Tag Archives: lebanon

On Paris: setting the record straight

Trigger warning: terrorism, racism, islamophobia

On Friday, Paris was rocked by a series of coordinated attacks. In the wake of a blast just outside of a France-Germany soccer game, which sitting French President François Holland was attending, it became clear that this was mass terrorism but also something else. It was a deliberate attack on the French state and its officials in addition the type of general violence that’s unfortunately become familiar even to first world populations in this post-9/11 world. We have been here before. We will, I fear, be here again.

With familiar tragedies come familiar narratives. Here are five stories printed at some point over the past couple days which I think do the important work of moving past the well-trod paths that have already led to France’s greater role in Syria and hate crimes throughout the Western world.

Whose lives matter?

As the New York Times noted, the global response to what happened in Paris on Friday was intense and far-reaching-

Monuments around the world lit up in the colors of the French flag; presidential speeches touted the need to defend “shared values;” Facebook offered users a one-click option to overlay their profile pictures with the French tricolor, a service not offered for the Lebanese flag. On Friday the social media giant even activated Safety Check, a feature usually reserved for natural disasters that lets people alert loved ones that they are unhurt

Every part of that contrasted with the response to a similarly coordinated attack in Beirut, Lebanon on Thursday. The asymmetry was just so horrifyingly consistent, from the details like the failure to active Safety Check for Beirut residents to the systemic devaluing of Arab life they quoted one Lebanese blogger on:

“When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of their flag,” Elie Fares, a Lebanese doctor, wrote on his blog. “When my people died, they did not send the world into mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world.”

The implication, numerous Lebanese commentators complained, was that Arab lives mattered less. Either that, or that their country — relatively calm despite the war next door — was perceived as a place where carnage is the norm, an undifferentiated corner of a basket-case region.

This is unfortunately how the social imagination seemingly will remember the dead in Paris – as less expected to be killed and in a way more dearly felt losses from a war that could have (perhaps it thinks “should have”) stayed distant. That honors Parisians because Beirutis are perceived as so much more expendable. That’s not a compliment to either really.

What of the refugees?

Almost immediately on Friday, at least within the Western media I read and watched, the possibility of refugee involvement in the attack was considered. Numerous voices have stepped forward to dismantle that flawed and reflexive judgement of people fleeing the very group that has now claimed responsibility for the attacks in Paris. Suzanne Harrington’s column in the Irish Examiner deflated it with what I consider admirable gusto with particular attention paid to the words of one refugee himself:

Here is what [Akram] has to say about the terrorism in Paris: “Horrible ..The refugees in Calais are completely against this because we already had this bad experience in our home country. THIS IS WHY WE ARE HERE. We need peace and we really feel for the victims, and we are with them.”

Akram is currently living in horrendous conditions in the Calais refugee camp, less than two hundred miles from Paris. […] What is not being reported is how the Calais refugees held a vigil in empathy for their Paris counterparts attacked by “Islamic” State. The Calais camp – and the Greek Islands, and Lampadusa, and all the other frontline EU borders where the desperate boatloads are landing – is full of people whose innocent ordinary lives have been destroyed by terrorism, both state-sponsored and freelance.

The idea that refugees fleeing extremist violence and related problems in Syria and Iraq (and other areas) are somehow an opposite to the Parisians who experienced the attacks (who are assumed to be predominantly White and French),  is to categorize them by race far before thinking about their experiences with Daesh. That is, by some definitions, racist, or at the very least some sort of xenophobic nationalism. That’s precisely what Suzanne describes ultimately, saying,

[L]et us stop being massive xenophobic ostriches, and move from Porte Ouverte to Frontieres Ouvertes, and offer proper refuge and sanctuary to those who have experienced the Paris bombings and shootings a thousand times over in their home cities.

Much of Europe closed itself in fear of and disgust towards the refugees. Now that they have seen more directly and personally what they have fled, can they perhaps be moved to a different course of action?

Who is Paris?

You may have caught a hint of this in the past section, but one in depth article by the Wall Street Journal made clear a particularly narrative-destabilizing point. The explosion outside of the soccer stadium, which was intended for the French President and to create public panic, was one of the attackers detonating their bomb while being confronted by security.

We know this because of the video footage and testimony released by a security guard in another part of the stadium – who asked only to be identified by his first name, Zouheir. In case you missed it, that’s not an ethnically French name.

As I noted before the presumption that the French targets – in the stadium, at the concert hall, in the bombed McDonald’s – were not only predominantly White but were overwhelmingly ethnically French is just that, an assumption that reinforces the way we think about their status among the dead or the survivors without necessarily any meaning to it.

The Paris that survived the coordinated bombings is typical of many modern urban environments in that it is rich in ethnic, racial, and religious diversity. Like many such cities in Westerner former(ish) colonial powers, a large part of the diversity has come about in the form of people immigrating from former colonies or other places of exploitation.

The very ethnic identities held collectively responsible by some for these attacks were among those who were targeted. To deny that, is to deny the realities of the world we live in.

What next?

As I mentioned above, the immediate response to this from France was militant. Air strikes began on Raqqa, the purported capital of the neo-caliphate, within hours. Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, an anti-Assad and anti-ISIS organization, posted some shocking claims on twitter about the strikes:

If these are to be believed (and Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently is considered a reputable source by many), then French forces and others are responding to this with an emotionally untethered place. They are neglecting to check their activity to avoid unnecessary and civilian deaths, or even worse may be celebrating those and other effects of their violence. The only person who benefits from that, I would say, are the extremist factions within Syria.

Extremism, everywhere, and not a place of peace

Speaking of extremist groups, the violent blowback hasn’t just been French and hasn’t just been directed towards Syrian Muslims, but towards all sorts of the more than billion members of that faith. Among those affected are the Muslim residents of Ontario, Canada, where a mosque was targeted by an arsonist on Saturday. The place of worship had previously had several windows broken after the 9/11 attacks, so few doubts were had within the community about the motivation behind the bombing.

As mentioned in the Irish Examiner column above, a fire in a refugee camp in France was feared (mistakenly) to be a similar act of islamophobic violence. Instead, it’s thankfully noted that it was just the causes of the fire were “overcrowding, zero amenities, and zero health and safety” – all aspects of a situation well within the control of French and other European authorities.

The same dehumanizing logic that makes Beiruti deaths forgettable, Parisians of Arab or other Middle Eastern or North African backgrounds invisible, and Syrians in Raqqa expendable makes the quality of life for refugees in that and other camps unimportant. Now a sizable swathe of their camp has burned, leaving them with even less. Can a France drunk with bloodlust feel for them? Can it help them live somewhere safer and better?

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The featured image for this article is of peace activists in Turkey’s capital in October whose protest was bombed, killing 95. More information here.

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Why no one is intervening in Syria (yet)

TW: killing of civilians; marginalization of Kurds, Palestinians, and Jews of Ethiopian ancestry; coerced sterilization

Yesterday, Amnesty International posed a question on twitter, or at least seemed to while promoting their most recent report on Syria. Their official account tweeted:

Amnesty International's tweet
(An Amnesty International tweet.)

That’s a fair question to ask, especially since, as the report claims, Syrians themselves are often asking it. It claims that one Syrian woman who the anonymous research spoke with wanted to know, “Why is the world doing nothing while we continue to be bombed to pieces every day, even inside our homes?”

As near as I can tell, one of the most pressing problems with intervening in Syria is that doing so appears likely to ignite a conflict as complicated and multifaceted as the first “World War” was for Europe. And this time, that would be after almost a century of technological refinements in weaponry. On the other hand, the problem with inaction, unfortunately, is that it seems only to reduce the risk of that outcome – not actually actively prevent it.

Map of Syria and its neighbors
(Syria and its neighbors, from here.)

Syria has a geopolitical context – it shares borders with Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and Iraq, as well as a narrow maritime border that wouldn’t be terribly in the case of an intervening force having to enter Syria without land or air support from any of those five countries. Syria also has close ties with Iran, which is also the neighbor of both Turkey and Iraq. Having listed all those connections, let me explain – that is an incredibly diverse slice of the world covered in a mere seven countries. Along with that comes an incredibly diverse slice of on-going international conflicts that have in the past threatened all of the states governing those seven countries with destruction. In short, Syria is at the heart of a powderkeg.

Just to run down the events that have happened recently in that corner of the world:

-The Israeli and Iranian governments have begun speaking as if they are on the verge of starting a massive international war, which could potentially draw US, Chinese, and European support and proxies into the fray in a massive conflict between the “West” and the strongest “non-Western” nations in the world. Intervention by Iran would be read as an advance against Israel. Intervention by Israel or the US would be read as an advance against Iran. The balance of power necessary to prevent that outbreak of such a conflict in part requires that no one intervene in Syria, if not the freezing of the situation in Syria where it is.

-Within Israel, extremist factions have successfully lobbied for even more extensive segregation between Jews and Palestinian Arabs, and the Israeli government has admitted to supporting the coercive sterilization of Jews with Ethiopian ancestry. These adds to the previous months of conflict and violence in Israel and Palestine, which has led to threats of another Intifada (active, potentially armed resistance by Palestinians) and highlighted the continuing conflict within Israeli communities over who qualifies as “properly” or “ideally” Israeli or Jewish. As a result, Israel seems particularly politically unstable at the moment and likely to make choices that are unwise in the long term.

-Turkey, which has long been plagued by undemocratic movements, has experienced a bit of panic over whether Islam has a growing political presence. This seems likely to herald both undemocratic restrictions on free religious expression and the growth of militant Islamism. This is pertinent to Syria as some of the opposition to the government is often couched in religious terms and much of the government’s violence is excused (as undemocratic acts in Turkey have been) as a preventative strategy against militant Islamists. Turkey, to some extent, finds itself fighting the same conflict as neighboring Syria, and is likely to have a stake in the outcome. That fact is complicated by the reality that Turkey has the support of NATO and much of the Western world in a way that Syria doesn’t and thus a trump card to play against Syria if the conflict is either willfully introduced into or accidentally threatens to spill over into Turkey. But Turkey also doesn’t want a destabilized Syria to serve as a training grounds and resupply territory for the increasingly intent Kurdish rebels.

In short, there are multiple ways for the conflict in Syria to ignite a broader religious conflict in the Middle East, to alter the ability of marginalized groups in Israel and Palestine to effectively protest their oppression, and to provide a means of militant Turks who want to guarantee the free expression of devout Muslims and Kurds within Turkey to militarily organize. The risks of intervention are not only that it will fail to actually improve the lives of Syrians, but that it will actively reduce the stability of almost every surrounding country.

But the conflict is already spilling into Iraq, with Syrian forces and anti-regime forces fighting in Iraq (and causing Iraqi civilian casualties). The Iraqi state is stuck in an even more reminiscent position of Syria’s government’s – as a Shia government finding itself in perpetual electoral and military conflict with various anti-government Sunnis. Both have at least some ties to Iran (although Syria’s are much stronger), and unlike Turkey, Iraq doesn’t have the means to have international actors demand that the conflict be prevented from spilling over. With all that in mind, the Iraqi government has started treating the Syrian soldiers injured in its territory. The field of conflict is broadening independent on Turkish, Israeli, Palestinian, and even Iranian interests in keeping Syria’s conflicts contained if not resolving them.

It’s worrisome to think that a better question for non-Syrians to ask themselves in the place of why they haven’t intervened in Syria is whether they will ultimately decide to intervene there and elsewhere in the future as the conflicts spreads.

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Let’s catch up on Palestine

TW: indefinite detention, violation of due process, torture, racist violence

The number of politically significant events that occurred in Palestine and Israel over the past weekend is actually staggering, but between the Oscars and numerous other on-goings in the world, they’ve sadly been largely overlooked. I think it’s necessary to be informed about them, so hopefully this will provide a quick exploration of what’s happened so far.

While this isn’t as directly interconnected to the following events as they are to each other, it seems noteworthy that files from 1982 were finally declassified, which revealed that while Ariel Sharon, at that time serving as the Minister of Defense, feared that the Israeli government’s actions in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres could be legally considered genocide. This joins the fact that independent Israeli investigators tend to pin much higher casualty estimates on the massacres, in some cases determining as many as 3,000 Palestinian civilians then living in Lebanon to have been killed. In short, this reveals that the Israeli state is aware of the severity of its actions and either chooses to ignore their meanings or actively accept them.

The previous day Israel finally provided charges against and summarily convicted Samer Issawi, who had been held without them for over two hundred days – for the vast majority of which he has been on a hunger strike. Apparently he violated the terms of his early release from Israeli custody in 2011 by leaving East Jerusalem, where he lived, to go to the West Bank to fix his car at a particular garage. So, the eight months of him being held without charges have come to a close, but only because his prosecutors worked out something to charge him with.

Another imprisoned Palestinian, Arafat Jaradat, was even less lucky. After being arrested under suspicion of having thrown stones at Israelis on February 18, his body was provided to his family on Saturday. He disappeared into the blackhole of Israeli prisons and didn’t come out alive. His death has stimulated a series of mass protests, fueled by the fact that an autopsy conducted in Israel suggested that he had six different broken bones in his body – suggesting either serious mistreatment while in Israeli custody, or that he was quite purposefully killed. Yesterday, Israel announced that two additional Palestinian detainees, who like Samer Issawi had been protesting their detentions with hunger strikes, would not be provided to a court hearing because they were too weak. The fact that such a decision only extends their time without food was either deliberately ignored or never occurred to the Israeli court.


(On that same day, a Palestinian woman was jumped by a group of Jewish Israelis and beaten in public after a mild argument, from here. Other, Israeli sources suggest that municipal security guards witnessed the attack and did nothing.)

That’s the question that’s shouted by all of these incidents: does the Israeli state realize what it’s doing? And I’m not entirely sure which answer is worse.

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As this post involves extensive discussion of both Israel and Palestine, I should let you know the requirements of comments are much higher. If for any reason I interpret your comments as expressing hostility towards broad political, social, religious, or ethnic groups, they will be deleted. That’s your warning.

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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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They make a desert and call it peace…

TW: civilian casualties of war, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli-Lebanese conflict, Israeli-Syrian conflict, Israeli-Turkish conflict

If you’ve been on twitter, or Facebook, or any other social media site at all today, you’ve probably encountered the familiar yet impossible-to-resolve arguments about Israel that crop up every time there’s a military conflict involving it. Yes, we’ve already slid back into another conflict in which Israel is involved for the sixth time in the past few years. In 2006, it was Lebanese civilians and Hezbollah. In 2007, it was North Korean workers and the perceived threat of a nuclear Syria. In 2008 and 2009, it was Gazan civilians and Hamas militants. In 2010, it was Turkish activists. In 2011, it was Gazan civilians and Hamas militants again. And now we have a newfangled youtubified war between, you guessed it, the Israeli military and Hamas-affiliated militants in Gaza.

Continue reading

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