Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion 2018-06-19T01:59:22Z https://www.juancole.com/feed/atom WordPress Juan Cole http://juancole.com <![CDATA[Top Six Dictators who also Divided Children from Parents like Trump/Sessions]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=176454 2018-06-19T01:59:22Z 2018-06-18T07:25:36Z Separating children from their parents, as Trump, Sessions and their myrmidons are doing, is monstrous and has been characteristic of the biggest dictators of the modern era. Here are a few instances in case you don’t believe me:

1. Stalin’s police used to designate some Soviet citizens as “enemies of the people” and then would take their children from those families. Some so designated who had their families confiscated were Jews.

2. Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the 1970s, 1980s:

    Every family that lived in the cities was forced by Khmer Rouge soldiers to work in the fields in the countryside. This was the time in which husbands and wives, mothers, fathers and their children, and brothers and sisters were all separated from each other.

3. Under Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, Catholic hospitals were encouraged to steal babies from leftist families at the hospital, telling the parents they were stillborn, and then to give the infants to right wing families to raise.

4. Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, expelled tens of thousands of Iraqis of Iranian heritage as marked by their family names. In some instances, Saddam kept the children but expelled the parents:

    “Many Shi’a refugees from southern Iraq testified about the forcible separation of their families during the early years of the Iran-Iraq war, when the Baath regime summarily deported tens of thousands of Shi’a to Iran on the grounds that they were of “Iranian origin.”

5. The Burmese military junta has separated Muslim children from their families, as part of the ongoing attempt by the Buddhists to expel the Muslims.

6 And, yes, Hitler separated children from their families on a large scale. In some instances, he had children with blonde hair and blue eyes born into “Slavic” families kidnapped and given to a German family to raise Aryan.

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Bonus video:

CGTN: “Rohingya children face injury, loss of family while escaping Myanmar”

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Fawaz al-Haidari <![CDATA[Yemen: Saudi-Led Attack on Hodeida Displaces Nearly 5,000, Endangers 70% of Food Imports]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=176445 2018-06-18T07:28:09Z 2018-06-18T06:29:14Z Al Duraihmi (Yemen) (AFP) – Yemeni pro-government forces, backed by Saudi Arabia, battled Huthi rebels around the key port city of Hodeida on Sunday, as a top UN envoy held crisis talks with the insurgents in the capital.


AFP / -Yemeni pro-government forces launch an attack on Huthi rebels in Hodeida province on June 16, 2018 as loyalists try to take back control of a key port.

Saudi Arabia and its allies in a regional military coalition on Wednesday launched an offensive aimed at retaking the Red Sea city of Hodeida, home to the country’s most valuable port which is controlled by the Iran-backed Huthis.

The United Nations has warned the offensive could spark a fresh humanitarian crisis in a country already hit by war and impending famine, sending its envoy for Yemen to the capital Sanaa in a bid to come to a solution with the rebels.

The Huthis, who accuse the UN of bias, however said there were major obstacles to any peace talks shortly after meeting with envoy Martin Griffiths on Sunday.

The United Nations and relief organisations have warned that an all-out assault on Hodeida by the Saudi-led coalition, which commands a massive joint air force, would put hundreds of thousands of people at risk.

Nearly 4,500 households have been displaced in Hodeida province so far this month, the UN said Sunday.

Yemen’s military forces have closed in on areas south and west of the port, pushing closer to an airport just south of the docks, sources in the army said.

More than 70 percent of imports to all of Yemen pass through the docks of the Hodeida port.

The army on Saturday claimed it had seized the defunct Hodeida airport, which has been in Huthi hands since 2014.

The Shiite rebels, however, denied the claim in a statement on their Saba news agency on Sunday.

They have also reported Saudi air strikes on Huthi outposts across Hodeida, with the insurgents’ representative Hisham Sharaf pointing to the raids as a major obstacle to peace talks.

The highway between Hodeida and the government-held port of Mokha was cut off Friday in battles between the two warring sides, disrupting precious supply lines to the military.


AFP / William ICKES. Assault on Hodeida.

The fighting is already nearing densely populated residential areas, rights groups have warned, and aid distributions have been suspended in the west of the city.

At least 139 combatants have been killed since the launch of the operation on Wednesday, according to medical and military sources, most of them rebels.

– Closely guarded UN talks –

The Huthi rebels drove Yemen’s government out of Sanaa in 2014, pushing President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi into exile and sparking an intervention by Saudi Arabia and its allies the following year.


AFP / – More than 70 percent of imports to all of Yemen pass through the docks of the rebel-held Hodeida port.

The Saudi-led coalition earlier this year imposed a near-total blockade on Hodeida port, alleging it served as a major conduit for arms smuggling to the rebels by Riyadh’s regional arch rival Iran.

The potential capture of Hodeida would be the coalition’s biggest victory of the war so far.

Rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi has urged his forces to put up fierce resistance and turn the region into a “quagmire” for the Saudi-led coalition troops.

UN envoy Griffiths arrived in rebel-held Sanaa on Saturday for a second round of talks since taking the post in February.

Huthi representative Sharaf, however, accused the Saudi-backed government of “obstructing negotiations”, saying the Hodeida offensive had foiled any potential peace talks in a statement carried by the rebels’ Saba news agency.

Multiple rounds of UN-brokered talks between the rebels and the Hadi government have failed to find a solution to the conflict.

Griffiths, whose talks in Sanaa have been largely kept under wraps, is believed to be pressing the Huthis to cede control of the Red Sea port to a UN-supervised committee that would allow deliveries of commercial goods and aid to continue to flow.


AFP / MOHAMMED HUWAIS. UN special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths holds talks with a Huthi official upon his arrival at Sanaa international airport on June 16, 2018.

On Saturday he called for restraint and said he was in contact with all the warring parties in a bid to halt the fighting.

The UN Security Council on Thursday demanded that Hodeida port be kept open to vital food shipments but stopped short of backing a Swedish call for a pause in the offensive to allow for talks on a rebel withdrawal.

The Yemen war has claimed some 10,000 lives since the Saudi-led coalition intervened in 2015.

More than 22 million Yemenis are in need of aid, including 8.4 million who are at risk of starvation, according to the UN, which has described the conflict as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

In Yemen’s Hudaida, ‘the sound of warplanes never ceases’ | Al Jazeera English

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Beverly Gologorsky <![CDATA[Being Poor in an America run by Billionaires and Hemorrhaging War Budgets]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=176441 2018-06-18T07:30:18Z 2018-06-18T06:13:25Z New York (Tomdispatch.com) – Imagine this: every year during the Great Recession of 2007-2009 there were nearly four million home foreclosures. In that period, with job losses mounting, nearly 15% of American households were categorized as “food insecure.” To many of those who weren’t foreclosed upon, who didn’t lose their jobs, who weren’t “food insecure,” to the pundits writing about that disaster and the politicians dealing with it, these were undoubtedly distant events. But not to me. For me, it was all up close and personal.

No, I wasn’t foreclosed upon. But my past never leaves me and so, in those years, the questions kept piling up. What, I wondered daily, was happening to all those people? Where were they going? What would they do? Could families really stay together in the midst of so much loss?

I was haunted by such questions and others like them in the same way that I remain haunted by my own working-class childhood, my deep experience of poverty, of want, of worry. I wondered: How were working class families surviving the never-ending disasters in what was quickly becoming a new gilded age in which poverty is again on the rise?

As a writer and novelist, I found myself returning to the childhood and adolescence I had left behind in my South Bronx neighborhood in New York City. I thought about those who, like me once upon a time, had barely made it out of the difficulties of their daily lives only to find themselves once again squeezed back into a world of poverty by the Great Recession. How that felt and how they felt raised lingering questions that would become the heart and soul of my new novel, Every Body Has a Story. The book is finished, printed, and in stores and the Great Recession officially over, or so it’s said, but tell that to the increasing numbers of poor families scrabbling to hang on in a world that refuses to see or hear them.

What Does Poverty Feel Like to a Child?

President Trump, a man who never knew a moment of need in his life, and the politicians in his thrall regularly use the term “working class” to mean only those who are white, only those who, they believe, will support their acts. Let me be clear: the working class consists of people who are multi-racial and multi-ethnic, immigrant and native born. If you grew up where I did, you would know the truth of that fact.

And here’s a question that’s never asked: What does poverty actually feel like, especially to a child? I can attest to the fact that it sinks deep into your bones, into the very sinews of your life and never leaves you. Poverty is more than the numbers that prove it, not at all the way the pundits who write about it describe it. And for those Americans who are just one paycheck, one sick child, one broken-down car away from falling into its abyss, poverty lasts forever.

I was a serious child in an impoverished home, in a poor, working-class, diverse neighborhood in a society that valued women less than it did men. I was born to an immigrant father who worked in a leather factory and a mother who took care of children, her own and those of others. I was brought up in the South Bronx, the third of the four children who survived the six born to my mother. With the arrival of each new child, something of material and emotional value was subtracted from the other children’s wellbeing in order to support the new arrival.

Dreams were seen as a waste of the mental energy needed to seek out and acquire the basics: food, rent, clothing, whatever was essential to get through a day, a week, or at most a month. To plan long range would be as useless as dreaming and could only court disappointment. The result of such suppression was anger, depression, and dissatisfaction, which is just to start down an endless list.

Whenever I read about crime rates and addiction levels, including the spread of the opioid epidemic in poor urban or rural areas, I know it’s the result of anger, depression, and dissatisfaction, of unmet needs, big and small, that breed frustration and, perhaps most importantly, despair.

How could I forget our family apartment in the basement of an old six-story building? Through its windows I could daily watch the feet of people passing by on the street outside. In the summers, that apartment was too hot; in the winters, too cold. My mother scoured it regularly, but there was no way to keep out the rodents that competed for ownership in the night. To deal with this infestation, and fearing ever being alone in the apartment, she brought home an alley cat. However, that cat made my asthma worse. It was my mother’s savior and my enemy.

Because the clinic where I received my medications and injections was free, we had to accept home visits from a social worker sent to investigate the “environment” in which I lived. Ahead of her arrival, my brother would remove the cat from the apartment for the duration of the visit. My siblings and I colluded in this ploy in order to keep the “outsider” from telling us how to live our lives — and to protect me from the possibility of being removed from my home.

Passing a Life Sentence on the Poor

In that world of poverty, each event, each change resonated through our lives in ways too grim to recall. And nothing that happened in the world of adults was kept hidden from the children. Nothing could be. When, for instance, my father was laid off and could no longer support his family, each of us was affected. My siblings and I worried about our parents in ways that, in middle or upper class families, parents are supposed to worry about their kids.

My older brother, then 18 or 19, who might have gone to community college ended up in the Army instead, after which, without any special training, his work-life consisted of one dead-end job after another. My eldest sister, saddened by our brother’s lost chance, considered the possibility of college, always knowing how improbable getting there would be.For the youngest of us, my sister and I, the key thing was to get jobs as soon as we could. And we did. I wasn’t quite 13 when I lied myself into a job at a juice store under the Third Avenue El in the Bronx.

Poverty meant buying yesterday’s — or even sometimes last week’s — bread. In such a world, you shopped by the piece, not the pound. Even time is a different commodity in the world of the poor. Joblessness creates unbearable amounts of time to kill, while working three jobs just to get by leaves no time even for sleep. The free time needed to train for, prepare for, or develop a career, or even to relax and develop a life, isn’t readily available with a family to feed. Where there are few or no options for mobility — and in these years of the new Gilded Age, cross-class mobility has, in fact, been on the decline — escape fantasies are a necessity of daily life. How else to get through the drudgery of it all?

In such a world, so lacking in the possibility of either movement or escape, drugs tend to play a big role in the lives of the young and the middle-aged. Recently, doctors have received much of the blame for providing too many opioid prescriptions too easily, while poverty is hardly blamed at all. One of the cruelest results of poverty is that people often fault themselves for their predicaments instead of a system that devalues their worth.

There was a curse, which was also a kind of wish, repeated in the hallways of my neighborhood’s rundown buildings. It went something like this: May the landlord stay healthy and have to live in this building for the rest of his life! Behind such a wish is the deep knowledge that the people most responsible for one’s everyday misery have never had to scrabble for their livings and don’t have a clue what poverty feels like. On television or at the movies, crises are often depicted as drawing people closer. In the world of the poor, however, it’s often the very opposite: poverty and unemployment break up homes, tear families apart, send some into substance abuse and others to one miserable job after another.

Need in America Today

And yet… and yet… what’s most troubling is not what’s changed but what hasn’t, which includes what poverty feels like in the body, the psyche, and the soul. In the body, it mostly results in the development of chronic or untreated ailments in a world in which nutrition is poor and, even if available, unbalanced. Asthma is one example that can be found now, as then, in nearly every family living in poor rural areas and inner cities such as the one in which I grew up.

In the psyche, poverty begets fear, anxiety, tension, and worry, constant worry. In the soul, poverty, which feels like the loss of you know not what, is always there like a cold fist to remind you that tomorrow will be the same as today. Such effects are not outgrown like a child’s dress but linger for a lifetime in a country where the severest kinds of poverty are again on the rise (and was just scathingly denounced by the U.N.’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights), where each tax bill, each favor to the 1%, passes a kind of life sentence on the poor. And that is the definition of hopelessness.

Americans who barely made it through the recent recession now find themselves in conditions (in supposed good times) that seem to be worsening. In poor neighborhoods and rural areas, even when people listen to the pundits of cable TV chatter on about economic inequality, the words bleed together, because without the means to make real change, the present is forever. At best, such discussions feel like ateardrop in an ocean of words. Among professionals, pundits, and academics barely hidden contempt for those defined as lower or working class often tinges such discussions.

If media talk shows were ever to invite the real experts on, those who actually live in neighborhoods of need, so they could tell us what their daily lives are actually like, perhaps impoverishment would be understood more concretely and provoke action.It’s often said that poverty’s always been with us and so is here to stay. However, there have been better safety nets in the relatively recent American past. President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society of the 1960s, though failing in many ways, still succeeded in lifting people out of impoverished lives. Union jobs paid fairly decent wages before they began to be undermined during the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Better wages and union jobs aided people in finding better places to live.

During the past few decades, however, with huge sums being poured into this country’s never-ending wars, unions weakening or collapsing, wages being pushed down, and workers losing jobs, then homes, so much of that safety net is gone. If Donald Trump and his crew of millionaires and billionaires continue with their evisceration of the rest of the safety net, then food stamps, welfare aid directed at children’s health, and women’s reproductive rights, among other things, will disappear as well. Add to that the utter disregard the Trump administration has shown for people of color and its special mean-spiritedness toward immigrants, whether Mexican or Muslim — and for growing numbers of non-millionaires and non-billionaires the future is already starting to look like the worst, not the best, of times.

It seems that those who foster ideologies that deny decent lives to millions believe that people will take it forever. History, however, suggests another possibility and in it perhaps lies some consolation. Namely, that when misery reaches its nadir, it seeks change. Enough is enough was the implicit cry that helped form unions, spur the civil rights movement, launch the migrant grape boycotts, and inspire the drive for women’s liberation.

In the meantime, the poor remain missing in action in our American world, but not in my mind. Not in me.

Beverly Gologorsky is the author of the just-published novel Every Body Has a Story (Dispatch/Haymarket Books), as well as the novels The Things We Do To Make It Home (a New York Times notable book), and Stop Here (an Indie Next pick). Her work has appeared in anthologies, magazines, and newspapers, including the New YorkTimes and the Los Angeles Times.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, and Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead.

Copyright 2018 Beverly Gologorsky

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

PBS NewsHour: “Poor People’s Campaign asks America to face the injustices keeping millions in poverty”

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Randall J. Stephens <![CDATA[Why do Evangelicals Keep Falling for the Trumps and Nixons?]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=176435 2018-06-18T07:24:48Z 2018-06-18T05:46:27Z Newcastle-upon-Tyne (The Conversation) – More than 81% of the US’s protestant evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. A year and a half into his presidency, they seem as dedicated to him as ever – and just as ready to make excuses for his decidedly un-Christian misdeeds.

Many Christian rightists, among them “family values” foghorn James Dobson, consider Trump a “baby Christian”. His lewd and predatory comments about women are simply the mark of a very imperfect man. Any of his actions, no matter how debased or inhumane, are dismissed or approved by the faithful.

On June 14 the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, used scripture to back up Trump’s cruel policies on refugees, which are currently tearing families apart along the southern border. Now, through the alchemy of political tribalism, the former casino owner, who once starred in a softcore porn film and who confessed on the radio to multiple affairs, is a Man of God who speaks his mind with confidence, however deep his ignorance.

But today’s evangelical leaders should be wary of hitching their wagon to an amoral, corrupt president. They could learn a thing or two from their predecessors, who aligned themselves closely with another troublesome president: Richard Nixon, whose malfeasance eventually became too much for the Christian right to tolerate. When the depth of Trump’s misconduct is established, will his prayer warrior enthusiasts have to rethink their allegiance?

For now, the love affair continues. In May 2018, First Baptist Dallas pastor, Robert Jeffress,, proclaimed on Fox News that the vast majority of his fellow believers hoped their candidate would win again in 2020. Trump has reciprocated by waxing pious at prayer breakfasts about the glories and mercies of God. His staunchly evangelical vice president, Mike Pence, assures Americans that “there’s prayer going on on a regular basis in this White House”. Pence recently delivered a Trumpian, campaign-style address at a meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination.

Trump hagiographies are rolling off the presses: The Faith of Donald J. Trump, God and Donald Trump, The Trump Prophecies. The latter is being adapted into a film with the help of fundamentalist bastion Liberty University.

Trump iconographer and right-wing Mormon Jon McNaughton, who once depicted a resolute Barack Obama with the Constitution under his foot, has created a series of kitsch classics rendering Trump as a cross between prophet, priest and king. Perhaps one day in the not-so-distant future the artist will paint The Apotheosis of The Donald for the capitol rotunda.

What about the president’s habitual lying? His sordid past? His bragging and bullying? His demonising of refugees? His lawer’s payment of US$130,000 in alleged hush money to a porn star? Influential evangelist Franklin Graham recently said that Trump’s alleged affair with Stormy Daniels happened many years ago. It didn’t matter now.

In March 2018, the Pew Research Center reported that white evangelical support for Trump stood at 78%, a figure that had actually grown since news about Daniels broke. Democrats, progressive Christians, and the media hated Trump. That was reason enough for many others to support him.

Anyhow, said Graham: “I don’t think that he came to be president by mistake or by happenstance. I think somehow God put him in this position.” And Graham was even more assured when Trump told him that his father, Fred Trump, had taken him to an evangelistic crusade held by Graham’s own father, Billy.

Common cause

Perhaps the most famous and influential revivalist of the 20th century, Billy Graham preached a simple message of repentance and salvation. Though he claimed to stay away from politics, he was in fact deeply political, and a close confidant of presidents Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon and Reagan.

During the 1960 presidential campaign, Graham and his fellow travellers were faced with the possibility that John F. Kennedy, a Catholic and a Democrat, would be the next president. They rallied behind Richard Nixon – and stayed behind him for years.

Like Graham, many white evangelicals in the late 1960s and early 1970s found in Nixon a strong, powerful man who boldly stood up to liberal politicians, civil rights agitators and amoral student activists. When the president championed the “silent majority” on national television, they were heartened that such a Christian leader would speak for them. Nixon signalled that they were the true victims in the heated political and cultural battles of the age.

Richard Nixon with Billy Graham.
Wikimedia Commons

Nixon won 69% of the evangelical vote in his successful 1968 bid, and he instituted regular White House religious services at the start of his presidency. The president’s call for “law and order” also inspired the faithful. The head of the National Association of Evangelicals endorsed the Republican president in 1972, praising Nixon’s Cold War policies. 84% of evangelicals cast their votes for Nixon that year.

Their affinity lasted for most of Nixon’s doomed presidency. Graham’s private conversations with Nixon, recorded by a secret White House taping system, revealed the extent of the preacher’s partisanship and his willingness to encourage the president’s many prejudices and burning grudges. On February 10, 1972, Graham listened intently as the commander-in-chief railed against Jews and their overpowering influence. America’s pastor replied that “this stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain”. Nixon sympathised: “I can’t ever say that, but I believe it.”

Keeping the faith

But the following year, the scandal over the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up dominated headlines and nightly TV news. Like other right-wing partisans, conservative Christians tried to brush it aside, but they could only ignore the obvious for so long – when it came down to it, their political hero was a squalid criminal. When Graham finally heard the profanity-laced Watergate tapes, he reportedly vomited.

Quite a few evangelicals, though disillusioned, didn’t really come to grips with the deeper meaning of it all, responding with a kind of born-again dodge.

Graham reckoned that Watergate was a symptom of a deeper, national moral problem. He wondered if Americans should have prayed more for their president. “There’s a little bit of Watergate in all of us,” Graham cautioned. Some – like the fundamentalist minister and Christian right political broker Jerry Falwell – continued to revere the disgraced former president. In the years after Nixon’s 1974 resignation, evangelicals voted Republican in growing numbers.

The ConversationWill Trump’s solid, evangelical base ever come to terms with the kind of person they voted into office? Will there be a reckoning in the coming months and years that will open their eyes to his cynical manipulations, his divisive, culture-war grandstanding, his philandering, or repeated lying? It’s difficult to say. But if the past is any guide, the answer is a resounding no.

Randall J. Stephens, Associate Professor and Reader in History and American Studies, Northumbria University, Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Featured Photo: “Donald Trump delivers remarks at the Liberty University,” Whitehouse.gov

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Juan Cole http://juancole.com <![CDATA[With new pro-Iran Iraq Coalition, Tehran Outmaneuvers Trump-Saudi-Israeli Axis]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=176425 2018-06-18T07:32:07Z 2018-06-17T06:35:34Z Trump allegedly complained to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that after the 2015 nuclear deal, the Iranians “think they can do anything they want.” Presumably Trump was referring to Iran’s geopolitical reach in the Middle East, where it had gathered up allies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

It is likely that Trump’s violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal signed between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, was intended to set the stage for a push to contain Iran.

The push against Iran would involve again subjecting it to severe economic sanctions, in hopes of bankrupting it and depriving it of the means with which to continue to play a role in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Boycotts on oil states are not usually effective, since they can usually find a way to sell their oil lucratively nevertheless, and to use the proceeds to cushion the country’s elect.

One corner of the attempt at rollback involves Iraq. When a reconstruction conference took place last February in Kuwait, the Trump administration refused to make any contribution at all to rebuilding the country that the US destroyed. At the same time, the US encouraged Iraq to take aid from Saudi Arabia as a quid pro quo for moving away from Iran.

The continued tone deafness in Washington about Middle East politics, after all these years of being deeply immersed in it, is baffling. The Shiite majority in Iraq isn’t necessarily opposed to better relations with Wahhabi Saudi Arabia. People are more pragmatic than the “clash of civilizations” or “Sunni-Shiite conflict” theses might lead one to expect.

But that the Shiite-majority government of Iraq would turn its back on Iran in favor of an alignment with Saudi Arabia (which does not like Shiites very much) is a daft proposition.

Another sign of Iran Derangement Syndrome in Washington was the unrealistic hopes expressed by right wing pundits that the Iraqi parliamentary election would signal a turn of Iraq away from Iran. The biggest vote-getters were followers of the hard line Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who had quixotically allied with the small Communist movement.

Al-Sadr is known for resenting Iranian domination of Iraqi Shiism. His father, an Iraqi Arab, had been a contender for the position of chief Iraqi Shiite authority or clerical Exemplar in Najaf before he was assassinated by the Saddam Hussein regime in 1998. His father’s rival, who rose to the top, is Ali Sistani, from a town near Mashhad in eastern Iran, who came to Iraq in 1952. Not only is Sistani the leading religious authority for Iraqi Shiites but Iran’s clerical Leader, Ali Khamenei, also has influence.

Al-Sadr, however, has just announced that he will form a post-election coalition with Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of a heavily pro-Iranian political list, Fatah, that comprises party-militias backed by Iran, who played a major role in defeated the hard line Sunni ISIL terrorist group that took over northern and western Iraq 2014-2017.

Al-Ameri is head of the Badr Corps, a Shiite militia that began as an offshoot of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, Trump’s bete noire.

Moreover, the idea that al-Sadr is anti-Iran is overblown. He once dedicated his militia, then known as the Mahdi Army, to defending Iran from anyone who might attack it. When Gen. David Petraeus forced al-Sadr out of Iraq in 2007, Muqatada took refuge in Qom in Iran, where he pursued seminary studies before eventually returning to his country. And after the parliamentary elections of 2010 returned four major blocs, al-Sadr allowed his arm to be twisted by Iran such that he allied with pro-Iranian factions to form a government, locking the Sunnis out of power.

Baghdad looks to have close and warm relations with Iran under the government now being formed. It is being joined by Massoud Barzani’s Kurds, who also have traditionally good relations with Tehran, despite tensions over Iranian Kurdistan (Iran has some 4 million mostly Sunni Kurds, who are sometimes restive).

In fact, the prominence of al-Ameri in the proposed new government raises questions about how welcome the some 6000 US troops in Baghdad will remain now that ISIL is largely defeated.

The May elections in Lebanon also returned a government thick with Christian and Shiite allies of Iran, and in which the position of the pro-Iranian Shiite party-militia, Hizbullah, improved over that of the last election in 2009.

In Syria, president Bashar al-Assad is openly speaking of offering Iran hardened bases in his country. Trump is talking about pulling out US troops from Syria by October, and if that happens (a big ‘if’), there would be nothing to stop plans for formal Iranian bases from moving forward.

So far, the new alliance of Trump, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel against Iran formed in spring of 2017 has had no successes at all. If anything, in the last year Iran’s hand has been strengthened in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. While the Houthi rebels in Yemen may ultimately be defeated by the Saudi-UAE Axis, which is now attacking the Red Sea port of Hodeida, Iran is only marginally involved in Yemen– contrary to what Saudi propaganda would have us believe.

On the other side of the Arabian Peninsula, Iranian relations with Qatar have warmed up substantially, after Iran helped thwart a Saudi-UAE plot to overthrow Qatar’s government and subject it to themselves. In fact, the Saudi-UAE push on Qatar has destroyed the Gulf Cooperation Council, which used to group Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, and which was formed in 1981 to combat Iranian hegemony in the Gulf. The collapse of the GCC inevitably strengthens Iran’s hand. Oman and Kuwait have stood by Qatar, and both have fair relations with Tehran.

Some 18 months into the Trump administration, Trump hasn’t laid a finger on Tehran, which is still in the catbird seat in the eastern stretches of the Middle East.

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Bonus video:

Press TV: “Iraq’s Sadr teams up with Fatah alliance”

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Yaser Alashqar <![CDATA[Agency: A Grassroots Nonviolent Palestinian Movement is Israel’s worst Nightmare]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=176417 2018-06-18T07:15:09Z 2018-06-17T04:43:29Z Donald Trump’s recent policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been unambiguous, to put it mildly. His administration is increasingly aligned with one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history. Most radically of all, it reversed a longstanding US policy by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and relocating the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. But, while the US policy has been the subject of furious debate, there’s been relatively little discussion about how the Palestinian leaders can respond.

It’s very important not to see the Palestinians and their leaders as passive actors or helpless victims. This is an evolving situation, and the Palestinian people are far from powerless. In fact, the current US-Israeli alliance presents Palestinian leaders with new opportunities to formulate counter-policies and preserve the Palestinian issue’s status as a just cause.

There’s plenty to do on the home front, and high up the list is achieving national unity among the different Palestinian political factions – Fatah and Hamas – and also the wider Palestinian communities in the homeland and the Shatat (diaspora).

Shatat communities have been marginalised in Palestinian political life ever since the Oslo Accords were signed in the early 1990s. While the leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) returned to the occupied territories, the vast majority of the Palestinian refugee and displaced communities in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan were left waiting for an end to the displacement that began in 1948. They are still waiting today.

The PLO’s existing institutions need to be reformed and reinvigorated, and Palestinian communities within the homeland and the Shatat given a true voice in them. More than that, if Palestinian leaders want to put Israel under pressure, they need to think seriously about engaging in national campaigns of nonviolent popular resistance and civil disobedience.

Changing course

One of the Israeli military and political leadership’s biggest fears is the emergence of an unarmed and nonviolent movement in the occupied Palestinian territories, one that could attract international support and the attention of the world’s media. The possibility of Palestinian refugees marching towards their confiscated land and demanding their national rights has haunted Israel for 70 years, and the last thing the Netanyahu government wants to see is an organised peaceful mass resistance movement that the wider world might feel comfortable supporting.

Along these lines, there’s another radical option the Palestinian leaders should consider: to shift its focus from the failing two-state solution to the pursuit of full and equal rights for all its citizens.

Palestinians in Israel face severe everyday discrimination, and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank including East Jerusalem are living under oppressive military occupation. Both are subject to complex and unjust legal structures that accord full rights to Israelis and settlers while denying protection and national rights to indigenous Palestinian communities.

Seeking equal rights and justice in all of Palestine is not only a democratic question, but a challenge to exclusive ideologies that have maintained separation and conflict. Among Palestinian intellectual and political representatives, the discourse of citizenship and equality is regaining currency as a primary means of conflict transformation – largely because of the failure of the two-state solution.

The high ground

Another option is to keep pursuing international recognition of Palestinian statehood. This may not make much impact on Palestinians’ everyday lives, but it will certainly help enhance Palestine’s international status and foreground the Palestinian issue in international law. And that in turn will put Israel under increasing pressure to accept Palestinian national independence.

The most recent breakthroughs on this front came at the UN, which in 2012 effectively recognised Palestine’s statehood and granted it membership as a “non-member observer state”. That move has granted the Palestinians access to international justice mechanisms; today, the International Criminal Court is investigating potential war crimes committed by Israel since June 2014 in Palestinian territories, particularly in Gaza.

The Palestinian political leadership can also do more to leverage the PLO’s recognition of Israel. Whereas the PLO has recognised Israel’s right to live in peace and security since the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel has never reciprocated and recognised Palestinian statehood. Instead, in the words of Sara Roy, the Oslo process saw the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories became “formalised” and “institutionalised”. Yet despite repeated statements bemoaning the Oslo framework’s failure, the Palestinian Authority has yet to capitalise on this obvious political inequality. Instead, it is still firmly committed thanks to the political, economic and security interests of its ruling elites.

To change the calculus, the Palestinian Authority leadership needs to put the issue of equal state recognition back on the agenda and consider the merit of its dogged commitment to the Oslo Accords. Options like this might not reverse the damage created by Trump’s alignment with the right-wing Israeli leadership, but they will prove that the Palestinians are serious and capable of developing policies that can lead to genuine change and win over international public opinion.

The ConversationMore articles about Palestine, written by experts:

Yaser Alashqar, Adjunct Assistant Professor and Lecturer in conflict studies and Middle East politics, Trinity College Dublin

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Munther Amira talks about social work and non-violent resistance

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Paul Jamiol http://www.jamiolsworld.com/ <![CDATA[America’s Asylum for Refugees under Trump (Cartoon)]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=176409 2018-06-17T17:01:50Z 2018-06-17T04:34:29Z Via: Jamiol’s World


Get Paul Jamiol’s latest book of political cartoons, Hatred Rising

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AFP <![CDATA[French Auto Maker Renault decides to Stay in Iran, Fight Trump Sanctions]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=176406 2018-06-18T07:15:25Z 2018-06-17T04:20:31Z Paris (AFP) – French carmaker Renault will maintain its presence in Iran while taking measures to avoid the risk of penalties for breaching renewed US sanctions, CEO Carlos Ghosn said Friday.

“We will not abandon it, even if we have to downsize very strongly,” he said at the annual shareholders’ meeting in Paris.

“When the market reopens, the fact of having stayed will certainly give us an advantage,” he predicted.

US President Donald Trump announced in May that he was pulling out of the hard-fought 2015 deal in which world powers offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for restraints on its nuclear programme.

The US exit means renewed sanctions on the Islamic Republic, while international companies doing business there will face penalties if they do not quit the country in between 90 and 180 days.

Companies including aircraft maker Boeing, French energy giant Total and Danish shipping group Maersk have announced plans to pull out, while Nike has stopped supplying Iran’s football team with boots.

Renault’s rival PSA, which produces the Peugeot and Citroen brands, has also announced it will quit Iran to abide by the US sanctions.

But Ghosn signalled that Renault, which counted 160,000 cars sold in Iran last year out of its total 3.76 million, would try to stay in the country.

“We have a future in Iran,” he insisted.

“However, we are not going to do so to the detriment of Renault’s interests — we will be watching closely to make sure our presence in Iran does not provoke direct or indirect reprisal measures on the part of American authorities.”

Ghosn said a Renault team working on the issue was “in direct contact with the American administration to work out what can be done and what cannot be done”.

The company has not sold its cars in the United States since abandoning the market in the 1980s.

Featured Photo added by Informed Comment: h/t Wikimedia Commons Navigator84

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Middle East Monitor <![CDATA[Retro Saudi Soap Opera set in Imaginary “Unveiled, Liberal” 1970s Infuriates Hardliners]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=176413 2018-06-18T07:14:56Z 2018-06-17T04:06:47Z With scenes of unveiled women and mixed-sex musical soirees, a new Saudi Arabian soap opera, set in the 1970s, is evoking nostalgia about the kingdom’s modern past. A period before the rise of religious fundamentalism.

But, with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s liberalising plans for the country, it is also giving viewers an unintended taste of what could be to come.

Al-Assouf (Homesick), which was aired on local MBC satellite channel every night during the holy month of Ramadan, portrays a traditional but tolerant society where women blithely pursue lovers who appear disinterested in controlling what they wear.

The show, which was filmed two years ago in Abu Dhabi, comes in the midst of great change in the country.

Prince Mohammed, the heir to the throne, is pursuing reforms that mark the biggest cultural shake-up in Saudi Arabia’s modern history.

The reforms have ended decades-long bans on women driving and cinemas and allowed mixed-gender concerts, sidelining hardliners who were once the traditional backers of the royal family.

MBS, as he is nicknamed, has said he wants to return the country to moderate Islam, return Saudi Arabia to the days before Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

The drama, as with Prince Mohammed’s reforms, has predictably earned the wrath of hardliners in the ultra-conservative kingdom who have dismissed it as a distortion.

“To picture a community that accepts the mixing of genders, adultery and children born out of wedlock… is a disaster,” Abdulbaset Qari, a prominent cleric, said in a YouTube video.

“They (the show) want to spread immorality, to normalise this culture.”

One Al-Assouf scene shows a young Saudi boy leaning over a neighbourhood wall to talk to a girl. “Young children flirting!” wrote Abdulrahman al-Nassar, a Kuwaiti cleric popular in the kingdom. “The ugly distortion of childhood in Saudi Arabia.”

The backlash has laid bare what observers call an undercurrent of resentment over the waning influence of arch-conservatives, who once had a powerful influence in the country.


Saudi women can drive – Cartoon [Sarwar Ahmed/ Middle East Monitor].

Moderates, including Nasser Al Kasabi, Assouf’s lead actor, however, have fiercely defended the drama.

“Extremists are against it because they believe it is an attempt to destroy what they built over the next two decades (since 1979), which they refer to as the ‘awakening’,” columnist Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed wrote in London-based daily newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

“They are attacking Al Assouf because it has cast light on an era that was deliberately made dark. The raison d’etre of the extremists is to extinguish this light.”

Ali Al Zuabi, a Saudi professor at Kuwait University, said: “Our communities are in need of an Al Assouf that is capable of sending us back to our first life, or in the correct sense, our simple life before we changed for the worse.”

Creative Commons License This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Via Middle East Monitor

Featured Photo: Al-Assouf depicts 1970s’ Saudi Arabia, where women are unveiled and mix in public with men [Twitter].

[Informed Comment Editorial Note: Saudi Arabia has been Wahhabi all along and was not actually “liberal” in the 1970s no matter what Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman says. Some upper class Saudis when abroad or in private mansions may have relaxed restrictions on veiling and gender segregation.]

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