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Through a Glass Darkly: A Poetry Review – I Remember My Name

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 2.38.28 PMReview by Hatim Kanaaneh
Baroud Cover

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(I Remember My Name – Poetry by Samah Sabawi, Ramzy Baroud and Jehan Bseiso. Vacy Vlazna, ed., 2016, Novum Publishing. Kindle Edition.)

In penning this review, the primacy of Israel in North America’s hegemonic cultural circles limits my expectation of a sympathetic Western readership. The recent furor in Israeli government circles over the public broadcasting of Mahmoud Darwish’s poem is only a warning signal. Thugs and war criminals take on the mantel of literary critics to attack Palestine’s national poet and ascribe to him their own internalized fascist values. Judging from experience the malicious smear is bound to gain traction in Zionist-aligned literary circles at home and abroad. Our lead Palestinian politician in Israel, Ayman Odeh, explains well the Israeli officials’ fear: “If we were to know and acknowledge each other’s culture we may finally want to live together,” [al-Ittihad, July 21, 2016.]

I am an Israeli citizen and know firsthand how Israel’s rightist leaders view the world. I know precisely where my place is in their narrow field of vision. I experience daily how they deal with my issues of the heart; such issues always fall outside the purview of the Israeli majority’s definition of itself. Their politically inspired national, religious and racial exclusionism debases what I and other outfielders say. I live that reality and it strains my ability to reach out to the world, to humanity as a whole. It threatens my poetic and intellectual freedom. I worry that the pro-Israel hegemonic sway in Western culture will affect a ‘security wall’ around my intellectual property and that of other Palestinian writers and of kindred marginalized groups. That, in turn, dims my hope to be understood by the world at large and hence my worry.

The dedication of the current thin collection of poetry by the three internationally savvy poets, Samah Sabawi, Ramzy Baroud and Jehan Bseiso, to Gaza and Gazans blows their cover: They are diaspora Palestinians, world citizens and enemies of hegemonic cultural Zionism from within its field of operation; they are Trojan horses. Between them they span the globe in poetic exile seeming to be in constant flight from the inescapable curse of who they are, Palestinians by nature and nurture.

The book is by four poets, not three, for I cried just as much peering into the illustrations as I did reading the lines that inspired them. The way David Borrington renders the feelings behind the words of the poets in heartfelt visual images is a form of poetry as well. How else can he show you again and again what it means to be “anxious at the cellular level” for example?

Samah Sabawi admits to using her “140 characters to liberate Palestine.” Within Israel lesser thought crimes led to a pre-dawn police raid and landed the poet Dareen Tatour first in jail and later in exile from home. The state has deemed her too much a threat to have access to the Internet, or to be free on her own recognizance till the formal court proceedings. But Samah Sabawi, Ramzy Baroud and Jehan Bseiso all have escaped the geographic confines of Palestine/Israel to their emotional and physical global exile. Tethered by their heartstrings to their shared homeland and Gazan suffering, all three transcend their Palestinian roots to a universal core that snares readers everywhere. They soar across the globe to share in the pain of others whether in Kashmir, South Africa, Chile, Burma or Mali.

Between the three of them our poets cover a wide span of the literary field and the physical globe: There isn’t a continent or a writing art they haven’t visited. Whether they cut their sentiments in stone or siphon them from an ocean, the classic similes for the craft of Arabic poetry, all three share the common demeanor coloring the lives of Palestinians everywhere: They harbor a sense of injured pride at the deferred and devalued, even if no longer totally denied, innate justice of their case, the Palestinian Nakba. The hue each of them reflects of this shared, heartfelt and pervasive Palestinian sentiment sets them apart from each other. The editor tells us:

“Although Samah, Ramzy and Jehan have distinctive styles, they possess in common incisive intellects, finely tuned by a sense of justice inherent in the Palestinian experience and in their love for Palestine particularly besieged and suffering Gaza.”

All three poets harbor a deep sense of history, of time and place that always translates to Palestine. I have travelled and met many fellow Palestinians in their diaspora. The phenomenon of Nakba-centered existence is near universal among us. Like a hereditary trait it spans generations and transcends time and space, it colors a Palestinian’s existence wherever he/she treads and whatever air he/she breathes. Take Samah for example: She smiles at us brightly from the first page of her contribution. There is no mistaking her striking Greek (or is it Spanish, Italian, Mexican, Native American or South-East Asian) looks. Speaking for her fellow Palestinian poets, her words live up to the global sentiment her looks spark:

“I am a Palestinian-Canadian-Australian writer, commentator and playwright. …  I travelled the world and lived in its far corners, yet always felt haunted by the violence and injustice perpetrated against the poor, the marginalized, the colonized and stateless. No matter where I was, or how vast the world appeared around me, I always felt as though I remained trapped in my place of birth Gaza. The war torn besieged and isolated strip shaped my understanding of my identity and my humanity.”

 

Ramzy concurs:

“Wherever I am in the world, from Seattle to Chile to South Africa and regardless of which struggle I am involved in, from Mali to the Rohingya, I am always thinking Palestine, even when I am not conscious of it.

“So, don’t talk to me about the Pharaoh:

My Father’s blood drenched the skin of Jesus

After the Romans caught him at a checkpoint

Hiding a recipe for revolution, and a love poem”

 

And here is Jehan Bseiso:

“Since 2008 I have been working with Médecins Sans Frontières – Doctors Without Borders. My work has taken me to countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Ethiopia and others. In all my travels and encounters, I’ve experienced how support and understanding of the Palestinian cause can cross borders and traverse barriers of culture and language.”

The with-it modernity of the three exiled Palestinian poets is such that it makes it possible to include such scribbles as “@ CNN@ Foxnews” meaningfully in a poem. Yet on the first reading, it is only at the very end that the picture becomes stunningly clear, explained in a single exclamation “Hashtag Gaza.” This gives the entire collection its full clarity: Samah floats on an ethereal atmosphere focusing on Gaza willingly or against her will, Ramzy fills every internationally significant calamity with his remembered Gazan content and Jehan experiences everything firsthand as #Gaza.

“How [else] can we remember what we can’t forget?”

Aversion to hyperbole limits one’s choices for comparison. Still, Gaza’s reality is of the same genre as the Holocaust or Hiroshima. Except that Gaza’s plight is stretched out over decades with the perpetrators’ skilled consistency and aggressive projection of inner violence on its victim so artfully that violence becomes the norm for Gaza if not for the whole of Palestine. The ‘international community’ is numbed into accepting the buzz of its drones, helicopters and F-16s as part of the standard background noise and its fireworks as another light show to observe and to report on occasionally to fill the bulk requirements of international dailies.

“Counting lashes is unlike receiving them,” a Palestinian saying goes. The Palestinian experience, especially in Gaza, not only of suffering but also of being ignored, shunned and ridiculed for incurring such punishment is extremely private. It is so private and foreign it is difficult to communicate to others. The basic elements of their private world are so harshly incomprehensible that even when you scream them at ‘normal people’ you do it out of despair knowing that such reality is unexplainable, that only living such reality permits one to understand it.

Hence, and logically, some of the language is so unusual as poetry that it rubs against the grain. And yet, there is an amateurish freshness to the raw rub and the sanguinity of it all. It is so painfully touching it sinks and sticks to the depth of the heart:

“Habeebi, I thought you lost my number, turns out you lost your legs.”

How else can one perceive such nightmarish reality as:

“In the hospital, they put the pregnant women alone, because they’re carrying hope, because they don’t want them to see what can happen to children.

… There’s more blood than water today in Gaza.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 2.38.28 PMDr. Hatim Kanaaneh is the author of Chief Complaint as well as A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel (Pluto Press, 2008).

Ramzy Baroud, PhD
Dr. Ramzy BaroudHas been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include ‘Searching Jenin’, ‘The Second Palestinian Intifada’ and his latest ‘My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story’. His website is: www.ramzybaroud.net.

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War to ‘stop’ war: Libya’s ‘Operation Odyssey Lightning: The Obama Doctrine is Ravaging the Middle East

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 2.38.28 PMRamzy Baroud, PhD
Politics for the People

Airstrokes won't defeat ISIS

Why US Airstrikes Won’t Defeat ISIS – TRNN

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 2.38.28 PMEveryone seems to have a theory on how to obliterate ISIS, or ‘Daesh’. However, two points are rarely raised: one, concerning the origins of the group and the second, on whether there are genuine intentions to defeat it, in the first place.

We must boldly address the first to unravel the enigma behind the rise and growth of ‘Daesh’ – otherwise, how else can the group be dismantled.

We must contend with the second point before engaging in superfluous discussions about the most appropriate war strategy – that if war is, at all, the answer.

The questions are quite urgent yet, somehow, they are frequently overlooked, glossed over through some disingenuous logic or the blame is always placed somewhere else.

Now that the Americans have launched yet another aerial war against Libya, purportedly to target ‘Daesh’ positions there, the discussion is being carefully geared towards how far the US must go to defeat the militant group?

In fact, “can airstrikes alone win a war without ‘boots on the ground’?” has morphed, somehow, to become the crux of the matter, which has engaged a large number of intellectuals on both sides of the debate.

US media gurus, split between two equally war-mongering parties, love to jump at such opportunities to discredit one another, as if waging wars in other countries is an exclusively local American affair.

Days are long gone when the US labored to establish coalitions to wage war, as it did in Kuwait and Iraq in 1990-91 and, to a lesser extent, again, in Iraq in 2003. Now, wars are carried out as a matter of course. Many Americans seen to be unware, or oblivious to the fact, that their country is actually fighting wars on several fronts, and is circuitously involved in others.

With multiple war fronts and conflicts fermenting all around, many are becoming desensitized. Americans particularly have, sadly, swallowed the serum of perpetual war, to the extent that they rarely mobilize in any serious way against it.

In other words, a state of war has become the status quo.

Although the US Administration of President Barack Obama has killed thousands, the majority of whom were civilians, there is no uproar nor mass protests. Aside from the fact that the Obama brand was fashioned to appear as the peaceable contrast to warmongering George W. Bush, there has been no serious change in US foreign policies in the Middle East in any way that could suggest that one president is ‘better’ than the other.

Obama has simply continued the legacy of his predecessor, unhindered. The primary change that has occurred is tactical: instead of resorting to massive troops’ buildup on the ground with an assignment to topple governments, Obama has used airstrikes to target whoever is perceived to be the enemy, while investing in whoever he deemed ‘moderate’ enough to finish the job.

Like Bush’s preemptive ‘war on terror’, Obama’s doctrine has been equally disastrous.

Obama’s wars were designed to produce little or no American casualties, since they were almost entirely conducted from the air and via unmanned drones operated by remote control, sometimes thousands of miles way. That approach proved less taxing, politically. However, it worsened the situation on the ground, and instead of ending war, it expanded it.

While Bush’s invasion of Iraq revived al-Qaeda and brought it to the heart of the region, Obama’s aerial wars forced al-Qaeda to regroup, employing a different strategy. It rebranded itself, from militant cells to a ‘state’, sought swift territorial expansion, used guerrilla warfare when facing an organized army or is bombed from the sky, and carried out suicide bombings throughout the world to break the morale of its enemies and to serve its propaganda efforts aimed at keeping the recruits coming.

Considering that enemies of ‘Daesh’ are themselves enemies of one another, the group is assured that its existence, at least for the foreseeable future, is tenable.

The truth is that ‘Daesh’ thrives on military intervention because it was born from previous military interventions. It is expanding because its enemies are not in unison, as each is serving agendas that are rarely concerned with ending war, but rather seeing war as an opportunity to realize political gains.

With this logic in mind, one cannot expect the US ‘Operation Odyssey Lightning’, which officially began on August 1 in Libya, to achieve any results that could end up in stabilizing the country.

How could such ‘stability’ be projected, if it were not the US and other NATO members’ war on Libya in 2011 that has largely dismembered a once rich and relatively stable Arab country? Indeed, it was the vacuum left by subsequent conflicts that invited ‘Daesh’ to Sirte and other areas. Now, the US – and other western powers, led by the French – are applying unwinnable war tactics to stave off a messy crisis they had created themselves when they waged an earlier war.

Even if ‘Daesh’ is driven out of Sirte, it will find some other unstable environment elsewhere where it will spawn and wreak havoc. Sirte, in turn, will, likely, fall back into a state of bedlam where various militias, many of whom were armed by NATO in the first place, turn their guns against each other.

Without a whole new approach to the problem, the conflicts will certainly keep multiplying.

According to airwars.org, which keeps track of the war on ‘Daesh’, 14,405 coalition airstrikes against the group have been carried out in Iraq and Syria through 735 days of a relentless campaign. An estimated 52,300 bombs and missiles were dropped, although the number must be much higher, since there are numerous strikes that are never claimed by any party, thus are not officially recorded, as such.

This, of course, does not take into account Russia’s own aerial bombardment, or any party that is not officially part of the Western coalition.

But what good did this do, aside from killing many civilians, destroying massive infrastructure and spreading ‘Daesh’ further into the abyss of other vulnerable Middle East and North African spots?

There are few voices in the US media and government that seem serious about changing the perspective completely on the Bush-Obama war on terror. Sensible calls by the likes of Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for President, that the root causes of terror must be addressed to end terrorism, rarely register in the halls of US government and Congress.

In January, the cost of the war on ‘Daesh’, as estimated by US Defense Department data has jumped by $2 million dollars a day to a total of $11 million. “The air war has cost the US about $5.5 billion total since it began in August 2014,” Business Insider reported. The escalation in Libya is likely to produce new, more staggering numbers soon.

Expectedly, this is a great time for business for those who benefit from war. Concurrently, the cycle of war and violence is feeding on itself with no end in sight.

“Hope in aerial bombardment as the prophylactic for peace is absurd,” Vijay Prashad, Professor of International Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, wrote recently about the futility of airstrike wars.

“It has given us instability and chaos. Other roads have to be opened. Other paths ceded.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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Ramzy Baroud, PhD
Dr. Ramzy BaroudHas been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include ‘Searching Jenin’, ‘The Second Palestinian Intifada’ and his latest ‘My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story’. His website is: www.ramzybaroud.net.

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Divide and Rule: How Factionalism in Palestine Is Killing Prospect for Freedom

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 2.38.28 PMRamzy Baroud, PhD
Politics for the People

Palstinian politics

Palestinian candidates (Baroud).

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 2.38.28 PM[su_dropcap size=”5″]A[/su_dropcap]s Palestinians in the Occupied Territories begin preparations for local elections which are scheduled for next October, division and factionalism are rearing their ugly head.  

Palestinian political platforms and social media are abuzz with self-defeating propaganda: Fatah supporters attacking Hamas’ alleged failures, and Hamas’ supporters doing the same.  

What is conveniently overlooked by all sides is that the performance of Palestinian municipalities is almost entirely irrelevant in the greater scheme of things.   

In the West Bank, local councils are governed by strict Israeli-PA arrangement. Aside from very few chores, village and town councils cannot operate without a green light: an endorsement from the Palestinian Authority itself conditioned on a nod from the Israeli Occupation authorities.  

This applies to almost everything: from basic services, to construction permits to digging of wells. All such decisions are predicated upon political stipulation and donors’ money, which are also politically-motivated.  

Blaming a local mayor of a tiny West Bank village that is surrounded by Israeli military walls, trenches and watchtowers, and is attacked daily by armed Jewish settlers, for failing to make a noticeable difference in the lives of the villagers is as ridiculous as it sounds.  

The local elections, however, are also politically and factionally-driven. Fatah, which controls the PA, is buying time and vying for relevance. No longer having a major role in leading the Palestinians in their quest for freedom, Fatah constantly invents ways to proclaim itself as a relevant force. It can only do so, however, with Israeli permission, donor money and US-Western political backing and validation.  

Hamas, which might endorse selected candidates but is unlikely to participate in the elections directly, is also embattled. It is under a strict siege in Gaza and its regional politicking proved costly and unreliable. While it is not as corrupt – at least, financially – as Fatah, it is often accused of asserting its power in Gaza through the use of political favoritism.  

While one must insist on national unity, it is difficult to imagine a successful union between both groups without a fundamental change in the structure of these parties and overall political outlook.  

In Palestine, factions perceive democracy to be a form of control, power and hegemony, not a social contract aimed at fostering dialogue and defusing conflict.  

Thus, it is no wonder that supporters of two Fatah factions, one loyal to PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, and another to Mohammed Dahlan, recently clashed in Gaza. Several were hospitalized after sustaining injuries.  

Of course, a main case in point remains the civil war of 2007, a year or so after Hamas won parliamentary elections. The Fatah-Hamas political culture failed to understand that the losing party must concede and serve in the opposition, and the victorious party cannot assume the vote as a mandate for factional domination.  

Other factors contributed to the Palestinian divide. The US, at the behest of Israel, wanted to ensure the collapse of the Hamas government and conditioned its support for Fatah based on the rejection of any unity government.  

Israel, too, inflicted much harm, restricting movement of elected MPs, arresting them, and eventually entirely besieging Gaza.  

The European Union and the United Nations were hardly helpful, for they could have insisted on the respect of Palestinian voters, but they succumbed under American pressure.  

However, there can also be no denial that these factors alone should not have jeopardized Palestinian unity, if the factions were keen on it.  

To appreciate this further, one must look at the experience of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Although they divide themselves based on factional and ideological affiliations, they tend to exhibit much more solidarity amongst themselves. When a prisoner from a certain group goes on a hunger strike, he or she is often joined by a few, tens or even hundreds of other political prisoners from all factions.  

These prisoners find ways to communicate and transfer messages amongst themselves, even when in solitary confinement or shackled to their beds.  

They even hold elections in larger prisons to choose their own representatives, and issue joint letters to Palestinians outside, calling for unity and a common strategy.  

If shackled prisoners are able to foster dialogue and adhere to a semblance of unity, those living in Ramallah mansions and those free to travel outside Palestine should be able to do so, too.  

But the truth is, for many within the Palestinian leadership, unity is not an urgent matter and, for them, the ascendency of the faction will always trump the centrality of the homeland.  

This is partly because factional politics is deeply rooted in Palestinian society. And like the Israeli Occupation, factionalism is an enemy of the Palestinian people. It has constantly overwhelmed any attempt at fostering dialogue and true democracy among Palestinians. 

It is true that democracy is suffering a crisis in various parts of the world. In Brazil, a parliamentary subversion pushed an elected president out of office. In the UK, Labor Party plotters are entirely discounting the election of a popular leader. In the United States, democracy had been reduced to clichés while powerful elites are bankrolling wealthy candidates who are, more or less, propagating the same ideas. 

But Palestine is different. It ought to be different. For Palestinian society, dialogue and a degree of a democratic process is essential for any meaningful national unity.  

Without unity in politics, it is difficult to envisage unity in purpose, a national liberation project, a unified resistance strategy and the eventual freedom of the Palestinians.  

There can never be a free Palestine without Palestinians first freeing themselves from factional repression, for which they, and only they, are ultimately responsible.  

For Israel, Palestinian factionalism is a central piece in its strategy to divide and rule. Sadly, many Palestinians are playing along, and by doing so are jeopardizing their own salvation.

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Ramzy Baroud, PhD
Dr. Ramzy BaroudHas been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include ‘Searching Jenin’, ‘The Second Palestinian Intifada’ and his latest ‘My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story’. His website is: www.ramzybaroud.net.

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Farewell to Yarmouk: A Palestinian Refugee’s Journey from Izmir to Greece

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 2.38.28 PMRamzy Baroud, PhD
Politics for the People

Yarmouk refugees

Syrian and Palestinian refugees now pack Yarmouk as this picture of people queuing up for food distribution shows. Photo: EPA/UN

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 2.38.28 PM(Based on interviews with Palestinian refugees from Syria.) 

The refugee camp of Yarmouk was ever present in his being, pulling him in and out of an abyss of persistent fears that urged him to never return. But what was this refugee without Yarmouk, his first haven, his last earth?  

How could any other spot in this unwelcoming universe ever be a ‘home’ when he had learned that only Palestine, which he had never visited, can ever be a home? When questioned, he always answered without hesitation: “I am from the village of so and so in Palestine.” Yet the Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Syria was all that remained of Palestine, as the Palestine he knew only existed in books or the tattered map in his family’s living room.  

But at least he had her along to share his grief; without her he would have never embarked on his quest. His name was Khaled al-Lubani and her name was Maysam.  

Their first attempt at crossing the sea was doomed to fail. The one thousand American dollars that Khaled’s father had given him in Yarmouk was almost depleted, and the money promised to him by his aunt in the UAE was still nowhere to be seen. By then, they had settled in Izmir at Turkey’s farthest western corner, and the closest in proximity to Greece.  

Wanting opportunities and a chance at a real life, they knew this was just a temporary stopover in their long-term plans.  

After a short stay at a cheap hotel, they sought an even cheaper accommodation, a small flat that cost them 400 Turkish liras each month. But with money running out, and Maysam’s anxieties increasingly suffocating her every thought, Khaled felt the pressure mounting. As he waited and waited for his aunt’s money, he felt as if she were dangling him off the side of a cliff.  

When the Syrian war started, Khaled cared little for the politics of war. He had reached the conclusion a long time ago that nothing good came out of politics and that anyone wearing a government or militia uniform could not be trusted. However, the war inched closer to Yarmouk, despite the pleas of the refugees to the warring parties to spare them more agony.  

And when Yarmouk was roundly destroyed, Khaled, pressured by the tears and pleas of his parents, fled. A long, costly and agonizing journey landed them both in Izmir.  

Their first attempt to cross the sea was with Abu Dandi. There was something about his shady looks and face that suggested he lacked honor and could not be trusted. In his fifties, he was heavy, with a large, protruding belly, and short white hair. He was addicted to overcooked black tea, and spent most of his time at the ‘Syrian Club’ playing backgammon, oozing the crude confidence of an unatoned gambler.  

Other Palestinian refugees pledged all of their faith to finding a new life via this no-guarantees trip. But an hour after their journey began, the dinghy’s small engine came to a complete halt.  

In one single, heavy choke, without any sign or introduction, it completely expired. As alarm permeated Khaled from head to toe, he knew going back was just not an option. Adding to the acute drama, Maysam’s fears and anxieties were culminating into unintelligible mumbles about the scary sea below. 

Left without any options, Abu Dandi called the Turkish coast guard, who eventually showed up and hauled them back to an Izmir prison.  

They had met the captain of the second dinghy, Abu Salma, while in prison. Captured freshly after his own failed expedition, Abu Salma promised them deliverance or their money back, guaranteed. Sadly, their original payment was never refunded by the miserable smuggler with the protruding belly.  

The second expedition was not successful, either, although, this time, the smugglers managed to take the boat much further. The engine did not abruptly stop, but nervously made a ticking sound before it quickly began to hemorrhage a line of dark diesel fuel into the crisp, blue Mediterranean Sea. The pathetic dinghy then suddenly stalled, immediately on reaching Greek waters. When the coast guard intercepted them, they threw out a rope from their large boat so that they could haul the unwelcome passengers to safety.  

Trying to circumvent the Greek boat, the passengers rowed frantically and with all their remaining energy. It was as if this was their final task in their epic struggle to feel human again. But the dinghy was brought to a forced halt as the crushing emotions of defeat weighed heavy on their slouched backs.  

With little interest in bringing the refugees to their side of the sea, the Greek coast guard robotically tuned out their chronicles of death and disgrace, and quickly telephoned the Turkish gendarmes who hauled the dinghy back to square one, holding its passengers prisoner for two more days.  

Swearing in the name of his three-year-old daughter once more, Abu Salma insisted he was still the best smuggler in the business, and if it were not for their cursed luck, they would have already reached Greece and would have been dining like kings while the Greek gods watched from above. Promising the group a bigger and faster engine for their fourth try, Abu Salma, once again, led the passengers back to the same old designated spot where the dinghy was supposedly tucked away; but the boat was nowhere to be found.  

Emotionally drained and tired, they walked back to the main road, only to find the gendarmes waiting for them.  

When they attempted again, the group of nine had materialized into twenty, and included other war refugees, longing for the safety they were denied at home. This dinghy was slightly larger than the last one, but the engine was even smaller than their first. Heated reactions by the men ensued as they yelled and roared in anger. The women cried out in pain, some grabbing their hearts, some dropping to their knees. Maysam broke down and buried her sopping wet face into the sand.  

Most of the passengers just walked away and stood in the sand trying to conjure up a plan that no one had envisioned prior. But the Palestinians, along with Khaled and Maysam, stayed. Their will was just too strong to give up after all they had gone through. Assuming the role of leader, they were urged on by Khaled, yet again.  

“Just go this way,” the smuggler pointed his stubby fingers into some direction in the dark. And that is just what Khaled did. He challenged the darkness and what he saw as the final push towards freedom. For the entire journey, Maysam quietly sobbed and held onto his arm for dear life.  

Then, finally, the much awaited lights of the Island of Mytilene glittered in the distance. “Ya Allah, Ya Allah, Ya Allah,” muttered Maysam in a final attempt to cram in as many prayers as she possibly could so that the dinghy would reach the shores, bringing an end to the Syrian and Turkish nightmares, and freeing them from the abyss of the condemned. 

A small jar of crunchy peanut better was all that Khaled and Maysam had left in their small duffel bag when their feet first touched the sand of Mytilene late one night. The exhilaration of their success blasted up their spines as they cried and jumped for joy.  

But as they tried to process the unbelievable comfort the white sand offered them, it was quickly overshadowed by a haunting, unforeseen and unexpected fear of the future. The water soaking through their trainers suddenly felt like a cold omen. 

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Ramzy Baroud, PhD
Dr. Ramzy BaroudHas been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include ‘Searching Jenin’, ‘The Second Palestinian Intifada’ and his latest ‘My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story’. His website is: www.ramzybaroud.net.

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From Nice to the Middle East: The Only Way to Challenge ISIS

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 2.38.28 PMRamzy Baroud, PhD
Politics for the People

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Editor's Note
Knowingly and intentionally or not, the United States has created a self-perpetuating "terrorism" machine. This goes beyond the issues of blowback to the issue of cause and effect. By responding to the deadly events of 9/11/2001 with a massive invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. essentially created the "monster" it now attempts to slay. It is similar to the effect of pouring water on a grease or oil fire. The action does not put the fire out, but depending on the force with which one hits the grease, spreads it far and wide. In declaring full out, Daisy Cutter, MOAB, Bunker Buster war on Afghanistan, it took the brush fire of al Qaeda and blew it from a localized group to a global organization. Then, by repeating the same "strategy" over and over again it increased non-state terrorist activity by magnitudes with each stride.

What we are seeing here is, in part, a cultural behavioral failure. In U.S. dominant culture there is a strong propensity to respond to "bad" behavior in an aggressive manner. With each step in the "discipline" process, the measures get harsher and more aggressive, the controls tighter and tighter, the possibility of choice on the part of the miscreant fewer and fewer. This process can be seen in action from reaction to children's misbehavior, to gang issues, until they declare full on war on crime, drugs, terrorism, etc. The fact that there is an absolute refusal to step back and OBJECTIVELY evaluate the situation, the studies repeatedly show things getting worse - or they are reported as such regardless of what the studies show. I would argue that this shortcoming is not just a cultural failure, but reflects a deeply ingrained system of male dominance where power and force with total submission is the only (culturally) appropriate response. The fact that the United States as a whole sees itself as beyond such "barbarity" as male dominance, is just another component of a culture which eschews self reflection as effete (except for miscreants and females), for "real" leaders see the problem and act promptly, assertively, and with finality. What is overlooked, is that those being responded to in this manner may very well strike back. - Rowan Wolf

From Nice to the Middle East

Dr. Ramzy Baroud

I visited Iraq in 1999. At the time, there were no so-called ‘jihadis’ espousing the principles of ‘jihadism’, whatever the interpretation may be. On the outskirts of Baghdad was a military training camp, not for ‘al-Qaeda’, but for ‘Mojahedin-e-Khalq’, an Iranian militant exile group that worked, with foreign funding and arms, to overthrow the Iranian Republic.

At the time, the late Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, used the exiled organization to settle scores with his rivals in Tehran, just as they, too, espoused anti-Iraqi government militias to achieve the exact same purpose.

Iraq was hardly peaceful then. But most of the bombs that exploded in that country were American. In fact, when Iraqis spoke of ‘terrorism’, they only referred to ‘Al-Irhab al-Amriki’ – American terrorism.

Suicide bombings were hardly a daily occurrence; in fact, never an occurrence at all, anywhere in Iraq. As soon as the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 followed by Iraq in 2003, all hell broke loose.

The 25 years prior to 2008 witnessed 1,840 suicide attacks, according to data compiled by US government experts and cited in the ‘Washington Post’. Of all these attacks, 86 percent occurred post-US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, between 2001 and the publishing of the data in 2008, 920 suicide bombings took place in Iraq and 260 in Afghanistan.

A fuller picture emerged in 2010, with the publishing of more commanding and detailed research conducted by the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Terrorism.

“More than 95 percent of all suicide attacks are in response to foreign occupation,” it emerged.

“As the United States has occupied Afghanistan and Iraq … total suicide attacks worldwide have risen dramatically – from about 300 from 1980 to 2003, to 1,800 from 2004 to 2009,” wrote Robert Pape in Foreign Policy.

Tellingly, it was also concluded that “over 90 percent of suicide attacks worldwide are now anti-American. The vast majority of suicide terrorists hail from the local region threatened by foreign troops, which is why 90 percent of suicide attackers in Afghanistan are Afghans.”

When I visited Iraq in 1999, ‘al-Qaeda’ was merely a name on the Iraqi TV news, referring to a group of militants that operated mostly in Afghanistan. It was first established to unite Arab fighters against the Soviet presence in that country, and they were largely overlooked as a global security threat at the time.

It was years after the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1988, that ‘al-Qaeda’ became a global phenomenon. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US’ misguided responses – invading and destroying countries – created the very haven that have espoused today’s militancy and terror.

In no time, following the US invasion of Iraq, ‘al-Qaeda’ extended its dark shadows over a country that was already overwhelmed with a death toll that surpassed hundreds of thousands.

It is hardly difficult to follow the thread of ISIS’ formation, the deadliest of all such groups that mostly originated from ‘al-Qaeda’ in Iraq, itself wrought by the US invasion.

It was born from the unity of various militants groups in October 2006, when ‘al-Qaeda’ in Mesopotamia joined ranks with ‘Mujahedeen Shura Council in Iraq’, ‘Jund al-Sahhaba’ and the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ (ISI).

ISIS, or ‘Daesh’ has been in existence since then, in various forms and capacities, but only jumped to the scene as a horrifically violent organization with territorial ambitions when a Syrian uprising turned into a deadly platform for regional rivalries. What existed as a ‘state’ at a virtual, cerebral level had, in fact, morphed into a ‘state’ of actual landmass, oil fields and martial law.

It is easy – perhaps, convenient – to forget all of this. Connecting the proverbial dots can be costly for some, for it will unravel a trajectory of violence that is rooted in foreign intervention. For many western commentators and politicians it is much easier – let alone safer – to discuss ISIS within impractical contexts, for example, Islam, than to take moral responsibility.

I pity those researchers who spent years examining the thesis of ISIS as a religious theology or ISIS and the apocalypse. Talk about missing the forest for the trees. What good did that bring about, anyway?

American military and political interventions have always been accompanied by attempting to also intervene in school curricula of invaded countries. The war on Afghanistan was also joined with a war on its ‘madrasas’ and unruly ‘ulemas’. None of this helped. If anything, it backfired, for it compounded the feeling of threat and sense of victimization among tens of millions of Muslims all around the world.

ISIS is but a name that can be rebranded without notice into something entirely different. Their tactics, too, can change, based on time and circumstances.  Their followers can mete out violence using a suicide belt, a car laden with explosives, a knife even, or a truck moving at high speed.

What truly matters is that ISIS has grown into a phenomenon, an idea that is not even confined to a single group and requires no official membership, transfer of funds or weapons.

This is no ordinary fact, but in a more sensible approach should represent the crux of the fight against ISIS.

When a French-Tunisian truck driver rammed into a crowd of celebrating people in the streets of Nice, the French police moved quickly to find connections between him and ISIS, or any other militant group. No clues were immediately revealed, yet, strangely, President François Hollande was quick to declare his intentions to respond militarily.

Such inanity and short-sightedness.  What good did France’s military adventurism achieve in recent years? Libya has turned into an oasis of chaos – where ISIS now control entire towns. Iraq and Syria remain places for unmitigated violence.

What about Mali? Maybe the French had better luck there.

Writing for ‘Al Jazeera’, Pape Samba Kane described the terrible reality that Mali has become following the French intervention in January 2003. Their so-called ‘Operation Serval’ turned into ‘Operation Barkhane’ and neither did Mali became a peaceful place nor did French forces leave the country.

The French, according to Kane are now Occupiers, not liberators, and according to all rationale data – like the ones highlighted above – we all know what foreign occupation does.

“The question that Malians have to ask themselves is”, Kane wrote: “Do they prefer having to fight against jihadists for a long time, or having their sovereignty challenged and their territory occupied or partitioned by an ancient colonialist state in order to satisfy a group allied with the colonial power?”

Yet the French, like the Americans, the British and others, continue to evade this obvious reality at their own peril. By refusing to accept the fact that ISIS is only a component of a much larger and disturbing course of violence that is rooted in foreign intervention, is to allow violence everywhere to perpetuate.

Defeating ISIS requires that we also confront and defeat the thinking that led to its inception: to defeat the logic of the George W. Bushes, Tony Blairs and John Howards of this world.

No matter how violent ISIS members or supporters are, it is ultimately a group of angry, alienated, radicalized young men seeking to alter their desperate situation by carrying out despicable acts of vengeance, even if it means ending their lives in the process.

Bombing ISIS camps may destroy some of their military facilities but it will not eradicate the very idea that allowed them to recruit thousands of young men all over the world.

They are the product of violent thinking that was spawned, not only in the Middle East but, initially, in various western capitals.

ISIS will fizzle out and die when its leaders lose their appeal and ability to recruit young men seeking answers and revenge.

The war option has, thus far, proved the least affective. ISIS will remain and metamorphose if necessary, as long as war remains on the agenda. To end ISIS, we must end war and foreign occupations.

It is as simple as that.

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Ramzy Baroud, PhD
Dr. Ramzy BaroudHas been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include ‘Searching Jenin’, ‘The Second Palestinian Intifada’ and his latest ‘My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story’. His website is: www.ramzybaroud.net.

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