Category Archives: Mideast

Immigration spurs rise in Swedish xenophobia

Scandinavian folks can just as racist as other folks. Our own Danish grandfather, a onetime Klansman, once declared to his son-in-law, our father, that “Swedes is nothin’ but niggers turned inside out.”

The nomadic Roma people have long been the especial targets of violent xenophobia, and as Heather Docalavich and Shaina C. Indovino write in their work Denmark, “A practice of ‘Gypsy hunting’ — similar to fox hunting — was both common and legal in some parts of Europe. Even as late as 1835, a Gypsy hunt in Dennmark “brought in a bag of over 260 men, women, and children.”

And in Sweden, which has a long history of anti-Roma xenophobia, the problem has reached crisis proportions, even before the influx of refugees from the tide of ISIS violence.

Reuters reported in August:

A series of attacks in Sweden on beggars, many Roma, has highlighted a dark side to a country considered a bastion of tolerance but where the far right has been gaining support by claiming society is under threat from waves of immigrants.

An influx of thousands of mainly Roma migrants has shocked affluent Swedes, with beggars now a common sight outside supermarkets, IKEA stores and subways in the capital.

Since most come from Romania and Bulgaria, they are free to travel to Sweden as EU citizens, but their presence has fueled claims by the Sweden Democrats the country is a soft-touch for migrants and is being swamped.

An October Al Jazeera report focused on violence toward immigrants from violence-torn lands in Africa and the Middle East:

A former retirement home slated to house refugees in Sweden was burned Thursday in what police suspect was an arson attack, local media reported. It was the latest in a string of fires at buildings destined to house some of the refugees streaming into Europe from the Middle East and Africa.

The fire in the southern town of Oderljunga followed one at a former boys’ school set to house about 170 refugees in a nearby town over the weekend, according to Swedish newspaper The Local. Three other centers were engulfed by fire in the southern Sweden last week.

Sweden, with a population of 9.5 million, hosts the most refugees per capita of any European country: 142,000 refugees and about 57,000 asylum seekers, according to UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.

And who are the folks capitalizing on the influx of refugees to inflame the violence?

Here’s a video report from the Guardian:

Meet the young supporters of Sweden’s far right

Program notes:

Sweden’s liberal identity is under attack. As increasing numbers of refugees enter the country, anti-immigrant violence is rising.

And the Sweden Democrats, a radical nationalist group, is now the third largest party in the country. Phoebe Greenwood meets the young Swedes who believe multiculturalism is a threat – and the migrants afraid of what this means for them.

More on supporters of the Sweden Democrats from Linköping University:

After the Swedish general elections in September 2014, there has been much debate regarding how the Sweden Democrats could end up as the third largest party. Some commentators argued that voters were expressing their disapproval with the established parties – a theory rejected by the four Linköping University researchers.

“There is a very strong correlation between negative attitudes toward minorities and the decision to vote for the Sweden Democrats,” says Peter Hedström, professor of analytical sociology and director of the Institute for Analytical Sociology (IAS) at Linköping University.

In the study, the researchers asked respondents how they feel about someone with a Muslim background being their next-door neighbour, caring for their parents or marrying into their family. The questions were asked both before and after the election. The results show that Sweden Democrat voters have a more negative view of Muslims and people with foreign names than other voters. Fifty per cent of Sweden Democrat voters did not want a Muslim as next-door neighbour, and 80 per cent are negative to someone with a Muslim background marrying into their family.

Dave Brown: David Cameron, Strangelovian

British editorial cartoonists have always been a bit more venturesome in their inclusion of classic film tropes in their work [previously], in part, we suspect, because Brits are still, as Americans once were, more attuned to the history of film.

Dave Brown’s latest work for The Independent depicts British Prime Minister David Cameron’s eager embrace of the bombing campaigns in Syria and Iraq against ISIS:

BLOG Brown

The cartoon is also a pointed reference fo a brilliant 1963 film by director Stanley Kubrick, Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, a brilliant satire of bellicose Cold War politics and the threat of imminent nuclear war weighing heavily on the minds of the Baby Boomer generation.

The film starred some of the greatest stars of the silver screen, including the brilliant Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, and Sterling Hayden. The film also features the screen debut of James Earl Jones and the first non-Western appearance by former rodeo clown Slim Pickens — in the iconic role portrayed in Brown’s cartoon as B-52 pilot Major T. J. “King” Kong, who is forced to manually rewire the controls to drop a hydrogen bomb on a Soviet missile complex.

And here it is:

And if you haven’t seen the film, by all means do!

ISIS and the U.S., legacy of a troubled history

Until 2003 Chris Hedges held one of the most prestigious jobs in American journalism, Mideast bureau chief for the New York Times, until he was reprimanded by the paper for speaking against the American invasion of Iraq at a college commencement in Rockford, Illinois.

These days he hosts Days of Revolt, a weekly interview series for Telesur English.

Today we’re posting a two-part discussion on the rise of ISIS and the long troubled history of imperial ambitions in the Middle East with Professor Sabah Alnasseri, a native of Basra, Iraq, who teaches Middle East politics at York University in Toronto.

And with that, the first episode:

Days of Revolt – ISIS, The New Israel

From the transcript:

HEDGES: So let’s begin with ISIS, which is historically an extremely important movement within the Middle East. The 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, which is named for the French and British diplomats that carved up the Middle East among the colonial–among the empire, essentially turning countries in the Middle East into protectorates, has only been changed twice. The first time was the Israeli independence movement, which rose up in Palestine, and now with ISIS, which controls an area roughly the size of Texas.

The mechanisms that were used to redraw the map in the Middle East are the same: the use of foreign money, the use of foreign fighters, the tactics of ethnic cleansing and terrorism, and this mythical vision, in the case of Israel, the re-creation of Judea and Samaria from the Bible, the land of Israel, and in the case of ISIS, the re-creation of the seventh century caliphate.

And these tactics have could prove quite effective. In both cases, in the case of Israel and in the case of ISIS, you could argue, especially with ISIS having roughly 20,000 foreign fighters, that these are forces that are as dependent on the areas outside the Middle East as within the Middle East. And I wondered if you could kind of address that phenomenon, this phenomenon that we are watching.

ALNASSERI: Right. Right. I mean, you are right, because ISIS has a kind of settler colonialist form the way they occupy space, cleanse the space, plunder the resources.

HEDGES: Which is what–as Israel does.

ALNASSERI: Exactly, and carve out territory for itself.

But to understand the phenomenon of ISIS, we needed to contextualize it within the setbacks and counterrevolution against the Arab revolutions, the amount of violence, of intervention, in Libya, for instance, the war in Libya, the civil war in Syria, now the war also in Yemen, and–.

HEDGES: And Egypt. We can’t forget Egypt.

ALNASSERI: Exactly. We don’t forget Egypt. And the failure of this peaceful, nonviolent revolutions, this amount of violence, of counterrevolutionary violence, created this Frankenstein, this phenomenon. So you can say ISIS is a Hegelian-Fischer synthesis of two form of violence.

Now, what is so interesting about ISIS and why it is so attractive for many young, unemployed, mostly Arab fighters–most of the fighters, by the way, they come from Libya or Tunisia and so on, less from Europe, etc. It’s mostly from the Middle East. What attracted them to ISIS is that when these peaceful revolution failed, revolutions turn into kind of jihadism, that ISIS is much more effective in its leadership, organization, logistical structure, and its geologies, than all the other peaceful, nonviolent movements, mass movements.

And the second part:

Days of Revolt – The Revolutionary Age

From the transcript:

HEDGES: So I think what we want to focus on in this segment is the dynamics of revolutionary change in an age of globalism and neoliberalism, how it will look like revolutions in the past, and how it will look like something else. And I know this is something you have examined.

ALNASSERI: Right. Right. I will start with the end of the Cold War and the breakdown of of the Soviet Union, because this world historical context is very important in understanding any kind of politics, revolutionary or otherwise.

Since the ‘90s, we observe the dominant political form [of] Europe, the United States, but also other parts of the world is populism. Before, at least until the ‘70s, political parties were organized around specific classes, articulated interests of classes, the social democracy for the working class, etc. But since the ‘90s, the dominant political form of the ruling classes is populism. And that’s not a coincidence with this neoliberal offensive, with half of the world open to be conquered by neoliberalism after the breakdown of the Soviet Union. There is a radical shift in the form of politics, articulation of interests, representation, etc. So what we see is that the majority of the population on a worldwide scale actually are excluded from the political system, are not represented. Their interests are not articulated.

So I believe that within this context–and that’s why the current revolutions are different than the historical one–that revolutions and revolt probably is the only political form available for the popular classes to introduce a radical change in the [crosstalk]

HEDGES: Well, I agree completely, and that is the thesis of my own book, Wages of Rebellion. But what about nationalism? I mean, nationalism still remains a powerful force.

ALNASSERI: Yes, yes and no, because nationalism now is embedded in an international and global context. So even nationalist movement, if they are not linked to a wider movement and solidarity and support, their prospective of success is almost zero. You can see this. Take the example of SYRIZA in Greece. SYRIZA, the first right approach was to say that you need a Europe-wide movement and solidarity in order to empower SYRIZA in Greece to deal with the European Central Bank, with the IMF, etc., and E.U. Commission, etc. So there’s a sense of embedding nationalist, or nationalist, say, movement within a wider context, a regional or international context. I think this is very important. It’s different than the old form of internationalism we knew in the 19th and 20th century, because the old form of internationalism was different in three instances. The first one, it was mostly European-centered, not international in this sense. The second point is it was mostly class-based. And third, all these revolt and revolution were organized by a political party with a strong leadership.

HEDGES: But that wasn’t true for the Communist Party. There was an internationalist element to that.

ALNASSERI: Yeah, but again, if you look at it historically, we’ll see mostly within Europe–there are some connection to other part of the world, but mostly it was within Europe, and I think that’s a big difference today. We have–you can call it the first international of the people. And it’s cross-class. It’s not nation- or nation states-centered, and it’s not articulated, organized by a specific political party.

Trump trumps Trump for arrogant bombast

First this form David Horsey, editorial cartoonist of the Los Angeles Times:

BLOG Assinine

Just how sociopathic is Trump?

Well, consider his latest demonstration of his total lack of compassionate humanity.

That a self-absorbed narcissist could become the leading presidential candidate for the GOP is hardly surprising, given the inherent narcissistic character ofr the neoliberal corporatist agenda the party has adopted.

But that such a candidate could openly mock a journalist for the simple fact of being disabled is simply breathtaking.

From BBC News:

Republican presidential contender Donald Trump has been criticised for mocking a disabled New York Times reporter.

Mr Trump performed an impression of Serge Kovaleski, who suffers from a congenital joint condition, at a rally.

He has used a 2001 article by Mr Kovaleski to back up widely disputed claims that “thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the 9/11 attacks.

More from the Washington Post, where Kovakleski worked at the time of the 9/11 attacks:

The gesture was all the more personal because Kovaleski covered Trump while reporting for the New York Daily News between 1987 and 1993, a tumultuous period for Trump in which he struggled through several financial setbacks.

“The sad part about it is, it didn’t in the slightest bit jar or surprise me that Donald Trump would do something this low-rent, given his track record,” Kovaleski said.

Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks declined to comment on the record about the incident. A campaign official speaking on background said Trump was “not aware of any condition and was not mocking his physical appearance in any way.”

A New York Daily News headline sums up:

Donald Trump’s marathon of meanness reaches new low, mocks reporter’s physical handicap during campaign rally

And now for the video of the event, from CNN:

Trump mocks reporter with disability

Program notes:

Donald Trump is under fire again, this time for mocking a New York Times reporter that suffers from a chronic condition. CNN’s John Berman reports.

As for the rumors of celebrating Muslims, here’s an excerpt of a story from the 23 September Newark Star-Ledger:

Hours after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, a story spread across the state: Palestinians in Paterson were celebrating in the streets.

Braced for a riot, the Paterson police rushed to South Main Street, the center of the city’s Middle Eastern community.

“When we got there,” Paterson Police Chief Lawrence Spagnola said, “They were all in prayer.”

In the ensuing days, the rumor went national, lighting up talk radio phone lines. In the end, it was nothing more than rapid-fire urban myth. But it spawned fear of a backlash against Middle Eastern residents that sent this vibrant strip of Turkish pastry shops and Palestinian groceries into virtual lockdown for days. And for Paterson, a downtrodden city struggling to remake itself, it was yet another black eye that is proving difficult to heal.

Ironically, five men were detained after a witness called police to report a group filming the burning towers, apparently celebrating, as ABC News reported:

Maria says she saw three young men kneeling on the roof of a white van in the parking lot of her apartment building. “They seemed to be taking a movie,” Maria said.

The men were taking video or photos of themselves with the World Trade Center burning in the background, she said. What struck Maria were the expressions on the men’s faces. “They were like happy, you know … They didn’t look shocked to me. I thought it was very strange,” she said.

She found the behavior so suspicious that she wrote down the license plate number of the van and called the police. Before long, the FBI was also on the scene, and a statewide bulletin was issued on the van.

The five were all Israeli citizens — three of them in the country illegally — and at one time were suspected of links to Mossad, the Israeli equivalent of the CIA. The intelligence links were never proven and the five were deported.

But Trump never mentioned them, needless to say.

They didn’t fit the narrative.

Climate change linked to rising terrorism

Is climate change a critical driver of the rising tide of terrorism?

That’s the plausible contention of New York University geographer/sociologist Christian Parenti, professor in the school’s Global Liberal Studies Program and author of Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, and the subject of this interview by Jessica Desvarieux of The Real News Network:

The Pentagon and Bernie Sanders Agree: Terrorism Linked to Climate Change

From the transcript:

DESVARIEUX: So Chris, is Bernie Sanders slightly daffy to link climate change and terrorism? I just want your quick response right there.

PARENTI: No, Bernie Sanders is not in error in that regard. And most of the U.S. defense establishment agrees with him. The quadrennial defense review makes an issue of climate change as a threat multiplier, as a dynamic that is going to increase all sorts of threats, including terrorism. There are numerous declassified reports from various branches of the military and from numerous militaries around the world that take climate change seriously as a driving cause of violence.

So it’s very real, and experts really across the political spectrum accept this. The question, then, becomes what do you do? You know, the classic rightist response is, well, then you have to build higher walls and you have to prepare for open-ended counterinsurgency on a global scale forever. And a more progressive response would be no, we have to, one, radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately, mitigate emissions, but also deal with adaptation. And provide technology and capital for people to cope with the new, extreme weather that is already happening.

DESVARIEUX: But I want to still talk about this issue, about linking climate change and terrorism, before we get to alternatives, because there are some experts–I have two authors from the libertarian Cato institute. They came out with a recent article from Huffington Post. They say these drought issues have more to do with serious history of bad water management policies and a population that has tripled in the past 35 years. Don’t they have a point in here, Christian? Don’t 300 percent more people create water scarcity issues?

PARENTI: Well, if there is also a drought. But the fact of the matter is Syria went through the worst recorded drought in terms of lack of precipitation. So Syria, between 2005-2010, was not getting enough rainfall. There’s also the precipitating issues–I wouldn’t blame population. I would blame, as I do in my book, neoliberalism. Free market economics totally undermine people’s ability to adapt to this extreme weather. When the state cuts back on agricultural extension, veterinary services, that means farmers whose crops fail due to drought have to leave the land and go to cities, and there they end up often struggling over state power, which is exactly what happened in Syria.

So the thing about climate change is that it doesn’t ever act in isolation to cause violence. It acts by exacerbating pre-existing crises. Crises that libertarians have, intellectuals like the ones you mentioned, have been important in creating, mainly the, the 30-year legacy of free market economic restructuring pushed by the United States and the Bretton Woods institution, the World Bank and the IMF, on the developing economies of the global south, which have mandated that in exchange for lifeline loans, state assets such as state companies, et cetera, must be sold off. [Inaud.] must be deregulated. State support for health and human services, et cetera, must be cut back. This is austerity, this is the neoliberal restructuring agenda. And it has created increased inequality and increased absolute poverty, which is an endemic crisis in many places.

Headline of the day: Suspicions confirmed, again

From the Guardian:

Obama’s drone war a ‘recruitment tool’ for Isis, say US air force whistleblowers

Four former service members – including three sensor operators – issue plea to rethink current airstrike strategy that has ‘fueled feelings of hatred’ toward US

Tom Toles: Historical parallels are noted

From the editorial cartoonist of the Washington Post:

BLOG Toles

And historian Peter A. Shulman notes another historical parallel in a July 1938 poll taken by Fortune three months before Kristallnacht, the Nazis first nationwide anti-Jewish pogrom: