Middle East Watch

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Monday, June 29, 2009

A change for the better

Hello everyone,

I'd like to announce I am now using wordpress...you can check out my site here if u would like to...

www.betternowthannever.wordpress.com

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The question is...

I'm sorry for the absence...I've been blogging at wordpress for a little while, and now I am trying to decide which is better. Both have their ups and downs. If you have any input on which is better I'd appreciate it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A special thanks from the Taliban

Yesterday, Pakistani President Asif Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, signed into law a "peace agreement" where the Pakistani Taliban would implement Sharia law in the scenic Swat Valley. Sharia, of course, is the type of "justice system" that allows for the flogging of a teenage girls and arranged marriages between old men and 8-year olds.

Anyway, the Taliban have shown their appreciation by refusing to lay down their arms, which was supposed to be their side of the bargain. So here we have it...the Taliban gets to welsh on their deal and the Pakistani government is left with their country backsliding into the grip of homicidal maniacs. The Taliban also had a "thank you" gift to offer...

From BBC:

A suicide car bomber has attacked a security post in north-western Pakistan, killing at least 18 people, nine of them police, police say.

The bomber set off his explosives as he pulled up at a checkpoint in Charsadda, a town near the city of Peshawar.

There has so far been no claim of responsibility for the attack.

But correspondents say Pakistani Taleban militants, allied to al-Qaeda, have carried out numerous such attacks over the past two years.

Sick stuff. I hope that President Obama can show the same determination he showed when confronting the Somali pirates.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A proud moment for all Americans

Shortly after arriving in Boston this morning I saw the news that Captain Richard Phillips was freed by US Navy SEALS in the Gulf of Aden...3 of his captors were shot dead and the fourth was captured. Hearing this gave me a great rush of patriotism, and I hope that all Americans felt the same way.

Perhaps this event will show the Somali pirates and their brethren in Mogadishu, the Al-Qaeda-allied Al-Shabaab militia, that America is not going to deal with their antics. These pirates picked the wrong crew to mess with, that's for sure, and eventually, it looked like these pirates would have been satisfied if they could have escaped with their lives, never mind the $2 million ransom they were demanded. However, their potential future in pirating met a violent end.

A collage of Somali pirates...time for transport ships like Maersk Alabama to be armed so they can protect themselves.


Navy SEALS in Afghanistan...let's hope that the Taliban scum who flog young girls and blow up mosques got news of what happened off the coast of Somalia.

Anyway, the Maersk Alabama arrived safely in Mombassa, Kenya, with all of its cargo. The ship was delivering aid to suffering Africans, and luckily all of that aid will be able to reach them.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Iraqi blogosphere + Israel and Palestine debates = Mayhem

While we have watched Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and the people of Iraq triumph in the face of terrorism, there is another struggle, maybe even a war, that is taking place, and it is happening in the Iraqi blogosphere.

First, my friends over at Iraqi Bloggers Central have announced they are closing their doors. While this is a bit depressing, I am very happy for them...they have run the blog for 5 successful years. I don't always agree with them--particularly Mr. Ghost, but nonetheless they have all at one time or another done something to help Iraq and its people. Jeffrey, the most frequent poster, has noted there has been a decline in English-language Iraqi blogs...my link list has quite a few of them, I might add. But on the other hand, there is a growing number of inactive Iraqi bloggers, as evident by the growing list on IBC.

Speaking of which, those blogs that have been a good read are experiencing some trouble. Iraqi Mojo has always been one of my favorite Iraqi bloggers with his spot-on analysis of the situation in Iraq and willingness to stand up for what is right. Today though, the blog has been overrun with haters, many of which come Healing Iraq, a run-down, inactive site that was run by Zeyad Kasim, who also had some good thoughts to offer at one point. Anyway, Mojo's blog has been the center of a debate that tends to invoke nothing but hate and anger for 60 years: Israel and Palestine.


A residential neighborhood in Ramallah, the capital of the West Bank. Anyone who knows about the debate knows that this is a frequent battleground between Israelis and Palestinians.

The lines have been drawn over at Mojo's, and commentators who were once friendly with each other are know bashing each other, tossing insults around, and getting worked up over nothing because anti-American supporters of the Iraqi "Resistance" like Arab Advocate and his side-kick, Bruno, the Afrikaner, have figured out how to stir up trouble and get their sick kicks. In the year and a half I have been commenting at Mojo's, I have been able to avoid the discussion...I always feared that because I vehemently stand beside Israel's right to exist and believe that Israel offers light in a region overrun by darkness I would forever be labeled a "Zionist", a "Zionut", or as some haters will say, a "fascist", or a "Nazi", words which I believe are deliberately used to cause hurt the people of the Jewish Homeland, given their historical significance.

However, when Arab Advocate calls for Israel to be "dismantled"--a codeword for "destroyed"--I have no choice but to speak up. In the midst of my defense, I have been accused of supporting "the deportation of Palestinians to Jordan", supporting Avigdor Lieberman and his policies, supporting the West Bank settlers, and worst of all, not caring about the right of Palestinians. This stuff is so out of proportion I don't even know where to begin. For starters, I am strongly opposed to the settlements and their inhabitants who regularly attack both innocent Palestinians and Israelis who try to protect them. I think they, alongside terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are one of the biggest obstacles to peace in the region. Not only that, they really aren't any different from each other. Militant Zionists like those mentioned in the above link are just as bad as the Palestinians who fire rockets and mortars into Israel. At the same time, I don't think it makes me "anti-Palestinian" to point out that Jordan, in addition to Israel, snatched up Palestinian land in the first partition. Am I anti-Palestinian when I express my sheer outrage over what Hamas does to its own people? I hope anyone who cares about Palestinians wouldn't think this.

Israel has no doubt done bad things in its 60 years history, while at the same time attempting to offer things that no other country in the region will offer, like free press, democracy, women's rights, and major technological advantages, things that I believe are necessary for any society to truly succeed. Perhaps its difficult for some Americans to focus on the bad things Israel has done because they blindly support Israel for religious reasons--a means to an end, if I may say so. Or maybe its because Israel is surrounded by regimes so evil and repressive, like gender-apartheid Saudi Arabia, Bashir's blood-soaked Sudan, and Big Q's Libya, that it makes the settler violence seem mild in the eyes of the world.

If a fair international forum could exist, Israel would have things to answer for. Unfortunately, its nearly impossible to take the UN "Human Rights" Commission seriously when they give their posts and chairmanships to countries like the 3 mentioned above (Libya, Sudan, Saudi Arabia) and expect the world to take action against Israel. While the Gaza War erupted backed in December, an even worse conflict raged on in the jungles of Sri Lanka...just recently, 60 civilians were blown up by mortar fire but no one cares because this debate does not invoke political passion like Israel and Palestine do. During the the Gaza war, pro-Hamas protests broke out here in San Francisco, believe it or not. I haven't seen any protesters in San Francisco march through the streets waving Tamil Tiger flags and calling for the destruction of the Sri Lankan government, which could meet all the same criteria of being a "racist state" as Israel might. America has provided aid to Sri Lanka and has the Tamil Tigers on their list of terrorist organizations as well.

Recently, on Angry Arab's Comment Section, a blog I often visit, one commentator made a joke about Israeli immigrants moving to India and stealing Indian land, completely oblivious to the fact that India is already being "occupied" by Pakistan and Bangladesh, but I guess maybe its okay for these people because the occupiers are Muslims, instead of Jews. I've seen many of the commentators go after the Hindus of India for being the oppressive ones while falling silent over what Pakistani and Bangladeshi militants have done to India's civilian population. And no, I am not going on an anti-Muslim rant. Any regular reader of this blog would know that I have fiercely defended Pakistan in its fight against terrorism and that its harder to find a bigger defender of the Islamic religion than myself. I just don't think that blatant hypocrisy is fair.

My point in going on about this is that I really wish that people would completely and totally avoid this debate UNLESS they are willing to hear the other side and listen to their concerns. At the beginning of the month, I attended a debate featuring As'ad Abukhalil, the "Angry Arab" and Israeli Consul General Akiva Tor. I was disgusted by the people who claimed to be "Pro-Palestinian"--they were extremely disrespectful to the Consul General by shouting insults and yelling at him when he was trying to speak. Somewhere in the crowd, conscientious supporters of the Palestinian people must have been very embarrassed by what was happening. The event was advertised as though it would be a forum to discuss the issue...it was anything but. While it was very exciting to meet the two speakers, the "forum" managed to attract the worst of American Society.

I have met Palestinians...and I have met Israelis. Sometimes it seems they are more willing to discuss the issues than their supporters in other countries, believe it or not. Unless you are willing to bring your opponent into a cafe, drink coffee, and talk things over, you should avoid talking about anything involving Israel and Palestine for your own well-being and the well-being of others. I've heard that this conflict has wrecked many political careers over its perplexity and inability to be solved...I would say that the debate has wrecked many good and decent friendships over the inability to find any common ground.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bienvenidos a Tijuana! La parte dos

I actually just found this out. Just over a week ago, I was at this hospital, apparently, and I was not even aware of what had happened there not so long ago.



This is a video from Hospital General de Tijuana. A little over a year ago, drug cartels stormed the building and controlled it until the Mexican Army arrived.

I know one of these is in my last post, but here are the photos I took. There were a lot of people there, but luckily everything was calm.



Security was extremely tight. The police and security guards on duty were being very careful over who was to be let in. I decided a view from outside was all I needed.



Not even hospitals are safe in Mexico anymore.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bienvenidos a Tijuana! La parte uno...


For the past several months, I have been hearing a lot about the situation in Northern Mexico, especially on conservative talk radio and other similar media sources. I have heard border cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez described as "shooting galleries" and I have read a lot about them in the international media. Well I decided I needed to see this for myself, so I bought a plane ticket and flew down to San Diego. From there, I took the trolley into Tijuana. I felt a rush of adrenaline just seeing the city from the trolley window, before I even reached the San Ysidro border crossing. A giant Mexican flag flew beside the Tijuana arch, which I found to be a spectacular sight.



I'm not quite sure of the dimensions of this flag, but it must be very large. As soon as I stepped across the border, I found a large convoy of yellow taxis all waiting to bring the American tourists to the most popular parts of Tijuana. My driver was surprised when I told him what destination I was hoping to reach: the Tijuana police headquarters.



Once the cab got in motion it didn't take long to realize I was truly in a foreign country. The traffic was madness...cars swirling through roundabouts, aging buses blowing out black smoke, and pedestrians walking into oncoming traffic. It was a "every man for himself" mentality on the streets of downtown Tijuana, at least that's the way it seemed to me. Being from a quiet town outside of San Francisco, maybe I don't know what I am talking about.



Upon reaching the police station, I asked the driver if he would accept dollars since I had only converted half of my money to pesos and I wanted to save it. He did, and I was surprised to learn how many stores in Mexico accept dollars. Anyway, the police station was quite an experience. Armed guards with M-16 Assault rifles slung over their shoulders patrolled the perimeter...it was basically a fortress. I chatted with a police captain for several minutes and was disappointed to learn that my contact I had spoken with over the phone had been called away to Mexico City for the weekend. I did have a few minutes to talk with his spokesman though.

Police vehicles are pretty much the same as their counterparts in the US, although they are printed with "Policia" on the side, so you definitely know you are in Mexico.

Tijuana has also introduced a new fleet of police vehicles that are smaller, flashier, and more fuel efficient. There was also a lot of motorbike cops on the streets. I was surprised by the number of female police officers, one of whom was driving a vehicle.

I asked the captain if he would allow me to take a few photos and he said it would be okay. Taking photos of police and military personal is a very sensitive issue, or so I learned, because after the captain went inside, one of the men holding an M-16 decided I had taken enough photos. Considering the firepower he was packing, I was not in a position to argue. I put my camera away and strolled off to Avenida Revolucion, Tijuana's once bustling tourist zone.



Before I left for Tijuana I learned that Avenida Revolucion had been devoid of tourists as of late because of the spiraling drug cartel violence. I noticed that most of the people I was passing by on the streets were Mexicans. Waiters, bartenders, and club owners rushed out on the streets upon seeing me walking down the street, hoping they might be able to get a few dollars from an American visitor for a beer or a cigar. I ended up buying a couple of Mexican lagers and a Cuban cigar. The man in the cigar shop had hoped I would take it a step further by purchasing a poncho and a Sombrero, but I politely declined. I do regret not asking him to take a photo of me wearing it though.





This is a car dealership across the street from my hotel. Used Jetta sedans are being sold for just under 135,000 Pesos, or around 9,000 dollars. It really makes you appreciate the value of the dollar, despite all of the enonomic news, doesn't it?


Further downtown in the financial district of the city, things were calm, save for the occasional sound of a police siren or the honking of a horn. In this photo, the sun is beginning to set, and common sense was telling me to get back to the hotel because many of Tijuana's most horrific crimes take place at night and in the late evening. I ended up hanging out in a Starbucks for a little while though.



Now this I found to be a strange sight...this is a statue of Abraham Lincoln, also just a few blocks away from my hotel. I've heard a lot about how Latin America is "Anti-US" but I didn't see any of that in Tijuana. I proudly wore a "United States Navy" sweatshirt during my walk through the city and I had many people say to me "Yeah! America". Tijuanans were very friendly.



Outside of the financial district, things got a little more gloomy. This is the type of setting I imagine every time I read a horror story on the news about violence in Tijuana or any of the other northern cities. This was probably the one point in the trip where I feared a shoot-out could suddenly erupt. This picture was taken from a pedestrian overpass above a busy road.



I crossed over the pedestrian bridge and could see one of Tijuana's main hospitals off in the distance. After crossing a drainage canal I got a good view of the hospital, and found that it was very busy.





Once again, here are some more indications you are clearly not in the US when you are in a border city like Tijuana. The Km/hr sign reminded me of Europe. This was taken as I stepped down from the pedestrian bridge.



Tijuana is growing rapidly despite the troubles it is facing. I read somewhere that the city's population is approaching 2 million!

As I began to walk back to the hotel, I passed a government office...I believe it was for a state prosecutor. Granted that this is the type of peron at the center of the drugs war, I was not surprised to see two armored Humvees sitting outside with masked soldiers behind 50 Caliber machine guns. I reached for my camera, anxiously hoping to get a photo. In my best Spanish, I politely approached them.

Hola, yo soy estudiante del periodismo en Estados Unidos. Un Foto?
(Hello, I am a journalism student in the United States. May I take your photo?)

They politely replied:

Arrepentido, eso no es permitido. (sorry, we are not allowed to do so)

and I said:

Permanezca seguro, amigos (stay safe friends)

I would've been quite a sight to get a picture of, but just as I felt with the police, I was not in a position to push it when my subjects have machine guns. I also learned that soldiers and police wear black or brown face masks to conceal their identities, and photos are a concern because the drug cartels could use them to find the families of soldiers and police...something that has been happening all to often along our troubled border with Mexico.

I will have more photos to post soon, along with the conclusion of my trip...standby until then.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Knock-knock

As I recall, the media was quite anxious to talk about the "civil war" in Iraq back in 2005-2007, and the power of the insurgency. What I'm wondering now, is where are they to reveal the truth about the insurgency waging a gruesome battle on the border between the US and Mexico? Mexico is already in a state of war fighting drug cartels that have brought Al-Qaeda style violence to the people trying to go about their lives in its northern cities.

Beheadings, kidnappings, and assassinations are all common place in Northern Mexico today.



Reporting from Mexico City -- The Mexican government will deploy 1,000 more federal police officers as part of a wider effort to restore order in Ciudad Juarez, the nation's most violent city, officials said Monday.

Some of those uniformed federal officers began arriving in the border city Monday, two days after about 2,000 soldiers landed there in a related military buildup. Those soldiers were the first of an expected 5,000 additional troops who will be sent to help perform basic police functions.

The military reinforcements will bring to more than 7,000 the number of soldiers in Ciudad Juarez.

The nation's public safety chief, Genaro Garcia Luna, said that along with the soldiers, he planned to dispatch the additional 1,000 federal police officers, Notimex news agency reported.

About 425 federal officers already had been posted in Ciudad Juarez, where the death toll last year exceeded 1,600, the highest in a country racked by drug-related violence.

The border city is in the throes of a vicious turf war between a local drug-smuggling organization and rivals from the northwestern state of Sinaloa. The feud, and the Mexican government's 2-year-old crackdown on organized crime, has sent killings soaring.

The city's police chief, Roberto Orduna Cruz, resigned almost two weeks ago after several of his officers were shot to death and anonymous signs appeared warning that an officer would be killed every 48 hours unless he stepped down.

Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz, who has also been the subject of anonymous handwritten threats, said last week that the army would take over basic policing duties, such as patrolling the streets.


More of this story can be read in the Los Angeles Times here

Side-note: I have filed this post under "War on Terrorism" because the subhuman monsters terrorizing the citizens of Ciudad Juarez are terrorists just as much as Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and other knife-wielding lunatics who bastardize the Koran.

Friday, February 20, 2009

25 things to say

Some friends on Facebook and on the blogosphere have been encouraging me to take part in the "25 things to write about yourself" tag. I decided, why not take a break from politics and world events and do this?

Okay...here I go!

1) I never like to stay in the same place for an extended period of time, such as a city, state, or country, I am always determined to travel :)

2) I played sports for the first ten years of my life before I realized I didn't enjoy playing them.

3) LOST is my favorite TV show

4) John Locke is my favorite character in LOST...his faith and determination inspires me in life.

5) I am trying to learn both Arabic and Spanish at the same time, and I am thankful that I have friends who speak both languages so I can practice with them.

6) I voted for John McCain...it was my first presidential election to vote in.

7) Religion is complex for me..I consider myself a Christian, I would say, but I strongly embrace all faiths and I am always eager to learn more about the world's many great religions.

8) I have been to Friday prayers at a San Francisco mosque twice now

9) Sometimes, I have a tendency to be oversensitive and I overreact to the simplest of all things

10) Spending more than two weeks without going into downtown San Francisco could very well drive me crazy, since I really enjoy the atmosphere

11) When I go to SF, I visit Pier 39 often, even though it is an extreme tourist attraction and there's not much there for a native Californian.



12) I have lived in California for almost 4 years and I still have not gone over the Golden Gate Bridge! Although, I have crossed the Bay Bridge, which is almost the same size, dozens of times.

13) Last December, I stayed at a hotel on the California-Nevada border in Lake Tahoe and I ran back and forth across the border just for fun. I went about 50 yards each way. Of course, I went to dinner later on and got to spend plenty of time in the great state of Nevada.

14) My favorite singer is Bob Marley and I know many of his lyrics by heart

15) One time, I held a conversation in Farsi with an Iranian at Tehran University. It lasted for about a minute before my counterpart was able to put me through to an English language line. I had to use an online phrase list to help me through it ;)

16) I have visited both coasts of Ireland and spent a week and a half on each one

17) Even though I am non-Muslim, I have a framed picture of the holy city of Medina because I think it is a beautiful sight to look at. I also have a framed picture of Istanbul's blue mosque.

18) I am probably one of the last people my age to start using facebook and myspace.

19) I am not quite sure what my favorite country is outside of the USA...I suppose I might just have to say ALL of them!

20) I am watching 3 White Cloud mountain minnows swimming in a mini fish tank on my desk as I write this.

21) Many people tell me that I need to develop self-confidence

22) One day, I imagine myself traveling the world and having a very exciting career as a global correspondent. I will travel to Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, and countless other amazing people that few Americans will get to see :)

23) I am extremely thankful to blogger because it has helped me meet some of the nicest friends there are.

24) Math was my most difficult subject in school...come to think of it, it was really a miracle that I was able to get enough credits in math!!

25) I keep having this strange feeling that President Barack Obama is going to make a very good decision that will make me vote for him in the next election...hmmm, we'll see how that goes :D

So...how did that go?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Paradise lost...

After a lengthy battle, Pakistan has agreed to allow the Taliban to introduce Sharia law, a deranged way of life backward enough to inflict punishment on rape victims, as my most last post pointed out. By all means, Pakistan is surrendering to the Taliban.

If the Pakistani Army does pull out and the Taliban moves into the once-beautiful Swat Valley, that leaves us with few options, except for maybe...



Air power of course...certainly no one deserves a missile up their ass more than a bearded scumbag who storms into a girls school with an AK-47 and burns it down, blows it up, or in some cases, throws acid on the innocent students. How sad is it to think of the young girls in Pakistan who, thanks to the Pakistani government, might lose the battle for their education.

President Obama needs to put forth a troop surge strategy in Afghanistan, but it will have to be more complex than that. Recent polls are suggesting that the people of Afghanistan are losing their trust of the United States and our NATO allies. For every girls' school the Taliban burns down in the tribal areas of Pakistan, the elected-government of Afghanistan, along with its western allies, should build 50 new ones on the Afghan-side of the border. Having their leaders picked off by CIA predator drones may be damaging to the Taliban, but the only way they will ever be finished off is if both Afghans and Pakistanis succeed in building successful democracies.

I have always defended Pakistan...there is little doubt that they have suffered far more than any other country in the region from terrorism, especially India and Afghanistan. But surrendering Swat Valley could be a mistake of historical proportions.