Blog Archive

Blog Archive – July, 2012

Killing Machines

July 23, 2012

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

While Americans mourn their shocking but all too frequent massacres in this country, my thoughts go to the use of those very same guns  across the world, machines that kill dozens daily, nightly. Less than in battle between opposing armies, these arms destroy families during their celebrations, laborers on their way home, children asleep beside their grandparents. Yes, nowhere is safe.

Mass murders in their own schools and cinemas ought to help Americans understand the insecurity that befalls too many people across the world.

Yet, I hear nothing of the widespread fear outside the US that these all-too-familiar and terrifying weaponry, bombs and handheld guns, generate. There may be calls for more restrictive gun laws for Americans—pleas that will fall on deaf ears, regrettably. But one hears not a word about restricting the manufacture and sales of weapons globally. Most of these mass destruction arms originate in the USA. Nearly 40% of arms sales worldwide are through US contractors. The ‘health’ of the American economy relies heavily on armaments sales. Figures of revenue generated in this sector are staggering, and increasing every year.

A 2007 San Francisco Chronicle article notes “Despite a recession that knocked down global arms sales last year, the United States expanded its role as the world's leading weapons supplier, increasing its share to more than two-thirds of all foreign armaments deals, according to a new study. … signed weapons agreements valued at $37.8 billion in 2008, or 68.4 percent of all business in the global arms bazaar, up significantly from American sales of $25.4 billion the year before”.

From a 2010 Guardian news item we learn: “The average volume of arms sales increased by 22% over the past five years …says the report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute ( …” This report, the Guardian points out, “does not give the cost of the arms trade because most governments no longer release the figures. Britain stopped publishing the cost of its arms sales last year. ….The US remains the world's top arms exporter, accounting for 30% of the total, followed by Russia (23%), Germany (11%), and France (8%).”

Then, according to the SIPRI report in 2011, sales by the world’s top 100 arms manufacturing companies increased even further to reach $401 billion. And this is an accounting only of ‘legal’ arms trading!

I don’t know the answer. But I do recognize the connections. Isn’t that a place to begin?




[ Killing Machines ]

Algeria Left Out of Arabs' Spring

July 18, 2012

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria:-- all ‘in transition’ to one degree or another. Some uprisings are inspired from within; some are promoted by outside forces. Particles of leaked news suggest civil unrest continues in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan. No corner of our troubled Arab World is spared, it seems.

Wherever one party rules, corruption is often not far behind, and desperate jobless youths demand change. Common conditions in Arab societies, alas.

The West watches with interest. World leaders sometimes declare “it’s time for him to step aside.” Elsewhere they offer military assistance, diplomatic cover, or a shield from prying media. Meanwhile funds are allocated and NGOs furnish our hungry IT generation with ‘democracy workshops’.

By now it’s obvious that ‘Arab Spring’ is a capricious and selective phenomenon. Nowhere is this discrimination better illustrated than Algeria.

And what about Algeria? A major partner in the Arab league, a steadfast friend of Palestinians, a model of anti-colonial struggle. It’s also a place with serious domestic problems, no effective democracy, and limited human rights. Where is she today?

Bordering Libya and Tunisia, sharing many of the economic and political woes of its neighbors, we hear barely a word from Algeria. As if this were not a country in need of reform, not a land brimming with restless youth, not a society managed for two generations by a single party working closely with military officers.

If there is a swath of injustice, despair and mismanagement over which the spring of democracy is sweeping, surely Algeria lies in its path.

The marginalization of Algeria, its virtual blackout by international media surely warrants deeper interest.  By the standards of what is transpiring in nearby states, Algeria is suspiciously quiet. The unrest that erupted in Tunisia 20 months ago is on Algeria’s doorstep. So, why do we hear little from Algeria’s 34 million inhabitants?

How many know about the rash of protests inside Algeria at the time Tunisia erupted? Do we know that in May the country held nationwide parliamentary elections which only extended the 50 year rule of the FLN party? How about Algeria’s president amending the constitution to extend his rule to a third term?

Algerians characterize their nation as “a rich country of poor people”. Many economic indices would place most Algerians near Egyptians and Yemenis. Yes, while Algeria enjoys huge revenues from fossil fuel sales, its economy bears no resemblance to those ‘oil rich’ Arab states at the far perimeter of the Middle East.  

I spent two years in Algeria, a place few journalists can visit and tourists and scholars avoid. My residence and wide access there allowed me to understand the endemic corruption and hopelessness, the mismanagement, the limits of the press, the supremacy of Algeria’s military. I saw how many of its professionals are lured away by French companies; I learned about thousands of young Algerians risking their lives to escape by boat across the Mediterranean, with many perishing at sea.

Middle East experts may argue that Algeria is better off than countries where the USA, UK and UN have signaled a regime change is overdue. By many standards, I suggest, conditions in Algeria are worse.

Why is this country sidelined?

Algeria’s quiescence may be the result of some special agreement with the ‘powers’ deciding who falls and who survives. Algeria is not known as a friend of the US; it would also not appear to be allied with France, given its hard fought war to rid itself of French occupation. In actual fact, Algeria’s interests are deeply tied to these powers, neither of which would welcome instability—i.e. revolution-- there.  

First Algeria is a major energy supplier to Europe and to the US. It is a huge market for French consumer goods, from essential foods to pharmaceuticals. Algeria has also emerged as a major partner with Europe and the USA in their anti-terrorist policy in Africa; ties between that nation’s security services and military and the Pentagon grow year by year.

To understand the most important of Algeria’s assets for the West, look at a map. Algeria is an enormous, strategically placed country. Its land mass reaches deep into Africa absorbing much of the Sahel, the sparsely inhabited Sahara, bordering Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Tunisia, Libya, and Niger. Here, some say, al-Qaeda terrorists and other hostile threats can hide and prepare future attacks. This is also where AFRICOM, the American military mission for Africa, wants to be.

Until now, all African nations gave a firm “No” to US requests to place AFRICOM on their territory. But with new instabilities created by the Arab Spring and the revolt in northern Mali, American military interest in the area is more urgent. The argument for AFRICOM may be gaining acceptance, and Algeria could well be the best candidate to facilitate AFRICOM.

Under these circumstances, why would Washington care about the civil rights and dignity of Algerians any more than it does for Saudi Arabians?

This brief commentary is not about whether an Algerian revolution is overdue. It is simply to point out how Western ‘interests’ play a vital role in the now misnomered Arab Spring. Moreover, independent of government agendas, Algeria and its people are worth our attention.

[ Algeria Left Out of Arabs' Spring ]

Who killed Anthony Shadid?

July 03, 2012

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Our celebrated, dedicated, everything-to-live-for journalist died suddenly, and inexplicably, on February 16. We mourned one of our own; we grieved for his young family. His illustrious employer, the New York Times, spoke of Shadid’s brilliance and of the deep loss to American journalism.

Shadid was first reported to have died from an asthma attack on the border of Syria and Turkey. He was ‘in the field’, faithfully searching for truths in his over-the-top mission as a Middle East correspondent. The asthma was a condition he had lived with since his youth.

How ironic. It was a childhood asthma that took him, not a rebel bullet or a land mine planted in those hazardous border zones.

That’s what we thought. That is: this is the story the world was told. One could almost fault Shadid for carelessness; had this veteran reporter, famous for his work in conflict zones, not known how to handle a chronic ailment?

The reality of Shadid’s death is rather different from the official version, it seems.  Although Shadid’s family has yet to receive an autopsy report—that in itself might arouse suspicion—they believe Anthony died from a heart attack.

How could this happen?

Well, according to a Shadid family member, himself a doctor, just before his death, Shadid and his New York Times editors had heated arguments by phone. Following that altercation, the doctor says, Shadid called his wife to warn her that if he died, responsibility lay with the NYT.

It seems Shadid set out for Syria furious with poor arrangements the Times made for his entry into the country to cover the conflict there. Shadid charged that the Times’ facilities for a covert entry from Turkey were inadequate; nevertheless his New York bosses insisted Shadid make the journey. Shadid complained to editors that he was inadequately equipped for the foray. Then, rather than enter by motorcycle as first arranged, he was escorted in by a smugglers who were at the same time transporting crates of guns for rebels inside Syria.  We also learn that after Shadid’s kidnapping experience in Libya 11 months earlier, he had received no counseling for that trauma.  

These revelations came to light a week ago, when Edward Shadid, a medical doctor and cousin of the journalist, was addressing a national gathering of Arab Americans. He emphatically says it is not true that Shadid suffered an asthma attack and was carried out heroically by a fellow NYT colleague, a photographer, as the Times had reported. He also reports the fierce quarrel between Shadid and his employer before he set out across the border .

Faced with these charges, the NYT is apparently sticking by its story; it denies any dispute with Shadid or that it pressured the journalist. Lena Badr, Shadid’s wife, declines to join the family campaign to investigate exactly what happened. (She herself is a Times reporter.)

Finally, given recent testimony from senior British journalist Alex Thomson, it is not impossible that Shadid was somehow entrapped in a situation similar to what Thomson experienced in Syria. Travelling with Syrian rebels, Thomson concluded, he was led into an ambush, barely escaping with his life. He suggests this tactic could have been part of the media war waged against Syria since, he posits, a journalist’s death would be blamed on Assad forces and thereby strengthen the hand of foreign governments hostile to the Syrian regime.

So where is that NYT photographer who accompanied Shadid? Surely he can clear things up.

[ Who killed Anthony Shadid? ]

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