Friday, June 28, 2013

Syria / Gendercide

"Syrian youths walk amongst the rubble in the village of al-Hamidiyeh, north of Qusayr, in Homs province."
A Return to Homs
By Patrick Cockburn
The Independent, June 28, 2013
"Khalid is too frightened of travelling the 100 miles from Homs to Damascus to ask officials if they know what happened to his three sons, who disappeared 16 months ago as government troops over-ran the rebel stronghold of Baba Amr. He has not heard anything from them since and does not know if they are alive or dead, though he has repeatedly asked the authorities in Homs, Syria's third-largest city, about them. Khalid, a thick-set man of 60 with grizzled white hair -- who used to be a construction worker until he injured his back -- says he dare not make the journey to Damascus because 'as soon as the soldiers at the checkpoints on the road see I come from a place like Baba Amr, with a reputation for supporting the rebels, they are likely to arrest me'. He explains that he cannot risk being detained because he has a wife and four daughters who rely on him. He is the last man left in his family since his sons went missing. Syria is full of parents trying to keep their children alive or simply seeking to find out if they are already dead. It is as if both sides in the civil war are in a competition to see who can commit the worst atrocities. A few days before I spoke to Khalid I saw a picture on the internet of a fresh-faced 23-year-old soldier called Youssef Kais Abdin from near the port city of Latakia. He had been kidnapped a week earlier by the al Qa'ida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra while serving in the north-east of Syria, close to the Iraqi border. The next his parents heard of Youssef was a call from their son’s mobile at 4am from al-Nusra telling them to look for a picture of their son online. When they did so, they saw his decapitated body in a pool of blood with his severed head placed on top of it. The Syrian conflict is a civil war with all the horrors traditionally inflicted in such struggles wherever they are fought, be it Syria today or Russia, Spain, Greece, Lebanon or Iraq in the past. For the newly appointed American National Security Adviser Susan Rice, David Cameron or William Hague to pretend that this is a simple battle between a dictatorial government and an oppressed people is to misrepresent or misunderstand what is happening on the ground.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


"Buddhist monasteries associated with the fundamentalist movement, which calls itself 969, have opened community centers and a Sunday school program for children nationwide." (Adam Dean/The New York Times)
Extremism Rises Among Myanmar Buddhists
By Thomas Fuller
The New York Times, June 20, 2013
"After a ritual prayer atoning for past sins, Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk with a rock-star following in Myanmar, sat before an overflowing crowd of thousands of devotees and launched into a rant against what he called 'the enemy' -- the country's Muslim minority. 'You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog,' Ashin Wirathu said, referring to Muslims. 'I call them troublemakers, because they are troublemakers,' Ashin Wirathu told a reporter after his two-hour sermon. 'I am proud to be called a radical Buddhist.' The world has grown accustomed to a gentle image of Buddhism defined by the self-effacing words of the Dalai Lama, the global popularity of Buddhist-inspired meditation and postcard-perfect scenes from Southeast Asia and beyond of crimson-robed, barefoot monks receiving alms from villagers at dawn. But over the past year, images of rampaging Burmese Buddhists carrying swords and the vituperative sermons of monks like Ashin Wirathu have underlined the rise of extreme Buddhism in Myanmar -- and revealed a darker side of the country's greater freedoms after decades of military rule. Buddhist lynch mobs have killed more than 200 Muslims and forced more than 150,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes. Ashin Wirathu denies any role in the riots. But his critics say that at the very least his anti-Muslim preaching is helping to inspire the violence. What began last year on the fringes of Burmese society has grown into a nationwide movement whose agenda now includes boycotts of Muslim-made goods. Its message is spreading through regular sermons across the country that draw thousands of people and through widely distributed DVDs of those talks. Buddhist monasteries associated with the movement are also opening community centers and a Sunday school program for 60,000 Buddhist children nationwide.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Kenya / United Kingdom / Colonialism

"Kenyans tortured during the Mau Mau rebellion are to receive compensation payments from the British government." (Dai Kurokawa/EPA)
Britain Has Said Sorry to the Mau Mau. The Rest of the Empire is Still Waiting
By Caroline Elkins
The Guardian, June 6, 2013
"On Thursday nearly 200 elderly Kikuyu people travelled from their rural homesteads and sat before the British high commissioner in Nairobi. Over half a century had passed since many were last in front of a British official. It was a different era then in Kenya. The Mau Mau war was raging, and Britain was implementing coercive policies that left indelible scars on the bodies and minds of countless men and women suspected of subversive activities. In the 1950s they experienced events in colonial detention camps that few imagined possible. Yesterday they gathered to witness another once unimaginable thing: the much-delayed colonial gesture at reconciliation. The high commissioner read extracts from William Hague's earlier statement in parliament. Hague acknowledged for the first time that the elderly Kikuyu and other Kenyans had been subjected to torture and other horrific abuses at the hands of the colonial administration during the Mau Mau emergency. On behalf of the British government he expressed 'sincere regret' that these abuses had taken place, announced payments of £2,600 to each of 5,200 vetted claimants, and urged that the process of healing for both nations begin. The faces of the elderly camp survivors betrayed the day's historical significance. Tears rolled down faces lined from years of internalised pain and bitterness. Many sat motionless as the high commissioner read the statement. Others let out audible gasps, and cries of joy. Some burst into song. By any measure the announcement was stunning. With it, Britain jettisoned its appeal of the Mau Mau reparation case in the high court. Filed in 2009, the case was the first of its kind against the former British empire.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Papua New Guinea / Witch Hunts

"Hundreds of bystanders watched as a woman accused of witchcraft was being burned alive in the Western Highlands provincial capital of Mount Hagen in Papua New Guinea, Feb. 6, 2013." (Post Courier/AP)
Despite Legal Moves, PNG's Terrifying Witchcraft Killings Look Set to Continue
By Ian Lloyd, June 5, 2013
"One step forward and several giant steps back. That's how the UN's human-rights office described the reintroduction last week of the death penalty in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the concurrent repealing by parliament of the country's bizarre 1971 Sorcery Act. Straight off a script for Game of Thrones, the act's preamble recognized that various forms of sorcery existed and criminalized the practice of 'evil sorcery' or sanguma. While disputes over sorcery seldom came before the national judicial system, they are common in traditional village courts, where the belief that somebody is practicing sanguma has been used in defense of murder. The law's demise, and the reintroduction of the death penalty as a bid to curb sorcery-related killings, followed international outcry over a series of gruesome deaths earlier this year: the burning at the stake in February of a young mother in front of large crowd in the city of Mount Hagen, the decapitation of a retired school teacher in the autonomous region of Bougainville when I visited PNG in April, and the kidnapping and torturing with hot iron of six women and one man in the Southern Highlands province during the Easter weekend. '[This is] to stop this nonsense about witchcraft,' Prime Minister Peter O'Neill said on announcing his intention to scrap the law in parliament. But according to Richard Eves, an Australian anthropologist who specializes in PNG, political will alone shouldn’t be seen as a magic bullet against sorcery-related violence. Despite 19th century colonial attempts to eradicate it, sorcery is hardwired into the traditional culture of the country and has long been a quotidian fact of life across the socioeconomic and geographic spectrum.