— The Erimtan Angle —

Archive for February, 2012

Turkey in Somalia as a Counter to Growing Iranian Influence???

As I wrote many months ago, ‘[o]ver the past months Turkey has tried to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians, between Iran and the rest of the world, between Syria and Israel, and following the outbreak of the Arab Awakening, the state founded by Mustafa Kemal was quick to present itself as a future role-model for Arab nation states yearning for freedom and democracy . . . Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria have all continued their course without taking any account of the Turkish road to prosperity, so that the Turkish humanitarian intervention in the Horn of Africa might just prove to do the trick and turn Turkey into an international player of some importance’.[1]  And now the pan-Arab, international broadcaster Al Jazeera picks up on Turkey’s new pseudo-Ottoman overtures in Africa: ‘Turkey has been showing unparalleled interest in Somalia, starting with a visit from Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, in August last year. Al Jazeera‘s Nazanine Moshiri takes a look’.

China’s presence in Africa is well known, but as Miss Moshiri points out, Iran has also displayed an interest in the Black Continent, as illustrated by the former Pentagon official and current resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute Michael Rubin: ‘On January 29, 2008, [Iran’s Foreign Minister] Mottaki declared that this year would mark a “milestone in Iran-Africa ties.” Three days later, while attending the Africa Union summit in Addis Ababa, Mottaki announced that Iran would soon host a summit of African foreign ministers in Tehran. The traditional pattern in which Iranian actions fail to live up to diplomatic rhetoric also appears to be changing in Africa, with Tehran developing strong partnerships with a number of states. The Islamic Republic has forged particularly strong ties with Senegal, once a Cold War ally of the United States but now quietly turning into West Africa’s Venezuela. President Abdoulaye Wade has traveled twice to Tehran to meet with Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, first in 2006 and again in 2008. During his most recent visit, he provided a backdrop for Khamenei to declare that developing unity between Islamic countries like Senegal and Iran can weaken “the great powers” like the United States. It would be a mistake to dismiss this as a rhetorical flourish: on January 27, 2008, a week after Senegalese foreign minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio announced that he, too, would visit Tehran, Minister of Armed Forces Becaye Diop met with his Iranian counterpart to discuss expanding bilateral defense ties between the two states.Senior Iranian officials have returned the visits. On July 22, 2007, judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi and government spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham –among the closest confidantes of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, respectively– departed for Dakar, where they met Wade and Senegalese prime minister Cheikh Hadjibou Soumaré. Shahroudi declared, “We believe it is our duty to expand ties with Islamic countries and use the capabilities and potentials [sic] of Muslim states to help the growth and spread of Islam.” On March 12, 2008, Ahmadinejad left for a visit to the West African state. While the Iranian leadership might be most interested in expanding a Muslim bloc –especially one that might supplant the influence of Sunni Arab states– the Senegalese leadership seems most interested in immediate economic benefits. “Energy, Oil Prospecting, Industry: Senegal Benefits from Iranian Solutions,” a headline in the official government newspaper declared after Wade’s first visit to Tehran. After the reciprocal Iranian visit, Wade announced that Iran would build an oil refinery, a chemical plant, and an $80 million car assembly plant in the West African nation. Within weeks, Samuel Sarr, Senegal’s energy minister, visited Tehran and returned with a pledge that Iran would supply Senegal with oil for a year and purchase a 34 percent stake in Senegal’s oil refinery. Such aid probably came with strings attached. On November 25, 2007, during the third meeting of the Iran-Senegal joint economic commission, Wade endorsed Iran’s nuclear program. Senegal is not alone among those countries Tehran is cultivating. While Iranian officials trumpet Islam during meetings with Muslim officials, the Islamic Republic is willing to embrace any African state –Muslim or not– that finds itself estranged from the West in general and the United States in particular. Here, Sudan and Zimbabwe especially have been beneficiaries. Both European governments and Washington have sought to isolate Sudan for what many international human rights groups deem genocide in Darfur. As the international community sought to tighten diplomatic sanctions on Khartoum, Ahmadinejad moved to embrace Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir. Ahmadinejad was forthright: Iranian-Sudanese ties should be built around the understanding that both governments would defend each other in international settings. [In March 2008] Iran’s defense minister visited Khartoum and called the African state “the cornerstone” of the Islamic Republic’s Africa policies. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s longtime president, has been as poisonous for his country as Bashir has been for Sudan. Mugabe’s government demonizes racial and ethnic minorities, and his economic policies have forced the breadbasket of southern Africa to face famine. But as the international community has isolated Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe, Tehran has reached out to fill the gap. Iranian politicians may speak of their commitment to social justice, but their crass indifference to social issues and public health and well-being are on display as they work to transform Africa’s most brutal dictatorship into a pillar of Iranian influence in Africa. Mottaki initiated outreach to Zimbabwe on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in 2006. The two countries pledged uniformity of policy. At a Tehran press conference in November of that year, Mugabe said, “Iran and Zimbabwe think alike and have been described [as belonging to] the ‘Axis of Evil.’ . . . Those countries that think alike should come together.” In subsequent days, the two countries signed deals to boost energy cooperation, restart Zimbabwe’s defunct oil refinery, and underwrite agricultural policies that have left the southern African nation on the brink of famine. The Iranian ambassador in Harare pledged to help Mugabe repel sanctions’.[2]  In other words, Turkey seems to have its work cut out . . .


[1] “Pseudo-Ottoman Overtures: Turkey as Champion of the Third World” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (19 August 2011). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2011/08/19/pseudo-ottoman-overtures-turkey-as-champion-of-the-third-world/.

[2] Michael Rubin, “Iran’s Global Ambition” AEI Middle Eastern Outlook (17 March 2008). http://www.meforum.org/1873/irans-global-ambition.

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After All Those Years: Salman Rushdie and the Satanic Verses

The Indian writer, journalist, and academic Amitava Kumar recently wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education of his experience reading excerpts from Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses at the Jaipur Literature Festival: the ‘organizers of the Jaipur Literature Festival were asked to hand over to the police the videotape of a reading from a novel last month. The tape will show the writer Hari Kunzru and me reading from Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, a book banned in India since its publication in 1988. We were protesting Rushdie’s absence from the festival. He had been forced to withdraw after extremist Muslim groups expressed displeasure, and, more urgently, when intelligence reports revealed that hired assassins from Mumbai were on their way to kill the writer. (Those reports were later revealed to be fiction. Cops as magical realists.) On the tape, the police will have seen that, during our reading, I told the audience that just before the start of the protests in Tahrir Square last year, the Google executive-turned-cyber-activist Wael Ghonim had entered Egypt with a message ready on his computer. It said, “I am now being arrested at Cairo airport.” All he needed to do was press Send. I joked that perhaps Hari ought to do something similar. Within minutes of my saying this, the festival’s producer arrived and asked me to stop reading. I didn’t. When the reading was over and we came out, a bank of television cameras was trained on us. A Hindi reporter asked me, “Aren’t you guilty of provoking religious violence?” And then, a little later, the police were there, informing us that we had broken the law. I was staggered at the speed at which all of this happened. We were told that the tweets we had sent immediately before the reading, announcing our plans to read from the banned novel, had gone viral. Here was proof that we were living in the age of social media, and that, as in Egypt or Tunisia, public protest was being conveyed through Twitter. A lot had changed in the 23 years since the book was banned in India’.[1]

And in the absence of a clip of the above cited lecture, here is a ‘clip [from]. . .  “Faith & Reason” on PBS. Excerpt was read at the PEN American Center on April 26, 2006’: Rushdie himself reading the offending lines.

The whole Satanic Verses affair dates back to Valentine’s Day 1989, and was only somewhat resolved at the end of the century.

The Satanic Verses Affair

This film looks back on the extraordinary events which followed the publication of the book and the ten year campaign to get the fatwa lifted. Interviews with Rushdie’s friends and family and testimony from leaders of Britain’s Muslim community and the Government reveal the inside story of the affair. Rushdie himself was forced into hiding for nearly ten years.

 


[1] Amitava Kumar, “Salman Rushdie and Me” The Chronicle of Higher Education (19 February 2012). http://chronicle.com/article/Salman-RushdieMe/130796/.

Syria Referendum: Too Little Too Late???

In view of the yearlong opposition to one-party rule and the ensuing violence, Assad’s government has now ordained a popular vote on reforms and other political improvements, a whole new constitution which would allow multi-party politics among other changes . . . Perhaps, a little too late . . . CNN’s Rima Maktabi reports on the Syrian vote on a new constitution.

The Reuters news agency reports that at ‘least 31 Syrian civilians and soldiers were killed on Sunday in bloodshed that coincided with a vote on a new constitution that could keep President Bashar al-Assad in power until 2028. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a military bombardment of opposition districts in Homs, now in its fourth week, had killed nine civilians, while rebel fighters had killed four soldiers in clashes in the city. The British-based Observatory said eight civilians and 10 members of the security forces were killed in violence elsewhere in Syria, scene of what has become an increasingly militarized revolt against four decades of Assad family rule. Voting was under way in the referendum on a constitution which Assad says will lead to a multi-party parliamentary election in three months, but which his opponents see as a sick joke given the unrest convulsing the country’.[1]


[1] “Syria referendum goes ahead amid military onslaught” Reuters (26 February 2012). http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/26/us-syria-idUSL5E8DB0BH20120226.

Koran Burning in Afghanistan: The Fallout

And yet again, Muslim sensibilities have been trodden upon and . . . violence has ensued accordingly. RT states that at ‘least 24 people across Afghanistan have died since Wednesday [, 22 Feb] in the protests, including two American soldiers. American apologies about the desecration of the Muslim holy book by NATO forces at Bagram Air Base are failing to calm many people in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan (25 Feb 2012)’.

The Associated Press records that ‘Muslim holy books that were burned in a pile of garbage at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan had been removed from a library at a nearby detention center because they contained extremist messages or inscriptions, a Western military official said Tuesday [, 21 February]. The military official with knowledge of the incident said it appeared that the Qurans and other Islamic readings were being used to fuel extremism, and that detainees at Parwan Detention Facility were writing on the documents to exchange extremist messages . . . Parwan Detention Facility adjoins Bagram Air Field, a sprawling U.S. base north of Kabul, where more than 2,000 Afghans demonstrated against the incident. The burning stoked anti-foreign sentiment that already is on the rise after a decade of war in Afghanistan. It also fueled the arguments of Afghans who claim foreign troops are not respectful of their culture or Islamic religion. “Die, die, foreigners!” the demonstrators shouted. Some fired rifles into the air. Others threw rocks at the gate of the base and set tires ablaze. U.S. Gen. John Allen, the top commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, apologized to the Afghan people and said the books were inadvertently given to troops for burning’.[1]

(21 Feb 2012)

The BBC adds perfunctorily that ‘US President Barack Obama has also apologised for the Koran-burning incident. In a letter to his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, Mr Obama said the books had been “unintentionally mishandled”. Muslims consider the Koran the literal word of God and treat each book with deep reverence. On Thursday [, 23 Feb] the Taliban had called on Afghans to attack “invading forces” in revenge for “insulting” the Koran. Last year, [2011] at least 24 people died in protests across Afghanistan after a hardline US pastor burned a Koran in Florida’.[2]

 


[1] “Afghans protest Quran burning at U.S. base” AP (22 Feb 2012). http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/afghanistan/story/2012-02-21/afghanistan-quran-disposal/53185762/1.

[2] “Six dead in fresh Afghanistan Koran burning protests” BBC News (25 Feb 2012). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-17163315.

Obama Takes a Stand on Syria

President Obama says the international community must band together in pressuring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down,using his most forceful words to date in response to an increasingly grim crisis that has gripped the world (25 Feb 2012).

Fear and Paranoia: London Conference on Somalia

 

In the great tradition established by Bush, Jr. the British Prime Minister David Cameron has now issued a warning, insinuating that the UK’s domestic security is at risk from Somali militants. Hyperbole and fear-mongering at its finest, and for good measure the name of that that “catch-all ghost entity” has once again been drummed up to garner support. It seems that Cameron is trying to construct a parallel with Afghanistan, as a way of securing the voting public continuing support, in a fashion similar to Bush’s high popularity ratings in the aftermath of 9/11 and the opening months of the invasion of the Hindu Kush. Will his stratagem work and will the British public be lured into voting Tory again next time around???  The BBC remarks that ‘British Prime Minister David Cameron has told the BBC that radical jihadist islamism in Somalia remains his biggest concern about the country. In an interview with BBC Somali Service editor Yusuf Garaad Omar, Mr Cameron said the international security threat from al-Shabab, which controls large areas of Somalia, is real and substantial. The British government is hosting an international conference on Somalia in London on Thursday [, 23 February] to discuss strategies to tackle the security situation, piracy and aid for Somalia. The conference will be attended by more than 40 political leaders from Africa, the Middle East and other countries’.[1]

The Telegraph’s Damien McElroy informs us that “Britain is to spend £20 million on a new civilian rapid reaction force to secure parts of Somalia wrested from the control of the Islamic militant group al-Shabaab”, once the AU forces have left the country”.[2] Thus, one could argue that Cameron felt compelled to up the ante and sharpen his rhetoric so as to justify this extravagant-looking expenditure to a austerity-struck home public. Like Bush kept on saying that America was battling the terrorists in Iraq, rather than at home in the U.S., Cameron now employs a similar figure of speech to convince his critics that spending millions of Pounds on yet another foreign war is not just justified but necessary to keep Britain safe. The Foreign Secretary William Hague supports the words of his boss: “We want to help Somalis find longer-term political solutions, and a key part of tomorrow will be capitalising on recent security progress on the ground. We can make a huge difference if we get this right”.[3]  Cameron and Hague imply that this £20 million spent on weapons constitutes yet another humanitarian intervention that will secure the West, while immobilizing the threat of radical Islam. Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab have become the latest configuration of evil now that the Taliban are seen as a necessary evil in the Hindu Kush and Al Qaeda elements are primarily conspicuous in their absence in the Af-Pak theatre. Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden, has also been mobilized to present another Islamic threat, necessary for the continuation of the never-ending War-on-Terror. Will the Af-Pak theatre now be replaced by the Somali-Yemen axis as the locus for the West’s military interventionism???  Making his point abundantly clear, David Cameron told the BBC Somali service Al Shabaab “encourages violent jihad not just in Somalia but also outside Somalia. And there is a very real danger of young British Somalis having their minds poisoned by this organisation. So there is a terrorist threat that is current today, and if we are not careful, could get worse”.[4]

David Cameron has now ensured that Britain will stay the course on the ever-lasting War-on-Terror, but other world leaders are also attending the London Conference on Thursday, 23 February. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, and representatives of the World Bank, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as well as many others will be present too in London. It seems that a number of Yemenis will be able to attend: the ‘Foreign Minister Abu Baker al-Qirbi, who will represents Yemen in the conference, said the conference will discuss the Somali case and its security and political implications on the Horn of Africa and the world in general. The discussions will be based on seven headings: Security, Political Process, Local Stability, Counter-Terrorism, Humanitarian, and International Coordination, according to Al-Qiribi. Senior representatives from over 40 governments and multi-lateral organizations will come together in London with the aim of delivering a new international approach to Somalia. They will discuss how the international community can step-up its efforts to tackle both the root causes and effects of the problems in the country’, as reported by the Yemen Post.[5]

But not just Yemen, also Turkey – which now sees itself as the pseudo-Ottoman champion of the Third World, as clearly evidenced by the charity campaign organized by the Diyanet during last Ramazan – is present at the London conference. In fact, Turkey’s wily Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu abandons an unofficial meeting of G20 foreign ministers in Mexico to be present at the Somalia Conference. David Cameron thus calls upon the international community to endorse his bold moves to perpetuate the never-ending War-on-Terror. The conference organizers have released this statement, already echoed by the Yemen Post higher: ‘The international community hopes to agree a series of practical measures which will be published in the form of a communiqué at the end of the conference. Discussion will be arranged under seven headings:

Security: sustainable funding for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and support for Somali security and justice sectors. Political Process: agreement to what should succeed the transitional institutions in Mogadishu in August 2012 and the establishment of a Joint Financial Management Board. Local Stability: a coordinated international package of support to Somalia’s regions. Counter-terrorism: renewed commitment to tackle collectively the terrorist threat emanating from Somalia. Piracy: breaking the piracy business model. Humanitarian: renewed commitment to tackling Somalia’s humanitarian crisis. International coordination: agreement on improved international handling of Somalia issues’.[6]


[1] “Cameron on hopes for Somalia conference” BBC News (2 Feb 2012). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17122583.

[2] Damien McElroy, “Britain to spend £20 million on new rapid reaction force for Somalia” The Telegraph (23 Feb 2012). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/somalia/9096795/Britain-to-spend-20-million-on-new-rapid-reaction-force-for-Somalia.html.

[3] Damien McElroy, “Britain to spend £20 million on new rapid reaction force for Somalia”.

[4] Damien McElroy, “Britain to spend £20 million on new rapid reaction force for Somalia”.

[5] “Yemen partakes in London Somalia Conference” Yemen Post (22 Feb 2012). http://yemenpost.net/Detail123456789.aspx?ID=3&SubID=4774&MainCat=3.

[6] “Conference details” Foreign & Commonwealth Office. http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/global-issues/london-conference-somalia/conference-details/.

Fukushima Disaster Fallout 2012

It’s been while since posted something on Fukushima . . . and now, as we can read in The Independent, it has been a ‘year since the Fukushima nuclear plant was destroyed, the fight to prevent disaster goes on. In an exclusive dispatch from the reactors, David McNeill becomes the first European journalist to revisit Japan’s ground zero’.[1]  But before digging into McNeill’s narrative, here is Dr Helen Caldicott, whom I have featured on numerous occasions in the past, talking to Arnie Gundersen on her weekly radio show If You Love This Planet.

 

(14 Feb 2012)

 

And, as the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown happened quite some time ago, here is a handy timeline compiled by the Independent:

11 March 2011

At 2.46pm a magnitude 8.9 earthquake strikes Japan’s north-eastern coast, triggering a devastating tsunami and a series of strong aftershocks.

12 March

A state of emergency is declared. About 170,000 people are evacuated from a 20km (12-mile) zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant after an explosion in one of its reactors.

13 March

Around 190 people are treated in hospital for radiation exposure.

17 March

Helicopters dump tons of water over the Fukushima plant in an attempt to cool the overheating nuclear reactors as fears over a meltdown grow.

22 March

Abnormal radiation levels are detected in tap water, vegetables, milk and fish.

25 March

Japan expands the exclusion zone around the plant, and asks a further 130,000 residents to evacuate as fears over the extent of the damage to the reactors worsen.

26 March

Levels of radioactive iodine in the sea near the Fukushima nuclear plant are found to be 1,250 times higher than the safety limit, according to officials.

30 June

Radiation contamination is found in 10 children’s urine samples, according to a citizen’s group.

19 July

Transport of beef from Fukushima is prohibited, but a crisis ensues after it emerges that meat from cattle fed on contaminated hay has already been distributed nationally.

8 September

A total of 15,000 terabecquerels of radiation were released into the sea from the damaged plant, according to the Japan Atomic Energy Agency.

29 September

Core temperatures for all three damaged reactors dip below 100C for the first time.

28 October

The Fukushima plant released twice as much radioactivity into the atmosphere as originally thought, a study by the Norwegian Institute for Air Research finds.

27 January 2012

The Japanese government had a secret plan to evacuate everyone living within 155 miles of the plant should the situation have spiralled out of control, it emerges. This would have included the Tokyo metropolitan area – home to 30 million people.

3 February

Researchers working around the Fukushima plant say bird populations there are dwindling, one of the first indications of the impact of radioactive fallout on local wildlife.[2]

And now let’s turn to The Independent’s David McNeill: the “journey to Fukushima Daiichi begins at the border of the 12-mile exclusion zone that surrounds the ruined nuclear complex, beyond which life has frozen in time. Weeds reclaim the gardens of empty homes along a route that emptied on a bitterly cold night almost a year ago. Shop signs hang unrepaired from the huge quake that rattled this area on 11 March [2011], triggering the meltdown of three reactors and a series of explosions that showered the area with contamination. Cars wait outside supermarkets where their owners left them in Tomioka, Okuma and Futaba – once neat, bustling towns. Even birds have deserted this area, if recent research is to be believed. The reason is signalled by a symphony of beeping noises from dosimeters on our bus. As we drive through a police checkpoint and into the town of Tomioka, about 15km from the plant, the radioactivity climbs steadily, hitting 15 microsieverts per hour at the main gate to the nuclear complex. At the other end of the plant, where the gaping buildings of its three most damaged reactors face the Pacific Ocean, the radiation level is 100 times this high, making it still too dangerous to work there. Inside the plant’s emergency co-ordination building, the air is filled with the sound of humming filters labouring to keep the contamination out”.[3]

Radiation Spread in Pacific from Fukushima 2012

But already in May 2011, the Natural News’ Ethan Huff reported that the ‘US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced [on 4 May 2011] that it is ceasing its special monitoring protocols in the US for radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, despite the fact that no real progress at the plant has been made, and threats to the US are persistent. At the same time as the EPA announcement, foreign reports also indicate that levels of radiation in Pacific waters near the Fukushima plant are now up to 1,000 times normal levels, with no real indication of where this radioactive water is flowing. The EPA has stated that radiation levels in the US related to the Fukushima incident have been “consistently decreasing,” and that the agency no longer needs to regularly test food, air, and water for radiation in the manner that it has been. In fact, the agency is so confident that it states in its announcement that “[t]he next round of milk and drinking water sampling will take place in approximately three months.” But just a few weeks ago, EPA data revealed that several milk and water samples from across the country were testing positive with dangerously high levels of radiation‘.[4]  And now we are in February 2012, and the Fukushima disaster fallout is still in full swing . . .


[1] David McNeill, “Fukushima: Return to the disaster zone” The Independent (21 Feb 2012). http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/fukushima-return-to-the-disaster-zone-7237419.html.

[2] David McNeill, “Fukushima: Return to the disaster zone”.

[3] David McNeill, “Fukushima: Return to the disaster zone”.

[4] Ethan A. Huff, “EPA ends special monitoring for Fukushima radiation despite continued rise in nuclear fallout, increased threats to US” Natural News (05 May 2011). http://www.naturalnews.com/032291_Fukushima_radiation_monitoring.html.