Thursday, July 20, 2017

Muslims return to CAR to find their homes are gone

Remember Daghestan, remember Chechnya during the Stalin era when hundreds of thousands of Muslims were ethnically cleansed from their native homelands to be settled in Siberia and other faraway territories on false charges of being collaborators for the Germans during World War 2? It took several decades before the Soviet government, under a new leadership, confessed to their crime and allowed the victims, or more properly their children and grandchildren, to return home. When they returned they found their homes seized and occupied by Christian Ossetians. And it has never been the same for those descendants of Stalin's victims. They continue to make headlines in the global press, sometimes in the wrong side of prevalent history of our time. It is a sad story!

We are seeing a repeat of the crime in Central African Republic. To find out more, read below or click here.
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Muslims return to CAR to find their homes are gone

Observers warn that if land and property are not returned, there will be no peace in the Central African Republic.

Bangui, Central African Republic - M Babakir Ali cuts a lonely figure sitting on a plastic chair outside a rundown cafe in the PK5 district of Bangui.
Once the owner of five houses and 18,000 square metres of land in the Foulbe district of Pk13, on the outskirts of Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, Ali is now reduced to a pair of jeans and a short white sleeved shirt. The thin vertical stripes are faintly visible beyond the creases. He is a refugee in his own city.
"I left for Chad in January 2014 because of what happened on the streets of Bangui," Ali says.
Ali says he watched as bodies of young Muslim men were dragged through the streets of the capital and then piled at a local mosque in what was to signal the changing fortunes for Muslims in the country.
He was right.
In early January, Muslims in the PK5, PK12, PK13 districts of Bangui were hunted down, mutilated, burned alive and left on the streets. Muslims in the towns of Bossangoa, Bozoum, Bouca, Yaloke, Mbaiki, Bossembele and others also fled, as Anti-balaka embarked on a reign of terror across the northwest and southwestern regions.
Ali gathered his family, and fled to neighbouring Chad, too.
With the unrest in Bangui lifting in 2016 as the country neared elections, he decided to come home.
But he knew he would face a new struggle on his return.
"I knew my houses and my land, that everything had been taken," 45-year-old Ali says. "I knew I would be coming back to nothing."
Ali speaks in short and abrupt sentences. The already battered plastic chair bends and shifts with his every gesture. There is a calm dissonance in his moist, jaundiced eyes even as he explains that his property was sold to a third party by a local chief.
"I am not the only one. So many from my district have returned, and have nowhere to go," Ali says, looking away.

'Exodus of historic proportions'

Thousands have been killed since the Central African Republic fell into a slow-churning civil war following a coup in 2013. Close to a million others fled their homes fearing catching a stray bullet or becoming the victims of targeted killings.
At first, when the Muslim-led Seleka rebels took Bangui, the Christian community was attacked.
Later, when Christians formed self-defence groups into what became known as the Anti-balaka, and many Seleka rebels disarmed, the Muslim minority was attacked.
Muslims were shunned, forced to flee into enclaves and displaced camps or into neighbouring Cameroon or Chad in a cascade of violence.
Amnesty International warned of "a Muslim exodus of historic proportions". And when the Muslims left, their homes, property and lands were confiscated, sold or occupied.
In June 2016, the country held presidential elections and a new government led by President Faustin-Archange Touadera was voted in. Security returned to the capital Bangui.
Under a sizeable UN peacekeeping force, many thousands of people like Ali began returning to districts in and around Bangui.
But many others refuse to come back, either out of fear or because they have no home to return to. One-fifth of the country's population is currently either displaced internally or abroad in neighbouring Chad, Cameroon or the Democratic Republic Congo.

Reclaiming property

Humanitarian organisations in Bangui are concerned that if left unresolved, unlawful and illegal occupation of homes or properties could easily become another driver of conflict in a country already overwhelmingly riveted on land, resources and power.
"Addressing housing, land and property is a crucial component of sustainable peacebuilding efforts," Ingrid Beauquis, spokesperson for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Bangui, says.
"If people displaced by violence cannot return to their communities, reclaim their property or relocate with the support of authorities, small conflicts over land may escalate to violence, communities may remain divided, and long-term stability may become impossible," Beauquis told Al Jazeera.
The NRC has been working with the local government in tackling what they call Housing, Land and Property (HLP) rights in an effort to facilitate the process of returning homes and land to the rightful owners. But results have varied.
For instance, out of the 475 cases the NRC is directly mediating, including illegal selling and occupation, destruction and encroachment of land or houses, just 18 cases have been successfully solved.
But resolving these cases is complicated.
For instance, Ali's family is one of 280 households who has been reportedly displaced in the PK13 district. Given the sensitivities of broaching an issue that encompasses theft, sectarianism and desperation, simply asking the new occupants to leave is not possible.
"Once we verify all 280 cases, the local community and local authorities will approach the secondary occupants," Beauquis says.
But amid mass displacement, insecurity and a crisis of authority, the government is simply unable to prioritise housing, land and property rights.
"We have to work with local leaders and movement on the cases is dependent on their willingness to push ahead with the cases." Jennifer Jecolia, a programme coordinator with the NRC, says.

Justice for social cohesion

Jean Emmanuel Gazanguenza's pinstripe suit hangs from his gaunt body. The mayor of Begoua or PK12, one of the 134 district of Bangui, chooses his words slowly and meticulously. His organised thoughts are a far cry from the chaos that is his desk: a melange of reports and loose papers, unopened envelopes, an assortment of plastic pink roses that remarkably match the surrounding four walls of his office.
Gazanguenza says that it was only a few months ago that he was displaced too, and that he only just moved back home and into his office.
He says that his office has identified 231 houses in his district that were sold illegally. A majority of which originally belonged to Muslims, he admits.
"Many regret what they did, because they never had issues before and they realise they got carried away in the chaos," he says.
Gazanguenza is clear that people will need to get their lot back.
"Else we will have a problem here," the mayor says slowly. "If people feel that there is impunity, then everyone will do what they like, and there will be revenge," he says, his hands slowly forming a steeple.
"Justice and reparation are necessary for social cohesion," he says.
But even he understands that this is easier said than done.
Part of the problem is many home or property owners, especially outside the capital Bangui, simply do not have title deeds.
If individual owners have the financial capability to approach the courts, the country's property law does not sufficiently protect the rights of the displaced to return to their property. In circumstances where title deeds or ownership cannot be established, the displaced have simply nowhere to turn.
According to the NRC, a new framework law on property is currently being drafted with the dual ambition of protecting the very particular rights of the displaced and helping to facilitate the resolution of future land or property conflicts.
But like so many other facets of CAR, law enforcement is likely to remain a major obstacle, especially outside the capital, the NRC says.
As it stands, the state starts and ends in Bangui. The countryside remains firmly within the ambit of armed groups. Groups belonging to the Seleka or Anti-balaka can be observed running towns and villages often in the full view of UN peacekeepers.
Even in Bangui, individuals who want their land back are most likely to find traction via the NRC or through their local mayors, who focus on discussions and negotiations in an effort to have secondary occupants give up the stolen property.
Forty-five-year-old M Osman from PK13 lost five of his houses in 2013. Osman is still not able to return to his properties because they have been occupied by people who were displaced by the violence themselves.
M Osman left for Chad in 2014 after his son-in-law was murdered. He subsequently returned two years later to find all his property had been taken [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]
In Osman's case, the NRC, together with the head of the district, approached the new residents and explained that the owner wanted to return. They agreed to leave. But Osman is still not convinced that the area is safe enough for Muslims to return. Until more Muslims return, he won't go back.
"I told them that I will give them one month notice before I want to move back," Osman told Al Jazeera. Until then, he will be living in the PK5 district.
It is not clear how much longer people will wait. Noumou Waziri, 60, an Imam who lost his home and his mosque in PK13 in 2014, says he continues to remind people to be patient.
"I tell them not to take revenge. I tell them that despite what has happened, we do not accept that people can take action in their own hands."
Ali agrees that vigilantism is not the solution, but his response is a little more cryptic.
"I came back because this is my home. I didn't want to live as a refugee," he says. "But if the land is not returned, it means we cannot live together."

Yemen: the other war ravaged country


Here are 3 news items about Yemen.
Yemen Policy Is Creating More Terrorists - argues Adil E. Shamoo and Bonnie Bricker.
The Saudi policy right from its inception has been criminal, and needs wholesale condemnation from the civilized world. Here is the link to read about latest Saudi crimes that killed 20 civilians in  South Yemen.
Buoyed by American support in recent years, like Myanmar, they are not allowing UN Aid Flight to Yemen. What a crime against humanity! Now the  Yemenis are finding Somalia, long a killing field because of Western influence in the horn of Africa, aided by Kenya, to be safer than their own country. This in spite of the sad fact that Somalia is facing its worst famine since 1945.

Massacre of Mosul revealed


More than 40,000 civilians were killed in the devastating battle to retake Mosul from Isis, according to intelligence reports revealed exclusively to The Independent – a death toll far higher than previous estimates.
To read more, click here.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Israel’s Secret Arab Allies

Israel’s Secret Arab Allies
TEL AVIV — United States and Israeli officials seem convinced that a regional peace agreement between Israel and the Arab world may be in the offing. On his recent trip to the Middle East, President Trump said that a “new level of partnership is possible and will happen — one that will bring greater safety to this region, greater security to the United States and greater prosperity to the world.” The main stumbling block remains the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an emotive issue that still carries strategic weight in Arab capitals. Yet the president isn’t completely wrong. Across the Middle East these days, often away from the headlines, Israel finds itself deeply involved in Arab wars.
The clearest manifestation of what is frequently called “the new Middle East” can be found in Syria. Mr. Trump himself infamously alluded to Israel’s strategic reach when he told visiting Russian diplomats about information obtained by covert Israeli intelligence operations against the Islamic State. According to subsequent reports, Israeli military intelligence had hacked into the computer networks of Islamic State bomb makers in Syria. A few weeks later, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel was intensifying its security and intelligence cooperation with Jordan in southern Syria to stave off Iranian gains in the area.
Israeli-Jordanian cooperation was not, in itself, news. Israel shipped Cobra attack helicopters to Jordan in 2015. And the Israeli government has had a policy, dating back to 1970, of buttressing Jordan’s stability. Yet there is a major United States-led coalition operation being run out of Jordan to support the various Syrian rebels groups. An open question is whether, or more likely how, Israel is now involved.
What’s no longer at question is the role Israel plays in its own border region with Syria. As recent reports have made clear, Israel has been working since at least last year to create a friendly “buffer zone” on the other side of the Golan Heights. A dedicated Israeli military unit acts as a liaison for civilian aid and basic foodstuffs going in, and wounded Syrians — including rebel fighters — coming out to Israeli hospitals. The Wall Street Journal reported in June that rebel commanders even claim they receive cash from Israel, which is used to pay salaries and purchase arms and ammunition. This “Good Neighborhood” policy, as it’s known in Israel, is aimed at persuading the local Syrian population to reject Iranian and Hezbollah entreaties.
From its southern border, Israel has assisted Egypt in its protracted counterinsurgency campaign against Sinai Province, the Islamic State’s local affiliate. Here, too, Israeli officials are circumspect about speaking openly on cooperation — and local media are, as in similar cases, often censored from reporting what they already know. High-level military coordination and intelligence sharing are givens. Yet according to a former senior Israeli official quoted by Bloomberg News, Israeli drones have over the past several years directly attacked militants in the Sinai Peninsula — with Egypt’s consent.
    
Israel has peace and diplomatic agreements with Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, so military ties with them may not come as a complete surprise. Less well known, however, is the increasingly close relationship with the Arab Gulf states, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Such ties are often referenced only obliquely by Israeli government ministers as “shared interests” in the security and intelligence realms against the common Iranian threat. Yet in recent years, reports have surfaced about clandestine meetings between Israeli intelligence chiefs and their Gulf counterparts. Meir Dagan, the former Mossad chief, allegedly traveled to Saudi Arabia in 2010 for secret talks about Iran’s nuclear program. Public encounters with retired Saudi Arabian officials are now commonplace, whether in Washington, Munich or even Jerusalem. Business ties are growing, too, including the sale of Israeli agriculture but also cyber, intelligence and homeland security technology to the Gulf (usually through third parties).
Taken as a whole, Israeli activities in Syria, Jordan, the West Bank, Egypt and the Gulf can no longer be viewed in isolation from one another. Rather, Israel is now involved in the Arab world’s military campaigns — against both Iran and its proxies, as well as against the Islamic State. It remains to be seen whether this is merely a temporary marriage of convenience against common foes or the start of an enduring strategic realignment.
Regardless, it is likely to last for some time. The region’s wars show no sign of abating in the near future. At the very least, Israel is no longer viewed as the central problem plaguing the Middle East. For this reason, Mr. Trump urged the Arab states to “recognize the vital role of the state of Israel” in the region’s affairs. Absent significant movement on the Palestinian front, this new Israeli role isn’t likely to bring a full and public normalization of relations or an end to the region’s conflict. But it may help win the current wars, and with it, a semblance of Middle East peace.
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Saudi King’s Son Plotted Effort to Oust His Rival

As next in line to be king of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Nayef was unaccustomed to being told what to do. Then, one night in June, he was summoned to a palace in Mecca, held against his will and pressured for hours to give up his claim to the throne.
By dawn, he had given in, and Saudi Arabia woke to the news that it had a new crown prince: the king’s 31-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman.
The young prince’s supporters have lauded his elevation as the seamless empowerment of an ambitious leader. But since he was promoted on June 21, indications have emerged that Mohammed bin Salman plotted the ouster and that the transition was rockier than has been publicly portrayed, according to current and former United States officials and associates of the royal family.
Mohammed bin Nayef had been confined to his palace, United States officials and associates of senior royals have provided similar accounts of how the elder prince was pressured to step aside by the younger one
To read the full news, click here.

Secretary Tillerson, It’s Time to Phone Iran, writes Trita Parsi

When ten American sailors found themselves captives of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps in the Persian Gulf last year, then-Secretary John Kerry secured their freedom in less than sixteen hours. He used a remarkable instrument to score this stunning victory: A telephone.
Within hours of their capture, Kerry had his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, on the line. They spoke five times that evening, but they already had a deal by the second call. The subsequent conversations served to handle logistical issues and resolve problems and misunderstandings that arose along the way.
For instance, at one point U.S. Navy ships and helicopters were approaching the Iranian island where the sailors were kept. “Please tell your navy not to get close,” Zarif told Kerry, his tone revealing the urgency of the matter. “We don’t want a military confrontation. But if your planes get close, we will have serious trouble.” Kerry immediately hung up and called General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to urge him to pull back. “We’re risking potential escalation here,” Kerry told the general. “They were giving us positive indications that they are gonna release these guys, so we should back off the helicopters for now and test if this is real.” Dunford complied, and a dangerous confrontation was avoided. To prove that the sailors were safe, Zarif emailed a picture of them from his Gmail account to Kerry’s State Department email.
It had taken two years of intense discussions and negotiations for Kerry and Zarif to build the rapport that enabled them to so quickly resolve unforeseen crises such as that of the U.S. sailors. But once the channel of communications and the rapport had been established, its utility and efficiency was unquestionable. Indeed, the sailors’ incident could have ended up as another prolonged hostage crisis. Instead, most Americans have not even heard of their mishap.
Today, there are many unforeseen crises that risk bringing the U.S. and Iran—indeed, the entire Middle East—into direct confrontation. The U.S. and Iran have a shared interest in defeating ISIS in Iraq, but after the fall of Mosul, the balance of their interest may lead them in a more confrontational direction. A similar dynamic is playing out in Syria, where the U.S. already has shot down Iranian drones and bombed Iranian-sponsored groups. Moreover, tensions in the Persian Gulf are rising as Saudi Arabia appears to have received a green light from the Trump administration to double down on confrontation and bullying.
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had no illusions about the end goal of the Saudis. The Saudis always want to “fight the Iranians to the last American,” he told his French counterpart in 2010. Since then, the Saudi appetite for a U.S.-Iran war has only grown.  
Despite these hotspots, the Trump administration and Secretary Rex Tillerson have allowed the hotline with Tehran to go cold. Despite the significant risk of war, not a single phone call has taken place between Tillerson and Zarif. Not a single attempt at resolving the tensions diplomatically has been made.
When asked about diplomacy with Iran during his visit to the Saudi kingdom, Tillerson said that he had no plans to reach out to Iran, although he didn’t rule it out in the future.
That is simply not good enough. It is the foremost responsibility of the President and his administration to keep America safe and to only put American servicemen and women in harm’s way once all other options have been exhausted.
On both of these counts, the Trump administration doesn’t just fail, they fail abysmally because they haven’t even tried. The United States is about to sleepwalk into yet another devastating war in the Middle East without a debate as to whether such an escalation lies in the U.S.’s national interest, and without the Trump administration even giving lip service to diplomacy. Other potential foes in the world observe this behavior as they consider the payoff of peaceful engagement with the U.S. versus conflict. Do we want to send those actors the message that the U.S. shoots first and asks questions later?
The George W. Bush administration at least had the decency to lie to the American public when it sold the electorate the Iraq War. And however skewed and faulty, the Iraq War was preceded by a debate and a vote in Congress. Though President Bush eschewed diplomacy, he nevertheless presented a deeply flawed case as to why diplomacy no longer was an option. Trump and Tillerson simply don’t even bother.
The Trump administration’s recklessness is endangering America and putting American servicemen and women at risk. If Tillerson was supposed to be the adult in the room steering Trump in the right direction, he needs to start to act the part.
Before the escalation with Iran reaches a point of no return, diplomacy must be given a chance. That responsibility falls on Mr. Tillerson. The former Exxonmobil CEO has Zarif’s number. It’s time he places a call.
Trita Parsi is the author of Losing an Enemy – Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy. He is the president of the National Iranian American Council.

Hateful messages against Democratic candidate in Arizona is shameful

Republican Arizona Senator Jeff Flake has come to defend a woman who wants to unseat him after she received hateful messages about her Muslim religion. But the entire incident shows where America is heading. Bigotry is still a major threat to its so-called American characteristics that have denied the USA for decades. With the emergence of populist leaders like Trump in the USA and others like Le Pen in Europe, we are seeing resurrection of neo-fascism. It is sad and shameful.

Democratic candidate Deedra Abboud, 45, came under attack after she posted a campaign message on Facebook with an image of the US Constitution.
The post prompted an onslaught of cyberbullying, including comments about Ms Abboud's religion.
Mr Flake, 54, expressed his support for Ms Abboud on Twitter.
"Hang in there @deedra2018. Sorry you have to put up with this. Lots of wonderful people across AZ. You'll find them," he tweeted on Tuesday.
The senator also posted a link to an op-ed in The Arizona Republic calling out the online attack on Ms Abboud, which came after she posted a message about separation of church and state.
"Almost 250 years ago a group of dreamers came together and sketched out a revolutionary vision. No longer would they be shackled to the whims of a distant government, nor bound to the religion of an idiosyncratic king. They set out to forge their own futures, determine their own destinies, and follow their own faith," she wrote.
"In their infinite wisdom, the Founding Fathers decreed that this nation would separate church and state, and in doing so protect both institutions. Government would be free from religious overreach, and religion would be free from government interference."
Facebook users began flooding her page with comments saying there was "no room for Muslims in our government. Nice try though you are quoting the Muslim brotherhood".
Another user wrote: "Nice try but your first love is Satan (AKA Allah) and your second love is to a litter box your 'people' come from. You are as American as Chinese checkers."
"BAN ISLAM IN THE USA…WE HATE YOUR FILTHY DEATH CULT," another Facebook user said.
Ms Abboud, a Phoenix-based lawyer, thanked Mr Flake for his response.
"Thank you @JeffFlake for leadership in rejecting behavior that doesn't reflect our American values. AZ's amazing people deserve more than this", she tweeted.
Ms Abboud, a native of Little Rock, Arkansas, is running for Mr Flake's seat in the August 2018 Democrat primary. If she wins, she would challenge Mr Flake in the general election that autumn.
Mr Flake has come to the defence of Muslims in Arizona before.
In the wake of President Donald Trump's executive order in January, which targeted seven Muslim-majority countries, the Republican said in a Medium post the White House was right to be concerned about national security, but that it was "unacceptable when even legal permanent residents are being detained or turned away at airports and ports of entry".
"Enhancing long term national security requires that we have a clear-eyed view of radical Islamic terrorism without ascribing radical Islamic terrorist views to all Muslims," wrote Mr Flake, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees.
He also attended a service at a Scottsdale mosque in December 2015 to show his support amid harsh, anti-Muslim rhetoric from then-Republican presidential candidate, Mr Trump.
"My hope and prayer today is that isolated voices calling for division are overwhelmed by the chorus of voices in this room today calling for acceptance, tolerance and inclusion," he said at the time.

Gang rape of Rohingya teens inside mosque by Myanmar military

Rohingya women who survived the Burmese military’s most recent genocidal operation want the world to know who they are, and what they’ve faced.

The UN reports that over a thousand Rohingya were killed in the operation, and over half of Rohingya women fleeing Burma were raped and sexually violated.

The following are first hand accounts from our Rohingya sisters.

There is a simple reason that they are being so open to the world about their identities. As Tasmina put it, “it’s up to you. We want to see change.”

Nur Qaida


She was tortured by the Burmese military.

Nur Qaida, also related the disturbing voyeurism that soldiers engaged in while brutalizing her and others.

"They put the video of my rape on the internet."

Rashida


Rashida's village was plundered by Burmese forces. Her husband was taken by the military, she doesn't know where he is or if he is alive. Her daughter was killed in front of her eyes.

"Then they pulled at me. When I refused, they threw me down and punched my face."

Anwara


Anwara's village was surrounded by the military who entered the villagers' houses, dragging out the women and children. Her mother and father were slaughtered.

"[T]hey took all my clothes off to abuse me. They did exactly what they wanted to. They released us but some others came. They beat us a lot. Those who came at 8 p.m. raped me till 12 a.m., and those who came at 12 a.m. stayed till 1 a.m. In this way, they did whatever they wanted."

Tasmina


She saw homes in her once peaceful village burned down, as the military massacred her parents.

"[T]hey took me into an empty house. About ten to fifteen of them abused me. They took my clothes off. They did whatever they wanted and then they released me."


Burma Task Force: Anti-Rape Campaign

The rape crimes against Rohingya women by Burmese military personnel is crushing the spirits and bodies of these oppressed people.

READ MORE: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/06/burma-security-forces-raped-rohingya-women-girls

For this project, the Burma Task Force requests volunteers to help resist these egregious war crimes by: holding those who commit them accountable and demanding decision makers urgently take action to end these crimes.

Thai general jailed for human trafficking at mass trial

The news below is from BBC:
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A former Thai general has been sentenced to 27 years in jail for human trafficking at a landmark trial.
Manas Kongpan is among more than 60 people convicted in Bangkok of trafficking Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims, a minority fleeing Myanmar.
Another top former official was sentenced to 75 years in prison. More than 100 defendants were on trial.
Muslim Rohingya have been fleeing Myanmar for years, paying people smugglers to help them escape.
The arrest of the general in June 2015 was seen as part of an effort by Thailand to close down a human smuggling route through the country.
The judge found him guilty of human trafficking and organised transnational crime.
A former head of administration in the southern province of Satun, Ko-Tong (also known as Patjuban Aungkachotephan), received a sentence of 75 years in prison.
Several other defendants were handed jail terms of similar length. Sentences ranged from four to 94 years.
In 2009, Manas told the BBC that Thailand treated migrants humanely after he was accused of ordering more than 1,000 Rohingyas to be set adrift at sea on boats with no engines.
Correspondents say he is the first member of the military in army-ruled Thailand to be implicated in the trafficking of migrants.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, head of the country's ruling junta, urged the public not to blame trafficking on military figures.
"There are many people in this human trafficking network," he told reporters. "Don't group all soldiers in the country as one."
In 2015, thousands of refugees were left stranded at sea as they tried to escape through southern Thailand and on to Malaysia and other destinations.
The crisis escalated after international pressure forced the Thai authorities to crack down on the smuggling networks.
This led to the smugglers abandoning the refugees, leaving them on their sea and land routes with no neighbouring country willing to take them in.
The current trial was sparked by the discovery of mass graves of refugees in jungle camps near the Thai-Malaysian border.
Most of those indicted are from Thailand but several citizens of Myanmar (also called Burma) and Bangladesh are also being held.
A senior policeman who led an investigation into human trafficking in Thailand, Major General Paween Pongsirin, fled to Australia fearing his life was in danger from influential figures implicated in trafficking in his country.
The Rohingya - a distinct Muslim ethnic group who are effectively stateless - have been fleeing Myanmar for decades with Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia the most desired destinations.
While they say they are descendants of Arab traders who have been in the region for generations, Myanmar's government insists they are not a genuine ethnic group but rather Bengali migrants.
Among the refugees stranded during the 2015 crisis were also many economic migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Emerging World Order - Dr. Naom Chomsky

To see the video, click here.

Real reason behind Trump's false accusations against Qatar

Trump’s crusade against Qatar isn’t about terrorism – it’s revenge for a failed business deal
Was Qatar singled out for punishment because it cosies up to Iran and is the world’s biggest supporter of terrorism? Or was it because it failed to back The Family?

Another day, another story about one of The Trump Family being up to no good.
First it was a meeting between the President’s oldest son, Donald Jnr, with a pro-Kremlin lawyer who said she had damaging information on Hillary Clinton before the election.
Reports claimed he was specifically told that Natalia Veselnitskaya had material from the Russian government which could help his father’s candidacy.
But he let his visitor into Trump Tower anyway.
Donald Snr was not in the room but his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was at the meeting which took place after Trump secured the Republican nomination last year.
Which brings us to Meeting No 2.
A year earlier Kushner was not just in the room but chairing a series of meetings with one of the world’s richest men to re-finance one of his ailing New York properties to the tune of $500m (£388m).
And where was the man with the magic mountain of money from? Qatar.
Unlike the meetings with Natalia which, it is said by the White House, were over in a day when it became clear she had nothing to offer, these talks went on for about two years.
With their immense wealth the Qataris had an awful lot to offer and talks continued beyond the election, before coming to an abrupt end in March when Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani walked away.
The reason? Kushner was unable to come up with any co-funding as stipulated by the Qataris from the outset.
No betrayal, no foul play, no double crossing – just what was warned would happen when a Chinese insurance company, which had looked likely to invest, suddenly pulled out.
Fast forward two months and Donald Snr is suddenly the scourge of Qatar.
In a visit to Saudi Arabia he rounds on the tiny Gulf state as the chief financer of terrorism before repeating the claim in the Rose Garden at the White House a few weeks later.
Less than a month later a Saudi-led alliance is emboldened by the President’s words to launch a diplomatic and transport blockade of Qatar which continues to this day.
But was Qatar singled out for punishment because it cosies up to Iran and is the world’s biggest supporter of terrorism? If so, why has America got a 10,000-strong military base there?
Or was it because it failed to back The Family?

It is like some scene out of The Godfather. You can almost hear Don Vito Corleone saying: “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
Well, maybe lukewarm when you consider how quickly the Trump Family got its retaliation in.
The Kushner office building in question at 666 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, is in dire financial trouble because it does not generate enough revenue to pay off The Family’s debts, and The Family has less than two years to come up with $1.3bn (£1bn), when the interest-only mortgage is due.
Federal investigators are now also looking at whether Kushner sought Russian financing for the building from the CEO of a Russian state-owned bank in December.
The Kushner Family has form when it comes to revenge. Jared’s father, Charles, once hired a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law for co-operating with a federal investigation against him.
The trouble is you can’t run the White House like some crazed Mafia outfit, because you’re likely to end up being impeached over conflicts of interest.
But for the moment Trump appears happy to ditch the rule book and accuse his detractors of perpetrating fake news.
This week his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is frantically engaged in shuttle diplomacy flying around the Middle East trying to sort out the mess caused by The Don.
The scary thing is how a man with no political experience, who happens to be married to the President’s daughter, can have all this power in the leadership of the free world.
As one of Tillerson’s associates put it: “Rex put two and two together and concluded that this absolutely vacuous kid was running a second foreign policy out of the White House family quarters.”
Kushner has been tasked with finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, something which has eluded the greatest political minds for generations.
He is also the President’s lead adviser on relations with China, Mexico and Canada.
But for the moment it is a White House-created mess in the Middle East which the administration is having to clear up.
Tillerson needs to convince leaders in the Gulf that the White House is not running an alternative foreign policy where it sides with Saudi Arabia against Qatar.
He also needs to convince the Saudis that its 13 onerous demands on Qatar need to be re-drawn into something that might be negotiated.
Tillerson’s shuttle diplomacy is a huge test of American power and influence in the region.
The Secretary of State has just reached an agreement with Qatar on the steps it needs to take to reduce support for terrorism.
It remains to be seen whether he can convince the Saudis to use this as a basis for a negotiated settlement.

Feud between Ryan and Bannon

The feud between House Speaker Paul Ryan and presidential adviser Steve Bannon is no secret in Washington, where the two men have warred on everything from healthcare to immigration. But a new book by Bloomberg reporter Joshua Green shows just how vicious – and personal – that feud has become.
To read the full text of the news, click here.

Rohingyas share stories of gang rape and killings

As the last of the foreign reporters walked over a bamboo bridge a young Rohingya woman dressed in black, with a black umbrella, raised her hand hesitantly.
Her demeanour was somewhere between blank and terrified.
But she wanted to tell us something.

"The Rakhinese entered and aimed the gun at my forehead. They held my hands strongly and did what they wanted to me," she said.
"Then I was told to go back. But I didn't. I was sitting there. Then they started beating me and they took off my clothes.
"They beat me too much and did what they wanted. The military did this."
She is 18 years old.
The Myanmar Government organised a trip for foreign journalists to go to northern Rakhine State, in Myanmar's west.
The region has been off limits ever since militants attacked several police posts in October, killing nine officers and stealing dozens of weapons.
That sparked reprisals from security forces against Rohingya Muslims that the United Nations called "possible ethnic cleansing".
Some of the 70,000 who fled to neighbouring Bangladesh told stories of atrocities at the hands of the army.
The township of Maundaw was allegedly the scene of some of the worst violence last year, at the hands of soldiers and police.
Where possible, reporters insisted our heavily-armed police escort stayed behind while we conducted interviews.
Each time, fresh allegations emerged.
"They came to this village and burned my father [alive] inside a house and jailed my mother [when she filed a complaint]," said a woman, who the ABC has chosen not to name, in case of retribution.
Speaking out is risky.
Two previous Government-run trips for local journalists have toured northern Rakhine State.
After each trip, someone who talked to the press was killed by unknown assailants.
Myanmar is a majority Buddhist country with more than 130 recognised ethnic groups.
But the one million Muslim Rohingyas are not among them.

Most in Myanmar consider Rohingyas to be illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, calling them "Bengalis" or worse, "kalas".
Many have lived in Myanmar for generations, but they exist under a kind of apartheid — forbidden to leave their village without permission, get a formal job or attend university.
Against this backdrop, a new insurgency formed calling itself Harakah al-Yaqin … or Faith Movement.
It is thought to be led and funded from Saudi Arabia.
The conflict between Buddhists and Rohingyas dates back decades, with sporadic flaring of communal violence.
In 2012, clashes caused thousands of Rohingyas to flee the state capital Sittwe and shelter in what they thought would be temporary camps.
Five years on, they still depend on food aid but malnutrition appears common, compounded by a lack of medical services.
There are no easy answers, with both sides entrenched in mistrust and prejudice.
After historic elections in 2015, Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is the de facto leader of the country, but she has no control over the security forces, which continue to act as a law unto themselves.
She has been criticised for not speaking for the rights of the Rohinghya, but doing so risks alienating her main constituency, the myriad of ethnic groups who are united in little else but their dislike of the "Bengalis".
Aung San Suu Kyi has tried to carve out space for dialogue, requesting that emotive terms like Bangali and Rohingyas be avoided, and "Muslim" be used instead.
A special commission headed by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has made interim recommendations, including a call for unimpeded access for aid workers and media.
A UN resolution to launch a fact finding mission to Rakhine State has been blocked by the Myanmar Government, saying it would be provocative.
With no end in sight, the secret killings and blanket denials continue, bringing with it the risk of a much more potent insurgency.

Canada town votes against having a Muslim cemetery

If you thought that there is less bigotry in Canada, think again.
A Canadian town has voted to oppose a zoning change that would allow a Muslim cemetery to be built.
The referendum was held on Sunday in Saint-Apollinaire, a town of about 5,000 located just outside Quebec City.
Provincial rules meant only 49 people were eligible to vote; the nays won 19-16 and one ballot was rejected.
The cemetery was proposed by the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, which was the site of a shooting that killed six people and injured 19 in January.
"We never thought people could oppose the installation of a cemetery," the centre's president Mohamed Labidi told Radio-Canada. "What are they afraid of?"
The Islamic cultural centre had purchased a plot of land in a wooded area next to an existing cemetery after the shooting. The only Muslim cemetery in Quebec is in Laval, hours from Quebec City.
The town's decision to oppose the cemetery has led to an outcry amongst Muslims and civil-rights advocates across the country and may lead to a human rights complaint, Mr Labidi said.
The mayor of the town supported the cemetery and has said he fears his town's reputation has been hurt.
"They do not know these people so they base their decisions on hearsay," Mayor Bernard Ouellet told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Opponents went door to door to gather signatures to call for the referendum, since building the cemetery would require a minor zoning change. A provincial law allows referendums to be held on zoning matters, with only people who live in the affected area eligible to vote.
That meant only 49 people in a town of 5,000 were eligible to vote, and only 36 people cast ballots.
"We need cemeteries that welcome everybody, no matter their religion, where they are from, their skin colour, their culture. You have to think about that because in 20 years it is going to be a problem," opponent Sunny Létourneau told the CBC.
She says she only supports non-denominational cemeteries.

General Dostum's plane 'is denied Afghan landing'

To read the news, click here.

India revokes Zakir Naik's passport

The Modi government has revoked the passport of Indian citizen, Dr. Zakir Naik. His organisation, Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), has already been declared an unlawful association by the government, which has also  taken his TV channel off air. Naik had his passport renewed last year in January, and it will expire after 10 years.

They also Almost Didn't Make It To The Robotic Competition

With  the US travel ban even visitors from countries that were not part of banned six could not visit the USA or had much difficulty getting visa.
It was a story that made headlines around the world.
An all-girl team from Afghanistan applied for visas to come to the First Global Challenge, an international robotics competition taking place in Washington, D.C. this week.
And their visa request was denied. So shameful is the policy that Afghan teenager girls who were coming to the USA to participate in a robotic competition were denied visa not once but twice. The girls had traveled 500 miles from Herat to Kabul to apply for the visa. Ultimately, president Trump, the very person who issued the stupid travel ban, had to intervene on their behalf so that they could get the visa. The girls arrived and competed.

They weren't the only team to face visa hurdles. The team from Gambia — two girls and three boys — was also denied when they first applied.
"Having no hope to come, we still worked," says the team's captain, 18-year-old Alieu Bah. "We never give up, no matter how hard the condition is. That's how we pushed and pushed and pushed until we finally reapplied and got our visa, and here we are now."
As noted above, the Afghanistan team got its visas as well. Now both teams are in Washington, D.C., for the contest. Each of the roughly 160 national teams participates in several matches, hoping their robots earn the most points.
We spoke to the members of team Gambia to see what it's like to plunge into the world of robotics in their country — where 48.4 percent of the population lives in poverty — and what it's like to be a girl in the male-dominated world of science and technology.
None of the team members had any experience building robots before this competition, says Khadijatou Gassama.
"We didn't have anyone to help us with the design," she says, adding that the team watched videos and followed a guide provided by First Global to learn how to make their robot.
The theme of this first-time competition is "water issues." The Gambian team's robot, a cube-shaped device about the size of a large microwave, is designed to separate balls that represent water particles and balls that represent water contaminants and deliver them to different places.
Gassama and Fatoumata Ceesay are the two girls on Gambia's team. It's their first time in the U.S. They're both relatively soft-spoken but seemed confident as they interacted with their teammates. The girls spent some of their free time between matches working with their teammates to fine-tune their robot.
Gassama says she loves physics because it requires thinking outside of the box, coming up with new ideas and inventing new things. The 17-year-old's skill in physics led her professor to recommend her for the robotics team.
"It may not be complex, but I think it's efficient enough to take part in the competition," Gassama says of the team's robot. She graduated from high school this year and hopes to study nanotechnology. She's not planning to start college this fall — it's too expensive, she says — but instead wants to do an internship.
Both girls would like to inspire more young women in their home country to get into robotics.
"The [girls] that do not have it in mind can change their minds, because it's very interesting," says Ceesay, 17. She also graduated from high school this year.
Gambia, along with many other countries, still has a STEM gender gap.
As of 2011, about 20 percent of the country's researchers are female, according to a UNESCO report. That's better than Saudi Arabia and Nepal and comparable to the Netherlands (24 percent) and France (26 percent).
Hamba Manneh, charge d'affaires at the Gambian embassy in Washington, D.C., says the Gambian government makes an effort to include girls in all its government-sponsored events.
"If you neglect half of your population, you are likely to fail in any undertaking," he says. "Girls are very smart, they're just as smart as their boy counter[parts], so that's why they should always be center stage."
That's a sentiment shared by the young women at the competition. Laura Ortiz, a 10th grader on the Chilean team, says, "Many say that engineering and robotics are for men, and places like salons are for women. But I feel we all have equal rights to do what we like."
Gassama hopes she and Ceesay will inspire other Gambian girls to become interested in technology — and look for solutions to some of Gambia's problems such as getting access to clean water for everyone.
"Especially during the rainy season, it's very terrible," she says. "Most of the places have boreholes and during the rainy season those have rubbish. People find it very, very difficult to get clean water."
"That is why more girls should get involved in this kind of stuff, because it's really, really important," she adds. "We want to build our nation, to make it a better place to live."

Famine in Africa - worst since 1945

According to the UNICEF, time  is running out for 2.5 million children in 13 countries in Africa and the Middle East. The faster we can deliver therapeutic food, clean water and healthcare, the more lives we can save and futures we can protect.

A region is considered to be facing famine when 200 people per million (200 ppm) dies of starvation.

More info on the famine can be gathered by clicking here.

NPR covered the story back in March, which is shared below. Today, it again mentioned that this famine is the worst famine since 1945, but I could not find the link yet in the NPR.
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World Faces Largest Humanitarian Crisis Since 1945, U.N. Official Says
March 11, 20174:22 PM ET

The world is facing its greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945, says the United Nations humanitarian coordinator, Stephen O'Brien.
O'Brien told the U.N. Security Council on Friday that more than 20 million people across four countries in Africa and the Middle East are at risk of starvation and famine.
"We stand at a critical point in our history," he said. "Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death."
He called the crisis the largest in the history of the U.N., which was founded in 1945, and was specific in his request to the council: "$4.4 billion by July" to combat extreme hunger in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and northeast Nigeria.
"All four countries have one thing in common. Conflict," he said. "This means that we, you, have the possibility to prevent and end further misery and suffering... It is all preventable. It is possible to avert this crisis, to avert these famines — to avert these looming human catastrophes."
In Yemen alone, he said the number of people who don't know where their next meal will come from, has increased by 3 million since January.
NPR has reported extensively on the famine problem in the region, most recently last week, when Somalia's prime minister said 110 people died of hunger in a single region over a two-day period. He guessed that more than 6 million people in his country, or just about half the population, are faced with a food shortage because of a deepening drought.
In South Sudan, two counties are in a "phase five" famine situation, according to a determination rating system our Goats and Soda team looked into last month. That's the worst possible rating, and it means at least two out of every 10,000 people are dying of hunger there every day. Overall, 42 percent of the population in South Sudan is estimated to be food insecure.
The country has been entrenched in civil war since December 2013.
"The situation is worse than it has ever been. The famine in South Sudan is man-made," O'Brien said Friday. "Parties to the conflict are parties to the famine – as are those not intervening to make the violence stop."
And in Nigeria, the fallout from fighting with extremist terror group Boko Haram has left pockets of the country decimated, as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reported last month.
"Northeastern Nigeria will probably get worse because the lean food and farming season is coming up between June and August," she said.
"When I was in Nigeria I saw it for myself: pin-thin children being taken care of because there isn't the food to feed them."

Trump Is Violating The Iran Deal by Reza Marashi and Tyler Cullis

Trump Is Violating The Iran Deal
With two years of successful implementation in the books, Washington should be celebrating the anniversary of a historic Iran nuclear deal. Instead, President Trump is violating the pact and prompting its demise. With each passing day, it becomes less plausible that his violations are mistakes rather than malicious. This is all the more ironic given reports that his administration plans to once again re-certify Iran’s compliance with its Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) commitments. However, reaffirming that Iran is fulfilling its end of the bargain does not mean America is doing the same. As the deal turns two, all parties to the deal should consider three key points about their landmark diplomatic achievement as it exists today.
First, it is now clear that the Trump administration intends to flout the full scope of U.S. obligations under the JCPOA so as to limit promised business ties with Iran. For instance, a White House press briefing revealed that President Trump spent his time at last week’s G-20 Summit urging nations to stop doing business with Iran. Trump’s directive to world leaders is the latest in a string of evidence that the U.S. is acting in material non-compliance with its express obligations under the JCPOA. These obligations include not just the formal lifting of nuclear-related sanctions, but also express commitments to “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran...” and “from any action inconsistent with the letter, spirit, and intent of [the] JCPOA that would undermine its successful implementation.” 
Considering, too, that the U.S. has the positive obligation to “agree on steps to ensure Iran’s access in areas of trade, technology, finance, and energy,” Trump’s private urging to foreign countries to withdraw business ties with Iran puts the U.S. in irrefutable breach of the JCPOA.  No one can any longer remain agnostic or in denial as to this basic fact.
Second, in breaching the JCPOA, the Trump administration appears keen on adopting the failed playbook of the past.  Soon after taking office in 2001, the Bush administration skirted U.S. obligations under the Agreed Framework, prompting North Korea’s departure from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and effectively weaponizing North Korea’s nuclear program. Neoconservative champions of that approach – one that haunts us to this day – are now pushing this same disastrous policy with Iran, hoping that  death-by-a-thousand-paper cuts will sink the Iran deal and place Washington and Tehran back on the path towards war. To this end, the Trump administration is taking deliberate steps to breach the JCPOA and provoke an Iranian response.
So far, though, the effect of Trump’s policy is to isolate only the United States. Next week, the Joint Commission to the JCPOA will meet to discuss implementation of the deal, and there can be little doubt that a central focus of that meeting will be America’s failure to abide by the terms of the agreement. The Trump administration will have effectively inverted the order of things at the Joint Commission so that America, not Iran, is the subject of the meeting and its lack of commitment to the deal bemoaned by other world powers.  
In the upside-down world of Washington, this is the position of “strength” from which the U.S. can challenge Iran. Pipe dreams aside, though, there can be no mistaking the fact that the U.S. has effectively ceased to be a constructive party to the nuclear deal. With the rest of the JCPOA parties indicating that they will move ahead with the nuclear accord regardless, the Trump administration has successfully cratered U.S. influence and caused the other parties to the deal to balance against it. 
Finally, it cannot be overstated that all of this was entirely avoidable – because the Obama administration had put U.S.-Iran relations on an entirely different trajectory. Multiple channels of dialogue were established, and both sides sought to use the JCPOA as a foundation from which dialogue on additional points of contention could grow. The clock ran out on Obama’s second term before more progress could be made, but Trump could have picked up where his predecessor left off. Heightened tensions with Tehran were not a fait accompli, and that is precisely the problem: The Trump administration has chosen to double down on discord that was in the process of being managed six months ago. 
There is time to reverse Trump’s policy direction. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, will be in New York next week. It would be the height of diplomatic malpractice if Trump does not send a cabinet-level official to privately meet with him. Hawks in Washington can no longer deny that diplomacy with Iran can help achieve American interests because the JCPOA is the receipt from Obama’s efforts. Whether or not Trump chooses to rip up that receipt remains to be seen, but the current trajectory on the Iran nuclear deal’s second anniversary should alarm anyone who thinks more war in the Middle East is a bad idea.

Mattis Doesn’t Understand Iran or ‘Moderate Arab Regimes’

Here below is a piece on Iran from Prof. Sahimi.
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James Mattis Doesn’t Understand Iran or ‘Moderate Arab Regimes’

During his presidential campaign Donald Trump repeatedly expressed his desire not to get the United States involved in another destructive war in the Middle East. He expressed his opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003; he was opposed to the NATO intervention in Libya [although he had originally supported the wars in both Libya and Iraq]; he expressed appreciation for Russia and Iran fighting Daesh [also known as the ISIS] in Syria, and Iran helping Iraq in its own fight with Daesh there, and he repeatedly criticized Saudi Arabia, declaring that the Saudis were "mouth pieces, bullies, cowards," who were "paying ISIS." I did not vote for Trump, but like millions of other antiwar pacifists I was hoping that he would deliver on his realistic positions regarding the Middle East.
Alas, everything changed as soon as Trump took office. The President’s national security team, from Defense Secretary James Mattis, to CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Director of Middle East affairs at the national security council, Derek Harvey, is virulently anti-Iran. Pompeo has hyped Iran’s "threat" by claiming that "Iran is intent on destruction of our country;" has opposed the nuclear agreement between Iran and 5+1, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) fiercely and wants to roll it back; has downplayed the political and economic cost of bombing Iran claiming that "2000 bombing sorties" will do the job, and has called for regime change in Iran. He has also claimed that the so-called "global war on terror" is a war between Christians and Muslims. Mattis has declared that the JCPOA "fell short;" that "it is fun to shoot some people," and has called for a war on "political Islam." He has also claimed falsely that Iran and Daesh are in cahoots, which proved to be pathetically false after Daesh’s recent terrorist attacks in Tehran. Trump national security team been beating the drums of war, and is putting the United States on a clear path to war with Iran, one that if, God forbid, happens, all the past and present wars in the Middle East will look like child’s play, affecting the entire world.
The danger of Trump’s national security team is not only because of its rhetoric regarding Iran and Islam, but also due to its deeply flawed and dangerous misunderstanding of both Iran and the rest of the Middle East. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Mattis’ statements and arguments regarding Iran and the rest of the Middle East. At a time when the role of Saudi Arabia in creating and cultivating terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere has become crystal clear, Mattis still insists on "the importance of U.S.-Saudi Arabia strategic relationship," to the point that he has been supporting the Saudis criminal war in Yemen, and asked the President to remove restriction on U.S. military support for that country. Before his appointment as Defense Secretary, Mattis repeatedly called for arming of "Syrian moderate forces" that exist only on paper and in the imagination of the necons and the War Party.
As a Marines General, Mattis has had a decades-long grudge against Iran, which has totally colored his views of Iran, to the point that he was fired from his post as the Central Command chief, which is responsible for all US forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, because he was perceived to be too eager for a military confrontation with Iran.
Mattis recently granted an interview to Teddy Fischer, a high school student in Seattle. The interview reveals Mattis’ deeply flawed and dangerous misunderstanding of practically every important issue facing that region, varying from which regime is "moderate" and the true meaning of "moderation," to Iran’s role in that region. For example, when Fischer asked Mattis, "Do you believe that Middle Eastern theocracies can be more moderate? If so, what steps can be taken to achieve this?," he responded, "I was talking to the king [King Abdullah] of Saudi Arabia, he’s dead now, but was the king a couple years ago, and he said the only way to improve drivers in Riyadh was to give every girl above the age of 16 a driver’s license because the men are such bad drivers."
If granting a very basic and primitive right to the Saudi women in the 21st century is a sign of "moderation," then, Iran is the most moderate nation in that region. Iranian women constitute over 60 percent of all college students in Iran, have the right to vote (and drive!), and they are also present actively at every stratum of the society as lawyers, journalists, social activists, human rights advocates, teachers and professors, members of the parliament, ministers, governors, members of city councils, and even vice president.
Mattis then continued, "He [the Saudi King] decided he would give his boys and girls a four-year scholarship to any college in Canada, the United Kingdom, or the United States …. He had over 100,000 four-year, free-ride scholarships going off to Ontario, Canada, and London, England, and University of Colorado and University of Washington and everywhere else." Yes, but the ideological education that these girls and boys receive at home is still based on Wahhabism, the most reactionary and backward interpretation of the Islamic teachings, which is why hundreds of the same Saudi students left their scholarships and education in the United States to join Daesh.
When Fischer asked, "How can the United States create an atmosphere of trust with the Arab people, especially in Iran?," instead of answering the question, Mattis began attacked Iran and its elections – elections that do not exist in Saudi Arabia or any of the US"strategic allies" in the Persian Gulf Area – saying, "It’s not really an election [in Iran]. It’s the supreme leader [Ayatollah Khamenei who] decides who gets to run." True, Iranian elections are neither democratic – because not everyone can run – nor fair – because the hardliners control many instruments of power that use to their advantage – but the elections are completely competitive, unpredictable, and with meaningful consequences for the lives of ordinary Iranians, which is why over 70 percent of Iranians consistently vote in the presidential elections.
Most importantly, what Mattis does not say or know is that the Supreme Leader’s apparent choices have been defeated multiple times in such elections, including in the elections for the two terms of the former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, and for the two terms of the current president Hassan Rouhani. And, when Khamenei’s choice in the 2009 elections, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his supporters committed fraud in order to ensure a second term for Ahmadinejad, we had the democratic Green Movement with millions of supporters that provided the inspiration for the Arab Spring of 2011.
In the elections that were held on May 19, Iran’s "deep state" had its own candidate, hardline judge Ebrahim Raisi, and despite the "deep state’s" best effort and Khamenei’s, he lost by a landslide to Rouhani, and ever since there has been a fierce power struggle between Rouhani, the people and his supporters, on the one hand, and Khamenei and the "deep state", on the other hand. The elections were actually far more interesting than many others around the world, as so many taboos were broken and so many redlines were crossed.
Mattis then shed tears for the Iranian people, saying, "So the point is that this is a country that is acting more like a revolutionary cause, not to best interests of their own people so it’s very, very hard." The people of Iran, a nation with an overall 82 percent rate of literacy, with the rate being 97 percent among the young people; 45 million (out of 80 million) people who use the Internet; thousands of websites, and its per capita number of bloggers is one of the largest in the world, do not need Mattis’ tears. They can decide what is good for them. Over the past 20 years the civil society has become increasingly stronger in Iran, and step-by-step the hardliners and fundamentalists are retreating. The Iranian people will eventually get rid of the corrupt clerics as well, by the path that they have been taking.
Mattis also said, "The Iranian people are not the problem. The Iranian people are definitely not the problem….. We’ve got to make certain that the Iranian people know that we don’t have any conflict with them. I’d start with that." Yes, but how? The US has not yet invented a bomb or any other weapon to attack Iran and only kill the Iranian leaders, and not its people and not destroy its infrastructure, never mind that it would be illegal to do so. The same claim was made about Iraq. We were told that the Iraqi people were not the problem, but 14 years after attacking it, one of the most advanced Arab nations is in complete ruins.
Mattis also demonstrated his lack of understanding of the Iranian nationalism, as well as his ignorance of the current developments in Iran when he told Fischer, "You don’t want to unite the Iranian people with that unpopular regime because if you pressure them both then they will grow together." But, the US has already done this. The most important reason that 75 percent of Iranians voted in the May Presidential elections was that they heard the Trump administration’s saber rattling and beating the war drums. Somehow – and I do not know how – Mattis believes that he can threaten an entire nation with war and economic sanctions, but can also demonstrate to its people that they are not the target, even though he told Fischer that the US must resort to tough economic sanctions again: "What you have to do eventually is what then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did, which was to move sanctions, economic sanctions, against them and force them to the negotiating table because they want to stay in power." This is magic, not rational thinking.
Mattis then went on a rage: "They [the Iranians] tried to murder an Arab ambassador in downtown Washington D.C." Yes, what happened to that fabrication? After a short period of time in which every imaginable ridiculous "theory" was offered to buttress the false claim that a bipolar used car salesman had been recruited by Iran to assassinate Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi Ambassador in Washington (and current foreign minister), suddenly the entire episode died, and we never ever heard of it again. Practically, no credible Iran expert believed the story (see, for example, here, here, and here).
Instead of condemning Saudi Arabia’s war crimes in Yemen, Mattis attacked Iran. "Right now, they [Iran] have moved ballistic missiles down to Yemen that were shot into Saudi Arabia from Yemen," he told Fischer, repeating the Saudis propaganda. This is while credible experts have said repeatedly that there is no evidence that Iran has provided any significant arms to the Houthis in Yemen, and that even if Iran has provided small arms to them, its purpose is to make Saudi Arabia’s nose bloody. Otherwise, Yemen has no strategic value to Iran. And, by the way, if Saudi Arabia commits war crimes in Yemen, why should the Yemenis not defend themselves by attacking Saudi Arabia? No sane people want war. But every sane person fights back, if a war is imposed on his/her nation.
Fischer then asked, "Is Iran the most dangerous country in the Middle East?" Mattis uttered the usual nonsense, "It’s certainly the country that is the only reason Assad has been able to stay in power," but later on contradicted himself by saying, "The only reason that Assad is still in power is Russia’s diplomatic veto, Iran’s military power, and now Russia’s military power." So, which is it?
Mattis continued, "For example, for so long when Russia vetoed the United Nations so they couldn’t do anything about it, the only reason that Assad is still in power and has killed hundreds of thousands of his own people." First, no country should have interfered in Syria. I firmly believe that if the outsiders had not interfered in Syria, the war there would either not have begun altogether, or it would have ended quickly. But, once one side did intervene, why blame the other side? Which countries were the first to intervene in Syria? Mattis should listen to what Joe Biden said at Harvard University in October of 2014: It was Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Turkey, not Iran and Russia.
Second, the US does not get to decide which regime is legitimate; the United Nations does, and as of the time of writing this article, the UN still recognizes Bashar Assad’s regime as the legitimate government of Syria, and that regime invited Russia to help it, and that regime invoked its defense agreement with Iran to help it. How does the US justify its illegal presence in Syria?
Third, it has become a cliché that "Assad has killed hundreds of thousands of his own people." First, there is no proof that he did. Second, true, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, but roughly 26 percent of all those killed have been regular Syrian army and its affiliated forces defending their country against foreign terrorists; about one-third are civilians killed by both sides, 11 percent are "rebels" foreign terrorists, and the rest are "undocumented." In addition, how many civilians has the US killed in Iraq and Syria during its war against Daesh?
Mattis even accused the Syrian government of allowing "the terrorists a place to set up camp….," and, of course, "it’s all because of Iran." In the six plus years of war in Syria, the Assad government has been accused of a lot of atrocities, some of which are true, and some are false or great exaggeration, but never has it been accused of allowing "the terrorist a place to set up." This is new and Mattis presented it without any evidence.
Both in the interview with Fischer and elsewhere, Mattis and other officials of the Trump administration have repeated another cliché, that "Iran is certainly the most destabilizing influence in the Middle East." Here, Mattis does not mention that the BND, Germany’s intelligence services, believes that it is Saudi Arabia whose military interventions in Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria have destabilized the Arab world, as do many analysts. Mattis does not also explain that what he really means by "destabilizing" is that countries like Iran oppose US intervention in the Middle East and elsewhere. In other words, what is supposedly being destabilized is what the Pentagon considers as its right to use the US military anywhere in this world without any opposition from the indigenous people.
And, who supports Mattis’ contention? He answers the question: "When I would travel to Cairo or Tel Aviv or Riyadh and from Arabs from Jews, all the people in the region; that is their view of Iran. " Oh, yes, Mattis’ claim is supported by the military regime in Cairo that came to power by overthrowing the democratically-elected government of Mohamed Morsi; the terrorist regime in Riyadh, and Iran’s sworn enemies among Israel’s far right. As the Persian proverb goes, "The fox [after stealing the chicken from the farm and eating it] was asked who is your witness [that stole the chicken}, and the fox responded, my tail."
It is in this context that Mattis talks about "moderate Arab regimes: "There are moderate regimes in the Middle East. The king of Jordan, clearly a moderating influence. The Emirates, the United Arab Emirates, I think almost a quarter of their ministers, what we would call secretaries of departments, are women. Everybody drives there, men, women, whatever." Once again, the measure of moderation in Mattis’ world is that women drive in these countries, even though as Joe Biden said, Emirates supported the terrorists in Syria, and Jordan is a dictatorship with a King whose father was on the CIA payroll for decades, with 60 percent of the population being Palestinians and suppressed.
Mattis also seems to delude himself about what is going on in these Arab countries: "By having everybody feel like they’ve got a sense of the future and a stake in the future, especially the young people, you can create a positive environment economically, politically, and diplomatically with their outreach to other countries that can help stabilize things." Yes, because of the ideological training that the young people of these countries receive based on Wahhabism, they feel that have a "stake" in the future. This explains why the young people of Saudi Arabia constitute the largest or the second largest group joining Daesh. During occupation of Iraq by US, roughly half of all members of the terrorist group al-Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor to Daesh, were from Saudi Arabia. And how many Iranians have joined Daesh or any other terrorist group for that matter? None, zilch, nada.
And, then, Mattis makes the most outlandish claim by comparing Muhammad ibn Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince and Defense Minster to Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He told Fischer, "As the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia put it, he’s trying to change fast from a consumer economy to a productive economy and that is a revolutionary effort. There’s a carrying capacity in any society for how much change it can incorporate at any one time. If you study history you can see Lincoln calculating it, you see FDR calculating it…." So, not only Salman, a man who has been described as "impulsive, aggressive" with "poor judgment;" "not a man who learns from his mistakes or even notices that he has made them," and "not only a gambler, but one who recklessly raises his stakes when in trouble," is in the same class as the FDR and Lincoln, it appears that, after all, Mattis thinks being a "revolutionary" is good, but only if the revolutionaries are "US strategic allies," not Iranians.
Mattis has a reputation for being rational; a man who thinks deeply about issues, and is well read. If true, God helps us all.