Focal Points Blog

A Haggadah for AIPAC

From my family’s Haggadah*:

The sages speak of four kinds of children who view the Seder in four different ways and so ask different questions:

The wise child asks: What does this all mean? This child should be taught about the details of the Seder. Talk with this child about the nature of freedom and justice and about the need to act to transform the world.

The isolated child asks: What does this mean to all of you? and in so doing isolates him or herself from the community of the Seder. This child should be answered by saying: Join us tonight. Be fully here. Listen closely. Sing and read and dance and drink. Be with us, become a part of us. Then you will know what the Seder means to us.

The simple child asks: What is this? This child should be told: We are remembering a long time ago in another land when we were forced to work for other people as slaves. We became a free people and we are celebrating our freedom.

Then there is the child who is too young to ask. We will say: Sweetheart, this wondrous evening happens in the spring of every year, so that we may remember how out of death and sorrow and slavery came life and joy and freedom. To remember the sorrow we eat bitter herbs; to remember the joy we drink sweet wine. And we sing of life because we love ourselves and each other and you.

Passover 2011 has come and gone, but President Obama’s recent speech on the Middle East and subsequent attempts to coddle Benjamin Netanyahu (met with recalcitrance on the latter’s part), not to mention Bibi’s speeches to congress and AIPAC, have raised some questions about Jewish attitudes on redemption and liberation. The always-excellent Max Blumenthal interviewed delegates to the AIPAC convention and produced a cringe-making video highlighting their ignorance. I think we have some children to add to the list.

The Child Who Thinks Palestinians Have Chosen Occupation

“They’ve had an opportunity to have their own state, should they want that.” “They’re not living under occupation because of Israelis, they’re living under occupation because of themselves and their brethren.”

This child should be made aware of Palestinian objections to the sundry “states” on offer over the course of the last century. For starters, when the British crown imposed a mandate on Palestinians in 1922, the terms did not include the words “Palestinian” or “Arab” nor the political rights of people so described, though it did mention the national rights of the Jewish people and the establishment of a national home for the same in Palestine. This child will likely bring up the proposals put forth in 1948, 1967, and by Ehuds Barak and Olmert. For the reasons why these proposals were justifiably unpalatable to the Palestinians, this child should be referred to the writings primarily of Edward Said and Rashid Khalidi.

The Child Who Thinks Might Makes Right

“We already won. We have the state and they don’t.”

This child should be asked to consider the applicability of this argument to the worldwide historical expulsions of Jews that he is so fond of raising as a shield any time Israeli depravity is noted. This child should also be made aware that “It’s your land? We fought a war, and we won! IT’S OUR LAND!” is a strong candidate for Worst Sentiment Ever, objectively. However much allowance the Jewish Bible makes for the conquest and enslavement of another tribe, the world’s moral atmosphere has moved beyond the period when this idea was tolerable to anything like a majority of people, and this child would do well to awaken himself to that state of affairs.

The Child Who Is Unclear About His Views on Democracy

“The only democracy in the Middle East.”

This child should be prompted to consider the ease with which he switches from democratic glorification (in the case of Israel) to democratic denigration (in the case of Egypt, a democratic government which could conceivably halt the peace treaty between the two nations). If democracy is the ideal, Israel will have to cope with the democratic aspirations and wills of regional neighbors hostile to its occupation of Palestine and risk a diminution of national security. If, on the other hand, democracy is anxious-making, Israel loses its claim to moral authority, and is stuck relying strictly on religious appeals, which are ineffective on those of us who believe that religion is a central problem in the region, rather than something to which to aspire. (Additionally, it will have to respect the democratic will of the Palestinians, even when it produces leadership as unsavory as Hamas’).

The Child Who Cannot Distinguish Palestine from Pakistan

“They’re gonna do a trade with the Pakistanis back and forth until they reach an agreement.”

This child should be instructed that Palestine is not the same thing as Pakistan and should be informed of an exciting website called Wikipedia, where can be found details on many of the factors that differentiate them. Furthermore, this child should only be taken as seriously on matters of importance to Palestinians as should a believer in goblins and unicorns on the topic of biology. Lastly, this child should be given a copy of Robert Dreyfuss’s Devil’s Game, which outlines how the US-Israeli-Saudi-Pakistani alliance fostered the growth of Hamas, Hizbollah, the Taliban, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula and other such unseemly Islamist organizations as, it was thought at the time, an antidote to secular leftist pan-Arab thought. (Whoops.)

The Child Who Denies the Existence of the Occupation

“I don’t believe they’re living under occupation. It’s a loaded question, and I won’t answer that.”

This child should be shown photographs of soldiers with machine guns and grenades, patrolling the marketplaces of Palestine and asked which country’s soldiers he would prefer to monitor his activities and frisk and detain him and his friends that would similarly not count as an occupation. He should also be referred to relevant doctrines of international law and to words uttered by George W. Bush (“There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967.”) and Ariel Sharon (“You cannot like the word, but what is happening is an occupation — to hold 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation”).

The Child Who Brings Up American Indians as a Metaphor

“Seconds ago, you said – and correct me if I’m wrong – that the land of Israel or that Palestinian area belongs to you, right? Okay, now, I suppose you would also say that California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona belong to Mexico.”

This child should be told that he has the metaphor backwards. In it, the Indians are the Jews, i.e. a population with thousands of years of claim to the land, overcome by a different people who, having exerted dominance over the land for only a few hundred years, haven’t got meaningful claim to the land. This child should be notified that it is incumbent upon him willingly to sacrifice his family’s home so that an Indian can live there. In point of fact, almost all the suppositions he is making are wrong, Arabs having lived in that land for thousands of years and have committed against the Jews nothing like the genocide visited upon American Indians. If anything, the point his metaphor makes is about the complexity of history and the consequent worthlessness of reviewing this history toward solving the problems on the ground.

The Child Who Insists that Life Is Great for Arabs Living In Israel Proper

“Arabs in Israel have a higher standard of living than anywhere else in the Middle East.”

This child should be told of the pressure Israeli Arabs face to leave, especially in Jerusalem.

The Child Who Professes that Jewish Endurance of the Holocaust Grants Jews a State

“We’re not gonna go and walk out of the gas chambers and not have a place to live. You have to understand that. If you can’t accept that, there will never be peace. Unfortunately.”

This child should be asked, “Why isn’t the Jewish homeland annexed from Germany?” If he moves to religious arguments, the Islamic and Christian significance of Jerusalem should be explained to him. Presumably, he knows about the Wailing Wall, but he should be asked to identify the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and then asked to reconsider religion as a basis for the establishment of a state.

The Child Who Thinks That Israeli Violence against Palestinians is Self Defense

“So once the Palestinians value their own lives over killing Jews, there will be peace.” “You cannot equate moral equivalence between a guy shooting you and someone shooting back.”

This child should be provoked to issue a sound argument for why Palestinians haven’t any right to defend themselves. That or he should have to make the case that they haven’t they got anything to defend themselves against. He should be asked about just war theory: have an occupied people no recourse against occupation? He is right in asserting that attacking civilians is vile and despicable (as Hamas is for disagreeing), but he should be notified that all Palestinians are civilians, because Palestine is not a state and can therefore not raise a military. He should be asked whether striking out against an occupying army isn’t a form of self-defense.

* * * *

If only we could have this conversation between people who didn’t work themselves into a frenzy immediately, dayenu.

*The text recited at the Seder on the first two nights of the Jewish Passover.

J.A. Myerson, Executive Editor of the Busy Signal, is the Artistic Director of Full of Noises and a teaching artist with Urban Arts Partnership. He writes primarily on American Politics and Human Rights. Follow him on Twitter.

Disarm to Prevent Proliferation? Or Halt Proliferation to Enable Disarmament?

Regular readers may be familiar with my concern that nonproliferation and disarmament, once two sides of the same coin, are being inexorably peeled apart. (See this, for instance: Are Nonproliferation and Disarmament, Once Joined at the Hip, Headed for Divorce?) In other words, the former is, as economists say of currency, no longer “pegged” to the latter.

Nuclear weapons advocates, as well as many who fall in the realist camp, seem to be gaining ground in the process of de-linking the two. To them, preventing a state from proliferating shouldn’t require the United States or other large nuclear states to show leadership or set an example with disarmament initiatives. To the contrary, nuclear-aspirational states must agree not to proliferate before the United States takes substantive steps to disarmament.

But to disarmament advocates, expecting states that possess nuclear weapons illegally, or that aspire to develop them, to surrender their weapons or dreams when the large nuclear powers, or at least the United States, retain them in large numbers is counterintuitive. Needless to say, the states in question would also like the United States to put its money where its mouth is before proceeding.

Often, understanding where conservatives are coming from requires pushing the envelope of progressives’ famous (or, to conservatives, infamous) “empathy” to extremes. In this case, though, the reasoning, once pointed out, is not difficult to understand. As usual, Hudson Institute fellow Christopher Ford is the most articulate representative of the point of view that nonproliferation should be the horse pulling the disarmament cart, instead of vice-versa, as it has traditionally been viewed, especially by disarmament advocates.

In recent speech titled A Survey of the Nuclear Weapons Landscape, Ford shows how those conservatives who accept disarmament as an ultimate goal simply view leadership differently.

The international community’s record in enforcing compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and other nonproliferation obligations remains pretty dismal, and this factor alone could prove a disarmament “showstopper.” After all, if we cannot prevent the emergence of new nuclear “players,” how can we expect existing possessors to give their weapons up — or how could we ensure that abolition, even if it occurs, doesn’t turn out to be just a pause along the road to new arms races?

In other words, leadership is not disarming first; leadership is convincing nuclear states, whether they’ve developed their programs legally or illegally (within or outside the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty), that they’re safe in rolling back the number of their nuclear weapons because the United States will ensure that no new states develop nuclear weapons.

While it’s not what jumps to the minds of disarmament advocates, it makes a certain amount of sense. The unknown, of course, is how much force is needed to prevent states from acquiring nuclear weapons and its potential to spiral out of control.

Keiko Fujimori’s Candidacy Just Adds Insult to the Injury That Her Father Inflicted on the Body Politic of Peru

Fujimori protestCross-posted from the Tumblr site Peru Elections 2011.

On Thursday May 26 an estimated 15-20,000 Peruvians participated in a peaceful march to protest the candidacy of Keiko Fujimori. Participants included human rights organizations, victims’ groups, trade unions, student associations, women’s groups, and artist collectives, among others.

“The people are speaking. They are saying that they do not want the return of the dictatorship,” said Rayda Cóndor, who led the march. Her son Armando Amaro Cóndor was one of the disappeared students from La Cantuta, one of the key cases that contributed to the 2009 conviction of Alberto Fujimori for human rights violations.

The offical press, among them Channel N, which played a crucial role in the downfall of the Fujimori dictatorship in 2000, reported that only 300 people were present at the march.

If Fujimori Wins the Presidency Chalk One up in the Loss Column for the Human Rights of Peruvians

FujimoriThe Peru Presidential Election Finalists, Part 1: Keiko Fujimori

Cross-posted from the Tumblr site Peru Elections 2011.

With Peru’s second round of elections less than two weeks away, the likely outcome is still anybody’s guess. Several polls now show Keiko Fujimori with a slight lead over Ollanta Humala, but taking into account the margins of error of the polls — as well as the fact that many do not reflect the rural vote — there is a statistical dead heat between the two candidates. Keiko polls between 41 and 45 percent of the vote, with Humala at 39 to 41 percent. There are a large number of undecided voters, around 8 percent, and a not insignificant number of voters, between 7 to 12 percent, who say they will vote for neither candidate or will spoil their ballot. Interestingly, pollsters note that up to 30 percent of those approached have refused to respond to election surveys.

Keiko Fujimori’s poll numbers reveal that she has effectively gone beyond her traditional political base (which as we noted in a previous post has been steady since 2008 at around 20 percent) and has a real chance of winning the presidency on June 5. While doubts about Humala’s commitment to democracy and human rights are real enough, they pale in comparison to the setbacks that are likely should Fujimori take office. Given the legacies of fujimorimso it seems crucial to unpack the reasons behind support for Keiko Fujimori beyond her traditional support base.

Vote-buying. Following in the tradition of her father, Keiko Fujimori has engaged in massive vote-buying schemes, giving away food, toasters and other household items, calendars (featuring her father’s image!), coffee mugs and the like, around the country. Dánae Rivadenery, a journalist at the collective blogger site La Mula, broke a story about well-off women in Lima drumming up support from their friends and family to donate money and foodstuffs to such vote-buying campaigns to favor Keiko Fujimori’s candidacy. While some say this is a common practice in Latin America, it is important to remember that this practice reached extreme levels under the Fujimori regime in the 1990s. During the 2000 elections campaign, for example, over 50 percent of all Peruvians received food aid from the Fujimori government.

Elite support. In the current electoral climate, Peru’s conservative economic elite has clearly opted to support Keiko Fujimori. Apart from some notable exceptions, such as Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who has been a vigorous critic of Keiko Fujimori because he says it would lead to a return to the Fujimori mafia that so denigrated Peruvian democracy and institutions in the 1990s, the right has decided that their interests are better served under Fujimori than Humala. In particular, they fear that Humala will veer from the free-market economic policies that have served them so well in the past two decades. But beyond that, according to the highly respected sociologist Julio Cotler, as revealed by the virulent campaign being waged against Humala and his followers, Peru’s white elite fears a loss of status that an election by a middle-class mestizo who promises to redistribute wealth to poor urban and rural Peruvians would represent.

Fear-mongering. Fujimori supporters are using every tool at their disposal to depict Humala as an acolyte of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. As in 2006, a virulent campaign against Humala has been waged with the explicit intention of stoking fear and convincing voters not to cast their ballots in his favor. Charges of a Chavez-Castro takeover should Humala win, of a return to the state-led nationalizations and property confiscations of the Velasco era, of a Chavez-style assault on democracy, etc., have sought to discredit the Humala candidacy and favor Fujimori. One of the most outrageous examples of this came last Sunday when Peruvian Cardinal and Archbishop Juan Luis Cipriani — a member of Opus Dei and long-time Fujimori supporter — openly criticized Humala in his homily.

Clear media bias. In the aftermath of the first-round vote, the vast majority of the Peruvian media has lined up clearly in favor of Fujimori’s candidacy, veering dangerously away from objective reporting to open partisan advocacy. In addition, there have been a number of disturbing reports of censorship and journalists being fired for not towing the pro-Keiko line of their media outlets. While every negative aspect of Humala’s background is being extensively covered in the press, there is very little examination of the corruption, human rights violations, and other atrocities committed during the Fujimori regime. There are notable exceptions, including La República and Caretas, and the new social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, provide outlets for alternative reporting. But overall there is a trend that is quite worrisome regarding press independence and objectivity. “The majority of Peruvian newspapers and TV news programs are working full-time to demolish Humala’s candidacy,” writes journalist Carlos Noriega in the Argentine daily Página 12. “The local press, with very few exceptions, is unscrupulously biased in its coverage in favor of the daughter of the former dictator Fujimori, whose regime controlled the press through massive bribery schemes.”

Emphasizing mano dura anti-crime policies. In the pre-election presidential debate, when asked how her government would address the problem of crime, Keiko Fujimori said assuredly: “If we defeated terrorism in the 1990s of course we can defeat common crime now. With a heavy hand.” To bring home her point she hired former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani to advise her on anti-crime policy, and together they have toured several major cities in Peru. The Peruvian press hyped up his visit as a real boon to the Fujimori campaign, paying little attention to the extensive criticism of Giuliani’s anti-crime policies and serious problems of related police abuse during his administration.

U.S. Government support? Giuliani’s collaboration with the Keiko Fujimori’s campaign is just one element of a widespread perception that the U.S. government backs Keiko Fujimori in these elections. Adding to this, the media reported on a conference organized in Miami by Roger Noriega, former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and currently a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, publicly calling for the need to prevent an Humala victory in Peru. Noriega reportedly characterized Humala as little more than a new addition, along with Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Rafael Correa and Evo Morales, to the so-called “Axis of Evil.” Among the participants at Noriega’s event were former U.S. congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart and other Miami-based anti-Castro activists. While some have portrayed this as evidence of U.S. government support for Keiko Fujimori, in fact these individuals represent marginal and extremely conservatives sectors in the United States and while their views may be shared by some members of the U.S. Congress, they certainly do not represent the Obama Administration’s stance on Peru. That said, there have been disturbing reports that the U.S. Ambassador in Peru, Rose Likins, has endorsed Keiko Fujimori in private meetings with a number of different individuals.

Keiko Fujimori = Alberto Fujimori?

Some Keiko Fujimori supporters have argued that it is unfair to identify Keiko with her father’s government. Several months ago, in response to criticism of Keiko Fujimori’s candidacy, Alan Garcia said that children should not bear the sins of their fathers. Aside from the fact that Keiko was Peru’s First Lady from 1994 to 2000, rather than distancing her candidacy from her father’s legacy, Keiko has embraced his government as the “best in Peruvian history.” Her recent admission that her father’s government had authoritarian tendencies, and her acknowledgement that crimes such as the Barrios Altos massacre and the disappearance of nine students and a professor from La Cantuta University were committed under his regime, fall flat in light of her steadfast defense of his government and her insistence of her father’s innocence of any wrongdoing.

And while Keiko Fujimori has backed off from her early promises to pardon her father should she be elected, she says openly that she is confident that the judiciary will free him (and reports have been circulating for more than a month that the Constitutional Tribunal, controlled by APRA cronies, is poised to do just that), and that if it does not they will appeal to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (ironically the same body Fujimori withdrew Peru from because he did not like its verdicts, which challenged his anti-terrorism policies as violations of essential human rights). Another concern that has begun to be raised in the Peruvian media is whether Vladimiro Montesinos would be freed if Keiko Fujimori were to be elected president and what role if any he might assume in a Fujimori government. (We will analyze this topic further in a later post.)

The back-story here is that Fujimori and his followers have been planning their return to power since at least 2005, as described in a recent report by Gustavo Gorriti analyzing several recently released Wikileaks cables. One cable penned by former U.S. Ambassador to Peru James Curtis Struble describes a meeting he had with close Fujimori associates following Fujimori’s arrest in Chile in 2005 in which they outlined their strategy to return to power: to try to get Fujimori elected as president in 2006 (the cable subject line was “Fujimoristas try to sell their man as the mechanism to stop Humala”!); to try to get Fujimori elected into Congress in 2006 and from there lay the grounds for a presidential bid in 2011; or, failing either of those options, to chose a stand-in candidate to run for the presidency. With Fujimori’s extradition in 2007 and his conviction in 2009, notes Gorriti, the latter course became the only alternative, and Keiko Fujimori, the chosen one.

Note: Part II on Ollanta Humala to follow.

Coletta A. Youngers is the Latin America Regional Associate with the International Drug Policy Consortium and a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Jo-Marie Burt is an Associate Professor at George Mason University and also a WOLA Senior Fellow.

Giuliani Serving Peru Presidential Candidate Keiko Fujimori as Consultant on Crime

Giuliani Fujimori(Pictured: Keiko Fujimori looking a little too happy to meet Rudolph Guiliani.)

Cross-posted from the Tumblr site Peru Elections 2011.

I lived part of the 1990s in Lima during the time of Alberto Fujimori. I lived the other part of the 1990s in New York when Rudolph Giuliani was mayor. Now, the mayor whose administration was criticized for being authoritarian and abusive is advising (in terms of crime policy) the daughter of the former president (and now convicted felon) who was also criticized for being authoritarian and abusive. How ironic! After absorbing the news of the arrival of Giuliani in Lima and his multi-city tour with Keiko Fujimori in Peru, I decided to write this post.

Some of my friends and family members appreciated Rudy Giuliani; for them, he made the Big Apple more “liveable” with his “zero-tolerance” anti-crime policies. However, I and many of my friends had a different view. I remember Giuliani as a mayor who was disdainful, intolerant, authoritarian at times. I remember accusation after accusation of police abuse, disdain for the citizens of New York, and an inability to listen.

I participated in various marches and protests against the Giuliani administration. One of the largest demonstrations happened in March of 1999, when a young immigrant from Guinea, Amadou Diallo, was killed when 19 bullets shot by four New York City police officers penetrated his body. Diallo was not armed. The four police officers who killed Diallo said that when they approached Diallo, believing him to be a wanted criminal, he reached into his pocket; thinking he was looking for a gun, they shot and killed him “in self-defense.” They shot 41 bullets – yes 41 bullets – and 19 entered the body of Diallo, killing him instantly. Self-defense? Most of us rejected this argument, but not Rudy Giuliani.

The news of the assassination of Diallo sparked massive protests against the Giulini administration. The mayor had come under increasing accusations that his strong-arm anti-crime tactics were stained with racist attitudes and practices. A year and a half later, another police abuse scandal forced scrutiny of Giuliani’s strong-arm policies. In August of 1997, a Haitian immigrant, Abner Louima, was detained and taken to the seventeenth district police station in New York City, where he was brutally tortured. The police officers sodomized him with a plunger, causing rectal and bladder wounds that kept him in the hospital for two months.

Some, including of course Giuliani himself, maintain that these scandals aside, the get-tough anti-crime policies were the principal cause of the decrease in the crime rate in New York City in the 1990s. This view has been challenged, however. Several studies suggest that economic growth at the national and local level, as well as demographic changes, offer better explanations in the decrease in the crime rate observed during the period of Giuliani’s administration.

The Use of Lethal Force

The four police officers that killed Amadou Diallo were members of the “street crimes” unit whose principal task was to eliminate illegal drugs on the streets of New York. The police officers in this unit utilized automatic pistols that contained 16 bullets that are discharged in seconds. In Rudy Giuliani’s New York, the police had to follow certain rules: they were able to use lethal force only when the police believed that their life was in danger. But, according to The New York Times, “anytime they need to fire, they are trained to fire until the security risk is eliminated. They have orders to never fire alarm shots, but to aim at the center of the body, not at the arms or legs.”

The four police officers were tried in upstate New York, presumably because in the city they could not get a fair trial; unsurprisingly, all of them were absolved in what many considered a travesty of justice. Later the family members of Amadou Diallo sued the City of New York, claiming that Diallo’s civil rights had been violated. In March of 2004, they came to an agreement in which the family received three million dollars, the largest sum paid by the city of New York for a murder of this nature.

Giuliani, the Authoritarian, Then and Now

Giuliani never took protests against his policies seriously. Some time after the murder of Diallo, Reverend Al Sharpton, a recognized leader of the African-American community, began organizing daily protests next to City Hall in protest of the police brutality and alleged racism of Giuliani’s administration. But Giuliani, by and large, ignored such protests. As a result, he lost the trust of many citizens who came to believe that his tactics and anti-crime policies were counterproductive, even criminal, and that his inability to listen to his critics reflected an incurable authoritarian tendency.

After his time as the mayor of New York, possibly to win a seat in the Senate and facing a popular rival, Hillary Clinton, Giuliani resigned. In 2005, he decided to take a shot at the presidential campaigns. Giuliani and several members of the GOP thought the strong-arm tactics in New York would give them an edge in the 2008 presidential elections. Giuliani was defeated in the Republican Party primaries and he abandoned his presidential hopes. and the truth surrounding his policies was forgotten as he faded from the political limelight. Perhaps this is why he has lent his services to consult on crime policy for presidential candidates in other countries as in the case of Keiko Fujimori.

In reference to the Louima and Diallo cases, New York University law professor Paul Chevugny — an expert on political violence in the Americas — told the journal The Independent, “I do not remember another moment in which there were two high profile cases of political misconduct in a big city at the same time. And the case of Louima is virtually unprecedented. It is like something you would here from a Third World dictator.” Ah, perhaps this is why Guiliani has associated himself with Keiko Fujimori. Both of them are nostalgic for the 1990s.

Jo-Marie Burt is an Associate Professor at George Mason University and also a WOLA Senior Fellow.

WikiLeaks: Saudi-Financed Madrassas More Widespread in Pakistan Than Thought

We’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the fifty-sixth in the series.

It’s hardly a secret that rich Saudi Arabians, including those running the government, have used their considerable oil wealth to spread political and ideological influence throughout the world. One need look no further than the close-knit relationship between the House of Saud and the Bush family to understand Saudi’s powerful reach across the globe. In Muslim countries, though, its presence is more pointed and explicitly ideological. Indeed, following the 9/11 it has become increasingly clear that Saudi money frequently makes its way into the hands of Islamic extremists.

In an astonishing cable published by the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, however, it would seem that significant sums of Saudi money are fostering religious radicalism in previously moderate regions of Pakistan.

The cable, dating from late 2008, paints an unsettling picture of wealth’s powerful influence in those underdeveloped areas of Central Asia in need of the most attention. Bryan Hunt, then-principal officer at the US consulate in Lahore, reported a string of troubling findings on his forays into southern Punjab, where he “was repeatedly told that a sophisticated jihadi recruitment network had been developed in the Multan, Bahawalpur, and Dera Ghazi Khan Divisions.”

The network reportedly exploited worsening poverty in these areas of the province to recruit children into the divisions’ growing Deobandi and Ahl-e Hadith madrassa network from which they were indoctrinated into jihadi philosophy, deployed to regional training/indoctrination centers, and ultimately sent to terrorist training camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Locals believed that charitable activities being carried out by Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith organizations, including Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the Al-Khidmat Foundation, and Jaish-e-Mohammad were further strengthening reliance on extremist groups and minimizing the importance of traditionally moderate Sufi religious leaders in these communities.

The cable reports that Hunt’s discussions with civil society, political and religious figures were “dominated” by concerns that “recruitment activities by extremist religious organizations, particularly among young men between the ages of 8 and 15, had increased dramatically over the last year.” The exponential spread of recruitment efforts was chalked up by locals to the efforts of “pseudo-religious organizations” who had appeared suddenly, along with countless other aid organizations, in response to the devastating earthquake that hit Pakistan in 2005.

Hunt noted the widespread belief amongst locals that significant sums of foreign aid donations were

siphoned to Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith clerics in southern and western Punjab in order to expand these sects’ presence in a traditionally hostile, but potentially fruitful, recruiting ground. The initial success of establishing madrassas and mosques in these areas led to subsequent annual “donations” to these same clerics, originating in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

While exact totals of money pouring into these projects were unavailable, the staggering estimates of “most interlocutors” put the total “in the region of $100 million annually.”

The cable describes ways in which recruiters

generally exploit families with multiple children, particularly those facing severe financial difficulties in light of inflation, poor crop yields, and growing unemployment in both urban and rural areas in the southern and western Punjab. Oftentimes, these families are identified and initially approached/assisted by ostensibly “charitable” organizations including Jamaat-ud-Dawa (a front for designated foreign terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Tayyaba), the Al-Khidmat Foundation (linked to religious political party Jamaat-e-Islami), or Jaish-e-Mohammad (a charitable front for the designated foreign terrorist organization of the same name).

If true, the narrative of exploitation by recruiters of the local population is revolting. Locals claim that the

Deobandi or Ahl-e-Hadith maulana will generally be introduced to the family through these organizations. He will work to convince the parents that their poverty is a direct result of their family’s deviation from “the true path of Islam” through “idolatrous” worship at local Sufi shrines and/or with local Sufi Peers. The maulana suggests that the quickest way to return to “favor” would be to devote the lives of one or two of their sons to Islam. The maulana will offer to educate these children at his madrassa and to find them employment in the service of Islam. The concept of “martyrdom” is often discussed and the family is promised that if their sons are “martyred” both the sons and the family will attain “salvation” and the family will obtain God’s favor in this life, as well. An immediate cash payment is finally made to the parents to compensate the family for its “sacrifice” to Islam.

In exchange, families receive upwards of $6,500 per son. While some clerics were reportedly recruiting young girls as well, it is not known how much families receive in exchange for their daughters.

The cable goes on to explain that

the path following recruitment depends upon the age of the child involved. Younger children (between 8 and 12) seem to be favored. These children are sent to a comparatively small, extremist Deobandi or Ahl-e-Hadith madrassa in southern or western Punjab generally several hours from their family home.

While Hunt was unable to ascertain roughly how many of these madrassas were currently in operations, he estimated from his various discussions that it was likely in the neighborhood of a couple hundred.

These madrassas are generally in isolated areas and are kept small enough (under 100 students) so as not to draw significant attention. At these madrassas, children are denied contact with the outside world and taught sectarian extremism, hatred for non-Muslims, and anti-Western/anti-Pakistan government philosophy. Contact between students and families is forbidden, although the recruiting maulana periodically visits the families with reports full of praise for their sons’ progress.

From there, “graduates” of the madrassas are supposedly either retained as teachers for the next generation of recruits, or are sent to a sort-of postgraduate school for jihadi training. “Teachers at the madrassa appear to make the decision,” of where the students go next, “based on their read of the child’s willingness to engage in violence and acceptance of jihadi culture versus his utility as an effective proponent of Deobandi or Ahl-e-Hadith ideology/recruiter.”

While the number and locations of the madrassas were largely a matter of speculation, most everyone Hunt spoke with agreed that the jihadist camps were easily identifiable.

Locals identified three centers reportedly used for this purpose. The most prominent of these is a large complex that ostensibly has been built at Khitarjee (sp?)…The second complex is a newly built “madrassa” on the outskirts of Bahawalpur…The third complex is an Ahl-e-Hadith site on the outskirts of Dera Ghazi Khan city about which very limited information was available. Locals…claimed that following several months of indoctrination at these centers youth were generally sent on to more established training camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and then on to jihad either in FATA, NWFP, or as suicide bombers in settled areas.

Despite the apparently widespread-knowledge of militant activities in the region, the cable clearly registers local dissatisfaction with the government’s inadequate response. “Interlocutors repeatedly chastised the government for its failure to act decisively against indoctrination centers, extremist madrassas, or known prominent leaders.”

Government inaction reflects both Islamabad’s inability and unwillingness to tackle the challenges of rising extremism within its borders, a persistent theme in many of the embassy cables originating in the country. On the one hand, noted a member of the provincial assembly, “direct confrontation was considered ‘too dangerous,’” by the government. On the other, “Federal Minister for Relgious Affairs, and a noted Brailvi/Sufi scholar in his own right, Allama Qasmi blamed government intransigence on a culture that rewarded political deals with religious extremists. He stressed that even if political will could be found, the bureaucracy… repeatedly blocked…efforts to push policy in a different direction.”

Faced with deficits in political will and capacity to fight the corrosive influence of local exploitation by religious radicals, Hunt reports that locals “repeatedly requested USG assistance for the southern and western Punjab, believing that an influx of western funds could counter the influence of Deobandi/Ahl-e-Hadith clerics.” Because Wahhabi extremism is historically alien to the Punjabi heartland, its “increasing prominence was directly attributed” by locals “to poverty and external funding.” Civil society leaders pressed the importance of recognizing “that socio-economic development programs, particularly in education, agriculture, and employment generation, would have a direct, long-term impact in minimizing receptivity to extremist movements.”

Hunt agreed.

“In post’s view short-term,” he concluded, “quick impact programs are required which focus on: (1) immediate relief in the form of food aid and microcredit, (2) cash for work and community-based, quick-impact infrastructure development programs focusing on irrigation systems, schools, and other critical infrastructure, and (3) strategic communication programs designed to educate on the dangers of the terrorist recruiting networks and to support counter-terrorist, counter-extremist messages.

In the wake of Osama bin Laden’s assassination, however, bipartisan calls for cutting aid to Pakistan, not increasing it, reflect the national mood. Just last Tuesday, Senate Armed Services Chair Carl Levin (D-MI) stated publicly that “there is a real problem with continuing financial support with Pakistan” when they fail to tackle head-on groups associated with the Taliban. And thus, the apparent paradox of Pakistani politics. If the United States continues to provide financial aid flows to Islamabad, it will be recognized as acceptance of the untenable status quo allowing militant Islamists to flourish in Pakistan’s northwestern frontier. But if the United States turns the money tap off, it’s clear that Pakistani territory will be increasingly ceded to these same antagonistic elements.

But then again, perhaps the paradox is not as impossibly puzzling as we’ve been led to believe. As the Center for Global Development’s Nancy Birdsall has recently pointed out, the question does not present a zero-sum game. “US aid to Pakistan is not a reward for good behavior,” she argued recently in favor of the very targeted programs outlined by Hunt. “We have to think about aid as an investment in the future of U.S. security. If you keep in mind the proposed $1.5 billion a year represents less than what we spend in Afghanistan in a week, than you get the point.”

Nuclear Pits: Death in Its Most Concentrated Form

Nuclear pitEven more than biological weapons such as anthrax, one drop of which may kill thousands, nothing kills more with less volume than a strategic nuclear weapon (as opposed to the smaller tactical, or battlefield, version). At only about five centimeters in radius, the nuclear pit — the core of the weapon which contains the plutonium — could be characterized as death in its most concentrated form ever.

At Focal Points, I frequently about the CMRR-NF, a proposed nuclear facility at Los Alamos said to be intended for the manufacture of nuclear pits. A friend of mine recently took me to task for operating under an unconfirmed presumption. This individual, who worked at Los Alamos on, among other areas, nonproliferation, asked us exactly how we knew that the CMRR-NF was intended for the manufacture of nuclear pits. Turns out, a little research reveals, that, while figuratively speaking it may be, technically it’s not.

We found our first clue at the website of the Los Alamos Study Group, which, as yo may know from my posts, is spearheading the fight to halt the CMRR-NF. In a page on nuclear pits, it urges caution in speaking about the CMRR-NF and nuclear pits

. . . because no one outside [the National Nuclear Security Administration] and LANL [Los Alamos National Laboratory] can be sure exactly what pits LANL is making now or is preparing to make in the future, since these programs are classified. Many details can be withheld even from Congress in a variety of ways. Most workers in these programs have no access to this information.

In fact, on June 25, 2010, in a letter to the Santa Fe New Mexican, Kevin Roark, a spokesman for Los Alamost, wrote:

While [a] June 18 editorial about the construction program at Los Alamos National Laboratory, accurately describes the economic opportunity and controversy associated with the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project, it’s important to clarify the national security purpose of the replacement facility.

Contrary to the editorial’s assertion, plutonium pit manufacturing operations have been, and will continue to be, performed at an existing facility known as the Plutonium Facility. CMRR will be a world-class working laboratory for the science of actinide elements, including plutonium and uranium [to] support work in counter-terrorism, nuclear forensics, and nonproliferation.

Shortly afterward, at Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Jay Coghlan responded (emphasis his).

While being narrowly correct, LANL PR man Kevin Roark is misleading when he claims . . . that plutonium pit production will not take place in the new Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project (CMRR). What he fails to disclose is that the Lab is not building just one facility, but instead is creating an integrated manufacturing complex for expanded production for which the CMRR is absolutely key. This complex will [also include] LANL’s existing production facility “PF-4″ with ~$300 million in upgrades. . . . The [CMRR] will be literally next door to PF-4 and linked to it via underground tunnel. While pits are physically manufactured [at PF-4], the [CMRR’s] central missions [which include analytical chemistry] are essential operations that ensure . . . plutonium and pit production quality control. The National Nuclear Security Administration’s own documents show that the [CMRR] is being specifically sized to support expanded production of up to 80 pits per year, quadruple LANL’s currently approved rate.

Nothing says “smoking gun” like an underground tunnel. Kidding aside, while the CMRR-NF is not technically a facility for the manufacture of nuclear pits, it’s obviously critical to the process. Those who state that the CMRR-NF is a facility for the manufacture of nuclear pits can be forgiven for speaking in shorthand.

Coghlan adds:

Roark must think that New Mexicans are naïve enough to accept the Lab’s claims that the CMRR is all about “science” even as LANL becomes more and more a production site.

Perhaps not naïve, but like most Americans — including the Obama administration as it brandishes the ratification of New START while simultaneously seeking to fund the CMRR-NF — unprepared to shut the door on nuclear weapons.

Fukushima Be Damned, Federal Court Brushes Off Seismic Nuke Risks

Regular readers are aware of how alarmed we are by the construction of a facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico intended, in large part, to manufacture something known as plutonium pits. Before examining the latest development in attempts to halt it, first some background on the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) from recent posts.

If you’re not a regular reader, you may be surprised to learn the federal government seeks to ram through a new nuclear facility that’s intolerable on a number of counts.

1. Its intended purpose is to build plutonium pits — the living, breathing heart of a nuclear weapons, where the chain reaction occurs. In other words, mad science at its most extreme.

2. Its projected cost, adjusted for inflation, may be greater than all the work done on the Manhattan Project in New Mexico during World War II.

3. The land the building will occupy is seismically, uh, challenged (subject to seismic shocks as great as those experienced at Fukushima).

A watchdog association called the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG) has been spearheading efforts to stop the CMRR-NF in its tracks via a lawsuit against the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the Department of Energy (DOE). Re the objections to CMRR-NF, again from a previous post:

In the hearings Mello and Noted nuclear physicist Frank von Hippel, who, during Perestroika, helped sell the Russians on monitoring and verification (as chronicled in David Hoffman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Dead Hand), testified. LASG’s lawyer asked von Hippel why he thought a new study of alternatives to the CMRR-NF was called for? His reply (in truth, to an imaginary question: why do we need a facility that builds nuclear pits anyway?):

The need for large-scale pit production has vanished. In 2003, the [NNSA] was arguing that the [United States] needed the capability to produce 125 to 450 pits per year by 2020 to replace the pits in the US weapon stockpile that would be 30 to 40 years old by then. . . .But, in 2006, we learned that US pits were so well made that, according to a Congressionally-mandated review of Los Alamos and Livermore studies on pit aging, “Most primary types have credible minimum lifetimes in excess of 100 years as regards aging of plutonium.” [Besides, although] the Los Alamos and Livermore National Laboratories have been lobbying to develop and manufacture new-design “reliable replacement warheads,” and the Bush Administration supported the idea, Congress refused in 2007 to fund the program.

Also the updated U.S. Nuclear Posture Review Report mandates that

In any decision to [develop] warhead LEPs [Life Extension Programs], the United States will give strong preference to options for refurbishment or reuse. . . . the preferred strategy is to reuse existing pits where necessary, or simply refurbish the balance of the warhead. . . . As of the end of Fiscal Year 2009, the total size of the U.S. warhead stockpile was about 5,000 warheads . . . and about 14,000 pits recovered from [decommissioned] warheads . . . were in storage at the Pantex warhead assembly/disassembly facility in Amarillo.

In other words

There will be no shortage of pits to reuse.

Let’s hope that those who worry that the United States would run out of these infernal little internal destruction machines will rest easy now.

Also testifying was LASG executive director Greg Mello. When asked by LASG’s lawyer about the CMRR-NF’s estimated cost, he responded.

In November 2010, the White House estimated the budget at “$3.7 to 5.8 billion.” Defendants recently pushed back the projected date of a reliable cost estimate to 2015.

In fact (emphasis added)

In its submissions to Congress, NNSA is just writing “TBD” in the future cost and schedule columns.

Echoing von Hippel (or vice versa; not sure who testified first), Mello explained that the Department of Energy’s science advisory group, known as JASON,

. . . reviewed research done at LANL and Livermore on pit life. JASON concurred with these labs that most U.S. pits would last for a century or more. There are also extra pits for almost every kind of warhead, thousands in all, and these reserves [as von Hippel also mentioned] are growing as warheads are dismantled. . . . Production of new plutonium pits is not necessary to maintain a very large, diverse, powerful nuclear weapons stockpile for several decades to come.

Besides which, it seems the NNSA may have bitten off more than it can chew. I’ll break down the relevant paragraph of the LASG newsletter into bullet points. The NNSA is attempting to create

  • existing and planned new programs in the building, including new pit production and industrial-scale production of plutonium dioxide for mixed-oxide (MOX) reactor fuel
  • the production of additional kinds of plutonium pits and in much larger numbers than before
  • while also trying to fix the building in fundamental ways
  • while also undertaking a giant construction project immediately adjacent to the facility
  • not to mention several “smaller” projects (in the $50-$300 million range) that NNSA hopes to start nearby as well.

In the lawsuit, LASG contended that the project should not proceed without a valid, new environmental impact statement (EIS) to address seismic risks that creation of the facility at Los Alamos might incur. Apparently, the area is at risk of earthquakes as large as those that rocked Japan. Worse, the site rests on loose volcanic ash especially susceptible to shifting should an earthquake occur, which can result in fire and the release of radiation.

An EIS hasn’t been worked up for the facility since 2003 and LASG believes that simply revising it in the form of a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) is woefully inadequate in light of how much plans for the facility have expanded. Unfortunately, the judge didn’t agree and dismissed the lawsuit. From LASG’s latest newsletter:

Judge Herrera’s opinion rested heavily on the [SEIS] now underway, stating that this process itself, which began only after the Study Group’s litigation was filed, and its “public participation” component in particular were sufficient for the court to stay its hand — and dismiss the lawsuit. The judge did not rule on the Study Group’s motion to enjoin the project. [LASG] has been urging members of the public to stay away from the SEIS hearings, which it regards as illegitimate.

And which, as has been pointed out to me, began the day that the judge dismissed the suit. Of the hearings, Mello said

We need to call them ‘hearings,’ in quotations . . . because the public record is replete with Administration statements saying it is not under any circumstances going to reconsider its commitment to this project, unlike what is implied in the hearing process. . . . [LASG] has instead called citizens to engage substantively with government on all levels to challenge. . . . Local government resolutions supporting [LASG’s] lawsuit were passed by four local governments.

In the end, writes Mello:

This decision, while disappointing, will not stop our opposition to this highly destructive project. It’s a speed bump. If NNSA thinks they are in the clear now, they are wrong.

Nor does the ruling

. . . change the facts on the ground — the high seismicity, the cramped site and poor geology, the lack of need, the lack of money, and the basic horror and immorality of the mission.

As I’ve mentioned before, the Los Alamos Study Group is manning the front lines of disarmament: the actual building of nuclear facilities. In a sense, what it’s doing is trying to save the Obama administration — and the United States — from itself. The vast amount of money being spent on the CMRR-NF and the nature of one of its products — the cores of nuclear weapons — undermines any message of nonproliferation that we’re trying to send to the world with initiatives such as the new START treaty. Excuse me if I repeat myself, but we’re kidding ourselves if we think our disarmament double-dealing escapes the notice of a state like Iran.

Casting Credibility to Winds, Republicans Attempt to Disarm Disarmament

At Huffington Post, William Hartung writes:

Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee. . . . led by Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH) seem . . . to be afraid that the modest but important New START nuclear arms reduction agreement between the U.S. and Russia is somehow going to sap the strength of the United States, unless it is accompanied by massive new investments in nuclear weapons facilities along with bombers, submarines, and ballistic missiles.

Their version of the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, scheduled to be debated on the House floor this week, Hartung reports, includes amendments such as:

  • A provision delaying the reductions called for in New START until the Secretaries of Defense and Energy certify that a 10-year,185 billion plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal is on track;
  • A provision barring funds to “retire, dismantle or eliminate” any nuclear weapon until new factories to produce plutonium and uranium components of nuclear weapons are at full capacity, a process that could take until 2024 or longer;
  • A provision preventing the president from reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal below levels approved in New START, even if there is a chance to achieve security-enhancing reductions without a formal treaty.

Hartung calls these amendments “obnoxious, dangerous and questionable.” I would add laughable and damaging to their credibility. But Republicans’ main concern is moving that Overton Window right in order to make their most extreme policies visible within the parameters of national debate.

By Targeting Palestinian Civilians Israel Only Strengthens Influence of Islamist Ideologues

Mer Khamis(Pictured: Murdered actor and activist Juliano Mer-Khamis.)

Hardliners, whether Israeli or Palestinian, do not desire a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that ends in a negotiated peace like the one that U.S. President Barack Obama suggested in his speech of May 20, 2011, calling for a negotiated two-state solution based on Israel’s pre-Six Day War borders.

These radicalized actors want an all-or-nothing end that justifies their ideological certainties. It has to end that way for them. Human rights groups, Israeli and Palestinian, are just as much an enemy to Palestinian hardliners and Israeli hardliners. Palestinian extremists pursue a “strategy of tension” by targeting Israeli civilians, hiding behind Palestinian civilians (knowing that massive retaliation will follow) and assassinating Palestinian moderates. They hope to provoke a radicalization of the conflict on the Palestinian AND Israeli sides by framing the debate as a “clash of civilizations” or an “existential threat” conflict.

On the Israeli side, the IDF pursues the “Dahiya Doctrine,” which amounts to the collective punishment of civilians “to make the fear we sow among them greater.” In practice, it necessitates the targeting of civilian infrastructure in a military operation to break the people’s “will” to support their (that is, “the enemy’s”) political leadership.

Or as tsarist General Mikhail “Bloody Eyes” Skobelev put it when summarizing his campaign strategy for subjugating Central Asian tribes, “the harder you hit them, the longer they stay quiet.”

The Dahiya Doctrine, as an extreme form of collective punishment, has its genesis in the US occupation of the Philippines. Applied more selectively, it is the practice of executing (or jailing) X number of civilian hostages based on the number of one’s soldiers killed or wounded by the enemy (recall how the capture of a single Israeli soldier was used as a plank in the political foment in Israel to launch Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008). Such a practice has been more recently employed by the Axis Powers and the USSR in WWII, the USSR in Afghanistan, Israel in Gaza (Operation Cast Lead) and the Pakistani Army in its border conflicts.

On the scale that the Israelis have practiced it, the Germans, Americans and British practiced it in WWII through city destruction (i.e., flattening whole cities deliberately to break the population’s will to fight).

It has never worked, though. Such a strategy strengthened the civilian support for their political leadership, as was the case during WWII when German “terror bombing” and Allied “area bombing” failed to break support among the British, German and Japanese populations for continuing the war. If anything, it intensified their resistance by amplifying their suffering.

Today, Israel inadvertently strengthens Islamist ideologues through the practice of the Dahiya Doctrine, just as extremist Palestinian groups and Israeli settlers knowingly attempt to set the tone for the conflict (“clash of civilizations,” “existential threat“) by attacking one another and luring their rivals into massive retaliation operations like Operation Cast Lead or the al-Asqa Martyr’s Brigade’s operations against civilian targets and use of child suicide bombers in the al-Asqa Intifada. They are all quite happy that the violence is setting the tone for the debate and drowning out negotiated political settlements.

That is why hardliners such as these are railing against any two-state solution: they do not want it, and cannot accept it because then their reason for existence, their capacity to hold onto power (because it is ultimately about power), is called into question.

It also goes a long way towards explaining inter-Palestinian violence, which has taken the lives of thousands of those committed to peace, such as Juliano Mer-Khamis and Vitorrio Arrigoni. People like Juliano and Vitorrio are dangerous to peace – even more dangerous than the President of the United States or Israeli moderates – in the eyes of those who oppose a negotiated settlement.

For these extremists who pursue violence, it must end with one people, on one land – no compromise, no coexistence. And land is, more so than religion, at the heart of this conflict.

Machiavelli, although writing nearly five centuries ago, adequately characterized the nature of the current state of the conflict, writing in The Prince:

But when it is necessary for him to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it on proper justification and for manifest cause, but above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony.

Both sides have intentionally caused deaths of civilians to spread fear and wreck vengeance. And in doing so, such belligerents simply hope to use the pain from those losses to advance their preferred solution: a world where the other side ceases to exist, or whose existence provides justification for retaining control over a people through a cycle of attack and retaliation.

The conflict, of course, must be decided by those bound up in it. But, when the US government is providing Israel with upwards of US$3 billion in aid annually, Americans should have a say in how Israel approaches the conflict. After the Israeli electorate, American taxpayers are the biggest shareholders in the Israeli state.

We – Israelis, Palestinians and Americans – have an obligation to seek a just return on our collective investment, as taxpayers, yes, but also as people who, by virtue of our nationality, believe in just compensation for the disposed and the wounded.

Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

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