Egypt

Greenbelt: British Christians, Syria And Assad

A yearly Christian festival has come in for criticism to the extent that Greenbelt felt compelled to put out a Statement on Israel/Palestine programming by Greenbelt. Whilst there is the broader question of, whether or not Westerners should be interfering in the Middle East, there should be no circumscription on criticising the human-rights record of any governments. Any.

cross1 There is much to criticise in the Middle East and the Israeli government is not immune from it. The continued occupation in the West Bank. The treatment of immigrants to Israel and the rise of right-wing racist ideas. However, we must not forget that it has been Israelis at the very forefront of these issues and opposing their own government.  That opposition takes various forms from the human-rights organisations, such as B’Tselem to Rabbis For Human Rights and beyond.

Where it is, Syria?

Except that Israel is not the only country in the Middle East.

Nor is it the only one connected to the Christian faith and therefore of interest to many Westerners or festivalgoers at Greenbelt.

I could not help notice a strange omission from the festival programme, any mention of Syria. Whilst it has slid down the news agenda, the 2½ year conflict involves many millions, with probably over 120,000 dead, millions of refugees flooding into neighbouring countries and should deserve at least one word of commentary. I thought it was a peculiar oversight, but then, is it?

I wondered, could it be that those fixated with Israeli misdemeanours give the rulers of Syria an easy time? There is one whole article on the Greenbelt site relating to Syria, whereas the search result on “Israel” amount to 7 pages of searches, 63 entries.

A Hypothesis.

The  hypothesis, that strident and negative views on Israel would lead to a bias in reporting of the Middle East needed testing, the question was how?

Well, I supposed that choosing the most strident Christian critics of the Israelis I could think of might prove illuminating. Surely, I reasoned, they could not fail to indict Bashar Assad for instigating the conflict in Syria? Or using tank shells and aircraft on unarmed civilians?

All of this did not happened overnight. The conflict started in March 2011 when the Syrian government decided to shoot peaceful demonstrators. The Western media begun to document the abuse by the Assad regime, including disappearances and regular use of torture.

I thought that even the harshest adversary of the Israelis would not be so lopsided as to moderate their acerbic attitudes when it came to the quasi-dictatorship in Syria.
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In Short: Syria And Egypt

Despite the many benefits of the Internet, access to news from all parts of the world and almost instantaneous translation, it is sometimes difficult getting a grasp of what is really happening in a certain country, particularly those in the Middle East.

Syria is but one example. After nearly 20 months, tens of thousands killed, millions of people displaced and hundreds of thousands injured, there is lethargy in the Western media concerning the fate of Syrians.

It used to be said that in journalism, what bleeds leads, but that clearly isn’t the case when it comes to Assad’s victims.

Yet as NPR reports things are changing, Project Looks At A New Way To Report On Syria.

Watch Syria Deeply for more developments.

The people in Egypt have been, rightly, demonstrating against authoritarianism, in the form of President Morsi and the new, proposed, constitution.

I am not a fan of the Middle East Research and Information Project but Ahmad Shokr makes some intelligent points:

“The draft constitution does not reflect a democratic consensus, as many in the opposition have argued that it should. It reflects an emerging relationship between the Muslim Brothers and existing state institutions, like the army, along with a great deal of appeasement of the salafis, whom the Brothers have embraced as junior partners. The rush to a referendum suggests a deep anxiety among the state elites about continuing instability and a desire to seize the opportunity to cement a new political framework as quickly as possible. More worrisome than the text itself is the vision these leaders have for which voices count and which alliances matter in the new Egypt. Should this vision go unchallenged, the losers would be all those who have been calling for more pluralistic and inclusive system.

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Over in Egypt

President Morsi’s move to give himself almost dictatorial powers was generally condemned, but his swift move to ratify the new constitution was a canny ploy.

Now the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt is mobilising all of its supporters and those dependent on it to push through this regressive constitution. However, many Egyptians are aggrieved by these actions and are actively demonstrating against them.

The Guardian’s coverage is good, and the fact that the new regime is using the old security apparatus against ordinary civilians should not surprise anyone:

“Egyptian security forces have clashed with opponents of Mohamed Morsi outside the presidential palace in Cairo to protest against his assumption of new powers.

The march came amid rising anger over decrees Morsi has passed that give him sweeping powers. Opponents say the drafting of a new constitution has been rushed and is a move towards dictatorial rule. Morsi has called for a referendum on the draft constitution on 15 December.

Marchers chanted that “the people want the downfall of the regime”, and held placards bearing slogans of “no to the constitution”. “

Rounding Up The Absurd And Not Julian Assange, Much.

There is a lot going on in the world, aside from Julian Assange and his antics.

Spiegel Online finds an ex-Jihadist making peace with the Far Right in France.

CNN’s Ben Wedeman in Aleppo:

“What we saw during our trips in Aleppo were not images of the city I knew: The shelling, the snipers, the destruction. I never imagined this city would be standing in the middle of warfare. Nobody imagined it would turn into this.

Some parts of Aleppo are complete battle zones. Shells and rubble litter the streets. Cars are blown to pieces.

This beautiful city is where we raised my daughter for her first years from 1990 to 1993. When I was at work my wife went everywhere shopping with my daughter and going to markets. “

HRW has harrowing details of a government attack:

“Azaz residents told Human Rights Watch that, at around 3 p.m., they saw a fighter jet drop at least two bombs on the residential area. Within seconds, dozens of houses in an area of approximately 70-by-70 meters – more than half a football field – were flattened. Houses on the surrounding streets were significantly damaged, with collapsed walls and ceilings. On the streets around the bombed area, windows were broken and some walls had collapsed. “

In Britain, the Stop the War Coalition thinks Assange is right to avoid addressing allegation of rape in Sweden.

Fancy owning a fire engine (or a fleet of them) for £2, the absurdities of privatisation laid bare.

The Guardian editorial on Assange.

A racial attack in Israel.

Where are Assad’s billions? Like most dictators he has stolen his share and kept it out of harms way, but what happens when he leaves Syria?

A crazed neo-Nazi in Peru thinks that the conquistadors were Jews.

The Extremis Project looks promising, but we will have to see.

What happened to a real asylum seeker in Ecuador.

After Assad, We’ll miss Bashar Assad when he’s gone.

Racists beat their daughter for choosing a black boyfriend.

Norm on alibi Antisemitism.

A very understated, Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, on Julian Assange case – The World at One, BBC Radio 4.

Frank Bajak has a local(ish) perspective on granting Assange asylum and the reasoning behind it.

President Ahmadinejad spouting racism yet again, will we be told this is a mistranslation (sic) too? Juan Cole is still deciding.

Meanwhile in Bahrain, the West is silent.

Being young and poor in Egypt.

A library in Israel.

Finally, increased sectarianism is killing people in Pakistan.

Questionable Exam Questions, Syria And The EU

There is some debate as to whether or not it was appropriate for an exam paper to ask:

“Explain briefly why some people are prejudiced against Jews.”

My gut feeling was how inappropriate such a question might be for children, and the result of mainstreaming of anti-Jewish racism within academia. We have seen it manifest before.

But on reflection (and I’m glad that Norm seems to agree with me), I think discussing racism is a good idea, even if the wording is poor.

Opening up the subject, not letting it fester away in the corner, but facing all our prejudices, both individual, collective and societal is a good idea.

It helps us address the question, why is antisemitism still prevalent in western societies?

In Syria, according to the BBC there is continued killing of civilians in Rastan. Not unsurprisingly there is little indignation in the Western media concerning the shelling of the defenceless by Assad’s murderous gang.

Elsewhere, Chris Dillow makes an acute observation on Leveson inquiry:

“Tittle-tattle about whether Hunt should resign or not symbolises an ideology that disfigures our politics – the idea that what’s needed for proper decision-making is men of the right character. But this is not enough. You also need the right systems. And these have not been in place. If Hunt does have to resign – and I can think of nothing I care less about – he will pay the price for a political system which over-rates the role of personality and under-rates the role of structure.

Alfred North Whitehead famously said that “civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them.” By this standard, government hasn’t advanced very much. “

Over in Egypt.

I have never much followed the Daily Beast but Hussein Ibish is a must read for anyone serious about understanding the Middle East. His, Stop Settler Violence, is a very necessary post.

How much enrichment is really just for medical purposes? You decide:

“There are civilian uses for 20% enriched uranium, but it is also a significant technical step towards producing weapons-grade uranium.

Iran has told the agency it was a mistake in starting up the cascades of centrifuges, the machines used to enrich uranium.

Nuclear experts say that is plausible. But one senior diplomat in Vienna refused to speculate. “It can happen,” he said, “it needs to be checked”. “

Mystical Politics explains it better.

Apparently, EU to look into antisemitism on continent.