Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 14 Dec 2017 07:19:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Muslim Countries call for E. Jerusalem as Palestine Capital, reject US as Honest Broker Thu, 14 Dec 2017 07:19:10 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Organization of the Islamic Conference, a regular meeting of the foreign ministers of 57 Muslim-majority countries, held an extraordinary session in Istanbul on Wednesday, in which they rejected US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In a communique they called Trump’s decision “unilateral,” “illegal,” and “irresponsible” and said it was “null and void.”

The Muslim powers said that they now officially recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state, and they urged other countries to so recognize it.

They said that Trump had deliberately sabotaged all the efforts expended over the years to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace and that he had benefited extremism and terrorism, and had threatened international peace and security. They observed that Trump’s decision had the practical effect of withdrawing the US from any role as a mediator in achieving peace.

The Muslim leaders condemned Trump for encouraging the Netanyahu government in Israel to continue its policies of colonial settlement and of Apartheid, as well as of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

The communique said that if the Security Council does not mobilize to intervene on Jerusalem, that they would take the issue to the UN General Assembly.

For his part, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas opined that there will be neither peace nor stability until East Jerusalem is definitively recognized as the capital of a Palestinian state.

Abbas also said that from now on he and his organization can never again consider the United States as honest broker in the peace process.

Dude, the US was never an honest broker. The US government has from the time of Harry Truman been dedicated to screwing over the Palestinians.

The Trump administration line on Mahmoud Abbas is now that he “walked away from the peace process.” This is like saying that Salma Hayek walked away from reconciliation with Harvey Weinstein.


Related video:

CGTN: “OIC hold emergency meeting in wake of Trump’s Jerusalem decision”

]]> 5
Now Diptheria besets Yemen, along with Saudi Bombs and Blockade Thu, 14 Dec 2017 06:13:00 +0000 Middle East Monitor | – –

Yemen, ravaged by war, hunger and disease, is seeing a spike in diphtheria cases that will inevitably erupt into a larger, deadly outbreak because so few people have been immunized, aid officials said on Wednesday.

At highest risk are children, who account for many of the more than 280 suspected diphtheria cases and 33 associated deaths reported as of Tuesday, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Most of the cases and deaths involved children who had not been immunized against the disease, a contagious and potentially fatal bacterial infection that spreads easily, WHO said.

“Left unchecked, diphtheria can cause devastating epidemics, mainly affecting children,” Tarik Jasarevic, a WHO spokesman, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.

The diphtheria spread is inevitable in Yemen due to low vaccination rates, lack of access to medical care and so many people moving around and coming in contact with those infected, said WHO and officials with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

Civil war in the Middle Eastern country, which lies at the tip of the Arabian peninsula south of Saudi Arabia, has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than two million others.

Diphtheria spreads as easily as the common cold through sneezing, coughing or even talking, according to health officials.

Yemen also is battling a cholera epidemic that has infected about one million people. The epidemic, which worsened this past April, has caused more than 2,000 deaths, WHO said in October.

Read More: Yemen: Saudi-led coalition kills 39 in Sana’a strike

Diphtheria could be more fatal than cholera, especially among unvaccinated children under 5 years old, according to MSF.

As many as two in five diphtheria cases end in death, MSF said.

“There is the potential for a larger-scale outbreak of diphtheria, given that not everyone has been vaccinated,” said Marc Poncin, emergency coordinator in Yemen for the medical charity, also by email.

Calling it “very worrisome,” Caroline Boustany, an aid worker with the International Rescue Committee, told the Foundation: “We have a spike in cases of a very easily preventable disease.”

Yemen also faces soaring food prices and fuel shortages, and some 8.4 million Yemenis are considered to be a step away from famine, the United Nations said on Monday.

A Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen’s civil war blockaded ports last month.

The blockade has eased, but its impact limited supplies of desperately needed fuel, food and medicine, aid officials say.

“Even for patients who want to seek treatment, the blockade on fuel and consequent surge in prices means that they cannot afford to travel to the very few health centers still operational,” said Poncin of MSF.

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


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera English: “Diphtheria in Yemen: More than 100 infected, 14 deaths”

]]> 0
Saudi Arabia: The Coming Crisis in the Kingdom Thu, 14 Dec 2017 05:58:27 +0000 By Pierce Gootee | (TeleSur) | – –

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has, in recent months, tightened their blockade on the war-ravaged country of Yemen. The justification for this tightening was the launch of a long-range ballistic missile by Houthi rebels towards the capital city of Riyadh in November. Despite these heavy-handed tactics in Yemen which have been criticized by the UN, EU, and multiple humanitarian organizations, the Kingdom has made a desperate attempt to improve their international image in the past year. US President Donald Trump, although supportive of the intervention, recently made a statement urging Saudi Arabia to end their blockade and allow humanitarian aid into Yemen. As the power within the monarchy shifts, international conflict escalates, internal tensions rise, and the desperate need for economic diversification looms overhead, how will the House of Saud handle the inevitable rough waters ahead?

The Missile

The Houthi missile travelled almost 1000 km and nearly struck the heart of the Kingdom in the capital city of Riyadh before it was intercepted over the international airport, according to Saudi officials. However, a recent New York Times analysis suggests that the Patriot Missile Defense System failed five times to intercept the missile, which may have merely broke apart due to sheer speed and force. According to the analysis, the warhead of the missile did indeed strike and detonated about 19 km from the rest of the debris as the deadly warhead flew right over the missile defence system. The explosion was about 2 km away from a domestic terminal crowded with civilians.

If this analysis is true, the failure of the Patriot Defense System will surely cast doubt upon the defence capabilities of other countries that rely on it, such as Israel, South Korea, Japan, and Germany. At the same time, this will embolden their enemies, such as North Korea and the Houthis, to further develop their own missile program in order to exploit this weakness. So far, the conflict has mostly impacted the Saudi border regions, in particular, the areas around Najran. However, as the Houthis continue to demonstrate the long-range capabilities of their missiles, nobody in the country will feel safe and the situation will likely continue to escalate.

The Public Relations Push

The House of Saud and their rising star Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are not oblivious to global opinions. An extremely strict Wahabbi Sharia Law system, a bloody military intervention in Yemen, and the Machiavellian rise of the Crown Prince to power are only a few things souring the Saudi standing in the eyes of the world. The ongoing crisis in Yemen makes the future look quite bleak, however, the ambitious Crown Prince is attempting to shift focus toward grand visions he wants to accomplish by the year 2030.

One of the most controversial ideas envisioned by the Crown Prince is a shift towards moderate Islam. Saudi Arabia has already taken a step in that direction by recently allowing women the right to drive and gradually stripping most power from the infamous Mutaween religious police force. He also plans to build a futuristic transnational mega-city near the Gulf of Aqaba called NEOM, begin issuing tourist visas to foreigners, and even construct a string of beach resorts where women are allowed to wear bikinis. To help fund this, the Crown Prince plans to sell 5% of the state-owned trillion dollar Aramco oil company to international investors.

All of these ideas seem as if they are a step in the right direction. However, the Kingdom could be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. These plans alienate the hard-line Wahabbi clerics who wield significant power and influence in the country. On top of this, Saudi Arabia has already been alienating their oppressed Shiite minority. The sectarian tensions have escalated with the recent siege of the predominantly Shiite city of Awamiyah, where 20,000 civilians have been forced to flee their homes. While external missiles and border clashes near Yemen are proving to be a massive headache for the monarchy, the potential internal conflicts may pose the greatest threat to the House of Saud.

The Humanitarian Crisis

As with Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq, the Yemen conflict has devolved into a prolonged bloody conflict. The Saudi-led intervention has created a humanitarian crisis on an unprecedented scale. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) in their October update, there have been a total of 922,704 cases of cholera including 2317 related deaths in the period of only a year. Famine also looms on the horizon for the war-torn country. Yemen relies on imports for 90% of their food, meaning that a continued blockade would result in mass starvation.

This humanitarian crisis is due to Saudi Arabia destroying Yemeni infrastructure with the constant bombing and is exacerbated by the aforementioned blockade. Aid organizations are in desperate need not only food but also fuel to distribute their aid. Last week, eight UN leaders called on Saudi Arabia to fully lift the blockade as the only way to avoid a total collapse and a massive humanitarian tragedy that will potentially cost millions of lives.

The situation has become so dire that President Trump has recently called on his Saudi allies to end the blockade. However, if the Saudis do not react swiftly and effectively enough to these pleadings, a mass famine is inevitable. Even if such a crisis is prevented, the mass cholera epidemic and botched intervention have already left an inevitable black spot upon the reputation of the House of Saud, regardless of how successful their plans for 2030 are.

Royalty at Risk

The House of Saud finds itself in a difficult position at the moment. Inaction and maintaining their comfortable status quo will lead to economic collapse in the event of an oil crash, as well as being overshadowed by rival powers such as Iran. Taking action, on the other hand, may diversify their economy and thrust them into a position of global leadership, but will also strain social tensions within the country and lead to devastating military conflicts abroad. Although the royal family has ambitious dreams for the year 2030, their kingdom may wind up facing a nightmare instead.

Via TeleSur


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Saudi Arabia’s House of Cards – BBC News

]]> 1
“Solar+Batteries” = the Cheapest Energy, as S. Korea powers past Coal Thu, 14 Dec 2017 05:32:25 +0000 By Frank Rijsberman | (Inter Press Service) | – –

SEOUL, Dec 13 2017 (IPS) – Renewable energy became the cheapest form of electricity in 58 emerging economies last year. This year, the 11th Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis (LCOE 11.0) showed that solar and wind energy generation costs (at $46 to $53 per megawatt-hour of generation) easily beat coal and gas (at $60-68).

Solar power was the fastest-growing source of new energy worldwide in 2016, outpacing the growth in all other forms of power generation for the first time. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), on the back of a strong solar PV market, renewable energy accounted for two-thirds of new power added to the world’s grid last year. In addition to this, solar energy is set to surpass nuclear power by the end of 2017.

In November this year, the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) organized its first energy forum in Seoul at which GGGI Member countries shared their energy transformation experience.

In Germany, on one sunny breezy Sunday last summer, solar and wind broke a record 85% of all energy used in the country.

The rapidly growing renewable energy sector is quickly replacing nuclear energy in Germany – while coal is still playing a key role in the energy mix. In the UK, on the other hand, the use of coal in the energy mix has rapidly fallen from 50 to 9% in just ten years, replaced by cheap solar and offshore wind energy – while nuclear energy is maintaining a key role.

The Australian capital city, Canberra, has rapidly achieved the solar and wind investments to shift to 100% renewable energy by 2020, and is now moving to zero emissions by 2030, while the national targets are much more modest.

In the Republic of Korea, renewable energy currently accounts for just 2% of the country’s electricity production, with coal-fired and nuclear plants generating 40% and 30%, respectively. However, Korea’s new Moon Jae-in government has recently increased the target for the share of renewables in power generation to 20% by 2030.

Frank Rijsberman.

The Korean government plans to set up a renewable energy coordination center in every region; secure a solar system in each village; adopt projects led by local authorities, including offshore wind turbines; and secure economic feasibility of renewable energy through utility-scale renewable energy projects. Is the 20% target too ambitious to achieve in Korea – or is it too modest to deal with the environmental and climate challenges?

The new government’s twin objectives for Korea to become a nuclear free society while also solving the “fine dust” air pollution problems is now actively debated in Korea. Doing both requires reducing nuclear energy, as well as the use of coal and diesel fuel for electricity and transportation. Truly an ambitious, even daunting, set of challenges – but not impossible during a time when both the energy and transportation sectors are experiencing very, very rapid transition.

The speed and depth of the ongoing energy transformation, to renewable energy and to electric mobility, is certainly surprising many around the world. It is a top priority for many governments – making and breaking coalitions – and it is causing disruption in traditional sectors of the economy and employment.

As one country after the next sees record breaking low prices for solar and wind in auctions for utility scale renewable energy, the conventional fossil-fuel powered energy companies pay the price.

In Bonn, at COP23, a new Power-Past-Coal Alliance of twenty countries announced that they will completely phase out coal from their energy mix before 2030. The Alliance hopes to have fifty members before the 2018 UN COP24 climate change conference. That requires a real change in mindset. Is it imaginable that Korea Powers Past Coal by 2030?

E.ON, Germany’s largest utility, for example, had to write off $9Bn in losses last month, half of its remaining market capitalization. No wonder the renewable energy transformation scares the conventional power players and has governments consider whether to protect them.

Countries with large investments in conventional power plants – particularly coal and nuclear – do indeed have a big bill to pay for their stranded assets. Coal-fired power plants that were the cheapest form of energy when constructed only a few years ago risk become albatrosses around energy companies’ necks.

In Bonn, at COP23, a new Power-Past-Coal Alliance of twenty countries announced that they will completely phase out coal from their energy mix before 2030. The Alliance hopes to have fifty members before the 2018 UN COP24 climate change conference. That requires a real change in mindset. Is it imaginable that Korea Powers Past Coal by 2030?

It may seem unrealistic today, but remember that a similar change in the UK just happened, over a shorter period, during a time when renewables were more expensive than today. So why not in Korea?

There are some challenges of course. For example, will this energy transition lead to job losses? Jobs are indeed being lost rapidly in the fossil fuel industry, particularly coal. In Germany, for example, most coal related jobs have already been lost – but at the same time, many more jobs were created in the renewable energy industry.

According to Hans-Josef Fell, a former German parliamentarian for the Green party and current President of Energy Watch Group, the global energy transition to a 100% renewable electricity system can create 37 million jobs by 2050, up by more than 90% from 2015.

As in any rapid technology transition, jobs will indeed be lost, but more new, green jobs are being created, requiring education and re-training of the workforce, but ultimately leading to many new opportunities for businesses and individuals.


Can Korea Power Past Coal? A new world in which “solar+batteries” becomes the cheapest form of energy


Another question is whether renewable energy is too expensive and whether citizens will support a rapid transition to renewables. In Australia, Canberra has powered forward to 100% renewable energy by 2020, leading national action on climate change while creating new jobs in sunrise industries.

The ACT government is leading this green technology revolution in Australia with the full support of its citizens. When the ACT government first announced its plans to legislate a target of sourcing 100 percent renewable energy by the end of this decade, it was careful to engage the community.

The first programs focused on subsidies for rooftop solar for schools, churches, community centers and residences. As a result, all schools and one home in 10 are now equipped with solar on the roof.

Subsequently, and with full community awareness created, ACT government turned to utility scale wind and solar investments, and batteries to stabilize the grid. The costs of large scale solar in Australia has halved in just a few years. While the introduction of renewables did indeed initially raise energy prices for Canberra, surveys of residents show that as awareness increased, so did the willingness of the citizens to pay more for sustainable energy.

Going forward, the price of energy in Canberra will be among the lowest in the nation. Following the success of the 100% renewables strategy, in 2016 Canberra went a step further and committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

For countries that could not provide electricity to all their citizens with fossil fuel and a centralized power grid – such as most African countries and most small island states in the Pacific with coverage rates as low as 10-20% – the renewable energy transition is a wonderful opportunity.

When the alternative is expensive diesel-generated electricity, either powering the grid or as back-ups during power outages, solar energy combined with battery storage is already the cheapest form of energy, as documented in Lazard’s 11th levelized cost of energy report that came out last month.

That means that for countries in Africa and the Pacific, off-grid, or mini-grid electricity based on “solar+batteries” is a revolution that can bring affordable energy to all citizens, just like the mobile phone revolution did less than ten years ago.

The energy transition is undoubtedly challenging for countries like the Republic of Korea that have fully developed conventional energy sectors – particularly for the owners and operators of the nuclear and fossil fuel power plants, equipment and machinery.

At the same time, Korea has some very significant advantages, such as an excellent national power grid, advanced smart grid technology, and some of the world’s most advanced producers of solar cells and batteries.

During times of disruption our perspectives change very rapidly. Targets such as the Korean 20% renewables by 2030, that appear so challenging today, will probably be seen as only a first step in the right direction in just five years from now.

Licensed from Inter Press Service

Frank Rijsberman is Director-General, Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI)

]]> 0
What’s the Difference between Roy Moore and a Muslim extreme Fundamentalist? A Cowboy Hat Wed, 13 Dec 2017 08:05:44 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Both Christianity and Islam as religions comprise large numbers of people and contain a spectrum of believers from the secular to the moderate to the extreme. At the far right fringes of the Muslim extremists you get al-Qaeda. At the far right fringes of Christian extremists you get the Lord’s Resistance Army in Africa.

Just short of the violent extremists however, you have the inflexible far right fundamentalists. Judge Roy Moore of Alabama, who lost Tuesday’s senate contest, has a great deal in common with the extreme Muslim fundamentalists.

Since Trump and his evil puppeteer and white supremacist Steve “Breitbart” Bannon both backed Moore to the hilt, this means that the Trump wing of the Republican Party is now committed to a form of politics indistinguishable from Muslim fundamentalism.

For instance, Moore thought it is all right to date 14 year old girls as a 32 year old man. He even said he got their mothers’ permission.

The minimum legal marriage age for girls in fundamentalist Iran is 13, and with the permission of the court and their fathers they can marry at even a younger age.

So what is the difference between Moore and Iran’s ayatollahs?

Moore was removed twice from the bench at Alabama’s supreme court for insisting that biblical law trumps the laws of the United States and of the state of Alabama.

Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran (d. 1989) said that if the Iranian electorate voted one way, and the 12 vicars (Imams) of the prophet Muhammad voted the opposite way, the Imams would be right and the Iranian people would be wrong. In other words, Khomeini denied the Enlightenment principle of popular sovereignty, that the people’s will as indicated at the ballot box is the law of the land.

Roy Moore denies popular sovereignty, saying that his interpretation of the Bible is more important.

So what is the difference between Moore and Ayatollah Khomeini?

Moore holds that Muslims may not serve in the US Congress (that will come as a surprise to Keith Ellison [D-MN]) because they cannot take an oath on the Bible. But the constitution does not require an oath on the Bible, and Ellison swore on Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Qur’an. Jake Tapper had to point this out to Moore’s spokesman:

CNN: “Jake Tapper fact checks Roy Moore spokesman”


Muslim fundamentalists in Indonesia objected to a Christian being governor of Jakarta, and managed to get him removed on trumped up charges of blasphemy.

Roy Moore “probably” still thinks homosexuality should be illegal, in contrast to the US Supreme Court.

Although a majority of American Muslims believe that homosexuality should be accepted, fundamentalist preachers elsewhere want to see it banned.

Moore believes that 9/11 struck the US because its public fell away from God.

Saudi cleric Bin Baz also held that calamities are punishment for not obeying God’s laws.

So Trump and Bannon are not trying to install ordinary conservative Christians in power. They are backing the Christian Taliban.

Luckily for the nation, sane Alabamans defeated Moore on Tuesday.


Related video:

Doug Jones Triumphs Over Roy Moore In Alabama Senate Election | The Last Word | MSNBC

]]> 7
The Unlikely Industry Empowering Women in Afghanistan Wed, 13 Dec 2017 07:14:29 +0000 By Ruchi Kumar | (Yes! Magazine) | = =

In this deeply conservative society, these women are busting stereotypes every day.

The typical depiction of an Afghan woman looks like this: Timid and fearful, she is a victim of her extremely conservative and regressive society, unable to move around or do much without a man. But some Afghan women are busting these stereotypes, creating a niche for women to empower themselves and change the status quo.

A 36-year-old restaurant owner named Laila Haidary walks around the cafe gardens, carefully tending to the colorful foliage that grows generously around Kabul. She narrates her story of building a business in Afghanistan, a country governed by the rules of men. Overlooking the gardens is a midsize structure: a traditional Afghan house, with thick walls, large windows, and ample courtyard space, converted to a cozy restaurant with old tables and chairs and plenty of handmade rugs. The vibe is welcoming.

Haidary explains she wanted to provide a social space for artists and other young Afghans who want to interact with their culture and rich heritage. “This idea in itself had its own challenges because our extremely conservative society does not always approve of artistic expressions. Added to that, the fact it is run by a businesswoman makes many people uncomfortable,” she says.

Haidary’s cafe is among the many newer restaurants in Kabul, and around Afghanistan, that are either owned or managed by women in an otherwise male-dominated industry. Although data measuring this trend wasn’t available at the time of publishing, anecdotally, more women are entering the service industry: Within a two-block radius of my home in Kabul, I can count seven restaurants that have come up in the past year; that wasn’t the case in 2014, when I first came here.

Of course, not every woman in the industry is a business owner. A small but significant number of Afghan women are working jobs in the service sector—a profile that was unimaginable for Afghan women a decade ago and is still considered inappropriate.

“I feel like I’m breaking stereotypes every day by just being here.”

“I feel like I’m breaking stereotypes every day by just being here. That makes me feel very proud of myself,” says 20-year-old Mujda Nasiri, who started working at 50/50, a local fast-food restaurant in Kabul, about a year ago. “Initially, my parents were reluctant, but now that they see how independent I have become, financially and personally, they’re happy for me,” she says, adding that she had always been fascinated by the restaurant industry.

In a deeply conservative society such as Afghanistan, women have few avenues to pursue careers. Many of the jobs available—such as manual labor, technical positions, and banking and finance—are not considered suitable for women because traditionally a woman’s priority has been with her family and, especially, their honor. Added to that are the decades of war that have left the Afghan economy enormously dependent on foreign aid, thereby increasing unemployment and competition in the markets. As the rate of unemployment peaked at 40 percent in 2015, it has been even more challenging for women to be considered for jobs in a market that tends to favor men.

Laila Haidary sits at one of the tables in her restaurant in Kabul, Afghanistan 2017.

Laila Haidary sits at one of the tables in her restaurant in Kabul, Afghanistan 2017.

Laila Haidary sits at one of the tables in her restaurant in Kabul, Afghanistan, 2017. Photos by Ivan Flores

However, restaurants such as 50/50, which strives to be an equal opportunity employer, hires several women in various positions. “We are trying to create an all-inclusive space for our customers, especially for women and families, who can come here without any fear of harassment. Such a place is also good for women to work at,” explains Zahir, 37, the restaurant manager at 50/50 (most Afghans traditionally go by just one name). “We also find that women employees are more professional, timely, and able to work with grace despite pressures—a right fit for this industry.”

Nasiri is one of three waitresses the restaurant hired last year, and the move was welcomed by many of their customers. “I’ve had a very good experience working here; my colleagues are like my family and are very protective of my safety,” she says, recalling an incident where a displeased customer lectured her about how inappropriate such a job was for a woman.

Women had few places to engage socially in the extremely conservative and patriarchal society under the Taliban regime.

“But I see that there has been a change in attitudes,” Nasiri says. “I find that a lot of our customers are not only happy to see me serve them, but [are] also very encouraging of my work. This one elderly gentleman was so happy to meet a working woman, that he left me a Afs1000 [$15] tip to keep me motivated,” she says, adding that the joy of meeting new people every day is a bigger motivation than money to stay with this job.

Twenty-five-year-old Nikbhakt, a barista at a local coffee shop frequented by the many foreigners and expats in Kabul, would agree with Nasiri. “I’ve been making and serving coffee for the last four years, and the best part of my job is interacting with people from around the world,” she says. There was a time when an Afghan woman couldn’t leave the house without a mahram—a male escort who is a blood relative—let alone talk to other people. Women had few places to engage socially in the extremely conservative and patriarchal society under the Taliban regime in the late 1990s.

Parents have reason to be concerned about their working daughters. Harassment at work and in public is a common sight in Kabul and other Afghan cities. Afghan women have to fight many gender stereotypes and inequalities along with abuse if they choose to pursue a career, any career. As a result, many women prefer jobs that require less mobility because even the act of traveling to work daily can often subject women to street harassment. Added to this the rising insecurity further discourages families from allowing their daughters to go to work.

Last year, the cafe where Nikbhakt works was attacked, and she barely missed the explosion that claimed the lives of two people, including the cafe’s guard. “I was extremely depressed for a long time after that attack. My family didn’t want me to work anymore, and I didn’t want to step out of home, either,” she says. “But now I know that cutting myself from the world isn’t a solution, and decided to come back to work two months ago.”

Since no institutes offer training to work in the service sector, Afghans have to learn on the job, which can be tedious for the employers. “We’ve had to let two of our female staff go because they were unable to cope with the pressure of working in a restaurant, but that isn’t to say that women can’t work in this industry,” Zahir says. “The environment, of course, matters, and it is perhaps up to us as employers to help create working environments that allow women to work comfortably and to their full potential.”

Women customers are drawn to restaurants where women work. “Having women around the restaurant creates a comforting and calm environment that eventually attracts a wide diversity of customers,” says Haidary, who also employs several women as servers, managers, and cooks.

They know they’re more than just victims—they’re survivors.

She started her cafe as a way to fund her other initiative: the Mother Camp, a nonprofit drug rehabilitation shelter she opened seven years ago for homeless addicts in Kabul. When the funding to the shelter started to dry up (few in Afghanistan consider donating to rehabilitating drug addicts), Haidary and her volunteers came up with the idea of establishing this cafe. Even today, most of her employees are former or recovering addicts from the Camp, which also continues to help hundreds of Afghans recover every year.

Haidary has been successful as a restaurateur, but the ride hasn’t been smooth. On the contrary, she faced several threats and intimidations, sometimes even from her own customers who would show up drunk or high on hashish to her cafe, breaking her one cardinal rule—no drugs, no alcohol.

Terrorized but not afraid, Haidary would often take these men head-on. “There was a time when she literally pounced on a large Afghan man who was a guard to a local parliamentarian,” recalls a regular customer at Taj Begum who witnessed the attack. “He had come drunk to the cafe, gotten into a brawl, and threatened to have [Haidary] shut down. When [she] protested, and had him kicked out of the cafe, he smashed her car windows.”

Despite that chaos, Haidary persisted because she wanted to be an inspiration to other women in Afghanistan. “Even when the going got tough, I didn’t quit. Not only did I need this to support Mother Camp, but I also wanted to show to our society that a woman can run a successful business,” she says.

The social change, however, will have to be gradual, and Afghan society will need more time to accept working women, especially in the service sector, as a norm. That said, women have come by leaps and bounds, having survived many wars and the brutal and patriarchal Taliban regime, during which they couldn’t even step out of their homes without male escorts. They know they’re more than just victims—they’re survivors who are overcoming odds, every day.

Ruchi Kumar wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Ruchi is an Indian journalist based in Afghanistan covering developmental, cultural, and political stories from the region.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

World Bank: “Empowering Women for Afghanistan’s Growth”

]]> 0
Saudi Prince who Bought da Vinci Painting could have given Sight to 9 Million Instead Wed, 13 Dec 2017 06:07:02 +0000 By Peter Singer | (Project Syndicate) | – –

A Saudi prince has been revealed to be the buyer of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” for which he spent $450.3 million. Had he given the money to the poor, as the subject of the painting instructed another rich man, he could have restored eyesight to nine million people, or enabled 13 million families to grow 50% more food.

PRINCETON – Last month, “Salvator Mundi,” Leonardo da Vinci’s portrayal of Jesus as Savior of the World, sold at auction for $400 million, more than twice the previous record for a work of art sold at auction. The buyer also had to pay an additional $50.3 million in commissions and fees.

The painting has been heavily retouched, and some experts have even questioned whether it really is by Leonardo. Jason Farago, a New York Times art critic, described it as “a proficient but not especially distinguished religious picture from turn-of-the-16th-century Lombardy, put through a wringer of restorations.”

The buyer – who many believe to be the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, acting through a distant cousin – has paid a very high price for a painting of a man who is said to have told another rich person: “Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” That makes it relevant to ask: what could someone with a spare $450 million do for the poor?

The Life You Can Save, a nonprofit organization that I founded a few years ago, has a Charity Impact Calculator that enables you to see what can be achieved by donations to charities with a proven record of effective aid for the world’s poorest people. It shows that, for $450 million, you could restore sight to nine million people with curable blindness, or provide 13 million families with the tools and techniques to grow 50% more food.

If you want to follow Jesus’s command in a more literal manner, you could simply give the money to the world’s poorest families to use as they wish. A nonprofit called Give Directly will locate the neediest families and transfer your money to them, deducting only 10% for its administrative costs.

In case you think that people receiving such a windfall will spend it on alcohol, gambling, or prostitution, an independent evaluation has shown that they don’t. Give Directly’s cash transfers increase recipients’ food security, mental health, and assets. For $450 million, you could also buy 180 million bed nets, enough to protect 271 million people from malaria. (For all these interventions, the numbers are likely to be somewhat smaller, because the Charity Impact Calculator is not designed for such large sums, and so does not take into account that costs will rise once the needs of those who are easiest to reach have been met.)

When a person chooses to buy “Salvator Mundi”rather than restore sight to nine million people, what does that say about their values? One thing is clear: they cannot care very much about other people. Whatever pleasure they, their family, and friends will get from viewing the painting, it can hardly compare with the benefit that restoring sight provides to one person, let alone many millions.

Rightly or wrongly, most of us do give much more weight to our own interests, and those of our children and other close relatives and friends, than we do to the interests of others. The more distant, and the more different from us, those others are, the higher the rate of discount that we apply in practice.

Yet there is a line at which the discount rate becomes so great, and the interests of others are treated with such indifference, that we must say no, that is going too far. We could argue that most affluent people are on the wrong side of that line. What seems to me unarguable is that to care more about owning a painting than about whether several million people can see is a long way beyond it.

In 2006, the legendary investor Warren Buffett pledged to give most of his wealth – around $30 billion – to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help people in extreme poverty. That gift – the single biggest gift anyone has ever given to anyone for anything – doubled the resources of the foundation. To mark the tenth anniversary of Buffett’s pledge, Bill and Melinda Gates recently reported to him on what the foundation, together with other organizations, achieved to improve global health over that decade.

The figure that Bill and Melinda Gates highlight is 122 million. That’s the number of children’s lives saved since 1990 by progressive reductions in the rate of child mortality. In other words, if the rate of child mortality had remained constant between 1990 and today, 122 million more children would have died than did in fact die over that period.

Perhaps the biggest contribution that the Gates Foundation made to that decline was pledging $750 million to establish the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (now known as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance), a public-private initiative that works with governments and United Nations agencies to improve the rate of vaccination in poor countries and foster the development of new vaccines. Now 86% of the world’s children receive basic vaccines – the highest rate ever.

The Gateses claim that every dollar spent on childhood immunization yields $44 in economic benefits, including the money that families otherwise lose when a child gets sick and a parent cannot work. Warren Buffett’s contribution to immunizations may be the best investment he has ever made.

What do you think would make a person happier? Owning a painting – even if it were the most marvelous painting in the world – or knowing that you had kept millions of children healthy, saving lives and benefiting families economically at the same time? Both common sense and psychological research suggest that it isn’t owning the painting.

Peter Singer is Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne. His books include Animal Liberation, Practical Ethics, The Ethics of What We Eat (with Jim Mason), Rethinking Life and Death, The Point of View of the Universe, co-authored with Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek, The Most Good You Can Do, Famine, Affluence, and Morality, One World Now, Ethics in the Real World, and, most recently, Utilitarianism: A Very Short Introduction, also with Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek. In 2013, he was named the world’s third “most influential contemporary thinker” by the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute.

Licensed from Project Syndicate


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: “Secret Buyer Of $450M Painting Revealed As Saudi Prince”

]]> 1
The Fempire Strikes Back: #MeToo and the Man-Monsters Wed, 13 Dec 2017 05:19:21 +0000 By Ann Jones. | (

First, for the record, let me tell you my story about another of those perversely creepy Hollywood predators, a sort of cut-rate Harvey Weinstein: the screenwriter and film director James Toback. As I read now of women he preyed upon year after year, I feel the rage that’s bubbled in the back of my brain for decades reaching the boiling point. I should be elated that Toback has been exposed again as the loathsome predator he’s been for half a century. But I’m stuck on the fact of elapsed time, all these decades that male predators roamed at large, efficiently sidelining and silencing women.

Toback could have been picked up by New York’s Finest when he hit on me in or around 1972.  But I didn’t call the cops, knowing it would come to nothing.  Nor did I tell our mutual employer, the City College of the City University of New York. I had no doubt about which one of us our male bosses would believe. I had already been labeled an agitator for campaigning to add a program in women’s studies to the curriculum. Besides, to any normal person, the story of what happened would sound too inconsequential to seem anything but ridiculous: not a crime but a farce.

I didn’t know Toback. I must have seen him at infrequent faculty meetings, but we taught in different writing programs. There was no reason for our paths to cross. Ever. So I have no memory of him until the day I flung open the door of my Chinatown loft in response to a knock, expecting to greet my downstairs neighbor, and in walked Toback. My antennae went up.  How had he managed to get past the locked street door? I remember talking fast, trying to get him out of my place without provoking a confrontation. He agreed to leave with me — to go out for tea or lunch or some little excursion I proposed — but first he insisted on using my bathroom, from which he soon emerged naked. I remember the way he listed the many things he had in mind for me to do for him. Among them, one demand persists in memory, perhaps because it was at once so specific and so bizarre: that I suck and pinch his nipples.

I beat him to the door, furious at being driven from my own loft. I think I threatened to come back with the cops. Something scared him anyway.  From a shop on the street, I watched as he left my building on the run, waddling away at top speed.

Reader, if you think that nothing really happened, then you are mistaken. This incident took place almost 50 years ago and though I hadn’t thought of it in ages — not until his name popped up in the media — the memory remains remarkably raw. I still want to see him marched naked through the streets of Manhattan and Los Angeles to the jeers and uproarious laughter of women. 

At the time, Toback was no more than 25 years old, while I was nearly 10 years older, a thoroughgoing feminist, and luckily faster on my feet than him. But recent reports say that, in the 1980s and later, Toback routinely focused his attacks on very young women, some of them teenagers, using promises of film stardom (sound familiar?) to lure them into encounters that left them sodden with shame. He is now in his seventies and, although women have reported his predation several times in major magazines, he was still on the prowl last month and had never before been called to account for his actions.

What could be more despicable than this: that for more than four decades, while he and his kind were allowed to practice undeterred, he only got better at his game of assaulting women.

A Catalogue of Violations

Not long after my run-in with Toback, a university professor from whom I was taking a writing course came calling to discuss my “extraordinary work” and emerged from that same Chinatown bathroom in a similar state of nakedness. (Do they follow some instruction manual I’ve never seen?) By then I was writing and photographing as a freelancer for the travel section of the New York Times, an unpaid task that entitled me to receive midnight phone calls from the drunken travel editor detailing the things I might do for him to insure a “real job” with the Times.  That’s when I became a freelancer elsewhere, always ready to cut and run. I’ve been a loner ever since. 

I could tell you stories of other professors, editors, journalists, and TV hosts. But they would be much the same as those we read almost every day now as women go public with their own stories of sexual harassment and worse at the hands of powerful men in the film industry, major media outlets, Silicon Valley, and Congress, among other places. In response, almost every day come new denials, excuses, or half-baked apologies. 

Some commentators are now reconsidering Bill Clinton’s record in the sharper light of the present moment.  Others ask if the current “witch hunt” for sexual predators has gone too far.  Expecting inevitable backlash, some recommend that women exercise restraint — as all of us have been taught to do for so many eons — lest some unsubstantiated accusation discredit the stories of thousands of women reporting #MeToo.  I don’t share such tender concern for the reputations of men, especially not that of the president, the self-congratulatory pussy-grabber-in-chief whose followers seem to mistake his behavior for the norm, if not an aspirational ideal.

Discussion of these matters quickly becomes political, eliciting erratic, gender-bending partisan judgments.  Some prominent Republican men called for former judge Roy Moore of Alabama, accused of harassing and assaulting teenaged girls when he was a 30-something assistant district attorney, to end his campaign for the Senate, while many Republican women in that state, including many who are presumably the mothers of daughters, continue to stand behind him.

At the same time, Democrats parse which of Bill Clinton’s accusers to believe and which not. And who hasn’t thought again about Clarence Thomas?  He was elevated to the Supreme Court by an all-white male Congressional committee despite the thoroughly credible testimony of harassed law professor Anita Hill and the accounts of many other women, similarly violated and ready to testify against Thomas, but never called. Given his long misogynistic history on the court, isn’t it time to look at his testimony again? Did he commit perjury to gain his seat? And if so, what’s to be done about his consistent judicial record inimical to the common interests of women?

It’s Not Just Sex 

Little or none of male harassment and predation is truly about sex, except insofar as men weaponize their sad libidos to pin women to the floor. Monstrous men commit what’s called sexual harassment and sexual assault not because women are irresistible but because they can’t resist the rush of power that rises from using, dominating, degrading, humiliating, shaming, and in some cases even murdering another (lesser) human being. (Sexist, not sexual, may be a more accurate adjective.)

Often — especially when the woman is better looking and more talented or qualified than her assailant — he gets an additional powerful kick from having “taught the bitch a lesson.”  A smug sense of power (“When you’re a star… you can do anything”) colors the phony apologies of accused predators. (“It was never my intention to leave the impression I was making an inappropriate advance on anyone.”)  Though a man may be truly sorry to be found out, it’s next to impossible for him, after that blast of solid-gold supremacy, to pretend to even a particle of remorse.

The times call for accusations to be scrupulously accurate. Yet it’s misleading to think of sexual harassment and sexual assault as separate and isolated indignities when in real life one so often segues into the other. Such terms arose in the course of intensive work by feminists of the so-called second wave, which is to say feminists like me who began work in the 1960s and 1970s.  One of our tasks was to expose and document the extent of violence against women in the United States. At that time, misogyny emanated from the pores of patriarchal men, poisoning the very air we breathed. We found overwhelming the violence such men committed against women and girls of all colors who did not conform to their notions of decorative and deferential “femininity.”   

The fact that male violence methodically constricts female lives is so appalling that most women simply couldn’t acknowledge it. Psychiatrist Judith Lewis Herman, in her landmark study Trauma and Recovery (1992), described things as they were at the time: “Most women do not… recognize the degree of male hostility toward them, preferring to view the relations of the sexes as more benign than they are in fact. Similarly, women like to believe that they have greater freedom and higher status than they do in reality.”  Beneath the revelations of sexual harassment and assault today lie the same hard-rock foundations of male hostility that Herman described a quarter century ago.

To document male violence and depict how it works in daily life, second-wave feminists tried to break it down into its component parts: discrimination and domination — psychological, sexual, and physical — in the home, the schools, the workplace, the church, the courts, the prisons, and public life. We wrote the history of male violence against women, while exploring its effects at that time and its future prospects.  Our generation produced groundbreaking books on patriarchy (Kate Millet, Sexual Politics, 1970), rape (Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will, 1975), sexual harassment (Catherine McKinnon, Sexual Harassment of Working Women, 1979), pornography (Andrea Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women, 1981), the battered women’s movement (Susan Schechter, Women and Male Violence, 1982), men murdering women (Diana Russell, Femicide, 1992), and feminist consciousness (Gloria Steinem, Revolution from Within, 1993).  I wrote a history of American women who did not conform: Women Who Kill (1980). For countless women of my generation, this documentation and the movement for change became our life’s work. 

The next generation of women thought differently. Many younger women, even some who call themselves feminists today, were persuaded by the hostile counterattack against the women’s movement (meticulously deconstructed by Susan Faludi in Backlash, 1991) that we uptight “man-haters” had wildly exaggerated the violence women face.  They, on the other hand, proudly proclaimed their youth, intelligence, ambition, and control of their own lives. They would not be victims or feminists either. We knew how they felt, for we had felt that way, too, when we were young. Then they went out to work and met the monsters.

To understand what actually happens to women, you only have to listen to or read any of the accounts pouring forth right now to denounce “sexual harassment.”  The stories are laced with fear about immediate physical threats and, more pointedly, with anger and despair about the potential demolition of their jobs, future careers, and life as they had envisioned it for themselves.

From the stories of individual women, it’s clear that predators violate the neat categories of feminist scholarship, shifting seamlessly from harassment to coercion to physical assault, rape, and worse. The “sexual” strategies exposed by these repetitive accounts are similar to those described in police reports on battered women, seasoned prostitutes, and women subjected to incest, trafficking, rape, and femicide. These are stories of the lives and deaths of millions of women and girls in America.

Behind all of them is the deafening sound of a silence that has persisted throughout my long life. But these past weeks have been startlingly different. By now, we — both women and men — should have heard enough to never again ask: “Why didn’t she come forward?” Let this be our own “open secret.” We all know now that a man who assaults a woman does so because he can, while a woman who comes forward, even with our support, is likely to be violated and shamed again — as were the women who came forward to accuse presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.

Now What?

None of this is new, though we tend to act as if it were.  Just last week, for instance, I heard three young women radio reporters explain that women back in the 1970s or 1980s accepted “unwanted male attention” in the office and in life “because that’s just the way things were.” (Harvey Weinstein offered the same excuse: “All the rules about workplaces and behavior were different. That was the culture then.”)

Please, can we get this straight?  Back in those ancient times — the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s — we did not accept violence against women in the workplace or any place else.  It’s true we hesitated to report it to employers or the police, because when we did, we had to watch them laugh it off or send us packing. But we did call it out. We named it. We described it. We wrote books about all forms of violence against women — all those “man-hating” books that these days, if anyone cares to look, may not seem quite so obsolete.

We worked for change. And now only 40 or so years later, here it seems to be. Los Angeles Times reporter Glenn Whipp broke the story of James Toback’s predation based on the complaints of 38 women. Within days that number had grown to 200. By the time I emailed him my story, the number reporting Toback assaults had hit 310.  In a follow-up article, Whipp mentioned that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Sex Crimes Unit wanted to hear from women Toback had attacked in their jurisdiction. I called and left a message, making good my threat to bring in the law after only about 45 years.

For the first time, someone other than my best friends might listen. Somebody might even call me back. But today, as I write, New York Times reporters Megan Twohey, Jodi Kantor, Susan Dominus and their colleagues describe in hair-raising detail “Harvey Weinstein’s Complicity Machine,” a catalogue of “enablers, silencers, and spies, warning others who discovered [Weinstein’s] secret to say nothing.”  With their collaboration, Weinstein, like Toback, has preyed upon women since the 1970s. 

The Times reports that among Weinstein’s closest media pals is David J. Pecker, the chief executive of American Media Inc., which owns The National Enquirer, a gossip rag whose reporters Weinstein could use to dig up dirt on his accusers. Reportedly, Weinstein was “known in the tabloid industry as an untouchable ‘F.O.P.,’ or ‘friend of Pecker.’”  It’s no surprise to learn that another predator who shares that untouchable F.O.P. status in the tabloids is Donald “grab ‘em by the pussy” Trump.

The question is unavoidable: If serial sexual predation disqualifies a man from being a film producer, screen writer, movie star, network newsman, talk show host, journalist, venture capitalist, comedian, actor, network news director, magazine editor, publisher, photographer, CEO, congressman, or senator, why shouldn’t it disqualify a man from being president of the United States? Shouldn’t sexist serial sexual assault constitute an impeachable high crime or misdemeanor? 

We may find out. Time magazine passed over the president as its “person of the year” to name instead the “Silence Breakers” — the brave, outspoken women who inspired the #MeToo campaign. Pictured on the cover along with actress Ashley Judd and pop star Taylor Swift is a Mexican strawberry picker, using a pseudonym for her safety. Her presence and the arm of an unidentified hospital worker seated just out of the frame signal that we might yet learn how this cultural awakening is playing out in ordinary America for women working in the far less glamorous worlds of fast-food chains, nursing homes, hospitals, factories, restaurants, bars, hotels, truck stops, and yes, strawberry fields.

So where do we go from here?  This train has left the station and rolls on. In some photos of those smart young relentless women journalists at the Times, I’ve noticed that their footwear tends not to stilettos, but to boots, which as every woman knows, are good for marching and for kicking ass. That’s promising.

But since I’ve traveled this route before, you’ll have to excuse me for thinking that when this big train passes, it could leave behind a system — predators, enablers, silencers, spies, and thoroughly entrenched sex discrimination — not so very different from that of the 1970s. And if that happens, no doubt those lying dead on the tracks will prove, upon official examination, to be female.

Ann Jones, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of several pioneering feminist books, including the classic Women Who Kill, Everyday Death, Next Time She’ll Be Dead, and with Susan Schechter a handbook for women who made the mistake of marrying predatory and violent men: When Love Goes Wrong. She is also the author of the Dispatch Book They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars — the Untold Story.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, as well as John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Ann Jones


]]> 1