The horrific bombings of the Boston Marathon produced inspiring images of a spirited, brave Boston refusing to be cowed. Some spectators surged forward toward the danger to apply tourniquets, offer first aid, share blankets, and later to give blood, for the victims.
President Obama followed the crisis from its first moments and came out promptly to caution against fruitless speculation as to the perpetrators as well as solemnly to vow that they will be held accountable. (He has a certain track record in that regard.)
The idea of three dead, several more critically wounded, and over a 100 injured, merely for running in a marathon (often running for charities or victims of other tragedies) is terrible to contemplate. Our hearts are broken for the victims and their family and friends, for the runners who will not run again.
There is negative energy implicit in such a violent event, and there is potential positive energy to be had from the way that we respond to it. To fight our contemporary pathologies, the tragedy has to be turned to empathy and universal compassion rather than to anger and racial profiling. Whatever sick mind dreamed up this act did not manifest the essence of any large group of people. Terrorists and supremacists represent only themselves, and always harm their own ethnic or religious group along with everyone else.
The negative energies were palpable. Fox News contributor Erik Rush tweeted, “Everybody do the National Security Ankle Grab! Let’s bring more Saudis in without screening them! C’mon!” When asked if he was already scapegoating Muslims, he replied, ““Yes, they’re evil. Let’s kill them all.” Challenged on that, he replied, “Sarcasm, idiot!” What would happen, I wonder, if someone sarcastically asked on Twitter why, whenever there is a bombing in the US, one of the suspects everyone has to consider is white people? I did, mischievously and with Mr. Rush in mind, and was told repeatedly that it wasn’t right to tar all members of a group with the brush of a few. They were so unselfconscious that they didn’t seem to realize that this was what was being done to Muslims!
It was easy for jingoists to find Chinese or Arabs on twitter gloating. But I saw much more of this kind of message:
#إنفجار_بوسطن Our religion doesn’t teach us to be happy on people’s’ miseries.
Similar sentiments were voiced by the journalist Fatima Naout, who said that when dozens of Egyptians died in a train accident, it took President Morsi 12 hours to come on television, and then he made only a brief statement of less than a minute. She also complained of innocents being arrested for sabotage and ultimately released, while what she called Muslim Brotherhood gangs attacked demonstrators with impunity. She said that the US is a nation of laws and upright judicial procedure, and Egypt still is not.
On the other side of the aisle in Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood members of the Senate (Majlis al-Shura) unhesitatingly condemned the bombings. MP Izz al-Din al-Kumi condemned all violence that harmed individuals of any nationality. He discounted a return to the ‘war on terror’ atmosphere of 9/11, saying that al-Qaeda had suffered too many blows any longer to be a viable organization. Dr. Farid al-Bayyad, another parliamentarian said, “Regardless of our differences with American policy, we roundly condemn these attacks.”
Some Syrians and Iraqis pointed out that many more people died from bombings and other violence in their countries on Monday than did Americans, and that they felt slighted because the major news networks in the West (which are actually global media) more or less ignored their carnage but gave wall to wall coverage of Boston.
Aljazeera English reported on the Iraq bombings, which killed some 46 in several cities, and were likely intended to disrupt next week’s provincial election.
What happened in Boston is undeniably important and newsworthy. But so is what happened in Iraq and Syria. It is not the American people’s fault that they have a capitalist news model, where news is often carried on television to sell advertising. The corporations have decided that for the most part, Iraq and Syria aren’t what will attract Nielsen viewers and therefore advertising dollars. Given the global dominance by US news corporations, this decision has an impact on coverage in much of the world.
So I’d like to turn the complaint on its head. Having experienced the shock and grief of the Boston bombings, cannot we in the US empathize more with Iraqi victims and Syrian victims? Compassion for all is the only way to turn such tragedies toward positive energy.
Perhaps some Americans, in this moment of distress, will be willing to be also distressed over the dreadful conditions in which Syrian refugees are living, and will be willing to go to the aid of Oxfam’s Syria appeal. Some of those Syrians living in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey were also hit by shrapnel or lost limbs. Perhaps some of us will donate to them in the name of our own Boston Marathon victims of senseless violence.
Terrorism has no nation or religion. But likewise its victims are human beings, precious human beings, who must be the objects of compassion for us all.
Jordan has received about 600,000 Syrian refugees from the civil war raging in the latter country. It has now been constrained to open a second refugee camp at Marajid al-Fuhud, paid for by the United Arab Emirates and run by the Red Crescent (the Middle Eastern version of Red Cross).
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday that he would veto the renewal of a European Union ban on weapons exports to Syria, and hinted that Britain might go it alone in supplying rebels with arms. The Syrian opposition wants the ban lifted, arguing that the rebels would benefit more than the regime (which is already being supplied with arms by Russia and Iran). Cameron appears worried about the rise of the Jabhat al-Nusra radical group in north Syria. Britain has a large Muslim population, some elements of which have radical tendencies, which might affect Cameron’s calculations. He likely wants to train and arm Syrians with views more acceptable to the British mainstream.
Of the some 220,000 Syrian troops before the civil war broke out, 14,000 have probably died in the fighting, 140,000 are considered unreliable by the regime and have been benched, with some portion of those defecting or just staying home, and only the remaining 65,000 or so still committed to the fighting. I am distilling from AP’s report on the analysis of Joseph Holliday. It is enough to keep the regime from falling quickly, but not enough to stop swathes of the country from gradually going into the hands of the rebels. They now have al-Raqqah province in the north, and can move freely throughout Idlib.
Roughly 1,200 Syrian troops are killed every month and 4,800 more are wounded. If the wounded were all put out of commission (they aren’t), that rate of attrition would predict that the regime will fall within a year unless it can scare up a lot more troops.
Fighting continued to rage in the Syrian city of Homs on Tuesday On Sunday, rebels infiltrated back into the Baba Amr neighborhood, which supports them. Since then the regime has been attempting to dislodge them again, using artillery and aerial bombing. It was the regime’s willingness to deploy heavy weapons in the civilian neighborhood of Baba Amr last year they brought home to the world how brutal the Syrian Baath really is.
Homs is a key city on the route between the Mediterranean port of Latakia and the capital, Damascus. Were it to fall, it would be easier for the rebels to besiege the capital and starve out the regime.
The Real News Network interviews Omar Dahi on this humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, with 70,000 dead, a million displaced abroad, and two million displaced internally. Dahi is scathing on the lack of reporting on the direness of the refugee situation in the mainstream media, and on the paltry character of the Western response to the refugee crisis.
The Syrian civil war heated up on several fronts on Wednesday.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague on Wednesday painted a horrific picture of the situation in Syria and went on to pledge armored vehicles and body armor for the Syrian rebels, as a ‘humanitarian’ measure. Russian media accuse the US, Western Europe and Jordan of setting up training camps for the Syrian rebels in Jordan. It is also rumored that Saudi Arabia is funding the Jordanian bases. It is likely that the Jordanian facilities, and Hague’s pledge of the most significant Western equipment provision yet seen, are attempts to create a southern front at Deraa, which would be anti-fundamentalist (in contrast to the main recent action in the north, where Qatar-backed fundamentalists have made the impressive gains). An excerpt from Hague’s speech:
A million Syrians have by now been made refugees by the fighting, about 1/20th of the country (equivalent to 15 million Americans suddenly left homeless). I think most people don’t realize what a refugee is. It is a role, not an identity. It is one that any of us can abruptly be forced into. Refugees had homes, they just had to flee them. They had wealth and property, they have suddenly lost it. They are homeless, and dependent on the kindness of strangers (mostly strangers are not that kind). The Syrians actually displaced from their homes are a small proportion of those who have been hurt by the fighting in some way.
Jordan’s airlines announced earlier this week that they would no longer fly to Beirut over Syrian territory, which set off speculation on the Arabic web that a decision has been made to give the rebels shoulder-held missile launchers capable of taking down aircraft (this is just speculation; and, it should be noted that they seem already to have some, which might be what Royal Jordanian Airlines is reacting against).
A group of rebels took 20 United Nations peace-keeping troops in the Golan Heights captive on Wednesday, accusing the UN of backing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. (The UN Security Council has in fact neglected to condemn al-Assad’s vast violence against his own people, which has risen to the level of crimes against humanity. This failure of the UNSC, however, derives from the Russian and Chinese veto rather than from a UN preference for al-Assad in general). To have such an even occur in the Golan must alarm the Israeli leaderhip; Israel has occupied Syria’s Golan Heights since 1967.
The group circulated a video in which they demanded a withdrawal of Syrian military forces from their area and threatened to do something to the hostages in 24 hours if the regime refused.
CNN reports on the situation in Raqqah. That the rebels (mostly in this case the fundamentalist Jabhat al-Nusra) now control almost all of Raqqah gives them one of the larger provinces of the Syrian north. Syria has 14 provinces, and the rebels now have a strong position in many parts of about half of them, mostly those in the north.
Iran, while it is a profound critic of the United States, is not a socialist country. Its gini coefficient or measurement of social inequality now is probably worse than in the days of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the monarch overthrown in 1979. As with all oil states, its public sector is large, but it also has a lively private sector, which is dominated by wealthy oligarchs, including some of the ayatollahs and institutions like the Revolutionary Guards. Iran is a right wing theocracy, not a left wing socialist state. If Chavez could embrace a repressive theocracy run for the benefit of wealthy oligarchs, merely because it is anti-American, then of what logical acrobatics was he incapable?
Likewise, Chavez’s support for the Ghaddafis in Libya was based on an extremely superficial reading of Libyan political, economic and social system. The Ghaddafi family looted the country of its wealth, wasting it on ruinous African adventures or squirreling it away in Western banks and real estate. Libya was not a socialist country but a post-Soviet, Russian-style oligarchy. Ordinary Libyans, especially in the east of the country, were increasingly cut out of any share in the country’s oil bonanza. I was shocked last year on my visit there how dowdy and relatively undeveloped Benghazi is; Ghaddafi had clearly punished the country’s second largest city by declining to spend much money on it. Nor was Ghaddafi of 2010 even particularly anti-imperialist. He had welcomed European investment in his oil and gas industries and had much improved relations with the Bush administration. Far from being anti-American, Ghaddafi had a thing for Condi Rice and called Barack Obama his African son. Chavez’s own ally, Iran, largely supported the struggle of the Libyan people against what one ayatollah called “this shell-shocked individual,” though of course Iran condemned the NATO air intervention.
Syria is also no longer a socialist country. The relatives and hangers-on of the ruling al-Assad family transformed themselves into billionaires, using their government contacts to gain lucrative contracts and establishing monopolies. Working Syrians were facing declining real wages in the past decade and very high youth unemployment. Poverty was increasing. Nor was Syria particularly anti-imperialist. In the 1970s and 1980s in Lebanon, Baathist Syria had gladly helped defeat the Palestine Liberation Organization and its Druze and Muslim allies on behalf of the pro-American, right wing Phalangist Party supported by some Christians. After 9/11, the Syrian government tortured al-Qaeda suspects for the Bush administration. It was the US congress that cut Syria off in 2003, not the other way around. And when Obama reopened the US embassy and sought better ties in 2009, al-Assad was perfectly happy to accept.
Whatever one thought of Chavez, he did genuinely improve the lot of the Venezuelan working classes. He won elections and was genuinely popular for this reason. He appears not to have been able to imagine that Khamenei, Ghaddafi and al-Assad are rather less interested in an ideal like the public welfare.
Unable to perform a basic political-economy analysis that would demonstrate that Iran, Libya and Syria had abandoned whatever socialist commitments they once had (Iran of the ayatollahs had never been progressive), Chavez in his own mind appears to have thought that they were analogous to the Bolivia of Eva Morales or the Ecuador of Rafael Correa. Emphatically not so.
He also imagined these countries as anti-American (only Iran really is), and appears to have believed that such a stance covers a multitude of sins on the part of their elites– looting the country, feathering their own nests, and authoritarian dictatorship and police states that deploy arbitrary arrest and torture. In the case of Libya and Syria, the regimes showed a willingness to massacre thousands of their own citizens with bombings from the air and heavy artillery and tank barrages fired into civilian neighborhoods. US imperialism has been guilty of great crimes in Central America and often backed right wing dictators in Latin America generally. You understand how it made a bad impression on Chavez. But the US supported Algeria and many other decolonizing countries in the 1960s and “imperialism” is a thin reed as an all-encompassing analytical tool. There is a sense in which capitalist Russia is seeking a superpower supremacy in parts of the Middle East. Chavez was happy to align with that development.
Venezuela’s stances on the Middle East under Chavez were not usually important in any practical sense. Despite a lot of verbiage, its economic cooperation with Iran has been minor for both countries, and Chavez did no more than make angry speeches about Libya and Syria. Good Iranian-Venezuelan relations provoked a great deal of hysteria in the US, but they don’t actually appear to have been consequential, either in the sphere of economics or in that of security. Despite dark predictions by US hawks, it is probably not very important whether Venezuela keeps its current foreign policy or alters it.
But Chavez did sully his legacy as a progressive with his superficial reading of what ‘anti-imperialism’ entails and his inability to see the neo-liberal police states of the Middle East for what they had become.
So on Saturday, Syrian rebels in the east of the country attacked another government checkpoint along the Iraqi border, al-Ya`rabiya, and took it. Some of the besieged Syrian troops, many wounded, escaped to the Iraqi side and were being escorted by Iraqi troops south when they were ambushed early on Tuesday and 48 were killed, along with 8 Iraqi border guards. The attackers had rocket propelled grenades and left three vehicles burning. It is not clear if the attackers were Syrian rebels in hot pursuit across the border or if local Sunni Iraqi clans, who are related to the largely Sunni insurgents in Syria, struck for themselves.
Alarabiya was reporting Tuesday morning Iraqi time that Iraqi tanks had advanced on the Free Syrian Army checkpoint at al-Ya`rabiya, presumably seeking revenge for the ambush. That isn’t a good sign, to have an Iraqi-Syrian border clash.
The steps being taken by the US, as explained on Monday by Secretary of State John Kerry in Riyadh, to strengthen the Syrian opposition (by which he meant the moderates, not the Jabha) increasingly look too little, too late. Asthe Syrian rebellion grinds on, the most radical factions are coming to the fore in very worrying ways. It is not clear that Washington has the slightest idea what to do about this, though a new plan to arm moderates via Jordan in Syria’s southern district of Deraa may, behind the scenes, have American backing or at least the US isn’t vetoing it. (The Saudis are said to be buying the weapons and cooperating with Jordan in this effort because they are afraid of Jabhat al-Nusra and angry at Qatar winking at its growing prominence in the ranks of the northern rebels).
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had warned just last week in an AP interview that if radical Sunnis come out on top in the Syrian civil war, they would be a source of profound instability in the Middle East and that Jordan and other neighbors could be dismembered.
Shiite-ruled Iraq faces an on-going guerrilla war from radical Sunnis, some of them apparently now fighting in Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria. In addition, the Sunni Arab population of the west and the north of the country, about a fifth of the population, has been demonstrating peacefully against the al-Maliki government, with large rallies, for several months. Al-Maliki is afraid that if the Sunni radicals win Damascus, there will be severe effects on Mosul and Ramadi. Indeed, those effects may already have begun.
To be fair to Iraq’s Sunnis, most of them voted for a secular party in the 2010 parliamentary elections, and many joined the ‘Awakening Councils’ movement against ‘al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia.’ And virtually no one thinks al-Maliki, a fundamentalist Shiite, has been good about reaching out to the Iraqi Sunnis or seeking national reconciliation.
One fears that some of the excitement in the video is that of radical Sunnis happy to destroy a monument to a Shi’ite, Alawi secularist.
So, I think you can largely color in Raqqah in the below map black (the radical fundamentalists like black flags).
In the central depot town of Homs, the Syrian government on Monday waged a fierce battle to take back some districts lost to the rebels. Homs is key to the ability of Damascus to import supplies, ammunition and new weaponry from the port of Latakia and from the Russian naval base at Tartous. If the rebels ever take Homs, they’d be in a much better position to besieged, cut off, and take Damascus.
Ironically, al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia wanted to take over a whole Iraqi province (it especially wanted al-Anbar, where it launched thousands of attacks in 2006-2007) but never was able to, in part because Sunni Iraqis turned on it when it killed their own sons for ‘collaborating’ with al-Maliki. But now Jabhat al-Nusra, with some of the same fighters in its ranks, has taken the Syrian province of Raqqah. And the Syrian brand of radical Sunnism is somehow implicated in a major attack on Iraqi soil.
I think that al-Maliki is right, and that King Abdullah II of Jordan may not sleep very well tonight. Many Jordanian Salafis are said to be fighting in Syria, and no one knows what will happen when they come home. But with 6 dead Iraqi soldiers on his hands, it is al-Maliki who is most alarmed of all.