In Other News
In an in-depth interview for the Dobbstown podcast, CounterVortex editor Bill Weinberg traces the downward trajectory of the anti-war movement to the point that it now doesn't protest when Trump (let alone Assad or Putin) bombs civilians, but does protest when Trump bombs warplanes that are used to bomb civilians. The poorly named "anti-war" left has morphed into its exact opposite: pro-war, pro-dictatorship, and even pro-genocide. Weinberg discusses his own political awakening in the Reagan cold war, and the American left's descent to its current political and ideological nadir. Weinberg urges support for the actual social struggles in places like Syria, Libya, Crimea, etc., rather than viewing them as pawns on the geopolitical chessboard, as our imperialist enemies do. He also touches on the deleterious effects of digital technology on the human mind, and our ability to think and analyze.
The group Syria Solidarity New York City will feature a screening of the VICE/HBO film Assad's Syria, a documentary depicting life under brutal dictatorship and war conditions. Followed by a discussion with Malek Rasamny, a journalist and film-maker with experience on the ground in Syria. We will examine the causes of the refugee crisis, and what we as part of the world community can do to help. April 27, 6:30 PM at Word Up Community Book Shop, 2113 Amsterdam Ave. (at 165 St.), Washington Heights, New York City.
The de-escalation in the crisis on the Korean peninsula reached a welcome turning point April 21, as the Pyongyang government announced that it will suspend nuclear and missile tests—and shut down the Punggye-ri test site in the northeastern province of North Hamgyong. An official statement quoted leader Kim Jong-un saying that North Korea has "verified the completion of nuclear weapons," and now "the Party and our nation will focus all its [sic] efforts towards socialist economic development." He concluded that "the northern nuclear test site has finished its mission." Official media said the statement came at a meeting of the central committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, convened to discuss policy issues related to a "new stage" in an "historic period." The two Koreas are set to hold a summit meeting next week at the border village of Panmunjom, while Kim is to meet in the coming weeks with US President Donald Trump at a yet-to-be-announced location.
Since the Douma chemical attack terrorized the rebel defenders of Eastern Ghouta enclave into accepting a "surrender deal" and evacuating to Idlib province, the Assad regime and its Russian allies have been preparing a final offensive on the last remaining areas of Syria still under rebel control. These of course include Idlib in the north, the last full governorate (province) held by the rebels. But an Associated Press report suggests the regime may first focus its firepower on Daraa governorate in the south, where the Free Syrian Army's Southern Front continues to hold territory. And while the rebel militias that hold Idlib are mostly conservative Islamists, the Southern Front is secular-nationalist in its leadership.
Local activists in Gaza announced April 29 that they have moved tents that were set up along the border with Israel as part of the "Great March of Return," relocating them 50 meters closer to the border fence. The committee in charge of the Great March said they had moved the "tents of return" closer to the border "as a message of persistence from our people to the world that we are moving forward towards our rightful goals." The tents were initially set up between 500-700 meters from the border line. The announcement came on the 20th day of protests since the Great March began in the besieged Gaza Strip, as hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees demanded their collective right of return to their homelands in present-day Israel. Since the massive popular demonstrations began, at least 36 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces. Among the dead were two minors and a journalist. (Ma'an)
Pressure from China, restrictive legislation and self-censorship among Taiwanese youth have emerged as threats to freedom of speech in Taiwan, according to Nylon Cheng Liberty Foundation director Cheng Tsing-hua. He made his comments on Taiwan's Free Speech Day, April 7, which commemorates the day in 1989 that his brother Cheng Nan-jung, a young democracy advocate under the gradually loosening one-party dictatorship of the Kuomintang, self-immolated as a protest against government restrictions on freedom of expression. The surviving Cheng noted that the recent Taiwanese film Missing Johnny was last month banned in China after the male lead, Lawrence Ko, was reported to be a supporter of Taiwanese independence. He also pointed to Taiwan's Assembly and Parade Act, a holdover from the KMT dictatorship, as restricting the right to hold public demonstrations. And he noted government orders banning the public from displaying the national (Republic of China) flag at various occasions— such as the 2008 visit of Chen Yunlin, then chairman of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits.
The United Arab Emirates announced April 16 that it is ending its military training program in Somalia, as the governments of Abu Dhabi and Mogadishu trade charges back and forth. Ostensibly the move comes in response to the seizure of millions of dollars from a UAE plane by Somali security forces last week. But tensions between the two governments have been on the rise over Emirati plans to build a military base in Somaliland, the self-declared republic that is effectively independent from Mogadishu. The UAE has trained hundreds of troops since 2014 for the weak and fractious Mogadishu government. But Mogadishu sees establishment of a foreign base at Somaliland's port of Berbera as a move toward recognition of the breakaway republic, calling it a "clear violation of international law."
In Episode Seven of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg rants against the sinister development of pro-war propaganda masked as "anti-war" propaganda. The overwhelming response of the "anti-war" left to the Douma chemical attack and Trump's retaliatory air-strikes is to baselessly deny that Bashar Assad was behind the attack, to portray the victims as CIA-jihadists, and to change the subject ("What about Gaza, Yemen, etc?") These are all propaganda tactics lifted directly from the Assad regime's playbook. While some now openly support Assad, other "anti-war" hypocrites protest that they do not support Assad, they just oppose US air-strikes. But when you echo the Assad regime's propaganda and rush to exculpate it of every atrocity, you objectively do support Assad. You are actively abetting his war of extermination and campaigns of ethnic cleansing against the Syrian people. Any legitimate anti-war position must begin with opposition to the genocidal regime of Bashar Assad and his foreign backers in Moscow and Tehran, and with solidarity for the Syrian Revolution. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Abdul-Al Duraqi, a poet and activist from the Ahwazi Arab minority in Iran, arrested during the most recent protests in the city of Ahwaz (Khuzestan province), has been hospitalized after torture sessions at the hands of his interrogators. Family members told the Ahwaz Human Rights Organization (AHRO) that Duraqi was transferred to Ahwaz's Sepidar hospital on April 7 due to deterioration in his physical condition after severe torture in the Ahwaz intelligence center. Duraqi is revered in his community for keeping alive an Ahwazi literary tradition in the Arabic language. Protests in Ahwaz were sparked in mid-March following the controversial exclusion of the Ahwazi Arab ethnicity in a children's program aired by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Corporation. The program included a boy placing dolls dressed in the traditional garb of different ethnicities in their designated regions on a map of Iran—but there was no doll representing the 8 million Ahwazi Arabs. Nearly 400 have been arrested in protests over the past month. AHRO charges that the detained are being denied their due process rights. (UNPO, April 12; UNPO, March 29; AHRO, April 9)
Indigenous and environmental activist Saw O Moo was reported killed in Burma's Karen State on April 5. The Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN) said Saw O Moo was killed in an ambush by Burmese army soldiers while returning home from a community meeting to help organize humanitarian aid for villagers displaced by renewed hostilities between the military and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). Saw O Moo was one of the most active local community leaders pushing for creation of the Salween Peace Park, a proposed 5,400-square-kilometer protected area to be overseen by indigenous peoples. “We will never forget his dedication in the ongoing struggle to build peace and protect ancestral lands,” KESAN said in a statement. Several attempts to retrieve the body have been unsuccessful, as soldiers are shooting at anyone who approaches the area. As a result, Saw O Moo’s family has not been able to perform their Indigenous funeral rites. The Salween Peace Park is intended to protect the montane rainforest region from mining interests. (Mongabay, Burma Link, April 9; The Irrawady, Jan. 13, 2017)
Just over a year after Trump's air-strikes on an Assad regime airbase in response to the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack, we've witnessed a repeat of this episode—although this time the air-strikes were on wider targets, and carried out in conjunction with British and French forces. In response to last week's chemical attack on Douma in Syria's besieged Eastern Ghouta enclave, missiles and warplanes from the USS Donald Cook in the eastern Mediterranean carried out the first Western strikes on targets around the Damascus area. The following targets are reported to have been hit: the Damascus Scientific Research Center, said to be linked to production of chemical and biological weapons; another purported chemical weapons lab in Barzeh; a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs; and headquarters of various elite military units. Iranian forces were apparently also targeted, with a base used by the Republican Guard struck. However, this military action looks like it will be no more sustained than that of last April. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called it a "single shot," and is believed to have put the brakes on the scope "to keep this from escalating." He told reporters after the initial sorties: "Right now we have no additional attacks planned." There are no reports of any deaths in the air-strikes, and the few known casualties are all military personnel. (American Military News, Middle East Eye, Reuters, NYT, CNBC, BBC News)
A UN report (PDF) published April 10 detailed the conditions of thousands of people being held in Libya, describing them as human rights violations. According to the report, released by the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR), about 6,500 people are being held in official prisons, but thousands more are being detained in facilities controlled by armed groups, with varying degrees of loyalty to official authorities. One facility, which holds about 2,000 people, is run by a militia nominally loyal to the internationally recognized Government of National Accord, at Mitiga airbase in Tripoli. It is said to subject detainees to torture and unlawful killings, while denying adequate medical care. Additionally, the report asserts that people are arbitrarily detained because of their tribal or family background. The report further contends that authorities use armed groups to arrest suspected opponents.
International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on April 8 called for an end to the violence along the border of the Gaza Strip and raised the possibility of ICC prosecutions against Israel and Hamas. In her statement, Bensouda cautioned both sides about the "deteriorating situation" that has engulfed the region:
A new report published by the US-based Project 2049 Institute says that it is "a matter of time" before the People’s Republic of China launches a "short, sharp war" to take the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea—claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands, but currently controlled by Japan. The report is entitled "White Warships and Little Blue Men" (PDF)—a reference to China's Coast Guard and Maritime Militia, both of which have seen a dramatic build-up in the past decade, along with the rapid modernization and expansion of the naval forces of the People's Liberation Army. We are not sure we share the assessment that the conflict will be "limited yet decisive," in the paraphrase of Epoch Times...
UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement April 9 saying he is "deeply concerned" about ongoing air-strikes on Douma in Syria's besieged Eastern Ghouta enclave, noting the "killing of civilians" and "destruction of civilian infrastructure," including hospitals and health facilities. The statement said he is "particularly alarmed by allegations that chemical weapons have been used against civilian populations in Douma." It also noted reports of civilians killed by shelling of Damascus from rebel positions in Douma. Guterres called on all sides to abide by Security Council Resolutions 2401, which last month demanded a 30-day halt to hostilitiess. He reiterated that there is no military solution to the conflict.