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Israeli Squatters Sabotage Palestinian Wells in Jordan Valley

October 21st, 2014 No comments

JERICHO (Ma’an) — Dozens of Israeli settlers damaged wells belonging to Palestinians in the Khirbet Samra area of the Jordan Valley, a local official said Wednesday.

Aref Daraghma, the head of a local village council, told Ma’an that dozens of Israeli settlers who gathered to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Sukkot damaged more than seven wells in the al-Malah area of Khirbet Samra.

The covers of the wells were damaged, and parts of some of the wells were “destroyed,” Daraghma said.

He said the settlers’ actions were meant to pressure Palestinian residents to leave the area.

The Jordan Valley is within the 61 percent of the occupied West Bank it is under full Israeli military control as “Area C.”

Area C comprises the only contiguous piece of land connecting 227 Palestinian residential communities in areas A and B as well as about 150,000 Palestinian residents.

More than 500,000 Israeli settlers live in settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in contravention of international law.

Every year there are dozens of attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians and their property in the occupied West Bank, but such crimes are rarely prosecuted by Israeli authorities.

Mirrored from Ma’an News Agency


Press TV from last winter: “A new UN report reveals the extent of Israeli settlers’ violence against Palestinians ”

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Iraqi Sunnis to ISIL, US Coalition: A Pox on Both your Houses

October 21st, 2014 No comments

Sunni Muslim Militias Decide They Won’t Fight With IS – or The US Alliance

By Mustafa Habib | Baghdad | via

It is clear to both the current Iraqi government, to the US government and to international and local analysts and observers that it is going to take more than aerial bombardment to weed members of the Sunni Muslim extremist group, the Islamic State, out of Iraq.

In order to definitively defeat the Islamic State, or IS, group, they need moderate Sunni Muslims in Iraq to support their fight against IS – often because they are the ones living inside the cities controlled by the IS group.

Attempts were recently made to convince moderate Sunni Muslims, and their armed factions, to join the fight against the IS group during negotiations held in Amman, Jordan, and in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Unfortunately these negotiations were mostly unsuccessful.

A source at the US embassy in Baghdad told NIQASH that there had been secret negotiations taking place between various Sunni Muslim armed factions, via Arab and Iraqi Kurdish intermediaries, for the past three months. At the request of US diplomats and military personnel, officials from the Iraqi government have been meeting with the leaders of these groups in Erbil and Amman.

US military man, General John Allen – officially the US’ Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter IS – had been trying to contact the tribal factions and leaders who were his friends and allies when he was a soldier in Anbar, the source said. Allen was also the brains behind Iraq’s “Awakening Movement”, a group of Sunni Muslim fighters, funded and formed by the US government, to get Al Qaeda out of their hometowns, post 2003.


But it was surprising,” the source said. “Most of them [General Allen's former allies] refused to cooperate with us. And some of them are actually now living outside of Iraq because of the previous Iraqi government’s policies.”

There are six of what might be considered more or less moderate Sunni Muslim armed factions – and it should be noted that some are only moderate in comparison with the IS group – in Iraq’s Sunni Muslim-majority regions. These are the Islamic Army in Iraq, the Mujahideen Army or Jaysh al-Mujahideen, the Jaysh al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia militia also known as the Naqshbandi Army, the 1920s Revolution Brigades, Ansar al-Islam and the biggest of these groups, the Military Council of Iraqi Tribal Revolutionaries.


When the IS group took control of certain Sunni Muslim-majority areas in Iraq, long running disputes with, and locals’ anger towards, the Shiite Muslim-led government in Baghdad meant that at first, the IS fighters were welcomed. Many locals in these areas saw them as liberators from the Iraqi army – which was heavily Shiite Muslim and which Sunni locals had accused of treating them unfairly, beating, imprisoning and arresting them – and basically “occupying” the Sunni-majority areas.

For both the locals, the various Sunni Muslim armed factions and the IS group, there was a common enemy: the government in Baghdad.

After several months in charge though, the IS leadership started making demands of the other Sunni Muslim groups, who had helped them seize control of some of the Iraqi cities: pledge allegiance to us or be considered an enemy. Many of the Sunni Muslim militias refused to do this – perhaps partially because, there were some major ideological differences.

For example, the Naqshbandi Army is led by former military officers who served under Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and who most likely subscribed to the nationalist, Arabist, secular doctrine of Hussein’s Baath political party. They were the opposites of those most likely to impose Sharia, or religious, law.

At this stage conflict began to arise between the IS group and some of their alleged allies. Members of the militias have staged assassinations of IS fighters in Anbar province, in Mosul and in Kirkuk. The IS group recognised the danger and cracked down hard on dissent, arresting some of the Sunni militias’ senior leaders in places like Hawija.

But defeating the IS group is going to be impossible without the support of more moderate Sunni Muslim factions,” Rashid al-Samarrai, a local security expert told NIQASH. “These factions have excellent relationships with the general population, their members are well trained and they know far more about the movements of IS fighters than the Iraqi government or the international alliance.”

However there are problems – these Sunni Muslim groups don’t have the weaponry to tackle the IS group by themselves. At the same time they are fearful about cooperating with the new government in Baghdad. Again it is led by a mostly Shiite Muslim coalition and a Shiite Muslim Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, and they fear that history will repeat itself and the government will betray them, in the same way it betrayed members of the aforementioned Awakening movement, which General Allen helped create.

Although the Awakening troops were supposed to be incorporated into the Iraqi army proper, this never really happened and the former fighters were left unpaid and in limbo.


The leaders of these kinds of Sunni Muslim factions have been avoiding public exposure, shying away from official media appearances. But if one knows who they are, their movements can be seen online, on social media like Facebook and other websites. Usually they write that they are against murder and random violence and that they oppose the IS group.

One of the leaders from the 1920s Revolution Brigades says that the various Sunni Muslim militias hold meetings to coordinate their activities and their positions. “The latest decision was not to support the international alliance against the IS group. But they also decided not to cooperate with IS either,” Mohammed al-Sawbaei, a senior member of the 1920s Revolution Brigades, told NIQASH. “If the army or the militias attack the areas they control though, they will fight both groups.”

The most strategic areas controlled by Sunni Muslim militias border on Baghdad to the north, west and south. While the Sunni Muslim militias say they are only acting in a defensive role at the moment, the IS group is certainly attacking the Iraqi army and Shiite Muslim militias in those areas.

We are against the acts of the hardline Islamic State. And we are also against bombed cars exploding randomly in Baghdad,” Abu Samir al-Jumaili, one of the Mujahideen Army’s leaders in the Anbar province, told NIQASH. “However we are also opposed to the government’s sectarian policies against Sunnis.”

Al-Jumaili explained that groups like his are trapped between two difficult choices: support the IS group, or support the Shiite-led government. Which is why groups like his are remaining relatively quiet and staying as neutral as they can.

Our Sunni cities have been destroyed because of the IS group and because of the government,” al-Jumaili said. “We want to rebuild them and our lives but this is complicated. In 2006 we cooperated with the government to expel Al Qaeda from Sunni cities but the government did not keep its end of the bargain. They chased our leaders and arrested us. However the issue of allying ourselves with the IS group is out of the question too, as we are all opposed to them.”

The government should withdraw Shiite Muslim militias from our [Sunni Muslim] cities, stop its random shelling of innocent people, compensate people for the damage done to them, bring the displaced people back to their cities and withdraw its army outside Sunni cities,” al-Sawbaei presents his admittedly difficult wish list for joining an anti-IS alliance.

The new government in Baghdad has tried to meet some of these conditions – but it has found it difficult to carry out promises like stopping shelling of civilian areas (these were halted, then resumed) and to force Shiite Muslim militias to withdraw from Sunni Muslim areas (the militias are not under government orders). This has left a bad impression on Sunni Muslim militias who feel they cannot trust the government, al-Sawbaei notes.

The IS group are terrorists but so are the Shiite Muslim militias,” he told NIQASH. “Yet the government wants us to support these militias against the IS group. That’s illogical. Realities on the ground mean that Sunnis end up supporting Sunnis – which is what the IS group is – and fighting against Shiite factions.”

Sunni Muslim areas have become battlegrounds, the two militia leaders, al-Sawbaei and al-Jumaili, say. Thousands have been displaced and buildings have become rubble. And as they see it currently, there seems to be no solution to this ongoing disaster. So they are looking after their own and remaining neutral.

Mirrored from


Related video added by Juan Cole

Iraq: Shia & Sunni divisions – BBC News

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“Don’t Send these Climate Denying Poll-Cats back to Congress: Send them back to Science Class” – Jesse Ventura

October 21st, 2014 No comments

Jesse Ventura “Off The Grid”

“Don’t send these Poll-cats back to Congress. Send them back to science class!” Today, Jesse Ventura runs down three of the top Washington republicans, who are screwing up our planet with their anti-science views. Who will make the list? Watch #OffTheGrid today to find out! Got a question for the Governor?

Jesse Ventura: Top 3 Climate Change Deniers Up for Re-election | Jesse Ventura Off The Grid – Ora TV

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Is Saudi Arabia (Indirectly) Signaling Approval of South Yemen Secession?

October 21st, 2014 No comments

Since the Huthi (or Houthi) Zaydi movement took control of Sana‘a’, they have moved stedily to occupy much of what was one (before 1990) North Yemen, recently taking the port city of Hodeida and other Sunni areas.

As a result, the separatist movemnt in what was once South Yemen, al-Harik al-Jnubi (“the Southern Movement,” but usually just called Harik) has been pressing for a separation. On October 14 (the date South Yemen launched its struggle against British rule in 1963) the movement held a big rally in Aden, demanding separation by November 30, the date former South Yemen won independence in 1967.

Many will recall that four years after unificatin in 1990, the former South Yemen ruling party, the once Marxist-Leninist Yemeni Socialist Partty, launched an earlier attempt at independence, resulting in a civil war that saw the rebels defeated. At that time, and despite the Marxist credentials of the YSP, the northerners claimed Saudi Arabia was arming the northerners, mostly via more conservative tribal leaders.

Saudi Arabia considers the Huthis as surrogates of Iran, so it is hardly delighted to see their ascendancy inthe North. Now it may be sending a subtle signal that it would not oppose the secessin of the South.

Last Friday, the London-based Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat ran a column by Abdulrahman Al-Rashed called “The end of a Unified Yemen.” The Arabic original is here. The same day the article ran in English on the Al-Arabiya website;   though based in Dubai, Al-Arabiya is Saudi-owned. And the next day Asharq al-Awsat’s English website ran the English version. 

Now as it happens Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former Editor of Asharq al-Awsat, and the current General Manager of Al-Arabiya. Both positions assure that he is well-connected within the Saudi establishment, and the article specifically quotes a conversation with the late Prince Nayef, then Interior Minister, before Yemeni unification in 1990. (Nayef was Crown Prince at the time of his death.) So the article surely represents Saudi government thinking.

That said, it spends most of its time lamenting the prospect of Yemeni disunion and insisting the Saudis support a single Yemen. But it shifts to a sense of resignation that disunion may be inevitable; it concludes with:

In the event that the Yemeni government is pronounced dead, or if it collapses within the next few months but no such announcement is made, we will no doubt witness the South announcing its own independent state and the inevitable end of a unified Yemen. Yemen would thus begin a new chapter in its history. However, this history will almost certainly be just as rife with domestic disputes and foreign interference, while the biggest victims will be the Yemeni people who have yet to express an opinion over this putative division.

I think it worth considering this as a subtle, and with classic Saudi indirection, signal to Hirak that the Kingdom would not oppose a South Yemeni declaration of independence.
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British Eccentrics in the Middle East: Umm Seti, Egyptologist and Reincarnation of a Priestess of Isis

October 20th, 2014 No comments
Umm Seti in old age

During the pre-colonial and colonial periods, many Europeans who spent their lives in the Middle East displayed a certain amount of eccentricity. Sometimes this could reach a point verging on madness, as we saw in our series last summer on Lady Hester Stanhope, or steeped in fantasy like some pyramid cultists; often it was a quirky personal eccentricity, as with Gordon of Khartoum or T.E. Lawrence, who were functionally productive despite their quirks.

In the latter category falls Dorothy Louise Eady (1904-1981). Better known as Umm Seti (Omm Sety, etc.), she made serious contributions to Egyptology, was longtime Keeper of the Temple of Seti I at Abydos, a writer and draughtswoman who assisted a number of prominent archaeologists in their work, published contributions in her own right, and devoted her life to the study of Ancient Egypt and the survival of ancient folkloric practices in the modern Egyptian countryside.. But she also held  nearly lifelong conviction that she was a reincarnation of a priestess of Isis named Bentreshyt from the reign of the XIXth Dynasty Pharaoh Seti I (ca. 1290-1279 BC). She believed that she had been impregnated by the Pharaoh, was told by the high priests that Isis would not forgive her for violating her vow of virginity, and committed suicide, being reborn in the early 20th Century as Dorothy Eady.

After a fall downstairs at the age of three, she had become difficult with her parents and teachers, but on visiting museums claimed to recognize familiar scene in pictures of Ancient Egyptian temples. After some time in and out of sanitariums she moved to Egypt and married an Egyptian, becoming immersed in her study of Ancient Egypt. She named her son Sety, so the title of Umm Seti or Omm Sety was earned. Despite the Muslim prohibition of all forms of paganism, she was tolerated despite being the only known person in Egypt purporting to believe in the old religion, and her offering of gifts and prayers to Isis and Osiris on key feast days.

Umm Seti

Many found her fascinating; believers in reincarnation considered her case as prima facie evidence, while many skeptics nonetheless saw her as making genuine contributions to Egyptology. Much of the online material and many of the YouTube videos relating to her are from paranormal, fringe science, or similar sites.  You can read more or see more video at those sites, but the Wikipedia page actually gives you the basics.

And while skeptics of reincarnation, of whom I count myself as one, may dismiss her explanation for her fascination with Ancient Egypt, she learned hieroglyphics and spent a life preserving and interpreting the sites, particularly the Abydos temple. Bentreshyt may be a figment of her delusions, but Dorothy Eady made a genuine if amateur (assuming you discount her claimed memories) contribution to Egyptology.

Sadly, a 1980-81 BBC documentary on her is unavailable online, though I think this may be  clip from it:

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"Jadaliyya’s Top 50"

October 20th, 2014 No comments

The essential Middle East Studies web magazine Jadaliyya, which provides decent scholarship as well as journalism and is multilingual, recently marked its fourth anniversary and, while I’m a week and a half late with this link, offered a list of  “Jadaliyya’s Top 50 of All Time,” a fine “best of” list and if, somehow, you know my blog but not Jadaliyya, which I suspect is uncommon, a fine introduction.

Yes, number one is Maya Mikdashi’s 2011 piece on Aliaa Elmahdy. perhaps though the finest feminist take on that particular subject, and about seven of the top ten relate to sex or gender, but that’s not Jadaliyya, that’s the Internet. My audience isn’t as big as theirs, but I have the same problem. Sex sells.

If you don’t read Jadaliyya regularly, it’s time to start. And start with these 50 articles. A few are in Arabic but most are in English.
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If Baghdad & the Kurds are allied against ISIL, why is Baghdad Starving Kurdistan of Money?

October 20th, 2014 No comments

From a blogger in the region:

Following international media reporting, it is easy to think about war only in terms of uniforms, boots and steel. But the war against the Islamic state has a different face in Iraq. Contrary to the popular game where scissor beats paper, paper will be the biggest threat to the steel of scissors of both Iraqi and Kurdish defenses. Money is scarce. And the longer this dry period continues, the more it will become the first piece of domino to fall and set a landmine in motion.

Since the beginning of this year, Baghdad has not paid the Kurdistan region the constitutionally fixed 17% of the federal budget due to a dispute over arguably vague regulations on oil sales in the same constitution and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) stretching its definition of these terms by establishing final realities on the ground. I am referring to the transformation of an already existing oil smuggling route to Turkey into a solely Kurdistan pipeline to Turkey without Baghdad’s approval.

Since this first financial freeze, the Kurdish regional government has been using up its reserves and has so far not been able to pay employees for four month. In a country where an estimated 60-70% are employed by the public sector, that is a problem. Yet, it seems that Iraq’s non-existing banking system comes with an advantage in this situation. As people get paid in cash, people tend to stack the cash up out of habit. Plus, being used to a more flexible interpretation of the phrase ‘being paid by the end of the month’, people have prepared for the worst case already ahead of time – in the old fashioned way by literally saving money in the mattresses and buying women gold jewelry as a last resort investment. And now the mattresses are becoming thinner and gold is being sold again on the markets but the discussions with Baghdad are still ongoing and in the meantime there is no money flowing. The really bad news on top of it is that there seems to be no end to the debates in sight. Not even the official deadline to the negotiations seems to have any relevance in these disputes. Instead, the whole scene resembles more of a poker game to test how far the nerves of the partner can be stretched by bluffing until the first chicken budges rather than it being about finding actual solutions.

In the meantime, the Kurdish region is literally draining money. As I hear, even big companies can get only 10.000 dollar a day from the few banks around, western unions and other money wiring institutions are closed more often than not, and in order to buy internationally cash has to be sent to turkey by carrier to be banked from there. Outside of businesses it gets even more irritating: there is no money for electricity, for water, for rent, for food, for nothing – and yet, fascinatingly enough, things still seem to work. But the appearance of normality is just a cover to the ticking time bomb that actually lies beneath it.
And winter is coming.

In a position like that, I guess it is actually lucky that most fighters on the Kurdish front lines are not professional soldiers: they are not there for the money or career but out of belief to risk their lives for the defense of their nation and the glory of their family. Because, if they were soldiers of profession and actually working on payment alone, the Islamic state would have an easy walk into the rest of Iraq with a smile on their face and some checks in their hand.

A cold wind from the west
The conflict has recently been praised for accomplishing something that a hundred years of national struggle was not able to do: to put the Kurdish issue to international attention. However, there is a side effect that comes with this cure. The attention to the Kurdish area made ‘Kurdistan’ more a part of Iraq than before – at least in the security considerations. While always a part of Iraq officially, the fighting argument for any international business to work in the KRG even as Iraq was unstable was that ‘this is Kurdistan, not Iraq’. And Kurdistan is different! They have different visa laws and regulations in combination with a relatively secular population, a relatively connected infrastructure, and a relatively functioning system of ‘how to do’ bureaucracy and business – at least relative to the rest Iraq. And they also have a significantly higher level of security than the rest of Iraq. But now, with all the attention – and the additional attention, and obvious confusion, of international observers by hearing and talking about Kurds in Iraq and Kurds in Syria and Kurds in turkey only adds to a less refined understanding of their differences and to a more general suspicion against all of it. I have even seen maps circulating where cities in Iraq and Syria where confused as to which belongs where – a sign to having reached a last station of confusion to the issue that is split between at least three countries, six Kurdish parties, and four Kurdish regions.
But more than just confusing people, the increased attention has lead to a higher security alert for anything relating to the word ‘Kurd’, no matter whether it ends in -is tan or -is. And this higher level of security in turn leads to less foreign companies retiring and hence even less money coming into the country, enforcing the already existing cold breeze by a freezing wind from the west.

And winter is coming.
More than holding up as a metaphor for the financial deadlock in Iraq and the Kurdish region, winter is also a hard truth that will soon hit the region and trigger another ticking bomb: the humanitarian situation. Around 20% of the KRG population is refugees. They come from Syria, from Mosul, from sinjar. Some have been in the KRG for two or three years, others have just arrived. And people are still pouring in. the local Kurdish population is very receptive to the refugees as most of them have been refugees themselves during the times of saddam Hussein. But what started as a warm welcome has turned into a minimal acceptance now. Due to refugees hiding out in local schools, hundreds of children have been suspended from school. What sounds like every student’s dream is a disaster in a country that is not particularly known for its good education. Not only is a bigger portion of the population less literate, the teachers do not have a job either. With the teachers not being paid, an entire area of consumers falls from the market, which triggers other people to lose their jobs on that effect and so forth. And that comes in addition to the streets being filled with begging and mourning people.

A friend of mine recently said that the best solution to the problem is for people to go home. What sounds like a radical statement at first is probably the only true solution to the issue. Winters in the mountains are cold and wet. The houses and tents refugees live in hardly have walls around them. Many people will get ill and there is neither money nor doctors to treat them. And all the international help for the refugees is creating is a resentment from the local population for them being overlooked entirely in the process. Therefore, coming back to my friend, being able to send a large portion of the refugees back to their homes, will take a huge load off likely misery and potential tension from the situation and hence could be the way to defuse the bomb. Unfortunately, people cannot return home until a trustworthy security and stability returns in at least Sinjar, Mosul and Kobane. With the limited capacities in the region, however, it is likely that winter will hit the region before the international training of local Kurdistan paramilitary, the Peshmerga, will ever yield the fruits necessary to establish and hold the security for people to return to their homes. Instead, the fruits will have to wait until spring.

So, dear reader, if you want to hear it or not, I am afraid, the worst is yet to come. Let’s hope for a mild winter.

Mirrored from Noiredotme


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit: “Iraq’s Kurdish Region Has Supplied Military Aid To Kurds In Kobani: Iraqi Kurdish Official”

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Edward Snowden and the Golden Age of Spying: Interview with Laura Poitras

October 20th, 2014 No comments

By Tom Engelhardt and Laura Poitras via

Here’s a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! stat from our new age of national security. How many Americans have security clearances? The answer: 5.1 million, a figure that reflects the explosive growth of the national security state in the post-9/11 era. Imagine the kind of system needed just to vet that many people for access to our secret world (to the tune of billions of dollars). We’re talking here about the total population of Norway and significantly more people than you can find in Costa Rica, Ireland, or New Zealand. And yet it’s only about 1.6% of the American population, while on ever more matters, the unvetted 98.4% of us are meant to be left in the dark.

For our own safety, of course. That goes without saying.

All of this offers a new definition of democracy in which we, the people, are to know only what the national security state cares to tell us.  Under this system, ignorance is the necessary, legally enforced prerequisite for feeling protected.  In this sense, it is telling that the only crime for which those inside the national security state can be held accountable in post-9/11 Washington is not potential perjury before Congress, or the destruction of evidence of a crime, or torture, or kidnapping, or assassination, or the deaths of prisoners in an extralegal prison system, but whistleblowing; that is, telling the American people something about what their government is actually doing.  And that crime, and only that crime, has been prosecuted to the full extent of the law (and beyond) with a vigor unmatched in American history.  To offer a single example, the only American to go to jail for the CIA’s Bush-era torture program was John Kiriakou, a CIA whistleblower who revealed the name of an agent involved in the program to a reporter.

In these years, as power drained from Congress, an increasingly imperial White House has launched various wars (redefined by its lawyers as anything but), as well as a global assassination campaign in which the White House has its own “kill list” and the president himself decides on global hits.  Then, without regard for national sovereignty or the fact that someone is an American citizen (and upon the secret invocation of legal mumbo-jumbo), the drones are sent off to do the necessary killing.

And yet that doesn’t mean that we, the people, know nothing.  Against increasing odds, there has been some fine reporting in the mainstream media by the likes of James Risen and Barton Gellman on the security state’s post-legal activities and above all, despite the Obama administration’s regular use of the World War I era Espionage Act, whistleblowers have stepped forward from within the government to offer us sometimes staggering amounts of information about the system that has been set up in our name but without our knowledge.

Among them, one young man, whose name is now known worldwide, stands out.  In June of last year, thanks to journalist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras, Edward Snowden, a contractor for the NSA and previously the CIA, stepped into our lives from a hotel room in Hong Kong.  With a treasure trove of documents that are still being released, he changed the way just about all of us view our world.  He has been charged under the Espionage Act.  If indeed he was a “spy,” then the spying he did was for us, for the American people and for the world.  What he revealed to a stunned planet was a global surveillance state whose reach and ambitions were unique, a system based on a single premise: that privacy was no more and that no one was, in theory (and to a remarkable extent in practice), unsurveillable.

Its builders imagined only one exemption: themselves.  This was undoubtedly at least part of the reason why, when Snowden let us peek in on them, they reacted with such over-the-top venom.  Whatever they felt at a policy level, it’s clear that they also felt violated, something that, as far as we can tell, left them with no empathy whatsoever for the rest of us.  One thing that Snowden proved, however, was that the system they built was ready-made for blowback.

Sixteen months after his NSA documents began to be released by the Guardian and the Washington Post, I think it may be possible to speak of the Snowden Era.  And now, a remarkable new film, Citizenfour, which had its premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 10th and will open in select theaters nationwide on October 24th, offers us a window into just how it all happened.  It is already being mentioned as a possible Oscar winner.

Director Laura Poitras, like reporter Glenn Greenwald, is now known almost as widely as Snowden himself, for helping facilitate his entry into the world.  Her new film, the last in a trilogy she’s completed (the previous two being My Country, My Country on the Iraq War and The Oath on Guantanamo), takes you back to June 2013 and locks you in that Hong Kong hotel room with Snowden, Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian, and Poitras herself for eight days that changed the world.  It’s a riveting, surprisingly unclaustrophic, and unforgettable experience.

Before that moment, we were quite literally in the dark.  After it, we have a better sense, at least, of the nature of the darkness that envelops us. Having seen her film in a packed house at the New York Film Festival, I sat down with Poitras in a tiny conference room at the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City to discuss just how our world has changed and her part in it.

Tom Engelhardt: Could you start by laying out briefly what you think we’ve learned from Edward Snowden about how our world really works?

Laura Poitras: The most striking thing Snowden has revealed is the depth of what the NSA and the Five Eyes countries [Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, and the U.S.] are doing, their hunger for all data, for total bulk dragnet surveillance where they try to collect all communications and do it all sorts of different ways. Their ethos is “collect it all.” I worked on a story with Jim Risen of the New York Times about a document — a four-year plan for signals intelligence — in which they describe the era as being “the golden age of signals intelligence.”  For them, that’s what the Internet is: the basis for a golden age to spy on everyone.

This focus on bulk, dragnet, suspicionless surveillance of the planet is certainly what’s most staggering.  There were many programs that did that.  In addition, you have both the NSA and the GCHQ [British intelligence] doing things like targeting engineers at telecoms.  There was an article published at The Intercept that cited an NSA document Snowden provided, part of which was titled “I Hunt Sysadmins” [systems administrators].  They try to find the custodians of information, the people who are the gateway to customer data, and target them.  So there’s this passive collection of everything, and then things that they can’t get that way, they go after in other ways.

I think one of the most shocking things is how little our elected officials knew about what the NSA was doing.  Congress is learning from the reporting and that’s staggering.  Snowden and [former NSA employee] William Binney, who’s also in the film as a whistleblower from a different generation, are technical people who understand the dangers.  We laypeople may have some understanding of these technologies, but they really grasp the dangers of how they can be used.  One of the most frightening things, I think, is the capacity for retroactive searching, so you can go back in time and trace who someone is in contact with and where they’ve been.  Certainly, when it comes to my profession as a journalist, that allows the government to trace what you’re reporting, who you’re talking to, and where you’ve been.  So no matter whether or not I have a commitment to protect my sources, the government may still have information that might allow them to identify whom I’m talking to.

TE: To ask the same question another way, what would the world be like without Edward Snowden?  After all, it seems to me that, in some sense, we are now in the Snowden era.

LP: I agree that Snowden has presented us with choices on how we want to move forward into the future.  We’re at a crossroads and we still don’t quite know which path we’re going to take.  Without Snowden, just about everyone would still be in the dark about the amount of information the government is collecting. I think that Snowden has changed consciousness about the dangers of surveillance.  We see lawyers who take their phones out of meetings now.  People are starting to understand that the devices we carry with us reveal our location, who we’re talking to, and all kinds of other information.  So you have a genuine shift of consciousness post the Snowden revelations.

TE: There’s clearly been no evidence of a shift in governmental consciousness, though.

LP: Those who are experts in the fields of surveillance, privacy, and technology say that there need to be two tracks: a policy track and a technology track.  The technology track is encryption.  It works and if you want privacy, then you should use it.  We’ve already seen shifts happening in some of the big companies — Google, Apple — that now understand how vulnerable their customer data is, and that if it’s vulnerable, then their business is, too, and so you see a beefing up of encryption technologies.  At the same time, no programs have been dismantled at the governmental level, despite international pressure.

TE: In Citizenfour, we spend what must be an hour essentially locked in a room in a Hong Kong hotel with Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Ewan MacAskill, and you, and it’s riveting.  Snowden is almost preternaturally prepossessing and self-possessed.  I think of a novelist whose dream character just walks into his or her head.  It must have been like that with you and Snowden.  But what if he’d been a graying guy with the same documents and far less intelligent things to say about them?  In other words, how exactly did who he was make your movie and remake our world?

LP: Those are two questions.  One is: What was my initial experience?  The other: How do I think it impacted the movie?  We’ve been editing it and showing it to small groups, and I had no doubt that he’s articulate and genuine on screen.  But to see him in a full room [at the New York Film Festival premiere on the night of October 10th], I’m like, wow!  He really commands the screen! And I experienced the film in a new way with a packed house.

TE: But how did you experience him the first time yourself?  I mean you didn’t know who you were going to meet, right?

LP: So I was in correspondence with an anonymous source for about five months and in the process of developing a dialogue you build ideas, of course, about who that person might be.  My idea was that he was in his late forties, early fifties.  I figured he must be Internet generation because he was super tech-savvy, but I thought that, given the level of access and information he was able to discuss, he had to be older.  And so my first experience was that I had to do a reboot of my expectations.  Like fantastic, great, he’s young and charismatic and I was like wow, this is so disorienting, I have to reboot.  In retrospect, I can see that it’s really powerful that somebody so smart, so young, and with so much to lose risked so much.

He was so at peace with the choice he had made and knowing that the consequences could mean the end of his life and that this was still the right decision.  He believed in it, and whatever the consequences, he was willing to accept them.  To meet somebody who has made those kinds of decisions is extraordinary.  And to be able to document that and also how Glenn [Greenwald] stepped in and pushed for this reporting to happen in an aggressive way changed the narrative. Because Glenn and I come at it from an outsider’s perspective, the narrative unfolded in a way that nobody quite knew how to respond to.  That’s why I think the government was initially on its heels.  You know, it’s not everyday that a whistleblower is actually willing to be identified.

TE: My guess is that Snowden has given us the feeling that we now grasp the nature of the global surveillance state that is watching us, but I always think to myself, well, he was just one guy coming out of one of 17 interlocked intelligence outfits. Given the remarkable way your film ends — the punch line, you might say — with another source or sources coming forward from somewhere inside that world to reveal, among other things, information about the enormous watchlist that you yourself are on, I’m curious: What do you think is still to be known?  I suspect that if whistleblowers were to emerge from the top five or six agencies, the CIA, the DIA, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and so on, with similar documentation to Snowden’s, we would simply be staggered by the system that’s been created in our name.

LP: I can’t speculate on what we don’t know, but I think you’re right in terms of the scale and scope of things and the need for that information to be made public. I mean, just consider the CIA and its effort to suppress the Senate’s review of its torture program. Take in the fact that we live in a country that a) legalized torture and b) where no one was ever held to account for it, and now the government’s internal look at what happened is being suppressed by the CIA.  That’s a frightening landscape to be in.

In terms of sources coming forward, I really reject this idea of talking about one, two, three sources.  There are many sources that have informed the reporting we’ve done and I think that Americans owe them a debt of gratitude for taking the risk they do.  From a personal perspective, because I’m on a watchlist and went through years of trying to find out why, of having the government refuse to confirm or deny the very existence of such a list, it’s so meaningful to have its existence brought into the open so that the public knows there is a watchlist, and so that the courts can now address the legality of it.  I mean, the person who revealed this has done a huge public service and I’m personally thankful.

TE: You’re referring to the unknown leaker who’s mentioned visually and elliptically at the end of your movie and who revealed that the major watchlist your on has more than 1.2 million names on it.  In that context, what’s it like to travel as Laura Poitras today?  How do you embody the new national security state?

LP: In 2012, I was ready to edit and I chose to leave the U.S. because I didn’t feel I could protect my source footage when I crossed the U.S. border.  The decision was based on six years of being stopped and questioned every time I returned to the United States.  And I just did the math and realized that the risks were too high to edit in the U.S., so I started working in Berlin in 2012.  And then, in January 2013, I got the first email from Snowden.

TE: So you were protecting…

LP: …other footage.  I had been filming with NSA whistleblower William Binney, with Julian Assange, with Jacob Appelbaum of the Tor Project, people who have also been targeted by the U.S., and I felt that this material I had was not safe.  I was put on a watchlist in 2006.  I was detained and questioned at the border returning to the U.S. probably around 40 times.  If I counted domestic stops and every time I was stopped at European transit points, you’re probably getting closer to 80 to 100 times. It became a regular thing, being asked where I’d been and who I’d met with. I found myself caught up in a system you can’t ever seem to get out of, this Kafkaesque watchlist that the U.S. doesn’t even acknowledge.

TE: Were you stopped this time coming in?

LP: I was not. The detentions stopped in 2012 after a pretty extraordinary incident.

I was coming back in through Newark Airport and I was stopped.  I took out my notebook because I always take notes on what time I’m stopped and who the agents are and stuff like that.  This time, they threatened to handcuff me for taking notes.  They said, “Put the pen down!” They claimed my pen could be a weapon and hurt someone. 

“Put the pen down! The pen is dangerous!” And I’m like, you’re not… you’ve got to be crazy. Several people yelled at me every time I moved my pen down to take notes as if it were a knife. After that, I decided this has gotten crazy, I’d better do something and I called Glenn. He wrote a piece about my experiences. In response to his article, they actually backed off.

TE:  Snowden has told us a lot about the global surveillance structure that’s been built.  We know a lot less about what they are doing with all this information.  I’m struck at how poorly they’ve been able to use such information in, for example, their war on terror.  I mean, they always seem to be a step behind in the Middle East — not just behind events but behind what I think someone using purely open source information could tell them.  This I find startling.  What sense do you have of what they’re doing with the reams, the yottabytes, of data they’re pulling in?

LP: Snowden and many other people, including Bill Binney, have said that this mentality — of trying to suck up everything they can — has left them drowning in information and so they miss what would be considered more obvious leads.  In the end, the system they’ve created doesn’t lead to what they describe as their goal, which is security, because they have too much information to process.

I don’t quite know how to fully understand it.  I think about this a lot because I made a film about the Iraq War and one about Guantanamo.  From my perspective, in response to the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. took a small, very radical group of terrorists and engaged in activities that have created two generations of anti-American sentiment motivated by things like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.  Instead of figuring out a way to respond to a small group of people, we’ve created generations of people who are really angry and hate us.  And then I think, if the goal is security, how do these two things align, because there are more people who hate the United States right now, more people intent on doing us harm?  So either the goal that they proclaim is not the goal or they’re just unable to come to terms with the fact that we’ve made huge mistakes in how we’ve responded.

TE: I’m struck by the fact that failure has, in its own way, been a launching pad for success.  I mean, the building of an unparallelled intelligence apparatus and the greatest explosion of intelligence gathering in history came out of the 9/11 failure.  Nobody was held accountable, nobody was punished, nobody was demoted or anything, and every similar failure, including the one on the White House lawn recently, simply leads to the bolstering of the system.

LP: So how do you understand that?

TE: I don’t think that these are people who are thinking: we need to fail to succeed. I’m not conspiratorial in that way, but I do think that, strangely, failure has built the system and I find that odd. More than that I don’t know.

LP: I don’t disagree. The fact that the CIA knew that two of the 9/11 hijackers were entering the United States and didn’t notify the FBI and that nobody lost their job is shocking.  Instead, we occupied Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11.  I mean, how did those choices get made?

Laura Poitras is a documentary filmmaker, journalist, and artist.  She has just finished Citizenfour, the third in a trilogy of films about post-9/11 America that includes My Country, My Country, nominated for an Academy Award, and The Oath, which received two Emmy nominations. In June 2013, she traveled to Hong Kong with Glenn Greenwald to interview Edward Snowden and made history. She has reported on Snowden’s disclosures about the NSA for a variety of news outlets, including the Guardian, Der Spiegel, and the New York Times. Her NSA reporting received a George Polk award for National Security Reporting and the Henri Nannen Prize for Services to Press Freedom.  

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute’s His new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books), has just been published.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Laura Poitras and Tom Engelhardt

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DemocracyNow!: ” James Risen on NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden: He Sparked a New National Debate on Surveillance”

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Dear USA: Liberian-Americans don’t Have Ebola

October 20th, 2014 No comments

By Philippa Garson (Follow @PhilippaGarson )

NEW YORK, 17 October 2014 (IRIN) – Africans living in the US from the three Ebola-affected countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, are under enormous pressure trying to help their families and ravaged communities back home. And they face an additional challenge: stigma.

For the residents of “Little Liberia”, one of Liberia’s biggest emigrant communities in Staten Island, New York, the path to integration has been strewn with hurdles. Many of the several thousand residents came decades ago as refugees from the civil war in Liberia. Eking out a living, attaining resident status, integrating with at times unfriendly neighbors and, in recent months, helping those families hard hit by Ebola at home, has been an uphill battle.

But when Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian, was diagnosed with Ebola in a Dallas hospital last month, “all hell broke loose here,” Oretha Bestman-Yates, president of the Staten Island Liberian Community, told IRIN.

When news that Bestman-Yates had travelled to Liberia in July reached her hospital employer she was told to put herself in quarantine. But even after the 21-day period elapsed on 5 August, she says she has still not been allowed to return to work.

“You bought Ebola to the US!”

Now she spends her days trying to help residents who are not only battling with the loss of family and friends in Liberia but are struggling to make ends meet here at home. “People try to avoid you, pull away from you. I’ve had people tell me, ‘We brought Ebola to the United States,’” she says. Many of the Staten Island Liberians are employed in hospitals and nursing homes and are being told not to touch patients. “Parents are telling their children to stay away from our children at school,” she said.

As news broke that two of the nurses who cared for Duncan, who died on 8 October, had contracted Ebola, panic began to sweep through the American public. The news that one of the nurses, Amber Vinson, had flown on a domestic flight shortly before coming down with the disease, galvanized fears of an outbreak.

Now there seems a growing perception that anyone of African descent may be carrying Ebola. And whether that person visited any of the affected countries recently appears to be of little relevance.

Two Nigerian students were refused admission to Navarro College in Texas, because of a new college policy denying entry to students from countries affected by Ebola – even though Nigeria successfully brought its small outbreak under control. An airplane bound for Nigeria was grounded at JFK yesterday because staff refused to clean it. Furthermore, parents from a school in Jackson, Mississippi, withdrew their children from school when it was revealed that the principal had recently travelled to Zambia – in southern Africa.

Where’s West Africa?

“In a navel-gazing society, where West Africa is a vague and homogenous region and where the whole continent is usually spoken about as if it is one country, there is little nuanced understanding in the general population about exactly where the disease is located – not to mention how it is spread,” says Bobby Digi, a local activist from Staten Island. “There is not a lot of knowledge in the US about Africa – let alone West Africa. They are painting the whole area with a very broad brush.”

Digi says Liberians have struggled for decades to be accepted on Staten Island where there have been long-standing tensions with the community, including with local African Americans, who fear losing their jobs. Liberians feel a sense of shame, he said, that Duncan died in the country where they now live. Although the NYC health department is conducting awareness campaigns to educate the public and eradicate stigma, Digi slated the department for not knowing how to access the Liberian population. “They didn’t have basic statistics. They were picking my brain. I was floored by that,” he said.

In Dallas, where Duncan died and where there is also a large Liberian community, stigma against Liberians is clearly on the increase. Alben Tarty, communications director for the Liberian Community Association of Dallas-Fort Worth, told IRIN he had minutes ago spoken to relatives of Duncan’s fiancée, Louise Troh, who had just been given clearance to join the community again. “When they came out of the house they were referred to as the Ebola people, children must keep away from them, someone literally ran from them. They are fearful of going back to work next week,” he said.

Tarty, who has been living in the US for 12 years and whose doctor friend died in Monrovia last week, says there are strong perceptions in the Liberian community that Duncan was mistreated by the hospital there to discourage other Liberians from travelling to the US to seek treatment.

“This is not a West African problem. It’s a global problem and we have to fight it with education.”
A man with no health insurance or social security number, Duncan was given second-rate treatment in a country with one of the world’s best health care systems, Tarty said, adding: “There are so many things happening that are making the Liberian community very angry.”

However, Tarty described the Liberian community in Dallas as “formidable”. “We are a very strong community.” Enormous resources had been raised to help affected families and healthcare workers back home, he said.

Tarty said he hoped stigma was unique to individuals and not organizations and employers. Lots of people – including Liberians – “don’t understand how the virus is transmitted,” he said, adding that Liberians were stigmatizing each other too. “We can’t blame those who don’t understand how the virus is transmitted. If Liberians are still confused then we can expect the greater community to be even more confused.”

Anecdotally, the evidence of stigma in other parts of New York City – not just Staten Island – is mounting. From elevators, to subways to school playgrounds, comments are being made. When a person of African descent sneezes, the retort is, “I hope you don’t have Ebola”, said Charles Cooper, chairman of the Bronx African Council, which looks after the interests of the roughly 80,000 Bronx residents originally from the three affected countries and around 200,000 immigrants from the continent as a whole.

Cooper, who last visited family and friends in Liberia a year ago, says the community is already struggling to get finances for affected families back home. Furthermore, those making a living here from products sourced there, are no longer able to get the supplies, given closed borders and the collapsing economies of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Another stress they don’t need is a new form of discrimination from their neighbors.

Politics of hysteria

“It plays into existing stigma,” he said. “Unfortunately it’s not something that’s going to be short-lived. It will continue for a while since the Ebola virus is not going to be eradicated any time soon.” But “there is a level of hysteria that needs to be counter-acted,” he said. “Ever since the inception of Ebola we’ve been working together and focusing on the African community and prevention countrywide.”

On the political stage, the same hysteria is playing out, with Republicans accusing President Barack Obama of mishandling the crisis and calling for travel bans to and from the three affected countries. Right-wing commentators are also having a field day. Said prominent conservative pundit Phyllis Schlafly: “The idea that anybody can just walk in and carry this disease with them is an outrage, and it is Obama’s fault because he’s responsible for doing it.”

She said Obama didn’t want America to “believe that we’re exceptional. He wants us to be just like everybody else, and if Africa is suffering from Ebola we ought to join the group and be suffering from it too.”

Bestman-Yates said that although stigma on Staten Island was “getting worse, we are trying our best to educate people.” Asked whether she believed things could turn violent, she said, “I hope not,” adding however that a man screamed at her when she was being interviewed recently by a television crew. Situations like this make her worry about the “Stop Ebola” pin she wears, though she continues to wear it. “We want people to know about it. This is not a West African problem. It’s a global problem and we have to fight it with education.”

Mirrored from IRIN News


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BBC Africa: Fighting the Ebola Stigma

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The Kobane Crisis: Where are Turkey, the PKK and the Kurds Going?

October 19th, 2014 No comments

By Mustafa Gurbuz

For many Kurds, Ankara’s spectator role in Kobane is a systematic policy to weaken PKK to get more leverage in the peace talks.

The radical ISIL group is besieging the Kurdish town of Kobane in Syria, and so far the Turkish government has done little about it. It is the leftist, separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) of southeast Turkey and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) — the armed wing of the Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) — that are mounting the most vigorous Kurdish response to ISIL’s attacks. Turkish Kurds have mounted substantial urban street protests against government inaction. The death toll in Turkey from the crackdown on these Turkish-Kurdish protests is four times the number of victims in the crackdown on the youth protests against Neoliberal construction projects in summer of 2013 at Gezi Park in Istanbul. The ostensible impetus for the Kurdish protests in Turkey, the crisis in Kobane, is just the tip of the iceberg. Mutual frustration over the Peace Process, launched by the AKP government’s official negotiation with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) since March 2013, is the main issue at stake.

The PKK has become increasingly aggressive as its demands have long been postponed, whereas the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is dissatisfied with its decreasing leverage over the PKK as the PKK/PYD forces gain international legitimacy for their defensive war against ISIS.
For many Kurds, Ankara’s spectator role in Kobane appears to be a systematic policy to weaken PKK in Syria in order to get more leverage in the peace talks. Last week, the AKP government launched airstrikes against the PKK for the first time since the declaration of ceasefire in 2013 as well as declared a “road map” to indicate its commitment to peace negotiations. The road map was penned by Hakan Fidan, the chief of the National Intelligence Agency, receiving consultation from jailed PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

Now, all eyes on the PKK commanders in the mountains.
Divisions among Turkey’s Kurds further exacerbate the fragile situation. Last week, the PKK’s longtime rival pro-Islamic Hizbullah announced that the Peace Process has ended because of the recent violence against Huda-Par, a legal political party having ties with Hizbullah, rejecting the claims that they have close relations with ISIS. Both PYD and ISIS find recruits from both rival PKK and Hizbullah constituencies in Turkey and the war spillover may push Turkey’s Southeast into a mayhem if PKK and Hizbullah revive their feud. According to unofficial reports, as many as 600 Kurdish fighters joined ISIS from Southeast Turkey.

As both PKK and Hizbullah allege that mysterious agents provocateurs connive at triggering tension between them, old rumors make a swift comeback with conspiracy theories. In 1990s, both groups suspected that they suffered from false-flag operations by the state intelligence officers. Memories of the dirty war years are still fresh. Although the Kurdish guerrillas committed much violence, it is also true that thousands of Kurds simply disappeared because they were alleged PKK or Hizbullah sympathizers. Assassinations against pro-Kurdish politicians sky-rocketed. Dead bodies and tortured corpses were found in the outskirts of the cities. In a move reminiscent of the dirty-war years, the AKP government recently introduced a new law that grants impunity for National Intelligence Agency (MIT) operations. Such policies of securitization are not going to help in building peace in the region.

The crisis in Kobane could have been an opportunity to strengthen Turkey’s peace talks with PKK. If there is one single key to transforming an intractable ethnic conflict, that is trust. An early attempt for humanitarian corridor supported by Turkish troops could have been a step to increase bilateral trust. Had a sympathetic official discourse about the plight of Kurdish civilians been employed, Turkey’s inaction in Kobane might not have instituted such massive protests. Turkey’s President Erdogan, however, chose to equate ISIS and PKK in his speeches and portrayed the situation as a fight between two terrorist camps. Such language, if persists, would lead an increasing mistrust between pro-Turkish and pro-Kurdish constituencies.

The danger of backsliding is real.

In his theory of revolutions, popularly known as “J-curve” theory, James Davies argues that people’s mood get most disruptive when their increasing expectations are met with a major frustration. For Davies, radicalization does not occur under the most repressive regimes. Instead, a prolonged period of economic and social prosperity followed by a sharp decline is the moment for riots and revolutions. Thus, the crux of the matter is relative deprivation, not real discrepancy. Enjoying unprecedented economic and social benefits in recent history, Turkey’s Kurds demand more as an outcome of relative deprivation. Pro-Turkish constituency, however, increasingly question if it is ever possible to satisfy pro-Kurdish demands. This major gap between two constituencies is partly due to the AKP government discourse. The AKP presented pro-Kurdish reforms through a doublespeak, even at times competing with Turkish nationalist parties, and thus, have boosted the expectations for both Turkish and Kurdish constituencies. Therefore, growing frustrations in both sides may lead symbiotic clashes between Turkish and Kurdish hawks, silencing moderate voices.

The AKP government is at a crossroad. If Turkey needs a Kurdish buffer zone in the Middle East, the peace settlement with the PKK is a significant step forward. Such a step, however, entails not only bullet-point road maps written by intelligence chiefs but also well-crafted bilateral trust building. Equating ISIS and PKK would be a strategic mistake especially when it doubled with a hard-line enmity discourse that revives old feuds.

MUSTAFA GURBUZ is a policy fellow at Center for Global Policy at George Mason University and a research fellow at Rethink Institute in Washington, DC. He is the author of Transforming Ethnic Conflict: Rival Kurdish Movements in Turkey (Forthcoming, Amsterdam University Press).


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Euronews: “Calls for a ‘humanitarian corridor’ between Turkey and besieged Kobani”

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