Middle East Writings
by Various Writers
FLAMEFacts and Logic about the Middle East World News NetAn eye-opening slant on the news not seen in the US. Editorial desk in Jerusalem. SERUVResistance to further incursions against the Palestinians by members of the Israeli military under Black Flag. Hmmmmm. Keep an open mind. Afghan News NetworkA great little private site which has Afghan news articles in its extensive archives dating back to April 18 ot 2000. "Who Runs America?" The New World Order.This page is thought provoking and is definately part of this whole "Hate the US" problem in that it helps explain why we cowtow to big business. Use his Search function at Joe Nix's site, (a user of http://www.mo-net.com web hosting ISP in Monett, Missouri.) NoWarCollective.comThis site is maintained by Robert Jenson, Professor of Journalism, U. Texas. Many articles and information to make you think carefully about the potential all out war with the MiddleEastern Terrorists. Inside Jihad U: The Education of a Holy WarriorNew York Times Article by columnist Jeffery Goldberg. "In a Pakistani religious school called the Haqqania madrasa, Osama bin Laden is a hero, the Taliban's leaders are famous alums and the next generation of mujahedeen is being militantly groomed." A long article and frightening in its depiction of the Taliban's killer kids. Read the last paragraph first, then go back and read the article slowly. Fuel Air Bombs:how do they work. Click here to see a demo at China Lake in CA. Afghani Links Sitepresented on C-SPAN 10-13-01 (Terry Dougherty-guest) Qur'anExamine the Koran. University of South Carolina. Click on index
to easily look up any subject addressed in the koran as translated by 3 translators.
Who is Osama Bin Laden?Center for Research on Globalization-Canada WOW. A must-read if you want to understand why the peaceniks and protestors worldwide feel as they do about U.S. involvement in the Mid East and why they feel we (Americans) are demons. How we (our CIA...) have used the Golden Crescent Drug Triangle and its drug supply to fund our covert operations to control the Mid-East--largely in our quest for the tremendous supply of untapped oil in the region. Yes, it is long, but it's an extremely informative eye opener on our own (CIA, American Oil Baron, and American Big Business'...) responsibility in causing our demonization in the Mid East.
Ted Rall, a cartoonist and columnist for Universal Press Syndicate and sometimes talk show host, is an extremely insightful writer. His columns dating back to July 1999 can be found at his website at http://www.rall.com. Is Ted a Prophet? As you read through his material from these selected columns concerning the Middle East, you may begin to get a taste of why so many mid-eastern people view the United States as the "Great Satan."
CENTRAL ASIA AT THE BOILING POINT (9-15-99) What Insight Ted had! The End of the Post-Soviet Era? BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- What began a few weeks ago as a bizarre border raid by Islamic fundamentalists in a remote area of what is already the most remote place on Earth, has rapidly escalated into a volatile crisis that threatens to end eight years of entente among the breakaway republics of the former Soviet Union. On Aug. 21 a group of Islamic fundamentalists led by Uzbek rebel Dzhuma Namangani their base in Tajikistan -- a former Soviet republic to the west of China that has been reduced to anarchy and U.N. partition -- and crossed into southern Kyrgyzstan, a nation so dominated by its mountains that it's often called Central Asia's Switzerland. There the gunmen -- estimated by Kyrgyz officials at 600 to 1,000 -- seized about a dozen hostages, four of them Japanese geologists looking for oil. Although six Uzbek mountaineers were released, the number of hostages has been revised upward to include Kyrgyz officials and soldiers being held in six villages ensconced in virtually inaccessible gorges and mountain passes. Two Uzbek jet fighters, called in by the Kyrgyz government to help their ground forces, escalated matters by first bombing Tajikistan by mistake, and then bombing the Kyrgyz village of Kara-Teiit, which is not involved in the crisis. Four people died and 16 were injured in that raid. Kyrgyz officials, understandably enough, have asked the Uzbeks to back off. But Uzbekistan, which views itself as a regional peacekeeper and powerbroker, is furious, and President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan has ordered the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border closed. This is the first time since the Soviet collapse in 1991 that border tensions among the southern breakaway republics (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan) has led to a wholesale collapse of relations. In a region groaning with the largest oil deposits in the world, but where the great mass of people earn $20 to $30 per month, social stability is in short supply. Add the threat of Taliban- and Iran-sponsored Muslim radicals, the open secret that some of these nations still have nukes and the rise of a mafia- run kleptocracy, and the only glue holding these gerrymandered states (Stalin purposefully carved them up so that no ethnic group would ever dominate any republic) is diplomatic stability. As of Monday, the only way to travel between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan was to enter Kazakhstan, which borders both countries to the north, and then cut back south. But as I crossed the border on foot -- neither buses nor the Trans-Caspian Railway are running due to the conflict -- along with a stream of traders, refugees and ordinary citizens trying to conduct business along the old Silk Road, it became clear that Kazakh officials are severely restricting access to both countries. The Uzbek-Kazakh checkpoint at Saryages, normally a sleepy, dusty outpost where a lone border policeman waves vehicles through with the ease of driving from Ohio to Michigan, has become choked with thousands of confused people trying to get home but being shaken down by border policeman on both sides. A six-hour trip became a 20-hour odyssey by taxi, on foot and by bus; I was hit up for bribes ranging from a bunch of grapes (!) to $200 at each of seven checkpoints -- only my journalist credentials got me through, albeit minus the grapes, which weren't seedless anyway. It's difficult to convey the heightened sense of imminent collapse here in Bishkek, especially in a city finally beginning to recover from last year's most recent fiscal freefall, this one caused by a wholesale currency devaluation. The street lights that were broken when I was here in 1997 are still out, but both the traffic signals and the airport are operational again. Just as life seems to offer hope -- meaningful improvements in living standards have been enjoyed by only a few hundred beneficiaries of World Bank loans who stole the cash -- the one thing that people value the most, free movement, has been taken away from them. Here in Kyrgyzstan, cemeteries line the roads in homage to the Kyrgyz's recent history of nomadism. Even if you're dead, you should at least enjoy the sight of people traveling back and forth. You can't confine people like this behind artificial borders for long without asking for trouble. More troubling for America, which props up the "stans'" ex-communist strongmen with CIA cash: We're deeply entrenched both politically and economically in a region that is unviable in both respects. Now that fissures are beginning to appear, it's time to alter America's role in this whole mess. The only problem is, of course: Who the hell knows where Kyrgyzstan is anyway? Originally Published on September-15-1999
OUT FRONT(9-22-99) Notes From a Restless Crucible KASHGAR, XINJIANG AUTONOMOUS REGION, China -- As I walk the sooty streets of this legendary Silk Road trading city, kids approach me and salute, some with a broad smile, others with a serious smirk. "Soldier, American soldier," they say. There're no American military bases here, nor are there likely to be any American troops anytime soon in this outpost of Chinese power near the borders of Taliban- controlled Afghanistan, chaotic Tajikistan, war-torn Kyrgyzstan and the disputed Kashmir Province currently under Pakistani control. But the children are Uyghurs -- ethnic Muslims who consider themselves victims of Chinese occupation -- and they're hoping for American help in creating the newest independent nation, a Muslim-run Turkestan. Religious tracts, weapons and money are being supplied to the Uyghur separatist movement from Iran via Afghanistan, although it is rumored that the real source of the backing is none other than your W-2 forms. "Everyone knows America wants to break up China like it broke up the USSR," explained a vendor at the immense Sunday bazaar here. "That's why they're supporting the separatist movement." Events have heated up lately: In the southern part of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, as Uyghur Western China is called, an oilfield at Donghetany was either severely bombed or merely subjected to light sabotage, depending on who you talk to. Last year, Xinjiangese militants bombed a brick factory in Khotan, resulting in one injury. And earlier this summer, there was a bombing at a government office here. The government has cracked down on the 47 percent Uyghur population here, posting ethnic Han Chinese soldiers throughout Uyghur neighborhoods and placing armed guards in front of previously low-security official buildings. "These activities influence our lives and work, and break the law," said Yao Yongfeng, Kashgar prefecture's Communist Party secretary. "We have increased the degree of the crackdown against violent separatists." Earlier this year, Amnesty International said that China had sentenced 210 Uyghur separatists to death, of which 190 had actually been killed since 1997. Most of the sentences were for subversion or terrorism. In addition, 18 people have been sentenced for up to 15 years in prison for separatist activities. The government has also shut down Koranic schools espousing fundamentalist Islam and searched homes for Muslim religious tracts. Plainclothes police lurk outside mosques, according to locals. The Uyghurs are clearly counting on ancient history and modern realities to converge in their favor. On the one hand, western China, like Tibet, has always been a far- flung outpost of the Chinese empire, separated from Beijing by thousands of miles of barren desert and a mental gap as massive as that between Washington and Guam. With China facing a currency crisis -- for the first time, a brazen black market has developed in U.S. dollars, fueled by nervous Chinese afraid of the imminent collapse of the yuan -- its hold on this eastern slice of Central Asia might slip away as it has from time to time in the past. At the same time, Chinese repression of Islam -- and unlike us Americans, people here really live their religion -- will doubtlessly serve to move moderate Uyghurs to militancy, just as people have already learned in Israel. Since the government can't stand by idly as its facilities are blown up, that oppression will continue, causing an already volatile atmosphere to heat up further. Finally, one has to consider the motives of CIA planners, whose prescription for American domination calls for dismantling the ideological opposition. China is the last communist society in the world, albeit one that permits a free-wheeling small-time capitalism. Wouldn't it make sense to repeat the "success" of a Russia run by druglords and pimps? That's the logic here at the junction between the northern and southern Silk Roads, Islam and atheism, rumor and reality. Not that anyone's going to listen to me, but this doesn't strike me as the smartest place to send the next batch of soldiers. Originally Published on September-22-1999
THE RING OF TRUTH (9-29-99) Dodging Man and Beast in Kashmir THE LINE OF CONTROL NEAR GILGIT, IN THE PAKISTANI SECTOR OF JAMMU AND KASHMIR PROVINCE -- In this part of the world, where no fewer than five nations - - Pakistan, China, India, Afghanistan and Tajikistan -- claim the same patch of territory, danger is the one thing that isn't in short supply. Kashmiris spent the summer dodging shells and hoping that their bus wouldn't get bombed by some sundry militant, as occurred to a busload of saps a few months ago. The sense that this is still a war zone persists (the local ruling party headquarters features a missile mounted on the roof, pointing at the Indians, for one thing), but the gunplay has died down for the year with the advent of the first snowstorms on roads that run from 10,000 to 20,000 feet above sea level. Nonetheless, this remains a perilous place. Buses go out with a soldier riding shotgun -- literally, with a sawed-off piece to deter bandits who control the Karakoram Highway between the hardscrabble towns of Sost and Dasu. A few months ago, a car carrying a couple of Western tourists was flattened by a 5-ton boulder that fell off the side of one of the Pamir mountains. At least they went fast, unlike the driver of a Moskva sedan savaged by a snow leopard near the Chinese border. If the robbers and wild animals don't get you, there's always the periodic flash floods, the ensuing mudslides and the fact that with the spring will come the resumption of mortar fire amid what may be the most dazzling scenery in the world, a seismically volatile place where continents collide, mountain streams race down razor-sharp rocks and a 10- minute drive separates civilizations as ethnically distinct as the English and the Bulgarians. In such a place, it isn't surprising to find officials of such American outfits as the World Bank, UNICEF and similar NGOs (non-governmental organizations, as they're called) busily cruising goat-choked streets in incongruously new, white SUVs with sparkling blue logos. NGOs are the No. 1 reason Americans come to the end of the Earth, and they're busy spreading the message of free-market capitalism to citizens who earn an average of $15 per month in a political limbo zone where nobody's allowed to vote until someone wins a war that's been dragging on since the Brits lost India in 1947. The result is standard Asian capitalism, American-style: You can buy Coke in the most remote areas imaginable, and such low-grade cigarettes as Hollywood and Hero (the box features Sly Stallone circa 1989) are everywhere. The big money goes to corrupt officials in the government, while ordinary people are told that their journey to lung cancer is fueling the engines of commerce that will turn Kashmir into a sort of 51st state while the World Bank tells them to eliminate social protections. "Loans are slavery," I suggested to Abdul, the proprietor of a small store in Gilgit. "The United States should give money to poor countries, no strings attached," I continued. Much to my surprise, he rejected my hand-out plan: "That would make us lazy," he said. "We need help that will help us to get ahead on our own." Wow -- Abdul almost sounds like a Republican! But what kind of help would he like the United States to provide? The answer is quick: infrastructure. In fact, it's pretty hard to get on the Web when phone connections are up only eight hours a day through pulse lines installed by the British Empire. My hotel's phone number was 7, and the unit used a crank. The absence of decent communications means that businesses can't take credit cards, banks can't wire money and people can't keep track of current events that might affect their plans. Computers? The most sophisticated electronic device here is a calculator that talks in Urdu. "Give us some computers, modernize our phone system, show us how to automate mail so that a letter doesn't take months to come from Islamabad -- then we could really do something," Abdul asserts. So much for the laissez-faire approach. The NGO types like big-ticket items such as hydroelectric dams and multimillion- dollar revolving lines of credit because they look good on their resumes, but maybe all the Third World really needs is a clear dial tone. Originally Published on September-29-1999
JOY TO THE AMERICAN-FRIENDLY WORLD (12-22-99) Let's End Sanctions NEW YORK -- Americans attract a lot of attention in Havana. And when I visited Cuba last January, the one question on everybody's lips was about our trade embargo against Castro. "We've been living with 'el blocado' for 40 years," a used-book vendor mused aloud. "What makes you guys think it's going to work now?" We may not have much of an ideology to export to the rest of the world anymore, but we're still its only economic superpower. We possess the might to put the fiscal squeeze on smaller countries, and in keeping with Machiavelli's advice that power unused is power lost, we do it often. Whenever some unruly foreign leader with delusions of sovereignty gets out of hand, we slap the dude with economic sanctions. Under the perverse logic of politics, free trade brings democracy to China, but a total absence of trade has the same result in Iraq. Of course, sanctions have never, ever worked as advertised. Saddam Hussein's poll ratings haven't slipped lately. Moammar Gadhafi seems to be getting along handsomely. Slobodan Milosevic hasn't lost much weight. Iranians still keep lighter fluid right next to their supply of American flags. And the Taliban hasn't eased up on stoning adulterers. Sanctions do, however, often allow violent demagogues to take advantage of the siege mentality created by externally imposed economic hardship to lash out. (Machiavelli again: Never corner your enemy.) Japan bombed Pearl Harbor after a few years of an American naval blockade. Serbian paramilitaries went on an orgy of looting and killing in Kosovo. Libya blew Pan Am Flight 103 out of the sky over Scotland. Blockades, as has been noted often in the past, don't bug the privileged elites whose behavior offends the State Department, but destroy ordinary people struggling to get by in places where life was already hard to begin with. "My sister sells herself to buy medicine for her sick son because of el blocado," a middle-aged man told me in a shabby clothing shop in Havana. "Castro is stronger than ever. Do you really believe you are helping us?" I explained my government's logic: Make the people miserable enough and they'll revolt. "That's what Marx said too," he laughed. In oil-rich, U.N.-embargoed Iraq, an artificially created lack of medical supplies killed 10,295 people in November alone, according to Reuters. This includes 7,234 children under age 5, claimed by diarrhea, pneumonia, breathing problems and malnutrition. In November 1989, prior to the imposition of sanctions, only 258 children died of the same causes. "Our sanctions are sowing seeds of hatred that will one day flower in acts of terrorism against us," Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan told the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Dec. 16. "When Arab terrorists murder Israeli children, we Americans are rightly filled with horror and disgust. But what do Arab peoples think of us when U.S. sanctions bring death to literally thousands of Iraqi children every month?" Having traveled extensively in Muslim countries, I can answer that one: They think we're evil, or stupid, or both. Either way, it's only a matter of time before someone a little brighter than the World Trade Center bombers comes looking for payback. Currently the United States is preventing food, medical supplies and other basic staples of life from entering Afghanistan, Cuba, Haiti, India, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Myanmar, North Korea, Pakistan and Serbia. If you think about it, our political differences with most of these nations are ultimately so trivial that we ought to be engaging them in constructive dialogue rather than subjecting their populations to this passive genocide. But even in cases like Afghanistan, which is run by fundamentalist madmen who have deprived their entire female population of medical care, sanctions are as ineffective as they are immoral. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans will die this winter because the Taliban won't turn over Osama bin Laden to the United States, but those deaths won't get us any closer to our objective. So as you stuff yourself silly this holiday season, please take a moment to remember the thousands of people all over the world who are starving to death or dying of perfectly curable diseases because our popularly elected government wanted to make some long-forgotten point. Pray for them, and pray for yourself, because their brothers and sisters are very, very pissed off. (Ted Rall, a cartoonist and columnist for Universal Press Syndicate, will spend the next two weeks in Israel and Jordan.) Originally Published on December-22-1999
For the month of August, 2000, Ted is touring and writing from: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. WARS START JUST LIKE THIS (8-2-00) The Secret Caspian Sea Oil Rush BAKU, Azerbaijan -- On the other side of the world under a sea surrounded by countries most Americans couldn't spell, let alone identify on a map, the greatest oil and land rush of all time is taking place. It's the best-kept secret in the news; a nasty struggle for empire is under way between the United States and its worst enemies, and our next war will likely take place because of events you've never heard of. Under the waves of the immense Caspian Sea -- it takes 12 hours on a rusted- out ferry to cross this sucker through the skinny part -- are the largest untapped pockets of oil on the planet. That sticky black goo doesn't respect national borders, so the race is on to suck out those billions of barrels (and trillions of dollars) before a neighbor gets there first. Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran all own pieces of the Caspian and the rotted dinosaur parts underneath, and they're all banking on using the resulting oil wealth to upgrade from Third World poverty to First World decadence. Getting the oil out and shipping it to ocean ports accessible to big tankers is fraught with difficulties, not the least of which is that neither the Russians nor the Azeris nor the Kazakhs nor the Turkmen nor even the Iranians have enough money to sink the wells in the right place and build refineries. There are countless political intrigues as well. If the Turkmen run their oil out through Iran, for instance, they risk alienating the United States -- and that's a terrible place to be when you're a puppet dictatorship bought and paid for with CIA cash. On the other hand, the Russians live right next door -- and Vladimir Putin has made it clear that he still considers the "Stans" his to let live ... or not. Under the normative rules of free markets, guys lucky enough to discover enough oil to sink the Saudis might be expected to call their shots. Instead, they're reliant on Western oil companies who keep the vast majority of the resulting profits in exchange for their services. The net result: The average Kazakh earns $20 a month while a tiny coterie of well-connected politicians and oil men collect kickbacks. And while 20 bucks may go a little further in Astana than it does in Amsterdam, 20 bucks doesn't pay anyone's bills. Throughout former Soviet Central Asia, the lure of Caspian oil is feeding the Russian mafia, increasing the gap between rich and poor to spectacular levels, and making radical fundamentalist Islamic movements like the Taliban seem more and more appealing to the vast majority of people left behind. Last fall, a group of several hundred Islamic militants invaded southern Kyrgyzstan from a rebel base in Tajikistan and took a bunch of Japanese oil company geologists hostage. Before the crisis ended, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan were at the brink of war, two villages in Tajikistan had been accidentally bombed and the region erupted into a turmoil that continues today. Nonetheless, the pace of oil company exploitation and its accompanying corruption of government officials had slowed in recent years as the price of oil dropped and transportation costs went up. Money was invested in non-oil-related ventures. Roads that hadn't been maintained since Gorbachev resigned got a fresh coat of asphalt. In a few Central Asian cities, the semblance of an actual economy sprang up -- a month ago, war- torn Tajikistan got its first cybercafe! The irony of societies governed by governments who invest nothing in their citizenry is that national failure leads to broad-based success. Last week, all that changed. A consortium of Western oil companies led by ExxonMobil announced a massive strike in the Kazakh section of the Caspian. It's so big that it's projected to turn the desolate steppe nation of 15 million people into the second-largest oil-producing nation on earth, after Saudi Arabia. Early projections say the Kashagan East well will yield 50 billion barrels of oil; the Saudis' onshore Ghawar field has remaining reserves of 70 billion barrels. The U.S. has already told the Kazakh government that it expects its newfound oil to go through a planned pipeline under the Caspian Sea and then through U.S.-friendly Azerbaijan and Turkey. The Russians, naturally, want the oil to go through their territory. And Iran is vying for a pipeline as well. Whichever party loses will doubtlessly become a very unhappy, vengeful foe. The huge Kazakh find puts enormous pressure on other Caspian nations to hit big on their own or to make some kind of deal with the Kazakhs -- and given the geopolitical witches' brew of totalitarianism and anarchy currently prevailing after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the odds of reaching an accommodation are extremely slim. Finally, let's not forget that the borders of countries like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan were drawn by a brutally cynical Stalin. Far from creating homelands for the steppe tribes for which these countries were named, Joe purposefully split up each ethnic group so that none would be dominant, even in their "own" nations. It wouldn't take long for the Uzbeks to look at their arbitrary borders, just a few hundred miles away from the Caspian Sea, and make the case that they too deserve a piece of the action. This is how wars begin. Originally Published on August-02-2000
THE AMERICAN WAY(8-17-00) When Following the Rules Fails OSH, Kyrgyzstan -- When I visited this stunningly beautiful country three years ago, peoplewere poor but hopeful. As in the rest of Central Asia after the Soviet Union closed shop, wages averaged $20 per month. Unlike neighbors Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, both of which assure their citizens that their natural gas and oil reserves will make them all rich in a matter of a few decades, the Kyrgyz were hoping that their high-altitude mountain thrills - - this is known as the Switzerland of Central Asia -- would draw wealthy, free-spending alpinists, skiers and white-water rafters from around the world. And if that didn't happen? As a hotel manager told me in 1997, "We'll always have our goats and sheep." Even the most hardened city dwellers cling to their nomadic roots; it's not unusual to run a shop for half the year and spend the rest in a yurt high above the tree line, hunting with falcons or golden eagles. Still, the post-Soviet Kyrgyz government decided to engage in what may be the ex-USSR's most aggressively pro-Western policies to convert the old state economy to a 21st century free market. Nowhere else in this region will you find as many Peace Corps volunteers, U.S. Agency for International Development suits or World Trade Organization staffers grooving to Springsteen at the local ex-pat bar. The U.S. and its U.N. affiliates are busily reconstructing the Kyrgyz economy in its image. They're privatizing publicly owned factories, shutting down social programs and lending rather than giving, all in the name of capitalism. Some of the early attempts were laughable: a Jockey store (yes, that Jockey) in downtown Bishkek stood empty while dishy Russian babes in black minis hawked $5,000 suits. Apartment buildings collapsed from neglect while the city's mayor blew thousands on high-tech traffic signals imported 12 time zones away from New York City. Nonetheless, you had to hand it to the Kyrgyz: Anyone with this much self- assurance and good humor had to be admired. It was hard to see how things could work out without natural resources or actual foreign investment besides cigarette billboards, but one could always be hopeful. Barely a few months after their first IMF loan payment came due, the Kyrgyz currency, the som, collapsed. Its value fell some 60 percent during 1998, wiping out savings and investments. Rudimentary businesses closed. You'll have to look elsewhere for that five grand Jockey suit. Sensing weakness, 1,200 Afghan-trained Islamic fundamentalists left their bases in anarchic Tajikistan last September and crossed the border into southern Kyrgyzstan, bound for Uzbekistan, where they planned to seize the Uzbek capital of Tashkent, convert that country to Taliban rule and use its dominant position in Central Asia to topple other governments. Trapped by the Kyrgyz army and bombed by the Uzbek air force for months, the militant troops ultimately withdrew to Tajikistan in return for the release of four Japanese geologists they had taken hostage and a promise not to do it again. Now, a year later, the same guys are back, slaughtering roughly 20 Kyrgyz soldiers a day on the high-altitude roads just east and south of this ethnically tense city. The Uzbeks have closed their borders, the Tajik consul has packed his bags and tourism has dried up as the mountains ring with shell fire. The capital is tired and weedy, the power goes out all the time and the WTO vans have been replaced by U.N. High Commission for Refugees jeeps. The Kyrgyz are poorer than ever, and all those bankers are nowhere to be found. At least they still have their sheep and their goats. Originally Published on August-17-2000
FROM RUSSIA, DEPORTED WITH LOVE (8-23-00) The Moscow Airport Theft Industry MOSCOW -- J.J. Sweeting's airplane took 13 hours to fly from LAX to Moscow's Sheremetyevo 2 airport, and these 13 hours on Aeroflot involved some of the crummiest seats and the lousiest food in contemporary commercial aviation. Add in 11 time zones separating La-La Land and the former capital of the Evil Empire, not to mention the fact that her flight landed in the middle of the night local time and as you'd expect, J.J. was exhausted and severely jet-lagged. Following a series of tiny signs written in Cyrillic, she made her way to a shuttle bus to the old Soviet-era Sheremetyevo 1 airport across town. "Give me your wallet," a Russian customs official demanded in the wee hours of Aug. 9, motioning J.J. to hand it across the counter. The uniformed official (clad in Prada shoes, she later recalled) expertly extracted two hundred-dollar bills, placed them at her side and brusquely motioned J.J. to move along. She got off light. A few feet away, two 30ish French guys were being robbed of $2,000. Not a bad take in a nation with an average income of 20 bucks per month. "Why?" J.J., an elegant manager at a Hollywood management firm, asked her. "Why are you taking my money?" After being ignored, J.J. called for a supervisor. His response: Her money had been taken "for control," whatever that means. Alone, tired, and with a flight to catch, she complied. Then, at a separate passport control desk, another Russian official noticed that she was planning to stay in Moscow for a few days three weeks later. He lifted her visa out of her passport -- Russia, unlike most countries, issues visas on a separate piece of paper -- and dispatched her to her gate. Without proper entry documents, they figured, J.J. couldn't come back and make trouble. Three weeks later, returning from Kyrgyzstan as previously planned, the professional extortionists at the Moscow airport refused to hear her story. They ignored her photocopy of her stolen Russian visa and refused her request to file charges with local police before being deported. "The police may not enter the customs area," an Aeroflot representative said. That's unfortunate for their quotas; Moscow's air hubs may represent the greatest achievement of organized crime in history. What did the U.S. Embassy in Moscow have to say about this? "She should consider herself lucky," a spokesperson told me. "Normally she would be deported back to Kyrgyzstan." Instead, she spent the night locked under armed guard on a specially outfitted second floor of the airport's Novotel, where she showered in the dark to avoid the room's surveillance cameras before being shaken down for yet more cash. By the time she left Russian soil for Los Angeles, she'd been deprived of more than $500, all of it feeding the airport's finely tuned industry of theft. J.J.'s vacation was ruined, but at least she wasn't alone; the Novotel's involuntary guests included an entire planeload of Italians being deported back to Milan after being robbed by Russian customs employees. Corruption at Moscow's airports is so systemic that Americans adopting babies from Russian orphanages are advised to carry $5,000 in extra cash so that it can be stolen by airport personnel. And getting baggage through Moscow is a 50-50 proposition; European airlines tell their passengers that outright theft of suitcases is "usual." If you travel to Moscow, the odds are unacceptably high that you'll be stripped of your possessions and your visa, arrested and deported at your expense, perhaps with no laundry to do when you get home. Curiously, there are no American travel advisories against travel to Moscow. There are, however, harshly worded State Department warnings concerning the Cubans, the Libyans and the Iranians, this despite the fact that officials in Havana, Tripoli and Teheran are generally reputed not to mug or jail American citizens. Why aren't we breaking diplomatic ties and calling for economic sanctions against Russia as well? Our beef with what used to be called "rogue states" has nothing to do with how Castro and Gadhafi treat actual ordinary Americans; it's all about their refusal to open their markets to predatory American corporations. Russia has turned the people's paradise into a debauched pit of anarchic capitalism enforced at gunpoint. It has set big tobacco and the rest of the worst of the West loose on its hapless population. Russian labor is free, its environment available for toxification and its thugs in suits eager to spend their stolen cash on whatever crap pricey retail outlets happen to be pushing at any given time. Who cares if a few travelers get skeletonized faster than a cow fording a piranha-infested stream? Know what's funny? The Soviet Union would never have dared to treat us like this. Originally Published on August-23-2000
TALKING TO THE TALIBAN (8-23-01) It's Time to Get Real on Afghanistan NEW YORK -- The three Taliban guys were going to shoot us, but to hear them tell it, it was our stupid fault. "You knew about our decree," the older soldier, who spoke impeccable English, scolded while fingering his Soviet-made Kalishnikov. "Any Americans, even those with diplomatic passports, will be executed if they enter Taliban-held territory." It was September 1999, a few days before Gen. Pervez Musharraf led a military coup that seized control of Pakistan. When my friend and I had crossed into the Pakistani side of Kashmir from western China a few days early, we'd wondered aloud at the unmanned Pakistani checkpoint. Everything became clear when the three Afghans stopped our bus at a checkpoint -- the new Pakistani regime had thrown open the borders to Kashmir to allow Taliban troops in to fight the Indians -- and separated us two Americans. "This isn't Taliban territory," I argued. My fellow passengers checked their watches; the sooner we got executed, the sooner they'd be on their way. "This is Pakistan. I have a visa for Pakistan. What are you doing here anyway?" "Never mind that. We've been here for days. Surely you read our announcement online in Kashgar." Kashgar, the cultural capital of China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region, was where we'd boarded the bus for Kashmir. "Online? There's no news in Kashgar, and certainly no cybercafe. If we'd known you guys were here, we would never have come ... no offense." "Do not lie. We heard there is going to be a cybercafe in Kashgar." "Maybe, but there isn't one there now." We went back and forth like that, me fighting for our lives with endless rhetoric until ultimately my opponent (NYU, Class of '83, as it turned out) issued his ruling: "I believe you. You may go." Which all goes to show that you CAN have a fruitful discussion with the Taliban. By all accounts, Taliban-run Afghanistan is the greatest threat to global stability today. It harbors camps for Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan guerrillas who spend as much of their time invading neighboring Kyrgyzstan as Uzbekistan. Its men engage in shoot-outs in the capital of Tajikistan. Its alliance with Musharraf's Pakistan has heightened tensions with India. It supports revolutionaries who seek to separate East Turkestan -- Xinjiang -- from China and Chechnya from Russia. Osama bin Laden hangs out there. Even Iran, no slouch in the Islamic purity department itself, considers the Afghans way nutty and out of control. The outside world has isolated the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan for five years. Only three countries maintain diplomatic relations with the Taliban. Although the Taliban hold 95 percent of Afghan territory, the rival Northern Alliance sits in the United Nations. A U.N. trade embargo has helped push an already impoverished nation -- civil war and starvation have pushed its population from 24 million to 18 million over the last decade -- into even greater despair. But like previous embargoes against Cuba and Iraq, this one is accomplishing less than nothing. The simple truth is that the American-led isolation policy makes it impossible even to talk with the Taliban leadership. On Aug. 3 the Taliban arrested 24 people, including two American women, for attempting to convert Afghans to Christianity -- an offense punishable by death. Without consular representation, foreign officials can't even get in to visit them in prison, much less counsel them properly. Earlier this summer the Taliban blew up two ancient Buddha statues in Bamiyan. But why should the Taliban care about criticism from a world that has shown it nothing but contempt? We may not like Afghanistan's government, but it's their country and they can run it any way they want. If such Taliban staples as public stonings and women being barred from employment seem medieval to Western sensibilities, to them our willingness to let ordinary people starve to death over outmoded Cold War policies or to execute them in cold blood by lethal injection seems no less heartless and bizarre. It's up to the Afghans to determine their way of life, and part and parcel of self- determination is to recognize the legitimate rulers of the vast majority of Afghanistan in the United Nations as well as diplomatically. Kindness is usually returned in kind, and as I know from personal experience: The Taliban may be a tough breed, but they're not stupid. (Ted Rall, a syndicated cartoonist and columnist, wrote about his travels on the Karakorum Highway from western China to Kashmir for the now-defunct P.O.V. Magazine.) Originally Published on August-23-2001
THE END OF APARTHEID, REDUX (8-29-01) A Peace Plan for Post-Israeli Palestine DAYTON, Ohio -- The trouble with Israel is that nobody -- least of all the Israelis -- knows what it is. Is it a theocracy or a secular state? Is it a parliamentary democracy or a police state? Is it the military occupation of local Arab lands by ex-pat Europeans or the settlement of peaceful colonists in a previously barren land? Israel is all, and none, of these things. And while it's worth noting that this is what happens when countries are designed by committee, casting blame does nothing to address a grim state of affairs -- a vicious cycle of retribution for grievances both real and imagined. When statesmen and diplomats debate Middle East peace, the elephant in the room is Israel's fundamental founding flaw. On the one hand, it's a Jewish state, its citizenship granted to any Jew regardless of birth nationality. But neither Israel's biggest backer -- that would be us -- nor many of the secular Jews who fought the British during the '40s wished to see an Israel ruled by rabbinical law. Following the example of postwar Europe, Israel became a parliamentary democracy. It's been a demographic war ever since. As the population growth of Palestinian Arabs continues to outpace that of Jewish families, it's obvious that true democracy will lead to Israel joining the Arab world, with Jews living as a beleaguered minority. Successive Israeli governments have employed various means of combating the demographic threat, most notably refusing Arabs living in Lebanese refugee camps the right to return to the homes they fled in 1948. A democracy without equal voting rights is no democracy at all. Similarly, few Jewish Israelis want to convert the place into the Talmud equivalent of Taliban-run Afghanistan. The only way to deradicalize the vast majority of Palestinians is to fully enfranchise them into the current Israeli system. But won't numerically dominant Muslims immediately use their newfound political majority status to oppress Jews? Wouldn't genocide necessarily follow? Not if recent history is any guide. The closest analogy to Israel, a modern second- world state run by an ethnic minority, was apartheid-era South Africa. (It was also Israel's closest military ally.) After decades of political repression, violent acts of terrorism and status as a global pariah, white South Africans got sick of the whole thing and turned over power to Nelson Mandela's African National Congress. White rightists, and not a few foreign observers, warned that South Africa's long-repressed black majority would rise up and murder their former oppressors, but no such thing happened. Most whites remained in the country. They became a minority in parliament, but the socioeconomic order stayed in place: Black people are still poor, white people well-off. To be sure, there have been some isolated incidents of violence and retribution, but nothing close to the wholesale slaughter expected by so many cynics. A truly democratic Israel would likely undergo a similar process. A tiny minority of Jews remembered for extreme right-wing behavior -- settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, for example -- might be well-advised to relocate after the advent of a Palestinian majority government. But for the most part, Arabs are like people anywhere -- they're far more interested in earning a living than waging jihad. The only reason so many are throwing rocks at Israeli troops is because they feel hopelessly disenfranchised under what they consider a form of apartheid. Remove that injustice, and they'll be too busy enjoying their commutes to jobs no longer cut off by army checkpoints to worry about getting even. More to the point, Palestinians know that huge numbers of Jews oppose their government's extremism, just as many whites opposed apartheid in South Africa. It's this common ground that will lay the groundwork for peace in what is today Israel. Of course, there is another alternative. The Israelis could systematically execute and/or deport every single Arab now living within their borders. This would perfectly resolve the battle over demographics. It might not make for such a great democracy, though. Originally Published on August-29-2001
TEAR IT DOWN, AND THEY WILL DIE (9-13-01) The Inevitable Takes the World Trade Center NEW YORK -- Images of iconic edifices flashed on the screen as my civil engineering professor clicked the forward button on his slide projector. The Parthenon. The Eiffel Tower. The Coliseum. The Hoover Dam. The Great Pyramid at Cheops. The World Trade Center. "What do all of these things have in common?" asked my instructor. My first guess was, "They're all man-made," but I'd been in college for two whole years. In college, simple answers are always wrong, so I shut up. A hand shot up a few rows up. "They're all man-made." "Wrong. The common thread" -- a slide of the White House, then of Stonehenge blinked by -- "is that all of these things will eventually fall down." "You mean, over time?" someone asked. "I mean, all of them will fall down. It's inevitable. It might be tomorrow or it might take 10,000 years. But it'll happen. The job of the structural engineer is twofold. First, stave off the inevitable as long as you can. And second, never build anything so big that it will cause big problems when it comes down." He used the Twin Towers as an example. "The World Trade Center ought never have been built," he told us back in September of 1983. "It has magnificent hanging-curtain construction. Its main support piles go 40 floors down into solid bedrock. But it will fall down someday. And when it does, it will kill not only the 40,000 people who work there" -- by 2001 it was 50,000 -- "it will kill countless thousands of people in the buildings and streets around it." I've never looked at those skyscrapers since without considering those words. About a year ago a friend from L.A. and I strolled across the concrete plaza in front of the two buildings. A security guard was hassling two skateboarders; I wonder if he made it home alive yesterday? "They're just so huge," she noted. Not only were those 110 stories incomprehensibly high, each floor was itself massive. Office space in WTC was considered undesirable because the walk from the elevators to individual offices could add 10 minutes to your round-trip commute. The place had its own ZIP code -- 10048 -- and it needed it. "Just consider," my friend remembered me saying, "the mess that these things would make if they ever came down." But New Yorkers considered the World Trade Center indestructible. My wife was describing the suicide attacks on live television via cell phone as I sat on a New Jersey commuter train en route to Philadelphia. I relayed each twist and turn to my fellow passengers. All listened raptly until I reported that Tower One had imploded. "No way!" my traveling companion scolded me. Several people turned away, convinced that I was talking crap. Damage, sure, but total collapse? That was impossible. Any building can become a target, the victim of an accident or an act of God. But building on a grand scale not only escalates the potential death toll, it also makes damage control exponentially more difficult. Ladders can't reach people stranded on the 90th floor. Firemen can't drag heavy equipment up 75 flights of stairs. Everyone knows that extremely tall structures can't be evacuated in the event of an emergency. It's a grim trade-off: In exchange for the bragging rights to a dramatically tall structure, thousands of people tacitly risk their lives every day they show up for work. And if you place that huge edifice in the middle of one of the most densely populated urban centers on the planet, you risk thousands more. It's like my professor said: They all fall down sooner or later. If it hadn't been passenger jets commandeered by terrorists, it would have been something else. September 11 was inevitable. If anything, it could have been even worse -- what if one or both towers had fallen over rather than vertically imploding? And yet, the gap in the skyline is galling. Leaving it blank after the rubble has been carted away would be a concession to mass murderers. World Trade Center ought to be rebuilt, bigger and taller than ever, as a testament to the indomitable American spirit embodied by New York itself. We too often forget that symbolism is important, so let's rebuild this thing. Don't forget, though. Someday, it will fall down. Originally Published on September-13-2001
EIGHTEEN GUYS WHO SHOOK THE WORLD (9-20-01) America Unmasked as a Paper Tiger NEW YORK -- "Power is an illusion," columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote during Watergate. At notime in our lives has that truism been more evident. The demise of the Soviet Union, we know as surely as we can know anything nowadays, left us Americans in charge of the planet. What we never considered was how little it took to bring down our rival superpower: the CIA dumping dollars on the floors of Moscow lavatories to destabilize the ruble. A nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl. Afghanistan. It happened to them. Now it's happening to us. Integral to the shaking fists and the flag-waving hysteria and the funerals -- thousands and thousands more of those to come, by the way -- is a rage born of impotence. Conservatives applaud and liberals deplore our expensive governmental monitoring systems -- what would we have argued about had we known that neither the CIA nor the NSA knew what was going to go down Sept. 11? For what does it profit a country to starve its schools if its fattened Pentagon can't even protect its own headquarters from a terrorist attack? The United States has finally been unmasked as the greatest Potemkin ever conceived --"great magnificent shapes, castles and kingdoms," in Breslin's words. Or to paraphrase Edward G. Robinson's classic diss of Fred MacMurray in "Double Indemnity": We thought we were smart, but we were wrong. We're just a little bigger. Air-traffic controllers realized fairly quickly that those four jets had been hijacked. American Flight 11, out of Boston, took 46 minutes to hit Tower One of the World Trade Center. United Flight 175 struck Tower Two 65 minutes after leaving Boston. Most damning, American Flight 77 was aloft a total of 88 minutes -- nearly an hour and a half-- making it from Washington/Dulles to southern Ohio en route to Los Angeles before turning around. Math: The flight did a 180-degree turn at least 44 minutes away from the Pentagon. Why weren't our F-16s on top of that plane within 10 minutes? Why wasn't it shot down during the next 34 minutes after that? The answer, sheepishly admitted and buried deep amid the assorted tales of horror, was that there is no policy for forcing down a civilian airliner. Unless, of course, there was. The Air Force denies shooting down United Flight 93, which crashed and burned in Shanksville, Pa., the government's silence certifying called- in media stories of heroic passengers rebelling against their captors. Those accounts, however, are cast into doubt by the government's refusal to release the plane's voice cockpit recorder tapes to the public. It's a safe bet, after all, that a bold struggle for control would at least make it out in transcript form. So it's possible that Bush or other officials made a terrible, yet courageous, decision to act; if so, the need to keep it secret provides ample testimony to the aftermath of last year's election-that-never-was: If Bush is the perfect president for this time, he's the empty-headed embodiment of our national cluelessness. America's embarrassment of embarrassments continues apace. CIA superspooks admit that their posse of white Mormons from Utah never learned Pashto or Tajik, Afghanistan's two principal languages. The loss of four planes and a few days of airport closures decimate the biggest airline industry in the world, resonating through the economy in the form of the biggest stock-market crash ever. Half a dozen buildings accounting for less than 1 percent of New York City's office space vanish; the national economy plunges decidedly into recession and beyond. What would we do if we really were at war? How can the richest superpower in the history of mankind have been brought so low by 18 guys? The United States, it turns out, entered the 21st century atop a crumbling house of cards. When the Soviet Union went away, we lost the ideological and economic competition that had kept us sharp after World War II. We became complacent, smug and arrogant. History, Francis Fukuyama told us in 1993, had ended. Global free-market capitalism, epitomized and led by U.S. corporations, represented the pinnacle of achievement of historical evolution. A power vacuum opened in Central Asia. Afghanistan disintegrated into civil war, anarchy and religious madness. Surrounding republics -- Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan -- were sucked into a vortex of instability and anti-Western sentiment fueled by clumsy U.S. attempts to suck all the oil out of the region without paying off any of the locals. This, and America's blank check to Israel, inspired tens of thousands of militant Muslims to their facile conclusion: Sometimes the bull in the china shop won't leave voluntarily. That's when you kill it. Osama and his jihad boys sized us up fairly well. Behind the high-tech metal detectors in our airports were underpaid incompetents. Manning our tactical defenses were dimwitted dolts devoid of imagination. Bolstering our outsized economy was a mountain of debt and an easily spooked securities market. And behind the boast that the World Trade Center could withstand a collision with a jumbo jet was the horrible, awful truth: No amount of bluster can cancel out basic physics. As the cliche goes, we believed our own hype and now we're paying the price. Our close-to-the-bone brand of capitalism turned out to be our economic Achilles' heel. Corporations that fill metal tubes with highly combustible fuel and upper-middle-class citizens and propel them eight miles over the surface of the Earth at high speeds ought to be prepared for an occasional mishap, but they're not -- and neither are insurers who are, after all, in the business of risk appraisal. A week of reduced productivity has ruined crops (no crop dusters during the flight ban) and trashed the economies of states dependent on tourism. This, since George W. Bush and his tax-cutting maniacs have forgotten, is why governments and companies both need savings and surpluses. "It's my money," Republicans like to say, "and I can use it better than the government can." Worst of all, decades of increasing disparity of wealth have made it impossible for ordinary people to help out the only way they really could, by spending discretionary income. Now that we've let them steal all of our money, where are all the jobs rich people are supposed to create? This is the way empires end, with a bang and a whine. (Ted Rall, a syndicated cartoonist for Universal Press Syndicate, is author of Revenge of the Latchkey Kids ,2024 and Search and Destroy.) Originally Published on September-20-2001 Copyright Ted Rall 2001 Please visit Ted's Web site at http://www.rall.com
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