Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a US-Arab journalist, media consultant, an author, internationally-syndicated columnist, Editor of Palestine Chronicle (1999-present), former Managing Editor of London-based Middle East Eye (2014-15), former Editor-in-Chief of The Brunei Times, former Deputy Managing Editor of Al Jazeera online. He taught mass communication at Australia’s Curtin University of Technology, Malaysia Campus. Baroud also served as head of Aljazeera.net English’s Research and Studies department. He is the author of three books and a contributor to many others; his latest volume is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London, 2010). His forthcoming book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story. His books were translated to several languages including French, Turkish, Arabic, Korean, among others. Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter (2015) and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara.
Baroud’s work has been published in hundreds of newspapers and journals worldwide, including The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, Arab News, The Miami Herald, The Japan Times, Al-Ahram Weekly, Asia Times, Al Jazeera, Gulf News and nearly every English language publication throughout the Middle East. His work is regularly translated and republished in French, Spanish, Arabic and other languages. He has contributed to and was referenced in hundreds of books and academic journals.
He has been a guest on many television and radio programs including RT TV, CNN International, BBC, ABC Australia, National Public Radio, Press TV, Aljazeera and many other stations.
He is the author of three books: Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion (Cune Press, Seattle, 2003); The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London, 2006); and My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). Baroud is also the co-author, with Samah Sabawi and Jehan Bseiso, of the poetry collection: I Remember My Name. His books are available in French, Turkish, Arabic, Korean and other languages. His forthcoming book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story.
Baroud has been a guest speaker at many top universities around the world, including George Mason University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Rutgers University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Manchester, University of Ireland, University of Washington, Penn State University and the University of Kwazulu Natal in South Africa.
Baroud spoke and conducted book tours in over twenty countries.
It involves the United States, an invigorated Russia and a rising China. The outcome of the war is likely to define the future of the continent and its global outlook.
It is easy to pin the blame on US President Donald Trump, his erratic agenda and impulsive statements. But the truth is, the current US military expansion in Africa is just another step in the wrong direction. It is part of a strategy that had been implemented a decade ago, during the administration of President George W. Bush, and actively pursued by President Barack Obama.
In 2007, under the pretext of the ‘war on terror’, the US consolidated its various military operations in Africa to establish the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM). With a starting budget of half a billion dollars, AFRICOM was supposedly launched to engage with African countries in terms of diplomacy and aid. But, over the course of the last 10 years, AFRICOM has been transformed into a central command for military incursions and interventions.
However, that violent role has rapidly worsened during the first year of Trump’s term in office. Indeed, there is a hidden US war in Africa, and it is fought in the name of ‘counter-terrorism’.
According to a VICE News special investigation, US troops are now conducting 3,500 exercises and military engagements throughout Africa per year, an average of 10 per day. US mainstream media rarely discusses this ongoing war, thus giving the military ample space to destabilize any of the continent’s 54 countries as it pleases.
“Today’s figure of 3,500 marks an astounding 1,900 percent increase since the command was activated less than a decade ago, and suggests a major expansion of US military activities on the African continent,” VICE reported.
Following the death of four US Special Forces soldiers in Niger on October 4, US Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, made an ominous declaration to a Senate committee: these numbers are likely to increase as the US is expanding its military activities in Africa.
Mattis, like other defense officials in the previous two administrations, justifies the US military transgressions as part of ongoing ‘counter-terrorism’ efforts. But such coded reference has served as a pretense for the US to intervene in, and exploit, a massive region with a great economic potential.
The old colonial ‘Scramble for Africa’ is being reinvented by global powers that fully fathom the extent of the untapped economic largesse of the continent. While China, India and Russia are each developing a unique approach to wooing Africa, the US is invested mostly in the military option, which promises to inflict untold harm and destabilize many nations.
The 2012 coup in Mali, carried out by a US-trained army captain, Amadou Haya Sanogo, is only one example.
In a 2013 speech, then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cautioned against a “new colonialism in Africa (in which it is) easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave.” While Clinton is, of course, correct, she was disingenuously referring to China, not her own country.
China’s increasing influence in Africa is obvious, and Beijing’s practices can be unfair. However, China’s policy towards Africa is far more civil and trade-focused than the military-centered US approach.
The growth in the China-Africa trade figures are, as per a UN News report in 2013, happening at a truly “breathtaking pace”, as they jumped from around $10.5 billion per year in 2000 to $166 billion in 2011. Since then, it has continued at the same impressive pace.
But that growth was coupled with many initiatives, entailing many billions of dollars in Chinese credit to African countries to develop badly needed infrastructure. More went to finance the ‘African Talents Program’, which is designed to train 30,000 African professionals in various sectors.
It should come as no surprise, then, that China surpassed the US as Africa’s largest trading partner in 2009.
The real colonialism, which Clinton referred to in her speech, is, however, under way in the US’s own perception and behavior towards Africa. This is not a hyperbole, but in fact a statement that echoes the words of US President Trump himself.
During a lunch with nine African leaders last September at the UN, Trump spoke with the kind of mindset that inspired western leaders’ colonial approach to Africa for centuries.
Soon after he invented the none-existent country of ‘Nambia’, Trump boasted of his “many friends (who are) going to your (African) countries trying to get rich.” “I congratulate you,” he said, “they are spending a lot of money.”
The following month, Trump added Chad, his country’s devoted ‘counter-terrorism’ partner to the list of countries whose citizens are banned from entering the US.
Keeping in mind that Africa has 22 Muslim majority countries, the US government is divesting from any long-term diplomatic vision in Africa, and is, instead increasingly thrusting further into the military path.
The US military push does not seem to be part of a comprehensive policy approach, either. It is as alarming as it is erratic, reflecting the US constant over-reliance on military solutions to all sorts of problems, including trade and political rivalries.
Compare this to Russia’s strategic approach to Africa. Reigniting old camaraderie with the continent, Russia is following China’s strategy of engagement (or in this case, re-engagement) through development and favorable trade terms.
But, unlike China, Russia has a wide-ranging agenda that includes arms exports, which are replacing US weaponry in various parts of the continent. For Moscow, Africa also has untapped and tremendous potential as a political partner that can bolster Russia’s standing at the UN.
Aware of the evident global competition, some African leaders are now laboring to find new allies outside the traditional western framework, which has controlled much of Africa since the end of traditional colonialism decades ago.
A stark example was the late November visit by Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir to Russia and his high-level meeting with President Vladimir Putin. “We have been dreaming about this visit for a long time,” al-Bashir told Putin, and “we are in need of protection from the aggressive acts of the United States.”
The coveted ‘protection’ includes Russia’s promised involvement in modernizing the Sudanese army.
Wary of Russia’s Africa outreach, the US is fighting back with a military stratagem and little diplomacy. The ongoing US mini war on the continent will push the continent further into the abyss of violence and corruption, which may suit Washington well, but will bring about untold misery to millions of people.
There is no question that Africa is no longer an exclusive western ‘turf’, to be exploited at will. But it will be many years before Africa and its 54 nations are truly free from the stubborn neocolonial mindset, which is grounded in racism, economic exploitation and military interventions.
Top photo: Photo by US Army Africa | CC BY 2.0
The formulation of the narrative concerning Ullah’s motives, radicalization and assumed hate for the US was so immaculate, one would have thought it took authorities months, not hours to compile such demanding evidence.
Strangely, Ullah’s own family was surprised by the accusation concerning their son.
However, the exact nature of what truly happened matters little. Not only was Ullah instantly found guilty by the media, all Muslims and immigrants, in fact, were.
Following each attack of this nature, Muslims in the US mobilize to fend off accusations concerning their faith, their values and their allegiance to the country in which they live.
But it is not an easy fight to win. When President Donald Trump is constantly tweeting anti-Muslim propaganda, while his administration exploits every opportunity to advance anti-immigrant initiatives, the beleaguered small community of Muslims in the US can do little to stop the rising tide of Islamophobia.
The media has played a major role in propagating the negative attitudes towards Muslims and Islam, which, in turn, provide the much-needed public support for the government to continue with its anti-Muslim measures.
Compare such attitudes with the way in which mass shootings carried out by white American men is communicated by the government and media alike.
Although mass killings by white males have proven to be the deadliest in the US, the discussion generated in the media and official discourses are centered mostly on mental illness of white attackers. In other words, there is consensus that violence perpetrated by members of the white community is not inherent to that community’s race, culture or religion.
Five years after Adam Lazna killed 20 first graders and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, many are still at work trying to analyze Lanza’s supposed mental illness that drove him to commit such a reprehensible act.
The fact that Lanza was carrying more than 30 pounds of weapons seemed superfluous. Many pundits and politicians still refuse to engage in a discussion about guns.
The ‘mental health’ argument in also championed by Trump himself.
“Mental health is your problem here”, Trump said in a statement in response to a mass shooting by Devin Kelly, a white male who killed more than two dozen people in a Texas church last November.
Resorting to easy answers when white men kill is now the norm. Killers of other races, skin colors and nationalities, however, get entirely different treatment.
As soon as the news emerged of Ullah’s alleged bombing in New York, the Trump administration moved in full force to target immigrants. It called on Congress to end the diversity immigration lottery program, and to also shoot down chain migration – a government program that allows for easier immigration based on family connection.
The incessant media coverage and stubborn government targeting of Muslims have led to an unprecedented hysteria which, in turn, led to numerous incidents of Muslims being targeted because of their faith. Many accounts of Muslims being thrown out of airplanes, often kicking and screaming, is becoming a fact of life in the US.
When Khairuldeen Makhzoomi was kicked out of a Southwest Airlines flight last year for speaking Arabic on the phone, the agent who escorted him reprimanded him for using his mother tongue in public considering “today’s political climate.”
Anila Dualatzai was dragged down the aisle of a plane heading to Los Angeles. She was “profiled, abused, interrogated, detained, and subjected to false reporting and the trauma of racist, vitriolic public shaming precisely because she is a woman, a person of color, and a Muslim,” her attorney told the Washington Post.
While this hysteria plays well into the hands of opportunistic politicians like Trump, actual facts suggest that violence is hardly a Muslim phenomenon.
Newsweek reported on statistics showing that white men have committed most of the country’s mass killings. Since 1982, the “majority of mass shootings – 54 percent – were committed by white men,” numbers show.
Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old white man who massacred 58 people and wounded hundreds more at the Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas last October, was only one of an ever-growing list.
Countless government officials and journalists have fanned out to find out why Paddock would carry out such a heinous act, as if a white man’s violence is a rare event in a country supposedly threatened by Blacks, Mexicans and Muslims.
Yet the truth is that the white man’s profile is the most violent in the US.
“White men commit mass shootings out of a sense of entitlement,” John Haltiwanger wrote in Newsweek.
Research conducted by Eric Madfis from the University of Washington argued in 2014 that, in the US, “middle-class Caucasian heterosexual males in their teenage years and in middle age commit mass murder … in numbers disproportionately high relative to their share of the population.”
He ascribed this finding to “white entitlement” and “heterosexual masculinity”, among other reasons.
Still, a whole race, gender and religion are not held suspect; a rule that applies to some and excludes others.
Certainly, anti-Arab and Muslim sentiment in the US has been around for generations, but it has risen sharply in the last two decades. Arabs and Muslims have become an easy scapegoat for all of America’s instabilities and failures.
But demonizing and humiliating brown-skinned men and women is certainly not the way out of the economic, political and foreign policy quagmires which American ruling elites have invited upon their country.
Such unlawful and undemocratic behavior may feed anti-Muslim hysteria a little longer, and give the likes of Trump more fodder for their useless efforts in targeting innocent men and women. But, in the long run, it will do the country much harm, damaging its democratic institutions and contributing to the culture of violence, founded on entitled white men touting guns and killing innocent people.
Top photo:Photo by Erich Ferdinand | CC BY 2.0
Alas, for him, too, political expediency trumped all else. In his visit to Burma (Myanmar) on November 27, he refrained from using the word ‘Rohingya.’
But what’s in a name?
In our frenzied attempts at understanding and articulating the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma, we often, perhaps inadvertently, ignore the heart of the matter: The struggle of the Rohingya is essentially a fight for identity.
Burma’s Buddhist majority and its representatives, including the powerful military and the country’s de-facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, understand this well. They use a strictly-guarded discourse in which the Rohingya are never recognized as a unique group with pressing political aspirations.
Thus, they refer to the Rohingya as ‘Bengali‘, claiming that the Muslim minority are immigrants from Bangladesh who entered the country illegally. Nothing could be further from the truth.
But historical accuracy, at least for the Buddhist majority, is beside the point. By stripping the Rohingya from any name affiliation that makes them a unique collective, it becomes possible, then, to deny them their rights, to dehumanize them and, eventually, ethnically cleanse them as has been the case for years.
Since August, over 650,000 members of the Rohingya community have been driven out of their homeland in Burma by a joint and systematic operation involving the military, the police and various Buddhist nationalist groups. They call it “Clearance Operations.”
Thousands of Rohingya have been killed in this grave act of genocide, some in most abhorrent and inhumane ways imaginable.
The United Nations Human Rights Council Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has recently referred to the purges in Burma as a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing. There can be no other interpretation of this horrendous campaign of government-led violence.
But as thousands were pushed into the jungles or the open sea, the silence was deafening.
Only recently, US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who visited Burma last November decided to label the massive human rights violations against the Rohingya as ‘ethnic cleansing.’
Although his statement labeled the government-centered genocide as “abuses by some among the Burmese military,” it was still a clear departure from past failure to even address the issue altogether.
Still, it was a major disappointment that the Pope abstained from mentioning the Rohingya by name while in Burma. He only stated their name when he crossed the border to Dhaka. In Bangladesh, using the word ‘Rohingya’ seemed like a safe political strategy.
It is understood that refraining from using the word ‘Rohingya’ while in Burma was done as a “concession to the country’s Catholics”, reported the Washington Post. The logic goes: by challenging the popular narrative that cast the Rohingya as foreigners, the Pope would have ignited the ire of the Buddhists against the country’s Christian minority, itself persecuted, at least in two Burmese states.
If the Rohingya are to be named0, it means that the core of the issue would have better chances of being directly addressed. The moment they retain their collective identity is the moment that the Rohingya become a political entity, subject to the rights and freedoms of any minority, anywhere.
The Pope, as bold as he has been regarding other issues, has the moral authority to challenge the permeating – yet disconcerting – narrative in Burma that has dehumanized the Rohingya for generations. In 1982, the embattled minority group was denied the status of a minority group and was stripped of its citizenship, paving the way for eventual ethnic cleansing.
Alas, in the end, the Pope joined the regional and international powers that insist on understanding the Rohingya crisis outside the realm of political solutions, pertaining to political rights and identity.
Indeed, he is not alone. ASEAN leaders meeting in Manila, Philippines in mid-November made no mention of the Rohingya by name. Worse, in their 26-page final document, they mentioned the crisis in the Northern Rakhine State – the epicenter of the Rohingya genocide – in passing:
We … extend appreciation for the prompt response in the delivery of relief items for Northern Vietnam flash floods and landslides … as well as the affected communities in Northern Rakhine State.
That is how the Southeast Asian leaders respond to one of the worse political and humanitarian disasters in Southeast Asia in recent decades. Pitiful.
Standing proudly in the final photo with the rest of the leaders was Aung San Suu Kyi, who was promoted by western media for many years as a ‘democracy icon’. The ‘Lady of Burma’ who challenged the military junta and spent years under house arrest for her defiance has, in recent years, found a convenient political formula that allows her to share power with the military.
A political opportunist at best, Aung San Suu Kyi, too, does not call the Rohingya by their name. Worse, her government has played a major role in dehumanizing the Rohingya and, at times, blamed them for their own suffering.
Last September, in a last-ditch effort at salvaging her tattered reputation, she gave a 30-minute televised speech in which she explained her position using a most confused logic.
The best she came up with was, “We are a young and fragile country facing many problems … We cannot just concentrate on the few.” The “few”, of course, being the Rohingya.
When the Pope arrived in Bangladesh, a man by the name of Mohammed Ayub was awaiting him as part of a small delegation of Rohingya refugees.
Mohammed’s 3-year-old son was killed by the Burmese military. The father’s message to the Pope was not seeking humanitarian relief for despairing refugees, or even justice for his own child, but something else entirely.
“He should say the word as we are, Rohingya,” Mohammed told the Catholic Crux Now. “We have been Rohingya for generations, my father and my grandfather.”
In Dhaka, the Pope attempted to reclaim that missed opportunity.
“The presence of God today is also called Rohingya,” he said.