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OPINION: The Paris Killings – A Fatal Trap for Europe

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the wave of indignation aroused by last week’s terrorist attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo runs the risk of playing into the hands of radical Muslims and unleashing a deadly worldwide confrontation.

ROME, Jan 12 2015 (IPS) – It is sad to see how a continent that was one cradle of civilisation is running blindly into a trap, the trap of a holy war with Islam – and that six Muslim terrorists were sufficient to bring that about.

It is time to get out of the comprehensible “We are All Charlie Hebdo” wave, to look into facts, and to understand that we are playing into the hands of a few extremists, and equating ourselves with them. The radicalisation of the conflict between the West and Islam is going to carry with it terrible consequences

Roberto Savio

The first fact is that Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with 1.6 billion practitioners, that Muslims are the majority in 49 countries of the world and that they account for 23 percent of humankind. Of these 1.6 billion, only 317 million are Arabs. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) live in the Asia-Pacific region; in fact, more Muslims live in India and Pakistan (344 million combined). Indonesia alone has 209 million.

A Pew Research Center report on the Muslim world also inform us that it is in South Asia that Muslims are more radical in terms of observance and views. In that region, those in favour of severe corporal punishment for criminals are 81 percent, compared with 57 percent in the Middle East and North Africa, while those in favour of executing those who leave Islam are 76 percent in South Asia, compared with 56 percent in the Middle East.

Therefore, it is obvious that it is the history of the Middle East which brings the specificity of the Arabs to the conflict with the West. And here are the main four reasons.

“We are falling into a deadly trap, and doing exactly what the radical Muslims want: engaging in a holy war against Islam, so that the immense majority of moderate Muslims will be pushed to take up arms … instead of a strategy of isolation, we are engaging in a policy of confrontation”

First, all the Arab countries are artificial creations. In May 1916, Monsieur François Georges-Picot for France and Sir Mark Sykes for Britain met and agreed on a secret treaty, with the support of the Russian Empire and the Italian Kingdom, on how to carve up the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War.

Thus the Arab countries of today were born as the result of a division by France and Britain with no consideration for ethnic and religious realities or for history. A few of those countries, like Egypt, had an historical identity, but countries like Iraq, Arabia Saudi, Jordan, or even the Arab Emirates, lacked even that. It is worth remembering that the Kurdish issue of 30 million people divided among four countries was created by European powers.

As a consequence, the second reason. The colonial powers installed kings and sheiks in the countries that they created. To run these artificial countries, strong hands were required. So, from the very beginning, there was a total lack of participation of the people, with a political system which was totally out of sync with the process of democracy which was happening in Europe. With European blessing, these countries were frozen in feudal times.

As for the third reason, the European powers never made any investment in industrial development, or real development. The exploitation of petrol was in the hands of foreign companies and only after the end of the Second World War, and the ensuing process of decolonisation, did oil revenues really come into local hands.

When the colonial powers left, the Arab countries had no modern political system, no modern infrastructure, no local management.

Finally, the fourth reason, which is closer to our days. In states which did not provide education and health for their citizens, Muslim piety took on the task of providing what the state was not providing. So large networks of religious schools and hospital were created and, when elections were finally permitted, these became the basis for legitimacy and the vote for Muslim parties.

This is why, just taking the example of two important countries, Islamist parties won in Egypt and Algeria, and how with the acquiescence of the West, military coups were the only resort to stopping them.

This compression of so many decades into a few lines is of course superficial and leaves out many other issues. But this brutally abridged historical process is useful for understanding how anger and frustration is now all over the Middle East, and how this leads to the attraction to the Islamic State (IS) in poor sectors.

We should not forget that this historical background, even if remote for young people, is kept alive by Israel’s domination of the Palestinian people. The blind support of the West, especially of the United States, for Israel is seen by Arabs as a permanent humiliation, and Israel’s continuous expansion of settlements clearly eliminates the possibility of a viable Palestinian State.

The July-August bombing of Gaza, with just some noises of protest from the West but no real action, is for the Arab world clear proof that the intention is to keep Arabs down and seek alliances only with corrupt and delegitimised rulers who should be swept away. And the continuous Western intervention in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and the drones bombing everywhere, are widely perceived among the 1.6 billion that the West is historically engaged in keeping Islam down, as the Pew report noted.

We should also remember that Islam has several internal divisions, of which the Sunni-Shiite divide is just the largest. But while in the Arab region at least 40 percent of Sunni do not recognise a Shiite as a fellow Muslim, outside the region this tends to disappear, In Indonesia only 26 percent identify themselves as Sunni, with 56 percent identifying themselves as “just Muslim”.

In the Arab world, only in Iraq and Lebanon, where the two communities lived side by side, does a large majority of Sunni recognise Shiites as fellow Muslims. The fact that Shiites, who account for just 13 percent of Muslims, are the large majority in Iran, and the Sunni the large majority in Saudi Arabia explains the ongoing internal conflict in the region, which is being stirred by the two respective leaders.

Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, then run by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (1966–2006), successfully deployed a policy of polarisation in Iraq, continuing attacks on Shiites and provoking an ethnic cleansing of one million Sunnis from Baghdad. Now IS, the radical caliphate which is challenging the entire Arab world besides the West, is able to attract many Sunnis from Iraq which had suffered so many Shiite reprisals, that they sought the umbrella of the very group that had deliberately provoked the Shiites.

The fact it is that every day hundreds of Arabs die because of the internal conflict, a fate that does not affect the much larger Muslim community.

Now, all terrorist attacks in the West that have happened in Ottawa, in London, and now in Paris, have the same profile: a young man from the country in question, not someone from the Arab region, who was not at all religious during his teenage years, someone who somehow drifted, did not find a job, and was a loner. In nearly all cases, someone who had already had something to do with the judicial system.

Only in the last few years had he become converted to Islam and accepted the calls from IS for killing infidels. He felt that with this he would find a justification to his life, he would become a martyr, a somebody in another world, removed from a life in which there was no real bright future.

The reaction to all this has been a campaign in the West again Islam. The latest number of the New Yorkerpublished a strong article defining Islam not as a religion but as an ideology. In Italy, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing and anti-immigrant Lega Nord has publicly condemned the Pope for engaging Islam in dialogue, and conservative Italian pundit Giuliano Ferrara declared on TV that ”we are in a Holy War”.

The overall European (and U.S.) reaction has been to denounce the Paris killings as the result of a “deadly ideology”, as President François Hollande called it.

It is certainly a sign of the anti-Muslim tide that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was obliged to take a position against the recent marches in Dresden (Muslim population 2 percent), organised by the populist movement Pegida (the German acronym for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West”). The marches were basically directed against the 200,000 asylum seekers, most of them from Iraq and Syria, whose primary intention, according to Pegida, was not to escape war.

Studies from all over Europe show that the immense majority of immigrants have successfully integrated with their host economies. United Nations studies also show that Europe, with its demographic decline, requires at least 20 million immigrants by 2050 if it wants to remain viable in welfare practices, and competitive in the world. Yet, what are we getting everywhere?

Xenophobic, right-wing parties in every country of Europe, able to make the Swedish government resign, conditioning the governments of United Kingdom, Denmark and Nederland, and looking poised to win the next elections in France.

It should be added that, while what happened in Paris was of course a heinous crime, and while expression of any opinion is essential for democracy, very few have ever seen Charlie Hebdo and its level of provocation. Especially because in 2008, as Tariq Ramadan pointed out in The Guardian of Jan. 10, Charlie Hebdo fired a cartoonist who had joke about a Jewish link to the French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s son.

Charlie Hebdo was a voice defending the superiority of France and its cultural supremacy in the world, and had a small readership, which it obtained by selling provocation – exactly the opposite of the view of a world based on respect and cooperation among different cultures and religions.

So now we are all Charlie, as everybody is saying. But to radicalise the clash between the two largest religions of the world is not a minor affair. We should fight terrorism, be it Muslim or not (let us not forget that a Norwegian, Anders Behring Breivik, who wanted to keep his country free of Muslim penetration, killed 91 of his co-citizens).

But we are falling into a deadly trap, and doing exactly what the radical Muslims want: engaging in a holy war against Islam, so that the immense majority of moderate Muslims will be pushed to take up arms.

The fact that European right-wing parties will reap the benefit of this radicalisation goes down very well for the radical Muslims. They dream of a world fight, in which they will make Islam – and not just any Islam, but their interpretation of Sunnism – the sole religion. Instead of a strategy of isolation, we are engaging in a policy of confrontation.

And, apart from September 11 in New York, the losses of life have been miniscule compared with what is going on in the Arab world, where just in one country – Syria – 50,000 people lost their lives last year.

How can we so blindly fall into the trap without realising that we are creating a terrible clash all over the world? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 
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Witch Hunt’: Fired MSNBC Contributor Speaks Out on Suppression of Israel-Palestine Debate

Max Blumenthal

MSNBC contributor Rula Jebreal’s on-air protest of the network’s slanted coverage of Israel’s ongoing assault on the Gaza Strip has brought media suppression of the Israel-Palestine debate into sharp focus. Punished for her act of dissent with the cancellation of all future appearances and the termination of her contract, Jebreal spoke to me about what prompted her to speak out and why MSNBC was presenting such a distorted view of the crisis.

“I couldn’t stay silent after seeing the amount of airtime given to Israeli politicians versus Palestinians,” Jebreal told me. “They say we are balanced but their idea of balance is 90 percent Israeli guests and 10 percent Palestinians. This kind of media is what leads to the failing policies that we see in Gaza.”

She continued, “We as journalists are there to afflict the comfortable and who is comfortable in this case? Who is really endangering both sides and harming American interests in the region? It’s those enforcing the status quo of the siege of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank.”

Jebreal said that in her two years as an MSNBC contributor, she had protested the network’s slanted coverage repeatedly in private conversations with producers. “I told them we have a serious issue here,” she explained. “But everybody’s intimidated by this pressure and if it’s not direct then it becomes self-censorship.”

With her criticism of her employer’s editorial line, she has become the latest casualty of the pro-Israel pressure. “I have been told to my face that I wasn’t invited on to shows because I was Palestinian,” Jebreal remarked. “I didn’t believe it at the time. Now I believe it.”

An NBC producer speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed Jebreal’s account, describing to me a top-down intimidation campaign aimed at presenting an Israeli-centric view of the attack on the Gaza Strip. The NBC producer told me that MSNBC President Phil Griffin and NBC executives are micromanaging coverage of the crisis, closely monitoring contributors’ social media accounts and engaging in a “witch hunt” against anyone who strays from the official line.

“Loyalties are now being openly questioned,” the producer commented.

The suppression campaign culminated after Jebreal’s on-air protest during a July 21 segment on Ronan Farrow Daily.

“We are disgustingly biased on this issue. Look at how much airtime Netanyahu and his folks have on air on a daily basis, Andrea Mitchell and others,” Jebreal complained to Farrow. “I never see one Palestinian being interviewed on these same issues.”

When Farrow claimed that the network had featured other voices, Jebreal shot back, “Maybe for thirty seconds, and then you have twenty-five minutes for Bibi Netanyahu.”

Within hours, all of Jebreal’s future bookings were cancelled and the renewal of her contract was off the table. The following day, Jebreal tweeted: “My forthcoming TV appearances have been cancelled. Is there a connection to my expose and the cancellation?”

Jebreal is the author of Miral, a memoir about her coming of age in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Her former partner, Jewish-American filmmaker and artist Julian Schnabel, adapted the book into full length film. A widely published journalist and former news presenter in Italy, Jebreal was a vocal supporter of the now-extinct peace process and a harsh critic of Islamist groups including Hamas. Her termination leaves NBC without any Palestinian contributors.

According to the NBC producer, MSNBC show teams were livid that they had been forced by management to cancel Jebreal as punishment for her act of dissent.

At the same time, social media erupted in protest of Jebreal’s cancellation, forcing the network into damage control mode. The role of clean-up man fell to Chris Hayes, the only MSNBC host with a reputation for attempting a balanced discussion of Israel-Palestine. On the July 22 episodeof his show, All In, he brought Jebreal on to discuss her on-air protest.

In introducing Jebreal, Hayes took on the role of the industry and network defender: “Let me take you behind the curtain of cable news business for a moment,” Hayes told his viewers. “If you appear on a cable news network, you trash that network and one of its hosts by name, on any issue — Gaza, infrastructure spending, sports coverage, funny internet cat videos — the folks at the network will not take kindly to it.”

In fact, MSNBC Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough has publicly attacked fellow MSNBC hosts and slammed the network for its support for the Democratic Party.

“I did not think that i was stepping in a hornet’s nest,” Jebreal told me. “I saw Joe Scarborough criticizing the network. I thought we were liberal enough to stand self criticism.”

Yet when she appeared across from Hayes, Jebreal encountered a defensive host shielding his employers from her criticism. “We’re actually doing a pretty good job” of covering the Israel-Palestine crisis, Hayes claimed to her. “I think our network, and I think the New York Times and the media all around, have been doing a much better job on this conflict.”

Jebreal appeared on screen as a “Palestinian journalist” — her title as a MSNBC contributor had been removed. When she insisted that American broadcast media had not provided adequate context about the 8-year-long Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip or the roots of Palestinian violence, Hayes protested that he had wanted to host Hamas officials alongside the Israeli government spokespeople he routinely featured but that it was practically impossible.

“Not all Palestinians are Hamas,” Jebreal vehemently replied.

“Airtime always strikes me as a bad metric,” Hayes responded. “I mean there are interviews and then there are interviews. I had [Israeli government spokesman] Mark Regev on this program for 16 minutes, alright? That’s a very long interview but there was a lot to talk to him about.”

The NBC producer remarked to me that the network’s public relations strategy had backfired. Hayes’ performance was poorly received on social media while Jebreal appeared as another maverick journalist outcasted by corporate media for delivering uncomfortable truths.

For her part, Jebreal told me she was disturbed by Hayes’ comments. “I admire that Chris [Hayes] wanted to have me on but it seems like he was condoning what happened to me,” she said. “He was saying, ‘What do you expect? We rally around our stars.’ Well, I rally around reality, if that still matters in media.”

Jebreal continued: “I didn’t tell him this on air but I said, ‘I hope you don’t condone other things the network did, like what happened with Ayman.’”

Jebreal was referring to NBC correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin and his sudden removal by the network from the Gaza Strip. Mohyeldin, a rising star in the network and its only Arab-American reporter in the region, was an eyewitness to the Israeli killing of four young boys who had been playing soccer on a beach near Gaza City.

Moments after the killings, Mohyeldin relayed intimate accounts of the scene through Twitter, then released harrowing footage of the boys’ mother wailing as she learned of their deaths. Oddly, NBC correspondent Richard Engel was summoned to deliver Mohyeldin’s package that evening.

The NBC producer told me that the network was deluged with angry letters and phone calls from pro-Israel activists about Mohyeldin’s reporting.

Hours later, Mohyeldin’s summary of the US State Department’s statement defending Israel’s actions disappeared from his Facebook and Twitter accounts. He had apparently been forced to delete the postings. Next, NBC removed Mohyeldin from Gaza, sending him out of the area on the first plane available.

To replace Mohyeldin, NBC dispatched Engel, a veteran foreign correspondent well-liked by top brass and regarded as the network’s “star.” Engel was the keynote speaker at a 2013 event at the Newseum in Washington DC honoring journalists killed that year. Under Israel lobby pressure, the Newseum had removed the names of three Palestinian journalists killed in targeting Israeli strikes during the November 2012 assault on Gaza, accepting claims by anti-Palestinian groups like the Anti-Defamation League that their employment by Hamas-affiliated outlets rendered them enemy combatants. During his speech, Engel carefully avoided condemning the Newseum for its capitulation.

The removal of Mohyeldin sparked an international backlash, with tens of thousands from around the world protesting the decision through viral Twitter hashtags like, #LetAymanReport and #FreeAyman. Two days later, an apparently chastened NBC returned Mohyeldin to the Gaza Strip, but the damage had been done.

Unwilling to explain its unusual actions, NBC left it up to media critics to guess at its motives. CNN Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter chalked up the removal of Mohyeldin to “infighting and bureaucracy,” claiming that NBC was concerned primarily with ratings. Glenn Greenwald, the editor-in-chief of the The Intercept, wrote that Mohyeldin was ordered out of Gaza by David Verdi, a top NBC executive, for political reasons — his reporting was deemed too sympathetic to Palestinians.

The NBC producer insisted that Greenwald’s account was the more accurate one. “Greenwald was right,” the producer told me. “And I hate to say that.”

For her part, Jebreal does not expect to be welcomed back on MSNBC again. “I’m done there,” she told me. “It’s not happening any more. My contract is over. I’m fine with it. I’m not complaining.”

She cited the distorted coverage of Israel-Palestine in American broadcast as the central reason behind the American public’s support for Israel’s assault on Gaza.

“I believe this is a shifting moment in history and we need to make a decison,” Jebreal said. “It’s easier when there’s Bridgegate but there is another gate: This is Mediagate and we need to begin to challenge our responsibilities.”

Max Blumenthal is a senior writer for AlterNet, and the author of Goliath and Republican Gomorrah (Basic/Nation Books, 2009). Find him on Twitter at @MaxBlumenthal.

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How Egypt’s New Regime is Silencing Civil Society

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Somewhere in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak must be smiling, knowing that three years after his downfall, he has won after all.

After three decades of muzzling civil society, of harassing, detaining and torturing political activists, scholars, journalists, lawyers, doctors and regular citizens of all stripes, Mubarak never was able to accomplish what the new regime has achieved in a matter of months.

Mubarak was never able to silence completely civil society. The judiciary rose up to check his periodic grabs to expand his power, frustrating his regime so much that in his last years, he collaborated with the military to set up an entirely separate system of military courts to try scholars, activists and others who spoke out in defiance.

All of that is gone now. In just one week, we have had a dizzying series of show trials and detentions.

In three cases, civilian judges handed down death sentences against large number of supporters of former Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s top religious figure. In another, three Al Jazeera English journalists were convicted of “falsifying news” and belonging to or assisting the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Finally, on Tuesday, 23 Egyptians were detained for a peaceful march to the presidential palace. The protesters were first attacked by groups of men in civilian clothes before they were arrested for violating the new Protest Law. Some may have been simply bystanders. One was a noted women’s rights activist who told friends she was arrested while buying water from a kiosk near the protests.

Egyptian defendants’ relatives mourn after Egypt court refers 638 Morsi supporters are sentenced to death sentence in the coutnry’s latest mass trial (Photo Credit: Ahmed Ismail/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images).

All of this is disturbing, but most of all the total failure of the judicial system to maintain any semblance of fair justice.

In the words of the Amnesty International trial observer, these trials were a “farcical spectacle.” Death penalties, we said, are now being issued “at a drop of a hat.” Journalists were “jailed for journalism.”

Some of the details resemble dark comedy. The low point of a bad week of the judiciary came in one of the death penalty cases, involving 683 defendants. As the judge listed the sentences, one of the defendants was first sentenced to death and then to 15 years in prison. Three days later, there’s still public confusion about which sentence he received.

A second man sentenced in a second death penalty case was a blind man who could not have possibly been involved in any political violence.

Egyptian relatives of supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi cry sitting outside the courthouse after the court ordered the execution of 529 Morsi supporters after only two hearings (Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images).

Piously, Egypt’s leaders deny any politicization of the judiciary. Responding to pleas from President Obama to release the journalists, Egypt’s new president Abdul el-Sisi, said on television that he wouldn’t dare interfere with the rulings because that doesn’t happen in Egypt.

It’s despicable that after this week President Sisi would celebrate “the independence” of the Egyptian judiciary. Egypt’s judicial system is broken and is no longer able to deliver justice.Its role now is to silence dissent.

That should be a matter of concern to the Egyptian president, but the judiciary’s failure is far too closely related to the expansion of the regime’s powers, its broad ability to silence all political activity, and the wide immunity its police, security and military forces have for any abuses.

This is a familiar pattern of abuses for Egypt. What’s new is now Egyptians can’t depend on the judiciary for the mildest of protections.

Take action to have Egyptian officials release all prisoners of conscience, squash the death sentences and end the use of the death penalty in all cases.

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