SYRIA: FROM REVOLUTION TO QUAGMIRE

If 2011 looked like the moment when people could unite, both within and across borders, to topple decades-old dictatorships with the demand for freedom and social justice, today looks like the moment of counter-revolutionary success. After eight years of increasingly brutal conflict in Syria, Bashar al-Assad still presides as president over a now destroyed, fragmented and traumatized country. The dominant narrative is that the war is nearing its end. States once vocally opposed to Assad now have other strategic concerns which take precedence over the victims of his savage efforts to hold onto power. Yet, on the ground, conditions are far from stable; civilians remain trapped and are paying the price for ongoing struggles for power and territory between the regime, foreign states and ideological warlords. Syrian writer and activist Leila Al Shami writes for the North American anarchist journal Fifth Estate.

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‘RUSSIAGATE,’ SYRIA AND THE LEFT

Why have there been so few large protests against the daily abuses from the Trump administration?  Where is the opposition?  Syria solidarity activists have watched disinformation contribute to uncertainty and division on the left.  Trusted “left” writers have created confusion by supporting the Assad regime and dismissing the extensive evidence of Russian interference in the US elections. Scholars of authoritarianism are warning us of the dangers of the Trump/Putin collusion—while the so-called “alternative” media increasingly functions as an “echo-system” of Russian propaganda. Terry Burke deconstructs this reality in a special for CounterVortex.

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CRITIQUE OF GEOPOLITICS AND THE LEFT

Jae Carico of The Fifth Column Network interviews CounterVortex editor Bill Weinberg on Eurasianism, Red-Brown politics, and how the consensus position of the contemporary American “left” is now pro-fascist. They also discuss the prospects for reviving the traditional anti-fascist stance of the left, through a ruthless critique of its existing leadership and active solidarity with the civil opposition in Syria.

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U.S. LEFT MUST NOT FORGET AFGHAN WOMEN

The US government’s announcement that it has opened negotiations with the Taliban to help bring the war in Afghanistan to an end should be a source of concern for women’s rights advocates everywhere. While it’s still not easy to be a woman in Afghanistan, women have made progress in the areas of education, employment and representation in government since the Talban were overthrown by the US-led invasion of 2003. Pro-war and anti-war voices in the US alike have instrumentalized the suffering of Afghan women to advance their political aims. In a special for CounterVortex, journalist Andy Heintz provides an overview of Afghanistan’s courageous women’s rights advocates, and calls for heeding their voices—which hold a spectrum of opinion on the US military presence in the country.

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ANTI-TERROR LAW COULD TARGET AID GROUPS

A new US anti-terror law that has forced the majority of American-funded aid operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to grind to a halt may have even wider humanitarian consequences, leaving nonprofits around the world more vulnerable to litigation. While the 700-word bill appears to have been targeted at the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, experts say the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act, or ATCA, is poorly crafted and could result in some non-governmental organisations and businesses being reluctant to take US funding or be associated with US-financed programs. Samuel Oakford explores for IRIN.

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WEATHER WAR

How Iran's Regime Uses Floods and Drought as Tools of Ethnic Cleansing

by Rahim Hamid, Dur Untash Studies Centre

In most countries prone to regular severe weather events such as heavy flooding, governments take precautionary measures in vulnerable regions to at least minimize the probable damage and protect citizens' lives and property. 

Unfortunately, however, some governments not only exploit such disasters but deliberately manufacture and intensify them as a strategic weapon against parts of the population that threaten the leaders' economic exploitation of their resources. These governments spare no effort to engineer or exacerbate the effects of such disasters, effectively weaponizing climate change against the people.

Iran's theocratic regime is one such government, pursuing policies that effectively amount to ethnocide against the Ahwazi Arab population. Ahwazis have the misfortune to live in an oil-rich region, from which Iran extracts 95% of the oil and gas resources that it lays claim to. This massive oil wealth, which was the primary reason for Iran's forcible annexation of Ahwaz in the early 20th century, has been a far greater curse than a blessing to the Ahwazi people, most of whom now subsist in nearly medieval conditions of poverty. The international community, meanwhile, seems indifferent to their plight

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TOGO PROTESTS CHALLENGE DICTATORSHIP

by Regina Asinde, Waging Nonviolence

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets of cities across the West African country of Togo on Dec. 8, as part of a recently revived wave of nationwide protests demanding political reforms. At the center of their demands is the reinstatement of the 1992 constitution, which included a two-term limit on the presidency before being stripped away by former president Eyadéma Gnassingbé, father of current president Faure Gnassingbé.

Mass protests first erupted in August 2017, forcing the government into internationally-moderated negotiations, which—in an attempt to resolve the decades-long political crisis—led to the reinstatement of the two-term limit. However, outrage was soon reignited when it was discovered that past presidential terms would not apply, thereby allowing Faure Gnassingbé—already in his third term—to run for president in 2020 as if it were his first time. Negotiations broke down soon after that, leading to the revival of protests in November.

"Nobody is willing to take that in Togo," said Togolese Civil League executive director Farida Nabourema. "After 51 years of the Gnassingbé, asking us to give them an additional 10 years, starting 2020, is basically asking us to commit suicide. It's something we cannot let happen, and it’s the reason we are back on the streets."

After first allowing protests in pre-approved zones, the government outright banned large demonstrations before the Dec. 8 mobilization. When upwards of 500,000 people turned out in Lomé, the capital city, the regime deployed heavy military force, wounding dozens of civilians and killing at least three—including an 11-year-old boy.

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IT’S NOT ABOUT ‘REGIME CHANGE’

A Brief Account of US Intervention in Syria

by Ani White, Fightback

Noam Chomsky's recent criticism of US withdrawal from Kurdish-held territory in Syria poses a strange contradiction: Why have so many on the left accused Syrian Arab rebels of being US proxies, while either supporting or remaining silent on the far more consistent US support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) against ISIS?

Given the widespread misinformation about Syria, a basic rundown of the facts about US involvement is necessary. What follows is a very brief outline of well-established facts about the war.

The dominant narrative on the left holds that US involvement in Syria is an attempt at "regime change." As highlighted by Michael Karadjis' Syrian Revolution Commentary and Analysis, this is in contradiction with the statements of US officials:

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CUBA SURRENDERS ‘GREEN SCARE’ FUGITIVE

Is Assata Shakur Safe?

by Bill Weinberg, Fifth Estate

Even amid worsening US-Cuba relations under Trump, it still seemed like a sign of changing times when Joseph Mahmoud Dibee, a fugitive animal-rights militant, was intercepted by Cuban authorities and turned over to the FBI in early August.

Popped by Cuban cops on an INTERPOL Red Notice, Dibee was flown to Portland, Ore., where he pleaded not guilty Aug 10 to taking part in a 1997 arson attack. The target had been a meatpacking plant in the Oregon desert, where wild horses were processed into dog food. This was but the first of several charges he faces before federal courts in Oregon, Washington and California.

The Cubans had apparently been tipped off by US authorities, who had learned that Dibee would pass through the island while traveling from Central America to Russia. He was apparently keeping mobile in a bid to avoid detection.

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BLASPHEMY LAWS AND HUMAN RIGHTS

Ireland's Vote to Remove Blasphemy from Constitution and the Asia Bibi Case

by Pearl Goldman, Jurist

In a referendum held on October 26, 2018, the people of Ireland voted to amend the Irish Constitution to remove the word blasphemy from Article 40.6.1, which declared that "[t]he publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law." This constitutional change enables the Oireachtas, Ireland's National Parliament, to change statutory law so that blasphemy is no longer a crime. It also represents the most recent advance in this predominantly Catholic country toward a more secular society. Same-sex marriage and abortion were legalized in two earlier referenda. And it might constitute an important step in undoing some of the unintentional international consequences of Ireland's criminalization of blasphemy.

Ireland's blasphemy ban was enshrined in the constitution in 1937, during an era when church and state were seen as a single entity and defaming the established religion was tantamount to treason. Corresponding definitions and penalties were enacted in the 2009 Defamation Act. In contrast to Article 40.6.1 of the constitution, which had protected only Christians from blasphemy, the 2009 Act was designed to protect all religions. The Act defined blasphemy as "publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defenses permitted." However, it was widely believed that the Act did no more than give lip service to the constitutional requirement that blasphemy be declared a crime because, on any fair reading, the statutory provision was unenforceable.

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THE GUATEMALA GENOCIDE CASE

Justice Delayed, Justice Denied?

by Aisling Walsh, openDemocracy

On September 26, at about 7 PM, in a courtroom filled to bursting point, the High Risk Court B declared, for the second time in five years, that genocide was committed in Guatemala.

Following more than two years of witness testimonies, forensic evidence and expert reports, the court declared that they had sufficient evidence to prove that the Guatemalan army committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the Mayan Ixil people between 1982 and 1983, one of the most violent eras of the 36-year internal armed conflict in Guatemala.

A dehumanized army
In their declaration, lasting up to two hours, the panel of three judges elaborated in detail the "abhorrent" acts that convinced them that the Guatemalan army was indeed responsible for committing genocide and crimes against humanity.

They could verify that there were at least 60 massacres carried out in the Ixil region of Quiche department, and that a total of 50 villages were affected by the Guatemalan army's counterinsurgency operations. This policy resulted in acts of extreme and dehumanized violence against a civilian population that had been singled out for their struggle to defend their rights. They were accused of being communists and guerrillas and collectively declared an "internal enemy" of the State.

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