Questions for Debate – The US Hikers detained in Iran

The story of Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal is well-known.  The three hikers were detained by Iranian authorities and now held without trial for over 12 months.   The lack of charges and the claims of spying by the Iranian Government has become a political issue as much as a human rights issue for the families of the three.

I have raised the issue here because of two questions in my opinion need to be aired and answered.

Politics

How much has the issue been politicized by us in the West because of the current anti-Iranian and nuclear issue, is politics and agenda taking over the issue?   To put it more bluntly, is the support for the three for their human rights by many public figures or is it for other reasons?   The very respectable archbishop Desmond Tutu makes the demand and I respect that his motives are honest and clear enough, but some including those within the US Administration I have doubts.  For the families of the three, they would rightly not care about the politics and if it rides on the back of political agenda games, all the better for them if it comes to a result.

It should be pointed out that the three are “anti-war, social justice and Palestinian solidarity activists” with one being a well known left-wing activist and journalist.  That raises the next question:

Events

We here a great deal about their plight, the inhumanity they are suffering, but not much about why and how they were picked up.   Hikers straying over the border sounds fine alone, until one looks at the matter more closely.  I ask only one simple question that as far as I have seen has not been answered that frankly is a point Iranians are using:   

Who goes camping/hiking in a country with war, lawlessness and terrorism let alone the kidnapping, torture and murder of foreigners?   That region of Kurdistan is reasonably peaceful, but all watch-lists including from the US government said it is still a high-risk area prone to situation changes.  Was it just a visit to a waterfall?

As mentioned, this has not been clearly answered, and if one takes away the political agendas and media hype, a very constant and unanswered question is raised that many outside America are asking.   What is the truth?   They certainly do not look like idiots unaware of the dangers of stepping in that country, let alone entering danger zones.  They appear not to be “religious zealots” looking to convert locals as if that was the case, then they would be fools, repugnant and insulting and should have been charged as such. 

As activists with known political links, they may very well have gone for “some cause” which is not clear.  A scoop, a story to come back with.   The only alternative is the spy charges, which is doubtful, the US is not that unprofessional to do so.  

Was it tourism?

One French commentator I heard on radio said that it may very well be the combination of political agendas to cause an incident to justify more condemnation.   I have not seen evidence in either direction and no common sense in the matter and just political agenda from both sides and being played to the max.  The victims may not even be the three, but most certainly their families are suffering.

What do you think?  I will make a comment on the official website set up for the three telling them of these questions, in the hope of some comment and shedding of badly needed light on the matters.

Question for Debate: When does religious views cross the line?

I read in DutchNews.nl today an item called “Bible Belt says no to football on Sunday, whatever the occasion” which at first I thought was just “a bit funny” and then started wondering.  

As it is not a long item so I will quote it in full, with full acknowledgement and respect to DutchNews.nl.

Friday 09 July 2010

The Netherlands may be on the brink of its first football World Cup title, but in some parts of the Dutch Bible Belt, watching tv on a Sunday is totally forbidden, the Telegraaf points out on Friday.

And Kees van der Staaij, leader of the fundamentalist Protestant party SGP is one of those who will not be following events in South Africa.

‘Absolutely not,’ a spokesman told the Telegraaf. ‘He may watch television occasionally for work but never to relax and absolutely not on Sunday.’

In the village of Urk, which has 20 plus churches for its population of 17,000, three cafes have aroused the ire of religious leaders for deciding to open their doors during the match.

But in the Bible Belt heartland of Staphorst people who actually have a tv will watch quietly at home, a town council spokeswoman said. ‘Someone might run outside with a tooter, but they will go back in again straight away’.

In the village of Elburg the local minister has prayed for Oranje to lose. He has even advised parents to put a filter on their children’s computers so they do not watch such a ‘sinful’ match. © DutchNews.nl

What does this item tell us?    For me, many things.  I dislike the SGP for many reasons, that they want to ban women from any public office being amongst them.   Having said that, the right to religious belief is a fundamental principle that I share with my country and consider that sacred.  The question does comes at what point does a faith that control the lives of its followers cross over the line of the rules, standards and morals of the country as a whole.  Also when does those followers start impacting on those that disagree with that faith’s standards?  History, recent past and even the present has endless examples of what that causes around our now very small planet.

We all know the grave problem of how radical Islamism forces not only other Muslims to follow a certain line, but how it also makes unwarranted and unjustified demands on western societies that these radicals are present in.  That radicalism is not only subject of media attention, albeit much real and some often exaggerated, but it is also used and abused by other radicals to fulfill their own ugly agendas.  My blog is full of such examples.   Nevertheless, if radical Islamists are willing to go that far, what about Christian Fundamentalist groupings like that which the SGP represent –  will they go that far if they are able to get away with it?

That is the question that I wish readers to consider.   What would happen say if the SGP took the second largest number of voters or the largest?    They would demand women not be allowed to take public office, that is a clear agenda platform – even though that would require a constitutional alteration.   Would they forbid football on Sundays?  Would they force Christian teachings in Government Schools?  Would they limit or ban non-Christian schools?   Limit the growth, sponsorship and funding of non-Christian organisations that are involved in serious community work?

What is the limit when a community thinks something is sinful and requires actions?    My concern is that groups like the SGP will, as a result of economic and social issues, become more radicalized with the extreme members having more influence in policy.  That they will grow like the PVV (or perhaps take some of the PVV votes as and when that ugly abomination collapses) and that their numbers will grow to a significant level to create a lobby group with just enough clout to make trouble.   What will happen, I fear, is that they will have enough influence to have a say, a hearing of sorts, but because their principles are a “matter of faith” and a “matter of God’s Will in their batle against what they call sin”, that they will feel OBLIGED to take matters into their own hands.

The subject in that item might seem to be about football, but it raises a very interesting question.  Though tolerance, human rights and freedom of expression are the normal accepted standards of my country, our history has often shown otherwise.  In our more recent past a siginficant enough number of my country along with a number of others, sided with Hitler and embraced even Nazism.  Further back it should never be forgotten that the apartheid movement, organized racism and much of European’s ugly history in Africa stemmed directly from the guidence and followers of the Dutch Reformed Church.

What do you think?

Question for Debate: Israeli’s Settlements – Legitimacy and Size

Below is an item republished in full from Amy Teibel, an Associated Press Writer, called ” Israeli settlements cover 42 percent of West Bank(full aknowledgement given).  It explains that Israeli Human Rights Group “B’Tselem” says the figure as high as 42 per cent of the West Bank is now in control of Israeli Settlers.  Of course Settlers argue that it is not so and only 9 per cent is controlled by them.  

source: opendemocracy.net

 

What do you think?   We know that much of the driving force behind the Settler Movement is in fact ultra-orthodox religious zeal, and that their claims to settlements is based on the assumption that all of the West Bank is in fact the God-Given Israel of ancient times.   At the same time, B’Tselem is not Palestinian nor is it Muslim, so for what reason would they point this information out?  They are well respected, award winning and the only criticism (and to a degree violence towards them) appears to only come from pro-Settlement organisations, the Settlers themselves and members of the far-right in government and the Israeli military (of which much of BTselem’s criticism gives.   It would be correct to say that Settlements continue, that is as aparant as the existance of an internationally condemned blockade on Gaza.

So the questions are, who do we believe?  What is the motives for such a figure?  What are the implications of such a figure?

JERUSALEM – Jewish settlements control more than 42 percent of the West Bank, and much of that land was seized from Palestinian landowners in defiance of an Israeli Supreme Court ban, an Israeli human rights group said Tuesday.

The group’s findings echo what other anti-settlement activists have claimed in the past: That settlements have taken over lands far beyond their immediate perimeters, sometimes from private Palestinians. Israel’s settlements have been a much-criticized enterprise throughout the decades and a major obstacle to peacemaking with the Palestinians.

“The extensive geographic-spatial changes that Israel has made in the landscape of the West Bank undermine the negotiations that Israel has conducted for 18 years with the Palestinians and breach its international obligations,” the B’Tselem group said in a summary of its report.

Settlers disputed the figures and said the report by the B’Tselem group was politically motivated. Israeli officials had no comment.

The report was based on official state documents, including military maps and a military settlement database, the B’Tselem said.

Although the actual buildings of the settlements cover just 1 percent of the West Bank’s land area, their jurisdiction and regional councils extends to more than 42 percent, the group added.

Twenty-one percent of the land for these settlements was seized from Palestinian landowners, much of it after Israel’s Supreme Court outlawed the practice in 1979.

Dani Dayan, chairman of the settlers council, said settlements control just 9.2 percent of the West Bank, not 42 percent.

“It’s a political report by an organization that has been taken over the most radical anti-Israel elements,” Dayan said. “The whole point is to sabotage the meeting between (Israeli Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama.”

Netanyahu was en route Tuesday to Washington, where he was due to meet with Obama later in the day to discuss advancing peacemaking and other regional issues.

Some 300,000 Jews live in West Bank settlements and an additional 180,000 live in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. Israel captured both territories from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war, along with the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians envision all three areas for a future state.

Quoting Rela Mazali’s “Livable Futures”

I chose to quote Israeli activist, author, feminist and Noble Prize candidate Rela Mazali’s  “A call for livable Futures” simply because it follows the image that I have on the radicalization of Israel’s government and that it touches on the “critizing Israel is taboo” question.  What better than to get a quote from a known Israeli activist who thinks the same?    As usual, I ask that you read the entire item to guarentee context and I give full acknowledgement to Rela Mazali the author of the item.

 

What to do when the country I live in totally loses its compass? Totally loses its shame? What to do when the regime that collects my taxes uses them to deploy its high-tech military, armed to the teeth, against activists sailing to oppose a criminal siege? When this country’s politicians authorize soldiers to shoot-to-kill into a deck-bound crowd? And then tell me they are protecting me? What to do when the governments of the world are too deeply implicated to hold this regime, this country accountable?

I have watched government after government in Israel present itself as a respectable, normal member of the club of developed countries; open, democratic, cultured and liberal. Israel recently launched a major “re-branding” campaign, emphasizing diversity, richness, creativeness, to divert attention away from its warring belligerence. Israel’s leaders are deeply committed to keeping up their positive self-image.

I have noted the special privileges granted time and again on the pretext of this image. The US awards Israel billions every year for “defense” in the form of planes, missiles, guns and ammunition. Just this May, the organization of so-called developed countries (OECD) granted Israel full membership, after years of Israeli lobbying. Israel bases its equal footing in such clubs on its claim to democracy.

It is time for us all to hold it to that claim. Accountable. Not only privilege-able. Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to end the occupation, reject, and actively remove, Israel’s mask of “business as usual.”

Question: Ignoring the “other war” – Agenda Avoidance?

The Mexican Drug War - 18,000 direct casualties and 100k plus indirect victims in America

Time Magazine’s “Ioan Grillo” said in a report that:

While the Mexican crime families do not have a history of using bombs, explosive devices used to be a favored tactic of their associates in Colombia. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Medellin cartel responded to a government crackdown with bombs on street corners, cars and even one passenger jet, killing hundreds. Colombian gangsters have long been selling cocaine to the Mexican cartels, who smuggle it into the United States. “The cartels could be turning to this Colombian tactic of using terror to pressure the government to back off,” said Mexican drug expert Jorge Chabat. “They may be trying to raise the political cost for Calderon of carrying out his campaign.”

The author Stephanie Hanson, for the Council on Foreign Relations, put it in clearer lines:

About 90 percent of the cocaine that enters the United States is trafficked through Mexico, ……. International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. Mexico’s extensive cocaine trade is controlled by cartels based in border areas and along the southeast coast. Three groups–the Sinaloa Cartel, the Gulf Cartel, and the Tijuana Cartel–have waged an increasingly violent turf war over key trafficking routes and “plazas,” or border crossing areas.

Violence reached acute levels in 2006 and has only worsened since then; decapitations became common and cartels began disseminating videos documenting gruesome deaths-“narco messages”-to threaten rival cartels and government officials. While initially the majority of violence was between cartel members, in the past two years, police officers, journalists, and politicians have become frequent targets of drug killings. In May 2008, for instance, Mexico’s acting federal police chief was killed in a drug hit.

Every other day, reports of large numbers of death, mass graves found, decapitated bodies or gun battles appears on news items in front of us, but those quotes of Grillo and Hanson above are from 2008.   In today’s figures, more than 18,000 victims of the war, and it is a declared war by the Mexican Government against Drug Cartels, has made the conflict as big as the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.   If you consider that at least 20,000 people in the US die each year from illegal drugs (and that is a figure only scratching the surface) then since the war started that makes 120,000 other war victims.

According to Kristin Bricker of the Narcosphere website, in her February 2009, item “Is Mexican Drug War Violence Ebbing?” she argued correctly then that the figures are huge but for domestic politics, perhaps the figures are worse than reported.  We know now, how true she was.

The Mexican Attorney General’s Office (PGR) reports that as of March 13 of this year it had counted 10,475 executions since the beginning of President Felipe Calderon’s term on December 1, 2006.  Furthermore, almost 10% (997) of the victims were public servants.2007’s official (according to the PGR) death toll of 2,477.  The NGO, the Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, had requested the year’s organized crime death toll broken down by month and by state.   In response, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office released one sheet of paper (PDF file) breaking down the violent death toll by state, but not by month. official count for 2008 (released this past February only after an NGO filed a Freedom of Information request), 6,262* people died “violent deaths” in 2008–a 154% increase over PGR’sAccording to the 25% decrease over the last three months of 2008. (The AP reported that the drop occurred when the first three months of 2009 are compared to the first three months of 2008, but that is a misinterpretation of government officials’ statements). has recorded during the first three months of 2009 constitutes a PGRThe Mexican government has been quick to manipulate the 2009 numbers to demonstrate some sort of success in the war on drugs.  Eduardo Medina Mora, the Federal Attorney General, told press that the approximately 1,600 executions the the most violent period of the Calderon administration occurred in January 2009: between December 26, 2008, and January 27, 2009–a period of 32 days–one thousand people were executed.  It points out that in 2007, it took 115 days to reach the first one thousand executions of the year; in 2008, 120 days.  Milenio also notes that the most violent day of Calderon’s term was February 12 of this year, when 52 organized crime-related violent deaths were reported.  January 2009 was also the most deadly January under Calderon’s watch: Milenio counted 480 executions in January 2009, 247 in January 2008, and 204 in January 2007., however, notes that Milenio

Now, in mid-2010, the war continues and the gruesome accounts simply increases the death-toll no end.   In January Jo Tuckman’s Guardian item which is reporting official figures gives as a simple report on what is something sadly now daily:

The start of 2010 has been marked by a major escalation of Mexico‘s drug wars, increasing pressure on a government already struggling to convince many that its military-focused strategy will eventually bring the cartels to heel.

El Universal newspaper reported today that 69 people had died violently in the previous 24-hour period, the biggest daily death toll yet in the struggle for supremacy within Mexican organised crime that lies at the heart of the wars. The paper said that 283 people had died in 2010 so far, more than double the figure from the same period last year.

Horrible but unfortunately a reality. According to some, it seems that this can only happen at the hands of another group of people.....

As a background, and quoting Wikipedia’s summary, The Mexican Drug War is an armed conflict taking place between rival drug cartels and government forces in Mexico. Although Mexican drug cartels, or drug trafficking organizations, have existed for a few decades, they have become more powerful since the demise of Colombia’s Cali and Medellín cartels in the 1990s. Mexican drug cartels now dominate the wholesale illicit drug market in the United States.  Arrests of key cartel leaders, particularly in the Tijuana and Gulf cartels, have led to increasing drug violence as cartels fight for control of the trafficking routes into the United States.

Mexico, a major drug producing and transit country, is the main foreign supplier of cannabis and a major supplier of methamphetamine to the United States.  Although Mexico accounts for only a small share of worldwide heroin production, it supplies a large share of the heroine distributed in the United States.  Drug cartels in Mexico control approximately 70% of the foreign narcotics that flow into the United States.  The State Department estimates that 90% of cocaine entering the United States transits Mexico—Colombia being the main cocaine producer—and that wholesale of illicit drug sale earnings estimates range from $13.6 billion to $48.4 billion annually.  Mexican drug traffickers increasingly smuggle money back into Mexico in cars and trucks, likely due to the effectiveness of U.S. efforts at monitoring electronic money transfers.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the death-toll since the 2006 start of the War, is now over 18,000.  With such a figure then why is it that something that indirectly is killing more North Americans than both wars combined, not argued as passionately in the media as the two more famous conflicts?   Why is it that the far-right commentators, elements of America’s Tea-Party movement and the radical bloggers spending all their times on issues such as the life of people under militant and radical Islamist regimes (and condemning anything and everything “Muslim” or “Islamic”) but completely ignoring a vicious war on their doorstep that has, and is having, a greater impact on their own lives?

Could it be that it is still viewed as “just a war on crime?”   I find that a foolish thought, it is about control, power, corruption and social issues.   It  is about the drug culture it should not be forgotten that the existence of such horrors steams to the equally horrible drug needs of its clients, and in this case up to 90 per cent American.

Does the far-right movement in America carefully avoid the subject for their own agenda?   I think so.  They can shout about an oil-spill and somehow blame it on the “left” and certainly will milk every bad result as miss-handling by their nemesis Obama.   The Spill is a catastrophe, no doubt, so is the larger problem of a drug-war killing more people than the two wars. 

Of these wars, the extreme-right and hate-for-profiteers such as the bloggers Spencer and Geller will try to make it more a social-issue – attempting to imply an entire faith followed by a quarter of mankind is out to destroy the world, yet a real, proven and present social issue killing

The Drug Project says around 20,000 people are killed each year in the United States from illicit drugs.

77.6 billion dollars is used by the US Government to deal with Drug abusers Economic Costs of Drug Abuse.  They say that “In 1999, Americans Spent $63.2 Billion on Illegal Drugs”, and worse:

Illegal drugs exact a staggering cost on American society. In 1995, they accounted for an estimated $110 billion in expenses and lost revenue.116 This public-health burden is shared by all of society, directly or indirectly. Tax dollars pay for increased law enforcement, incarceration, and treatment to stem the flow of illegal drugs and counter associated negative social repercussions. NIDA estimated that health-care expenditures due to drug abuse cost America $9.9 billion in 1992 and nearly twelve billion dollars in 1995.117

Question – why is debating Israel taboo???

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of many questions that I think require debate.   I encourage free and open opinion, to look into the question from every angle and from whatever view-point.  I will make my own view clear enough and so I take a side, so to speak, what is yours?

Why is debating Israel taboo???

Israel, the Holy Land and the Jewish State - A Rogue State as well?

Israel is a Jewish State, does that matter?  Israel was a “creation” forced upon and at the expense of the local Arab population, was that justified?  Jews have been hounded, murdered, enslaved and almost wiped off the planet, does that matter?  Israel is constantly facing threats and attack, missiles are fired and the lives of everyone living there has a fear in the back of their mind, is that important?  Israel occupies territories and controls the lives of non-citizens by force, does that matter?  Israel has nuclear weapons but is not a signature of any treaty, is that important?  Israel has been condemned regularly by the international community, do we care?  Israel openly attacks its enemies outside its own territory, that include assassination and kidnapping, is that justified?  Is Israel a Rogue State?   The Knesset has more radical ultra-conservative religious parties that are part of a governing coalition than almost any other country, is that worth noting?  Israel’s survival has been due to the strong cooperation and important relationship with the United States, along with its powerful Jewish lobby, what if that failed?

There are endless questions and not even the biting more intense questions that everyone wants to ask but never gets the chance, why?

Talking Israel and the mob response

Discussing Israel only brings emotions - strong ones!

When one talks “Israel” and it is not all supportive the atmosphere of the discussion changes, and not for the positive.   If you are not instantly called anti-Semitic then you will be labelled a supporter of terrorists, pro-Palestinian, an apologist to Islamists and more.   Ironically, in the majority of Muslim countries if you say much of anything positive about the State of Israel you will be equally condemned as Zionist, Arab-hater, terror-state supporter, American-pawn or Jew-lover – as if that is a criticism.  Either way, talking Israel seems to bring the worst of results and not much positive.  A real shame.

Most of us know well enough the Israel-Palestine/Occupied Territories/pro-Settler/Hamas/Hezbollah/Zionism issues and also most know about the simple fact that the lives of the individuals there are submerged within it.   Arab nationalism and “The Occupation” makes for hot political stuff, and to a degree I will not focus on any on any of that.

USS Liberty, attacked by Israeli Jets and boats

What interests me is the west and the radical response and taboo status of talking Israel.  It goes a long way and is to a degree cemented into government, media and the far-right of politics.  

On the 8th and 9th of June, 1967 , during the Six Day war, Israel mistakenly (and that is disputed) attacked the USS Liberty.  The Liberty was a technical support vessel of the United States Navy.  The attack by Israeli Air Force jets and light sea craft severely damaged the ship, killing many of its officers and crew.  The Liberty’s  Commanding Officer, William L. McGonagle, severely wounded, refused to leave the bridge and for 17 hours managed the defence and safety of the ship until a US destroyer arrived.  

He was awarded the Medal of Honour and in its citation (that comes with all major medals describing the events) never once referred to the attack as coming from Israel.   

I mention this as for me it is synonymous of how taboo it is to point out officially a grave Israeli wrong.  The entire world was aware of what happened, great debate and discussion has occurred, and yet such important symbology of recognizing history is still thwarted to varying degrees to somehow give Israel that constant edge, advantage, relief, “a break”.

One wonders the same about the nuclear arsenal of Israel which estimates ranging from 100 to 220 warheads existing.  There is no membership of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, no international inspections, no safeguards or concerns about their potential use or risks of accident, not even a grumble.  In stark contrast, any other nation attempting to gain such weapons are swiftly condemned for even having started asking if they can have a centrifuge.   The usual excuses of the other states being belligerent, though may certainly be correct, falls flat to nations that live within the range of Israel’s swift reprisal-wielding hands and if anything makes such accusations feel a bit lame and two-faced.  

Settler-groups and their support in the Knesset is strong

With Israel’s pushing further and further to the extreme-right, such concerns are coming to the forefront.  The recent battles in Gaza and the blockade are no longer being whitewashed, the change of Administration in the United States does not completely follow the old no-questions-asked scenario over Israel and it recognises that the value of its neighbours are as important if not greater than that of the one nation.  Perhaps the recognition that this far-right government is itself of a dangerous make-up has finally breached the limits of the barrel of reasons Israel has had this deal over so many years.   That the Coalition Government, the civil service and the military of Israel have an excessive level of ultra-orthodox religious zeal that within its neighbours is constantly condemned and blamed as the cause of radicalism and worse, are the cause of violence and terrorism.   That this political-Judaism or Zionism (the older brother of political Islam or Islamism) is in control of its nuclear program, defence, the occupation, the brutality and the settler-movement.   It is the government.

Still, the talk of the nuclear process is muted, but a change has happened.  What is the result?

The far-right, pro-Israel lobby, the Jewish-American community are calling Obama anti-Semite, pro-Islam (as if they are opposites) and traitorous.   That instead of also raising the questions that are legitimate, they try the political point scoring and refer to the lack of automated black-out and censorship of anything Israel-negative as backstabbing an alley.   They forget that Israel has made it clear on many, many occasions that no-one or no nation that gets in the way of Israel’s self-preservation is immune from action.  Blind-support for the US does and never has existed.

Israel most certainly, in my view, has the right to exist.  It has the right, as every nation has, to defend itself.   It has a right to have to preserve and enjoy its faith, cultures, morals and standards.   Its’ people have a right to liberty and tranquility, to see its children grow in happiness, to prosper.  It does not have the right to do that at the expense of others, to not be part of the international community and yet demand that status as one of its members.   It most certainly does not have the right to condemn, respond, occupy or wage battle, and demand not to be scrutinized and criticized.

Outside of Israel, religion and conflict is condemned.... outside that is.

Why can one not support Israel and yet not support its current government and its politico-religious policies?   Why is it that not supporting the blockade on Gaza is anti-Semite?   Does being Israeli mean you must be patriotic to Likud and the actions of the IDF?

What do you think?