What do we make of this? Artist Tania Bruguera and some dozen others were arrested in Havana's Revolution Square Dec. 30. Bruguera planned to stage Yo También Exijo (I Also Demand), her particiaptory performance act that includes an open-mic section. She had succeeded in getting away with the open-mic trick in her performance of another act, El Susurro de Tatlin (Tatlin's Whsiper), at the 2009 Havana Biennial arts affair. But she was denied a permit to take the act to Revolution Square. Cuba's National Visual Arts Council issued a statement saying the performance was "unacceptable" given the "manipulation" of the "counter-revolutionary media." Bruguera's website tags the acts "Unannounced Performance," "Behavior Art Materials," and "Crowd Control Techniques." The planned event was poorly attended—possibly due to police pre-emptive measures. Havana Times ("open-minded writing from Cuba") stated: "Starting around noon Ministry of Interior troops, both in plainclothes and uniformed, were stationed at all points of access to the square..." Then the cops arrested the intended participants. Havana Times also reports that among the detained were Reinaldo Escobar, husband of dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez, and Eliecer Ávila of opposition group Somos Más (We are More). Most have been released, including Bruguera, although she is apparently barred from leaving Cuba. (14yMedio, ArtForum, Dec. 31) #YoTambienExijo has become a popular hashtag on Facebook and Twitter.
Well, the supposed NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan was formally announced Dec. 28. A quiet ceremony in Kabul was arranged in secret due to increasing Taliban strikes in the area, including suicide bombings and gun-battles. On Jan. 1 the US-led International Security Assistance Force is to be replaced by a NATO "training and support" mission—with nearly 12,500 foreign troops to stay in Afghanistan, the big majority supplied by the US. Officially, they are not to participate in direct fighting. The Pentagon's "Operation Enduring Freedom" is now to be replaced by "Operation Freedom's Sentinel," in turn part of NATO's new "Operation Resolute Support." (Jurist, DoD) The AP story, as presented on HuffPo, headlines: "US Formally Ends War In Afghanistan" Emphasis on the "formally," eh? Reads the lead: "The war in Afghanistan, fought for 13 bloody years and still raging, came to a formal end Sunday with a quiet flag-lowering ceremony in Kabul that marked the transition of the fighting from US-led combat troops to the country's own security forces." How can a war that is "still raging" come to an "end"? Similar absurd claims marked the US "withdrawal" from Iraq in 2011. Is Iraq at "peace" now? We utterly reject this stupid, arrogant US-centrism that universally infects left, right and center in the United States. The war in Afghanistan is not over, and the US has no power to "end" it!
Well, this was inevitable. The case of Assata Shakur affords the US political right the opportunity to take a hit at Obama's opening to Cuba while simultaneously getting subliminal licks in at the Black Lives Matter protests. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was of course the first to grandstand about it, demanding that Cuba turn over the veteran Black Panther he called "Joanne Chesimard" (her former name) before diplomatic ties are restored. He wrote in an open letter to Obama: "If, as you assert, Cuba is serious about embracing democratic principles [sic] then this action would be an essential first step." Cuba, of course, said no dice. Asked if returning fugitives was on the table, Havana's head of North American affairs Josefina Vidal told the AP, "every nation has sovereign and legitimate rights to grant political asylum to people it considers to have been persecuted… That's a legitimate right."
France is boosting police patrols and mobilizing army troops over the Christmas holiday following a string of three seemingly unrelated attacks. A man died from injuries suffered Dec. 22 in Nantes, when a van plowed into shoppers at an outdoor Christmas market. The driver stabbed himself after the incident, but is expected to survive. The day before in Dijon, a driver shouting "Allahu Akbar" ploughed into pedestrians, injuring 13. The day before that, a man issued the same war-cry as he attacked police with a knife in Joue-les-Tours, before being gunned down. French media are emphasizing that ISIS issued a call urging Muslims around the world to kill "in any manner" people from countries in the anti-ISIS military coalition, especially singling out the French. Among the helpful suggestions from ISIS was "run them over with your car." (BBC News, BBC News, RFI, CNN, France24)
A hacker who obtained blueprints of South Korean nuclear reactors posted internal information on the facilities, including the floor maps, on the Internet, threatening further "leaks" unless authorities close down the reactors, Yonhap news agency reported. Using an account dubbed "president of anti-nuclear reactor group," the hacker supposedly revealed on Twitter (apparently now deleted) the designs and manuals of Gori-2 and Wolsong-1 nuclear plants, evidently pilfered from the companies Korea Hydro and Korea Nuclear Power Co (KHNP). The post demanded the shutdown of the reactors by Christmas, warning "residents near the reactors should stay away for the next few months."
OK, we have no doubt that The Interview is an abominably bad movie, and it is very irksome to have to agree with David Cameron, who is grandstanding about how Sony's pulling of the film is a threat to freedom of expression. Hollywood actors have been making similar noises. And of course this is being played up by the UK's right-wing The Telegraph and imperial mouthpiece Voice of America. But they happen to be correct. The fact that the movie is (probably—we won't be able to see it to tell for ourselves) ugly propaganda doesn't mitigate the fact that Sony's capitulation sets a very bad precedent. (Communities Digital News recalls the 1988 controversy over right-wing Christian threats against The Last Temptation of Christ.) Note that the supression is so complete that The Interview's official website is down, redirecting to the Sony Pictures homepage, and the trailer has been removed from YouTube. All this due to a bunch of almost certainly empty if bombastic ("Remember the 11th of September 2001") threats from an Orwellianly named and probably functionally non-existent cell, the "Guardians of Peace." Homeland Security said it has no evidence to suggest these threats would be carried out, reports Variety. But Sony folded like the proverbial house of cards, while issuing a statement complaining of being "the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault." This assault also includes the hack of Sony's computers, which US officials do say has been tracked to North Korea. (AP) But the notion that the DPRK has a network of sleeper cells across the USA... well, it sounds like a bad movie.
As readers are doubtless aware, an unknown militant is currently holding a number of hostages at a Lindt Chocolat Cafe in downtown Sydney, and forcing them to display a jihadist flag in the store's window. There is much online controversy about exactly which faction's flag it is. The Sydney Morning Herald identifies it as the banner of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and contrasts it with those flown by ISIS and the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. The report says Somalia's Shabab is also now flying the ISIS flag, which may mark another affiliate for the "Islamic State"—which would make four by our count. We have noted that protesters are on trial in Lebanon for having burned the ISIS flag, ostensibly because it includes the Arabic text of the Shahada or declaration of Muslim faith. These are all variations on the "Tawhid flag" that has been adopted by Islamists throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Given the franchise model of the jihadist networks, it really doesn't make that much difference which faction the Sydney militant is associated with, or if he is just a freelancer.
Syrian rebels announced formation of a new Revolutionary Command Council at a meeting in Gaziantep, Turkey. The RCC claims to represent over 70 rebel militias. It includes both the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front, as well as more Salafist formations such as Ahrar al-Sham. It excludes the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. The RCC charter repeatedly uses the terms "the Syrian people," "civilian," and "revolution"—anathema to the Qaedist ideology of Nusra Front and ISIS. Each RCC affiliate is pledged to contribute at least 100 fighters to a proposed rapid intervention force. The RCC's elected head, Qais al-Sheikh, last week resigned from the Syrian National Coalition in protest of its poor performance. (Al Bawaba, Dec. 1)