Saturday, October 22, 2005

The UN is corrupt

Just when you think the UN is finally getting it right, you read this:
Hat tip: Charles at LFG

THE United Nations withheld some of the most damaging allegations against Syria in its report on the murder of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, it emerged yesterday.

The names of the brother of Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, and other members of his inner circle, were dropped from the report that was sent to the Security Council.

The confidential changes were revealed by an extraordinary computer gaffe because an electronic version distributed by UN officials on Thursday night allowed recipients to track editing changes.

The mistaken release of the unedited report added further support to the published conclusion that Syria was behind Mr Hariri’s assassination in a bomb blast on Valentine’s Day in Beirut. The murder of Mr Hariri touched off an international outcry and hastened Syria’s departure from Lebanon in April after a 29-year pervasive military presence.

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, described the report’s findings as “deeply troubling”. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said: “It is an unpleasant story which the international community will take very seriously indeed.”

But the furore over the doctoring of the report threatened to overshadow its damaging findings. It raised questions about political interference by Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary- General, who had promised not to make any changes in the report.

One crucial change, apparently made after the report was submitted to the UN chief, removed the name of President al-Assad’s brother, Maher, his brother-in-law, Assef al-Shawkat, and other high-ranking Syrian officials.

The final, edited version quoted a witness as saying that the plot to kill Mr Hariri was hatched by unnamed “senior Lebanese and Syrian officials”. But the undoctored version named those officials as “Maher al-Assad, Assef Shawkat, Hassan Khalil, Bahjat Suleyman and Jamal al-Sayyed”.

The deleted names represent the inner core of the Syrian regime. Maher al-Assad, President al-Assad’s younger brother, is a lieutenant-colonel and head of the Presidential Guard. He is known for his quick tem- per and six years ago was said to have shot his brother-in-law, General Assef Shawkat, in the stomach during an altercation.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The problem with Syria

In my previous post I noted that Syria is ruled by a minority ruling clique. What is significant about this clique is their tenuous Islamic credentials. Culturally and linguistically the Alawi are Arabs, but religiously they are despised by Sunni Muslims, who view them as heretics.

The first question that comes to mind is: how did this non-Islamic minority come to dominate one of the most famous of all Arab locales, namely what is modern-day Syria, whose capital is Damascus? Indeed, Damascus was home to first Islamic caliphate, the Umayyads (later the Abbasid caliphate was based in Baghdad, and the Fatimid caliphate was based in Cairo, making Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo the most important cities in Islamic history, followed by the holy cities of Mecca and Medina… and even though Jerusalem is never mentioned once in the Quran, it is also supposedly the third holiest city in Islam).

Long story short, when the French came to control what is now Syria and Lebanon, they found it most expedient to use the local minority groups to act as the local “police” of the areas they controlled. Your typical “divide and rule” policy. The minorities happened to be the Druze and the Alawi.

The Druze are similar to the Alawi in that ethnically they are Arabs, yet religiously they follow an offshoot of Islam, which in the eyes of the Sunnis (and Shia) makes them hated heretics. Thus, the Druze and Alawis tend to live in mountainous areas, specifically atop the mountains, for protection. The Alawis' traditional homeland is located in northwestern Syria. The Druze, on the other hand, are found in northern Israel, southern Syria and in the Shouf mountain region of Lebanon. Interestingly, in Israel the Druze community is loyal to the state. After Israeli independence, the local Druze leadership requested that their sons be drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces—just like young Jewish men are drafted (although being Arabs and therefore hyper-freaky-protective-chauvinist about women, Druze women do not serve in the military, whereas Jewish women are drafted into the IDF). In fact, the Druze are known for not just serving in the IDF, but serving in elite combat units!

Getting back to Syria… the Druze and Alawis were tapped by the French to make up the gendarme. After Syrian independence, disproportionate numbers of Druze and Alawi had significant Western military training, and therefore held important defense positions. It wasn’t long before they took a look around and realized, “Hey, our sectarian groups dominate the military—let’s take over the country!” Without getting too involved with Syrian history, there was coup after coup after coup, and in the end the Alwites came out on top, despite the fact that historically they were the quintessential ignorant mountain people!

And they’ve controlled the country pretty much since the late 1950’s. By the 1960’s one family among the Alawites in particular remained on top: the al-Assad’s. The current dictator of Syria is Bashar al-Assad, son of Syria’s longest reigning ruler ever—Hafez al-Assad.

In terms of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Syria has been Israel’s one of Israel’s (and the West’s) most implacable foe. If you were an Israeli soldier and you were captured in combat, you’d better hope it wasn’t by the Syrians. The Syrians were (are) perhaps the most fanatical foes of Israel, and Israelis who had the misfortune of being captured by the Syrians in any of the various Arab-Israeli battles suffered the most, as the Syrians were particularly cruel (and to be known as particularly cruel among the Arabs is saying something!).

If the Syrians were so cruel, why has Saddam and the Iraqis been on the radar screen over the years far more so than the Syrians? Simple: Hafez al-Assad was no dummy. Whereas Saddam was a bumbling idiot, making idiotic moves that cost his country billions of dollars and almost a million lives (i.e. invading Iran in the early 1980’s), and whereas the Iraqis eventually forced the United States and the West to intervene (i.e. after the invasion of oil-rich Kuwait), Assad was a brilliant, patient tactician. Nobody can deny him that, despite the fact that he was an evil rotten bastard. But if you doubt Assad’s ability to massacre thousands, read up on what happened in Hama. And while you're at it, do a search on the Syrian mukhabarat (let's just say they put the "olice ate" into "Police State")

But if we want to understand Syria’s implacable hatred of Israel, and its unwillingness to make peace, even though Egypt made peace with Israel in the late 1970’s-early 80’s, you have to understand the precarious position of the Alawis.

Because the Alawis are a suspect minority, they feel that in order to maintain legitimacy to rule, they have to prove that they are among the most nationalist of Arabs: hence their fanatical opposition to Israel’s existence. Nobody doubts the Egyptian loyalty to the Arab cause. Egypt is the largest Arab county. It is the leader of Arab popular culture. It is and has always been the leader of the Arab world. That is one of the reasons why Anwar Sadat could fly to Israel, visit Jerusalem, address the Israeli Knesset (parliament) and finally make peace. Because he was a confident Muslim Arab leader.

The Alawi are not confident Muslim Arab leaders. They might not even be Muslims. Therefore, they go overboard in their nationalist fervor—hence the support of myriad terrorist groups and Syria’s complete and total rejection of Israel’s right to exist.

The sooner the Alawi Ba’athists are gone, the better for everybody in the region, Jew and Arab alike.

Now you understand Syria. Pay attention to the news... it's getting interesting.

Iraq and Syria

Soon the Mehlis report, initiated by the UN to find out who was behind former Lebanese PM Rafiq Hariri assassination, will be made public. We will find out exactly how involved the Syrian government was in the killing. Finally, Syria is being held accountable for its actions.

It's remarkable that we see the same thing happening in Iraq with the start of the trial of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen.

There are many similarities between Iraq and Syria. Both are/were Ba'athis dictatorships. Syria, like Iraq, is ruled by a minority group. In Iraq it was the Sunni Arabs, specifically those hailing from Tikrit. In Syria it is the Alawites, a unique minority group whose religion is an offshoot of Islam. The Alawites make up about 15% of Syria's population, but they have dominated the country since the 1960's.

Americans need to get better educated about the ethnic and religious makeup of the Middle East if they want to have a better understanding what's going on there. The next time I hear a stupid Westerner describe the Iraqi insurgency as some sort of laudable struggle for the liberation of their country, I'm going to projectile vomit in their face. It is not. It is a futile, yet bloody, attempt at enabling a ruthless minority within a minority to once again dominate the country.

What is laudable are the Iraqis who are risking their lives to create a democracy, something far too many Westerners take for granted. Despite the recent support of an Iraqi constitution -- even in the Sunni provinces, there will still be many useful, useless idiots who will assume that anybody fighting the American occupation soldiers are somehow freedom fighters. They are not. Indeed, the sooner things calm down, the sooner our boys and girls can go home.

The pressure is on Syria now, which is a good thing. It should be remembered that the Syrian Ba'athist regime is one which relies on a minority group to ruthlessly suppress the majority in order to stay in power. They are not an organic, popular representative of the Syrian nation. So, next time you see or hear a Syrian government representative talking about what's going on, remember, he is FAR from a popular representative of the country.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Scientists Study Gorilla Who Uses Tools

You'd think that if the scientists wanted to learn more about tools, maybe they'd study a human tool-maker, or talk to somebody at an Ace Hardware store.


Sunday, October 16, 2005

Ricky Martin Says Fame Left Him Bored

Ricky Martin, whose hits include "Livin' La Vida Loca," says the fame and fortune he experienced in the late '90s left him feeling bored and embittered.

"There was a moment (in 2002) when I was onstage and I was just so angry," Martin says in the Oct. 24 issue of People magazine.

Man, I feel for ya, Ricky-boy. Life is tough, you just gotta roll with the punches and work with the hand that life dealt ya. Just keep your head. I'm sure you'll get through this wealth and fame and fortune thing just fine.

Diet and race

I've noticed a trend at my job at Bally's. It appears that minorities tend to be a bit less informed about what constitutes a well-balanced diet than do whites. This is not to say that all whites understand healthy eating, or that all minorities do not. But I've noticed a trend...

I think our schools need to do a better job of teaching youngsters about the components of a well-balanced, healthy diet. A lot of kids obviously do not get this type of education at home, and they probably never will. Therefore, the schools should step in as best they can. Home economics (or whatever they call the classes where kids learn about nutrition) should be expanded.

I am right.


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