reparations for the crimes committed, from Britain in the Congo in the late 1800s, America through slavery and Australia’s treatment of its indigenous population, we will continue living in the shadow of these outrages. Without proper compensation for today’s generations, it is impossible to properly progress as a community.

All too often, our leaders talk about human rights as an abstract notion, without realising their populations recognise the hypocrisy at the heart of the pledge. Sales of deadly weapons to the world’s most despotic regimes have never been higher and this will stop. Today. Israel, America, Europe and other leading arms manufacturers will have to find new ways of making money, while nations such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia will no longer be able to repress their own people with guns assembled in the United States.

We have a responsibility as a connected world to not tolerate and enable injustice in one state while opposing it elsewhere. Applying international law and holding power to account, whether these officials or governments are sitting in Washington, London, Canberra, Tel Aviv, Kigali or Beijing, must be central in the 21st century. Accountability will be served if Syria’s Bashar al-Assad appears in the Hague alongside George W. Bush and Tony Blair.

A just planet also means a sustainable earth. Climate change is real and worsening. Renewable energy sources will be used in all nations as soon as is humanely position. This will, once and for all, reduce the reliance on dirty fossil fuels that are already causing severe health problems in China and extreme weather patterns in Australia, Antarctica, Africa and South America.

Closer to home, Australia’s two-party system is crumbling under its own internal contradictions. With minor differences between Labor and Liberal, and the Greens struggling to assume a larger political role, we should encourage smaller groups, such as the Wikileaks Party and Pirate Party, to oppose the growing surveillance state.

Tackling the world’s most serious issues requires a robust and diverse media. No one media owner will be allowed to own more than 50 per cent of newspapers, television, online or other sources. Tax breaks will be given to assist new ventures get heard above the often toxic and belligerent mainstream press.

I have only touched on some subjects that I believe must be addressed for the 21st century to avoid the human catastrophes that befall the 20th century. Undoubtedly, you will all have other ideas. My door is always open.

As an atheist Jew, I wish you all the best in your endeavours.”

Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney-based independent freelance journalist, author, documentarian, photographer and blogger. He is the author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution
3 comments ↪

Daily brutality in Syria’s Aleppo

Remarkable footage by German filmmaker Marcel Mettelsiefen for Britain’s Channel 4:

7 comments ↪

Lest we forget who led coalition of fools into Iraq

Today, the 10 year anniversary of the disastrous Iraq invasion, is time for reflection, anger and honesty. Too many politicians, journalists and war mongers want to forget. We should not allow it. Medialens is right:

What was truly shocking in March 2003 was that Blair was able to weave this obvious web of deceit and be greeted, not even with whispers of dissent, but with thunderous applause and praise by the political-media ‘club’.

It was this appalling speech that had ‘helped to restore the integrity of parliament’, according to the anti-war Mirror. Blair’s ‘patent sincerity has impressed, banishing his reputation as a fickle politician without convictions’, according to the Independent. And yet, for any rational viewer or reader, the cynicism, and the silence about that cynicism, was jaw-dropping.

Much has been made of different newspapers being ‘for’ and ‘against’ the war in Iraq. But in fact all newspapers and broadcasters failed to raise even the most obvious objections to the case for believing the war was necessary, legal or moral. In March 2003, the way journalists feign fierce dissent while tossing feeble challenges for political executives, fellow ‘club’ members, to swat away, had never been more obvious.

The Iraq war showed how the ‘free press’ is structurally hard-wired not to obstruct US and UK regimes bent on war. The corporate media – entrenched in the irrational and dangerous assumption that it should accept frameworks of debate laid down by ‘mainstream’ political parties – took key illusions seriously. As a result, the fraudulent discussion about Iraqi WMD raged on and on with the real world left far behind.

And this was no passive media ‘failure’; it was an active, resilient determination to promote ‘the view from Downing Street’ and Washington. In 2002 and 2003, hundreds of Media Lens readers and other media activists – including journalists, academics, lawyers and authors – sent many hundreds of rational, referenced emails to newspapers and TV stations. Time and again, their crucial evidence and sources were simply ignored. The idea that coverage of the Iraq war represented a terrible ‘failure’ for the corporate media is an exact reversal of the truth. Iraq was a good example of how these media consistently excel in their structural role as defenders of powerful interests.

The real ‘failure’ was the emergence of undeniable evidence that the media had all along been boosting Bush-Blair lies. But even this would have mattered little in the absence of Iraqi resistance and the vast death toll generated by the US determination to divide and conquer that resistance. If Iraqis had quietly accepted the conquest, the talk would not have been of ‘media failure’ but of ‘humanitarian success’, with all criticism dismissed as ‘carping’. This was indicated very clearly by the BBC’s then political editor Andrew Marr in April 2003, when he commented that the quick ‘fall’ of Baghdad, with Iraqis ‘celebrating’, had put an end to all ‘these slightly tawdry arguments and scandals. That is now history’. (Marr, BBC 1 News at Ten, April 9, 2003)

It is a bitter, even surreal, irony that the media ‘failure’ on Iraq is being lamented by journalists who have since repeated the same performance on LibyaSyriaIsrael-PalestineIranVenezuelaWikiLeaksclimate change, and much else besides.

33 comments ↪

The rising Salafist movement in Gaza

Asmaa al-Ghoul is a journalist and writer from the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza. Here she reports for Al-Monitor on the Islamist movements inside the occupied territory:

I managed to reach the house of one of the jihadist Salafist leaders in the Gaza Strip. The Hamas-led Gaza government had imposed limitations on most jihadist Salafist leaders following the Ibn Taymiya Mosque incidents in Rafah at the end of 2009, when its security forces killed 28 jihadists after their leader, Abdel Latif Moussa, declared the Islamic caliphate. Salafist jihadism in the Gaza Strip is an international movement that promotes armed jihad against the ruling Arab and foreign governments.

The only way to reach the house of the leader, who was forbidden from talking to the press, was by being disguised as a devout woman. Then I revealed my identity as a journalist, after which the Salafist leader’s family kicked me out. However, he explained why the members of the movement had moved to Syria to fight, saying, “They moved to Syria because the jihad door in the Gaza Strip was closed, and the situation was not taken into consideration, contrary to Syria, where it is open to jihad and to fighting the enemy.” He refused to define what he means by enemy, and he noted that after he was locked up more than once in the aftermath of Ibn Taymiya Mosque incident, he sought to live a simple life and to keep his jihad mission and vocation as a member of the Salafist jihad between God and himself.

When asked if he is considering going to Syria himself, should he get the chance, he replied, “I prefer to keep this to myself.” Regarding the movement’s connection with al-Qaeda, the leader said that both organizations share the same approach, which calls for unity and jihad in the name of God, adding that only their names differ. Moreover, he said what differentiates them from other Salafism movements is that they abide by the religion as a whole, following the ideology of Sheikh Muhammad al-Maqdisi.

Despite his reluctance to talk or to disclose the number of militants from Gaza in Syria, he ultimately provided some information about their presence and efforts against the regime in Syria, independent of the Free Syrian Army. The militants joined Jabhat al-Nusra, which was formed in 2011 in Syria and was classified by the US as a terrorist organization.

4 comments ↪

Inside the mind of Hamas leader Khalid Mishal

Australian journalist Paul McGeough travels to Doha, Qatar for Fairfax Media to interview the Hamas head. What follows is a fascinating discussion about the future of Palestine. Read the whole thing. What remains deeply concerning is the apparent desire of Hamas to embrace the failed two-state equation that will never happen in reality with any justice:

The Hamas leader doesn’t like the term, but in coming to that edge, Mishal has been burning bridges. Incredibly, Hamas has quit Damascus. The Syrian capital became the movement’s headquarters in exile after Jordan’s naive new king, Abdullah II, cast out the Hamas gang in 1999. As an Islamist organisation rooted in the then sinister-sounding Muslim Brotherhood, the movement was alert to the possibility that Damascus could turn on it – the Assad regime had done so brutally in 1982, virtually flattening the city of Hama to choke a brotherhood uprising.

But Hamas had nowhere else to go. And locked in its own conflict with Israel, the ruling Assad family saw strategic good sense in giving shelter to what were called the ”rejectionist” Palestinian factions – those who refused to buy in to the Washington-backed peace process.

This Assad-Hamas relationship was a pact between a minority, Shiite-aligned dictatorship and a Sunni resistance movement. It endured despite the re-emergence of the Sunni-Shiite schism in the Muslim world, but it could not survive the Arab Spring, which has embroiled Syria in sectarian chaos, with an estimated 70,000 civilians dying.

As the Hamas leader tells it, even before the first protests erupted in Syria in March 2011, he had urged the mercurial Bashar al-Assad to opt for reforms that might head off any revolt by his own people. ”I alerted him to the likelihood of the Arab Spring coming to Syria,” Mishal says, adding by way of a rebuke to the translator: ”I did not warn him.”

Hamas hung in for another 10 months. But that encounter in which Mishal urged Assad to act pre-emptively, was their last. Over the years, they had met regularly, enjoying each other’s company. ”There were no more meetings,” says Mishal. ”It was clear that we differed in our opinions on what would happen. We wished they would meet the aspirations of their people – regrettably, the Syrian leadership took the other option.

”That made it impossible for us to maintain a presence there – with such brutality and bloodshed. And once we felt our presence was being sought after as a justification for what was happening, we had to leave. [Syrian officials] were demanding that we openly support their policy – they wanted to know why we did not [publicly] express solidarity. We were left with no choice.”

This was bigger than merely offending an embattled dictator, because other powerful parties would take deep offence at Hamas abandoning Assad. Guardedly, Mishal lifts the veil, ever so slightly: ”Our assessment of Syria was a source of disagreement with a number of people.”

Hamas’ abandonment of Syria ”soured” the movement’s relations with Tehran, he confirms. There were ”areas of agreement and disagreement” with Moscow and ”it had an impact on our relations with [the Lebanese Shiite militia] Hezbollah, because our stand on Syria was different to theirs”.

After reports that Tehran had punished Hamas by chopping a funding deal worth an estimated $25 million a month, a movement spokesman in Gaza said Hamas would not do the bidding of the Iranians in any military conflict between Iran and Israel: ”If there’s a war between two powers, Hamas will not be part of such a war.”

During more than six hours of interviews with Fairfax Media in Doha, Mishal sets out the departure from Syria only in terms of needing to be on the right side of history: ”We had to stand with the people, to support their calls for freedom and economic reform … we would never support bloodshed and brutality when the people rise peacefully to demand change.”

Mishal has announced he is quitting as supreme leader of Hamas – his replacement could be confirmed by a vote of the Hamas shura, or top council, any day now. But Fairfax Media was assured, too, that Mishal aspires to a bigger brief, as leader for all Palestinians.
By coincidence, the 74-year-old Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says he will not seek re-election as head of the Palestinian Authority – although it’s not clear if he also intends to relinquish his posts as head of Fatah and of the PLO. There is speculation – read that as hope – in some Palestinian circles and in Israel and Washington that Abbas, jaded as he is, might not follow through on quitting the PA.

Unlike Mishal, Abbas is seen as a moderate, a staunch advocate of non-violent negotiation with Israel who only recently has revealed himself capable of independent or determined action – such as his bid for Palestinian membership of the UN and his faction’s in-principle agreement to join Hamas in a new unity government.

Historically, Hamas has spurned the PLO because of the latter’s renunciation of armed struggle and its recognition of the state of Israel. Hamas and Fatah fought a bloody civil war in 2007 – when a Fatah force failed dismally in a bid to dislodge Hamas from the Gaza Strip, despite arms, funding and co-operation from the US and Israel. Under Israeli occupation, in the case of Fatah in the West Bank, and locked in by Israeli forces, in the case of Hamas in Gaza, the factions have been at daggers-drawn since. But in renewed unity talks sponsored by the new Cairo regime, they have agreed in principle that Hamas will join the PLO.

PLO membership for Hamas would serve as a launch pad for Mishal to seek to head the PLO. Given the enmity between the factions, it comes as no surprise that the latest round of unity negotiations, in Cairo in mid-February, is deadlocked on the issue of election rules that would determine the degree of difficulty for Mishal to take leadership of the PLO.

There’s a question here, too: if Hamas folds itself into the PLO and Mishal makes a bid for the top seat, how does the movement stick to its refusal to abide by previous deals between the PLO and the international community? Some Arab-language media reports speculate that Qatar and others have hit on installing Mishal as leader of the PLO precisely because such an appointment would back him in behind those deals.

7 comments ↪

How should editors act towards photographers and journalists in a time of war?

An interesting development that brings a necessary discussion about how the media should report a conflict. Surely it’s vital for a readership to know what’s happening inside Syria. The question is how those details are gained. Via the UK Press Gazette:

A British war photographer has been told not to submit his pictures from the Syria war zone to The Sunday Times because they “do not wish to encourage freelancers to take exceptional risks”.

After submitting pictures from Aleppo this week Rick Findler was told by the foreign desk that “it looks like you have done some exceptional work” but “we have a policy of not taking copy from Syria as we believe the dangers of operating there are too great”.

Findler, 28, has been published before in The Sunday Times and has been to Iraq, twice, Libya and this is his third trip to Syria.

He said: “Surely it is that photographer’s decision to choose whether or not they take the risks.

“I thought part of photography was the fact that some people in this world do take exceptional risks to show the rest of the world what is happening.

“I just don’t know what else to do any more. I really feel disheartened and extremely let down.”

Vice chairman of the British Press Photographer’s Association Eddie Mulholland said: “I agree that ideally this is staffman’s job.

“The backup of a large organisation that can pull out all the stops for you if things go wrong is certainly preferable.

“But I totally understand why Rick does it. I did the same without any cover as did lots of my contemporaries.

“And one advantage of a young keen freelance is that he or she may not have the family commitments of an older staffer. The same reason we put our young, fit men into the army.”

Telegraph photographer Warren Allott thinks the problem of taking freelance copy may not be confined to The Sunday Times.

“I’ve just come back from Syria, and would be hesitant to go back again at this stage.

“To get to the frontline you have to pass through many small towns. Each is controlled by a different group.

“Many of these gangs go in for kidnapping and a Western journalist is seen as top prize.

“They get hold of you, sell you to another group, maybe an Al Qaeda team, who then demand a huge ransom.

“If you are attached to a newspaper then it’s their responsibility to get you out. They understand that risk before they send you and send in a crack team to get you out or pay them off.

“But I heard a rumour that a freelance who’d submitted copy to another broadsheet and, then got kidnapped, claimed to be working for them. This caused the paper enormous problems and now they are steering clear of freelance copy.”

Asked to explain The Sunday Times policy deputy foreign editor Graeme Paterson said: “In the light of what happened to Marie Colvin we have decided we do not want to commission any journalists to cover the situation in Syria.

“And we take the same view regarding freelancers speccing in material. Even if they have returned home safely.

“This is because it could be seen as encouragement go out and take unnecessary risks in the future.

“The situation out there is incredibly risky. And we do not want to see any more bloodshed. There has been far too much already.”

“We have had our own staff journalists out there, so it’s not that we do not want to cover the story. We know that’s important.”

He added: “As far as I know we have not been advised to do this by our lawyers. This is not a financial decision. It is a moral one.”

2 comments ↪

ABCTV News24′s The Drum on sexism, Syria and divestment

I appeared tonight on ABCTV News24′s The Drum (video here), alongside Rowan Dean and Jacqueline Maley, talking about a range of political issues.

I argued that it was legitimate for pension funds to divest from organisations or companies that go against people’s morality such as big tobacco, the thuggish Murdoch empire or fossil fuels (quoting the 350.org campaign).

The Gillard government’s campaign against sexism and misogyny is a little rich, I said, if one actually looks at its policies towards women here and overseas, not least in a place like Afghanistan where we’re backing the worst kind of warlords. So women friendly.

When discussing Syria, it’s important to not over-simplify the conflict between “good” rebels and “bad” government as the situation is very complex. Undoubtedly the government is committing war crimes but the so-called opposition is often instituting a brutal form of sharia. Outside intervention is causing a disaster and President Assad may have life in him yet.

DRMs_Program_1001_512k (full video of the program)

7 comments ↪

Rise of Sunnis in the Middle East and the decline of Iran in 2013

Juan Cole offers some predictions:

2013 will see Iranian influence in the Middle East continue a decline that began with the Arab upheavals of 2011. Iran’s two major allies in the Arab world are Syria and Lebanon. In Lebanon, Iran arms the Shiite party-militia Hizbullah, and does so overland through Iraq and Syria. Since Israel controls the Mediterranean off Lebanon and can, when it wants to, control Lebanese air space, the land corridor for Iranian supplies to Hizbullah is key to the latter’s ability to confront Israeli expansionism into Lebanese territory.

Hizbullah could well have its Iranian lifeline cut. Its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrullah, has come out strongly in favor of the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, because both of them are Iranian clients. If Syria falls to the Sunni Arab revolutionaries, the latter will have a grudge toward both Iran and Hizbullah for supporting the Baath government, and will likely cut the latter off from resupply through Syrian territory. Instead, Syrian support will go to the Sunnis of Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli, Akkar and the Biqa Valley.

Between 2003 and 2012 the United States, in a fit of absent-mindedness, made Iran a regional hegemon. Washington overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan and delivered it into the hands of the Northern Alliance, a set of strong Iran allies. A brake on Iranian influence in Afghanistan was removed. Then the Bush administration overthrew Saddam Hussein, the Sunni ruler who subjected the Shiite majority and stood as a barrier to Iranian penetration of the Middle East. Without meaning to, the US brought to power a religious Shiite government that naturally allied with Iran. Then the US Congress targeted Syria for deep sanctions and the Bush hawks drove it firmly into the arms of Iran. The Bush administration backed Israel’s attack on Lebanon in 2006, which strengthened the Shiite party-militia Hizbullah, which now is a key backer of the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Miqati. The pro-Iran capitals stretched from Kabul to Beirut (light blue in the map below), and Iran suddenly became a much bigger player in Levantine affairs than it had been in the 1990s. The Israeli security establishment, indeed, fingered Tehran as their most pressing threat. Iran was lionized in the Arab world for supporting Hizbullah against Israel in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War.

If al-Assad falls in Syria and is replaced by a Sunni government of revolutionaries, they will be beholden to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey (and Libya), all of them Wahhabi or Sunni powers. They will likely punish Hizbullah for its support of the Baath government, and will support Sunni forces, including the Muslim Brotherhood, in Lebanese politics. If Hizbullah can’t replenish its stock of rockets, its geopolitical significance could decline, even as that of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood rises. The partitions in the following map, of Iraq and Afghanistan, are meant only to depict the regional divide over foreign policy, not to suggest an actual break-up of these countries (but who knows?)

9 comments ↪

Daily desperation in Aleppo

2 comments ↪