Tag Archives: religious fundamentalism

The Middle East: Liberation or Fundamentalism?

Daniel Wilson: How to Survive a Robot Army, Doubleday 2011

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This is an appropriate quote for what is happening in the Middle East right now. With many years of being ruled by dictators, whether benevolent or not (Singapore is described as a benevolent dictatorship) the people of these countries have had the same leader for decades.

First Tunisia, then Egypt, now Libya. We didn’t hear much about Tunisia because the media doesn’t consider them important on the world stage, but Egypt, land of the pyramids, sheiks and oil is important and we heard about that. But more importantly, social media and the internet means everyone is hearing about the protests and uprisings, including those people living under such regimes. Egypt tried to shut them up, seizing cell phone companies and shutting them down and to no avail. Al-Gadaffi has tried to shut up the media by banning them from the country but pictures taken on cell phones and other devices have been uploaded to the internet. Whereas we live in an age when Big Brother seems to watch our every move and keep us under constant surveillance (not that far a step from a dictatorship) we also have the freedom of getting information out no matter how hard tyrants and dictators try to tamp it down.

It’s interesting that even the poorest people, living in cardboard or corrugated metal shacks, will have a TV or a cellphone. Suppression of the news is getting harder and harder to do for your local despot. However, suppression of the masses still continues, often with a heavy hand, cased in metal and wielding a big metal stick, which holds ammo. It is one reason the Egyptian revolt was successful, Mubarak refrained from plowing down his citizens. That and the army didn’t stick behind him. I can’t say how Tunisia played out because we didn’t hear much about that. Al-Gaddafi on the other hand, is clearly mad and willing to go down, taking as many people with him as possible. Hooray for maniacs.

But perhaps these dynastic rulers (such as Gaddafi’s over-forty years and the possible succession by a son) have striven in some way to keep their countries from falling into religious fervor and fundamentalism as bad and as crazed as other dictators. There are many who would argue for al-Gaddafi, as those against him but the problem with one permanent ruler is that people never get to voice their opinions or see their votes really matter. And yeah, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Gaddafi may suppress his people until they are nothing but corpses and that will not liberate Libya. It all depends on who controls the army in the end. I sometimes wonder what would happen here if we had a similar dictator, and Harper has been accused of a heavy hand here, and what our forces would do. Just as the Tienanmen Square uprising in China did not succeed because the government rolled tanks over the protesters and shot them dead. Perhaps these protests will only bring about change if the governments don’t massacre their people. Perhaps those who revolt will have to gain their own weapons.

So which will it be, as rebellions, their like not seen in centuries, sweeps through the Middle East? Will the people be liberated, have safer lives and see democracy (not by any means a perfect system) in their governments? Or will the despots of decades be replaced by religious fundamentalism that will have people cower in their homes and subjugate some groups? You can bet the first group to be subjugated will be women, if that happens. And if Gaddafi stays in power, well, he hates the West, Berbers and who knows what else. But he certainly loves virginal women as that is what his bodyguards are purported to be. Supposedly martyrs to the faith in Islam will be greeted by a host of virgins in heaven (What do the women get and who wants a virgin anyways?). It looks like Gaddafi’s getting his now.

We are living through a crux of change, but then there is usually change. How the protests in the Middle East play out remains to be seen, but I’m not yet sure we’ll see a society more balanced in some of the countries. And in others the bloodshed will be high and the dictatorships will continue.

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Omar Khadr, Politics and Guantanamo

From CBC’s website: http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/khadr/omar-khadr.html

On March 31, 2008, Senator Romeo Dallaire added his name to the growing list of people calling for the Canadian Government to do more to get Omar Khadrout of Guantanamo Bay and back into Canada. Khadr has been held without trial at the U.S. military prison there for five and a half years. He’s being tried for the murder of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan in 2002, and questioned repeatedly about his own and his family’s links to al Qaeda.

There has been much ado about Omar Khadr, the child soldier caught during one of the Afghanistan raids by US forces. He’s the only Canadian still held at Guantanamo Bay and is finally, supposedly coming to trial. But there are complications. Part is that he was a brainwashed teenager who believed in fundamental Islam. The Canadian government hasn’t wanted to dirty its hands and his family here has come across as unsympathetic in their support Al Qaeda beliefs.

However, there are some fundamental aspects to war and Guantanamo Bay that I’m finding hard to fathom. Guantanamo, holding pen for people on the wrong side of George Bush’s crusade. I’m betting that 90% or more of them have brown skin. I’m betting a fair number are Muslims. Today CBC was talking about the unwanted in Guantanamo Bay. Nine hundred people have been processed through there in seven years. And most of those people were innocent, probably living quietly now and too afraid or ashamed to mention what happened, that the US made a mistake, a huge mistake There are another five hundred still there and most of them will never be charged. What to do with them.

Well, the US is trying to send them off to other countries or their home countries, to settle back in. But the US will not send people to a country that has other human rights issues. Does anyone else see the irony in this?Hello? What was being held for seven years without representation or a trial? Putting the people on Guantanamo Bay instead of US soil doesn’t excuse US policy and the military for infringement of rights. We could call this one of the biggest follies in recent history. George Bush’s little rug under which to sweep the dirty politics.

Now, of those people who don’t want to go back to their home countries (because they’d be tortured) or the US won’t send them, well they’re stuck waiting for some other country to help the US clean up its mess. The US, for some odd reason, doesn’t want to actually repatriate any of these people in the US. Come on, CIA, you can watch those potential bad guys right on your own doorstep.

Okay, so Guantanamo is made up of a mixture of several groups. Some are people picked up as suspected terrorists. You can bet that anyone they thought for sure was active was already shipped to a country with “soft” human rights when it comes to prisoners, and that those people were already tortured for information.  Just look at Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who after being sent to Syria by US officials for torture, was found to be innocent. Even after that, the US refuses to give him an apology. http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/arar/

We know there are many other innocents, people in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong color skin, who ended up in Guantanamo. There are also those who have fought against the US in Afghanistan or Iraq. Hmm, let’s see, the US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. Not to say that there wasn’t huge subjugation and injustices perpetrated against those citizens but I always thought that soldiers (whether paid or volunteer) were taken as prisoners of war. Those taken, say, in WWII, who were Nazis, were usually released back at the end of the war. Those who had committed unspeakable humans rights violations were tried for those crimes that contravened the Geneva Convention.

So, what about those people in Guantanamo? Are some awaiting an end of an endless war? Are some awaiting trial? It’s a pretty grey no-man’s land there. But let’s look at Omar Khadr again. He was a soldier recruited/influenced/brainwashed at a young age to fight. He was in a firefight when he was taken. Soldiers against soldiers in Afghanistan. But he’s being tried as an adult (they had to wait several years for that) for terrorism? For war crimes? There have been many child soldiers from Somalia. I have a friend in Massachussetts who helped raise four who were teenagers when they were freed and re-socialized. Those men all went on to university. What does Omar Khadr get?

What’s the difference? Religion. If we take the religious fear/bigotry/misunderstanding out of the picture we still have a teenage boy who was caught up in a war, fighting in battle. It’s pretty difficult to remove it completely, obviously but when someone is treated differently than other child soldiers and other soldiers because of fear and hatred, well it really puts into question the human rights abuses of the US. I wonder if George Bush will be tried for war crimes when all is said and done? Probably not. There is a bigger fear than religious bigotry and that is of the US setting an embargo against your country or riding slipshod over the Geneva Convention to suit its ends. Which country was it that used a nuclear device?

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