Tag Archives: Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk’s World: The West should feel shame over its collusion with torturers

I invited Abdullah Almalki to breakfast in Ottawa but he only took coffee. And while I wolfed down my all-English breakfast in the Chateau Laurier Hotel (beloved of Churchill and Karsh of Ottawa fame), he sipped gingerly at his cup with much on his mind. Snooped on by the Canadian secret service and then tortured in Syria while the Canadian authorities did nothing for him – save supplying his perverted torturers with questions – he had much to think about. A carbon copy of Binyam Mohamed, the British resident who had his penis cut up while the Brits sent questions to his perverted Moroccan torturers.

In Abdullah Almalki’s case, he wasn’t renditioned. He simply flew into Damascus to see his Syrian family, got banged up in the city’s secret police headquarters and was then beaten into submission, not much different from an even more famous case – that of Maher Arar, who was a Canadian citizen and got renditioned to Damascus by the Americans while the US authorities sent questions to his perverted Syrian torturers. Arar has received apologies from US senators – though not from the war hero George Bush (battle honours: the skies over Texas during the Vietnam conflict) — and compensation from the Canadian government.

The details of each case are shockingly similar. Tim Hancock of Amnesty International has supplied similar information on Khaled al-Maqtari, a Yemeni man, who was apparently threatened with rape and beaten in chains by his perverted American torturers. Western nations simply assisted the perverts by providing them with pages of questions while their citizens/residents lay in agony, wishing they had never been born.

In the case of Abdullah Almalki, four interrogations by the Canadian “secret service” (its acronym – CSIS – inspires more laughter than fear) preceded his departure from Canada and the collapse of his business and subsequent residence in Malaysia. He and his wife had run an electronic components export business in Ottawa which prompted CSIS’s suspicions. Was he sending funds or components to “terrorists” (the quotation marks are, of course, obligatory since CSIS was not worried about the “terrorists” who run the Syrian secret service and who were later to torture Abdullah Almalki on Canada’s behalf).

For months, he was held in a secret service hellhole in Damascus and whipped with steel while the Syrians acted upon a Canadian letter to them (dated 4 October 2001) which stated that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were suggesting that Mr Almalki was linked through association with al-Qa’ida and engaged in activities that posed an “imminent threat” to the public safety and security of Canada. Readers who doubt this outrageous letter to the Syrian dictatorship can check page 400 of the Iacobucci report which was drawn up with government assistance after Almalki’s release. The RCMP – the famous Mounties – also sent letters to Canadian government liaison officers in Islamabad, Rome, Delhi, Washington, London, Berlin and Paris, identifying Almalki as an “important member” of al-Qa’ida. For more information, you must read Kerry Pither’s brilliant account, Dark Days: The Story of Four Canadians Tortured in the Name of Fighting Terror, which is scandalously unavailable in Britain.

The purpose of setting out these awful accounts is not to piss on Canadians. Canada is a great and real democracy, albeit weighed down with too much political correctness. I once remember an immigration officer at Toronto airport explaining to an Asian visitor that he wasn’t to allow himself to be interrogated by the police without a lawyer and that he was free to speak and move wherever he wanted in Canada. The finest immigration guy in the world, I thought to myself. The lads and lasses at the Heathrow immigration desks don’t come up to that standard.

No, I don’t think Canada as a nation is to blame for all this. But the West is. For it is our public servants in government and our secret service thugs who have been in league with all these perverted men around the world. Indeed, even when Almalki was freed from his Syrian prison, Canadian embassy officials in Damascus would not allow him to stay in their building and ordered him out when the embassy closed at 4pm. One of them reportedly later told Almalki that Canada regularly gave passports to the families of leading Syrian officials. Can this be true?

I do know that the Syrians quite recently complained mightily to the Americans as well as the Canadians. First, the West sent its prisoners to be tortured in Damascus – and then complained that Syria abused human rights! Quite so. Bashar Al-Assad has put a stop to quite a lot of torture in Syria and now that President Obama is sending his cohorts to woo the Syrians, they presumably won’t be called on to do America’s (or Canada’s) dirty work any more.

But I want to know why those complicit in Almalki’s torture – the letter writers, the composers of questions – cannot be tried in court. They are, at the least, accomplices to human rights abuses. So are the Brits who went to question tortured men in Guantanamo. Even more so are the American perverts who indulged in their own torture in Afghanistan and Iraq – and yes, I have noted that our dear President Obama is allowing the illegal detention of prisoners at Bagram in Afghanistan to continue. But what else would you expect from a man whose secretary of state, Lady Hillary, far from going to the Palestinians whose homes were going to be destroyed by the Israelis in Jerusalem and denouncing this outrage, said merely that the home demolitions were “unhelpful”.

So, in the long term, is torturing prisoners. Abdullah Almalki drove me to Ottawa airport in the snow after our breakfast, admitting that he was still too mentally broken by his months of Syrian torture to find employment. CSIS doesn’t follow him any more as he says it used to before he left Canada for Asia and then the the hell of Syria. No one tailed our car. No one says any more that Almalki is guilty. On the other hand, no one will say he is innocent. But there are an awful lot of men in Western governments who should be in the dock. They won’t be, of course. And oh yes – just in case you missed it – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has just admitted that Canadian troops in Afghanistan are not going to win a military victory there. Just think. All that torture – for nothing.

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Robert Fisk’s World: Bush rescues Wall Street but leaves his soldiers to die in Iraq

It was a weird week to be in the United States. On Tuesday, secretary of the treasury Henry Paulson told us that “this is all about the American taxpayer – that’s all we care about”. But when I flipped the page on my morning paper, I came across the latest gloomy statistic which Americans should care more about. “As of Wednesday evening, 4,162 US service members and 11 Defence Department civilians had been identified as having died in the Iraq war.” By grotesque mischance, $700bn – the cost of George Bush’s Wall Street rescue cash – is about the same figure as the same President has squandered on his preposterous war in Iraq, the war we have now apparently “won” thanks to the “surge” – for which, read “escalation” – in Baghdad. The fact that the fall in casualties coincides with the near-completion of the Shia ethnic cleansing of Sunni Muslims is not part of the story.

Indeed, a strange narrative is now being built into the daily history of America. First we won the war in Afghanistan by overthrowing the evil, terrorist-protecting misogynist Islamist crazies called the Taliban, setting up a democratic government under the exotically dressed Hamid Karzai. Then we rushed off to Iraq and overthrew the evil, terrorist-protecting, nuclear-weaponised, secular Baathist crazies under Saddam, setting up a democratic government under the pro-Iranian Shia Nouri al-Maliki. Mission accomplished. Then, after 250,000 Iraqi deaths – or half a million or a million, who cares? – we rushed back to Kabul and Kandahar to win the war all over again in Afghanistan. The conflict now embraces our old chums in Pakistan, the Saudi-financed, American-financed Interservices Intelligence Agency whose Taliban friends – now attacked by our brave troops inside Pakistani sovereign territory – again control half of Afghanistan.

We are, in fact, now fighting a war in what I call Irakistan. It’s hopeless; it’s a mess; it’s shameful; it’s unethical and it’s unwinnable and no wonder the Wall Street meltdown was greeted with such relief by Messrs Obama and McCain. They couldn’t suspend their campaigns to discuss the greatest military crisis in America’s history since Vietnam – but for Wall Street, no problem. The American taxpayer – “that’s all we care about”. Mercifully for the presidential candidates, they don’t have to debate the hell-disaster of Iraq any more, nor US-Israeli relations, nor Exxon or Chevron or BP-Mobil or Shell. George Bush’s titanic if mythical battle between good and evil has transmogrified into the conflict between good taxpayers and evil bankers. Phew! No entanglement in the lives and deaths of the people of the Middle East. Until the elections – barring another 9/11 – they are yesterday’s men and women.

But truth lurks in the strangest of airports. I’m chewing my way though a plate of spiced but heavy-boned chicken wings – final proof of why chickens can’t fly – at John Wayne airport in Orange County (take a trip down the escalator and you can actually see a larger-than-life statue of the “Duke”), and up on the screen behind the bar pops Obama himself. The word “Change” flashes on the logo and the guy on my left shakes his head. “I got a brother who’s just come back from Afghanistan,” he says. “He’s been fighting there but says there’s no infrastructure so there can be no victory. There’s nothing to build on. We’re not wanted.” At California’s San Jose University, a guy comes up and asks me to sign my new book for him. “Write ‘To Sergeant ‘D’,” he says with a sigh. “That’s what they call me. Two tours in Iraq, just heading out to Afghanistan.” And he rolls his eyes and I wish him safe home afterwards.

Of course, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict no longer gets a look into the debate. McCain’s visit to the Middle East and Obama’s visit to the Middle East – in which they outdid each other in fawning to the Israeli lobby (Obama’s own contribution surely earning him membership of the Knesset if not entry to the White House) – are safely in the past. Without any discussion, Israeli and US officials held a three-day security-technology forum in Washington this month which coincided with an equally undebated decision by the dying Bush administration to give a further $330m in three separate arms deals for Israel, including 28,000 M72A7 66mm light anti-armour weapons and 1,000 GBU-9 small diameter bombs from Boeing. Twenty-five Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets are likely to be approved before the election. The Israeli-American talks were described as “the most senior bilateral high-technology dialogue ever between the two allies”. Nothing to write home about, of course.

Almost equally unreported in major US papers – save by the good old Washington Report – was a potential scandal in good old Los Angeles to which Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently returned after a $225,000 junket to Israel with three council members and other city officials (along with families, kids, etc). The purpose? To launch new agreements for security at Los Angeles international airport. Council members waffled away on cellphones and walked out of the chamber when protesters claimed that the council was negotiating with a foreign power before seeking bids from American security services. One of the protesters asked if the idea of handing LAX’s security to the Israelis was such a good idea when Israeli firms were operating security at Boston Logan and Newark on 9/11 when a rather sinister bunch of Arabs passed through en route to their international crimes against humanity.

But who cares? 9/11? Come again? What’s that got to do with the American taxpayer?

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisks-world-bush-rescues-wall-street-but-leaves-his-soldiers-to-die-in-iraq-944071.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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Hermann Bellinghausen: Regreso de África

Se dice “África” con demasiada ligereza. Para Occidente significa el espacio mítico de la aventura y la desgracia. El lugar de sus esclavos, los hambrientos, los desterrados, los masacrados, los “salvajes” e incomprensibles pueblos negros.

Su norte arábico es menos “africano” en la imaginación europea. Y la América “negra”, de “tercera raíz”, aparece como una suerte de África salvada de serlo, aún en Detroit o las favelas de Río de Janeiro. Desconocido como la misma Luna, es de los cinco continentes el máximo lugar común: obviedades infundadas y mentiras profundas.

Su guía de forasteros literaria sigue siendo El corazón de las tinieblas (1899), de Joseph Conrad, no sólo porque es una gran obra, sino porque transmite los miedos, las crueldades y la culpa de las miradas de Occidente sobre ese espacio saqueado y condenado una y otra vez, sin que el saqueo ni la condena concluyan de una buena vez.

El erial sigue creciendo. Sus pobladores huyen hacia la Europa que los colonizó, y ésta les declara una nueva guerra (antimigratoria) y levanta muros legales y campos de confinamiento.

Dos libros de signo muy distinto profundizan en el África de las pesadillas occidentales modernas, pero desde dentro, y le dan sentido. Medio siglo después de las independencias nacionales, el mal del África subsahariana es que no pertenece a sus pobladores, cuyas vidas no pertenecen a ellos ni a nadie. Se nace fácil y se muere fácil. Guerra, enfermedad, hambre, sed.

Ébano, de Ryzard Kapuscinski (1998. Anagrama, 2000), y Mara y Dann, de Doris Lesssing (1999. Ediciones B, 2005), son dos obras monumentales.

La primera, una decantada crónica del pasado medio siglo de revoluciones y guerras civiles, el testimonio “duro” de un reportero improbablemente polaco (¿como Conrad?), que viajó el continente durante varias décadas prefigurando lo que hoy sería Robert Fisk para el mundo árabe.

Fue menos erudito, pero tuvo mayor densidad literaria. En tanto, la novela de Lessing es ficción en el sentido más extremo. Sucede en un confuso futuro sin contacto con nuestro presente, fracturado y distante, nunca sabemos por cuántos años o siglos.

Anterior al sida, al ébola, a los transgénicos y al calentamiento global, Ébano ya retrata el páramo poseuropeo, la lucha cotidiana y bestial por un mendrugo, un vaso de agua, un poco de sombra, un día más con vida.

Mara y Dann sucede después de todos esos desastres, cuando Europa, cubierta de hielo, ya no existe ni en la memoria. Queda el sur, un inmenso desierto donde la gente de todas las razas (otras razas, las de después del fin del mundo) siguen intentando vivir un día más y alcanzar el norte en un peregrinaje sin fin.

Los hermanos Mara y Dann huyen del ocaso de su pueblo y de su casta en el sur de “Ífrik”. Ponen la voluntad por encima del sufrimiento a través de penurias terribles y frágiles momentos de bonanza. Una bildungsroman sometida a la peor intemperie on the road.

Kapuscinski reporteó el continente más de 30 años. Lessing, nacida en Irán, vivió en Zimbawe los primeros 30 años de su vida, y trae al África clavada en la conciencia, como todo británico de bien.

Aquél describe un mundo olvidado por el mundo. Ésta imagina uno que olvidó lo que hoy sabe la civilización: sin tecnología ni historia, sin ninguna clave científica. No se trata de autores africanos negros (tipo Ben Okri o Amos Toutola), ni siquiera blancos (Nadine Gordimer, André Brink). Kapuscinski y Lessing tan sólo dejaron su corazón allá.

Contemplan esa “humanidad sobrante” que hoy sobrepuebla el planeta de slums descrito por Mike Davis. Por ejemplo, Kinshasa, capital congolesa. Nueve millones de habitantes, 95 por ciento sin salario, con ingresos promedio de 100 dólares al año. No hay carros, ni dinero. Dos terceras partes de la gente es desnutrida; una de cada cinco, VIH positiva. No hay servicios de salud. Y los niños se han convertido en brujos para sobrevivir. Todo, en medio de permanentes guerras civiles y con los vecinos, bajo un gobierno de ladrones y asesinos. “Un país naturalmente rico, artificialmente empobrecido.” (Planet of Slums, Verso, 2006).

Así, Ébano y Mara y Dann, tan distintos en todo, dejan la inquietante sensación de ser el mismo libro por otros medios. Advertencias contra un cierto futuro, más allá de África.

http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2008/09/01/index.php?section=opinion&article=a13a1cul

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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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