Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

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It’s the blockade, stupid

June 1, 2010

For all the outcry around the Israeli flotilla attacks, perhaps one of the most important things to come out of it is that the world is finally paying much-needed attention to the longstanding Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Ultimately, the international uproar coming out of this situation is not the product of one isolated incidence of violence but of a series of actions that have taken place for years in Gaza and have, until now, been largely ignored by most of the world and certainly by the United States. Israel has imposed an embargo allowing only food and humanitarian aid into Gaza – nothing else. Which means that they can’t build any homes, schools, hospitals or other infrastructure in Gaza because no supplies can get in.

This, in turn, has kept Gaza in a terrible state of poverty for years. And this situation has been going on for far too long with much of the world ignoring it – so maybe now, as a result of the Monday attacks, international attention is finally being turned to Gaza.

As Foreign Policy magazine writer Marc Lynch tweeted today: the focus of coming days should be on Gaza itself, not just the boat.

UPDATE: This extremely interesting graphic from The Economist shows just what is and isn’t blocked from getting into Gaza.

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Roundup of top posts on Israel, Palestine, and the Flotilla incident

June 1, 2010

I don’t have anything particularly new to say about the Flotilla incident. I think the killing of innocent civilians is absolutely terrible and despicable and there should be a full investigation into what happened and why. My inbox is blowing up with emails about protests all over the country.

Furthermore, one point I want to make is that a lot of people are saying: “This time Israel has gone too far.” Well, Israel has been “going too far” for a long time in how it treats Gazans — this isn’t the first time. But I’m glad at least it seems like the mainstream media and citizens are taking note this time and are equally disapproving of the events that have taken place.

If you’re looking for additional coverage on the issue, here’s a roundup of excellent posts and analysis from some of the smartest bloggers on the topic, in my opinion:

An epic post from Glenn Greenwald (it’s long but I highly recommend reading the whole thing):

It hardly seemed possible for Israel — after its brutal devastation of Gaza and its ongoing blockade — to engage in more heinous and repugnant crimes.  But by attacking a flotilla in international waters carrying humanitarian aid, and slaughtering at least 10 people, Israel has managed to do exactly that.  If Israel’s goal were to provoke as much disgust and contempt for it as possible, it’s hard to imagine how it could be doing a better job.

Andrew Sullivan:

It looks to me as if the Israeli government has again replied to a gnat with a bazooka. The disproportionate use of force, the loss of life, the horrifying impact of the blockade of Gaza in the first place: it makes Israel look like a callous, deranged bully, incapable of accepting any narrative that it cannot control and responding instinctively with disproportionate violence.

The suicide continues … and US aid to Israel, especially military aid, should be suspended until the Israeli government starts acting like something other than a rogue state.

Marc Lynch, one of the smartest Middle East bloggers there is:

I’m not going to try to keep up with the breaking events, as world governments and publics scramble to figure out how to react.  Instead, I’ll just say that the bottom line for Washington is that the U.S. can not ignore this or try to hope that it will pass quickly so that it can resume business as usual.  It is rapidly spiraling into one of the most intensely galvanizing issues in the Arab media — and around the world — since the Israeli war on Gaza itself.   If Obama goes ahead and meets with Netanyahu as if nothing happened, then his administration’s outreach to the Muslim communities of the world is effectively over.

Stephen Walt, also in Foreign Policy:

My second question is: “Will the Obama administration show some backbone on this issue, and go beyond the usual mealy-mouthed statements that U.S. presidents usually make when Israel acts foolishly and dangerously?” President Obama likes to talk a lot about our wonderful American values, and his shiny new National Security Strategy says “we must always seek to uphold these values not just when it is easy, but when it is hard.”  The same document also talks about a “rule-based international order,” and says “America’s commitment to the rule of law is fundamental to our efforts to build an international order that is capable of confronting the emerging challenges of the 21st century.”

Well if that is true, here is an excellent opportunity for Obama to prove that he means what he says. Attacking a humanitarian aid mission certainly isn’t consistent with American values — even when that aid mission is engaged in the provocative act of challenging a blockade — and doing so in international waters is a direct violation of international law. Of course, it would be politically difficult for the administration to take a principled stand with midterm elections looming, but our values and commitment to the rule of law aren’t worth much if a president will sacrifice them just to win votes.

Over the next few days, keep an eye on how politicians and pundits line up on this issue. Which of them thinks that Israel “crossed a line” and deserves criticism — and maybe even sanction — and which of them thinks that what it did was entirely appropriate? Ironically, it is the former who are Israel’s friends, because they are trying to save that country before it is too late. It is the latter whose misguided zeal is leading Israel down the road to further international isolation — and maybe even worse.

Arabist:

Yesterday’s murders were an unwarranted attack on civilians by elite units of one of the most fearsome and best-equipped army in the world. It’s not a “blunder” or poorly planned attack — the decision to raid the boat is itself illegal, immoral and is what needs condemning.

And, my good friend and rising blogosphere star Alex Lobov:

Before I talk about the diplomatic aftermath I would like to first of all throw in my opinion on this, though it’s probably self-evident and those of you that follow this blog will already know it. Israel deserves nothing but condemnation in the strongest possible terms for what it has done here. There was absolutely no good reason for it. At this stage, I do not believe that the activists on the boats were really armed. I believe that they may have tried to defend the ship from being boarded, but consider that it was in international waters at the time, I don’t see what’s illegitimate about that. Boarding a ship in international waters may well constitute an act of piracy thus making self-defense perfectly reasonable.

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Can Twitter Help Raise Awareness for Gaza?

December 27, 2009

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the 22-day Israeli military raid on Gaza. Gaza, one of the two Palestinian territories currently under Israeli occupation.

I know Gaza is not a topic of polite cocktail party or happy hour conversation for most people. Most people probably aren’t quite aware of where Gaza is (here is a map for that), especially since it’s a tiny territory that’s only about 139 square miles on the coast of the Mediterranean.

So it is probably not widely known that one year ago, Israeli military forces killed 1,400 Palestinians, of which over 900 were civilians and over 300 were children. And considerable damage was done to Gazan roads, houses, and infrastructure — most of which has still not been repaired.

The UN Secretary General has acknowledged that Gaza is currently suffering from a dire human rights crisis. Since the attacks last year, the UN says, Gazans have been denied basic human rights and have been denied the resources to rebuild their infrastructure.

The mainstream media has hardly reported on the ongoing crisis there.  They’re focused on other stories — whatever sells the most papers or the most advertising, I guess.

So human rights activists around the world are using unconventional channels to air their concerns about the lasting human rights crisis in Gaza — they’re mounting a Twitter campaign to raise awareness. Buoyed by the success of the Iran election activists, who tweeted their observations about the controversial Iranian election and subsequent protests using the hashtag #iranelection, and capured the world’s attention — now Palestinian activists are hoping to start a movement of their own using Twitter as their primary tool of communication.

Their hashtag is #gaza, and today, December 27, from 3 pm – 7 pm GMT, they are encouraging everyone they know to tweet using the hashtag #gaza in the hopes of making Gaza the #1 trending topic on Twitter — which is no easy feat, given the millions of people using Twitter everyday.

The topic was already trending even before the campaign was scheduled to start at 3 pm GMT. It hasn’t hit #1 yet, but has been in the trending topics all day Sunday as Twitter users from all over the world share their thoughts, hopes, and fears for Gaza. The hope, of course, is to generate attention from the mainstream media and the larger public similar to the way the Iranian election protesters did.

The power of a trending topic, however, may seem silly to some but should not be underestimated.  Getting a campaign’s hashtag in the trending topics on Twitter makes the tag visible to everyone visiting Twitter.com — bringing the topic into the public consciousness and into the forefront of discussion. Twitter users who aren’t already aware of the issue will, hopefully, click on the trending topic to learn more about it — and maybe even choose to join in.

(images: Jillian York and Global Voices Online)

Will it work? We’ll know this week. My hope is that bloggers will start to pick up the story first as they notice that #Gaza has been sitting in the trending topics on Twitter all day, and then mainstream media should take a cue from political bloggers and start to report on it as well.

You can view all the #gaza tweets here.

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Thoughts on the Afghanistan speech: we can’t afford more war.

December 2, 2009

Last night, President Obama delivered his much-awaited speech announcing his strategy for the war in Afghanistan moving forward. I covered it, and my reaction to it, over at Care2 so if you have a sec I hope you will check it out — as well as the already very lively debate in the comments section.

In short: I think we shouldn’t be escalating. Our total troop level in Afghanistan will be at 100,000 and although the timeframe for withdrawal is tentatively set at 2011, there’s no guaranteeing that we’ll stick to that timeline. In the meantime, we’re continuing to lose dollars and human lives — two things we can’t afford to lose anymore of.

Feel free to check out my whole post here.

Also, for additional coverage I’d recommend reading other perspectives on the speech from some great writers:

The Washington Independent

David Corn at Mother Jones

And one of the smartest foreign policy bloggers around, Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy mag

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New AOL Lemondrop post: Women & the Iran Protests

July 15, 2009

The following is an excerpt of my latest post with AOL’s Lemondrop.com. To read the full post, click on the link at the end of this post.

Contrary to the news media’s coverage, the protests in Iran contesting the reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn’t end when Michael Jackson died — though they are fading. One of the most intriguing facets of the protests is who’s at the forefront: women.

In a country not well known for women’s rights, this is quite remarkable. You might have heard about the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a young Iranian woman shot in the streets of Tehran. Though it’s worth noting that Neda’s family said she wasn’t political, she has become the female face of the protest.

Women have been vocally supporting the candidacy of Mir Hussein Mousavi, the chief opponent to incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was declared the winner the morning after the June 12 election. While the Guardian Council — which oversees elections — did a partial recount after Mousavi filed an appeal, the original results were upheld. For the last four weeks, women have marched alongside other protesters through the streets of Iran, even as officials try to stop them, tear-gas them or beat them.

Click here to keep reading.

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Is America shifting on Israel, or is the media shifting on Israel?

June 16, 2009

One of the things I love almost as much as the news is the narrative being told about the events. It’s difficult for any given person to separate the facts and the actual events taking place from the media narrative being told about it. The Iran story that I’ve been watching lately is a perfect example. No one is really 100% sure what the facts are or what even constitutes fact. MSNBC will spin it one way. Fox and/or Mitt Romney will blame Obama. Bloggers will each try to put their own spin on it. And gradually, the narrative being constructed by the media may or may not reflect the actual facts.

Since Iran has been the Middle East story of the week, and America seems to be able to focus on only one Middle Eastern country at a time, the other big Middle East story of the week hasn’t been getting quite as much attention other than from foreign policy geeks. That story, of course, is the Israel-Palestine peace process.

A few weeks ago President Obama met with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. In early June, Obama delivered a speech to the Middle East from Cairo. This past Sunday, Netanyahu addressed his people on the topic of the peace process.

After these three historic events, a new narrative has emerged: America’s relationship with Israel is changing. Over the past couple of weeks have seen a plethora of articles and blog posts from both seasoned journalists and amateur bloggers alike, all suggesting the same ideas: the power of the legendary Israel lobby is weakening. President Obama is pressuring Netanyahu. Obama is the next Jimmy Carter [because Carter was the last US president who put real pressure on Israel to make peace]. Americans are gradually shifting from unconditionally supporting Israel to supporting a two-state solution. America’s relationship with Israel is changing dramatically. It’s a new chapter in the two countries’ relationship.

The question to me is: has American public opinion on support for Israel really changed? Or is this a shift in the media narrative but not actually a shift in America’s opinions and policy? Is the course of American foreign policy really shifting, or is this talk from speculative cable news pundits?

Is it REALLY a new era in America’s approach to Israel and Palestine? Or am I hoping for too much here?

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The New, New Journalism: Andrew Sullivan on Iran

June 15, 2009

There’s a lot of noise circulating right now about how the mainstream media networks like CNN and Fox have failed in providing adequate coverage and on-the-ground reporting on the events taking place in Iran. But there hasn’t been much talk about who HAS been providing stellar coverage of the situation.

Over the last couple of days I’ve been glued to Andrew Sullivan’s blog over at The Atlantic. Andrew’s blog is already high-quality content on a daily basis, but over the weekend he began blogging up a storm in real time as the events unfolded in Iran. Unlike big mainstream media outlets, whose reporting has been hindered by elaborate quality regulations, a lack of foreign bureaus to provide them direct on-the-ground footage, and a strong dislike for all forms of new media, Andrew’s blog has been going nonstop, hindered by none of those things. He is updating multiple times a day, sometimes multiple times an hour, every time he has any new piece of information.

He is gradually weaving together a complex narrative of the events taking place half a world away by piecing together a collection of eye-witness accounts, Iranian tweets, cell-phone videos uploaded on Youtube, reader emails from the US and from far away, riveting photos, and links to a multitude of blogs both big and small.

Old media types might shudder at the idea of linking to an unknown blog, but new media journalists like Sullivan aren’t concerned about how big the readership of your blog is or whether you’re just a student writing your observations on Twitter. It’s not about your press credentials; it’s about free flow of information. In this new media landscape, if you’ve got information, it’s worth sharing — no matter who you are.

CNN and other MSM outlets are running a few articles about what’s going on, but they can’t compete with this – real-time accounts through a variety of different mediums, collected together in one place being updated by the minute.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, you need to. Sullivan’s blog is becoming the only source worth reading for accurate, detailed coverage of the events in Iran.

This is what journalism should be.

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A revolution in Iran, where Twitter plays a part

June 14, 2009

I don’t have anything new to say about the situation in Iran this weekend. Really, no one in the US knows anything more than anyone else does. There’s no official confirmation yet on whether the election was rigged, but anyone with half a brain can see that there is clearly foul play going on.

I think what is interesting and unique in this case is that a rigged election could have happened in a developing country 30 years ago and the people would have had to put up with it. But this time, they can’t and they won’t be silenced. The lengths to which the Iranian regime has gone to silence them — shutting down  internet connections, ordering reporters out of the country, attacking protesters — are tremendous, but the protests continue on anyways, growing in strength by the hour. And despite the fact that MSM outlets like the BBC are being kicked out or having their cameras and film taken away, and CNN is barely reporting, worldwide coverage of the situation is growing thanks to Twitter and the blogosphere.

The streets in Tehran, at least from the stream of tweets, blog posts, and cellphone videos coming out of the country, are filled with protesters who managed to organize despite the fact that many of their resources have been taken away. And it all started with one Tweet from a Moussavi supporter:

mousavi

Did their organizing via Twitter work? You decide.

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Weekly Standard still trying to convince us Obama is Arab

June 3, 2009

President Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia this morning (click here for a really breathtaking picture of his arrival). He met with King Abdullah. And then, in what would normally be appreciated by most as a gesture of cultural understanding, respect, and open-mindedness, Obama said: “Shukran.” That is the Arabic word for thank you. It’s like the first word we learned in Arabic 101 (and yes, full disclosure, I studied Arabic for years).

But that doesn’t stop the Michael Goldfarb over at conservative mag the Weekly Standard from whipping out the fear-mongering:

It seems there is some legitimate confusion on just what languages Obama speaks, and as far as Arabic, the only real hint has came from Nick Kristof, who heard Obama recite the Muslim call to prayer in Arabic and with a “first-rate accent” back in 2007. With even the White House now smearing Obama as a Muslim, one wonders if the president hasn’t been concealing some greater fluency with the language of the Koran.

Really? The President says one word in Arabic, and Goldfarb is trying to insinuate that the President is a secret Arabic speaker, and possibly even a Muslim when he tucks in that Koran reference at the end of the post. Oh no, what did we get ourselves into! We elected a secret Arabic speaker!

The problem with the Weekly Standard here is twofold. First and foremost, there’s the obvious issue that being able to say “thank you” in a foreign language does not by any stretch of the imagination mean the person in question can speak that language. Especially when the language is Arabic, a language so difficult to learn that one can spend years studying and still not be proficient in conversation. It’s a ridiculous correlation to make. And Nick Kristof is hardly a judge of whether Obama has a “first-rate” Arabic accent. NO one who is a native English speaker develops a first-rate Arabic accent just like that. It’s more difficult than you might imagine.

Second is the problem that Goldfarb, like many conservatives, is once again using the Muslim Smear. Once again, they’re implying that speaking Arabic or being Arab or being a Muslim are negative, un-American, un-welcome traits in America. Once again, they’re trying to instill fear in the hearts of Americans who still are wary of Muslims in the post-9/11 era.

Doesn’t it ever get old?

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The mainstream media ignored Delara Darabi. New media didn’t.

May 2, 2009

Early Friday morning in Tehran, 23-year-old Delara Darabi was executed in the Rasht prison in Iran for a crime that happened when she was 17. Human rights groups had been protesting and trying to save her from execution for months, since it is a violation of international law to execute anyone for a crime that occurred when they were a minor. Despite the protests, Iranian authorities executed her on Friday with no notice.

What is perhaps the saddest part of her story, however, is that the mainstream, traditional news media did not report the story at all. A Google News search on Delara Darabi revealed, as of late last night, a total of ZERO mainstream US news stories. The only stories about Delara as of last night were from Iranian and international sources, blogs, and human rights groups.

Today, the mainstream media started to pick up on it, with stories from the Los Angeles Times, BBC, United Press International, New York Times, and a few others. Still, at the time of writing this post there are only 206 news stories about Delara Darabi’s unjust execution. By comparison, there are currently 762 news stories about Matthew McConaughey, and 7,078 news stories about Arlen Specter.

So, how, you might ask, did word of the story first break? Who reported it first? The answer is: Darabi’s execution was first reported on Twitter. And then the first media outlet to pick up the story was none other than the epitome of new media, BreakingTweets.com, a news site which reports stories from around the world using Twitter for breaking news. BreakingTweets isn’t run by seasoned news pros, either — its founder and head is Craig Kanalley, a twentysomething journalism grad student trying to revolutionize the way we get our news, through the use of new media.

Breaking Tweets was paying attention to the Delara Darabi story, and they reported it more than a full 24 hours before the mainstream media.

Delara Darabi’s story should be seen as a case study of some of the challenges with our media system as it stands today:

Ethnocentrism still reigns supreme: stories with an “American” angle – like the imprisonment of American journalist Roxana Saberi in Iran – are more important than similar stories, like Delara Darabi’s, without the American angle. With Roxana Saberi, international media attention has been fierce — and because of that, so has international pressure on Iranian authorities. Had Delara Darabi had that kind of attention, she could have had a very different fate. But she didn’t get that attention – because she’s not American.

And new media won major points. Old media types who rail against new media, such as NYT’s Maureen Dowd and Matt Bai, who spent last week complaining about Twitter, should take note: the New York Times was shamefully far, far behind Twitter and new media in picking up this story.

Where are our media’s priorities? What is driving them to choose to write 7000+ of the same stories on Arlen Specter, and almost nothing about the international law-violating execution of an innocent young Iranian woman?

Perhaps it is because human rights stories just don’t sell as much as stories about high-intensity partisan clashes or Hollywood actors. Human rights stories, particuarly world news, may sell less copies or bring in few page views. But news isn’t supposed to be about the profit motive — it’s supposed to be about educating and informing the masses about the world around them. If the press is to act as an arbiter of what is news, they should be reporting on what matters, rather than more banal stories about the White House puppy or Michelle Obama’s garden.

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