Saturday, April 10, 2004

Norm quotes an excellent analysis of the Al-Sadr revolt. I say excellent because it echoes (and we all like to be echoed) something I said in the first of my posts on April 5th - that Al-Sadr was a ploy as far as Sistani was concerned, to gain leverage on the US.

This is a post I thought I ought to qualify, since the odd person comes across it in the course of a search. Since I wrote it I know I lot more about the issue, as most of us do in fact. The Darfur conflict is clearly strongly racial in character. The only thing to be said for my argument outlined below is that the Islamic government of Sudan is clearly still involved in the ethnic cleansing of Darfur- and should be held responsible.]

The BBC, Islam, and Sudan. I speak of the troubles in the Darfur region of Sudan. The BBC's approach to Islam is seen in this report on the plight of the population of Darfur as they are hounded out of their dwellings by what the BBC calls the 'Jangaweed' (elsewhere referred to, with more a convincing ring, as the 'Jingaweit'), a 'shadowy group of Arab militiamen'. In an article on, Roger Winter of USAID is quoted describing 'Arab militias, aerial bombardment and a massive pattern of rape.' To be fair to the BBC, their Question and Answer article on the conflict is fairly thorough, but why go to a Q & A when you feel you have a fair impression from the headline article? Except that you don't have a fair impression, and even in the Q & A, what's clear is that the BBC doesn't want you to associate Islam with the Darfur conflict. The merest possibility of a link to Islam is ignored. It's strictly racial.

What the BBC omits to mention is that in Darfur, as formerly elsewhere in the Sudan, 'non-Muslim Africans are being driven from their homes there in a systematic way.'( Moreover, Charles Snyder of the US Government opined recently that they are just 'largely' Arab militia. That would mean that the tribal quality that the BBC ascribes them is questionable, with obvious implications when the BBC tries a naturalised explanation of the situation by saying

'The Janjaweed are pastoral and they have been hard hit by desertification, which has greatly diminished water resources and pasture in Darfur.', and their objective is 'to drive the African tribesmen from their homes and force them to abandon valuable water points and pasture. '

You don't realise unless you read the Q & A that the Jingaweit are not a tribe, but a anti-rebel militia formed by the Sudanese Government. It's hardly consistent with 'aerial bombardment' to suppose that this is just another traditional tribal conflict, but the sentence 'The Jangaweed are pastoral' certainly implies it. However, it's well known that Islam is spreading down from Northern Africa- and that is the background to the Sudanese wars of the last twenty years. In Kenya (where several years ago I happened to live), which borders both Sudan and Somalia, Somalian refugees in Nairobi who became converts to Christianity were sought out by armed gangs of Somali Muslims- and shot. I knew people in fear of their lives. That's not to mention Islamic terrorism: the 1998 bombing of the US embassy, which killed nearly 200 mainly Kenyan people, or the more recent hotel bombing near Mombassa (centre of Islam on the East coast of Africa). What's bizarre is that the BBC's article or their Q & A on Darfur do not once use any of the words 'Islam', 'Muslim' or 'non-Muslim'.

The BBC in this article would like to pretend the Jingaweit are an isolated problem, and, oddly enough, so would the Sudanese government. Charles Snyder, however, says at a US Senate subcommitee meeting that

'We have rejected the government's claim that, while it may have originally supported the Jingaweit, they are now out of its control. These militias are proxies for the government and Khartoum bears responsibility for their conduct, whether they say they have control or not.'

This rather undercuts the BBC account, which explains disingenuously that 'The government has been at pains to disassociate itself from the Janjaweed. It has described the Janjaweed as a gang of criminals.' In other words, it has tried hard to counter the impression of its involvement, assuming it is just an impression. Otherwise, why would it require 'pains' to disassociate? No more guns, no more food, no more air support etc doesn't sound too arduous. Unless the BBC inform us of this real involvement, we are left with the merely notional 'association' (something it requires the Q & A to correct). Not that we have much to go on about the government of Sudan, for its full title of 'National Islamic Front (NLF) Government of Sudan' is not used by the BBC in this article or the Q & A. The BBC is mistaking its role. It should not require us to become experts in reading its materials, sifting report after report to put the jigsaw together. It should inform us of the brute facts.

One other fact worth mentioning: according to the sub-commitee meeting, 'The United Nations now claims that over a million civilians are internally displaced in Darfur, with an estimated 110,000 fleeing to Chad.' According to the BBC 'More than 100,000 refugees have fled western Sudan's Darfur region'. This gives you an indication of the BBC's approach to the Darfur crisis. Postscript: Since I drafted the above, a fresh BBC article has emerged reporting on a ceasefire agreement in the Darfur region. Here they give a fair account of the refugee displacement, but obviously this is tempered by the positive news of the ceasefire. Whether this ceasefire is genuine remains to be seen. What is sure is that the basic facts of the region are juggled around through the BBC's coverage in a way which undermines a potential outcry against the Islamic government in Khartoum and against the undoubted strain of Islam that advocates conflict to spread its creed.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Wisdom and Witlessness. Few British people or even Americans take time to stop and think through the problems faced by Israel. Yes, (Anglo/American) Jewish writers speak out for Israel, but where is the Israelis' Jenny Tonge? Of course, Israel wouldn't want Jenny Tonge if they were offered her, and I don't blame them, but still the point remains. The BBC has screeched on about the building of the wall (through head screecher Orla Guerin) and was just as loud about the extra-judicial killing of Sheikh Yassin. In the light of these things, and the troubles of Ariel Sharon which have been widely reported, I took some time to read this Jerusalem Post article on the art of Sharon's government. It's fascinating, and, unusually for journalism, it's grown up. Many good quotes, but here's a taster:

'balance is determined by an endless dynamic of mutual relations, where everyone has something to say but no one can dictate the solution.'

Going Slow. It being Good Friday an' all, I've been relaxing, and any web stuff is purely recreational. A good time then, to wind down with DumbJon as he winds up the BBC. He's been following the BBC's 'What if?' programmes, which have clearly been entertaining romps down the BBC's wilder neural pathways. This particular programme was about obesity, or 'the growing epidemic of obesity' to give it its formal BBC title. Needless to say, to fill an hour of air-time on a very simple topic required major Government intervention. Indeed,

'government had to intervene because - and here I quote directly from one talking head - 'the slaughter cannot go on'. It says a lot about where the Beeb is at right now that even this didn't trigger the BS warning.'

Seems they still don't realise why they are mockingly referred to as 'Aunty'.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Bias at the Telegraph. See, it's that Andrew Marr- he must have spread the lurgi. Seriously though, I've been anxious about the Telegraph for a long while. I anticipate a certain kind of partisanship, which is still visible in spades on occasions- but the partisanship used to be modest yet consistent. Now the Telegraph swings wildly about, with moods ranging from Daily Mailesque to Touchy-Indy. Sarah Sands , Deputy Editor, today gave an interesting insight into the the DT's current shallow waters:

'The audience of Friday’s Any Questions applauded the panel member who accused the media of whipping up anti-Muslim feeling. Earlier, I had looked at a photograph of Muslims burning the Union flag. It was striking and horrible. But these were 20 people performing for the television cameras among a peaceful crowd of 2,000. I decided against using it on the front page of Saturday’s paper. The News International papers did; the Sun’s headline was “Hate Britain“. The media can sometimes be accurate without being wholly truthful.'

Yes; and sometimes they can be inaccurate and untruthful. While Sands commends her newspaper for political correctness, Michael Morris has these observations from The American Thinker, reflecting on yesterday's reporting of the bomb which hit the wall of a Mosque compound in Fallujah:

'The supposed bombing of the al-Kubaysi Mosque in Fallujah has been misreported with unabashed vigor....The London Times and the Daily Telegraph have also hopped onto the bandwagon of unadulterated media slime...The Thursday morning Daily Telegraph print headline for the same story was:“US aircraft in deadly attack on mosque”. Good going guys: let’s see how many suicide bombers you can activate with your misleading headline.'

Seems like Ms Sands hadn't got her thinking cap on over that one, or something. (btw, in case you wondered, the BBC is not mentioned favourably in despatches by Morris either- read the whole thing).

Death of the American Way? Kim Ghattas of the BBC is somewhat presumptive when she says:

'The growing unrest in Iraq is a source of worry for all Arab countries, but in Damascus there is also some satisfaction at the failure of the American experiment in bringing democracy to the Arab world. '

Well, it's good to know that Arab countries watch out for their neighbours. How much less concerning it must have been for them when Saddam was killing his own people in their tens of thousands.

She also seems a bit lazy, not to say complicit with the status quo in Syria, when she says:

But one year on, if there is anything that Syrians and their government agree about, it is that the American way is not the way to bring about change.

Especially when, without mentioning the continuing detainment of Syrian Kurds, virtually as a footnote to a long article, she adds:

Last month, Kurds in Syria rioted after several were shot by police during a football match. In the following days, more clashes took place and statues of the late president Assad were defaced in the Kurdish areas in the north-east of Syria.

Which all in all amounts to:

1) The Syrians don't want anything to do with America.

2) The Syrians are generally not very unhappy with their boy Assad, and his dictatorial ways.

3) The Kurds don't (as usual) count, as a group or as Syrians.

Why Uncover News when you can use the old stuff? The BBC seems to be stuck in the glory years of the 1980's when they reported on seals being killed, on the Amazon basin under threat, and on Aborigines campaigning for their birth rights. That's why they're reporting seals being killed, the Amazon basin under threat, and Aborigines campaigning for their birth rights.

I suppose each issue deserves a separate hearing, but I am sure these represent a small fraction of the environmental and human issues that are ongoing at the moment. For one example, an unexamined factoid that emerged from a BBC report on Rwanda was that 20, 000 Rwandan genocide suspects were released from prison last year. They had faced no trial, and we do not know how many innocent men may have been locked up for years without trial, or how many murderers have been released serving less than ten years. Big issue, I'd have thought; current news I'd have thought; but nothing about it except the factoid. Yet here we have either bleeding hearts (over seal culls), a complex developmental argument (the Amazon) or the neverending industry of grievances that the Aborigines make out of their secret store of grievances- all reduced to advertising for protest movements. Get a life, BBC. Investigate today's news. Do something to surprise me.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Thoughtful and Informative writing from the BBC- if a little stuffily stuck in an old fashioned anglo-centric perspective. I apologise if I'm a bit one-track at the moment, and I don't believe we need to be fixated on every twist and turn from Iraq (see Mark Steyn below) , but obviously it's not overstating to say this is a crucial period in the coalition's efforts there. It'd be nice to make merry at the BBC's expense, and there were at least half a dozen stories that bore the heavy imprint of their bias today- but I find myself linking to a good one.

More exceptionally informative writing from Zeyad in Baghdad. Not only informative: moving too. Having been amongst my international favourites for a long while, he's now finally in my links as well.

A Revolt? Yes, but in Ramadi, by opportunistic Baathists. That's the likely scenario behind the deaths of twelve US marines. The BBC just calls them 'Iraqi insurgents', and states that Ramadi is part of the 'Sunni Triangle', whereas CNN makes clear the belief that they are part of the Baathist remnants. I guarantee that most British people will not realise that there is not a unified 'Iraqi revolt' but two quite different problems- the Baathists killing more US soldiers (marines, no less) in one engagement than Al-Sadr's revolt has claimed in several days. Al Sadr, meanwhile, calls for a general strike among Iraqis. Sounds almost like he's trying to climb back into the political discourse. On the subject of Al-Sadr- CNN makes clear he is wanted on murder charges; the BBC says his arrest has been ordered on charges 'unrelated to the current violence'. In fact Al-Sadr is suspected of the murder of one of his rivals: that's the kind of spiritual leader he is.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The BBC seems to think there is something catastrophic happening in Iraq (see below post). US Struggles To Quell Iraq Revolt, apparently. It is strange though that in the article linked they don't have a single fresh US casualty to report. I don't ignore the fact that casualties have occurred. I don't discount the fact that coaltion troops have been injured, or even that one Ukrainian died today. It just doesn't sound like the headline, that's all. (do whatever you do, read Steyn's Topical Take in the post below).

Steyn's Line: 'When the media say something catastrophic is happening, it means (drumroll please)

…IT ISN’T!!!'.

That, and other strokes of Topical genius freely available here.

The Slums of Sadr City are said to have quietened now. Andrew Sullivan weighs up the situation, and on balance sees opportunity not failure. It's hardly surprising that a place like Sadr city (formerly, and cruelly, Saddam City) should produce the violence we've seen. These are people who have been living en masse (over two million of them) in a state of deprivation due to their long-time perceived religious 'inferiority' to the ruling Sunnis, and that's not ameliorated overnight. Al-Sadr's faction (probably with the blessing of Iran) has arisen as a militant reflection of that rankling tension, exploiting nationalism and distrust of the Americans. Al-Sadr can't trust democracy (via Neverdock) to give him the power he craves, so this is his means of making an impact and building up his profile. As Zeyad demonstrates by his November post, al- Sadr has been hindering the monumental task of the coalition in Baghad's vast Shia area for quite a while now. If the Coalition can deal with him effectively, that will be a major 'coup-in-reverse' for them.

'They're not an army ...They're a bunch of looters'- the comment of one Iraqi policeman- certainly brings a little perspective to the 'uprising'. I suppose it's been a while since parts of the Shia had that magic rush of looting frenzy, and they've been missing it. The darker reality (apart from the carnage) is that the rhetoric obviously going around about the Shia areas being 'liberated' represents a potential major loss of face for the coalition in the short term. The deaths that have taken place were tragic, regrettable and possibly preventable- and will give a greater pretext for Shia grievances. They also demonstrate that Shia malcontents are serious enough to kill and be killed. It may be an opportunity, but it is also true that repeated failures to move forward peacefully cannot be sustained.

The real test is whether these disturbances prove to be unrepeatable. Some interesting perspective from the Telegraph here and a very fine account of the disturbances from the Washington Post here. Update Samizdata discusses the 'opportunity'. Meanwhile various sources indicate continued fighting in different parts of Iraq. I'm not sure if this is just catching up with events, or new events arising.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Just as I was about to link to a range of articles illustrating 'moments of truth' in political life in the UK, the US and Iraq, I came across this WSJ article via Instapundit. I have to link it, partly because it makes some invaluable points about the proper response to the atrocities at Fallujah, but also because it makes explicit comparison between the events in Fallujah and 'lynchings'- citing occasions in the US in 1930. I hotly objected to the use of this word earlier- mainly because I felt the BBC had slipped it surreptitiously into an article. I still wouldn't see events like Fallujah as comparable to a lynching (implying, I have always thought, a sense of community judgement)- I would call it gratuitous murder and public humiliation- but obviously others do, or wish to.

'Talking Hoarsely' was feeling a bit faint this morning after hearing news of the Shias killing US troops in Baghdad and Najaf. It's something I've feared for a while, ever since I heard of this Al-Sadr guy on Healing Iraq, a pro-coalition Sunni-written blog by Zeyad an Iraqi dentist. When the Shia are the bad guys it's salutory to tune in to a Sunni perspective - especially one who was strongly opposed to the Baathists.

The question for me is just how spontaneous this is, and what it portends. It makes molehills out of many of the lurid headlines that have been run by the BBC and other media- while you are busy swatting flies you are stung by a wasp. Andrew Sullivan echoes my hope that Sistani and the older Shia can isolate and deal with an upstart like Sadr- but that's what I'd been hoping all along, so it's quite late to be starting now. It really is awful that the goodwill towards the coalition for toppling Saddam hasn't neutered the influence of Al Sadr, but Zeyad predicted that Sadr would be trouble. He ended that particular post 'are you listening Mr Bremer?' Uncomfortable stuff.

Politics and death are not far apart in Iraq- and that's a long-term trend. Deaths are rated higher than votes in the battle for political supremacy. Who knows but that this violence might actually be a ploy on the part of the Shia? If Sistani wanted to crush Sadr it seems he has the authority to do so. What better way to increase your leverage with the Americans than not to condemn a situation only you are qualified to resolve? According to the NYT, Sistani 'appeared eager not to distance himself from a cause that had attracted popular support'. True, it's said he hates Al Sadr, but it doesn't sound like real cooperation to me. I always come back to what Mark Steyn, borrowing from Osama Bin Laden, said about 'the strong horse'. You've got to prove that's what you are time and again in a country like Iraq where the young men have madness in their eyes. (According to the Iraqi foreign Minister quoted on the BBC lunchtime news, it's part of the 'expected jockeying for position' ahead of the scheduled transfer of power from the coalition at the end of June. Some 'jockeying', some 'position'.)

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Surely This horse has been well and truly 'lynched' by now by the Beeb? Yawn.

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