Will an "October surprise" in the prelude to the mid-term elections in the US be the outbreak of world war—that is, direct superpower conflict? Things are escalating fast on the frontlines with both of the United States' major imperial rivals. The US Navy's Pacific Fleet has drawn up a classified proposal to carry out a "global show of force" as a warning to China. The draft proposal reportedly calls for the Pacific Fleet to conduct a series of exercises in the coming weeks, involving warships, combat aircraft and troops, to demonstrate that the US can "counter potential adversaries" quickly on several fronts. (CNN) The plans come after a near-skirmish between a US warship and a Chinese destroyer in the disputed South China Sea on Oct. 2. The two vessles came within yards of each other, compelling the US ship to abruptly switch direction. US officials called the Chinese vessel's behavior "unsafe and unprofessional." while Beijing is accusing the US of violating its sovereignty. (WaPo)
For the first time, after six years of war and escalating atrocities, a member of the Syrian regime's military has been convicted of a war crime. The perpetrator, identified as Mohammad Abdullah, was a low-level soldier who is now in Sweden as a refugee. He was convicted by a Swedish court Oct. 2 of violating human dignity by posing with his boot on a corpse and sentenced to eight months in prison. Abdullah, 32, arrived three years ago in Sweden, where other Syrian refugees recognized him through his Facebook posts and connected him to a photograph he had posted earlier, in which he stands with his boot on the corpse of a man in civilian clothing surrounded by other corpses. As the New York Times notes in its coverage, this is the first conviction of an Assad regime solider in any country, six years after the Syrian revolution was sparked by an incident in which school-children were tortured after painting anti-regime slogans on a wall.
A Moscow district court rejected a lawsuit Sept. 18 filed by a relative of Raoul Wallenberg, seeking to access uncensored documents concerning Wallenberg's death in Soviet captivity. Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat who is said to have rescued thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II. Soviet forces detained Wallenberg in 1945, supposedly for espionage, and placed him in Moscow's Lubyanka Prison (then part of the headquarters complex of NKVD, later the KGB). The USSR released a document in 1954 saying Wallenberg died in Lubyanka of heart failure in 1947. The actual cause of Wallenberg's death is still a matter of speculation. Wallenberg's niece, Marie Dupuy, filed the lawsuit against the KGB successor organization, the Federal Security Service (FSB), requesting documents that would shed light on the circumstances surrounding his death.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on May 11 signed the Fairbanks Declaration, affirming the neeed for protection of the Arctic's climate. The move, at the 10th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting held in the Alaska city, came after much speculation that the US would decline to sign, or even use the occasion to announce its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The Fairbanks Declaration notes the importance of the Paris Agreement, while stating that "the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the global average." The US getting on board was apparently the fruit of behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure. "I think we were able to push the US back as much as possible," Rene Solderman, Finland's senior adviser on Arctic affairs, told reporters after the ministerial session.
Four are dead, including the attacker, and 20 injured after an SUV mowed down pedestrians on London's Westminster Bridge, just outside the Houses of Parliament. Prime Minister Theresa May called it a "sick and depraved" terrorist attack, although nobody has claimed responsibility and the motive remains unknown. The bloody incident does come on the one-year anniversary of Brussels airport attack. So now we will once again be treated to endless debate about whether the perp was a "terrorist" or just an angry lone nut—a question which is pathologically politicized, and denies the possibility of the hybrid phenomenon: that is, an angry lone nut inspired by jihadism. And, of course, the critical factor of car culture will be overlooked in mainstream discourse.
Under the banner of "Jewish Resistance," hundreds of protesters rallied outside of Manhattan's Grand Hyatt hotel on 42nd St. Nov. 20, where the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) annual gala was being held—with a featured speaker announced as Steve Bannon, the "alt-right" mouthpiece just appointed top counselor to president-elect Donald Trump. CBS News reports that Bannon did not show at the event, for unexplained reasons. But protesters were plenty outraged that he was invited. Solidarity between Jews and Muslims was a central theme of the angry rally, with the most common chant being:
A Swedish court sentenced Syrian refugee Mouhannad Droub to five years in prison Feb. 26 after convicting him of abusing a captured member of President Bashar Assad's forces. Droub was part of a group under the Free Syrian Army, where he and other members beat a prisoner and posted a video of the abuse on Facebook. Droub received asylum in Sweden in 2013. He was indicted in the Södertörn District Court earlier this month. It is the first time that charges in connection with the Syrian conflict have been brought to a Swedish court.
An arsonist set fire to a mosque in the Swedish town of Eskilstuna Dec. 25, injuring five people. Some 20 worshippers were attending midday prayers when the fire broke out. Police said the blaze began when assailants hurled an incendiary device through a window of the mosque, on the ground floor of a residential building. The attack comes amid a fierce debate in Sweden over immigration policy. The far right wants to cut the number of asylum-seekers allowed into Sweden by 90%. On Dec. 3, the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats brought down the minority governing coalition after it had been in power for just 10 weeks, refusing to support its proposed budget and forcing a special election. The new election is scheduled for March. (BBC News, Al Jazeera, Dec. 15; EurActiv, Dec. 18; Daily Mail, Dec. 3)