The largely invisible suffering of Afghanistan's internal refugees made a rare appearance in the US media Feb. 4 with a NY Times story and front-page (below-the-fold) photo. The article noted that eighteen people have died in the refugee camps outside Kabul since severe cold descended on the country two weeks ago. The most recent death was that of a new-brn boy at the Chaman-e-Babrak tent camp. Temperatures fall as low as 5 degrees F. at night. There are some 4,000 living in the two main camps outside Kabul, described by the Times as "homeless rural people who cannot be relocated to the countryside" and "landless poor from rural areas who have no homes to go back to." The Times did not emphasize that most of these rural areas continue to be controlled by local warlords who persecute and even force out their perceived ethnic enemies.
The Irish Republican Army announced Feb. 2 it is withdrawing from the Northern Ireland peace talks and rescinding its disarmament proposal, accusing both London and Dublin of bad faith by blaming the IRA for a $50 million Belfast bank heist in December. "We do not intend to remain quiescent within this unacceptable situation," said a press release signed P. O'Neill, the psuedonym siginifying official IRA positions. "It has tried our patience to the limit." Unionist leader Ian Paisely predictably responded by claiming the IRA never intended to disarm in the first place. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams declined to comment, saying he would let the IRA speak for themselves, but Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness said the raid blame "scuttles disarmament." The US State Department called the IRA's move "un-welcome." This could be the final crisis for the 1998 Good Friday accord, which established a local legislature to share power between Catholics and Protestants. The legislature has been suspended since 2002 because of allegations of IRA activity. (NYT, Feb. 3; BBC, Feb. 3; BBC, Feb. 4; UK Guardian, Feb. 5)
The conservative Freedom House think-tank has released a new study (with an introduction by ex-CIA chief James Woolsey) finding that Saudi-produced Wahhabi literature promoting "hate ideology" is flooding American mosques. The following account is from the Alt.Muslim web site:
Chicago anti-war activists are waging a First Amendment battle in two courtrooms, the Chicago Tribune reported Feb. 3. In federal District Court, activists are seeking class-action status for a suit brought after police shut down a protest on Lake Shore Drive on March 20, 2003, the day the war on Iraq was launched. The case contends protesters were herded into an area cordoned off by riot police, and that hundreds were arrested without justification, sometimes with excessive force. Meanwhile, in a city courtroom yesterday, the Chicago Coalition Against War and Racism appealed the denial of a permit to march again on this coming March 19 to mark the anniversary of the invasion. Coalition spokesman Andy Thayer said it is "essentially unconstitutional" to prohibit the right to protest on "hot-button issues." The city Transportation Department, in turn, denies that content is at issue, and says that the proposed march route would snarl traffic.
Ishaq Levin, one of the last two Jews in Kabul (and presumably in all of Afghanistan), was buried at Jerusalem's honored Mount of Olives Feb. 2. When Taliban rule ended three years ago, Levin and Zebulon Simentov were found living at opposite ends of Kabul's synagogue, divided by a bitter feud and refusing to talk to each other. Levin's relatives in Israel learned of his death through relatives of Simentov, and made arrangements with the Red Cross to have his remains flown out. Two weeks later, the body was delivered to the Israeli embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and flown to Israel for burial. Levin was believed to have been around 80, and hadn't seen his family since a brief trip to Israel 26 years ago. Israel's chief Sephardic rabbi Shlomo Amar led prayers at the funeral.
Nepal's King Gyanendra dismissed the country's government Feb. 1, and declared a state of emergency, closing off his Himalayan kingdom from the outside world as telephone and Internet lines were cut, flights grounded and civil liberties suspended. This is the second time in three years the king has taken control of the constitutional monarchy, a throwback to the era of absolute monarchy before King Birendra, Gyanendra's brother, introduced representative government following a popular pro-democracy movement in 1990.
The right-wing Jerusalem Post was handed a propaganda coup Feb. 1 by one of Iran's official press agencies, which marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz (commemorated by media and political leaders worldwide) in its own typically heartwarming fashion: by calling the Holocaust a Zionist plot.
Bahrain's Gulf Daily News provides a more detailed report on the deadly Jan. 31 firefight in Kuwait than was deemed worthwhile by most US media. The battle raged for nine hours in al-Qurain, just south of Kuwait City, leaving five dead. It was apparently sparked when security forces raided a supposed terrorist safehouse. The house was connected to a mosque, and owned by an imam. "Security forces ...