News in Brief: It's not radical Islam that wo rries the US – it's independence
- It's not radical Islam that worries the US – it's independence
The nature of any regime it backs in the Arab world is secondary to control. Subjects are ignored until they break their chains
guardian.co.uk, Friday 4 February 2011 16.30 GMT
'The Arab world is on fire," al-Jazeera reported last week, while throughout the region, western allies "are quickly losing their influence". The shock wave was set in motion by the dramatic uprising in Tunisia that drove out a western-backed dictator, with reverberations especially in Egypt, where demonstrators overwhelmed a dictator's brutal police.
Observers compared it to the toppling of Russian domains in 1989, but there are important differences. Crucially, no Mikhail Gorbachev exists among the great powers that support the Arab dictators. Rather, Washington and its allies keep to the well-established principle that democracy is acceptable only insofar as it conforms to strategic and economic objectives: fine in enemy territory (up to a point), but not in our backyard, please, unless properly tamed.
One 1989 comparison has some validity: Romania, where Washington maintained its support for Nicolae Ceausescu, the most vicious of the east European dictators, until the allegiance became untenable. Then Washington hailed his overthrow while the past was erased. That is a standard pattern: Ferdinand Marcos, Jean-Claude Duvalier, Chun Doo-hwan, Suharto and many other useful gangsters. It may be under way in the case of Hosni Mubarak, along with routine efforts to try to ensure a successor regime will not veer far from the approved path. The current hope appears to be Mubarak loyalist General Omar Suleiman, just named Egypt's vice-president. Suleiman, the longtime head of the intelligence services, is despised by the rebelling public almost as much as the dictator himself.
A common refrain among pundits is that fear of radical Islam requires (reluctant) opposition to democracy on pragmatic grounds. While not without some merit, the formulation is misleading. The general threat has always been independence. The US and its allies have regularly supported radical Islamists, sometimes to prevent the threat of secular nationalism.
A familiar example is Saudi Arabia, the ideological centre of radical Islam (and of Islamic terror). Another in a long list is Zia ul-Haq, the most brutal of Pakistan's dictators and President Reagan's favorite, who carried out a programme of radical Islamisation (with Saudi funding).
"The traditional argument put forward in and out of the Arab world is that there is nothing wrong, everything is under control," says Marwan Muasher, a former Jordanian official and now director of Middle East research for the Carnegie Endowment. "With this line of thinking, entrenched forces argue that opponents and outsiders calling for reform are exaggerating the conditions on the ground."
Therefore the public can be dismissed. The doctrine traces far back and generalises worldwide, to US home territory as well. In the event of unrest, tactical shifts may be necessary, but always with an eye to reasserting control.
The vibrant democracy movement in Tunisia was directed against "a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems", ruled by a dictator whose family was hated for their venality. So said US ambassador Robert Godec in a July 2009 cable released by WikiLeaks.
Therefore to some observers the WikiLeaks "documents should create a comforting feeling among the American public that officials aren't asleep at the switch" – indeed, that the cables are so supportive of US policies that it is almost as if Obama is leaking them himself (or so Jacob Heilbrunn writes in The National Interest.)
"America should give Assange a medal," says a headline in the Financial Times, where Gideon Rachman writes: "America's foreign policy comes across as principled, intelligent and pragmatic … the public position taken by the US on any given issue is usually the private position as well."
In this view, WikiLeaks undermines "conspiracy theorists" who question the noble motives Washington proclaims.
Godec's cable supports these judgments – at least if we look no further. If we do,, as foreign policy analyst Stephen Zunes reports in Foreign Policy in Focus, we find that, with Godec's information in hand, Washington provided $12m in military aid to Tunisia. As it happens, Tunisia was one of only five foreign beneficiaries: Israel (routinely); the two Middle East dictatorships Egypt and Jordan; and Colombia, which has long had the worst human-rights record and the most US military aid in the hemisphere.
Heilbrunn's exhibit A is Arab support for US policies targeting Iran, revealed by leaked cables. Rachman too seizes on this example, as did the media generally, hailing these encouraging revelations. The reactions illustrate how profound is the contempt for democracy in the educated culture.
Unmentioned is what the population thinks – easily discovered. According to polls released by the Brookings Institution in August, some Arabs agree with Washington and western commentators that Iran is a threat: 10%. In contrast, they regard the US and Israel as the major threats (77%; 88%).
Arab opinion is so hostile to Washington's policies that a majority (57%) think regional security would be enhanced if Iran had nuclear weapons. Still, "there is nothing wrong, everything is under control" (as Muasher describes the prevailing fantasy). The dictators support us. Their subjects can be ignored – unless they break their chains, and then policy must be adjusted.
Other leaks also appear to lend support to the enthusiastic judgments about Washington's nobility. In July 2009, Hugo Llorens, U.S. ambassador to Honduras, informed Washington of an embassy investigation of "legal and constitutional issues surrounding the 28 June forced removal of President Manuel 'Mel' Zelaya."
The embassy concluded that "there is no doubt that the military, supreme court and national congress conspired on 28 June in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the executive branch". Very admirable, except that President Obama proceeded to break with almost all of Latin America and Europe by supporting the coup regime and dismissing subsequent atrocities.
Perhaps the most remarkable WikiLeaks revelations have to do with Pakistan, reviewed by foreign policy analyst Fred Branfman in Truthdig.
The cables reveal that the US embassy is well aware that Washington's war in Afghanistan and Pakistan not only intensifies rampant anti-Americanism but also "risks destabilising the Pakistani state" and even raises a threat of the ultimate nightmare: that nuclear weapons might fall into the hands of Islamic terrorists.
Again, the revelations "should create a comforting feeling … that officials are not asleep at the switch" (Heilbrunn's words) – while Washington marches stalwartly toward disaster.
© 2011 Noam Chomsky
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Syria to set Facebook status to unbanned in gesture to people
President Bashar al-Assad promises elections and press freedom after seeing groundswell of protest across Arab world
Syrian authorities are to lift a five-year ban on Facebook in a move seen as an apparent "appeasement" measure, aimed at staving off unrest in the country following recent political developments in Egypt and Tunisia.
In a rare and candid interview, President Bashar al-Assad told the Wall Street Journal last week that he would push through political reforms this year aimed at initiating municipal elections, granting more power to non-governmental organisations and establishing a new media law.
The surprise move follows a failed "day of anger" protest in the Syrian capital, Damascus, last Friday and Saturday.
Crackdowns on internet freedom and fear of retribution following the recent arrest of protesters staging a solidarity vigil for Egypt was largely blamed for the lack of participation. Others pointed to widespread support for Assad, claiming calls for demonstrations were largely being co-ordinated by minority opposition groups from outside the country.
Officially banned in Syria, Facebook and other forbidden social networking sites such as YouTube are popular across the country and used by Syrians using international proxy servers to bypass firewalls.
"We are all using it anyway – so I don't see what difference it makes," said one Facebook user, Ahmad.
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Philippine Muslim rebel faction rejects talks
A rogue Muslim rebel commander in the Philippines has formed a separate faction of several hundred fighters and rejected peace talks to end the decades-long secessionist rebellion, leaders of the guerrillas today.
However, the chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front insisted the rebellious faction would not prevent progress in the negotiations with the government, which are scheduled to resume next week.
Ameril Umbra Kato, who is wanted by the Philippine government for leading attacks on Christian communities that killed dozens of civilians in 2008, resigned seven months ago as leader of a guerrilla unit, the movement's chairman, Murad Ebrahim, told reporters at his southern headquarters.
Thousands protest killing in Indian-held Kashmir
By Aijaz Hussain, Associated Press
Saturday, 5 February 2011
Thousands of angry villagers blocked a key highway in Indian-administered Kashmir today, accusing the army of killing a young man in custody.
The protesters, shouting "Prosecute the killers," dispersed after several hours when authorities registered a murder case against the army and ordered an inquiry, police officer Shiv Murari Sahai said.
Masood Bhat, a villager, said Indian soldiers seized 21-year-old Manzoor Ahmed Magray during a raid last night on his home in Chogal, a village 55 miles north of Srinagar, the region's main city.
His body was found early this morning by police in a nearby village, he told The Associated Press.
However, Indian army spokesman Lt. Col. J.S. Brar denied that Magray had died in military custody, saying he was fatally shot when he walked into an army ambush intended for insurgents.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, a Himalayan region that is split between India and Pakistan but is claimed by both countries.
About a dozen armed rebel groups have been fighting government forces in the Indian-held portion of Kashmir for its independence or its merger with Pakistan.
More than 68,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the uprising and subsequent Indian crackdown.
Clinton warns of "perfect storm" in Middle East
Cameron: My war on multiculturalism
No funding for Muslim groups that fail to back women's rights
David Cameron launched a devastating attack today on 30 years of multiculturalism in Britain, warning it is fostering extremist ideology and directly contributing to home-grown Islamic terrorism.
Signalling a radical departure from the strategies of previous governments, Mr Cameron said that Britain must adopt a policy of "muscular liberalism" to enforce the values of equality, law and freedom of speech across all parts of society.
He warned Muslim groups that if they fail to endorse women's rights or promote integration, they will lose all government funding. All immigrants to Britain must speak English and schools will be expected to teach the country's common culture.
Rallies for reform held in Jordan
Hundreds of protesters demand reform in Amman while a "day of rage" planned for Damascus fails to get underway.
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Bangladesh clerics arrested after girl whipped to death
Fourteen-year-old accused of relationship with married man given 70 lashes
Police in Bangladesh have arrested four Islamic clerics after a teenage girl accused of having a relationship with a married man was whipped to death.
The clerics were accused of ordering Mosammet Hena, 14, to receive 100 lashes in a fatwa, or religious edict, at a village in south-western Shariatpur district, the area's police chief, AKM Shahidur Rahman, said. The area is 35 miles from the capital, Dhaka.
Fatwas are illegal in Bangladesh, but Islamic clerics sometimes preside over courts that use sharia law and issue fatwas to deal with issues such as extramarital relationships.
Rahman said the girl collapsed after she was lashed in public with a bamboo cane about 70 times on Monday. She was taken to a hospital where she died the same day.
The police chief said the 40-year-old man with whom Hena was allegedly involved was also sentenced to 100 lashes, but fled. "We are hunting for the man," he said.
Somalia faces malnutrition crisis
Severe drought leaves nearly a third of children acutely malnourished in some areas and pushes up food prices
Severe drought in Somalia has left nearly one in three children acutely malnourished in some areas – double the normal emergency threshold – and caused a sharp rise in food prices.
An estimated 2.4 million people – about a third of Somalia's population – require humanitarian aid after the failure of recent rains, according to the UN. This figure is up from 2 million six months ago.
Though fighting continues in many areas of the country, drought has overtaken insecurity as the main reason for people being displaced.
In the most striking sign of the emerging crisis, the exodus from conflict-racked Mogadishu in recent years has reversed, with thousands of people leaving the countryside for the capital in search of food and water over the past two months. With widespread livestock deaths reported, other families are selling their remaining possessions to raise money to travel to refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.
"It's a very worrying situation, and there may still be worse to come," Mark Bowden, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Somalia, has said during a visit to the country. "The high malnutrition rates among children mean that there will be deaths due to the drought."
While the emergency is at an early stage, the UN and aid groups are raising the alarm because of the lack of access to many of the worst-affected areas. The al-Shabaab Islamist group, which controls much of south and central Somalia, has an ideology of self-sufficiency and rejects outside aid. As a result, the World Food Programme has suspended distributions in many areas since last January, including the central Hiraan region, where 70% of the population are "in crisis", according the UN.
Thousands march against Yemen president
Tens of thousands of demonstrators, some chanting "down, down with the regime," today marched in several towns and cities in Yemen against the country's autocratic president, a key US ally in the fight against Islamic militants.
Police opened fire and tear gas to break up one of the marches, witnesses said.
Security officials confirmed a demonstrator was critically wounded by police fire. Two others were also hurt in the eastern town of Mukalla.
In the capital of Sanaa, scuffles and stone-throwing briefly erupted between thousands of anti-government demonstrators and supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. However, police stepped in and there were no reports of injuries.
There was a heavy security presence around the Interior Ministry and the Central Bank. Military helicopters hovered in some areas.
Anti-government protests have erupted in other Arab countries including Tunisia and Egypt in recent weeks.
In Yemen, protests erupted in several towns after Saleh sought to defuse demands for his removal by pledging not to seek another term in 2013 and not to let his son inherit power.
Anti-government protesters said they don't trust Saleh and demanded that he quit immediately.
Supporters of the president carried banners warning that the opposition was trying to destabilise Yemen.
The United States has taken a sharp tone on Egypt, urging Mubarak to move swiftly on democratic reform. But it cautiously praised reform pledges in Yemen. State Department spokesman P J Crowley has welcomed Saleh's "positive statements."
In Yemen, where the population is overwhelmingly very young, unemployment is 35 % and poverty is endemic. About 40 % of the population lives on less than 2 dollars (£1.30) a day.
Algeria to lift emergency powers
President says country's 19-year state of emergency will be lifted in near future in apparent bid to stave off unrest.
Algeria's 19-year state of emergency will be lifted in the "very near future", state media has quoted Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the president, as saying.
During a meeting with ministers on Thursday, the president also said Algerian television and radio, which are controlled by the state, should give airtime to all political parties.
He added that protest marches, banned under the state of emergency, would be permitted across the country of 35 million except in the capital.
His comments come as anti-government protests escalate in Egypt and follows a wave of similar uprisings in other Arab states including Tunisia and Yemen.
Opposition groups in Algeria had recently made the repeal of emergency powers one of their main demands, ahead of a protest planned for February 12.
Last month several hundred pro-democracy protesters took to the streets in Algiers, the capital, demanding the government overturn a law banning public gatherings.
It came after riots erupted over rising food costs and unemployment.
Bouteflika said on Thursday the government should adopt new measures to promote job creation in the former French colony.
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Pioneer Muslim Physicians
2/7/2011 - Science Education - Article Ref: SW1101-4447
In 1120, a Muslim doctor was on his way to see his patient, the Almoravid ruler of Seville. By the side of the road he saw an emaciated man holding a water jug. The man's belly was swollen, and he was in obvious distress. "Are you sick?" the doctor asked. The man nodded.
"What have you been eating?"
"Only a few crusts of bread and the water from this jug."
"Bread won't hurt you," said the doctor. "It could be the water. Where are you getting it?"
"From the well in town."
The doctor pondered a moment. "The well is clean. It must be the jug. Break it and find a new one."
"I can't," whined the man, "This is my only jug."
"And that thing bulging out there," replied the doctor, pointing to the man's midsection, "is your only stomach. It is easier to find a new jug than a new stomach."
The man continued to protest, but one of the doctor's servants picked up a stone and smashed the jug. A dead frog spilled out with the foul water.
"My friend," the doctor said to the patient, "look what you have been drinking. That frog would have taken you with him. Here, take this coin and go buy a new jug."
When the doctor passed by a few days later, he saw the same man sitting by the side of the road. His stomach had shrunk, he had gained weight, and his color was back. Seeing the doctor, the man heaped praise on him.
-attributed to Ibn Abi Usaybi'a, 13th century
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Jordan's king sacks cabinet amid street protests
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
The king of Jordan today sacked his government in the wake of street protests and asked an ex-army general to form a new cabinet, the country's Royal Palace said.
King Abdullah's move came after thousands of Jordanians took to the streets - inspired by the regime change in Tunisia and the turmoil in Egypt - and called for the resignation of prime minister Samir Rifai, who is blamed for a rise in fuel and food prices and slowed political reforms.
The Royal Palace said Mr Rifai's cabinet resigned today.
King Abdullah also nominated Marouf al-Bakhit as his prime minister-designate.
The king instructed the PM-designate to "undertake quick and tangible steps for real political reforms, which reflect our vision for comprehensive modernisation and development in Jordan", a statement from the Royal Palace said.
Mr al-Bakhit previously served as Jordan's premier from 2005-07.
The king also stressed that economic reform was a "necessity to provide a better life for our people, but we won't be able to attain that without real political reforms, which must increase popular participation in the decision-making".
He asked Mr al-Bakhit for a "comprehensive assessment... to correct the mistakes of the past", but did not elaborate. The statement said King Abdullah also demanded an "immediate revision" of laws governing politics and public freedoms.
When he ascended to the throne in 1999, King Abdullah vowed to press ahead with political reforms initiated by his late father King Hussein. Those reforms paved the way for the first parliamentary election in 1989 after a 22-year gap, the revival of a multi-party system and the suspension of martial law in effect since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
But little has been done since. Although laws were enacted to ensure greater press freedom, journalists are still prosecuted for expressing their opinion or for comments considered slanderous of the king and the royal family.
Some gains have been made in women's rights, but many say they have not gone far enough. King Abdullah has pressed for stiffer penalties for perpetrators of "honour killings" but courts often hand down lenient sentences.
Still, Jordan's human rights record is generally considered a notch above that of Tunisia and Egypt. Although some critics of the king are prosecuted, they frequently are pardoned and some are even rewarded with government posts.
Mr al-Bakhit is a moderate politician, who served as Jordan's ambassador to Israel earlier this decade.
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Afghan rebuilding effort in chaos, says damning report
Ed Miliband makes his first visit to Kabul as a new assessment is made of reconstruction programme
By Jonathan Owen and Brian Brady
Sunday, 30 January 2011
Ed Miliband used his first visit to Afghanistan yesterday to emphasise the importance of rebuilding the nation, as a devastating new report revealed that chaos surrounding infrastructure projects were hindering efforts to win hearts and minds in the country.
The Labour leader stressed his commitment to the mission in Afghanistan during a swift visit to the country this weekend, claiming that "a more stable Afghanistan will lead to a more safe Britain".
Mr Miliband, in Kabul and Nad-e' Ali with the shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, and shadow Defence Secretary, Jim Murphy, said Labour backed the timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. He told reporters: "It is right that this is not a war without end."
But the high-profile trip coincided with the publication of a damning assessment of the billions being spent on roads, bridges and key buildings. The report says the efforts are at risk because of poor planning, inadequate supervision and the inability of local leaders to keep them going.
The devastating assessment, by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Sigar), Major General Arnold Fields, highlights serious failings in US Department of Defence's plans to provide facilities for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and dozens of development projects funded by military commanders. The absence of a long-term building plan for spending $11.4bn (£7.2bn) on training centres for Afghan forces puts the programme "at risk for not meeting ANSF strategic and operational needs".
Details of the faltering attempts to rebuild Afghanistan following almost a decade of conflict came amid another upsurge in Taliban violence, with the deputy governor of Kandahar killed in a suicide attack.
Last year saw a threefold rise in assassinations, up from seven a week to an average of 21 between June and September. Casualties continue to rise, with the 711 foreign troops killed in Afghanistan in 2010 making it the bloodiest year since the fighting began.
But serious concerns remain about the true state of readiness of the Afghan army and police, who are due to start taking over responsibility for some parts of the country this year. The report states that "security continues to affect the sustainability of Afghan infrastructure projects".
Almost 27,000 Afghan soldiers – a third of the reported total – are not even present for duty. Only 2.24 per cent of Afghan National Police recruits are literate, half the previous estimate of 4.5 per cent, according to the report. The situation is even worse in the Afghan National Civil Order Police, Afghanistan's elite police unit.
But there is some encouraging news, with Taliban fighters approaching local authorities throughout Afghanistan "to express their willingness to disarm and reintegrate". Sigar reports that "645 individuals claiming to be militants have enrolled in the APRP [Afghanistan peace and reconciliation programme] as of 31 December 2010".
Although Sigar claims the UN sees the initial signs of reintegration efforts as promising, it is too early to conclude that this indicates a significant trend. It cites US defence officials warning that reintegration of ex-Taliban fighters "will fail without greater awareness" among government officials and the military. Provincial authorities have "repeatedly lost interest in pursuing individual cases of reintegration... leaving reintegrees without support and causing many reintegrees to return to the fight".
Time is fast running out for coalition forces under increasing pressure to enable a politically driven withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014. The outlook remains bleak, with levels of violence at their highest since the war began. General David Petraeus, the US head of Nato troops in Afghanistan, warned on Tuesday: "There is much hard work to be done in 2011 and, as always in Afghanistan, the way ahead will be difficult."
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Activists calling for the ouster of president clash with government supporters in Sanaa.
Last Modified: 29 Jan 2011 13:06 GMT