Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 22 Mar 2018 09:31:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Afghanistan: How a Shrine Bombing in Kabul tells us Trump’s Surge won’t Succeed Thu, 22 Mar 2018 09:20:54 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

This year, the merriment of Now-Ruz in Kabul was marred by a suicide bombing that killed at least 33 persons and wounded 68, according to the Afghani Ministry of Health. The perpetrator was allegedly a member of ISIL (which really needs another name, since it isn’t an ‘Islamic State’ and doesn’t hold territory in Iraq or the Levant any more, and just seems to be a franchise for disgruntled terrorists dissatisfied with how moderate the Afghan Taliban are).

March 20 was the vernal equinox this year, the first day of spring and a time when people with a heritage in Persianate culture celebrate New Year (Now-Ruz). In Afghanistan, in Kabul and Herat, there was dancing and small childrens’ carnivals and family celebrations where people put out tableaux with seven things starting with the letter “s” in Persian. Now-Ruz, or the Persian New Year, goes back to pre-Islamic times and developed in the ancient Persian empires.

In Kabul, a crowd gathers every year for the festivities in the largely Hazara Shiite neighborhood at the Kart-e Sakhi shrine near Kabul University. The shrine is said once to have housed the relic of the cloak of the prophet Muhammad.

This horrific act of violence on Tuesday aimed at dividing Afghans. The hard line fundamentalist Salafi ideology of some Pushtun extremists finds everything about the scene at Kart-e sakhi to be distasteful. They don’t like the Hazara Shiites, whom they see as wretched heretics (and in Afghan society the Hazaras have often been mistreated by other ethnic groups as a sort of menial lower caste). They don’t like Now-Ruz, which they see as a pagan holdover. They don’t like people dancing or being happy or women being in public.

In an ideal world, this horrible atrocity would be met with big anti-extremism demonstrations in Sunni, Pushtun cities like Jalalabad and Qandahar. Until all Afghans can identify with minority victims of extremism, the extremists will have a toehold.

(I figure that Hazaras are 22% of Afghans and Pushtuns are 44%).

And, of course, what the ISIL cells in Afghanistan are hoping for is that the Hazaras will form mobs and attack Sunnis, or Hazara elements in the Afghanistan National Army will take reprisals against Pushtun Sunnis, or that Pushtun Sunnis of a fundamentalist mindset will take up the cause of attacking Shiites or attacking Now-Ruz celebrations. They hope to polarize, as a pathway to power.

And until Afghans find a way to fight that polarization on ethnic and religious grounds, Trump can send all the extra troops he wants and can drop all the mothers-of-all-bombs he likes, but the Afghanistan war will grind on.

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Israel: 8 months for slap in teen journalist Ahed Tamimi Plea Bargain Thu, 22 Mar 2018 07:20:35 +0000 Middle East Monitor | – –

Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi is to serve eight months in an Israeli jail after reaching a plea bargain, Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported.

Details have yet to be made public after the court held a closed session today, however the paper reported that Tamimi would plead guilty to four charges of assault and that the agreement must be approved by a military court.

Tamimi, 17, who was charged with stone-throwing and attacking soldiers, was arrested in December after a video showing her slapping Israeli soldiers and telling them to leave her property went viral. Israeli soldiers had invaded her home and shot her cousin in the head minutes before.

Her trial has been delayed some four times, during which she has been kept in police custody. Her case has gained international support, with international NGOs, British politicians and the UN calling for her release. An online petition protesting her imprisonment has been signed by more than 1.7 million people.

Israeli police have continued to harass the Tamimis since Ahed’s detention and have also arrested 10 members of her family, including her cousin Mohammed Tamimi, who was initially shot. During his detention, Israeli authorities also attempted to prove that her cousin Mohammed, who lost a third of his skull due to the impact of the bullet, actually sustained his injury from falling off his bike.

Via Middle East Monitor

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

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How Racism in the West is Changing: from Exploitation to Competition Thu, 22 Mar 2018 06:51:30 +0000 By Anne-Ruth Wertheim | ( Joop )

In addition to racism in our parts predominantly taking the guise of Islamophobia in recent decades, now all those moldy myths about differences in IQ between the races people are being dusted off. Not that horror stories about Muslims have vanished or any other prejudices about minority groups.

Discussions still focus on who can and who cannot be called racist, while the question what of racism actually is is fobbed off with vague descriptions in the direction of ‘believing population groups to be inferior’. Looking down on people is of course a terrible thing, but – although it is hardly ever talked about – jealousy is also at play. In the same way as what actually prompts people to utter their prejudices is seldom discussed. After all it is not just about what they say, it is mainly about what they prefer to keep to themselves. It is a dire necessity to see through the mechanisms at work, if for no other reason than to combat racism in such a way that racist violence does not break out in the future.

By unravelling these mechanisms, we make it possible to answer complicated questions. Questions such as: why are people of a different complexion who do important work in society initially belittled, only then to be criticized when they push ahead? Why are the offspring of guest workers and people from the former Dutch colonies put at a disadvantage when they compete in the labor market – often with a reference to habits which are attributed to the countries of their forefathers? Why after all these years is proportional representation in the media grossly lacking of people with a migration background? Why are politicians with a migration background continually pinned down on matters specifically concerning what people call ‘their community’, when they try to tackle issues which affect the whole of society? And why are they labelled disloyal when they set up their own party after established parties fail to offer them enough opportunities? And finally why is it that racism has not declined, now that so many people with a migration background have reached prominent positions in government, politics and all other societal domains, such as film, music, cabaret, architecture, sport, medicine, literature, journalism, law and ICT?

Racism is a hodgepodge

Racism is a hodgepodge to start with comprising two components: exploitation racism and competition racism. And to make it even more complicated – the proportion of each of these two components in racism as a whole is also shifting as time progresses. This shifting is an intriguing phenomenon, see illustration: How the guise of prevalent racism is changing as time progresses.


The distinction between the two types of racism comes from my father, a sociologist who specialized in south-east Asia Wim F.Wertheim. As a child, he experienced what it was like to be discriminated against as a Jew and as an adult in the colonial Dutch East Indies, he was struck by two totally distinct phenomena. He saw how the Indonesian population was exploited by means of the use of derogatory qualifications, whilst the Chinese mercantile minority was exposed to a form of racism which was strikingly similar to the anti-Semitism he knew from Europe. He named the first type exploitation racism and the second competition racism and described them in his academic work. Later I further developed these differences and integrated them into a chart in order to turn over in one’s mind the reasoning, see illustration: Characteristics of the two types of racism. The two types differ in the following ways: the population at which they are targeted, the prejudices which accompany them, the motivation behind the prejudices, and the kind of violence which goes with it.

Exploitation and competition racism

Exploitation and competition racism target two totally different groups and there is a direct connection with the work they do and their economic position. Consequently, there is a difference between the kind of prejudices which are brought into circulation: disparaging or fearsome in nature. The enslaved, the black population of South Africa, the original inhabitants of colonized countries and Afro-Americans in the US were supposed to have a low IQ ‘by nature’ and were considered lazy and childlike. And therefore mundane hard labour was the only thing they were capable of and supposedly what they preferred.

Stupid and lazy was the very last thing that would be used to describe the Chinese mercantile minority in Indonesia, they were said to be sly and untrustworthy. Besides they were henchmen for big scary China, which strove for world dominance. Jews were also said to be cunning, disloyal to the countries where they lived and hungry for world power. As proof a falsified document from bygone times was conjured up in which mysterious men were said to have used words to this effect. And now it is the turn of Muslims. To support the idea that they are not to be trusted and are disloyal, rumors are spread that they are controlled by the long arm of their mother country, with references to their dual nationality. And if that does not suffice, their holy scriptures are cited selectively so that they can be accused of wanting to establish Sharia law worldwide.

Motives behind racist prejudices, what do people prefer to keep to themselves?

The motives behind the prejudices circulating about certain population groups are wholly in line with what needs to be justified: in the first case exploitation, and in the second exclusion. But when asked about their motives is what people declare, what they actually say, really the only thing driving them? Could there be something else, which they would rather keep quiet?

People who look down on another population group will probably not readily admit how good it feels to raise themselves above others. In cultures and faith communities in which the dominating norm is that all people are equal, and this applies to by far the most, you may expect such a sense of superiority to be coupled with feelings of shame and/or guilt. All the more reason to find even more evidence that the other group is, in actual fact, inferior.

A similar phenomenon could be at play when there is a fear of a minority’s competitive power. People will probably not be inclined to reveal their envy, because in a capitalist society like ours there is effectively a taboo on jealousy. Moreover, it makes much more sense to keep it a secret when you think that a group is doing well, otherwise you might weaken your own group’s competitive position. It’s therefore a hundred times more profitable to state with great emphasis that the group is not to be trusted and is a great danger to society.

After all identifying a scapegoat for everything that goes wrong in society is generally not something to be proud about. People who do so will probably not like to acknowledge how they enjoy sharing the conviction with like-minded people around them that the cause of all misery should really be sought in the scapegoat group. In my experience in education, I often observed how consoling it can be for classes to experience a mutual sense of unity when bullying a scapegoat.

Different kinds of violence

In the case of exploitation racism, the group as a whole needs to be kept healthy and at work, but at the same time compliant and willing to endure the most wretched working conditions. When a few rise up in revolt and threaten to motivate others to do the same, the authorities endeavor to suppress it by publically punishing the rebels, in full view of all the others. In the case of competition racism, the whole rival group needs to be driven out of the region and this may start with the killing of a few members of the group, but soon turns into mass slaughter, pogroms. History has shown that such mass violence can be sparked when fearsome qualifications over a group are systematically circulated for long enough. It is not surprising therefore that the perpetrators of such violence always claim they acted in self-defense: if they had not killed the other person, they would have been killed. And wherever they occur, such outbreaks of violence are always preceded by a sharper demarcation of the group, accompanied by allusions to their expulsion and stronger emphasis on the recognizability of the members of the group.

There are situations however in which exploitation racism has been accompanied by mass violence, for instance during the enslavement of Africans and their transportation to the United States. Large numbers of people often died in the holds of the vessels in which they were being shipped. Rather than put an end to such an abuse, the perpetrators cynically ‘solved’ the problem by fetching more people from Africa. As well as during the enslavement of people from Africa, mass violence was not seldom used in the colonies too, when people were forced to become coolies.


Shift in the proportions of exploitation- and competition racism in racism as a whole

When I carried out research into adult education in the 1990s, I observed a noteworthy phenomenon. My task was to register signs of racism during Dutch lessons for Dutch-speaking adults who had hardly attended school and during Dutch lessons as a second language for migrants. I discovered – to some extent concealed in expressions and gestures – that both disdain/self-conceit (exploitation racism) and jealousy, distrust and fear (competition racism) occurred. As a result, I wondered whether this mixture only occurred at this moment in this setting, or whether prevailing racism was perhaps changing. I put forward the hypothesis that a shift is taking place here in Europe, and therefore also in the Netherlands, from exploitation racism towards competition racism and discussed this with my father, who found it an interesting thought which he included in an article he was writing at the time for Dutch cultural monthly De Gids (1991), note 1.

In the meantime almost 30 years have passed and my hypothesis has not only turned out to be true, this phenomenon is still prevalent. The first guest workers and non-Western immigrants from the colonies predominantly suffered from the old, familiar colonial exploitation racism – they were looked upon with disdain. This disdain was still going strong in the 1990s and continues today. Disparaging prejudices are still targeted at people of color, and people who come from regions which are considered to be less developed are also seen in this light.

However, the more their children and grandchildren were able to compete, the more additional prejudices were circulated which belong to competition racism. More and more offspring from guest workers managed – often after overcoming severe underestimation and opposition – to complete their studies and gain a foothold in attractive positions in the labor market, making them rivals to the established population – especially those with good qualifications. Among the descendants of the guest workers it were particularly the Muslims who were a welcome target for the frightful prejudices which accompany competition racism. While the children and grandchildren of inhabitants from former colonies also received the same treatment, the more they became formidable rivals – in addition to the usual exploitation racism, which never disappeared and which has been on the increase in recent years. And now we have the non-Western refugees as well. They are said to steal jobs and get homes unfairly as well as being dangerous and not belonging here.

I predict that this shift will continue as the further emancipation of recognizable minorities progresses and with it the chance of mass violence will increase. But I hope and expect that people who want to halt this fatal development will be better equipped to do so when they are able to get to the bottom of the mechanisms at play.

Website Anne-Ruth Wertheim:

Note 1. See W.F.Wertheim ‘Koloniaal racisme in Indonesië, Ons onverwerkt verleden?’ (Colonial racism in Indonesia, Our unresolved past) in De Gids, issue 154 (1991):

Anne-Ruth Wertheim is a journalist and the author of various books including De gans eet het brood van de eenden op, mijn kindertijd in een Jappenkamp op Java (The Goose Snatches the Bread from the Ducks, My Childhood in a Japanese Prison Camp on Java, 1994). An Indonesian translation of the book was published in March 2008.She works with the concepts of exploitation/colonial racism (contempt or condescension) and cultural/competition racism (envy and distrust).

Reprinted with the author’s permission from Joop


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

CGTN: “Stranded migrants protest against racism in Europe”

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Turkey: Mass Deportations of Syrians to dangerous Areas Thu, 22 Mar 2018 06:21:17 +0000 Human Rights Watch | – –

EU Should Raise Issue, Pledge Aid at Conference

(Brussels) – Turkish security forces have routinely intercepted hundreds, and at times thousands, of asylum seekers at the Turkey-Syria border since at least December 2017 and summarily deported them to the war-ravaged Idlib governorate in Syria, Human Rights Watch said today. Turkish border guards have shot at asylum seekers trying to enter Turkey using smuggling routes, killing and wounding them, and have deported to Idlib newly arrived Syrians in the Turkish town of Antakya, 30 kilometers from the Syrian border.

The Russian-Syrian military alliance’s December offensive against anti-government forces in Idlib has displaced almost 400,000 civilians, according to the UN. They have joined more than 1.3 million others trapped inside Idlib in insecure, overcrowded camps, and in makeshift camps in fields near the closed Turkish border where they are under constant threat of attack and lack food, clean water, shelter, health care, and aid. At a March 26, 2018 summit meeting in Bulgaria, the European Union should press Turkey to allow Syrian civilians fleeing fighting to seek protection inside Turkey and pledge increased aid to Syrian refugees in Turkey and the region.

“As border guards try to seal the last remaining gaps in Turkey’s border, hundreds of thousands of Syrians are trapped in fields to face the bombs on the Syrian side,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee rights program director at Human Rights Watch. “The EU should press Turkey to open its border to those in need, and provide meaningful support, not silently stand by as Turkey ignores refugee law and pushes thousands back to face the carnage.”

In response to these allegations, the Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) in Turkey’s Ministry of Interior provided Human Rights Watch with a lengthy statement, which said, in part, that “while maintaining the security of borders against terrorist organizations, Turkey continues to accept Syrians in need coming to the borders, and never opens fire on or uses violence against them.”

The DGGM said that it registered 510,448 Syrians coming through the designated border gates in 2017, and 91,866 so far in 2018, and provided them with temporary protection. As seen from the numbers, the DGMM statement said, “allegations suggesting that Syrians are not registered are not true.” It does not appear that Turkish authorities conducted an investigation into Human Rights Watch’s specific findings.

In mid-February, Human Rights Watch spoke by phone with 21 Syrians about their repeated failed attempts to cross into Turkey with smugglers. Eighteen of them said that intensified Russia-Syrian airstrikes in Deir al-Zour and in Idlib had repeatedly displaced them until they finally decided they had no option but to risk their lives and flee to Turkey.

Those interviewed described 137 incidents, almost all between mid-December and early March, in which Turkish border guards intercepted them just after they had crossed the border with smugglers. Human Rights Watch spoke with another 35 Syrians stuck in Idlib who had not tried to escape for fear of being shot by border guards.

Nine people also described 10 incidents between September and early March in which Turkish border guards shot at them or others ahead of them as they tried to cross, killing 14 people, including 5 children, and injuring 18.

Civilians in Idlib have also been caught in the crossfire between Kurdish and Turkish forces during the offensive by Turkey in the Kurdish-held town of Afrin in Syria, north of Idlib, which began on January 20.

In November, the United Nations refugee agency said in its latest country guidance on Syria that “all parts of Syria are reported to have been affected, directly or indirectly, by one or multiple conflicts” and therefore maintained its long-standing call on all countries “not to forcibly return Syrians.”

Syrians who tried to enter Turkey said they were intercepted after they crossed the Orontes River or near the internally displaced persons camp in al-Dureyya. They said Turkish border guards deported them along with hundreds, and at times thousands, of other Syrians they had intercepted. They said the guards forced them to return to Syrian territory at an informal crossing point at Hatya or across a small dam on the Orontes River known as the Friendship Bridge that aid agencies have used.

Human Rights Watch obtained satellite images of both crossing points and of four security posts with large tents set up on basketball courts in the immediate border area where asylum seekers said they were held before being sent back to Syria.

The findings follow a February 3 Human Rights Watch report on Turkey’s border killings and summary pushbacks of asylum seekers between May and December 2017 and similar findings in November 2015 and May 2016.

In response to the February 3 report, a senior Turkish official repeated his government’s long-standing response to such reports, pointing out that Turkey has taken in millions of Syrian refugees. Human Rights Watch described its latest findings in a letter on March 15 to Turkey’s interior minister, requesting comment by March 21.

Turkey is hosting over 3.5 million Syrian refugees, according to the UN refugee agency. Turkey deserves credit and support for its generosity and is entitled to secure its border with Syria.

However, Turkey is also obliged to respect the principle of nonrefoulement, which prohibits countries from returning anyone to a place where they face a real risk of persecution, torture, or inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. This includes a prohibition on rejecting asylum seekers at borders that would expose them to such threats. Turkey is also obliged to respect international norms on the use of lethal force as well as the rights to life and bodily integrity.

Turkey insists that it respects the principle of nonrefoulement. “Syrians are accepted and taken under protection in Turkey and Syrians who have entered into Turkey somehow and demand protection are definitely not sent back and the reception and registration procedures are carried out,” the DGMM’s statement in response to this report said. “Syrians coming to Turkey are under no circumstances forced to go back to their own country; their registration is continuing and these foreigners can benefit from many rights and services in Turkey.”

Launch Map

Map of the Turkey-Syria Border.

Satellite data © 2018 DigitalGlobe; Analysis © 2018 Human Rights Watch

As of December, Turkey had completed almost 800 kilometers of a planned 911-kilometer border barrier with Syria, which consists of a rocket-resistant concrete wall and steel fence. The satellite imagery Human Rights Watch obtained of the area where Syrians say they crossed with smugglers shows areas without a wall.

Turkey’s continued refusal since at least mid-2015 to allow Syrian asylum seekers to cross the border legally has been reinforced by a controversial EU-Turkey March 2016 migration agreement to curb refugee and migration flows to the European Union. The EU should instead be working with Turkey to keep its borders open to refugees, providing financial support for Turkey’s refugee efforts, and sharing responsibility by stepping up resettlement of refugees from Turkey, Human Rights Watch said.

“The EU should stop ignoring Turkey’s mass refugee deportations,” Simpson said. “The meeting in Bulgaria is a clear opportunity for the EU governments and institutions to change course and ramp up efforts to help Turkey protect Syrian refugees including through increased refugee resettlement.”

For more details about Turkey’s mass border pushbacks and the situation displaced Syrians face in Syria’s Idlib governorate, please see below.

Turkey’s land borders are legally protected by army border units of the Turkish Armed Forces. Gendarmerie also on duty at the borders operate under the authority of the land forces command. There are also gendarmerie stations near the borders charged with regular rural policing activities. This report refers to border guards without specifying if they are soldiers or gendarmes since many of those interviewed did not provide or do not have such specific information.

Regular Mass Pushbacks at the Turkish Border

Human Rights Watch interviewed the 21 Syrian asylum seekers who had tried multiple times to cross the border, but had been pushed back to Syria between February 14 and 20. Human Rights Watch interviewed them by cell phone and explained the purpose of the interviews and gave assurances of anonymity. We also received interviewees’ consent to describe their experiences.

They described 137 incidents – 107 of them between January 1 and March 6 – in which Turkish border guards intercepted them at the border near the Syrian town of Darkush and held them at nearby security posts and then deported them back to Syria with hundreds, and at times thousands, of others.

A man from Deir al-Zour governorate who fled Syrian government attacks on his village in September 2017 said border guards intercepted him nine times in January and the first half of February in border areas close to the al-Dureyya displaced people’s camp in Syria.

Describing three incidents in February, he said:

Each time they insulted the men, calling them “Syrian traitors.” They forced some of them to collect firewood. Then they took all of us in military trucks to a basketball court at a security post near the Hatya border gate. There was also a big tent there. They put us all in the tent and kept us overnight. They didn’t give us any food or water or let us go to a proper toilet. There were so many in the tent, that we were spilling out into the open of the basketball court. We were hundreds of people. The next morning, they took us all back to the border in buses.

Three Syrians said they were deported with thousands of others. A man from al-Hamediyah who said Turkish border guards intercepted him 11 times between September and January said that he was usually deported with about 500 other people. However, he said that on one occasion, in January, the border guards gave the people they had intercepted trying to cross from Syria numbers and his was 3,890. He said he was one of the last to be put on buses and taken to the border.

Many people referred to two deportation points that they said were between 10 and 30 minutes’ drive from the security posts where border guards had held them: one was an informal border crossing at Hatya, and the other was a small dam on the Orontes River called “Friendship Bridge.” Human Rights Watch obtained satellite imagery of both crossing points and of four security posts in the immediate border area where asylum seekers said they crossed into Turkey.

A woman from Hama governorate who repeatedly tried to cross the border said she was deported six times during the first two weeks of February with groups she estimated to be between 50 and 600 other Syrians:

The second time, on around February 4, the border guards took us to a military post and put us in a big tent with 200 other people they had already caught. Four hours later, at about 8 a.m., they put us in large buses and drove us to the Friendship Bridge. There they told us to get out and walk across the river back into Syria.

The satellite imagery Human Rights Watch obtained confirms there are gaps in the wall the full length of the Orontes River, west of the Syrian town of Salkeen, and at various points between the southern tip of where the river meets the border and the Hatya border crossing.

Deportations from Antakya

Three Syrians said Turkish police had deported them or relatives from the town of Antakya, about 20 kilometers west of the Syrian border.

A man from Deir al-Zour governorate said:

I crossed the border at night with my wife and two daughters and about 20 other people in late December 2017 near the al-Dureyya [displacement] camp. The border guards didn’t find us. The smugglers took us to their house in Antakya, about two hours’ drive away. There were 20 other Syrians already there and they told us they had also crossed from Syria that night. Not long after that, Turkish police arrived at the house. They took all of us to a police station and held us there until the next morning. They took our fingerprints and photos. Then they took all of us in police vans to the border at Bab al-Hawa and sent us back to Syria.

A man from Hama governorate described what happened to his wife:

The Turks sent my wife back from Antakya twice. She told me everything that happened. The first time was a week ago [about February 10]. The smugglers drove her and about 10 other people from the border near the Orontes River up to Reyhanli and from there they drove to Antakya. They reached the edge of Antakya at about 6 a.m. Turkish police shot at the car’s wheels to force it to stop. They beat the driver and immediately put my wife and the others in a police van and drove them to the border at Bab al-Hawa.

My wife crossed again four days later. The smugglers took her and about 10 others to a small house in a Turkish village near the border and then drove to a house in Antakya where there were already about 50 other Syrians who said they had arrived that night. Suddenly Turkish police arrived, at about 7 a.m. They wrote down their names and took photos. They put them in a big truck and took them to the Bab al-Hawa crossing. They held them there for the whole day and then sent them back to Syria.

Shootings by Border Guards

Nine Syrians interviewed described a total of 10 shooting incidents by Turkish border guards between September and March in which they said 14 people were killed and 18 injured.

In mid-February, a man from Deir al-Zour governorate said that in the previous five weeks he had tried four times to reach Turkey with his wife and five children. The first three times, he said, Turkish border guards deported them. The fourth time they turned back because Turkish border guards shot at their group as they approached the border:

A few hundred meters from the border near the al-Dureyya [displacement] camp the Turks suddenly started shooting at our group. They killed an 8-year-old girl and injured two men, one in a leg and the other in the stomach. I helped the man shot in the stomach turn back with the rest of us while the others carried the girl and helped the other man. Later the smugglers told us that a 13-year-old girl in another group trying to cross at the next time had also been killed during the shooting.

A man evacuated with his wife and baby from Aleppo in late 2016 said he unsuccessfully attempted to cross with them to Turkey three times near the al-Dureyya camp in September 2017 and January 2018 and was deported with hundreds of others the first two times. During the third attempt, in January, he said:

The border guards shot at us and injured my wife in her stomach and leg. She was pregnant and the baby died. They also injured two men and a 5-year-old boy, who was shot in the leg. We took my wife to a hospital in Syria near the border. Her heart stopped twice, but she lived. They couldn’t operate on her, so they sent her to Turkey through the Bab al-Hawa gate for surgery. They amputated her leg and removed her womb. They didn’t let me cross with her but a few days later a smuggler helped me and my daughter cross to Turkey.

Human Rights Watch also spoke with a doctor in a Syrian hospital near the Turkish border west of the town of Idlib who said that between August 1 and February 16, the hospital had received 66 people with gunshot-related injuries who said they had been shot while trying to cross the Turkish border.

Conflict and Humanitarian Crisis in Idlib governorate

According to the UN, about 2.65 million people are currently in Idlib governorate, over 1.75 million of whom have been displaced from elsewhere in Idlib or other parts of Syria, including almost 400,000 displaced since December. Civilians in Idlib have faced years of conflict. In September, Russian and Syrian forces began a fresh offensive in Idlib, three days after Russia, Iran, and Turkey had agreed to a ceasefire and “de-escalation” zone in the province and parts of Hama and western Aleppo. Human Rights Watch documented that attacks in September struck markets and populated residential areas and caused thousands of people to flee to displacement sites near the Turkish border.

Hostilities in Idlib halted on October 8 after Turkey deployed monitors there, but restarted in late December. In January, the Russian-Syrian military alliance carried out airstrikes to support Syrian ground troops. Some attacks involved prohibited weapons and targeted hospitals.

On January 21, Turkey started a military offensive in Kurdish-held Afrin, also putting displaced civilians at risk. Turkish and Kurdish forces have shelled each other on either side of Syria’s Atma displacement camp, on the Turkish border, which shelters 60,000 people.

Witnesses said that on February 6, during the fighting, shells hit the camp, killing an 8-year-old girl and injuring seven other civilians.

Human Rights Watch interviewed seven displaced Syrians about the incident. They all said it left their children terrified of the shelling and unable to sleep.

A father of seven children from Hama who lived close to where the shell landed on February 6 said:

I was there when it happened and rushed to help. I heard a young girl had been killed, but I only saw two who were injured. One had lost an arm and a leg and the other was blinded. I was so scared the same might happen to my children, we fled the camp and went to live in a field near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. But we couldn’t stay there all alone, without help, so we had to come back to the camp. We are all scared now, all the time.

A father of four children said the incident had so shaken his family, he had returned to his still conflict-riven home town of Kafr Zita in Hama governorate because all other displacement camps in Idlib were full. As his house had been destroyed, he said, he was living in a field on the edge of the town and struggling to survive: “There is still shelling here but if we die, it’s better to die at home.”

Human Rights Watch also spoke with five Syrians who had been repeatedly displaced in recent months within Idlib to escape the shifting front line and who, as of mid-February, were living as close as possible to the Turkish border in the hope of escaping the fighting.

The UN says that since December, the violence has displaced at least 385,000 people who have joined 2.65 million other civilians, including 1.35 million civilians displaced in the past few years.

In mid-February, Human Rights Watch interviewed two aid officials working in Idlib governorate. One summarized the dire humanitarian situation:

There is no more room anywhere for people displaced in the past few months. Displacement camps are completely full and we [humanitarians] do not have the resources to properly address basic needs of water, food, heating, health care, and education. Rent has skyrocketed so people end up living in the tens of thousands on the edge of towns and villages in fields in makeshift camps. There is simply no way the aid agencies can help all these people. At best they can give very limited help once in a while to some of them, and it is not done in an organized way. There is suffering everywhere, in every camp and in every village.

The 56 displaced Syrians in Idlib that Human Rights Watch interviewed, including 42 displaced by the recent violence, all described the extremely difficult conditions they had faced in Idlib in previous months. The newly displaced said they had heard that displacement camps were completely full and that they could not afford to pay the extremely high rents in the towns and villages in the area. They ended up living in waterlogged fields across Idlib governorate, often with other families in makeshift tents made from sacks and other material sewed together, because they could not afford to buy proper tents.

They said they struggled to find food and had to pay high fees for water, delivered by trucks. They either had seen no one from an aid agency, or those who had, said they were unable to help or had promised help but hadn’t returned.

Turkish authorities have allowed Turkish and international aid groups based in Turkey to cross into Syria and join Syrian aid groups to distribute tents and other assistance to Syrians in camps in border areas. Human Rights Watch said that allowing much-needed cross-border aid is important, but does not absolve Turkey of its obligation to allow Syrian civilians fleeing fighting to seek protection in Turkey.

EU Silence

Human Rights Watch has documented that, since at least mid-August 2015, Turkish border guards enforcing the country’s March 2015 border closure have deported Syrians trying to reach Turkey. In April and May 2016, Human Rights Watch documented Turkish border guards shooting and beating Syrian asylum seekers trying to cross to Turkey, resulting in deaths and serious injuries, and sending those who managed to cross back to Syria. In February 2018, Human Rights Watch reported on further killings, injuries and pushbacks that happened in the second half of 2017.

On May 20, 2016, Human Rights Watch called on UN member states and UN agencies attending the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul to press the Turkish authorities to reopen Turkey’s border to Syrian asylum seekers. But neither the European Commission nor any European Union member state – or any other country – has publicly pressed Turkey to do so, while UN agencies have also remained publicly silent.

The world’s – and in particular the EU’s – silence over Turkey’s breach of the cornerstone of international refugee law condones Turkey’s border abuses.

The EU’s failure to take in more Syrian asylum seekers and refugees also contributes to the pressure on Turkey. The EU should swiftly fulfill its own commitments to relocate Syrian and other asylum seekers from Greece and, together with other countries, it should also expand safe and legal channels for people to reach safety from Turkey, including through increased refugee resettlement, humanitarian admissions, humanitarian and other visas, and facilitated family reunification.

Reprinted with permission from Human Rights Watch


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

VOA from late February: “Towns on Turkey-Syria Border Caught in Afrin Battle Crossfire”

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Buried, altered, silenced: 4 ways government climate information has changed since Trump took office Thu, 22 Mar 2018 04:07:38 +0000 By Morgan Currie and Britt S. Paris | The Conversation | – –

After Donald Trump won the presidential election, hundreds of volunteers around the U.S. came together to “rescue” federal data on climate change, thought to be at risk under the new administration. “Guerilla archivists,” including ourselves, gathered to archive federal websites and preserve scientific data.

But what has happened since? Did the data vanish?

As of one year later, there has been no great purge. Federal data sets related to environmental and climate science are still accessible in the same ways they were before Trump took office.

However, in many other instances, federal agencies have tampered with information about climate change. Across agency websites, documents have disappeared, web pages have vanished and language has shifted in ways that appear to reflect the policies of the new administration.

Two groups have been keeping a watchful eye on developments. We both belong to the Environmental Data Governance Initiative, the organization behind the data rescue events. The initiative now monitors tens of thousands of federal websites with the help of specialized tracking software. In January, the group published a report that describes sweeping changes to federal web resources.

Meanwhile, Columbia University’s Silencing Science Tracker documents news stories about climate scientists who have been discouraged from conducting, publishing or otherwise communicating scientific research.

These groups have documented four ways that climate-related information has become less accessible since Trump took office.

1. Documents are difficult to find

Documents on existing international environmental treaties and national climate policy have been buried or removed from departments’ current websites.

The State Department’s Office of Global Change, for instance, no longer publishes Climate Action Reports, which the U.S. is obliged to produce under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The reports can no longer be found at their former addresses. Instead, they are archived at new addresses in the Department’s Obama-era web archive, making the reports more difficult for the public to access.

Climate reports removed from the State Department website. Versions from Jan. 20, 2017 (left) and Jan. 26, 2017 (right) on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. URL:
Environmental Data Governance Initiative, CC BY

In another instance, the Environmental Protection Agency removed links to the Climate Change Adaptation Plan documents, which offer guidelines on climate change mitigation. While the web pages still exist on the EPA server, links from key access points on the site have been removed or redirect to a “This Page is Being Updated” notice.

2. Web pages are buried

Some administrative pages have disappeared from agency sites and can be accessed only from the Obama-era web archive.

The Bureau of Land Management’s climate change page – which discussed the agency’s climate-friendly approach to land planning – now exists only in archival form. State Department pages describing the Montreal Protocol, a global effort signed in 1988 to protect the ozone layer, are similarly displaced.

The EPA appears to have been hit the worst. Two hundred of the original 380 web pages on climate and energy resources for state, local and tribal governments are now accessible in archival form only. What’s more, the word “climate” is no longer in the official website’s title.

The EPA also removed the website for the Clean Power Plan, a signature Obama-era regulation that the current administration hopes to repeal.

3. Language has been altered

Departments have scrubbed websites of environmental terms. The term “climate change,” for instance, no longer exists across certain web pages of several agencies, such as the White House, the Department of Transportation and the Department of the Interior.

Within the Department of Energy, the Clean Energy Investment Center removed the term “clean” from its title. The Government Accountability Office deleted an online warning that “oil and natural gas development pose inherent environmental and public health risks.”

In other cases, language has been changed to reflect the new administration’s agenda. For example, the Bureau of Land Management removed “Clean and Renewable Energy” from its list of national priorities, adding “Making America Safe Through Energy Independence” and “Getting America Back to Work” instead.

Bureau of Land Management’s shifting priorities. Versions from Feb. 7, 2017 (left) and Nov. 26, 2017 (right) on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. URL:
Environmental Data Governance Initiative

4. Science has been silenced

But website changes and deletions are just the tip of the iceberg.

Columbia’s Silencing Science Tracker records 116 instances when scientists have been obstructed. The list includes budget cuts, staff cuts, unfilled positions and suspended funds. Climate-related research projects have been canceled and climate fellowships rescinded. In some cases, advisory boards and research centers have been dismantled entirely.

For instance, as of Dec. 31, 2017, the administration had filled only 20 science-related positions out of the 83 total. That pace falls short of both the Obama administration, who had appointed 63, and the Bush administration, who had filled 51, at the same point in time.

The silencing suggests that the administration values “pro-growth” policies over environmental goals and stands with industry, no matter the cost.

Why it matters

In most cases, it’s not possible to know who ordered and administered these changes, whether agency staff working independently or the Trump administration itself.

History shows us how public information on government activities has changed to reflect the policy directives of different administrations. The Bush era saw a similar chilling affect on scientific research and environmental regulation. Several scientists at the time came forward to accuse the administration of censoring public awareness efforts about climate change.

In recent years, the U.S. has reduced its own greenhouse gas emissions. And the Obama administration invested in combating climate change and making related information more available to the public. Now that information is being stifled, but climate change continues, whether it’s documented or not.

The ConversationThese changes are not just damaging to those trying to address climate change. In our view, burying climate science diminishes our democracy. It denies the average citizen the information necessary to make informed decisions, and fuels the flames of rhetoric that denies consensus-based science.

Morgan Currie, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Digital Civil Society Lab, Stanford University, Stanford University and Britt S. Paris, Ph.D. Student in Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles

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


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Center for Inquiry: “Climate Change Denial in the Age of Trump | Michael Mann”

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Syria: A Market bombing kills 38 and Explains why Government won Syria War Wed, 21 Mar 2018 13:03:25 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

A rocket fired by rebel forces at a market, Kashkul, in the Jaramana suburb of Damascus on Wednesday killed dozens of people.

It strikes me that this incident encapsulates the deep tragedy of the Syrian civil war. Jaramana is a mixed Christian and Druze neighborhood 3 km. south of Damascus and has since 2011 been under the control of the Baath government of Bashar al-Assad. The Druze are an esoteric offshoot of Ismaili, Shiite Islam who practice secret knowledge and do not have mosques or Friday prayers.

The rocket strike was likely intended as revenge by the Sunni Muslim fundamentalist groups in East Ghouta, over two-thirds of which has now been taken by government troops in the ongoing current regime push to take all of this district outside the capital.

Syria’s demography is a matter of educated guesses. But perhaps 14% are Alawi, an esoteric Shiite group, and 5% Christian and 3% Druze and 2% Twelver Shiite, which gets you near to 25% of the population. Then 10% are Kurds, mostly Sunni leftists but including some minorities like Yazidis. So that is 35% of the population outside the Sunni Arab mainstream. Of the 65% remaining, mostly Sunni and Arab, more than half are urban and secular-minded, many of them socialists with a Marxian ideology mixed with Arab nationalism. Sunni Muslim fundamentalists are likely no more than 20% of the population.

As the Syrian revolution of 2011 turned into a civil war and as strongman president Bashar al-Assad maneuvered the democratic opposition into being a guerrilla movement increasingly dependent on Gulf money, the civil war was turned into a fight between the regime and fundamentalist Sunni Arabs in the medium cities and small towns and rural areas.

The 35% non-Arab or non-Sunni part of the population and the 33% of Sunni Arab secularists or regime loyalists, mainly in the big cities, equal together 68% of the population, over two-thirds.

The Salafi fundamentalists who targeted Druze and Christians were punishing them for the defeat at East Ghouta and were marking them out for fellow Sunni Arabs as deserving of being targeted as supporters of the regime. But in a country where a super-majority is not Sunni Arab fundamentalists, what that sort of mayhem does is drive everybody into the arms of the regime. If the choice is between the seedy Baath one-party state and democracy, maybe most Syrians would choose democracy. If the choice is between a government that will protect Alawis, Christians, Druze, Shiites, and secular Sunnis and a government staffed by Salafi extremists with ties to al-Qaeda, then in today’s Syria, Bashar al-Assad wins every time.

This market bombing, despite its mayhem and cruelty, will soon be forgotten by all but the relatives of the victims. But it sums up in itself how we got to 2018 with the regime in control of most of the country. The Sunni Arab fundamentalists acted as their own spoilers, spooking the super-majority in the country that does not share their ideology.


Bonus video:

France 24 English: “Syria: Dozens killed in rocket attack on Damascus market”

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Increasingly Ludicrous WH denial that Austin bombings were “terrorism” Wed, 21 Mar 2018 07:07:11 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Update: The suspect in the central Texas bombings is dead, after he detonated a bomb in his car on being surrounded by police, and was shot.

Two more package bombs were found in Austin and San Antonio Fedex offices on Tuesday, giving evidence of originating with the same person responsible for a string of bombings that killed two persons and wounded several others. Some of those targeted were African-Americans from families who have played a prominent role in civil rights activism.

White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied again this week that the Austin bombings were terrorism, and Austin Chief of Police Brian Manley asked “That’s been the question all along: Is this terrorism? Is this hate-related?”

It is well known by now that “terrorism” is often used by American officials as a dog whistle to refer to acts of political violence carried out by Muslims or by minorities, and that typically white violence of a terroristic sort is characterized by other adjectives (the poor things often seem to be off their meds or at most involved in “hate crimes.”)

This linguistic hypocrisy has got to stop. If the character of the legislation is the problem, let’s change it. We know who some of the victims are, and that tells us a great deal.

The US Federal code says

” U.S. Code › Title 18 › Part I › Chapter 113B › § 2331
18 U.S. Code § 2331 – Definitions

(5) the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—
(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended—
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
(Added Pub. L. 102–572, title X, § 1003(a)(3), Oct. 29, 1992, 106 Stat. 4521; amended Pub. L. 107–56, title VIII, § 802(a), Oct. 26, 2001, 115 Stat. 376.)”

Two of the first victims belonged to the same historic African-American church and belonged to families who were connected, and who had a distinguished history of activism for civil rights.

Fox News: “Austin NAACP president talks links between bombing victims”

Subsequent bombings were more scattershot in their targeting of victims, but that could well be a tactic aimed at muddying the waters. Even just on the basis of the two African-Americans targeted and killed, it seems clear that a political motive and attempt at intimidation was present, and that these bombings fell under the rubric of domestic terrorism.

One of my tweeps pointed out that the Unabomber killed one victim (he did injure others, including a scientist at Yale), and provoked a years-long FBI prioritized manhunt. Until recently the Austin bombings didn’t even get much press.

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Actor Cynthia Nixon, NY Governor Hopeful, attacked over Israel Boycott Wed, 21 Mar 2018 06:27:03 +0000 Middle East Monitor | – –

A leading pro-Israel activist is attempting to derail an American actor’s bid to become the governor of New York over her support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.

Cynthia Nixon, one of the stars of the “Sex and the City” television series and movies, announced on Monday that she is planning to run for governor of New York. Her decision was met with a Twitter outburst by high-profile attorney and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who denounced Nixon as a “bigot” for supporting an artist who refused to perform in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

Dershowitz, who is the author of “The Case for Israel” and one of Israel’s loudest voices in America took aim at Nixon for backing Israeli actors refusing to perform in illegal settlements. Nixon’s name was just one amongst 150 American and Israeli actors, writers, directors and artists to support the 2010 campaign organised by Jewish Voice for Peace, which endorses the BDS movement. Its backing of the boycott of Israel has earned the progressive Jewish organisation a place on Israel’s BDS blacklist.

In his tirade, Dershowitz denounced Nixon as a “collaborator with Israel haters Jewish Voice for Peace and Vanessa Redgrave in boycotting Israel.” He encouraged New Yorkers to “not support her bigotry.” In a separate tweet Dershowitz remarked: “If you’re anti-Israel, Nixon’s your candidate.”

Via Middle East Monitor

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


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Cynthia Nixon On Running For Governor: ‘It’s Time For An Outsider, I’m Not An Albany Insider’ | TIME

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