Focal Points Blog

Burma as Capable of Scapegoating Muslims as Anybody

In a New York Times op-ed titled Are Myanmar’s Hopes Fading?, Aung Zaw, founder of Irrawaddy, reminded us about clashes last year “between Buddhists and Muslims in western Myanm [that] killed at least 180 people and displaced more than 120,000, mostly Rohingyas. Last month, violence spread to central Myanmar, killing dozens and leaving more than 13,000 homeless.” Many, he adds, “fear that the deadly anti-Muslim riots are no accident but the product of an effort led by army hard-liners to thwart both the reforms and Myanmar’s opening to the world.”

… I have no doubt that national officials bear some responsibility, and that the violence suggests a power struggle within the elite. Infighting between hard-line and moderate forces in the government, which took power two summers ago under the moderate general Thein Sein, is no secret. His cabinet, Parliament and the army remain dominated by holdovers from the regime of the former dictator Gen. Than Shwe. Many are resisting President Thein Sein’s reforms.

The generals who ruled the country for five decades control much of the nation’s wealth, and some are close to Chinese interests that stand to be eclipsed if Myanmar deepens economic ties to the West. The anti-Muslim violence is a useful distraction from Burmese grievances against China, whose heavy-handed economic activities have bred resentments across much of Southeast Asia.

Muslims, long a convenient scapegoat and exponentially more so since the advent of the likes of Al Qaeda, have become a casualty of hidebound forces attempting to retain power and their share of what China invests in Burma.

Try Boston Marathon Bomber for His Crimes, Not His Religion or Nationality

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, the American political environment is increasingly moving toward placing Islam itself on public trial, not the actions of those who committed the crime. Mainstream American media outlets are increasingly focusing on the suspect’s faith and whether he was radicalized here at home or abroad in Russia. Fox News’ Sean Hannity criticized the Obama administration on his show for not using the term “war on terror” as he placed the “rise of radical Islamists” as the main threat to America’s national security. His guest conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan warned that “what we see is the rise or the resurrection of Islam.” He also added that the “great objective of Islam in that part of the world is to drive out the foreigners, the Jews, the Christians, Americans and imperialists.” Buchanan continued in an angry accusatory tone that “they have one God but Allah whom they are following to create the great Islamic world.”

Needless to say that the statements made by Hannity and Buchanan regarding Islam and Muslims are false, derogatory and are dangerous.

The mainstream American news media has then shifted its attention from the criminal act itself to the ethnicity and the religion of the suspects, in trying to find answers as to what pushed the bombers to commit their crimes. That might appear to be “logical” from the perspective of those who think that the “terrorist “designation is reserved for Muslims only.

But this type of logic is at best racist because it seeks to find evidence to support preconceived notions that terrorists or “jihadists,” a term often used interchangeably with the word “terrorist,” can only be Muslim. This is also akin to saying that other criminals or terrorists who are of other faiths cannot be true terrorists or that their criminal acts — such as mass shooting in a movie theater, or in a school, or a in a Sikh Temple, where scores of innocent people were massacred –cannot be described as terrorism.

Spin-off stories also emerged about concepts that are hardly understood by the average American about “Jihad” or “Radical Jihadists” or “Sharia law.” They feed the American stereotype of a beast — its new evil empire — that it should seek to destroy. Such public discussions have enhanced the public misconception about the foreignness of Islam or Muslims.

The public treatment of Muslims who commit crimes or terrorism acts is often different from those who are charged with the same or even worse crimes and happen to be Christian. The religions of the shooters in Sandy Hook massacre or the mass killing in the Colorado movie theater or the Sikh temple was never a public issue. None of those voices that try to vilify Islam attempted to ask the same questions about Christianity, the religion of those who committed those crimes, which at any event should not be the issue to start with.

Meanwhile some members of Congress, along with conservative pundits, objected to the Obama administration decision to charge the surviving suspect of the Marathon bombing, Dzhokhar Tasarnaev, in US civilian courts. They also objected to reading the suspect his Miranda warning, which gives him the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Instead, they wanted him to be charged with terrorism as a military combatant and in a military tribunal citing public safety concerns or the “ticking bomb scenario.”

The statement also cited the US Supreme Court decision Hamdi Vs. Rumsfeld in support of their argument

What the statement neglected to mention, however, is that Hamdi Vs. Rumsfeld was a sound defeat for the Bush administration, in which the Supreme Court ruled that government has no right to detain an American citizen without meaningful due process of the law. The Boston Marathon suspect, moreover, is an American citizen and arrested on American soil, not on a foreign battlefield. The government ended up not charging Yaser Esam Hamdi with any crime and was released to Saudi Arabia on the condition that he renounce his American citizenship. It is clear therefore that there are people here in America who feel that when it comes to crimes or acts of terrorism that have been committed by Muslims, we should be changing the US constitution around — as if the United States is a third-world banana republic — so they can be convicted regardless of their constitutional rights.

Ali Younes is a writer and analyst based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at: [email protected] and on Twitter at @clearali.

Emphasis Added: The Foreign Policy Week in Pieces (4/26)

Iraq’s War for Terrorists Sets up Branch Campus in Syria

Of especially grave concern is the movement into Syria of bomb makers and military tacticians. As Iraq’s jihad was for much of the past decade, Syria’s is now becoming the “destination jihad” du jour.

Iraq: Where Terrorists Go to School, Jessica Stern, the New York Times

Don’t Give Them Any Ideas!

[Novelist John] Le Carré is not a hunter himself, but he nodded at the people he knew and mounted a casual and running defense of fox hunting, as if he were doing color commentary from the 18th hole at the Masters. It’s an ancient part of the rural culture, he said. It’s egalitarian in this area (some 300 miles west-southwest of London), not an upper-class diversion. … “At least they aren’t hunting that poor goddamn thing with drones.”

John le Carré Has Not Mellowed With Age, Dwight Garner, the New York Times

Self-fulfilling Prophecy

Islamist terrorists provoke the governments they oppose into responding in ways that seem to prove that these governments want to humiliate or harm Muslims. Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and “extraordinary rendition” have become for Muslim youth symbols of the United States’ belligerence and hypocrisy.

Mind Over Martyr, Jessica Stern, Foreign Affairs (PDF of entire article)

Putting Jihadists on the Couch

Self-awareness is not a characteristic of most terrorists. And to be effective those fighting them have to try to understand them better than they understand themselves.

The Terrorist Tipping Point: What Pushed the Tsarnaev Brothers to Violence?, Christopher Dickey, the Daily Beast

Nuclear Weapons No Shortcut to National Security

While the United States would like to be able to rely more on its European allies, many experts doubt that even the strongest among them, Britain and France, could carry out their part of another Libya operation now, and certainly not in a few years. Both are struggling to maintain their own nuclear deterrents as well as mobile, modern armed forces. The situation in Britain is so bad that American officials are quietly urging it to drop its expensive nuclear deterrent.

“Either they can be a nuclear power and nothing else or a real military partner,” a senior American official said.

Shrinking Europe Military Spending Stirs Concern, Steven Erlanger, the New York Times

You Don’t Know Squat

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

TachelesIt was breathtaking. We emerged from the forest on the outskirts of Moscow and saw, looming above the tall grass, an enormous ruined palace.

It was 1985, and I was studying Russian at the Pushkin Institute. We heard a rumor about a grand edifice, the unfinished palace of Catherine the Great, that was moldering not far from where we were staying in Moscow. We took the subway to the end of the line, tramped through a forest and a field until we came upon the ruins of the great hall. The walls were still standing, and we walked the length of the building, avoiding the shrubs and underbrush and hoping to come across a small piece of history in a broken chair or scrap of wallpaper. We didn’t know that the Russian empress capriciously ordered her Tsaritsyno dismantled in 1785, when everything was done except for the interior decorations. The ruins, minus any of the accouterments, lay around for the next 200 years.

Enough of Tsaritsyno remained in the mid-1980s that you could more or less understand the scale and grandeur of the undertaking. But what was truly amazing was to happen upon this complex as if discovering the ruins of a long-forgotten Mayan temple in the jungles of Guatemala. There were no signs, no paths, no kiosks hawking souvenirs. It had simply become part of the landscape.

I experienced this same feeling in March 1990 when I encountered Tacheles in East Berlin. Originally a department store built in 1907-8 in the Jewish quarter of Berlin, the enormous five-story shopping arcade stretched from Friedrichstrasse to Oranienburger Strasse. Its tenure as a commercial space lasted only a few years prior to World War I. After that, it was a showroom for an electrical company, a central office for the Nazi SS, and a prison. During the communist period, the official trade union took over the structure, but the building gradually fell into disrepair.

In 1990, this glorious ruin was a perfect place to squat. There was a culture of squatting in East Berlin even during the communist era. Given the shortage of official university housing, students would frequently take over abandoned flats, mirroring the squat culture on the other side of the Wall in Kreuzberg. The Germans used the word instandbesetzen, a combination of renovating and occupying. When the Wall fell, squat culture expanded exponentially as people from East and West took over abandoned properties in East Berlin. In 1990, for instance, I spent an evening at one of the squat cafés in Prenzlauer Berg where I ate Indian food and listened to the Talking Heads, while cigarette smoke and political conversation swirled around me.

Tacheles — the squatters renamed the old department store after the Yiddish word for “straight talk” — was a much bigger undertaking. When I walked down Oranienberger Strasse and came upon this enormous structure — only a month after the first squatters took up residence to prevent impending demolition — I was amazed at all the activity going on inside. Artists were setting up studios. A movie theater was being restarted. There were cafes, performance spaces, and what seemed like unlimited room to create an alternative society.

Tacheles, February 2013

Tacheles, February 2013

And now in 2013, I returned to Berlin only a few months after the end of Tacheles. For 22 years, the punks and anarchists and hippies and artists and squatters of all types had hung on, sometimes quarreling, often creating art and music, always partying. But the writing — as opposed to the graffiti — was on the wall for squatting culture in Berlin. In 2009, police kicked out the anarcho-punk residents of the last open squat in the city at Brunnenstrasse 183. Tacheles hung on for a few more years before the owner HSH Nordbank finally evicted the remaining artists in September 2012. According to news reports, “before police arrived, two black-clad artists played a funeral march but bailiffs were able to clear the building without resistance.” It was a quiet end for what had been a bold and loud experiment.

Other squats have survived in different forms. In Prenzlauer Berg, I met several former squatters who now had titles to their apartments. In the same area, I happened on Adventure Playground, an innovative playground that started in April 1990. The wild area features an open fire, a forge, and a sand pit where children build their own structures (and destroy them). Through this remarkable oasis in the middle of the city, the spirit of pushing boundaries is being instilled in the next generation.

Then there’s the House of Democracy and Human Rights. In 1989, the East German political opposition demanded and received a piece of prime real estate at Friedrichstrasse 165, a former Party building. After the opposition did so poorly in East Germany’s first and only free elections in March 1990 — which was dominated by the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats — they fell further to the margins and lost control of their iconic location.

I was delighted, however, to visit the new location of the rechristened House of Democracy and Human Rights. In 1990, I could skip from one office to the next, interviewing most of the inhabitants in one day. In 2013, I was astounded by the number of organizations in the three linked buildings, so many that it would take several weeks of interviews to visit them all.

So, one door closes, and another one opens. The creative chaos of Tacheles has departed the shell of its building on Oranienberger Strasse, but its soul lives on in a 3-D version on line.

And that unfinished palace of Catherine the Great? It’s now finally finished, thanks to a controversial renovation project by the city of Moscow. I haven’t been back to Tsaritsyno since 1985. I’m sure that it’s a very beautiful complex of buildings, even if it lacks precise historical fidelity.

But there’s nothing like the feeling of urban discovery, when you stumble upon an awe-inspiring structure that makes you feel, if only for a few moments, as if you just discovered a lost city, a vanished civilization.

France Down With Same-Sex Marriage and Adoption

In a landmark decision Tuesday the French parliament approved a controversial bill by a vote of 331-225 allowing same-sex couples in France to marry and adopt children.

Opponents and supporters alike filled the streets of Paris in past months with one demonstration bringing upwards of 340,000 people. This particular protest ended in blasts of tear gas fired by soldiers as right-wing extremists incited violence amongst the crowd and charged police in attempts to make a break for the Presidential Palace.

This week saw renewed violence as attacks on gay couples spiked and legislators were threatened. On Monday National Assembly president and avid supporter of the gay marriage bill, Claude Bartelone, was sent an envelope filled with gunpowder.

Protests are only expected to continue as the bill must now go through the constitutional council and finally be signed by President Francois Hollande to become written into law.

France is now the 9th country in Europe and 14th in the world to legalize gay marriage. This once religiously conservative country has set an example for progressive social reform and the struggle for human equality.

Renee Lott is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Deposed Central African Republic President Bozize’s Loyalists Not Going Quietly

Reverberations from the March 24 coups in the Central African Republic continue to sweep through the small landlocked country. A recent increase in deadly clashes between President Michel Djotodia’s rebel forces and remaining loyalists from the overrun president, Francois Bozize, have alarmed the international community.

Regional leaders are gathered in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena to discuss the progress of a peace plan that was to be implemented by Djotodia’s new government but has obviously failed. The meeting will also determine if additional troops will be sent to the C.A.R. to assist in stabilizing the country and bring an end to the fighting.

Reports say that 13 people died and 52 were wounded in mid-April as fighting was at its worst in the C.A.R. capital of Bangui. Djotodia places the blame on residents and the deposed president. “Bozize prepared a civil war and gave the youth weapons of war and machetes,” he said. “This armed neighborhood has always opposed the presence of our men.” These are the men who have terrorized, tortured, and killed civilians since their rise to power.

International aid groups in the country say that members of the Seleka rebel movement also continue to loot local homes and businesses, instigate violence, and recruit children to their ranks. Angry mobs of Central Africans formed in protest to Seleka’s behavior, leading to the sharp increase in violence between civilians and the new leadership.

Because of the instability, scores of Central Africans have fled to surrounding countries for safety. Over 37,000 have crossed into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, and Chad, hosted by local populations and refugee camps. UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards has called on the Seleka authorities to end the violence against civilians and restore security so that aid can reach those who need it, including the 173,000 internally displaced people in the country.

Renee Lott is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Chemical Weapon Use in Syria Could Trigger Intervention

The Syrian government has denied permission to a U.N. mission ready to investigate alleged chemical attacks that have occurred in recent months in the country. Both Syria’s government and opposition requested that the U.N. form a mission to investigate the use of chemical weapons after trading blame over a March attack in Khan al-Assal—a village outside Aleppo—which killed at least 31 people.

However, Syria is now denying the team entry into the country over concerns of the U.N. widening the investigation to include other alleged chemical attacks—such as an attack near Damascus on the same day as the Aleppo attack and another from Homs in December, over which the government and opposition have also traded blame—brought to U.N. attention by Syria’s opposition.

Both Britain and France wrote to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon after the Aleppo and Damascus attacks, urging the mission to include all three reported instances of chemical weapons use in the country. Britain, France, and the U.S. have also provided Ban with intelligence about the possible use of chemical weapons in Aleppo and Homs.

Western powers have been particularly concerned over any use of chemical or biological weapons in Syria, since the country is believed by Western intelligence agencies to possess one of the largest undeclared stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the world. U.S. President Barack Obama has also already stated that the confirmed use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “game changer,” which some have interpreted to indicate U.S. military intervention in Syria’s civil war.

Syria is amongst eight countries that did not participate in the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the use of such weapons internationally and, as of February, has seen to the destruction of 78% of the world’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles.

‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’

Syria’s government, according to the Guardian, argues that the inclusion of the other attacks in the investigation “might allow the U.N. mission to spread all over the Syrian territories,” which it claims “contradicts the Syrian request from the U.N.” and “constitutes a violation of the Syrian sovereignty.” The Syrian government has hinted at a hidden Western agenda in the mission and likened the situation to the investigation for chemical and biological weapons in Iraq, particularly Ban’s submission to Western states “known for their support for the shedding of Syrian blood with the aim of diverting [the probe] from its true content.”

Russia—a steadfast ally of Damascus throughout Syria’s two-year civil war—has echoed this claim, suggesting that “Western countries are using the specter of weapons of mass destruction to justify intervention in Syria, as they did in Iraq,” according to Reuters.

Headed by Ake Sellstrom, a former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, the U.N. mission is comprised of 15 inspectors, chemists, and medical experts—none of whom are from permanent members on the U.N. Security Council. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)—which oversees the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention—has prepared and sent the team to Cyprus, where it currently awaits a decision between Syria and the U.N.

Syria and the U.N., however, are at an impasse: Ban Ki-moon believes there is sufficient evidence to investigate at least the Aleppo and Homs attacks and has said that all implicated sites “should be examined without delay, without conditions and without exceptions.” Syria, however, will not allow the mission into the territory unless it can guarantee that the mandate only covers the Aleppo attack.

A decision needs to be made soon, regardless: Ralf Trapp, an expert on chemical and biological weapons and a former official of OPCW, predicted immediately after the Aleppo and Damascus attacks that the time frame of the U.N. mission, though critical, would likely take weeks. And the longer the investigation is halted also compounds the evidence lost and, therefore, the further testing needed to collect such data: “Each day lost will influence the speed with which the investigation can be concluded,” he said, according to NBC, “because as more time elapses before biological sampling occurs, more sophisticated DNA and other toxicological testing is required.”

The Syrian government is unlikely to budge, especially while being backed by Russia and given preliminary evidence that suggests the chemicals used in the Aleppo attack—but not necessarily those in Damascus or Homs—were rudimentary and likely the product of an Islamists. One would hope that Ban would take into account the fact that the team has unfettered access to at least one site for now, lest Syria deny the investigation altogether.

Leslie Garvey is a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus and Focal Points.

Tunisia and the IMF: Ennahda’s Mana From Washington (Part Two)

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

Read Part 1.

“I get by with a little help from my friends.”
— Lennon, McCartney

News reports suggest that Tunisia and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are ‘very close’ to coming to terms over a $1.78 billion loan to the North African country to help navigate it through the current stormy economic seas. In the short term, there is no doubt that an accord of such a large amount to such a small country will help the country get through the next few years, and help stabilize what has been an unstable and increasingly unpopular transitional government. But at what price to the country’s medium and long term future? Rosy IMF projections that, with the loan’s help, the Tunisian economy will grow by 4.5% next year are hardly credible.

Tunis Brique, a l'oeuf maker.

Tunis Brique, a l’oeuf maker.

There seems to be something of a ‘rush to the finish’, an effort on both the IMF’s and Tunisian government’s part to wrap up the negotiations as soon as possible. It is as if they are looking over their shoulders nervous that, as the agreement’s terms get out, opposition could grow among the Tunisian people, thus the mutual effort to get the whole thing over with as soon as possible. There is mounting concern within Tunisian civil society about the agreement, both in terms of the process which has been typically secretive and the “structural adjustment conditions” that the country will be forced to submit to in order to fulfill the Tunisian part of the deal.

In traditional IMF fashion, the negotiations were very much ‘under wraps’ with virtually no input from anyone other than one member of the Tunisian Central Bank and another from the finance ministry. But in this post-Ben Ali age of Tunisian freedom of speech, it turned out to be difficult to impossible to hide the agreement terms, which several talented Tunisian researchers have been able to unearth.

The Political Significance of the IMF Loan

It is easy to get lost in the somewhat complex economic details of such agreements (although we will look at them shortly) At the same time, sometimes lost is the political significance of the agreement. It is nothing less than a ‘green light’, ‘a seal of approval’ – for the current direction of the Tunisian political leadership – most specifically, the Ennahda Party (Islamic Party) which dominates the ruling coalition and the political and economic direction of the country. The two other parties represented in Tunisia’s ruling coalition, the Congress for the Republic (President Moncef Marzouki’s party) and Ettakotal (Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties) are much weaker, and their political will more or less circumscribed by Ennahdha. [i]

News of an impending agreement comes just at the moment when the Ennahda-led coalition government needs it most. In February, a popular opposition leader, Chedli Belaid, was assassinated at his home in Tunis. Belaid has been a critique of Ennahda’s collusion with the country’s Salafist elements, and the drift away from Tunisian democracy which has accelerated under Ennahda. The angry demonstrations that followed, which placed responsibility at the door of Ennahda, charging something between neglect and complicity very nearly brought down the coalition government.

While it survived, former Ennahda Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, who attempted to broaden the government’s social base, was forced to step down. Jebali was replaced by another Ennahda bureaucrat, Ali Laarayedh, who was moved over from his post as interior minister. Key to forcing Jebali out was Ennahda Party leader Rachid Ghannouchi, who conveniently holds neither formal government nor party post, but is, for all intents and purposes, the gray eminence behind the scenes.

Ennahda survived the crisis, but barely. It managed to scrape by with a little help from its friends…in Washington and Paris. Its popularity tumbling in the polls, the economy stagnant – in worse condition than when Zine Ben Ali fled – Salafist thuggery growing and unimpeded, Ennahda needed something dramatic to reverse or slow its growing unpopularity among the Tunisian populace. Like mana from heaven – or more aptly from Washington – coming just in the nick of time, the IMF delivered the economic and political oxygen Ennahda needed to retain its hold on power.

Ennahda’s Mana From Washington

Whatever their hesitations, both Washington and Paris – which together have considerable influence over IMF decisions – have decided that, when it comes to Tunisia, the horse that they are going to ride is Ennahdha. This is the central political message of the IMF loan. Washington’s support for Ennahda comes in spite of unimpeded storming and partial trashing of the U.S. embassy in Tunis last September in which the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior was unable to stop the riot, despite prior warning of danger, including a warning from U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia Jacob Welles that went unheeded.[ii]

Although some may wonder why the Obama Administration would support Ennahda, knowing well its working relationship with the country’s radical Islamic militants of Salafist and Wahhabist persuasion, it is not as strange as it might seem at first. When it comes to working in tandem with U.S. regional strategic and economic goals, the Ennahda Party has never wavered. As we say, they know well on what side their bread is buttered. On economic policy, Ennahda continues, and with this IMF loan, even intensifies, Tunisia’s commitment to neo-liberal economic policies – i.e., keeping the Tunisian economy open to global finance and corporate penetration.

Ennahda: Partner of the Obama Administration, Strategically and Economically

While Tunisia’s strategic role in the region remains modest, still it plays an important role. America’s Tunis embassy is a communications center for the Mediterranean and North Africa – a potential ‘lily pad’ from which U.S. military forces could ‘jump’ into sub-Sahara Africa (or elsewhere) if the situation presented itself. More importantly is the embassy’s role collecting intelligence from throughout the region.

In other ways Ennahdha has made it clear ‘which side it is on’. Much of its foreign policy is geared towards cooperation with U.S. strategic goals. The government’s posture towards the crises in Libya and Syria suggest the kind of role Tunisia plays. Two examples:

• Recently there have been a spate of news stories of Tunisian youth dying fighting with Islamist rebels in Syria. Some reports suggest that it entails hundreds of Tunisian youth; at the very least, Ennahda has turned the other way and not interfered with Salafist recruitment, transfer to other places in the Middle East and training of these youth. There are some allegations that Ennahda’s role is more active. “Three young men from my village (near Sousse) will be buried today,” a Tunisian friend wrote. “They died fighting in Syria,” he went on, noting that a forth villager, a 22-year-old fighting with Islamic rebels, had died a few days prior. “They (the Ennahda-led government) promised us training, work, dignity, – in a word – ‘a future’ but they lied, betrayed us, and trained our youth to become assassins.”

• Under Ennahda pressure, an incident which, among other things, revealed the powerlessness of Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki to protect Khadaffi’s foreign minister, Baghdadi Al Mahmoudi, who had sought political asylum in Tunisia. In a sop to the U.S. and NATO, Ennahda turned Al Mahmoudi over to the Libya’s National Transitional Council. One of Marzouki’s closest advisors, Ayoub Massoudi, resigned over the handover, criticizing the Ennahda government as a ‘theocratic dictatorship.’ As a result, Massoudi was indicted and faces a military trial.

It is true that the new Tunisian government has initiated a new, more hostile posture towards Israel although that seems more for domestic public consumption than a real change in policy, and Israel knows it. Tunisia’s Israel policy parallels that of Turkey, i.e., verbal criticisms but strategic cooperation through U.S. CENTCOM and NATO formations.

If its contribution strategically to Washington is somewhat limited, still, the Ennahda government is falling in line. The same goes for economic policy; actually where it concerns economic integration, Tunisia pre-and post-Ben Ali shows little to no signs of change. The Tunisian economy remains open to foreign corporate and financial penetration. The policies that led to the 2010-11 crisis, the cause of which were, in large measure, economic remain in place and intensify. Tunisia’s continued vulnerability to the labile whims of structural adjustment will continue.

IMF Agreement Ties Tunisia’s Hands Economically to the Neo-Liberal Economic Policies of the Past/La Lutta Continua

The proposed agreement – the details of which I will look at in depth in the third part of this series – essentially commits Tunisia to the neo-liberal economic path it has been on since 1987, when Zine Ben Ali first came to power. Ben Ali might be gone, but a policy of privatization of state resources, open capital markets, de-valued currency, wage repression, lifting of subsidies (already started), and cutting government spending for social programs will continue and with it the continued deepening suffering of the Tunisian people.

The situation I see developing in Tunisia looks something like this: the IMF loan will give Ennahda some ‘living space’ and in the short term they will be able, probably to cling to power. But in the medium and long run, their hold is untenable for their have failed to provide a vision for the country’s future. All the old shortcomings – the economic stagnation, corruption, and not least, repression will once again show their faces and perhaps in an aggravated form.

Unable to deliver economically, but kept in power by the IMF loan in large measure, Ennahda, having all but destroyed the political coalition which came together to drive Ben Ali from power, will find, more and more, that, like Ben Ali, it too will have to resort to heightened repression to keep order; one can see the outlines of their policy – in part they will continues to use their Salafist allies as brownshirts, to break up possible democratic coalition.

Under the veil of religion, there will be increasingly repressive legislation limiting freedom of speech, action. The labor movement, women’s rights movement, the integrity of the country’s higher education systems – all institutions, social movements that are already under fire – will be further reined in one way or another. All this will be done while Washington sings its song about human rights, but supports those in Tunisia who undermine them.

And as the history of structural adjustment almost always shows, the polarization, class and democratic struggles will intensify. Like my friend Jaco, a Tunisian Jew, said last summer when I asked him how he saw the situation in Tunisia playing out, “Before it gets better, it will get worse…but it will get better.”

La lutta continua.

[i] For example, the position of the Tunisian presidency, held by Marzouki, has lost most of its power in the post Ben Ali era. That power has been transferred largely to the Tunisian prime minister – an Ennahdha member.

[ii] Interview with Abdelfattah Mouru, considered ‘the number two’ man behind Rachid Ghannouchi in the Ennahdha Party structure – in Denver, September 2012.

Boston Marathon Bombing: What Do Chechens Have Against the U.S.?

With news that the dead bombing suspect is named Tamerlan Tsarnaev and, along with another suspect, his brother, is believed to be from Chechnya, the question naturally arises: what do Chechen — presumably separatists — have against the United States? Hasn’t their beef always been against Russia?

It’s well documented how brutal Russia’s prosecution of the first and second Chechen wars were. Chechens responded with savagery in kind: the 1999 bombings of a shopping arcade and apartment building in Moscow, the 2002 seizure of Moscow’s Dubrovka Theate, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis.

Chechen militants have fought alongside al-Qaeda and the Taliban and possibly vice-versa. In Chechnya: From Nationalism to Jihad (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), James Hughes sheds some light on possible reasons that Chechen separatists might attack the United States:

U.S. criticism of Russian policy in Chechnya intensified in the first six months of the [George H.W.] Bush presidency. [But the] 9/11 attacks led to a complete reversal of U.S. policy on Chechnya. This was partly a moral revulsion against the associations between some Chechen rebels and al-Qaida, and partly a concession by the U.S. to secure Russian support for its campaign against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2002 and for the war in Iraq in 2003. … After 9/11, Putin’s framing of Chechnya as part of the “global war on terror” has been incorporated into Western policy approaches to Chechnya, and Chechen groups and leaders have been placed on the U.S. and UN lists of terrorist organizations.

Emphasis Added: The Foreign Policy Week in Pieces (4/18)

It’s All About the Spin (and I don’t mean centrifuges)

Some of the reformists [in Iran] have indicated that the burden of proof of the peaceful nature of the country’s nuclear program now rests with Iran, due to its past mismanaged policies and reckless statements. Thus, they favor more intrusive and comprehensive inspections. But even advocates of the status quo seem poised to accept more limited stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium and more flexibility in allowing inspections, in return for an end to sanctions. The latter group, led by Khamenei, is really insisting that whatever the nature of a possible agreement, the Islamic regime must be allowed to declare victory.

The Ayatollah in His Labyrinth, Abbas Milani, Foreign Policy

The Alternative Energy That’s Dependent on Conventional Energy

Nuclear power, which we might mistakenly think does not rely on fossil fuels, is actually totally dependent on them. Leaving aside the uranium mining problem, nuclear power requires exacting conditions to operate safely and reliably that include diverse and reliable general and specialized supply chains, a stable electrical grid, near-certain physical security, and many other social, political, and economic conditions that directly or indirectly dependent on thermodynamically-cheap fossil fuels. … there is no indication that a safe, reliable, large-scale nuclear power based energy system would be possible without the heavy use of relatively cheap fossil fuels.

The submerged mind of Empire, Greg Mello, Forget the Rest

Will the Boston Marathon Bombing Only Isolate Us Further?

Terrorism poisons if not destroys our public spaces and the physical and psychic experiences we share with one another while in such spaces. … We must be vigilant about finding and punishing the perpetrators who terrorized Boston. But we must be equally vigilant about refusing to surrender our public places and events, for doing so is … fatal to our collective identities.

Another victim of bombings: public spaces, Thomas Schaller, the Baltimore Sun

An Advanced Degree in Atrocity

The costs of the terrorism inspired by the [Iraq] war include much more than the number, however horrifying, of lives lost. The terrorists who have been drawn to Iraq since 2003 and survived have been battle-hardened after fighting the most sophisticated military in history. … They have developed expertise in counterintelligence, gunrunning, forgery and smuggling. [We have] left behind, after seven bloody years, not only a shattered nation but also an international school for terrorists whose alumni are now spreading throughout the region.

Iraq: Where Terrorists Go to School, Jessica Stern, the New York Times

Sound Familiar?

Without [Tony] Blair’s charismatic thespianry and false hopes, without even the Shakespearean drama of Brown’s blighted leadership, an atmosphere of deathly, affectless decadence has settled over the [British] Labour Party. Populist but not very popular, Labour has become a dead mechanism animated by a blind drive: win elections. It is an election-winning machine which can barely win elections, and which has long ago forgotten why you would want to win an election in the first place. By contrast, the Tories have a feverish sense of purpose. They serve ruling class interests even when not in power by dragging the ‘centre’ ground to the right. Once in government, they impose their policy agenda at high speed, without majority or mandate, retrospectively justifying it, if they bother to justify it at all, with the kind of “debate” we saw last week.

The Happiness of Margaret Thatcher, Mark Fisher, Verso Books Blog

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