Welcome To The World Of Donald Trump

A man walks into a bar in Kansas City. Many of the patrons are from a country other than the United States. Their physical appearance is a dead give away. The man asks them, as if he had some God given right, What visa did they hold? Were they in the United States illegally? There was method in his madness. He leaves and returns to the bar with a gun and opens fire killing one person, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian born engineer working for Garmin in the United States. Two other people are wounded, one of them seriously. The seriously wounded man, is incredibly lucky to be alive and still walking because the bullet that struck him narrowly missed his carotid artery and spinal column. This was a racially motivated hate crime. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

A celebrated Australian author of children’s books, Mem Fox, goes to the United States on business. She has a valid visa and Fox has travelled to the US many times before. Make that 116 times before without incident. But this time is different. This time she is travelling directly in the wake of Donald Trump’s anti immigration rantings, by that I mean his executive order on immigration. On her arrival, Fox is detained and questioned for two hours by US Customs officials. “I have never in my life been spoken to with such insolence, treated with such disdain, with so many insults and with so much gratuitous impoliteness,” she would later say. “I felt like I had been physically assaulted which is why, when I got to my hotel room, I completely collapsed and sobbed like a baby. And I’m 70 years old.”

Fox tells Australian reporters that the Customs officials seem to be turbocharged with the power granted to them by Trump’s order. Fox complains. She receives an apology, but says she will never again travel to the United States. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

The White House holds a press conference. The media, the fifth estate, exists to hold people like Donald Trump accountable. Now there’s a fine word with a multitude of meaning. Accountability. You see the media exists as a free and independent entity in a flourishing democracy. In fact it is one of the foundations that a democracy is built on. Politicians can be criticised, questioned and held to account. They can be caught out lying. Now there’s another good word. Mendacity. But when a number of media organisations, like CNN, the BBC and the New York Times, try to enter the briefing room, they are barred. Barred from entering? Are you serious? In contrast ‘friendly’ to Donald Trump news services like Fox News, One America News Networks and the hideous Breitbart news have no problem attending the White House briefing. In fact they are welcomed with open arms. Trump calls the media purveyors of fake news. They tell lies according to Trump. It’s a bit like that story of the pot, the kettle and the colour black. If Donald Trump really wants to see mendacity he should look in the mirror more often. Terrorist attack in Sweden anyone? Is this Stalinist Russia? Not it’s the good old USA, the greatest democracy in the world. Yeah right. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

This media ban is unprecedented. This is a disgrace. This has never happened before in the history of American democratic politics. By democratic, I mean democracy. Not the party. These are the actions of a dictator. A man who thinks he’s above the law and now that he is President of the United States can do whatever he likes, to who ever he likes. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

The son of the late and great Mohammed Ali, the greatest American heavyweight world champion boxer of all time, is detained at a Florida airport and questioned about being a Muslim. I guess the name was a dead giveaway. He has the same name as his Dad. But who cares in Trump America. He sounds like a muslim. And all Muslims are dangerous. Right? Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

Ali junior and his mother, who was Mohammed Ali’ s second wife, were returning to the United States after a vacation in Jamaica. Ali junior’s lawyer, told a Louisville Kentucky newspaper, that his client was detained and questioned for two hours by Immigration officials, who repeatedly asked him: Where did you get your name from? Are you Muslim? Clearly they were not boxing fans. For the record, Ali junior was born in Philadelphia and holds a US passport. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

He’s besieged. He’s taking a beating in the polls. He’s loved and loathed and despised equally by many including members of his own Government, some of whom keep feeding the media with damaging leaks designed to embarrass and humiliate. So what does he do? He takes his message to the American people. Mass rallies of his supporters.Hang on. Didn’t we just have a Presidential election campaign? He tells them the mainstream media are all liars and the economy is going great. And guess what? He says I’m going to keep having rallies, keep talking to the people because I can’t trust anyone. Only a fool would believe him. This man is a bombast. A wrecker and a hater. He can’t be trusted and will trash alliances, relationships and all of the goodwill the United States has spent decades cultivating. Welcome to the world of darkness. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

Everyone Is Crazy Afraid

It’s amazing what fear can do.

It’s amazing what people will do when they are fearful. They go crazy. Man, do they go crazy.

If you don’t believe me, then consider this: A nutcase with a gun goes into an elementary school in the United States and kills teachers and little children. Normally you might expect a thunderous crescendo of noise calling for a ban on the proliferation of guns.

But exactly the opposite happened. People went out and bought more guns. There was a significant spike in the sale of guns after the Sandy Hook massacre.

Crazy.

But you need not be a rocket scientist to come up with the reason. People are afraid. Americans went out and bought more guns through fear. Yes fear. And fear becomes self-perpetuating. If more people have guns, it makes massacres of innocent people more likely, not less. In other words fear breeds more fear and stupidity. But I don’t want to talk about guns. I want to talk about fear. The more fearful we become, the greater the ignorance, the irrationality and stupidity of our actions.

Here’s another example: Brexit. I used to think the Poms were a bit measured and considered and less hair brained than their American cousins. But their decision to leave Europe was completely insane. Seriously, what were you thinking, English people? Has anyone in the UK looked at an Atlas lately? Geographically, you are part of Europe. No amount of wishful thinking is going to change that.

But I know why you did it. You were afraid. You were afraid of all those Syrian refugees somehow finding their way to the UK. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones fleeing war and oppression and ignorance and bigotry and zealotry. The ones who need someone to show them a bit of compassion. And if you stayed as a part of Europe, you were going to have to accept your share and do your bit. Anti immigration is fear. Xenophobia is fear. You don’t need to be afraid.

Fear has become our mantra especially when we are confronted with lone wolf terrorist attacks that inflict mass casualties. What happened in France, Germany and Turkey is appalling, unacceptable and outrageous. And when Governments are powerless to protect their citizens from these attacks, as they seemingly are, everyone becomes fearful and irrational. If Donald Trump becomes the next President of the United States, God forbid, it will be because Americans are afraid. They want a leader who they think will protect them. Who will talk and act tough and build walls to keep people out and ban people on the basis of their race or religion.

Little do they realize this only makes a bad situation much worse. Banning all Muslims or attacking all Muslims or excluding all Muslims because we are afraid of them only creates more fear. It makes Muslims fearful of us and the whole cycle self perpetuates. We need to break the cycle. Instead of fear, we need to show love and compassion and understanding and tolerance and be inclusive. As people, we are all in this together, irrespective of whether we are Muslim or Christian or any other religion you care to name. What happened in Nice and elsewhere was an attack on humanity. And as human beings we need to stand together and embrace one another. We need to reassure Muslims we don’t fear them nor should they fear us. The vast majority of Muslims don’t want to kill us nor do we want to kill them. There will always be individuals who are fanatics. Muslim and Christian alike.But these fanatics don’t speak for anyone except themselves. And when these fanatics attack some of us randomly, they are attacking all of us.

They are attacking humanity and it is humanity as a whole that needs to respond. Let me say it again. That means all of us in this together. Xenophobia was never a chapter in the guide book for being human.

We have to stop being afraid and start being inclusive.

Indiana’s Really Strange Religious Freedom Law Which Is Just An Excuse For Homophobia

America is a funny place. By that I mean peculiarly eccentric. And it’s not always in a good way. Take this as a for instance. The US State of Indiana has just passed a very strange law. It’s called a Religious Freedom Law. But it seems to me the only freedom it grants is the right to be a homophobic bigot. To put it plainly, the law permits individuals and businesses to discriminate on the basis of religion. In other words people can be denied service because of their sexual orientation and that denial is justified on the grounds of religious belief. It doesn’t take much imagination or ingenuity to figure that this law is directed at Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and the Transgender community. The Governor of Indiana, a man called Mike Pence, signed this into law. He says and I quote: ” The bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it was about discrimination, I would have vetoed it.” He’s entitled to his opinion, but civil liberties and gay rights groups have a very different take. They say this law asserts that the government can’t “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” and that individuals who feel like their religious beliefs have been or could be “substantially burdened” can rely on this law to fend off lawsuits. Supporters of these laws talk of the example of a florist who refuses to sell flowers for a gay wedding or a baker who refuses to make the couple’s wedding cake — and it’s clear this law is aimed at subverting any lawsuits that the florist or the baker might face.

But what about a restaurant that refuses to serve a gay couple, who simply want to sit down and enjoy a meal?

“It would foil any lawsuit against a supplier who acted on religious grounds, but the law can get squirrely, “ according to one legal analyst, adding that it’s likely that a refusal to serve a gay person would not be upheld under the law, but a refusal to provide a service for a gay wedding would.

Indiana is not the first state to implement this kind of a law.

It’s the 20th American state to adopt a “religious freedom restoration” law, most of which is modelled on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993.

But that law was passed in very different times with the backing of a broad-based coalition and wasn’t proposed against the backdrop of gay rights or the Tsunami of marriage equality laws sweeping the country in recent years.

The law in Indiana, came after an outcry from social conservative groups over publicity where business owners found themselves in hot water for refusing services to gay couples planning to get married.

In addition to those 20 American states, legislators in nine other states have introduced similar types of “religious freedom” laws — bills that either failed to go through in 2014 or are still up for consideration this year.

But a spokesman with the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, says those 20 laws are “dramatically different in their scope and effect.”

“Indiana is the broadest and most dangerous law of its kind in the country,” the spokesman said.

Arkansas’ legislature passed an Indiana-style law, which now heads to the state governor for approval.

Religious liberty — and using it to sabotage same-sex marriage and other gay rights — has become the rallying cry for social conservative groups in the past year as they watched one anti-gay marriage law after another get overturned in the courts. Thank God they were overturned.

What the Indiana Governor didn’t say was that standing behind him, as he signed the bill, were several socially conservative lobbyists, the very ones who pushed for the law and are fiercely opposed to same-sex marriage. One of the lobbyists, Eric Miller, wrote on his website that the law would protect businesses from participating in “homosexual marriage.” So much for being non discriminatory.

The Human Rights Campaign is in no doubt that the only reason these laws were passed was because of the legalising of same sex marriage. However,it is a high-risk political gamble. The States who want this type of law will have to calculate risk versus rewards. Are the rewards that come from the religious groups much greater than the financial cost they will have to wear in lost business?  Never underestimate the power of the pink dollar. You do so at your peril.

These “religious freedom restoration” laws have already been used as a legal defence to allegations of discrimination.

The Human Rights Campaign says there are several cases where individuals have used these laws in a courtroom — and not just in cases involving LGBT people and weddings. For example, a police officer in Oklahoma claimed a religious objection when he refused to police a mosque. Another police officer in Salt Lake City claimed “religious liberty” when he refused to police a gay pride parade. And a photographer in New Mexico used religious freedom as a defence for not serving a lesbian couple in 2013.

Ironically, 21 states currently have laws on their books prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. And another nine have those protections, but just for public employees.

So how could a Religious Freedom Restoration law sit comfortably in an environment of laws that prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation? The answer is they can’t. “They’ve basically said, as long as your religion tells you to, it’s okay to discriminate against people,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign. Indiana is starting to discover that having discriminatory homophobic laws is not very helpful. Plenty of very large companies are moving to distance themselves from the Religious Restoration bill. For example, Cloud computer giant Salesforce, says it will cut back on its investments in the State of Indiana.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook, in a Twitter post, said his company was “deeply disappointed,” and called on Arkansas Governor, Asa Hutchinson, to veto a similar measure.

” Apple is open to everyone,” Cook said.

Gen Con, the world’s largest gaming convention with 56,000 attendees last year, said it might stop holding the event in Indianapolis, the state’s main city. This would be a huge financial blow because it contributes more than $50 million to the economy.

The powerful National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is hosting the US men’s college basketball finals in Indianapolis next week, but the Association said it was “especially concerned” about how the law would affect its student athletes and employers. Hollywood stars joined the opposition via social media, where actor Ashton Kutcher likened the law to Anti-Semitism and singer Miley Cyrus directed an expletive at Indiana Governor Pence.

Fortunately, Gay rights have made big strides in recent years, with marriage equality recognized in 37 states after the US Supreme Court in 2013 ruled that federal law could not discriminate against married LGBT couples.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican who opposed the law, said he and other city officials would talk to businesses and convention planners to counter the uproar the law has caused. “I’m more concerned about making sure that everyone knows they can come (here).”

Around the state, bumper stickers saying: “This business serves everyone” have begun appearing in many business windows, and groups such as the Indiana Chamber of Commerce have taken to social media with messages that the state is welcoming to all businesses. The stakes in this are pretty high. Indianapolis’ tourism and convention business is estimated to generate $4.4 billion annually and create 75,000 jobs. Chris Gahl, a vice president with the tourism agency Visit Indy, said: “We know that their ability to work is largely dependent on our ability to score convention business and draw in events and visitors.”

Unless Indiana wakes up and smells the coffee and abandons plans to introduce such a discriminatory law, it is going to be hit in a place that will hurt the most. The good old hip pocket nerve. And, quite frankly, so they should.

Airlines Find New Ways To Torture Passengers With Economy Minus Seating

Everything is shrinking. Have you noticed? We can go from one side of the world to the other in an instant. Skype or email, you can reach anyone, anywhere with the click of a mouse or the tap of a keyboard. And it’s not limited to the virtual world. You can stick a pin in a map of any country and be there within hours. That is unprecedented in human history. But if you think this is a plug for the world’s major, or even minor, airlines think again.

It ain’t.

Airline travel has never been more affordable, more frequent, more readily available and more undesirable. Everything the world’s airlines do these days has, what I call, a perverse inversibility. The more they offer in travel destinations, the less you receive in customer service and creature comfort. Whoever said there’s no such thing as a free ride wasn’t kidding. Here are some examples. You think you’ve locked in the final price for your airfare, only to be told it’s going to cost extra should you want to choose your seat. From baggage fees to credit card surcharges, it’s just one more extra fee, airlines are slugging customers, to bring in an extra dollar.

Choosing your seat on a Qantas domestic flight is free, but you’ll get stung big time on their international routes. Selecting a general seat will cost you $25. And for extra legroom make that $60. Qantas does  allow you to avoid paying the fee by offering free seat selection within 24 hours of flying, that is, of course, if you don’t mind taking pot luck on where you’ll end up sitting. How generous? A Qantas spokesperson had the temerity to suggest that seat selection fees were designed to avoid passenger disappointment.

Yeah right.

But Qantas isn’t the only Australian carrier loading on the fees. Jetstar automatically charges for seat selection unless you choose not to pay. Its booking system starts off by adding $5 to your fare for allowing you to choose your seat. And if you want a seat closer to the front it will cost you $11 and then it jumps to $24 for an exit row seat.

Virgin’s fee structure offers extra legroom seating from $20 to $70 for domestic and short haul international flights and a whopping $150 for long haul international flights. And it’s happening all over the world. In the United States, Delta, American Airlines, and low-cost carriers US Airways, Frontier, Spirit and Allegiant have introduced charges for “preferred seating”. In Europe, British Airways charges a seat selection fee and budget carrier Ryanair offers specific seats for an extra cost, as does its low-cost rival EasyJet.

So you can imagine my shock, horror and dismay, did I mention shock? When I read that airlines are planning to introduce a whole new level of flight hell called ‘economy minus.’ If you thought there couldn’t be anything worse than cattle class think again. Plans are afoot to sky test a new, even more cramped section in economy class, according to leaks published on an aviation website.

The “enhanced economy” section would have a seat pitch, which is the distance between your seat and the seat in front of you, of approximately 35 to 38 inches (88.9 — 96.5 centimetres). Regular economy would have a pitch of 76 to 78.7cm and the new “economy minus” at under 76cm — but the exact size, meaning how small, is yet to be confirmed.

But many airlines have already reconfigured their economy sections into similar models, they’re just not letting the travelling public know about it. Numerous airline seats already fall under the 76cm mark. And, you might be surprised to know, that all these teensy seats go against recommendations from plane manufacturer Boeing, which released its “magic formula” for leg room in economy class in 2001. The formula, was hailed at the time as the ultimate guide for leg room. It was based on calculations of how many cubic centimetres of leg, rear, end and shoulder space it takes to create a “tolerable” experience for passengers. Boeing calculated it at 81 cm.

Essentially, what we’ve come to know as the premium offering of “economy plus,”which isn’t quite business class, but less of a squeeze, is really just the equivalent of the economy class section from years ago and we thought that was bad enough at the time. The airlines refuse to advertise the fact that seats are continuing to shrink, and the standard economy section we used to know will soon be just a memory. In fact, these days airlines are stealing space from economy passengers to make their premium flyers more comfortable. For example, last year, one airline reduced economy passenger space by an inch (2.5cm) per row in order to give their “economy plus” flyers extra room.

The airlines are being very quiet about it all, but passengers are noticing the difference. One airline passenger in the United States wrote about what she described as the space-stealing problem in a review of her United Airlines experience. This airline has already garnered a reputation for having an unofficial “economy minus” section with leg room of just 78cm on some of its planes — 16cm less than its premium passengers.

“We just ended a miserable flight, “ she wrote. “United’s ‘economy plus’ option, means that for a family not able to afford to upgrade, you are now put in the ‘economy minus’ seats — meaning the least leg room on any flight in living memory. It seems United gives the plus legroom to the economy plus, but then subtracts the legroom from the poor folks back in cattle class.”

Prepare yourself for the brave new world in airline travel.

Major airlines like Air New Zealand, Emirates, KLM and Air France managed to squeeze in a fourth seat in the middle of their Boeing 777 planes. And to add insult to injury they charge the same price as regular economy for a seat that’s narrower than most other airlines.

This is not good news in a world where people are getting bigger not smaller. Airline travel is fast becoming something to be endured rather than enjoyed.

Could Our Pets Infect Us With Ebola?

Just when you thought the Ebola Crisis couldn’t get any worse. It does. Especially, if you are like me and happen to be an animal lover. And I am sure there are plenty of people like me.

Health officials in Texas, must now confront a second dilemma. What should be done with a pet dog, belonging to the Texas hospital nurse who contracted Ebola from the patient she was nursing, who later died from the disease?

Not only did the nurse interact with other people and of course she was completely innocent to the fact that she had become infected. She also interacted with her dog, a King Charles spaniel. Needless to say health authorities have no idea if dogs can catch and spread Ebola in the same way humans can.

Health authorities claim they are trying to find a place where they can monitor the dog, to see if it develops Ebola symptoms. The nurse’s apartment has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. She was admitted to a hospital isolation unit and is reported to be in a stable condition. Texan authorities say her dog will be looked after. But to what extent that statement is a pet lover talking, or simply a deliberate attempt to avoid the torrent of criticism because of what occurred in Spain recently, is anyone’s guess.

Spain was confronted with a similar scenario to Texas. A Spanish nursing assistant also contracted Ebola from a patient. She too had a dog. And while the dog showed no signs of having the virus, Spanish authorities, who were clearly not animal lovers, decided it should be put to sleep. The decision caused a public uproar. Animal rights activists took to the streets to protest the decision in more than 20 cities across Spain. An online petition attracted more than 400 thousand signatures.

I have some sympathy for authorities because this is a really tough call. According to the World Health Organization, Ebola is found in a number of animals like fruit bats, monkeys, apes, chimpanzees and pigs. One of the ways that humans get Ebola in Africa, is by eating bush meat infected with the virus.

A study from 2005, suggests there is a theoretical possibility that dogs can pass the disease on to humans, but nothing is confirmed and the only option for health authorities is to recommend caution.

In 2001, an Ebola outbreak in the African country of Gabon, found traces of Ebola anti-bodies in dogs, which is a sign that they were infected at some point. But where and how they were infected, nobody can answer.

A University Professor in the UK, who is also an Ebola expert, said the wisest move would be to assume that dogs represent a risk to humans but if you want a truthful answer no-one can confirm it because no-one has conducted the necessary research.

Ebola spreads through close body contact with someone infected with the disease. The virus is found in bodily fluids such as blood, vomit, faeces, urine or semen. There has to be an entry point for the infection to be transferred such as having sex, cutting the skin, or touching the mouth, nose or eyes. That’s why health workers wear fully protective suits when they come into contact with an infected patient. The most transmissible fluids are blood, faeces and vomit. But the virus can also be found in the saliva and sweat of patients who are extremely ill with Ebola.

The symptoms include, headache, muscle pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pain or unexplained bruising or bleeding.

But does it mean that by coming into contact with dog faeces or secretions from a pet, belonging to an Ebola patient, you will also contract the disease? The answer is no-one knows.

The US Center For Disease Control and Prevention, is at pains to point out that there are no reports of pets becoming sick or playing any kind of role, so far, in the transmission of Ebola to humans. The center is currently working with the American Veterinary Medical Association, and others, to help develop guidelines to cover the US pet population.

Ebola has killed more than four thousand people. The number of cases is currently double that. There is evidence to suggest that Africa could reach more than a million Ebola cases by the end of the year. We need to fight this thing with everything we have got because potentially it threatens the entire world.

But it would be even more tragic and cruel and heartbreaking to discover that dogs and cats have a role to play in its transmission to humans. Clearly, it is one more question we need to answer urgently.

The Ebola Nightmare

I don’t want to sound alarmist but there is a contagion happening in West Africa that should worry the heck out of all of us.

It’s called Ebola. Here’s a bit of useful background.This disease is highly contagious. Victims haemorrhage from just about every orifice. It’s spread through coming into contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. There’s a three week incubation period and no known cure. Health workers wear full biohazard suits which mean they look like they are preparing for a walk in outer space when dealing with its victims.

The United States is starting to take Ebola very seriously. Some say they dragged their heels in getting to this point. I say who cares I’m just glad they did.

President Obama pledged 3000 US military personnel to go to West Africa. Their job will include erecting new treatment and isolation facilities, training health care workers to minimize disease spread and support in communications and transport. The United Nations called it a billion dollar problem.

But it’s not the cost that we should be worried about. It’s Ebola’s capacity to kill people. Twenty-four hundred people have already died since the start of this year. Now health authorities are predicting more than 20 thousand people could be infected by the end of the year. That is not a disease. It is an out of control wildfire. As one doctor described it an out of control wildfire from the pit of hell. They’re talking it up to be a major humanitarian crisis in the countries affected. It is already. The biggest problem they’ve got apart from the rate that it kills people is how to contain it. Right at this moment they’re losing the battle. It’s crippled public health systems in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. They didn’t have much of a public health system to begin with and that’s probably why this disease took hold.

The U.S has already spent $100 million with plans to spend even more. Critics are saying the international community’s delayed response is to blame for allowing Ebola to spread exponentially and in a fashion unparalleled in modern times.

Think runaway freight train destroying everything in its path. And because it’s such a new disease and one we know so little about it’s almost impossible to predict what it might do next. For example could it mutate? Become airborne and start infecting victims when they breathe in the virus? This of course hasn’t happened yet. I pray it doesn’t.

N-I-M-B-Y is how you would sum up the response to this crisis so far. By that I mean Not In My Backyard. The Director of the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Minnesota believes public officials are too afraid to discuss it. He says they don’t want to be accused of the equivalent of shouting fire in a public theatre. But the risk is real and unless and until we take the risk seriously the world won’t be prepared to do what is necessary to end the epidemic. Ebola doesn’t discriminate. The people treating the victims are as much at risk as the people who already have the disease. A drug called ZMapp, claims to have successfully treated Ebola patients but it’s yet to go through all the proper clinical trials. Such is the desperation it was given to people with the disease anyway.

Ignoring Ebola or pretending it could never reach where we live in our big, modern 21st Century cities, would be a big mistake. Borders and geography mean nothing. And unless something is done smartly there is every chance Ebola will reach us given the global nature of how we live. Forget about the threat of the Islamic State to life and civilisation as we know it. We’re staring at the apocalypse. It’s in West Africa.

 

 

 

Is It Time for Moderate Muslims To Stand Up?

I read an interesting opinion piece today that is bound to get people hot under collar.

It asked the question, why aren’t Muslims all over the world protesting at the atrocities being committed by ISIS?

It is a tantalising debate for me because I can see both sides of the argument.

It all started when a well known Professor of Journalism at the American University in Dubai wanted to know why Muslims protesting against Israel’s war in Gaza were not also protesting the Islamic State atrocities against Christians, Yazidis and fellow Muslims in Syria and Iraq.

Writing in the Washington Post, the academic made the point that Muslims know ISIS does not represent Islam but the rest of the world doesn’t know that or can’t make the distinction. So if organisations like ISIS and Boko Haram are not representative of mainstream Muslims, and they clearly aren’t, then the community should be shouting this from the rooftops. In other words mainstream Muslims must disown the Islamic State because the rest of the world thinks their brutality is what Islam has become. She says if people hear the word Islam the first thing that pops into their heads isn’t its glorious cultural history or the peaceful words of the prophet Mohammed. Rather they think of men in masks carrying knives and beheading innocent journalists who happen to stumble into the wrong place at the wrong time.

I can understand where she is coming from. The other side of the argument goes something like this. Why should moderate Muslims have to speak publicly every time some extremist sends a message of hate? A certain amount of common sense needs to be applied here. The reality is the vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving people who would never contemplate harming anyone. They point to the Koran as a book that preaches peace, goodwill, tolerance, understanding and love. Why should they have to stand up and justify themselves every time some nut job nuts off? It becomes the denial that never ends.

Of course there is another factor at play here, especially among Muslim leaders in the Middle East. And that is a dislike and mistrust of the United States. Academics at Princeton and Harvard University analyzed the Twitter feeds of 3.7 million Arabic users in 2012 and 2013 and discovered that whatever position the United States adopted, right or wrong, it made no change to their intense dislike of America. It might explain why President Obama is struggling to get support in the Arab world as well as a meaningful strategy to combat ISIS. The present strategy appears to be limited air strikes while at the same time arming and backing a rag tag of political factions in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan in the hope that they can cobble together some kind of consensus that speaks for the majority of their citizens. Good luck with that one.

ISIS is a perplexing problem for the United States and the world.  The Islamic State won’t be defeated by air strikes alone. Its defeat has to be engineered by local people. Local Muslims prepared to take local action. In other words it will take a coalition of Arab forces prepared to fight against everything that ISIS stands for. Doing it for themselves and their future. One thing’s for sure. We can’t all spend the next 20 years wondering how this is going to be achieved. We may not have the luxury.

We Have No Choice

Australia has thrown its lot in with the United States in the war against the Islamic State but not everyone is happy.

I say war even though it’s undeclared. It’s a war of philosophy and ideas as much as weapons and like or not it is one we have to fight and win.

In a rare moment of lucidity the Australian Prime Minister described ISIS as a certain type of terrorist organization, which hate us not because of what we do but because of who we are and how we live. The PM went on to say that he hoped how we live, and who we are, will never change. Amen to that.

Unsurprisingly, Australia has agreed to an American request to transport arms and equipment to Kurdish fighters battling Islamic militants in Iraq. The country is facing a humanitarian catastrophe and this is our way of averting that catastrophe.

The move has the support of the other major opposition political party in Australia but not everyone thinks this is a good idea.

One independent Member of the Federal Parliament said that Australia had taken sides and if the country wants to be gunrunners for the Kurds at the behest of the United States then we are part of that war.

This particular MP is a former senior intelligence analyst turned whistleblower. He resigned from his analyst position in protest at Australia’s involvement in the 2003 Iraq War.

His remarks were strident and some might say intemperate. I must say it took me by surprise. I guess his opposition to this is to be expected but we are facing a very different set of circumstances in Iraq this time around.

He received fairly predictable support from other left wing Members of Parliament who called on the Prime Minister to suspend all current Parliamentary business to debate Australia’s latest military involvement in Iraq.

Some newspaper columnists have waded in castigating the Government for being ready to do Washington’s bidding. The Government was interposing Australia in a country fighting a civil war and clearly taking sides in that conflict.

The main Opposition party in a rare show of bipartisanship supported the Government’s decision. They acknowledged it was not an easy one to make but made for the best of reasons-humanitarian relief to prevent genocide against the beleaguered minorities in northern Iraq. It is a risk but on balance the greater risk would be to allow ISIS to succeed in Iraq.

Australia has already begun dropping relief supplies to an Iraqi town holding out against ISIS but this latest development will place our military and our air force in harms way. In order to make sure the arms get to the right people Australian aircraft will land on Iraqi soil, risking anti-aircraft fire from the Islamic State. We will be giving the Kurdish Peshmerga rocket propelled grenades, mortars as well as different caliber ammunition.

The Prime Minister said that understandably Australia shrinks from reaching out to these conflicts and I am sure plenty of other countries do as well. But the truth is these conflicts reach out to us whether we like or not. He said 60 Australians (that we know of) are involved in terrorist groups in the Middle East. Another 100 are actively supporting those Islamic extremists. With such a significant number of Australians involved with these groups they become radicalized, brutalized and accustomed to kill in the name of God. And so the logic goes if they think it is right to kill in the name of God in Iraq then it stands to reason those same people will think it is right to kill in the name of God in Sydney, London or New York.

Australia is yet to receive a request from the United States to join air strikes against ISIS but if that request comes I am sure it will be regarded favorably.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has called for a global coalition to stop the spread of what he called the cancer of the Islamic State. For me it brings to mind the frequently quoted Edmund Burke homily: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. In this case doing nothing is not an option.

 

Vale James Foley

I read an opinion piece today that made me stop and think. Like all good pieces of journalism should.

It was about the American reporter James Foley who was barbarically murdered by Islamic terrorists who then shamelessly broadcast the deed on YouTube. The intention was very clear. To goad the United States into a ground offensive in Iraq so that they can recruit more young Muslims to the cause.

But Foley’s tragic and senseless death isn’t why I was drawn to the story or even what the story was about. The writer was talking about the incredibly dangerous game that freelance print and photojournalists play in trying to report the news in places that have become too dangerous in the 21st Century.

I say 21st Century because news has never been reported this way in the past. By that I mean freelance journalists are the new frontline troops in the media war to cut costs. They go to these places with little or no budget, backing and sometimes without even basic training. Many times they go without having the endorsement of an established media outlet so they are truly on their own.

It wasn’t always like this. Wars used to be covered by seasoned reporters who worked for long established media organizations that had the budget to maintain correspondents and a bureau in trouble spots around the globe. But those days have long gone especially for the print media and increasingly for television. Replaced by fresh-faced eager reporters who work freelance, so they are paid per story and prepared to take crazy risks to get it. This trend’s been happening overtime for some time But the Libyan conflict in 2011 was in some ways the catalyst. It acted like an irresistible magnet for freelance journalists who offer a much cheaper option for mainstream media wanting to cover that story. Apparently there were so many freelancers working in Libya at the time of the Gaddafi overthrow they outnumbered the rebels on the frontline.

According to those who were there, the freelancers and the rebels along with an ever-dwindling number of staff reporters would advance forward or backward to safety when the Gaddafi forces advanced. One of those freelancers was James Foley.

According to those who knew him, James Foley was courageous and a very nice man to know. He’d been a former reporter for a US military newspaper, before arriving in Libya full of hope, purpose, opportunity and the belief that he might have been immune to the dangers he faced. In fact there was no shortage of like-minded individuals keen to begin earning their stripes war reporting. And there was no shortage of media outlets willing to buy their images and stories. In fact it was a buyer’s market. Many freelancers prepared to work without insurance, expenses or even the airfares to get them home.

And as Libya deteriorated, it became less clear as to who were the good guys and who were not, and freelancers like James Foley had to make judgment calls on who to trust and when to leave. Safety in numbers ended up being the strategy they followed and it resulted in journalists like Foley forming strong bonds with colleagues he worked alongside and who would share a prison cell with him. In 2011, Foley was captured in Libya along with two other freelancers. A South African photographer travelling with them was killed in the incident. This time Foley was lucky. He was freed after 44 days in captivity. But instead of doing some soul searching and taking stock, James Foley plunged on in again to begin reporting from dangerous places. When Libya became yesterday’s news it was replaced by a more dangerous conflict, the civil war in Syria. It was more bloody and unpredictable. Media organizations were again looking for daring tales and images from the frontline and freelancers like James Foley wanted to take up the challenge even if it meant surviving on nothing more than your wits. In late 2012 and mid 2013 the risks began to outweigh the rewards. Working in northern Syria became next to impossible because of the ever-present threat of kidnap.

James Foley’s luck ran out for a second time in late 2012. He and a photographer were captured ironically on the last day of a two-week trip in an area of the country they had visited many times before. Foley’s captor was a local warlord who would later join the Islamic State. Now, I don’t mind admitting I have a major problem with all of this. What I find hard to reconcile is that 11 additional journalists were kidnapped in Syria in the following year yet the demands for freelance work continued unabated. This kind of journalism has no doubt created opportunities but at the same time it has allowed established media organizations to outsource their coverage for a bargain basement price to reporters prepared to take the risk. It’s called all care but no responsibility.

It has meant that freelancers like James Foley end up paying a terrible price. The Middle East may well be the most important story this century. I just don’t happen to think the price being paid for the privilege of reporting the story is worth it.