The increasing desperation in the Middle East

The news reports are preoccupied with the many families fleeing the Middle East — mostly Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan — desperately trying to get into Europe, as if Europe were a safe haven.  As is becoming evident, after so many days and so much expense in order to make the journey, they are being greeted by reluctance if not open hostility.  Europe is in no way ready to receive them. But it is evident that these peoples — Muslims, Christians, people of all kinds and of all walks of life — are desperately voting with their feet.

In a sense this pattern of migration is not new.  The western world has benefited for many years by the flight of the middle classes, the professional and educated elements of these societies.  Those folks have been fleeing the troubled parts of Asia and Africa for years.  What is new here is that these refugees are from all levels of society:  the poor, the weak, the sick, the broken.  Everyone that has the means to flee seems to be fleeing.

So what drives them out of their homes, their whole social worlds?  Here is a note I received from a friend from one of those countries.

Tragedy and pain have found their way into my every organ today. What has turned my world upside down is that I have no solution to the problems I see. I have become mute. There’s too much suffering — way beyond my comprehension. Why God punishes its people when they are innocent? It’s on these trying days that we’d like to doubt God’s existence, His glory, His powers. But as I probe into the territory of the divine, it’s then that I see Him most vividly. Suffering and pain — contrary to the conventional belief — can make us a whole lot closer to the Almighty. I’m a fighter. Even though I despise the world and all its designs sometimes, I am grateful for all that has been bestowed upon me; and I feel lucky to be alive, fully functional — with all my cognitive faculties intact. In the midst of darkness, there’s always light. And that’s why I must remain sanguine and continue to stay in the fight and forge ahead.

At some point in the course of events we can come to the point when desperation leads us, as he says, to appeal to and seek help in the notion that there is a God who is above it all, who is well aware of the messy world that we live in, and is the only hope for any sense to be made in the human condition.  If there is no judgment, if there is nothing to look for beyond this life, if there is no mercy, then there is no hope.  It’s not good enough to rail at God.  At some point we have to throw ourselves on the mercy of One who is bigger than the world as we know it and has, as generations before us have desired, a bigger plan.

In the mean time, “In the midst of darkness” we seek the light, and remain sanguine, and continue the fight, and forge ahead.

[See the following site for a helpful analysis of what has caused the movement to flee Syria: Click here]



Universal longing in “The search for “Sugar Man”‘

A few words can sometimes capture the feelings of a whole
nation.  “Blood, sweat, and tears…” –
words that enshrined the thoughts of many people in Britain at terrifying moment.  But when those words
were thrown out into the public arena they enabled a whole people to join in a unity
of feeling, a collective sense of who they were and what they faced together.  A few words transformed
the disparate feelings of many individuals into the conviction of a
nation:  as a people they must, and they would, stand
together despite the obvious cost.  
The process by which private sensibilities are brought
together into a common conviction is a kind of imaginative miracle.  It is worth asking how
it works.  Inner depths of feeling are evoked
by a particular poignant phrase – this a wonder worth examining closely.   

But the
phrase that works powerfully in one setting may not work in another.   To
understand the difference requires explication:  the history of all the fears and resentments
and outrages that have piled up through the years becomes a reservoir of buried sentiments that can be awakened by a single event, a single
utterance, a song.     

Tonight Rita and I went to see a film about a simple
musician, a gifted balladeer, whose brilliance was missed in his own country
but discovered by a whole nation elsewhere.  The simple ballads of loneliness, grief,
despair produced by an unknown individual galvanized the strong feelings of  thousands of young people elsewhere.  His aching outrage at a broken world gave expression to feelings that they shared and enabled them to experience together their common  frustration, for their world also was grievous.  Carefully chosen chords
and phrases objectified the feelings of thousands — but in a different world.  
Anyone who wants to see how an objective form – music – can be
made to stand for the feelings of a whole nation must see “The search for ‘Sugar

Will the new systems established after the Arab Spring avoid the oppressive systems they have overturned?

The dilemmas of what should happen next in the Arab world have been stated one way by an Iranian opponent of the Iranian government, Ibrahim Yazdi, and another way in an article by the Arab social critic Mahan Abedin [“Arab Spring confounds Iran’s opposition,” Asian Times, Nov 10, 2011].  According to Yazdi a danger exists that the successful movements against repressive regimes in the Arab world could now be replaced by equally repressive systems.  He seems to blame the unfamiliarity of Muslims with all that is entailed in democracy.   Yazdi says: 

“Despite struggling for fundamental rights, freedom and self-determination, we Muslims from any nationality lack sufficient experience with democracy. We struggle and overthrow dictators but we don’t remove tyranny as a mode of governance and a way of life.”  

Yazdi of course has seen it happen, for he had been part of the Iranian uprising against the Shah in 1978-1979, and he experienced the takeover by Ruhullah Khomeini and those with him who, once in power, set about to remove [essentially to exterminate] those who could not share their Islamist vision for the country.  Yazdi survived but has been alienated for years, the position from which he now warns the Tunisians:  Their movement could end up being different from what they had originally been calling for.  He has good reason, then, to fear that these successful movements in Tunisia [and also Egypt] could be replaced by a  system as repressive as the old; a similar warning was once made by Foucault about revolutionary movements generally.  

Abedin is unimpressed by Yazdi’s warning, seeing in it a Iranian condescending attitude.  But Abedin seems even to push Yazdi’s point further, for he thinks that Islam and the democracy that the Arab Spring movements have demanded may be intrinsically incompatible.  Of the newly elected Tunisian Islamist party, al-Nahda (Renaissance), he says that  

“… these movements have yet to successfully grapple with their ideological dilemma. The essence of their ideology commits them to the creation of a pan-Islamic state, if not a fully-fledged caliphate. It also commits them to introducing the Islamic sharia as the basis of legislation and the general ordering of state and society.  While these goals are not necessarily inimical to democracy, they are not harmonious with it either. The Muslim Brotherhood and its many offshoots can legitimately claim to be democratic in spirit once they have resolved this ideological contradiction.

This is an old question.  Most Muslims I know see no reason why Islam cannot be built into a constituted democracy; that was the project Pakistan set out to accomplish in 1947.  We continue to watch and hope that the new regimes being established in Tunisia and Egypt will indeed establish the kind of democracy that they will cherish and be eager to protect from all forms of social oppression, a necessary feature of democracy if it is to be successfully practiced.

[Click on the title for a link to the original article by Abedin.]

Portrait of a hedonist; the fruit of Ghaddafi’s profligacy

Nick Meo’s portrait of Mutassim Gaddafi [in today’s Telegraph], the son of the dictator in Libya, is sobering. Here is a personality whose life of privilege has deprived him of the ability to appreciate the how much he has enjoyed all his life, to the point where he has scarce respect for the humanity around him, especially for those who serve him. The sense of a person who lives in a bubble of privilege pervades this whole article. As he entertained his guest he displayed a pathetic ignorance of what was actually happening in the world barely outside his door, a popular movement of rebels who hated him and his father and were bent on overwhelming the regime. The article for some of us is a revelation: Could this be the way the upper 1% is able to live these days?: glamorous guests, dinner parties with eminent social figures (Princesses), annual excursions to the Caribbean via a private Boeing jet, hundreds of guests completely provided for in the most expensive hotels, the finest Italian hairdressers flown in for an affair, etc. And in order to remove him, to bring him into the real world, to experience what life is like for the people whom he seems to despise, how many will have to die?

Mutassim Gaddafi’s girlfriend tells of the final days of Libyan regime: Mutassim Gaddafi’s former girlfriend, Dutch glamour model Talitha van Zon, talks to Nick Meo about the dying days of the Gaddafi regime.

By Nick Meo, Tripoli6:00AM BST 28 Aug 2011
Filipino servants wearing spotless white jackets mixed his favourite Jack Daniels whisky and coke, and then Mutassim Gaddafi raised his glass and toasted the victory that he was sure was close.
Relaxing in one of his Tripoli homes just over a week ago, during a break from commanding at the front, the fifth son of Libya’s ruler was in a defiant mood. Soon, he boasted to the blonde foreigner sitting with him, he would lead his father’s regime to a victory over the “rats”.
The woman at his side was Mutassim’s ex-girlfriend Talitha van Zon, a Dutch glamour model who still regularly visited him in the Libyan capital.
Her most recent trip, however, proved to be a far cry from the luxury break she was used to – as the Libyan regime crumbled last week and her male companion took flight, she endured several days of utter terror as battles raged around her five star hotel.
On Wednesday, The Sunday Telegraph found her alone and frightened in a Tripoli hospital ward, where she was being treated for injuries after leaping from a hotel balcony – apparently fearful that a group of rebels were about to burn her alive.

Before she was evacuated from the city by a humanitarian ship to Malta on Friday, though, she gave an extraordinary account of the final days of the Gaddafi regime – an insight into a family who will fight to the death and destroy their country before they give up power.

“I was shocked when I met Mutassim. He had changed,” said Miss van Zon. “It was the first time I had seen him since just before the February uprising. He had a beard, he was sitting on a couch strewn with automatic weapons, and he was guarded by unsmiling 16-year-old boys with sub-machine guns.” On the wall behind was a huge portrait of his father, Muammar Gaddafi.

… A former Playboy centrefold, Miss van Zon met Mutassim in an Italian nightclub in 2004, kindling a three-month relationship that ended when she learned that she “was not the only woman in his life”. … she was drawn into a fabulous private world of luxury, showered with gifts and invited to some of the world’s most exclusive destinations. In Monaco she was taken to the Grand Prix and a dinner party attended by Princess Caroline. At Christmas, there was Mutassim’s annual excursion to the Caribbean island of Saint Barts, with his entourage flown there in his private Boeing. When Mutassim was in Paris or London he would book several floors of the most expensive hotels, filling them with his friends, and the finest Italian hairdressers would be flown in from Italy, at a cost of 5,000 euros per time. “I asked him once how much he spent, and he took a minute to add it up in his head,” Miss van Zon recalled. “He said ‘about $2 million’. I said ‘you mean a year?’ He said ‘no – a month’.”

… “Of course I knew that it was not right to spend so much money like that,” she said. “I asked him many times about the welfare of the Libyan people, and he said the schools and hospitals were free, that rice and flour were cheap. It was hard for me to judge life in Libya for ordinary people – I was always staying in a gilded cage when I visited. They looked happy enough.”

She did, though, see occasional flashes of temper, in particular on one occasion where a servant had brought in a meal that was cold.

“He shouted at the guy and threw plates on the floor. He put that guy like a dog in a corner and then he demanded that he eat the whole lot, there in front of us. It was humiliating. I never saw the servant again, and I don’t know what happened to him.

The hedonist son also had ambitions for power, inspired by his father’s example. “He worshipped his father,” Miss Van Zon said. “He talked a lot about Hitler, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez. He liked leaders who had a lot of power. He always said ‘I want to do better than my father’.”

[Click on the title above for a link to the original article.]

The moral imagination on display in riots and demonstrations: from London to Daraa

One of the qualities that makes human behavior so complex, so difficult to analyze, is the richness of meanings embedded in it. The riots in London are a good example. Ysmine Ryan has written an article comparing the many nuances in the intentions of the Britain rioters with those of the rioters and demonstrators in Tunisia and Egypt.

Fredrik Barth [in book carefully snubbed by southeast Asiaianists, Balinese Worlds] has pointed out that folks act with intentions that are informed by their own fund of cultural resources whereas the observers of their behavior must “read” their intentions on the basis of their own cultural resources, which means that the possibilities for misreading of each other can be large, and especially so when the actor’s intentions are nuanced with deeply felt personal sentiments. Actors in fact can seek to convey a whole range of meanings in what they do – rage, fear, frustration, a desire for attention, despair, revenge, greed. Sometimes folks do what they do because to them it feels like the most effective way to express their complex feelings – feelings too complex and deeply felt for words. We’ve all been there: In times of exhaustion and frustration we have all been tempted to lash out.

But from the vantage-point of the observer unpacking the meanings embedded in the behavior of others turns out to be a huge challenge. Critical for the observer is the need to appreciate the meanings embedded in the context. The attempt to understand social explosions like those in London or Tunis or Cairo or Yemen or Daraa demands care and empathy – for all the actors on all sides – if one is ever to appreciate what animates the behavior of collectivities in such social movements. We must be ready to appreciate the contradictory and even self-destructive intentions – some of them base, some of them noble — that animate the behavior of folks in times of stress. If ever there was a complex object of study it is the human imagination.

This article [from Al Jazeera] is rich with the complexities of meaning that inform human behavior. Note, for instance, the statue erected to commemorate one thing, destroyed to commemorate something quite different, and then used by a contemporary artist to convey yet another message, which was, again, destroyed, apparently for reasons considered significant to the state. Meanings upon meanings upon meanings — an illustration of the the multiple and confused meanings that must be read empatheticly if they are to be understood. Anthropology seeks empathy even when we cannot agree.

From the Arab Spring to Liverpool? : The UK riots have unique roots, but British youths’ alienation is similar to the disenfranchisement behind Arab revolts.
Yasmine Ryan: 11 Aug 2011 14:47

In the heart of Toxteth, Liverpool, a mysterious statue appeared in the early hours of July 30.

It was a monument to Mohamed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian man who, after being humiliated by police, had set himself alight in an act of protest that was to inflame the simmering rage of hundreds of thousands of people.

Last Thursday, in the London borough of Tottenham, the British police shot and killed a 29-year-old black man named Mark Duggan. The following day, the monument in Toxteth – a district that had been the site of racially-fuelled social unrest in the 1980s – disappeared, the monument’s artist told Al Jazeera.

The Liverpool city council was unable to comment on whether it was responsible for having the monument removed, as they were swamped trying to deal with the riots, which spread to Liverpool over the weekend.

Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation, and the uprising that followed, happened in a very different context to the British riots.

When Tunisia’s peaceful protesters in the underprivileged centre of the country were slain by the police’s use of lethal force, the country’s middle class poured into the streets to show their outrage, and solidarity.

In Britain, by contrast, people across socio-economic groups are calling on the police to protect them from the seemingly uncontrollable mobs of youths, who, according to the dominate media narrative, seem intent on wreaking havoc for the simple reason that they can.

Yet the artist who created the monument to the young Tunisian street vendor, who wishes to remain anonymous in the commodity-free spirit of his work, told Al Jazeera that his work celebrated universal aspirations of emancipation and social justice.

His unsanctioned “people’s monument” referenced other recent uprisings in the Arab world, including Egypt and Libya.

Commonalities with Arab Spring?

Closer to home, it also referred to the Toxteth riots of 1981. The statue was mounted on a plinth where a statue of William Huskisson had stood until it was mistaken for a tribute to a slave-trader and torn down in the protests against racism and police brutality of 1981 (the unfortunate Huskisson had, in fact, been the world’s first railway victim in 1830).

The myth that has arisen around Bouazizi is relevant to the UK, the artist explained, where the conservative government’s cutbacks have taken their toll on people’s daily life.

“[Bouazizi] represented everyday struggle, his gesture was not politically motivated but about the right to exist, to provide for one’s family,” he said. “I like that fruit and vegetables were the cornerstone of the revolution – not political ideology or other beliefs.”

In any event, such overt political messages or symbols have been largely absent during the riots in the UK, which have been left many commentators stunned by the apparent lack of any political agenda.

Will Davies, a spokesperson for Avaaz, an international organisation that works for social justice and has rallied in support of the Arab Spring, told Al Jazeera that those rioting in the UK were, in stark contrast, not politically minded and were causing “anarchy for anarchy’s sake”.

“Juxtapose that with the situation in Syria, where they’ve finally got the courage to stand up to a brutal regime and they’ve done that entirely peacefully.”

“They should take a long hard look at what is going on in places like Yemen and Syria,” Davies said, noting the state violence and forced disappearances endured by protesters elsewhere in the world simply for exercising the right to peaceful protest or for speaking to the media.

There have, nonetheless, been some attempts to link the UK riots with the string of uprisings in North Africa and Middle East.

For some, emphasising such a link is a way of eliminating any need to discuss the local and national roots to the violence.

The neighbourhood of Toxteth in Liverpool saw some of worst riots over police brutality in 1980s [REUTERS]
Stuart Bell, a British Labour Party MP, told Europe 1, a television station, that “these riots have nothing to do with unemployment, or with government cutbacks. It has its origins in Tunisia”.

Others, meanwhile, have taken a more nuanced approached.

Expressing his frustration with the way the media were covering the unrest, Darcus Howe, a 68-year-old West Indian writer, broadcaster and resident of South London, told the BBC that turmoil was very much a consequence of the British police’s shooting of Mark Duggan, and of routine police bullying.

Parallel to this very local root cause, the writer argued that the social dissent should also be viewed as part of a global movement.

“I don’t call it rioting – I call it an insurrection of the masses of the people. It is happening in Syria, it is happening in Clapham, it’s happening in Liverpool, it’s happening in Port-au-Spain, Trinidad, and that is the nature of the historical moment,” he told the BBC host.

‘Only then do the media listen to you’

While most other commentators agree it would be a stretch to argue that the Arab Spring in helped to ferment social unrest in the UK, North African activists who had participated in protests against their own governments told Al Jazeera that they felt solidarity with the British youths who have taken to the streets.

. . . [much is excised here]

[For more, click on the title above for a link to the source]
. . .

As a consequence of issues highlighted by those riots, there was social change which benefited the Liverpool community as a whole, he said.

“The dynamic of this riot is very difficult. This riot is not being led by black people, it is being led by youth,” he said. “There’s no colour bar, no gender bar.”

While the rioters have no clear agenda and their behaviour should not be excused, the poet said, the existence of so many restless young people was directly linked to David Cameron’s conservative government cutbacks to community and social services.

“It should be said that the last civil unrest we’ve had in this country was under [former prime minister] Margaret Thatcher, during a similar time of austerity,” he said.

There had been “disproportionate investment” in the upper and middle classes, notably in the war effort in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in the bank bailouts, while millions of children have received little from their government.

“These are children who now appear to have no purpose. Society does not seem to see them as a significant enough group to invest in.”

The story of Bouazizi captured so much attention because of the sheer desperation embodied by the act of self-immolation. Britain’s youth may be speaking a different language and their violence turned outwards, rather than inwards, but they have no less legitimacy than their counterparts in the Arab world.

Follow Yasmine Ryan on twitter: @YasmineRyan

Source: Al Jazeera

Attacks against the Shia in Pakistan: From The Friday Times

The following is an article from The Friday Times [Lahore, Pakistan] that reveals some of the ugly features of Pakistan’s internal politics. This source used to be only available for a small fee but it is now free. Take advantage of it.
Consider what it means to live as a minority person in a place like this. But also consider what is entailed in being a journalist in this place. It takes courage to put your name on an article that calls a spade a spade in a place where there is little assurance that a journalist will be protected. Altogether 39 Pakistani journalists have been killed since the 1990s, the most recent being Salim Shahzad, who reported on the hypocrisy of the Pakistani government. RLC

Balochistan crisis: Sectarian groups continue to target the Persian-speaking Shia community, which is not sure if the state wants to protect it
By Zia Ur Rehman

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi behind Hazara killings in Quetta

Eleven people, including a woman, were killed on July 30 when gunmen opened fire on a passenger vehicle near Pishin bus stop in Quetta. All the victims were Hazaras. The incident sparked violent protests and Quetta was completely shut down on July 31.

Over 200 Shia Hazaras have been killed in Balochistan in the last three years; they include businessmen, political leaders, government employees, clerics, police cadets, vegetable vendors, and daily-wage workers.

This is not the first such attack on members of the Shia Persian-speaking Hazara community. On July 10, two Hazara policemen were shot and killed on Qambrani Road. On June 22, two people were killed and 11 others injured in Hazar Ganji area when armed men ambushed a bus carrying pilgrims to Iran.

Syed Abrar Hussain Shah, a former Olympian, deputy director of Pakistan Sports Board, and recipient of the prestigious presidential Pride of Performance and Sitara-e-Imtiaz medals, was gunned down on June 16 near Nawab Nauroz Khan Stadium in Quetta. Shah, who belonged to the Hazara community, has represented Pakistan in the Olympics thrice and won a gold medal at the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing.

In another sectarian attack near Mirgahi Khan Chowk on May 18, unidentified men shot dead seven members of the Hazara community, including a baby, and injured five others. Most of the killed were vegetable vendors.

Seven Hazara men were killed and several injured in a rocket and gun attack in Hazara Town on May 6. There were Frontier Constabulary and Police checkposts nearby, but the attackers fled.

Over 200 Shia Hazaras have been killed in Balochistan in the last three years, according to elders of Hazara tribe and media sources. They include businessmen, political leaders, government employees, clerics, police cadets, vegetable vendors, and daily-wage workers. Hazaras are identifiable because of their Mongoloid features.

A large number of Hazaras have also been killed in attacks on religious processions. Last year, over 80 Shias, most of them Hazaras, were killed in a bombing on a Shia procession on September 3.

“Members of our community have been targeted persistently for the last 10 years by sectarian outfits, especially the banned militant organisations Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP),” said Abdul Khaliq, chairman of Hazara Democratic Party.

LeJ has accepted responsibility of most of these attacks. A spokesman for the LeJ in Balochistan, who ironically identifies himself as Ali Sher Haidri, said his group would avenge the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by targeting not only government officials and security forces, but also Hazara Shias.

Handbills distributed in Quetta recently have warned the Hazaras of a “jihad” similar to the one carried out against the Hazaras of Afghanistan by the Taliban.

Handbills distributed in Quetta recently have warned the Hazaras of a “jihad” similar to the one carried out against the Hazaras of Afghanistan by the Taliban; the Taliban regime had killed 12,000 Hazaras in central Afghanistan.

The 3.5 million Hazaras in Balochistan are said to have migrated to Quetta from Afghanistan a century ago. In the 1990s, the Taliban massacred the community – the third largest in the country – killing thousands in Bamyan, Ghazni and parts of Uruzgan that later became the Daykundi province. They had accused the Hazaras of collaborating with the Afghan Northern Alliance (ANA) fighting the Taliban regime in Kabul. According to an Amnesty International report, about 12,000 Hazaras were killed in central Afghanistan by the Taliban.

“Hundreds of Pakistani young men from militant organisations including the SSP, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Jundullah and Harkatul Mujahideen fought with the Taliban against the ANA,” said an expert on militancy who teaches at Balochistan University. “The same men are now killing the Hazaras in Balochistan.” He said the Al Qaeda and Taliban-linked groups accuse the community of colluding with the Americans and causing the downfall of the Taliban. Quetta is reportedly the new hub of the defeated Taliban factions, and has become a major site of expression of the hatred
towards the Hazaras.

The LeJ network in Quetta is being run by Usman Saifullah Kurd, Dawood Badini and Shafiqur Rind, a senior police official said. Kurd, who heads the LeJ in Balochistan, has trained a new group of killers who are carrying out attacks on the Hazaras, he said. Rind was arrested in 2003 from Mastung area of Balochistan while Kurd was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Unit in Karachi on June 22, 2006. Both fled from the Anti-Terrorist Force jail in Quetta on January 18, 2008. Rind was rearrested, but Kurd is still at large.

A source in the SSP said Kurd had recently met Malik Ishaq, a founding member of the LeJ, in Rahim Yar Khan and invited him to visit Quetta to address the banned SSP’s public meetings.

Ishaq, accused of having masterminded the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009 from behind the bars, was recently released by the Supreme Court after 14 years in prison.

The Hazara community had expressed concerns over his release. “The courts are releasing top leaders of banned organisations, and that shows these groups are getting stronger once again,” said a Hazara religious scholar.

According to the Hazara Democratic Party chairman, Kurd’s escape from jail was proof that these groups have inside support. He said the government claims to have arrested the attackers in all the cases, but they are never brought before the court or the public.

“The government has failed to tackle sectarian violence and protect the Hazara community,” Khailq said, whose predecessor Hussain Ali Yousafi was also killed for being a Hazara in 2009.

Hazara elders believe intelligence agencies know about the activities of banned outfits and the whereabouts of their leaders, who simply operate under new names. They believe the state is either indifferent or supporting them.

The writer is a journalist and a researcher who works on militancy and human rights.
He can be contacted at

Sober reflections on the contraries that led to Bastille Day

[slightly revised 7/15/11 @3:11}
Sometimes a situation becomes so complicated, disputes become so irresolvable, and adversaries so irreconcilable, that a great deal comes to bear on what happens in a single moment. The outcome of a high-stakes situation can be revolutionary change, when the system in place gets upended. I keep hoping that the disputes in our Congress have not reached such a state. But as today is Bastille Day it might be worth noting some circumstances that led up to the French Revolution, in case you notice parallels.

The whole story is too complicated to try to tell here, but I quote William Sewell, Jr’s summary of the issues that set the clash of interests in motion, to create a huge societal convolution in France. I quote from Chapter 8 of his book “The Logics Of History”. I arrange his statement in stages, in order to emphasize how as the situation developed the problems became all the more dire and irresolvable so that the underlying premises that held the French Crown in power were being undermined before it was completely overturned.

> “In 1786 the comptroller general informed the king that the state was nearly bankrupt.

> By the summer of 1789, the crisis of the state’s funding had become a crisis of the system of social stratification (because fiscal reform would mean stripping the clergy and nobility of one of their major privileges, their immunity from taxation);

> it had become a crisis of the privileged corporate institutions that were the integument of the social order of old regime France (because their privileges were linked to particular fiscal arrangements);

> it had become a deep constitutional crisis (because it was unclear which governmental body had the authority to change the system of taxation)

> and it had also become a crisis of the very principles of the social and political order (because proponents of natural rights, national sovereignty, and civic equality had managed to dominate political discourse and gain a sizeable foothold among the deputies to the Estates General.)”

That is to say, the fundamental assumptions that held the King in place were now crumbling at just the time when a contrary and irreconcilable concept of authority was being widely discussed, namely, that sovereignty should belong to the nation and the populace should have a voice in determinations of how (and possibly by whom) they should be governed. The events that took place in a cascade of miscommunications and conflicting agendas as the problems became more acute could never have been predicted, but in retrospect it is possible to notice that the ambiguities and contraraties of the situation were destabilizing the system in place, that is, the monarchy. Nothing required that the events that took place should take place that way, but much in the way of a collapse was potential in the situation. And as events took place a series of errors of understanding and communication added to the possibilities that the old order might be swept away. A spark was all that was needed.

It’s hard to think about the irreconcilable contraries in France in late eighteenth century without wondering if our own country, and perhaps even the capitalistic world as we know it, might be careering toward a point when powerful contrary interests could become, as in the French Revolution, an uncontrollable societal convolution.

Converging layers of hypocrisy in Bahrain’s abuse of its own citizenry

In an op-ed piece in Al Jazeera [“The role of the Islamic Republic in Bahrain,” 27 May 2011] Hamid Dabashi points out the many layers of hypocrisy that have converged in the treatment of demonstrators in Bahrain. His primary focus is Iran, but in the process of explaining Iran’s perfidy he mentions that of several other countries that happen to be hostile to Iran.

“The Sunni royal family in Saudi Arabia,” according to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, “fears the growing influence of Shiite Iran in the Middle East, and is helping Bahrain’s Sunni rulers retain power.”


“the [UK] Ministry of Defence has now admitted that members of the Saudi Arabian National Guard sent into Bahrain may have received military training from the British Armed Forces in Saudi Arabia”.

In the mean time Bahrain is the home of the US Fifth-Fleet,

“which makes “the great advocate of democracy” turn a blind eye to the murderous regime in Bahrain. . . “

Even though Iran’s Shiite clerical regime might seem to support the Shiite demonstrations in Bahrain it is fully aware of the resemblance of those demonstrations to those of its own Shiite citizens it has repeatedly suppressed. The last thing the Iranians want is for those demonstrations to succeed.

The influence of the Islamic Republic in Bahrain is on the ruling regime: teaching it, by example, how viciously to quell a democratic revolt.

Saudi Arabia, Britain, the United States, Iran — these countries for various and contrary reasons are supporting the Bahrain regime’s abuses of its own people:

“The repression,” Patrick Cockburn reports, “is across the board. Sometimes the masked security men who raid Shia villages at night also bulldoze Shia mosques and religious meeting places. At least 27 of these have so far been wrecked or destroyed, while anti-Shia and pro-government graffiti is often sprayed on any walls that survive.” He further reports, “Nurses and doctors in a health system largely run by Shias have been beaten and arrested for treating protesters. Teachers and students are being detained. Some 1,000 professional people have been sacked and have lost their pensions. The one opposition newspaper has been closed. Bahraini students who joined protests abroad have had their funding withdrawn.”

The Bahrain regime has even set about to silence all authentic reporting on what’s going on inside the country.

“Bahraini authorities have begun an assault on local journalists working for international news agencies – with arrests, beatings and, apparently in one instance, electric shock.”

States, whatever their claims, can be heartless when it comes to protecting their own interests. Even the U.S.; even Britain.

Dabashi’s point is that the Bahraini regime is no better than that of Iran, as both repress their citizens with impunity.

[T]he Islamic Republic and Bahrain are in fact identical – not just in the majority of their population being Shia but in being ruled by two identically brutal and intolerant dictatorships. The Islamic Republic is frightened out of its wits by the Arab Spring, especially on its own back door, in Bahrain: for the more this Spring blooms and flowers the more it exposes the criminal atrocities of the Islamic Republic over the past thirty years, including, most recently, its own homegrown Green Movement – which one might in fact consider an early blooming of the Arab Spring.

[Click on the title above for a link to the whole piece.]

Syria’s betrayal of its own claims to legitimacy

What the regime in Syria has lost in legitimacy is unrecoverable. The reality of that loss can hardly be said more eloquently than in this Al Jazeera report by Hugh Macleod and an unnamed correspondent [probably in Syria]. RLC [Click on the title for a link to the source.]

Secret police are raiding hospitals to round up people who were injured during anti-government protests.
by Hugh Macleod and a special correspondent 24 May 2011

Fawaz al-Haraki had only minutes to live.

As the shots rang out, Abu Haidar and the other protesters ran for cover, grimly familiar with what to do when the mukhabberat (secret police) attacked.

But Fawaz fell, the blood soaking his trousers where the bullet from a Syrian secret policeman had torn into his leg.

It was Friday April 22 in the industrial city of Homs, famous for being the nation’s main producer of jokes and cement.

Few are laughing for Homs or its dirty factory these days. Last Friday, 11-year-old Aiham al-Ahmad became the latest among dozens of people killed in Homs since the city rose up in some of the largest numbers yet seen to call for freedom and an end to the Assad family’s 41-year-old dictatorship.

As the bullets sparked off the street around them, Abu Haidar and two other protesters hauled 42-year-old Fawaz into a car, desperate to get him to a doctor before his time ran out.

But Fawaz, growing pale under a blanket in the backseat of Abu Haider’s car, was already a dead man: Killed not only by a bullet, but by the regime’s decision – appearing, increasingly, to be systematic – to prevent injured protestors from receiving medical care.

From the moment he was shot until the moment he was buried in the ground, Fawaz’s fate was not in the hands of the doctors, friends and family who wished to save him, but in the hands of secret policemen whose actions ensured that he died, and that as few people knew about it as possible.

Nowhere to go

“They have checkpoints everywhere and we knew they could stop the car at any moment, even if we were acting normally,” said Abu Haidar, who has been a consistently reliable source for Al Jazeera’s reporting from Homs since the uprising began.

He had good reason to be worried.

On that same Friday, three other cars ferrying wounded protestors from Homs disappeared after approaching a security checkpoint. One of the drivers, Raed Mehran, had been on the phone with Wissam Tarif, director of Insan, a Syrian human rights organisation, hanging up saying he was approaching a checkpoint.

Several weeks later, Tarif received news that four of the men in the cars had died while the others had been imprisoned.

“It is beyond arbitrary detention. It is people being kidnapped. In many cases injured people are being kidnapped and we do not know if any medical attention is provided or not,” said Tarif.

In Jabla, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, the injured from an attack on April 24 couldn’t even be bundled into a car, pinned down inside the Hamwi Mosque by snipers shooting anyone who moved outside.

“We can’t even get to the pharmacy to get medicine because of the snipers on the roofs,” said Dr Zakariya al-Akkad. “All I can do is try and stop the bleeding.” He couldn’t, and 17-year-old Ali Halabi, along with several others, died.

Abu Haidar and his team had managed to avoid the checkpoints, but didn’t spot the plain clothes security men pulling up to them in the car behind. The security men opened fire.

. . . “We were driving really fast and trying to keep our heads down. There were bullets all around. We were risking our lives but also the life of Fawaz because when you are injured like that every moment is important,” he said.

The car swerved down a back alley to escape the mukhabberat.

“It was complete chaos but we know the neighbourhood much better than the security so we managed to escape with our lives,” said Abu Haidar.

Not so for the man they were trying to help: “Because we were forced to make that long journey, Fawaz bled to death.”

Al Jazeera has also reported that security forces, including snipers on rooftops, prevented residents from assisting the dead and dying during the siege of Deraa.

Human Rights Watch documented cases of security forces preventing casualties reaching hospital and firing on protesters seeking to help the wounded in Harasta, a town 12km north-east of Damascus, and also in Deraa.

‘They entered the hospital’

Even without the secret police attacking their car, Abu Haidar said his options for getting Fawaz to a doctor had already been drastically limited: “We were not willing to take him to the national hospital in Homs because we thought he would be arrested and kidnapped there.”

In cases repeated in several different Syrian cities, Al Jazeera has been able to document raids on hospitals by members of the secret police who have snatched injured protestors from their beds and forced them, some on stretchers, into police vehicles where they are driven to what are suspected to be military hospitals.

On April 22, the same day Fawaz died, a young nurse was on duty in the emergency ward of a hospital in Duma, a town 15 km north-east of Damascus, where tens of thousands had been protesting against the regime.

It was her fifth consecutive Friday on call. Before the protests began, the emergency department would receive three or four people per day, usually from car accidents, she said. This Friday, as before, the hospital would admit 30 to 40 emergency cases, almost all of them gunshot wounds to the upper body.

“I was in the hospital between eight and nine in the evening when about 20 security men with Kalashnikovs entered the hospital and asked reception to give them the names of all patients submitted that day,” the nurse told Al Jazeera, speaking on the condition that her identity and the name of the hospital not be revealed.

“We were afraid of them. They asked us to bring them all the wounded, not those who were just normally ill.”

The doctors and nurses were made to escort all 30 injured protesters, some of them carried on stretchers, from their beds to the police vehicles.

“I remember a teenager who was injured in his arm. He was exhausted, but they put him in a car anyway and he was crying from the pain. But I couldn’t do anything for him,” said the nurse. “They told us they were taking them to the military and police hospitals to treat them under their observation.”

On the same day, also in Duma, residents formed a human shield around the gates of the private-run Hamdan Hospital, trying to prevent secret police arresting the 25 injured protesters receiving treatment inside.

“This is the last way we have to protect our wounded from being kidnapped by the secret police,” said a man who took part in the human shield, which he said broke up after security forces fired on it and then arrested several injured patients.

In two other suburbs of Damascus, Berze and Maadamiyeh, Al Jazeera spoke to local doctors who said they had resorted to treating injured protestors in private homes or make-shift field clinics after relatives reported loved ones going missing from hospitals.

Also on April 22, a 13-year-old boy from Maadamiyeh died from a gunshot wound, said a local doctor, after secret police beat his father as he tried to get his son to hospital in neighbouring Daraya.

On April 23, an eyewitness in Deraa described to Al Jazeera how he saw military and plain-clothes security officers kill five people around the state hospital before breaking in and carrying out the wounded on stretchers.

In Homs itself, a week after Fawaz died, members of a local tribe stood watch around the Al-Barr private hospital to try and protect wounded protestors from police raids.

On May 5, Homs residents again formed a human shield, this time around the main hospital in Bab al-Sebah, while last Friday three people were killed when security forces opened fire on locals trying to protect a hospital in Homs’ Al-Waar neighbourhood.

“They prevent patients from being taken to hospital,” said a doctor directly involved in treating patients under the custody of the secret police. “It is something horrible. We feel hate towards this security regime.”

Treated or tortured?

Injured protestors in the custody of security forces also stand less chance of receiving adequate medical care, according to testimony from doctors speaking to Al Jazeera and human rights researchers.

“When we were treating patients from the protests the mukhaberrat said to us, ‘You don’t have to take care for these people, you have to care for the injured security men,'” the doctor who treated patients in police custody told Al Jazeera.

“As doctors we have our priorities, but the mukhaberrat don’t accept our priorities. It’s not like they say, ‘We will kill you if you care for the patients,’ but the doctors cannot say no to them. They are very afraid.”

As Al Jazeera first reported last month, Syrian doctors have come under direct pressure not to treat injured protesters.

Insan, a leading Syrian human rights organisation, documented the case of Hussein Moutaz Issa, 23, who died in police custody after being arrested with a gunshot wound left untreated.

Issa was shot in his right shoulder by security forces while trying to escape door-to-door raids on homes in Madaya, 40 km northwest of Damascus, on April 28. He made it to a neighbour’s house where several eyewitnesses, one of them with a medical background, told Insan they managed to stop the bleeding and the wound appeared non-fatal.

But later that night Issa was arrest and died in police custody, his body left at the main regional hospital in Zabadani. According to a doctor from the hospital who spoke to Insan, Issa had bled to death after receiving no medical attention.

“He was left without medical attention and bled to death,” said the doctor. “This is homicide. I saw the body myself. This young man was not offered any medical attention.”

Even more disturbingly, the body showed marks of torture.

“He was not even left to die in peace,” said the doctor. “It seems that after he was captured he was severely beaten.”

Issa’s death prompted a massive funeral march carrying his body from Zabadani back to Madaya, with thousands of people chanting for the downfall of the regime.
In a graphic and disturbing video from May 19, residents of Deraa display the body of a man said to be 75-year-old Mohammed Hassan Zubi, who was shot in the neck but whose body also bore the scars of severe beating and other torture.

Laid to rest, not in peace

Shot when protesting for freedom, Fawaz Haraki bled to death, like many others, because the actions of Syrian security forces prevented him from receiving the medical attention he needed.

Yet even after his death, the secret police continued to impose their restrictions and repression.

According to Abu Haidar, who delivered the body to them, Fawaz’s family were visited by secret police and forced to sign papers stating they would not bury Fawaz in the central Al Kateeb cemetery – now renamed Martyrs’ cemetery – but instead on the outskirts of the city, in the Tal Al Nasser cemetery, where the authorities hoped few would gather.

It was a scheme the mukhaberrat was using elsewhere. Just hours after residents of Homs gathered to bury Fawaz, to the south, in the Damascus suburb of Berze, a small group of mourners gathered in the dead of night to bury seven-year-oldIsraa Younes, shot by security forces the day before.

Having snatched bodies from the streets of Berze, the secret police forced families of those shot to sign papers stating their loved ones had been killed by “armed gangs” before they would release the bodies for burial.

Families had also to agree to hold the funeral at night. The same practise took place in Duma, only there the protestors, according to the regime’s paperwork, had been killed by “terrorists”.
But Fawaz’s funeral had the power of numbers. Born aloft by a procession of some 6,000 mourners, Fawaz’s body was carried not to the outskirts of the city, but straight to the Martyrs’ cemetery in central Homs, an act of defiance at the last, an assertion of rights in death which the regime had so systematically removed from his life, even in its last minutes.

The Arab Contagion in Iran

Anymore it is no surprise to hear that the Iranian government has brutalized its own people; it’s only where it has taken place this time that surprises — or rather among whom. The Arabs of Khuzestan, a minority with historically little influence on public affairs, have been demonstrating for more rights. The contagion has spread even to this group of Arabs. And again Shirin Ebadi is risking her well being by revealing, again, how brutal the Ahmadinejad regime can be.

Here is what Radio Free Europe says:

April 19, 2011
Iran’s Nobel Laureate Ebadi Warns Of Unrest Among Ethnic Arabs In Iran
Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has warned the United Nations of the possible spread of unrest in Iran’s Khuzestan Province, home to most of the country’s ethnic Arab minority.

Ebadi sent a letter to UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay in which she describes a deadly crackdown by Iranian security forces last week on a peaceful protest in Khuzestan’s capital, Ahvaz.

The April 15 protest, which some dubbed “Ahvaz Day of Rage,” was aimed at protesting what participants say is discrimination and injustice against ethnic Arabs, who make up about 3 percent of Iran’s population.

The event was reportedly planned with the help of social media sites, including Facebook, by political groups and young people both inside and outside the country who are said to have been inspired by popular uprisings in Arab countries.

Iranian officials have praised street demonstrations across the Arab world as an “Islamic awakening” but themselves have used force against Iranian protesters who have taken to the streets to demonstrate for democracy and human rights.

Deaths, Injuries, And Arrests

Force was also Iranian authorities’ response to the April 15 protest in Ahvaz.

In her letter, Ebadi says that at least 12 people were killed in the clashes, 20 others were injured, and dozens were arrested.

Human rights activists told RFE/RL they have received reports that there were more than 150 arrests, including a number of intellectuals, artists, and women’s rights activists. They said the province has been turned into “a military base” by security forces who have warned activists not to speak to the media.

[For the rest, click on the title above.]
To the above Sami wrote the following:
I was impressed with how Shirin Ebadi has, at great risk to her own
person, recently spoken out on the Iranian government’s oppression
toward ethnic minorities. Prior to this, I had been under the mistaken
assumption that Ebadi was inclined to avoid adopting any position on
especially sensitive topics such as this, which the Iranian government
probably characterizes as falling under the rubric of ‘national
security’. Maybe even she, as courageous and outspoken as she is, had
to be extremely careful about the statements she made on certain
issues. I developed this opinion after attending an event in April 2007
at Saint Louis University, where Ms. Ebadi was invited to speak. In her
(translated) speech, she was very critical of the Iranian government’s
restrictive domestic policies towards women, but at the same time she
was also defensive of her country’s foreign policy, particularly its
ambitions to develop an independent nuclear energy capacity and
maintain its role as a major power within the region.

While denouncing U.S. foreign policy vis-a-vis Iran, she questioned why
her country was considered a state-sponsor of terrorism when it was
U.S.-backed states like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan which had supported
the Taliban while Iran had fiercely opposed them in the 1990s. The
convenience of this overly simplistic argument made me wonder whether
she was trying to balance her criticism of the Iranian government’s
internal policies by defending its international positions or if she
really did have a different interpretation than most of us have of
Iran’s support for militant proxies like Hamas in Palestine, Hizbullah
in Lebanon, and the Mahdi Army in Iraq. This seemed a bit odd (to me,

When it was time for the audience to submit written questions, I’d
hoped to ask a fairly simple question about her stance on the
persecution of religious and ethnic minorities in Iran (apart from
women’s rights in general). From the enthusiasm of the audience in
attendance (many members of the local Iranian community, along with
professors and students from SLU and other local colleges), I could
tell there were probably more questions than she could possibly answer
that day but I was also somewhat disappointed by the quality of the
questions that were asked. The focus seemed to be on the person and not
so much on the issues that she had come to talk about. Could it be that
the more serious questions had been deliberately avoided? Or maybe this
particular audience was not interested in the ‘boring’ stuff I wanted
to hear.

Anyway, I’m glad to learn that I was wrong to have based my assessment
of Ebadi on what I didn’t hear that afternoon. As in the past, she’s
now acting as the moral conscience of the Iranian nation to make
Iranians and others around the world aware of how minorities are being
repressed in Khuzestan. The issue of women’s rights is not a slight
one, and it needs to be forcefully addressed from within by able and
articulate Iranians like Ebadi. However, the perpetration of state
violence against ethnic and religious minorities (Arabs, Kurds,
Baluchis, Sunni Muslims and non-Muslims among others) constitute a more
immediate violation of fundamental human rights that demands to be
condemned by all. It’s truly inspiring to see Shirin Ebadi use her
international prominence to take a stand for the rights of all
Iranians. I must say it is also quite reassuring to have a question
(finally) answered in this way.

Moderate comments for this blog:

Posted by Sami to Vital Concerns for the World at 7:56 PM