Archives for December 2018

China’s campaign of state terror against Muslims

Joanne Smith Finley writes:

In an old Silk Road oasis town on China’s western border, these days a thirsty traveller can knock back a cold beer in a local mosque. The former place of worship is now a bar for tourists. And it is with the customers’ views in mind—and, perhaps, the aspirations of China’s leaders—that the place is called “The Dream of Kashgar.”

For Kashgar’s Uighur residents, however, and for other Muslims across the Chinese region of Xinjiang, that dream is a nightmare. Last summer, when I traveled to Xinjiang, I witnessed the most abject sense of fear and trauma I have encountered in 27 years of researching identity and religion among its Uighur communities. Mosques were deserted and cloaked in razor wire, restaurants were stripped of their halal signage, and local people carefully avoided any expression of religious piety.

By the time I arrived in Xinjiang’s capital of Urumqi in the last week of June, foreign media reports were already widely circulating of a particularly heavy-handed campaign of religious and cultural repression in the region, which Chinese leaders have long sought to control. On top of an escalating series of bans on basic religious practice, Uighur language education, and cultural expression, authorities in Xinjiang were now detaining a million local people in detention camps they euphemistically calledtransformation through education centers” in the name of combating religious “extremification.” Xinjiang has long been a contested territory, but the most recent wave of Chinese government efforts to control the region, which has gathered force since a spate of interethnic violence between 2009 and 2015, also involves unprecedented levels of surveillance and government intrusion into daily life.

After months of flatly denying that the existence of its detention camps for Muslim Uighurs and Kazakhs in Xinjiang, the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.) recently changed course, moving to legalize the camps. At the same time, it launched a massive counter-propaganda effort against domestic and foreign critics, lauding its anti-halal campaign in Xinjiang, and wheeling out Shohrat Zakir, Chairman and Deputy Party Chief (number two to regional Party Secretary Chen Quanguo) of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, who announced that the internment camps have made Uighurs realize “that life can be so colorful.” [Continue reading…]

Child soldiers from Darfur on the front line of the Saudi war in Yemen

The New York Times reports:

The civil war in Darfur robbed Hager Shomo Ahmed of almost any hope. Raiders had stolen his family’s cattle, and a dozen years of bloodshed had left his parents destitute.

Then, around the end of 2016, Saudi Arabia offered a lifeline: The kingdom would pay as much as $10,000 if Hager joined its forces fighting 1,200 miles away in Yemen.

Hager, 14 at the time, could not find Yemen on a map, and his mother was appalled. He had survived one horrific civil war — how could his parents toss him into another? But the family overruled her.

“Families know that the only way their lives will change is if their sons join the war and bring them back money,” Hager said in an interview last week in the capital, Khartoum, a few days after his 16th birthday.

The United Nations has called the war in Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. An intermittent blockade by the Saudis and their partners in the United Arab Emirates has pushed as many as 12 million people to the brink of starvation, killing some 85,000 children, according to aid groups. [Continue reading…]

Journalists faced ‘unprecedented’ hostility this year, report says

CNN reports:

More journalists were killed, abused and subjected to violence in 2018 than in any other year on record, with those in the profession facing an “unprecedented level of hostility,” a new report has found.

Murder, imprisonment, hostage-taking and enforced disappearances of journalists all increased compared to last year, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), who criticized politicians and public figures for encouraging disdain for the news media.

A total of 80 journalists were killed, including non-professional journalists and media workers. 61% were murdered or deliberately targeted for their reporting, while 39% were killed while reporting. The report also found that 348 reporters were being detained and 60 were being held hostage.

The findings further highlight the volatility faced by journalists across the world over the past twelve months, a period which has seen high-profile murders and imprisonments as well as verbal attacks on the news media by key global figures, including US President Donald Trump. [Continue reading…]

The ‘Year of the Woman’ forced us to take a step back for every step forward. That isn’t real progress

Sabrina Hersi Issa writes:

After the midterm elections, 2018 was increasingly hailed as “The Year of The Woman.”

But a record number of women heading to Congress as a result of the midterm elections cannot be celebrated outside of the context that it happened mere weeks after the United States Senate chose to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court after credible allegations of sexual assault were made against him. It cannot be a moment of self-congratulation for politicians to say they believe women in floor speeches while summarily ignoring the hundreds of women and survivors of sexual violence occupying Congress to protest the confirmation and the thousands of survivors flooding Hill offices with their testimony and victim accounts.

The nation bore witness to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s several hours of painful public testimony of her sexual assault as she assumed tremendous risk to her safety, re-lived her trauma on a national stage and told the Senate panel, “I believed he was going to rape me.” And then it voted to confirm to a lifetime appointment the very man she said abused her.

Taking one step back in order to take another forward is not progress. It is not a great victory for women’s leadership when we are consistently the last line of defense for moral leadership, or when calls to action and demands for accountability require moments of sacrificial public suffering in order to be viewed as moderately successful.

When women assume their rightful place at helms of power, it should not be hailed as a beacon of hope, but as a long-overdue and rightful rebalancing of the scales. “Women belong in all the places where decisions are being made,” Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in 2009. [Continue reading…]

Glorified and vilified, Representative-elect Ilhan Omar tells critics: ‘Just deal’

The New York Times reports:

As a 12-year-old refugee from Somalia adjusting to life in the Virginia suburbs, Ilhan Omar fended off bullies who stuck gum on her scarf, knocked her down stairs and jumped her when she changed clothes for gym class.

Her father “sat me down, and he said, ‘Listen, these people who are doing all of these things to you, they’re not doing something to you because they dislike you,’” Ms. Omar recalled in a recent interview. “They are doing something to you because they feel threatened in some way by your existence.”

Now Ms. Omar is Representative-elect Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, and her father’s words still hold. Nearly a quarter-century later, as Democrats prepare to assume control of the House with an extraordinarily diverse freshman class, she is perhaps Washington’s most glorified and vilified newcomer — a vehicle for the hopes of millions of Muslims and others touched by her life story, and for the fears of those who feel threatened by her.

When she is sworn in on Thursday, Ms. Omar will take her place in the history books as one of the first two Muslim women in Congress — and the first to wear a hijab, or head covering, on the House floor. Her push to change a 181-year-old rule barring headwear in the chamber — which Democrats are expected to immediately adopt — has drawn fire from a Christian pastor, who warned that the floor of the House “is now going to look like an Islamic republic.”

Her support for the boycott, divest and sanctions movement to pressure Israel to improve treatment of Palestinians is making Jewish leaders nervous. In Saudi Arabia, a state-owned newspaper recently suggested she was part of an Islamist plot to control Congress. [Continue reading…]

More Republicans than you think support action on climate change

Arlie Hochschild and David Hochschild write:

Democrats and Republicans have clashed fiercely on many issues — the Mueller investigation, immigration, gun control — but can the two parties come together on climate change, the biggest issue of all?

Most analysts say no. After all, since President Trump took office, the terms “global warming” and “climate change” have been expunged from some government websites. Mr. Trump says his “very high level of intelligence” has led him to reject the findings of 13 federal agencies, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the World Meteorological Organization.

But how many of his fellow Republicans agree? If we compare the extremes in each party — liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans — as the media often does, the split is clear. But if we compare all Republicans with all Democrats, we see a new and encouraging overlap.

In March, well before the most destructive wildfires in California history, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication polled 1,067 registered voters on climate change. The study found that while they disagree on the cause, majorities in both parties agree that the world is experiencing global warming and call for government action to address it. [Continue reading…]

Deciphering the patterns in Trump’s falsehoods

The New York Times reports:

President Trump has a well-documented problem telling the truth.

Fact checkers have compiled lists of all of Mr. Trump’s falsehoods since he took office (The Washington Post counts over 7,500, and The Toronto Star over 3,900), rounded up his most egregious whoppers in year-end lists and scrutinized his claims in real time with television chyrons.

Here at The New York Times, we have also fact-checked countless campaign rallies, news conferences, interviews and Twitter posts. After nearly two years of assessing the accuracy of Mr. Trump’s statements, we can draw some conclusions not just about the scale of the president’s mendacity, but also about how he uses inaccurate claims to advance his agenda, criticize the news media and celebrate his achievements.

Mr. Trump refuses to correct most of his inaccurate claims, instead asserting them over and over again. They become, by sheer force of repetition, “alternative facts” and staples of his campaign rallies and speeches.

Examples abound. He has falsely characterized the December 2017 tax cuts as the “largest” or the “biggest” in American history over 100 times (several others were larger). He has misleadingly said over 90 times that his promised wall along the southern border is being built (construction has not begun on any new section). He has falsely accused Democrats of supporting “open borders” over 60 times (Democratic lawmakers support border security, but not his border wall). And he has lobbed over 250 inaccurate attacks on the investigation into Russian election interference.

Yet Mr. Trump does not rely on repetition alone. He also embellishes talking points to amplify his achievements. [Continue reading…]

Music: Zara Madani — ‘Moray Naina’


Boris Birshtein, Trump, and Russia

Mark MacKinnon reports:

There was a joke more than 30 years ago, when immigrants from the former Soviet Union began settling in Toronto’s North York neighbourhood, that they came here because it was as drab and grey as the Soviet cities they’d left behind.

That description still fits parts of this vast and occasionally bleak suburb. But not this tidy, manicured avenue, lined as it is with multimillion-dollar houses – one of which, for me, is the end of a journey that began shortly after the January, 2017, inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, when a diplomatic source capped off our lunch in an Eastern European capital with this intriguing comment: “If you want to understand this whole Trump-Russia thing, look into a guy named Boris Birshtein.”

The broad outlines of the man, I discovered, were easy enough to discern: Boris Birshtein was born in 1947 in Soviet-occupied Lithuania. He first gained a measure of fame in the early 1990s, as one of the most powerful businessmen to emerge from the collapse of the USSR. He dabbled – not unlike Mr. Trump – in real estate and entertainment, and he dreamed, as well, of building a hotel in the centre of Moscow. In an era when the former Soviet Union was moving from outright communism to a form of crony capitalism still utterly dependent on political connections, he wielded enormous clout over the fledgling governments of Ukraine, Moldova and Kyrgyzstan; he did so by fashioning himself as a middleman for Western companies, including several in Canada, looking to expand into those newly independent states.

But the deeper I dug, the more labyrinthine the tale became. Law-enforcement and intelligence sources told me they themselves had struggled for decades to understand just who Mr. Birshtein was, and who, if anyone, he worked for. Some diplomats and intelligence agents described his powerful and multitentacled company, Seabeco, as a front for KGB-linked operations. Police told me they believed, but could never prove, that he operated under the protection of the Russian mafia.

And yet, others who dealt with Mr. Birshtein portray him more simply as a businessman with an uncanny knack for turning up in the middle of world-changing events.

There are photographs of Mr. Birshtein – who first emigrated from the USSR to Israel, before settling in Canada in 1982 under a fast-track program for wealthy investors – alongside former Canadian prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien. He’s also been photographed in meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert, and with half a dozen other world leaders. He even seems to have had some kind of relationship with an ex-KGB agent who went on to become President of Russia, Vladimir Putin. [Continue reading…]

Saudi Arabia may have helped citizen in Oregon hit-and-run killing flee the U.S.

Al Jazeera reports:

A senior US senator has called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to clarify if Saudi Arabia helped a citizen of that country flee the US before his manslaughter trial.

In a letter on Friday, Senator Ron Wyden expressed strong concern over a local media report that said the Saudi government may have issued a new passport to its citizen, Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah, in order to help him leave the US and escape justice over a hit-and-run killing in the state of Oregon.

The Saudi student was accused of killing 15-year-old Fallon Smart, and was facing a 10-year jail term if found guilty of manslaughter charges.

In a report last week, the Oregonian newspaper said US investigators believe Noorah, who was released on bail, fled the country in June last year on a private jet using a Saudi-issued passport under a different name. [Continue reading…]