Category Archives: minorities

The drums of war.

Tensions are running high in the region. Tautology aside, a volatile mix of lawlessness, the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and wider geopolitical rumblings keep everyone guessing on what’s next. The draw of milk and honey keep Ethiopian Jews flocking to the North, up through the Sinai like Mo’, as friends called him, once did, promised the end of the bondage of hunger and poverty. And so the demand for people smugglers, and the dough to be made undermines law and order on all sides of the border.

It isn’t a giant leap from a bit of moneymaking to politics. If you can smuggle people, you can smuggle weapons – exactly what some Palestinians groups in Gaza think they require to throw off their yoke. To be fair, it’s hard to envisage a successful sit-in against living in an open-air prison, staring at mainly unmanned gun turrets on all sides, if even fishing beyond 3 nautical miles is prohibited. An as good as hermetically sealed area no bigger than 360 square kilometers can and should be called a ghetto. But the best analogy for Gaza in 2012 is Guantanamo Bay, times 14.000. If you box in 1.4 million people, something’s gotta give. And the weakest link in the chain penning in the 99% unarmed, un-convicted and innocent civilians, is Sinai.

As the high-tech fence around Gaza extends southwards between the Israeli Negev and Egyptian Sinai deserts, that avenue too will close. The root causes meanwhile remain unaddressed. Sinai Bedouins stay marginalized, and Gaza’s population suffers from the Israeli-Egyptian blockade. Will the Sinai, as so many observers predict, become a failed peninsula, home to Al-Qaeda offshoots and assorted scofflaws? Will Israel become tempted to quell rocket launchers and production facilities on the Egyptian side of the border, sparking what might be the end of the Camp David peace accords between both states? Could a kidnapping of Israeli tourists ignite an ever-shrinking fuse?

Sinai, the Egyptian thriller for all, explores just such a scenario. 

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Filed under Al-Qaeda, Arab Spring, Cairo, Egypt, Indigenous Rights, Islam, Judaism, Middle East, minorities, seismic changes

Revolution and the imagination deficit

Another week, and another house-hold name added to our library of fears. Mohammad Merah, a.k.a. the shooter of Toulouse, Al-Qaeda member, lone wolf, disenchanted youth, anti-Semite, Fox News’ Buddhist madman of Toolooz. Read all about it. Chances are you have come across some foaming-at-the-mouth tabloid bullshit-mongering, as well as the odd intellectual we-feel-for-the-victims-and-nothing-excuses-violence-but investigation into the social marginalization of France’s Muslim minority. Not to mention the cluster-fuck that is NATO’s occupation of Afghanistan. And all that jazz… At times I find it hard not to grow cynical to the point where I want to shut myself in a room and watch Star Trek reruns until my eyes bleed. This is one of those times.

There must be something we can do. There must be something we can agree on. ‘We’ as in ‘everyone from Mohammad Merah to Anders Breivik to Baruch Goldstein’. Right? Like, killing leads to more killing. Every time. I’m not saying that. History does. There are no mathematical equations to back this up, which can lead some to revel in implausible denial. “Sometimes killing can be a good thing. Like, if they would have, like, killed Hitler when he was a little toddler.” Pubescent fantasies aside, we can back up with mathematical equations the fact that killing is big business. Something close to two thousand billion government dollars a year worldwide, and rising -economic crisis be damned. We’re still on the same page, right? Mohammad? Anders? Baruch?

Perhaps cynicism isn’t such a bad thing after all. So much injustice, so many killings every day. Perhaps the only sane reaction, if somewhat lacking in imagination, is to go after ‘the others’. The guys who did this -whatever ‘this’ is. And there you have it: your two options. Rise up in anger, or resign to your Playstations, Kardashians or Klingons. Either way, business will go on as usual. Trillions are turned over, and millions die. That’s not an exaggeration by the way. Google it. That’s what it’s there for.

Unless… there is a middle way. Something to do with the Arab spring, education, and peaceful activism. Standing up to the global Mubarak that is the international arms trade. But that’s not for today. I currently lack the imagination, and the sun is out. I could do with a breath of fresh air. To be continued…

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Filed under Al-Qaeda, Arab Spring, Christianity, Egypt, Islam, Judaism, Middle East, minorities, Revolution, seismic changes

The Bosnia equation

To intervene or not to intervene. Among Syria’s neighbors, the question looms ever larger. Turkish talk of humanitarian corridors and the Red Cross’s pleas for access to Homs and other flashpoint cities is reminiscent of timid Western attempts at stemming the Bosnian civil war. In addition, the example of military intervention in Libya, which I opposed exactly a year ago and still do, as well as the Iraq war, although a different animal entirely, towers over the debate.

No one wants to stick their head into a hornet’s nest, as Western media more or less rightly portray Syria. You don’t mess with a patchwork of ethno-religious groups and not expect unexpected, i.e. unpleasant results. We have learned this the hard way. There is never a clear-cut case for intervention. But sometimes there are clear-cut reasons not to intervene, as the 2003-2011 US war in Iraq shows. To this day, the long black shadow of that disaster skews the debate in the sense that we forget the human imperative of stopping the slaughter of thousands, as is currently happening in Syria. The question is, how to go about this?

Again, Libya looms large as a how-not-to. One of the problems with the West, and certain Arab regimes’ intervention in Libya was that it was emphatically not a humanitarian action that happened to topple a dictator. Rather it was a regime change sold to skeptical western audiences as a humanitarian necessity. Let’s not forget that at the end of the day Libyan rebels, aided by NATO air power, received critical training and direct logistical and tactical support from Qatari boots on the ground. Not to mention arms. Lots of arms, which are currently causing havoc among local groups vying for influence and power as well as elsewhere in the region flooded with cheap hardware. In short, we fucked up. Kinda.

What’s the alternative then to letting thousands die at the hands of a brutal regime? Is there a middle-ground between respect for state sovereignty and intervention for humanitarian reasons? Is there a way, in other words, that sovereignty-spastics like Russia and China might be swayed in favor of protecting the lives of countless innocents? To a humanist, anything is better than doing absolutely squat all against slaughtering unarmed men, women, and children. To Russia and China anything -absolutely anything- is preferable to the mere idea of a well-armed bully rolling into their respective backyards or worse, and laying claim by military means to natural resources or the countries sitting on top. Hence their recent veto in the Security Council against sanctioning the Syrian regime. Again, the US adventure in Iraq has destroyed a lot more than that country’s infrastructure. Its diplomatic fall-out will likely hobble the cause of not-killing-folks for years to come.

Again, what then? How do we stop the butchering? The answer perhaps lies in the question itself. The main goal as well as the extent of any action or mediation should be to stop the killing. Nothing short of it and nothing more. Bearing in mind Western duplicity in its handling of Libya, talking protection but gunning for the regime, it might be difficult to convince opponents of intervention of the veracity of such a mandate. Yet it is a course that must be pursued nonetheless. In essence, the international community should devise a way to grind the war down to a non-combative stalemate. For example one would prohibit Assad’s regime from continuing to commit wide scale atrocities, but also inhibit a hurriedly armed disparate group of non-professional opposition fighters to become a security threat themselves as we are currently witnessing in Libya.

Needless to say bringing about and enforcing such a stalemate is easier said than done. The Arab League’s observer mission was a good albeit timid start. Diplomacy should work to identify and propose a quid-pro-quo to the Russians who might be able to induce the Syrian regime into accepting a new, expanded observer mission. Trucking in food and medical supplies, hardly a threat to the government’s hold on power, nonetheless increases a perceived outsider presence, a psychological factor that should not be underestimated. Bearing in mind the atrocities that occurred in UN-patrolled Bosnia, one shivers to imagine what might have happened had we turned the other way entirely. In short, quixotic as it might seem, an unarmed outsider presence, in any shape or form, and the diplomatic pressure to maintain it, should be the lodestar of interventionist thinking as the court of global public opinion is increasingly complemented by actual international court rooms.

Of course, unarmed observers, truck drivers, journalists, and medical personnel are a vulnerable asset. Pressuring a regime into protecting them, or at least not outright shooting at them, is alas, a lot more easily achieved, given all permanent UN Security Council members are on board, than having them not shoot its own civilians. It follows that the mere presence of said observers, truckers, journos and medics becomes an impediment to all-out war. With Syria’s death toll creeping up to 10.000, the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. But until there are people trapped still in Homs and elsewhere any opportunity, however tenuous, is worth considering.

Whether a regime is able to provide for its people and if not, how it might be changed, is really not in the purview of other regimes, be they democratic or otherwise.  Full stop. The international community however has a duty to prevent the deaths of thousands of civilians, be they a victim of a natural disaster or the wrath of authority.

In Sinai, a fictional story, trapped tourists elicit a widening international chorus to ‘go in there and sort out the the mess’. The region teeters on the brink of war...

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Filed under Arab Spring, democracy, Gadhafi, Libya, Middle East, minorities, Revolution, seismic changes, Sinai, Uncategorized

Muslims and stuff..

I was eleven years old when I spotted my first Muslim. I didn’t actually know that he was one, or if I did, what it meant. The Flemish countryside wasn’t exactly rife with newcomers back in the days. It was the late eighties. Ronald Reagan had just past the torch to the first of the Bushes. MacGuyver was the coolest man alive, and I dreamt aloud of owning a double tape-deck radio while my peers elsewhere were switching to CD. Like I said; Flemish countryside. And from its deepest recess I moved to a new school. A bigger town. Still bum-fuck “Limbourg” but hey, 60.000 souls and counting, changing, diversifying. Come to think of it, I might as well have landed on Mars.

His name was Chaglar. To me the word ‘Turk’ by dint of, let’s call them uncles and aunts who had seen one or several, carried somewhat of an odor. For some reason the teacher sat me right next to him too. I remember the boy’s constant chewing, inseparable from the small bags of sunflower seeds like Gorbachev from that thing that lived on his forehead. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” I asked. Just making conversation. “Six.” Shit. I was not in Kansas anymore. Both my parents hailed from larger families, but in this day and age? Gosh. We became friends in the manner of a bunch of suburban kids chaperoning a stranded alien. Looking back I think –I know that I was the E.T.; unworldly, withdrawn, preferring Lego over social interaction.

We sort of just walked around the play ground. Other kids played soccer I guess. Outside, baddies tore by on Piaggio scooters, lighting firecrackers, not giving a damn. More a George Lucas than Steven Spielberg type of thing. Now these… this was a different ball park. Moroccans! Muslim. They might as well have been Stormtroopers. Without any reflection I gave them my Jedi middle finger. I don’t know why. Neither of my parents were ever overtly racist in any transmittable sense, not counting ‘innocent’ prejudices or simply not any non-white-Belgian-Catholic friends. Perhaps a slight, hardly perceivable bias eludes the conscious mind. Subliminal, its obvious logical flaws unchallenged, nest in a child’s brain. Then, when you least expect it, you’re shouting an Arabic obscenity some Turkish kid just whispered in your ear.

There I stood, a fence separating my enemies from a coward. The 11 year-old brain has a way of seeing a fence, but not the unguarded entrance in the middle of it. “We eat Belgians raw,” they’d said in response to my taunts, proving my point exactly. Before I knew it I was running for my life. Onto the playground. Safety, and where is a teacher when you need one? Twelve-hour stints of building 747’s, Knight Riders and castles don’t quite prepare one for battle, let alone running away really fast. My bigotry had caught up with me at last and I could feel the cold hand of Islamic justice on my neck. This was it. I was done for. Life had been good for me so far. It was only going to go downhill from here anyway. High school, college, jobs, wife, kids, taxes and old age. I was ready. My formidable opponent, mid-teen, wispy mustache and all, looked me in the eye and said: “Don’t do that.” I agreed.

Sinai is a fictional story of ignorance in the face of “Holy shit, what the hell is going on here? I just came for the snorkeling.”  

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Filed under Belgium, Brussels, Islam, minorities, Sinai