Dear USA: Liberian-Americans don’t Have Ebola

By Philippa Garson (Follow @PhilippaGarson )

NEW YORK, 17 October 2014 (IRIN) – Africans living in the US from the three Ebola-affected countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, are under enormous pressure trying to help their families and ravaged communities back home. And they face an additional challenge: stigma.

For the residents of “Little Liberia”, one of Liberia’s biggest emigrant communities in Staten Island, New York, the path to integration has been strewn with hurdles. Many of the several thousand residents came decades ago as refugees from the civil war in Liberia. Eking out a living, attaining resident status, integrating with at times unfriendly neighbors and, in recent months, helping those families hard hit by Ebola at home, has been an uphill battle.

But when Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian, was diagnosed with Ebola in a Dallas hospital last month, “all hell broke loose here,” Oretha Bestman-Yates, president of the Staten Island Liberian Community, told IRIN.

When news that Bestman-Yates had travelled to Liberia in July reached her hospital employer she was told to put herself in quarantine. But even after the 21-day period elapsed on 5 August, she says she has still not been allowed to return to work.

“You bought Ebola to the US!”

Now she spends her days trying to help residents who are not only battling with the loss of family and friends in Liberia but are struggling to make ends meet here at home. “People try to avoid you, pull away from you. I’ve had people tell me, ‘We brought Ebola to the United States,’” she says. Many of the Staten Island Liberians are employed in hospitals and nursing homes and are being told not to touch patients. “Parents are telling their children to stay away from our children at school,” she said.

As news broke that two of the nurses who cared for Duncan, who died on 8 October, had contracted Ebola, panic began to sweep through the American public. The news that one of the nurses, Amber Vinson, had flown on a domestic flight shortly before coming down with the disease, galvanized fears of an outbreak.

Now there seems a growing perception that anyone of African descent may be carrying Ebola. And whether that person visited any of the affected countries recently appears to be of little relevance.

Two Nigerian students were refused admission to Navarro College in Texas, because of a new college policy denying entry to students from countries affected by Ebola – even though Nigeria successfully brought its small outbreak under control. An airplane bound for Nigeria was grounded at JFK yesterday because staff refused to clean it. Furthermore, parents from a school in Jackson, Mississippi, withdrew their children from school when it was revealed that the principal had recently travelled to Zambia – in southern Africa.

Where’s West Africa?

“In a navel-gazing society, where West Africa is a vague and homogenous region and where the whole continent is usually spoken about as if it is one country, there is little nuanced understanding in the general population about exactly where the disease is located – not to mention how it is spread,” says Bobby Digi, a local activist from Staten Island. “There is not a lot of knowledge in the US about Africa – let alone West Africa. They are painting the whole area with a very broad brush.”

Digi says Liberians have struggled for decades to be accepted on Staten Island where there have been long-standing tensions with the community, including with local African Americans, who fear losing their jobs. Liberians feel a sense of shame, he said, that Duncan died in the country where they now live. Although the NYC health department is conducting awareness campaigns to educate the public and eradicate stigma, Digi slated the department for not knowing how to access the Liberian population. “They didn’t have basic statistics. They were picking my brain. I was floored by that,” he said.

In Dallas, where Duncan died and where there is also a large Liberian community, stigma against Liberians is clearly on the increase. Alben Tarty, communications director for the Liberian Community Association of Dallas-Fort Worth, told IRIN he had minutes ago spoken to relatives of Duncan’s fiancée, Louise Troh, who had just been given clearance to join the community again. “When they came out of the house they were referred to as the Ebola people, children must keep away from them, someone literally ran from them. They are fearful of going back to work next week,” he said.

Tarty, who has been living in the US for 12 years and whose doctor friend died in Monrovia last week, says there are strong perceptions in the Liberian community that Duncan was mistreated by the hospital there to discourage other Liberians from travelling to the US to seek treatment.

“This is not a West African problem. It’s a global problem and we have to fight it with education.”
A man with no health insurance or social security number, Duncan was given second-rate treatment in a country with one of the world’s best health care systems, Tarty said, adding: “There are so many things happening that are making the Liberian community very angry.”

However, Tarty described the Liberian community in Dallas as “formidable”. “We are a very strong community.” Enormous resources had been raised to help affected families and healthcare workers back home, he said.

Tarty said he hoped stigma was unique to individuals and not organizations and employers. Lots of people – including Liberians – “don’t understand how the virus is transmitted,” he said, adding that Liberians were stigmatizing each other too. “We can’t blame those who don’t understand how the virus is transmitted. If Liberians are still confused then we can expect the greater community to be even more confused.”

Anecdotally, the evidence of stigma in other parts of New York City – not just Staten Island – is mounting. From elevators, to subways to school playgrounds, comments are being made. When a person of African descent sneezes, the retort is, “I hope you don’t have Ebola”, said Charles Cooper, chairman of the Bronx African Council, which looks after the interests of the roughly 80,000 Bronx residents originally from the three affected countries and around 200,000 immigrants from the continent as a whole.

Cooper, who last visited family and friends in Liberia a year ago, says the community is already struggling to get finances for affected families back home. Furthermore, those making a living here from products sourced there, are no longer able to get the supplies, given closed borders and the collapsing economies of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Another stress they don’t need is a new form of discrimination from their neighbors.

Politics of hysteria

“It plays into existing stigma,” he said. “Unfortunately it’s not something that’s going to be short-lived. It will continue for a while since the Ebola virus is not going to be eradicated any time soon.” But “there is a level of hysteria that needs to be counter-acted,” he said. “Ever since the inception of Ebola we’ve been working together and focusing on the African community and prevention countrywide.”

On the political stage, the same hysteria is playing out, with Republicans accusing President Barack Obama of mishandling the crisis and calling for travel bans to and from the three affected countries. Right-wing commentators are also having a field day. Said prominent conservative pundit Phyllis Schlafly: “The idea that anybody can just walk in and carry this disease with them is an outrage, and it is Obama’s fault because he’s responsible for doing it.”

She said Obama didn’t want America to “believe that we’re exceptional. He wants us to be just like everybody else, and if Africa is suffering from Ebola we ought to join the group and be suffering from it too.”

Bestman-Yates said that although stigma on Staten Island was “getting worse, we are trying our best to educate people.” Asked whether she believed things could turn violent, she said, “I hope not,” adding however that a man screamed at her when she was being interviewed recently by a television crew. Situations like this make her worry about the “Stop Ebola” pin she wears, though she continues to wear it. “We want people to know about it. This is not a West African problem. It’s a global problem and we have to fight it with education.”

Mirrored from IRIN News

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Related video added by Juan Cole

BBC Africa: Fighting the Ebola Stigma

Kobane Kurds fight off ISIL Assault, as Shells land in Turkey

By Juan Cole

Kurdish forces at Kobane (Ayn al-Arab) on Saturday fought off an assault by ISIL that sought to cut the city off from Turkey and completely surround it, according to an Aljazeera reporter on the scene (At the moment, there is a corridor between Kobane and the Turkish border). ISIL also subjected Kobane to a fierce artillery barrage, as well as shelling the Mursid Pinar border crossing checkpoint, with some explosives landing on the Turkish side of the border.

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 3.52.08 AM

Aljazeera says that ISIL’s strategy is to take the Syrian side of Mursid Pinar so as to close off the checkpoint and stop aid from Turkish Kurds and other sympathizers from flowing to Kobane’s defenders from Turkey.

Kobane Kurdish sources told Aljazeera that the Kurdish fighters dominate the city’s main square and that ISIL controls only 15% to 20% of the city in its eastern suburbs. The Kurds maintain that ISIL is being pushed east out of the town and that they are clearing ISIL pockets from the rest of the city.

In the east of Kobane, ISIL positions were hit 15 times on Saturday by the fighter jets of America and its allies. They also hit other targets in the region. US military spokesmen insist that the air strikes have helped stop ISIL’s advance into Kobane, but warn that it could still fall.

ISIL attacks on Kobane and its surrounding villages have forced an estimated 200,000 refugees into neighboring Turkey.

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RuptlyTV: “Turkey: Explosions and black smoke dominate Kobane skyline”

Why is this Man Smiling? Iranian Officials say Confidant of US Deal on Nuclear

By Juan Cole

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear energy agency, expressed confidence that the few remaining issues between the UN Security Council and Iran will be settled.

Earlier this week, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, also surprised the world by expressing the conviction that a deal would be reached between the US and Iran over the nuclear enrichment program.

It is hard not to conclude that this outbreak of optimism has to do at least in part with the rise of ISIL in Mosul and the consequent US need for an Iranian partner. It seems implausible that the US can stiffen the spine of the Baghdad government and military, and can provide close air support to forces on the ground successfully without Iranian help.

Rouhani said that his optimism derives from the breakthroughs already achieved, especially the UNSC and American recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium to produce fuel for reactors.

He is implying that had the UNSC and the West been irresponsible and had they refused to compromise even a little on Iranian enrichment, then the deal would never have borne fruit.

What is left, Rouhani said, is merely working out the details of how to practically to reassure the UNSC and the US that Iran does not have a secret nucler weapons program.

Iran has already cast most of its stockpile of uranium enriched to 19.25% for its medical reactor in a form that makes it impossible to use it for bomb-making. That stockpile was a central worry among the nuclear hawks.

Among other steps it must take to reassure the UNSC and the US is to make sure its proposed heavy water reactor cannot be used to produce fissile material. Likewise, it may have to accept frequent and some surprise inspections by UN inspectors. The UNSC wants it to lower the number of centrifuges it can run.

All of these steps are aimed at allowing Iran to retain the capacity for enrichment while mollifying the suspicious among Western analysts.

Rouhani’s point is that they are all possible to achieve, and very likely will be achieved, if not by November 24, then by a later deadline.

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Related video:

Reuters: “U.S., Iran and EU begin nuclear talks in Vienna”

Will Ireland Recognize Palestine?

By Juan Cole

After Sweden recognized Palestine, the Irish government began considering doing so. On Thursday, the Irish parliament asked Irish Foreign Minister, Eamon Gilmore, questions regarding this plan.

Gilmore affirmed that the Irish government is planning at some point in the near future to move ahead with recognition.

A few European Union member states had recognized Palestine before joining the EU, such as Poland. Only Sweden has done so after joining the EU, with Iceland also recognizing Israel and being part of the Schwengen agreement. The action of Sweden’s leftwing government in this regard may set off an avalanche of similar recognition. The British parliament recently passed a non-binding resolution urging recognition of Palestine. Only 12 MPs voted against it, because even staunch supporters of Israel are exasperated by the boldness of the Likud Party in stealing land, blighting Palestinian lives, and flouting international law.

Ireland is a bellwether for European sentiment. The central narrative of Irish nationalism has been British colonialism and its atrocities in Ireland. After the Holocaust, many Irish intellectuals sympathized with Zionism, seeing it as similar to Irish nationalism.

But with the clearly colonial actions of Israel in the Palestinian West Bank and the brutality of Israeli Occupation of Gaza, Israel looks more and more to the Irish like the British colonialists who sold off Irish-grown food abroad in the midst of the potato famine.

This week the Irish Times urged the government to take the step of recognizing Palestine

Diplomatic recognition matters because it affects public opinion, including that of judges. Israeli firms on the Palestinian West Bank are increasingly in legal jeopardy in European courts.

Related video

Senator David Norris

The New McCarthyism on Israel: Naming and Shaming . . . Hillel

By Alice Rothchild

Jewish communal and religious organizations have become increasingly donor driven and sclerotic when it comes to discourse on Israel/Palestine. This is clearly in evidence when it comes to the dogmatic guidelines espoused by Hillel International, the umbrella organization for local Hillel chapters on American campuses. Despite spouting pluralism and tolerance, the organization lists the following redlines for discourse or co-sponsorship: any person or group that

• Denies the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders;

• Delegitimizes, demonizes, or applies a double standard to Israel;

• Supports boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel;

• Exhibits a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or fosters an atmosphere of incivility

The guidelines grew out of work by the Anti-defamation League which in 1974 defined the “new anti-Semitism” as criticism of Israel and reinforced that concept with a publication in 1982. Ironically the conflation of all Jews with Israel is in itself a dangerous anti-Semitic trope. Israeli thinkers joined the fray in 2011 when the Reut Institute, a Tel Aviv think tank, issued a position paper that laid out a strategy of “naming and shaming” those on the left who support the boycott, divestment, and sanction movement against Israel, a one state solution, or the right of return for Palestinians. The document developed a detailed strategy to engage Jewish institutions and individuals in identifying and marginalizing leftist groups, separating them from liberals less critical to Israeli policy, creating a positive “Israeli brand”, and honing the definition of those who “delegitimize” Israel.

There are so many problems with this kind of thinking: Do countries have a “right to exist” or do they exist due to a complex coalescence of military might, aspirations, mythology, and historical movements. What does it mean to be a Jewish state? Can a Jewish state ever be democratic if by definition Jewish exceptionalism is the foundation of the country? How does a country derive legitimacy? Does the Israeli occupation or the five hundred dead children in Gaza threaten Israel’s “legitimacy”? If one is critical of Israel which receives a massive amount of US military aid and political cover, does one have to list all the other countries that commit human rights violations to be credible? If Palestinians are condemned when they commit violent resistance and condemned when they call for nonviolent resistance, how are they supposed to resist the occupation and daily violations to basic human rights and dignity?

These policies have led to the political and cultural world in which we find ourselves where the mood on US campuses has become increasingly McCarthyesque. Academics are monitored and attacked, student groups sympathetic to Palestinians are confronted with specious lies (see the youtube Hamas on Campus) or actively thrown out, critics are emotionally blackmailed with the epithet of “anti-Semite”, and liberal Jewish social justice organizations are afraid to support a boycott of fossil fuels lest it lend credibility to the boycott of Israel. Articles on the death of liberal Zionism are proliferating in the fourth estate. The latest assault on Gaza where large synagogues embraced by local politicians organized nationalistic and often racist Stand with Israel rallies, refused to acknowledge the Palestinian dead, and 90-97% of Israelis stood behind Netanyahu’s war mongering, was for some the final straw. As Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace relates, she received an email from a rabbi, “Enough. Sign me up.”

This weekend’s If Not Now, When? An Open Hillel Conference was another crack in the armor of the Jewish establishment. The good news for the anxious Jewish Federations of the world, is that there are many thousands of young Jews and allies who are deeply committed to Judaism as a religion and as a community and they take their “Jewish values” very seriously. One of those values is Judith Butler’s Talmudic “intelligent bickering” and the other is a deep commitment to social justice and equality for all. Students heard from religious Jews debating Torah midrash on the metaphor of opening the eyes of the Jewish people, to Palestinian activists like Sa’ed Atshan, explaining, “My human rights shouldn’t be trumped by your feelings…Rights are non-negotiable so they are not open to dialogue.”

What became clear to me is that the students and their allies are actively reframing the discourse:

separating Judaism the religion from Zionism the national political movement; delineating the racist ideology of anti-Semitism from thoughtful moral criticism of the country, Israel. The treatment of and solidarity with Palestinians has now become the civil rights issue of the day for modern Jews, especially younger Jews who will be here long after the older post-Holocaust generation has moved on and no longer shapes the boundaries of intelligent discourse and definitions of normalcy. After centuries of powerless, how we as a community handle our new position of power and privilege is critical to the survival of an ethical Jewish tradition as well as a just resolution to a more than century old struggle in historic Palestine that is being fought in our name. Challenges to the mainstream political Zionist narrative and the equivalence of Jew and starry eyed lover-of-Israel are also challenges to our identity and our personal and communal values. That conversation is the genie that cannot be put back into the box.

Alice Rothchild is author of: On the Brink: Israel and Palestine on the Eve of the 2014 Gaza Invasion, Just World Books, Sept 2014

OnTheBrink_large

Turkey bargaining with base for US, wants no-fly zone in Syria

By Juan Cole

Earlier this week Turkish officials met American ones on the issue of combating ISIL. The US wants to use Incirlik Air Force Base for the purpose, but Turkey has been cagey about whether that permission will be forthcoming, at least through Wednesday evening. The no fly zone idea is coupled with the notion of a humanitarian corridor and a buffer zone in Syria but along the Turkish border.

My guess is that President Tayyip Erdogan fears blowback on Turkey from ISIL reprisals if he gets too involved, Turkey earns a lot of money from the tourist sector, which is vulnerable to terrorist attacks. He therefore wants a buffer zone.

The humanitarian corridor has been proposed by human rights organizations before. It is now being endorsed by Sen. Carl Levin, a senior Democrat.

Russia, a major patron of the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, opposes humanitarian corridors in Syria.

Syria is denouncing the idea of an international imposition on its sovereign territory

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related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks from Monday: “ISIS Pushes Right Up To Turkish Border”

Reza Aslan, religion Ph.D. vs. Sam Harris

The Young Turks:

Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks and Professor Reza Aslan discuss Sam Harris. Cenk asks Reza how he feels about Harris’ comments about him and islam. Reza explains why he thinks Sam Harris gives Atheism a bad name.

The Young Turks
Professor Reza Aslan On Sam Harris

Is Baghdad next? ISIL takes Hit Base in Iraq, loots it for Weapons

By Juan Cole

According to Aljazeera sources, ISIL has completed the taking of Hit district in the al-Anbar Province of Iraq. At a time when, supposedly, a range of coalition partners is taking on ISIL and attempting to push it back from the territory it has taken in Syria and Iraq, in fact the organization goes on expanding. It has added to its holdings in Iraq’s western al-Anbar province in recent weeks, including Hit district.

Along with the district, ISIL has been able to invade al-Anbar’s 3rd largest military base, home of the 7th Army, and to loot it for medium and heavy weaponry, including tanks and armored vehicles.

ISIL hit the base with suicide car-bombers at the outer walls and chased the Iraqi army away. The organization uses human suicide bombers for tactical infantry operations, sort of the way most armies would toss in hand grenades or fire mortar shells or supporting artillery.

ISIL is now estimated by some Iraqi army officers to be in control of 80% of al-Anbar Province.

Apparently ISIL strategy is to next completely take Ramadi, the capital of al-Anbar, and to use it as a base for taking Baghdad.

Related video

CBS Evening News: ISIS continues march through Anbar province

In Symbolic Vote, UK Parliament urges Recognition of Palestine

By Juan Cole

There are 650 members of the British parliament, so the vote on Monday by 271 of them to recognize Palestine is hardly an overwhelming victory for supporters of this position. On the other hand, only 12 voted against. Most MPs seem to have made themselves scarce.

The vote was a project of the Labour Party primarily, though some conservatives voted for the measure. the conservative Telegraph newspaper argued that the measure only passed because Labour leaders put enormous pressure on MPs of that party and because they compromised in the language at the last minute to say the recognition of Palestine should be within the framework of a negotiated peace settlement. Ed Milliband and his circle of Labour leaders denied that they had twisted their members’ arms to vote for the resolution.

The Conservative government leadership abstained and is very unlikely to follow through on this vote, which in the British system can only be advisory for the prime minister and his cabinet, since they actually make foreign policy.

It is a significant development, however, because Labour could eventually come back to power and might well pull a Sweden by actually recognizing Palestine. The European Union is moving gradually in this direction.

Although the EU is most often thought toothless in the Arab-Israeli conflict, its positions could have a big impact. Some 33 percent of Israeli trade is with Europe, and it depends heavily on technology transfers and de facto membership in many EU organizations. The effect of the recognition of Palestine by EU member states is to give Palestine standing to pursue legal complaints in European courts.

Israel is plainly in contravention of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which forbid a military occupying power to flood occupied territory with its own citizens, as well as of a number of EU statutes. Palestine could theoretically take West Bank squatter enterprises to court in EU states and win big judgments. Many Israel companies have European operations or even branches and are vulnerable to such judgments. Businesses and other institutions of civil society are already boycotting Israel over its West Bank squatting.

So the immediate practical impact of this vote is small. The symbolic impact is quite large. But the most important thing about it is that it points to the future, a future disadvantageous to Israel economically, technologically and politically, as long as it continues its massive land grab in the Palestinian West Bank.

Related video:

RT America: “UK parliament recognizes State of Palestine”

Top 5 Ways Lower oil Prices Could Change the World

By Juan Cole

Brent Crude has fallen to $90 a barrel as China’s and Asia’s slowing economic growth has reduced oil demand and production remains high. All this despite the subtraction of Libyan and Syrian oil from the market and the big reduction, via sanctions, in Iran’s exports. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are pumping more oil than they had been.

If oil goes lower and stays there for a while, what are the implications?

1. The impetus for Canadian tar sands production will be much reduced. It is expensive to produce and lower demand will being into question its rationale.

2 The Gulf oil states such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia could face difficulties because their budgets and investments were assuming long term higher prices. Many projects could be idled and unemployment could rise, with negative implications for security.

3. Russia’s wealth and power could decline, with implications for Ukraine policy.

4. Iran’s cushion against sanctions will become thinner. It has had to reduce exports by a million barrels a day because of the US financial blockade, but high prices made up for some of the shortfall. The full force of the sanctions could start to bite. Will that make Tehran more cooperative and willing to negotiate? Or will it produce anger and violence?

5. US oil fracking could slow because of poor demand and difficulty recouping on the very expensive and water-consuming porcess.

Cheaper oil is typically good for non-oil producers, making it less expensive to transport goods to market in vehicles. The downside is that the slight movement to electric vehicles could slow. (That would be irrational, though. Combining an electric car with solar oanels allows you to have virtually no gasoline bill, which is much better than $3 a gallon – if that is what it goes down to. Plus you are avoiding carbon emissions that damage the earth.)

Related video

Bloomberg: Why Oil prices have fallen to a two-year low