Posts Tagged Syria

World’s gone mad and it don’t seem right

I sleep in a little on one Sunday morning and everything’s gone crazy.

1. Vandalising in the name of “social justice”

From what I gather, some of the “social justice protesters” in Tel Aviv from last year tried to put up tents in Rothschild Blvd again, but were arrested as the government didn’t want the whole of central Tel Aviv to shut down for a second year in a row. This sparked a whole new protest, which blocked Ibn Gvirol and marched south, joining-up with some kind of anti-homophobia protest.

At some point, the whole thing went out of control and the protesters started just smashing things. The police responded with what has been alleged to have been “police brutality”. It’s hard to tell either way, but I can say this: breaking into and smashing-up banks is not a good way to defend “social justice” or to get any kind of point across.

Haaretz report HERE, more photos HERE.

2. Flare-up around Gaza

There has been another of what are becoming routine flare-ups in violence around the border between Gaza and Israel. Jerusalem Post reporter Yaakov Katz even argues that this one is half-hearted compared to the last ones.

It is a very sad state-of-affairs that this kind of language can be used about an incident that has killed 14 Palestinians so far and has forced a million Israelis to be living in bomb shelters for a week, with rockets seriously damaging a school in Sderot, amongst other things.

However, I have heard reports privately that the IDF General Staff has been pulling all-night meetings and could be planning another large-scale Gaza incursion. That is not going to be fun for anyone, but may be necessary in order to stop these perpetual flare-ups. I’m not sure which is the bigger evil, in all honesty.

That brings me to…

3. Third Intifada

Nathan Thrall argued in the New York Times Sunday Review that a third intifada is inevitable. For some reason, this was released online on Friday, but it has caused a stir amongst a lot of analysts who accuse Thrall of actually supporting the idea.

One point that has been repeatedly made is that another intifada would pose little real threat to Israel, but could well unseat the current Palestinian leadership (not a bad outcome IMO). Fatah and Hamas know this, so they have been doing everything they can to avoid it and to keep their peoples’ attention on Israel.

There also seems to be a threat from within that is coming to unseat Mahmoud Abbas – Salaam Fayyad has just announced that he may challenge the Palestinian Authority presidency in the event that elections ever actually happen.

4. Egypt: the tale of two presidents

The results of Egypt’s presidential elections are rumoured to be coming any minute. This has not prevented both candidates announcing victory and the supporters of both holding huge, angry riots against each other.

Essentially, the country is polarised. Half hate the old regime candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, and half hate the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed  Moursi. Whoever wins, there will be mass dissatisfaction and possibly violence.

5. And the rest

I’m getting a little tired of writing out these short summaries, so to conclude: Sudan is exploding and Turkey is about to go to war with Syria over what was probably a stunt to prevent further Syrian airforce pilots defecting (shooting down a plane is a good way to do it).

Gotta love the Middle East.

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UN Steps-up Syria Intervention

Now Kofi Annan AND Ban-Ki Moon have issued a JOINT STATEMENT, condemning Syria in the “STRONGEST POSSIBLE TERMS”. Hold onto your seats guys, this shit just got serious!

Fighting Assad one strongly worded statement at a time | Article | The Punch.

The Secretary-General and the Joint Special Envoy condemn in the strongest possible terms the killing, confirmed by United Nations observers, of dozens of men, women and children and the wounding of hundreds more in the village of El-Houleh, near Homs.  Observers from the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria have viewed the bodies of the dead and confirmed from an examination of ordnance that artillery and tank shells were fired at a residential neighbourhood.

It seems that the UN observers are doing a great job observing more things for the UN to condemn, and the UN leadership is issuing condemnations right on cue. As Tory Maguire said in that rather aptly titled post that I linked to, “well that ought to do the trick.”

I think Jeffrey Goldberg had the best critique of this devastating strategy being employed by the UN, the US and the rest of the international community:

Obama Hits Syria With Brutal Blast of Adverbs – Bloomberg.

Almost 10,000 people [now over 13,000] have died in the current Syrian uprising, and each passing day brings the killing and torture of more civilians, including many children.

Some critics say the U.S. has shamed itself by not intervening aggressively on behalf of Syria’s rebels and dissidents.

They’re wrong. The Obama administration hasn’t helped to arm the rebels, nor has it created safe havens for persecuted dissidents. But it has done something far more important: It has provided the Syrian opposition with very strong language to describe Assad’s various atrocities.

The administration’s unprecedented verbal and written sorties against the Assad regime have included some of the most powerful adjectives, adjectival intensifiers and adverbs ever aimed at an American foe. This campaign has helped Syrians understand, among other things, that the English language contains many synonyms for “repulsive.”

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Chilling insight into fashion magazine’s Assad choice

The Washington Post has an anniversary piece for the profile of Syrian First Lady Asma al-Assad that appeared in Vogue magazine last year, just before the vicious bloodshed in Syria began.

Vogue’s flattering profile on Assad’s wife disappears from Web – The Washington Post.

“Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic — the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies,” writer Joan Juliet Buck began her profile of Syria’s first lady in Vogue last year. Amid descriptions of Assad’s “energetic grace” and Christian Louboutin shoes, Buck wrote: “The 35-year-old first lady’s central mission is to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen, encourage them to engage in what she calls ‘active citizenship.’ ”

Well, perhaps. But just as Buck’s profile appeared, Assad’s husband, Bashar al-Assad, began a bloody crackdown on his opponents. Since then, about 9,000 Syrians have been slaughtered by security forces loyal to Assad, Syria’s hereditary president.

The article points to the below NPR interview with the profile’s author, Joan Juliet Buck. I particularly want to point to the question that begins around the 1:10 mark.

When asked what the intention of the piece was, Buck says:

I think that Vogue is always on the lookout for good-looking First Ladies — because they’re a combination of power and beauty and elegance, that’s what Vogue is about — and here was this woman who had never given an interview, who was extremely thin and very well-dressed and therefore qualified to be in Vogue; and Vogue had been trying to get her for quite a long time.

Uh huh. So that’s what it takes to get into Vogue — “extremely skinny and very well-dressed”. No other questions asked about this beautiful and elegant leader of one of the most despised regimes on the planet. No consideration whatsoever for the reasons why she may have been so aloof from international attention.

That exposes the extreme vacuity at the heart of the fashion world, where those involved are incredibly out-of-touch with the world that you and I live in.

As Jacqueline Alemany wrote recently, the high-fashion magazines have seen dramatic drops in circulation as other options have presented themselves and people with an interest in fashion have rejected the “pretension and delusional reality” that Vogue et al are trying to sell.

Evolve or Die.

The issue is not with targeting of the affluent, it’s the pretension and delusional reality that they project in order to target them that is sometimes so off-putting to so many readers, especially to some of the subscribers they have lost to online blogs. It is these blogs that have capitalized on the notions of accessibility, inclusivity, and affordability in an economic time period that encourages this. Racial and cultural inclusivity is also abysmal in many of these magazines from the models and actresses featured on the covers to the people covered in articles.

Not to beat a dead horse, but it is articles similar to the one written by Dara Lynn Weiss in Vogue’s “Shape” issue entitled, “Weight Watchers.” In reporting her struggles to slim down her ‘obese’ 7-year-old daughter, Weiss comes across as hateful, self-absorbed, impatient, and shallow as she recounts incidents in respects to policing her daughters dieting plan. Weiss made us resent her all the more by describing specific outbursts over Starbucks and a salad nicoise. Vogue seemed to miss the obesity mark by placing a spotlight on a mother projecting her own body image insecurities on to her daughter rather than covering other powerful and exemplary obesity initiatives that are occurring throughout the country. Considering the strategic Wintour-Obama relationship that has blossomed, it is all the more surprising that a more tasteful and less tone-deaf article regarding childhood obesity was not included in this issue or in any fashion magazine body issues in the United States considering what an enormous problem childhood obesity is.

One final point on the NPR interview: it is very interesting how Buck describes the Assads not as bloodthirsty tyrants, but as people living in their own world and pretending that nothing is happening — dehumanising their victims as “software” as they are being slaughtered.

The irony of the situation with regard to the fashion industry is definitely obvious, but I can’t help but feel that we are all guilty of this to some extent in Western society. In a lot of instances, we know that things we do cause huge suffering to people we don’t know, yet we ignore this the way Bashar and Asma ignore the people their security forces are torturing and shelling.

http://www.npr.org/v2/?i=151058724&m=151065399&t=audio

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Major Photoshop Karnage: #StopKony2012 edition

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Syria’s style icon First Lady is killing it

 

Remember Asma al-Assad: the Western-educated family woman, philanthropist and style icon? You remember, right? Well, Walter Russell Mead has pointed out the remarkable difference between her reaction to Israel’s 2009 Gaza incursion, aimed at stopping Hamas’ bombardment of Israeli civilians, versus her reaction to Syria’s 2012 “unrest”, aimed at preventing her husband from being overthrown.

Asma Assad: Stand By Your Man | Via Meadia.

In January 2009, a prominent political icon took to CNN to express moral outrage over the actions of a Middle Eastern government attacking civilians. It was a moving performance, filled with pathos and righteous anger.

… The source of this searing moral critique? Asma Assad, wife of Bashir Assad. Her target? Israel during its 2008 incursion into Gaza to halt the Hamas rocket fire which had forced a million of its citizens into underground shelters.

The immensity of Ms Assad’s hypocrisy is only fully appreciable today. While her husband oversees the slaughter of over 5000 of his own civilians, the lovely Assad is standing by her man. After remaining silent since the killing began in March 2011, she today released a statement to the international press. It is a veritable profile in moral courage:

Mead points to this quote from an email sent by Assad herself (my bold):

Syria: President Assad’s British-born wife Asma speaks for first time | Mail Online.

‘The President is the President of Syria, not a faction of Syrians, and the First Lady supports him in that role,’ she told The Times.

‘These days she is equally involved in bridging gaps and encouraging dialogue. She listens to and comforts the families of the victims of the violence.’

Well that’s nice of her, she’s providing cold comfort to all the victims of her husband, who she stands by resolutely.

Watch the video below of her remarks on Gaza, overlayed with facts in Arabic (includes English translation) about the slaughter going on in Syria right now whose victims she is “comforting”.

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Shalit is free but what is the real story?

Emotionally and symbolically, exchanging Gilad Shalit for 1027 Palestinian prisoners had a lot of value – mostly because of intense campaigning over the past few years. In the broader picture, however, the deal was of very little consequence. That said, the end of a 5-year impasse in negotiations must have come for a reason. So what was really going on when Hamas made the deal with Israel? Well, as Karin Laub and Ibrahim Barzak point out, the Egyptian mediation in brokering the deal was perhaps the most important and overlooked part of the story:

Gilad Shalit Deal Questions Complex Regional Ties.

The swap, mediated by Egypt, has strengthened Hamas’ bond with the regional powerhouse next door and removed a major irritant from its fraught relationship with Israel.

…The swap helped boost Egypts stature as a regional power against competitors Iran and Turkey. In the final phase of the negotiations, Hamas showed flexibility to ensure success, in part to avoid alienating Egypt, analysts said. Hamas made sure that Schalits first interview, after emerging from captivity, was given to Egyptian television, apparently to highlight Egypts role.

So the deal confirms not only that Egypt is getting closer to Hamas, but that it is ramping-up its meddling in Palestinian affairs. That means a lot – Mubarak was very insular, but Egypt has historically been a powerhouse. The new rulers are obviously keen to assert themselves.

Egypt’s next goal is to push for a unity deal between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah movement, said an official with knowledge of those efforts. Having rival Palestinian governments – Abbas’ in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza – endangers the region, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

Abbas and Mashaal are to meet in coming days in Cairo to try to break the impasse that has held up a reconciliation agreement reached in the spring. Skeptics say a breakthrough is unlikely because of deep ideological differences and because each side wants to safeguard achievements in the territory it controls.

Martin Indyk, hoever, doesn’t think that Egypt deserves so much credit. By his reckoning, the story is really happening in Damascus as Hamas is looking around the Arab world for a new city to base themselves in.

A Shift in Israel-Hamas Relations? – Council on Foreign Relations.

The negotiations were conducted by the same Egyptian intelligence services that conducted negotiations in Mubarak’s time, so there has really been no change in that regard. What’s changed is that Hamas was more willing to do the deal and make concessions this summer than they were previously. The key to understanding why they became more flexible lies not in the Egyptian revolution but in the Syrian revolt.

Hamas’ external leadership has been based in Damascus, where they are under the direct influence of Iran and Syria. The Iranians have had no interest in any deal that would lower the flames of Arab-Israeli conflict, because it is that conflict which enables them to spread their influence into the Arab hotbed, right up to the borders of Israel. Therefore, in the past they pressed Khaled Meshaal, the leader of the external Hamas based in Damascus, not to do the prisoner deal with Israel. Much to the frustration of Egyptian and German mediators, they were unable to pull this deal off at critical junctures because of Iran telling Meshaal not to do the deal.

But the real tragedy of the deal? As Indyk points out, it has strengthened Hamas and those who support violent resistance while weakening any Palestinian support for negotiations.

 The deal’s human dimension can’t be dismissed, because it was what drove the deal. And Israel’s desire to save one soldier’s life is what led to this lopsidedness. The broader political implications aren’t positive. Hamas has long argued that its approach–violence, terrorism, kidnapping, hostage-taking–is the most effective way of retaining Palestinian rights, whether that’s getting prisoners released, getting settlements evacuated, or getting territory liberated. That narrative has been vindicated by this deal.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who is Hamas’ political opponent, was unable to achieve a major prisoner swap like this, which included the release of many terrorists with a good deal of blood on their hands. Abu Mazen has been unable to achieve through negotiations the evacuation of Jewish settlements from the West Bank or the liberation of Palestinian prisoners. So those who reject compromise and peacemaking with Israel and talk violence and terrorism are the ones who have been strengthened.

The message from the swap is simple: terrorism works. Israelis were ok with that because of their emotional investment in Shalit, but this is not something that anyone should lose sight of.

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Violence in Syria over?

Maybe, maybe not. See HERE for more information.

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Palestinians used as political playthings by Arab dictators

Continuing a long-standing tradition of escalating the hardship of Palestinians and exacerbating tensions with Israel in order to distract from problems at home, it looks like Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has been behind the recent riots on the Syrian border in which Palestinians haves been killed whilst trying to break into Israel. There were reports quite soon after that the Syrian regime had been paying the protesters, however it seems that the Palestinian terror groups that Syria harbours have now been clamping down on any opposition.

Fighters Shoot Protesters at a Palestinian Camp in Syria – NYTimes.com.

According to WAFA and other reports, the fighters from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which is backed by Syria, clashed with mourners in the Yarmouk refugee camp after funerals for Palestinian protesters who were killed on Sunday at the border between Syria and the Israeli-held Golan Heights.

The shootings on Monday took place after mourners accused the organization of sacrificing Palestinian lives by encouraging protesters to demonstrate at the Golan Heights, Reuters reported. Reports also referred to divisions in the camp between those who support the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and those who sympathize with the Syrian opposition, which is seeking expanded democratic rights.

I remain hopeful that 60 years later, the Arab world will finally see through these charades and realise that Israel is not the sole cause of the Palestinians’ plight (or, for that matter, of every other problem that the Arabs face). I’m still amazed that no one focuses on the horrible treatment that Palestinians receive in Arab states, why isn’t the so-called “Palestine solidarity” movement going to Lebanon to demand that Palestinians are allowed to work, own property and live outside of designated areas? That is Apartheid if I ever saw it…

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Syria on the Human Rights Council – proof that the system works

And you thought all of the news on Syria was about authorities beating protesters to death and the president firing the government to hold on to power. No, apparently they’re about to be elected to the UN Human Rights Council too.

Don’t you love the UN?

Syria Seeking Seat on Human Rights Council at UN Amid Turmoil – Businessweek

March 29 (Bloomberg) — Syria’s government, accused of shooting peaceful protesters, is bidding at the United Nations for a seat on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council less than a month after Libya was suspended for attacking demonstrators.

Syria is one of four candidates for four seats on the Human Rights Council that will go to Asian nations when the UN General Assembly votes on May 20 for new members. The so-called clean slate endorsed in January by the UN’s so-called Asian Group of countries puts Syria in a position to win a three-year term on the 47-member council unless another Asian nation seeks a seat.

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Everything’s not right in the fashion industry: WSJ takes on Vogue

More on this storyWall Street Journal assistant editors Bari Weiss and David Feith have managed to push through an op-ed in the Journal On Vogue Magazine‘s…faux-pas (I couldn’t think of another way to describe it in one phrase).

They go through a lot of the same points that I did, using a few good facts and stories to illustrate how absurdly innacurate Buck’s profile actually was. The whole article is structured with passages from the Vogue article juxtaposed with the unfortunate reality of life in Syria.

Weiss and Feith: The Dictator’s Wife Wears Louboutins – WSJ.com.

But none of those countries has Asma. “The 35-year-old first lady’s central mission,” we’re told, “is to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen, encourage them to engage in what she calls ‘active citizenship.'”

That’s just what 18-year-old high-school student Tal al-Mallouhi did with her blog, but it didn’t stop the Assad regime from arresting her in late 2009. Or from sentencing her, in a closed security court last month, to five years in prison for “espionage.”

Pretty biting, hey?

The best part, for me, was the point made at the end.

In the past weeks, as people power has highlighted the illegitimacy and ruthlessness of the Middle East’s strongmen, various Western institutions have been shamed for their associations with them. There’s the London School of Economics, which accepted over $2 million from Libya’s ruling family, and experts like political theorist Benjamin Barber, who wrote that Gadhafi “is a complex and adaptive thinker as well as an efficient, if laid-back, autocrat.”

When Syria’s dictator eventually falls—for the moment, protests against him have been successfully squelched by police—there will be a similar reckoning. Vogue has earned its place in that unfortunate roll call.

Weiss and Firth are completely right, this article should condemn Vogue to the same level of scrutiny as LSE, the UN Human Rights Council, Keysar Trad and others who openly support evil dictators. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a huge clamour in the fashion world going on about this – beside the online piece from The Atlantic (which loves taking shots at Vogue as the owners of Vogue publish Vanity Fair, one of The Atlantic’s main rivals), it took two assistant editors of a newspaper focussed mostly on finance to bring this story into the mainstream media, about 2 weeks after it first broke.

This is not an isolated incident. It took Natalie Portman, the (Jewish Israeli) face of Dior, to get apparent Nazi-sympathising designer John Galliano fired after a rant about how he loved Hitler, including the friendly observation, to his fellow patrons of the restaurant in which he was dining, that, “your mothers, your forefathers, would be fucking gassed and fucking dead.” As Barbara Ellen wrote in The Observer on Sunday:

If only John Galliano’s hate rant was a one-off | Barbara Ellen | Comment is free | The Observer

It’s interesting that John Galliano could just have got away with his antisemitic ravings, some caught on video in a Paris bar, had it not been for Jewish actress Natalie Portman.

Nicole Kidman and Sharon Stone still wore Dior to the Oscars. It was Portman, the “face” of Dior perfumes, who wore Rodarte. It was Portman who immediately stated she was “shocked and disgusted” and “would not be associated with Mr Galliano”. She added: “I hope these terrible comments remind us to reflect and act upon combating these still-existing prejudices that are the opposite of all that is beautiful.”

Ellen made the point that anti-Semitism seems to be (forgive the pun) en vogue at the moment in the entertainment industry.

Casual antisemitism appears to be having a “moment” right now. Casual antisemitism is “hot” and seemingly nowhere “hotter” than in the US entertainment industry. This is the very industry everyone is always moaning about being “controlled by Jews”, making the whole thing even more bizarre or, arguably, more understandable, if you stir envy and resentment into the mix.

There’s Charlie Sheen with his comment about Two and a Half Men creator Chuck Lorre’s “real name” being “Chaim Levine”; Sheen’s other alleged comments about his manager, Mark Burg, being a “stooped Jew pig”; Mel Gibson’s “Jews responsible for all the wars in the world” outburst; Oliver Stone’s “Jewish domination of the media”.

It’s lucky that Portman was in a position to lead the charge against Galliano. Who is around to have Vogue disgraced and Buck fired, as she should be? Not a lot of people, in all likelihood. Writing in the New Statesman, Laurie Penny has analysed the not-so-veiled culture of racism in fashion that make these kinds of things possible:

New Statesman – Galliano’s fashionable beliefs.

Diversity in fashion is going backwards. The recent fashion week in New York, one of the most multicultural places on the planet, featured 85 per cent white models, a proportion that has hardly changed in a decade. Recent high-profile campaigns have showcased white models in blackface, and when real black models do make it on to the pages of magazines, the airbrushing invariably lightens their colouring and straightens their hair into more marketable, Caucasian styles. Then we wonder why anxious teenagers across the world are using dangerous toxins to bleach the blackness out of their skin.

What should shock is not just the substance of Galliano’s comments, but the fact that it took a man being caught on camera explicitly saying that he loves Hitler for the fashion industry to acknowledge a teeny problem with racism. The rabid misogyny of Galliano’s outburst has hardly been commented on because, while most people now acknowledge that anti-Semitism isn’t very nice, the jury is still out on institutional sexism.

In a world where everything is perfect and beautiful, supported by an industry that taylors, lights and airbrushes over imperfections as a matter of course, is there really any impetus to criticise someone for airbrushing over brutality, slaughter and terror as if it were any other blemish?  There’s obviously a huge disconnect between the fashion world and the one the rest of us live in, it will take the rest of the world to push for the cultural shift that we need.

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