April 7, 2016 Dry Bones and Jim Crow Zombies: Racist History Returns With a Vengeance

 

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When I was 18, I worked for the Tennessee Department of Conservation at the Cedars of Lebanon State Park, a summer job where a few teenagers helped the park’s permanent workers clean up the picnic areas and campgrounds and ball fields. I mostly helped two ageing characters who’d gotten their sinecures through political patronage. Both were near retirement, and were seeing out their working years with some easy work in pleasant surroundings. They had a black boss they didn’t much like — a park ranger — but they kept their racial sideswipes to a minimum, at least for those days.

Both were men of profound and “sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions,” as the saying goes. (Or rather, as the language of the new Jim Crow law in Mississippi goes.) They often held forth on weighty matters of faith and morals as we cruised the park in a truck, emptying trash cans and spending long (very long) breaks beside the big Cedar Park swimming pool, full to the brim of bikini-clad young women enjoying the fine Tennessee summer. Two expositions of their faith have long stood out in my memory.

One was the story of a fallen woman, a prostitute, who in her despair and moral anguish had turned to the church of one of my stalwart Christian colleagues. He told of how one Sunday, she came into the church after the service had started: shyly, hesitantly, seemingly ashamed of herself as she took a seat in a back pew, still wearing the clothes of her previous night’s labor: short skirt, tight top, platform heels. (He was particularly assiduous and copious in his description.) The startled congregation hardly knew what to make of her — and she hurried out quickly at the service’s end.

But she kept returning, for the next few weeks, always in the same fashion: coming in late, furtively, still in her Saturday clothes, keeping to herself in the back, hurrying out lest she scandalize the faithful by her very presence. Obviously she was yearning for the Lord to pull her from her life of sin. But no one in the church approached her, no one emulated the Saviour with the woman taken in adultery and said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

And so, said my colleague, he took it upon himself to rectify the situation. Seeing how the story was tending, I found myself revising my perhaps too-hasty opinion of him. Perhaps, I thought, he was a man of broader, deeper character than I had hitherto surmised.

Then he went on with his story.

His solution to the appearance of the prostitute in the church house was not to welcome her, speak to her, tell her of God’s grace and forgiveness. No, it was to step forth boldly before the congregation and declare that such a wanton creature should not darken the door of the Lord’s house; she should be barred from coming back ever again.

“We never saw that whore again.” This was told in tones of quiet satisfaction, the tones of a man who had humbly but bravely done his duty. To say that I was gobsmacked is to riot in understatement. I had a hard time believing he had read the same Gospels that had been read to me — and that I had of my own volition eagerly read — since my earliest childhood.

(This same colleague told another interesting — albeit more secular — story that has also stayed with me. In brief, it was how he had spent years in the service of the local political machine buying votes on election days: “Ten dollars each for whites, five dollars each for the niggers.” He had worked his local district for decades like this. Oddly enough, the previous summer, I’d worked for another state agency, picking up trash on the highways, where another aged colleague told the same tale, although he worked a different district.)

The theological disquisition of my other colleague in the state park was not quite so vivid, although it too stayed through almost 40 years since those halcyon days. One day, while making our rounds, the talk turned for some reason to interracial marriage. Of course, it goes without saying that these two Christian gentlemen considered such a thing as completely and utterly retrograde to their “sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions.” There was not any question about it; anyone involved in such filth was bound for hell — as was any nation that countenanced such evil. This was standard fare for that time and place, a sentiment I had heard expressed by most people around me since I was first able to discern the meaning of human speech.

Given the ubiquity and all-pervasiveness of this sentiment, it’s not likely that it alone would have a lodged in my mind for long a time. But what I found curious was how this stalwart’s sincerely held convictions regarding the purity of marriage transcended ordinary notions of race altogether. To be sure, he strongly held forth that he didn’t believe in marriage between “white people and Mexicans;” that was, again, de rigueur for our milieu. No, what struck me was that he went on in his religious-nationalist fervor: “I don’t believe no white should marry no French, or Italian, or Russian, or English neither!”

I think it was this last that impressed me most deeply. Not even the English were white enough for this good white Christian American! Even the English — the very avatars of whiteness, who had carried their “white man’s burden” to the four corners of the earth in the god-ordained crusade of Empire — were not really white … because they weren’t American whites! Or, to be more specific, they were not Southern American white people, because doubtless this stalwart would have considered, say, Italian-Americans in New Jersey or Irish Catholics in Boston to be far less than white. (And don’t even get him started on the Jews!)

Many years later, I myself married one of these ungodly non-white people: an Englishwoman, no less! My colleague had long flown to mansions on high by that point, but I must admit he crossed my mind as my English bride and I plighted our troth in the ancient environs of Oxford.

I was reminded of these long-gone co-workers by today’s stories out of Mississippi: a state where I once worked in the piney swamps of Meridan, the city where they tried — and freed — the killers of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. These were the civil rights workers who’d gone down to Mississippi in the Sixties to ensure that everyone had the right to vote — and the right to be served at businesses open to the public without being turned away because of someone’s “sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions” that certain kinds of people were beyond the pale.

Many people died and many more suffered to take us out of that pit of hate and despair. And by the time I was riding with the stalwarts — 13 years after those murders — their attitudes seemed quaint, outdated, broken vestiges of a vanished past. I laughed at them, and kept laughing for 40 years. But as that famous Southerner William Faulkner once said, the past is never dead; it’s not even past. And so the good stalwart white Southern Christians of modern-day Mississippi have reassembled the dry bones of hatred and prejudice and made them walk again. A whole new army of Jim Crow zombies.

The laugh was on me, on all of us. Despite all the deaths, all the suffering, here we are again: if not at the absolute beginning, then close — too Mississippi goddam close — to it. The old battles must be fought again. The self-righteous peddlers of prejudice, the hawkers of hatred, the weak and stunted souls who turn away the suffering, who cling belligerently to the accidents of their pigment and their national origin in a vain and pathetic attempt to keep their own terrors and chaos and shortcomings at bay — they are back with renewed vigor, and we must take them on again.

Chris Floyd is a columnist for CounterPunch Magazine. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at www.chris-floyd.com.

Posted by Ainhoa Aristizabal — Unruly Hearts editor

April 8, 2016 Why is Lebanon Holding Hannibal Gaddafi Hostage?

 

Beirut

As of this week, following his arrest on December 15, 2015, Hannibal Gaddafi, one of seven children of Moammar Gaddafi and his Widow Safia Farkash, has spent, without a scintilla of evidence that he violated any Lebanese law, nearly 16 weeks wrongly incarcerated in a Beirut jail.

Mr. Gaddafi is being held for only one reason. A botched attempt by certain politicians here to exact a $ 200,000,000 ransom from the new UN backed Government of Libya as it tries to bring some stability to that beleaguered country.  Lebanon’s court appears not to be quite sure how to end this charade.   The demand for the 200 million dollar ransom is not being made by the government of Lebanon nor by the Lebanese judiciary, but rather by a Lebanese politician (s) with the political power to corrupt Lebanon’s judiciary, Lebanon’s government and Lebanon’s constitution.

The $ 200 million dollar scheme imploded recently when it was revealed to the international public weeks ago by Hannibal’s lawyer, Ms. Bouchra Khalil.  The lawyer’s revelations of the scheme put the kibosh on the ransom demand for freeing Gaddafi.  The Tripoli coalition government continues to reject the extortion plan despite pressure from certain Lebanese politicians to pay up.

Hannibal has been living in Damascus for more than a year and wants to return there until he can safely return go to Libya.  Some political observers in Libya and elsewhere believe that Hannibal’s siblings, brother Seif al Islam Gaddafi, and sister, Aisha Gaddafi, a human rights lawyer and former UN Goodwill Ambassador, will return to Libya and enter politics as the political reformers and champions of human rights they were known to be before NATO crushed the country, creating the mayhem we observe today. Support inside Libya and regionally for both Gaddafi children to return and help create a stable government is growing according to Libyan expats living in Cairo, tribal leaders across much of Libya, the French government, and others.

Given that Hannibal has committed no crime, but rather that he himself is the victim of a brutal pistol whipping, torture, as well as kidnapping and extortion crimes, according to Hannibal’s lawyer and Lebanon’s judiciary, by the sons of Sheik Mohammad Yaacoub, who along with Imam Musa Sadr disappeared in Tripoli Libya on August 31, 1978, Lebanon’s judiciary is in an awkward spot.

They realize that they are illegally holding an innocent man under the false pretense that he is “withholding information” of an event that occurred when he was three years old and who has testified in court that all he ever heard about the Musa Sadr case growing up, and which was not much, came from his big brother, Seif al Islam, now being held in Zintan, Libya by a militia.

Needless to say, Lebanon’s judiciary, which is frequently accused of being compromised by the sectarian poison that has all but destroyed this “country,” and particularly the presiding judge, are embarrassed and under increasing pressure from local and global human rights groups to end the Hannibal Gaddafi charade and release him. Hannibal’s release is also being demanded by the government of Syria which granted Hannibal political asylum some 14 months ago and which is legally bound to offer him protection.  Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have criticized his unlawful detention.

The Gaddafi case has also caused tension between the Government of Syria and Lebanon’s Amal Militia, headed by Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, who according to Hannibal’s lawyer hatched the ransom project which got messed up by Hasan Yaacoub organizing Hannibal’s kidnapping and who has long harbored plans to secede Berri as Amal leader, given the latter’s age and health problems.

Out of sympathy for Imtithal, the widow of Iman Musa Sadr’s companion, Sheik Mohammad Yaacoub, and concern for her failing health which has been exacerbated by the arrest of her sons, the Lebanese judiciary has decided to grant bail to Hasan’s older brother Hussein. It has also decided not to arrest his younger brother Ali who according to Hannibal and his lawyer was the brother who severely beat Hannibal’s face with a pistol. The presiding judge is also thought to be sensitive to losing the public’s support in this case if the three sons’ mother is seen as being unnecessarily pressured by all her sons being jailed.

Hannibal’s lawyer has filed a motion for the presiding judge, who is a Shia Muslim as is she, and most of those involved in the ransom scheme, to recuse himself given the growing perception in some quarters that ‘Shia pressure” may compromise the Judge’s objectivity so it is better that he excuse himself and prevent a possible conflict of interest or perception of lack of impartiality.

The wording of Lebanon’s constitution is excellent and is virtually a copy of the French Third Constitution (the French are now on their 7th   constitution and counting) given to Lebanon during the French ‘‘Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon.” (1923−1946). But it becomes null and void and is ignored by some politicians and government officials whenever it appears to clash with sectarian and tribal interests.

Lebanon’s judges by and large are reputed to be honest but what weakens the legal system here is the same poisonous sectarianism that has deeply corrupted much of Lebanon. Virulent political sectarianism is the main reason that Lebanon has in many ways never been a real country, is not now, and perhaps never will be unless a solution can be found among this country’s 18 sects to create a real democracy. The sects’ inability to even agree on a president for the past nearly two years is however not encouraging.

Despite the continuing illegal and outrageous detention of Hannibal Qaddafi, a political, not a judicial, solution is at hand.

It will likely unfold something like this.  Hannibal will be released soon since the $ 200 million is not coming this way and the kidnapping scheme has been exposed. He will be free to return to Syria.

As for the kidnappers and torturers, they too will likely have their cases dismissed on sectarian political, not judicial grounds, and they will be released.
Hannibal’s  lawsuit against Ali Yaacoub, the brother of ex-MP Hasan Yaacoub, who is accused of abducting  him, and Ali Yaacoub’s lawsuit against him and his lawyer Bouchra Khalil, as well as the lawsuit by the Imam Sadr family and the family of the  second companion of Imam Musa Sadr,  Journalist Abbas Badreddin, who also disappeared, will all be dismissed.

At some point Lebanon will have to dismantle its sectarian system which paralyses it and corrupts its government.

But the problem remains that the current corrupt system here enriches precisely those whose leadership for reform has been required.

At some point Lebanon’s progressive youth will rise up and with their fed-up countrymen throw out the former “warlords” who have granted themselves amnesty for civil war crimes and then anointed themselves as “political lords.”

When this will happen is anyone’s guess but pressure here is building for major and long overdue reform.

Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (sssp-lb.com).

Posted by Ainhoa Aristizabal — Unruly Hearts editor

The Murder of Sarai Sierra

 

On February 2, the body of 33-year-old American Sarai Sierra was found in Istanbul – near a section of crumbling ninth-century, Byzantine-era city walls along the Sea of Marmara, not far from the city’s major tourist attractions – 12 days after she disappeared near the end of a solo trip to Turkey. Although the circumstances of her murder are still being investigated, Turkish authorities have established that the tourist and amateur photographer was killed by a blow to the head.

As an American woman living in Istanbul, I have followed Sierra’s enigmatic disappearance and horrific death with a mix of dread, empathy and a certain feeling of responsibility. Not only has her tragic story touched a nerve among women on both sides of the Atlantic, it has drawn attention to the serious problem of violence against women in Turkey, as well as underlining both the price and privilege of American exceptionalism.

In Turkey and the United States, the news has made headlines in almost every major media outlet, with much of the coverage sensationalistic and highly speculative. In the U.S., related commentary has ranged from discussion over whether or not it is a good idea for women to travel alone to the relative safety of Turkey as a tourist destination. Even when the coverage itself is not sensationalistic, user comments on these news websites often show an appalling degree of ignorance and prejudice towards Turkey and Muslims. (Variations on “What was she thinking, traveling to a Middle Eastern country by herself?” are plentiful.)

The incident is particularly unsettling because Istanbul is quite a safe city, burglaries (including, not long ago, of my own apartment) and petty theft notwithstanding. For a metropolis of more than 13 million, there are very low rates of violent crime: Istanbul’s murder rate is lower than New York’s. In six years living in Istanbul, I have felt less fear for my personal safety, or fear of being mugged – or shot – than when I lived in Washington, D.C. or New York City. In the wake of Sierra’s murder, Turks and foreigners in Istanbul alike thus have expressed dismay at seeing this city and country portrayed, unfairly, by some foreign media as dangerous.

And yet whatever the statistics say, expats in Istanbul – particularly women – have been deeply shaken by the incident, because it has hit too close to home: a young American mother of two, vacationing on her own in Istanbul, who apparently vanished during the middle of the day in a busy, central district of the city. How did she disappear, and what if something like this were to happen to one of us? On the night her body was discovered, the Turkish Twitterverse practically exploded with the news, and I called a close American friend and nearly cried. Even my parents – who have visited me in Turkey several times and who know not to get too alarmed anymore when I get tear-gassed at political demonstrations or when a bomb goes off at a U.S. diplomatic mission – expressed their distress, cautioning me, in stronger terms than they had used in years, to be careful.

At the same time, no one in Turkey can fail to notice that, by virtue of her nationality, Sierra’s case has benefitted from an immense level of publicity and a vast expenditure of investigative resources. Turkey is a key U.S. ally in the region and a popular destination for American tourists, so local authorities cannot afford to leave a stone unturned. In addition to working closely with the FBI, the Istanbul police have set up a special unit to deal with her case, assigning the astonishingly high number of 260 officers to analyze thousands of hours of video footage from some street 500 security cameras. In the meantime, Turkish Airlines, the country’s national airline, agreed to transport Sierra’s body back to the U.S. at no charge.

Would the disappearance and death in Istanbul of a female tourist visiting from, say, Indonesia, or a Moldavan woman working as a housekeeper have received such attention? Alas, the answer to that question must surely be negative. Turkey is a both a destination and transit point for sex trafficking as well as a country where organ smugglers are active; their victims, however, are overwhelmingly from poor countries. Zafer Ozbilici, head of Turkey’s Foundation for Relatives of Missing Persons (YAKAD), recently told the Dogan News Agency that in the last two decades, 90 foreign citizens have gone missing in Turkey – 26 from Somalia alone.

Sadly, Sierra is also not the first foreign woman known to have been killed in Turkey in the last few years: In 2008, Giuseppina Pasqualino di Marineo (aka Pippa Bacca), an Italian artist who was hitchhiking from Italy to the Palestinian territories in a wedding dress to promote peace, was raped and murdered near the small town of Gebze.

And what of the far too many Turkish women whose lives are taken each year? While Sierra’s and Bacca’s high-profile murders have received disproportionate attention, they cannot be divorced from a disturbing pattern of increased violence against women in Turkey in recent years. Homicides of women in Turkey shot up by a shocking 1400% between 2002 and 2009, when 1126 women were slain. Unlike Sierra and Bacca, however, the vast majority are killed by current or former male partners – often as part of a pattern of domestic violence against which police have not provided sufficient protection – or in family-sanctioned “honor” killings. Though murder rates have come down substantially since 2010 (across the country, 165 women were killed in 2012), the larger picture of gender-based violence remains bleak: in a 2009 survey, 42% of Turkish women said they had been physically or sexually abused by a male partner.

Just as the disappearance and murder of an American has led to far more concerted police efforts than in the majority of missing-person and domestic violence cases in Turkey, it has also given rise to a telling paranoia. After Sierra disappeared, Turkish media organizations entertained numerous speculations about her reasons for being in Turkey, including the idea that she was a spy or was involved with criminal networks. It was briefly even suggested on the website of at least one major newspaper that there might be a connection between her disappearance and the bomb attack on the U.S. Embassy in Ankara on February 1 – an act of terrorism that has since been ascribed, without a shred of doubt, to an outlawed Marxist group (DHKP/C).

While it might seem utterly ludicrous for anyone to suggest that a young woman who worked as a part-time assistant in a chiropractor’s office and who had never before left the U.S. would be an American intelligence agent, such is the perceived power and reach of the United States (and particularly of agencies like the CIA) in Turkey that ideas like this were seriously entertained. After Sierra’s body was found and autopsied, Istanbul’s police chief was obliged to tell local reporters that there was no evidence of her being a spy.

There are still many unresolved questions about Sierra’s death but, whatever really happened, this is at the end the sad story of a young, female American who died overseas in unfortunate circumstances in a country where too many women have suffered from violence. Observers in both the United States and Turkey ought to honor her memory by seeing the larger issues and not making her a cause celebre.

Vanessa H. Larson is a writer living in Istanbul.