Sunday, August 31, 2014

To suggest the fight against terrorism has naught to do with Islam displays a madness beyond comprehension and a weakness the Islamic terrorist giggles at


Abu Hamza al-Masri, an imam at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, was convicted on 11 counts of terrorism and taking 16 hostages in Yemen in 1998. He left three Britons and an Australian dead.

He was also found guilty of advocating violent jihad in Afghanistan and conspiring to establish a jihad training camp in Oregon, U.S. He lost his hands and an eye experimenting with explosives.

He is just one of a procession of Islamic clerics Abbott wants to join his “Team Australia”. Is it naivete or stupidity that would drive a man to ask for Islamic inclusiveness in the fight against terrorism? It would have made more sense to ask Hitler to help with the holocaust.

To suggest the fight against terrorism has naught to do with Islam displays a madness beyond comprehension and a weakness the Islamic terrorist giggles at. Until Abbott accepts that the Islamic State, and every other terrorist organisation hell-bent on destroying the West, is borne of Islam, and only Islam, then Australia can look forward to suffering the atrocities this vile cult is determined to wreak on us.

Mowing weeds only makes them stronger. To prevent them overtaking your garden they need to be rooted out. And the root of Islamic terrorism lies deep in our protected mushrooming mosques housing the imams, mullahs and clerics who remain free to preach our destruction and further radicalise Islam’s youth.

Islamic inclusiveness has no role to play in this war.

Every evil organisation on earth has its most vociferous proponent at its head. Every religious cult has its most dedicated firebrand preacher at the vanguard. From the Flat Earth Society to the KKK, and every cult in between, the leaders are invariably the most dedicated nutters exhorting to less dedicated prospective nutters.

The worst of hundreds of all of the firebrand Islamic radicals in Australia was the Grand Mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, but our wise Labor Party decided to placate him rather than deport him. Islam’s Grand Mufti is entrusted with interpreting Sharia law yet our leaders are asking the serpent to excise its own tail.

Tony Abbott and ASIO’s David Irvine court the leaders of Islam begging their co-operation to deter radical Islam. WTF? The leaders ARE the radicals you galahs, are you seriously looking to reform them? 

Every organisation, including Christianity, is duty bound to enlist new members to gain strength with obligatory enticements. Christianity has its heaven, Islam its 72 virgins and both have their hell fires. I haven’t figured out yet what those female suicide bombers get 72 of.

If Abbott wants to combat radical Islam he should look at the internal structure of his own church.

Should he seriously have asked his bishops and priests to help quell the excesses of Christianity? Was it the priests and bishops themselves who opted to combat paedophilia? No, they were brought kicking and screaming before Royal Commissions by the rank and file. It was the foot soldiers who led the charge, the generals were quite happy to continue with their vile practices into the next millennium.

The worst of Islam can be found in the alcoves of protected mosques where groups of youths, instructed by mullahs, can be found each Friday planning the demise of their hosts.

Did these youths decide all by themselves to riot on our streets brandishing “Behead all non-believers” placards? Of course not! Youths aren’t born bad, their elders made them bad. And until our leaders understand the root cause of radical Islam, and deal with it from the top down, we are bound to fall prey to it.

It’s little wonder Abbott’s olive branch was pissed on. 
Pickering Post

Reap what you sow with Ebola virus


Reap what you sow with Ebola virus

The Ebola virus spreads while governments sleep on the job.

Believe it or not, there is some good news about the current outbreak of the Ebola virus. In spite of its fearsome reputation, many infected patients are recovering.

You'd expect that the two American missionaries who were flown home from Africa for special treatment would be among them. And they were.

If the top US experts couldn't save well-funded patients who'd been diagnosed early, nobody would be safe.

The two contracted the virus while working to save Ebola patients in West Africa in the biggest outbreak of the disease since it was first detected in 1976.

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The Americans were evacuated to the US in a special biosecure unit in a private jet to Emory University Hospital.

There's no known vaccine or cure for Ebola. But the two were given a drug still in its experimental phase, ZMapp, described as a cocktail of antibodies, as a desperate measure.

"Today is a miraculous day," declared Kent Brantly, a 33-year-old doctor from Texas when he was pronounced cured.

So was it a triumph for the experimental drug? "The honest answer is we have no idea," said the medical director of the infectious disease unit at the hospital, Bruce Ribner.

The drug itself seems not to be a miracle. ZMapp was also given to a Spanish priest with the disease. He too was evacuated, and treated in Europe. Yet he died.

The more remarkable side of the story is that ordinary Africans in ordinary African clinics are also surviving. Patients who have not been given any experimental drugs, just basic medical care.

Not all are surviving. But, so far in this outbreak, 47 per cent of people infected with Ebola have recovered, according to the World Health Organisation.

And this is a higher survival rate than in most previous outbreaks. This is the 25th time the virus has occurred since it was first discovered in a pair of simultaneous instances in Africa, one near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the other in a remote district of Sudan. It's not known but is suspected of originating in fruit bats.

Of the previous 24 outbreaks, four affected just one person. Excluding these isolated cases, the average survival rate in past Ebola eruptions was 37 per cent, and has been as low as just 10 per cent.

That is, the death rate has been as high as 90 per cent. For other notorious diseases such as typhoid or smallpox the fatality rate is 1 per cent or less.

The past ferocity of Ebola accounts for its dread reputation in Africa. And Hollywood has done the rest of the fearmongering for Ebola.

So when, for example, Victoria Yillah was pronounced cured of Ebola two months ago in Sierra Leone, it was considered miraculous. As the pregnant woman in her 30s was being interviewed on radio about her recovery, locals gathered around loudspeakers in the capital and hailed her as "miracle woman of the year."

And when Saa Sabas, an agronomist in Guinea, recovered, his village refused to believe. His clinic tested him three times to be sure, issued him a certificate of discharge, and sent staff to assure his local community that he was recovered and not infectious: "Despite this," Sabas told CNN, "I was stigmatised."

The sheer fear of the disease is one of the biggest problems in beating it. The WHO said this month that this outbreak had been "vastly" underestimated.

The WHO on August 22 set out several ways that fear has concealed the true scope of the epidemic. Because of fear of stigma, African families often hide their sick rather than take them for treatment.

And even when they seek help, they may find that frightened staff have fled: "Many treatment centres and general clinics have closed."

"An additional problem is the existence of numerous 'shadow-zones,'" said the WHO. "These are villages with rumours of cases and deaths, with a strong suspicion of Ebola as the cause, that cannot be investigated because of community resistance or lack of adequate staff and vehicles."

After fear, the biggest contributor to the spread of the disease has been complacency. From media reporting you'd have the impression that this eruption began a couple of months ago. But it actually started last December and its known reach has been accelerating.

An estimated 2615 people in West Africa have been infected, of whom 1427 have died.

Then, on the weekend, the first cases were confirmed outside West Africa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But this strain of the disease seems to be a different one, according to the country's health minister, Felix Numby.

So far neither strain is known to have left Africa. But globalisation is a two-way flow of risks and rewards. Terrorists can catch planes. So can people carrying Ebola.

In Australia, authorities say risk of Ebola arriving is very low. Frontline staff at airports have been told to question all people arriving from West Africa and to look for symptoms, which include fever, vomiting and diarrhoea. There is no thermal or other automatic scanning to detect the ill.   

The Australian government last week added $1 million to its funding of the WHO to help manage Ebola. The Economist magazine makes a strong case for more active management of the disease, comparing it to HIV-AIDS:

"Both were new diseases that came out of African jungles. Both took hold in countries without decent health infrastructure. Had AIDS been spotted in 1959" when it was first found but not yet comprehended, it argues, 39 million lives might have been saved.

"The story of AIDS argues for tackling such potential plagues early." Fear is counterproductive. Vigilance is priceless.

Peter Hartcher is the Sydney Morning Herald international editor.Illustration by John Shakespeare.

 

Aussie Government wants East Timor spy charged


The Australian government has asked the federal police to investigate if lawyer Bernard Collaery and a former spy can be charged with disclosing classified information after revelations Australia spied on East Timor during sensitive oil and gas treaty talks.

Confirmation of the investigation came as the AFP asked the ABC to hand over material relating to its reports on the clandestine operation.

According to sources, the AFP was particularly keen on getting unedited footage of Mr Collaery's interviews with 7.30, Lateline and Four Corners.

It might also want an extract of an affidavit from the former Australian Secret Intelligence Service agent that reporter Conor Duffy claimed to have obtained.

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In the interviews with the ABC and other media organisations, Mr Collaery – who had acted for East Timor and the former  ASIS agent – detailed how the former spy led the operation to insert listening devices into the wall cavity of East Timor's government offices under the cover of an aid project.

Attorney-General George Brandis and solicitor-general Justin Gleeson both said the former spy and Mr Collaery appeared to have breached laws preventing the public disclosure of classified information.

The offence carried a prison term of up to two years.

When asked if it was investigating Mr Collaery and the former spy for breaching commonwealth laws, a spokesman for the AFP said: "The AFP can confirm it has received a referral in relation to this matter. As this investigation is ongoing, it is inappropriate to comment further."

The referral was understood to have come from Senator Brandis or his department, which includes ASIO.

In emailed comments, Mr Collaery said he understood ASIO referred the matter to the AFP because of a suspected breach of section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act.

He noted that current ASIO boss David Irvine was head of ASIS at the time of the spying, which Mr Collaery said was illegal.

"This is the police knowingly or unknowingly trying to base a search warrant on an illegality. 

"The AFP should be investigating [former foreign minister Alexander] Downer and Irvine."

The ABC was considering its response but was understood to be prepared to reject the request, despite intimations from the AFP that it would seek a warrant for the material if it failed to comply.

While it was happy to provide footage that went to air (it was available online anyway), it regarded the unedited footage as including off-the-record information that might reveal the identity of protected sources.

The AFP investigation was the latest twist in the extraordinary spying saga that ruptured relations between East Timor and Australia and drew the condemnation of the International Court of Justice.

ASIO agents raided the home of the former ASIS officer and the office of Mr Collaery in December, seizing documents and electronic data then cancelling the former spy's passport.

Mr Collaery was acting for East Timor in international arbitration to nullify a treaty between Australia and the tiny nation governing oil and gas reserves worth more than $40 billion in the Timor Sea. The former ASIS agent was East Timor's star witness in the arbitration.

East Timor argued the spying meant the treaty was not negotiated in good faith, as required under the Vienna Convention.

East Timor slammed the raids as "unconscionable conduct" and the International Court of Justice condemned the behaviour and gave an unprecedented interim order for Australia to cease any intelligence monitoring of East Timor and seal the material it seized in the raids.

East Timor was especially outraged that ASIO seized much of the legal material it was using in the arbitration against Australia. Moreover, the raids occurred just before the planned trip of the former spy to the Hague to appear before the arbitration tribunal.

But the government maintained the raids were justified, arguing they were launched to protect national security, not to hamper East Timor's legal case.

Ever since the raids, Mr Collaery had remained in Europe working on the arbitration case. 

India opens door to superbugs


In 2011, the World Health Organisation warned: "Combat Drug Resistance - No Action Today, No Cure Tomorrow." The slogan was coined in honor of World Health Day, urging governments to ensure responsible use of antibiotics in order to prevent drug-resistant viruses and bacteria, or ‘super bugs'.

The warning is even more salient in 2014, particularly in India, a country of 1.2 billion people that recently earned the dubious distinction of being the worst country in terms of antibiotic overuse in the world.

With the average Indian taking some 11 antibiotic pills a year, the country consumed about 12.9 billion units in 2010, up from eight billion units in 2001.


An analysis of national pharmaceutical sales data published in ‘The Lancet Infectious Diseases' last month found that Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa accounted for 76% of the increase in antibiotic use around the world.

Western countries are now waking up to the alarming impact of over-consumption of antibiotics, which results in drug resistance. In Europe alone, drug-resistant strains of bacteria are responsible for 25,000 deaths a year.

In July, British Prime Minister David Cameron warned that the world could be "cast back into the dark ages of medicine" due to deadly bacteria eventually developing resistance to drugs through mutation, and as a result of "market failure" to develop new classes of antibiotics over the last 25 years.

In developing countries like India, changing lifestyles are contributing to the casual and careless use of drugs.

Ramanan Laxminarayan, research scholar and lecturer at Princeton University, told IPS the reason behind the proliferation of antibiotics in this country is "a combination of increasing income and affordability, easy access without a prescription, willingness of physicians to prescribe antibiotics freely, and a high background of infections that should ideally be contained by better sanitation and vaccination."

People forget, he said, that "antibiotics do have side effects and […] they are less likely to work for you when you really need them."

According to the Lancet's report, the largest absolute increases in consumption between 2000 and 2010 were observed for cephalosporins, broad-spectrum penicillins and fluoroquinolones.

The authors cautioned, "Many broad-spectrum antibiotic drugs (cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones, and carbapenems) are sold over the counter without [the] presence of a documented clinical need."

Moreover, added Kolkata-based physician Surajit Ghosh of the Indian Public Health Association, some patients choose to refill their own prescriptions without consulting a proper physician, in a bid to reduce the burden of doctor's fees.

For a country like India with limited healthcare facilities and a doctor-patient ratio of one doctor to every 1,700 people, as well as 29% of the population languishing below the poverty line, the emergence of super bugs could be disastrous, experts say.

"With our high background rate of infections, we rely on antibiotics more than developed countries do," stated Laxminarayan.

"Therefore, the impact of super bugs is likely to be much greater for many in our country who cannot afford the newer, more powerful antibiotics. Think of it as the price of fuel or kerosene going up. The rich will manage wherever they are, but the poor will be hit hard."

He predicts that the most common diseases to be affected by antibiotic overuse will likely be "hospital infections, particularly those causing sepsis, pneumonia and urinary tract infection."

Wary of this possible development, many are shifting to alternative medicines, via the Indian Systems of Medicine and Homoeopathy (ISM&H), which includes Ayurveda, siddha, unani, homoeopathy and therapies such as yoga and naturopathy.

Currently, there are over 680,000 registered ISM&H practitioners in the country, most of who work in the private sector.

Swati Biswas [1] tells IPS, "My husband was ailing for sometime and an operation was advised. But he contracted an infection in the nursing home and his operation was postponed.

"He never recovered after coming home and expired after two months. I spent thousands of rupees on medication for him to no avail. Now I go to a doctor of homeopathy for my problems. I've had enough of Western doctors and hospitals," she added.

Meanwhile, a network known as the Indian Initiative for Management of Antibiotic Resistance (IIMAR) has been formed to promote awareness on this issue.

Asked about the need for such an organization, Ashok J Tamhankar, IIMAR's national coordinator, told IPS, "In a scientific meeting in Bangalore in 2008 many of the participants realized that antibiotic resistance is increasing in India. This is happening because there's no awareness about it among the stakeholders.

"The ignorance and callousness are at every level of the society – from care providers like doctors, to pharmacists, lawmakers, manufacturers and [even] the consumers. So a platform was created to spread awareness through a blog."

The initial group had only a handful of people, but now, he claims, it has more than 1,000 active members and many more passive ones from different walks of life.

"Only passing laws is not a solution," Tamhankar stated.

"It's the people who have to solve their problems with the help of the law. This is particularly important in the case of antibiotics. It's a delicate, personal, ethical, medical issue. We can't live without antibiotics. What is needed is prudent use," he added.

People also hint at an unholy alliance between pharmaceutical companies and doctors that results in over-prescription of antibiotics for ailments that could easily be treated without them.

Back in 2012, IIMAR reported that the Medical Council of India (MCI) had received 702 complaints of such over-prescription in 2011-12, of which 343 were referred to state medical councils.

"In 2010-11, MCI received 824 such complaints, following which it cancelled the registration of 10 doctors and warned four others," IIMAR reported.

"Chemist and [drug] associations are not interested in curbing their volume of business and the [pharmaceutical] industry is also silent for the sake of their profit," says Ghosh.

According to the consulting firm Deloitte, pharmaceutical sales in India stood at 22.6 billion dollars in 2012, with a predicted rise to 23.6 billion in 2013. Sales are expected to touch 27 billion by 2016.

Ghosh feels there should be "antibiotic protocols for all hospital, clinics and dispensaries and this should be displayed in each healthcare-providing agency [and] institution. There should be statutory warnings on each pack of antibiotics, highlighting the hazards of misuse."

"Time has come to raise [our] voices against the irrational use of antibiotics," he concluded.

Note:
1. Not her real name.
(Inter Press Service) By Ranjita Biswas KOLKATA, India

Saturday, August 30, 2014

YOU GOT RID OF THE CARBON TAX Australia... so now get rid of the Halal Tax


YOU GOT RID OF THE CARBON TAX Australia... so now get rid of the Halal Tax

Toasted cheese with a dollop of Vegemite was my favourite late night snack, but I leave off the Vegemite now that it’s owned by the American company Mondelez International and sports a little “Halal Certified” notice. No worries, my Aussie owned and made Bega cheese still bubbled under the griller while the jug boiled for a strong cup of tea. 
That was until I noticed this funny little Arabic hieroglyph on the back of my Bega cheese packet too. Bloody hell, first my Vegemite and now my Bega cheese! No worries, I'm happy with plain toast.
I wasn't game to go through the whole fridge or I'd have starved.
Trying to find Aussie tucker on the shelves is hard enough but trying to find tucker that is not Islamically sanctioned is near impossible, and it’s meant to be. 
An insidious and illegal protection racket called “Halal Certification” has worked its way through our food chains without us knowing a thing about it.
Australian manufacturers and importers of food and drink are actually paying Islamic halal certifiers up to $30,000 per month for the honour of displaying this little Arabic sign.
So, who are these Islamic bastards who are adding to my grocery bill? Well, the "Indonesian Council of Ulama", MUI, (which also orders Fatwa rulings) is the Mafia style Islamic body organising the multi-million dollar racket that forces Australian companies to pay outrageous amounts to have their food certified as halal.
One major Aussie meat processor, who refused to be identified, claimed he had been told to pay $27,000 a month for halal certification, which of course was expected to be passed on to the consumer.
Mr Stephen Kelly, an executive of the Japanese-owned Nippon Meat Packers in Queensland, said last year that MUI had banned his abattoirs from selling meat into Indonesia because he had dealt with MUI’s opposition for certification. 
MUI’s opposition is the Australian certifier, "Halal Food Services" (AHFS), who had undercut MUI’s price for certification and the Indonesian company apparently calls the tune when it comes to blackmailing Australian food companies.
From what I can discover there are halal certifiers in all countries with South East Asia being regulated from Indonesia and the governing body’s world headquarters are encamped in Saudi Arabia. There are State branch halal authorities operating in Australia 
Islamic websites claim all money (estimated in the billions) goes to building Islamic schools but where it actually goes after leaving Australia I shudder to guess.
The funny thing is a couple of years ago Aussie shoppers woke up to the scam and began avoiding halal certified food, so all these little Arabic motifs started disappearing. 
Thinking this might lead to some sort of Fatwa I called a few food manufacturers. None was prepared to speak to me, except Arnott’s, who said they were attempting to resist some "standover tactics". 
One distributor, who asked not to be named, was prepared to offer an opinion: “They really don’t care if the halal sign is there or not, they only insist it’s on the exported product and as long as the supplier pays the monthly fee everything’s sweet. If they refuse to pay, then their exports are at risk.”
Local clerics arrange for Muslims to flood Aussie food processors with intimidating letters and phone calls threatening that unless they pay fees to become halal certified, some, “pretty bad stuff will happen”.
When contacted last year over the scam, the Federal Department of Agriculture said it had, “no power over religious certifiers”. But another spokesman said, and get this one:
"The Australian Government values our close relationship with MUI and will continue to work together with them to overcome issues that affect the mutually beneficial trade in red meat to Indonesia."
I have asked the Dept of Agriculture if they have an update on their response to halal certification, but am yet to receive a reply. I have also left phone messages with Barnaby Joyce but it seems halal certification is an uncomfortable subject.
An Islamic Council response? 
"Hope this will clear the misconception of Halal issue for all intent and purpose.
"The Halal Food Authority promotes animal welfare, adherence to food safety, food hygiene and quality in compliance with the teachings of the Islamic jurisprudence and faith." Blah blah blah, as soon as got to the animal welfare bit I knew it was a load of Islamic camel droppings. 
So it’s up to you Tony, no new legislation needed, no Senate shit, just an appreciation of what is already thoroughly illegal and what is hurting Australian shoppers. Of course it may also hurt relations with our lovely Islamic friends.
Or is that the real problem?
Pickering Post

 

 

An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth -The Israel Story


An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth -The Israel Story


Is there anything left to say about Israel and Gaza? Newspapers this summer have been full of little else. Television viewers see heaps of rubble and plumes of smoke in their sleep. A representative article from a recent issue of The New Yorker described the summer’s events by dedicating one sentence each to the horrors in Nigeria and Ukraine, four sentences to the crazed g√©nocidaires of ISIS, and the rest of the article—30 sentences—to Israel and Gaza.

When the hysteria abates, I believe the events in Gaza will not be remembered by the world as particularly important. People were killed, most of them Palestinians, including many unarmed innocents. I wish I could say the tragedy of their deaths, or the deaths of Israel’s soldiers, will change something, that they mark a turning point. But they don’t. This round was not the first in the Arab wars with Israel and will not be the last. The Israeli campaign was little different in its execution from any other waged by a Western army against a similar enemy in recent years, except for the more immediate nature of the threat to a country’s own population, and the greater exertions, however futile, to avoid civilian deaths.

The lasting importance of this summer’s war, I believe, doesn’t lie in the war itself. It lies instead in the way the war has been described and responded to abroad, and the way this has laid bare the resurgence of an old, twisted pattern of thought and its migration from the margins to the mainstream of Western discourse—namely, a hostile obsession with Jews. The key to understanding this resurgence is not to be found among jihadi webmasters, basement conspiracy theorists, or radical activists. It is instead to be found first among the educated and respectable people who populate the international news industry; decent people, many of them, and some of them my former colleagues.

While global mania about Israeli actions has come to be taken for granted, it is actually the result of decisions made by individual human beings in positions of responsibility—in this case, journalists and editors. The world is not responding to events in this country, but rather to the description of these events by news organizations. The key to understanding the strange nature of the response is thus to be found in the practice of journalism, and specifically in a severe malfunction that is occurring in that profession—my profession—here in Israel.

In this essay I will try to provide a few tools to make sense of the news from Israel. I acquired these tools as an insider: Between 2006 and the end of 2011 I was a reporter and editor in the Jerusalem bureau of the Associated Press, one of the world’s two biggest news providers. I have lived in Israel since 1995 and have been reporting on it since 1997.

This essay is not an exhaustive survey of the sins of the international media, a conservative polemic, or a defense of Israeli policies. (I am a believer in the importance of the “mainstream” media, a liberal, and a critic of many of my country’s policies.) It necessarily involves some generalizations. I will first outline the central tropes of the international media’s Israel story—a story on which there is surprisingly little variation among mainstream outlets, and one which is, as the word “story” suggests, a narrative construct that is largely fiction. I will then note the broader historical context of the way Israel has come to be discussed and explain why I believe it to be a matter of concern not only for people preoccupied with Jewish affairs. I will try to keep it brief.

How Important Is the Israel Story?

Staffing is the best measure of the importance of a story to a particular news organization. When I was a correspondent at the AP, the agency had more than 40 staffers covering Israel and the Palestinian territories. That was significantly more news staff than the AP had in China, Russia, or India, or in all of the 50 countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined. It was higher than the total number of news-gathering employees in all the countries where the uprisings of the “Arab Spring” eventually erupted.

To offer a sense of scale: Before the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, the permanent AP presence in that country consisted of a single regime-approved stringer. The AP’s editors believed, that is, that Syria’s importance was less than one-40th that of Israel. I don’t mean to pick on the AP—the agency is wholly average, which makes it useful as an example. The big players in the news business practice groupthink, and these staffing arrangements were reflected across the herd. Staffing levels in Israel have decreased somewhat since the Arab uprisings began, but remain high. And when Israel flares up, as it did this summer, reporters are often moved from deadlier conflicts. Israel still trumps nearly everything else.

The volume of press coverage that results, even when little is going on, gives this conflict a prominence compared to which its actual human toll is absurdly small. In all of 2013, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict claimed 42 lives—that is, roughly the monthly homicide rate in the city of Chicago. Jerusalem, internationally renowned as a city of conflict, had slightly fewer violent deaths per capita last year than Portland, Ore., one of America’s safer cities. In contrast, in three years the Syrian conflict has claimed an estimated 190,000 lives, or about 70,000 more than the number of people who have ever died in the Arab-Israeli conflict since it began a century ago.

News organizations have nonetheless decided that this conflict is more important than, for example, the more than 1,600 women murdered in Pakistan last year (271 after being raped and 193 of them burned alive), the ongoing erasure of Tibet by the Chinese Communist Party, the carnage in Congo (more than 5 million dead as of 2012) or the Central African Republic, and the drug wars in Mexico (death toll between 2006 and 2012: 60,000), let alone conflicts no one has ever heard of in obscure corners of India or Thailand. They believe Israel to be the most important story on earth, or very close.

What Is Important About the Israel Story, and What Is Not

A reporter working in the international press corps here understands quickly that what is important in the Israel-Palestinian story is Israel. If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government. Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate. The West has decided that Palestinians should want a state alongside Israel, so that opinion is attributed to them as fact, though anyone who has spent time with actual Palestinians understands that things are (understandably, in my opinion) more complicated. Who they are and what they want is not important: The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters.

Corruption, for example, is a pressing concern for many Palestinians under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, but when I and another reporter once suggested an article on the subject, we were informed by the bureau chief that Palestinian corruption was “not the story.” (Israeli corruption was, and we covered it at length.)

Israeli actions are analyzed and criticized, and every flaw in Israeli society is aggressively reported. In one seven-week period, from Nov. 8 to Dec. 16, 2011, I decided to count the stories coming out of our bureau on the various moral failings of Israeli society—proposed legislation meant to suppress the media, the rising influence of Orthodox Jews, unauthorized settlement outposts, gender segregation, and so forth. I counted 27 separate articles, an average of a story every two days. In a very conservative estimate, this seven-week tally was higher than the total number of significantly critical stories about Palestinian government and society, including the totalitarian Islamists of Hamas, that our bureau had published in the preceding three years.

The Hamas charter, for example, calls not just for Israel’s destruction but for the murder of Jews and blames Jews for engineering the French and Russian revolutions and both world wars; the charter was never mentioned in print when I was at the AP, though Hamas won a Palestinian national election and had become one of the region’s most important players. To draw the link with this summer’s events: An observer might think Hamas’ decision in recent years to construct a military infrastructure beneath Gaza’s civilian infrastructure would be deemed newsworthy, if only because of what it meant about the way the next conflict would be fought and the cost to innocent people. But that is not the case. The Hamas emplacements were not important in themselves, and were therefore ignored. What was important was the Israeli decision to attack them.

There has been much discussion recently of Hamas attempts to intimidate reporters. Any veteran of the press corps here knows the intimidation is real, and I saw it in action myself as an editor on the AP news desk. During the 2008-2009 Gaza fighting I personally erased a key detail—that Hamas fighters were dressed as civilians and being counted as civilians in the death toll—because of a threat to our reporter in Gaza. (The policy was then, and remains, not to inform readers that the story is censored unless the censorship is Israeli. Earlier this month, the AP’s Jerusalem news editor reported and submitted a story on Hamas intimidation; the story was shunted into deep freeze by his superiors and has not been published.)

But if critics imagine that journalists are clamoring to cover Hamas and are stymied by thugs and threats, it is generally not so. There are many low-risk ways to report Hamas actions, if the will is there: under bylines from Israel, under no byline, by citing Israeli sources. Reporters are resourceful when they want to be.

The fact is that Hamas intimidation is largely beside the point because the actions of Palestinians are beside the point: Most reporters in Gaza believe their job is to document violence directed by Israel at Palestinian civilians. That is the essence of the Israel story. In addition, reporters are under deadline and often at risk, and many don’t speak the language and have only the most tenuous grip on what is going on. They are dependent on Palestinian colleagues and fixers who either fear Hamas, support Hamas, or both. Reporters don’t need Hamas enforcers to shoo them away from facts that muddy the simple story they have been sent to tell.

It is not coincidence that the few journalists who have documented Hamas fighters and rocket launches in civilian areas this summer were generally not, as you might expect, from the large news organizations with big and permanent Gaza operations. They were mostly scrappy, peripheral, and newly arrived players—a Finn, an Indian crew, a few others. These poor souls didn’t get the memo.

What Else Isn’t Important?

The fact that Israelis quite recently elected moderate governments that sought reconciliation with the Palestinians, and which were undermined by the Palestinians, is considered unimportant and rarely mentioned. These lacunae are often not oversights but a matter of policy. In early 2009, for example, two colleagues of mine obtained information that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had made a significant peace offer to the Palestinian Authority several months earlier, and that the Palestinians had deemed it insufficient. This had not been reported yet and it was—or should have been—one of the biggest stories of the year. The reporters obtained confirmation from both sides and one even saw a map, but the top editors at the bureau decided that they would not publish the story.

Some staffers were furious, but it didn’t help. Our narrative was that the Palestinians were moderate and the Israelis recalcitrant and increasingly extreme. Reporting the Olmert offer—like delving too deeply into the subject of Hamas—would make that narrative look like nonsense. And so we were instructed to ignore it, and did, for more than a year and a half.

This decision taught me a lesson that should be clear to consumers of the Israel story: Many of the people deciding what you will read and see from here view their role not as explanatory but as political. Coverage is a weapon to be placed at the disposal of the side they like.

How Is the Israel Story Framed?

The Israel story is framed in the same terms that have been in use since the early 1990s—the quest for a “two-state solution.” It is accepted that the conflict is “Israeli-Palestinian,” meaning that it is a conflict taking place on land that Israel controls—0.2 percent of the Arab world—in which Jews are a majority and Arabs a minority. The conflict is more accurately described as “Israel-Arab,” or “Jewish-Arab”—that is, a conflict between the 6 million Jews of Israel and 300 million Arabs in surrounding countries. (Perhaps “Israel-Muslim” would be more accurate, to take into account the enmity of non-Arab states like Iran and Turkey, and, more broadly, 1 billion Muslims worldwide.) This is the conflict that has been playing out in different forms for a century, before Israel existed, before Israel captured the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, and before the term “Palestinian” was in use.

The “Israeli-Palestinian” framing allows the Jews, a tiny minority in the Middle East, to be depicted as the stronger party. It also includes the implicit assumption that if the Palestinian problem is somehow solved the conflict will be over, though no informed person today believes this to be true. This definition also allows the Israeli settlement project, which I believe is a serious moral and strategic error on Israel’s part, to be described not as what it is—one more destructive symptom of the conflict—but rather as its cause.

A knowledgeable observer of the Middle East cannot avoid the impression that the region is a volcano and that the lava is radical Islam, an ideology whose various incarnations are now shaping this part of the world. Israel is a tiny village on the slopes of the volcano. Hamas is the local representative of radical Islam and is openly dedicated to the eradication of the Jewish minority enclave in Israel, just as Hezbollah is the dominant representative of radical Islam in Lebanon, the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and so forth.

Hamas is not, as it freely admits, party to the effort to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. It has different goals about which it is quite open and that are similar to those of the groups listed above. Since the mid 1990s, more than any other player, Hamas has destroyed the Israeli left, swayed moderate Israelis against territorial withdrawals, and buried the chances of a two-state compromise. That’s one accurate way to frame the story.

An observer might also legitimately frame the story through the lens of minorities in the Middle East, all of which are under intense pressure from Islam: When minorities are helpless, their fate is that of the Yazidis or Christians of northern Iraq, as we have just seen, and when they are armed and organized they can fight back and survive, as in the case of the Jews and (we must hope) the Kurds.

There are, in other words, many different ways to see what is happening here. Jerusalem is less than a day’s drive from Aleppo or Baghdad, and it should be clear to everyone that peace is pretty elusive in the Middle East even in places where Jews are absent. But reporters generally cannot see the Israel story in relation to anything else. Instead of describing Israel as one of the villages abutting the volcano, they describe Israel as the volcano.

The Israel story is framed to seem as if it has nothing to do with events nearby because the “Israel” of international journalism does not exist in the same geo-political universe as Iraq, Syria, or Egypt. The Israel story is not a story about current events. It is about something else.

The Old Blank Screen

For centuries, stateless Jews played the role of a lightning rod for ill will among the majority population. They were a symbol of things that were wrong. Did you want to make the point that greed was bad? Jews were greedy. Cowardice? Jews were cowardly. Were you a Communist? Jews were capitalists. Were you a capitalist? In that case, Jews were Communists. Moral failure was the essential trait of the Jew. It was their role in Christian tradition—the only reason European society knew or cared about them in the first place.

Like many Jews who grew up late in the 20th century in friendly Western cities, I dismissed such ideas as the feverish memories of my grandparents. One thing I have learned—and I’m not alone this summer—is that I was foolish to have done so. Today, people in the West tend to believe the ills of the age are racism, colonialism, and militarism. The world’s only Jewish country has done less harm than most countries on earth, and more good—and yet when people went looking for a country that would symbolize the sins of our new post-colonial, post-militaristic, post-ethnic dream-world, the country they chose was this one.

When the people responsible for explaining the world to the world, journalists, cover the Jews’ war as more worthy of attention than any other, when they portray the Jews of Israel as the party obviously in the wrong, when they omit all possible justifications for the Jews’ actions and obscure the true face of their enemies, what they are saying to their readers—whether they intend to or not—is that Jews are the worst people on earth. The Jews are a symbol of the evils that civilized people are taught from an early age to abhor. International press coverage has become a morality play starring a familiar villain.

Some readers might remember that Britain participated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the fallout from which has now killed more than three times the number of people ever killed in the Israel-Arab conflict; yet in Britain, protesters furiously condemn Jewish militarism. White people in London and Paris whose parents not long ago had themselves fanned by dark people in the sitting rooms of Rangoon or Algiers condemn Jewish “colonialism.” Americans who live in places called “Manhattan” or “Seattle” condemn Jews for displacing the native people of Palestine. Russian reporters condemn Israel’s brutal military tactics. Belgian reporters condemn Israel’s treatment of Africans. When Israel opened a transportation service for Palestinian workers in the occupied West Bank a few years ago, American news consumers could read about Israel “segregating buses.” And there are a lot of people in Europe, and not just in Germany, who enjoy hearing the Jews accused of genocide.

You don’t need to be a history professor, or a psychiatrist, to understand what’s going on. Having rehabilitated themselves against considerable odds in a minute corner of the earth, the descendants of powerless people who were pushed out of Europe and the Islamic Middle East have become what their grandparents were—the pool into which the world spits. The Jews of Israel are the screen onto which it has become socially acceptable to project the things you hate about yourself and your own country. The tool through which this psychological projection is executed is the international press.

Who Cares If the World Gets the Israel Story Wrong?

Because a gap has opened here between the way things are and the way they are described, opinions are wrong and policies are wrong, and observers are regularly blindsided by events. Such things have happened before. In the years leading to the breakdown of Soviet Communism in 1991, as the Russia expert Leon Aron wrote in a 2011 essay for Foreign Policy, “virtually no Western expert, scholar, official, or politician foresaw the impending collapse of the Soviet Union.” The empire had been rotting for years and the signs were there, but the people who were supposed to be seeing and reporting them failed and when the superpower imploded everyone was surprised.

Whatever the outcome in this region in the next decade, it will have as much to do with Israel as World War II had to do with Spain

And there was the Spanish civil war: “Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which do not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. … I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what had happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines.’ ” That was George Orwell, writing in 1942.

Orwell did not step off an airplane in Catalonia, stand next to a Republican cannon, and have himself filmed while confidently repeating what everyone else was saying or describing what any fool could see: weaponry, rubble, bodies. He looked beyond the ideological fantasies of his peers and knew that what was important was not necessarily visible. Spain, he understood, was not really about Spain at all—it was about a clash of totalitarian systems, German and Russian. He knew he was witnessing a threat to European civilization, and he wrote that, and he was right.

Understanding what happened in Gaza this summer means understanding Hezbollah in Lebanon, the rise of the Sunni jihadis in Syria and Iraq, and the long tentacles of Iran. It requires figuring out why countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia now see themselves as closer to Israel than to Hamas. Above all, it requires us to understand what is clear to nearly everyone in the Middle East: The ascendant force in our part of the world is not democracy or modernity. It is rather an empowered strain of Islam that assumes different and sometimes conflicting forms, and that is willing to employ extreme violence in a quest to unite the region under its control and confront the West. Those who grasp this fact will be able to look around and connect the dots.

Israel is not an idea, a symbol of good or evil, or a litmus test for liberal opinion at dinner parties. It is a small country in a scary part of the world that is getting scarier. It should be reported as critically as any other place, and understood in context and in proportion. Israel is not one of the most important stories in the world, or even in the Middle East; whatever the outcome in this region in the next decade, it will have as much to do with Israel as World War II had to do with Spain. Israel is a speck on the map—a sideshow that happens to carry an unusual emotional charge.

Many in the West clearly prefer the old comfort of parsing the moral failings of Jews, and the familiar feeling of superiority this brings them, to confronting an unhappy and confusing reality. They may convince themselves that all of this is the Jews’ problem, and indeed the Jews’ fault. But journalists engage in these fantasies at the cost of their credibility and that of their profession. And, as Orwell would tell us, the world entertains fantasies at its peril.

***

Matti Friedman's work as a reporter has taken him to Lebanon, Morocco, Egypt, Moscow, and Washington, DC, and to conflicts in Israel and the Caucasus. His first book, The Aleppo Codex, won the 2014 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, and his second, about Israeli infantrymen holding an isolated outpost in Lebanon, will be published next year. He lives in Jerusalem.

 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sunday, Beijing will ensure its Nomination Committee shafts democrats


China is the global champion of fakery in consumer products. Now the idea of democracy can be added to its list of creative fakes as Beijing continues to evade its Basic Law promise to the Hong Kong people for direct elections of the legislature and Chief Executive by 2017, 20 years after the handover from Britain.

The National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing is to rule by Sunday on how candidates for the 2017 chief executive’s seat are to be selected and elected. Few in Hong Kong believe its ruling, predetermined by the party inner sanctum, will be anything other than a further distortion of the democratic process. 

If the core principle in a democracy is the free expression of the will of the people, then the expected nomination body of pro-Beijing business groups, functional constituencies and hand-picked collaborators will fail that test. It is designed to disqualify popular candidates who do not subscribe to the one-party dictatorship and police state. 

In short, it will select another leader beholden to Beijing, who will not have a popular mandate to represent Hong Kong. Zimbabwe and North Korea also allow “universal suffrage” for their disenfranchised citizens.

Political intimidation

Beijing's assault on democratic rights goes beyond elections, of course. In another step to politicizing the Independent Commission Against Corruption, ICAC officers this week raided the home of Jimmy Lai, publisher of Apple Daily and Next Magazine. Officers also called on Lai's aide Mark Simon and labor leader and democratic legislator Lee Cheuk-yan to take away files and documents. 

The investigation seeks to establish a link between a donation Lai made and Lee's s speech in January on freedom of the press where he cited political pressure on two banks to withdraw their advertising without mentioning Lai by name. The ICAC was responding to complaints from pro-Beijing forces alleging bribery of legislators by Lai.

This follows the orchestrated military-grade cyber attack in June on computers and servers of Lai's Next Media group and the online referendum organized by the Occupy Central movement. The timing of the ICAC raid is a warning to the Occupy Central leaders of heavy-handed police action and dire legal consequences. Beijing apparently believes that the kind of police-state intimidation that cows people on the mainland should also work in Hong Kong.

Apple Daily and Next Magazine have been uncompromising critics of the Beijing administration and its collaborators in the HK government. The Occupy Central movement also received donations from Lai. Occupy Central has committed to squat in the financial district if Beijing fails to declare a free and transparent election process for the 2017 election. 

Occupy Central is expected to move into position peacefully this Sunday when the NPC verdict on the 2017 CE election is handed down. 

The ICAC investigation into Lai could yield grounds for Occupy Central leaders to be legally framed too. We are probably seeing a concerted effort to "prove" foreign agents and funding are working to undermine the government – which will then lead to renewed calls for urgent passing of the shelved Article 23 Security Bill. After that, Hong Kong citizens can expect rapid erosion of human rights and personal freedoms they take for granted.

New filter of patriotism

In searching for some basis to disqualify popular candidates, the central government has raised the peculiar filter of “patriotism,” which is nowhere defined in the Basic Law. First it was a vague “Love Hong Kong, Love China” slogan. Hong Kong people had no problem with that. That has quickly mutated to “Love the Communist Party and its socialist dictatorship.” 

The majority of Hong Kong people are offspring of parents and grandparents who fled the terror of Mao’s pogroms of 1949 against landlords, traders and intellectuals. Subsequent waves fled the famines caused by the Great Leap Forward of the 1950s and the chaotic class-cleansing horrors of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Memories remain strong.

They have no appetite for communist ideology, patriotic education, one-party dictatorship or the police state. So where does that leave the relationship of the CCP to its Special Administrative Region? The new leadership of Xi Jinping is ratcheting up the tough-cop approach to domestic and international disputes from Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong to the unilateral claim on 90 percent of the South China Sea.  

The “peaceful rise” of China and the politics of compromise are binned for an assertive new China that can say no. It has the economic muscle to fund nuclear strike capability, float a blue-water navy and buy its way through Asia, Africa and South America – much as the USA has done since WWII. 

Xi is busy consolidating his power internally via targeted anti-corruption campaigns and stirring jingoism against Japan. Hong Kong is too small a problem in the scale of his ambitions to lose sleep over. It will be smacked down smartly.

Nominating Committee

The Basic Law refers to a Nominating Committee to be set up for the purpose of the 2017 election that would follow “democratic principles to be broadly representative.” However Beijing has since decided that the discredited “small circle” rubber-stamp Election Committee that yielded the last three chief executives be re-badged for the purpose. 

There was hope in Hong Kong that the five-month public consultation process would lead to a Nominating Committee that represents the electorate. Those hopes have evaporated.

All the chief executives produced by the Election Committee since 1997 have failed to gain the respect or trust of the people they are supposed to represent. The current one, Leung Chun-ying, is the least popular but the first one to be hailed as a "comrade" by the Guangdong CCP website (before that was hastily removed) following his selection. Leung has strenuously denied that he is a Communist Party member. 

Handed-over or liberated?

Hong Kong society did not clamor for a return to the mainland. The CCP represents everything they abhor. Hong Kong was betrayed by Margaret Thatcher in 1984 for British national interests without its people having a say. Hong Kong was “handed-over.” There was poignant sadness and sullen gloom at the handover ceremony of July 1, 1997. The CCP propaganda is that the compatriots of Hong Kong were “liberated from 150 years of shame.”

Now the CCP is facing a groundswell of resistance to fake democracy being foisted on a society well aware of its rights and the promises of the Basic Law. Hong Kong society is ever practical – it accepts the Basic Law as a social contract so long as Beijing honors its side of the asymmetric power relationship. 

Hong Kong is in turmoil because of bad faith, betrayal of the Basic Law and systematic infiltration of the political process, civil service, police, academe and public bodies by cadres and collaborators serving the diktats of the China Liaison Office (CLO) whose director now wields more power in Hong Kong than the CE. There is a collapse of trust between Hong Kong and Beijing.

Why the distrust?

Hong Kong prospered when the British colonial administration accepted mainland refugees. They gained shelter, rule of law, efficient public services and the freedom to earn a living without political harassment. That released the energy of the immigrants to create new lives and a vibrant economy. 

Even though Hong Kongers had no choice in who governed them, they enjoyed First World freedoms of the press, expression, assembly, travel, trade and wealth creation. They were secure in the knowledge of an enabling administration that was fair, stable and mature without a recurrent habit of ideological blood-letting.

The liberal British administration tolerated the underground communist network of schools, trade unions, "patriotic" triads and communist newspapers -- all run from across the border by the Guangdong branch of the CCP. This virus in Hong Kong society was below ground until 1997 but now it runs rampant across the full spectrum of political, academic and media life in the territory, amply funded by the CCP and its corporate proxies. Asia Sentinel