Still no accounting for thousands of Rohingya deaths at sea last May

Rohingya boy in camp Dec 27 2015

This little guy is a Rohingya Muslim, one of the estimated 150,000 forced into concentration camps in Myanmar. Prior to the elections this year the military-backed regime forcibly entered the camps & took back the temporary identity cards issued Rohingya when they were stripped of citizenship in the 1980s. They are persecuted as pariah & treated as undocumented immigrants though they have lived in the country for generations.

There still has been no accounting of the thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution last May. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) estimated 25,000 fled persecution in rickety boats across the Andaman Sea. Boat crews abandoned the ships after a crackdown by the Thai military regime. Although there were dozens of large boatloads of Rohingya without food & water, only five boats were allowed to land in Indonesia & Malaysia.

There was some big talk from countries like Turkey & Ecuador about sending naval ships to rescue the refugees, but no reports they actually deployed anything more than grandstanding rhetoric. Big talking Obama of the toothy grin never even raised the possibility of US ships in the area deploying on a rescue mission. The US navy is for war, not mercy. To anyone paying attention, it was absolutely certain many boatloads of Rohingya had been abandoned at sea to die–except for the five & a few intercepted by the Myanmar regime & brought back for incarceration in concentration camps.

That was in May. So why did it take the UNHCR & Amnesty International (AI) so damn long to report the loss of perhaps thousands of refugees at sea? AI issued its report in October. They needed time to interview Rohingya survivors but shouldn’t they have been screaming bloody murder back in May when the entire world knew of the treachery Rohingya were facing at the hands of the Myanmar & Thai regimes? When the entire world stood witness to the callous indifference toward Rohingya lives?

Indonesia & Malaysia are allowing the refugees to stay only until May 2016. Then what? Then they deport them back to concentration camps in Myanmar?

Enough with the unspeakable crimes against Rohingya Muslims. Sanctions should be imposed on the Myanmar regime until they end the barbaric persecution. But as the US, China, India, & other Myanmar business partners see it, genocide should not be allowed to interfere with making profits. Neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism has no time for mercy.

AI’s October report called for “coordinated action against human trafficking in a way that does not put people’s lives or human rights at risk.” Shouldn’t they be calling for an end to genocide & demanding refugee rights instead of putting all the blame on traffickers? What about blasting those regimes who couldn’t send even one navy ship to pick up the refugees or that wouldn’t allow them to land?

Solidarity begins with educating ourselves & others about the role our own governments play in the persecution of Rohingya. It proceeds from education to action demanding justice.

This little boy is at the Gong Dokka concentration camp near Sittwe in Rakhine state, Myanmar.

(Photo by NYUNT/EPA)

{Thank you to Jannatun Nayeem Nayeema for this photo}

Christmas Day in Palestine: no end of Israeli military brutality

Christmas Day Palestine  (REUTERS:Mohamad Torokman) Dec 26 2015

Christmas Day 2015, Ramallah, West Bank: Palestinian protesters here defend themselves with burning tires against Israeli military aggression outside Ofer Prison, notorious for the incarceration of Palestinian children & for human rights abuses. The psychological stress of the occupation on Palestinians must be overwhelming, especially on holidays with the international mantra “peace on earth, good will to men.” Four Palestinian protesters were shot dead just on Christmas Eve.

Christmas is high season for pilgrimage tourism with tens of thousands of Christians from around the world traveling to the West Bank sites where Jesus lived. Jewish tourism is part of this industry to sites reinvented & claimed as meaningful in the Old Testament from 3,000 years ago. This year the season was preceded by three months of an Israeli settler & military pogrom against Palestinians & fallacious reports of a stabbing binge by Palestinians. This apparently dampened religious ardor, even among Christian evangelicals who help bankroll the Israeli settlements & feel they have a vested interest in promoting Israeli colonialism.

Pilgrimage tourists were down by tens of thousands this year. Media reported the catastrophic effects the current conflict had on the local Palestinian economy. What they didn’t report was the long-term economic problems caused by the apartheid wall, economic encumbrances caused by restrictions like special roads for Israelis to the settlements separate from Palestinian roads with numerous checkpoints & barriers, & most of all that Israel long ago hijacked the tourist industry in the West Bank. Israel’s control of the tourist industry in the West Bank, along with the settlements, expose how thoroughgoing & massive the military occupation–& make chopped liver out of pretensions to a bantustate solution. Israeli’s intentions are ethnic cleansing, not neighboring Palestinian bantustates.

The Israeli military controls access & entry to the West Bank, including by tourists. Preference is given to Israeli tour companies over Palestinian firms. Most of the income from multi-million dollar pilgrimage tourism in the West Bank is accrued by Israeli businesses who book tours, provide necessary travel permits, book hotels within Jerusalem, & earn millions in annual income simply ripped off by the occupation of the West Bank.

Bethlehem, about 22 km/13 miles from Ramallah (8 km/6 mi from Jerusalem), has also been a center of military aggression against Palestinians–to protect the 22 Israeli settlements on stolen Palestinian land surrounding the city. Reportedly the streets stink from the skunk bombs used by Israeli troops to disperse Palestinian protesters.

In Manger Square, usually the center of Christmas caroling by Christian tourists, Palestinian activists set up a “resistance Christmas tree”–now for the third year. An olive tree uprooted by an Israeli bulldozer was decorated with barbed wire & teargas canisters & surrounded by barriers taken from protests against Israeli plans to extend the apartheid wall through monastery grounds at a nearby town.

The smell of skunk bombs & sight of a resistance tree do not serve the purpose of Israeli propaganda. Their travel companies are not going to usher thousands of pilgrimage tourists to get a load of apartheid or resistance to it.

Another question of course is how Christians reconcile apartheid with the New Testament. As Zionists do with the Old Testament? Some day a social psychologist will unravel the mysteries of such consciousness.

Stand with Palestinians as they fight for peace on earth by honoring the boycott of Israel (BDS)–barcode beginning 729.

(Photo by Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)

“Identity politics” & the struggle against oppression

santa claus

“Identity politics” have come under an avalanche of attacks in the past few decades. The primary criticism is that they are divisive of some supposed unity. There could not be a more banal criticism or one more rooted in LaLa Land. The ruptures in society are not caused by women or oppressed peoples standing up to oppose persecution but by the persecution which is always violent & includes psychological warfare to demean or efface identity.

A unity that can only be achieved by pretending everything is hunky-dory is a false one. Political power to end these monstrous persecutions is the goal of identity politics–& political power is what is being opposed under the guise of solidarity & phony-assed unity.

Is it possible to remove women, Blacks, Muslims, & others from the vicious campaigns against them & make oppression a generic thing? How does that work? Was it possible under fascism to remove Jews, Roma, & others from being targeted for holocaust? Would the pogroms against Rohingya Muslim in Myanmar cease if they change their identity to Buddhist? Will Israel cease ethnic cleansing of Palestinians if they reconcile themselves to colonialism & accept Israel’s insistence that they never existed as a people?

This AP photo is captioned “An Israeli Arab Christian boy dressed up as Santa Claus waits for the start of the annual Christmas parade in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth, Israel, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015.” That would be the mother of all identity thefts. “Israeli Arabs” call themselves Palestinians & they do so as an assertion of their political & cultural identity.The switch in terminology is nothing more than a political construct by Israel to efface the political identity of the Palestinian people & their historic connection & claims to Palestine.

When media uses “Israeli Arab” instead of Palestinian, they are making a political stand with Israeli colonialism & one that should be rejected. A phenomenon which social psychologists should try to explain is why the oppressed have to fight the oppressors about what they are called. There are hundreds of abusive epithets used for the simple identity of woman. People struggle over what to call Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans in the US, the oppressed castes in India, & numerous ethnic & indigenous groups around the world.

Well the deal is that the oppressor doesn’t get to rename the oppressed to efface our identities. Part of the struggle for freedom & justice demands we reclaim our own names & our unique identities & demand we be treated with respect.

Build & honor the economic, cultural, & academic boycott of Israel (BDS) to stand with Palestinians within Israel & the occupied territories.

(Photo by Ariel Schalit/AP)

News blackout about Indian occupation of Kashmir continues

Srinagar, Kashmir ( Tauseef Mustafa:AFP:Getty Images) Dec 24 2015

Women protest a rape in the Shopian district of Jammu and Kashmir in 2009. (Bilal Bahadur)

This is a holiday season & not just for Christians–so it makes sense photojournalism would showcase religious practices & Santa Claus stunts from around the world. But it does make you wonder when media ignores news in a region most of the time & then crops up with holiday shots–like this one from Srinagar, Kashmir.

The top photo is Kashmiri Muslim women piously reacting at a religious ritual surrounding the birthday celebration of Muhammed. No offense to piety but when it comes to Kashmiri women, their religious practices are the least newsworthy events they’re engaged in–& they’re engaged in plenty.

Just a few weeks ago, massive protests erupted in the Bandipora district of Kashmir over the torture of four people, including a mother & her son, by Indian army personnel. That’s a really important story which received no media coverage outside Kashmir.

It’s been a few decades now that Kashmiri women have litigated, demanded investigations by the Indian government, & repeatedly protested sexual violence institutional & systemic to the Indian occupation of Kashmir. That sexual violence includes individual & gang rape, harassment, & torture. Several human rights groups including a UN agency, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Médecins Sans Frontières, Physicians for Human Rights, & Asia Watch (separately before it became part of HRW) have issued detailed reports describing thousands of cases of sexual violence used as collective punishment & as a weapon of war & occupation by Indian military & paramilitary forces.

Kashmiri protesters have been stonewalled every inch of the way for decades–& that makes the story all the more important to report rather than ignore. Indian authorities hold pseudo-investigations concluding the women accusers (from teenage girls to elderly women) are perpetrating a “massive hoax” orchestrated by militants & international allies (presumably the human rights groups) to make the Indian occupation of Kashmir a human rights issue. And of course there is still the issue for women of the disappearance, torture, murder of their family members.

An Indian law called the Armed Forces Special Powers Act allows Indian military & paramilitary forces what Kashmiri women call “unbridled impunity” in committing all manner of human rights violations. Because Indian troops cannot be prosecuted for their crimes, not a single one has been prosecuted for rape, murder, or destruction of property. It’s a very similar legal arrangement to what the US imposes in Iraq & Afghanistan allowing soldiers to commit war crimes & walk away scot-free from prosecution.

International solidarity with the people of Kashmir should be incorporated into antiwar activities. The news blackout does not signify its lack of importance but highlights the necessity of demanding India end the occupation of Kashmir.

(Top photo of religious ceremony by Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Image; bottom photo of women protesting rape in Shopian district 2009 by Bilal Bahadur)

New surge of thousands of Central American children crossing U.S.-Mexico border

La Bestia

Local news is issuing conflicting reports about the new surge of unaccompanied children from Central America crossing the US-Mexico border just a few miles from here. Some reports have said 5,000 children & other reports 10,000 children since October 1st.

They’ve traveled over a thousand miles (including fording rivers), crossing Mexico atop the infamous northbound el tren de la muerte (“the Death Train” also called “la bestia”). These are a network of freight trains which do not stop for immigrants to board or get off–causing hundreds of mutilations, amputations, & deaths for those fleeing countries with no disability social services.

Immigrants on the trains are subject to paramilitary & criminal gang violence, extreme cold & exposure, kidnapping, robbery, extortion, rape, assault, & mass disappearance. Some will end up in mass graves. Every year a caravan of grieving mothers from Central America comes looking for their children lost on this route.

A few years ago, the Mexican senate legalized the right of immigrants to travel through Mexico to the US but has done nothing to facilitate that right. Federal troops routinely stop & board passenger buses going north to check for & remove immigrants because the Mexican government functions as the southern flank of US immigration policy.

Along the train route however, Mexican families & human rights activists offer temporary hospitalities like shelter, food, medical care, baths, clothing. In some places where the trains slow, they rush to passing trains to hand off bags of food.

Once the children cross the border river (which has fallacious signs on the Mexican side warning of alligators in the river), there are no appropriate facilities to house & care for so many children since the Obama regime is investing in militarizing the border. Some children are warehoused in prison-like detention, others in abandoned military bases, & a few hundred on a ranch further north in Texas. But once again, local charities have set up a shelter to provide them hospitality & help. A Catholic church center is staffed by volunteers.

Local & state Democratic & Republican politicians (& presidential candidates) have attempted to portray children immigrants as associated with prostitution, drug trafficking, & crime. These politicians typify that unfortunate species of corruption labeled “probably too stupid to live in society.”

Around the world, including the US, immigration has become a child welfare issue. When it comes to children, there are no borders. There is either humanity or barbarism with no middle ground for mealy-mouth equivocations.

Immigration is a human right. Immigration is a child welfare issue. Open the damn borders.

(Photo of La Bestia from CNN)

Is thinking a crime now?

Nightly news announced the FBI is picking up ISIS sympathizers all over the US. But have they committed a crime? Is thinking now the same as doing? In my mind, I once slapped an old boyfriend silly. Did I commit a crime & can I now be arrested for assault & battery? Does that mean he felt it? Does somebody have to update Orwell’s “1984.”

And another question: if I go through a red light & there’s no traffic cop around to nail me, have I committed a moving violation?

Asra Nomani: the ubiquitous voice of Islamophobia

Asra Nomani

Nothing fries hard-boiled feminists more than seeing the rhetoric of women’s liberation incorporated into Islamophobia–the ideology of the so-called War on Terror. A central feature of that cooptation & war-mongering focuses on liberating Muslim women from the hijab–if necessary, by bombing their countries to smithereens.

The preoccupation with the veil worn by Muslim women is not an expression of solidarity against women’s status but a hackneyed form of misogyny–& not a very well disguised one. Thousands of women in niqabs & hijabs led Arab uprisings in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, & elsewhere & are on the front lines in places like Kashmir & Palestine, & monkey-faced feminists in the US or Europe are going to call them out for being male-dominated? What can possibly be of concern if women, for religious or any other reasons, choose to wear a veil? The fetish only makes sense politically–when it’s understood as targeting women for attack.

Right-wing, war-mongering feminism–very often, but not always, associated with Zionist feminists–was riding high because of the weakness of both the feminist & antiwar movements in the past decades. The recent vote by the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) to support BDS in defense of Palestinians is just one sign that the equilibrium of reactionary politics within feminism is cracking & feminism’s original association with antiwar politics is being regenerated. This presents a problem for the war makers & propagandists.

Enter the ubiquitous Asra Q. Nomani & her sidekick Hala Arafa, two retired conservative journalists trying to jumpstart a second career as Muslim media authorities on the inherent violence & misogyny of Islam–not ‘radical Islamism’, but Islam. Nomani is one of the 12 recent initiators of the Muslim Reform Movement (MRM) which (at least on the surface) appears to model itself on the Protestant Reformation by recently nailing its manifesto to the door of a Washington, DC mosque associated with Saudi Arabia.

Reform movements within religions are the very dynamics of religion. Some are consequential; others a flash-in-the-pan. The MRM manifesto is straight out of the enlightenment, with the inclusion of women’s rights. Everything looks so copacetic. One could claim it isn’t Nomani’s fault so many Zionist publications tout her articles critiquing Islam, but when you read the articles you find they’re indistinguishable from the most arrant Islamophobic propaganda. In 2010, Nomani actually argued for religious & racial profiling of Muslims. That helps explain why she would appear in venues like the Bill Maher show or Jerusalem Press Club or why she’s carrying her reform message all over US media rather than to the faithful at the mosques.

Nomani just overplayed her hand & exposed her agenda (again) when she & Arafa published a December 21st article in the Washington Post titled “As Muslim women, we actually ask you not to wear the hijab in the name of interfaith solidarity.” In a remarkably stupid & disingenuous article, the two women evoke feminism to argue that teens & others wearing hijab as solidarity gestures with Muslim classmates are counterproductive & feed misogyny within Islam. Take a moment to catch your breath that two elite retirees would eschew active solidarity at a time when aggressive & violent incidents against Muslims, in particular Muslim women, are increasing around the world & hate-mongering is becoming deafening on US television. In some places like Myanmar, Muslims are subject to pogroms.

Nomani claims “Islamic feminism is the antidote to Islamic extremism.” Sounds good. But what is the antidote to anti-Muslim pogroms? Or to wars justified by extreme Islamophobia? The MRM claims they stand for “secular governance, human rights, including women’s rights, & peace.” Voltaire couldn’t have said it better. So why is Nomani insistently equating Islam with extremism at a time when Muslims are under attack? And why is she associating with reactionary political forces rather than helping build the antiwar movement?

Nomani is a hell of a bore to listen to but with her faux, overwrought air of sincerity, she’s taking people in. She does not represent the progressive forces of feminism but the reactionary forces of social hatred & war-mongering. The reform of Islam is a religious matter. The veil is nobody’s damn business but the women who wear them. Feminism is a ‘come as you are’ affair & doesn’t have a dress code.

(Photo of Asra Nomani from Washington Post)

The redoubtable Amira Hass

Amira Hass (Eric Sultan)

The redoubtable Haaretz columnist Amira Hass spoke on a panel at the joint conference of Haaretz & the New Israel Fund in NYC last week. The conference entitled “Questions on Peace, Democracy, & Social Justice in Israel” is essentially a liberal Zionist gathering featuring speakers like Israeli president Rivlin, a Skyped-in Obama, right-wing Israeli politicians like Tzipi Livni, some compromised Palestinian political figures, US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. To provide liberal facade, Hass, Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy, the director of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, members of the Israeli anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence, & BDS activist & singer Roger Waters were present.

The conference was likely awash in pomposity, self-congratulating moral superiority, & high-flown rhetoric as participants ponderously discussed how to make Israel & Zionism a kinder, gentler version of colonialism & racism–knowing full well they’re on a fool’s errand. Can’t be done. If they’re liberals & won’t face up to that, why should we play stupid to stroke their vanities?

This is where that redoubtable stuff comes in. Hass–who publicly opposes the occupation & refutes the “stabbing Intifada” narrative–moderated a panel on “struggles for equality” in Israel. She directly addressed the fatal flaw of the Zionist project: the infamous Israeli Law of Return where any Jew anywhere in the world can immigrate to Israel or settlements in occupied Palestinian territory & get citizenship & democratic rights denied Palestinians born & raised there. Palestinians aren’t even allowed to enter Israel proper or move freely around but must traverse an apartheid wall & negotiate numerous checkpoints on the roads.

Hass called Jewish aliyah (immigration) to Israel a crime, identified Israel as apartheid, & said “Jewish immigration to Israel is a conscious choice of partnership in the dispossession & expulsion of Palestinians & the establishment of apartheid in practice.”

Amos Schocken, the publisher of Haaretz, was asked to respond to Hass. He said “…if it turns out that Zionism is not democratic & its existence depends on occupation, dispossession, & apartheid…then it becomes an illegitimate ideology.” Nothing like playing stupid. Just how much documentation does liberal Zionism require? How much Palestinian land confiscated? How many Palestinian kids in the Israeli gulag? How many bombs dropped over Gaza? How many Palestinians shot dead by Israeli troops? How many decades the occupation? How many more years of vilifying Palestinians as terrorists?

The hope of the future for a democratic secular state where Jews & Palestinians live as brothers & sisters depends on Palestinian Intifada & tough-minded democrats like Amira Hass. Our role is to assemble the forces of international solidarity & to honor & build BDS to strengthen the struggle against the racist, supremacist doctrine of Zionism.

(Photo of Amira Hass by Eric Sultan)

The Guardian-UK: an inexhaustible source of foolishness about Palestinians

Gaza destruction (Suhaib Salem:Reuters) Dec 22 2015

Wherever did the Guardian-UK acquire its reputation as liberal media since it’s proven itself an inexhaustible source of foolishness when it comes to Palestinians? The caption to this photo last week said, “A Palestinian man stands on the roof of his house which was damaged by what witnesses said was Israeli shelling during last year’s 50-day war.”

Are those witnesses sure the damage was done by Israeli carpet bombing? It could have been done by evil fairies invading from outer space. In fact, other witnesses are certain they saw what appeared to be Martians invading Gaza.

A year-&-a-half after the barbaric siege of Gaza & the Guardian still thinks it can pull off this imbecilic equivocation to cover for Israeli ethnic cleansing. Even Israel doesn’t deny its barbarism but only justifies it. After plying a panel of retired generals from the Pentagon & other psychotic military establishments with alcohol for a year, Israel finally got them to conclude the Israeli military conducted its massive bombing spree of Gaza in 2014 with admirable restraint & humanitarian consideration. You can’t make that crap up. You pay the right people & add in some booze, they say exactly what you tell them to.

There’s something of a news gray-out about ‘what the evidence says is an Israeli pogrom against Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, & Gaza’. While Palestinians hold their ground & grieve their losses, our job is to put the lie to all this & build the hell out of BDS.

(Photo by Suhaib Salem/Reuters)

Emancipation U.S.–style: homeless in Afghanistan

Afghan homeless girl  (EPA:HEDAYTULLAH AMID) Dec 22 2015

Emancipation US-style: 14 years of US-NATO war in Afghanistan–first under the guise of chasing Osama bin Laden dragging his dialysis equipment through the caves of Afghanistan & then under the guise of liberating women. One nail salon, several CIA torture prisons, a thriving drug trade, several unspeakable war crimes later, & despite Obama’s announcement the occupation ended a year ago, the war continues.

This little girl in Kabul is one of between 683,000 & 900,000 homelessAfghans according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). Millions are living as refugees in Pakistan & Iran. When the Pakistani government cracked down on Afghan refugees a few years ago & began demolishing their encampments, the UNHCR paid some of them chump change (about US $150) to move back to Afghanistan, knowing there would be no housing or schools. Thousands, including unaccompanied children, became part of the trek to Europe through Turkey & Greece.

US-NATO bombarded & occupied Libya in 2011 to liberate it from Gaddafi. It now has two competing regimes & is reportedly under the control of ISIS. When the Obama regime claims it is staying in Afghanistan to save it from several Taliban offensives, one shudders for the Afghan people. Because the US-style of emancipation involves massive continuous bombing including of hospitals, kidnapping, torturing, murdering civilians, massive homelessness, widespread child labor.

The historic imperative remains: rebuild the international antiwar movement demanding an end to these monstrous wars.

US out of Afghanistan! US out of the Middle East!

(Photo by Hedaytullah Amid/EPA)

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