النوامس

A comment on the history and contemporary affairs of the Middle East, without the media hype.

Occidental College: Islamophobic graffiti reveals ignorance in even the most liberal environments

Nb. this article is a response to an incident that occurred whilst I was attending Occidental College in Los Angeles between August 2014 and May 2015

This week’s post is a little different to what I usually publish, but an issue caught my attention a few days ago that I feel is worthy of a deeper analysis. The Occidental community does a fantastic job of raising awareness about a plethora of important social justice issues and I feel it to be a warm and welcoming environment for the discussion of matters relating to race, gender, identity and religion. For this reason, I was even more shocked to see a flagrantly Islamophobic piece of graffiti daubed on the quad, in full view of anybody leaving the marketplace. The graffiti in question was a not-so-original phrase commonly seen in the comments of YouTube videos or leaving the mouths of ideologues like Bill Maher and Bill O’Reilly; “not all Muslim’s are terrorists, but most terrorists are Muslim.”

racists.jpg

The offending graffiti. It was quickly crossed out by a concerned student

This statement is problematic on a number of levels and reveals that startling levels of ignorance can be fostered in even the most liberal environments. For one, it is a factually incorrect statement. Numerous non-Muslim terrorist groups, some with many thousands of members, are currently active worldwide and Islamist terrorism itself is a relatively new phenomenon, only reaching global prominence in the last few decades. A quick look at the U.S Department of State’s list of designated foreign terrorist organizations, easily available on their website, reveals numerous non-Islamic groups deemed terrorist organizations by the U.S government. 31% of the groups listed are not Islamist groups, and the list is misleading as many of the Islamist groups listed are splinters from other groups or national wings of larger Islamist organizations.

Amongs the 18 non-Islamist terrorist organizations listed, five are secular groups based in Muslim majority countries, such as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Abu Nidal group. Some organizations on the list are fundamentalist groups from other religions such as the Kahane Chai, an Israeli Jewish extremist organization banned from the Knesset for inciting racial hatred. The majority of others are communist insurgencies like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), the leftist guerrilla group that has been fighting a civil war in Colombia since the mid-1960s and the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. However, the state department list has been widely criticized by intellectuals like Noam Chomsky for its arbitrary nature, and a number of prominent terrorist groups, most notably the Lord’s Resistance Army who have terrorized Uganda for over four decades, are absent.

At a talk at Google Cambridge, Chomsky challenged the U.S designation of terrorist organizations, arguing that “the executive branch of the government simply determines you’re a terrorist. I put you on the list. No review. No judicial review. No defense. It’s just an executive act of an authoritarian state.” This is one fundamental flaw with the use of the term terrorist; as the now rather cliche term goes ‘one man’s terrorist is another mans freedom fighter’. To understand the implications of describing a person or a group as terrorists, it is important to understand a little of the history of the term.

The Evolution of the Term*

Terrorism is a politically loaded phrase, useful for inciting emotional responses like fear and patriotism, but rather imprecise as a critical term. The rise of the modern media machine, which often simplifies complex issues under the byword ‘terrorism’ due to the constraints of airtime or print space, has contributed to a general lack of understanding about what terrorism is. Bruce Hoffman, author of Inside Terrorism, argues that “terrorism, in its most widely accepted contemporary usage of the term, is fundamentally and inherently political. It is also ineluctably about power; the pursuit of power, the acquisition of power, and the use of power to achieve political change.” Popular use of the term has changed frequently over the last two centuries, mirroring the constantly evolving political environments in which acts of terror are perpetrated.

The term was originally popularized in the aftermath of the French Revolution, where it was used to describe the regime de la terreur of 1793-94, where massive violence was directed by the state at the French public as a means of gaining and maintaining political control. In light of this it is perhaps slightly ironic that our contemporary use of the term usually refers to revolutionary or non-governmental activity, and state terrorism, when the term is used, is almost always put in inverted commas. Since the French Revolution a number of groups and individuals have contributed to the evolution of our modern understanding of terrorism. Italian revolutionary Carlo Pisacane coined the phrase “propaganda of the deed”, in which he argued that violence was necessary to both draw attention to a cause and to educate and rally the masses behind revolution. This has arguably formed part of the bedrock of our modern conception of terrorism, and his theory has been put into practice by countless groups since his death in 1857.

Between then and now, the popular use of the term terrorism has evolved to reflect the political environment in which it has been used. Up until the First World War it became attributed to revolutionary groups and independence movements; the Irish Republican Brotherhood led coordinated bomb attacks on the London Underground in the late 19th century, and nationalist agitators in the former Hapsburg and Ottoman dominated territories like Armenia, Bosnia and Macedonia frequently employed terror tactics like assassinations and bomb attacks. It was a member of the nationalist group Mlada Bosna, or Young Bosnians, who assassinated the Hapsburg Archduke Franz Ferdinand, sparking the Great War.

By the 1930s the meaning of terrorism changed again, becoming associated less with revolutionary violence directed against state actors and more with the practices of mass repression by totalitarian governments against their own citizens; namely Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. In Italy and Germany their emerged state-sanctioned street gangs who led political brawls and persecuted Jews, communists and other so-called enemies of the state; violence was endorsed by the state and terrorism somewhat regained its original meaning. In contemporary times, authoritarian governments have employed similar tactics; governments across South America have engaged non-state death squads to terrorize their populations into complicity, but these tactics are more commonly referred to as ‘state terror’ rather than terrorism, as the latter is now more commonly associated with non-governmental groups.

Mussd.jpg

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini marching with his ‘blackshirt’ thugs in 1922

In the post-WW2 era terrorism regained its revolutionary connotations; groups battling for independence from imperial domination, in countries as diverse as Kenya, Cyprus and Algeria, employed terror tactics in their struggles, and sympathetic observers coined the term ‘freedom fighters’, deemed a more appropriate appellation for those participating in what were often viewed as morally justified acts of terror.

With the rising tensions between the USSR and the USA during the Cold War era, books like Claire Sterling’s The Terror Network informed a receptive U.S government that seemingly disparate terrorist acts across the world were in fact part of an elaborate Soviet conspiracy to bring down the ‘free world’; in the 1990s, despite the collapse of the USSR, this idea remained prevalent with the emergence of the phrase ‘narco-terrorism’, which asserted that there was a relationship between terrorism and the narcotics trade, largely in Latin America. The term was used by Western government’s to demonize the FARC in Colombia, despite the fact that the government backed paramilitary groups were far more involved in the cocaine trade, and posed a far larger terror threat to civilian populations than the guerrillas.

In the 1980s the CIA covertly funded and armed the group that would become al-Qaeda to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, ironically creating the organization that would orchestrate the most notorious terrorist attack of all time. Over the course of the 1990s, the term terrorism began to be increasingly tied to Islamist movements, spurred by the extreme violence purveyed by groups like the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in Algeria. However, it was the events of September 11th 2001, and the ideological crusade initiated by George W. Bush that inextricably tied Islamism with terrorism in the modern understanding of the phrase.

yeee.jpg

Mujaheddin fighters in Afghanistan, 1985. Osama Bin Laden’s Mujaheddin would go on to become al-Qaeda

The Promotion of Irrational Fear

Through a brief overview of the history of terrorism, I have attempted to show the fluidity of its usage and the way political situations have shaped the way it has been deployed at specific historical junctures. If we return to the offensive graffiti which instigated me to write this article, the ridiculousness of the statement becomes apparent. When the writer states “most terrorists are Muslim” it is unclear what they are even referring to: state terrorism? Narco-terrorism? Freedom Fighters? In fact, the lack of clarity in the statement reveals the basic truth behind it; the writer’s own ignorant Islamophobia, no doubt informed by the skewed media presentation of the U.S ‘war on terror’.

piechart2.jpg

Terrorist attacks on U.S. soil by group, From 1980 to 2005, According to FBI Database

In the context of the ‘war on terror’ it has become convenient for politicians to conflate Islam and terrorism, as revolutionary Islamist groups have been one of the primary targets of U.S military campaigns since 9/11. A look at the actual statistics suggests a different reality. According to the FBI database, only 6% of terror attacks in the United States since 1980 have been carried out by Islamic extremists, fewer than the 7% that were committed by Jewish extremists, and the 42% carried out by Latinos. The statistics are similar in Europe; a study by Europol found that only 0.4% of terrorist attacks between 2006 and 2008 in EU countries could be attributed to Islamist groups; the overwhelming majority were perpetrated by separatist groups like the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) who seek to establish an independent state in the Basque region of Spain.

barchart-copy-502x502-custom.jpg

% of terror attacks by group in the European Union between 2006-2008

It is no accident that terrorism and Islam continue to be presented as synonymous in the media. The surge of fanatical patriotism sparked by 9/11 was adeptly harnessed by the Bush administration in the aftermath of the attacks. Major news outlets, eager to cash in on people’s new found fear of all things Islam, went to great lengths to dig up stories about Islamic extremism, often with very limited understandings of either Islam or terrorism. Even respectable publications fell back on the essentialist, racist stereotypes that had penetrated Western understandings of the Muslim world since the 19th century, promoting images of bearded flag-burning fanatics and their silent, veiled wives as the legitimate image of a religion of over a billion people. Texts like Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations have promoted the popular idea that Islam poses some existential threat to the very existence of the ‘free world’, but as the statistics prove American’s are far more likely to be victims of Latino terrorism than Islamic.

With the constant barrage of images of shocking violence occurring around the world, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the simplistic worldview purveyed by the media. However, to halt the cycle of fear and hatred it is crucial that people look beyond the news and investigate the complex reality, and understanding the problematic nature of the term ‘terrorism’ is an important prerequisite. As a blogger on Princeton’s anti-Islamophobia blog Loon Watch points out; “you don’t live in constant fear of radicalized Latinos… even though they commit seven times more acts of terrorism than Muslims in America.” Islamist terrorism is a global problem and people are rightly concerned – however the proximity of the threat to the United States remains exaggerated and is drawing a wedge between an alienated minority and the rest of the American people.

Originally posted at http://www.occidentalweekly.com on April 10th 2015

*The information in this section is largely taken from Bruce Hoffman’s book Inside Terrorism 

References:

Danios; All terrorists are Muslim, apart from the 95% that aren’t – http://www.loonwatch.com/2010/01/terrorism-in-europe/

Danios; Europol Report: All terrorists are Muslim, apart from the 99.6% that aren’t – http://www.loonwatch.com/2010/01/not-all-terrorists-are-muslims/

Hoffman, Bruce; Inside Terrorism, New York: Columbia University Press (2006)

Noam Chomsky lecture at Google Cambridge – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3PwG4UoJ0Y

U.S Department of State Bureau of Counterterrorism; Foreign Terrorist Organisations – http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm

Advertisements

Yemen: The Battle for the Balance of Power

Since September last year, the already fragile balance of power in the Middle East has fractured even further, with catastrophic consequences for the civilian population of the Arab world. Violence and unrest continue in Libya, the disastrous war in Iraq and Syria continues to tear society apart at the seams, and, most recently, a Houthi-led rebellion in Yemen has sent the Saudi-backed president fleeing for the coast. Factor in the recent terror attacks in Tunis, the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January and the horrific attacks on a university in Kenya by al-Shabaab this week, and it perhaps becomes a little easier to forgive President Obama for his premature self-congratulation in a speech regarding counter-terrorism policy on September 10th 2014. He cannot, after all, predict the future.

Whilst informing the American public about his government’s plan to tackle the Islamic State, the President praised U.S counter-terrorism policy in Yemen and Somalia, lauding it as an effective model to transplant to the Levant (despite the fact that Yemen remains the poorest country in the Arab world, and Somalia in the entire world, suggesting pacification, not progress, is the ultimate U.S goal). However, the collapse of the Yemeni government in the face of the rapidly advancing Houthi rebellion reveals how consistently short-sighted U.S foreign policy has been in the Middle East for decades.

Yemen_Houthi_Presi_3169000b.jpg

Houthi rebels defending positions near the Presidential Palace, Sana’a

Obama’s ‘Yemen model’ is dedicated to finding short-term solutions to long-term objectives; rather than addressing the root causes of fundamentalism in Yemen, Obama’s administration has pursued individual targets and groups, using drones and armed proxies as a substitute for boots on the ground. Nearly 54% of Yemen’s population of 25 million lives below the poverty line. Unemployment in January hit a staggering 40%, with youth unemployment as high as 60%. 70% of the population lives in rural areas, relying on agriculture in a country plagued by water shortages; even in Sana’a, the capital, only 40% of houses are connected to the municipal supply. Combined with a government that has failed to live up to the promises made after the Arab Spring to tackle corruption and create a more representative government and it becomes blindly obvious to even the least attentive observer why the country has proved such a hotbed of militant Islamist activity.

However, Obama’s administration continues to pursue the same foreign policy strategies that have repeatedly failed over the years. They have passed up the opportunity to invest in the infrastructure Yemen so desperately needs in favour of drone striking individuals in the middle of the desert, tearing apart families and pushing young men towards the very terror groups they set out to tackle. In many ways, the ‘Yemen model’ is emblematic of American foreign policy since the Second World War; namely pumping financial and military aid to whichever leader proves most amenable to U.S interests, regardless of their human rights record or governing ability. Countries across Latin America, South East Asia and the Middle East are still recovering American meddling to this day.

The effects of Obama’s irresponsible Middle East policy have made themselves clear in recent months; however, as Yemen slides into another civil war this is ceasing to be America’s fight. Instead, Yemen is rapidly becoming a proxy battlefield for a greater regional struggle for hegemony in the Persian Gulf. The Houthis, or Ansar Allah (‘supporters of Allah’), are Shia Muslims of the Zaydi sect, which represents around 20-30% of Yemen’s population, making them a substantial minority. After mistakenly believing that the promises of better representation after the Arab Spring would be realized, the Houthis renewed their armed struggle against Yemen’s new president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who has had to flee the capital in the face of the advancing Houthi rebels. With their Shia beliefs and hostility to Saudi Arabia, the Houthis have found a natural ally in Iran; prominent Houthi leaders visited Tehran in March, and consequently the International Crisis Group (ICG) have asserted that “Iranian support has become more vocal, promising economic aid that includes expanding ports, building power plants and providing fuel”.

Saudi-2.jpg

A Houthi rebel stands guard in Sana’a

In response, an alliance of Sunni Arab states has been rapidly assembled, led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt but also including Turkey, Qatar and the UAE, to combat the perceived threat posed by the expansion of Iranian power. The alliance is novel; Egypt and Saudi Arabia fought a long and bloody proxy war in Yemen in the 1960s, in what became known as ‘Nasser’s Vietnam’. The new coalition underlines how much the political climate of the Middle East has changed since the independence era.

A bombing campaign was initiated by Saudi Arabia last week, and Arab air strikes have fallen consistently since then. Already the civilian cost of the war is being felt; on Monday, a stray Saudi rocket fell on a refugee camp in Hajjah province, killing at least 40 people. Critics have speculated about the actual level of support provided to the Houthis by Iran and have accused the Saudi’s of Netenyahu-style scare mongering in order to whip up support for their proxy war. One Saudi official went as far as to tell reporter Brian Whitaker that “Saudi Arabia needs to have a war with Iran… so it’s better to have the war on Yemeni soil than Saudi soil.”

refujee.jpeg

Refugees in al-Mazraq camp, that was struck by a Saudi air strike on Monday, killing 40

With the success of the Iranian nuclear deal announced this morning, it seems likely that the Yemen conflict will be just one articulation of the battle for influence in the Middle East. In Iraq and Syria, Iranian backed Shia rebels continue to tackle the Islamic State, and they remain influential in the Palestinian occupied territories. As is already becoming clear, the ultimate victims of this power struggle will not be Saudi or Iranians, but civilians in the Arab countries unfortunate enough to be selected as an appropriate battlefield. The mess created by the conflict has provided ample ground for the reemergence of terrorist groups in Yemen; the Islamic State have claimed responsibility for bomb attacks on mosques in Sana’a that killed at least 137 people in March, and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) seized the opportunity to storm a prison in south-east Yemen, freeing several hundred inmates and a prominent AQAP leader. Al-Jazeera reported this afternoon that AQAP have gone on to seize a major army base in the south of the country, demonstrating that they are still a force to be reckoned with in the Gulf.

The UN high commissioner for human rights has warned that Yemen is a country “on the verge of collapse”, and his warnings seem justified. In short, U.S policy towards Yemen over the last decade has failed miserably. However, the conflict gives Obama an opportunity to begin making amends by working to defuse the situation. Relations with Iran are warming thanks to the nuclear deal, and a diplomatic solution to the conflict could be possible. Whether the President will learn from his and his predecessor’s mistakes will become apparent in the coming months.

Originally posted @ http://www.occidentalweekly.com on April 6th 2015

References:

Agencee France-Presse; Al-Qaida fighters free senior leader in Yemen prison break – http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/02/al-qaida-frees-senior-terrorist-in-yemen-prison-swoop

Al Jazeera; Saudi-led airstrikes drive Houthis from Adenhttp://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/04/yemen-leader-loyalists-drive-houthis-aden-150403132431234.html

Al Monitor; Half of Yemenis live below poverty linehttp://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/security/2014/01/yemen-poverty-conflict-food-insecurity.html#

BBC News Middle East; Yemen crisis: Islamic State claims Sanaa mosque attacks – http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-31989844

Black, Ian; Crisis in Yemen – the Guardian briefing – http://www.theguardian.com/news/2015/apr/01/yemen-collapse-the-guardian-briefing-houthi-saudi-arabia-sanaa

Shaheen, Kareem; Air strike on Yemeni refugee camp by Saudi-led coalition kills at least 40 – http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/30/air-strike-refugee-camp-houthi-controlled-northern-yemen-kills-at-least-21

Taub, Amanda; Obama’s love of the “Yemen model” sums up his disastrously shortsighted foreign policyhttp://www.vox.com/2015/3/30/8309797/obama-yemen-model

Whitaker, Brian; Yemen and Iran – What’s really going on?http://www.al-bab.com/blog/2015/march/yemen-iran.htm#sthash.pxX55Kqy.MesQoV9G.dpbs

Whitehead, Fredericka; Water scarcity in Yemen: the country’s forgotten conflict –  http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/apr/02/water-scarcity-yemen-conflict

Netanyahu: Unscrupulous and divisive campaign sparks further criticism from U.S government

Following a campaign epitomized by divisive rhetoric, political maneuvering and media manipulation that would have felt perfectly at home on the set of House of Cards, Benjamin Netanyahu was comfortably reelected as Israeli Prime Minister last week.

Benjamin-Netanyahu-waves--007.jpg

Netanyahu celebrates the Likud party victory in the Israeli elections last week

Netanyahu’s campaign was fraught with controversy. His recent visit to the U.S, in which he dramatically warned Congress about the genocidal threat posed to Israel by the Iranian nuclear program, was widely criticized as a propaganda stunt to attract conservative voters back home (for a full analysis see my post from a fortnight ago). He courted accusations of racism for his warning to Likud supporters of the threat posed by Arab Israelis voting “in their droves”. Finally, in the closing hours of the election, he definitively disavowed his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech advocating a two-state solution to the Palestinian question, asserting that “anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory gives territory away to radical Islamist attacks against Israel.”

Many were quick to condemn Netanyahu’s political opportunism. President Obama, who has been an increasingly vocal critic of the Israeli Prime Minister in recent months, told The New York Times that Netanyahu’s warnings about Arab Israeli voters threatened “to erode the meaning of democracy in the country”, with another reporter likening the comments to an American president “warning the white electorate that black voters were heading to the polls in “large numbers.”

President Obama, in another interview, also questioned Netanyahu’s commitment to peace, warning New York Times reporters that his refusal to consider a two-state solution was making it “hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible.” His concerns were echoed by British Prime Minister David Cameron during an address to the House of Commons on Monday, who asserted that he would continue to put pressure on Netanyahu to agree to a two-state solution, describing it as the only way to “achieve a lasting peace and to secure Israel’s long-term security and prosperity.” The increasingly regular criticisms levelled at Netanyahu by world leaders begs the question of whether the era of unconditional Western support for Israel may be drawing to a close.

Equally, Netanyahu’s continuingly vocal opposition to the ongoing talks with Iran regarding their nuclear program risks further estranging Israel from her Western allies and fanning the flames of discontent in the Middle East more generally. Reports this week accused Israel of spying on the international negotiations and using the intelligence gathered to persuade Congress to oppose the talks. If true, this represents an unprecedented attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of the United States government, demonstrating an extraordinary lack of respect for President Obama’s authority. In what appears to be a desperate last-ditch attempt to derail the negotiations, Israeli officials travelled to France this week to voice further concerns about the potential deal. Shimon Stein, a former Israeli ambassador to Germany who has been briefed on the talks, described the move as “only natural” for a Prime Minister who has exhausted all other options, describing France as “the weak link in the group”. However, despite persistent Israeli interference, Iranian President Rouhani remained optimistic, asserting that “there is nothing that can’t be resolved.”

In a move that has come to typify Netanyahu’s unscrupulous leadership, the Prime Minister was quick to backtrack on his divisive comments on the eve of the election. Merely a few days had passed since his firm assertion that he would never support an independent Palestine, when he appeared on MSNBC, claiming that he is in fact in favor of “a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution.” He also apologized for his comments about Arabs voting in the election, stating that “it was not his intention” to cause offense and citing his support for humanitarian groups as evidence. However, Many Arab Israeli’s remained unconvinced; Emilie Moatti, a spokesperson for Arab opposition party Joint List, refused to accept Netanyahu’s apology, claiming that “unfortunately Netanyahu and his government’s racism did not begin and end with that incendiary statement,” describing it as an “empty gesture intended to enable his and his government’s continued racist governance.”

Whether genuine or not, Netanyahu’s flip-flop on such an important and controversial issue is bound to have repercussions; those who were lured into voting by the original comment will feel instantly betrayed, while Arab Israelis will be left wondering whether they can truly trust a Prime Minister who will clearly go to extreme lengths to hold on to power. Netanyahu’s willingness to manipulate the media to his own ends, his disturbing tendency to interfere himself in the affairs of other states and his clear disregard for the Arab population that makes up 20% of the Israeli population, all suggest a career politician with little respect for the voting public. Perhaps comparisons to Kevin Spacey’s brilliantly portrayed Frank Underwood are not far off the mark.

Originally posted @ http://www.occidentalweekly.com on March 27th 2015

References:

Associated Press in Paris; Israeli officials head to France in last-minute bid to block nuclear deal – http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/23/israel-france-stop-iran-nuclear-deal

Beaumont, Peter; Netanyahu backtracks on rejecting two states, but damage is already done – http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/20/netanyahu-backtracks-on-rejecting-two-states-but-damage-is-already-done

Borger, Julian; US accuses Israel of spying on nuclear talks with Iran – http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/24/israel-spied-on-us-over-iran-nuclear-talks 

Freedland, Jonathan; Netanyahu sank into the moral gutter – and there will be consequences – http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/20/inyamin-netanyahu-israel-election

Hirschfeld Davis, Julie; Obama Says He Told Netanyahu That Talk Before Election Hurt the Peace Process – http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/22/world/middleeast/obama-says-he-told-netanyahu-that-campaign-talk-hurt-the-peace-process.html

Perraudin, Frances; Lasting peace in Israel requires two-state solution, says Cameron – http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/23/two-state-israel-palestine-peace-binyamin-netanyahu-david-cameron

Ravid, Barak; Netanyahu: If I’m elected, there will be no Palestinian state – http://www.haaretz.com/news/israel-election-2015/1.647212

Cairo: Plans for glitzy new capital conceal deep divisions within Egyptian society

Built as the new capital for the once powerful Muslim empire of the Fatimids, Cairo has provided a potent symbol of Egypt’s rich history for over a millennium. A stone’s throw from the great pyramids and bursting with ancient monuments and historic Islamic architecture, Cairo continues to inspire awe in visitors from around the world. From its imperial origins, Cairo has swelled both geographically and demographically and is now home to up to 20 million people, making it one of the 15 most populated cities in the world. As is common with any mega city, pollution and congestion are major problems, and Cairo’s aging metro system, one of only two on the African continent, has struggled to cope with over 1 billion annual passengers. However, Egyptian’s were left shocked last Friday when President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi revealed his ambitious plan to tackle Cairo’s traffic problem; the construction of a $45 billion new capital to the east of the current capital.

1024px-Cairo-citadel-1800s.jpg

Cairo citadel, constructed by Saladin in 1183 CE, seen here in the 19th century

Expected to be roughly the same size as Singapore, with a park double the size of New York’s Central Park, a theme park four times the size of Disneyland and an airport larger than London’s Heathrow, the extremely ambitious project is slated to be completed in a mere five to seven years. Ordinary Egyptians were conspicuously absent from the announcement at a conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, where the plans were presented to an audience of potential investors and over 30 foreign emirs, kings and presidents.

The currently unnamed city will be built in partnership with a private developer from the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, led by businessman and property giant Mohammad Alabbar, famous for the construction of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The Egyptian government hopes that the city will house 5 million people in 21 residential districts, and contain 663 hospitals and clinics, 1,250 mosques and churches and 1.1 million homes. If successfully completed, the project will be the largest purpose built capital in history, nearly as large as Islamabad, Brasilia and Canberra combined.

However, critics have questioned the viability of the project, suggesting that it is little more than a propaganda stunt to attract foreign investors and draw attention away from the Sisi regime’s appalling human rights record. Egypt has a history of unsuccessful city building programs, many instigated under the cripplingly corrupt Mubarak regime; 22 ‘new towns’ house little more than a million residents, and ‘New Cairo’, a purpose built suburb on the outskirts of Cairo is still only home to a few hundred thousand after more than a decade. Corruption, a lack of infrastructure and an absence of interest mean that many of these purpose built projects have been left as half built ghost towns in the middle of the desert.

37c3dad1-f81f-4f33-ae71-887ce1a2907e-620x372.jpeg

A woman walks along a deserted New Cairo street. Originally intended to attract several million residents, only a few hundred thousand now call New Cairo home

When asked to comment on the newly unveiled plans, Nezar al-Sayyad, Professor of Architecture, Planning, Urban Design and Urban History at University of California, Berkeley, was unconvinced. “It is laughable” he asserted “to leave a city that is already 20 million and build another city that is meant to be twice its size for only 5 million with money that you don’t have on land that doesn’t even have water and in an area that is very distant from any kind of existing urbanisation.” Consequently, many Cairenes believe that the project is yet another example of the government’s refusal to address the concerns of Egypt’s 82 million citizens. Historian Khaled Fahmy, writing for Cairobserver, a blog about the capital, pointed out that the sum earmarked for the project is enough to build over 30 new metro lines, suggesting that the proposed city demonstrates that the “deeply corrupt elites” who make up the Egyptian government are “willing to turn their back to their own people.”

Since coming to power in a military coup that toppled the democratically elected former president Mohammed Morsi, President Sisi has ruthlessly suppressed dissent and cracked down on basic freedoms, imprisoning journalists, staging show trials and ordering hundreds of executions. The Egyptian police have rounded up and arrested alleged homosexuals and the army has repeatedly opened fire on peaceful protestors, killing hundreds. Despite the oppression, unrest continues to simmer in Egypt; five bombs exploded in Cairo the night before the economic conference where the new capital was announced, and Washington based think tank Tahir Institute estimates that there are now an average of 1.75 explosions in Egypt every day. In light of this evidence, the glitzy new capital city project seems a calculated move, intended to symbolize national renewal after years of social division, economic stagnation and political unrest. President Sisi seeks to quite literally draw a line in the sand between the old Egypt, represented by the haphazard disorder of Cairo, and his vision of a new Egypt clearly inspired by the shimmering postmodern towers of Dubai.

what-can-300-billion-buy-in-egypt-a-new-capital-or-a-pipedream.jpg.gif

A scale model of the proposed capital at the economic conference in Sharm el-Sheik

Whether the project will be successful remains to be seen. With a projected population of 40 million by 2050, something must be done to alleviate Cairo’s overpopulation. However, building an entire city, particularly such a colossal undertaking as the one proposed, may not be the best answer. Behind the success of purpose built capitals like Dubai, Islamabad and, perhaps most famously, Washington D.C, lie the ghost towns of Naypyidaw in Myanmar and Ordos in China, and the Egyptian government will have to strive to fend of the corruption that has stalled previous attempts at city building. With most of the new desert towns built in Egypt being marketed towards wealthy elites craving relief from Cairo traffic, there is a risk that the new capital could follow the same example, leaving Cairo’s urban poor, who suffer disproportionately from the city’s problems with little hope for relocation. As the Sisi government continues to refuse the Egyptian people a part in choosing the future of their country, millions of Egyptians are being left wondering, as Fahmy puts it, “what will happen to the rest of us?”

Originally posted @ http://www.occidentalweekly.com

References:

Fahmy, Khaled; Chasing Mirages in the Deserthttp://cairobserver.com/post/113543612414/chasing-mirages-in-the-desert#.VQs0HCgts1I

Ibrahim, Arwa; Doubts raised over achievability of Egypt’s ‘new capital’http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/egypts-new-capital-1280559810

Kingsley, Patrick; A new New Cairo: Egypt plans £30bn purpose-built capital in deserthttp://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/mar/16/new-cairo-egypt-plans-capital-city-desert

MEE Staff; Sisi kicks off Egypt’s economy conference as bombs rock Cairohttp://www.middleeasteye.net/news/high-hopes-egypts-economy-conference-bombs-rock-cairo-1705596510

Shenker, Jack; Desert Stormhttp://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/jun/11/cairo-satellite-towns-future-egypt

Trew, Bel; Sisi Is Persecuting, Prosecuting, and Publicly Shaming Egypt’s Gayshttp://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/12/30/sisi-is-persecuting-prosecuting-and-publicly-shaming-egypt-s-gays.html


Netanyahu: Repetitive fear-mongering undermines US-Israeli relations

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu—who bypassed the White House in accepting House Speaker John A. Boehner’s invitation to address Congress on Iran’s nuclear programme—proceeded in a fashion that has come to typify his leadership; namely exaggeration, fear-mongering and hypocrisy. Netanyahu’s visit sparked a fierce debate before the Israeli Prime Minister even set foot on U.S soil, with critics suggesting it was a political ploy intended to court voters in the upcoming Israeli election, an accusation he was quick to deny in his speech on Tuesday. Despite heaping praise on the continued U.S governmental and Congressional support for Israel, which earned him several standing ovations and universal applause from both sides of Congress, Netanyahu’s overtures concealed the divisiveness of his visit; close to 60 democratic members boycotted the speech in protest of its supposed partisan motivations.

steve bell.jpeg

Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell’s take on the Netanyahu’s Congressional address

After a waxing lyrical about the “common destiny” of Israel and the U.S for a few minutes, Netanyahu got down to the real impetus for his visit in typically apocalyptic fashion, making regular references to the holocaust, Iran’s “Islamist medieval creed” and Ayatollah Khamenei’s devious plans to “annihilate my country”. Speaking on the eve of the Jewish festival of Purim, which celebrates the salvation of the Jewish people in Ancient Persia from an evil King’s plot to murder them, Netanyahu relished the opportunity to refer to the 2500 year old story as evidence of Iran’s longstanding animosity towards the Jewish people. However, beyond the fiery rhetoric, Netanyahu’s speech proved to be all bark and no bite, containing, as President Obama rightly noted, “nothing new”. The President added that the Israeli Prime Minister “didn’t offer any viable alternatives;” Netanyahu’s only proposal was the continuation of existing nuclear restrictions and international sanctions against Iran, which have failed to prevent the development of the Iranian nuclear programme thus far and have had devastating consequences for Iranian citizens.

When Netanyahu’s speech is unpacked, it reveals the Israeli Prime Minister’s selective memory, historical ignorance and questionable political analysis. His suggestion that the Islamic Republic harbours genocidal intentions towards the Jews across the globe belies the fact that Iran possesses the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside of Israel, and that the Anti-Defamation League’s 2014 Global Index of anti-Semitism placed Iran as the least anti-Semitic nation in the Middle East and North Africa region. His allusions to ancient history are equally uninformed; as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif pointed out, the Purim holiday celebrates Queen Esther’s persuasion of the Persian ruler not to exterminate the Jews. Zarif also pointed to Persian ruler Cyrus the Great’s historic protection of Jews; Iran’s Jewish population, which has existed since long before the birth of Islam, claims descent from the Jews who fled ancient Babylon and sought refuge in the former Achaemenid Empire. Notwithstanding Ayatollah Khamenei’s reputation for incendiary Twitter rants against the state of Israel, Iran’s track record regarding their Jewish population is much less tarnished than many other Middle Eastern states. In line with Islamic doctrine which requires the protection of ‘people of the book’, Article 13 of the Iranian constitution explicitly protects Jewish minorities.

Netanyahu’s analysis of the unfolding battle against militant Islam is equally misguided, replete with inflammatory exaggerations. By describing “Iran’s goons in Gaza” and the Golan Heights, he ignored the split that has occurred between Iran and Hamas over Syria. He referred to Shiite militias “rampaging across Iraq”, despite the fact that those very same militias are leading the charge against the Islamic State, rendering them (perhaps temporarily) America’s de facto allies. He accused Iran of “gobbling up nations,” describing them as “the foremost sponsor of global terrorism” and equating them with ISIS, a gross oversimplification which ignores the great cleavages that exist between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Netanyahu’s suggestion that Iran is seeking to build an “Islamic empire” also appears a desperate overstatement; in a response published in The New York Times, Iranian Ambassador to the U.N, Gholamali Khoshroo, pointed out that Iran “has not invaded another country since America became a sovereign nation.” Israel’s short history, on the other hand, features numerous incidents of aggression against sovereign states, notwithstanding the continued occupation of the West Bank, Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu’s distortion and oversimplification of the political situation in the Middle East is useful for stirring fear and unease among American and Israeli viewers, but is inimical to the quest for a real and lasting peace in the region.

The real substance of Netanyahu’s address to congress came is his warnings about the Iranian nuclear programme. He raised a number of accurate points, which the Obama administration is doubtlessly aware of. He claimed that the proposed deal will most likely reduce Iran’s ‘breakout time’—the time it takes to amass enough weapons grade uranium for the construction of an atom bomb—to around a year. He reminded Congress of Iran’s checkered past when it comes to international nuclear inspectors, likening their actions to those of North Korea. Finally, he used the existence of secret Iranian nuclear facilities in the past to suggest that “Iran could be hiding nuclear facilities that we don’t know about”. A similar argument was promulgated to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003; a catastrophic failure based on unfounded information, and one that Netanyahu was a vocal supporter for.

bibi at the un.jpg

Netanyahu at the U.N in 2012, asserting that Iran was less than a year away from developing nuclear weapons (with the help of a handy chart)

This last fact is relevant when one considers Netanyahu’s long history of exaggerating the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear project. As a member of the Israeli parliament in 1992, Netanyahu predicted Iran would be able to produce a nuclear weapon in three to five years. In 1996 he addressed Congress to stress that “time is running out” to prevent Iran from acquiring the bomb and in 1997 asserted to the BBC that Iran was “building a formidable arsenal of ballistic missiles.” Most recently, in a speech to the U.N in 2012, Netanyahu declared that Iran was within a year of acquiring an atomic bomb, a fact that was quickly contradicted by Mossad, his own intelligence agency. Absent from Netanyahu’s speech was the reality of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Israel in fact has a large arsenal of over 70 nuclear warheads, and is not a signatory to the U.N Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran itself is a party to. It therefore appears that Netanyahu’s aversion to Iran’s nuclear programme is not motivated by any real threat posed to Israel, but a desire to maintain the balance of power in the Middle East and an aversion to seeing Iran recognised by the U.S as a major player in the region.

Overall, Netanyahu provided an entertaining and emotive speech; Steve Cohen, the Jewish Democratic representative for Tennessee, remarked after: “I thought it would be political theatre and indeed it was worthy of an Oscar.” However, a thorough analysis reveals it to be a short-sighted, inflammatory piece of propaganda, big on rhetoric but short on facts and clearly intended to court voters back home. However, an Israeli poll in the wake of his Congressional address saw 90% of voter’s state that the speech had not inspired them to change their vote, with the centre-left opposition party Zionist Union edging slightly ahead in some polls. In essence, Netanyahu’s speech appears to have achieved little, other than to further alienate his government from their greatest and closest ally. The U.S-Israeli relationship will undoubtedly recover. Whether Netanyahu’s reputation will remains to be seen.

Unfortunately, due to the hard drive crashing on my laptop, I am unable to post the citations for this post at this time. As soon as the original document is retrieved I will update. Many Thanks

Originally published @ http://www.occidentalweekly.com on March 7th 2015

Somalia: Short-sighted U.S foreign policy risks revitalising terrorist groups

Al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamist group that has wreaked havoc in the war torn nation of Somalia over the last decade, has kept a relatively low profile in recent months. Banished from the Somali capital, Mogadishu, by African Union (AU) troops in August 2011, al-Shabaab’s control over Somalia has gradually shrunk. In the same year, their legitimacy in the eyes of the population was severely damaged by their refusal to accept foreign aid during a famine which killed as many as 260,000 people, half of them under the age of 6.

Al-Shabaab fighters training in Somalia

Al-Shabaab fighters training in Somalia

In 2012, they were forced from the port of Kismayo, which provided a vital source of funding through its lucrative charcoal trade. Although many still suffer under the fundamentalist interpretation of Sharia law enforced in the rural areas still controlled by al-Shabaab, it appears as if their reign of terror in Somalia had gradually drawn to a close.

However, the encouraging news from Somalia in recent years was brought into question this week as al-Shabaab catapulted themselves back into the headlines, injuring the deputy prime minister in a suicide bomb attack that killed 25 people outside a hotel in Mogadishu. Days later, the group released a propaganda video calling for attacks on shopping malls in Britain, Canada and the Mall of America in Minnesota, which is in an area home to America’s largest Somali population.The sudden re-emergence of al-Shabaab appears darkly ironic in light of a recent change in American foreign policy towards Somalia. Earlier this month, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issued a cease and desist order to the last U.S bank still processing money transfers to Somalia on the grounds that some of the money may be funneled to al-Shabaab. The ‘hawala’ system of remittances, which allows money transfers from foreign countries to reach even the most remote Somali villages, makes up 50% of Somalia’s GNP and over 40% of the population rely on it for survival.

American Somali’s protest the cutting of remittances in Minnesota in 2012

The ‘hawala’ system has proven astonishingly successful, arguably saving hundreds of thousands of lives during the 2011 famine and reliably providing money transfers to one of the poorest nations of the world at over half the average African interest rate. Around 43% of Somalia’s population still suffer from food shortages, and by cutting off this vital lifeline the U.S. is making it impossible for American Somalis to provide for their families back home. Once again, the U.S government has demonstrated how short sighted their foreign policy can be in the pursuit of the ‘war on terror’.

When interviewed about the decision, Deputy Comptroller Grovetta Gardineer asserted that, “The Somali situation is a terrible human tragedy that cannot be solved by bank regulators,” suggesting that instead “it requires an international government and private-sector effort involving organizations that have greater expertise in providing humanitarian assistance and building the infrastructure necessary.” This statement embodies the blinding ignorance demonstrated by the OCC’s decision. Oxfam America estimates that remittances to Somalia total $1.3 billion a year, more than the combined foreign aid and private investment; not only has the U.S not increased its allotment of aid to Somalia to make up for the losses caused by the ending of remittances, the suggestion that increasing humanitarian aid will solve Somalia’s problems undermines everything that makes the ‘hawala’ system so successful.

American aid arriving in Somalia. Up to half of food aid sent to Somalia is diverted through illicit channels

American aid arriving in Somalia. Up to half of food aid sent to Somalia is diverted through illicit channels

Somalia is identified by the CIA as the second poorest of the world’s 228 nations, tied with Zimbabwe and Burundi, and Transparency International has declared Somalia to be the most corrupt country in the world, alongside North Korea and Afghanistan. The rampant corruption at all levels of Somali society has severely hampered the provision for humanitarian aid, with a UN monitoring group declaring in 2012 that 70% of the money earmarked for development and reconstruction had disappeared. The same report suggested that out of every $10 received by Somalia’s transitional government between 2009 and 2010, $7 remain unaccounted for. The New York Times has reported that up to half the food aid sent to Somalia is diverted to a web of corrupt contractors and al-Shabaab militants. Whereas the ‘hawala’ system flourished because it provided small, reliable, low risk transfers of money between family members, the system of humanitarian aid in Somalia suffers through its size. It relies on shady government officials to oversee the distribution of huge sums of money and aid, and consequently much of it is lost before it reaches those in need.

While some money sent through the ‘hawala’ system may indeed have end up being funnel led to al-Shabaab, it is apparent that the system the OCC suggests should replace it increases the likelihood of money ending up in their hands. Equally, by destroying the livelihoods of thousands of people already living in abject poverty, the U.S government risks pushing disenfranchised Somali youth further into illicit activities, be they piracy, the illegal ivory trade, charcoal smuggling or terrorist organizations. In the pursuit of destroying a group estimated to have only around 7000-9000 members, the OCC has alienated tens of thousands more innocent people. It is, as The Guardian’s George Monbiot points out, like “banning agriculture in case fertilizer is used to make explosives.”

With the shocking military successes of ISIL in the Middle East and Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria stealing headlines this year, it is easy to view the recent resurgence of al-Shabaab as the desperate attempts of a fading group attempting to remain relevant; their new propaganda video, for example, is clearly styled on the slick media productions of ISIL. However, as Anton de Plessis, managing director for the Institute of Security Studies in South Africa, suggests, “they are still a force to be reckoned with,” and the ending of remittances increases the risk of funds being captured by al-Shabaab by forcing money transfers underground. In light of the news that HSBC processed billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels, but were allowed to continue operating because of the threat to American jobs, the OCC reveals the racist hypocrisy embodied by their short-sighted policy. To destroy al-Shabaab and begin the arduous task of rebuilding a nation wrecked by three decades of civil war, the American government must permit money transfers to Somalia, and instead focus their attention on increasing the transparency of ‘hawala’ system, a tactic that has already proven successful in Britain. By outlawing remittances, the OCC risks revitalizing a terrorist organization that finally seemed to be falling apart.

Originally published @ http://www.occidentalweekly.com

References:

Al-Jazeera; Where are Somalia’s Missing Millions? – http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestory/2012/07/201272081233390153.html

Associated Press; Somalia: Famine Toll in 2011 Was Larger Than Previously Reported http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/30/world/africa/somalia-famine-toll-in-2011-was-larger-than-previously-reported.html?_r=0

BBC News; Who are Somalia’s al-Shabaab? http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-15336689

Getleman, Jeffery & MacFarquhar, Neil; Food Aid Bypasses Somalia, UN Study Says http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/10/world/africa/10somalia.html?_r=0

Ibrahim, Mohammed; Somali Deaths Climb To 25 In Hotel Attack – http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/world/africa/attack-in-mogadishu-on-friday-leaves-25-people-dead-and-40-wounded.html

Monbiot, George; The careless, astonishing cruelty of Barack Obama’s government –http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/10/racist-cruelty-barack-obamas-government-somalia-humanitarian-crisis

Reckard, E. Scott & White, Ronald D.; Money transfers cut off to Somalia – http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-merchants-bank-somalia-20150206-story.html

Smith, David; Al-Shabaab video shows how far it lags in ‘jihadi draft’ – http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/23/al-shabaab-video-jihadi-draft-propaganda-somali

Taibbi, Matt; Gangster Bankers: Too Big To Fail – http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/gangster-bankers-too-big-to-jail-20130214

The Game of War: The American military is blurring the lines between virtual reality and warfare, with chilling consequences

Two videos, from two very different perspectives, caught my attention this week. In the first, 13 year old Mohammed Tuaiman documents his life in Ma’rib Province, Yemen, in the months after the death of his father and brother, who were killed by a U.S drone strike whilst herding camels. The strike left Mohammed to struggle with the responsibility of caring for his 27 siblings, and his video gives a snapshot into life in an area that has become a hotbed for Islamist organisations, instability and violence. The CIA, Pentagon and Yemeni government have refused to comment on the attack, and Mohammad states that the only support his family has received is from the local al-Qaeda group, who provide money and hand out leaflets; an al-Qaeda flag hangs conspicuously from the rear-view mirror in his car. The video ends on a chilling note: “on January 26th 2015, Muhammad himself was killed in another drone strike”, whilst travelling to a neighbouring village with his brother-in-law and another man – once again the CIA has refused to confirm whether any of them had been identified as al-Qaeda militants. Mohammad’s video paints a chilling picture of the human impact of the ‘war on terror’.

reaper

An American ‘Reaper’ drone

The second video flips the direction of the lens completely; focusing instead on the young soldiers tasked with piloting the U.S drones, and, consequently, with taking the shots that killed Mohammad and his family members. The video is an abridged version of a feature length documentary film entitled ‘Drone’, due for release at the end of this month. Far removed from the arid deserts of central Yemen, the video features interviews with two former drone pilots about their experiences, as well as a number of experts criticising aspects of the use of drones. One of the documentary’s greatest insights is its examination of the recruitment process for drone pilots, revealing another facet of the unsettling relationship between war and entertainment touched on in last weeks post. As Lt. Col. Bryan Callahan of the 42nd Attack Squadron, United States Air Force, reveals, the military authorities are “trying to get our arms round what really does make the best candidate for unmanned aircrafts, and how can we identify these people early”. As the camera pans around the thousands of flickering screens at Dreamhack, the giant European gaming convention, we are informed that one method that has proven successful thus far is the development of virtual reality and video games aimed at identifying prospective pilots, allegedly targeting children as young as 12.

This unsettling revelation sheds light on a number of worrying trends in the ongoing ‘war on terror’ and the future of modern warfare more generally. The relationship between video games and violence has been a subject of debate for decades, flaring up periodically in the American media in response to events like school shootings and gang violence. As somebody who has played, enjoyed and consequently defended video games from an early age, the practice of using gaming as a recruitment tool targeting children and teenagers seems all the more unsavoury. The argument about whether video games encourage violent behaviour has always seemed nonsensical to me; children have been exposed to violence for thousands of years – the last public execution in the USA was under a century ago – and at the end of the day, it is just a game. However, by blurring the lines between virtual reality and real warfare the American military is breaking down this boundary in a particularly disturbing way, deliberately playing on the psychological detachment created by pilot’s geographic and mental distance from their targets.

One of the most revealing interviews featured in ‘Drone’ is with Michael Hass, a former U.S drone pilot who was stationed at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada before he was 20 years old. It becomes clear that the military played on his familiarity with video games; when asked about his recruitment, he replies “I thought it was the coolest thing in the world… I get to play a video game all day!” Now no longer employed by the military he is candid about the impact that his extreme level of detachment from the act of killing had upon him; “it’s easy to have that lack of empathy for human life, and its easy just to think of them as something else… they’re not people, they’re just terrorists.” It was easy for him, he claims, “almost too easy.” Divorced from the impact of their actions, the young drone pilots act entirely at the command of their superiors, themselves relying on the CIA’s notoriously shaky information (only 7 of the 779 inmates held at Guantanamo Bay were ever convicted of a crime). This combination of emotional detachment and questionable intelligence may go some way to explaining the disproportionate number of civilian casualties caused by U.S drone strikes.

The aftermath of a drone strike in Waziristan, Pakistan

The aftermath of a drone strike in Waziristan, Pakistan

Seeing nothing but faceless shadows on a computer screen – “bugsplats” as drone operators call them – removes the pilots from the reality of their actions, but the cost to those, like Mohammad and his family, who live under the drones, is all too real. Data released by the human rights group Reprieve in November 2014 suggests that even when drone strikes are targeting individuals – what Obama calls “targeted killing” – they often result in many more deaths and require multiple strikes. As of 24 November last year, the CIA has attempted to target 41 individual suspects. In the process, an estimated 1,471 people, most of them unknown, over 100 of them children, were killed, and several of those 41 are still at large. This is only a snapshot into the overall picture; Reprieve’s data focused only on individuals targeted more than once. Absent are individuals killed on the first attempt or those killed in “signature strikes”; strikes aimed at unidentified groups based on repeated patterns of suspicious behaviour. What is perhaps most shocking is that these murders were carried out in Pakistan and Yemen, two countries that America is not even at war with, so doesn’t even scratch the surface of the potential civilian casualties caused by drone strikes during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The ability for individuals to bomb targets from thousands of miles away, in any country in the world, with absolutely no oversight, is a chilling prospect for the future of warfare.

Despite this, a new global arms race is under way to acquire military-grade drones, as nations scramble to get their hands on the technology that, arms manufacturers hope, will revolutionise warfare. The UAV industry is projected to reach $18.7 billion turnover by 2018, and a number of countries other than the United States have begun assembling their own unmanned armies. At a NATO conference in 2012, former Turkish president Abdullah Gül expressed his intention to use drones to suppress Kurdish rebels. Israel have utilised their own ‘Hermes’ drones during the recent offensives in Gaza. The Iranian military, working with a captured American UAV, have allegedly successfully reverse engineered their own stealth drones. Even in the United States the impact of drones has manifested itself by facilitating unprecedented levels of surveillance; California police are now allowed to fly spy drones without any probable cause, thanks to a veto by Gov. Jerry Brown on a bill that would have forced them to obtain a warrant first. Unfortunately, it appears that drones are here to stay.

What we are seeing is the unfolding of a new chapter in the history of war. Gone is the valorised warrior, the humble soldier, the idealistic revolutionary. In their place we have young men, sitting in bunkers in the Nevada desert, causing untold suffering to thousands of families around the world at the bequest of unseen CIA officials based on unseen intelligence. Decades of research, one of the most famous examples being the 1963 ‘Milgram Experiment’, has shown us that distance from the victim breeds indifference and increases obedience to authority. The American military is preying on young men and boys by bridging the gap between virtual reality and warfare, suggesting to impressionable minds that war really is just a game after all. “It just feels like were going through a bad science fiction novel” says another former drone pilot Bryan Bryant. “If we dehumanise war, if we take the human aspect out of it, what’s to stop us from just sending a bunch of automaton robots into another country and let them wipe out the entire population?” [sic] This dystopian nightmare may not be as far away as we thought; in 2010, British weapons manufacturing giant BAE Systems revealed that it was working on the ‘Taranis’, a completely unpiloted drone, launched by the click of a mouse. Until the CIA and the Obama administration remove the thick veil of secrecy surrounding the use of American drones and open up space for an honest, open discussion of the ethical ramifications of drone strikes, we have no idea how many more families like Mohammed’s will be torn apart by drones. Worse still, by refusing to provide support, or even an explanation, to families affected by drone strikes, we have no idea how many innocent young men will be pushed into the hands of al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups. When the only people providing victims with aid is the most wanted terrorist organisation in the world, you have to ask yourselves who the real terrorists are.

‘Drone’ will be released in cinemas 27 February 2015.

Originally posted @ http://www.occidentalweekly.com

References:

We dream about drones, said 13 year old Yemeni before his death in a CIA strike – Video: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/10/drones-dream-yemeni-teenager-mohammed-tuaiman-death-cia-strike

Drone Wars: the gamers recruited to kill – Video: http://www.theguardian.com/news/video/2015/feb/02/drone-wars-gamers-recruited-kill-pakistan-video

Dara Kerr – California police can fly drones without a warrant: http://www.cnet.com/news/california-police-can-fly-drones-without-a-warrant/

Matteo Congregalli – From the Age of the Warrior to the Age of the Drone: The New Face of Modern Warfare: https://urbantimes.co/2013/01/age-of-the-drone-new-face-of-modern-warfare/?allpages

Stealth Drone Proliferation: Iranians Reverse engineer captured US Spy Drone: http://www.juancole.com/2014/11/proliferation-iranians-captured.html

Spencer Ackerman – 41 men targeted but 1,147 people killed: US drone strikes – the facts on the ground: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/nov/24/-sp-us-drone-strikes-kill-1147

S. Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) Market Forecast 2013-2018: http://www.marketresearchmedia.com/?p=509

US Uses Video Games to Recruit Drone Pilots as Young as 12 http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/US-Uses-Video-Games-to-Recruit-Drone-Pilots-as-Young-as-12-20141008-0015.html