29th June, 2011

No freedom of speech for Palestinians

by Sunny at 8:17 pm    

Sorry, was someone from the Libdems claiming that their coalition government cherished freedom of speech? Bollocks.

The home secretary, Theresa May, has ordered “a full investigation” after a leading Palestinian activist in Israel entered Britain despite a travel ban.

Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, was detained at 11pm on Tuesday and taken to Paddington Green police station in west London.

Sarah Colborne, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in London, said she was appalled by the decision to detain Salah. “This is a legitimate organisation which Israel has never moved to ban. Raed Salah regularly speaks at venues across Israel, where he has considerable support amongst the Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up a fifth of the population.” He had been elected mayor of his home town, Um al-Fahm, three times and never been convicted of anti-semitism in Israel.

It doesn’t really matter does it? This govt will allow in people like Geert Wilders, who regularly espouse racist garbage against Muslims, but those rights don’t extend to Muslims (I’m in favour of both sets of racists being allowed in).

He’s also a politician from Israel. So the govt will allow in Israel ministers like Avigdor “fascist” Lieberman, but not Muslim politicians from Israel. The usual suspects who screamed censorship when Geert Wilders was banned in 2009, will no doubt be celebrating this too.

14th June, 2011

Bahraini medical staff put on trial for treating wounded

by Rumbold at 12:35 pm    

Robert Fisk reports from Bahrain, where 48 surgeons, doctors, paramedics and nurses were put on trial for allegedly attempting to overthrow the monarchy. Their crime was to have treated anti-government protestors. Mr Fisk argues that the trial is going ahead at the behest of Saudi Arabia:

In truth, of course, the Khalifa family is not mad. Nor are the Sunni minority of Bahrain intrinsically bad or sectarian. The reality is clear for anyone to see in Bahrain. The Saudis are now running the country. They never received an invitation to send their own soldiers to support the Bahraini “security forces” from the Bahraini Crown Prince, who is a decent man. They simply invaded and received a post-dated invitation.

The subsequent destruction of ancient Shia mosques in Bahrain was a Saudi project, entirely in line with the kingdom’s Taliban-style hatred of all things Shia. Could the Bahraini prime minister be elected, I asked a member of the royal court last February? “The Saudis would not permit this,” he replied. Of course not. Because they now control Bahrain. Hence the Saudi-style doctors’ trial.

Disgraceful. This show trial should certainly be the last straw in any UK co-operation with the Bahrainis.

3rd June, 2011

Campaigning against societal norms and customs

by Rumbold at 1:57 pm    

Nesrine Malik has a good piece on the Women2Drive campaign in Saudi Arabia and the difficulties faced by campaigners who are protesting against customs rather than just laws:

Manal al-Sharif, the woman who attracted global attention to the Saudi Women2Drive campaign when she posted videos of herself driving on YouTube, was released earlier this week from Dammam prison. As a condition of her release she signed a pledge that she will not participate in the Women2Drive initiative and has officially withdrawn from the campaign. In her statement, she expressed “profound gratitude” to the king, who apparently had ordered her release…

Campaigns of this kind need to be personalised – to have a galvanising figure who can provide a role model and inspire others. But becoming that person in a traditional society can be nothing short of social suicide. Although Sharif is feted in the media and celebrated online, she still has to survive and raise her children among fellow Saudis who might be more disdainful. In an attempt to deflect attention, she said in her statement that she hoped the “Manal al-Sharif file is now closed”.

Ms. Malik points out that there are no written laws relating to female driving, yet it is banned because a ban in enforced in practice.

23rd May, 2011

Damning: how BBC coverage is biased against Palestinians

by Sunny at 2:12 pm    

Former BBC journalist Tim Llewellyn has a damning article in the Guardian today, exposing the BBC’s failings when reporting on Israel / Palestine.

He says:

There is no attempt to properly convey cause and effect, to report the misery, violence and pillage that demean and deny freedom to the Palestinians and provoke their (limited) actions.

For example:

>> In the bulletins they examined, the BBC gave 421.5 lines of text to Israeli explanations of why they attacked Gaza: the “need for security”, “enemy rockets”, “to stop the smuggling of weapons”. The BBC devoted 14.25 lines to references to the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories and 10.5 lines to the blockade. The BBC repeatedly stressed the word [Israeli] “retaliation”, and also implied that police stations bombed by the Israelis were military targets, describing other casualties as “civilian”. It described these civilian installations as “targets”. Newspapers such as the Guardian did point out the distinction.

>> “The offer that Hamas was said to have made, to halt this exchange [rockets v shells and air strikes] … was almost completely absent from the coverage,” say the authors. They cite a BBC reporter saying: “Israel feels itself surrounded by enemies, with reason.” They add: “We have not found a commentary noting that ‘Palestinians feel themselves to be subject to a brutal military occupation, with reason.’ Israel’s official view is given as fact, they say, but the Palestinian view, on the rare occasions it is found at all, is not. Israelis “state”, Palestinians “claim”.

>> Any Israeli casualty is headline news, shown in high quality images. BBC teams are based in West Jerusalem, de facto Israeli territory, and are on hand. Arab casualties may be shown in reports of a funeral, usually agency film, the victim anonymous. The Israelis, it seems, are for the BBC “people like us”. The Arabs are “the other”.

>> For example, the BBC consistently describes illegal Israeli settlements as “held to be illegal”. But they are illegal. Even the Foreign Office says so. The BBC always adds “Israel disputes this.” Well it would, wouldn’t it? Why these caveats?

Shame on the BBC for not improving its coverage of the Middle East.

And I’m sure people will say ‘just watch Al-Jazeera instead’, but that ignores the BBC not only has a duty to proper journalism but also reaches vast parts of the country in a way al-Jazeera can’t.

30th April, 2011

More massacres in Syria

by Rumbold at 9:22 am    

As protests in Syria continue, the Syrian state is reacting in its usual bloodthirsty way by killing scores more people:

Dozens of people have been shot dead by Syrian security forces, activists claim, as tens of thousands took part in anti-government rallies dubbed a “day of rage”.

Activists said at least 50 protesters were killed across the country on Friday, although Al Jazeera cannot independently verify the death toll.

At least 15 people were reported killed near Deraa where security forces fired on thousands of protesters trying to enter the besieged southern city, sources told Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin.

DaveM has a good overview of the situation.

Filed under: Middle East
31st March, 2011

Middle East’s only democracy continues to oppose more democracy

by Sunny at 6:00 pm    

Hey look, Israel is still rooting for Middle Eastern dictators:

As popular unrest threatens to topple another Arab neighbor, Israel finds itself again quietly rooting for the survival of an autocratic yet predictable regime, rather than face an untested new government in its place.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s race to tamp down public unrest is stirring anxiety in Israel that is even higher than its hand-wringing over Egypt’s recent regime change. Unlike Israel and Egypt, Israel and Syria have no peace agreement, and Syria, with a large arsenal of sophisticated weapons, is one of Israel’s strongest enemies.

“Officially it’s better to avoid any reaction and watch the situation,” said Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, the Defense Ministry’s policy director. He predicted Assad’s regime would survive the unrest.

This of course comes not long after the Israeli government was loudly hoping that Hosni Mubarak would stay in power. Seems like they’re really interested in democracy spreading to the Middle East aren’t they?

18th March, 2011

UN no-fly zone finally agreed

by Rumbold at 10:51 am    

It is good they were finally able to get round to it:

UK forces are preparing to help enforce a no-fly zone over Libya after the UN backed “all necessary measures”, short of an invasion, to protect civilians. Downing Street has cautioned against earlier suggestions that British planes could be in action “within hours” and declined to put a timetable on it. The UN resolution rules out a foreign occupation force in any part of Libya.

David Cameron has also indulged in some clever politicking:

The Cabinet will decide if there is to be a vote in the House of Commons prior to any UK military action. When he was in opposition, Mr Cameron pledged to give MPs the final say over sending UK forces into action.

Labour are pledging to back the no-fly zone, which means if things go wrong, the coalition government can point out that the opposition supported it too.

1st March, 2011

The chances of anyone invading Libya: virtually nil

by Sunny at 3:52 pm    

US warships are moving towards the region and the UK government is stepping up the rhetoric. But the chances of invasion? Virtually nil.

I’m not even sure why people are getting worked up about it. This is just grandstanding in the hope Gaddafi backs down from international pressure.

The UK will not go in alone and the USA has no money for an invasion anyway; it’s just about keeping White House from being shut down. I thought all this was obvious?! Please give Obama some credit people: he may have been crap on civil liberties but a neo-con he definitely is not.

Of course Cameron will say “we have to prepare for every eventuality” – to say anything is not only political suicide but incompetence. If Gaddafi started gassing Libyans enmasse would people still sit around saying there should be no invasion? Highly doubt it. The warships are there to remind Gaddafi what could happen if he even thought about it…

As far as I can see, the US and UK are taking the correct course of action.

Update: Surprise surprise, the Pentagon is not hot on it either.

28th February, 2011

Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood go in different directions

by Sunny at 1:44 pm    

This is very encouraging:

A group of roughly 2000 young members of the Muslim Brotherhood say they are planning to stage a “revolt” against the group’s authoritative Guidance Bureau and Shura Council on 17 March to demand the dissolution of the two governing bodies.

Young members say there is no reason why the group should work in secrecy considering the “wave of freedom” witnessed by Egypt following the 25 January uprising, which led to the ouster of Egypt’s longstanding president Hosni Mubarak on 11 February.

Looks like the pro-democracy fervour in Egypt has deeply infected the Muslim Brotherhood there too.

On the other hand, Hamas are trying to stop a UN programme from teaching Palestinian children about the Holocaust. There is accompanying Holocaust denial too.

We cannot agree to a programme that is intended to poison the minds of our children,” said a statement from the ministry for refugee affairs.

“Holocaust studies in refugee camps is a contemptible plot and serves the Zionist entity with a goal of creating a reality and telling stories in order to justify acts of slaughter against the Palestinian people.”

Is there anyone still out there who believes Hamas aren’t anti-semitic?

Greater international pressure on Libya

by Rumbold at 1:43 pm    

There has been some welcome developments in the last few days, with Libya increasingly isolated on the international stage:

The UN’s top human rights official has called on the world to back the popular revolts shaking the Middle East. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said: “The international community bears the great responsibility of extending its support in words and deeds.”…

UN General Assembly President Joseph Deiss, about to decide on an unprecedented suspension of Libya from the Human Rights Council next week, encouraged all “human rights defenders who frequently act in great danger.”

As per Douglas’ request, please feel free to treat this as a general Middle East thread.

22nd February, 2011

More Middle East demonstrations in favour of religious freedom

by Rumbold at 10:45 am    

After this, and this, now Tunisia is seeing protests in favour of religious harmony between Christians, Jews and Muslims:

As many as 15,000 of the demonstrators on Saturday were protesting against Tunisia’s Islamist movement, calling for religious tolerance a day after the Interior Ministry announced a Polish priest had been assassinated by an extremist group and following verbal attacks on Jews.

“We need to live together and be tolerant of each other’s views,” said Ridha Ghozzi, 34, who was among the protesters carrying signs and chanting slogans including “Terrorism is not Tunisian,” “Religion is Personal” and “Muslims, Christians, and Jews – we’re all Tunisians.”

21st February, 2011

The War on Terror gravy train

by Sunny at 9:50 am    

The New York Times yesterday published this incredible article:

A onetime biomedical technician with a penchant for gambling, Mr. Montgomery is at the center of a tale that features terrorism scares, secret White House briefings, backing from prominent Republicans, backdoor deal-making and fantastic-sounding computer technology.

Interviews with more than two dozen current and former officials and business associates and a review of documents show that Mr. Montgomery and his associates received more than $20 million in government contracts by claiming that software he had developed could help stop Al Qaeda’s next attack on the United States. But the technology appears to have been a hoax, and a series of government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Air Force, repeatedly missed the warning signs, the records and interviews show.

WTF? As examples, the article offers:

The software he patented — which he claimed, among other things, could find terrorist plots hidden in broadcasts of the Arab network Al Jazeera; identify terrorists from Predator drone videos; and detect noise from hostile submarines — prompted an international false alarm that led President George W. Bush to order airliners to turn around over the Atlantic Ocean in 2003.

The software led to dead ends in connection with a 2006 terrorism plot in Britain. And they were used by counterterrorism officials to respond to a bogus Somali terrorism plot on the day of President Obama’s inauguration, according to previously undisclosed documents.

Kind of tells you how insane the ‘War on Terror’ got and how officials were willing to believe almost anything.

It’s all very much like the useless ‘bomb detector’ story isn’t it? Wonder what else will be exposed in the WoT Gravy Train.

17th February, 2011

Which will go next: Bahrain or Libya?

by Sunny at 9:10 am    

It’s all kicking off in ABhrain and Libya, and to a lesser extent Iran. The New York Times reports:

Protests convulsed half a dozen countries across the Middle East on Wednesday, with tens of thousands of people turning out in Bahrain to challenge the monarchy, a sixth day of running street battles in Yemen, continued strikes over long-suppressed grievances in Egypt and a demonstrator’s funeral in Iran turning into a brief tug of war between the government and its opponents.

Even in heavily policed Libya, pockets of dissent emerged in the main square of Benghazi, with people calling for an end to the 41-year rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Iraq, accustomed to sectarian conflict, got a dose of something new: a fiery protest in the eastern city of Kut over unemployment, sporadic electricity and government corruption.

In Manama, the capital of the Persian Gulf island nation of Bahrain, hundreds of police officers used tear gas and concussion grenades early Thursday morning to empty a central square of protesters. Witnesses at a hospital and news agency reports said at least two protesters had been killed.

There’s another story about protests in Bahrain, which point to some violent clashes and deaths.

Here’s a video of Gaddafi’s image being set on fire.

Meanwhile, there are plans to make today a ‘day of rage’ in Libya, while I expect Iran will be more alight tomorrow.

15th February, 2011

The rise of ‘new pan-Arabism’ and a rejection of Sharia

by Sunny at 10:40 am    

I think this article at al-Jazeera captures some pretty big issues in three paragraphs

The Egyptian revolution, itself influenced by the Tunisian uprising, has resurrected a new sense of pan-Arabism based on the struggle for social justice and freedom. The overwhelming support for the Egyptian revolutionaries across the Arab world reflects a sense of unity in the rejection of tyrannical, or at least authoritarian, leaders, corruption and the rule of a small financial and political elite.

Arab protests in solidarity with the Egyptian people also suggest that there is a strong yearning for the revival of Egypt as a pan-Arab unifier and leader. Photographs of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the former Egyptian president, have been raised in Cairo and across Arab capitals by people who were not even alive when Nasser died in 1970. The scenes are reminiscent of those that swept Arab streets in the 1950s and 1960s.

But this is not an exact replica of the pan-Arab nationalism of those days. Then, pan-Arabism was a direct response to Western domination and the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel. Today, it is a reaction to the absence of democratic freedoms and the inequitable distribution of wealth across the Arab world.

It cannot be ignored that the absence of democratic freedoms across the Middle East was usually a direct result of US intervention; with Israel helping (in the case of Egypt) to maintain that status quo.

It also cannot be ignored that the resulting feudal system, underpinned by capitalism without the welfare state, has fanned resentment against rich ruling elites.

But whats more interesting to me, and worth emphasising here, is that the new pan-Arabism is also a rejection of the Islamist parties that were feared as the only alternative.

It has long been pointed out that while surveys indicated relatively high levels of demands for more sharia law (not necessarily Saudi Arabia style), they also indicated even higher percentages of people demanding more democracy and human rights in their countries. (The two aren’t necessarily incompatible, depending on how you interpret Sharia).

The point I’m trying to make is that the argument by Islamists and Islamophobes – that Muslims across the Middle East only want sharia and a Caliphate – has been pretty convincingly destroyed.

4th February, 2011

Now Christians protect Muslims in Egypt

by Rumbold at 2:11 pm    

After the uplifting scenes in Egypt during Coptic Christmas, when Muslims formed human shields to protect their Christian brethren at mass after terror attacks on Copts, Christians have returned the favour during prayers, protecting Muslim protestors who were worried about attacks from pro-Mubarak thugs.

(Via: Maylor)

30th January, 2011

More evidence Israel was never really interested in the peace roadmap

by Sunny at 1:13 am    

Interesting piece in Foreign Policy magazine:

For the last eight years the roadmap has been the mother’s milk of U.S. efforts to resolve the conflict. It was at the heart of Barack Obama’s Cairo address of June 2009. After reminding the Palestinians of their obligations to end violence, Obama focused on Israel. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” he said.

The Palestinians took their obligations seriously: Beginning in 2004, the Palestinian leadership began reorganizing its security services. In 2005, the U.S. appointed a security coordinator to oversee this reform, and a U.S. general (Keith Dayton) recruited and trained 10 battalions of a National Security Force in Jordan to restore order in the West Bank. The NSF arrested Palestinian “extremists,” jailed Hamas activists, and even (as the Palestine Papers show) killed Palestinians at the request of the Israeli security services — creating a virtual Roadmap police state. While initially skeptical of Palestinian efforts, Israel began to cooperate with the Palestinian security services, urging them to assassinate “terrorists” who refused to abandon armed resistance to the Israeli occupation. But while the Palestinians attempted to meet their Roadmap obligations, the Israelis kept building — expanding settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

And this is the worst part – despite assurances that he would do everything to bring peace to the Middle East, George Bush and Condoleezza Rice were actually tougher on Israel than either Barack Obama or his negotiator George Mitchell.

That’s a really damning indictment of the Obama administration – they didn’t even bother pushing Israel on their own roadmap. Israel kept ignoring its side of the bargain while publicly claiming that Obama was much worse than Bush in his attitude towards Israel.

Related: Also worth noting is Israel’s response to the uprising in Egypt: “I’m not sure the time is right for the Arab region to go through the democratic process.” — apparently, this is the country in promoting democracy across the Middle East.

28th January, 2011

Egyptian protests gather pace

by Rumbold at 5:04 pm    

A few weeks ago, Egypt was seen as an unlikely successor to the unrest in Tunisia. Despite its unemployment and corruption, Egypt was reckoned to have a better security service and a better ability to resist. Now, as protests spread throughout the country, a Tunisian-style ending doesn’t seem so far fetched (nor guaranteed):

Cairo, Alexandria and Suez have been placed under curfew as the Egyptian government battles to restore control after the biggest protests so far. Across the country tens of thousands of protesters turned out after Friday prayers and clashed with police. President Hosni Mubarak, facing the biggest challenge to his authority of his 31 years in power, has ordered the army onto the streets of Cairo.

Mr Mubarak is expected to make a statement shortly. The curfew is now in effect, but live television pictures from Cairo continue to show large crowds on the streets. Flames have been seen from the area around the headquarters of the governing National Democratic Party (NDP) in Cairo.

Filed under: Middle East
23rd January, 2011

Israel, negotiations and the benefits of secrecy

by Rumbold at 9:28 pm    

Al Jazeera in conjunction with Wikileaks, has revealed some of the secret offers being made in recent rounds of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. While there is a lot of interesting material in there, my focus is on the accusation that the releases will derail the peace process (such as it is), strengthen Hamas and weakened the Palestinian Authority.

It would be wrong to heap all the blame on the media for any subsequent problems. Israeli-Palestinian talks have been going on for decades with no lasting results, without any help from Wikileaks or Al Jazeera. There is also the argument that the leaks expose the intransigence of the Israeli negotiators, which should in theory allow pressure to be brought to bear on those deemed to be holding back a peace deal. The problem with the leaks lies in the reaction of extremists on all sides.

Many conflicts of this nature in recent history have been solved by negotiation (the others still continue or have been brutally crushed). Extremists in any group do not tend to like negotiation, because they know concessions will have to be made, so some times negotiations are begun by moderate leaders without the knowledge of their followers (such as with the IRA). This isn’t the case with Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, as they are public knowledge, but the general point still holds: that in any negotiation concessions need to be offered, usually ones which would infuriate extremists, so for the sake of a lasting settlement it is better if those concessions are offered behind closed doors, then any deal is presented to extremists as a fait accompli.

This is not a foolproof method by any means. But it does provide a basis for negotiation. In the future, will either side be willing to offer controversial concessions as a starting point if they believe that it is likely they will be leaked?
(Via Naadir Jeewa)

Sunny’s update: The leak has nothing to do with WikiLeaks. I’ve updated Rumbold’s post to reflect that.

10th January, 2011

Egyptian Muslims protect Copts at church

by Rumbold at 11:09 am    

After the recent murderous attacks in Egypt on the Coptic Christian minority, thousands of Egyptian Muslims, outraged by these attacks (which many believe are due to foreign terrorists), have banded together to protect Copts at church:

Egypt’s majority Muslim population stuck to its word Thursday night. What had been a promise of solidarity to the weary Coptic community, was honoured, when thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside. From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as “human shields” for last night’s mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife.

“We either live together, or we die together,” was the sloganeering genius of Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon whose cultural centre distributed flyers at churches in Cairo Thursday night, and who has been credited with first floating the “human shield” idea. Among those shields were movie stars Adel Imam and Yousra, popular preacher Amr Khaled, the two sons of President Hosni Mubarak, and thousands of citizens who have said they consider the attack one on Egypt as a whole.

(Hat Tip: A PP reader)

3rd January, 2011

Now the Wikileaks sh*t is really hitting the fan

by Sunny at 10:30 am    

The US government is stepping up security in Afghanistan to stop smuggling, after WikiLeaks cables embarrassingly showed that millions of dollars were leaving the country by nefarious means.

According to a secret cable released by WikiLeaks, Ahmed Zia Massoud, a former Afghan vice president, visited the United Arab Emirates last year carrying $52 million in cash. Mr. Massoud has denied the report. Beyond the flow of money to Dubai, millions of dollars more are believed to be smuggled through border crossings, and American officials fear at least some of the money is being funneled to Afghan insurgents taking shelter in Pakistan’s tribal regions.

You’d think right-wingers in the US would be happy that someone is exposing their tax dollars being wasted, no? But that’s not even the big story….

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1st January, 2011

Unrest in Tunisia and the wider Middle East

by Rumbold at 12:07 pm    

For those of you who have sobered up and are not hungover *ahem*, Nesrine Malik has a good piece on how protests in Tunisia, which erupted after an unemployed man set himself on fire, relate to the greater Middle East:

There are few moments in the political atmosphere of the Middle East that fill me with genuine pride. While eyes have long been fixed on opposition movements in Iran and Egypt, suddenly Tunisia has provided one of the most inspiring episodes of indigenous revolt against a repressive regime.

Following the self-immolation of an unemployed man, riots and demonstrations have swept through the country.

Lebanese journalist Octavia Nasr wrote on Thursday: “I never thought this day would come. Certainly not in Tunisia. To be quite honest, out of the Middle East region, I thought such a rebellious act would come from Egypt where the opposition to President Mubarak’s regime is so fierce and vocal that public demonstrations of anger and dismay have become a routine.”

16th December, 2010

Now Jody McIntyre is being attacked for his pro-Palestinian views

by Sunny at 10:20 am    

Surely as night follows day, protester Jody McIntyre is being attacked for his pro-Palestinian views by British Israel supporters.

Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, Jonathan Hoffman pours scorn over Jody McIntyre’s interview with the BBC:

McIntyre has been at several of the boycott demonstrations at Ahava, the Israeli cosmetics shop in London. I lead the pro-Israel counter-demonstrations. At one of the demonstrations McIntyre deliberately directed his wheelchair to run over my foot, causing me agonising pain.

I have no idea if he did something similar at the student demonstration last week. But unless his condition has changed since he ran over my foot some 4 months ago, his assertion to Brown (“I can’t physically use my wheelchair myself”) is simply not true. He is only too adept at using his wheelchair, sometimes as an offensive weapon.

Maybe he ran over the police, these Pro-Palestinians are vicious you know! Then Mr Hoffman approvingly links to Richard Littlejohn’s disgusting “view” on the whole incident. Some people really have no shame.

Then CIFWatch – a blog that is all about witch-hunting anyone with vaguely pro-Palestinian views in the Guardian – goes further: Jody McIntyre, professional anti-Israel activist, takes center stage.

Ooh oooh! A man we don’t like is all over the media! Now is the time to stick the knife in!
Blogger Modernity, who I rarely agree with, at least sees sense on the issue:

CiF Watch strays into the territory of political vitriol and character attacks, all completely irrelevant to the issue of Jody McIntyre’s appalling treatment by four big police officers. I can’t help wondering if he had held different views, would the attack upon him, as a wheelchair user, instead be condemned?

It takes a certain moral turpitude not to see his manhandling by the police as wrong, it takes an entrenched ideologue to want to use that against a disabled person. I can only imagine that *if* Jody had been blind then the excuse would have been that his labrador dog was about to attack some riot police, or some such nonsense. That’s the level of this mindless maliciousness.

What, he expected civility when people who have opinions on the Middle East are involved?

9th December, 2010

Has Sakineh Ashtiani been freed? Not yet

by Sunny at 10:26 pm    

Quite a few sources are reporting that Sakineh Ashtiani, the woman sentenced to death by stoning in Iran has been freed. I was at Al-Jazeera earlier today, waiting to go on TV to speak about online protest, and I met a lady from The International Committee against Stoning.

She said their sources had told them that Ashtiani was going to be freed and this information had been leaked out. But it’s not been confirmed by the Iranian government yet and Iranian broadcasters are still reporting she is wanted for the murder of her husband (which is rubbish). Press TV has not yet reported anything on the matter either.

So it’s too early to celebrate. Though ICS expect this to happen eventually, you never know with the Iranian regime. A statement by the UK govt welcoming such a move by the Iranian govt might not go amiss either.

But it is worth saying that this has been an excellent example of grassroots worldwide anger (driven by the web) that has forced the Iranian government on the defensive. If Sakineh Ashtiani does get eventually freed it will be another victory for online protests (Avaaz.org led a massive petition to get her freed). The Guardian has a report here.
[Update: cleaned up my hurried and garbled English from earlier]

Update 2: This is the only news story out of Press TV so far: Ashtiani recounts murder on Press TV – not a good sign.

6th December, 2010

Persecution of gays in Iraq

by Rumbold at 8:41 am    

Brian Whitaker has an excellent and detailed piece looking at the upsurge in persecution of gay men in the last few years in Iraq:

The problem in post-Saddam Iraq, though, is that the official legal position counts for less than realities on the ground. The wave of “gay” killings was made possible by the breakdown of state control and the rise of local militias, some of them seeking to enforce their own interpretations of Islamic law. That resulted in people being killed for the most trivial of “sins” – among them barbers who gave customers “un-Islamic” haircuts.9 It reached a peak of absurdity when al-Qa‘eda elements in Iraq sought to impose “gender” segregation of vegetables. Claiming that tomatoes are feminine and cucumbers masculine, they argued that greengrocers should not place them next to each other, and that women should not buy or handle cucumbers.

One of the biggest problems is that the plight of homosexuals is very low down the list of priorities for all groups. Current Western policy centres on ensuring that the Iraqi government remains relatively stable, whilst trying to minimise Iranian and Al Qaeda’s influence on the country. Meanwhile supporters of the Sadr army and other groups murdering homosexuals aren’t likely to be the most sympathetic towards the plight of these gay men.

Brian Whitaker quotes Human Rights Watch’s description of the methods of torture and execution:

Murders are committed with impunity, admonitory in intent, with corpses dumped in garbage or hung as warnings on the street. The killers invade the privacy of homes, abducting sons or brothers, leaving their mutilated bodies in the neighbourhood the next day.

“They interrogate and brutalise men to extract names of other people suspected of homosexual conduct. They specialise in grotesque and appalling tortures: several doctors told Human Rights Watch about men executed by injecting glue up their anuses. Their bodies have appeared by the dozens in hospitals and morgues.

17th November, 2010

British Somalis also helped to release the Chandlers

by guest at 9:52 am    

guest post by Talal Rajab from the Quilliam Foundation

Amidst all the welcome euphoria that has followed the release of Paul and Rachel Chandler, an important fact should be highlighted and thrust in the faces of those people, such as Rod Liddle, who had previously stigmatised Somalis.

British-Somalis played a part in not only highlighting the plight of the hostages to people within their communities home and abroad, but also in securing their actual release through the work of intermediaries such as the London cab driver, Dahir Abdullahi Kadiye.

When news first broke of the Chandlers ordeal, campaign groups were set up in Somali communities in order to highlight their plight and call for their release. Earlier this year, a giant banner in support of the couple was unfurled outside a Somali-led Mosque in Bristol, whilst in Camden, North London, hundreds of British-Somalis attended a rally in support of the couple.

Although these initiatives received scant media attention, they did have an effect on Somalis themselves, both at home and abroad, with some in the UK even attempting to raise the funds for their release themselves. According to one of the organisers of these campaigns it was important for Somali communities in the UK to call for the release of Chandlers since:

…Britain welcomes Somalis. Many of us came as refugees, as asylum seekers, and now we live freely… Because we are British now, we see our fellow citizens have been taken hostage.

For many ill-informed individuals, Somali communities in the UK are backward, khat-chewing, uneducated, unpatriotic individuals who are sympathetic to extremism. The reality, however, is much more complex.

There is little doubt that Somali communities today are experiencing issues that affected Afro-Caribbean and Asian communities in the 60s and 70s. Such problems, however, should not prevent people from seeing Somalis as an important part of the fabric of this country.

It would be wise for the likes of Liddle to refer to this example whenever the value of Somali communities in the UK is called into question. It should also serve as a reminder that stigmatizing minority communities doesn’t benefit anyone, especially since this example proves once again the once maxim that ‘diversity enriches our society’.

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