In this week's report at Alternet, I try to make some sense of the rapid developments in the war in Syria. There is the creation of a new al-Qaeda front, where there are indications that the armed extremists who wish to prolong the war have gathered. There is also more bad news from the city of Deir Ezzor (pictured above): under siege for two years by ISIS, the water has been cut off almost entirely and food drops from the Syrian government and the UN's World Food Program have been sporadic. The situation is dire here. But given the nature of news and propaganda, there is barely a mention of #DeirEzzor. It does not fit into the Western media narrative to champion the lives of over 93,000 Syrians who have been reduced to starvation over the course of the two years by ISIS.
My column can be read here. The last two lines indicate in broad strokes the situation in Syria: 'Defeat is not easy to accept by the armed opposition. It will spill more blood before it becomes clear to these fighters that this war is now over'.
Speaking of ISIS, news reports come that ten humvees drove around Kentucky recently, flying ISIS - I mean - Trump flags. These faux-military vehicles sent a sharp message to go with the various Executive Orders.
In the current issue of Frontline, my Diary from Trumpland continues. This episode goes from the inauguration of Donald Trump to the massive protests that followed the next day (although I filed the story before the Muslim Ban and the Airport protests). Division is the sense inside the United States. There are large sections of the population that despise Trump and Trumpism. They have made their voices heard loud and clear, so much so that they have pushed a reluctant Democratic leadership to stand up and confront Trumpism head on.
But there is also a fierce section of the population that is thrilled with Trump's agenda. The last paragraph of my Diary covers their mood - 'During the presidential campaign in Sioux Centre (Iowa), Trump said: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” He meant that his voters were diehard loyalists. He was right. They admire him like a leech admires a bloody wound'.
You can read the rest of the Diary here.
Twenty-five years ago, this week, India and Israel went to a normal footing in their diplomatic relations. I have covered this story for just about that length of time - writing articles in The Hindu and elsewhere about it and in 2003 a brief book called Namaste Sharon (when Ariel Sharon came to India; the title, of course, is ironic). Al-Jazeera asked me to write a brief note on the 25th anniversary. I pointed to the two factors that drove this rapprochement - 1. India's orders from Washington that a reset between the US and India could only come as part of the diplomatic normalization with Israel; 2. The arms trade with Israel after the 1998 nuclear tests in India. The prejudices of the Hindu Right are of course stoked by the link with Israel, but this does not drive the policy. It is deeper rooted and therefore more difficult to shift.
My report can be read here.
The picture above is of a mural made in Jenin (Palestine) by the magical artist Orijit Sen, who went there with the Indian street theatre group Jana Natya Manch (Janam) to meet the Palestinian group The Freedom Theatre. On the left of the mural are two men - Janam's Safdar Hashmi and Freedom Theatre's Juliano Mer Khamis, both killed for their art and politics.
Finally, I'm happy to report that Karim Makdisi and my Land of Blue Helmets: The United Nations in the Arab World is out. We did a question and answer for the superb website Jadaliyya, thanks to Nadya Sbaiti. At the end of the interview, comes an extract from the excellent essay by Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Filippo has his hands full with the refugee crises - not only out of Syria - but also with the poisonous discourse about refugees the world over. We wish our friend luck with his task and hope that we - with what miserable humanity remains - are able to fight to change that discourse.
You can read our interview here.