These are all the Blogs posted on Thursday, 17, 2013.
Thursday, 17 January 2013
Bait and Switch
Alvin Plantinga takes on Sam Harris and the now fashionable notion that free will is illusory and we are all just material automatons:
Sam Harris claims that free will is an illusion. What we ordinarily believe in this neighborhood, he says, is completely mistaken: "You will do whatever it is you do, and it is meaningless to assert that you could have done otherwise"; "we know that determinism, in every sense relevant to human behavior, is true." Doesn't that imply that we human beings are not responsible for what we do? Harris is willing to bite the bullet: "we can no longer locate a plausible hook upon which to hang our conventional notions of personal responsibility." Indeed, he thinks that the illusion of free will is itself an illusion: what he means by this is that when we introspect very carefully we find that we don't really believe what we think we believe about free will.
The first thing to see is that there is a serious problem, in this book, about precisely what free will is supposed to be. As we usually think of it, free will has to do with actions and decisions; it is actions and decisions that are free or unfree. You have free will on a given occasion just if you could have done otherwise—i.e., just if it was within your power, on that occasion, to act differently from the way in which you did act then. And the fact is we instinctively believe that, on many occasions, we could indeed have done otherwise; we go on to think that on these occasions, we are accordingly responsible for what we did. Suppose I shade the truth or tell a lie in a misguided effort to make myself look good; our conviction, ordinarily, is that I could have refrained from telling that lie, am responsible for telling it, and am guilty for lying. We believe that on that very occasion it was within my power to refrain from lying, even though I did lie; and I am responsible for that lie just because it was within my power then not to lie. I make my modest contribution to my church; we think that it was within my power to refrain from doing so, so that my contribution is a free action. I freely decide whether to wear a blue shirt or a brown shirt; it was within my power to decide either way.
Now as far as I can tell, Harris does indeed mean to argue that we do not have free will in that sense, and I'll examine his arguments below. But his main target, at least the one on which he expends the most energy, seems to be something quite different. It's free will thought of in a wholly different way that he chiefly attacks. How does Harris think of free will? "Consider what it would take to actually have free will. You would need to be aware of all the factors that determine your thoughts and action, and you would need to have complete control over those factors."
His thought seems to be that first, there are some factors that determine my thought and action—i.e., factors that make it the case that I can never think or do anything other than what I do think or do; among these factors would be my desires, my character, various neurological factors, and so on. And second, I would have free will only if I had complete control over those factors—only if I freely chose them. I have free will only if I choose the sorts of desires and affections that I actually have; I am free only if I choose to have the character I do have, and indeed freely bring it about that I have that character. Suppose I have this strong desire to be approved of by others, and suppose I act in a way I think will promote others' having a good opinion of me. According to Harris, I am free in so acting only if I myself chose to have that desire and I myself brought it about that I do have that desire. If instead I just find myself with that desire (have not chosen to have it), then no action I take because of that desire is a free action. I want my church and indeed God's kingdom to prosper: when I act out of that desire—e. g., by financial contribution—I act freely, says Harris, only if I myself chose to have that desire, and brought it about that I do have it. He quite rightly says, "I cannot take credit for the fact that I do not have the soul of a psychopath," but from that he infers that he is not free.
Now this is vastly stronger than freedom as we ordinarily think of it. Harris notes that freedom is deeply involved in our notions of responsibility, guilt, and punishment. But freedom in his maximally strong sense is not required for responsibility or guilt or punishment. Suppose I know what is right on a given occasion, have the power to do the right thing but also the power to do something wrong, and in fact do something wrong. I quite consciously shade the truth, knowing perfectly well that doing so is wrong, and even though it is entirely within my power to tell the sober truth. Then I am responsible for being less than honest, and guilty for so doing. Nor is it required, for freedom, that I myself chose the desire to be thought highly of, or that I myself brought it about that I know that so doing is wrong.
Harris' notion of freedom is really an idea of what we might call maximal autonomy. It's obvious that we don't have maximal autonomy; we aren't free in that sense. Indeed, it isn't so much as possible that we be free in that sense. That is because, as he thinks of it, I act freely on a given occasion only if I myself freely choose to have the desires and affections I then act on, and furthermore I myself freely bring it about that I do have them. But note that the action by which I bring about that I have those desires and affections must itself be free. That means that I must have freely brought it about that I had the desires and affections out of which I acted in bringing it about that I have the desires and affections I presently have. You can see where this is going: for every occasion on which I act freely, there must have been an earlier occasion in which I acted freely. This clearly involves an infinite regress (to use the charming phrase philosophers like): if Harris is right, it is possible that I act freely only if it is possible that I perform an infinite number of actions, each one a matter of bringing it about that I have a certain set of desires and affections. Clearly no one has time, these busy days, for that. Harris is certainly right that we don't have that maximal autonomy; but nothing follows about our having freedom, i.e., the sort of freedom we ordinarily think we have, the sort required for moral responsibility.
What we have here looks like a classic bait and switch: announce that you will show that we don't have freedom in the ordinary sense required by moral responsibility, and then proceed to argue that we don't have freedom in the sense of maximal autonomy. It is certainly true that we don't have freedom in that sense: not even God could have that kind of freedom. That is not because God could not have performed infinitely many actions—no doubt he could have—but because God is necessarily all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good. This means that God has not freely chosen to have that character; there never was a time at which he had both the power to bring it about that he had that character, and also the power to bring it about that he did not have that character.
It's not at all clear to me why Harris devotes most of his energy to arguing that we don't have maximal autonomy. But he does also declare that we don't have freedom in the ordinary sense: "we know that determinism, in every sense relevant to human behavior, is true. Unconscious neural events determine our thoughts and actions—and are themselves determined by prior causes." How do we know that? Harris puts it like this: "Either our wills [i.e., our decisions and choices—AP] are determined by prior causes and we are not responsible for them, or they are the product of chance and we are not responsible for them." Another way to put it: either I am determined to do what I do by prior causes, or I do what I do by chance. In the first case I clearly don't have freedom. But the same holds in the second: if what I do happens just by chance, then too I don't do it freely (if I can be said to do it at all), at least not in a way which implies that I am responsible for that action.
This is a familiar argument, and one with a long history. But is it a good argument? I don't think so. Why think that if it is within my power to perform an action, but also within my power to refrain from so doing, then what I do happens just by chance? Maybe I have a good reason for doing what I do on that occasion—then it wouldn't be just by chance that I do it. Last Sunday you contributed money to your church; no doubt on that occasion it was within your power to refrain from contributing. But it surely wasn't just by chance that you made that contribution. It isn't as if you just flipped a coin: "Heads, I'll contribute; tails, I won't." No; you had a good reason for contributing: you want to promote the good things your church does. We Christians think God freely arranged the whole marvelous scheme of Incarnation and Atonement, whereby we sinners can once more be in a proper relationship with God. God did this, and did it freely; it was within his power to refrain from so doing, thus leaving us in our sins. But it surely doesn't follow that he did it just by chance!
This argument is a complete failure. There is one further kind of argument that Harris presents. He considers cases in which someone performs an act of horrifying evil: he enters a crowded movie theater and begins shooting. We then learn that this person is suffering from an invasive brain tumor or a serious psychological disorder; this makes us disinclined, or anyway less inclined, to hold him responsible for his action. That's because we think this person was caused to behave in this way by the tumor, and wasn't really free to act in any other way at the time of that behavior. So we recognize that people are sometimes unfree in their actions. But then, says Harris, can't we see that the same really goes for any other behavior on the part of that person, or any other person? If the killer's behavior is determined by previous circumstances and natural laws, isn't the same thing true of the behavior of any human being in any circumstance? He apparently thinks there is no relevant difference between a case in which a normal person kills someone else just for the thrill of it, and a case in which someone does the same thing, but is suffering from a brain tumor "the size of a golf ball in his medial prefrontal cortex." As he says, "There is no question that our attribution of agency can be gravely in error. I am arguing that it always is."
I am sorry to say that I couldn't find the argument. Harris seems to think merely pointing to this possibility is sufficient to clinch his case. But that seems preposterous. Some people under some conditions aren't free; how does it even begin to follow that no people under any conditions are free? Couldn't it be that pathological conditions rob a person of a freedom they would otherwise have? Couldn't it be that cognitive malfunction can take away a person's freedom? This is what we certainly think ordinarily. We excuse the person suffering from cognitive malfunction: she is not guilty by reason of insanity, or less guilty by reason of diminished capacity. Cognitive malfunction can take away one's freedom, and with it one's responsibility. But there isn't here the slightest reason to think that those who are not suffering from cognitive malfunction are never responsible for what they do. This argument, like the others, gives us no reason at all to amend this ordinary and deeply rooted way of thinking.
I conclude by considering a kind of argument for determinism that seems to me more promising than any of those offered by Harris. Several Christian thinkers have at least flirted with determinism, motivated for the most part by considerations of divine sovereignty. If God is truly sovereign, truly ruler over all, won't it be the case that whatever happens in the world, happens because he intends it to happen? Indeed, won't it be because God causes it to happen? Reformed thinkers in particular have sometimes seemed to endorse determinism. Some people think of John Calvin himself, that fons et origo of Reformedom, as accepting determinism. But this is far from clear. Calvin did, of course, endorse predestination: but determinism doesn't follow. Predestination, as Calvin thinks of it, has to do with salvation; it implies nothing about whether I can freely choose to take a walk this afternoon. Calvin did indeed have invidious things to say about the freedom of the will; much ink has been spilt on this topic, and the question of just what Calvin believed here is vexed. But as Richard Muller, as good a Calvin scholar as one can find, says, "When Calvin indicates that we are deprived of free choice, he is certainly indicating only that we cannot choose freely between good and evil, or more precisely, we cannot choose between performing nominally good acts in a sinful way and performing them in an utterly good way. He certainly does not mean either that the will … is unfree or coerced in any way; nor does he mean that a person is not free to choose between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon."
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), on the other hand, perhaps the greatest thinker America has produced, certainly did embrace divine determinism. And Edwards endorsed determinism, for the most part, out of concern for divine sovereignty. His idea, ultimately, is that God's sovereignty requires that God himself be the only real cause of whatever happens. In the final analysis, God is the only agent, the only being capable of action, and the only cause of whatever events occur.
Edwards' endorsement is weighty; and divine sovereignty is indeed important; but there are enormously high costs associated with his view. This is not the place for a full-dress discussion, but, just to indicate where the discussion could go, I note two problems for Edwards' view. First, if God is the real cause of everything, then he is also the real cause of sin; he is the real cause of every sinful action. But Christians have for the most part strenuously avoided the conclusion that God is the author of sin. God permits sin, certainly; but does he cause it? Does he cause the wickedness and the atrocities that our sad world displays? Does God cause genocide in Africa? Did he cause the Holocaust? Does he cause all the less conspicuous but nonetheless appalling sins committed by humankind? That seems impossible to square with God's perfect goodness.
And second, we human beings often do what we know is wrong, and are both responsible for so doing and guilty for so doing. But if determinism is true, then on any occasion when I do what is wrong, it isn't possible for me to refrain from doing wrong. And if it isn't possible for me to refrain from doing wrong, then I can't really be responsible for that wrong-doing—not in the relevant sense anyway. We do sometimes say that arterial plaque is responsible for many heart attacks, but that's not the relevant sense of "responsibility." The relevant sense involves being properly subject to disapprobation, moral criticism, and even punishment; no one would consider criticizing or punishing a deposit of plaque. By contrast, if I knowingly do what is wrong, I am indeed properly subject to disapproval and blame. But I am not properly blamed for doing what it was not within my power not to do. On Edwards' view, we seem to lose any notion of human responsibility. These are costs for Edwards' divine determinism, and they are certainly substantial.
Edwards perhaps has an initially plausible reason for accepting determinism: protecting divine sovereignty. Harris, on the other hand, seems to support determinism by little more than bland assertion and uncogent argument.
Posted on 01/17/2013 5:55 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Thursday, 17 January 2013
Oxford exploitation trial: Girl 'burned with lighter' . Second girl branded with letter 'M' to show her owner
From the BBC and ITV News
A 14-year-old girl was burned with a lighter and threatened if she refused to have sex with men, a court heard.
She is one of six alleged victims of nine men accused of grooming children and exploiting them for sex in Oxford. She was in care from the age of five and went to a children's home when she was 12. She kept running away, hanging around the streets of Oxford and she liked to get drunk from a young age.
Jurors at the Old Bailey were told the girl, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, met three of defendants Kamar Jamil, Anjum Dogar and his brother Akhtar Dogar, while she was living at a children's home aged 14. The court heard she drank and took drugs "to the point of passing out because she knew what was expected of her".
Noel Lucas QC, prosecuting, said the teenager felt she had to do what she was told by the men, otherwise they would threaten her and get rough with her. It is claimed she was taken to alleyways, woods and various houses and flats where men would have sex with her.
Mr Lucas also told the court the girl had said to a friend: "I have no choice, I just want to be loved. I've never been loved..."
They also threatened and abused her, burning her with cigarettes and they were patronising, the jury was told. The men would allegedly tell her that doing such things "was perfectly normal" and that "other girls" did it to him.
A 12-year-old girl who was repeatedly raped was also made to have a back-room abortion after falling pregnant, She was also "branded" with the initial of a man who claimed to "own her". Jurors at the Old Bailey heard the victim, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was "sold" to Mohammed Karrar when she had just turned 11 to "cure her bad attitude".
Noel Lucas QC, prosecuting, said he then groomed her for sexual activity, giving her alcohol and drugs. Mr Lucas said that on one occasion Mohammed Karrar heated a hair pin with a lighter and branded the girl with the letter M on her buttock to show she belonged to him.
The trial is expected to last until April. The defendants are all in custody
Posted on 01/17/2013 12:40 PM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Thursday, 17 January 2013
The disappear of -ing
What's happening to "-ing"? Can someone explain the dwindle?
My electricity supplier asked me for my meter "read". I must submit monthly meter "reads", so that they can calculate my "spend".
I'd be smarting from this -- if I had the smarts.
Posted on 01/17/2013 7:35 AM by Mary Jackson
Thursday, 17 January 2013
Of Beggars and Men
Recently I visited an exhibition in Paris about Victor Hugo’s spiritualist table-rapping while he was in exile from the Second Empire on the island of Jersey (supposed rationalists in politics are not necessary rationalist in everything, or indeed in anything, else). After leaving Hugo’s house on the Place des Vosges I walked down the rue du Pas de la Mule towards the Boulevard Beaumarchais. It is a short street, full of shops selling expensive trinkets, mostly execrable, to well-heeled tourists. There is also an art gallery on the street with such atrocious paintings that, were bad taste a crime, the owners and their clients would be sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
On the sidewalk in front of one of the trinket shops was stretched a woman, in her late fifties I should judge, dressed not in rags exactly but in a variety of layers of clothing that somehow suggested peasant-type rags. (I thought it was very well-judged, if indeed it was a performance.) Lying beside her was a metal crutch; she lay halfway between her side and her front so that if she turned her head upwards she could look at the people passing her, but this she did only intermittently. Instead she extended her arms in front of her, joining her hands in a gesture of supplication, shaking as if in the grip of some neurological disorder. It must have been physically exhausting to keep it up. In front of her was a paper cup into which passers-by could put their coins.
I found this at once disturbing, fascinating and irritating. I secreted myself into a doorway and observed her and passers-by for about twenty minutes. The performance – if that is what it was – continued without the slightest interruption or indication that it was anything other than genuine, and it could therefore be described as truly professional. I did not perform a scientific survey, but I should estimate that not more than 1 per cent of passers-by gave her any money.
It is not that the others failed to notice her. Rather, they walked round her in much the way that people skirt a natural obstacle, though a few did so with a downward glance of disdain, as if avoiding something unpleasant such as dog droppings. A few others showed themselves curious, not quite believing that a person such as she, or such a situation, could still exist; they were not the ones who gave money, however, who mostly let it fall into her paper cup and hurried on, as if either embarrassed or shamed into donation.
Why did this spectacle disturb and irritate me? I had no means of knowing the woman’s true economic position. Where did she live, in what circumstances and with whom? What did she eat, how much money would she have had without begging? How much did she make by prostrating herself on the rue du Pas de la Mule? Did she have collaborators (as she must have had if she were as incapacitated as she wanted people to believe)? Did she have to hand over a part of her takings to the beggar’s equivalent of a pimp? Though I should have liked to know these things I lacked the determination to find them out; in the absence of such knowledge, I felt a little guilty at supposing her a fraud.
And even if she were a fraud – even if in fact she were perfectly able-bodied – hers was an unenviable way to make a living; in a modern society, indeed, it is difficult to think of less enviable ways. So just as a person who constantly makes up symptoms and illnesses from which he does not really suffer is seen by doctors as suffering from the illness of making up symptoms and illnesses, so a fraudulent beggar is seen (by me at any rate) as worthy of compassion, for I cannot rid myself of the thought that anyone who resorts to such a practice must have a wretched existence. I have never really believed in tales of beggars who ride in Mercedes and reside in mansions; and even if they existed, the fact is that most beggars are – well, just beggars.
Perhaps it is mistaken to give to beggars, especially in a rich country, as it is to encourage beggary; but unfortunately this is abstract reasoning and beggars are people, not abstractions. A donation gives relief or pleasure (perhaps a malicious pleasure if the beggar is a fraud), but to pass a beggar by without giving when one is perfectly able to do so is to harden one’s heart by means of a chain or reasoning that justifies meanness. I am reminded that Doctor Johnson, who was neither rich nor unaware of the perils both economic and psychological of dependent idleness, and who was a true liberal in economic matters, never passed a beggar without giving him something.
Be this all as it may, I have noticed since my last visit to Paris (less than a year ago) a large increase in the number both of beggars and people living in Metro stations, many of which now smell of people who have not washed for weeks or months. Many of the residents are alcoholic, many are obviously schizophrenic, and a large proportion (apart from the alcoholics) obviously foreign.
Why this sudden increase? Naturally, the numbers of residents in the Metro are still very small by comparison with the numbers of passengers on the Metro: a few hundred, perhaps, compared with several millions. But does the increase in the numbers of residents in the Metro signify a shift to the left of the bell-curve of income, so that there are disproportionately more people who are truly destitute? Paris certainly looks prosperous enough, despite the crisis, and property prices are rising; by comparison with Anglo-Saxon countries, luxuries seem not only of superior quality but more widely distributed and consumed.
Or is it that the authorities look less unfavorably upon beggary, and that what was formerly kept out of sight is now allowed into the daylight? Or is it that, despite high unemployment, France continues to attract large numbers of immigrants, destitution in France being preferable to whatever conditions prevail at home? Parisian friends told me that there are now true bidonvilles, or favelas, on the outskirts of Paris, though personally I did not see them. By way of contrast, I did not encounter a single beggar while spending a week in Istanbul recently.
I have no solution to offer, but if there were one I am pretty sure M. Hollande would not find it. He was elected to power promising change; the French satirical weekly, La Canard enchainé, says he has kept his promise. 2012 has become 2013.
First published in the Library of Law and Liberty.
Posted on 01/17/2013 8:23 AM by Theodore Dalrymple
Thursday, 17 January 2013
Burak Bekdil On The Arab-Persian Exchange Rate
The Arab-Persian exchange rate
by Burak Bekdil
When Prime Minister Shimon Peres released 1,150 Arab prisoners in 1985 in exchange for three Israeli soldiers that had been captured by the Palestinian Militant Front of Ahmad Jibril in the famous Jibril deal, the exchange rate on the Arab-Israeli prisoner market was: One Israeli soldier for 383.3 jihadist prisoners. In 2011, with the release of Gilat Shalid, the exchange rate moved sharply to: One Israeli soldier for 1,027 jihadist prisoners, making the Arab-Israeli asymmetry even starker.
Like financial markets, the human exchange market in the Middle East creates its own equilibria by the forces of supply and demand. Most recently, the market produced an Arab-Persian exchange rate that naturally produced a Persian-Israeli exchange rate.
Last week, Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus and the Sunni
jihadists (known euphemistically as “freedom fighters” or the “real Syrian people”) fighting al-Assad reportedly finalized a massive prisoner swap, with the Syrian government releasing 2,130 mostly Syrian captives in exchange for 48 Iranians who had been seized by the jihadists. Of course, there is the usual Middle Eastern touch of mystery here as regards to who’s who in the picture.
According to the official Syrian (and Iranian) account, the Syrian prisoners are terrorists and the Iranian hostages are merely Shia pilgrims passing through Syrian lands. According to the Syrian opposition, the captives are freedom fighters and the pilgrims are Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Again, as is usually accurate in Middle Eastern affairs, the truth is somewhere in the huge massive plateau that lies between the two accounts. Anyone with an elementary knowledge about the Middle East would bet his money on the possibility that not all Syrian prisoners were terrorists and not all Iranian pilgrims were just pilgrims.
But market players are rarely interested in how an exchange rate has appeared. For them, what matters most is what their screen tells them the rate is. Last week’s prisoner swap created a new exchange rate in the market: One Iranian pilgrim (I cannot hide my smile while typing the word ‘pilgrim’) for 44.4 Syrian freedom fighters (and I cannot hide my smile either when typing the words ‘freedom fighters’). To put it more realistically, we can reformulate the new exchange rate as: One Iranian Revolutionary Guard for 44.4 Sunni
That simple computation gives us a new exchange rate not yet traded on the market: One Israeli soldier for 23.1 Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Of course, one can always prefer market euphemism and put the rate as one Israeli soldier for 23.1 Iranian pilgrims. None of the chosen wording will change the rates on the market: X = 1,027Y, Z = 44.4Y, therefore X= 23.1Z.
Juts like the introductory theories in economics, scarcity vs. abundance of a commodity may explain the market rates here, since in the whole world there are, roughly speaking, 15 units of X, 80 units of Z and 400 units of Y. If we are talking from a strictly market point of view, the supply side of the picture would explain the exchange rates, but enough with this bad metaphor.
We are talking about human lives, not currencies. Why, for God’s sake, do we have this market of human lives functioning precisely like a currency market functions? Why do we trade human lives like we trade shekels and riyals? And why do the central banks keep on printing human banknotes knowing they would become “junknotes” in heaven? Why are some central banks fully dedicated to the protection of their national currencies while others think they can rule the world by printing billions of junk currencies into junk?
We all know the answers and I will not give up reminding everyone again and again that it is because “they love death more than we love life.”
Is anyone still curious why, according to various polls, over 80 percent of Palestinians prefer Israel’s annihilation to any peace deal, including a two-state solution?
Posted on 01/17/2013 9:38 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 17 January 2013
Catholic Order Offers Sabeel Narrative in Chivalric Garb
The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is a Catholic lay order founded during the Crusades to protect Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land from Muslim violence. Today, the order is dedicated to promoting the welfare of Christians in the Holy Land and to supporting the works of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem. According to this video, the order enjoys the support of 27,000 members throughout the world and has donated more than $60 million to Catholic schools, orphanages, health clinics and other institutions that help Christians and Muslims in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The order is comprised of connected and well-to-do Catholics who are able to afford the substantial entrance fee required of new members and who are able to sustain the annual oblation required of existing members. In addition to supporting Christians in the Holy Land, the order places a great emphasis on its ceremonial regalia as can be seen here and here.
New Grand Master in 2011
With the appointment of Cardinal Edwin O'Brien as the order's Grand Master in August, 2011, Pope Benedict sent a clear message that the welfare of Christians in the Holy Land was of prime importance to the Vatican. Prior to his appointment, Cardinal O'Brien was serving as Archbishop of Baltimore, the premier (or first) archdiocese established in America, and was expected to remain in this post until his retirement.
At a press conference announcing his new post, Cardinal O'Brien admitted that his new appointment came as a shock and represented a sacrifice for a man who expected to spend the rest of his career in Baltimore. O'Brien reconciled himself to his transfer after concluding that his new appointment, (which came less than four years after he was appointed Archbishop of Baltimore), underscored just how important the post was to the Vatican. “To remove a resident bishop of a major diocese to a task such as this shows the priority the Holy Father has and that I better have in my life,” he said.
John Allen, a journalist who covers the Vatican for the National Catholic Reporter, heralded O'Brien's appointment as Grand Master of the order with a call for the organization to advocate more effectively for Christians in the Middle East. “Here's hoping O'Brien brings the same ‘tell-it-like-it-is' style to his new job as pro-Grand master of the Equestrian order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem because embattled Christians of the Middle East desperately need a real political heavyweight to take up their cause.” O'Brien's new post, Allen wrote, “could become the ‘tip of the spear' for a far more concentrated and effective global response to the realities facing Christians in today's Middle East.”
Allen left no doubt that Islamist violence against Christians in the Middle East was one of the “realities” that he hoped the order would confront under O'Brien's leadership. In his piece, he referred explicitly to Egypt where Christians “are afraid that the democratic promise of the Arab Spring will give way to an Islamic theocracy dominated by Salafists, who openly describe Christian Churches as ‘mafias harboring weapons and sinners.'” Allen continued:
In some ways, Egypt, could turn into a replay of Iraq, which was itself home to a large Christian community estimated at roughly two million prior to the first Gulf War in 1991. Today the best guess is that perhapts 400,000 Christians remain, meaning that Iraq has lost roughly two-thirds of its Christian population in the arc of just two decades.
Unfortunately, it appears that Allen's hopes that the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre would become an effective advocate for Christians in the Middle East under O'Brien's leadership are in vain.
The “tell-it-like it is” approach that Cardinal O'Brien used in public issues prior to his appointment as the order's Grand Master has not trickled down to the organization's leadership in North America.
Sabeel Message in Chivalric Garb
A close examination of the information broadcast by the Order to its members in North America about the status of Christians in the Holy Land indicates that the organization is afflicted with an obsession with Israel and an inability or unwillingness to tackle Islamist violence against Christians head-on.
In other words, the organization is telling the same story offered by Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center and its supporters in the United States.
This sad reality is particularly evident in a video about the status of Christians in the Holy Land produced by Jeff Abood, education master of the Cleveland section of the order's North Central Lieutenancy. (The order's members in the U.S. are divided into nine different regions or “lieutenancies.”)
Abood, who also serves as the coordinator for Friends of Sabeel North America in Ohio, has produced a Powerpoint presentation which he gave to the North Central Lieutenancy of the Order at its meeting in Indianapolis in September. A video of this presentation, posted on the Order's U.S. website, is rife with factual misstatements, material omissions and distortions all of which serve to portray Israel in an unfairly harsh light.
For example, in the presentation, Abood falsely reports that Qassam rockets are “non-exploding.” (More about this below.) To make matters worse, Abood goes out of his way to downplay well-documented Muslim hostility toward Christians in the Holy Land. (Again, more about this below.)
The premise of Abood's presentation is that the Christian population in the Holy Land – which includes Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, is declining and that this decline is the result of Israeli policies.
Like other commentators on this subject, Abood reports that the percentage of Christians in the overall population is declining, but fails to inform his audience that in absolute numbers, the Christian population in the Holy Land has actually increased since Israel's creation in 1948.
In the video, Abood states “Since 1948, the Christian population has gone historically from around 18 percent to less than two percent today – actually probably closer to about one and a half percent now. So we're going to look at why they're leaving.”
With this statement, Abood obscures a number of important facts.
First, he fails to report to his viewers that Israel's Christian population has in fact, increased since its founding. Here are the numbers:
In 1949, there were 34,000 Christians living in Israel. The vast majority of them were Arab.
At the end of 2011, there were approximately 155,000 Christians living in Israel. Of this total population of Christians, 125,000 were Arab, or indigenous to Israel.
In other words, Israel's population of indigenous Christians has increased by 91,000 over the past six decades – a remarkable increase in a region where Christians are being oppressed and driven from the region on a daily basis.
Christians in West Bank, Bethlehem
Abood also fails to report that the population of Christians in the West Bank, which was declining under Jordanian rule, has increased since Israel took control of the West Bank after the Six Day War in 1967.
Here are the numbers for Christian population for the entire West Bank compiled by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) in a 2011 report:
The number of Christians in Bethlehem (both the city and the district), have also increased slightly since Israel took control of the West Bank in 1967. The JCPA reports that “In Bethlehem City, the Christian population dropped under Jordanian rule. Since 1967, it as grown by 11% on the city and by 56% in the district.” Here is a breakdown of the numbers compiled by the JCPA:
The numbers, compiled from a number of sources – including Palestinian organizations such as Sabeel Ecumenical and Liberation Theology Center and the Diyar Institute – indicate that the population of Christians in the West Bank declined under Jordanian rule, recovered for a while under Israeli rule, and then started to decline after Yassir Arafat took control of the Palestinian Authority in the mid-1990s. The population started to recover again in the years after his death.
Abood's False Premise
These numbers, taken together, undermine the entire premise of Abood's presentation – that the Palestinian Christian population is “declining” because of Israeli policies. Overall, the trend under Israeli control is one of increase, not decrease.
Yes, the percentage of Christians as part of the entire population of the Holy Land is declining, but this is due in large part to the growth of the Muslim and Jewish populations in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.
How can Abood deprive his audience of these basic facts in good conscience? The raison d'être of the order's existence is to help the Christians in the Holy Land, and yet nowhere in his presentation does he even tell his fellow members how many Christians there are in this area!
How can this be? How can this be?
Islamist Hostility Toward Christians Downplayed
In the video, Abood asserts “one of the biggest misnomers about this is that Christians are leaving the Holy Land because of the Muslims and that's not true.” He also states that
Holy Land relations are good between Christians and the Muslims and you can tell by over the last fifteen hundred years the population has always been a stable percentage of the population. It has only been the last 60 years that this has really begun to decline. And even today, many of the elected leaders, Palestinian leaders are Christians. Many of them are mayors of the large cities and towns and they are elected because they enjoy a wide base of support even though Christians are the minority.
In addition to reaffirming his distorted narrative about the population of Christians in the Holy Land, Abood also offers a rosy image of Christian-Muslim relations in Palestinian society. In fact, Palestinian Christians have been the target of violence at the hands of Muslim extremists in the Holy Land for at least the past decade.
A few examples:
In 2005, more than a dozen homes in the West Bank town of Taybeh were burnt to the ground by a Muslim mob. This act of arson was perpetrated by Muslims outraged over a romantic affair between a Christianman and a Muslim woman.In an article linked to above, Ha'aretzreported the following about the incident:
PA security sources said that the rampage was triggered by an incident last week in which a 23-year-old woman was killed by her relatives because they suspected her of carrying on a romance with a Christian man from Taybeh. The woman was quickly buried, but last Tuesday, the PA police exhumed the body for an autopsy.
More recently, on August 20, 2012, Christians living in a housing project in Bethpage built by the Latin Patriarchate were attacked by Muslim youths. You can see articles about the attack here and here.
In July 2012, Christians protested against forced conversions in the Gaza Strip. UPI reported in July 2012 the following:
Christians in Gaza protested the abduction of a young man, saying he is being forced to convert to Islam by an armed group, a Greek Orthodox official says.
The protesters staged a sit-in Monday outside a Gaza church, alleging a Christian man and two girls recently had been kidnapped, the Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported Tuesday.
Archbishop Alexios said Ramiz al-Amash was kidnapped by an Islamist group Saturday after attempts were made to convert him to Islam. The archbishop said al-Amash was also prevented from calling his family. "The young man's parents went to the police to lodge a complaint about the kidnapping of their son, but it [police] did nothing," Archbishop Alexios told the Palestinian news agency.
"There are some groups trying to persuade young Christians to convert to Islam. They abduct them away from their parents and their families. They threaten them," he said.
The archbishop said al-Amash's family contacted the kidnappers and the mother was permitted to see her son who was surrounded by gunmen and then taken away, Ma'an said.
Some 3,000 Christians live in the Gaza Strip.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli Arab who has been quite critical of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, wrote about this episode in an article published in July 2012 available here.
And in 2007, a Palestinian Baptist minister Rami Khader Ayyad, whose bookstore had been firebombed by Islamists, was murdered by unknown gunmen. The Christian Post reported the following about the attack:
Witnesses and security officials associated with the Executive Force of the Islamic group Hamas told the Sun that Ayyad – who was the director of Gaza's only Christian bookstore – was publicly beaten a few blocks from his store before being shot to death.
The witnesses reportedly said they saw three armed men, two of them wearing masks, beat Ayyad repeatedly with clubs and the butts of their guns while accusing him of attempting to spread Christianity in Gaza. The witnesses said that after the three men beat Ayyad, they all shot him.
In light of all these acts of Muslim-on-Christian violence, it should come as no surprise that Church officials – Catholic and Protestant – contradict Abood's assessment that Holy Land relations between Christians and Muslims as “good.”
Testimony From Custos Contradicts Abood's Story
For example, in 2005, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land for the Roman Catholic Church, acknowledged publicly that Palestinians Christians were suffering from acts of oppression by their Muslim neighbors. Chiesa quoted Fr. Pizzaballa as follows:
“What do you mean by difficulties between Israel and the Vatican? We Christians in the Holy Land have other problems. Almost every day – I repeat, almost every day – our communities are harassed by the Islamic extremists in these regions. And if it's not the members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, there are clashes with the 'rubber wall' of the Palestinian Authority, which does little or nothing to punish those responsible. On occasion, we have even discovered among our attackers the police agents of Mahmoud Abbas or the militants of Fatah, his political party, who are supposed to be defending us.”
In its coverage of this story Father Pizzabella's remarks, The Telegraph (London) reported that things had gotten so bad that Church leaders compiled a "dossier" of 93 alleged incidents of abuse by an 'Islamic fundamentalist mafia against Palestinian Christians, who accused the Palestinian Authority of doing nothing to stop the attacks."
According to The Telegraph, "The dossier includes a list of 140 cases of apparent land theft, in which Christians in the West Bank were allegedly forced off their lands backed by corrupt judicial officials."
Palestinian Evangelicals Contradict Abood's Story
Evangelical Protestant leaders have also spoken about Islamist hostility toward Christians. Attendees at The Christ at the Checkpoint Conference organized by Bethlehem Bible College in March of 2012 heard similar testimony. At this conference, Evangelical leaders acknowledged that Muslim hostility toward Christians is a problem.
Pastor Nihad Salman, who serves as a pastor in Beit Jala, testified to the concerns Christians in the West Bank have regarding Muslim hostility toward Christians. After speaking about the impact of high unemployment on Christians in the West Bank, he said that because Christians comprise only one or two percent of the population in the territory, they are affected psychologically.
You are afraid. And we have many times when people are afraid of what is happening in the Arabic Spring. Will the Muslims you know, take over? If it is true or not true. Whatever the outcome of that... what will happen? Will after Saturday come Sunday? So this is the type of thing that makes Christians want to run away.
The reference to Saturday and Sunday is to a well-known proverb in the Middle East about Muslim hostility toward Jews (whose day of rest is on Saturday) and Christians (whose day of rest is on Sunday). The question Pastor Salman is asking is, given that Islamist groups are coming to power across the region ("Arabic Spring") and having already persecuted and expelled their Jews ("Saturday"), will these Arab countries now increase their persecution of Christians ("Sunday")?
And another Palestinian pastor, Labeeb Madanat, who works for the Bible Societies in Israel and Palestine said the following at the same conference: "There are pressures. There is discrimination. The dhimma system is a system of discrimination. We do not deny that."
After the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference, similar testimony was offered by with Rev. Steven Khoury, a Baptist minister who preaches in both Israel and the West Bank including at his father's congregation, the First Baptist Church of Bethlehem, which has been firebombed numerous times over the years. Rev. Khoury reported thatthere is a sense among Christians in Bethlehem that anti-Christian animus has gotten worse in the city over the past few years. “People are always telling them, ‘Convert to Islam. Convert to Islam. It's the true and right religion,'” he said.
In light of this testimony – some of it coming from a high-ranking Catholic official – Abood's description of relations between Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land as “good” is simply untenable.
Downplays Rocket Attacks
Abood also downplays the physical threat and psychological impact of rockets fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip.
In his presentation, Abood reports that Qassam rockets are “non-exploding.”
This is simply false.
Qassam rockets, which have been fired into Israel on a regular basis since 2001, carry explosive warheads and do explode. In an August 2009 report, Human Rights Watch stated that the warhead of a Qassam rocket “consists of a metal shell containing an explosive made from urea nitrate, found in fertilizers, and TNT. The fuse comes from a small arms cartridge.” HRW also stated in this report that the rockets have a maximum range of 10 kilometers and carry a payload of “up to 20 kilograms.”
Moreover, Abood makes no reference to other rocket designs such as the Grad rocket, which can carry a warhead of up to 28 kilograms. HRW reports that one version of the Grad rocket “can be augmented with a blast fragmentation warhead containing 4,000 steel balls, which can be lethal over a radius of about 100 meters.”
In addition to falsely reporting that Qassam rockets are “non-exploding,” Abood cites an unnamed report from the Israeli organization B'Tselem that indicate that Palestinian rockets kill “two to three people a year.” He continues:
So one important thing to remember about the violence is that it's a very small percentage of what happens there, which is one of the reasons why tens of thousands of pilgrims can go safely every year to the Holy Land because the violence is so isolated, even though it makes the headlines all the time.”
The number of deaths caused by rockets fired from the Gaza Strip provided by Abood is incorrect. Below are the correct figures of deaths caused by rockets from the Gaza Strip for the past few years. (The figures are provided by the IDF)
2006: 9 killed, 371 injured.
2007: 10 killed, 578 injured.
2008: 15 killed, 611 injured.
2009: 2 killed, 11 injured
2010: 5 killed, 35 injured.
2011: 3 killed, 81 injured.
2012: 6 killed, 284 injured
Minimizing the number of deaths (and omitting the injuries altogether) is bad enough, but Abood's description of the violence against Israel as a “small percentage of what happens here” and as “isolated” is outrageous and irresponsible.
More than one million Israelis live within range of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. These Israelis have been terrorized for years as a result of rockets and mortar rounds being launched from the Gaza Strip. These rockets are fired from territory controlled by Hamas, an organization that has repeatedly declared its intention to destroy Israel, a fact that Abood does not mention during the presentation.
The violence is not “isolated” as Abood describes it. Children living in places like Ashkelon (population 118,000), Sderot (pop. 21,000) are experiencing nightmares because of the rocket attacks. The Human Rights Watch report cited above says the following about these rocket attacks:
The rocket attacks have caused civilian casualties and property damage. Civilian structures damaged in recent attacks include a kindergarten, a synagogue and private homes. An Israeli early warning siren system, which gives civilians roughly 10 to 45 seconds to find cover in prepared shelters, depending on their distance from the launch site in Gaza, has undoubtedly limited the number of civilian casualties. However, the repeated attacks have, over months and even years, taken a psychological toll on the population in areas close to Gaza. The laws of war prohibit attacks the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population. Because of the rocket attacks, thousands of people have moved away from frequently targeted areas such as Sderot municipality. (Emphasis added.)
Abood's failure to acknowledge this reality is inexcusable and unjust.
These are just some of the problems with Abood's presentation, which is not the only bit of evidence indicating the organization has allowed itself to be used to attack Israel. A look at the websites for the organization's lieutenancies indicates that the organization has embraced the Sabeel narrative about Israel lock, stock and barrel.
The issue facing the leaders of Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is this: Do they want their organization to be used to “tell it like it” is when addressing issues of importance to Christians in the Holy Land, or do they want their time, energy and money used to attack Israel with misinformation and to downplay Islamist hostility toward Christians in Palestinian society?
What will they choose?
First published at CAMERA
Posted on 01/17/2013 9:41 AM by Dexter Van Zile
Thursday, 17 January 2013
In Iraq, The Mixture As Before
USA TODAY-1 hour ago
BAGHDAD (AP) — Insurgents unleashed a string of bomb attacks mainly targeting Shiite Muslim pilgrims across Iraq on Thursday, killing at ...
Posted on 01/17/2013 9:43 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 17 January 2013
What The Western Press Has Left Out About The Algerian Terrorists
According to the French news reports which I have been watching on teleivision, the terrorists who seized hostages the natural gas plant asked each of them whether he was "Muslim or non-Muslim" and then freed all those, and only those, who could be identified as Muslims.
Why was this not in the account in the New York Times? In The Washington Post? Anywhere in the non-French press? Who decided that this was not important enough to report, and why did so many choose not to report it?
Posted on 01/17/2013 11:18 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 17 January 2013
Judge Sentencing One More Muslim Terrorist Declares Himself "Baffled"
Chicago man who backed terror group gets 14 years
By MICHAEL TARM, Associated Press | January 17, 2013 | Updated: January 17, 2013 12:31pm
FILE - In this June 7, 2011 file courtroom sketch, Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana, left, appears in federal court in Chicago. Rana is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday, Jan 17, 2013, in Chicago for backing terrorism in Denmark and supporting a Pakistani terrorist group that staged deadly attacks on Mumbai, India, in 2008. Photo: Tom Gianni
CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago businessman was sentenced to 14 years in prison Thursday for providing material support to overseas terrorism, including a Pakistani group whose 2008 attacks on Mumbai, India, left more than 160 people dead.
The judge sentenced Tahawwur Rana in U.S. District Court in Chicago to the prison term followed by five years of supervised release.
The Pakistani-born Canadian declined to address the judge prior to sentencing. Rana, 52, faced a maximum 30 years in prison.
Jurors in 2011 convicted Rana of providing support for the Pakistani group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and for supporting a never-carried-out plot to attack a Danish newspaper that printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005. The cartoons angered many Muslims because pictures of the prophet are prohibited in Islam.
But jurors cleared Rana of the third and most serious charge of involvement in the three-day rampage in Mumbai, India's largest city, which has often been called India's 9/11.
Rana's attorney, Patrick Blegen, had argued for a more lenient sentence that would take into account his poor health and the emotionally impact of his separation from his wife and children. He also argued that Rana did not present a future risk.
"Judge, he is a good man and he got sucked into something, but there's no risk that he's going to do it again. None," Blegen said.
Judge Harry Leinenweber said he was baffled at the descriptions put forward by his family of Rana as a kind, caring person, saying it was so "contrary" to the person who aided the plot on the newspaper's office.
"On the one hand we have a very intelligent person who is capable of providing assistance to many people," the judge said just before announcing his sentence. "But what is difficult to understand is: a person with that intelligence and that background and history of helping others ... how that type of person could get sucked into a dastardly plot that was proposed."
The government's star witness at Rana's trial was admitted terrorist David Coleman Headley, who had pleaded guilty to laying the groundwork for the Mumbai attacks. The American Pakistani testified against his school friend Rana to avoid the death penalty and extradition. He is scheduled to be sentenced in Chicago next week.
Headley spent five days on the witness stand — taking up more than half the trial — detailing how he allegedly worked for both the Pakistani intelligence agency known as the ISI and Lashkar.
Prosecutors also presented Rana's videotaped arrest statement to the FBI, during which he said he knew Headley had trained with Lashkar. They also played a September 2009 recorded phone conversation between the men.
Prosecutor Daniel Collins argued for a tough punishment that would deter others who would take part in similar plots and reflect the seriousness of the offense.
"There's not much worse than mass murder of this scale," he said of the plot, which was not ultimately carried out.
Rana was accused of allowing Headley to open a branch of his Chicago-based immigration law business in Mumbai as a cover story and travel as a representative of the company in Denmark. In court, a travel agent showed how Rana booked travel for Headley.
At the trial defense attorneys chipped away at Headley's credibility, portraying him as a manipulator and habitual liar. Jurors' decision not to convict Rana on all counts could suggest they weren't fully convinced by Headley.
Rana's trial in 2011 came just weeks after Navy SEALs found Osama bin Laden hiding in Pakistan. Some observers had expected testimony could reveal details about alleged links between ISI and Lashkar-e-Taiba. In the end, though, much that came out in testimony had been heard before through indictments and a report released by India's government.
The Pakistani government has maintained it did not know about bin Laden or help plan the Mumbai attacks.
Posted on 01/17/2013 12:38 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 17 January 2013
Zarqawi's Brother-In-Law Killed Fighting Jihad In Syria
From The Daily Star (Lebanon):
Zarqawi brother-in-law killed in Syria: Jordan Salafist
AMMAN: Two jihadists including a brother-in-law of slain Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi have been killed in clashes with Syrian regime forces, a senior Jordanian Salafist said on Thursday.
"Adam Abulmutasem and Mohammad Jarad, who are in their 20s, were killed two days ago in clashes with regime troops in the southern province of Sweida," Abed Shehadeh, known as Abu Mohammad Tahawi, told AFP.
"Jarad was the brother-in-law of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi," Tahawi said.
Jordanian-born Zarqawi was killed in an air strike by the US military in Iraq in 2006.
The two jihadists who were killed in Syria this week fought alongside the jihadist Al-Nusra Front, according to Tahawi.
Nusra, which first gained notoriety for its suicide bombings in Syria, has evolved into a formidable fighting force leading attacks on battlefronts throughout the embattled country.
Its extremist tactics and suspected affiliation to the Al-Qaeda offshoot in Iraq have landed it on the US list of terrorist organisations.
"Twenty-two out of the 350 Jordanian jihadists currently fighting in Syria have been killed," including the "mufti" of Nusra in Daraa, Tahawi said.
Jordan arrested more than a dozen jihadists in April and June as they tried to infiltrate Syria, where insurgents are fighting to oust the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Posted on 01/17/2013 12:46 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 17 January 2013
Freedom Fighters In Syria -- Whom Some In The West Would Aid -- Make Their Views Very Clear
Posted on 01/17/2013 12:52 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 17 January 2013
The Primitive Morsi Grossly Inflates His Resume, Then Denies It All
Posted on 01/17/2013 12:56 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 17 January 2013
Another Video Surfaces: Take A Good Look At Mohamed Morsi, And Ask If He, And The Country He Rules, Merit More American Aid
Watch him proclaim here
the need to inculcate in future generations -- children, grandchildren -- hatred of Jews, a hatred that, to a member of the Ikhwan, is sacred. For who told Morsi Jews are "the sons of apes and pigs"? The Qur'an did, in three places. The Hadith do, and the Sira. Why can't anyone in the mass press dare to say this? Why can't a single Congressman make this point publicly, and dare anyone to challenge him? Why can't we all face the melancholy facts about Islam, and about the adherents of Islam?
Posted on 01/17/2013 1:00 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 17 January 2013
A tale of two broadcasters
For who told Morsi Jews are "the sons of apes and pigs"? The Qur'an did, in three places. The Hadith do, and the Sira. Why can't anyone in the mass press dare to say this? [From Hugh's post here.]
Somebody did: Tim Marshall, Foreign Affairs Editor of Sky News:
Describing Jews as sons of pigs and monkeys is commonplace throughout the Middle East, it is routinely repeated on the street, in mosques, in TV debates, in cartoons, and in newspaper articles. The belief is based on three different verses in the Koran – 7:166, 2:65, and 5:60.
Some open-minded Muslims argue that the verses should be seen in historical context and that they refer to the problems between Jews and the new religion of Muhammad at the time of writing. Many others view them as literal and applicable for all time.
For the Egyptian President to use the phrase in a live TV interview in the 21st century suggests he takes the latter view. Core beliefs such as those he has espoused for decades are not normally reversed by a year in power although this cannot be definitively ruled out.
In Europe, when Europeans say things such as expressed above, we recognise them as ‘Fascistic’. When expressed by people in some other parts of the globe we appear frightened to call things what they are.
Contrast this with the shameful dhimmitude of the BBC. From BBC watch, with thanks to Harry's Place for this and the Sky News link above:
It has taken far too much time, but the US State Department’s recent condemnation of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s antisemitic, terror-glorifying statements – shown in a video from 2010 which was released almost two weeks ago by MEMRI – has left Western journalists no choice but to begin reporting the story.
However, in its own report on the subject which appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website on January 16th, the BBC apparently could not resist ‘tweaking’ Morsi’s words.
The BBC article states: [emphasis added]
“In the clip from Palestinian broadcaster Al-Quds TV, Mr Morsi referred to Jewish settlers as “occupiers of Palestine” and “warmongers”.
He called for a “military resistance in Palestine against these Zionist criminals assaulting the land of Palestine and Palestinian”.”
Firstly, Al Quds TV is not merely a “Palestinian broadcaster” – it is a television station owned and run by Hamas. Of course this is not the first time that the BBC has elected to conceal from its audiencesthe terror connections of Al Quds TV and its sister organization Al Aqsa TV.
Secondly, Morsi makes no reference whatsoever to “Jewish settlers” in his antisemitic, terror-glorifying rant: that phrase is an invention by the BBC. In fact, Morsi speaks of “Zionists”, by which he means all Israeli Jews – regardless of whether they live on one side or the other of the ‘green line’ – the existence of which Morsi clearly says he does not recognize.
So, the question is this: does the BBC follow the party line expounded by Hamas and other terrorist organisations whereby all Jewish Israelis are considered “settlers” no matter where they live? That is certainly one possible explanation for the choice of wording above.
And if that is not the case, then we must ask why the BBC is trying to tone down Morsi’s support of terrorism in the whole of Israel by pretending that his statements encouraging violence ‘only’ refer to the use of terror against a specific group of people. Did the BBC perhaps consider that Morsi’s words would go down a little less badly with its audiences if they were framed as relating to “Jewish settlers” whom – according to the bien pensants of certain circles in the West – it has become perfectly acceptable to demonise, dehumanize and stereotype?
If that is the case, then it also means that we cannot avoid asking the rather unpleasant – but necessary – question of whether the BBC considers there to be a difference between the palatability of terror attacks inside and outside the ‘green line’.
Say what you like about Rupert Murdoch -- he won't care much -- but I'd trust Sky News over the BBC any day.
Posted on 01/17/2013 1:22 PM by Mary Jackson
Thursday, 17 January 2013
But Why Should The American Government Want To Make Things Easy For Fanatical Sunnis In Syria?
A Syria Strategy for Obama
Andrew J. Tabler
January 17, 2013
A Syria expert offers three bold steps to hasten the end of Assad's regime.
This piece is part of "Obama and the Middle East: Act Two," a series of policy proposals for the president's second term by Washington Institute fellows.
The Assad regime's brutal suppression of the Syrian uprising has spurred a humanitarian disaster, with the United Nations now estimating over 60,000 killed and 3 million displaced. Syrians are now dying of starvation and exposure as food and medical supplies run desperately short. The regime continues to escalate its attacks with the use of artillery, combat aircraft, and, most recently, SCUD and reportedly Fatah 110 missiles against the armed and civilian opposition.
The Obama administration has repeatedly voiced its concern that the Assad regime is considering using its chemical weapons stockpile, which includes sarin nerve gas and mustard gas, against its domestic opponents. The U.S. government reportedly even investigated the possible use of a chemical agent last month in Homs. At the same time, Washington has refused to fulfill the opposition's request for more and better weapons that would help it end the regime's onslaught, sowing anti-American sentiment that is being increasingly harvested by Islamic extremists and al-Qaeda affiliates. There is now a real danger that the regime's chemical weapons could fall into the hands of militants sworn to destroy the United States and its regional allies.
With U.S. elections now settled, the Obama administration is less constrained by domestic U.S. politics and should now take bold steps to hasten the end of Assad's regime. The fight to take down the regime and its supporters may continue for some time, and divisions between opposition groups mean the struggle for what replaces it may be conflict-ridden as well. Even as the war continues, Washington should take steps to ease human suffering and place itself in a better position to secure chemical weapons from use in Syria and elsewhere.
First, Washington should use Patriot missile batteries in an offensive capacity against regime aircraft -- and deploy them defensively against SCUD and Fatah 110 missiles targeting opposition-dominated areas along Syria's borders with Turkey and Jordan. A package of the Patriot missiles recently deployed to southern Turkey augmented with an anti-aircraft capability, for example, could be used to carve out a 50-mile air exclusion zone from the Turkish border city of Kilis to Aleppo, Syria's largest city. This would help the opposition create vital "safe areas" where civilians could be secure in an organized fashion free from regime airstrikes as the war against Assad continues.
As an important ancillary benefit, such safe areas would provide a vital place for the exile-dominated National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SOC) to politically organize and provide assistance directly to Syrian civilians. If properly defended, diplomats, officials, and aid representatives from the international community could work side by side with Syrians to help alleviate suffering and build a viable government for post-Assad Syria. When fully "liberated" areas under opposition control expand beyond the border regions to Syria's interior, the United States and its allies could follow up with targeted air and missile strikes against Assad regime forces armed with chemical weapons or poised to carry out further mass atrocities.
Second, Washington should provide a package of intelligence-sharing, military training, and other security assistance to mainstream nationalist, non-extremist groups that have been vetted by Western countries, both to increase their military capabilities and in exchange for any chemical weapons captured from the regime's stockpiles. The package should be comprehensive enough to allow participant groups to more rapidly defeat the Assad regime's forces and more effectively secure chemical weapons. Groups receiving assistance would be required to allow U.S. and allied special forces to collect and secure captured stockpiles of chemical weapons.
Third, Washington and its allies should provide local communities supporting mainstream groups that cooperate with Washington's program to secure chemical weapons with a larger civil assistance program. Large swaths of Syrian urban and rural areas have been ravaged by war, and the task of providing services and rebuilding basic infrastructure will be extensive. Such a civil assistance program, if part of an overall strategy, would create a positive incentive for civilian communities to pressure armed groups operating in their areas to comply with the program in the short and medium term. This same system of incentives could also be leveraged to disincentivize ethnic cleansing.
Such an integrated plan would help alleviate the suffering of Syrians, reverse Washington's rapidly declining support among the opposition, and provide real inducements to armed groups that will soon take over large swaths -- if not the entirety -- of Syrian territory to hand over any captured chemical weapons to the United States and its allies. Washington's efforts could be combined with those of Russia, Assad's chief international patron, as well as China, to pressure the Assad regime or any Alawite-dominated rump regime to secure what remains of the regime's stockpile. This approach would help keep chemical weapons from being used not only in the struggle for Syria, but against its neighbors and the West. It would also create incentives for armed and civilian groups in Syria to cooperate and assume the responsibility that goes along with governing a post-Assad Syria.
Posted on 01/17/2013 4:30 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 17 January 2013
Mandel And Klein On Obama's Proposed Troika: Kerry, Hagel, Brennan
|Kerry, Hagel, Brennan - harmful to Israel
by Morton A. Klein and Dr. Daniel Mandel
President Obama spent his first term pushing from power long-standing Arab allies in Egypt and Tunisia; seeking to engage the now blood-soaked Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad; pulling his punches against Iran's nuclear program; and putting "daylight" between his administration and Israel. Now for his second term, he has nominated for the highest posts bearing on the Middle East three figures who give the strongest indication we can expect much more of the same - John Kerry for State, Chuck Hagel for Defense and John Brennan for the CIA.
Kerry opposed Congress' 2009 hold on appointing an ambassador to a regime which has subverted democracy in Lebanon and which has supported Hezbollah, the terrorist group that, until 9/11, had more American blood on its hands than any other. But that shouldn't surprise - last September, Kerry was one of only 25 senators who refused to urge the European Union to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
A leaked cable shows that, in February 2010, Kerry told the Qataris that he supports Israeli withdrawal from the strategic Golan Heights, eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank. In April 2010, Kerry met with Assad and called Syria "an essential player in bringing peace and stability to the region." The Washington Post even recently called Kerry a "prominent admirer" of Assad.
Kerry also stands apart from his Senate colleagues in his weakness towards Iran. Last month, he was one of only 26 senators not to urge President Obama to reiterate his readiness to use military force against Iran if other measures fail to prevent Iran becoming a nuclear power. In April 2010, he was one of only 19 senators refusing to call for crippling sanctions upon Iran.
In respect to the Palestinian Authority (P.A.), Kerry in 2007 was one of only 21 senators not to oppose aid to, and contacts with, P.A. figures who "do not explicitly and unequivocally recognize Israel's right to exist, renounce terror and accept previous agreements."
With Defense nominee Chuck Hagel, we fare inarguably worse. In 2008 he was described by a congressional aid as "solely responsible" for blocking an Iran sanctions bill. Like Kerry, he opposed Hezbollah's designation by the EU as a terrorist outfit and favors indulging the P.A.
But Hagel has exceeded Kerry by advocating direct U.S. negotiations with Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group committed in its Charter to the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews. Before retiring from the Senate, he muttered about "intimidation" by the "Jewish lobby," unsubtly suggesting that venal legislators support Israel to America's detriment because of malign Jewish influence rather than because of U.S. public support.
Which brings us to CIA nominee John Brennan, who refers to Jerusalem as Al-Quds, the Arabic name widely used by those who do not recognize Israel. Like Kerry and Hagel, Brennan whitewashes Hezbollah and wants to appease Iran and Hamas. In 2008 he blamed the bad relations between Iran and the U.S., not on the nature of the Iranian regime and its goals, but at least in large part on what he called "Iran-bashing," which he darkly attributed to Washington's deference to "short-term domestic political interests" - presumably, the Jews who oppose Iran developing nuclear weapons.
In other words, Brennan doesn't see the Iranian regime as a dangerous threat. In fact, he criticized the Bush administration for continuing to pressure Iran.
If Iran and Hamas sound no warning bells for Brennan, neither does radical Islam in general. It was Brennan who in 2009 publicly defended the Obama administration's policy of discarding basic, factual terms like "radical Islam," "Islamism," and "jihad" in reference to the war being waged against America and its allies by Muslim extremists.
With President Obama and his three wise men, who might supervise U.S. foreign defense and intelligence policy towards the Middle East, we can expect more "engagement" with radical Islamic and jihadist movements, several of which have ascended to power during Obama's first term, no deterring of Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold and more "daylight" between Washington and Jerusalem.
Posted on 01/17/2013 4:36 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 17 January 2013
Americans Left In The Dark, While They Continue To Whistle In The Dark
Fox News-19 hours ago
The FBI was not advised in advance that Ali Ani al-Harzi, a leading suspect in the U.S. consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya, was being released ...
Posted on 01/17/2013 4:39 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 17 January 2013
Saudi Clerics Dismayed
Saudi clerics protest empowerment of women
Clerics point to ‘dangerous changes in the country’, referring to appointment of women to counci
January 16, 2013
- Image Credit: Courtesy: YouTube
- Clerics protest against what they said were “dangerous changes in the country”, referring to King Abdullah’s decision to appoint 30 women to the Shura council.
Riyadh: A group of hardline clerics protested outside the royal palace in Riyadh against the king’s decision to appoint 30 women to the kingdom’s top advisory body, a YouTube video posted on Wednesday showed.
The footage of Tuesday’s demonstration showed clerics protesting what they said were “dangerous changes in the country and these latest appointments in the Shura Council that do not represent the philanthropists and the good people.”
“These appointments are not representative of the whole society,” one of the clerics told the small gathering, referring to King Abdullah’s decision on Friday to name 30 women to the 150-seat Shura Council.
The group called for clerics to be granted similar representation on the council, which is appointed by the king to advise him on policy but cannot legislate.
The unidentified cleric said the group had gathered to demand a meeting with the head of the royal court, Khalid Al Tuwejari, to offer him “advice”.
He was also shown criticising the refusal by Saudi officials to meet the protesters who had rallied despite the kingdom’s ban on protests. The video footage showed a police car parked on the opposite side of the road.
Saudi human rights lawyer Walid Abdul Khair said that “the protest was against the appointment of women to the Shura Council.”
Abdullah’s decrees marked a breakthrough in the conservative kingdom that imposes stringent restrictions on females, who are banned from driving and denied the right to travel without male consent.
The monarch took the decisions following consultations with religious leaders in Saudi Arabia, which applies a strict version of Islamic sharia law, according to the decrees.
The 30 chosen women include university graduates, human rights activists and two princesses.
Abdullah had been carefully treading towards change, introducing municipal elections for the first time in 2005.
In 2011 he granted women the right to vote and run as candidates in the next local election, set for 2015, because “we refuse to marginalise women’s role in Saudi society.”
Posted on 01/17/2013 5:14 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 17 January 2013
Martin Sherman On Jeffrey Goldberg: Weighed, And Found Wanting
From the Jerusalem Post:
Into the Fray: Liar
If integrity is a necessary quality for reputable journalism, Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent column is a disgrace to his profession – and an insult to Israelis’ intelligence.
E1 area near Jerusalem. Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post
The [E1] construction project is of great significance for Israel’s interests. I would like to see the entire neighborhood, encompassing thousands of housing units, completed in order to ensure contiguity between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. – the late Gideon Ezra, public security minister in Ehud Olmert’s government, March 14, 2006
It is unthinkable that we would talk about Ma’aleh Adumim as part of the State of Israel and leave it as an island or isolated enclave. It is absolutely clear that there will be built-up continuity between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim – Ehud Olmert, then acting prime minister, in a pre-election interview, March 10, 2006
And these are the main changes, not all of them, which we envision and want in the permanent solution: ... First and foremost, united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev – as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty – Yitzhak Rabin, in his last address to the Knesset seeking ratification of Oslo II, October 5, 1995
I apologize to my readers if the tone of this column is more abrasive that usual. But Jeffrey Goldberg’s column this week (January 14) published by Bloomberg titled “Obama: Israel Doesn’t Know What Its Best Interests Are,” is so infuriatingly impudent, so deceptively disingenuous, so maliciously misleading, so pretentiously pompous that it strains the bounds of civility to almost impossible limits.
I urge you to read Goldberg’s recent rendering of blatantly biased bile, not because of the heights of journalistic standards it attains but for the depths of duplicity and deceit that it plumbs.
In many ways it is a seminal example of how the mainstream media has willfully collaborated in corrupting the discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
An overly harsh accusation? How’s this for Exhibit I? Goldberg (hereafter referred to as JG) alleges that it was Israel’s announcement that it would “advance plans to establish a settlement in an area of the West Bank known as E1” that ignited the recent spate of Barack Obama’s wrath and despair with regard to Binyamin Netanyahu and his alleged “obstructionism.”
According to JG, “A large settlement in E1, an empty zone between Jerusalem and the Jewish settlement city of Ma’aleh Adumim, would make the goal of politically moderate Palestinians – the creation of a geographically contiguous state – much harder to achieve.”
Leaving aside for the moment the question of what comprises “politically moderate Palestinians,” and who – if anyone – fits the bill, it is more than a little exasperating to read JG’s characterization of the E1 area and its alleged political significance.
Even a cursory glance of the map would reveal that not only is E1, in fact, an “empty zone” between Jerusalem and the 50,000-strong city of Ma’aleh Adumin, but also that it is an area of little more than 11.5 sq.km. and that its impact on a “geographically contiguous state” is marginal.
Yet, JG persists in purposely perpetuating the fabricated fiction of it being a crucial impediment to peace, leaving us to wonder whether he is being willfully misleading or merely woefully misinformed.
Another contrived canard?
Can someone as supposedly well-informed as JG really be unaware that the whole question of geographical contiguity is a well-known canard? After all, even The New York Times published a grudgingly half-hearted apology for invoking the contiguity argument in its criticism of the E1 development (December 16, 2012).
But of course the question of territorial contiguity is entirely contrived.
As I pointed out in a recent column, it could be maintained, either by a highway that traverses E1 from north to south connecting Ramallah to Bethlehem, or by laying down a road bypassing Ma’aleh Adumim from the east, rather than from the west, hardly an insurmountable engineering feat.
Indeed, as Al Jazeera (January 23, 2011) reported, the construction of such alternative routes to serve the Palestinians was one of the topics discussed in the much-vaunted Olmert- Abbas talks in 2008, which, we are now told, were a hair’s-breadth away from success. And contiguity issues related to E1 were not the sticking point.
Of course, any claims by two-staters that the E1 development would preclude “geographical contiguity” are hugely hypocritical.
For even if the Palestinians were completely precluded from access to the area, the territory available to them east of Ma’aleh Adumin up to the Jordan River – about 22.5 km. – would still be almost 50 percent wider than territory that Israel would retain in its heavily populated Coastal Plain if the Obama-prescribed 1967 lines were adopted as its frontiers.
Indeed, the Obama template would reduce Israel to a strip just over 14-km. wide near Netanya, totally dominated topographically by the elevated area to the east, earmarked for the Palestinian state.
Strangely – or perhaps not – this precarious geographical proposal elicits no expression of concern over possible problems for Israel’s “geographical contiguity” – either from Obama or from his court-journalists of JG’s ilk. Hmmm!
Duplicity and double standards
There has not been a single Israeli government that has not considered Ma’aleh Adumin a part of suburban Jerusalem to be connected to the capital and designated to remain under Israeli sovereignty in any permanent settlement.
This has been underscored by Noble Peace laureates Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. Significantly, the introductory excerpt above from Rabin is taken from his last address to the Knesset, in which he presented his vision of the permanent-status arrangement with the Palestinians. The fact that he advocated precisely the same measures as those declared by Netanyahu, did not bring down upon him the ire and insults that the current prime minister is subjected to.
Likewise, Ehud Barak, who was praised by Bill Clinton for taking “brave steps” in his 2000 Camp David initiative, stressed that his proposal included the annexation of Ma’aleh Adumin to Jerusalem (July 25, 2000), as did Ehud Olmert.
In an interview (March 10, 2006) with TheMarker (part of the far-left Haaretz media group), Olmert was asked: “Will you build in E1, despite American opposition?” He replied: “Of course. Indeed, it is unthinkable that we would talk about Ma’aleh Adumim as part of the State of Israel and leave it as an ...isolated enclave. It is absolutely clear that there will be built-up continuity between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim.”
Astonishingly, this statement was made by Olmert while laying out his vision for unilateral withdrawal (aka “convergence”) in the “West Bank,” underscoring that – even within the framework of his willingness to accept far-reaching compromises – development of E1 and annexation of Ma’aleh Adumin were essential to Israel’s interests.
He added: “This is clear to both Palestinians and the Americans. I believe that on this matter there is absolute consensus in Israel. Even Yossi Beilin, with whom I usually disagree with on everything, said that Ma’aleh Adumin must remain in Israel.”
So why has JG presented the issue of E1 as such a red flag that has so enraged the Obama administration. Double standards perhaps?
Carefully choreographed crisis?
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this episode is merely another carefully choreographed anti-Bibi “crisis” – and a “production” in which JG seems a willingly complicit prop.
It is eerily reminiscent of the contrived brouhaha made over the interim planning approval for additional future housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, during the 2010 visit of Vice President Joe Biden in Israel.
How else could we explain the statement condemning Netanyahu’s plans by Obama’s National Security Council spokesman, conveyed approvingly – or at least uncritically – by JG: “We believe these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to... achieve a twostate solution.”
After all, the “actions” for which Netanyahu is reproached are indistinguishable from those strongly endorsed by all his predecessors – who supported a two-state approach. But then again, when it comes to bashing Bibi, truth only has a marginal role to play.
Malicious and mendacious
JG persists in propagating and perpetuating malicious and mendacious myths regarding Netanyahu.
He makes the demonstrably false accusation that Netanyahu adopted a partisan role in November’s US presidential elections, claiming that “even this [Obama’s] support [for Israel] didn’t keep Netanyahu from pulling for Republican candidate Mitt Romney in last year’s presidential campaign.”
Although Obama, by the undisguised disdain and distaste he displayed toward Israel’s prime minister, did much to bolster the attractiveness of any Republican rival for Israel, I would challenge anyone – including JG – to produce documented evidence of Netanyahu “pulling for Republican candidate Mitt Romney.” Indeed there is considerable evidence to the contrary.
As I mentioned in last week’s column, at the recent Democratic Convention, prominent speakers such as former congressman Robert Wexler and even Sen. John Kerry (Obama’s nominee for secretary of state) invoked Netanyahu for endorsing Obama’s pro-Israel credentials.
Moreover, in a September 2012 Foreign Policy article, associate editor Uri Friedman wrote: “Netanyahu, for his part, has avoided jumping into the fray.”
He noted that when pressed by both CBS’s Bob Schieffer and Fox’s Chris Wallace on his preference for the outcome of the US elections, Netanyahu remained scrupulously neutral, retorting that he was not “going to get into your field of American politics.”
By contrast, it would be difficult to interpret the anti-Bibi tirade by the Obamaphilic JG – coupled with the conspicuous absence of denial from the White House – as anything but blatant intervention in Israel’s electoral process.
If integrity is a necessary quality for reputable journalism, it is difficult to avoid feeling that JG’s recent column not only insults Israelis’ intelligence, but brings discredit to his profession.
Courage or cowardice?
But JG’s journalistic transgressions are not confined to what he writes. They extend – arguably even more so – to what he does not.
He conveys, without any dissenting comment – thereby implying tacit agreement: “...Netanyahu is so captive to the settler lobby, and so uninterested in making anything more than the slightest conciliatory gesture toward Palestinian moderates [that] the president seems to view the prime minister as a political coward, an essentially unchallenged leader... unwilling to lead or spend political capital to advance the cause of compromise.”
One can only marvel at the fact that people get paid to write such drivel.
On more than one occasion, Netanyahu has gone against the grain of his political base:
• In his (in)famous Bar-Ilan speech, when he (inadvisably, in my view) accepted the idea of establishing a Palestinian state;
• In agreeing (inadvisably, in my view) to an unprecedented 10-month settlement freeze, which elicited no response from the so-called “Palestinian moderates,” other than a demand for its extension when it was about to expire;
• In continuing to endorse (inadvisably, in my view) his commitment to the two-state approach in the current election campaign.
Likewise, Netanyahu has (inadvisably, in my view) stood up to the hard core of his constituency on legislative issues regarding judicial appointments and transparency of foreign-funded NGOs.
He has defied strong settler opposition to the removal of settlements and outposts.
Whether these instances reflect courage to stand up to domestic pressures, or cowardice in capitulating to external ones, is a matter of perspective.
But one thing is certain, none of these substantiate the claim that he is “captive to the settler lobby.”
What JG – and the Obama administration – appear to have difficulty digesting is that Israel is a democracy. Netanyahu was not elected to pursue a policy of unmitigated appeasement of every Palestinian whim – which seems to be the only way the president, and his journalistic entourage, see themselves able “to advance the cause of compromise.”
Accordingly, from JG’s uncritical rendering of the White Houses’ gripes, one might be led to believe for Netanyahu to demonstrate “courage” he would have to abuse the position of power granted him by the voters and embark on a policy he was elected to eschew.
Obama has shown that he has no understanding of Middle East realities – unless he hasn’t, which is even more worrying.
His Mideast policy is in shambles – unless it isn’t, which is even more worrying. So when he purports that he has a better grasp of Israeli interests than Israelis, we should be wary, very wary.
If Obama – and his JG-like disciples – feel that it would be in Israel’s interest to create a situation in which Ma’aleh Adumin, with its 50,000 Jewish residents, becomes an isolated enclave, cut off and surrounded by Palestinians – they should say so.
If they feel that it is in Israel’s interests to risk the emergence of a mega-Gaza-like entity overlooking its only international airport, abutting its major national highway, and adjacent to its major population centers – they should say so.
If they feel that it is in Israel’s interest to take massive gambles with the security of the nation and the safety of its citizens, on the basis of an agreement with an aging, illegitimate, unrepresentative president, whose authority is unrecognized by significant segments of his people – they should say so.
At least then, the Israeli public will be able to gauge whom they should trust to safeguard their interests.
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.
Posted on 01/17/2013 8:58 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 17 January 2013
"We Will Kill Infidels"
From msn news:
30 hostages killed in Algeria assault
Hundreds of hostages have reportedly escaped from their captors at an Algerian gas factory. Militants claimed infidels and Christians would be killed while Muslims would not be harmed.
NOUAKCHOTT/ALGIERS – Thirty hostages and at least 11 Islamist militants were killed on Thursday when Algerian forces stormed a desert gas plant in a bid to free many dozens of Western and local captives, an Algerian security source said. Algerian state media reported that hundreds of captives were freed during the operation.
Details remained scant – including for Western governments, some of which did little to disguise irritation at being kept in the dark by Algeria before the raid and its bloody outcome.
Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among at least seven foreigners killed, according to the source. Eight of the dead hostages were Algerian. The nationalities of the rest, as well as of perhaps dozens more who escaped, were unclear. As one of the biggest international hostage crises in decades continued to unfold, Western leaders expressed anger they had not been consulted before the operation and scrambled for word of their citizens. Americans, Britons, Norwegians, Romanians and an Austrian have also been mentioned by their governments as having been captured.
Underlining the view of African and Western leaders that they face a multinational, al-Qaida-linked insurgency across the Sahara, a conflict that prompted France to send troops to neighboring Mali last week, the official source said only two of the 11 dead militants were Algerian, including their leader.
After an operation that appeared to go on for some eight hours after Algeria refused the kidnappers' demand to leave the country with their hostages, the bodies of three Egyptians, two Tunisians, two Libyans, a Malian and a Frenchman were found.
So too was that of Taher Ben Cheneb, an Algerian whom the security official described as a prominent jihadist commander in the Sahara
Amid reports of casualties, Algeria said its troops had been forced to act to free them due to the "diehard" attitude of their captors.
"When the terrorist group insisted on leaving the facility, taking the foreign hostages with them to neighboring states, the order was issued to special units to attack the position where the terrorists were entrenched," the government spokesman, Communication Minister, Mohamed Said, told the state news agency.
The standoff began when gunmen calling themselves the Battalion of Blood stormed the natural gas facility early on Wednesday morning. They said they were holding 41 foreigners and demanded a halt to a French military operation against fellow al-Qaida-linked Islamist militants in neighboring Mali.
Said said the military operation, which Western officials were told had begun around noon in Algeria on Thursday, resulted in "the liberation of a large number of hostages and the destruction of a large number of terrorists."
The raid increased fears jihadist militants could launch further attacks in Algeria, a vast desert country with large oil and gas reserves that is only just recovering from a protracted conflict with Islamist rebels during the 1990s which cost an estimated 200,000 lives.
A local source told Reuters six foreign hostages were killed along with eight captors when the Algerian military fired on a vehicle being used by the gunmen.He said 40 Algerians and three foreigners were freed by the army as it continued its operation into Thursday evening.
'WE'LL KILL INFIDELS'
The Islamist gunmen who seized hundreds of gas plant workers in the Sahara told Algerian staff they would not harm Muslims but would kill Western hostages they called "Christians and infidels," a local man who escaped said on Thursday.
In a rare eyewitness account of Wednesday's dawn raid deep in the desert, a local man employed at the facility told Reuters the militants appeared to have good inside knowledge of the layout of the complex and used the language of radical Islam.
"The terrorists told us at the very start that they would not hurt Muslims but were only interested in the Christians and infidels," Abdelkader, 53, said by telephone from his home in the nearby town of In Amenas. "We will kill them, they said."
His voice was choking with emotion. "I'm a lucky man," he said over the sound of children playing and a television relaying the latest news. Abdelkader described how he managed to escape along with many of the hundreds of Algerians initially detained.
A local resident said there were many bodies at the site. He did not give firm numbers of the dead or say whether they were kidnappers, hostages or both.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera television carried a similar report. Those details could not be immediately confirmed.
Earlier ANI reports said 25 hostages escaped their captors, including Americans and Europeans. Dozens of foreigners and scores of Algerians were seized by Islamist gunmen demanding a halt to a French military campaign in neighboring Mali. A local source said 180 of the Algerian hostages also escaped.
Governments around the world were holding emergency meetings to respond to one of the biggest international hostage crises in decades, which sharply raises the stakes over the week-old French campaign against al-Qaida-linked rebels in the Sahara.
Algeria's Ennahar television said 15 foreigners, including two French citizens, had escaped the besieged plant deep in the Sahara desert. About 40 Algerians had also been freed, mainly women working as translators, it said.
An Algerian security source told Reuters the captors, encircled by Algerian troops, were demanding safe passage out with their prisoners. Algeria has refused to negotiate with what it says is a band of about 20 fighters.
The captors, who have been speaking regularly to media in neighboring Mauritania, told that country's ANI news agency that Algerian helicopters had fired on the compound, wounding two Japanese hostages. This could not be confirmed.
A group calling itself the "Battalion of Blood" says it seized 41 foreigners, including Americans, Japanese and Europeans, after storming a natural gas pumping station and employee barracks before dawn on Wednesday.
The attackers have demanded an end to the French military campaign in Mali, where hundreds of French paratroopers and marines are launching a ground offensive against rebels a week after Paris began firing on militants from the air.
Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia said the raid was led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran Islamist guerrilla fighter who fought Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s and had recently set up his own group in the Sahara after falling out with other local al-Qaida leaders.
A holy warrior-turned-smuggler, dubbed "The Uncatchable" by French intelligence and "Mister Marlboro" by some locals for his illicit cigarette-running business, Belmokhtar's links to those who seized towns across northern Mali last year are unclear.
The hostage-takers appear to have allowed some prisoners to speak to the media to put pressure on Algerian forces, not to storm the compound. An unidentified hostage who spoke to France 24 television said prisoners were being forced to wear explosive belts. Their captors were heavily armed and had threatened to blow up the plant if the Algerian army tried to storm it.
Two hostages, identified as British and Irish, spoke to Al Jazeera television and called on the Algerian army to withdraw from the area to avoid casualties.
"We are receiving care and good treatment from the kidnappers. The (Algerian) army did not withdraw and they are firing at the camp," the British man said. "There are around 150 Algerian hostages. We say to everybody that negotiations is a sign of strength and will spare many loss of life."
The hostage identified as Irish told the Qatar-based channel the captives included French, American, Japanese, British, Irish and Norwegian citizens.
"The situation is deteriorating. We have contacted the embassies and we call on the Algerian army to withdraw. ... We are worried because of the continuation of the firing."
After what it said was a phone interview with one of the hostage takers, the Mauritanian news agency ANI said Algerian security forces had tried to approach the facility at dawn.
"We will kill all the hostages if the Algerian army try to storm the area," it quoted the hostage taker as saying. Algeria has not commented on reports its troops tried to approach. The militants earlier said they repelled an assault after dark.
The precise number and nationalities of foreign hostages could not be confirmed, with some countries reluctant to release information that could be useful to the captors.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed one British citizen had been killed and "a number" of others were among those held. Algerian media said an Algerian was killed in the assault. Another local report said a Frenchman had died.
The militants said seven Americans were among their hostages, a figure U.S. officials said they could not confirm.
Norwegian oil company Statoil said nine of its Norwegian staff and three Algerian employees were captive. Britain's BP, which operates the plant with Statoil and Algerian state oil company Sonatrach, said some of its staff were held but would not say how many or their nationalities.
Japanese media said five workers from Japanese engineering firm JGC Corp. were held, a number the company did not confirm. France has not confirmed whether any French citizens were held. Vienna has said one hostage is Austrian.
So far, Western countries seem reluctant to intervene on the ground in the Algerian standoff directly. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Paris had confidence in the Algerian government to handle it.
British Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman said Cameron had spoken to the leaders of Japan and Norway, and all had concluded that the best course was to work through the Algerian authorities.
Paris said the Algeria attack demonstrated it was right to intervene in Mali: "We have the flagrant proof that this problem goes beyond just the north of Mali," French ambassador to Mali Christian Rouyer told France Inter radio.
"Northern Mali is at heart of the problem, of course, but the dimension is really national and international, which gives even more justification to the French intervention," he said.
Hollande has received public backing from Western and African allies who fear that al-Qaida, flush with men and arms from the defeated forces of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, is building a desert haven in Mali, a poor country that was helpless to combat fighters who seized its northern cities last year.
However, there is some concern in Washington and other capitals that the French action in Mali could provoke a backlash worse than the initial threat by militants in the remote Sahara.
The militants, communicating through established contacts with media in neighboring Mauritania, said they had dozens of men armed with mortars and anti-aircraft missiles in the compound and had rigged it with explosives.
"We hold the Algerian government and the French government and the countries of the hostages fully responsible if our demands are not met, and it is up to them to stop the brutal aggression against our people in Mali," read one statement carried by Mauritanian media.
They condemned Algeria's secularist government for letting French warplanes fly over its territory to Mali and shutting its border to Malian refugees.
Regis Arnoux, head of CIS, a French catering firm operating at the site, told BFM television he had been in touch with a manager of some 150 Algerian workers there. Foreigners were being kept separate from Algerian hostages, he said.
"They are tied up and are being filmed. Electricity is cut off, and mobile phones have no charge."
The attack in Algeria did not stop France from pressing on with its campaign in Mali. It said on Thursday it now had 1,400 troops on the ground in Mali, and combat was under way against the rebels that it first began targeting from the air last week.
"There was combat yesterday, on the ground and in the air. It happened overnight and is under way now," said Le Drian. Residents said a column of about 30 French Sagaie armored vehicles set off on Wednesday toward rebel positions from the town of Niono, 190 miles from the capital, Bamako.
The French action last week came as a surprise but has received widespread international support. Neighboring African countries expected to provide ground troops for a U.N. force by September have said they will move faster to offer troops.
Germany, Britain and the Netherlands have offered transport aircraft to help ferry in African troops. Washington has said it is considering what support it can offer.
Many inhabitants of northern Mali have welcomed the French action, though some also fear being caught in the cross-fire. The Mali rebels who seized Timbuktu and other oasis towns in northern Mali last year imposed Islamic law, including public amputations and beheadings that angered many locals.
"There is a great hope," one man said from Timbuktu, where he said Islamist fighters were trying to blend into civilian neighborhoods. "We hope that the city will be freed soon."
The rebels include fighters from al-Qaida's mainly Algerian-based North African wing AQIM as well as home-grown Malian groups Ansar Dine and MUJWA. Islamists have warned Hollande that he has "opened the gates of hell" for all French citizens.
A day after launching the campaign in Mali, Hollande also ordered a raid in Somalia Saturday to free a French hostage held there by al-Qaida-linked al-Shabaab militants since 2009. That rescue was a failure, with two French commandos killed.
Al-Shabaab said Thursday it had executed its hostage, Denis Allex. France says it believes Allex died in the rescue attempt.
Posted on 01/17/2013 9:12 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald