Focal Points Blog

Nairobi Mall Attack Harkens Back to Electoral Violence Five Years Ago

Nairobi's Kibera slum. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Nairobi’s Kibera slum. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, the New York Times reported:

Kenya is now entering an official three-day period of mourning to mark one of the most unsettling episodes in its recent history. The authorities here, in a country widely perceived as an oasis of peace and prosperity in a troubled region, are struggling to answer how 10 to 15 Islamist extremists could lay siege to a shopping mall, killing more than 60 civilians with military-grade weaponry, then hold off Kenyan security forces for days.

“Oasis of peace and prosperity?” File under “How quickly they forget.” Yes, Kenya is a democracy, and, as far as international optics go, it’s become famous for its Olympic runners. But it’s one of the most corrupt countries in the world according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2012.
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The Former Yugoslavia: “We Were So Close to Preventing Genocide”

Marko Hren/John Feffer

Marko Hren/John Feffer

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and observing its transformations since 1989.

In 1990, when I was in Romania, inter-ethnic conflicts broke out in Transylvania. Although the cause of the conflict in March 1990 in Targu Mures is disputed, the most likely story concerns a bilingual sign — in Hungarian as well as in Romanian – that a pharmacist put up on a shop in the city. There was a protest. Various wild rumors spread. Tensions escalated, and a full-scale riot broke out. Several people died, and hundreds were injured.

Today, there are bilingual signs all over Targu Mures. Relations between ethnic Hungarians and ethnic Romanians are quite peaceable. Sure, there are plenty of things to complain about in Romania today. But the country certainly did not go the way of Yugoslavia.
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Reducing the Nairobi Attacks to a Hashtag

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

For the New York Times, Nicholas Kulish reported yesterday that a representative of al Shabaab tweeted:

Kenyan forces who’ve just attempted a roof landing must know that they are jeopardizing the lives of all the hostages at #Westgate

It’s beyond offensive to see an act of terrorism act that has killed dozens reduced to a hashtag by the group that committed it. It’s as if they’re branding it as militaries do with operations (Barbarossa, Desert Storm). Equally upsetting is the clarity of the Tweet’s composition, as well as the familiarity with Twitter and other social media that it and other extremist groups have demonstrated in recent years. It stands as sad testimony to how interwoven Islamist extremism has become with the fabric of society.

After the Weekend in Nairobi and Peshawar, Hard to Believe World Is a Safer Place

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Over the weekend, as you no doubt know, the Somalian Islamist militant group al Shabaab attacked a mall in Nairobi, Kenya. They killed, at last count, between 58 and 69. At the moment, Kenyan security troops are blowing their way in through the roof in and it will probably soon be over — at what additional cost to civilian lives remains to be seen.

Earlier today we posted about a recent theory that violence been on the decrease since World War II and that the world is becoming a safer place. Most prominent among those who hold that position is Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker, who, in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature (Viking, 2011), wrote that the world is considerably less violent than ever before.
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Steven Pinker’s “Better Angels” Ignores Demons That Lie Dormant

Robert Jay Lifton. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Robert Jay Lifton. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In this month’s Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (behind a paywall), esteemed atrocity authority Robert Jay Lifton addresses the “emerging school of thought” that “contends that the world is becoming increasingly safe.” For example he singles out Steven Pinker, who, in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature (Viking, 2011), maintains that the world is considerably less violent than ever before.

Professor Lifton writes:

The peaceable-world claim is deeply misleading in its failure to confront a revolution in the technology of killing and the increasing capacity for detached slaughter or numbed technological violence.
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Amir Hekmati: Moral Courage to Burn

Hekmati,Amir

Some background from CNN:

 [Amir] Hekmati joined the Marines in 2001 out of high school. He finished his service four years later as a decorated combat veteran with tours in Iraq.

Afterward, he translated Arabic as a contractor and helped train troops in cultural sensitivity.

Hekmati’s family said he had gone to Iran to visit his grandmother but was arrested in August 2011, accused by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry of working as a CIA agent.
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An African-American Perspective on U.S. Exceptionalism*

ObamaPutin

Cross-posted from AjamuBaraka.com.

In his recent op-ed in the New York Times, Vladimir Putin raised hackles among the talking-heads across the U.S. when he questioned the wisdom of President Obama’s evocation of the narcissistic idea of “American exceptionalism.” After all, the exceptionalism of the U.S. has never been a subject for reasoned discussion or debate in the media or elsewhere. Everyone knows that the U.S. is the greatest nation in the world and, therefore, has special privileges and responsibilities! Those privileges and responsibilities include not bothering with international law or processes when the government decides that the “world” (meaning itself and a few European nations and a couple of their client states) will take responsibility to enforce global order according to its own interpretations, values and needs.

The fact that many in the U.S. believe that those views, values and needs are neutral, impartial representations of the global community is on full display every night on the cable news channels where the state propagandists posing as journalists and the coterie of paid ex-military and U.S. intelligence consultants make impassioned arguments in favor of the U.S. waging war on Syria as a “punishment” for its alleged use of chemical weapons.
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Pull in the Welcome Mat — Sudan’s President Bashir Plans Trip to U.S.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Cross-posted from the United to End Genocide blog.

In a reprehensible move, Sudanese President and International Criminal Court indictee Omar al-Bashir applied for a United States visa to attend the opening of the United Nations General Assembly next week.

If granted a visa, Bashir’s visit would be unprecedented and his first to the U.S. since warrants for his arrest were issued by the International Criminal Court for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
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Referring Syria to ICC Could Lead to Peaceful Leadership Transition

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The international community might be headed in a positive new direction guided by peaceful proposals intended to address the violence in Syria. The question is whether the current option – that Assad hand over his chemical weapons – will be effective and timely. As with the intervention debate, the end goal of this option is unclear.

Fortunately, statements last week by President Barack Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin strengthened the case for another peaceful solution with a clear objective to stem the violence in Syria –  a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC). If Putin’s government is serious about avoiding military intervention and President Obama is serious about punishing perpetrators of atrocity crimes, then the ICC presents a meaningful compromise. 
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Sadly, Assad May Be Syria’s Best Option

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Remember how innocently the Syrian rebellion began? In March 2011, as part of the Arab Spring which started in Tunisia, Syrians engaged in mostly peaceful demonstrations, though they did demand the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad. Ironically, his heavy-handed response – shooting demonstrators – began a process that posed more of a threat to his regime than did the demonstrators. Especially when jihadists arrived from outside Syria to ostensibly help the armed Syrian resistance that rose up. In fact, they sought to capitalize on the crisis in Syria with their version of the shock doctrine – that is, exploiting a crisis for their own purposes.
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