Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Libya, Syria, Bahrain: Journalists Uncooperative; 'the Masses' Worse

There's quite a bit going on in North Africa and the Middle East these days: sometimes to the point of pushing Japan's issues with earthquake and tsunami cleanup out as the lead news item.

I'm in the same position as Will Rogers: "Well, all I know is what I read in the papers." (Will Rogers, New York Times, Sept 30 1923, via The Quotations Page) Except that today, although newspapers are still around, I mostly read online news services. Times have changed a lot since 1923, when "all I know" was written. For that matter, this isn't the world of the '80s. I'll get back to that. (North Africa, the Middle East: What's Going On?)

The folks in Tunisia either started - or were the first in the series of - revolts against well-established, 'stable,' business-as-usual regimes. For what it's worth, I think they've got legitimate grievances. I've discussed that before, somewhat briefly. (March 18, 2011)

By the way, I'm going to discuss one aspect of what's happening in places where cultural roots go back millennia. That's not because I think it's a simple situation. On the other hand, I have (barely) enough time to write about this one facet.

Libya, My Take

Colonel Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi is, I think, having something of a public relations problem these days. Journalists, some of them at least, aren't cooperating. Some reporters have been downright dubious about the colonel's official line: and, what's impressive to me, their editors let the stories through.

In the 'good old days,' foreign leaders could, arguably, count on the journalists of the 'right sort' accepting the party line: and repeating it. I think deliberate, conscious, bias was seldom involved. More often, I hope, the incomplete, one-sided stories were a result of folks in a relatively small, insulated, subculture not recognizing their intellectual and emotional blind spots. (October 21, 2008)

Everybody, I think, has little choice but to see the world from their own viewpoint. Various news services have, in my opinion, shown rather distinct perspectives on Libya's events. Which isn't the same as thinking that 'they're making up' what they're reporting. (March 26, 2011)

Before moving on: is the Libyan colonel's name spelled Qadhafi, Qaddafi, or Gaddafi?

The answer is - yes. I've mentioned the difficulties of transliteration from one alphabet to another before. (February 21, 2011)

Yemen, My Take

There isn't quite so much news about the mess in Yemen, but it's quite real to folks living there - and their neighbors.

On paper, Yemen is a nation. It's been a member of the United Nations since 1947, 1967, and 1990: depending on which version of Yemen you count.

I'm not entirely convinced that the piece of real estate we call "Yemen" is actually a nation, in the traditional sense, which gets me into linguistics, semantics, culture, history, and more topics than I want to handle just now.1

Whatever Yemen is, folks living there are not having a good time. What passes for a central government there either has no control of most of the country, and at-best-marginal influence over what goes on in the capital. Or their government is unreliable on several levels. Maybe both. (November 6, 2010, January 13, 2009, October 28, 2007)

It looks like folks in Yemen have finally had enough, and are trying to swap out the boss for someone who won't do as much damage.

Quite a bit of the Yemen-related news I found focused on the "humanitarian crisis" there. Folks living in Yemen do not seem to be living well just now. Which reminds me of the phrase, "international community." And that's yet another topic.2

Syria, My Take

Syria, today, reminds me a little of the 'banana republics' of my youth. That was when at least part of America's government supported 'stable democracies,' whose presidente was sufficiently Machiavellian to hang on to power. Which gets me into Machiavelli, and yet more topics.3

Back to Syria and 'banana republics.' Back in the '60s, my government's insistence that one warlord was a "president" because his thugs got guns from America; and another was a "dictator" because his didn't was - - - distasteful. I'm still not convinced that it was necessary. Convenient, certainly. And that isn't another topic.

At least one cable/online news network seems to realize that Syria's "president" may not be running an entirely free and 'transparent' government. Examples:
  • Tik Root, American citizen, dropped out of sight in Syria
    • He's a college kid
    • Maybe he just needed a break from studies
      • Or, not
  • "...Mysterious men in black shirts carrying sophisticated weapons terrorized residents..."
    • They're 'foreigners'
      • Officially
      • Who get released as soon as someone turns them over to Syrian police
        • Allegedly
My hat's off to reporters - and editors - who report facts, say how they got the facts - and when they can't confirm what they're told. I admire accuracy: and think that the virtue has gotten to be something of a necessity, at least in parts of the West. And, again, I'll get back to that. (North Africa, the Middle East: What's Going On?)

Bahrain, My Take

Bahrain's interior minister said that his king isn't having folks killed because they follow a particular sort of Islam. I'm inclined to believe him. I think Bahrain's king is having folks who don't like his leadership killed - and that it's incidental that they're mostly not Sunni.

That doesn't mean that I think it's a good idea to try installing loyalty by killing folks who don't cheer loudly enough.

As for the Saudi King sending enforcers to Bahrain: I don't think it's right, in an ethical sense. On the other hand, I think it makes sense, in a sad sort of way. The House of Saud may believe that supporting one of the world's few remaining old-school kings is in their family's interest. And they may be right, at least in the short term.

"Odyssey Dawn"

The Pentagon's name for operations in Libya is "Odyssey Dawn." It's an odd name for something that's being presented as a relatively short mission. On the other hand, I wouldn't call it "Pentagon-crafted nonsense." I am willing to believe that:
"...that there's no hidden meaning behind 'Operation Odyssey Dawn.' It's just the product of the Pentagon's semi-random name-generating system...."
(Danger Room, Wired)
I do think that the name is a wonderfully poor choice, from a marketing point of view. Which is one reason why I'm inclined to believe that the choice of "Operation Odyssey Dawn" really did come from a "semi-random name-generating system," with little-to-no human intervention.

That Wired article explains the system, by the way. In my opinion, it's a good read - and somewhat off-topic for this blog.

North Africa, the Middle East: What's Going On?

There's much more going on in the swath of land from Libya to Yemen, involving countries including Egypt and Iran, and about 11,000 years of history. Since I've run out of time - and you may be running out of patience - I'll cut to the chase.

Gutenberg's movable type didn't start the Reformation, or make otherwise-law-abiding British colonists revolt against King George III. But I think the ability to mass-produce written documents - in large volume and at relatively low cost - made both a whole lot more likely. (February 23, 2011)

On the whole, I think Gutenberg's invention was a good idea. Arguably, movable type helped make literacy practical for more people. That led, I think, to:
  • Ideas spreading
    • Fast
    • Efficiently
    • With less distortion
      • Then there's propaganda
        • It's not a perfect world
  • More folks having access to information storage and retrieval that
    • Didn't rely on the memory of individuals
    • Didn't degrade over time
      • In principle
We don't live in a perfect world. But, on the whole, I'd rather live now than in 1450.

My view of how movable type affected the world is part of why I do not, in general, have a problem with folks having access to 'dangerous' technology: like LP gas, guns, or computers. (June 27, 2008)

Internet-capable cell phones with video cameras, blogs, and Twitter didn't, in my opinion, 'make' folks in Tunisia get fed up with their boss earlier this year. (January 24, 2011) But, like the printing press, Information Age technology made it easier - in some cases, possible - for folks to compare notes. And, eventually, decide that they'd had enough.

Finally, about reporters, editors, and a necessary virtue:

I am very glad to see at least some news services say where they got their facts, which facts they could verify, and which are more opinions or assertions than facts. I also think this is a sort of virtue born of necessity.

Information Age technology, and the social structures that are emerging, make it possible for folks to share what they've noticed with others. Many others. Back in the 'good old days,' a person who'd actually witnessed an event - and noticed that what happened didn't match what was in the papers - could share that discrepancy with neighbors. And that's about it.

Eventually, if the discrepancy was glaring enough - and the right traveler was going in the right direction at the right time - a few other folks would learn about the disconnect between news and fact.

That was then, this is now.

I think it's getting very difficult for a few Yankee gentlemen to decide what 'the Masses' in America should see - and even 'reputable' news services are learning that folks notice when 'the news' isn't quite what really happened. And I've been over this before. (January 7, 2009)

Related posts:
News and views:

Excerpts from recent news and views:


"Intelligence on the rebel forces battling Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has shown "flickers" of al Qaeda or Hezbollah presence but there is still no detailed picture of the emerging opposition, NATO's top operations commander said on Tuesday.

" 'We are examining very closely the content, composition, the personalities, who are the leaders of these opposition forces,' Admiral James Stavridis, NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe and also commander of U.S. European Command, said during testimony at the U.S. Senate.

"Gaddafi's troops on Tuesday reversed the westward charge of rebel forces as world powers met in London more than a week after the United States and other nations launched a military campaign aimed at protecting Libyan civilians.

"While Stavridis said the opposition's leadership appeared to be 'responsible men and women' fighting Gaddafi, he said that 'we have seen flickers in the intelligence of potential al Qaeda, Hezbollah. We've seen different things.'

" 'But at this point I don't have detail sufficient to say there is a significant al Qaeda presence or any other terrorist presence,' he said...."

"Three loud explosions could be heard in Tripoli on Tuesday. It was the first time since the uprising began that such blasts were heard during daylight in the Libyan capitol.

"The three blasts came within about 20 minutes. No anti-aircraft fire could be seen at the time.

"To the east, Libyan forces pounded parts of the city of Misrata on Tuesday, with tanks firing mortar shells and troops using heavy artillery in an effort to retake control of the city, a witness told CNN.

"Coalition planes circled overhead but did not strike the tanks, he said.

"As representatives of numerous countries met in London to decide the next steps in their Libya effort, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi showed no sign of letting up his effort to crush the rebellion that seeks an end to his nearly 42 years in power.

"The day after Gadhafi's regime tried to convince journalists that it was in control of Misrata by taking them on a trip to part of the city -- but not allowing them into the city center -- his troops were killing and wounding civilians and evicting thousands of people from their homes, the witness told CNN...."

"President Barack Obama's defense of limited U.S. military engagement in Libya appears not to have won over many congressional critics of his administration's handling of developments in the northern African nation. The U.S. mission in Libya remains a contentious issue on Capitol Hill.

"The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain of Arizona, says President Obama made a strong case for U.S. intervention in Libya in his speech to the nation late Monday. But, appearing on CBS' Early Show, McCain took issue with the president's assertion that going beyond a no-fly zone in Libya and forcing leader Moammar Gadhafi from power would be a mistake, drawing comparison's with Iraq.

" 'If Gadhafi remains in power, you will see a stalemate, the same kind of thing we saw with [former Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein when we established a no-fly zone, sanctions, etc, and it lasted 10 years. Gadhafi in power will continue to commit acts of terror against his own people. And, of course, he is guilty of war crimes,' he said...."


"Yemen's political crisis deepened on Tuesday as President Ali Abdullah Saleh refused to step down in the face of mounting desertions by his supporters and officials said the government had lost control of six of the country's 18 provinces. Saleh told a meeting today that he would not step down as 95% of the Yemenis backed his call for a unified Yemen and instead it should be his opponents, who should leave the country, Al Arabia channel reported.

"The President's refusal comes as the death toll in the massive blast and fire at an ammunition plant in south Yemen shot up to 150 and transition of power talks remained stalled.

" '95 bodies have been identified and many others were burnt beyond recognition,' Mohsin Salem, a local government official in the Abyan province said, adding that the province where the incident had happened has been seized by the al Qaeda cadres.

"Yemeni official said, in recent days government forces has abandoned their force across the country, including areas where northern rebels have challenged the military and southern provinces where al Qaeda's Arabian branch has maintained sanctuaries.

"The collapse of the authority was acknowledged by the President himself, who told a committee from his political party that 'six of the Yemen's 18 provinces had fallen'.

"Saleh said the country was being ripped apart as he hardened his public stance declaring he would make no more concessions.

"The Yemeni strongman, who has been in power for the last 32 years has moved away from a dialogue with opposition mediated by American diplomats and Saudi Arabia...."
(Hindustan Times)

"A senior UN humanitarian official has expressed concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen as anti-government protests gain momentum in the impoverished Arab nation.

" 'I urge those involved to refrain from excessive violence and ensure the safety of the civilian population,' UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said in a news release issued on Monday.

" 'I am especially concerned about the humanitarian situation in Yemen because, even before the recent protests, the country was facing a humanitarian crisis due to protracted conflict in the north displacing 300,000 people, some of them multiple times, she added.

" 'The recent fighting has again affected hundreds of people that have not recovered from earlier conflict, she further explained...."

"A coalition of global campaign groups on Monday urged the U.N. Human Rights Council to call a special session on what they called a rights crisis in Yemen.

"The coalition, including non-government organisations (NGOs) from sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt, spoke out as Syria, also currently the scene of violent suppression of protesters, set out its case for election to the 47-nation council.

"The NGOs said Yemeni authorities were responsible for 'grave human rights violations, including the right to life' in seeking to quell mass demonstrations against the 32-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

"The situation in the country 'is representative of a pattern of wide-scale violations of fundamental rights and freedoms.... which need to be dealt with urgently by the international community,' they declared.

"New York-based Human Rights Watch and London-based Amnesty International were among signatories of the appeal. Last Friday the council ended a four-week sitting with no discussion of Yemen, Bahrain or Syria despite the violence in all three....


"Tik Root, a Middlebury College student missing in Syria since March 18, might be in the hands of Syrian military intelligence's Branch 235, the Palestine Branch, which is known for its mistreatment of political prisoners, a dissident Syrian blogger says.

"That assertion, which the Root family said it has not been verified, came from Nizar Nayouf, editor of the blog Syria Truth. It comes amid growing attention to the student's plight: The New Yorker has blogged about his disappearance, and New York Times columnist and longtime international reporter Nicholas Kristof tweeted this Monday: “Why is Syria imprisoning Tik Root, an American student?”

"The Syrian blog about Root was published Thursday, six days after Root disappeared. It wrongly described him as a Princeton student, but accurately said he moved to Damascus from Alexandria after the “intifada” began in Egypt to continue his studies in Arabic...."
(March 28, 2011)

"Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must make more progress on political reforms and should meet the needs and aspirations of his citizens, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Tuesday.

" 'We believe President Assad is at a crossroads. He has claimed to be a reformer for over a decade but he has made no substantive progress on political reforms and we urge him to ... address the needs and the aspirations of the Syrian people,' State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

" 'He has claimed the mantle of reform and he has implemented some economic reforms but on the political side he needs to make more progress frankly -- substantive progress," Toner said...."

"Syria's Cabinet resigned Tuesday to help quell a wave of popular fury that erupted more than a week ago and is now threatening President Bashar Assad's 11-year rule in one of the most authoritarian and closed-off nations in the Middle East.

"Assad, whose family has controlled Syria for four decades, is trying to calm the growing dissent with a string of concessions. He is expected to address the nation in the next 24 hours to lift emergency laws in place since 1963 and moving to annul other harsh restrictions on civil liberties and political freedoms.

"More than 60 people have died since March 18 as security forces cracked down on protesters, Human Rights Watch said.

"State TV said Tuesday Assad accepted the resignation of the 32-member Cabinet headed by Naji al-Otari, who has been in place since September 23. The Cabinet will continue running the country's affairs until the formation of a new government.

"The resignations will not affect Assad, who holds the lion's share of power in the authoritarian regime...."

"Syrian security forces flooded the restive cities of Daraa and Latakia on Monday, patrolling the streets, protecting government buildings and in at least one case clashing with protesters, according to witnesses.

"Both cities have been the scene of violent clashes between protesters and security forces in recent days, with at least 37 deaths since last week, according to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

"In Daraa on Monday, forces filed into the city's main square before dawn, tearing down the tents and anti-government signs of about 100 protesters who were staying there overnight, according to one eyewitness. The forces fired shots into the air and turned water cannons on the protesters, the witness said, leading to a clash with hundreds of nearby residents who rushed to the square to defend the demonstrators.

"The resulting confrontation lasted about 30 minutes, reportedly without injuries or arrests, according to the witness.

"Another witness said the army was blocking the city on three sides and that security forces, surrounding government buildings and the Al-Omari mosque where some protesters remained, had opened fire. The witness was not aware of any injuries.

"Syria's state-run news agency said the government denied firing on protesters, calling the allegations 'completely false.'....

"...In Latakia, another eyewitness said mysterious men in black shirts carrying sophisticated weapons terrorized residents overnight, firing into the air and banging on the doors of homes.

" 'We do not understand who these men are but government officials say they are members of a 'foreign group,' the witness said. 'We all think they are lying about this because every time one of them is captured and handed over to the police he is released.'...

"...CNN could not independently confirm the accounts because the Syrian government has yet to grant access to the network.

"Syria is the latest in a string of Arabic-speaking nations beset with discontent over economic and human rights issues. Syria's discontent is centered Daraa, a southern city in the impoverished country's agricultural region, where security forces and anti-government protesters have sporadically clashed for nearly two weeks...."
(CNN World)


"Bahrain's interior minister said on Tuesday security forces had not targeted any sect after recent unrest, rejecting opposition complaints the Sunni-led state has subjected majority Shi'ites to abuse.

"Earlier this month, Bahrain's Sunni rulers, the al-Khalifa family, imposed martial law and called in troops from fellow Sunni-ruled Gulf neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, to quell weeks of pro-democracy protests led mostly by Shi'ites.

"The severity of the crackdown, which banned all public gatherings and spread masked security forces across the city to man checkpoints, stunned Bahraini Shi'ites and sparked criticism from the region's non-Arab Shi'ite power Iran...."

"The UK government spent more than £175,000 chartering two aircraft to help just 18 people escape protests in Bahrain, it has emerged.

"The decision to charter the aircraft was taken after days of violent clashes in the Gulf state's capital, Manama.

"A number of people had been killed as Bahrain's Sunni Muslim rulers called in Saudi troops to help keep order...."

"Bahrain's largest Shi'ite opposition group Wefaq has accepted Kuwait as a mediator with Bahrain's government to end a political crisis gripping the tiny kingdom, a member of Wefaq said on Sunday.

"Bahrain imposed martial law and called in troops from neighboring Sunni-ruled states earlier this month to quell weeks of unrest by mostly Shi'ite protesters.

"Jasim Husain, a member of Wefaq, said Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah had offered to mediate between Bahrain's Sunni al-Khalifa ruling family and Shi'ite opposition groups...."

1 Noting that Yemen may not be a nation isn't a criticism, by the way. I'm not convinced that the United States is, strictly speaking, a nation either. Not the way France, Italy, or Japan are, anyway. Then there are city states like Singapore and Vatican City. More topics. ("Member States of the United Nations," United Nations; CIA World Factbook, "Yemen" (last updated March 23, 2011))
2 The way "international community" is sometimes used gives me the impression that there's a bit of confusion about just what the term means.

In my opinion:
  • "The international community" isn't
    • Human Rights Watch
    • Amnesty International
    • The United Nations
  • "The international community" is
    • Leaders of
      • Governments
      • Multinational organizations
    • The rest of the 6,000,000,000-plus folks currently living
I am also of the firm opinion that none of the above are perfect.

Which doesn't mean that I think that the United Nations is some kind of plot.

I don't think the U. N. is even close to being the sort of 'parliament of man - federation of the world' that Tennyson imagined. But today: it's what we have to work with. (A Catholic Citizen in America (March 22, 2011)) I don't have all that sunny an attitude toward the United States Congress, either, and that's almost another topic.
3 Machiavelli, by the way, advocated a "strong central government." (Princeton's WordNet) "Machiavellianism" can be defined as:
  • "the political doctrine of Machiavelli: any means (however unscrupulous) can be used by a ruler in order to create and maintain his autocratic government"
    (Princeton's WordNet, again)
Do I think that 'the end justifies the means?' No. Do I think that we need some sort of government? Do my opinions involve the assumption that an objective reality exists; and that a few things are, simply, wrong? Yes. (A Catholic Citizen in America (March 12, 2011, August 30, 2010))


Brigid said...

Missing a word: "the journalists of 'right sort' accepting the party line"

Too many hyphens: "and at-best-marginal influence over"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian H. Gill said...


Missing word? Fixed it, thanks!

Too many hyphens? A CDO (OCD in alphabetical order) editor would probably agree. I intended the term to be read as a single word - which isn't in the dictionaries.


Even so, thanks!

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.