Posted by: deensharp | March 14, 2012

Jeremy Scahill on Yemen

Jeremy Scahill, the National Security correspondent for The Nation, has written a series of remarkable essays (here, here and here) on Yemen and U.S. counter-terrorism operations. Or rather as the series of articles detailing and documenting how the U.S. operations in Yemen are in fact promoting-terrorism.

There are some startling findings in these articles:

1. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Listed by Washington as the single most dangerous terrorist threat facing the United States is made up of no more than 700 militants in the south of Yemen. Scahill makes clear that this group is not a significant threat to the US. And  should not be provoking the hysteria in Washington or elsewhere. Indeed, journalist Casey Combs went and visited al-Qaeda in the south of Yemen and you can see his photo essay here.

2. Intelligence? U.S. intelligence agencies have very little intelligence, on Yemen. But this has not stopped them from planning direct and inderct attacks.

3. Blowback. Counter-terrorism operations have increased hatred against America and the threat that groups such as AQAP pose. Indiscriminate drone attacks and U.S. funding to the Yemeni military have incited tribal groups to join the cause of radical groups, such as AQAP.

4. Saleh. The former President of Yemen has played the U.S. again and again and again. The United States “should have never made counterterrorism a source of profit for the regime, because that increased terrorism,” an analyst told Scahill.

The key quote: “What was almost entirely undiscussed was whether US actions—the targeted killings, the Tomahawk and drone strikes—caused blowback and whether some of AQAP’s attacks were motivated by the undeclared war the United States was fighting in Yemen.”

The US army has changed its approach globally in its military occupations and operations around the world, recognising that governance is key to reducing terrorism. Hence, the contemporary nexus of development and security. However, in Yemen the US has continued to neglect Yemen’s civil society and development:  “focusing instead on a military strategy aimed at hunting down terrorists.”

Scahill has makes clear that targeted killings anything but a counter-terrorism strategy.

Talk of civil strife and government collapse has become rife as the intense pressure over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon continues to build. Paul Salem the Director of Carnegie recently wrote that, “The tensions over the special tribunal for Lebanon are threatening to push Lebanon to collapse.” You can be forgiven for thinking how did we get here again? What the hell are these “false witnesses”?! I thought Syria did it? Have they still not found the assassins? The STL has had a long and convoluted journey and you can be forgiven for forgetting all the different aspects. So here are 10 things you need to know about the STL:

1. Syria is pretty much now in the clear over the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. The STL is not likely to indict members of the Assad clique. Saad Hariri recently told the media that Syria did NOT assassinate Hariri Snr. and that previous accusations against Syria were “political”.

2. Instead the STL is expected to indict Hezbollah members for the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in 2005. Not surprisingly Hezbollah are pissed at this possible indictment.

3. Hezbollah meanwhile are pointing the finger at Israel and claiming that the STL itself is part of a Israeli-US project.

4. Central to the STL controversy is the issue of false witnesses. The UN led investigations took evidence from two self proclaimed Syrian intelligence officers Husam Taher Husam and Muhammed Zuhair Siddiq. It was from evidence from these two “intelligence officers” that the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) – the predecessor to the STL – arrested the four Generals. Gary Gambill best explains this complex drama: here. Syria has just issued 33 arrest warrants in absentia in the false witnesses case. This list includes Detlev Mehlis, former head of the U.N. commission investigating Hariri’s murder, and his aide Gerhard Lehmann….and round…and round….and round we go. The investigator becomes the investigated. One does wonder if this is a form of job creation. Any bets for an investigation of the accusations against the investigators being investigated?

5. The arrested four Generals went on to spend four years in jail without any charges being brought against them. Even the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in March 2008 called the four generals’ detention without charge “arbitrary” and “unjust.” Beautiful example of the UN’s inability to connect the dots…The generals were released from jail in April 2009. For more information on the Generals see here.

6. General Sayyed one of the released generals has caused a particular storm since his release. Apart from calling for the toppling of the Hariri government the General caused a great uproar in Lebanon when he was received at the airport by armed Hezbollah “bodyguards”.

7.Tensions are particularly high over the funding of the STL. Fifty-one percent of the tribunal is funded by voluntary contributions, while 49 percent is funded by Lebanon. Hezbollah unsurprisingly does not want the Lebanese government to continue to fund the tribunal. Thus far the Lebanese government has made four payments to the tribunal with cabinet debating whether to approve funding for 2011.

8. How did this begin again? The UN International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) was established to assist Lebanese authorities in their investigation of all aspects the terrorist bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut 14 February. This was part of UN Resolution 1559 (2005). In 2006 the tribunal was expanded to cover the eleven other assassinations and attempted assassinations since the Hariri assassination.

9. It was Resolution 1664 (2006) that established the Special Tribunal for Lebanon that began operations on 1 March 2009.

10. The STL has got Lebanon, the region and the international community (i.e. the US and Europe) in a bit of a fix. It is going to take a lot of creative thinking and even more painful contortions to get out of this current fix. Stay tuned.

Posted by: deensharp | October 1, 2010

Saving Lebanon’s Buildings but what about the Modern?

I have been very happy of late to see that Lebanese civil society is mobilising to save Lebanon’s built environment. While it is a little late (according to the Lebanese Culture Minister of the 1,200 old mansions and buildings inventoried in 1995 a mere 400 survive) there is an increasing awareness of the importance of architecture to Lebanese identity. Even the government has decided to step in on the act creating a hotline for people to call in and report historic buildings due for demolition. There has at last been an active response to the realisation that Beirut (in particular) has basically sold its historical urban fabric to  greedy urbacidal developers who subsequently destroy anything on their new plot of land and erect a 20/30/50 (depending on what they can get away with) tower. Hopefully the debate over Beirut’s – and Lebanon’s – built environment will increase before it is all squandered.

One added aspect that always frustrates me among civil society activists on this issue is that those buildings considered worth saving are always restricted to those of the Ottoman era. I have written extensively on Beirut’s rich built environment and the city has made an extensive, indigenous and important contribution to the Modern Movement. This is also rapidly being destroyed and I hope civil society activists will also expand their calls to preserve these buildings as well.

Here is an article I wrote for the Guardian a while back on the battle for Beirut’s buildings:

The built environment of Beirut is rapidly changing, and this transformation is destroying much of the city’s rich architectural fabric. Surrounded by the new towering Beirut is the unique and heavily scarred structure of the Egg.

Built by the Lebanese architect Joseph-Philippe Karam in 1965, and dubbed “the Egg” due to its curved form, it is the only surviving building in the downtown area from Lebanon’s vibrant avant-garde movement. Much of the rest of this heritage was destroyed during the civil war (1975-1990), a legacy marked on the outer skin of the Egg.

The Egg, after surviving the war, may not survive the recovery. Beirut’s booming real estate market is resulting in the removal of Beirut’s unique built heritage to make way for the ubiquitous skyscraper. The threat of the Egg being destroyed sparked a wave of emotion among many Lebanese increasingly distressed at the continued demolition of their architectural heritage. There has been substantial online activism andmedia attention to stop Abu Dhabi Investment House, the owners of the site, destroying the Egg. The activists are also vexed by the fact that it is a company from the Gulf that will decide whether the structure will be removed or not. Comments such as “Our identity and culture as Lebanese is not for sale for Gulf millionaires,” capture the frustration.

The Egg is at the centre of a battle over the future of Beirut and the type of city it should become. Beirut has a wonderful and prolific architectural heritage, as does Lebanon as a whole. Although the city has been plagued by successive urban planning failures, a quality urban fabric of Ottoman and French colonial-style buildings did establish itself. As an independent Lebanon entered the 1950s a layer of significant modernist buildings was added. This continued into the 1960s and Beirut, by the end of that decade, had a internationally significant and unique body of modernist architecture. This rich heritage, built mainly by Lebanese master builders and architects, is being squandered.

READ ON HERE

Posted by: deensharp | August 5, 2010

“War Games” Polman’s new book attacks

“War Games” Polman’s new book attacks intern aid orgs and calls for these orgs to take politics into account. Good idea? http://ow.ly/2ls54

Posted by: deensharp | March 15, 2010

Building a new Lebanon ravages architectural heritage

My latest piece for http://www.allvoices.com is on Lebanon’s built environment. The destruction of Lebanon’s built heritage is a very disturbing negative aspect of the very good business that is real estate development. Without an effective state the ability to enforce protection measures the continued destruction of Lebanon’s rich built environment will erode away to the chaotic city that is already emerging:

Lebanon has seen remarkable boom in real estate construction over the past two years. Construction sites dominate Beirut and the sound of drilling emanates from all parts of the city. Real estate investment is derived from a large part of the Lebanese economy which has achieved a growth rate of 7 percent in 2009 and looks to continue growing this year. While many have been enjoying the rich dividends from these real estate investments, the unplanned and unrestricted developments are causing many people to lament the state of the built environment in Beirut.

READ ON

Posted by: deensharp | March 8, 2010

AUB Academic Brave or Mad?

Sari Hanafi, a sociology professor at the American University of Beirut, has done an incredibly brave or stupid act (depending on your perspective) co-editing a book with Israeli academics. This is particularly perplexing considering that Hanafi has put his name to the Lebanese Campaign for the boycott of Zionism in solidarity with the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. This includes boycotting Israeli academics and their institutions, as the statement reads:

Specifically, we ask our colleagues worldwide to support the call by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel to comprehensively and consistently boycott and disinvest from all Israeli academic and cultural institutions, and to refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joining projects with Israeli institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid.

The book is called The Power of Inclusive Exclusion and looks fascinating. The website details that the book is about:

The Power of Inclusive Exclusion analyzes the Israeli occupation as a rationalized system of political rule. With essays by leading Palestinian and Israeli scholars, a comprehensive chronology, photographs, and original documents, this groundbreaking book calls into question prevalent views of the occupation as a skewed form of brutal colonization, a type of Jewish apartheid, or an inevitable response to terrorism…. The Power of Inclusive Exclusion uncovers the structural logic that sustains and reproduces the occupation regime.

I imagine that Hanafi would take the argument that this project does not contribute to the continued occupation.

The Israeli co-editors of the book are Adi Ophir is Professor of Philosophy and Political Theory at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University and Michal Givoni is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University.

The move by Hanafi has caused a quite a stir at the AUB campus and a petition has been created against normalisation of relations.

Posted by: deensharp | March 4, 2010

What is Really Wrong with the Middle East?

I have written a book review in what is now my monthly book review slot for Executive Magazine on Brian Whitaker’s new book What is Really Wrong with the Middle East. It is a really interesting book that certainly made me think about the issues of the Middle East in a much broader way. Click at the bottom to read the whole thing on the Executive website:

There are many people in the Middle East who hold an opinion on the region’s ills, but whatever their view, very few choose introspection over finger pointing. Brian Whitaker, the former Middle East editor of The Guardian, in his new book “What’s Really Wrong With The Middle East” aims to realign the trend of shifting blame. “The problems of the Middle East are always someone else’s fault,” writes Whitaker. “While the West blames dictators and extremists, Arabs often turn the tables, blaming centuries of foreign interference. Both sides are right, up to a point, but they both also ignore a large part of the picture.”

The picture that Whitaker offers after interviewing “intelligent, independent minded people” (meaning not government officials or religious extremists) covers four central issues: knowledge, equal rights, secularism and citizenship. In surveying these four topics, Whitaker leaves no doubt that there is something deeply wrong with the region, underlining his views with a damning array of statistics. Whitaker explains that, “Arab societies have, in the past, [balanced] science and Islam very successfully. But many of Islam’s contemporary manifestations are backward looking and anti-intellectual, while the high value placed on conformity in Arab societies is suffocating change.”

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

Posted by: deensharp | March 4, 2010

Drink Driving in Lebanon


The parked car that was smashed up by a drink driver the next morning

I admit to drinking and then driving home in Lebanon. It is something I would not even contemplate doing in the UK and shows how stupid and lemming like I can be. And I don’t want to be a hypocrite but far too many people drink drive in this country and drink to levels where they cannot even walk straight and then drive home. For the second time outside my house a car smashed into one of the cars parked alongside the street. I was woken up by the now to familiar screech and bang. The guy could not even walk straight when he got out of the car, he was completely wasted. Matt Nash did a nice article on Lebanese roads in 2008:

The law has been amended but remains flawed. For example, it does not make seatbelt use mandatory, and only in 1995 was driving drunk outlawed, though the amendment concerned does not define “drunk.”

When this guy got out the car completely wasted he was not arrested by the ISF who were promptly on the scene but instead ordered to give his insurance details. This will not be a great suprise to anyone, as Fady Gebrane, president of the traffic-safety-focused NGO Kunhadi told Nash:

“First of all it doesn’t tackle everything,” he said. “For example, drunk driving is not included, which is the second [leading] reason for accidents in Lebanon.”

What is amazing is that there is so little discussion about this issue. Type into google “drink driving lebanon” and little to nothing comes up concerning Lebanon, it is all about drink driving in the US. It is amazing that in a country where around 2/3rds are not even supposed to drink alcohol that there is no outrage at the number of accidents that are caused by drink driving. In the UK drink driving is a mortal offence and a subject that gets a lot of air time. That guy who crashed outside my apartment in Beirut would have been dragged out of his car and marched straight to jail in the UK; not asked for his address and his insurance details like it was an ordinary accident!

Posted by: deensharp | March 3, 2010

The Controversial Arabic Booker Winner

Image from arablit.files.wordpress.comThe 3rd Arabic Booker has been announced and the winner is Saudi writer, Abdo Khal (left) for his book  “Throwing Sparks as Big as Castles”. The book is about the excesses of the royal family and the books title is from a Quranic description of hell. Like all great fiction it is not so fictional. Brian Whitaker’s blog has a great low down and links to the book that is well worth a visit. Also the Arabist gives a nice take on the book also complaining of the titles translation. Abdo Khal certainly appears to quite the character. Like all good Arab stereotypes he was a Suadi preaching Jihad. Here is an interesting extract from an article from the Art Fuse Blog where journalist Johnathan Levi went to meet Khal:

“I was out in the streets preaching, ‘you’ve got to believe in jihad or you’re going to hell.’ I really believed it. I even went home and tore up all the pictures and smashed the TV.” But Abdo’s spiritual leader was someone slightly more frightening than Elmer Gantry or Jerry Falwell. Juhaiman Al Otaibi was a militant fundamentalist who, at the end of 1979, in the company of 200 followers, attacked the Grand Mosque in Mecca and took hundreds of hostages, protesting the corruption of the royal family. It took two weeks for the government to retake the holy places. 250 people died, 600 were wounded. 68 terrorists were beheaded in the aftermath. Juhaiman was one. Abdo could have been another.

Now of course he is the Arab worlds new international literature star.

Novels have an important role to play in political discourse and it is pleasing to see the Arabic Booker getting more prominent each year. The fact that this book is speaking out again the “excessive world of the palace” should give hope to all who want to see people take on the big men of the Arab world.

Posted by: deensharp | March 2, 2010

Finkelstein in Gaza

Finkelstein has brought out a new book “This time we went too far” on what went on in Gaza and Mondoweiss has an excerpt from Chapter 5. It appears to be much of the same from Finkelstein who I am not a huge fan of. But I feel a duty to promote his book given the attempts to silence him and he having two talks cancelled in Germany due to protests by pro-Israeli groups. The book in typical Finkelstien style goes right for the jugular of his opponents and is on the one dimensional side. But in a conflict that is very one sided here is a nice fuck you.

Finkelstien:

At each of the parleys with Hamas members I repeated the same message: the current diplomatic posture of Hamas seemed in alignment with representative political organizations, respected juridical institutions, and major human rights groups. Many Hamas members appeared genuinely surprised when I rattled off the “pro-Palestinian” positions espoused by these mainstream bodies. If I was correct, then Hamas should couch its political platform in their language because the chink in Israel’s armor is its diplomatic isolation. Hamas must hammer away the critical point that Israel is the real outlier in the international community and obstacle to peace: not “Hamas says,” but “the U.N. General Assembly resolution supported by 160 nations says”; not “Hamas says, but “the International Court of Justice says”; not “Hamas says” but “Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say.”


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