Something in the Air?


Three events to consider here.

First, the story I posted on 11 March 2012, about the American Airlines flight attendant losing it on a flight, yelling about terrorist threats, and having to be restrained.

Second, on 27 March 2012, a JetBlue flight captain losing it on a flight, yelling about a terrorist threat, and having to be restrained. This time, the plane was packed with burly security experts and ex-cops, on their way to a convention in Las Vegas and there just happened to be an off-duty pilot available and people who took cellphone video of the “incident”.


Third, is the 23 March 2012 release of an affidavit created January 28, 2008, from a highly qualified pilot saying that the famous video footage aired by CNN of the Boeing jet airplanes striking the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York on  September 9, 2001 “could not have happened”.  It is important to note he is NOT saying 9/11 never happened, nor is he saying that planes did not strike the towers. He is saying it could not have been that type of aircraft, under those conditions, behaving as portrayed in the video and described in the commentary. The testimony, although expert, is from someone  described to me as a “conspiracy nut”. His remarks upset some people who have close personal links to the 9/11 tragedy, which is predictable and understandable. I watched that video over again and I knew from the moment I saw it that life would be different from that day on. Regardless, I tried to look at this “news” release from a different perspective: why release the document at this time?

The two recent in-flight incidents, when taken with the release of this statement, fit neatly into an orchestrated security preparedness scenario. Whether that is simply to enable security people to conduct realistic simulation training or for some other reason I would not hazard to guess.  But the idea of two trained and experienced individuals who work on board commercial aircraft each having a meltdown within such a short space of time, and having to be subdued is too big a coincidence to write off without giving it some thought. What made me think these three events might be related was that none of the Jet Blue stories I checked mentioned the American Airlines incident from just two week’s earlier. When I read today that the Jet Blue captain was interviewed in-depth last year, and the journalist who met him felt this behaviour was completely out of character for him, I wondered if the whole scenario was scripted and the affidavit release was simply timed to coincide with these stories for added emphasis.

I will try to monitor news for other similar stories in the next few weeks, in case there are more examples. If you find any I’d be grateful for a tip-off and a link. Meanwhile, I’d be interested in your take on this.


Slavery in Mauritania is NOT an invitation for US-backed intervention

Modern-day slavery in Mauritania

Modern-day slavery in Mauritania

Excellent to see CNN publish this detailed and in-depth report on modern-day slavery in Mauritania, researched covertly during a visit there in December 2011. But the extract below, from the end of the report invites a dangerous assumption: it could be interpreted as an excuse to intervene in the affairs of a sovereign nation. I believe this is not the right attitude at all. Pay attention, shine a light on injustice, give it airtime or column inches, raise the issues in international discussions, provide funding to appropriate non-government organisations created and staffed by local activists, but please, don’t assume that it is any other country’s responsibility to interfere. It would also help international anti-slavery activists considerably if the headline didn’t give the impression that Mauritania is the last and only place on earth where children and adults are subjected to slavery in its various forms. In fact, it is a pandemic affecting many countries worldwide.


From the CNN post:

“Help us to change our country”

Activists say the international community has done relatively little to pressure Mauritania to address slavery. “The French government and American government have had a lot of opportunities to help Mauritania step up and deal with this — and have pretty much squandered those opportunities,” says Kevin Bales, of Free the Slaves. People tend to focus on topics like child trafficking and sex slavery, says Sarah Mathewson, Africa program coordinator at Anti-Slavery International, rather than the old-world slavery in Mauritania.

The U.S. ambassador to Mauritania, Jo Ellen Powell, called slavery in the country “completely unacceptable and abhorrent” and said America is pressuring Mauritania to change. The nation should invest in the education of its children rather than “keeping them sweeping floors somewhere or herding goats,” she said. “Human capital development is something that’s very important to the Mauritanians and I hope that they get that connection.”

For a few weeks after returning home, I tried to block the most troubling images from my mind: haunting villages where kids eat sand; a slave owner who smiled while he told us about the free labor he gets from people with darker skin; and, most of all, the piercing eyes of a woman whose master left her infant in the sand to die.

Mauritania is a place of agonizing beauty, one that’s hard not to love and curse. Its people have lived with unfulfilled potential and broken promises for decades, since the country first tried to abolish slavery in 1905. But that could change, several activists told us, if Mauritania knew the rest of the world was watching.

The United Nations has proposed a number of changes the Mauritanian government could make to quicken the end of slavery. Among them: Pay lawyers to represent victims; allow international monitors into the country to conduct a full survey of slavery; and fund centers like the one SOS runs to rehabilitate slaves who have claimed their freedom.

It would help if a global public demanded these changes. “It’s a destitute country,” says Kevin Bales. “It needs a few friends in the world.”

Perhaps then women like Moulkheir and Selek’ha could find justice.

And Boubacar and Abdel could get their wish.

We asked the SOS founders how they will know when their fight against slavery in Mauritania is over — how they’ll know they have won. Both men had the same answer:

When a former slave becomes president.


The Repeating Pattern of Protest


we're all greeksI was invited to a FaceBook event, a day of solidarity with the people of Greece, who are being steamrollered into pay cuts and other austerity measures by a government they didn’t elect. The response from the people has been dramatic and destructive. The  blog post complains that they are suffering in silence. I can’t say I agree since I have seen plenty of news coverage, but it’s the trend these days to complain that no one is paying attention, while ignoring those who are. I am not sure what it is people mean when they say thy are being ignored. What will satisfy them, an hour-long slot on CNN? My reaction is usually: try being a protester somewhere like Iraq, Mauritania or Saudi Arabia for a day, then see if you still want to complain about being ignored.

I scanned the post for information about the goal of this day of unity, to understand what we are supposed to achieve. I know the austerity measures are unpopular, so what is being demanded in their place? I found nothing, and that was a disappointment. If the goal of a protest movement is only to protest, it is too easy to become part of the problem, or even to become a bigger problem.

Where Is My Vote?

Where Is My Vote?

When people in Iran took to the streets to demand their stolen votes, they wanted a fair and transparent recount. It wasn’t long before they got sidetracked into being a protest movement with less tangible goals. With the benefit of hindsight, there are now seemingly-obvious traces of external manipulation, evident from the very start. For example, see the image on the right, of Iranians holding their English-language posters demanding “Where Is My Vote?”. Score one extra point to the Greeks for having the common sense to use Greek as their primary language before offering us translations. English wording on posters might have made a vague kind of sense in the first week, before the international press were expelled, but even that reason risked losing some validity since we heard about the US “democratic outreach” programmes. Given the current assertions from some quarters that the Israeli MOSSAD is supposedly tag-teaming with with the exiled Iranian terrorist MKO / PMOI cult, in fact it makes a kind of sense; though one which makes my flesh crawl. The slogans of June 2009 morphed into “Where Is My Friend?” as the arrests and disappearances spiralled alarmingly in the face of continued protests. They were supposed to scrap the recount idea and demand regime overthrow, or for Khamenei to step down. But it just didn’t work out that way, and most media coverage of the Iranian Green Opposition Movement these days tagged by “Dead or Alive?“.  Worse, Iranian people remain under semi-permanent lockdown, thousands are still in prison, arrests and repression continue, and they’ve lived under the threat since May 2011 of their already heavily filtered internet being replaced by an interNOT.

This is the pattern I see in countries across the Middle East and beyond:

  • Stage 1: People are angry, frustrated, they want change, they go out on the streets to demand it. They get attacked.
  • Stage 2: As the attacks intensify, the demands begin to shift into the impossible blame game where people focus on one person or group (Ben Ali, Mubarak, Gadaffi, SCAF, al Assad, etc)
  • Stage 3:  The dictator or the state responds by saying that the people are a security threat. Resistance is eroded with deaths, arrests, intimidation, smear campaigns, infiltrators, diversionary tactics, etc.
  • Stage 4: Whatever horrors then ensue, after the dust begins to settle, and even if the side-tracked demand has been met, opportunists have seized an advantage and are profiting from the upheaval and carnage.

I’ve only been watching for the past two and a half years, since the Iran election in June 2009, but I assume this is a common pattern among civil protest movements that anyone else could detect without difficulty.

Adbusters OWS Flag

Adbusters OWS Flag

In America, when the “Occupy Wall Street” protests began, I detected an unwillingness to identify with the similar protests that had already happened in Europe, including Greece and most notably in Spain with ¡Democracia real YA! Perhaps because the Europeans demanded “real democracy”, or perhaps because OWS started out as a social media exercise devised by the Adbusters team in Canada, I have never been entirely sure. It requires certain personality traits to drive a successful protest movement, and these types may feel protective of what they regard as their idea, and unwilling to share credit or look as though that they are “jumping on a bandwagon”. If that is the case, I find it oddly undemocratic but completely human. It is also in complete contrast to the Arab uprisings, each often heard proudly claiming to be inspired by the other – with a bit of nudging from media: they do love a good hook.

Lacking a defined austerity package to protest, the Americans skipped the first phase and jumped off at Stage 2: protesting against a group – the 1% – with justifiable anger, but to begin with, no alternative solutions.  It is worth mentioning that the Occupy Movement, in contrast to all other movements I am aware of, was in receipt of significant funds and material donations from an early stage, yet having money does not seem to have advanced the cause. The authorities were happy to oblige with Stage 3, state-sponsored violence against protesters and the entire panoply of tactics (such as infiltration) to erode resistance. I suspect an opportunistic bounce off the springboard of chaos to push through unwelcome legislation while simultaneously fielding the most pathetic, uninspiring, bunch of 2013 presidential candidates imaginable, is only part of the Stage 4 response.

Israel immigration law discriminates against thousands from Palestine


This document threatens to ruin Lana Khatib’s life – it makes no mention of her university degree, husband or two children. It simply states she’s a Palestinian – and therefore illegal and unwanted in Israel.

“I have a permission to stay here, but I don’t have any rights, just to breathe and eat and drink and for me it’s not a life”, Lana Khatib told RT.

But Lana chooses this non-life because it’s where her husband and children live. By law they’re Israeli whereas the rest of her family live across the border in Jenin, West Bank.

Taiseer Khatib, Lana’s husband, says that: “each time we travel to Jenin during the week, during the usual days, Lana goes through a path, and I and the kids go through another path. What does this remind us of?”

Until now Lana’s moved between the two worlds with temporary visas issued by Tel Aviv. But she’s afraid that could stop as the government tightens its grip on an eight-year-old law denying permanent citizenship to Palestinians married to Israelis.

Mohammad Darawshe, Co-Executive Director of the Abraham Funds Initiative told RT that Israel “is trying to limit the demographic natural growth of the Arab citizens, encourage Arab citizens who marry Palestinians from the west bank and Gaza or Jordan to actually emigrate, to actually leave Israel.”

Taiseer and Lana Khatib

Taiseer and Lana Khatib

Israel says the law is for security purposes. And it’s trying to prevent Palestinians from taking advantage of being able to get an Israeli ID through marriage and then carry out attacks on Israeli citizens.

But human rights groups don’t buy that they petitioned the law arguing that in the last 14 years, more than 130 000 Palestinians have entered Israel because of family ties with Israelis only 54 of them were ever found to be a security risk.

In upholding the so-called citizenship law the Israeli Supreme Court president said it was one of the most difficult questions in the state’s history – the battle against terror while at the same time maintaining the nation’s democratic nature.

Sawsan Zaher Attorney and Director of Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel says: “we are talking about thousands of families, that as a result of the decision of the supreme court that validated and upheld the law, they are now living under the tangible threat of being forcibly separated from their spouses, from their children, from their parents, so we are indeed talking about a huge issue.”

But in the meantime it threatens to tear families apart – as Lana and Taiseer now face the very real danger that they might not be able to continue living together.