Some of the worst enemies of the Tuareg people are Westerners who make their livelihood by spreading fear and hatred for an entire population that they do not know. Several days ago, USA Today published an article [Feb. 14] by a young American reporter who wrote that "Tuaregs have long kept slaves," and implied that Tuaregs are still "taking slaves" today and holding them captive. This is incorrect. The Tuaregs do not own slaves today, and do not capture people or hold them as slaves. The reporter based her article largely on propaganda she heard from one individual in southern Mali.
The Israeli firm SodaStream made a splash earlier this month when its ad was bounced from the Super Bowl—alas, for the wrong reason. CBS deemed that the content of its planned commercial was a direct swipe at two other Super Bowl sponsors, Coke and Pepsi, Advertising Age noted. SodaStream bills itself as environmentally correct, selling machines that carbonate water at home and obviate the need for soda bottles, under the corporate slogan "Set the Bubbles Free." We wish CBS had been more concerned with the boycott that has been called of SodaStream, a firm illegally operating on the occupied West Bank.
The current apocalyptic zeitgeist was made all too clear by the recent hoopla over the turning of the Maya calendar, so it was inevitable that the morbidly paranoid would glom on to the papal resignation—just as they did the Vatican's opening of the Knights Templar archives a few years back. The Irish Central on Feb. 11 provides some fodder, recalling the prophecies of Saint Malachy, a 12th century bishop of Armagh, who supposedly predicted the names of all future popes—accurate up to this point, supposedly. And after Benedict XVI, he wrote: "In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock amid many tribulations, after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people. The End." Gee, thanks.
North Korea conducted its third nuclear test Dec. 12, exploding what is paradoxically being called a "miniaturized" device that nonetheless packed a greater explosive force than those the DPRK set off in 2006 and 2009. "We can assume this is roughly twice as big in magnitude," said Lassina Zerbo of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), which monitored from afar the underground blast at the Punggye-ri test site in the DPRK's northeast mountains. Pyongyang said the test was an act of self-defense against "US hostility." South Korea, which placed its US-backed military on alert after the test, said it would fast-track development of longer-range missiles that can reach the whole of North Korea. "We will speed up the development of ballistic missiles with a range of 800 kilometers," a Defense Ministry spokesman told reporters.
For days we have been wondering about the fate of Kidal, the last town in northern Mali that remains under rebel control. Unless you are paying close attention, you would not know that the rebels in Kidal are not jihadists—they are secular Tuareg separatists of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), who took the town from the local jihadist faction, Ansar Dine, at the same time that combined French and Malian forces were driving the jihadists from Timbuktu and Gao last month. French-led forces reportedly captured Kidal's airport last week but have held back on entering the town itself—an implicit acknowledgement of the sensitive situation, a desire to avoid opening a new insurgency with the MNLA but also to stop short of allowing them a zone of control. Now the French military says it is 1,800 soldiers from Chad that have entered Kidal. An astute choice.
OK, the last we heard Mujahedeen Khalq or the People's Mujahadeen Organization of Iran (as the with the spelling of "Qaddafi," the media can't settle on a single rendering, variously presenting the acronym as MEK, MKO or PMOI) had just been dropped from the US Foreign Terrorist Organizations list and moved from their Saddam-era headquarters at Camp Ashraf, where they had been protected by the dictator, to Camp Liberty, a former US military base near Baghdad, pending resettlement in an unnamed third country. Months later, they appear to still be at Camp Liberty—and Al Jazeera reports Feb. 9 that unknown militants fired Katyusha rockets down on them there, killing at keast five of their followers.
The media are suddenly abuzz with reports that the CIA has been operating a secret airbase for unmanned drones in Saudi Arabia for the past two years, from which it has launched numerous strikes on purported militants of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in neighboring Yemen—including those that killed Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, both US citizens who had never been charged with any crimes by the US government. The relevation follows the leaking to NBC this week of a confidential Justice Department memo finding that the US can order the killing of its own citizens if they are believed to be "senior operational leaders" of al-Qaeda or "an associated force"—even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the US.
Recent reports (LAT, Jan. 19) have militia forces of the Kurdish National Council battling jihadist rebels of the Nusra Front for control of villages along Syria’s northeast border with Turkey. The jihadists seem to be alarmingly well-armed, using tanks and artillery to attack Kurdish positions and civilian neighborhoods in Ras Ayn village. There is a growing sense that the Islamization of the rebels is solidifying an alliance between the secular-minded Kurds and the Damascus regime—with much fear about the role of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the separatist group in Turkey which is on the US Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.