Gaza massacre: Distorted scriptures, Zionist goons and daddy’s little ghoul

By Ameen Izzadeen
The Nakba Day massacre and the grotesque ceremony to mark the opening of the United States’ embassy in Jerusalem turned Monday, May 14, into one of the darkest days in recent history.
Television footage of the massacre reminded us of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre 99 years ago at Amritsar in British India. The two massacres had many parallels, but one that is most disgusting is that the perpetrators had no remorse. General Reginald Dyer, who gave orders to his troops to open fire at the unarmed Punjabi protesters, died unrepentant and his only regret was that he did not have time to kill more.
The Israelis were unrepentant, too. Monday’s death toll of more than 60 brought the number of Palestinians killed from March 30 to more than 100. On March 30, the Gaza Strip’s Palestinians, living in abject poverty, began their Great March of Return for a sit-in protest on the border. Killing Palestinians is no sin, for they are not humans, according to Zionist hardliners, including deputy defence minister Eli Ben Dahan. Israel and its American supporters will not shed a tear even if a million Palestinians are killed. This desensitization process began even prior to the setting up of Israel. Israel was founded on the deaths of thousands of Palestinians and the ethnic cleansing of more than 750,000 Palestinians. Rarely is this horror story highlighted in the Israeli-friendly corporate media, under whose spell we have come into. We let our thoughts to be shaped by the corporate media’s propaganda aimed at promoting the evil designs of the Zionists, the capitalists and the agents of war, also known as the arms industry. Global justice activists insist that such stories need to be told and retold. Otherwise, evil will thrive in the silence of the good people. One such less spoken about stories in the corporate media is the Deir Yassin massacre.
Just before the dawn on April 9, 1948, armed members of the Zionist terrorist gang Irgun, headed by Menachem Begin who later became Israel’s Prime Minister, and the terror group Stern Gang raided the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, inhabited by some 750 Palestinians. The village on a high ground overlooking Jerusalem lay just outside the United Nations drawn partition line. The villagers were ordered to leave. When they resisted, the terrorists killed more than 125 people. Similar massacres took place in Jaffa and other places in the run-up to Israel’s declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948. From 1947 to 1949, some 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their villages.
In the Palestinian annals, the tragedy is called Al-Nakba or the Catastrophe. The Palestinians who lost their homes still live in refugee camps or are scattered all over the world. Every year on Nakba Day, they hold high their corroding house keys for the world to see. Their history has been erased. As George Orwell said, “the past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became the truth.”
The charade continues. In Zionist narrations, the oppressor, a nuclear power, is presented as the oppressed, injustice is portrayed as justice and freedom fighters are branded as terrorists. No wonder, the US President Donald Trump kills the peace process and calls his action a great push for peace. At the Jerusalem embassy opening ceremony, boycotted even by the United States’ allies, Trump’s Zionist son-in-law Jared Kushner, without any moral compunction, accused the Palestinians of being part of the problem and said the “journey to peace started with a strong America recognising the truth.”
For the Zionists, the injustice caused to the Palestinians does not construe the truth. For them, the truth is that Jews are the chosen people of God and Jerusalem is the ‘eternal’ capital of the Jews. With Judaism being hijacked by hardline Zionists from Europe to achieve political ends, such misinterpretation of the scriptures is repeated.
American evangelicals who adore the criminal Zionists say there is a God-given foreign policy which America needs to follow. Quoting from Genesis, they say, “Whoever blesses Israel will be blessed, and whoever curses Israel will be cursed.” But they seem to have overlooked the fact that Jesus called them the “faithless and perverse generation”.
The evangelicals need to be asked that if Jesus were to come today, on whose side will he be. Will he be with the oppressed Palestinians or oppressor Israel? Those who say that Zionists are God’s chosen people are committing blasphemy, for they make God a god of apartheid, a god of injustice, a god who encourages discriminatory practices. Trump is part of this Zionist-Evangelical axis, which has sold God’s commandments for justice – you shall not covert your neighbour’s property — for 30 silver coins.
At the Jerusalem embassy opening ceremony – a clear violation of International law — were those who financed his White House campaign in 2016. Among them was Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who prodded Trump to shift the embassy to Jerusalem. Then there was Southern Baptist Pastor Robert Jeffress who has repeatedly said that divine providence has a hand in Trump’s election and that God has authorised Trump to do, basically, whatever he wants.
As the celebrations went on in Jerusalem, there was little pity for those who were being killed, just 70 km away in Gaza. Dancing on the dead bodies of Palestinian children was Trump’s daughter Ivanka. The New York Daily News, a liberal newspaper, aptly described her in a page one headline as the ‘Daddy’s Little Ghoul’ for her obscene indifference to the killing of Palestinians by Israel, whom her father described as a country that, like the United States, believes in human rights and democracy.
Imagine a massacre of this magnitude had taken place in Iran, Syria or Sri Lanka. There would have been worldwide outrage with calls for international probe. At the UN Security Council emergency meeting on Tuesday, US envoy Nikki Haley blamed Iran and Hamas for the deaths of the Palestinians. She was reminded by the Bolivian envoy that the problem was simply Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.
Yes, that is the root cause of the problem. It is a shame that in the 21st century, the United States, the greatest democracy on earth, has become part of the Zionist colonial project. Until the US frees itself from the clutches of Zionism, the Palestinians’ freedom will remain elusive.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Trump’s Iran deal pullout and the dangers ahead

By Ameen Izzadeen
The United States President Donald Trump’s much-anticipated withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal — also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – has exposed his insensitivity to world peace and nuclear nonproliferation and contributed to an escalation in the multiple conflicts ripping the Middle East apart. No sooner the US pulled out of the Iran accord than clashes erupted between Israel and Iran.
By undermining the Iran nuclear accord, Trump is obviously sending a wrong signal to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, whom he will be meeting at the end of this month or early next month for talks aimed at North Korea’s nuclear disarmament.
North Korea, which blames the US for torpedoing the six-party agreement, must now be having serious issues about trusting a US administration. Dishonoring treaties is a feature of uncivilized conduct befitting the Nazis. Adolf Hitler signed the Munich agreement in 1938 with the European powers and the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact a year later with the Soviet Union, but he observed the treaties in the breach and launched surprise attacks on Soviet positions in Poland and invaded Czechoslovakia, thus starting the Second World War. Ironically, in a statement in support of Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran deal, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman equated the Iran accord to the 1938 Munich Pact, though it is Trump who has committed a Hitler-like act.
We wonder whether Trump had ever heard the Latin phrase ‘pacta sunt servanda’ — meaning that “agreements must be kept”. To expect that a witless president known for his regular gaffes will observe international law principles may be too much to ask from him.
May be his Tuesday’s statement was made by his neocon speechwriters, but if he had been smart enough, he would surely have noted the blunders in it; he would have desisted from praising the tyrannical era that preceded the 1979 Iranian revolution; and he would not have accused Iran of supporting terror groups Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Trump is an embarrassment to Americans because he does not know that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are against Iran. The two Wahhabi groups have killed Iranian diplomats in Afghanistan and are waging a worldwide war against Shiite Muslims. What a shame, a man who does not know such basic facts is heading the so-called greatest nation on earth. Or is he deliberately lying in preparation for a major war against Iran, just as George W Bush did when he deliberately misled the American people into believing that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had links with al-Qaeda, the group which is said to have carried out the 9/11 attacks?
By pulling out of the Iran deal despite warnings from the United States’ closest European allies and the deal’s co-signatories, Britain, France and Germany, that such action risks plunging the Middle East into further chaos, the Trump administration is only making Israel, Saudi Arabia and sectarian terrorists happy. But the US has indeed violated international law, because the Iran accord carries the United Nations Security Council’s endorsement.
Now that the US has withdrawn from the JCPOA, Iran will certainly do what it takes to further its national interest. But Trump’s reckless act does spell disaster to the rest of the world. Certainly, it has pushed the world towards war, halted the momentum towards nuclear nonproliferation and brought upon economic hardships on developing countries like Sri Lanka. Often, US sanctions have made poor countries poorer. In the 1990s, the US sanctions dealt a severe blow to Sri Lanka’s economy because they prevented Sri Lanka from exporting tea and other items to Iraq. Similarly, the US sanctions on Iran prevented Sri Lanka from buying Iran’s oil at concessionary prices or on a buy-now-and-pay-later basis. In addition, every time, sanctions were in force, oil prices went up. This is no good news for a developing country struggling to cope with a balance of payment crisis. Well, there is no altruism in the US foreign policy. The Trump administration is least concerned about the impact of sanctions on developing nations, which he only recently described as shit hole countries.
In about six months, the US sanctions will come into force, preventing once again countries from buying Iran’s oil and maintaining trade ties with it. In terms of the US sanctions aimed at crippling Iran’s economy, companies and banks which transact with Iran will be prevented from doing business with the US and US companies. It is indeed an affront to a country’s sovereignty when its companies or entities are threatened with punishment by another country.
The Trump administration, together with Israel and Saudi Arabia, hopes the re-imposition of tough sanctions will plunge Iran’s crisis-ridden economy into deeper stagnation, prompting the people to rise against the Government. They hope that with the support of regime haters within Iran, a concerted military action by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia could lead to the toppling of the government — a formula that worked in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. But Iran won’t be an easy target for the US-led regime changers. Iran has gone through nearly four decades of Western sanctions, only to emerge stronger. Thanks to these sanctions, Iran is self-sufficient in agriculture, and has made great strides in industries and weapons technology. Iranians often unite behind the Government in the face of an external threat.
How will Iran respond to the Trump blow? Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned that Iran would light the agreement on fire if the US withdrew from it, while President Hasan Rouhani said he had given orders to Iran’s nuclear scientists to be prepared to resume the nuclear programme. Despite such strong rhetoric, Iran has exercised restraint and said it would stick by the agreement in deference to the accord’s other signatories – Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.
But the biggest question is the US sanctions. The European powers may find it difficult to help Iran circumvent the US sanctions. This is because no European company would like to be blacklisted by the US for transacting with Iran. Already, China’s mobile giant Huawei is being probed by the US Justice Department for its alleged dealings with Iran in contravention of the US sanctions law.
If Iran fails to receive the economic benefits for being in the nuclear deal, it may be forced to nullify it and follow the North Korean example. It may resume its nuclear programme, test a nuclear device as soon as it can and then, like Kim Jong-un has done, could negotiate with the US from a position of strength.
Iran’s resolve to meet fire with fire was seen on Wednesday when it fired rockets at the Israeli occupied Golan Height in response to Israeli missile attacks on Iranian military installations in Syria. The clashes indicate that Israel, may be on behalf of Saudi Arabia, may be going for a full scale war with Iran, with a view to ousting the Bashar al-Assad regime and handing Syria over to pro-West terrorists and raw liver eaters. But it is easier said than done.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Nuke-liar Netanyahu setting stage for a war party

By Ameen Izzadeen
Israel’s hardline Prime Minister, known for his theatrical stunts that have now become a kind of cliché, was at it again on Monday. Showing slide after slide and removing black cloths covering a cabinet of files and a panel of CDs, Netanyahu walked the stage, like a wannabe David Copperfield, to accuse Iran of misleading the international community and secretly developing nuclear weapons.
With many experts not convinced about the media stunts at the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv, the Israeli Prime Minister stands exposed as a nuke-liar. Apart from United States President Donald Trump, there was little international support for his claim made through a giant slideshow titled “Atomic Archive: Iran’s Secret Nuclear Files”. To give his exercise some special effects, on one slide, Netanyahu had just two words — “Iran lied” – in huge lettering. It reminded one of Netnayahu’s 2012 United Nations address during which he, in yet another attention-grabbing exercise, displayed a diagram claiming to be Iran’s nuclear bomb. Some 15 years ago, US President George W. Bush also misled the international community and the American people into believing that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction – a lie which the Bush administration kept saying to justify its invasion of Iraq.
Experts say that Netanyahu’s so-called revelation was a load of old bollocks. They say the Israeli Prime Minister had provided no evidence that Iran contravened the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the agreement Iran signed in 2015 with the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
Nonproliferation expert Mark Fitzpatrick, executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told CNN, “There’s nothing new in the material that Netanyahu revealed. All of it was information that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) already had and has already commented on.”
Another nonproliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies said everything Netanyahu presented from the name of Iran’s secret programme – Project Amad — down to the fine details was found in the IAEA’s final report.
Rob Malley, senior foreign policy advisor to President Barack Obama, said that for those who followed the Iran nuclear file, there was nothing new in Netanyahu’s presentation.
Also not convinced was the IAEA which has released eight statements since Iran signed the JCPOA in 2015, confirming that Tehran has been meeting its nuclear commitments fully.
In terms of the agreement, Iran has restricted the enrichment of uranium to less than 20 percent, transferred the uranium that had been enriched beyond 20 percent to Russia, reduced the number of centrifuges in its reactors, slashed its uranium stockpiles and allows regular visits by IAEA inspectors. Iran described Netanyahu’s presentation as a childish and ridiculous show and warned of dire consequences if the JCPOA was allowed to collapse.
While Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA has been endorsed by the IAEA and other signatories to the agreement, the Trump administration has been critical of the deal. Trump has threatened to pull out of the JCPOA which he has called the “worst deal ever”. When Obama okayed the deal in 2015, the Congress gave its approval, subject to a yearly endorsement by the President. Last year Trump reluctantly gave his approval. Indications are that on May 12, when the agreement comes up for his signature, he will not sign it. This will signal the United States’ formal withdrawal from the JCPOA.
Yet, the agreement will survive. Both Russia and China – Iran’s two biggest trading partners – are standing by Iran and would not let the agreement collapse. Germany and the European Union have said that the deal stands. France, though President Emmanuel Macron during his US visit appeared to share some of Trump’s concerns over Iran, will also not withdraw from the agreement. Neither will Britain.
With the rest of the big powers backing the deal, the US has been isolated. The underlying message that world affairs can move on without US involvement is, indeed, a slap in the face for the Trump administration.
Netanyahu’s stage show and Trump’s anti-Iran outbursts have not taken place in a vacuum. They are inter-related and were well timed to set in motion an agenda authored by the anti-Iran axis that brings together the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and a couple of Arab nations. They want Iran brought to its knees. The 2015 nuclear deal has provided sanctions-crippled Iran a way out of its economic crisis. Iran is on a major drive to rebuild the economy. It has signed multibillion dollar deals with China to build new railroads, highways and oil and gas fields. With Russia, Iran has signed an oil-for-goods deal – a move that enables both Russia and Iran to bypass the petrodollar.
Of course, Iran also signed a US$ 16.6 billion deal with US aircraft maker Boeing for the supply of new aircraft. If the US withdrawal from the JPOC takes place on May 12, Trump, in a bid to cripple Iran’s economic revival and appease Saudi Arabia and Israel, may impose fresh sanctions on Teheran. That will be the end of the Boeing deal. But this is no major loss for the US, because Iran’s US$ 16.6 billion is just a fraction of the mega deals Trump signed with Saudi Arabia during his May 2017 visit to the kingdom, his first overseas visit as President. Of the Saudi deals worth US$ 450 billion, US$ 110 billion are for arms purchases. But these deals come with a Saudi ‘request’ to crush Iran.
Judging by the statements and the actions of the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia after President Trump’s Middle East visit, it appears that Saudi Arabia’s request has been met by a US request for the kingdom to normalise relations with Israel and give approval for Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem. This week al-Jazeera published remarks said to be made by Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman during his US visit in March. He is reported to have told heads of US-based Jewish groups that the Palestinian leadership must accept conditions for peace put forward by the Trump administration, agree to come to the negotiation table or “shut up and stop complaining.” Of course, Trump’s peace plan does not recognise the Palestinians’ aspirations of making East Jerusalem the capital of their future state.
Saudi Arabia is yet to deny the report, which is yet another indication that Saudi Arabia is working in tandem with Israel and the Trump administration to destabilise Iran even if it means abandoning the Palestinian cause the kingdom was, in the past, known to have championed.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are at loggerheads in Syria where Israel, acting like the air force of ISIS, regularly attacks military bases from where Syrian and Iranian soldiers operate. The Saudis are seething with anger and jealousy that the Syrian regime, with help from Russia and Iran, is nearing victory. In the Yemen conflict, too, Saudi Arabia and Iran are on opposing sides.
The American people need to be aware of moves by Israel and Saudi Arabia to drag their country into a war with Iran. Given the domestic political exigencies linked to the Russian probe and other issues, Trump, who is now being advised by neocons such as John Bolton, may go along with the war party.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Gaza: The cry from the wilderness

By Ameen Izzadeen
Award winning filmmaker Michael Moore of Fahrenheit 911 fame once advised the Palestinians to give up violence and adopt non-violence as a means of protests. He said if the Palestinians resorted to peaceful resistance, he and peace loving people worldwide would join them.
The Palestinians, at least a vast majority of them, have long given up violence. It is only the likes of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad that still believe in the dictum that what has been snatched from them – their land – by violence could only be taken back by violence. Yet, they too, have held their fire in the blind hope that peaceful resistance will bring freedom to the Palestinian people.
Last Friday was once such day when the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, regarded as the world’s largest open prison, held a peace march — “the Great March of Return — to the Israeli border with the hope that the world would take notice of their plight, especially the right of the Palestinian refugees worldwide to return to their homeland – a right upheld by UN resolution 194. The marchers’ aim was to pitch tent on the border and stay there until Nakba day –Catastrophe day, which they observe every year on May 14 or 15, when Israel celebrates its national day. This year is significant, because it is 70 years since Israel was set up on the Palestinian land – and 70 years since the Dier Yassin massacre that marked the beginning of the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinian villagers in the weeks before Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948.
This year, Nakba Day will be an added catastrophe for the Palestinian people, because on this day, the United States will shift its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, with no regard to the Palestinians’ aspirations of making East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Last Friday, the world saw the march and the atrocity of the Israeli troops, too. But world leaders made little noise about the Israeli troops’ firing that led to the death of 18 unarmed Palestinians and caused injuries to about 1,700. Maybe, the number of deaths was not big enough to shake their conscience.
Peaceful resistance does help win freedom struggles. In India, Mahatma Gandhi through his non-violent struggle succeeded in overthrowing the world’s most powerful empire and ending colonial rule. But Israel is not what Britain was in 1947.
Though colonialism was justified on the premise that the so-called ‘savages’ were not fit to govern themselves and therefore they should be governed, Britain by the dawn of the 20th century was being civilized, with liberal political thoughts dominating politics. Perhaps, the Palestinians will have to wait until Israel becomes an ‘enlightened liberal state’ so that it could realise that occupying Palestine, building Jewish settlements in occupied territories, denying equal rights to the Palestinians, adopting apartheid as a means to punish Palestinians, killing peaceful protesters, imprisoning activists, including children, demolishing Palestinian houses and destroying their crops are simply acts that do not go with civilised behaviour.
If Israel had believed that killing unarmed protesters engaging in peaceful resistance was not behavior befitting a civilized state, Rachel Corrie would have been alive today. Remember her?
Rachel, a 23-year-old American peace activist from Olympia, Washington, was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16, 2003, while she was engaged in nonviolent action to protect the home of a Palestinian family from demolition. Her biggest mistake was that she believed that Israel was a civilized nation and therefore the soldier driving the bulldozer was civilised enough not to send the monster vehicle over her. The poor girl did not know that there existed a culture of impunity in Israel to deal with Palestinian resistance.
If Israel is civilized enough, it will, at least, acknowledge that it is wrong to strip the Palestinians of their right to freedom.
In a related development that dealt another crushing blow to the Palestinians, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince on Monday, three days after the massacre of the marchers, recognised Israel’s right to a homeland, in what was a notable shift in Saudi policy.
When the Aljazeera Arabic language channel reported on Monday that Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman had in an interview with the US political magazine The Atlantic said that Israelis had right to its land, most Saudis found it difficult to believe what they had heard. In their comments to the news item on Aljazeera’s Arabic website, most of them accused the news channel of misreporting or misquoting the crown prince. Such was their disbelief.
The crown prince’s utterance is yet another indication that Saudi Arabia is in an undue haste to normalise relations with Israel. The following day, Saudi Arabia issued a statement claiming that King Salman, father of the crown prince, had “reaffirmed the kingdom’s steadfast position towards the Palestinian issue and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
But what matters is what the Crown Prince utters, because he is the power behind the throne. The king is said to be suffering from Parkinson-related memory loss and he does not know that his wife is a virtual prisoner of his son.
With the United States not on their side, with most Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, flirting with Israel, and with the rest of the world not coming to their aid, what else can the Palestinians do other than resisting occupation through violent or non-violent means? International law does recognise armed struggle against illegal occupation.
The two million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip are like prisoners. They cannot leave the territory, even for medical reasons, unless they have Israel’s permission which is rarely given. The Gaza Strip, just 365 square kilometers in area, about half the size of the Colombo district, is surrounded by Israeli troops from the north to the south along its eastern borders. From the north to the south on its west is the Mediterranean Sea which is patrolled by the Israeli navy. The Palestinian fishermen can only fish in the shallow waters. Deep sea fishing is banned. On the Gaza Strip’s south is the Rafah border point which Egypt patrols. Under a bilateral treaty with Israel, the Gazans need clearance from Israel to go to Egypt. For the Pharaohnic Egyptian rulers, a servile treaty with Israel is more important than relieving the suffering of the Palestinians, though international law allows a country to help a suffering people on humanitarian grounds even if it means violating international treaties and customs.
The Gazans get electricity only for four hours a day. Water supplies are also restricted. Due to lack of electricity, sewage and garbage plants do not work. Medicine and food are in short supply. More than half the population depends on UN aid. The territory is virtually not fit for humans to live, according to a UN report. Under such circumstances, what else can the Gazans do but to rise and resist?
To understand their plight, one needs to be a freedom fighter or a freedom lover.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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The rise of Putin and the politics behind the poison

By Ameen Izzadeen
If Britain can prove that Russia was responsible for the poisoning of former Russian spy and British double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the southern British city of Salisbury on March 4, then it has every reason to be furious.
That Britain has so far failed to show the evidence that Russia has demanded does not mean Russia had no role in the attack. However, the angry rhetoric and tough diplomatic measures against Russia – the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats from the United States and Europe — have provided the US and Britain a justification to reinforce Nato’s presence close to Russia.
Standing by Britain, the United States on Monday ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats. The move was somewhat unexpected because it came only days after President Donald Trump spoke to Russia’s president Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on his “historic” election victory at the March 18 presidential election. Perhaps, by penalising Russia, Trump seeks to send a message to US voters that he is not under obligation to Russia, in view of allegations that Russian helped Trump win the 2016 presidential election — a matter now under investigation by a Special Counsel.
Perhaps, the US expulsion of Russian diplomats reflects the thinking of the new Trump team. Given the fact that the Trump administration is now guided by hawks such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor and Iraq war architect John Bolton, and Nick Haley, Trump’s hit woman at the United Nations, there is little surprise in the harsh measure against Russia.
Wednesday’s media briefing at the US State Department said it all.
“Russia has long arms, lots of tentacles. It is a beast from the deep sea,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, adding that Russia remains interested in meddling in other countries’ affairs. Perhaps, the spokeswoman knows nothing about US interference in other countries. In the current context, it is worth recalling the US-backed Ukrainian coup, which exacerbated the tension between Russia and the West, and the infamous “f*** the EU” words uttered by a frustrated Victoria Nuland, the then Assistant Secretary of State for Eurasian Affairs, when the EU nations were reluctant to be on board.
The new US stance contradicts what Trump had been advocating since his election to office in November 2016.
In a number of statements, Trump had called for stronger US relations with Russia. He had described the sanctions the US Congress had imposed on Russia over the annexation of Crimea in 2014 as “very, very heavy” and suggested that they should be lifted. Trump had said “having Russia in a friendly posture as opposed to always fighting them is an asset.”
The Trump policy on Russia has now taken a 180-degree turn. Well unpredictability is a key feature of the Trump administration. With Trump in the White House together with hawks, none can rule out a war on Iran or even a nuclear strike against any country.
When asked whether the US had proof to penalise Russia, the State Department spokeswoman could only say that the US believed what the British Government had said.
Britain’s Theresa May Government has also produced no proof to back up its accusation against Russia though it claims it has shared “unprecedented intelligence with allies”. Joining Britain in solidarity were several European nations. They expelled a few Russian diplomats from their capitals. Britain, on March 14, expelled 23 Russian diplomats – a move that prompted Russia to retaliate by expelling 23 British diplomats.
Whether Russia did or did not poison the double agent and his daughter, assassinations and false flags are part of big power politics. Did not Joseph Stalin kill Leon Trotsky? Did not the US-backed Bolivian Army kill Che Guevera? How many times, did the CIA try to kill Fidel Castro, sometimes by poisoning? How many false flag operations — such as the Gulf of Tonkin incident — has the US staged to justify wars? How many lies – such as Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – have the US and Britain fabricated to start wars of aggression?
The US and Britain feel that there is an urgent need to contain Russia, which is becoming stronger by the day. The US and Britain are furious that Russia with its intervention in the Syrian conflict has bailed out the Bashar al-Assad regime and dashed the geopolitical hopes of the West and their ally Saudi Arabia, another key player in the anti-Russia axis.
The axis’ strategy appears to be that with the increase in the cold war type tensions, Russia would increase its military budget and this may sooner or later lead to an economic crisis which in turn would lead to the overthrow of the Putin government by a popular uprising. A similar strategy led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russia is not unaware of the undercurrents of the diplomatic drama. Putin being a veteran in the spy business could smell an oncoming missile even before it is fired.
He was not so naïve as not to know that the West made use of an incident similar to the Skripal saga to bolster Nato manoeuvres near Russia in 2007.
This was after the death of FSB (Russia’s spy agency) defector Alexander Litvinenko. He was poisoned by a Russian agent in a London cafe in November 2007. Later he died in a London hospital. The incident triggered a tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats by Moscow, London and Washington. The following year, the West wooed Georgia to sign a defence pact with Nato. Obviously, this made Russia livid. The same year, Russia sent troops into the then Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in support of the anti-government rebels.
In 2014, the US engineered a coup in Ukraine, replacing a pro-Russian president with a pro-West president. In response, an angry Russia annexed Crimea and provided military assistance to separatist rebels in the eastern regions of Ukraine.
In November, 2016 while world attention was on the US presidential election, Nato sent reinforcements – four battle groups — to Russia’s borders. Britain sent tanks, drones and 800 troops to Estonia as part of this Nato build-up. In anticipation of this buildup, Russia had deployed its nuclear-weapons capable Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad near the Polish border and fortified its defences in the Black Sea region. There is not much love lost between London and Moscow. Putin sees Britain as a hostile nation, because London provides shelter to several high-profile Russian dissidents, who, Putin believes, are plotting to destabilise Russia with help from the West.
In a striking parallel, weeks before the current dispute between Britain and Russia blew up, Putin, in an apparent warning to the West, unveiled Russia’s latest armoury, displaying hypersonic fighter jets and smart missiles that can dodge any anti-missile system and hit a target anywhere in the world.
Putin has now been reelected to power and he knows how to stay on in power for years or decades to come, notwithstanding the constitutional restrictions on the presidential term. This has sent jitters across western capitals. They know Putin’s ambition of making Russia a superpower again will be a threat to the West’s global agenda. The cold war will intensify while world peace will become elusive.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Facebook: Friend or foe to society?

By Ameen Izzadeen
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)The debate over social media regulation has reached a critical point, with the social media giant Facebook facing its biggest ever crisis in its 14 year history.
In Britain and the United States, investigations are being held to find out whether Facebook did enough to protect its users’ private data. This came after a probe by Britain’s Channel 4 television exposed that a London-based political consultancy firm, Cambridge Analytica, improperly accessed information on 50 million Facebook users to sway public opinion. Among its clients was Donald Trump during the campaign for the United States presidential election in 2016.
With Facebook being boxed into a corner, the case for regulation is gaining momentum, in view of allegations that social media platforms are responsible for communal tensions in Sri Lanka, ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, racism and terrorism in Europe and the distortion of democracy in the United States and elsewhere.
Free speech advocates lambasted the Sri Lankan Government for blocking several social media platforms, including Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber, early this month as part of measures to curtail the spread of anti-Muslim violence. But the Government felt the week-long ban together with the imposition of the State of Emergency was a necessary evil. It appears that the Government seeks to follow the golden mean by not implementing a total ban on social media but acting on the premise — as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, despite his democracy-promoter credentials, says – that some regulation is required to obviate the negative effects of social media.
In a stricter sense, social media refer to social networking of groups or platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram to share content in the form of texts, images and videos. In a loose sense, social media can mean any interactive website and even web-based games such as Candy Crush, Pokemon Go and the highly controversial and dangerous Blue Whale challenges.
In a way limited regulation is warranted given the harm social media and internet pose to society at large. Social media breed social ills ranging from pornography and paedophelia to slavery, drug trade, racism and terrorism. With porn just a click away, children are exposed to adult material at the tender age of about 10, leading to the breakdown of society in the long run. A satanic world also exists within the World Wide Web, which was, paradoxically, hailed as the gateway to a knowledge-based society when it first made its presence felt. Good and evil exist side by side.
What is scarier is that you are being watched. Through your smart phones and even your smart television, information about you, your behaviour patterns and the websites you visit are harvested and relayed backed to device producers and marketers. The danger is more, if you are a social media user. Needless to say hackers have a field day. Our privacy has been seriously compromised.
The cyber world is huge. It has been called the largest unregulated and uncontrolled domain in human history. There has been little international effort to adopt global standards on cyberethics. On the contrary, cybersecurity has been discussed extensively by nations as nuclear systems and strategic databases are hacked in uncontrolled cyberwars. Cyberethics receive little attention, even as the digital world scrambles to embrace Artificial Intelligence which will make wars and conflicts more inhumane. The growing demand for techno-species such as sexbots indicates that even relationships are becoming inhumane.
Last month, addressing the Munich Security Conference, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres lamented over “the absence of consensus in the international community about how to regulate the so‑called Internet of things.” But his remarks came largely in the context of cybersecurity instead of cyberethics. He said the multiplicity of activities — some by States, some by different actors, and even by amateurs — and the different uses that criminal organisations and terrorist organisations are making of the web create a level of threat that is becoming higher and higher and for which we have not yet found an adequate response.
Last week, UN investigators slammed the social media giant Facebook as a “beast”, for being a carrier of hate speech that led to possible genocide of the Rohingya in Myanmar. When questioned about hate speech posts of Myanmar’s ultra-racist groups such as Ma Ba Tha and 969, Facebook said it suspended and sometimes removed anyone that “consistently shares content promoting hate.”
“If a person consistently shares content promoting hate, we may take a range of actions such as temporarily suspending their ability to post and ultimately, removal of their account.”
But Facebook procedure is slow. Often, the harm is done before hate-speech posts are removed. The so-called community standards Facebook is talking about in its defence are ineffective. This is evident in the rise of the far right in Europe. Facebook is the biggest culprit.
Self-regulation by social media companies does not work, as the events in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and elsewhere show. Democracies and authoritarian states alike block social media.
India regularly imposes internet blackouts whenever there are troubles in Kashmir. Pakistan bans social media during political unrests and when its requests for the removal of religiously sensitive material are ignored. In China, where Facebook remains blocked from 2009, the state decides on the access to social media. Iran, North Korea, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Vietnam are among 18 nations that have blocked or temporarily restricted access to Facebook and other social media platforms to suppress political dissent or control protests.
True, social media enable families and friends to stay in touch. To their credit, social media have played a big role in ending dictatorships, as happened in Egypt.
Governments cannot afford to block websites and social media, because e-commerce is a digital era reality. Also the cyber anarchists are one-step ahead of state authorities and regulations and keep devising various apps to circumvent blocks and bans.
Given the vastness of the social media, regulating them is a terabyte task. Yet, it will do a world of a good if companies such as Facebook and Twitter enhance self-regulation and make it effective. On Wednesday, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg apologised for making mistakes that led to millions of Facebook users having their data exploited by Cambridge Analytica. The same Zuckerberg had earlier dismissed as “pretty crazy idea” reports that claimed fake news on Facebook influenced the US presidential election in favour of Trump. Facebook’s role in alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election is being investigated by Special Investigator Robert Mueller. The controversy has generated congressional moves to bring legislation to control political ads on social media.
Instead of apologies, what is required is the adoption by social media companies of high ethical standards to combat hate-speech, racism, pornography, terrorism and political manipulation that distorts democracy. In this context, an international covenant on cyberethics is indeed in order. We are not advocating an infringement of the freedom of expression. This freedom is, in any case, not absolute. We only underscore that freedom comes with responsibility.

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Rise of Xi and the Asian dream

By Ameen Izzadeen
China’s President Xi Jinping is now a virtual leader for life after the Communist Party on Sunday removed the presidential term limits from the constitution. Xi is undoubtedly the most powerful world leader today.
What does Sunday’s landmark event mean to the people of China and the rest of the world? Though the move is certainly not in tune with democratic principles, to the ordinary Chinese people, who do not have much yearning for western-style democracy, Sunday’s historic change could mean development at double speed.
First, it must be made clear that Xi becoming president for life is, by no means, China endorsing dictatorship. Xi cannot be compared with a dictator like Saddam Hussein, who was a law unto himself. In China, the Communist Party regulates politics and Xi will have to abide by party rules and the constitution.
The ultimate aim of politicians is to grab power. But freedom from fear and hunger is the people’s ultimate expectation from politicians. For the people, it does not matter whether a politician given to democratic ideals or an undemocratic ruler fulfils their expectations. The bottom line is, as poet Alexander Pope said, ‘For forms of government, let fools contest, whatever is administered best is best.’
In rich countries such as Switzerland and Singapore, party politics does not play a significant role in people’s lives. People in these countries do not worry about their next meal. Neither do they live in fear, for they see the supremacy of the rule of law in practice. In China, a country known for the rule of law, what people expect is freedom from poverty. China, through its controlled economic liberalization policies, has enabled hundreds of millions of people to free themselves from the poverty trap over the past ten years. Some 20 percent of China’s 1.4 billion people – that is a staggering 280 million people –are in the US$ 40,000+ a year (more than Rs. 6.2 million a year or Rs. 512,000 a month) income bracket. The only other country which has so many people in the US$ 40,000+ income bracket is the United States.
Experts believe if China’s economy grows at a healthy rate of 5-7 percent, 40 percent of China’s population will enter the US$ 40,000+ income bracket in the next 15 years. The achievement could come much faster if the economy grows at more than 7 percent a year. This is what President Xi is targeting – to make China great again by freeing its people from the poverty trap. There are some 2,200 dollar billionaires in the world – of them 568 are in China. The US comes a close second with 518 billionaires. Xi wants to make more and more Chinese people rich and he has a great vision for it.
He believes his giga project — the One-Belt-One-Road Initiative also known as the Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI) – will catapult China into the sphere of prosperity.
It is with this multitrillion-dollar BRI that China is trying to create a new world economic order. Yes, it is inevitable that the new order will be China-centric, though, through regional cooperation, it could be made Asia-centric.
In October last year, President Xi got his name engraved in the Constitution, thus becoming the third leader to do so after Mao Zedong, the founder of the Communist State in 1949, and Deng Xiaoping, who introduced the socialist market economy.
Addressing the October sessions of the People’s Congress, Xi spelt out his ‘Thoughts on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’. He outlined specific policies on the BRI, the modernisation of society and the armed forces; and target dates for establishing China’s position in the world. He said the policies were aimed at making China a top innovative nation by 2035 and a nation with global influence by 2050. This Sunday, Xi took a giant stride towards making these goals a reality.
Now that Xi has become a life-long feature in world politics, the rest of the world needs to treat him and his pet BRI project with the seriousness they deserve.
There is much at stake for smaller countries which try to balance their China relations with equally strong relations with the United States, Japan and India – countries which view China’s global ambitions with suspicion. Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry should assess the emerging Xi-led world economic order and take measures to benefit from it. A point to keep in mind: China will step up its assertive diplomacy.
Xi’s BRI project is a boon for Asia. Asian powerhouses such as Japan and India should view China as an opportunity rather than a rival. Together they can chart the course for world peace through greater economic relations.
India, especially, need not get dragged into moves to counter China’s growing global influence. In recent months, India together with the US, Japan and Australia – the so-called Quad — has been mulling over the possibilities of launching a counter BRI. India is building Iran’s Chabahar port as a joint venture and a corridor linking the southern Iranian port with Afghanistan’s iron rich Hajigak area. In addition, India has also invested in a road network connecting India with Myanmar and Thailand in moves seen as countering China’s BRI. Now the Quad plans to revive the former US President Barack Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The Donald Trump administration which withdrew from the TPP is now having second thoughts about it. Obama vowed he would not allow China to dictate the terms of the world economy when he launched the TPP as part of his ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy to contain China.
Officials from the Quad countries have clarified that this plan was not a “rival” but an “alternative” to the BRI. The project is being given an Indo-Pacific characteristic, highlighting India’s pivotal role.
Although China has extended a cautious welcome to the alternative BRI, the countermove by the Quad has the undercurrents of a growing cold war and will add to world tension. Already Russian President Vladimir Putin – who will also, like Xi, remain president for long years to come – has fired warning shots at the West, boasting about Russia’s one-upmanship in smart weapons. Moreover, Britain’s dispute with Russia over the nerve gas attack on a former Russian double agent and his daughter is also threatening world peace.
China and India were the best of friends before the two countries went to war in 1962 over a border dispute. It was India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who brought Communist China to the world stage. Nehru, who invited China’s Premier Zhou Enlai to the 1955 Afro-Asian conference in Bandung, was a true Asian. Together they worked out the Panchaseela principles for co-existence. Even before India got independence, Nehru dreamt of Asian unity and in March 1947, he convened the Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi.
But sadly, the right wing Narendra Modi Government has abandoned this Asian dream and is seen to be delighted over the fact that the US is relying on it in its power rivalry with China.
But this policy in the long term will not serve India. This is because China under President Xi is likely to prevail. India needs to revive Nehru’s Asian dream. If India needs to check China’s dominance, then it, together with Japan and Australia, should join China’s BRI project as equal partners. Asia’s economic powerhouses together need to shape the world economic and political order. That’s the way forward for Asia.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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