On Gaza and ‘Human Shields’

Even the NY Times (the NY Times!) cannot prove Israel’s justification of  ‘Hamas using human shields’ for the massacre being undertaken in Gaza:

“There is no evidence that Hamas and other militants force civilians to stay in areas that are under attack — the legal definition of a human shield under international law”

Hamas are not angels and are pretty much like every other guerilla movement fighting for liberation (e.g. the ANC and Mandela too used to bomb white civilians in South Africa, as did the Algerian FLN and various other anti-colonial liberation movements, the IRA, etc.), they use questionable tactics and although the UN did not pin-point any group specifically, leaving room to suggest it might have been other militants (Hamas have denied the allegation), it has been alleged that they have used schools to store weapons (it is of course still against international law to target civic facilities but regardless). Yet the vast majority of deaths have come from bombing residential areas and family homes, whereby in this campaign alone there have been at least 3 examples which I’ve heard of (one of them personally on a Palestine march in London) of entire families perishing in single strikes, and whereby there is countless testimony by normal civilians that their (now-destroyed) homes had no weapons inside them.

Now how can it be that an army with such advanced capacities as the IDF can be so inaccurate and can so so so consistently repeat the same ‘mistakes’ in the same offensive, yet alone from one offensive to another?! For we have literally seen the EXACT same bombing of family homes in Lebanon (infamously the two ‘Qanas’) and Gaza yet the same excuse is brought that this was a ‘mistake’, how?? I can just imagine that Israel is pissing itself laughing that people still believe these excuses that they’ve offered for exactly the same type of ‘incidents’ which are repeated every two years!! They have LITERALLY bombed children on the beach exactly before, yet people still accept when it happens this time that it is a ‘mistake?’ How is it that Israel has so often ‘mistakenly’ targeted family homes and wiped out entire families? How can such a ‘mistake’ with EXACTLY the same details be repeated this often? The answer for why these similarities occur therefore is not because it is ‘simply a mistake’ but it is the same type of outcome which will happen from routine indiscriminate bombing! (even with the now improved warning system of evacuation within 3 minutes).

This is emphasised by the fact that in this campaign alone, according to the UN more than 80% of the deaths have been civilians, not militants! The fact therefore is that this is not ‘collateral damage’ or ‘mistakes’ as the Israelis like to put it but COLLECTIVE PUNISHMENT resulting from indiscriminate bombing! Hamas fires upon Israel from an extremely densely populated area where there is literally almost no open space. To ‘equalise’ the responsibility of those deaths between those dropping the bombs on one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with where Hamas stashes its weapons, is incongruous.

Incidentally, if these operations were truly about stopping the rocket fire, the best and easiest way to do so is to immediately launch a ground invasion and not spend two to three weeks launching airstrikes (testing all types of new weapons with each offensive), before finally launching a (short invasion and then retreating).

The warmonger Ariel Sharon, one of the most bloodthirsty Israeli prime ministers of all time, did not make the decision to withdraw from Gaza because he was a lover of peace, seeing that he was one of the most aggressive prime ministers Israel ever had. He made the decision to withdraw from Gaza because of the (ingenious) strategic value in doing so: a) it garnered massive support and sympathy from the int’l community, b) it allowed the replacement of settlements in Gaza with the expansion of settlements into the West Bank (ultimately seen as much more important), and c) it allowed a more effective and less costly (politically, economically and in terms of military losses) control of Gaza which would (counter-intuitively) actually strengthen Zionist militarism within Israel (one only needs to see how much more militant and right wing Israel is now as opposed to 2005). In an ingenious stroke it allowed Gaza to continue to be occupied (and more cheaply without the cost of administration) without it actually *seen* to be occupied, for the withdrawal of Israeli troops gave the impression to the majority of people that Gaza was no longer occupied – even though under international law Gaza is still considered to be under occupation because of the siege, albeit without ground troops – this point is often forgotten even by pro-Palestinians (showing how effective that strategy was).

Until today there is a reason Israel takes a long time to invade Gaza (and when it does why it never stays there too long), and that is that they made the strategic calculation that as tempting as it is to keep occupying that land (it is inherent within the expansionist nature of Zionism – and one day they might one day resuccumb to it), strategically it is more trouble than its worth to actually have troops occupying it when they can instead have a useful, restricted enemy exercising nominal authority and providing a bete noire to counterbalance against their policies, without posing too much of a practical threat (but enough to ensure fear amongst the populace). It is indeed quite genius.

It is a logical fallacy that this is all about rockets when Israel has bombed the shit out of Gaza 3 times since 2008 and in NONE of these times has it stopped rocket fire. Israel knows that the slight disadvantages (for e.g. economic) of having the threat of largely-ineffective rocket fire (especially ineffective now with the iron dome) are much smaller than the benefits of having a scared population which would allow the continued militarisation of society and ever more aggressive policies towards the Palestinians to become more acceptable to the public who feel under threat. The reason Israel launches prolonged massive airstrikes therefore, despite the fact that the vast majority of those who are killed are not militants and despite the fact that they do not stop rocket fire, is not merely to stop the rocket fire but because it seeks to *punish* the Palestinians, for if Israel truly wanted to stop rocket fire it would immediately invade the territory after it gets attacked rather than wait for such a long time (alternatively of course it would end the siege, but lets be realistic). The fact that this is not obvious actually beggars belief.

Now going back to Hamas and ‘human shields’, although they have been found to be storing weapons in civic facilities, in so far as having the accusation of them deliberately using ‘human shields’ attributed to them whereby they actually force residents to stay in target areas to hide behind (which is the legal definition of ‘human shield’), there has been no evidence for this whatsoever. Indeed, it seems obvious that if this were the case we would not have seen a massive exodus from North into South Gaza!!

In conclusion the fact is that there has been little evidence that Hamas has been engaging in using ‘human shields’ so manifestly that it can have attributed to it a major responsibility for the deaths, and this is why even pro-Israeli outlets such as the NY Times and CNN are being unable to determinatively prove that for Israel. We’ve heard the ‘human shields’ buzzline for years, and yet for years we’ve seen such little evidence for its existence (beyond a nominal level which does not suffice to equate between the responsibilities), and the vast majority of that claim has been rhetoric by the IDF.

Finally, of course there is an irony: although of course this by itself is not determinitive it is nonetheless interesting; has anyone actually ever seen footage of Hamas fighters for example hiding behind Palestinian civilians in combat? Because I have looked and failed to fine such footage (it is seen in their culture to be a cowardly thing to do), and where that has been claimed it was found to be a hoax. The irony here of course lies in that on the other hand, we have repeatedly seen videos and footage of Israel using ‘human shields’; indeed in the current conflict in Gaza it has recently surfaced that Israel has again explicitly used human shields in its current massacre in Gaza. Nor is this novel for the Zionist state; in 2005 it emerged in an Israeli court that Israel had made use of Human shields an astonishing number of 1,200 times between the years 2000-2005, and this has continued ever since, including in the form of UN reports (see here, here, here, and here; and there’s quite a bit of footage on Youtube as well).

(More videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CO5qhvbiQgM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16TW0ereUUI etc.)

Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Those who have their houses destroyed can throw whatever they want.


“Iran, Orientalism and Western illusions about Syria”: A response

The following is an article followed by a (slightly heated) response I had written to ‘Seyed Mohammed Marandi’s’ piece on Al-Jazeera, dated the 6th of April. The article is quoted in full for context below.

One of the many strange paradoxes promoted for decades in the Western narrative on the Islamic Republic of Iran – consistently repeated by so-called “Iran experts”, government officials, and the Western propaganda machine in general – is that Iran is growing increasingly unstable and unpopular (if not imploding), yet simultaneously it is on the rise and its “menacing” influence can be felt throughout the region and beyond.

Of course, the internal contradictions of this discourse are linked to Orientalist stereotypes and attitudes prevalent in the West among mainstream secular liberals, pseudo-progressives, and neo-conservatives alike, who cannot grasp the possibility of a stable and legitimate political order that is not based on Western “values”.

For such people – even those critical of Western support for despots, extremism, apartheid in Palestine, mass surveillance and cyber warfare, hegemony, liberal capitalism, plutocracy, secret prisons and torture as well as the perpetual pursuit of “liberation” through coups, wars, drones, terror, assassinations, and carnage – these “values” and “ideas” are still somehow universal. Thus, they view Western states as effectively exceptional or at least more civilised than others. Even for the so-called “progressives”, despite these characteristics that have existed at least since the rise of colonialism, in the words of Joseph Conrad, “what redeems it is the idea only”.

Hence, pundits, academics, native informants, and other “experts” in Western think-tanks and corporate media, hold discussions and write books and articles, analysing the “pathologies” of countries like Iran for the benefit of a Western audience and often with an eye towards policymakers and funders.

At times they may critique Western governments, but mostly because they are not seen to be true to their values. When it comes to the Islamic Republic of Iran, though, there are no values. Hence, these people feel free to enhance Western “knowledge” and control with a free conscience, like their Orientalist forerunners.

Targeting Iran?

Nevertheless, despite immoral and inhumane US and EU sanctions, along with the constant vilification of Iran by these countries or the “international community” as they narcissistically call themselves, Iran arguably continues to be the most stable country in western Asia and North Africa. Its model of participatory Islamic governance as well as its fiercely independent foreign policy has blunted Western, and particularly US, attempts to subjugate it as well as to portray it as some sort of regional if not global threat. However, it would be useful to look at the case of Syria, where the Islamic Republic is regularly portrayed by its antagonists as a threat to stability and security.

From almost the start of the unrest in Syria, it became clear to Iranians that the main objective of Western attempts to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government was to target Iran, not to bring freedom to the Syrian people. After all, the US and EU alongside the Saudi royal family supported the Tunisian and Egyptian dictatorships until their imminent collapse; in Gaza, the Palestinian people continue to be punished for voting for the “wrong” party.

During the Egyptian regime’s final days, the US vice president stressed Hosni Mubarak is not a dictator, but rather an ally who should not step down. Weeks earlier, as the Tunisian regime was collapsing in the face of revolution, the French foreign minister promised to help Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s security forces maintain order. As to Bahrain, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to criticise the Saudi-led occupation and even attempted to legitimise it, while US President Barack Obama spoke about the Bahraini regime’s “legitimate interest in the rule of law”, and subtly implied that the protesters were a minority group.

Unlike these regimes, Assad had and continues to have significant popular support. While the Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Bahrain’s al-Khalifa dictatorships were unable to muster any support in the streets, during the first months of the conflict in Syria enormous crowds took to the streets in simultaneous pro-Assad demonstrations in major cities, on multiple occasions. In addition, according to a poll carried out by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, 88 percent of those surveyed in Syria in 2013, believed that the current Turkish government has been unfriendly towards their homeland.

While Iran was openly critical of the violence of Syrian security forces against peaceful protesters with legitimate grievances (though incomparable to the August 14, 2013, Cairo massacre), it also knew that, as in Kiev, a third force was fanning the flames by firing upon both security forces as well as protesters. This was confirmed by the report of the 300-strong Arab League observer mission led by Sudan’s former ambassador to Qatar.

Iran became more sceptical and alarmed when the bombings and suicide attacks began late in 2011. It was obvious that extremists were carrying out the attacks, yet the militant and foreign-backed opposition along with their regional and Western backers accused the Syrian government of attacking its own military intelligence buildings, just as they later provided highly dubious evidence to prove that the government carried out chemical attacks.

Minorities threatened

The Iranians believed that a number of oil-rich monarchies in the Gulf, with Western coordination and logistical support were – in violation of international law – heavily funding sectarian extremists and al-Qaeda affiliates. For over two years the Western mainstream media, experts and policymakers downplayed and even ridiculed such claims – until finally the problem grew so large that it became impossible to hide the monster that the West and its Arab allies in the Gulf had created.

Instead of pursuing the Kofi Annan plan, which Iran had supported, these countries wrecked it as they thought they could steamroll their way into Damascus within weeks or months. Apparently, for the US and its allies these were simply more “birth pangs of a new Middle East” – or perhaps a dagger through the heart of the Islamic Republic, where innocent Syrians must pay the price. Now, over 100,000 deaths and millions of refugees later, the Western narrative often sounds quite similar to what Iranians have been saying for over three years.

Extremist and sectarian Salafi clerics repeatedly gave fatwas permitting the slaughter of minorities on satellite television channels. The Saudi-based “mainstream” cleric Saleh al-Luhaidan also said: “Kill a third of Syrians so the other two-thirds may live.”

As a result, this had become an existential threat to the people of the region. Nevertheless, it was only after tens of thousands of foreign extremists had already entered Syria through this broad multinational support network that, with Syrian government approval, Hezbollah entered the Sayyida Zaynab neighbourhood in limited numbers [Ar] to protect the shrine of the Holy Prophet’s granddaughter; their first casualty was reported in late June 2012. Hezbollah’s major involvement only began in April 2013 during the battle for al-Qusayr. From an Iranian perspective, to blame Hezbollah for entering Syria is absurd.

In any case, it is clear that – as the Iranians were saying from the start – the Syrian government will not collapse and that the only way forward is for this reality to be acknowledged. Continued support for foreign extremists and al-Qaeda affiliates is no longer simply a regional threat; it has become a global threat much greater than what existed in Afghanistan. Setting preconditions for one side of the Syrian conflict or the other simply means more death and destruction. The international community must come together to support an election where the Syrian people choose their own leadership and for everyone to accept the results.

Response (posted originally on 20th of May, with some edits)

“Ironically, the most one whom is engaging in ‘orientalism’ here is indeed yourself, for you employ a reductionism which reduces the millions who came out for months against Assad as merely ‘tools’ of Western imperial powers, being used intentionally or even inadvertently (the latter of which is still orientalist, for it assumes that they are merely foolish sheep) to do the West’s bidding. In trying to strengthen your argument’s potency it is also filled with irrelevancies and intellectually-superificial rants, stressing points that everyone knows about already (for example about the West supporting dictatorships in the Middle East) in trying to attach an element of ‘just anger’ to your argument, so to speak.

Even more problematic, you do not seem to see the irony in using the same terms as dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt (especially now) and elsewhere have long used, that of putting the onus on a ‘third force fanning the flames’ (used for three years against the revolutionaries in Egypt) rather than the causes of the grievances, and even better, and this is the best bit, that this is ultimately all part of a Western plot for a ‘new Middle East’ (very ‘un-orientalist’, btw). Incidentally the last time I heard that phrase being used was by Tawfiq Okasha (generally regarded as a laughing stock) and Mustafa Bakry, the Mubarak supporters now preaching for the Egyptian military.

You furthermore commit intellectual shallowness by using certain quotes by extremists (as general and indicative) to strenghten your arguments (such as the preacher) whilst ignoring the very real actions of extremism taking place on the ground by both sides, especially by the regime long before extremists started to emerge as a force within the opposition. Indeed, this is not disimillar to Zionist tactics of bringing a quote of ‘Arabs want to throw us into the sea’ as their argument whilst ignoring their actual actions in reality.

You say ‘Iran was openly critical’ of the Syrian regime’s crackdown in 2011, well firstly that’s strange because I hardly remember Iran being ‘openly critical’ at the time. You then strangely try to justify that crackdown in a sense by saying it was ‘incomparable to 14th of August 2013 in Egypt’, as if the Syrian regime hasn’t killed many more civilians during those months of the uprising! Then you say ‘Iran became more spectical and alarmed’ when explosions began in late 2011. At this point I started thinking ‘this is just crazy’, how you’re portraying Iran as this innocent bystander suddenly surprised by the unravelling of this ‘plot’. Iran was the party funding the regime’s crackdown against peaceful protesters which largely only turned violent, by your admission, almost a year after the protests began!

You say that by late 2011 it was ‘obvious that extremists were carrying out the attacks… [yet] for over two years the Western mainstream media, experts and policymakers downplayed and even ridiculed such claims – until finally the problem grew so large that it became impossible to hide the monster that the West and its Arab allies in the Gulf had created.’  No my friend, these ‘claims’ were downplayed because for the majority of that period they were relatively largely downplayable as the extremists were a minor faction of the armed opposition which was overwhelmingly allied with the home-grown Free Syrian Army (FSA), contrary to the myth Iran, Hezbollah and Assad tried to propgate from the very start – that there was a foreign invasion of fighters who were the source of the chaos (once again as Egypt did with blaming Hamas and ironically Hezbollah after the revolution, stating that they ‘infiltrated the country’ and Tahrir Square and attacked prisons), and they were also downplayed because as the Egyptian regime was calling protesters ‘thugs with foreign agendas’ the Syrian regime too was calling protesters terrorists and foreign agents as soon as they came out to protest. Ultimately what Iran and Hezbollah proved to us by using the same kind of PR lies and exaggerations was that contrary to our impressions and hopes of them that they were ‘different’ from the rest of the self-serving Arab regimes, they ultimately belonged to that same framework, the ‘old Middle East’.

(Just a note incidentally, do you think we all didn’t hope that Assad was different from Mubarak or Ben Ali and would respond differently? Al-Jazeera used to have interviews with Assad, and talked years ago of American attempts under Bush to attack and sanction Iran, Hezbollah and Assad. Protesters began demanding ‘reform of the regime’, not its downfall, and I remembered being much more hopeful with Assad than I was with Mubarak, I remembered anticipating his speech and hoping for a positive reaction, perhaps naively, only to be shocked at an extremely arrogant and dismissive lecture in front of his supporters in Damascus. In the end he certainly did respond differently, in a very different way though).

Furthermore, the West didn’t have any qualms in declaring many groups fighting today ‘terrorists’ later (and according to your line of thinking theoretically they didn’t have to do that, for they could have sufficed by not funding them rather than ‘put them down’ [i.e. the opposition] so to speak). The problem ‘didn’t grow so large’ out of nothing, the problem (and indeed extremism in general, as you should know professor) was a logical consequence of continued repression, weak funding for the moderate opposition as well indeed as the regime itself strengthening those extremist elements (again a tactic common to justify crackdowns), releasing prisoners during the beginning of the uprising in ‘general amnesties’ (as if this regime was well known for its kindness of heart) and even doing oil deals with Nusra and ISIS to the current day, especially avoiding confronting the latter in battle.

As for Assad’s so called ‘popularity’, based largely in the *capital* (cities which are always fortresses for regimes, for that is where their strength, elite and reliant classes as well as the security intelligence is most strongly located) and his ethnic homeland, this again is intellectual deception, for while Assad is indeed more popular than the others that you speak of – Mubarak and Ben Ali – the main reason you cite for his ‘comparable’ popularity against his unpopularity are protests, amongst whom it is common that thousands of conscripts, government workers and civil servants were bussed in (a tactic common in all dictatorships, and used in the past by Nasser), and a poll trying to suggest that 88% are somehow sympathetic to him. Is the latter point actually serious?

Bashar Al-Assad sounds exactly like Abdel Fattah El Sisi (who now is an ally of Assad), who you (and presumably Iran) oppose. In that in that very massacre you cited Sisi called unarmed protesters terrorists, bringing footage of some guys with guns and saying ‘evidence’. And the fact that you support one of those guys but not the other is indeed emblematic of the larger contradictions inherent within the logic you pose, whereby people such as yourself, as if having this nagging suspicion that Iran in fact did wrong but not wanting to admit it (presuming they are not motivated by sectarian motivations), are seemingly reduced to continually trying to find desperate defences for an indefencible position, in the process coming up with intellectually shallow arguments. By placing the onus consistently on the opposition rather than on the party with the overwhelming power (i.e. particularly at the beginning of the conflict), and by placing the onus on the reaction of (non-state) terrorism to (state) terrorism, your rhetoric also unfortunately increasingly resembles to my ears the excuses that I hear srael often coming out with, further emphasising that contradiction in Iranian policy.

Finally, you say that ‘in any case, it appears that – as the Iranians were saying from the start – the Syrian government will not collapse’. The sheer nature of such a statement just seems to indicate tinted spectacles to the extreme. The reason the Syrian government ‘did not collapse’ was not because Iran had amazing foresight, sir, but because of Iranian and Russian aid, guns and missiles rather than a crystal ball, sir.

To conclude sir, apologism, no matter how ‘articulate’ you think you can put it, is still apologism. You can’t complain about Saudis invading Bahrain (which I was against) and then support a ruthless mass murderer in Syria. Iran and Hezbollah had the sympathy of many and lost it all. This is a poor article, and I hope no one now says ‘Al-Jazeera is biased and doesn’t show the other point of view’.

[Archive] On the abuse of female protesters in Egypt

Everyday in Egypt, women students are getting the shit beaten out of them for striking from sitting for exams, whether takes manifests with a woman being dragged a few floors by her hair to be forced to go to the exam hall, to being dragged on the street by police, or to being ‘disciplined’ and ‘taught how she should have been raised’ by university security forces. Woman are being beaten up explicitly in front of everybody’s eyesights, are sexually assaulted (one police officer recently caught on camera saying if any of you get arrested you won’t get out except pregnant) and endure other forms of abuse in an epidemic which we never used to see so out-in-the-open before (i.e. before women who were abused were generally done so behind closed doors)

What I am really shocked about however, is the almost complete absence of feminist organisational coverage in the West about the abuse Egyptian women are going through daily here. Is this not one of the most pertinent examples of organised, systematic abuse of women in the Middle East, a region of well known interest to feminist organisations in questions of rights and civil liberties for women, that should place it at the forefront – or if not – at least on some level of importance the coverage of these organisations? Or is it that a lot of these women getting abused are veiled and conservative and aren’t demanded to be liberated from their shackles that they’re just not as newsworthy anymore?

What about Syrian women, who have been routinely getting raped and gang-raped by Syrian government soldiers and militias? Where’s their miniscule coverage?

Meanwhile what I am less shocked about, is the total lack of coverage of this epidemic from the coverage of ‘liberal’ Egyptian human rights organisations, foundations and institutes. This doesn’t fit into their elite Westernised agenda of how oppressive conservative society treats them (which of course is often true, not what i’m arguing). They have their own little club of ‘prioritised’ concerns.

Some videos of Egyptian women being beaten up and abused: