The peace talks and the pawns of war

by Claude Salhani

UN-brokered peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups in Geneva run the risk of unleashing an upsurge of fighting as each side seeks to gain ground to aid its negotiating position.

Opposition delegate Bassma Kodmani said bombings had increased in the week ahead of the Geneva talks, which began on January 29th. “In preparations for the negotiations, everything has intensified. The sieges have become total,” she said.

On January 31st, the United Nations said Mouadamiya, a rebel-held town of 45,000 on the south-western edge of Damascus, faced a new siege by government forces.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for attacks in the Sayeda Zeinab district of Damascus, according to Amaq, a news agency that sup­ports the militant group. It said two operations “hit the most im­portant stronghold of Shia militias in Damascus”. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at more than 60, including 25 Shia fighters.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the attacks were “clearly aimed to disrupt the at­tempts to start a political process” to end a conflict that has killed more than 260,000 people.

In the Syrian conflict, as in every conflict, there comes a phase in the war when the fighting can no longer be considered a viable solu­tion and peace begins to look like a more acceptable option.

But as the peace negotiators sit down to silence the guns, the fighters hunker down for a last spurt of heavy fighting.

This is where the Syrian conflict is. After nearly five years of con­tinuous violence that has ruined the country and has turned close to half its population — 10 million people — into refugees, all eyes are turned to Geneva amid hopes that the antagonists can reach a lasting solution.

Now, as Syria’s warlords con­vene in Geneva the conflict enters into a precarious phase.

In this dreadful war, as is often the case in conflict negotiations, there is that twilight moment, a time of last-minute madness in which the hell that is war takes on an additional degree of insanity. This is when the politicians take control of the war machine from the combatants — remotely, of course — so as to give them better leverage in negotiations.

These are at times the harshest hours for those in the front-line trenches. The men and women and, in some cases the children, engaged in defending their terri­tory are aware that peace talks are just around the corner and that every second of every minute of every hour counts.

This is where the cold-blood­edness of the politicians is best reflected as they move their men about the battlefield much as pawns are shuffled around a chess board.

This is a certain insane absurd­ity that surrounds most peace talks. The most memorable ex­amples were the talks to end the Vietnam War. While young men and women died in the jungles of South-East Asia, negotiators sit­ting in the comfort of the Avenue Kleber Conference Centre in Paris haggled for weeks over the shape of the table and which side got to sit where. All the while fight­ing raged with renewed intensity because both sides knew the end of the war was near and each side wanted to make the most territo­rial gains.

However, the winning side has to carefully balance just how much ground it takes so as not to put the other side into too big a defeat, causing them to leave negotiations.

In Geneva, where the Syrian peace talks were being conducted, opposing sides would not even meet in the same room. Instead UN negotiators are forced to shuttle between the delegations’ separate areas.

The Syrian peace talks are prob­ably as complicated as were the Lebanese peace talks in the luxury of a five-star hotel in Lausanne in 1984. The sheer number of parties involved, each armed with a list of demands and expectations contribute to the complexity of negotiations.

At one point in the 15-year Leba­nese civil war there were no fewer than 98 armed groups of vari­ous sizes and importance, some controlling no more than a single street, others welded more power than the national army.

In Syria, the opposition is also divided and composed of a multi­tude of parties and armed militias that spend as much time fighting each other as they do the central government they want to over­throw. They have yet to familiarise themselves with the ancient Ro­man adage of divide and conquer.

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly

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US boots on the ground in Syria?

Is the statement by US Vice-President Joe Biden — that the United States would be putting boots on the ground in Syria to fight the Islamic State (ISIS) — a change of heart and mind as far as US foreign policy is con­cerned?

Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, President Barack Obama’s administration has been adamant that there would be no US troops deployed in Syria. Now the Obama administration is having second thoughts. Is this a last-minute attempt by Obama to make amends for his lack of interest in a turbulent Middle East?

Obama, who leaves the White House next January, is concerned — as all presidents before him were — about his legacy. While Obama has scored some victory points domestically, there is nothing major on foreign policy that his administration can claim, such as president Jimmy Carter orchestrating the Camp David accords that ushered in a lasting peace between Egypt and Israel.

But for Obama, as it was for Bill Clinton, attempts at rectifying the Middle East conflict come too little, too late. Similarly, Obama must certainly feel the pressure mounting as each day brings the inauguration of the next president closer.

Is the United States serious about sending troops to fight in Syria? Rumours have it that the 101st Airborne Division, one of the crack units of the US Army, is preparing for the task.

The statement the vice-president made after he met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul took care to underline that US and Turkish forces would deploy to fight ISIS and would not be involved in the Syrian civil war otherwise.

Additionally, Obama may feel pressured to act given that Russia has a firm foothold, which includes air bases and naval facilities, in Syria. Now that the Russians are there, it is highly unlikely they would ever leave the eastern Mediterranean.

In essence it would be hard to detect any policy change given that there was never any clear-cut policy on Syria to begin with. The Obama administration seemed to randomly pick out an opposition group from the plethora of forces opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad, only to realise a short while later that it was the wrong group. Some Syrian opposition groups wanted to appear sympathetic to the United States so as to receive training, weapons and financing.

With the peace talks possibly restarting and the possibility of a major offensive by the United States and Turkey, is there a glimmer of a light at the end of the tunnel? On the one hand, if Syrian peace talks succeed, this may be the beginning of the end of the war but if they fail, would the United States and Turkey intervening militarily bring an end to the conflict?

That is unlikely to happen. There are serious doubts the peace talks will go anywhere given the disparity among the opposition forces. And, despite the United States maintaining that any forces committed to the Syrian theatre of operations are there to fight ISIS, there is no telling once on the ground how things will turn out.

Turkey has also stated that it would be sending troops to fight ISIS, which Ankara supported not too long ago. But Turkey has its own agenda and it keeping tabs on the Kurds.

Truth be told, chances of a diplomatic solution to the conundrum in Syria are few and far between as the numerous opposition parties spend as much time fighting each other as they are fighting their common enemy, the current regime in Damascus.

Nobody in this conflict seems to be playing straight. Just as the Syrian factions supported by the United States would not hesitate to turn their backs on the Americans, so, too, would the United States drop them like a hot potato should a better opportunity knock at the door. The trouble, however, is you don’t know who is knocking on the door until it’s too late.


Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.

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War and Peace in the Middle East

By Claude Salhani

The sheer insanity of war seems to have spread like a malignant cancer across North Africa and the Middle East. Everywhere you look war and its by-products — hate, violence and fear — have never been so present as they are today in the Arab world.

From the tip of the Arabian pen­insula to the valleys of the Two Riv­ers, from the cedars of Lebanon to the plains of Anatolia and from the pyramids of Egypt stretching across the deserts to the string of pleas­ant fertile Mediterranean cities that dot the coast of North Africa, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and millions rendered homeless.

The refugee crisis stretching from the Mid­dle East into Europe and even beyond is one of the world’s most serious mass migration of peoples across borders and continents since World War II.

There is no immediate solution to the refugee cri­sis, there is no magic wand that will fix everything immediately assuming that the concerned powers agree on an agenda. It will take years, if ever, to right all the wrongs committed in this last year alone.

The Christmas season, being the time of unbridled dreams, one should imagine if only for a brief moment, how different the region would be and how much it would prosper and develop and just how much the people would benefit if and when peace were to replace war.

For the moment, it is only a distant dream but dreams can come true when there is human will.

If the peoples of the Middl East manage to overcome the divides separating them and learn to curb the fears they have of each other’s differences, the outlook of the re­gion would not be quite the same.

First, money currently spent on buying arms could be used to ad­vance education and welfare, two fields in which the region lags.

Second, youth in the region would have dreams of better lives at home. The drive to migrate at any cost would certainly slow down if not stop altogether.

Third, destructive mindsets would cease being the trademark of the MENA region. The Arab world could, as it did in the Mid­dle Ages, start contributing to the advancement of thought, science, technology and medicine. There is no reason why the Arab and Muslim world cannot contribute greatly to such developments the way it did during the days of Avi­cenna and Averroes.

Fourth, consider how the tour­ist industry is hurting more than ever after terrorist attacks in Tunis and Egypt. Consider the amount of foreign currency that would be pumped into the countries and the number of jobs created in the tour­ism industry and offshoots if there were no terror threat.

Religious tourism could skyrock­et if pilgrims of all religions were able to travel unhindered around the region to visit the holy cities in the Palestinian territories, Israel, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia without fear of arrest or kidnapping or of being caught up in political violence.

Fifth, industrial zones could be created in parts of the Middle East with large populations where an inexpensive and capable labour force could be found. Only indus­try can create the tens of thou­sands of jobs needed to stem youth unemployment.

Think how prosperous the region could be if the money invested by Saudi and Qatari donations as well as by Western nations and private corporations — both official and from private entities — would go to helping in the causes of develop­ment, welfare and progress.

This, of course, is all utopic under the current circumstances and hardly likely to be in the offing in the near future. Though one can still dream and hope for a miracle. It is nearly Christmas after all.

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Islamist fundamentalists 14 years later

By Claude Salhani –

In the days following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Towers in New York and on the Pentagon, just outside Washington, DC, I wrote an analysis that tried to explain why Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida organization had embarked upon the road they had.

The terrorist attacks against the United States was, as then President George W. Bush pointed out at the time, “a declaration of war” against the United States.

Fourteen years later the French president, Francois Hollande, makes a similar statement, saying that the attacks against a number of Parisian sites was a `”declaration of war ” on France by the Islamists.

Indeed, when looking at the conflict with the benefit of some distance, one is clearly able to see the “thread” or the continuity of the Islamists’ long-term planning. Whereas the West has been reacting rather than pre-empting the Islamist movement.

It is clear today that the attack on NY and Washington were the foundation of the long-term plan bin –Laden had established to with the aim of re-establishing the Caliphate.

Bin-Laden’s plans called for a revolution in current political thinking throughout Central Asia, the Middle East and the rest of the Islamic world. Bin-Laden has been removed by the US but a far more powerful and more ruthless leader has emerged through the ranks to take his place, the man Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has grabbed large swaths of land and declared himself caliph.

Bin Laden knew that in order to survive, his Islamist revolution need to expand or die. “But that is like communism,’ exclaimed an acquaintance when I pointed out the thinking behind the Islamist’s philosophy.


Like any revolution that needs to survive, al-Baghdadi and before him bin Laden, knew that their movements must continue to grow or die.

In his quest for Muslim expansion al-Baghdadi, just like bin Laden before him, want to see the “Balkanization,” or in this case the Islamization, of Central Asia. And just as Moscow centralized all power, so too do the Islamists hope to establish a central authority.

Maybe Islamization is the wrong word because there is little that is Islamic about their ways. Interviewed some 14 years ago, Professor Akbar Ahmad, Chair of Islamic Studies at the American University’s School of International Studies in Washington, DC, said of the Islamists: “they are not Islamic at all.”

What makes it worse for Muslims is that the West is equating the Islamic State’s un-Islamic acts with Islam.

They are using Islam much like Pol Pot used communism. Mix in religious fervor and any revolution becomes all the more potent, and dangerous.

Like bin Laden, al-Baghdadi’s first step was to hijack Islam to fit his cause, passing himself off as a fervent religious man. That, of course, is meant to win him the support of hordes of fanatics who know little, if anything, of the Qoran.

So the question, of course, is what next?

Next would be to consolidate his operations and to try to achieve a breakout from the position he now finds himself in, that of being under siege in his new caliphate. This was probably a fundamental reason why bin Laden was opposed declaring the physical caliphate – at least for the moment— and al-Baghdadi did not hesitate to claim for himself a physical entity.

This would also partially explain the change of tactics on the part of the IS who might well be feeling the crunch of the siege on Rakkah, first the attack on the Russian plane over Sinai and then the attack on Paris.

Claude Salhani is a senior editor with Trend Agency. You can follow Claude on Twitter @Claudesalhani

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Syria’s horrendous refugee problem can come knocking on your door tomorrow

By Claude Salhani – Trend:

The leaders of the world’s most industrialized nations, known as the G20 will meet in the Turkish resort town of Antalya next week to discuss the major problems facing our world today.

No doubt they will address issues such as global warming that some will continue to ignore and/or deny its existence. And that despite the scientific facts that several islands in the Pacific are slowly sinking and that a number of countries have registered their hottest summer in history. And there are still a number of skeptics.

But while our scientists argue with world leaders over climate changes and disappearing coast lines, there in indeed a much more pressing issue at hand, one which will no doubt be addressed: that is the fate of several millions of refugees surviving – just barely – in makeshift camps scattered across the Levant and Europe.

The vast majority of those refugees come from Syria where the civil war has claimed anywhere from 150,000 lives to 350,000, according to opposition groups. The United Nations estimates the number of people killed in the civil war that started in 2011 at 220,000.

But the dead are not the problem here. The real problem, and one that transcends Syria’s borders is the question of the refugees. In fact the Syrian civil war has created the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II.

Digesting what is really happening to the people who have been forced out of their homes has become somewhat banal given that we are constantly bombarded with facts and figures that the numbers no longer hold any meaning. We have become immune to real tragedies being shown to us live on television.

But here is a staggering figure: the number of refugees created by the war in Syria: are you ready for this? Nine million. Nine million people in Syria were forced to flee their homes for safer places.

Some headed to Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey; Syria’s immediate neighbors. Others opted to resettle in Europe and descended on member countries of the European Union like swarms of locusts.

Now here is another astounding figure; you recall the number of refugees from Syria, right? Nine million. The total pre-war population of Syria was under 18 million. That means that half of the country’s population have become refugees. Every other person in the country has been displaced by the war.

Comparatively, this would be the equivalent of 166 million Americans where to become refugees. It is difficult to fathom numbers such as those. In that respect Joseph Stalin, the former Soviet dictator was right when he said that a single death is a tragedy whereas a million deaths is a statistic. So is the fate 9 million Syrian refugees. They too are a statistic.

The real challenge facing the leaders of the G20 countries when they convene in Turkey next week is to come up with a viable formula on how to avoid such tragedies in the first place. In our day and age when we profess to be somewhat civilized such tragedies should not be permitted to take place to begin with.

Part of the problem however in trying to get leaders of countries as diverse as Russia, China, United States and the European Union; Brazil and Argentina; India and Indonesia, and with conflicting political agendas to agree on the concept of creating and dispatching an international preemptive force.

Such a force would intervene militarily if needed to prevent countries falling into chaos, anarchy and violence. Seeing how the outcome of the Syrian civil war is affecting not only Syria’s immediate neighbors, but is also impacts European countries, it should only be logical for those countries to preempt such disasters as the one currently unfolding in Syria. Perhaps the G20 leaders may see for themselves a boatload or two of refugees arriving by sea on the shores of Antalya, while they are out for a quick stroll on the beach and be moved to take some real action.

Claude Salhani is a senior editor at Trend Agency

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Don’t fear Christmas

By Claude Salhani

(This story was originally posted on the UPI wire on Dec. 23, 2005.)

We are entering that time of year when the American chapter of the Taliban awakens and becomes most active. Yes, little boys and girls, they do exist, even in the land of the free and the home of the brave! (And of the Braves, too.)

I am talking about the ultra-orthodox, the extremists, the politically correct polizei — or in plain English — the PC police.

They are the ones that go around the country banning — or at least trying to impose a ban on any and all public displays of Christmas.

Except here, in the good ol’ U.S. of A., where “freedom rings,” more and more people are becoming afraid to utter the words “Merry Christmas.” They are Ebenezer Scrooges before his encounter with his multiple ghosts on Christmas Eve.

Some of these people can be just as extremist in their thinking as the Taliban. And just as the Islamist fundamentalists hijacked Islam to fit their cause, the anti Christmas people too are hijacking political correctness to a new extreme, as they try to impose their unilateral ways and views on others.

That is exactly what the extremists in Afghanistan tried to do. (OK, they took it few steps further, but it’s never too early to nip these fanatics in the bud.)

Here is the tally of the Christmas cards I received this year at the office:

— Season’s Greetings: 8

— Best wishes for the holiday season: 5

— Not one had the word “Christmas” on it.

Do you know in what country Santa Claus, Christmas trees and any outward sign of Christmas are banned? Saudi Arabia.

It has become almost as though Christmas (or Hanukkah or Ramadan) has turned into a dirty word. People seem afraid to wish you Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanza. Instead, they settle on the safer and more generic, but totally meaningless shallow, empty phrase, of “Happy holidays.” Just what is that supposed to mean? Happy holidays? Its ring is superficial and does not convey the same warm, fuzzy feeling as the word Christmas does. Christmas carols, Christmas pudding, Christmas shopping. Will that all be done away with to be replaced with Holiday tunes, Holiday cake and Holiday purchases?

Nah! This doesn’t look like Kansas, Toto. It does not have the same ring to it.

Maybe while we’re at it, we should also change the wording on the U.S. currency from “In God We Trust,” to “We think we believe in a supernatural being, sort of.” (Actually, come to think of it, the atheists have asked to do this for a long time now.)

While Christmas does celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, it is also a time of tradition. Holidays is simply not the same.

Those who don’t appreciate Christmas, or feel offended by the religious aspects of Christmas, don’t have to participate, but there is no need for them to push their bah-humbug views on the rest of the world. That is what the Taliban tried to do — and failed.

I have many Jewish and Muslim friends who like to celebrate Christmas because of the tradition and because of their having been raised among Christians. They enjoy getting gifts for their Christian friends and enjoy receiving presents from their Christian friends.

And if you are not Christian and resent the whole concept of the over-commercialized Christian holiday, then ignore it. Turn off the radio when they play Christmas carols and turn your head every time you see a Santa Claus or hear the sound of jiggle bells.

Or, if you belong to no religion but feel you need to do something, emulate Kramer. Do what he did in an episode of the TV series “Seinfeld”: celebrate “Festivus.” Then, in lieu of a Christmas tree, you can have an aluminum pole as the sole decoration.

Otherwise, be bold and say it … “Happy Christmas to one and all.” You will feel better for it.

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Everything you always feared about Iran but were too afraid to admit

By Claude Salhani

The political turbu­lence shaking the Middle East region continues to rever­berate as Iran pursues a foreign policy that clearly demonstrates its plan on making itself the prominent power in the Middle East and the Arabian (which they call Persian) Gulf.

Without the sword of Damocles — in the form of international eco­nomic sanctions — dangling over their heads, the Iranians are start­ing to show their true intentions, now that the July 14th nuclear agreement lifted sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Clearly, one of Tehran’s objec­tives — one that confirms the fears of many experts — is flexing its muscles in the region.

Tehran is sparing no costs, including that of human lives, in building a self-serving alliance — some are starting to call it the Shia crescent, a territory stretch­ing from Iran to include Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and, to the south, Yemen.

Iran is intensifying its pres­ence in Syria and Iraq. While the Iranians remain tight-lipped about their military and paramilitary de­ployments and the movement of troops is well guarded, as are the casualty lists, something that has angered many families, a sketch of the numbers involved is starting to emerge by tracking the deaths taking place in Syria.

Indeed, the deaths of many Is­lamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) officers in Syria reflects the growing ground presence by Iran’s military there and the possible transformation of the IRGC into a Middle East intervention force.

Such a move would make Iran the de facto po­liceman in the region. This has long been an Iranian desire, since the days of the shah, if not earlier.

None of this is really news, or at least it should not be, were it not for the fact that what some analysts had been predicting is finally showing signs of really happening.

Iran has been quite open regard­ing its long-term plans. It’s just that the West persistently refused to own up and constantly misread the tea leaves.

Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari, who was considered a moderate, laid out Iran’s political aspirations as it was transitioning from being an em­pire under the shah into an Islamic republic under the mullahs as far back as 1979.

The grand ayatollah spoke open­ly about the intended trajectory of the Islamic Republic to anyone who wanted to hear; part of the problem was that not many people heard what he had to say. Both the shah and leader of the Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, tried to keep him quiet. I met the ayatollah while the shah was trying desperately to remain in power and the clock had started to wind down. Shariatmadari disa­greed with Khomeini over having clergy in the government.

At the time the shah’s army had encircled the holy city of Qom but some of the ayatollah’s disciples managed to get me inside the city.

Today, as Iran begins test-firing ballistic missiles, it demonstrates how it intends to make use of loopholes in the nuclear agree­ment. If Iran seeks peace in the region as it claims, it is certainly walking down the wrong path.

The United States says it is at­tentive to Iran’s moves. Well, it should be. It should have been even more attentive all along. The problem may be that by the time the United States deciphers what is really transpiring in the region it may be too late. As is the case with Syria where the Russians are taking up the slack.

initially published in The Arab Wewekly

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Why not declare Palestine’s statehood? Or the state of discontent

by Claude Salhani
 I recently asked a former official of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) why the Palestinians don’t simply declare the territory they control a state as they have long aspired to do. The so-called peace talks with Israel aren’t going anywhere, the current US administration has no interest in trying to mediate peace between the two sides. And, with the  United States out of the picture, there is no one else in an position to apply pressure Israel.
“We have,” said the official. “In fact, we have declared Palestine a state on several occasions.”
“No interest from the international community.”
The Palestinians declared their independence in 1988. Then there was an attempt to be recognised by the UN Security Council in 2012. However, the only state to emerge seems to be one of confusion.
The Palestinians have been lingering in a political twilight zone, wandering in international limbo, existing in a state of
despair but still without a state proper.
By and large this has been the case since 1948 when Israel was created and British Mandate Palestine ceased to exist. Along with the creation of the Jewish state came one of the world’s largest refugee problems and a political climate that would pave the way for the mayhem that permeates the region today. What is the correlation between the Palestinian issue and the wars being waged in Syria and Iraq? A number of Arab leaders, such as Syria’s, for example,
continued to rule through martial law and states of emergency, claiming the country was still at war.
The Israeli-Palestinian dispute has contributed — indirectly — to the precarious political situation that persists
across the region. There was a time in the Middle East when the Palestinian cause was considered sacred to all Arabs.
That was before civil wars erupted in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen — the four most pro-Palestinian countries in the Arab world.
Their preoccupation with more pressing matters at home further secluded the Palestinians in their quest for support as they pressed for statehood. In the absence of the state, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is supposed to rule over the territories. But that is in principle. The PA is supposed to rule over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but the reality is quite different as the PA holds very little authority. The West Bank remains under Israeli military occupation and the Gaza Strip is in the control of Hamas and under Israel political, military
and economic siege.
The Palestinians should have by now reached the point of statehood but at every hint that the PA might declare the formation of a Palestinian state, Israel objects, the United States intervenes in Israel’s favour and the world
community turns a blind eye once again as more injustice unfolds.
Given the socio-political and economic situations in the territories for the Palestinians living under Israeli military
occupation, the ingredients are there for confrontation. Periodically the pot boils over and another intifada breaks out. It
would appear that the Palestinian territories have reached that point once again.
As the reality of the bleak future for Palestinians that lies ahead is compounded with practically no possibility or
prospect for advancement in heir society, no real job opportunities other than menial ones, the climate becomes ripe for violence. At that point all that’s missing is a trigger, which is inevitably coming. The current situation, compiled with mistreatment and humiliation suffered by Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints, provides more ingredients to throw into
the pot of discontent. Now sit back and watch the pot boil over.
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How much US bashing is enough?

Bashing the United States for anything that goes wrong has become de riguer in today’s political world. The latest rant comes from Iran’s supreme leader, who once again berated the United States for the ills of the Middle East. Continue reading

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Tragedy at sea – death on the Mediterranean

By Claude Salhani

Tragedy at sea, death on the Mediterranean. Savagery of the people smugglers; or how more than 400 people – including a number of children died at sea this week – and nobody gives a damn. Yes its horrible, they shrug and take another sip of their latte frappe.  Then with a flick of  their finger, they move away to a different page, to less depressing news.  Meanwhile back in this little corner of the ‘liberated caliphatistan’ that resembles more and more Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell than the Garden of Eden, people are being grilled over an open flame like chicken on a spit.

And back in the civilized world still no one gives a damn.

Now if they had drowned 400 lions and grilled three zebras, the reaction from the latte frappe sipping gangs would have brought out the masses into the streets on a scale not seen since the WTO convention in Seattle.

Looking at the tragic events unfolding on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea as bodies of ill-fated Middle Eastern and African refugees, including those of children, are washed ashore with the few odds and ends that the sea rejects everyday, it is hard to find words that will do justice to the obscenity of these scenes.

What makes these images so powerful is not just the sad stories they relate, that of families, young children, of a young boy who died among some 400 people – just this week.

What makes these images so powerful is the longarrative that brought them to this end.

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, in this case the images in question tell a number of stories and are worth several tens of thousands of words. Some of the dramatic photos could be compared to paintings by the masters. So emotionally charged that its practically impossible to put a price on

The graphic harshness of the images, almost pornographic, although there is no bare skin. In fact the refugees probably had all there best clothes on in case they lost their luggage.

The first reaction to one of these photos is the impact of the tragedy. It speaks volumes. It speaks of the tragedy of the moment. It speaks of the boy’s final moments. It speaks of fear. The fear as the craft the young boy was traveling in, capsized.

The image tells of the fall into the dark and cold waters, presumably his struggle to stay alive and then the end, a minute or maybe a bit more or perhaps slightly less…if he was lucky in his ill-fated end.

Then there is another story too; what led this boy – and thousands before him and the thousands more who will follow after him regardless of the obstacles and the dangers.

What twisted circumstances led this unfortunate young lad to his premature death? Just how desperate were his family’s situation?  Were they simply running from the madness of the war?

How badly did they need to get away from their home country to accept such a dangerous crossing of the sea? Just how bad was it for them back home? The lack of a predictable future. Were they running for political, religious or economic reasons? Was it the lack of jobs or the lack of respect for human rights led them to flee? That in itself is yet another tragedy.

Then there is the tragedy of the people who allow this to happen. Politicians,  leaders and all those latte frappe sipping bunch, who don’t  give a damn -, unless Cedric the lion is being hunted. Too bad it wasn’t the “other lion” who gets on a boat to emigrate and leave the country he helped destroy.

— One latte frappe to go please.




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