Saturday, November 22, 2014
The New York Times" reports that U.S. President Barack Obama has extended the combat role for U.S. troops in Afghanistan by another year in a classified order he signed in recent weeks.
Obama previously said U.S.-led NATO combat operations in Afghanistan would finish by the end of 2014.
NATO's follow up mission, beginning January 1, includes 9,800 U.S. troops and 3,000 from Germany, Italy, and other NATO countries.
Its initial intention was to focus on supporting Afghan forces.
But "The New York Times" reported on November 22 that Obama's order authorizes U.S. troops to continue combat against militants in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, if they threaten U.S. forces or the Afghan government.
It also allows for U.S. air support during Afghan combat missions.
The Associated Press (AP) news agency says U.S. officials confirmed details of the report on condition of anonymity.
On November 21, 2014, President Obama followed up on his new steps to fix our broken immigration system at Del Sol high School in Las Vegas, Nevada.
A photographer has received “a credible and direct threat" against her life after five years of images shot in Pakistan were published in the U.K.With the rise of extremist movements around the world, journalists have become prime targets in a war of communication both in the field and back at home, once their images have been published, as photographer Alixandra Fazzina learned this week. Fazzina was due to travel to Pakistan on Nov. 20, but she has since received warnings from diplomatic sources about “a credible and direct threat against my life,” she says. “I’ve taken risks in Pakistan, but they were very weighted up risks,” she says. “I don’t want to kill myself for a story.” Now, she feels, fear has caught up to her in London. Fazzina started her career as a frontline photographer covering under reported conflicts in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Northern Uganda. “Over the years, my work has changed” she says, “It’s gone on instead to look at the consequences and fallout of wars.” In 2008, after working on a long-term project in Somalia, she moved to Pakistan. “When I arrived, the effects of extremism were really starting to hit home,” she says. “One of the first things I did was to cover what was essentially Pakistan’s first frontline in the tribal areas. It was the first time that Pakistan’s military had engaged and began an operation against the Taliban there.” Pakistan has been facing conflicts on multiple fronts – from separatist movements in Balochistan to homegrown Pakistani Taliban factions spreading violence across the country and all the way to Karachi – in June, 28 people were killed in a coordinated attack at Jinnah International Airport in the country’s economic capital. Fazzina’s ambition was to document the consequences of these conflicts. “What I want to get across is how much civilians suffer and to try and tell their stories, to show what the real effects of war are away from the frontlines,” she says. “Millions of people in Pakistan are still suffering now, and they’re not getting any assistance.” In her photographs, Fazzina has tried to avoid pointing the finger at one particular culprit, instead putting the blame on all participants. “I’ve covered victims of collateral damage, victims of airstrikes, victims of drone strikes. I covered people suffering from the military, from foreign intervention in region and also from the Taliban. I’ve tried to cover victims of war from all sides because I believe that in any theater of war, all players are responsible.” After diplomatic sources in Islamabad warned her of the threat on her life from local extremist groups, Fazzina has been forced to cancel a planned trip to Pakistan where she was to report on maternal health. “I take this threat very seriously. There is a strong possibility if I return I will be killed simply for having documented what are realities on the ground” she says. “But, I won’t be silenced by this threat.” Fazzina’s situation isn’t unique, she explains, as Pakistani journalists and photographers constantly risk their lives to document their country. “It’s extremely difficult for journalists to report without facing some kind of a risk – be it threats, harassment, or even expulsion from the country by the state,” says Mustafa Qadri, a researcher at Amnesty International. “We’ve certainly seen this year a number of high-profile attacks on journalists, which seems to be in response to their work being critical of the government, Taliban, or political parties. What brings all of these cases together is the fact that there’s no justice, there’s no accountability. That basically sends a signal that if you’re not happy with what journalists are reporting, you can literally get away with murder.” Since 2008, Amnesty International has documented 36 cases of journalists who were killed in response to their work, with many more cases of harassment remaining undocumented. The Committee to Protect Journalists has been trying to fight this problem, says Bob Dietz, the Asian program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Everyone feels that they have total impunity to direct a threat towards a journalist. Foreign journalists aren’t the largest targets for these things; it’s really the local Pakistani journalists who bear the brunt of it. A Pakistani journalist awakes in the morning, opens his phone and check for messages and there might well be a string of threats in there. It’s a way of life. It’s a reality that people are dealing with.” “We’ve tried to combat it,” Dietz adds. “[We’ve asked] journalists not to hide these threats, and instead to bring them out in public as a way to disarm them.” Yet, the CPJ and Amnesty International don’t expect such menaces to subside, including those against Fazzina. “We really welcome the work that she did,” says Qadri. “We feel that not enough is done to expose the condition of women and girls in Pakistan; what ordinary life is for them. It’s really sad that in trying to do that, she’s now facing these kinds of threats.” For the 40-year-old photographer, these threats are indicative of a massive shift in war reporting. “The landscape has really changed from fundamentalist groups wanting to tell their stories to journalists becoming actual targets of these groups,” says Fazzina. “In some way, the voices that can speak out against human rights abuses are slowly being silenced. And people would rather shoot the messenger than acknowledged the actual state of [affairs].”
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s rally in Larkana has drawn criticism from his political rivals as Awami National Party (ANP) leader, Senator Zahid Khan on Friday advised him to seek an opinion of masses in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa over the construction of controversial Kalabagh dam. Khan, during his party’s rally in Larkana earlier today, promised thousands of supporters that the PTI will not allow the construction of the dam without the consent of the people of Sindh. The construction of the Kalabagh dam has long been a heated debate in Pakistan, where politicians and pressure groups argue over the provinces' fair share of water from the river Indus to support local agricultural needs. In a statement issued soon after the conclusion of PTI’s rally, Zahid Khan said that besides seeking people’s views regarding the dam in Sindh, Imran Khan should also ask the masses in the province, where his party rules.
In Punjab, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan talks about construction of Kalabagh dam but in Sindh, he contradicts his own statement, said Punjab government spokesman and provincial assembly member Zaeem Qadri while commenting PTI chairman’s speech in Larkana on Friday
He said that the politics of hypocrisy and lies will not be tolerated. What kind of politics is to level allegations against the people of Punjab in Punjab and people of Sindh in Sindh, he questioned. He said that the policy of fascism, violence and hatred of Khan will not succeed. He said that Pakistani people believe in political process and those finding shortcut will have to ultimately face failure.
He said that due to so-called protest movement, the popularity graph of the PTI has further decreased. He said that Khan has become the symbol of politics of stubbornness and promoted the attitude of intolerance. He said that the PTI did not play its political role according to the votes given by the people and Khan delivers the same speech in every city.
He asked the PTI chairman that how much credit he wants for the hospital and university constructed through public donations and whether he has become eligible for coming into power as a reward. He said that it has been proved that after Punjab the show of Khan has also flopped in Sindh.
Friday, November 21, 2014
Bahrain’s main opposition party has called for an end to the power “monopoly” in the country, warning that the ruling Al Khalifa regime’s refusal to relinquish power could cause an “explosion” of violence.
Sheikh Ali Salman, the secretary general of Bahrain’s al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, said on the eve of the elections on Friday that the Manama regime’s failure to reach a political agreement with the opposition could spark an “explosion” of violence in the Persian Gulf Arab kingdom.
Salman added that the opposition could only continue talks with the government if it agreed to implement reforms in line with a strict timetable.
“This has been our strategy in the past, it is our strategy today and will be our strategy tomorrow... in order to reach a consensus that would end the ruling family’s monopoly of all power,” he said.
Al-Wefaq and four other opposition groups have boycotted the legislative and municipal polls slated to be held in Bahrain on Saturday.
Observers and political analysts say the boycott means the polls with whatever outcome will not end the anti-regime protests in the country.
“The number of laws that violate human rights legislated by the existing parliament is more than the laws we had since the independence of Bahrain… So the Bahraini opposition [groups] don’t want to give legitimacy to those laws,” Nabil Rajab, a Bahraini human rights activist, told Press TV.
Since mid-February 2011, thousands of protesters have held numerous demonstrations in the streets of Bahrain, calling for the Al Khalifa royal family to give up power.
Bahrain has been severely criticized by human rights groups for its harsh crackdown on anti-government protesters, which has claimed the lives of scores of people so far.
by Rob Eshman
You know who agrees with Carrie about the Middle East these days? Everyone. We sit here an ocean away and watch it go from bad to worse.
There’s New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who wrote this week, “What is unbearable, in fact, is the feeling, 13 years after 9/11, that America has been chasing its tail; that, in some whack-a-mole horror show, the quashing of a jihadi enclave here only spurs the sprouting of another there.”
There’s Tom Friedman, also writing for The Times, who all but threw up his hands in his last two columns. “In sum,” he wrote, “there are so many conflicting dreams and nightmares playing out among our Middle East allies in the war on ISIS that Freud would not have been able to keep them straight.”
There was the estimable Robert Satloff, in Politico: “It will likely take an even more dramatic brand of divine intervention to prevent a slew of worsening Mideast problems — renewed Israeli-Palestinian tensions, Islamic terrorism, Iranian nukes and so on — from landing squarely on the desk of the next U.S. president.”
And former diplomat Aaron David Miller, who wrote this week on CNN.com, “We’re stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, and where ambiguity and uncertainty will rule over clarity and stability for years to come.”
This week began with the execution of American hostage Peter Kassig, and before it was out, we witnessed the attack in a Jerusalem synagogue, which left (as of press time) five Israelis dead.
These acts share a brutal, personal, senselessness that “terrorism” doesn’t quite begin to describe. A British journalist coined a better term: “horrorism.”
Horrorism combines terror with the purposeful depiction of as much personal human suffering as possible. Terrorism uses bombs, and airplanes; horrorism uses knives, fists and axes. The ISIS video, the aftermath of the bloody synagogue — there is nothing more frightening than what one pair of human hands can do to a fellow human.
In Israel, after the creation of a strong, vibrant nation state, we are back to Kishinev 1903, and the pogrom that inspired Theodor Herzl to push for a Jewish state. As the poet Hayyim Nahman Bialik wrote back then, “… the hatchet found them there.” And again it finds them, and again we mourn, “A place of sainted graves and martyr-stone.”
And that’s what makes great minds, starting with Carrie Mathison, despair. After all the involvement, money, strategy and grand plans, we are back to the Bronze Age, back to bloodlust and human sacrifice. What’s worse, as the political solutions recede, the religious aspects of these conflicts loom larger and larger.
In Iraq and Syria, the religious war — a disaster we helped create — now seems entirely predictable. In times of chaos, people gravitate toward what the philosopher Robert Nozick calls “protective associations.” Kurds become more Kurd, Sunnis more Sunni, Shiites more Shiite. If a functioning state can’t offer protection and security, pre-existing identities will.
“When the state collapsed,” legal and Islamic scholar Noah Feldman writesin “What We Owe Iraq,” “people had little choice but to find some marker of identity that they thought would have some chance of working for them. And these were the identities that were there. We didn’t create these identities —they already existed — it’s that we turned those identities into focal points for self-organization, by virtue of our failure to provide security. And we therefore made these ethnic/denominational identities much more important for Iraqi politics than they otherwise would have been.”
Speaking last month at Harvard Law School, Feldman (who will be a scholar-in-residence at Sinai Temple Dec. 4-6) said he doesn’t think ISIS will survive three years facing opposition from most of the Arab and Muslim world. But he doesn’t say that what will follow will be any less extreme.
In Israel, there’s a similar dynamic. Secular Palestinian leadership is almost an oxymoron. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas foments revolt and Jew-hatred on the one hand, then condemns, in the weakest possible way, attacks on innocent Israelis. Lacking strong secular leadership, young Palestinians from Gaza to East Jerusalem turn to their “protective associations” — religious leaders, the mosques, Hamas.
The police call them “lone wolf” attacks, but you can only have lone wolves when there is no alpha dog.
Attacks in Jerusalem, the holy city, carry the import of holy war. Things can so easily spiral out of control, beyond the city limits, beyond Israel and into the rest of the world.
“The religious dimension of the conflict is very dangerous and explosive,” Shin Bet security services chief Yoram Cohen told members of a Knesset committee, according to Ha’aretz, “because it has implications for the Palestinians and for Muslims everywhere in the world. We have to do everything possible to instill calm.”
Instill calm. When he figures out how to do that, he should let the rest of the world know how.
By Orit BashkinThe West’s understanding of the Middle East has often been laden with misconceptions—this has especially been the case in the years following the Arab Spring.
Here are three assumptions about this part of the world that need to be challenged.
Doing so is important as people all over the world often perceive the Middle East as a region in which ancient religious rivalries prevent the emergence of secular democracies. Among other things, this can wrongly inform foreign policy decision-making regarding ongoing crises in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Assumption no. 1: If leaders are secular, sectarianism will disappear.
This view sounds plausible, but is challenged when we take a quick look at the Levant. The Ba’ath regimes in Syria, and previously in Iraq, would have liked us to believe that they were secular—after all, their leaders pronounced their commitment to the ideas of Arab socialism and nationalism, championed the integration of women into the labor market, and labeled their opposition as religious and conservative. Saddam Hussein’s biography does suggest a man following closely the tenants of Islam, to use the understatement of the century.
And yet both regimes were loyal to the interests of the religious groups from which their leaders came. For example, when Bashar al-Assad’s regime began to crumble, he relied on a Syrian-Iranian front to protect him, throwing in the wind his previous strategic alliance with Sunni businessmen and professionals.
Many people in the Middle East, especially members of the generation growing up in the post-colonial era, identify with their religious groups. They might drink, gamble and otherwise view themselves as very secular, and yet strongly identify as Sunni, Shi’ite or Christian, in certain contexts. This is largely due to historical developments, like the Lebanese civil war, the Iran-Iraq war, and the catastrophe that is Syria today. Being “secular” and “modern,” then, does not mean being unsectarian.
Assumption no. 2: All Islamist organizations are the same, the end result is always violent extremism.
While many of the Muslim Brotherhood organizations have platforms which are not fully democratic, there is a world of difference between them and the brutality of the so-called “Islamic State”, also known as The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. These organizations are not the same in the ways they view elections or minority and women’s rights. The more moderate organizations are more than ready to have women play a part in their political organizations. The sights that we see today in northern Iraq, in which Christian and Yazidis are harshly persecuted, are utterly repulsive to the more moderate Muslim political organizations.
Moreover, whereas Islamic State sees itself as an authentic, pre-modern, Islamic state, nothing could further from the truth. Islamic State does not share the ecumenical vision of the early Muslim community during the 7th century and its disdain for the sciences and innovation puts them in polar opposition to the cultural curiosity typical of medieval Islamic court culture.
Joan Cusack once said in the film Working Girl: “Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear. Doesn’t make me Madonna. Never will.” The same can be said about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the caliphate.
Assumption no. 3: Some Middle Eastern countries are ‘Western’ and others aren’t.
We often read in the media about pro-Western Arab regimes. But does pro-Western actually mean secular? And what is Western? Is it simply being pro-American or pro-European?
The regimes in the Gulf can complicate our thinking on these matters. Many of the Gulf monarchies have maintained very good relationships with the United States–the investment portfolios of their leading companies are deeply intertwined with the U.S. and European economies. The U.S. university campuses and Al-Jazeera headquarters in Doha indicate a desire to play a more prominent role on the global stage.
And yet, these regimes are socially conservative and are not, by any means, secular. Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia are involved in the Syrian civil war, arming various Sunni rebel and militia groups.
On the other hand, during the 1970s and 1980s, the postcolonial regimes in Syria and Iraq propagated daily critiques of Western colonialism and imperialism, alongside their secularizing and modernizing agendas.
Given these contradicting pictures, it makes little sense that we still use terms like ‘Western.’
Of course, this is not to dismiss all of these categories entirely. Indeed, the terms ‘secular’ and ‘Islamist’ are relevant to the ways in which electoral politics are framed in some countries—such as Tunisia and Egypt. Tunis, in fact, provides a hopeful example of political change through elections.. However, it is wrong to assume that everything in the Middle East is connected to battles whose roots are religious and medieval.
Many of the struggles in the Middle East are the result of regional rivalries between Iran and the Gulf monarchies, and of the civil war in Iraq which have brought unprecedented waves of sectarianism all over the Middle East. And they owe their existence to very modern processes like the oil politics, the failure of nation-states to attend to the needs of ethnic and religious minorities, and global politics.
The powers invested in the Syria conflict these days include China, Russia, and the United States –in its decisions on intervention or and lack thereof. These are not exactly powers formed in 7th century Arabia.
The politics in the Middle East are among the most complex in the world. The nuances in ground realities—so easily lost when we use terms like ‘Islamist’, ‘secular’ and ‘Western’—must be acknowledged if we are to theorize about why the region is the way it is right now and the possibilities of attaining a democratic future, the same future desired by so many young people who initiated the Arab Spring.
Thousands of immigrant-rights activists, families and elected officials cheered across the country as President Barack Obama announced on television his plan for relief from deportations for about 5 million people.
But after the initial burst of emotion Thursday evening at hastily organized watch parties and in living rooms, many said Obama's plan was just the first step in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform. Immigrant families pointed out the plan would only cover about 5 million of the 11 million without legal status, leaving many families and individuals in limbo.
Republicans slammed the president's action as an overreach, while advocates — including Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and California Gov. Jerry Brown — praised Obama's plan.
Not everyone was happy with Obama's action. A couple of protesters held "no amnesty" signs outside a New York union office where supporters watched the speech.
A snapshot of reactions across the country:
___ "This will definitely help our family no longer live in fear, fear that we will have to drop everything if our parents are deported. But there is still fear, because this is a temporary, and we need something permanent," said Isaura Pena, 20, of Portland, whose father and mother lack legal status.
___ "This is a great day for farmworkers. It's been worth the pain and sacrifice," said Jesus Zuniga, 40, who picks tomatoes in California's Central Valley and watched the speech at a union gathering in Fresno. ___ "Simply stated, you're the only singular person in this entire country that can advance or adopt meaningful immigration reform. By that very definition then, it is your singular failure alone as to why we do not yet have reform, why America continues to be at risk, and new crimes and new victims are mounting each and every day in every single state," said Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, addressing the president directly in a video posted by his office Wednesday on YouTube. Jones vowed to crusade against illegal immigration after the shooting rampage last month by a Mexican man with a long criminal history who was in the country illegally. ___ "They're going to have a chance to be what they want to be and get an education," said Maria Perez, 41, of Fresno, California. She is in the country legally, but she often worries about her nieces, ages 16 and 18, who aren't. With the president's speech, she feels hope that her nieces now can achieve her dreams. ___ "I believe that is a good step forward, but again I look at the other side and I believe he is maybe acting too rash. I don't know why he is doing it without the consent of Congress. ... I think that is creating too much dissension in Congress where it is already, and I don't know if that is necessarily a good thing. I think for a lot of people — especially those who are here undocumented — it is great, but at some point we have to draw the line," said community activist Bob Hernandez of Wichita, Kansas. ___ "I don't think it helps because it's going to create friction with the new Congress that's Republican. While I think it's probably the wrong thing for him to do, there's a possibility it starts a dialogue and pushes the Republicans to move more quickly," Overstock.com board chairman Jonathan Johnson said at his company's Salt Lake City, Utah, headquarters. ___ "I am a mother of Dreamers (the children who benefited from Obama's Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program.) They are not citizens. It was a great disappointment to hear I won't benefit from it. It's bland. He gave us a little taste but it had no taste," said Rosa Mejia, an immigrant in El Paso, Texas, who has been living in the US since 1999. ___ Abel Rodriguez, of Phoenix, said Obama's proposal could mean that he and his wife would be able to visit their family in Mexico without fear of not being able to return to the U.S. or getting separated from their daughters. "I have not seen my family for 10 years. I have two grandsons that I don't see," Rodriguez said. ___ "We have a lot of unemployed Americans right now, and I don't understand why unemployed Americans can't be hired to do the jobs these illegals are doing," said John Wilson, who works in contract management in New York City. ___ "This is not a partisan issue. When the bluest of blue states — like Oregon, for example — vote overwhelmingly to prohibit illegal aliens from obtaining drivers licenses, it speaks volumes about the widespread lack of support for President Obama's immigration policies. The American people have spoken, and time and again they have been ignored," Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said.