Tag Archives: al-jazeera

Turkey on Turkey-Day

Trigger warning: ethnic cleansing, genocide, linguistic imperialism

Earlier this week, almost everyone who watches the news had at least a little bit of a mild panic. A Russian military plane was shot down by Turkish forces after it veered slightly into their territory from the Syrian side of the border. While most outlets have offered soothing explanations of the situation – noting that Turkey’s NATO membership and Russia’s formidable military checked each other and prevent a misunderstanding from escalating into full fledged conflict – I think this speaks to the rather worrisome politics that have taken grip of Turkey.

Al Jazeera’s article on the recent incident gives a descriptive overview of what just happened and also provides a map that underscores just how deep into Syrian territory this Turkish province actually extends:

hatay plane incident

A piece by Gary Brecher from October paints a vivid picture of how such a comparatively Turkish population came to be lodged in the middle of the more diverse Syria. In a nutshell – ethnic cleansing on a mass scale. To any student of Turkish history that’s not surprising. Before the World War II seizure of this southern province, there was the Armenian Genocide during the first World War, and before that the long history of expelling Greeks, and before that the very genesis of the Turkish state with the help of Janissaries.

The Turks began their history in modern Turkey as a tiny ethnic group lost in the chaotic medieval east Mediterranean and emerged as the powerful heads of an Ottoman Empire not by accident, but from a consistent policy of conversion, Turkification, and ethnic cleansing. What is today Turkey’s Hatay Province began as the Sanjuk of Alexandretta – a part of the French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon, with a significant Turkish minority that remained from the administrators of the recently fallen Ottoman Empire. That type of historical trajectory is common to most Turkish territory.

What reads to most of the rest of the world as a terrifying overreaction takes on another layer of meaning with the knowledge of that province’s history. The first priority of almost every settler state is the defense of its newly acquired territory, and Hatay is no different. While Arabic as a spoken language and Arab as an ethnic identity have both declined in popularity there at a staggering rate, a large portion of that province’s population continues to recall their family origins and to remember a kind of otherness within Turkey. That’s a vulnerability for the Turkish state, particularly with the on-going internecine conflicts raging on the other side of Hatay’s extensive border.

I have said before that the movements in Turkey seeking to strengthen their democracy aren’t incompatible with the push within the country to redefine their ethnic and religious identities in a confusing and globalizing world. That’s difficult, but it’s possible.

Bathed in a defense of the historical violence that served to create Turkey, however, a different fusion of older ideas of Turkish identity with modern senses of self might emerge from the Turkish state. That was what was hinted at by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan earlier this year, when he created a photo-op with the traditional military uniforms of the sixteen former incarnations of the Turkish empire (of varying actual ethnic composition).

erdogan sixteen turkish empires

There are other identities to be pulled out of Turkish national memory, including martial ones. Ceremonially and militarily, Erdoğan appears to have cast in his lot with that understanding of where he’s come from and what his country has to do to survive. For foreign powers intervening in Syria and various local contingents skirting the Turkish-Syrian border, that’s another risk to consider in the already difficult fight.

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A quick update on Egypt

TW: 2013 Egyptian Coup

There’s a lot happening in Egypt at the moment, and I don’t think I have the wherewithal to untangle the whole mess in just one post, especially at the moment. That said, there’s one particular part of it that seems particularly interesting: the role of Al-Jazeera in covering the current coup.

(A threatening message dropped at an Al Jazeera studio in Cairo which reads, “A lying camera kills a nation reads a flyer thrown outside Al Jazeera office in Cairo.” From here.)

To provide some background, while it seems absolutely necessary to discuss the recent ousting of the Morsi government as a coup, many Egyptians have articulated why they viewed the consequential harm to the democratic norms in the post-Mubarak era as worth it. This has frequently focused on how Morsi government was influencing the on-going drafting of a new Egyptian constitution, which would have had long term ramifications for their country. That calculation should be for Egyptians to make, not for US media commentators who take a dim view on Egyptians as a whole.

That concept of these events needing to be evaluated and judged by Egyptians unfortunately doesn’t seem lacking among those that view the coup as the correct course. The Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera news channel has come under allegations of attempting to coerce Egyptian journalists into painting a rosier picture of the Morsi government and a more negative depiction of the coup than they perceived to be truthful. One critic even complained-

Sadly, this seems to somewhat track previous questionable behavior by Al-Jazeera. In both coverage of the Malian and recent Egyptian government, Al Jazeera has appeared unwilling to challenge the government’s legitimacy because of some appearance of democratic support. In contradiction with David Brooks’ screed, they seem invested in the success of those somewhat democratic governments that they will avoid embodying one of the greatest democratic forces: a critical media. I hope there are better ways of reminding them of that, however, than with threats.

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What a right of return could look like

TW: ethnic cleansing, Israeli occupation

To be brief, Al Jazeera’s Jonathan Cook recently published an excellent article on the Palestinian village of Iqrit, which is still under Israeli jurisdiction, and how the displaced residents of it are enacting a plan to make their right of return into a reality. To provide some background, in 1948, Iqrit like most villages was evacuated under misleading or false assurances that Palestinian civilians would be allowed back into their villages and homes after a brief period.

Iqrit was in fact one of the fortunate villages in that “Israel does not deny that the promise was made, and the villagers’ right to return was backed by the country’s supreme court in 1951”. Unfortunately before that decision could be implemented, Israeli forces “blew up the houses in a move designed to stop the ruling being enforced.” Since then, a series of ministerial decisions and outright propaganda on Israel’s part have effectively buried the issue, in spite of the Israeli decision to return at least a portion of the land taken from the Palestinians at Iqrit (and a few other villages were land claims weren’t so easily cast aside).

The former village of Iqrit sits atop a small hill surrounded by lush groves of various trees
(Iqrit in 1935, sixteen years before it was destroyed, from here. It then only housed about 600 Palestinians, less than half of the now 1,500 who can claim a right of return to the location.)

Tired of waiting, those exiled or born from those exiled from Iqrit are presented an official plan of how to rebuild the village, “showing how it would be possible to build a modern community of 450 homes, including a school, for the villagers-in-exile, who today number 1,500.” The limiting factor, which apparently they have finally gotten past, was simply that there was no were to return to an a moral expectation for Israel to restore the village it destroyed. The former has been overcome and the second has been abandoned evidently, with plant to rebuild Iqrit being put into motion now.

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Rival unions, corruption, and the corporate state

TW: violence against protesters, violence against unionized workers

How about another quick peek at some conflicts in South Africa that I mentioned a few months back? Al Jazeera has been doing some excellent direct reporting on it, and in a nutshell: the inability for rival unions to reach a consensus, let alone coordinate, has led to some difficulties for the miners in Marikana, South Africa. That much should be clear from the fact that the body of one of the local union’s leaders was found this weekend, in his workplace, presumably after an altercation.

While it seems most likely that Mawethu Steven was killed by armed men in the pay of the mining companies that have operated at of the South African Lonmin site or the corrupt local government, as he was due to testify against their coordinated violence towards strikers, it can’t be ruled out that a more conciliatory and competitive union was involved.

(Some of the thousands of protesters in Marikana over the past few days, from Al Jazeera.)

The entire situation is an unfortunate warning for the US in terms of the dangers of disintegration of unions as a location for workers to establish their shared economic goals into business-like entities that compete to provide the workforce (or rather, portions of it) with benefits. To be fair to South Africa, our current predicament with unions is a warning for how easily stable systems that benefit that majority of workers can slowly degrade over time into far less effective systems.

Nonetheless, it seems important to note that when unions cease to operate as spaces for workers to organize and collaborate, the competition between workers to be held favorably by management (even if only in contrast to other workers), can lead to very violent extremes. That’s something that many workers in assorted information and technology fields should especially take to heart at the moment, as Mark Zuckerberg is lobbying for legislation that would pit local and immigrant workers against each other.

And when we compete with each other instead of them, they win.

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This is not just in theory

TW: ethnic cleansing, islamophobia, genocide

On Monday, I discussed just how much violent rhetoric the Muslims of the world, particularly anglophone ones, are subject to, on an increasingly frequent scale. It’s become commonplace to discuss mass murder, for instance. It’s important to remember that this isn’t just a matter of thoughts and statements, as in some places, Muslims are being killed or otherwise systemically endangered because of their religious faith. Al Jazeera has been doing some excellent reporting for the past couple of months on the situation in Burma or Myanmar, specifically approaching the “democratization” of the country from that angle.

In the past couple of days, especially, they’ve covered the dangerous potency of islamophobia in the country, starting with a renewed look at the nativist and islamophobic violence against the Rohingya people, who tend to live in the westernmost province of Myanmar. Much of their recent history is quite depressing – from first colonialist exploitation by the British (who “imported” their labor into British Burma) to modern xenophobic otherness by their compatriots of some half century (if not longer). It’s one of the cases where the separate socio-economic classes laid out by Harm de Blij in The Power of Place seems particularly salient. Unfortunately, following the departure of an imperialist “global” class, the “mobile” Rohingya laborers and “local” Burmese peoples have targeted each other, instead of cooperating to repair the colonial era damage to the country.

(From Human Rights Watch’s online report on the killings, an image of civilian forces that drove out or killed Rohingya in western Myanmar in the summer of 2012.)

Today, however, Al Jazeera provided some excellent analysis of the broader regional implications of this conflict, both for Buddhist-majority countries like Sri Lanka and Muslim-majority ones like Indonesia. In a nutshell, while there are ethnic dimensions to this and nearly every ethnic conflict in neighboring countries, many of those tensions between groups are increasingly talked about as religious. The Rohingya might not be exclusively targeted for being Muslims, but like many people in the area and ultimately around the world, their religious identity makes them only even more acceptable as targets. While the Rohingya have born the brunt of anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar, it is not unique to regions where they live and has led to recent killings of Muslims with other ethnic backgrounds.

Of course, there’s a question of acceptable to whom – and the potential answers to that are distressingly broad. With prior reports showing deliberate government inaction and subsequent efforts to restrict Muslims facing communal violence in Myanmar, it seems wrong to excuse the actions of various official and unofficial political leaders. But beyond them, Al Jazeera seems to be asking whether the international community is culpable as well. Today, their official twitter account explained, “We ask if the EU is [sic] liftting sanctions on Myanmar prematurely“. Sanctions are difficult to justify in any situation, but the fact that a wave of violence against Muslims hasn’t phased narratives in the “Western” media that Myanmar has democratized seems to indicate something about the perception of Muslims in not only that country but ours as well.

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Defections don’t always mean the same thing

TW: Syrian civil war, military targeting of civilians

In light of the news of how much of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s cabinet has resigned against the backdrop of a presidential power grab and mass protests, it might be tempting to compare it to another government in the eastern Mediterranean – that of Syria. Much like the government of Egypt, the increasingly impotent Syrian regime has seen quite a few defections as well, which have also been concentrated among executive functionaries.

But unfortunately the comparison more or less ends there.

Time Magazine cover with President Morsi labeled as 'The Most Important Man in the Middle East'
(The most important man in the middle east? He can’t even hold on to a cabinet! From here.)

Al Jazeera’s rather detailed reporting makes a few things immediately clear about the situation in Syria. The majority of defections are not from the presidential cabinet (as Morsi’s government’s have), but from high-ranking military officials, the security establishment, and occasionally the assorted diplomats from Assad’s regime. The defections are just as political as the resignations, but they seem informed by protocol more than policy. In nearly ever public defection, the official declared that they couldn’t abide working for a regime that violently targeted its only civilians preemptively and without qualification. The politically-active intelligentsia have more or less joined the anti-Assad revolution in light of its violations of political standards, rather than in opposition to its conception of government.

In stark contrast, the resignations from Morsi’s government have been primarily the actions of highly visible cabinet members. Likewise, while almost every non-Islamist has left their position, significant numbers of Islamists, particularly from the now defunct al-Nour party, also left. To a certain extent, the growing list of presidential powers has been the same sort of lightning rod for opposition to Morsi, as one al-Nour spokesman made clear in saying, “our programmes and views on managing the state are different”.

There’s something a contrast between former members of the government from Islamist parties who are opposed to Morsi’s police actions and the various other former members who are opposed to the police actions necessitated by almost any Salafist government. One need look no further than the twitter of Ayman al-Sayyad, a former cabinet member who was an independent, who passed along a Guardian article that alleged that the Salafist movements in Egypt, whether aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood or opposed as al-Nour is, pose a threat to democratization of the country. That’s a far cry from the various defections from the Syrian government who have almost categorically stated that the existing regime needs to fall.

In short, Egypt has multiple oppositions that are no less opposed to each other than to Morsi’s government. Syria has a regime so violent that such multiple oppositions have prioritized its replacement over their various and at times violent disagreements. The defections and resignations are just that, in radically different contexts.

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Drones are cheaper – I mean, save lives

TW: drone strikes

Apparently I wasn’t the only one that noticed President Obama’s understated reference to drone strikes during his State of the Union address on Tuesday, as Professor Lisa Hajjar provided an excellent analysis of the issue over at Al Jazeera. There’s a number of different issues that she covers, but I think one of the cores of Hajjar’s argument is that while the security improvement for US soldiers is obvious, the ostensible reduction in civilian casualties is little more than hypothetical. She explains-

What distinguishes drones from other killing technologies employed in war is that drones are unmanned. For proponents of drone warfare, that is their greatest advantage. They also tout that drones are highly accurate, precision weapons capable of taking out targets and nothing else. That contention, while popular in the halls of power in Washington, manifests as the disputable claim that civilian casualties are rare.” (link and emphasis in original)

She’s written this as a direct retort to how the initial concern driving the switch to drone strikes is presented as reducing the risks to US personnel. She quotes Obama from Tuesday, who said, in the talking-about-drones-without-saying-drones section of the address:

We don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali. And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.

Part of the problem with that argument is the way it prioritizes the safety of US service members to the eclipsing of the safety of civilian non-combatants in the assorted countries whose skies the United States evidently now patrols. Hajjar excellently breaks apart that whole argument, and I recommend that anyone interested in the use and impact of drone strikes should read her analysis. That being said, that argument that this is for the troops, is honestly quite the distraction.

It’s been part of the conversation, but less obviously that drones are, from a certain economic perspective, much cheaper than the use of ground troops and other alternatives. The reasons for that are complex, from the fact that nation-wide occupation requires far more people to be involved (and hence, paid) to the almost nonexistent risk of US service members who pilot drones to become injured on the job compared with actual soldiers on the ground (and thus, the injured compensated in addition to the training and fielding of a replacement).

In fact, the Democrats have long touted the use of drones, since the Clinton era actually, because of that politically useful combination of benefiting service members while cutting costs. As far back as in his 2003 book, now Senator Al Franken defended Clinton’s military spending and policies, explaining, that his administration had “invested so heavily” in these new technologies which collectively could be “called Network Centric Warfare” and which Clinton “brought to fruition”. He treated that as (in addition to the end of the Cold War) the explanation for why the Clinton era had seen militaries with fewer high-cost military investments. Franken explained, that for a typical drone strike “take a look at how many tanks were involved: 0. Ships: 0.”

Franken went on to compare on the same page the purportedly “$100,000 each” missiles typically used during the first Gulf War with the missiles used by the Clinton administration as part of their new military strategy which were typically a fifth of that cost. The overall message was thrift, and any additional security for US troops as a result of using drones was pretty much incidental.

(A US drone that crashed in Djibouti before reaching the US base there, in 2011. Fortunately, no one was harmed by its crash into a vacant lot. From here.)

To his credit, Franken does mention the use of drones and related technologies as having benefited the troops, but in the context of having given them “a foundation in ‘stability support ops'”. He specifies that that means avoiding the worst impacts from paramilitary forces and similar combatants in asymmetrical warfare, but he doesn’t exactly explain the causality. Presumably, training in how to dispose of non-state combatants while in the Balkans proved useful to our troops who needed to dispose of non-state combatants in Afghanistan and later Iraq (and subsequently throughout the world). A decade ago, this technology was already impacting warfare, but no one felt the need to present it in terms of preventing casualties among our troops – instead it was merely efficient and cost effective.

The ramifications of drones in terms of our troops security seems to have been invisible until it started to be pointed out that it had a clear impact on the safety of civilian non-combatants throughout the world. Why could we only perceive of that ethical benefit only after the technology’s major ethical failings were made apparent?

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Al Jazeera messed up bad

TW: military intervention

Do you ever read something that’s so shockingly idiotic that you can’t even comprehend it at first? Because that was my experience with this Al Jazeera article on the supposed high public support in Mali for the French intervention.

To sum up, let’s start with the obvious problem with asking Malians in Bamako what they think of an intervention in north Mali. For those following along at home, Bamako is part of south Mali, so labeling your poll of the nation’s capital, which is outside of the affected region, “Mali Speaks”, is more than disingenuous, it’s erasive. It treats the position of a few hundred Malians in Bamako as the presumed default for the entire country, even on issues that affect Bamako differently.

(A map of Mali and its major cities shows this apparently difficult to discern truth – Bamako hasn’t experienced the Touareg uprisings, islamist occupation, or French intervention. So, how are Bamako residents representative? Image made by Evan Centanni.)

How does the intervention affect Bamako differently? It’s more than a simple fact that the intervention has focused its military forces in other regions than were the capital is located, it’s also that the not terribly democratic regime situated in Bamako is being bolstered by the intervention. From its inception, the intervention in Mali has been linked to the idea of saving the south-situated Malian government, and the avoidance of the thorny questions about Touareg nationalism, to say nothing of asking why islamism has so quickly become so powerful in northern Mali or Azawad.

Speaking of Azawad, the question sent out to those few hundred residents of Bamako was very interestingly phrased in that it pretty much rules out any possibility of there being an independent state or autonomous region in the area. So, for the small minority of Bamako residents who might be interested in such a solution, there’s no way to quickly and succinctly text back to the Al Jazeera affiliate that sent out the original query explaining how their opinions on the issue don’t fit the question they were asked.

Did I say text? Yes I did, the survey is not only geographically restricted to the Bamako metropolitan area, but also requires an active response from respondents via text messages. Even the Al Jazeera article admits that the portion of the Malian population being drawn from by sending out text messages is only “more than two-thirds of Malians.” What’s more, access to a cell phone is probably a good indicator of socio-economic class, which in turn will probably be one of the experience that will inform a Malian person’s support for the existing government. Should we be congratulating them for at least not using internet-based telecommunications, which only 2.7 percent of Malians (or even as Al Jazeera admits, about 3 percent) have access to?

And yes, I mentioned earlier that this is all self-reported, and avowedly for secular Arabophone and Western media consumption. Who do you think, of the political factions in Mali, is going to most strongly value the opinions of those audiences, be the most interested in engaging with those audiences, and ultimately communicate with an Al Jazeera affiliate that identified itself as such when it sent out the text? People who might be among those that view Al Jazeera as pro-Western and pro-Gulf-States propaganda aren’t going to be terribly interested in interacting with the station or its affiliates, are they? And that’s before we even get into how self-reported data tends to lead to all sorts of distortions in statistics even without systemic biases, like a distrust in those gathering the data.

Between this and France24 (sorry only in French) asking whether the French government might use the internet to its advantage while intervening in Mali, I have to wonder, is this blameless bias, or is there intent behind this? Or can I really believe that two separate people in multiple cases typed in the same responses word-for-word, for the several sentences they sent back?

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Recommended sources?

One thing I’ve noticed is that not only do I tend to write more about the US (because I live there), but I also tend to cover events or issues in the Middle East and North Africa more frequently than those in other world regions. While I think there’s a lot of different issues driving this, I suspect it’s because many of the news sources I favor focus there. France24 prides itself on excellently covering that neighboring region as well as domestic French issues. Similarly, producing good local coverage is obviously a point of pride for the UAE-based Al Jazeera, the Egypt Independent, the Jerusalem Post and Cairo-based Ahram Online. There’s even a few higher quality partisan media outlets like the unabashedly Israeli Haaretz, the noticeably pro-Saudi Al-Arabiya, and the quite anti-Zionist Israel-based 972 Mag.

The sources I know of are just rarer once you step outside of that corner of the world. For the whole of Latin America, I look to NTN24. For the more than billion people of India, I rely on The Hindu which is not above the occasional bout of navel-gazing. For the entirety of Russia, I read the sometimes dubious Russia Today. Outside of the Middle East and Western Europe, where I can always turn to familiar (but frustrating) standbys like Le Monde, the Guardian, or der Spiegel, those are  the few bright lights in the dark. In the coming weeks I’m going to try and highlight at least a few important events or issues that have happened outside of the US, but not necessarily related to the Middle East (which you’re probably sick of hearing about anyway, with another war breaking out there).

So, if you can help me during my current campaign to broaden my horizons, please do so! Let me know if you know of a great news source for Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, or the rest of Asia (you know, where all those billions of people live?) in the comments. And if you’re just as in the dark on that issue as me, that’s fine – I’ve got a link to share with you. While everyone’s been dropping coverage of Syria’s civil war to focus on Israel and Gaza, Al Jazeera quietly put out an interesting look at the difficult situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

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