European Union government ministers met in Paris Jan. 11 to condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo. But there is an Orwellian aspect to their reaction. A joint statement (PDF) issued by twelve EU interior ministers, including Bernard Cazeneuve of France and UK Home Secretary Theresa May, included the following text: "We are concerned at the increasingly frequent use of the Internet to fuel hatred and violence... With this in mind, the partnership of the major Internet providers is essential to create the conditions of a swift reporting of material that aims to incite hatred and terror and the condition of its removing, where appropriate/possible." In other words, pressure on ISPs to shut down websites deemed objectionable by EU ministries, and rat out their producers to the Euro-cops—a notion rendered especially problematic due to the elastic nature of the word "terrorism." (To provide just a few examples, see here and here and here and here and here and here and here.) The statement was signed in the presence of US Attorney General Eric Holder. (Global Guerrillas, Jan. 12; The Register, Jan. 11)
By now we've all heard. Gunmen today shot dead 12 people at the Paris office of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, apparently while shouting "Allahu Akbar" and "We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad!" Editor Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier is among the dead; he had received death threats in the past and was living under police protection. Charlie Hebdo’s offices were bombed in 2011, after the magazine released an issue in which the Prophet Muhammed was satirically billed as "guest editor." The issue included cartoons lampooning Muhammed and was redubbed "Charia Hebdo," a reference to Shariah law. The new attack is said to be the deadliest in France since 1961, when rightists who opposed Algerian independence bombed a train, killing 28 people. (BBC News, NYT)
As we noted in September (when the price had just dipped below $100 a barrel), after an initial price shock when ISIS seized northern Iraq, the world oil price has since slumped. It now stands at around $60 a barrel. Recall that way back in late 2001, when the US was invading Afghanistan, it stood at a lowly $11. At that time, we predicted an imminent price shock to jump-start the planned industry expansion—both in the Caspian Basin and here at home, overcoming environmental concerns. Boy, were we right. The price of a barrel first broke the $100 mark in 2008, and has frequently crossed it in the years since then, although it never quite hit the much-feared $200-a-barrel. But now the petro-oligarchs are talking like $100 may be the new $200. Saudi Arabia's oil minister Ali al-Naimi last month answered "we may not" when asked if markets would ever lift prices to $100 again. (CNN, Dec. 23) How much of this are we to believe, and what is really behind the slump?
It emerges that Facebook has deleted a post from Beijing-based Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser showing the self-immolation of Buddhist monk Kalsang Yeshi—the latest in a long string of such martyrs. Seemingly adopting a deliberately inarticulate style to lampoon the limits imposed by censorship, Woeser posted to her Facebook page after the deletion: "This ban, by deleting this, then banned, deleted, and proceed, then, and then, you know." She also compared the Facebook moderation team to a "little secretary"—a reference to Beijing's apparatchiks charged with enforcing censorship. (It isn't explained how Woeser maintains her Facebook page, given that the social network isn't accessible in China. Either she has found a way around the Great Firewall, or she posts via intermediaries abroad, presumably.) Facebook responded with a statement saying that the video was too graphic for its users. The statement claimed that in response to users' objections over graphic content, the company is "working to give people additional control over the content they see." But: "We do not currently have these tools available and as a result we have removed this content." (The Independent, Dec. 29; Inquisitr, Dec. 27)
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)