Bill Weinberg

Russia blocks ICC action on Syria, heightening 'anti-war' contradiction

Well, this is rich. Russia and China have vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have referred the conflict in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC). More than 60 countries supported the French-drafted text calling for an investigation into "likely" war crimes committed by regime forces or "non-State armed groups." (BBC News, May 22) Will all those on the "anti-war" left in the West who called for ICC action "instead of" military action (as if ICC action would stop Bashar Assad from killing his people) now protest this? Just asking, Kevin Zeese. We feel we should add a parenthetical "(sic)" after the phrase "anti-war," because those who oppose any pressure on the Assad regime are of course enabling an actually existing war that has now cost more than 150,000 lives. Repetition of the mantra that "the USA is not the world police" is worse than meaningless when accompanied by silence over the blocking of UN and ICC efforts to hold mass-murderers accountable, which effectively means the world order is set by thugs.

Xinjiang: terror makes headlines —not repression

At least 30 are dead and over 90 injured after attackers in Urumqi, capital of China's restive Xinjiang region, ploughed two SUVs into shoppers at a vegetable market, while hurling explosives from the windows. The vehicles then crashed head-on and one exploded. China's Ministry of Public Security, with typical redundancy, called it a "violent terrorist incident." (BBC News, AP) While this was the worst so far, such attacks are becoming alarmingly frequent in China. A militant group called the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) apparently took responsibility for the April 30 suicide bombing at Urumqui's rail station. (The Guardian, May 14) Radio Free Asia reported on May 9 that more than 100 relatives of one of the men identified as the bombers in the attack have been detained. The police chief in Gulbagh, the village where the attacker hailed from, actually admitted to RFA's Uighur service that most of the detained were women and children. As recently as May 20, RFA reported that police opened fire at a protest by hundreds of Uighurs angry over the detention of several women and middle-school girls for wearing headscarves in Alaqagha township, Kucha county, Aksu prefecture. Although the account could not be confirmed, residents said they feared several were shot dead. On May 21, Reuters reported that 39, all with Uighur names, were sentenced in a rare mass public event to terms of up to 15 years for such crimes as "distributing recordings with extremist content" and "promoting ethnic hatred."

Islamophobia at Ground Zero —again?

A new development in the interminable culture wars over New York City's Ground Zero emerges as the site's museum finally opens. We've already noted outrage over the crass commercialism at the museum's souvenir shop (!). Now a Jews Against Islamophobia coalition is planning a May 21 vigil at the site to demand that the National September 11 Memorial Museum edit a six-minute video to be screened there, entitled "The Rise of Al Qaeda," that "contains disturbing terminology linking Islam with terrorism and that fails to contextualize al-Qaeda." The probem is that this assertion is being made despite the fact that only a select few have actually viewed the video. Daily Beast informs us that Peter Gudaitis, "chief executive of the New York Disaster Interfaith Network" (they apparently mean New York Disaster Interfaith Services, and Gudaitis is listed on their website as a member of the board of directors) "said that after the screening, every single one of the 10 religious leaders present voiced concerns that the video didn't do enough to separate Al Qaeda from mainstream Islam. He called the film in its current form 'reckless.'" According to the Daily News, Sheikh Mostafa Elazabawy, imam of Masjid Manhattan, resigned from the Lower Manhattan Clergy Council, a group advising the museum, after officials rejected the group's suggestions to alter the film. Apparently the offense is that the film calls the 9-11 attackers "Islamists," and describes their mission as "jihad."

Ukraine: Blackwater versus Cossacks?

That's about the most depressing headline we could imagine, but there might be something to it. Blackwater in Ukraine? That's the claim in German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, citing unnamed sources in the BND, Germany's intelligence agency. Actually, the company is now called Academi in the latest name-change game to stay ahead of bad press, and it is said to have 400 "mercenaries" in Ukraine. The Russian official press, e.g. Russia Today, jumps on the claims with glee, saying the mercenaries are "taking part in the Ukrainian military operation against anti-government protesters in southeastern regions of the country." (Note that the armed separatists are referred to as "protesters" by the same RT that played up the role of militias in the Maidan protests.) The claims have also been seized upon by the foreign press that is sympathetic to Russia (TeleSur) and the "alternative" press in the West (World Socialist Website, Indymedia). Acedmi in a press release denies everything, and also states that it "has no relationship with any entity named Blackwater or with the former owner of Blackwater, Erik Prince." But later in the press release, it states: "Erik Prince sold the company (which he had renamed 'Xe') in 2010 and retained the rights to the 'Blackwater' name. The new management of ACADEMI has made tremendous efforts to build a responsible, transparent company ethos..." So, it actually is the same company, under new management. Back on March 13, RT also aired claims that "mercenaries" were backing up the Maidan protesters—based on an interview with Yanukovich's ex-intelligence chief, Aleksandr Yakimenko, not exactly the most objective source. 

Benghazigate and Internet freedom

Republicans are continuing to bleed "Benghazigate" dry, shamelessly exploiting the four men who died at the consulate in the Libyan city on Sept. 11, 2012 for political ends, even as they accuse the White House of having betrayed them to their deaths. The House of Representatuves has now authorized creation of a select committee to investigate the already exhaustively investigated affair, seizing upon the release of supposedly damning e-mails from a White House aide. As the LA Times notes in an editorial: "The administration should have released the Sept. 14, 2012, email from deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes long ago. That said, it's anything but a smoking gun. Referring to protests over the video throughout the Muslim world, Rhodes suggested that [then-US ambassador the UN Susan] Rice stress that 'these protests were rooted in an Internet video and not a broader failure of policy.'" The video in question is of course the notorious Innocence of Muslims pseudo-film, produced as a provocation by Islamophobes. That the White House sought to "spin" the consulate attack as a protest against the video that got out of hand, rather than a pre-planned act of "terrorism" that the administration failed to stop, is plausible. (Although the distinction also points to the elastic nature of the word "terrorism.") Now, all too predictably, right-wing commentators like American Thinker are arguing that the video had nothing to do with the attack, while lefty outlets like Mother Jones are insisting that yes it did after all. (The question of whether the attackers were linked to al-Qaeda has been similarly politicized.)

Transfer of Homs: the beginning of the end?

Syrian government forces this week retook control of Homs after the evacuation of rebel troops. State TV declared May 8 that the Old City was "totally clean of armed terrorist groups," although officials later confirmed that the evacuation was not fully over. The negotiated evacuation marks the end of three years of resistance in Homs, called the "capital of the revolution." (Al JazeeraDaily Mail, May 9; BBC News, May 8) This, with the upcoming sham elections, is being portrayed by the Bashar Assad regime as the beginning of the end for the revolution. Don't buy it. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) and allied groups are gaining ground in the areas around Latakia, Dara'a, al-Qunaitra and Aleppo. The FSA is in control of most of Dara'a, where a southern front is reportedly being organized. And the most reactionary elements in the insurgency, the Nusra Front and ISIS, are engaged in their own mini-civil war in Deir Al Zour and north of Aleppo. With any luck, they will destroy each other in the process. (Gulf News, UAE, May 8)

Sharia (in)justice in Aceh (not just Brunei)

A sickening story in the NY Daily News May 8 relates how eight "vigilantes" in Indonesia's autonomous enclave of Aceh attacked a 25-year-old widow they believed was about to have "adulturous" sex (despite the fact that her husband is deceased!), gang-raped her, brutally abused both her and her putative boyfriend, covering them in sewage—then marched her over the local sharia court, where she was sentencted to be "caned." That's publicly whipped with a cane, nine strokes for the woman and putative lover apiece, the gang-rape and sewage affair apparently being deemed insufficient punishment. Note that the woman and putative lover were "about to" have sex—that is, they never even consummated the act. At least we are told that "[p]rominent Islamic leader Teungku Faisal Ali said he supported the caning, but that he thinks the rapists should be treated more harshly than the couple."

Greater Addis Ababa plan sparks Oromo protests

Another battle for control over urban space is heating up in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa—concerning plans to expand the city's municipal boundaries and absorb several smaller outlying towns where the traditionally excluded Oromo people are still dominant. The "Integrated Development Master Plan" has sparked a wave of protests, principally by Oromo students. Official figures say seven have been killed by police in the protests since late April, but independent reports claim the death toll is more than 20. 

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