Category Archives: Human Rights

Ireland and CIA Torture

Since 2002 there has been concern over Ireland’s neutrality. US military aircraft have been using Shannon airport in the west of Ireland en route to conflict situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2002 over 2.25 million armed US troops have gone through Shannon Airport.

Many people were shocked by the realities of CIA torture revealed in a recently publicised report but for many other it was simply an official confirmation of what they have known was going on in secret CIA holding facilities and the infamous Guantanamo Bay. There is little the international community to stop the biggest military power from breaking international law, except condemn it.

What Irish people can and should be doing now is question the Irish state’s involvement in these “extraordinary rendition operations”. The Open Society Foundation produced a report called ‘Globalizing Torture’ in 2013 which dealt with many of the same practices confirmed in the “Torture Report” currently being circulated.

In particular this report highlights the complicity and facilitation of CIA torture by other states. Ireland is among these countries. Ireland permitted the use of its airspace and airports for flights associated with CIA extraordinary rendition operations.

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The number of countries complicit is frighteningly high (as you can see in the graphic above) abut it is often ignored that the international community does not only allow the USA’s frequently illegal actions but actively enables it.

“In December 2005, amid concerns that extraordinary rendition flights were landing in Ireland, the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) recommended to the Irish government that it seek agreement from U.S. authorities to inspect suspect aircraft. The Irish government responded that inspections were not necessary because it had received assurances from the United States that detainees had not been and would not be transported illegally through Irish territory. In 2007, the IHRC conducted a substantive review of the matter and concluded that “the Irish State is not complying with its human rights obligations to prevent torture or inhuman or degrading treatment [and that its] reliance on the assurances of the US Government is not enough.” […]In June 2011, the U.N. Committee against Torture stated that it was “concerned at the various reports of [Ireland’s] alleged cooperation in a rendition programme, where rendition flights use the State party’s airports and airspace,” and that it was “also concerned at the inadequate response by the State party with regard to investigating these allegations.” – ‘Globalizing Torture’ page 85

It is simply not good enough that other countries shake our heads and tut at “the American war on terror” but do little to nothing to curb our own involvement.

Ireland is a neutral country, we do not engage in military alliances and we did not join NATO. But to facilitate CIA torture is to have the blood of America’s wars on our hands as well.

There is No Post-Racial America

If there is one thing that events unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri should make clear it is that there is no-racial America and there never was.

Conservatives and Liberals alike are guilty of assuming that because everyone is allowed on the same bus now that racism no longer exists, much like those who believe that gender-based discrimination ended when women gained suffrage.

Every 28 hours an African-American is killed by a police officer or vigilante.

A short documentary style video on the New York Times shows the fear and frustration of the people of Ferguson contrasted with the militarisation of its police force.

Mike Brown was 18, he was unarmed and he was shot six times by a police officer. Those are the facts. Regardless of whether he had weed in his system or was an excellent student or both, none of that is relevant to the fact that unarmed African-American people are seen as justifiable targets for police and vigilante violence.

Stand your ground legislation has shown over-whelming bias towards white men, leaving African-Americans, particularly women prosecuted for defending themselves. Florida woman, Merissa Alexander fired a warning shot into the ceiling above her violently abusive husband and was originally sentenced to 20 years in prison for assault. That case is still ongoing with a retrial planned for December.

The statistics on SYG shootings speak for themselves. White defendants are preferred over black victims in staggering percentages.

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This is compounded by a media that seeks to villainise black victims further. The Huffington Post ran a story called “When the Media Treats White Suspects Better Than Black Victims” highlighting the headlines that demonstrate this bias most clearly.

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The Economist ran an article discussing the frankly shocking numbers of civilians killed in the USA and the lack of transparency or accountability shown by law enforcement.

“In 2012, according to data compiled by the FBI, 410 Americans were “justifiably” killed by police—409 with guns. That figure may well be an underestimate. Not only is it limited to the number of people who were shot while committing a crime, but also, amazingly, reporting the data is voluntary.”

They compare this with the relatively low levels of deaths by police officers in England.

But the problem with this article, and dozens like it that were published, is that they attempt to diminish the racial element to these deaths.

“The shooting of Mark Duggan, a known gangster, which in 2011 started riots across London, led to a fiercely debated inquest. Last month, a police officer was charged with murder over a shooting in 2005. The reputation of the Metropolitan Police’s armed officers is still barely recovering from the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent Brazilian, in the wake of the 7/7 terrorist bombings in London.”

Firstly to describe Mark Duggan as a “known gangster” is problematic and shows a disconnect from the youth culture of black youth in London who feel massively disenfranchised by British society. This atmosphere in Tottenham in North London that the police target young black men regardless of their criminality was a huge factor in those riots. They also ignore the fact that the “innocent Brazilian” Jean Charles de Menezes was shot for looking too brown in an area where the police were profile Muslims.

In the case of Mark Duggan we see the most parallels with the American media’s standard response. The Daily Mail called Duggan a “thug” who “lived by the gun”.

The image most commonly associated with Duggan in the media was one of him staring stony eyed at the camera.

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What most did not realise is that this photograph was cropped to hide the fact that Duggan was standing distraught at the grave of his daughter.

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This is exactly the kind of biased reporting the inspired the “IfTheyGunnedMeDown” hashtag on social media in the wake of Brown’s death. Young African-Americans showed two different sides of themselves to highlight the kind of editorializing that goes on behind the reporting of African-American deaths.

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Race relations are bad in the US but it would be remiss of me to pretend that they are magically worse than the rest of the world. However America is so socially divided, heavily armed and filled with a culture of militarisation that the racism in its institutions are far more lethal than in other developed countries.

There are similarities between these cases and their media portrayal, one glaring difference remains. Duggan’s case, despite the fact that he was most likely involved in crime, sparked massive controversy and attention. It stands out as an example of attitudes that are problematic in British policing.

But it is not the norm.

The same cannot be said for Ferguson, where the difficultly for journalists to do their jobs has received more attention than the physical violence against unarmed civilians.

Ideas Imprisoned No Longer

Imprisoned Ideas is an online campaign for the purpose of highlighting the cases of academics imprisoned for their work, frequently for human rights advocacy. The group uses Tumblr and Twitter to achieve greater awareness of these cases. But the campaign brought to mind several things I’d been considering about online activism in general.

Social media campaigns comes in various levels of competency and effectiveness but the significance of this campaign is that it directs support towards already existing campaigns on the ground. This incorporates the idea that social change cannot, and does not need to be imported or dropped in on people’s heads but rather emerges from the local context.

Each of the academics highlighted by the campaign has a petition and interest surrounding their arrest already but little support outside the local sphere. Imprisoned Ideas attempts to give a wider audience for these petitions, documentaries and campaigns.

Social media, while frequently used ineffectively or for lip-service activism spawning the phrase slacktivism, has great potential for assisting political and social movements.

For example this campaign could theoretically become a platform to be continuously updated, providing a excellent resource to journalists, activists and interested individuals.

Situations of political prisoners, such as Iranian physics postgraduate student Omid Kokabee or Professor Hadif Rashid al-Owais in the United Arab Emirates, are difficult to get accurate and up to date information, even for their own legal defense, never mind journalists or campaigners outside the country. This is a strategic decision by the governments in question to limit the capacity for international response or discussion. If journalists can’t access information how can they spread it? Twitter has already changed the nature of news reporting. Maybe it could change political behaviour as well.

Ventures like Imprisoned Ideas have the potential to be a platform that brings together grassroots campaigns for around the world and offer them support without taking over or claiming to have better solutions than campaigners on the ground.

It also raises the an idea I’d call “crowd-sourced activism” where the majority of the practical work is done on a local level but those local activists can receive publicity and put out calls for specific action, such as petitions or boycotts, through platforms such as the Imprisoned Ideas Twitter.

Fundraising through crowd sourcing on sites like IndieGogo and Kickstarter have proved the potential for fundraising in this way. That’s how the Veronica Mars movie has been made. If crowdfunding can change the music and film industries than why not political activism?

US Drone Strikes Not as “Limited” as Obama’s UN Speech Claims

In his address to the UN last night in the 68th Session of the General Assembly, President Barrack Obama claimed much in support of his country’s human rights efforts.

However much of what he claimed was either disingenuous or simply untrue. Putting aside the fact he claims that his administration is “working” to close Guantanamo Bay (05:00) which after 5 years of promises seems quite a stretch, or the bizarre statement that the international coalition had “achieved its mission” in Afghanistan (04:25), though I am not certain what war President Obama has been watching or even how he brought up reviewing how the US gathers intelligence, ie mass surveillance by the NSA, (05:20) as though this was their idea not something they were forced into by the Snowden revelations.

I could even overlook the insane and baseless claim that the world is “more stable” now than it was 5 years ago (05:32) and lump it and all those other claims in with the usual American political rhetoric that we have grown to disdain quietly if he had not attempted to downplay and justify the American use of drone strikes in the middle east.

Screen grab of Live Address 24/9/2013
Screen grab of Live Address 24/9/2013

“We have limited the use of drones so they target only those who pose a continuing imminent threat to the Unite States, where capture is not feasible and there is a near certainty of no civilian casualties.” – Barrack Obama (04:40 )

This statement concerns me because this is apparently the limited stance. Does that mean that they were used in situations outside of these perimeters before? Even aside from that, how do you define a “threat”? What gives the US the right to kill indiscriminately those they consider a “threat” without any trial in a court of law.

And those legal and ethical concerns are only under the assumption that it is true that the US work not to injure civilians in their drone strikes which is not supported by the evidence, particularly in Yemen and Pakistan which have born the brunt of US drones.

August 1st on the very day that President Obama sat down in talks with Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi in Washington, four Yemeni citizens were killed in Hadhramout providence who appear to have been civilians. One of the victims was 21-year-old Saleh Saed bin Ishaq, who was survived by his wife and a young daughter, on his way home from buying his family new clothes for Eid.

These attacks occur within weeks of the anniversaries of two high profile civilian deaths by US drone strike from August 2012. One of them, Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, was a prominent anti-al-Qaeda preacher. Just two days before his death he denounced the group publicly. The other was his nephew, a young policemen Waleed Abdullah bin Ali Jaber. They were also killed in Hadhramout province.

Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber

Many commentators, including Baraa Shiban, a writer for al Jazeera from whom I got the dates and names above, argue that these strikes rather than curbing al-Qaeda’s activities simply grow their support base by giving them legitimate grievances to cite against the US.

Abdul-Ghani Al Iryani who founded Tawq, Yemen’s Democratic Awakening Movement two years ago is also a political analyst. He said in a statement to Alternet journalists:

“In the fight against al-Qaeda and the extremism it represents, we can do it the easy way, by killing, and thus have to do it again and again, or the hard way and really solve the problem. To truly fight al-Qaeda and similar groups, we must deal with the root causes of its growth – poverty, injustice, lack of rule of law…and drone strikes.”

Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference, a group of diverse political opinions brought together to work on a new Yemeni constitution voted 90% in favour of banning drone strikes. Delegates said that the US were violating Yemeni sovereignty and undermining the rule of law which was completely counter-productive in combating militant groups such as al-Qaeda.

Yemen protest Feb 2011 Washington DC (Colin David Anderson/ Flickr)
Yemen protest Feb 2011 Washington DC (Colin David Anderson/ Flickr)

Pakistan has seen 110 people killed by US drone strikes in this year alone despite the Pakistani government’s numerous protests to Washington that this was a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

It is difficult to really know how many civilians are killed in drone attacks as the US government has proven in the last year that they feel no obligation to disclosed such information. The cover up of the deaths of the Reuters journalists in Iraq uncovered through WikiLeaks begs the question how we can trust the US military to disclose accurate information.

During the election campaign in 2012 PolicyMic reported that the CIA wanted to increase the use of drones despite independent reports stating that: “estimates as high as 98% of drone strike casualties being civilians (50 for every one “suspected terrorist”). The Bureau of Investigative Journalism issued a report detailing how the CIA is deliberately targeting those who show up after the sight of an attack, rescuers, and mourners at funerals as a part of a “double-tap” strategy eerily reminiscent of methods used by terrorist groups like Hamas.” This tactic of killing those who arrive after the initial attack was also seen in the WikiLeaks video.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism then released a leaked CIA document which estimated that civilians killed in Pakistan since drone strikes began there were much higher than previously realised. The document details 75 drone attacks carried out in Pakistan between 2006 and 2009 by the CIA and a further 5 attacks by Nato or other unspecified forces.

Of 746 people listed as killed in the drone strikes outlined in the document, at least 147 of the dead are clearly stated to be civilian victims, 94 of those are said to be children.

Which begs the question how and why we should trust the assurance of an administration that has continuously disregarding international law, executes foreign citizens without trial or cooperation from the nation in question and yet use the rhetoric of human right while aping a grotesque pantomime of diplomacy.

UN Human Rights Council sees Controversy

The United Nations saw the 27th Regular Meeting of the 24th Session of the Human Rights Council

Lithuania, just beginning their presidency of the European Council, opened discussions with a general statement of the EU position on Human Rights. The delegation from Ireland put forward a draft motion about maintaining pluralist civil society.

The delegations began to grow more adversarial Allegations of forced sterilizations of Tamils were issued against Sri Lanka. Myanmar was criticised for its discrimination and the violence against Rohingya Muslims.

Then a representative of Human Right’s Watch began accusing Egyptian human rights activist, Mona Seif, of not being eligible for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA), Egypt raised point of order that it was not relevant to the agenda. America disagreed, Cuba backed up Egypt as did China, UK went with the US then Pakistan supported Egypt. Human Rights Watch went on to call Mona Seif a “terrorist supporter”.

This was not unexpected as the last few months have seen increased controversy over Seif’s nomination following the publicising of Tweets where she celebrating the sabotage of the Egyptian pipeline bringing gas to Israel and the burning of an Israeli flag. Seif defended herself by saying:

“One of the rights that we, the young people of Egypt, have succeeded in seizing is the right to insult our own government and to insult anyone whose policies are bad for our people. We insist on this right.”

However many feel it would damage the reputation of the prize as her Tweets “publicly voiced blatantly violent views”

Another NGO raised the issue of the Falun Gong in China and their persecution. China objected calling the Falun Gong an “evil cult” which had been outlawed and denying that this was relevant to the agenda. While supporting this point of order from China, Cuba wandered from the point to criticise Israeli violence against Palestinians using the word “genocide” for which the Americans and UK delegations criticised the Cubans.

Iran Ending Isolationism: What would be the Consequences?

The new President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has been outspoken recently on the need for social reform in his country and with promises not to build nuclear weapons.

In the four months since Rouhani was elected as the 7th president of Iran he was released 11 political prisoners, sworn off nuclear weapons, temporarily lifted bans on Facebook and Twitter and expressed an interest in improving Iran’s relationship with the international community.

Photo: NBC/AP

It is the Ayatollah Khamenei, the religious leader of Iran, who has the final say on issues of the nuclear program and defense but Khamenei seems interested in supporting Rouhani’s move. Saying:

“We don’t want nuclear weapons, not because of pressure from the US or others but because of our belief that no one should have nuclear weapons. When we say no one should have nuclear weapons that means not for them and not for us either.” – Ayatollah Khamenei

All this comes ahead of Rouhani’s attendance at the UN General Assembly in New York today. In another interesting move by the new president he is bringing the only Jewish MP in the Iranian parliament, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, with him to New York. Not only this but there may be some kind of informal “accidental” meeting between President Rouhani and President Obama which would be the first time American and Iranian presidents had been face-to-face since the revolution of 1979.

The temporary lifting of the ban on social media sites on 16 September is more significant than it might appear at first. Firstly as it suggests that the Iranian government might be considering lifting its bans altogether but also because of what that would do to change the sense of isolationism within Iran, particularly for its younger generations.

Among the optimism there are many skeptics. Israel’s government is chief among them. PM Netanyahu and those close to him in parliament have been quick and vocal in dismissing Rouhani’s efforts as a “diplomatic deception” to distract international attention while they complete their work on nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu’s office released a statement on Thursday saying:  “One must not be fooled by the Iranian president’s fraudulent words. The Iranians are spinning in the media so that the centrifuges can keep on spinning.”

Iran’s parade of long range missiles capable of reaching Israel and the Gulf most likely did little to dampen these concerns. President Rouhani states that the weapons on show are for defensive purposes only claiming: “In the past 200 years, Iran has never attacked another country”.

This is unlikely to satisfy Israel. Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, a political ally to the prime minister, claimed: “If the Iranians continue to run, in another half a year they will have bomb capability”. But did not offer evidence to back this up.

Some commentators were reminded of Netanyahu’s memorable address to the UN last year with a cartoon bomb that was apparently meant to serve as evidence of Iran’s increasing nuclear research.

PM Netanyahu addressing the UN General Assembly AP Photo/Richard Drew

Israel might yet be right but, if they are not, what would a more open Iran mean for the dynamics of the region?

Well for one, if they cooperated with UN officials and demonstrated they were not pursuing nuclear weapons then at least some of the heavy sanctions against Iran could be lifted.  These sanctions have crippled the Iranian economy and have increased anti-Western/anti-American feeling among a portion of the population. The RT reported on the situation saying that:

“Doctors are also sounding the alarm: the trade embargo has caused shortages of food and medical supplies. The director of a cancer center in Iran says he has faced lots of problems getting modern equipment to treat cancer patients.”

Also if Iran was really willing to remain nuclear free and allow UN inspectors into its research facilities then it would go a long way to disarming much of the region.

Israel’s recent statements about Iran have only drawn further attention to their own nuclear activities, particularly in the wake of a summer of worsen relations between Europe and Israel. Israel is known to possess nuclear though its security forces refuse to confirm or deny this.

Last week Israel faced an attempt to censure Israel’s refusal to acknowledge  having nuclear arms and put them under international oversight at the annual conference of the U.N.’s nuclear agency, led by other countries in the region. 

“Israel says an Israeli-Palestinian peace must be reached before creation of a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction.” – AP

A more trusted Iran could also assist in negotiations with radical groups throughout the Muslim world, especially Hezbollah.

But a stable and cosmopolitan Iran would pose a problem for at least three countries, Israel, the US and Saudi Arabia. Israel would no longer be able to use Iran as an excuse for increased militarism and neither would the US. Not only that but Iran would no longer distract for the US ally in the region, Saudi Arabia.

While the human rights situation in the monarchy of Saudi Arabia is even worse than that in Iran, Iran has taken much of the international and media attention away from the Saudis. If this distraction was removed the media would have a greater capacity to criticise the close relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia in light of its many injustices.

But at this point it is a waiting game and we here and Global Echo will keep up to date as Iran-US-Israeli relations continue to evolve.

Orla-Jo

Israel Faces Increased Criticism Following EU “Diplomat Scuffle”

On the 20th September EU diplomats were attacked by Israeli Defense Forces while delivering humanitarian aid to a destroyed village in the West Bank occupied territories.

The Khirbet Al-Makhul settlement was destroyed by IDF personnel. There had once been a village there and Palestinian attempted to resettle the area but were banned by Israeli authorities.

The IDF attacked the EU trucks and confiscated them and their cargo. French diplomat Marion Fesneau-Castaing attempted to prevent confiscation of the aid but was pulled from the truck and forced onto the ground.

Israeli soldiers carry French diplomat Marion Castaing after removing her from her truck containing emergency aid (Reuters / Abed Omar Qusini)

Stun grenades were thrown directly at EU diplomats, humanitarian aid workers and civilians, according to Reuters, because “stones were thrown” at security forces.

The EU ambassador to Israel called on Foreign Ministry Deputy Director-General for Europe, Rafi Shutz, to explain the actions of the IDF.

“What was done there by the European diplomats was a provocation,” Shutz was quoted as saying by Haaretz. He claimed the EU officials had“abused their diplomatic privileges” and that forced was used against French diplomat Marion Castaing as she slapped one of the soldiers who attempted to confiscate her truck.

The soldiers who were carrying machine guns, it should be pointed out. An outright attack on unarmed EU diplomats by any country other than Israel would most likely have been met with a far more serious reaction.

This incident follows a deterioration of EU-Israel relations this summer after the EU stated in July that would end all financial assistance to Israeli organisations operating in the occupied territories beginning in 2014. PM Netanyahu retaliated by blocking the EU from aiding the tens of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank.

Israeli authorities are accused of taking Palestinian grazing lands to use for the military or as settlements. Israel and Palestine and begun direct peace negotiations for the first time in 3 years though, according to Reuters “Palestinian officials have expressed serious doubts about the prospects of a breakthrough”.

An unnamed EU diplomat also said to Reuters that: “What the Israelis are doing is not helpful to the negotiations. Under any circumstances, talks or not, they’re obligated to respect international law,”.

This comes on the heels of greater attention being paid to Israel’s stores of chemical weapons and nuclear weapons. With so much international conversation over the disarmament of Syria’s chemical weapons it has opened discussion into the Israeli military that had before remained taboo.

Israel has not signed the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention nor did it sign the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty. This followed the release of a CIA report suggesting that Israel had created a sizable cache of chemical weapons by the 1980s. There was a recent New York Times editorial piece on the taboo surrounding open discussion of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.

A Haaretz editorial also called Israel’s refusal to ratify the chemical weapons convention with Syria “a short sighted position of dubious usefulness”. It also claimed that changing it policy would show Israel as “doing its part in the general effort to rid the region of weapons of mass destruction”.

With a more critical international eye on Israel than ever, Netanyahu may have chosen the wrong time to enter a political wrestling match with the EU.

The Veil and the Complexity of Freedom

There are discrepancies between how we define freedom and how we perceive it.

Freedom is defined by most as the ability to make your own choices but freedom is often perceived as choosing to be like you.

Not specifically you obviously but ourselves in general. If you consider yourself to be free then you are more likely to recognise freedom in others if their lives resemble yours.

This problem presents itself particularly strongly when ‘western’ ideologies of ‘freedom’ attempt to reconcile with choices they do not understand. Head-scarves and veiling of Muslim women has become the symbolic battleground of cultural ideology in the west. But behind the rhetoric are the realities of personal freedoms in our societies.

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When discussing legislating against veiling in Europe, discussion usually returns to France and ‘The Scarf Affair’ when three scarf-wearing Muslim girls were expelled from their school in November 1996. Then in March of 2004 a law was passed in the French National Assembly banning the bearing of all “ostentatious signs of religious belonging in the public sphere”.

It is interesting to note that quickly the word scarf (foulard) was replaced by veil (la voile). The choice of words is significant as a scarf is a fairly ordinary piece of clothing in France but a veil is more ceremonial and conjures up orientalised images.

More recently, in 2011 a ban on face-veiling in any public space came into effect in France which threatened monetary fines or “citizenship” courses to anyone in breach of this law. Of the 5 million Muslims living in France fewer than 2,000 women wear a veil that covers their face (burqa or niqab). This begs the question of why this became the focus of the debate. A similar ban was discussed in the Netherlands in 2012 where of 1 million Muslims only a few hundred women cover their faces.

These questions are more explicable if the debate on veiling has more to do with European, and by extension “western”, identity than it does about the realistic impact of veiling.

There are many reasons used to justify the banning of headscarves and face veils, the most common of which being security and fighting the oppression of women.

There is an academic feminist argument against veiling that acknowledges its long, traditional roots far outside any one religion but rather as part of patriarchal history of humans as a whole. Ancient Greece, early Christianity, Judaism and the Assyrian Empire all had veiling as a marker of a respectable woman which, like their chastity, added to the commercial value of women as the property of their male relatives. I am a historian and a feminist so I acknowledge this argument.

However, patriarchy is a fact of the majority of history and if we were to ban everything that had once had a hand in the oppression or objectification of women we would have to ban all sorts of things, including but not limited to; wedding rings, corsets, high heeled shoes, wigs and men.

Also my feminism is that which says that women should be allowed make their own decisions (radical I know!) and so ultimately as interesting as the history of veiling I don’t believe it should play a role in decision making regarding modern legislation. Not only that but I believe that the objectification of women is best typified by the fact that our bodies remain political battlegrounds for the ideology of political systems.

The idea of freedom is opposed to any law that regulates the clothes of women and treats them as ideological tools. So regimes like Saudi Arabia are a different discussion. But I would also like to point out that veiling is the least of women’s problems when living under regimes like this. But if we agree that a law enforcing veiling is wrong then how can we support a law banning them when that is the same control from another perspective?

I also think there is a patronising element to the assumption that veiled, Muslim women are simply incapable of making their own decisions.

And then there is the security argument. That covering your face in public should not be allowed regardless of religion.

A recent high-profile decision by Judge Peter Murphy that a Muslim woman who wears a niqab (a veil that covers the face but not the eyes) must unveil while giving evidence. At previous hearings the woman, who cannot be identified to the public, verified her identity with a female police official before giving evidence. Judge Murphy has said she can remain veiled while sitting in the dock and have a screen to block public view but that he, the jury and the lawyers must be able to see her while giving evidence.

There is no set procedure for situation such as this and Judge Murphy called on parliament to “provide a definite answer” saying:

“If judges in different cases in different places took differing approaches [to the niqab] the result would be judicial anarchy.”

Reuters/Mohsin Raza

But the decision that she only had to unveil to give evidence was not enough for some observers. Keith Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said he “regretted” the judge’s decision.

“We will be complaining to the Office of Judicial Complaints and also be asking senior legal officers to make visibility throughout court hearings mandatory, and not subject to judges’ discretion.”

This is part of a culture that removes the right to privacy and the right to anonymity in public. Am I cynical in thinking these bans coming just as facial recognition software becomes more efficient as a tool of surveillance and law enforcement is not a coincidence? Perhaps, but that doesn’t make me wrong.

— Orla-Jo

Turkey Sees Protesters Rise Again

Protests were sparked again in Turkey when local government announced it was building a road through the campus of Middle Eastern Technical University in the capital city, Ankara. The proposed construction will destroy approximately 3,000 trees in the university campus and the parallels to Gezi Park, the first site of Turkey’s summer of discontent, are not difficult to draw.

Photo by MSNCC
Photo by MSNBC

Late May saw a broad opposition rise in Istanbul, and elsewhere, which was on the surface in defense of a public park but was also inspired by a sense of resentment at the AKP’s authoritarian style of governing. Tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons were all used against many unarmed protesters.

These measures were again used across the country from Taksim in Istanbul to Ankara to the Syrian border in the last three days.

22 year old Ahmet Atakan was killed while protesting in Antakya in the Hatay region near the Syrian border on Tuesday the 10th of September.

The police claim that Atakan fell from the roof of a building during the protests but his fellow protesters say that he was hit in the head with a canister of tear gas which the police were firing into the crowd. According to Turkish daily newspaper Hurriyet:

“an initial medical report suggested that Atakan had received a blunt blow to the head consistent with a police gas canister. An initial autopsy also showed Atakan did not break his arms or legs in the incident, leading many to suspect he did not fall from a building.”

Six other protesters have been killed this summer in anti-government demonstrations. Medeni Yildirim (18), Ali Ismail Korkmaz (19), Mehmet Ayvalitas (20), Abdullah Cömert (22) and Ethem Sarısülük (26). One police officer has been killed, Mustafa Sarı, from falling from a bridge while pursuing fleeing protesters in Adana.

Last night in the Kadikoy neighbourhood of Istanbul protesters gathered to continue the protests and chanted slogans for the fallen activists. 

Daily Hürriyet reported“Police once again fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse the group and chased protesters into the side streets. Some of the protesters have been detained… Social media users said many protesters were injured during the police intervention.” Kadikoy is a predominantly CHP supporting area. CHP are Ataturk’s party and are associated with nationalism and secularism. They were supporters of the protests in May.

“We are protesting the death of Ahmet. We won’t stop the resistance until there’s justice. The government knows we won’t give up, that’s why the police are here” one protester in his early 20s told Reuters last night in Kadikoy.

It is now only six months away from local elections in Turkey, a year away from presidential elections where Erdogan is expected to run and the next parliamentary elections are in 2015. AKP remain strong in central  and eastern Turkey with dissent occurring mostly on the Aegean coast, Istanbul and Ankara as the exception. It is too soon to say whether the summers riots will affect the elections.

Silenced Voices in Israel

“Is this going to get me into trouble?” was my first thought as I began research and writing about Israel’s anti-war movement and less extreme, less vocal members of the populous. That’s quite telling in itself. As a writer I rarely if ever shy any from issues purely because their emotive or controversial. Those tend to be the stories worth talking about.

But a lot of baggage comes with discussing Israel and its relationship with it’s neighbours, its history, or even its domestic policy. Controversy can be caused by simply trying to look at Israel on a map. And while I do not shy away from emotive issues, I also understand that news is always someone else’s life on the other end of the story and there’s no harm in using tact.

But one of the problems with discussing Israel is not the baggage that is applied to any discussion but the manner is which the conversation escalates to the most extreme polarities so quickly. Any criticism of an Israeli practise is instantly “anti-Israeli” as though you could hold a whole nation responsible for the actions of its government. However raising even that mild point can bring the cries of those who highlight the many problematic practises of the Israeli government and especially their military.

Then trapped in the centre of the fray are the many Israelis who also disagree with many of their governments policies and the same labels of ‘anti-Israeli’ or ‘anti-Semitic’ are less easily applied to them and so, for the most part, they are ignored by the media altogether.

The first real signs of moderate, government dissenting, opinions breaking through the media came last year with the minor coverage of the Israeli Anti-War protests received when 1,000s of people marched through Tel Aviv in March 2012 chanting slogans like “Talk, Don’t Bomb”. Some of the organisers were also those who set up anti-war Facebook sites like ‘Israel loves Iran‘ which now has over 100,000 likes.

Anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv (2006) Photo credit: Jill Granberg
Anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv (2006) Photo credit: Jill Granberg

The Financial Times reported that earlier that month Dahaf, an Israeli pollster, found that more than a third of Israelis were against a strike on Iran under any circumstances.

This was not the first protest of its kind. They have been going on for years. The Communist Party of Israel marched against the occupation more than once. The Peace Index polled in October 2011 and found that 75.5% of Israelis supported social protest.  But these are not the voices that the media chooses to carry to the rest of the world.

It is not only the media who silences Israeli opposition but the police force as well. But in 2009 police tried to stamp out any dissenting voice against Operation Cast Lead (the three week attack on Gaza in January 2009) by attempting to have a Tel Aviv District Court ban any anti-war protesting. Many protesters were detained for long period of time while awaiting legal proceedings, including minors. These detentions were extended to:

“Anyone who enables remarks denouncing the state and backing its enemies, even as they rain missiles upon its citizens, must obey its laws” — Judge Moshe Gilad

Despite the fact that this kind of rhetoric of constant danger is common by Israel’s politicians and civic officers, according to a poll conducted by Israel’s Internal Security Minister and Geocartography Institute in January 2012, 74% of Israelis feel a high level of personal safety day-to-day.

In fact it is in these polls that the alternative voice of Israel are seen for the most part, even if they are ignored elsewhere, polling data is polling data. Such as the Haaretz in July of this year which said that 59% of people did not believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu was really committed to a two state solution.  Or another poll in May 2013 in which 42% of Israelis believed that continued Jewish settlements would hurt Israel’s security.  

64.5% of those polled were concerned religious radicalism inside Israel (Peace Index Dec 2011) and 45.2% would support dismantling most of the settlements in the occupied territories in the case of a peace agreement (Truman/PCPSR Oct 2010).

These people may not get to speak for Israel very often but it’s important to remember that they exist and that there is growing discontent with the political status quo inside the country.

In a surprising and interesting article in an Israeli newspaper Haaretz by Yitzhak Laor, he laid out the reasons that Israel should not support America’s military actions in Syria and that the US has never had Israel’s best interests as a factor in their policy in the region but rather saw it as a tool to further their own agendas.

“The United States did not really lose in prolonged wars. The destruction of Iraq, which started in 1991, brought enormous profit to large sectors of the American economy. Even Syria under jihadist control — if that should be the result of American intervention — will not cause losses for its war industry, though it will drain our blood. A quagmire in Iran will be no loss for them either.”

There is more of a platform for alternative or dissenting voice in Israel now that at other times in recent history and it will very interesting to see how this elements of public opinion change the country over the next few years.

All the polling data I used and more can be found at the virtual Jewish library. 

— Orla-Jo