The Arab League to Syria’s Assad: Talk to the opposition.

That the Arab League has come together on a proposal to Assad is good news.  Whether it will amount to anything is something else.  The opprobrium of the world has not yet forced Assad to step down – which is what his enemies demand if they are to give of their demonstrations.  In the mean time Assad’s troops keep on killing unarmed citizens of their country.
That the rest of the world wants to intervene is a sign of how little anyone cares anymore about the conventions of the Peace of Westphalia.  The world is too small now; it’s too easy to peak over the fence and see what our neighbors are doing to their citizens.  We cringe at what we see in North Korea  But Assad tells us that without his regime the Middle East will be an “Afghanistan”.  Meaning what?   Here is what Al Jazeera tells us. [click on the title for the whole article].
Arab League hands Syria plan to end unrest  Oct 31, 2011
The Arab League has handed Syrian officials a plan for ending seven months of increasingly violent unrest against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
The Arab League committee put its plan, involving talks in Cairo between the Syrian authorities and their opponents, to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem and Bouthaina Shaaban, a political adviser to Assad, on Sunday in Qatar.
The League had previously set a two-week deadline for the start of such talks, which expired on Sunday. The committee said it hoped for a Syrian response to its plan by Monday.
“More important than a dialogue is action… This committee has given a very strong response to the recent killings,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani, whose country presides over the committee, told reporters in Doha.
Syrian objections to holding a meeting regarding what they consider domestic affairs outside Syria was one of the points of disagreement between the two sides.
Assad told Russian television on Sunday that he would co-operate with the opposition even as he had earlier warned in another interview of an “earthquake” if the West intervenes in his country.
In an interview with Britain’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper, Assad said international involvement risked transforming Syria into “another Afghanistan”.
He also stressed Syria was key to keeping the peace in the region.
. . . 

Slavery is still widely practiced in the world. And in the US?

Most of us have assumed that slavery was abolished long ago.  Little do we know.  Al Jazeera has a special series of programs on slavery.  [Click on the title above for a link.] Their programs highlight several kinds of enslavement.

  • Food chain slaves:  They say there are 40,000 slaves in the US today.
  • Sex slaves:  “There are an estimated 1.4 million sex slaves in the world today and international trafficking is on the rise.”
  • Bonded slaves:  “a form of slavery that is passed down from one generation to the next.”
  • Child slaves: “There are at least 8.4 million child slaves in the world today, many of them held as forced labour.”
  • Charcoal slaves: ” Poverty stricken men from north of Brazil are lured to remote camps where they are used as slave laborers.”
  • Bridal slaves

    India has the world’s largest number of slaves, among them an increasing number of women and girls sold into marriage

  • Prison slaves:  In Chinese factories.

There is enough here to give a whole course on slavery around the world.  Of course there are several useful books on the topic:  For instance, Kevin Bales, Disposable People.

How the State Department intimidates its own employees

A recent post by Peter Van Buren on how he has been harassed
for posting a link from his personal blog to a Wikileaks site on the web should
alarm everyone.  There are still, and
always will be, ways of intimidating individuals without breaking the law, and
the treatment of this State Department official is frightening.  This kind of behavior, I can believe, might
have taken place during the George W Bush administration when the whole country
was punchy about every twitch that could be regarded as a threat to the
country.  But, no, this took place only
recently, by officials in the Obama administration, which we had all hoped
would avoid such knee-jerk reactions.  Consider
the following:
Van Buren was told that by posting a link to a WikiLeaks document already available
elsewhere on the Web he had essentially disclosed “classified material.”
was reason to be formally asked if he had “donated any money … to a forward
military base in Iraq.”
Had he “’transferred’
classified information” in any other way?
Van Buren assumed that there was a subtext to this interrogation:  Someone objected to what he had to say in a
forthcoming book, We Meant Well:
How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People
.  Whatever the reason it was un-American.
Van Buren is a State Department employee with 23 years of
experience, and in this interview he was told that for the act of simply
linking to another website he could lose his security clearance, which for him
would of course mean the termination of a career.  The agents questioning him even stated that he
was subject to criminal prosecution.  Indeed
by merely revealing that he was being thus interrogated he could be charged
with “interfering with a Government investigation.” A report of the interrogation on his blog would be considered “Law Enforcement Sensitive”.  
Hmm.  This is a free society, right?  Not Syria,
not Saudi Arabia, not Bahrain, not Iran
or North Korea.  We think an open society is a good thing.  We like the idea of a society in which people
are free to use the internet.  It’s OK even to link to other sites the
web — because of course they are  already there.  

Al Jazeera: From destructive raids by officials in Egypt to rejection at a Texas football game

The offices of Al Jazeera were wrecked by “officials” in Egypt the other day because they were showing too much about what was happening there. And in Texas an Al Jazeera reporter was denied the privilege of interviewing patrons at a high-school football game because it was “too dangerous.” Gabriel Elizondo is a reporter for Al Jazeera. Here is what he says about it.

This is what Elizondo has to say about his experience. [Click on the title above for a link to the whole article.]

He then said something I could not entirely make out, because his voice sort of quivered from a combination of being obviously furious and nervous at the same time.
But I am pretty sure he said:
“I think it was damn rotten what they did.”
“I am sorry, what who did?” I say, not sure exactly if he was calling me rotten, the terrorists rotten, Al Jazeera rotten, or all of the above.
“The people that did this to us,” he says back to me with a smirk, still glaring uncomfortably straight at my eyes.
“Well, I think it was bad too,” I say. “Well, do you think, sir, we can film a bit of the game and talk to some people here about just that?”
“No. You can’t film, you can’t take pictures, or interview people.”
“OK, can I ask why? And if you allow me can I explain…”
Cut off.
“No, I just expect that you will respect it.”
Clearly he didn’t want to hear anything from me.
Al Jazeera is not welcome here.

Mr Lee’s response:

Field of Hope – where rape is a daily way of life

Rape in Congo takes place in unbelievable numbers every day. It is hard to internalize what is going on. According to one source, a film on Congo rape, some fighters in the Congo believe they cannot succeed in a battle if they have not just raped a woman successfully. The world they and their women live in is terrifying, violent, cruel. So consider the courage and dedication of a woman that would undertake to help these women recover. Thanks to Al Jazeera for making this available to us.

Field of Hope – Witness – Al Jazeera English

Syria’s sign language: Imprinted on the hands of cartoonist Ali Ferzat

Only human beings kill and maim each other over scratches on a page. Most people in the west think it is bizarre that some radical Muslims want to kill anyone who has tried to draw Muhammad in a cartoon. Now we hear that the Syrian government has maimed a man who has lately been publishing his cartoons on his own website. Such is the terror of a government over images. The incident reveals how powerful and how dependent we are on the imagination. It takes imagination to “read” into scratches on the page a conception of something abstract, especially to see in the drawings of Ali Ferzat images of the Syrian dictatorship. He has drawn a picture of President Assad of Syria trying to hitch a ride with Muammar Ghaddafi as he frantically flees his own rebellious citizens; and of Assad offering tea to a man who is meanwhile being beaten in his feet. It take imagination to grasp the irony of these images but once we know the context we all get it immediately. This is how human society is enabled, through representations — images, sounds in speech, gestures — to which we impute connection with things of another order. I know of a situation in which a simple note on a door led to a fist fight between famous scholars.

All this seems perhaps unduly academic. However it works, this is the stuff of the human imagination. And how it works in the intersubjective world of human interaction is one of the most interesting and challenging intellectual pursuits. Unfortunately, contrary to what some people suppose, it leads us to inquire into the conflicts that so broadly characterize the human condition. It leads us to take note of how materially and painfully real are the wounds of Ali Ferzat even if they are powerfully symbolic. Those broken hands “say” to the rest of the people of Syria “Don’t mess with this government”, “Don’t represent this government as disingenuous,” “Don’t suggest that this government is repressive” [even if everyone in the country knows otherwise]. What must be fully understood — that this is a repressive regime — must not be expressed in word or image. Ferzat had his canvas; the government has another: the bodies of citizens. And both tell a story.

The power of the moral imagination.

[Here is a link to the original article in Al Jazeera on Ferzat, with a video]

US condemns Syria political cartoonist attack – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Juan Cole is now as admired as Owen Lattimore

If I am honest with myself I have to admit that I am profoundly envious of Juan Cole. I have long admired his work. He writes richly documented scholarly works and he runs a blog in which he demonstrates every morning that he has already read everything in Arabic and Persian that was published that day. He must read and write in his sleep.
Yes, it’s envy: I only wish I could have done half as much fine work as he has, and that I could maintain an informed, up-to-the-moment commentary on even a small sector of the world comparable to his blog. But now he has now been elevated to an unparalleled level of scholarly greatness by the revelation that someone in the George W Bush administration tried to sabotage his career.
Few scholars ever get such an honor. The only other one so honored that I know of was someone else I have long admired, Owen Lattimore. Lattimore was the most eminent scholar on Chinese affairs in the 1940s and 1950s. He wrote some of the greatest studies of all time on the influence of the frontier on social affairs. His Inner Asian Frontiers of China was one of the great works in a field now given a name, political ecology. He had a powerful influence on American foreign policy in his day, as he was Roosevelt’s adviser on East Asian affairs. But what distinguished him above many other worthy scholars of his time was Joseph McCarthy’s attack against him during the 1950s. McCarthy accused him of being a Communist sympathizer, “a top Russian spy.” At the moment of the attack Lattimore was en route to Afghanistan where he had been designated the new head of the United Nations Mission there. When he arrived in Kabul and read a telegram notifying him of McCarthy’s charges, he got back on the same plane and went home. In Washington he vigorously defended himself and when the hearings were over he published a book, Ordeal by Slander, written in three months, no doubt in a fit of anger.
So now it turns out that Juan Cole has been elevated to such a stature. Only in his case no one will admit to trying to dig up dirt against him. Yesterday’s New York Times only indicates that someone in the G W Bush administration was asking Glenn L. Carle, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, to gather sensitive information on Juan Cole. Who would that be? We know that the office of the Vice President was up to such shenanigans – that’s why Scooter Libby went to jail.
Whatever the situation it has now elevated Juan Cole into the class of most envied scholars. He is now on a par with Owen Lattimore.

Iranian government thugs beat a famous woman scholar, who collapsed of heart attack

Haleh Sahabi’s death was not accidental but deliberate, by a regime that has been reduced to showing its true character. The story of her death as she mourns the death of her father is told by Hamed Dabashi, Al Jazeera, June 3, 2011.

Haleh Sahabi: Our Antigone in Tehran: Haleh Sahabi defied human law to defend moral, divine law; her life writing a heroic legend of the future. AlJazeera [6/3/11]
Haleh Sahabi, 54, was a distinguished Quranic hermeneutician, a religious comparatist, a women’s rights scholar, and a committed activist to the cause of her people’s civil liberties. Haleh Sahabi was sentenced to a two-year prison term after she had joined a rally in front of the Iranian parliament in the aftermath of the contested presidential election of 2009.

While serving her term in jail, Haleh Sahabi was informed of her father’s impending death. He was the prominent Iranian dissident Ezzatollah Sahabi (1930-2011), a revered democracy activist, known and admired for his mild manner, open-minded generosity of spirit, a liberal demeanor, and a commitment to non-violent activism on a religious-nationalist platform for over half a century.

Haleh Sahabi was briefly allowed out of prison to be present for the final days of her father’s life. Ezzatollah died, at the age of 81 on May 31, 2011. Millions of Iranians in and out of their homeland were saddened by his death, deeply grateful for his moderate and caring positions, even those who did not agree with him.

His funeral began on the following day, June 1, under tight security control, and – according to a number of reliable eyewitness accounts- including those of Ahmad Montazeri, the son of the late Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, and Ahmad Sadr Haj Seyyed Javadi, an aging opposition politician – a band of organised plainclothes security forces began to disrupt the funeral, ridiculing and humiliating the attendants, and moved to snatch the body of the deceased from those who were carrying it for a proper burial.

Haleh Sahabi, leading the funeral, tried to prevent the disruption, while holding on to a picture of her father. The picture was violently taken away from her by a security agent and she was hit on her side. She fell to the ground in the scuffle and soon after died of a cardiac arrest.

The International campaign for Human Rights in Iran holds the plainclothes security forces responsible for Haleh Sahabi’s death, and has called for an official investigation. “The shameful actions of government thugs in this incident reveal a deep contempt for traditions that belong to all Iranians, and they have resulted in a tragedy,” said Hadi Ghaemi, spokesperson for the campaign. Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian Nobel Peace laureate, has declared Haleh Sahabi’s death,”intentional murder”.

[Click on the title for the whole article]

What the Syrian police did to a thirteen year old child.

Remember the pulverized body of the young man Emit Till? He was tortured and brutalized by a racist mob in the United States. In Syria it is the government that does such things — even to children.

The brutal treatment of the Syrian people by their government reveals what it is: inhuman, brutal, unfeeling, bestial. Nothing reveals to the world what controls conditions in Syria better than the revelation of what Syrian police did to one of their 13-year old future citizens. From Al Jazeera.

Tortured and killed: Hamza al-Khateeb, age 13. The mutilation and death in custody of a 13-year-old child has sparked further furious protests in Syrian city of Daraa.
Hugh Macleod and Annasofie Flamand 31 May 2011 AL JAZEERA

Hamza al-Khateeb used to love it when the rains came to his small corner of southern Syria, filling up the farmers’ irrigation channels enough so that he and the other children could jump in and swim.
But the drought of the last few years had left the 13-year-old without the fun of his favourite pool.
Instead, he’d taken to raising homing pigeons, standing on the roof of his family’s simple breeze-block home, craning his neck back to see the birds circling above the wide horizon of fields, where wheat and tomatoes were grown from the tough, scrubby soils.
Though not from a wealthy family himself, Hamza was always aware of others less fortunate than himself, said a cousin who spoke to Al Jazeera.
“He would often ask his parents for money to give to the poor. I remember once he wanted to give someone 100 Syrian Pounds ($2), and his family said it was too much. But Hamza said, ‘I have a bed and food while that guy has nothing.’ And so he persuaded his parents to give the poor man the 100.”
In the hands of President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces, however, Hamza found no such compassion, his humanity degraded to nothing more than a lump of flesh to beat, burn, torture and defile, until the screaming stopped at last.
Arrested during a protest in Saida, 10km east of Daraa, on April 29, Hamza’s body was returned to his family on Tuesday 24th May, horribly mutilated.
The child had spent nearly a month in the custody of Syrian security, and when they finally returned his corpse it bore the scars of brutal torture: Lacerations, bruises and burns to his feet, elbows, face and knees, consistent with the use of electric shock devices and of being whipped with cable, both techniques of torture documented by Human Rights Watch as being used in Syrian prisons during the bloody three-month crackdown on protestors.
Hamza’s eyes were swollen and black and there were identical bullet wounds where he had apparently been shot through both arms, the bullets tearing a hole in his sides and lodging in his belly.

Hamza’s mutilated, castrated corpse was riddled with bullet holes and burn marks [YouTube/SFP]
On Hamza’s chest was a deep, dark burn mark. His neck was broken and his penis cut off.
“Where are the human rights committees? Where is the International Criminal Court?” asks the voice of the man inspecting Hamza’s body on a video uploaded to YouTube.
“A month had passed by with his family not knowing where he was, or if or when he would be released. He was released to his family as a corpse. Upon examining his body, the signs of torture are very clear.”
[Click on the title above for a link to the source and access to the whole article.]

The murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad: Pakistan’s intelligence service is implicated

Many journalists have been killed in Pakistan, so the murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad can be considered more of what we have seen there for so many years. It was only last year that Pakistan was declared the most dangerous country on earth for journalists. But what makes his murder so much more heinous is that he was last seen in the custody of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. This is an outfit that Shahzad’s research could never trust because he was trying to declare to the world what the ISI and other secretive elements of the government were doing. That he died in their hands reveals what they are: A brutal gang all their own; as some have said, “A state within a state.” Note that it was not enough to silence him; not enough to kill him: they had to brutalize him, pulverize his body. Such is in store for anyone who want to reveal what the ISI is doing.

Is the pen really mightier than the sword? I would hope so. I deeply admire the courage of many Pakistani journalists who continue to describe the world as they find it, in a country so threatening to those who would purvey the truth as they as they best can. It’s a dangerous place and what they do is a dangerous game. It is easy to criticize journalism, especially in retrospect, but at least such courageous people are out there, digging around to find out what is really happening, not just what those in power want tell the world in their own interest.

We grieve not only for Mr. Shahzad and his family, but also for the many other journalists who must be terrified by his murder. And we grieve for the Pakistani people. No one deserves the kind of government they have. I have despaired of writing one more time that Pakistan is the most dangerous place on earth. Its government is inept, weak, subject to the intimidating pressures of its own military-industrial complex, which is notoriously duplicitous. The Pakistani people don’t deserve such leadership, and yet they continue to be endlessly subjected to it; to a misinformed – no, a deliberately dis-informing – government.

And what hope is there for a realistic and fair solution to the Afghanistan war as long as this Pakistan regime has an influence on the issue?

Some links to recent reports:
Carlotta Gall in the New York Times
Pakistani Journalist Who Covered Security and Terrorism Is Found Dead.
A well-known Pakistani journalist has been found dead after being abducted over the weekend in an upscale neighborhood here and receiving repeated threats from Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency. … He disappeared Sunday evening in the center of this capital just two days after writing an article suggesting that a militant attack on the navy’s main base in Karachi on May 22 was carried out because the navy was trying to crack down on cells from Al Qaeda that had infiltrated the force. Pakistan’s armed forces, specifically the navy, have been highly embarrassed by the 16-hour battle that ensued at the base when six attackers climbed over a wall and blew up two American-made naval surveillance planes. Ten people were killed in the attack, and American and Chinese technicians working on the base only narrowly escaped injury as they were driven out through a hail of bullets. … Coming soon after the American raid on May 2 that killed Osama bin Laden, which caught the Pakistani Army and Air Force flat-footed, the attack on the naval base has shocked the entire country. The armed forces chiefs have been deeply angered by the humiliation they have suffered from both episodes, and in particular the many questions raised about their competence by Pakistan’s increasingly rambunctious news media. . . .

Al Jazeera:
… Syed Saleem Shahzad had earlier told a rights activist he had been threatened by the country’s intelligence agencies. He was found dead on Tuesday, and police said his body showed signs of torture. Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan representative for Human Rights Watch, said Shahzad had told him that he was under threat by Pakistan’s military intelligence agency. “He told me he was being followed and that he is getting threatening telephone calls and that he is under intelligence surveillance,” he told Reuters news agency. “We can’t say for sure who has killed Saleem Shahzad. But what we can say for sure is that Saleem Shahzad was under serious threat from the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) and Human Rights Watch has every reason to believe that that threat was credible.” … His death underscores the dangers of reporting in Pakistan, which in 2010 was called the deadliest country for journalists.

Foreign Policy Online:
Pakistani police yesterday found the body of kidnapped journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad in a canal in the Mandi Bahauddir area of Gujarat district southeast of the capital Islamabad, from where Shahzad had been kidnapped on his way to a TV interview nearly two days before (NYT, ET, Tel, LAT, BBC, Reuters, Daily Times, WSJ, AJE, AFP). Shahzad’s body reportedly bore extensive signs of torture, including broken ribs and wounds to his face, abdomen and internal organs (AFP). He was buried today in Karachi, his hometown (AP). Suspicion for the kidnapping and killing has fallen on Pakistan’s intelligence services, who according to Human Rights Watch researcher Ali Dayan Hasan had threatened Shahzad as recently as last October (Post, Reuters, The News). Hasan told reporters Monday that he had been able to confirm through anonymous sources that Shahzad was in the custody of the intelligence services (NYT). Shahzad wrote a story Friday for the Asia Times alleging that al-Qaeda was responsible for last week’s attack on a Pakistani naval base after Shahzad said navy officials refused to release sailors arrested for their alleged links to al-Qaeda.