Tag Archives: Middle East

Marwan Bishara: When Egyptians are right and wrong

In Egypt, a country that is terribly polarised and dangerously tense, facts get in the way.

Each side claims their own truths and denies the legitimacy of others, dismissing them as fanatics or sell-outs. The Egyptian parties are busy demonising each other and in the process are turning the dream of better governance into a nightmare of horror and violence.

Charges and counter-charges of foreign interference and unacceptable methods can go a certain distance even if money, religion, coercion and manipulation have indeed been used. The engine of change in both‘uprisings’ has been peoples’ dissatisfaction with the status quo regardless of whether their expectations were realistic or idealistic.

However, now as the parties turn on each other, we can expect more of the same, and perhaps worse, escalation of tension in the coming days and weeks, unless those who’ve been wrong and insist on being right, behave modestly and wisely.

Disinformation

Since January 25, 2011, when the barriers of fear were torn down and people were empowered to express themselves freely, expressions of pent-up hate and incitement, devoid of any scruples or ethics, have also found their way into the public arena in these uncertain times.

Nowadays, countless rumours, baseless innuendos and propaganda masquerade as news in and outside of Egypt. Almost all developments are being approached, framed and presented according to narrow political and ideological beliefs. That’s not to say that neutrality is realistic or even a necessary condition for clear-headed reflection. But objectivity in terms of presenting the verifiable facts regardless of their consequences, has also been absent from the present discourse in, and frequently about, Egypt.

The demonisation is perhaps the worst part of it all, considering that sooner or later Egyptians from all walks of life and of every generation will need to live in proximity, peace and harmony.

Each camp is retrenching within an imaginative sense of righteousness; each side, including the military, claiming to defend the revolution, always their revolution.

Worse, the old regime’s vocal journalists and media outlets are further confusing the situation by claiming that the June 30 uprising will correct the mistakes of the January 25 revolution in order to return to the days of the Mubarak era.

The Brotherhood’s failures

It’s a verifiable fact that the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t start the revolution, yet became an instrumental and powerful component of the popular uprising against the Mubarak regime.

The Brotherhood, like the other factions of the revolution, rushed toward elections without arriving at a consensus regarding the enshrinement of the revolution’s goals in the state and its constitution. This rendered every idea that could have united the groups as partners, a point of contention in their political battles for power.

And it’s also a fact that the older and better-organised Islamist groups went to win elections, fair and square, against a divided “opposition”. But they could have been able to take on the remnants of the old regime in the bureaucracy, security and the military or so-called “deep state” by adopting an inclusive approach towards the opposition to create a truly, unified national governance.

They did try to appease the military, such as in November 2011 when they showed uncanny indifference to the repression and violence inflicted on the street demonstrators around Tahrir Square and Mohamed Mahmoud Street at the hand of the security forces – which led to the deaths of 40 people, some of whom were shot in the eyes.

And they didn’t show the necessary political maturity, to say nothing of the revolutionary zeal, of supporting a truly inclusive political and constitutional process. Instead, they insisted on imposing a narrow vision on the new Egypt.

The opposition is more of the same

If the January 25 revolution was motivated by the rejection of the Mubarak regime and hopes for a better, free and more prosperous life, the June 30 uprising was driven by a rejection of “Brotherhood rule” and what is perceived as their attempt at hijacking the revolution and imposing their Islamist agenda.

Well, with one important verifiable distinction: the earlier President was a dictator who won ceremonial elections while the latter one did win a free election.

The opposition’s impatience with Morsi, while understandable considering all of the above mentioned factors, shouldn’t have led them into partnership with the generals, informal and temporary as it may be.Their popular movement was putting considerable pressure on the government, and if it had persisted and evolved into nationwide civil disobedience, it could have led to the fall of the government.

Instead, they chose the shorter and perhaps the more expedient way to unseat an elected president: by force. And they remain rather conspicuously quiet as  (former) President Morsi remains in the military’s custody. It’s even stranger that they expect that the Muslim Brotherhood would accept the calls for talks and join a national reconciliation process while president Morsi remains under arrest.

The banality of force

The generals are not innocent in all of this. They look at political issues and see only security problems.

Yes, the Egyptian military proved that at the time of the January 25 uprising it belonged to the state – not the regime – when it sided with the people. The military made the right decision and was celebrated for it.

This time around, however, it sided with one party over another in a rather swift and eerie manner.

Warning against chaos might’ve been justifiable. That defense minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi urged for reconciliation only a week before threatening the president with a 48-hour ultimatum, after which the military moved in, doesn’t bode well for the future of democracy. The generals were correct to warn against a total breakdown. But defense minister Sisi doesn’t seem to see any irony in telling his officers in a speech that he, a general, was merely a go-between relaying “the peoples” will to an elected President.

While Sisi justifies the rush to interfere on the need to avoid instability and violence, his coup resulted in the very escalation they presumably hoped to avoid – with potentially more to come, alas.

Despite his insistence that he didn’t betray the president, it’s more likely that what appeared to be the hasty unseating of president Morsi, concealed a longer, more deliberate process of ridding the country of Islamist rule, a process that involved destabilising tactics like fuel shortages, etc.

The fact that the generals have not and perhaps do not want to directly take the reins of power doesn’t mean that they are not leading from behind. Indeed, Sisi’s latest speech on Wednesday, calling for nationwide rallies to allow greater military powers, affirms that he’s content to lead from and by the street.

Like all militaries in the world, the role of the Egyptian military is to defend the country and its sovereignty, not to promote democracy. As I emphasised in an earlier analysis, by its very pyramidic structure, a military is an authoritarian institution.

In Egypt, where the military commands vast networks of interests and special privileges, it’s not clear why it would restore the democratic process. The military is more likely to exploit the on-going chaos to maintain its power rather than speed up the restoration of democracy, unless, of course, it comes under great popular pressure.

It’s the responsibility of the country’s political parties that spearheaded the revolution to put their political differences aside to safeguard the revolution’s achievements and carry out its objectives. This requires political maturity and parties placing the revolution and the country’s interests above their own narrow party interests.

Easier said than done? Yes, perhaps. But there is no other way. Even if it takes years and many lives, Egyptians will still need to sit down and figure out their future together.

A new realism

The optimism about a transition to democracy has proved to be wishful thinking as Egyptians take the longer route towards achieving a common vision of the new Egypt – their second republic.

History might be on the side of those who oppose dictatorship and deposed a dictator in favour of “bread, freedom and social justice”.  But while time is of the essence, the future is not tied to an egg timer.

I wrote in The Invisible Arab, that this revolution isn’t a sprint affair. It’s more like a marathon, or indeed, a relay.

“Every surge of democratisation over the last century,” wrote historian Sheri Berman in Foreign Affairs, “ […] has been followed by an undertow, accompanied by widespread questioning of the viability and even desirability of democratic governance in the areas in question.”

The lesson from two centuries of transformation since the French revolution is that dictatorships can be imposed and deposed in far shorter time than it takes to arrive at a constitutional democracy.

One can only hope that instead of repeating the mistakes of their predecessors who took too long to effect positive change, Egyptians learn from the lessons of history.

 

 

Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.

Original link: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/07/201372573729970475.html

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THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN: Dear Iraqi Friends

To: President Jalal Talabani of Iraq, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashadani

Dear Sirs, I am writing you on a matter of grave importance. It’s hard for me to express to you how deep the economic crisis in America is today. We are discussing a $1 trillion bailout for our troubled banking system. This is a financial 9/11. As Americans lose their homes and sink into debt, they no longer understand why we are spending $1 billion a day to make Iraqis feel more secure in their homes.

For the past two years, there has been a debate in this country over whether to set a deadline for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. It seemed as if the resolution of that debate depended on who won the coming election. That is no longer the case. A deadline is coming. American taxpayers who would not let their money be used to subsidize their own companies — Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch — will not have their tax dollars used to subsidize your endless dithering over which Iraqi community dominates Kirkuk.

Don’t misunderstand me. Many Americans and me are relieved by the way you, the Iraqi people and Army have pulled back from your own brink of self-destruction. I originally launched this war in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. I was wrong. But it quickly became apparent that Al Qaeda and its allies in Iraq were determined to make America fail in any attempt to build a decent Iraq and tilt the Middle East toward a more democratic track, no matter how many Iraqis had to be killed in the process. This was not the war we came for, but it was the one we found.

Al Qaeda understood that if it could defeat America in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, that it would resonate throughout the region and put Al Qaeda and its allies in the ascendant. Conversely, we understood that if we could defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq, in collaboration with other Arabs and Muslims, that it would resonate throughout the region and pay dividends. Something very big was at stake here. We have gone a long way toward winning that war.

At the same time, I also came to realize that in helping Iraqis organize elections, we were facilitating the first ever attempt by the people of a modern Arab state to write their own social contract — rather than have one imposed on them by kings, dictators or colonial powers. If Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds can forge your own social contract, then some form of a consensual government is possible in the Arab world. If you can’t, it is kings and dictators forever — with all the pathologies that come with that. Something very big is at stake there, too.

It’s not the stakes that have changed. It is the fact that you are now going to have to step up and finish this job. You have presumed an endless American safety net to permit you to endlessly bargain and dicker over who gets what. I’ve been way, way too patient with you. That is over. We bought you time with the surge to reach a formal political settlement and you better use it fast, because it is a rapidly diminishing asset.

You Shiites have got to bring the Sunni tribes and Awakening groups, who fought the war against Al Qaeda of Iraq, into the government and Army. You Kurds have got to find a solution for Kirkuk and accept greater integration into the Iraqi state system, while maintaining your autonomy. You Sunnis in government have got to agree to elections so the newly emergent Sunni tribal and Awakening groups are able to run for office and become “institutionalized” into the Iraqi system.

So pass your election and oil laws, spend some of your oil profits to get Iraqi refugees resettled and institutionalize the recent security gains while you still have a substantial U.S. presence. Read my lips: It will not be there indefinitely — even if McCain wins.

Our ambassador, Ryan Crocker, has told me your problem: Iraqi Shiites are still afraid of the past, Iraqi Sunnis are still afraid of the future and Iraqi Kurds are still afraid of both.

Well, you want to see fear. Look in the eyes of Americans who are seeing their savings wiped out, their companies disappear, their homes foreclosed. We are a different country today. After a decade of the world being afraid of too much American power, it is now going to be treated to a world of too little American power, as we turn inward to get our house back in order.

I still believe a decent outcome in Iraq, if you achieve it, will have long-lasting, positive implications for you and the entire Arab world, although the price has been way too high. I will wait for history for my redemption, but the American people will not. They want nation-building in America now. They will not walk away from Iraq overnight, but they will not stay there in numbers over time. I repeat: Do not misread this moment. God be with you.

George W. Bush

* NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/24/opinion/24friedman.html?_r=1&ref=opinion&oref=slogin

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Jerome Starkey: Footage of civilian ‘massacre’ forces inquiry into US attack

America’s most senior soldier in Afghanistan has called for the Pentagon to investigate claims that more than 90 civilians were killed in an American airstrike, after harrowing video footage emerged showing the broken bodies of at least 11 children among the dead.

The grim, eight-minute clip, filmed on a mobile phone in the aftermath of the bombing, shows rows of shrouded bodies laid side by side in a make-shift morgue. Among them are at least 11 children, many of them toddlers.

General David McKiernan, the commander of Nato’s International Assistance Force (Isaf), ordered a fresh investigation led by a Pentagon general after footage was released on Sunday night. In a statement he said: “In light of emerging evidence pertaining to civilian casualties … I feel it is prudent to request that US Central Command send a general officer to review the US investigation and its findings.”

The top-level review comes just days after he admitted there were “large discrepancies” among accounts of the death toll. American officials claim there were just seven civilians killed. The United Nations, the Afghan government and human rights groups said that the body count was closer to 90. Locals said most of the dead were women and children.

The damning footage was shot by a doctor who visited the morgue, in a building normally used as a mosque, on the morning after the attack on 22 August.

At one point a blanket is pulled back to show the grey, lifeless face of an infant. The dead child’s head is no bigger than a man’s hand. A large section of skull is missing. Women can be heard wailing in the background. One mourner is heard crying for his mother.

The bombs were called in by American Special Forces after their patrol was ambushed in Azizabad, in Herat province, shortly before dawn on that day. Officials said the American soldiers were trying to arrest a suspected Taliban commander.

Days after the attack, American officials remained adamant that just 30 Taliban insurgents had been killed, including their commander, despite detailed claims by Afghan officials that at least 76 people were killed, including 50 children.

Four days after the airstrike, on 26 August, the UN’s senior official in Kabul, Kai Eide, claimed he had “convincing evidence … that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, 15 women and 15 men”.

Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s President, said relations with the United States had “worsened” in the wake of the raid, which prompted a grovelling phone call from President George Bush.

There has been growing criticism of international troops for failing to curb civilian killings. A report by Human Rights Watch, published yesterday, said civilian deaths as a result of airstrikes by the US and Nato tripled from 2006 to 2007, which have sparked a public backlash.

Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director, said: “Mistakes by the US and Nato have dramatically decreased public support for the Afghan government and the presence of international forces.”

American officials eventually revised their initial body count, on 2 September, but they were still nowhere close to the numbers reported elsewhere. A spokesman said: “The investigation found that 30 to 35 Taliban militants were killed. In addition five to seven civilians were killed, two civilians were injured and subsequently treated.”

Mr Eide, the UN’s Special Representative, summoned General McKiernon to his office in Kabul on Friday last week to see the evidence for himself. General McKiernon was furious that the UN had released such an uncompromising statement condemning the raid. But a source close to the Isaf commander revealed he was almost moved to tears when he finally saw the images for himself. “He was shocked and humbled. He left like a little boy,” the military aide said.

If the 90 dead are confirmed, it would be the worst incident of collateral damage in Afghanistan since US and UK forces invaded in 2001.

Missiles fired by US drones killed 16 people, in an attack launched across the border into Pakistan yesteday. The strike targetted a religious school founded by an old friend of Osama bin Laden, intelligence officials and Pakistani villagers said. The US has increasingly used drones to make cross broder strikes on suspected Taliban targets in recent weeks. The missile killed 16 people, most of them Pakistani and Afghan Taliban fighters, though four women and two children were also killed, according to a senior intelligence officer.

* The Independent

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/footage-of-civilian-massacre-forces-inquiry-into-us-attack-923486.html

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Robert Fisk: It’s never good to swap people for bodies

Al-Jazeera – much praised by the now-dying US administration until it started reporting the truth about the American occupation of Iraq (at which point, you may recall, George Bush wanted to bomb it) – is back in hot water. And not, I fear, without reason. For on 19 July, its Beirut bureau staged a birthday party for Samir Kantar, newly released from Israel’s prisons in return for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers. “Brother Samir, we would like to celebrate your birthday with you,” allegedly gushed al-Jazeera’s man in Beirut. “You deserve even more than this… Happy Birthday, Brother Samir.”

The problem, of course, was that “Brother Samir” – whose moustache looks as if it has been modelled on that of a former German corporal – had been convicted in Israel for the 1979 killing of an Israeli father and his daughter. The Israelis claim he smashed in the head of the four-year-old with a rifle. Kantar denies this – though he does not deny that another child, this time two years old, was accidentally asphyxiated by its mother when she was trying to avoid giving away their hiding place. Kantar received a conviction of 542 years – long, even by Israel’s standards – and had been locked up for 28 years when he was swapped (along with other prisoners) for the bodies of the dead soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, whose capture started the 2006 Lebanon war.

Kantar received a hero’s welcome home from Hizbollah – even though Hizbollah did not exist when he was convicted – and was received by virtually the entire Lebanese government. I reported this whole miserable affair and referred to the cabinet in Beirut “grovelling to this man”. I was right. Al-Jazeera has now done a little grovelling of its own – but this has been accompanied by an extraordinary article in the American and Canadian press by Judea Pearl, attacking Kantar’s reception in Lebanon and al-Jazeer’s treatment of the man, announcing that Kantar’s royal procession in Lebanon had brought “barbarism back to the public square”.

Professor Pearl – who teaches at UCLA – is the father of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal correspondent butchered by Islamists in Karachi. They cut off his head. And only someone with a heart of stone could read Judea Pearl’s words without being moved. Here, after all, is another father grieving for a cruelly murdered child. Not long before he died, Daniel Pearl had shown great kindness to me after I was badly beaten on the Afghan border. He shared all the numbers in his contacts book with me while he and his wife made me tea and cookies in Peshawar. After his abduction, I wrote an open letter to Osama bin Laden (whom I knew), pleading for his release. I was too late. Daniel had already been murdered.

Judea Pearl currently runs a foundation named after his son and dedicated to dialogue and understanding. I will not go on at any length about a vindictive letter he wrote about me before his son was abducted – in which he claimed that I “drooled venom” and was “a professional hate pedlar”, adding that the 2001 international crimes against humanity in the United States were caused by “hate itself, of precisely the obsessive and dehumanising kind that Fisk and bin Laden has been spreading”.

This, of course, is the kind of incendiary stuff that produces a deluge of crude hate mail (which, indeed, is exactly what it did). But whatever his feelings about me now, Judea Pearl has a point.

Yet he wants al-Jazeera to apologise formally for that infamous party which has, he writes, robbed journalism of its “nobleness” and “relegitimized barbarism”, and something in me says – whoa there! The narrative is being cut off and rewritten. For if Kantar represents barbarism, why on earth did Israel release him in the first place?

Indeed, Israel released Kantar and other prisoners and 200 corpses of dead Hizbollah and Palestinian fighters at the demand of the Hizbollah militia. And when you get into the bodies game – swapping long-held prisoners for corpses – then the prisoners are going to be greeted when they are freed, whether we like it or not. Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, suggested there was indeed something noble about the prisoner exchange because it showed that Israel always cared for the return of its missing soldiers, alive or dead.

And I am reminded now of how Benjamin Netanyahu released Sheikh Ahmed Yassin from prison after two of Israel’s Mossad would-be killers tried to murder Khaled Meshal of Hamas in Amman. King Hussein had angrily demanded the antidote to the poison they gave Meshal – which is how Yassin obtained his release. Then, after Yassin had been greeted by his Palestinian followers and gone ranting on about the need to avoid recognition of Israel, praising suicide bombers into the bargain, an Israeli pilot fired a missile into his wheelchair – not exactly a noble act since the old man was a cripple – and once again we heard about the barbarity of the now dead Yassin. But if he was so barbarous, why did Netanyahu, that famous enemy of “terrorism”, release him? Because the two Mossad agents had been caught by the Jordanians? Of course.

So here we go again. The truth is that Israel uses these men as hostages – the American press employ the weasel words “bargaining chips” – and if you’re going to get into the grisly game of body swapping, then the result is Samir Kantar parading himself around Lebanon and celebrating his birthday on al-Jazeera. That doesn’t justify the pathetic performance of the Lebanese government. It certainly does show the power of Hizbollah. But it shows even more clearly that, despite all Israel’s huffing and puffing about “never dealing with terrorists”, this is exactly what it does. It’s very easy to kick al-Jazeera – and not without reason. But the story didn’t start there. And it hasn’t ended yet.

* The Independent

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-its-never-good-to-swap–people-for-bodies-920837.html

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Robert Fisk: Why do we keep letting the politicians get away with lies?

How on earth do they get away with it? Let’s start with war between Hizbollah and Israel – past and future war, that is.

Back in 2006, Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers from their side of the Lebanese frontier and dragged them, mortally wounded, into Lebanon. The Israelis immediately launched a massive air bombardment against all of Lebanon, publicly declaring Beirut’s democratically-elected and US-backed – but extremely weak – government must be held to account for what Hizbollah does. Taking the lives of more than 1,000 Lebanese, almost all civilians, Israel unleashed its air power against the entire infrastructure of the rebuilt Lebanon, smashing highways, viaducts, electric grids, factories, lighthouses, totally erasing dozens of villages and half-destroying hundreds more before bathing the south of the country in three million cluster bomblets.

After firing thousands of old but nonetheless lethal rockets into Israel – where the total death toll was less than 200, more than half of them soldiers – Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah’s leader, told a lie: if he had known what Israel would do in revenge for the capture of two soldiers, he announced, he would never have agreed to Hizbollah’s operation.

But now here comes Israel’s environment minister, Gideon Ezra, with an equally huge whopper as he warns of an even bigger, more terrible war should Hizbollah attack Israel again. “During the (2006) war, we considered the possibility of attacking Lebanon’s infrastructure but we never (sic) resorted to this option, because we thought at the time that not all the Lebanese were responsible for the Hizbollah attacks… At that time, we had Hizbollah in our sights and not the Lebanese state. But the Hizbollah do not live on the moon, and some (sic) infrastructure was hit.” This was a brazen lie. Yet the Americans, who arm Israel, said nothing. The European Union said nothing. No journalistic column pointed out this absolute dishonesty.

Yet why should they when George Bush and Condoleezza Rice announced that there would be peace between Israelis and Palestinians by the end of 2007 – then rolled back the moment Israel decided it didn’t like the timetable. Take this week’s charade in Jerusalem. The moment Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni announced that “premature” efforts to bridge gaps in the “peace process” could lead to “clashes” (Palestinians, it should be remembered, die in “clashes”, Israelis are always “murdered”), my friends in Beirut and I – along with a Jewish friend in London – took bets on when Condi would fall into line. Bingo, this was Her Holiness in Jerusalem last week: “It’s extremely important just to keep making forward progress rather than trying prematurely to come to some set of conclusions.” “Some set”, of course, means “peace”‘. Once more, US foreign policy was dictated by Israel. And again, the world remained silent.

So when the world’s press announced that Barack Obama’s new running mate, the silver-haired Joe Biden, was “an expert in foreign policy”, we all waited to be told what this meant. But all we got was a reminder that he had voted for the 2003 Iraq invasion but thought better about it later and was now against the war. Well, Goddam blow me down, that certainly shows experience. But “expertise”? No doubt in government he’ll be teemed up with those old pro-Israeli has-beens, Madeleine Albright and Martin Indyk, whose new boss, Obama, virtually elected himself to the Israeli Knesset with his supine performance in Israel during his famous “international” tour.

As one of the Arab world’s most prominent commentators put it to me this week, “Biden’s being set up to protect Israel while Obama looks after the transportation system in Chicago.” It was a cruel remark with just enough bitter reality to make it bite.

Not that we’ll pay attention. And why should we when the Canadian department of national defence – in an effort to staunch the flow of Canadian blood in the sands of Afghanistan (93 servicemen and women “fallen” so far in their hopeless Nato war against the Taliban) – has brought in a Virginia-based US company called the Terrorism Research Centre to help. According to the DND, these “terrorism experts” are going, among other subjects, to teach Canadian troops – DO NOT LAUGH, READERS, I BEG YOU DO NOT LAUGH – “the history of Islam”! And yes, these “anti-terrorism” heroes are also going to lecture the lads on “radical (sic) Islam”, “sensitivities” and “cultural and ideological issues that influence insurgent decision-making”. It is a mystery to me why the Canadian brass should turn to the US for assistance – at a cost of almost a million dollars, I should add – when America is currently losing two huge wars in the Muslim world.

But wait. The counterinsurgency school, which claims links to the US government, is reported to be a branch of Total Intelligence Solutions, a company run by infamous Cofer Black, a former director of CIA counterterrorism, and Erik Prince, a former US navy seal. Both men are executives with the Prince Group, the holding company for Total Intelligence Solutions and – and here readers will not laugh – a certain company called Blackwater. Yes, the very same Blackwater whose mercenary thugs blithely gunned down all those civilians on the streets of Baghdad last year. So Canada’s soldiers are now going to be contaminated by these mercenary killers before they head off to the Muslim world with their unique understanding of “the history of Islam”. How do they get away with it?

On a quite separate matter, you might ask the same of Conrad Black, languishing in a Florida prison after his business convictions. Responding to an enquiry from Murdoch’s grotty New York Post into body searches and other appalling humiliations at the jail, Uncle Conrad, as I like to call him – for he is among the rogues I would love to have interviewed (others include the younger Mussolini and the older Yeltsin) – responded that the Florida facility was not oppressive, that “many of the people here are quite (sic) interesting” but – AND HERE IT COMES, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! – “if saintly men like Gandhi could choose to clean latrines, and Thomas More could voluntarily wear a hair shirt, this experience won’t kill me”.

Now when Uncle Conrad likens himself to the assassinated Mahatma, the apostle of India, that is mere hubris. But when he compares himself to England’s greatest Catholic martyr, a man of saintly honour if ruthless conviction, this is truly weird. “I die the King’s good servant but God’s first,” More reportedly said on 6 July 1535, before they chopped off his head on Tower Hill. And many are there among Uncle Conrad’s enemies who might wish the same fate for the former owner of The Daily Telegraph. After all, Henry VIII didn’t let Thomas get away with it.

The Independent

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisks-world-why-do-we-keep-letting-the-politicians-get-away-with-lies-913244.html

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Robert Fisk: ‘Theatrical return for the living and the dead’

Yesterday was the last day of the 2006 Lebanon war, the final chapter of Israel’s folly and Hizbollah’s hubris, a grisly day of corpse-swapping and refrigerated body parts and coffin after bleak wooden coffin on trucks crossing the Israeli border, which left old Ali Ahmed al-Sfeir and his wife, Wahde, stooped and broken with grief. Ali had a grizzled grey beard and stood propped on a stick while Wahde held a grey-tinged photograph of a young man – her son Ahmed, born in 1970. “He was a martyr, but I do not know which lorry he will be on,” she said. In the slightly torn picture, he looked whey-faced, unsmiling, already dead.

That could not be said for Samir Kuntar – 28 years in an Israeli jail for the 1979 murder of an Israeli, his young daughter and a policeman. He arrived from Israel very much alive, clean shaven but sporting a neat moustache, overawed by the hundreds of Hizbollah supporters, a man used to solitary confinement who suddenly found himself idolised by a people he had not seen in almost three decades. His eyes moved around him, the eyes of a prisoner watching for trouble. He was Israel’s longest-held Lebanese prisoner; Hizbollah’s leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, had promised his release. And he had kept his word.

The coffins – newly hammered together in Tyre before the 200 Hizbollah, Amal militia and Palestinian bodies arrived from Israel – were soon bathed in the Lebanese flag and golden Hizbollah banners, drawn by a flower-encrusted truck towards Beirut. Wahde climbed on to a plastic chair, desperate to see the box containing her son’s skeleton. Old Ali pleaded to stand with her but she told him he was too old, so he stood, head bowed, amid the television reporters and young Hizbollah fighters, with tears in his eyes. Who knows if Ahmed was in one of the boxes?

But it was also a day of humiliation. Humiliation most of all for the Israelis. After launching their 2006 war to retrieve two of their captured soldiers, they killed more than a thousand Lebanese civilians, devastated Lebanon, lost 160 of their own – most of them soldiers – and ended up yesterday handing over 200 Arab corpses and five prisoners in return for the remains of the two missing soldiers and a box of body parts.

For the Americans who have supported the democratically elected Lebanese government of Fouad Siniora, it was a day of hopelessness. For Mr Siniora himself, along with the President and all the surviving ex-prime ministers and presidents of Lebanon, and the leader of the Druze community and the country’s MPs and Muslim religious leaders, and bishops and higher civil servants, and the heads of all the security services – along, of course, with the UN’s representative – were at Beirut airport to grovel before the five prisoners whom Hizbollah had freed from Israel. They were flown north by the Lebanese army’s own helicopters.

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Robert Fisk: Snapshots of life in Baghdad

Three bodies lie beside a Baghdad street on a blindingly hot day. The one on the right is dressed in a white shirt and bright green trousers, his hands tied behind his back. Two others on the left lie shoeless, both dressed in check shirts, dumped – how easily we use that word of Baghdad’s corpses – on a yard of dirt and bags of garbage. They, too, of course, are now garbage. The wall behind them, a grim barrier of dun-coloured brick, seals off this horror from two two-storey villas and a clutch of palm trees, the normal life of Baghdad just a wall away from the other “normal” life of Baghdad’s sectarian killings. No one knows whose bodies they are and the picture – taken from a car window – was snapped in fear by an unknown Iraqi.

It is a cell-phone picture, for now only the cell phones of the Iraqi people can record their tragedy. Another shows a young man’s body, taken from beside a car wing mirror, hands tied behind his back with his own shirt. Bombs explode across the Baghdad skyline, columns of smoke move into the air like sinister ghosts. Palm trees block off streets of fearful Iraqis. A car bomb blazes, the faint image of a US Humvee outlined against the trees. There are broken bridges, wounded friends, blood-soaked cloth.

But there are also families; even a Muslim family celebrating Christmas, all dressed in Santa Claus hats, and a graduation party where the girls wear Bedouin black dresses with gold-fringed scarves and the boys wear Arab headdress and white abayas – something quite foreign to the middle classes of what was once one of the most literate and educated cities of the Middle East.

But it is the cell phone that has captured this terrible, fearful, brave face of Baghdad. Western photographers can no longer roam the streets of the Iraqi capital – and few other cities in Iraq – and in south-west Afghanistan, the same phenomenon has occurred.

We Westerners need the locals to photograph their tragedy and their ragged, often fuzzy, poorly framed pictures contain their own finely calibrated and terrible beauty. The fear of the cell-phone snapper is contained in almost every frame. Most of the Iraqis are refugees-to-be, for the Dutch photographer Geert van Kesteren, who collected 388 pages of photographs for his book Baghdad Calling, wanted to catalogue the tragedy of the tens of thousands of Iraqis who are the largely ignored victims of our demented 2003 invasion and occupation.

Van Kesteren, an unassuming but imaginative journalist whom I met recently in Holland, noticed that refugees used their cell phones as family albums and decided, in the words of Brigitte Lardinois, formerly director of Magnum Photos in London, “to let the pictures of ordinary, non-professional photographers tell the story this time”. Iraqi refugees in Jordan asked friends to send more pictures from Baghdad.

Some were rejected because of their suspect provenance – alas, we therefore do not see the picture of an American soldier, apparently firing a rifle from atop a donkey, but which might have been digitally edited – but others cannot be anything but the truth. The smiling families, hiding in their homes as the killers roam the darkness outside, the young men relaxing in the safety of Kurdistan, swimming in the lakes, revelling in the nightlife, the plump nephew of one of the anonymous cell-phone photographers sitting on a bright red sports car, have to be real.

It must have been hard for Van Kesteren, a news photographer in his own right, to have submerged his own work for this brilliant amateur collection. A few of Van Kesteren’s own professional pictures appear in Baghdad Calling but they are taken in the safety of Syria, Jordan or Turkey and – save for a group photograph of courageous Iraqis captured after illegally crossing the Turkish border but still determined to escape from their country again – they lack the power and immediacy of the Iraqi snapshots.

The refugee statistics are so appalling that they have become almost mundane. Four million of Iraq’s 23 million people have fled their homes – until recently, at the rate of 60,000 a month – allegedly more than 1.2 million to Syria (a figure now challenged by at least one prominent NGO), 500,000 to Jordan, 200,000 to the Gulf, 70,000 to Egypt, 57,000 to Iran, up to 40,000 to Lebanon, 10,000 to Turkey. Sweden has accepted 9,000, Germany fewer – where an outrageous political debate has suggested that Christian refugees should have preference over Muslim Iraqis. With its usual magnanimity – especially for a country that set off this hell-disaster by its illegal invasion – George Bush’s America has, of course, accepted slightly more than 500.

This collection of pictures is therefore an indictment of us, as well as of the courage of Iraqis. The madness is summed up in an email message sent to Van Kesteren by a Baghdad Iraqi. “This summer,” he wrote, “a workman wanted to quench his thirst by putting ice in his tea. A car pulled up, the driver stepped out and began to beat and kick the man, cursing him as an unbeliever. ‘What do you think you’re doing? Did the Prophet Mohamed put ice in his water?’

The man being attacked was furious and asked his assailant: ‘Do you think the Prophet Mohamed drove a car?'”

* The Independent

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/fisk/robert-fisk-snapshots-of-life-in-baghdad-849226.html

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