Saturday, March 16, 2019

Don’t Just Condemn the New Zealand Attacks — Politicians and Pundits Must Stop Their Anti-Muslim Rhetoric

By Mehdi HASAN
So begins the online manifesto of the man accused of shooting and killing at least 49 Muslims in a terror attack targeted at two mosques in New Zealand.
“Even if we were to deport all Non-Europeans from our lands tomorrow, the European people would still be spiraling into decay and eventual death,” it continues. “In the end we must return to replacement fertility levels, or it will kill us.”
The alleged shooter goes on to refer to his “dislike” of Muslims, and his particular hatred for converts to the Islamic faith, while referring to the attacks as “revenge” against Islam. He talks of a “white genocide” and describes Muslim immigrants as the “most despised group of invaders in the West.”
Whether or not this manifesto turns out to be a trap, designed for the purposes of trolling, baiting, and “shitposting,” as Bellingcat’s Robert Evans has argued, there is no denying that it is a hate-filled screed. It is vile, viciously anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant, and unhinged.
But what it is not is shocking. There is nothing shocking about it. How can there be? Have you not been paying attention? Much of his rhetoric and references are borrowed from the political and media mainstream — especially here in the United States.
When I read his manifesto, I couldn’t help but think of high-profile American politicians, such as the president of the United States who said, “Islam hates us,” referred to “people coming out of mosques with hatred and death in their eyes and on their minds,” and compared a caravan of migrants to an “invasion.” Or Sen. Ted Cruz, who called on “law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” Or Sen. Marco Rubio who said he was in favor of “closing down anyplace — whether it’s a cafe, a diner, an internet site — anyplace where radicals are being inspired.” Or Sen. Lindsey Graham who declared: “If I have to monitor a mosque, I’ll monitor a mosque.” Or former Gov. Mike Huckabee who described Muslims in the Middle East coming out of mosques on Fridays “like uncorked animals.” Or even former President Bill Clinton, who suggested at the Democratic National Convention in 2016 that Muslim-American citizenship was contingent on good behavior and proving loyalty: “If you’re a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together.”
When I read the alleged shooter’s manifesto, I couldn’t help but recall how right-wing pundits have made so many similar statements — and paid no penalty. For example, author Ann Coulter who has spoken openlyof “ragheads,” “camel jockeys,” and “jihad monkeys,” declaimed three days after 9/11 that “we should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity.” Or commentator Ben Shapiro, who believes that a “majority” of the world’s Muslim population is “radicalized” and has claimed that “Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage.” Or Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has won the support of neo-Nazis by repeatedly making not-so-coded references to the white genocide conspiracy theory and has also dismissed Iraqis as “semiliterate primitive monkeys.” Or Brigitte Gabriel, friend of the president, who thinks that “a practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Quran to be the word of Allah, who abides by Islam, who goes to mosque and prays every Friday … cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.” Or Steve Bannon, former executive chair of Breitbart News and ex-adviser to the president, who has declared, “Islam is not a religion of peace” but “a religion of submission,” and warned that the U.S. could transform into the “Islamic States of America.”
When I read the manifesto, I couldn’t help but remember the names of some prominent liberals, too, such as atheist and scientist Sam Harris, who dubbed Islam “the mother lode of bad ideas” and announced that “we are not at war with ‘terrorism.’ We are at war with Islam.” Or TV host Bill Maher who called Islam “a mafia” and accused “violent” Muslims of bringing “that desert stuff to our world.” Or author and ex-Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has demanded that Islam be “crushed” and thinks “every devout Muslim who aspired to practice genuine Islam, even if they didn’t actively support the [9/11] attacks, they must have at least approved of them.” Or novelist Martin Amis, who once said, “There’s a definite urge — don’t you have it? — to say, ‘The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.’ What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation — further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan.”
To be clear: I am not suggesting that any of these people, whether conservatives or liberals, politicians or pundits, are directly responsible for this heinous crime. (The alleged shooter does, though, praise Donald Trump “as a symbol of white identity and common purpose,” and claims that “the person that has influenced me above all was Candace Owens,” an “alt-right,” social media superstar. Again, this may or may not be shitposting.)
What I am suggesting, however, is that violence does not exist in a vacuum. In fact, since the 9/11 attacks, the right has demanded that progressives and Muslims crack down on “preachers of hate.” Remember the so-called conveyor belt that leads from nonviolent rhetoric to violent acts by Muslims? Remember how “ideology matters”?
Isn’t it past time for conservatives to take their own advice?
And what of the rest of us? What lessons will we learn from this latest hate-filled atrocity in New Zealand? Are we willing and able to stand up to Islamophobia on days when there are not brutal terrorist attacks on Muslims in mosques? Will we call out vile anti-Muslim rhetoric when we see it on cable news, or in our newspapers and magazines — or only when we see it quoted from the online manifesto of a deranged mass murderer?
I doubt it. “People who can only condemn racism and Islamophobia — being ‘horrified’ and ‘shocked’ — only when so much blood is spilled are part of the problem,” the Cambridge academic Priyamvada Gopal observed on Twitter on Friday. “Because the rest of the time, they are busy normalising & minimising them.”

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Are we witnessing a new wave of the Arab Spring?

Arabs have not grown weary of demanding basic human and political rights. Algeria and Sudan are busting that myth

By David Hearst


People take part in a protest demanding immediate political change in Algiers, Algeria 12 March, 2019 (Reuters)
We have all been here before, several times.
We were here when Islamists won the first round of elections in Algeria in December 1991; when an uprising in Yemen started on 27 January, 2011; when Hosni Mubarak stepped down after 18 days of demonstrations in Egypt on 11 February; when the protests in the town of  Daraa began in Syria a month later and when Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi was cornered and killed  in Libya in October that year.

Flames of revolt

The cries and hopes of those days still ring like tinnitus in our ears. And we all remember the savagery that was used to silence them - gas attacks, barrel bombs, massacres, military coups, mass imprisonment, torture, shelling which turned cities to rubble, and states permanently broken by civil war.
And yet the flame which lit those uprisings is still alive. The embers of that fire glow deep underground. Just occasionally and despite all the odds, those flames of revolt resurface. 
Such a thing is happening now in Algeria and Sudan.
Bouteflika  is still in power, and will stay so until the next election - whenever that is held. It could be never
After weeks of mass protest against his rule and only a week after vowing he would carry on, the ailing 82-year-old Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced he would not seek a fifth term as president of Algeria. 
He sacked his unpopular prime minister, promised a national conference "representing all currents of society" that would oversee the transition, and set a date for a new election. He said a new constitution would be written and put to a referendum.
 People take part in a protest demanding immediate political change in Algiers, Algeria 12 March 2019 (Reuters)
People take part in a protest demanding immediate political change in Algiers, Algeria 12 March 2019 (Reuters)
Bouteflika met his friend Lakhdar Brahimi, the respected former UN envoy to Syria, who may well chair the transitional conference.
Bouteflika’s statement, which contradicted the one issued from his hospital bed on 3 March, was naturally met with widespread scepticism and renewed street protest. "No tricks, Bouteflika", the protesters cried and well they might. Algeria's main Islamist party, the Peace Society Movement (FIS), said Bouteflika’s statementwas an attempt to overturn the demands of the people.
Bouteflika is still in power, and will stay so until the next election - whenever that is held. It could be never.

The army's nefarious role

Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir is battling a similar wave of mass protest, by alternating gestures of appeasement - he stepped down as chairman of the ruling party - with strong doses of just the opposite  - a one-year state of emergency, which his parliament approved but cut down to six months. 

Why are Sudanese protesting against their government?

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In each transition, if there is indeed to be one, in Sudan and Algeria, the army or security state will play a key role. In Sudan, there is already competition for who comes next. As Middle East Eye revealed, the Mossad chief Yossi Cohen was involved in one interesting discussion with a potential successor.
And the armies of both countries could indeed play a nefarious role, as it did in Egypt from 2011 to 2013.
The armies of both Algeria and Sudan could indeed play a nefarious role, as it did in Egypt from 2011 to 2013
The Egyptian army at first bowed to the revolution and removed Mubarak. It promised both the Islamist and the liberal sides of Tahrir Square that it was on their side. It even served, at times, as the switchboard between them.
But it never stopped keeping a weather eye on what was happening, or not happening, to Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Two years on, Assad was still there, with the aid of Iranian and Hezbollah troops. When the Egyptian army got the green light and the money from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, his principal backers, it smashed Egypt’s short-lived experiment with democracy.
This was relatively easy to do. The front man for this operation was army General Abdel Fattah el Sisi, a defence minister handpicked by Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, because of his apparent religious piety, and fatally trusted by him until the very last moment before the military coup in July 2013 and Morsi's subsequent arrest.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (R) greeting his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi upon his arrival at Khartoum International Airport in the Sudanese capital on 19 July 2018 (AFP)
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (R) greeting his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi upon his arrival at Khartoum International Airport in the Sudanese capital on 19 July 2018 (AFP)
About a week after the Rabaa massacre in Cairo on 14 August 2013, Assad launched a gas attack on opposition controlled suburbs around Damascas whichkilled between 300 and 1700 people.
The timing of these acts is not co-incidental.
Russia claimed the Ghouta attack was staged but brokered a deal requiring Syria to destroy its stockpiles of chemical weapons. This deal has been broken many times since, but the narrative for the rest of decade was set in stone. 

Either us or chaos

Ever since those days, the message on the stick of the counter revolution, whether wielded by Russian bombers, Iranian militias, or by the despots of the Gulf states, is essentially the same: "It's either us or the collapse of the state. Remove us and you will all be heading for Europe in dinghies," they all say, as if in chorus.
Algeria: What's fuelling the country's mass protest movement?
Read More »
What is new and interesting about events in Algeria and Sudan is that the people do not seem to be listening to this rubbish any more. In 2011 the Arab Spring was greeted with relative silence in Algeria.
Algerians had just experienced a decade of bitter civil war and no-one was going to tell them to go through that all again.

A new wave of the Arab Spring?

But this is not the mood today. Why is a new generation of Algerians and Sudanese - or Jordanians for that matter -  retaking the streets in the full knowledge of what happened in 1991 or 2011 and what it led to? Are we witnessing a new wave of street-led popular protest?
The answer to that will depend on whether dictators do indeed stand down and whether that process remains peaceful. It has started peacefully and has not disintegrating into sectarian or tribal in-fighting - yet.
Ahmed Mohy holds a sign reading "Step down Sisi" before being arrested (Social media)
Ahmed Mohy holds a sign reading "Step down Sisi" before being arrested (Social media)
What one can say is that Algerians and Sudanese have not lost their faith in the ability of mass protest to drive political change. The people have not grown weary of demanding basic human and political rights. Algeria and Sudan are busting that myth. 
Whatever cards Bouteflika has left to play, the momentum is still with the street. And the street is right to make sure that it stays there until real and verifiable political change comes about.
What one can say is that Algerians and Sudanese have not lost their faith in the ability of mass protest to drive political change
It is significant that what sparked both the popular revolt in Sudan and Algeria was not simply the daily misery of trying to live a normal life in those countries - the unemployment, price rises, corruption and  untouched wealth and privilege of the elite.
Protest specifically was sparked by moves by both Bashir and Bouteflika to continue ruling indefinitely.
Bashir had been in power 30 years before his moves to change the constitution in December triggered the current crisis. Bouteflika had been in power since 1999 and was seeking a fifth term of office. Little wonder the cry of "enough is enough" was heard once again.
This is also not new. The cry of kifaya or "enough" was used by Egyptian protesters when Mubarak was trying to make his son Gamal heir to the throne. 
And it is exactly this mistake that Sisi, who at the age of 64 is a generation younger than Bouteflika or Bashir, is in the process of making by forcing through constitutional change which could see him in power until 2034.

Nervous neighbours

So who is looking nervously at events in Sudan and Algeria? Mohammed bin Salman, the heir to the Saudi throne is one of them. So is Mohammed bin Zayed, the Cardinal Richelieu of the counter revolution who has been hard at work plotting responses in each Arab country. 
Egypt is heading for one-man rule, unless this constitutional calamity is stopped
Read More »
But the man who looks most worried this week is Sisi himself. He looked nervous on Sunday in a televised address to a military gathering. "All this talk (of protests) comes at a price that people are required to pay," Sisi said.
"How are tourism or factories or trade supposed to get off the ground? Should we eat or should we say that we were busy protesting?"
The embers of revolt have not been extinguished at home, despite having dispatched both of Sisi’s serious fellow presidential candidates, Ahmed Shafiq and Sami Anan, to house arrest and prison respectively. 
When Moataz Mattar, the Egyptian TV presenter who works for the Turkey-based opposition Egyptian television network al-Sharq, which is owned by the exiled Egyptian politician Ayman Nour, told Egyptians to write: "Be reassured you are not alone" (#اطمن_انت_مش_لوحدك) on banknotes, a wave of posts appeared on social media of bank notes thus adorned. 
Such was the response to Mattar, that the Egyptian Central Bank was forced toban notes with the slogan written on it. That simply does not happen if protest is extinguished in Egypt, as we are all led to believe. 
Mattar had been been sentenced  to 10 years in absentia in 2015 for "inciting against the government". He has since revealed that two of his brothers and their wives and children have disappeared in Cairo and suggested that the authorities may be responsible for abducting his family members.
These are not the actions of a confident regime, let alone one confident enough to stay in power until 2034.
I have written before that Sisi is a dead man walking. I believe that more than ever. Things can not stay as they are in Egypt. The social and political forces which brought us the Arab Spring are the ones which - in the long run - will triumph.
To fight them is to fight the course of history and to delay the inevitable. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Blackwater's Erik Prince: Iraq, privatising wars, and Trump | Head to Head

Washington (CNN)House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said President Donald Trump's associate Erik Prince was not truthful in a recent interview about his testimony before Congress.
The assertion from Schiff raised further questions about Prince's testimony and the potential that he misled House investigators.
Prince, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is best known for founding the security firm Blackwater, and in recent years, he has engendered further controversy over his ties to Trump. He appeared before the House Intelligence Committee in November 2017 and came under fire by Democrats following his testimony for possibly misleading Congress about a meeting he had with a Russian banker in the Seychelles islands.
The New York Times later reported about a meeting Prince organized with Donald Trump Jr. and others in Trump Tower ahead of the 2016 election, and Prince acknowledged the meeting in a recent interview with Mehdi Hasan on Al Jazeera.
    But when asked in that interview why he did not disclose the meeting before Congress, Prince claimed he did tell investigators about it. Pressed on the issue, Prince said, "I don't know if they got the transcript wrong," referring to the publicly available transcript from the committee of his testimony.
    Schiff, however, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Prince was "certainly not telling the truth in that interview."
    "There's nothing wrong with our transcript," Schiff said. "There was nothing wrong with the reporter who transcribed his testimony. He did not disclose that meeting to our committee."
    Schiff said Prince's comments in the interview looked "inconsistent" with his testimony before the House panel and noted that special counsel Robert Mueller could review Prince's testimony as well.
    "Bob Mueller will have to make the decision about whether that rises to the level of deliberate falsehood," Schiff said. Mueller has been aggressive about prosecuting Trump associates who lied to the FBI or Congress.
    For his part, Prince has denied wrongdoing and said last year he had "cooperated" with Mueller.
      CNN has reached out to Frontier Services Group, a company that lists Prince as its executive director, for comment.
      Prince never officially worked for the Trump campaign, transition or administration. But he is a prominent Trump supporter and donated $250,000 to pro-Trump efforts during the 2016 campaign, according to federal election commission records. Prince spent time around senior Trump officials during the transition and continued informally advising the Trump White House on some major foreign policy decisions.


      The heart of the US-Saudi relationship lies in the Kushner-prince friendship

      As Democrats unravel the many ways the administration has been beholden to Saudi Arabia, Kushner’s role is particularly troubling


      (A journalism professor at New York University, is a former Middle East bureau chief at Newsday. He is writing a book on the proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran. )

      ‘Soon after Trump was elected, the Saudi crown prince and his advisers targeted Kushner as their gateway into Trump’s inner circle.’

      The new Democratic majority in Congress is unraveling the many ways that Donald Trump’s administration has been beholden to Saudi Arabia since its earliest days. In a report last month that got lost in the crush of other news, House Democrats detailed how top Trump administration officials, including Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner, pushed to provide the Saudi government with technology to build nuclear power plants. That could put Saudi Arabia on the path to developing nuclear weapons, and further destabilize the Middle East.

      Kushner’s role is particularly troubling because, as the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, he has cultivated and shored up the relationship between Trump and the ruthless Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The Kushner-Prince Mohammed friendship is at the heart of the US-Saudi relationship today, and it’s one reason that Trump has tried to shield the crown prince from blame for the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Trump and Kushner, both used to shady real estate deals, adapted quickly to Saudi Arabia’s system of patronage and clientelism: unwavering support from the Trump administration for the promise of weapons sales and other business deals.
      The project to sell nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia began in late 2016, during the presidential transition, when a group of retired US generals and national security officials coalesced around Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser. Even after Flynn was fired in February 2017, other White House officials revived the plan, despite objections from administration lawyers who worried that the proposal could violate US laws intended to stop nuclear proliferation. And the idea is still alive: Trump met last month with the CEOs of several private nuclear power companies who sought his help in building power plants in the Middle East.
      While most attention has been focused on Flynn’s role, Kushner is entangled in several conflicts of interest around the Saudi project, according to the 24-page report from the House oversight and reform committee. One of the potential beneficiaries of a Saudi nuclear deal is Westinghouse Electric, which is owned by a subsidiary of Brookfield Asset Management, a real estate company that recently bailed out Kushner and his family’s company in their ill-fated, $1.8bn purchase of a Manhattan office tower at 666 Fifth Avenue.
      The alliance between Kushner and Prince Mohammed has consequences for US policy: Trump ignored a deadline last month to submit a report to Congress on whether the crown prince was personally responsible for Khashoggi’s murder and dismemberment at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, as US intelligence agencies concluded. But like Trump’s previous attempts to shield the prince from blame for Khashoggi’s killing, this one will backfire. By defending Prince Mohammed so strongly, Trump has made the crisis worse and has emboldened a tougher response in Congress.
      Soon after Trump was elected, the Saudi crown prince and his advisers targeted Kushner as their gateway into Trump’s inner circle. They realized that Kushner was vulnerable because of his business dealings, lack of knowledge of the Middle East and eagerness to negotiate a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Trump’s “inner circle is predominantly dealmakers who lack familiarity with political customs and deep institutions, and they support Jared Kushner”, a delegation of Saudi officials sent to the US by Prince Mohammed in November 2016 wrote in a presentation that was later published by the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar.
      The Saudis hooked Kushner on that visit, and by March 2017 he had arranged a formal lunch for Trump and Prince Mohammed at the White House, where the prince received a grand reception normally reserved for heads for state. Kushner then convinced Trump to make Saudi Arabia the first stop of his maiden foreign trip as president in May 2017. By that point, the Saudis realized that Trump craved flattery and respect, and they gave him an extravagant welcome with multiple banquets and displays of fealty. It’s no surprise that Prince Mohammed later boasted, according to the Intercept, that Kushner was “in his pocket” and had provided information about rivals in the Saudi royal family.
      Kushner has been particularly vulnerable because of his family’s purchase of the tower at 666 Fifth Avenue in 2007, at the height of the real estate market that crashed a year later. For the past two years, Kushner Companies has been negotiating for a bailout on the property with investors from China and Qatar, who had close ties to both governments. But those deals collapsed as investors worried about the extra scrutiny generated by Kushner’s role in the White House.
      Last spring, Kushner Companies reached a tentative deal with Brookfield Asset Management, which is one of the world’s largest real estate companies, for a 99-year lease on the troubled office tower. At the same time as Brookfield’s property arm was making its deal with the Kushners, another Brookfield unit announced its $4.6bn purchase of Westinghouse Electric, a bankrupt nuclear services company that was part of the consortium vying to build power plants in Saudi Arabia.
      That purchase needed the approval of the Trump administration: it was subject to review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which includes senior officials from nine US government agencies. The deal required US approval because Canadian-based Brookfield is a foreign company that was seeking to buy an American firm in the nuclear industry. In the past, the committee required some foreign companies to abandon or make changes in their proposed deals. But Brookfield’s takeover of Westinghouse Electric was approved, and the deal closed on 1 August.

      On 3 August, Brookfield’s property unit announced it had closed its deal with Kushner Companies and that it would be paying the rent for the entire 99-year lease upfront: an infusion of about $1.1bn that would help the Kushners pay off a large portion of $1.4bn in mortgages due in February 2019. Without a deal, those looming mortgage payments could have forced the Kushners to sell the Fifth Avenue tower at a significant loss.
      It’s unclear if Kushner’s business interests played a role in the US approval of Brookfield’s acquisition of a nuclear company. But these conflicts underline the Trump administration’s entire approach to Saudi Arabia and its allies. With his blind support for the reckless crown prince, Trump has dropped the pretense that the US-Saudi alliance is more than a transactional arrangement based on oil, weapons deals and some perceived security interests.
      On 16 October, the same day that the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, arrived in Riyadh to meet with the Saudi king and crown prince over Khashoggi’s fate, Saudi officials deposited $100m in funds that had been pledged to the Trump administration in August to help stabilize parts of Syria liberated from the Islamic State. American diplomats were unsure when the money would arrive until it suddenly appeared in US accounts.
      The timing of the funds was a signal to Trump in the deal-making language he understands: the kingdom would continue to honor its financial promises and business commitments to the United States if Trump cooperates in the crisis precipitated by Khashoggi’s murder. Saudi leaders conveyed to Trump – and Kushner – that they too value family loyalty and financial interests above all else.