Fighting North Korea with Balloons, TV Shows and Leaflets

Korea

Some send up plastic leaflets that weigh less than a feather and flutter down from the clouds with calls for democracy or blurry cartoons ridiculing North Korea’s ruler. Some send flash drives loaded with South Korean soap operas, or mini-documentaries about the vast wealth of Southern corporations, or crisp new US dollar bills. One occasionally sends his empty food wrappers, stained labels showing noodles slathered in meat sauce, so Northerners can see the good life they’d find in the South.

They are self-proclaimed soldiers in a quiet war with North Korea, a disparate and colorful collection of activists taking on one of the world’s most isolated nations — mostly using homemade hot-air balloons, said an Associated Press report on Wednesday.

To their critics in South Korea, they run quixotic and perhaps pointless campaigns. Some are scorned as little more than attention-hungry cranks who spend much of their time exchanging insults with the others.

But the activists look across the border and see a country they believe they are already reshaping.

“The quickest way to bring down the regime is to change people’s minds,” said Park Sang Hak, a refugee from the North who now runs the group Fighters for a Free North Korea from a small Seoul office, sending tens of thousands of plastic fliers across the border every year. Fearing retaliation by Pyongyang, he goes nowhere without police bodyguards. “People are already wondering about their lives there,” he said, with the spread of outside information letting them know that life is easier in China and South Korea.

Much of what the activists send — satirical cartoons, or teary soap operas awash in lost loves, curses and amnesia — doesn’t look dangerous at all. But scholars and North Korean refugees say the outside information has helped bring a wealth of changes, from new slang to changing fashions to increasing demand for consumer goods in the expanding market economy.

While the activists often disagree about what should be sent into the North — some believe in snarky cartoons, others in documentaries, others in dry political leaflets laying out the lies of Pyongyang’s propaganda — all see themselves as warriors nudging along change, said the AP.

“North Korea keeps control by blocking outside information,” said Lee Min Bok, a North Korean who was swayed to flee his homeland when he stumbled across earlier generations of leaflets 30 years ago. He has spent nearly 15 years sending leaflets into the North. “To destroy it peacefully, the influx of information is necessary.”

Pyongyang detests the activists, decrying outside influences as a “yellow wind,” even as it sends thousands of its own leaflets south every year.

“They are always trying to drop these pamphlets on us, near the border,” said Kim Song Hui, a guide at the Class Education Center, a museum of anti-American and anti-Japanese propaganda in North Korea’s capital. “But people in villages know that they should hand them in” to security officials.

How much influence do the activists have? It’s not clear, especially since some smugglers have been bringing South Korean TV shows and American movies into the North to sell for years, without the activists’ support.

“The influx of external information doesn’t shake the regime,” said Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at South Korea’s Sejong Institute. It may bring incremental change, by encouraging a few people to defect, for example, but he doubts it’ll do much more.

There are also risks to the balloon campaigns. North Koreans caught carrying political leaflets or flash drives could be severely punished, and the balloon launches could throw a wrench into cross-border diplomacy. The South Korean government stopped sending balloons over the border years ago, partly as an attempt to decrease tensions.

The South’s new liberal president, Moon Jae-in, has reached out to the North since his election earlier this year, and a government spokesman told reporters recently that the leaflets “could spark unnecessary military tensions, including a possible accidental conflict.” Even some activists have curtailed their activities in recent years, with North Korea using specialized software to make it harder to share videos on mobile phones and other devices.

Still, every year the activists send hundreds of thousands of leaflets across the border, and thousands of DVDs and thumb drives loaded with everything from Bibles to American sitcoms to South Korean historical dramas.

Some are transported by hired smugglers via China. Some are sealed inside 2-liter water bottles tossed into the surf along the South Korean coast, then carried north by the current.

But most are carried by homemade balloons thousands of feet above the belt of razor wire and minefields that separate the two Koreas. If the winds behave, the balloons, typically about 3 feet wide and 25 feet long and made of thin translucent plastic, carry bundles of thousands of palm-sized leaflets over a country where almost no one has internet access or international phone service. Simple timers open the bundles after a set number of hours, scattering the leaflets, reported the AP.

The balloonists are deeply competitive and many openly detest one another (“They’re all frauds,” Lee says of the others; “North Korea is threatening only me!” insists Park).

Lee’s leaflets are slightly larger than playing cards, with messages printed on both sides in small letters. They reveal some of the falsehoods of the ruling family’s mythology, decry the authoritarianism of leader Kim Jong Un and describe the affluence of South Korean life.

But Lee, one of about four dozen activist-balloonists in South Korea, sees himself as the real propaganda, and includes personal details to make himself more credible.

“I want them to believe I was one of them,” he said in his makeshift office, a room fashioned from a shipping container that has a bed and a kitchenette. His main living space — more shipping containers where he lives with his wife and three children — are stacked above the office, in a small town about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Seoul.

“I put down my name, my email address, my phone number,” he said, offering a cup of instant coffee. “I tell them my place of birth and what I did” in the North.

He sometimes includes other things: flash drives with anti-Pyongyang documentaries, food wrappers, a Korean-language newspaper from Britain. Anything he believes will open a few eyes.

He knows he’s not going to start a revolution. But that’s fine with him.

“Maybe one person rebels” after reading the leaflets, he said. “Maybe one person defects. I want them to decide for themselves what to do.”

Iran, Turkey and Russia Seek a New Triangle for the Region

Baqeri

A high-level Turkish military-diplomatic delegation is expected to visit Tehran soon to “put final touches” to a strategic accord between Ankara and Tehran to help stabilize the Middle East, Iran’s Chief of Staff General Muhamad Hussein Baqeri revealed on Monday.

Speaking at the end of a visit to the Iran Border Force headquarters, Baqeri said the Turkish team, to be headed by Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, will be a follow-up to Baqeri’s “historic” visit to Ankara last week.

Almost at the same time, a spokesman for the Turkish military announced that Russia’s Army Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov would soon lead a high-level delegation to Ankara to discuss tripartite cooperation with Iran, among other things.

Tehran sources said Baqeri may later visit Moscow to prepare the ground for a more formal level of military-security cooperation by the three nations.

Details of the preliminary accord reached between Iran and Turkey during Baqeri’s Ankara visit have not been revealed, ostensibly at the demand of the Turkish side which may want to first inform its NATO allies.

Nevertheless, based on statements made by Baqeri on Monday, the Ankara accords cover three domains.

The first concerns the security of the sensitive triangle that forms the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Iran in a plateau were ethnic Kurds form a majority of the population.

At different times and on different levels all three nations have had to face the challenge of the Kurdish quest for identity, autonomy and, in some cases, even secession.

With brief periods of ceasefire, Turkey has been engaged in a war of attrition against the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) for almost three decades, a war that has claimed some 40,000 lives.

Iraq is currently facing the challenge of an independence referendum that the Kurdish autonomous government in Irbil wants to organize next month. For its part, Iran has experienced a rise in armed attacks by Kurdish groups based in Iraqi Kurdistan on Iranian security forces along the border.

Concern about Kurdish “hostile action” has risen in Iran as a result of a recent decision by the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, to publicly commit itself to fighting for regime change in Tehran. Hitherto, only smaller Kurdish groups such as Komalah, a Marxist outfit and PJAK, the Iranian branch of PKK, had pursued a policy of warmed struggle against the Islamic Republic.

Turkey is trying to apply three plans to deal with its Kurdish problem.

The first is the building of a 65-kilometer long wall along its borders in the Kurdish triangle with Iran and Iraq. Tehran strongly supports this because it also makes it more difficult for Iranians fleeing into exile to reach Turkey.

The second plan is to carve out a glacis inside Syrian and Iraqi territories to deprive the PKK from a fallback position in those countries. That plan, tacitly backed by the Iraqi autonomous Kurdish authorities and the remnants of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus, is opposed by the Syrian Kurds backed by the United States.

The third Turkish plan is to promote a regional alliance that could eventually include Iran, Russia and Iraq. The idea is that such an alliance, though limited in scope, would leave little space for the US-led Western powers and their regional Arab allies to regain the influence they had enjoyed in the Middle East since the fall of the Ottoman Empire over a century ago.

That, in turn, would give Turkey a big voice in the Levant as a springboard for a greater projection of power across the Middle East.

It is not clear whether Ankara is seeking a formal alliance with Tehran or would only work for a more dynamic application of the existing accords.

Under the Shah of Iran and Turkey enjoyed close military relations that included joint staff conversations at a strategic level. Those relations were severed by the late Ayatollah Khomeini who accused Turkey of acting as “a lackey of the Americans.” It now seems that the current “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants to revive at least part of those relations in a new context.

At a meeting in Ankara in 2014, Iran and Turkey reached a border security cooperation accord signed by the governors of Chaldaran and Maku in Iran and of Agri and Igdir provinces in Turkey. The accord envisaged three joint security meetings each year, plus a mechanism for exchange of information on the movements of terrorist groups and smuggling networks.

What the accord did not permit, reportedly to Turkey’s chagrin, was the right of hot pursuit of armed terrorists, something that Turkey had obtained from Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

Judging by the composition of the high-level team that accompanied Baqeri to Ankara, it is possible that the issue was part of the broader discussions. Deputy Foreign Minister for Asia and Oceania Affairs Ebrahim Rahimpour, chief of IRGC’s Ground Forces Mohammad Khakpour, Deputy Chief of Iranian Armed Forces Brigadier General Gholam Reza Mehrabi, Deputy Minister of Defense for Education and Research of the Armed Forces Mohammed Hassan Bagheri, and several other high-ranking officials accompany Baqeri in the visit to Turkey.

The second domain covered during the Baqeri visit concerns the future of Syria which Tehran believes must be determined by Iran, Turkey and Russia to the exclusion of the US and its Arab allies.

According to Tehran sources the issue is still causing “some friction” with Turkey because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan still insists that Assad must at some point be scripted out of the equation to allow the “new Syria” to emerge.

A sign that Tehran may be flexible regarding Assad’s future came on Monday when general Qassem Soleimani, the man in charge of running Iranian policy in Syria and Iraq, said in a speech in Tehran that Iran’s interventions linked to “our own interests, and not any support for any particular person.”

Don’t be surprised if Iran presents the new informal alliance as Russia and Turkey joining “The Resistance Front” led from Tehran.

Baqeri’s historic visit evoked a third plank of what Tehran hopes would be a credible plan to stabilize the Levant and exclude the US and its allies. That plank consists of “regional economic cooperation” to give the Iran-Turkey-Russia alliance some tangible moorings.

Last week, the Iranian Ghadir Investment Holding, controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) signed a $7 billion deal with the Russian state-owned Zarubezhneft and the Turkish holding Unit International, controlled by people close to Erdogan, to develop new oil and gas fields in Iran for export to global markets.

Iran and Turkey are also engaged in talks to double transit by Turkey through Iran and aimed at markets in the GCC area, notably Qatar and the UAE.

Turkey which has the biggest construction firms in the region also hopes to secure the lion’s share in future contracts to rebuild Syria and Iraq with the IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbia conglomerate in tow. Turkish construction firms have sustained heavy losses, especially in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, as a result of the Arab Spring and regard the rebuilding of Syria and Iraq as a second life.

Preliminary talks have also taken place between Russia and Turkey to develop supply lines for the Caspian basin energy exports through Turkish ports.

Is an Iran-Turkey-Russia triangle really taking shape? Judging by noises made in Tehran, Ankara and Moscow the answer must be yes. However, the trio remains strange bedfellows with contradictory positions and conflicting interests. In other words, between the cup and the lip there may be many a slip.

Trump Will Own the War that Bedeviled Predecessors

Trump

Before he became president, Donald Trump rarely talked about Afghanistan. When he did, he often called for a swift end to America’s longest war, said an Associated Press report on Tuesday.

Now that he’s in office — the third American president to oversee the conflict — few in his administration talk of ending the war abruptly.

In an address to the nation Monday night, the president is expected to announce that the war will press on, with more US troops potentially headed to Afghanistan. Trump appears to have aligned behind a Pentagon plan for more forces, one as much aimed at stabilizing the Afghan government and breaking a stalemate with the Taliban as a speedy end to the fighting.

If the president follows that path, it will mark a victory for the military men increasingly filling Trump’s inner circle and a stinging defeat for the nationalist supporters who saw in Trump a like-minded skeptic of US intervention in long and costly overseas conflicts. Chief among them is ousted adviser Steve Bannon, whose website Breitbart News blared criticism Monday of the establishment’s approach to running he war.

“What Does Victory in Afghanistan Look Like? Washington Doesn’t Know,” read one headline.

Now Trump leads Washington and that question falls for him to answer. He has seized on his mantra “America First,” but so far has spent little time explaining how that message translates to US involvement in a war across the globe, likely for years to come, said the AP.

“Most people agree to make this work, to be successful, we’re going to need to be in Afghanistan a few more years at least,” said retired Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, director of the Center for National Defense at The Heritage Foundation. “That is typically not President Trump’s style. He likes to get a quick victory.”

President George W. Bush plunged US troops into Afghanistan after 9/11 but the war languished as American military attention focused on Iraq. President Barack Obama ratcheted up to 100,000 troops early in his administration, but hoped to wind down the war before he left office. He ultimately conceded that security concerns would require him to hand off the war to another president.

Trump faces many of the same challenges in Afghanistan that have bedeviled his predecessors and left some US officials deeply uncertain about whether victory is possible — and if it is, what such a victory would entail.

Afghanistan remains one of the world’s poorest countries and corruption is embedded in its politics. The Taliban is resurgent. And Afghan forces remain too weak to secure the country without American help.

“When we had 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan, we couldn’t secure the whole country,” said Ben Rhodes, who served as Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

The US currently has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan. Pentagon officials have proposed plans to send in nearly 4,000 more to boost training and advising of the Afghan forces and bolster counter-terrorism operations against the Taliban and an ISIS terror group affiliate trying to gain a foothold in the country.

To reach his decision, Trump held extensive discussions with top advisers in the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence community, and heard directly from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Vice President Mike Pence. It was a more deliberate process than has been typical for Trump, who has shown a propensity to make impulsive decisions.

And it suggests that from his perch in the Oval Office, the conflict looks more complicated that it did when Trump was weighing in from the sidelines.

In November 2013, Trump said on Twitter: “We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let’s get out!”

As Vehicle Attacks Rise, an Ordinary Object Becomes an Instrument of Fear

Barcelona- This time it was Barcelona. An ordinary van was transformed into a deadly and indiscriminate weapon.

It seemed to be yet another blow to trust in a basic social compact: that people are essentially safe when they walk down the street, relying on drivers to at least try to follow the rules. That accidents would be impersonal and random, and that everyone would try to avoid them.

Even though the automotive terrorist attacks of the past two years are far rarer than accidents, they are a warning that a driver can wield the ordinary car as a weapon. If anything — even something as ubiquitous as a car — can be a weapon, that adds a sense of menace to daily urban life.

Years of research has found that fear can eventually divide and poison societies, hardening people against perceived outsiders, even causing them to abandon key values. This kind of attack, using one of the most ordinary objects of daily life, could heighten that effect.

The political scientists Marc Hetherington and Elizabeth Suhay, for instance, have found that when people who are usually open and trusting toward outsiders feel they are at risk of a terrorist attack, they become more likely to support harsh, authoritarian policies and more willing to sacrifice civil liberties in exchange for perceived safety.

Terrorist attacks are designed to draw public attention and inspire widespread terror. They force us, as members of the public, to make a mental calculation: Could this happen to me or someone I love? Is there a way I can stay safe? What would it take to protect me?

To find reassurance, we look for strategies that make it possible to answer those questions in a reassuring way.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, for instance, many avoided flying. People who worked in small, anonymous offices could comfort themselves that only buildings as high-profile as the World Trade Center or the Pentagon were at risk of being targeted.

But cars, trucks and vans are all around us. There is no set of rules or limits, short of withdrawing entirely from public life, that would fully protect against an attack like this.

The risks of being killed in this kind of attack are low. In the United States alone, car accidents kill 30,000 to 40,000 people a year. Worldwide, terrorist attacks using cars or other vehicles have killed a tiny fraction of that number.

But that calculus cannot reason fear away. The possibility of an accident feels different from the possibility of being deliberately, if randomly, targeted for murder.

Still, the story of cities has always been one of managing seemingly widespread dangers, including terrorism.

In the early 1990s, after Provisional I.R.A. terrorists placed a bomb in a garbage can in London’s Victoria train station, the city removed many of the bins. Visiting the city, one was left either to puzzle at the absence of refuse or, if one knew why the cans were absent, to see every bin-less street as a reminder that a bomb could be waiting around any corner. The fear eventually grew less shocking, transmuting into the background of dangers inherent in living in a city.

By twisting the purpose of a commonplace machine, attacks like the one in Barcelona create a sense that public life is tinged with inescapable danger. When anything can become a weapon, that chips away at the hope that terrorist attacks are somehow predictable or controllable. It does not take any special skills or resources to obtain a van and drive it into a crowd of innocent people. All it takes is motivation.

That fear is not merely unpleasant. It can have real impact on society and politics.

The recent attacks in Europe may help to explain, for instance, why a recent study from Chatham House, a British research organization, found that over half of Europeans support a ban on immigration from Muslim-majority countries.

Other research shows that when people feel they are under attack because of their membership in a particular group, like their religion, their nationality or their race, they become more attached to that identity, and more hardened and suspicious toward outsiders. That can promote what social scientists call “outgrouping” — fear of outsiders and a desire to control or punish them. When terrorist organizations target, say, Westerners, that leads to outgrouping behavior.

That feeling of “us” versus “them” divides society, heightening prejudices and creating social battle lines — precisely the sort of politics championed by right-wing populists who have grown popular in Europe and the United States.

Whatever the effect of such attacks on Western politics, they are already changing, in subtle but unmistakable ways, the mental geography of urban life. As cities inevitably produce more barriers to wall off the remote threat of another attack, we will grow only more conscious of the ever-present threat posed by ordinary objects.

The New York Times

America between Current Racial Confrontations and Fears of Future Civil War

Charlottesville

Cairo – It can be said that American racism has adopted a specific approach towards non-whites and immigrants. It also produced extremist racist groups, most notably those with Nazi leanings. The presidency of Donald Trump came to open the door wide to the “America first” policy that many inside and outside the United States said was reminiscent of “Deutschland uber alles” (Germany above all else). Given this simplified backdrop, can someone understand the dimensions of what took place recently in the city if Charlottesville, Virginia?

The date Saturday, August 12. The location, a public garden in Charlottesville that houses the statue of Confederate General Robert Lee, one of the most prominent advocates of the separation of the southern US from the Union during the country’s civil war nearly two centuries ago.

Some residents of the city decided that it was time to remove the statue given that it is a reminder of a painful historic period in US history, that of slavery. The residents believed that keeping the statue is an insult to free America, where all people are equal under law, whether they are black or white, born on its land or naturalized. It appears that not everyone shares this belief.

Coming from such far-flung states such as Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin and armed with authorized weapons, right-wing racist groups descended on Charlottesville, chanting their traditional anti-black and anti-semitic, xenophobic and anti-immigrant slogans. The real clash then erupted when a vehicle ran over some protesters to transform the campus of the historic University of Virginia, which was established by one of the most important US presidents, Thomas Jefferson, into a war zone. The scene was painted with the images of racial intolerance and hatred and a return of right-wing extremist groups, such as the American Nazi Party, Ku Klux Klan, White Aryan Resistance, National Alliance and many others.

This racist American scene raises a major question: Is there an institutional methodology working in the country that is working against African Americans?

In his exciting book, “Racism: A Very Short Introduction,” Ali Rattansi, a visiting social science professor at City University in London, speaks of the screaming racism inside the US and the forms of inequality in the country. He gave the example of how in 2001, the actual average income of black families was 62 percent of that of white people. The figure dropped to 58 percent when Latinos were excluded.

According to official figures, compared to white children, there are three times more African American children who are raised in poverty. There are two times as many unemployed African Americans as white people, a figure that has remain fixed for a long time. African Americans remain the most residentially segregated members of society, which can be attributed to white Americans’ refusal to live in an area where African Americans make up more than 20 percent of the population. The differences in infant mortality rates is a clear indication of the health of the population. Infant mortality rates among African Americans is double that of their white counterparts. In addition, some 75 percent of African Americans have completed their high school diploma, but only 14 percent pursued a university degree.

Given the above, is what took place in Charlottesville a strange occurrence?

Where did the rioters on the August 12 day come from? Not many people are aware of the existence of the American Nazi Party that was established in Arlington, Virginia in 1958. It was founded by George Rockwell, who had dreams to rule the US in the 1970s, but his assassination by a party defector put an end to that plan. His ideas stemmed from the Hilter’s Nazi ideals and his plan, had he been elected as US president, called for eliminating the Jews the same way Hitler did. He also wanted to deport African Americans and rewrite the constitution with a Nazi base.

The Ku Klux Klan meanwhile was and still is one of the most violent of racist movements in the US. It has a history of violence, burning houses and properties and kidnapping of African Americans and foreigners.

Established in 1974 by physics professor William Luther Pierce, the National Alliance is considered the most dangerous neo-Nazi movement in the US. Its ranks are filled with murderers, bombers and bank robbers. It’s suffice to point out that Timothy McVeigh, the bomber of the Federal Building in Oklahoma in 1995, was a member of this Nazi group.

The US scene is not limited to traditional Nazi or far-right extremist groups. Agence France Presse reported on how a new generation of right-wing extremists has started to find its ground in the country. Why and how?

The answer leads on two paths. The first is financial and the second is intellectual. The first path is linked to the economic and financial situation in the country and the second is connected to the political state over the past decade, the last two years, specifically.

Addressing the financial path, the protesters who rioted in Charlottesville mainly came from the central United States, which is popularly known as the Rust Belt due it is economic decline.

This takes us to Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” and chapter 23 entitled, “The Coming Revolt of the Guards.” The guards here are the American people, who have started to grow restless and angry towards the oligarchy in the country that is unjustly controlling its wealth.

Zinn noted that one percent of the US population holds a third of the country’s wealth. The remaining 97 percent is distributed in a way that keeps the people in a constant state of conflict, such as between small homeowners and non-homeowners, blacks against whites, natives and immigrants. Zinn warned Americans, especially their leaders, that what took place in the 1920s when the Klan managed to recruit millions of followers, could be repeated again as long as millions of American still aspire for solutions to the major problems that are plaguing their country’s economy and society.

These challenges make the people feel helpless and discouraged, leading to their isolation from others, their world, jobs and themselves. This pushes them to embrace the extremist right-wing culture.

The second path that explains the rise of American nationalism is greatly linked to the election of Trump as president. His electoral campaign slogans were enough to awaken the racist beast.

This awakening had its original roots during Barack Obama’s term in office, as pointed out by France’s La Croix newspaper in a recent report. It said that Trump’s victory was a response to Obama’s election and a rejection of another African American coming to power.

During his campaign, Trump resorted to many visuals and demonstrations that the Nazis used to stir German nationalism. He indeed succeeded in garnering the votes of the far right, who in turn highlighted the demographic economic decline of the white man against the African Americans, Latinos and immigrants.

No one can deny that Trump promoted the ideals of the anti-immigrant “Alt-Right”. The danger lies in the fact that on the surface, he presented an alternative culture to that advocated by traditional racist groups, but in reality they are more dangerous and alarming. It is likely that this Alt-Right movement will spread.

An observer of US developments cannot make official or direct accusations against Trump and label him a sponsor of the new form of racism in the US. Implicitly, however, one can simply look at his time in office and his close circle and see he is leading the country on the path of racism and intolerance. Some fear that violence and eventual sectarian and racial unrest will eventually lead to civil war.

Take for example some of the figures who were part of his electoral campaign and who are still with him:

David Duke is an extreme nationalist white supremacist and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. He had voiced his support for Trump during his electoral campaign and once said: “I’m overjoyed to see Trump and most Americans embrace most of the issues that I’ve championed for years…. My motto will remain ‘America First’.”

Duke still acts as a sort of spiritual leader of the Klan, which is witnessing a rapid rise in its members, especially since the group is playing on unemployment to stir up racist sentiment. Many whites are not finding job opportunities and believe that immigrants and African Americans are taking these opportunities.

The other figure is Richard Bertrand Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think tank that believes in the establishment of a racial state that excludes minorities. In an extensive reading of the Washington Report website, we can see a clear link between the 38-year-old Spencer and the Alt-Right that works on uniting white supremacists throughout the country.

In celebration of Trump’s victory, the Washington Post reported Spencer as saying: “Let us celebrate like 1939, a date that the audience knows is when Adolf Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany and Nazis began to create their racial state.”

Self-Censorship: Silencing the Voice to Stay Alive

journalism

New York – Journalism is a profession of relaying facts and documenting the news whether through the lens of a mobile phone during an Arab Spring demonstration or an in-depth report that uncovers corruption at European banks or a blog that speaks of the suffering of a hungry town in Africa.

It is a difficult profession wherever it may be. It is rife with dangers, red lines and challenges. The journalist makes major sacrifices in exchange for publishing his work, which may expose his family to danger and end his life.

The circle of freedom of the press has become smaller today and the faces of censorship have increased. They may change from one region to the other, but they have in all cases hindered publication and doubled the violations. We now comfortably receive the news through a quick google search or a tour of twitter. What if we however stopped for a moment and thought of the army of reporters, those journalists under fire or behind bars, wherever they may be. Who documents their journey? Who defends their rights? Who will restore their silenced voice?

Faces of censorship

I tried to find the answers to my questions. I did not imagine that I would find most of them on Manhattan’s 7th avenue in central New York. Up in a skyscraper, on the 11th floor specifically, lies the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Formed by a number of journalists in 1981 to protect their colleagues, the committee is one of the most prominent defenders of freedom in the world. It is exerting efforts for a world where journalists can work without fear or threats in all corners of the globe. These are noble goals that may be impossible to achieve in our time. The most important product of the committee is its annual guide, “Attacks on the Press.” The book monitors the greatest challenges that journalists have faced throughout a year. The 2017 edition focused on the “new face of censorship.”

“We chose to highlight the new faces of censorship in this year’s edition because it is a serious issue as different parts of the world are witnessing a decrease in press freedom, especially in countries that have been known for their freedom, such as Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, Kenya and others.” This is the answer I received from CPJ’s Communications Officer Kerry Paterson when I sat down with her over cup of coffee at her office away from the hustle and bustle of the street.

Paterson spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about the change in the concept of censorship. She believes that the term now has a broader meaning that has made it more vague. The threat to withdraw ads from newspapers in Kenya is a form of censorship, the blocking of websites by some governments is also a form of censorship, threats to journalists is also another form. The most disconcerting censorship however, is “self-censorship” that some journalists may have to practice out of fear for their lives, she explained.

New definition of the journalist

The turbulent political climate in most parts of the world has forced journalists to work in dangerous conditions, especially in conflict zones. Paterson revealed that 88 percent of journalists who were killed in the field over the past year were locals, not foreign correspondents.

CPJ’s annual survey said that 36 journalists lost their lives in war since the beginning of the year. In 2016, 48 journalists were killed around the world and 259 were imprisoned. Sevety-two journalists were killed in 2015 and 61 in 2014.

The widening of the scope of Middle Eastern conflicts, the importance of spreading information and the diversity of sources have also altered the concept of journalism and the journalist. In this regard, Paterson said that “we have become flexible in our definition of the journalist.”

“For example, the reporter who practices accurate and independent journalistic work, but whose only outlet is his Facebook page as a result of his country’s restrictions, is considered a journalist,” she added.

She gave the example of a journalist who used to work at a radio station in the Congo, who when the station closed its doors, decided to carry a megaphone and roam the streets of his town to report the news. He died while doing his job.

CPJ is a research-based organization that offers services to journalists in every sense of the word, whether in providing financial, medical or even judicial aid or even helping them escape a conflict zone after receiving threats.

Paterson referred me to her colleague Sahrif Mansour when I asked her about specific cases in the Middle East.

Glimpse inside the Middle East

Self-censorship is the product of fear. Fear from the punishment of governments and terror from death threats that the journalist receives from extremist organizations in the Middle East, such as ISIS and its ilk. This is indirect censorship that forces the reporter to stop his writing out of fear for his life.

In the Middle East, specifically after the Arab Spring, the region witnessed for the first time several outlets to exchange information and news in the region. In the countries of the Arab Spring, the citizens took the decision to risk their lives to spread their opinions and what they see and hear about issues that ignited their revolutions. This is how Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa coordinator, took me back to 2011 in describing the atmosphere at the time.

Mansour told Asharq Al-Awsat that the revolution led to the birth of the citizen journalist and media activist. They did not receive any professional support or training to work in journalism, but many of them took the risk and some of them paid the price.

According to Mansour, over 100 journalists were killed in Syria, most of them youths, while covering demonstrations or developments linked to the armed conflict in their country. The same can be said of Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Several of the activists and journalists who were killed were working in media that was broadcast on the internet and that depended on volunteers who had not received prior training or who did not have any experience in covering wars.

Life line

CPJ does not offer training courses, even though it tries despite poor resources, but it works on saving journalists’ lives. The committee intervenes when traditional methods are useless, especially when dealing with non-government parties, such as armed factions. In the Middle East, said Mansour, CPJ focuses on helping journalists who are in danger, whether through offering any form of medical or legal help or financial aid to allow them to leave conflict areas. Some of the support could take the form of facilitations to obtain a residency for those seeking to immigrate to the US or Europe where they may continue to carry out their journalistic work.

CPJ’s role is not limited to preserving the lives and security of the journalists in the real world, but it also offers protection in the virtual world and the internet. Mansour said that the committee intervenes when a journalist is hacked or if his social media accounts are blocked, suspended or compromised.

In regards to the safety of journalism, he revealed that CPJ is in the process of launching a daily report on the operation to liberate Syria’s Raqqa from ISIS.

“We will work on raising awareness and issuing special safety alerts on areas that journalists should avoid,” Mansour said. CPJ will also explain the types of precautions that should be taken should journalists report from these areas. These precautions include knowing where the nearest hospital or the closest evacuation route is. CPJ has helped over 120 Syrian journalists, who were forced to leave their country and it helped them settle down in their new location.

Loss of security

These challenges may discourage a journalist no matter how much he may believe in his cause. These challenges also have psychological effects as well. Mansou explained that several journalists, especially those who covered conflict zones suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other forms of psychological disturbances caused by their work in violent zones.

Despite the challenges, the phenomenon of citizen journalists distinguished the countries of the Arab Spring. The journalist may choose a pseudonym or a blogger activist may choose to write with caution out of fear of losing everything, but they still persevere.

In Lebanon, Salt Producers Fear Craft is Drying up

Lebanon

At 93, Elias al-Najjar has spent half a century harvesting salt by hand from ponds on Lebanon’s Mediterranean shore, but he and his colleagues fear their way of life is dying.

Traditional coastal salt production was once popular in Lebanon, but the fully artisanal practice now survives in just a single seaside town, Anfeh, around 70 kilometers (45 miles) north of Beirut, said an Agence France Presse report on Friday.

Producers like Najjar say the sector has suffered a series of blows, from an exodus of pond owners during Lebanon’s civil war, to the lifting of import tariffs.

“I used to produce 300 tonnes myself in the 1950s,” the elderly man says.

“Now I make 30 tons maximum.”

Anfeh’s salt producers accuse the government of refusing them permits to repair their equipment in order to turf them off prime coastal real estate and make way for developers.

“If they can’t destroy the ponds, they want to make them unworkable so it’s easier for fat cats to buy them to build resorts,” says Hafez Jreij, 67.

“The land the ponds are on is going to be handed over to developers who want to build beach resorts.”

The municipality confirmed to AFP that the central government is not giving any more permits.

But municipal spokeswoman Christiane Nicolas said the local council has no desire to destroy the sector.

“The government stopped collecting taxes on traditional salt production because it considered it an infringement on public property,” she told AFP.

But she added: “There’s no evidence the authorities want to hand over the coast to developers.”

Salt extraction is a time-consuming process subject to the vagaries of weather, meaning it can only be practiced around four months a year.

First, sea water is drawn into meter-deep concrete ponds via pumps powered by small windmills.

The water sits in the ponds of up to 20 square meters (more than 200 square feet) for at least 20 days, evaporating to leave a salty liquid residue.

That salty water is then swept into shallower concrete pans, and left to concentrate further for another 10 days.

Each day, producers sweep the sea water across the pan to ensure it dries evenly.

As the liquid disappears, blindingly white salt crystals emerge in lines, twinkling in the sunlight.

Jreij says Lebanon’s traditional salt industry produced 50,000 tons a year during the sector’s heyday between 1955 and 1975.

“Lebanon did not need to import salt, and the state imposed a 200-percent tax on salt imports,” he says, according to AFP.

But from 1975, when Lebanon’s 15-year civil war erupted, the industry began suffering a series of setbacks.

Many pond owners were among the Lebanese who fled in waves over the years of the grinding conflict.

With their departure, production started to fall below demand, prompting the government in the 1990s to lift the import tax on foreign salt.

The decision made it hard for local producers to compete and, with the sector in free-fall, the government announced it considered many of the salt pans to be illegal construction on public coastline.

As a result, it stopped taxing income from salt production in 1994.

And without tax receipts, municipalities started rejecting permit applications from producers to maintain their equipment, producers say.

Those refusals prevent repairs on worn-down infrastructure, thereby killing the industry, they complain.

Jreij estimates half of all the salt pans in Anfeh are now unusable as a result of the 1994 decision.

Jreij also said that local authorities tried to shut him down in 2015 and 2016 by claiming the sea water feeding the ponds was contaminated.

“We did laboratory tests on the water at extraction points and they all conformed to safety specifications,” Jreij says.

Najjar, who said he had had a similar problem, showed to AFP the analysis results, carried out in Lebanon.

For now, producers in Anfeh are scraping by, selling salt to individual and industrial buyers at a rate of between $2-4 per kilogram, much less than the price of imported salt.

Fisherman Daniel Fares, 37, says he is a loyal customer of Jreij because the entire production process is transparent.

“The sea is clean, and you know where the salt is coming from,” he tells AFP.

“I prefer it over imported salt because it has no additives, which makes it suitable for pickling sardines too,” says Fares, who also sells some of Jreij’s salt to his own customers for home use.

Jreij sees the fight to preserve the salt ponds as part of a greater battle to protect Lebanon’s coastline, much of which has been gobbled up by developers.

“Salt ponds don’t produce waste, they don’t block the way to the sea, and they don’t block the beautiful view of the Mediterranean,” he says.

“Resorts do all of that.”

ISIS Conscription Forces Deir Ezzor’s Young Men to Flee

Hasakeh, Syria – The ISIS order that prompted Mahmud al-Ali to flee his town was simple: “All young men aged 20 to 30 years old must enlist to fight throughout Syria.”

As the terrorist group loses territory across the country, it has begun to impose forced enlistment on men in Deir Ezzor, the last Syrian province that remains nearly completely under ISIS control.

The measure has prompted many residents of villages and towns in the eastern province, like 26-year-old Ali, to flee en masse.

Many of them have sought refuge in makeshift camps for the displaced in the neighboring province of Hasakeh, including one seven kilometers from the town of Arisha.

In the middle of the desert, the camp is a sea of tents with the logo of the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

Here and there, women and children sit on the ground under the blistering heat, but the camp is dominated by young men fleeing conscription.

“ISIS told us that fighting was now a duty,” said Ali, who left his town of Al-Eshara, southeast of Deir Ezzor city, along with his family.

“But the majority of the young men refused and thousands of us fled,” added Ali, wearing a traditional robe and the long beard mandated by IS.

Residents and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group report that the militants announced via Friday sermons, loudspeakers and leaflets that residents had a week to register their names at recruitment offices.

“The situation became critical,” said 28-year-old Salah.

“They carried out raids in houses searching for young men to conscript into their forces,” added Salah, who fled Mayadeen, Deir Ezzor’s second largest city. 

He said the raids netted many.

According to Ahmed al-Abed, also from Mayadeen, those forced by the militants to enlist “have to undergo a month of training and then they fight for them for four months.”

Many have not been able to escape, and remain trapped in the oil-rich province which has been largely under the control of ISIS since 2014.

“There are people still trapped who can’t get out. We paid (smugglers) two million Syrian pounds (nearly $4,000) for 15 members of our family,” Abed told Agence France Presse.

But even with the guidance of a smuggler, escaping the clutches of ISIS remains a dangerous affair, especially after the group boosted security to stem the flow of fleeing residents.

ISIS has suffered a slew of defeats in recent months.

After being pushed out of Aleppo province in northern Syria, it has lost half its de facto Syrian capital Raqqa city to US-backed fighters.

It is on the verge of being completely expelled from Homs province by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces, who are now advancing towards Deir Ezzor from several directions.

Under pressure, it appears to be mobilizing all available resources to defend the eastern province.

The recapture of Deir Ezzor “would largely — if not completely — mark the end of the fight against ISID,” Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Sunday.

The militants told young men “we want you to support us in the battle for Deir Ezzor,” said Hazem al-Satem, also from Al-Eshara.

“But nobody wanted to join them,” the 25-year-old said.

For those who have escaped, the relief at their freedom is tempered by the miserable conditions they now face in camps for the displaced, including shortages of food, water and medicine.

Arisha camp was established two months ago on the edge of a makeshift oil refinery.

It hosts more than 7,000 people, but has just 400 tents.

On Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that displaced civilians faced “terrible, terrible conditions”.

“These tents are literally in the middle of the desert. You have snakes and scorpions that are a daily threat for people,” ICRC spokeswoman Ingy Sedky told AFP after visiting the area.

“You see children playing in toxic waste, drinking and bathing in contaminated water.”

Despite the conditions, 28-year-old Ibrahim Khaled is grateful to have escaped.

“We were able to save our lives,” he told AFP.

“I’m sure that for those who stay it is almost impossible to escape.”

Terrorists between Psychological Disease and Madness of Ideological Extremism

terrorism

Cairo – Once against terrorism and terrorists attacked Europe with ISIS claiming responsibility for the car-ramming that injured six soldiers in a Paris suburb last week. The latest incident sparked a wide a debate over the links between terrorism and extremism with psychological and mental problems.

In Germany specifically, a wide debate addressed the catastrophic exploitation of terrorists of the mentally disturbed and ideologically radicalized in their suicide operations due to “the ease in which their brains can be washed.” This is a crisis that not only affects Europe, but extends to all six continents. Intolerance is easily achieved, especially regarding absolute dogmatic problems, as opposed to tolerance, which accepts the other and their opinions without a hint of chauvinism.

At this point, we must ask: Does the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and the tightening of the noose around its fugitives mark an end of the spread of extremism of this terrorist group or is there a greater and more complicated problem that requires psychological intervention more than the analyses of security and intelligence forces, despite their importance?

This leads us to the problem of intolerance and the environment that gives birth to terrorism.

“Les Fanatiques Nouvelle ED: la folie de croire” is one of the latest intellectual and psychological publications that tackle the crisis that we are examining. Written by French Clinical Psychologist Professor Bernard Chouvier of Lyon University, the book was published by a Niniveh publishing house and translated into Arabic by Dr. Kassem al-Mokdad of Damascus University.

The book questions the purpose of addressing intolerance and the answer is that intolerance and radicalization are spreading more and more these days.

Chouvier opens our eyes to the fact that behind these terrorist and violent acts are men and women who are fighting for higher values (such as their alleged ISIS caliphate) and who are constantly setting a certain vision of humanity at the forefront of this pursuit.

The question that the world should ask, if it wants to radically combat terrorism, is how can we understand that there are people who strongly believe in a cause and are willing to take a destructive path to achieve it? Chouvier stressed that it is important to draw the portrait of the terrorist, identify the person behind its mask and study the ideas that they are translating into action.

The catastrophe of intolerance is that at times it could be a temporary occurrence, but in many, it becomes a way of thinking and acting methodologically. Living intolerantly does not make intolerance simply a means to an end, but it becomes an end in and of itself.

The author presents the intolerant person as a “holy human”, but he is not like any other human or any other holy figure. This person offers his body and soul for his cause and is mad about what he believes in. “Holy” here means the absolute and perfect that covers such an expanse that it borders on the realms that it contradicts, and that its the sacrilegious. Once he reaches this point, the intolerant person is no longer able to distinguish between what is “holy” and what is sacrilegious because they have all been lumped into one category.

The intolerant person interprets principles in an inverted manner, which costs life its value and grants negativity a meaning for him, if not a means. Destruction becomes a need for revival.

In one of the book’s chapters, Chouvier explains that terrorism is a form of intolerance and the terrorist therefore has a need to share his ideas with others. The other should yield to the terrorist ideology or be forced to yield to them. For Chouvier, an intolerant person is one who is very convinced with the sincerity of his ideas and is prepared to resort to violence in order to transfer these ideas to others or impose them on them.

If we apply Chouvier’s psychological explanation to ISIS, we realize how this phenomenon appeared and, more dangerously, how other similar groups may emerge in the future. The terrorist believes that the theoretical value of his ideas makes the means to reach them valid. The terrorist’s vision of terrorism lies in resorting to destruction, elimination, imprisonment, amputation and murder to build a system of freedom.

We often ask: How can ISIS and other radical and terrorist groups find a human environment from where they can recruit their members?

The problem here is that the recruitment is ongoing and it will produce new layers of ISIS with different names, especially if the ISIS defectors are not dealt with rationally.

Chouvier offers a new term that helps us understand the legend of recruitment in radical groups, and that is “intoleration”, or the act of leading one towards intolerance.

The greatest trap, said the French professor, is the media. He explained that the intolerant groups distort the normal beliefs of their potential new recruit by highlighting the contradictions in daily life, such as adolescence, social marginalization or life’s hardships. These groups become involved with people who are seeking answers to their personal existential crises and they employ social media to gradually manipulate their target and lure them over to their cause.

Those who tried to differentiate between the suicide bombers and the terrorists have wondered about what motivates someone to end their life with their own hand or even end the life of their loved one. We have seen how fathers have strapped explosives belts on their sons to blow them up against their perceived enemies.

Chouvier portrays the intolerant person as one seeking to apply pain and destruction upon himself in his attempt to assert the depth of his conviction to his beliefs.

Furthermore, the deep psychological analysis of the extremist’s distortion of what is holy should be used by security and intelligence agencies as a tool to deal with radical terrorists. This will reveal the behavior of this form of intolerance where the recruit becomes almost forced to carry out an action to avoid his internal implosion, which caused by an excessive awareness. Violence is the outlet that the recruit turns to prove the extent of his conviction in his beliefs.

Chouvier also highlighted a type of terrorism that adheres to a leader. These terrorists are willing to give their body and soul for their leader. Such groups usually have a military organization and the members are driven by their loyalty to their commander, and not a certain creed. The crisis here is that the leader here becomes an attractive hero, who knows how to build an organization whose members are transformed into killing machines he can manipulate as he chooses. The leader has no major cause or absolute values.

The adherent of this type of terrorism has driven analysts in Germany to examine the psychopathic mind that is programmed by a project that is devised by a higher power. At this point, Chouvier addresses the “lone wolf” attacker, who falls in his “own special category of intolerance.”

This intolerance is solely linked to the individual, who resorts to solving his psychological problems through spreading terror in his surrounding. This form of new intolerance was witnessed on the streets of France, Germany and Brussels. The individual is completely wrapped around himself and unleashes his internal violence, which he cannot control himself, on to those close to him.

He justifies this by thinking that “as long as others don’t understand me and as long as they are oppressing me and pushing me to my limit, then I will fulfill their wishes by eliminating myself from this world. But they should also pay the price of this in blood and tears.”

Chouvier describes this type of intolerant person as a “kamikaze”. Delving deeper in his mind, we realize that he is suffering from real pain caused by deliberate human neglect and social rejection.

He stressed that intolerance is a disease that strikes the mind and it should be studied before it emerges. Proper education and institutions could be the best cures to treat this virus.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi … the ‘Other Face’ of Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif

Abbasi

Islamabad – New Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has a good reputation for being a hardworking politician and for never losing any elections since he entered the political field in 1988.

He was elected to parliament six times since 1988, thereby winning all the races he has entered. He is also a loyal follower of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. This is the reason why he was chosen to succeed him after a court decision that led to his resignation.

One the eve of Abbasi’s election as premier, Mariam Nawaz Sharif tweeted that the new premier was “another face of Nawaz Sharif.”

“I have faith that the real Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will return to his post,” she added.

Abbasi retorted however by declaring: “I am the prime minister of the country, whether for 45 days or 45 hours. I am not here to reserve the seat for someone else.”

He called for respecting the constitution, saying that political life, which had its reputation tarnished, will regain its respect.

“We are all in the same boat whether you are in the government, bureaucratic system, opposition or army. If there is a hole in the boat, then we will all sink.”

In his first speech since being elected as PM, Abbasi focused on reviving the economy and improving the legal system throughout Pakistan.

Born in Karachi in 1958, he received his early education in Pakistan before traveling to the United States where he earned a Bachelor’s degree from the University of California. He then pursued a master’s degree in electrical engineering from George Washington University in the US capital.

Before entering the political field, he served as engineer in several projects in the US and Middle East. He also worked in the oil industry sector in Saudi Arabia.

Abbasi hails from a family that is active in politics. His father Khaqan Abbasi was a general in the airforce and worked in the country’s national assembly He also served as a minister of production under the premiership of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.

He was killed in the 1988 Ojhri camp explosion that left over a hundred people dead and 1,000 wounded. Abbasi kicked off his political career following the death of his father

PM Abbasi’s sister was also a member of the ruling party in Pakistan in the 1990s.

The premier also owns private jets that operate in Pakistan and in 2003, he established AirBlue Limited, an aviation company that he chaired until 2007. He also acted as president of Pakistan International Airlines between 1997 and 1999 during Sharif’s second term as prime minister.

On August 1, Abbasi was chosen to become premier following Sharif’s ouster over his links to the so-called “Panama Papers”.

On the political level, Abbasi is known for the service he provides for his electoral district of Murree. Mohammed Islam, a government employee who hails from Murree, said that Abbasi worked tirelessly to establish a network of roads in the area. He also worked to build schools and hospitals in the district.

Abbasi had however been subject to accusations, along with Sharif and others, in the famous plane hijacking incident during the term of Prime Minister General Pervez Musharraf in the late 1990s. Abbasi was accused of preventing the landing of a plane, which was transporting Musharraf from a visit to Sri Lank to Karachi airport. It was said that Abbasi came under great pressure to testify against Sharif in the 1999 incident, but he refused.

He was consequently jailed for two years and released in 2001. In 2008, Abbasi claimed during an interview that Musharraf himself had personally seized control of the plane during the “hijacking.”

With his election, Abbasi, 58, becomes the 18th prime minister of Pakistan.

Generally, he is seen as very smart and as one of Sharif’s most loyal followers. It is viewed however that his tenure as premier will be temporary and that it is paving the way for Sharif’s younger brother Shehbaz.

Nawaz himself had said that Abbasi will remain in his post for 45 days. During this time, Shehbaz will attempt to win national assembly elections that will make him qualified to become prime minister.

Informed sources in Islamabad said however that Nawaz may change his mind about Shehbaz becoming premier. A member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League said he believes that Abbasi will be allowed to complete his term as premier.

Married with three children, Abbasi is considered to be one of the wealthiest lawmakers in Pakistan with a fortune of 1.3 billion rupees (12 million dollars). He holds stocks in AirBlue and owns a house in Islamabad, as well as a restaurant and property in Murree.

Abbasi became prime minister at a tense political time in Pakistan due to the disputes between its various parties. There are fears in Islamabad that the upcoming days may witness a direct confrontation between Nawaz Sharif and a number of central institutions in the country, such as the military and supreme court.

It is certain that these confrontations, should they happen, will harm the political process in the country. Political analysts said that Abbasi will have to find a balance between the rival parties if he wants to keep his position.

The military after all had conspired to topple Sharif, but Abbasi and Shehbaz both have strong ties with this powerful institution.