Categorized | Middle East




The global lure of Muslim resistance


25 Nov 2010

Amazing reporting by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in the UK Guardian:

British-based men of Afghan origin are spending months at a time in Afghanistan fighting Nato forces before returning to the UK, the Guardian has learned. They also send money to the Taliban.

A Taliban fighter in Dhani-Ghorri in northern Afghanistan last month told the Guardian he lived most of the time in east London, but came to Afghanistan for three months of the year for combat.

“I work as a minicab driver,” said the man, who has the rank of a mid-level Taliban commander. “I make good money there [in the UK], you know. But these people are my friends and my family and it’s my duty to come to fight the jihad with them.”

“There are many people like me in London,” he added. “We collect money for the jihad all year and come and fight if we can.”

His older brother, a senior cleric or mawlawi who also fought in Dhani-Ghorri, lives in London as well.

Intelligence officials have long suspected that British Muslims travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan each year to train with extremist groups.

Last year it was reported that RAF spy planes operating in Helmand in southern Afghanistan had detected strong Yorkshire and Birmingham accents on fighters using radios and telephones. They apparently spoke the main Afghan languages of Dari and Pashtu, but lapsed into English when they were lost for the right words. The threat was deemed sufficiently serious that spy planes have patrolled British skies in the hope of picking up the same voice signatures of the fighters after their return to the UK.

Welcome to expat jihadists:

The landscape of Dhani-Ghorri in northern Afghanistan is a quilt of fields outlined by earth berms, poplar trees and irrigation canals. Driving into the district to meet the area’s Taliban commander late last month, we passed men and boys who cooked rice in mud kilns, piled sacks of red onions on trucks or followed herds of goats and sheep.

Our escorts were a mix of Afghan ethnicities – Uzbek, Hazara, Tajik and Pashtun – from Baghlan and its neighbouring provinces. Most surprising, though, were the two who said they lived in Britain.

We were asked to wait for the district chief in the house of a burly, bearded man who spoke passable English with a hint of a London accent. For most of the time he lived in east London, he said, but he came to Afghanistan for three months of the year to fight. He was a mullah and had the rank of a mid-level Taliban commander.

“I work as a minicab driver there,” he said. “I make good money, you know. But these people are my friends and my family and it’s my duty to come to fight the jihad with them.

“There are many people like me in London,” he added. “We collect money for the jihad all year and come and fight if we can.”

He shared the compound-style house in Dhani-Ghorri with his brothers and sisters and their families. The oldest brother, a senior cleric or maulvi, also lived in London. Of his two younger brothers, one lived in Dubai and the other – a red-bearded young man who sat in the corner flipping prayer beads and whispering – in Norway.

The fighting season was coming to a close, they said, and the four of them were getting ready to return to their civilian lives abroad.

We can define what being Australian is

25 Nov 2010

Great essay by outgoing Meanjin editor Sophie Cunningham in Crikey that discusses the effect of the web on writing and what, if anything, constitutes “Australian writing”:

The Australian voice became more in fashion after WW2, in a shift that was aided and abetted by Australia’s (well-founded) sense of itself as finally being a player on the world stage. This voice was encouraged by literary journals like Meanjin, and later Overland, as well as by newspapers of the day. It was a voice that was tied into a swelling of national pride.

These days, this association with a nationalist agenda complicates our relationship to the whole idea of an Australian voice. It’s a voice that can be associated with tirades and rhetoric. With blokes and the bush. With Les Murray’s attempt to write a preamble to the constitution for John Howard back in 1999: “We value excellence as well as fairness, independence as dearly as mateship.”

It can be hard to remember that our voice is more nuanced, less static, than these clichés would have us believe. It’s a voice created by poets (indeed, ones like Les Murray), by slam poets (looking at you Omar Musa and Easy Bee), cartoonists (take a bow First Dog), by essayists (Marie Takolander, Benjamin Law), historians (Michael Cathcart, Clare Wright), musicians (Paul Kelly, Missy Higgins), bloggers (Kerry Goldsworthy, Antony Loewenstein) and novelists (Christos Tsiolkas, Fiona McGregor). It’s not clear what it is that makes them distinctive, makes them Australian. But they clearly are.

Given that the move towards the digital realm follows on from other changes globalisation has wrought in the world of publishing and bookselling — debates around copyright, government policy making (parallel importation, etc), the financial imperative to reach an international audience —   it’s hard not to imagine that Australian writers are in danger of losing their distinctive voice. The question we need to ask next is: does it matter?

Memo to self; always check you have the right Nazi

25 Nov 2010


The Independent was threatened with legal action today after being accused of emblazoning a picture of a Croatian actor across its front page and describing him as a German Nazi mass murderer.

In an incident that appeared to highlight the perils of quick-fire journalism in the age of Google and the internet, the newspaper devoted its entire front page on Tuesday to the case of Samuel Kunz, the 89-year-old Nazi war crimes suspect who died last week before facing trial in connection with the murder of more than 400,000 Jews at the Nazi death camp of Belzec during the second world war.

The large front-page picture purporting to be Kunz showed a sinister portrait of a man in the uniform not of the German Wehrmacht or SS, but of Croatian wartime fascist movement the Ustasha. The Ustasha “U” was clearly visible on the front of the man’s cap.

It appeared that the picture was a doctored still from The Living and the Dead, a 2007 Croatian film about the 1990s Bosnia war which also features flashbacks to the war in the Balkans in 1943.

The picture, the Croatian and Bosnian media reported today, was of Ljubomir Jurkovic, a 50-year-old Croatian actor from Karlovac, south of Zagreb, and not born until 15 years after the second world war’s end.

Israel should fear global opinion realising how it occupies

25 Nov 2010

This Associated Press story makes it to the Washington Post, a significant development in the rising global profile and impact of BDS. Israel can claim to be the victim as much as it wants; increasing numbers of people know how it treats the Palestinians:

There is a budding movement by foreign investors and activists to join a Palestinian campaign against companies doing business in the West Bank – aimed at hitting them in their pockets.

Pension funds in Norway and Sweden have divested themselves of holdings in some firms involved in building in settlements or helping to erect Israel’s contentious West Bank separation barrier.

European activists are cranking up pressure on companies by exposing the West Bank ties and picketing stores that sell settlement goods. And some major U.S. churches are questioning companies as a precursor to possible divestment.

The economic impact is still negligible. Jewish groups are pushing back and key institutions, including U.S. universities, have rejected calls to divest. But in business, where image is all-important, it’s tough to shrug off potentially negative publicity.

Israel accuses boycott advocates of trying to delegitimize the Jewish state. It also argues that plenty of companies with ties to states with horrendous human rights records are not similarly targeted.

The focus on corporate involvement comes against the backdrop of a wider Palestinian movement of divestment and boycott, inspired by the economic assault on apartheid-era South Africa.

The Palestinians hope such pressure will achieve what years of negotiations have not – end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, lands they want for a state. Israel withdrew all forces and settlers from the Gaza Strip, the other territory claimed by the Palestinians, in 2005.

While the Palestinians seek a blanket boycott of Israel, many foreign supporters do not.

“This is not divestment from Israel. It’s divestment from companies supporting the occupation,” said William Aldrich, head of the divestment task force at the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Divestment is meant to make a moral statement, said Aldrich, whose group recommends that Methodists sell stock in 29 foreign and Israeli companies, though that call has not been adopted by his church at the national level.

“The big success is that is has become an issue,” added Merav Amir of the Tel Aviv-based Coalition of Women for Peace, whose database of companies has become a resource for investors and activists.

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister who supports a West Bank pullout, said Israel should be concerned.

“There is a trend of ideological consumerism in some of the world’s countries, in addition to a delegitimization campaign against the state of Israel,” she told a business conference Wednesday. “I believe we have to light a few warning lights.”

America’s real priorities (and the arms industry are very happy)

24 Nov 2010

Some revealing facts from the essential War is Business blog:

$10.9 billion was the value of military training and sales agreements executed in fiscal year 2000 by the Pentagon’s global arms delivery service, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

$31.6 billion was the sum of the agency’s business in fiscal year 2010, which concluded at the end of September. The DSCA just released the new figures.

$4.7 billion of that total comprised training and equipment for the Afghan military and police services. (Eager recruits, pictured.)

$4.0 billion worth of hardware went to Israel, the DSCA’s top buyer.

$2.6 billion went to Egypt.

$463 million is the latest official tally of US aid to Pakistan for flood relief.

$250 million is how much China has pledged for flood relief. Swaths of Pakistan’s Sindh province are expected to remain underwater for months.


Using Wikileaks to sue the US


24 Nov 2010

The enduring power of Wikileaks:

Iraq’s Baath party, forcibly removed from power by the US-led invasion of 2003, believes leaked American military documents could help it sue the US government over the war.

Baathist officials are planning to meet with international law experts in March to discuss the possibility of taking legal action against Washington, party members said.

They believe the publication by WikiLeaks of 400,000 papers that the US army had intended to keep secret has bolstered the chances of making a case.

The WikiLeaks files, released last month, documented a litany of prisoner abuse and civilian deaths at the hands of US forces and, according to the whistle-blowing website, contained evidence of possible war crimes by US troops

“The [WikiLeaks] documents are very important because they expose the facts of the illegal occupation to the world,” Abu Mohammad, the official Baath party spokesman, said in an interview. “Perhaps they will constitute the basis for a future legal case against the criminals involved in the war, and will force them to pay compensation to the victims of the destruction of the state of Iraq.

“The documents are evidence and they will support proper legal action to secure the rights of Iraqis, if not by us now then by future generations.”

Abu Mohammad, who spoke on condition he be identified only by this nom de guerre, is the official spokesman of the Iraqi Baath party.

The Baathists are hardly human rights defenders but it is perfectly reasonable to hold the Americans to account for their litany of crimes against Iraq.



Talking to the DPRK is essential

24 Nov 2010

Acting sensibly over North Korea is clearly not in the playbook of Washington. War games beckon.

Investigative journalist Tim Shorrock has a great take at the Daily Beast (and here on Democracy Now!):

As the Obama administration dispatches an aircraft carrier to the region, following North Korea’s deadly and unprovoked shelling of South Korea, experts warn that the United States only has one choice in dealing with Kim Jong Il’s regime: direct negotiations.

That’s the message from several American Korea experts who have recently visited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and talked to its leaders.

Contrary to what has been advocated by the Pentagon, the Obama administration, and members of the Republican party, these experts say that direct negotiations are the only way to end Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, and eventually move toward a peace agreement to formally end the conflict.

“The only way out of this box is to negotiate,” Leon V. Sigal, the director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council in New York, told The Daily Beast. Sigal, who visited Pyongyang last week with two former State department officials, added: “North Korea is prepared in detail to do things advantageous to the United States that are not impossible to do.”

The Obama administration, however, has made it clear that no talks with the North Korean government of Kim Jong Il are possible until the regime abandons its nuclear weapons program. In the wake of the shelling incident, President Obama announced that U.S. and South Korean forces will hold joint military exercises in the region that will include the aircraft carrier George Washington and other U.S. Navy warships. “We’ve had an underlying philosophy of not rewarding bad behavior with concessions,” a senior administration official told reporters.

In recent days, however, North Korea has opened the door for a possible shift in policy. In their meetings with North Koreans, Sigal and former U.S. officials Joel Wit and Morton Abramowitz were told that Pyongyang is prepared to ship out all of its nuclear fuel rods, the key ingredient for producing weapons-grade plutonium, to a third country in exchange for a U.S. commitment to pledge that it has “no hostile intent” toward the DPRK.


Keep those terror threats coming (the dollars are rolling in)

24 Nov 2010

The “war on terror” is making some people a lot of money. But it’s all about protecting us from terrorism, of course:

The companies with multimillion-dollar contracts to supply American airports with body-scanning machines more than doubled their spending on lobbying in the past five years and hired several high-profile former government officials to advance their causes in Washington, government records show.

L-3 Communications, which has sold $39.7 million worth of the machines to the federal government, spent $4.3 million trying to influence Congress and federal agencies during the first nine months of this year, up from $2.1 million in 2005, lobbying data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show. Its lobbyists include Linda Daschle, a former Federal Aviation Administration official.

Rapiscan Systems, meanwhile, has spent $271,500 on lobbying so far this year, compared with $80,000 five years earlier. It has faced criticism for hiring Michael Chertoff, the former Homeland Security secretary, last year. Chertoff has been a prominent proponent of using scanners to foil terrorism. The government has spent $41.2 million with Rapiscan.


Corporate “journalist” channels juicy Zionist quotes over Tehran

24 Nov 2010

Are we supposed to thank the US administration for stopping Israel bombing Iran?

Some Israeli officials say the country’s fingers are off the hair-trigger that would launch a strike on the Iranian nuclear program, but that convincing the United States to take a harder line on Iran remains a top national priority.

The apparent willingness of the Israelis to postpone a demand for confrontation by months – at least – represents a success for the Obama administration, which has sought to convince Israel that it should give sanctions a chance to work.

It also, Israelis said, represents the belief on both sides that Iranian technical difficulties – some of them reportedly the result of a computer virus attributed to Israeli intelligence – have slowed the program.

“The Iranians are moving more slowly than they want to – but they are still moving,” said Yossi Kuperwasser, the deputy director general of Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry. “Everybody understands that you have to give some time for the sanctions to bear their full fruit.”


Inside the Serco British test-case

24 Nov 2010

Just what is Serco doing at Britain’s Yarl’s Wood detention centre?

The BBC investigates though does a pretty average job, only speaking to the Serco manager of the place. Maybe under-cover work would have brought far better results.


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