BBC: Israel warns of Gaza ‘holocaust’

Classy guys these Israelis:

Israeli leaders are warning of an imminent conflagration in Gaza after Palestinian militants aimed rockets at the southern city of Ashkelon.

The deputy defence minister said the stepped-up rocket fire would trigger what he called a “bigger holocaust” in the Hamas-controlled coastal strip.

Israeli air strikes have killed about 30 Palestinians, including six children in the past two days.

. . .

“The more [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger holocaust because we will use all our might to defend ourselves,” Matan Vilnai told Israeli army radio.

Correspondents say the “holocaust” is a term rarely used in Israel outside discussions of the Nazi genocide during World War II.

[From BBC NEWS | Middle East | Israel warns of Gaza ‘holocaust’]

The Myth of the Surge

From Nir Rosen’s The Myth of the Surge in Rolling Stone, on the co-optation of former insurgents that had caused a decline in violence over the past year in Iraq :

But loyalty that can be purchased is by its very nature fickle. Only months ago, members of the Awakening were planting IEDs and ambushing U.S. soldiers. They were snipers and assassins, singing songs in honor of Fallujah and fighting what they viewed as a war of national liberation against the foreign occupiers. These are men the Americans described as terrorists, Saddam loyalists, dead-enders, evildoers, Baathists, insurgents. There is little doubt what will happen when the massive influx of American money stops: Unless the new Iraqi state continues to operate as a vast bribing machine, the insurgent Sunnis who have joined the new militias will likely revert to fighting the ruling Shiites, who still refuse to share power.

“We are essentially supporting a quasi-feudal devolution of authority to armed enclaves, which exist at the expense of central government authority,” says Chas Freeman, who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia under the first President Bush. “Those we are arming and training are arming and training themselves not to facilitate our objectives but to pursue their own objectives vis-a-vis other Iraqis. It means that the sectarian and ethnic conflicts that are now suppressed are likely to burst out with even greater ferocity in the future.”

Maj. Pat Garrett, who works with the 2-2 Stryker Cavalry Regiment, is already having trouble figuring out what to do with all the new militiamen in his district. There are too few openings in the Iraqi security forces to absorb them all, even if the Shiite-dominated government agreed to integrate them. Garrett is placing his hopes on vocational-training centers that offer instruction in auto repair, carpentry, blacksmithing and English. “At the end of the day, they want a legitimate living,” Garrett says. “That’s why they’re joining the ISVs.”

But men who have taken up arms to defend themselves against both the Shiites and the Americans won’t be easily persuaded to abandon their weapons in return for a socket wrench. After meeting recently in Baghdad, U.S. officials concluded in an internal report, “Most young Concerned Local Citizens would probably not agree to transition from armed defenders of their communities to the local garbage men or rubble cleanup crew working under the gaze of U.S. soldiers and their own families.” The new militias have given members of the Awakening their first official foothold in occupied Iraq. They are not likely to surrender that position without a fight. The Shiite government is doing little to find jobs for them, because it doesn’t want them back, and violence in Iraq is already starting to escalate. By funding the ISVs and rearming the Sunnis who were stripped of their weapons at the start of the occupation, America has created a vast, uncoordinated security establishment. If the Shiite government of Iraq does not allow Sunnis in the new militias to join the country’s security forces, warns one leader of the Awakening, “It will be worse than before.”

An interesting piece with a lot of surprisingly negative commentary by US forces and officials — read it all.

Bziz on the Arab Information Ministers’ decree

Ahmed Senoussi, the Moroccan comedian better known as Bziz, appeared on al-Jazeera’s “bila hudud” talk show yesterday to talk about the Arab information minister’s recent decree introducing a “code of ethics” for Arab satellite stations. The result is hilarious — just wait through the first eight minutes or so as the host sets up the gag.

[Thanks, Abdurahman]

Links February 20th to February 21st

Links for February 20th through February 21st:

Free Fouad


14 jours après l’arrestation de Fouad Mourtada, plusieurs sites de blogs marocains, réputés par leur grande influence au Maroc, sont en grève aujourd’hui, Mardi 19 février 2008, en solidarité avec Fouad et sa famille.

Links February 17th to February 19th

Links for February 17th through February 19th:

Striking for a livable minimum wage in Mahalla

Hossam has updates on the latest blue collar workers’ strike in Mahalla al-Kubra, the heart of Egypt’s textile industry, where some 10,000 have taken to the street to demand a new national minimum wage:

Only one day before the convening of the National Council for Wages (the govt entity in charge of setting the minimum wage, and which has not convened since the mid 80s!!!) 10,000 textile workers from Ghazl el-Mahalla took to the streets around 4pm demanding raising the national minimum (monthly) wage to LE1200.

Follow his post for analysis and the latest news. For context, most workers currently make only a few hundred pounds.

Marriage, religion and idleness

As part of a new series on youth and religion, the New York Times ran an article today on young people in Egypt. The article, by Michael Slackman, basically argues that economic and social frustration and the inability to get married at a young age has driven many to become more pious:

The despair extends to rural Egypt, always a traditional, religious environment, but one that ambitious young people long to escape. In the village of Shamandeel, not far from Zagazig, it took Walid Faragallah six years after graduating with a degree in psychology to find a job in a factory, and his pay was less than $50 a month. That is an average period of waiting — and average pay — for new entries in the job market. Mr. Faragallah kept that job for a year, and recently found another factory job for $108 a month, two hours from his home.

“It brings us closer to God, in a sense,� Mr. Faragallah said, speaking of the despair he felt during the years he searched for work. “But sometimes, I can see how it does not make you closer to God, but pushes you toward terrorism. Practically, it killed my ambition. I can’t think of a future.�

So far so much usual socio-economic analysis of the religiosity of Arab youth. But it’s interesting that when they provided an Arabic translation of the article and solicited young Egyptians’ points of view on it, this is the reply they got:

After discussing the article with three of four different groups of students, I found that the answers were surprisingly uniform: yes, the government holds them back. Yes, it’s too costly to find an apartment, furnish it, get married and live a happy life in it. But they all asked pretty much asked: “What does this have to do with the religion mentioned in your story?�

“You say our religiosity comes from economical and social pressure,� Muhammad Salah, a 21-year-old engineering student told me. “This is not true. Of course, we are under heavy pressure, but this has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with the government.�

This was the point of contention — they enjoyed the article because it was critical of the government and raised issues they could relate to. But they did not see the connection between government failure and lack of opportunity with their emboldened faith. Being religious, they say, is about leading a good life. For them, it’s a gesture of free will, an individual choice disconnected from larger issues. Determinism plays no part in it.

The thing that struck most about the article, and which I recognized from everyday life in Egypt, is not so much the pervasiveness of religion but the central role idleness plays in young people’s lives — fear of boredom, empty hour to fill, the feeling that it can lead to trouble. From the end of the article:

There is a mosque a few steps from the front door of their house. But an Islamic tradition holds that the farther you walk to the mosque the more credit earned with God. So every Friday, Mr. Sayyid walks past the mosque by his home, and past a few more mosques, before he reaches the Sayeda Zeinab mosque.

“By being religious, God prevents you from doing wrong things,� Mr. Sayyid said, revealing his central fear and motivation, that time and boredom will lead him to sin. “This whole atmosphere we live in is wrong, wrong.�

If unemployed, prospect-less youth are indeed turning to the mosque, it might be less because of despair-induced spirituality than lack of anything better to do: as Franz Kafka said, idleness is the beginning of all vice and the crown of all virtues.

(And incidentally, there is an Egyptian proverb that says “the idle hand is impure” ( الإيد البطّالة نجسة), as well as passages and many interpretations of the Quran that warn against idleness as leading to sin– one Saudi proverb claims “the devil tempts idle men, but idle men tempt the devil. And perhaps most beautiful of all, an old Middle Eastern proverb that may predate Arabic that claims that “The dust of labor is better than the saffron of idleness.”)

Blair blackmailed by Bandar over BAE

Prince Bandar: with friends like these…

Saudi Arabia’s rulers threatened to make it easier for terrorists to attack London unless corruption investigations into their arms deals were halted, according to court documents revealed yesterday.

Previously secret files describe how investigators were told they faced “another 7/7” and the loss of “British lives on British streets” if they pressed on with their inquiries and the Saudis carried out their threat to cut off intelligence.

Prince Bandar, the head of the Saudi national security council, and son of the crown prince, was alleged in court to be the man behind the threats to hold back information about suicide bombers and terrorists. He faces accusations that he himself took more than £1bn in secret payments from the arms company BAE.

He was accused in yesterday’s high court hearings of flying to London in December 2006 and uttering threats which made the prime minister, Tony Blair, force an end to the Serious Fraud Office investigation into bribery allegations involving Bandar and his family.

The threats halted the fraud inquiry, but triggered an international outcry, with allegations that Britain had broken international anti-bribery treaties.

Lord Justice Moses, hearing the civil case with Mr Justice Sullivan, said the government appeared to have “rolled over” after the threats. He said one possible view was that it was “just as if a gun had been held to the head” of the government.

Can we invade Saudi Arabia now? Please?