More EU Hypocrisy

Probably you’ve seen the news about the “blogger” murdered in Malta:

Anti-graft blogger killed by car bomb

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Not much left of her to investigate, I’m guessing

Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta’s best-known investigative journalist, was killed on Oct. 17 when a powerful bomb blew up her car, police said, in a case that stunned the small Mediterranean island.

Caruana Galizia, 53, ran a hugely popular blog in which she relentlessly highlighted cases of alleged high-level corruption targeting politicians from across party lines. “There are crooks everywhere. The situation is desperate,” she wrote in a blog published on her site just half an hour before an explosion tore into her car.

Locals said Caruana Galizia had just left her house and was on a road near the village of Bidnija in northern Malta when the bomb detonated, sending her car flying into an adjacent field.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who faced accusations of wrong-doing by Caruana Galizia earlier this year, denounced her killing, calling it a “barbaric attack on press freedom.”

He announced that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had agreed to help local police investigate the killing and was flying experts to the island as soon as possible.

“I will not rest until I see justice done in this case,” he said in a statement, calling for national unity. [Yeah, sure!]

Vigil

Heureusement, nous ne sommes pas Daphne

Around 3,000 people held a silent, candle-lit vigil yesterday evening in Sliema, just outside Valletta.

The hashtag Je Suis Daphne circulated widely among social media users on the island of 400,000 people, the European Union’s smallest state.

Malta is, of course, a member of the European Union (since 2004) and the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Recently, when the gnomes of Brussels announced plans to establish a new European public prosecutor’s office with powers to combat corruption and fraud involving EU funds, Malta was reported as refusing to sign up for it. Interestingly, that same news item mentioned in its final paragraph that Sweden and the Netherlands had expressed concerns about “losing sovereignty”. So I’m guessing those shining beacons of transparency and democracy are refusing to sign up too.

Britain’s Guardian of human rights and press freedom, in its coverage of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, had this to say:

Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia poses outside the Libyan Embassy in Valletta

Daphne Caruana Galizia in happier days

She believed, in essence, that malign and criminal interests had captured Malta and turned it into an island mafia state; she reported on a political system rife with corruption, businesses seemingly used to launder money or pay bribes, and a criminal justice system that seemed incapable, or unwilling, to take on the controlling minds behind it all.

Probably her greatest achievement over the past year was to spark, more or less singlehandedly, an extraordinary political scandal that has embroiled the island’s prime minister, his closest political allies, and the ruling family of Azerbaijan.

Had this fiercely independent journalist finally got too close to something – or was she proving too much of an irritant to someone?

There is nothing to suggest any of this is linked to her murder.

WHAT!! ARE THOSE PEOPLE SERIOUS?

Two questions for folks at The Guardian: When was the last time a journalist was assassinated in Turkey for posing a threat to the government? And who was in power at the time?

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Democracy under threat in New Zealand

Citizens in Germany and New Zealand have just exercised their democratic right to elect representatives to their countries’ parliaments. The results are not dissimilar but response from the media and mainstream politicians has been remarkably different.

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New Zealand is one of them – and Big Business doesn’t like it!

In Germany, the party led by Chancellor Angela Merkel won 33% of the popular vote, and 35% of the seats in the Bundestag. She, the country’s news media and most Germans expect Ms Merkel to continue as Chancellor after forming a coalition with one or two other parties. That’s the way the system works. It’s called Proportional Representation, and allocates seats in the nation’s legislature to parties according to the number of votes they receive. Sounds fair, doesn’t it? No moaning and grumbling – just get on with the job. As they do in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and many other civilised countries using a PR electoral system.

But take a look at what’s happening in New Zealand. The governing conservative National Party gained 46% of the vote and a proportional number of seats in the House of Representatives; the Labour Party, 36%, and two minor parties, around 8% and 6%, entitling their supporters to some representation in parliament.

And listen to the uproar! The news media are filling their pages with black propaganda against Winston Peters, leader of the tiny NZ First Party:

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An orchestrated campaign to turn back the clock

“New Zealand’s hung parliament”

“The New Zealand First leader and kingmaker”

“Winston Peters, who currently holds the country’s future in his hands”

Kingmaker? Does that mean that the Prime Minister of New Zealand, almost always from the big business National Party, exercises the power of a monarch? More or less, yes!

Certainly Big Business does not like the MMP system of proportional representation that citizens in New Zealand worked so hard to bring in in 1994. And I guess they are also not keen on Mr Peters, who campaigned against business “fat cats”, and has been harshly criticising the size of exit packages dished out to departing corporate CEOs.

Interestingly, voter turnout in NZ parliamentary elections has been increasing in recent years, possibly as voters start to realise the power MMP gives them to exercise some control over the actions of the government. This year the turnout was 79%, similar to Germany’s 76%.

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Not much has changed in the US. The best democracy money can buy!

Compare that to the United States of America, land of the free and loudest trumpeter of its hallowed democracy. In the 2016 election that brought Donald Trump to the world stage, only 58% of American voters bothered exercising their right. Two years previously, in the mid-term election for representatives to Congress, a mere 36% turned out.

I’m sure there is nothing Big Business in New Zealand would like better than to return to the old First-past-the-post voting system where the National Party used to regularly govern alone despite winning fewer than half of the popular votes, and sometimes fewer than the main opposition party.

When you have been the government for most of the last 70 years, you have had ample opportunity to “adjust” the system to ensure you continue to do so. Now it seems they are dragging out the counting of special votes to build up pressure on the small parties, and to persuade the New Zealand public that the system is bad. And they have the news media in their pocket. As always, prior to the election, the tame media once again built up the pathetic Labour Party into a “credible” opposition to ensure that the “minor” parties stayed that way.

When all the shouting is over, poor New Zealanders can look forward to another four years of being screwed by Big Business and their National Party stooges.

What to know about Press Freedom in Denmark

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Kim Wall and Peter Madsen – It’s actually the non-Muslim murderers you have to watch out for. They’re not to easy to identify.

I’m sure you saw the news that the body of a 30 year-old woman journalist had been found in the sea near the Danish capital Copenhagen. Actually it took some time before police were able to identify the body because its head, arms and legs had been cut off. News items I have read don’t say whether the amputated body parts have been found. Apparently identification was carried out using DNA samples from her hairbrush and toothbrush.

Kim Wall was a real journalist, a freelancer who wrote for The New York Times, Vice and Time, among other publications.

She wasn’t murdered by a crazed Islamic fundamentalist. The most likely suspect seems to be a Danish engineer inventor, Peter Madsen.

A spokesperson for Reporters without Borders issued a statement noting that no journalists in Turkey have yet been slain, mutilated, dismembered and thrown into the Bosporus or any other sea to the best of their knowledge. She went on to say that as a result of this attack on press freedom, Denmark has been moved up to second place on their latest list of dangerous places for journalists, threatening to overtake Syria, where reporters tend to be dressed up in orange overalls before having their throats cut.

Well, actually I have to confess it’s not true. The last time I wrote something like that some people believed me. Denmark is ranked 4th on that Press Freedom Index,  and Turkey 155th, but I’m watching out with interest for an update.

Champions of Democracy – Sweden, Turkey and Ecuador

It seems as long as I can remember, Scandinavian countries, Sweden and Norway, and their neighbours, Finland and Denmark, have been held up as models of civilised behaviour and individual freedom, as paragons of democracy, excellence in education and pretty much everything else that’s good and true. Check out any list you like, you’ll find them right up there near the top:

  • Transparency? Denmark 1st, Finland 3rd, Sweden 4th, Norway 6th.
  • Standard of living? Norway 1st, Denmark 3rd, Sweden 6th, Finland 8th.
  • Press freedom? Norway 1st, Sweden 2nd, Finland 3rd, Denmark 4th.
  • Women’s rights? Finland 2nd, Norway 3rd, Sweden 4th.
  • LGBT rights? Sweden 4th, Norway 6th, Denmark 7th.
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Swedish women standing up for their rights

So I suppose they may feel justified in adopting a “holier-than-thou” attitude towards us less enlightened mortals lower down the scale. Look at Turkey! 75th place on the transparency list (well, at least that’s over half way!); 130th for women’s’ rights; 36th out of 38 OECD countries for standard of living; 46th out of 49 in Europe for LGBT rights! And that’s before we get started on freedom of the press! 162 journalists in prison! Or 81, or more than 200, depending on which source you believe. You’d wonder if there was anyone left to report the news.

Then I decided to check one or two statistics. I found that, according to official figures, there 2,459 published newspapers in Turkey, including 55 broad circulations dailies, 23 regional and 2,381 local rags! So I guess there must be a few journalists still scribbling. And then there are the television channels: 27 national, 16 regional and 215 local! Magazines? 2,522. Radio stations? 87. Furthermore, around the country there are 33 tertiary communications faculties catering for 5,000 students each year. So it seems the government has its work cut out if its going to be successful in stifling dissent.

Another aspect of the problem lies in defining exactly what a “journalist” is? Am I a journalist when I write this blog? Is Julian Assange a journalist? Possibly that accounts for the difficulty in counting how many of us are in prison.

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Rule One: Don’t blink or you’ll miss the daylight

Don’t you love statistics? I switched tack and researched a few more. I found that per capita consumption of alcohol is more than five times higher in Denmark and Finland than in Turkey; four times higher in Sweden and 3.5 times higher in Norway. I learned that, among 37 OECD countries, Turkey has the second-lowest suicide rate – with far fewer people topping themselves than in those self-righteous north European paradises. Maybe it has something to do with the climate, I thought. Average annual temperatures in Helsinki (high, low) are 9° C and 1° C; in Oslo, 10° and 2°; in Stockholm, 10° and 4°, and Copenhagen, 11° and 5°. From November to February, Stockholm averages 7.5 hours of daylight per day. So nowhere’s perfect, right?

Still, I was a little disappointed to read the other day that Sweden is obstructing the government of Turkey in its attempts to extradite from Spain a “journalist” they accuse of spreading terrorist propaganda. Hamza Yalçın apparently took refuge in Sweden in 1984, after spending some time in prison for political activities at a time when Turkey was roiling in violence from the extreme left and right. He was involved with an anarchist organisation that openly advocated violence to overthrow whichever government was in. Street violence ended when a military junta seized power in 1980, the third such takeover in twenty years.

It seems Sweden granted citizenship to Mr Yalçın, but he chose to retain his Turkish status – which is why that government feels it has the right to call him to account. You would think Yalçın might have been happy with the current government of Turkey since they have managed to pull the teeth of the country’s formerly all-powerful military – and it has been twenty years since they were last able to overthrow an elected government. Since he has been in Sweden, however, Hamza has continued his involvement in the political situation back home – criticising the government in a Turkish language magazine Odak (Focus). Turkish authorities issued an international warrant for his arrest. He was picked up by local police at Barcelona Airport and is being held in custody while a Spanish court decides whether or not to extradite him to Turkey. Enter the Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom, who is reportedly working to ensure the poor man gets his rights.

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Vikings enjoying a few drinks

On the plus side for Sweden, I hear they have decided to drop their rape investigation against Julian Assange. The Wikileaks founder was granted sanctuary in the Ecuador Embassy in London after British courts had agreed to extradite him to Sweden, despite the fact that no actual charges had been laid. While he admits having sex with the two women concerned, Assange maintains that relations were mutually consensual. And you have to admit, the guy doesn’t fit your picture of a typical rapist. The women concerned are aged 27 and 31 respectively, not underage schoolgirls – and Sweden does have a long-standing reputation for moral flexibility in the field of sexual relations. Still, it’s a woman’s right to say “No” – though on the whole it’s probably better to say it loudly and clearly before taking a guy you don’t know very well back to your flat, getting naked and climbing into bed with him.

Assange, for his part, is certain that the rape accusations were fabricated to get him to Sweden whence he could then be extradited to the United States, where authorities would very much like to try him for spying, treason, conspiracy or whatever, lock him up in a penitentiary somewhere and throw away the key. And it wouldn’t surprise me at all.

So let’s take a look at our trio of democracies:

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Didn’t get quite as much coverage in the West as that iconic pic from Tiananmen Square

  • Turkey, the world’s second-highest provider of international aid; whose head of state is the first democratically elected president in the 94-year history of the republic; governed by a political party that has gained majority popular support in 7 elections since 2002; currently struggling to feed, house and employ three million refugees from the civil war in Syria; whose people last year faced down guns and tanks to thwart an attempted military coup.
  • Ecuador, Latin America’s largest recipient of refugees, with net annual immigration; whose government has, for five years, courageously stood up to pressure from powerful governments to protect the right of press freedom; whose president for ten years, Rafael Correa, worked tirelessly to ameliorate high poverty and inequality and improve health and education services (even the CIA World Factbook website admits this!) in the face of powerful opposition.
  • Sweden, cooperating with the world’s number one imperialist super-power to help them silence brave voices working to reveal the extent of their lies and evil actions; and siding with other hypocritical European “democracies” (Greece and Germany) to harbour traitors and terrorists lawfully sought for trial by the government of Turkey.

Who gets your vote?

Wheels within Wheels – Israel’s relationship with the Saudi Arabs

The following items are sourced from Al Jazeera:

After Saudi Arabia and other GCC nations cut ties with Qatar, a series of surreal decisions were taken against it

These are two of them:

TerroristsTo stem the flow of negative reactions Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain took steps to curb their citizens from expressing opinions that opposed their policies.

The UAE Attorney General Hamad Saif al-Shamsi announced that any objections to the UAE’s strict measures against the government of Qatar or expression of sympathy with Qatar would be a crime punishable by a prison sentence of 3-15 years and a fine of no less than $136,000 (500,000AED), whether on a social media platform or via any written or spoken medium.

Hotel residents in Saudi Arabia can no longer watch Al Jazeera channels, after the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage warned against airing Al Jazeera inside any hotel or tourist establishment.

The commission stressed that all channels belonging to the Al Jazeera Media Network are to be removed from the list of satellite stations in “all hotel rooms and touristic facilities and furnished residential units … including the TV lists kept within”, in order to avoid punishments that included fines up to $27,000 (100,000 Saudi riyals) and a cancellation of the hotel’s licence.

The Qatar-Gulf crisis has given Israel an opportunity to normalise its presence in the region, analysts say

The current Qatar-Gulf crisis has offered Israel a golden opportunity to normalise its presence in the region, undermine the Palestinian cause and deliver a diplomatic blow to the Islamic Resistance movement, Hamas, analysts say.

Israel arabUnder the pretext of fighting “terrorism”, the anti-Hamas, anti-political Islam coalition seems to be emerging with the Saudi-led bloc and Israel at its heart, they added.

Researcher and expert on Israeli affairs, Antoine Shalhat, believes that Israel’s rapid adoption of the Saudi position confirms that the two countries share Israel’s vision on regional developments and the Palestinian cause.

Shalhat told Al Jazeera that Israel is hoping to make political gains from the Gulf crisis and the blockade on Qatar by weakening Hamas and undermining its influence in the Gaza Strip, and demonising it in the Arab world under the pretext of “terrorism”.

He added that the Saudi attack on Hamas and its portrayal of the movement as a “terrorist organisation” serves the Israeli agenda and is consistent with Israel’s goal to eliminate the Palestinian cause.

US legislation threatening Qatar for Hamas support is tied to donations from UAE, Saudi, and Israel lobbyists

US legislation threatening to sanction Qatar for its support of “Palestinian terror” was sponsored by 10 legislators who received more than $1m over the last 18 months from lobbyists and groups linked to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. 

For Trita Parsi, author and founder of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a nonprofit that aims to strengthen the voice of US citizens of Iranian descent, the similarities between the US-allied Arab nations’ “terror list” and HR 2712 show growing cooperation between Gulf Arab states and Israel.

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Defending democracy

“The coordination between hawkish pro-Israel groups and UAE and Saudi Arabia has been going on for quite some time,” Parsi told Al Jazeera. What is new, he continued, is pro-Israel groups such as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies “coming out with pro-Saudi [articles] and lobbying for them on Capitol Hill”.

Israel’s influence on US policymakers is clear. HR 2712’s sponsors received donations totalling $1,009,796 from pro-Israel individuals and groups for the 2016 election cycle alone, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, an independent research group tracking money in US politics and its effect on elections and public policy, and then compiled by Al Jazeera. 

“They’re not traditional pro-Saudi legislators. They’re in the pro-Likud camp,” Parsi said, referring to the party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The bill has bipartisan sponsorship. Five of the legislators come from the House Committee on Foreign Relations (HCFR), including sponsor Brian Mast, a first-term Republican congressman from Florida, and Ed Royce and Eliot Engel, the ranking Republican and Democrat of the HCFR, respectively.

Royce received $242,143 from pro-Israel sources for the 2016 election cycle, $190,150 went to Engel. Mast, who volunteered with the Israeli military after he finished serving in the US Army, received $90,178.

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And incidentally:

King Faisal

King Faisal, son of King Ibn Saud, fought in the military campaigns in the 1920s and ’30s that helped forge modern Saudi Arabia. He later served as Saudi ambassador to the United Nations and in 1953 was made premier upon the ascension of his older brother, Saud. In 1964, King Saud was pressured to abdicate, and Faisal became the absolute ruler of Saudi Arabia. As king, he sought to modernize his nation, and lent financial and moral support to anti-Israeli efforts in the Middle East. In 1975, Faisal was assassinated for reasons that remain obscure, and his son, Crown Prince Khalid, ascended to the throne.

Source: History.com

Interestingly, Faisal’s assassin was one of the family, subsequently declared insane and executed (in the normal humane Saudi fashion, by decapitation).

 

Thieves Falling Out? What’s going on with Qatar?

media liesWhy do I follow the mainstream news media? It’s simple. I know they are trying to con me. I know they are telling half-truths, and hiding important information from me. Reading between the lines, however, gives me important clues as to what questions I should be asking to find the answers I really need to know.

So . . . This week I learn that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are cutting ties with oil rich neighbour and former friend Qatar over “alleged support for terrorism”. Well, good for them, you might think. Great to see high profile Muslim countries taking initiative to stamp out this curse currently plaguing the world.

But wait up. Who exactly are the “terrorists” those dastardly Qataris are “allegedly” supporting? The terrible Taliban? ISIS/Daesh? Al Qaeda? Boko Haram? Apparently not. In fact it’s far more likely those groups are funded by Saudis. The object of Qatari affections seems to be the Muslim Brotherhood. Well, ok. They’re just as bad, aren’t they? With a name like that, they’d have to be terrorists. Certainly movers and shakers in the USA and Israel think so: the Clarion Project, the Gatestone Institute, and Israeli Stand With Us express strong opinions on the subject. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates summed up their case with a simple, if inelegant sound byte: “It seems to me, by and large, if it looks like a duck and it walks like a duck, maybe it’s a duck.”

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. . . or Muslims!

On the other hand, the people at Brookings say no, and there seems to be debate on the matter within Trump’s administration. Back in March, the Big DT was on the verge of issuing an executive order adding the Brotherhood to Washington’s official list of terrorist organisations – but decided to postpone the decision. Apparently cooler heads in his team were arguing that affixing the “terrorist” label would unnecessarily upset some of America’s allies in the region. Clearly, however, other “allies” are strongly in favour, especially the Saud family, the UAE (Dubai etc) and Egypt. So who’s right?

According to a BBC backgrounder, the movement (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun in Arabic) was founded in 1928, and “initially aimed simply to spread Islamic morals and good works, but soon became involved in politics, particularly the fight to rid Egypt of British colonial control and cleanse it of all Western influence.” It’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, did create “a paramilitary wing, the Special Apparatus, whose operatives joined the fight against British rule and engaged in a campaign of bombings and assassinations.” Sounds nasty, but you have to remember that, in those days, Britain was fighting a losing global war to hold on to its rapidly shrinking empire. Their plan to wipe Turkey of the map had been foiled by Kemal Atatürk; and MK Ghandi led India and Pakistan to independence in 1947. In 1956, after President Abdul Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal, the Brits, French and Israelis actually invaded Egypt – but were ordered out by US President Eisenhower.

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That was in 1956

You might think the Muslim Brothers had some cause for indulging in a little active resistance. Not everyone is as patient and peaceful as Mahatma Ghandi. When Hosni Mubarak stood down as President of Egypt in 2011 as a result of “Arab Spring” protests and the (probably reluctant) urging of US President Obama, he had held the position for 29 years, winning “elections” where 70-80% of his citizens didn’t bother to cast a vote. The Muslim Brotherhood had been banned from putting up candidates, but in the first genuinely democratic election in June 2012 they won a comfortable majority. Mohammed Morsi became Egypt’s first democratically elected (and non-military) president. He lasted just over a year. In July 2013 he was ousted by Egypt’s armed forces and his place taken by military commander-in-chief, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Subsequently, the United States and its Western allies have been twisting their tongues into breathtaking contortions to avoid calling the military coup a military coup.

Did the US government’s henchmen have a hand in Morsi’s ousting? Of course they cover their tracks, but we do know that the US had supported Mubarak’s dictatorship, despite his abysmal human rights record. US funding made Egypt’s military the world’s 10th largest, and Egypt reversed its earlier implacable hostility to Israel. It was unlikely that Morsi would have been quite so accommodating to US Middle East policy. US aid was cut off but resumed as soon as Egypt returned to military dictatorship. Go figure, as my North American friends are fond of saying.

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Barack Obama with his Arab mates

Well, Qatar’s tiny population (2.2 million) has the world’s highest per capita GDP, its capital, Doha, is the location for TV broadcaster Al-Jazeera, and the country was selected by FIFA to host the 2022 football World Cup tournament. It’s not exactly a paragon of democratic freedom, but that doesn’t seem to be a major stumbling block to finding favour with US administrations. It does seem that their crime, in the eyes of their neighbours, is lending support to those Muslim Brothers.

Now don’t you think it’s interesting that just after President Donald Trump returns home from a successful visit to his country’s friends in the Middle East, a gang of those friends suddenly decide to pick on a neighbour that has been causing difficulties for the Trump administration? DT wants to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation but some of his advisors are blocking him. Is it possible he suggested to King Salman and the rest of his Arab buddies that now might be a good time to put the screws on Qatar to fall into line?

Whatever the failings of their foreign and domestic programmes, putting the screws on other sovereign states to fall into line is something United States governments are especially good at. We’ve seen what happened in Egypt. We are witnessing (again) what happens to South American nations (Brazil, Venezuela) that think serving their own people takes priority over the interests of US corporations. For all the talk about bringing American-style democracy to the world, we have seen that US administrations are far more comfortable dealing with military dictators than with elected leaders who may have to listen to what their own people are saying.

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Enlisting recruits for Al Qaeda in Yemen

And whatever may have been said in private, President Trump was only too happy to trumpet his success in clinching a deal to sell $110 billion worth of military hardware to the Saudi rulers. In case you were wondering what the Saudis are doing with all those tanks, artillery and helicopter gunships, Time Magazine tells us that it is mostly being used to slaughter people in neighbouring Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries, currently racked by poverty, starvation and a cholera epidemic. As if the Saudis can’t do enough damage by themselves, the US military has been making its own contribution to peace in the Middle East with commando raids and drone strikes. Tell, me please, who are those poor Yemenis threatening?

Meanwhile Turkey is struggling to persuade its own so-called Western allies to support its struggle against terrorism. Military personnel known to have been involved in the unsuccessful July 15 military coup attempt have taken refuge in EU countries, notably Greece and Germany – and those NATO friends are refusing to hand them over. Fethullah Gülen, believed by Turkey’s government to have been a key figure in efforts to overthrow them, is safely ensconced in his Pennsylvania retreat, while the US government spurns all requests to extradite him. The Pentagon, in open defiance of Ankara’s wishes, is unabashedly supplying military hardware to Kurdish separatist groups in Syria closely allied with the internationally recognised terrorist PKK.

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Supporting autocrats in the Middle East

I read an interesting book review the other day. ‘Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East’ is a collection of academic articles apparently arguing against Barack Obama’s simplistic assessment of Middle East strife that it is “rooted in conflicts that date back millennia”. So far, so good. The Ottoman dynasty ruled a multicultural, polyglot empire embracing Muslims, Jews and mutually antagonistic Christian sects for six centuries without major sectarian conflict.

Unfortunately, it seems the writers have lurched from one flawed interpretation to another. The reviewer summarises the book’s theme thus: “Behind the current turmoil lies a toxic brew of authoritarianism, kleptocracy, developmental stagnation, state repression, geopolitical rivalry and class dynamics. . . Many of the contributors,” we are told, “make the key point that lethal sectarianism and politicized identities are often manipulated by authoritarian regimes in pursuit of political gain.”

Well, it is undoubtedly true that Hosni Mubarak, for example, made good use of his 29 years as dictator of Egypt to enrich himself and his family. The academics in “Secularization” might have noted, however, that courts in Switzerland and the United States have resisted all attempts by Egyptian authorities to repatriate the tens of millions of dollars stashed by Mubarak in their banks.

The articles seem to attribute the rise of the phenomenon purely and simply to power-hungry “autocrats” in the region stoking internecine hatred for their own purposes. One writer even blames the current lawless chaos in Iraq on neighbours Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, who allegedly sabotaged Washington’s genuine attempts to create “a stable and democratic Iraq”.

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The Big DT with his Israeli mates

Well, I guess we saw in Afghanistan just how genuine was the American desire to bring stability and democracy. After using the Taliban to evict the Russian military from Afghanistan, the United States walked away and left the locals to sort out the mess by themselves – and we’ve seen the result of that. When it suited the White House, they supported Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. Iran itself had experienced its Islamic revolution as a result of 27 years of US-supported dictatorship by the puppet Shah, installed after a CIA-sponsored coup in 1952. The Saudi royal family gained and retain their power by working with, first the British, and subsequently the United States. Much of the current conflict in the Middle East stems from the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948 by the United Nations aka the United States, which has subsequently supported that government’s expansionist aggression against all objections by the international community.

Is this current business with Qatar just another example of local thieves falling out? I don’t think so.

France joins USA in Hypocrisy Champions League

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Turkey or France? – Circle the correct answer

I’m happy to see Amnesty International picking on the French government for a change, as their new president seeks to extend his country’s State of Emergency for a SIXTH term since December 2015.

I found a report in our English language daily, Hürriyet Daily News but a quick Google search failed to turn up coverage in any mainstream Western media. They much prefer attacking Turkey, and accusing its democratically elected President of being a dictator.

Disproportionate restrictions on demonstrations under the State of Emergency in France reveals that hundreds of unjustified measures restricting freedom of movement and the right to peaceful assembly have been issued under the guise of countering terrorism.

“Emergency laws intended to protect the French people from the threat of terrorism are instead being used to restrict their rights to protest peacefully,” said Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s researcher on France.

“Under the cover of the state of emergency, rights to protest have been stripped away with hundreds of activists, environmentalists, and labour rights campaigners unjustifiably banned from participating in protests.”

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Well, neither girl is wearing a red dress – but still . . .

Following the horrific Paris attacks on 13 November 2015, France’s state of emergency, introduced a day later, has been renewed five times normalizing a range of intrusive measures. These include powers to ban demonstrations on vague grounds and prevent individuals attending protests. Last week, President Macron indicated that he will ask parliament to extend it for a sixth time.

The state of emergency allows prefects to ban any gathering as a precautionary measure on very broad and undefined grounds of ‘threat to public order’. These powers to restrict the right to freedom of peaceful assembly have frequently been used disproportionately.

Between November 2015 and 5 May 2017, authorities used emergency powers to issue 155 decrees prohibiting public assemblies, in addition to banning dozens of protests using ordinary French law. They also imposed 639 measures preventing specific individuals participating in public assemblies. Of these, 574 were targeted at those protesting against proposed labour law reforms. Moreover, according to media reports, authorities imposed dozens of similar measures to prevent people from participating in protests after the second round of the presidential elections on 7 May.