CountertVortex editor and main contributor Bill Weinberg (that would be me) is currently without phone service, and only intermittent Internet access, due to a Verizon equipment failure. The last Verizon chat-jockey I spoke with said "it is major cable issue and will need some time to be solved." That basically means they don't intend to fix it. I use DSL and a land-line—going through the old copper wires that Verizon is trying to phase out. If my service is not restored, I will have no means of producing CounterVortex—or the journalism I must write every day to pay the rent. Many people in New York and around the country are in the same position. We urgently must press Verizon to maintain the old copper-wire infrastructure we depend on—which they are required to do by law. (Photo: IBEW)
French prosecutors issued international arrest warrants for three prominent Syrian officials charged with collusion in crimes against humanity, in what human rights lawyers are calling a major victory in the pursuit of those believed responsible for mass torture, abuse and summary executions in the regime's detention facilities. The warrants name three leading security officials—including Ali Mamlouk, a former intelligence chief and senior adviser to President Bashar al-Assad, as well as head of the Air Force Intelligence security branch, Jamil Hassan. A third, Abdel Salam Mahmoud—an Air Force Intelligence officer who reportedly runs a detention facility at al-Mezzeh military base near Damascus—was also named. Hassan and Mamlouk are the most senior Syrian officials to receive an international arrest warrant throughout the course of the conflict. (Photo of hunger strikers at Syrian prison via Foreign Policy. Credit: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)
In its latest quarterly report to Congress, the US watchdog for Afghan reconstruction finds that the security situation is at an all-time low since monitoring began. Since the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) began tracking district control in 2015, Afghan government-controlled or "influenced" districts have declined 16% to 55.5%. In the same period, areas of insurgent control or influence rose 5.5% while "contested" districts increased 11%. As of late July, the US military assessed that the Kabul government controls or influences 226 of Afghanistan's 407 districts, while the Taliban controls/influences 49. The remaining 132 districts are identified as "contested." Since the prior quarterly report, Operation Resolute Support downgraded eight districts from "government influenced" to "contested." SIGAR said Afghan security forces "made minimal or no progress in pressuring the Taliban" in the period covered by the report. (Photo via Stars & Stripes)
AL HADIDIYA, WEST BANK, July, 28, 2010 (IRIN) — The road to al-Hadidiya village in the northeastern West Bank district of Tubas is dotted with boulders etched with a warning in Hebrew, Arabic and English: “Danger – Open Fire Area.”
The boulders arrived about six months ago, and are positioned at the entrance to Palestinian villages, indicating that chunks of the Jordan Valley have become a closed military zone claimed by the Israeli army.
They signal a further squeeze on the Bedouin communities here.
Shepherd Abdul Rahim Bsharat, 59, and his family have lived and farmed in al-Hadidiya since the 1960s. At that time, he said, there were 400-500 families there. Now, there are 17, who stay on despite having no access to water or electricity. Every building in the village has an Israeli demolition order on it.
On 21 June, the Israeli military gave Bsharat notice that his house and animal shelters could be destroyed at any time. When Bsharat’s house was previously demolished in 2002, his water tank was confiscated too. “If they destroy my property again, I’ll come back and rebuild it again. This is my land,” he told IRIN.
Bsharat’s home is a canopy of sewn-together sacks propped up over bare ground. It can easily be rebuilt. His other problems are more difficult to solve.
Al-Hadidiya is in a part of the West Bank under complete Israeli control, known as Area C. The estimated 40,000 Palestinians living there are unable to build or repair their homes, schools, hospitals or sewage systems under Israel’s strict permit system, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). In a region where almost all families are herders, Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian access to and development of agricultural land mean thousands are going hungry, aid agencies say.
A report published recently by Save the Children UK entitled Life on the Edge, warns that many parts of Area C have plummeted into a humanitarian crisis more acute than in Gaza.
Al-Hadidiya is surrounded by three expanding Israeli townships, Ro’i, Beka’ot and Hemdat. Its land is directly adjacent to Ro’i and the community collects any over-flow from the water pumps irrigating the settlers’ crops in rusting tins.
Despite a lengthy petition from Bsharat, Israeli authorities have not permitted al-Hadidiya to be connected to the main water network. There is no health centre and no permit to build one. The nearest hospital is several hours away in Jericho.
Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints mean that reaching a doctor can take hours. In 2002, Bsharat’s then two-and-a-half-year-old son was hospitalized for 16 days when a common cold turned into pneumonia. In the same year, his eight-year-old son was badly injured falling off a tractor. It was six hours before a car could get through to al-Hadidiya to get him to hospital. He died from blood loss.
Israel has suffered deadly suicide bombings launched from the West Bank in the past and says strict rules on Palestinian movement enforced through checkpoints and roadblocks are necessary for its security.
According to the Israeli military, homes in al-Hadidiya and much of the Jordan Valley are being demolished because they have either been built illegally, without an Israeli building permit, or are located in “closed military areas.” Around 18 percent of the West Bank is now a closed military zone.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) found that in Bedouin communities like al-Hadidiya, rates of stunting are more than double those in Gaza. Almost half the children have diarrhoea, one of the biggest killers of children under five in the world, and three quarters of families do not have enough nutritious food.
Save the Children works with local NGO Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) to help families in al-Hadidiya repair damaged buildings and farmland, when possible. But the strict restrictions on building and access mean that the Palestinian Authority and aid agencies are limited in the help they can offer families anywhere in Area C.
“In recent weeks the international community has rightly focused on the suffering of families in Gaza but the plight of children in Area C must not be overlooked. Many families, particularly in Bedouin and herder communities, suffer significantly higher levels of malnutrition and poverty,” Salam Kanaan, Save the Children UK’s country director, said.
“It’s now urgent that steps are taken to ensure children here have safe homes and proper classrooms, enough food to eat and clean water to drink.”
This story first ran July 28 on the Integrated Regional Integration Networks (IRIN), a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs .
From our Daily Report:
Israel: police demolish Bedouin village
World War 4 Report, Aug. 9, 2010
Dockworkers Worldwide Respond to Israel’s Flotilla Massacre
by Greg Dropkin, LabourNet, UK
World War 4 Report, August 2010
Reprinted by World War 4 Report, September 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution
Events Signal Global Warming to World’s Meteorologists
from Environment News Service
GENEVA, Switzerland, August 17, 2010 (ENS) — Fires across Russia, record floods in Pakistan, a huge Greenland iceberg—this current unprecedented sequence of extreme weather events “matches” scientific projections of more frequent and intense extreme weather events due to global warming, says an organization of meteorologists from 189 countries.
“Several diverse extreme weather events are occurring concurrently around the world, giving rise to an unprecedented loss of human life and property. They include the record heatwave and wildfires in the Russian Federation, monsoonal flooding in Pakistan, rain-induced landslides in China, and calving of a large iceberg from the Greenland ice sheet,” said the World Meteorological Organization in a statement August 11.
“These should be added to the extensive list of extreme weather-related events, such as droughts and fires in Australia and a record number of high-temperature days in the eastern United States of America, as well as other events that occurred earlier in the year,” said the WMO, a specialized agency of the United Nations.
The World Meteorological Organization is the UN system’s voice on the state and behavior of the Earth’s atmosphere, its interaction with the oceans, the climate it produces and the resulting distribution of water resources.
“The occurrence of all these events at almost the same time raises questions about their possible linkages to the predicted increase in intensity and frequency of extreme events, for example, as stipulated in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report published in 2007,” the WMO said.
The 2007 IPCC Summary for Policy Makers stated that “…the type, frequency and intensity of extreme events are expected to change as Earth’s climate changes, and these changes could occur even with relatively small mean climate changes. Changes in some types of extreme events have already been observed, for example, increases in the frequency and intensity of heat waves and heavy precipitation events.”
“While a longer time range is required to establish whether an individual event is attributable to climate change, the sequence of current events matches IPCC projections,” the WMO said.
The meteorologists explained how each of the current extreme weather events arose.
The heatwave in the European part of the Russian Federation is associated with a persistent pressure ridge that appeared in June 2010. Initially, it was associated with the Azores high, but later was reinforced by a strong inflow of warm air from the Middle East.
More than 20 daily temperature records were broken including the absolute maximum temperature in Moscow. The high temperatures triggered massive forest and peat fires in the European part of the country. Some villages were burned completely, with smoke and smog adversely and greatly affecting the health and well-being of tens of millions of people.
The floods in Pakistan were caused by strong monsoon rains. According to the Pakistan Meteorological Department, the instant rain intensity reached 300 millimeters over a 36-hour period. The strong monsoon rains led to the highest water levels in 110 years in the Indus River in the northern part of the country, based on past records available from 1929. More areas in central and south Pakistan are affected by the floods.
In Pakistan, the death toll to date exceeds 1,600 people and more than six million others have been displaced. Some reports indicate that 40 million citizens have been affected by the floods.
The monsoon activity in Pakistan and other countries in Southeast Asia is aggravated by the La Nina phenomenon, now well established in the Pacific Ocean.
China also is experiencing its worst floods in decades. The recent death toll due to the mudslide in the Zhouqu county of Gansu province on August 7, exceeded 700, with more than 1,000 people missing. In addition, 12 million people are reported to have lost their homes owing to the recent floods.
On August 5, 2010, the MODIS sensor on NASA’s Aqua satellite detected calving from the Petermann Glacier in northern Greenland. The largest chunk of ice to calve from the glacier in the past 50 years of observations and data (since 1962) measures more than 200 sq. km.
Tens of thousands of icebergs calve yearly from the glaciers of Greenland, but this one is very large and because of its size more typically resembles icebergs in the Antarctic.
Climate extremes have always existed, said the WMO, “but all the events cited above compare with, or exceed in intensity, duration or geographical extent, the previous largest historical events.”
According to Roshydromet, Russia’s Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring, studies of the past climate show no record of similar high temperatures in Russia since the 10th and 11th centuries more than 1,000 years ago.
This story first ran Aug. 17 on Environment News Service.
World Meteorological Organization
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
From our Daily Report:
Pakistan “superflood” leaves millions destitute, hungry
World War 4 Report, Aug. 14, 2010
From Greenland to Andes, signs mount of climate shift
World War 4 Report, Nov. 14, 2009
Australia bush fires: harbinger of global warming?
World War 4 Report, Feb. 11, 2009
THE CLIMATE JUSTICE GROUNDSWELL
From Copenhagen to Cochabamba to Cancún
by Karah Woodward, The Indypendent
World War 4 Report, June 2010
POLITICS-AS-USUAL WHILE THE PLANET BURNS
Climate Bill Offers Pseudo-Solutions
by Brian Tokar, Toward Freedom
World War 4 Report, August 2009
Reprinted by World War 4 Report, September 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution
Paranoia in Xinjiang; Harmonious Confusion in Kaifeng
by Sarkis Pogossian, World War 4 Report
International eyes are on the case of Córdoba House, the Islamic community center slated for two blocks away from “Ground Zero” in New York City, which has been met with vociferous protests from the jingo legions.
Across the planet, on the remote steppes of China’s western Xinjiang province, mosques are being targeted by the government for surveillance, infiltration and indoctrination one year after a wave of deadly unrest in the region. Last summer’s riots in the provincial capital Urumqi pitted the indigenous Uighurs—a Turkic and Muslim people—against Han settlers from the east. In August, a month after the riots’ one-year mark, a terror attack claimed the lives of six military police in Urumqi, as an assailant rammed his explosives-laden car into a highway checkpoint.
Xinjiang seems headed into a dystopian situation where an authoritarian state is opposed by militant Islamic factions—predictably resulting in a policy of official Islamophobia which will only harden the will of the extremists, and serve as their recruiting tool.
Elsewhere in China, Islam flourishes far from the influence of fundamentalism that now emanates from the Middle East, through Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia. In Muslim enclaves such as Kaifeng, on the banks of the Yellow River in Henan province, mosques permit women to be imams—a grave apostasy for the fundamentalists. Co-existence and syncretism with Buddhism, Taoism and even Judaism is deeply ingrained. The state appears to take little interest in the mosques, and an ethic of laissez-faire prevails in spiritual matters. The government is even making an effort to export the tolerant traditions of the Kaifeng Muslims to restive Xinjiang.
Which seems to indicate that even the authoritarian Chinese state is more sophisticated than the USA’s reactionary nativists in its perceptions of Islam.
Big Brother in Urumqi
Video surveillance is growing explosively as in China, where seven million cameras already watch streets and businesses, with experts predicting an additional 15 million cameras by 2014. Rights observers warn that Uighur mosques and Tibetan Buddhist monasteries are being especially targeted by the state’s electronic eyes.
In Urumqi, where last year’s unrest left some 200 dead, there are now 47,000 cameras in place, with plans to install another 13,000 by year’s end. Residents say a disproportionate number are trained on mosques and Uighur districts of the city.
Similarly, following the March 2008 riots in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, authorities awarded China Telecom—maker of the “Global Eye” surveillance cameras—a $6.5-million contract to install cameras at 624 locations around the city. The surveillance program has been given the Orwellian sobriquet of “Peace in Lhasa.” A cluster of cameras has also monitored the Tibetan neighborhood around Beijing’s Yonghegong Temple since the prelude to the 2008 Olympics there.
Along with the escalated surveillance, China’s Ministry of Public Security has launched a program of state control over spiritual institutions in the restive western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet in recent weeks. The program includes intensive propagandizing of Xinjiang’s Muslim clerics and Tibet’s Buddhist monks in the importance of patriotism and party loyalty. The increased oversight of mosques in Xinjiang has preceded the onset of Ramadan, wile the similar measures at Tibetan monasteries followed the recent visit of the government-designated Panchen Lama to Lhasa and other areas in Tibet.
The program has predictably sparked resentment among the Uighurs—especially over the issue of non-Muslim officials and party cadre attending meetings at mosques. In an incident that received little coverage outside a lone report in the Sri Lanka Guardian, local Uighurs apparently protested in Peyziwat county of Xinjiang’s Kashgar prefecture on July 24 against a Communist Party-organized meeting at the village mosque to hold a speech contest on the them “Love the Country, Promote the Homeland.”
Rebiya Kadeer, exiled president of the World Uyghur Congress, who lives in the US, has protested the campaign, as have other Uighur diaspora leaders. Abdukadir Asim, a Uighur cleric based in Turkey, declared: “It is a common principle among all religions that the privacy of the place of worship is fundamental. It is a strange and abhorrent event that communist propaganda was conducted in a mosque.” He criticized the general secretary of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Ekmelledin Ihsanoglu, for not raising the issue on his recent visit to China.
Along with the effort to tighten control over the mosques, the Chinese state has launched a program for the demolition of exclusively Uighur areas in Urumqi, and forcing the displaced residents to re-settle in apartment complexes built for them in areas dominated by Han Chinese. This has also been resented by Uighur leaders an attempt to erode their identity.
A ban on the use of loudspeakers for the call to prayer at Xinjiang’s mosques has also been imposed, according to a recent account by reporter Ananth Krishnan who traveled through the region for India’s Hindu Times. But outside the now-silenced 550-year-old grand Id Kah mosque in Kashgar, a police van patrols at prayer time, its own loudspeaker issuing a recorded message urging all ethnic groups “to maintain harmony, support the Communist Party and serve the motherland.” A battalion of armed police watch over the square.
The Female Imams of Kaifeng
The Muslims of Kaifeng and central China are known as the Hui, and constitute one of the 56 official “nationalities” of China. The Hui probably share an ethnogenesis with the Uighurs. Islam was brought to China by Arab conquerors in Central Asia and more significantly by Persian traders on the Silk Road beginning in the eighth century. The Uighurs were the first to convert. In the 13th century, they allied with the Mongols in their invasions of China, serving as both military advance guard and the official scribes of the Mongol court. (The Uighur script was used by the Mongol bureaucracy until Chinese was eventually adopted.) Through trade and warfare, many Uighurs ended up considerably to the east of what is now Xinjiang. These inter-married with Han, eventually adopting the dominant Han language and culture, while remaining true to Islam. They are today the Hui, who have an Autonomous Region in Ningxia, much as Xinjiang is officially the Uighur Autonomous Region. There are also large Hui populations in the provinces of Gansu, Qinghai, Hebei, Shangdong and Yunnan as well as Henan.
A recent report by the USA’s National Public Radio notes how Kaifeng’s Muslim community distinguishes itself in the Islmaic world with a long tradition of female imams. These imams—or ahong as they are called in China—perform many of the same duties as their male counterparts, leading prayers and teaching the Koran, although they do not lead funeral rituals.
“In a country with about 21 million Muslims, women also have their own mosques to worship in—another practice different from other countries,” said Shui Jingjun, of the Henan Academy of Social Sciences who co-authored a book on the subject. The tradition of Koranic schools for girls in central China began in the late 17th century—mostly in Henan but also in Shanxi and Shandong provinces. Some 100 years ago they evolved into women’s mosques, starting in Henan.
The state-controlled Islamic Association of China has given political assistance to establish some women’s mosques in northwest China, where historically there have been none—a probable effort to undercut the influence of fundamentalism in the restive region. Guo Baoguang of the Islamic Association of China admitted to NPR that the effort had met with some resistance. But he also offered this optimistic quote: “Given the fast development of China’s economy, and as its political status rises, I think Chinese Islam will become more important in the Islamic world. The development Chinese Islam has made, like the role played by Chinese women, will be more accepted by Muslims elsewhere in the world.”
For the moment, China’s Muslims are virtually alone in permitting women to be imams. Morocco became the first Arab country to officially sanction training women as religious leaders in 2006.
At Kaifeng’s Wangjia Hutong women’s mosque—China’s oldest, built in 1820 as a Koranic school for girls—14-year veteran imam Yao Baoxia leads prayers. NPR notes that as she leads the service, Yao stands alongside the other women, not in front of them as a male imam would. But she asserts that her role is the same as a male imam. “The status is the same,” Yao said. “Men and women are equal here, maybe because we are a socialist country.”
Kaifeng: Searching for the Jews, I Find the Muslims
I visited Kaifeng recently in search of traces of China’s one indigenous Jewish community, which flourished in the city from the ninth century. By official histories, the last of the Kaifeng Jews disappeared in the 1860s, when the dwindling community sold their synagogue—or, by some accounts, 1841, when the Yellow River burst its banks and the temple was removed to strengthen the city walls. The claim that the Kaifeng Jews do not survive was recently contested by reporter Matthew Fishbane of the New York Times, who visited living self-identified Jews in the city this spring—despite the fact that Jews are not one of China’s official nationalities.
The Jews of Kaifeng, who also arrived on the Silk Road from the west, were known to their Han neighbors as the “blue-turbaned Muslims”—the exotic faith of Judaism apparently considered to the Han a mere variant of Islam. Having not yet seen the New York Times article, I arrived in Kaifeng cold—and the responses to my inquiries indicated that the confusion persists to this day.
Kaifeng, China’s capital in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), is today a chaotic modern city, with much more of a “third world” feel than Beijing. Like all Chinese cities, it is rife with KFCs and crass commercialism—until the main drag ends in a traditional arch guarded by carved lions. Beyond this lies Old Kaifeng. Crossing over is like going back centuries in time.
Asking locals through my interpreter where the old Jewish district could be found, I was directed to Zhuxian, a peasant village a 20-kilometer bus ride south of Kaifeng—which turned out to be inhabited almost entirely by Hui Muslims. Not a trace of Judaism was in evidence, but a beautiful mosque, probably dating to the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty—in classical Chinese style, but with Arabic calligraphy in the intricate wood-carvings and relief work.
I finally figured out that the city’s most precious Jewish artifacts are sequestered in the Kaifeng Municipal Museum—literally kept under lock and key in a secret room on the building’s top floor. With special permission from the museum management, I was allowed entry. No photos were permitted. When the lights were turned on, the dusty “Exhibition on the History & Culture of the Ancient Kaifeng Jews” was revealed.
The principal artifacts are three stelae which stood outside the synagogue, telling the history of the Kaifeng Jews—dating to 1489, 1512 and 1679. The interpretive material in English refers to the synagogue as a “mosque.” The caption for the 1489 stele, which was erected after the demolition of the original synagogue dating to the 12th century, reads: “Stele of Rebuilding the Mosque.” The badly worn writing is all in Chinese.
On a China tourism website, I had read that relics from the last synagogue—particularly blue tiles from its roof—were still guarded by the Muslims at Kaifeng’s Dongda Si, or Eastern Grand Mosque. So the following morning, I took a bicycle-taxi to the Dongda Si, another magnificent centuries-old mosque, which lies hidden amid a warren of alleys invisible to the eyes of Kaifeng’s few foreign tourists. My interpreter’s questions about the Jewish relics were met with incomprehension, but we were welcomed to look around the mosque and take photos. Amid the exquisite wood-carvings with both Arabic and Chinese calligraphic work were two cross-beams which were a special historical prize—carved with lines in an ancient and esoteric script, which I was unable to certainly identify, despite my queries. This was possibly Kufic, the archaic form of Arabic in which the early Korans were written. Or possibly it was the ancient Uighur script, which was loosely based on Kufic through the intermediaries of the Persians—speaking to the ancient roots of the Hui culture.
The New York Times article indicated that a couple of small tourism companies are offering trips to Kaifeng for those seeking the city’s Jewish heritage, and perhaps I would have seen more of what I was looking for if I had known about them—for instance, the site of the old synagogue on Teaching Torah Lane. But my blind probings led me to an unexpected look at Kaifeng’s unique syncretism and fortuitous confusion.
Please click here for Sarkis Pogossian’s photo essay from Kaifeng.
Struggling World War 4 Report researcher Sarkis Pogossian incurred great personal debt to travel to China for this story. If you appreciate his reportage, please make a donation, large or small.
Big Brother widens his watchful eye in China
Toronto Globe & Mail, Aug. 12, 2010
In Restive Chinese Area, Cameras Keep Watch
New York Times, Aug. 2, 2010
Beijing Tightens Up Control Over Monasteries & Mosques
Sri Lanka Guardian, Aug. 25, 2010
Faith Against Odds
The Hindu, Aug. 8, 2010
China’s Female Imams
Illume, Aug. 17, 2010
Female Imams Blaze Trail Amid China’s Muslims
National Public Radio, July 21, 2010
China’s Ancient Jewish Enclave
New York Times, April 4, 2010
China Tours page on Kaifeng Jews
China Corner page on Kaifeng Jews
Ctrip China Guide page on Kaifeng Jews
From our Daily Report:
China: arrests in Xinjiang terror attack
World War 4 Report, Aug. 30, 2010
“Ground Zero Mosque” opponent supports terrorists
World War 4 Report, Aug. 19, 2010
Prison for Tibetan ecologist
World War 4 Report, July 24, 2010
Israelis, Palestinians woo China; Kaifeng crypto-Jews caught in the middle?
World War 4 Report, Feb. 25, 2010
THE ANTI-IMPERIALIST CASE FOR TIBETAN FREEDOM
by Bill Weinberg, AlterNet
World War 4 Report, June 2008
MEMOIRS OF A TIBETAN MARXIST
Middle Ground Between Mao and the Dalai Lama?
by William Wharton, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, May 2008
SUFISM AND THE STRUGGLE WITHIN ISLAM
Paradoxical Legacies of the Militant Mystics
by Khaleb Khazari-El, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, July 2006
Special to World War 4 Report, September 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution
Private security firm Blackwater violated US arms trafficking regulations when training Colombian military personnel for service in Iraq in 2005, a State Department report shows.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos promised to return 6 million hectares of farmland stolen by right-wing paramilitary groups after the original owners were forcibly displaced.
Authorities in Colombia’s southern Nariño department found the bodies of Ramiro Inampues and his wife, Maria Lina Galindez, two Guachucal indigenous leaders who had been shot by unknown assassins.
Four people were detained for an attack on Chinese military police in the far western region of Xinjiang. Six police were killed and 15 injured in the first major terrorist attack in China since 2008.