Police brutality, Viagra and a Facebook constitution


A Libyan woman holding a Kingdom of Libya flag walks past a caricature of Muammar Gaddafi near the court house in Benghazi.

Did you know the United States was bombing selected targets in Yemen?  I did not, the New York Times broke the story today; according to the story is a resumption of a campaign that was discontinued a year ago – that campaign was against Al-Qaeda in Yemen and was in the same vain as air attacks on terrorist bases in Afghanistan or Pakistan.  Again, according to the story, with the president in a hospital in Saudi Arabia, but out of intensive care,  and various tribal forces fighting to gain control of the country, the American government and military became concerned that Al-Qaeda was using this opportunity to solidify its power base in Yemen and so quietly resumed bombing. I don’t know if you have ever been around when air planes were dropping bombs, but quiet as a descriptive adjective does not very well for me.

Quiet or not, the bombing reinforces my thinking on the lack of objectivity in reporting in the Middle East.  Yesterday, I wrote how what I did not have any “knowledge” about events in any country in the Middle East at the moment.  I was trying to make the point that coverage of events in each country have become too polarized and resemble propaganda more than news.   The only news getting out is either the official government view or that of an anti-government group – both have agendas and are not interesting in objectively reporting news.

It seems that I am not the only one who has suspended belief in much of the reporting from the Middle East these days; NPR had a program on Syria today, with its resident Middle East expert, Rami Khouri.  Khouri might have been reading my blog, other that the fact he is the director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy at the American University in Beirut, which I suppose gives him a bit more direct knowledge than I have.  Anyway, when asked about the implication of the report that 120 Syrian soldiers/police had been killed in fighting a couple of days ago, he said – well whoever ends up in control of the army will be at least temporarily in control of Syria; but then he said, “however, I don’t know what happened, we only have the government’s report and don’t if it is true or not.”  He lives in Beriut and reads the all of the Arab press, including the blogs (no discontinued) by “A Gay Woman in Syria.”  So if he doesn’t know what is going on, how can the rest of us?  Maybe my favorite story – a true “he said she said” – is the tale of Viagra in Libya; according to one group of people Gaddafi was giving to Viagra to his troops so they could rape more women; of course, the government has another tale to tell and in its turn accuses the other side of systemic raping of loyal Gaddafi supporters.

And that lack of objectivity is the basic problem everywhere – except possibly in Egypt, and even in Egypt the validity of any news report depends on the subject of the report, the government is more sensitive in some areas than others; so stories from Egypt about police brutality and interrogation techniques are not report in officially sanctioned media outlets.  Much like the coverage of brutality from Israel; all of the stories of Israeli police brutality come from Palestinian sources, although occasionally one or another of the Israeli news outlets will publish articles critical of the country’s treatment of Palestinians or Israeli Arabs (they are not the same thing).  In fact, that is one of the most basic themes in the Middle East – police power, police control and police tactics.  In any country, Iran or Saudi Arabia, Israel or Iraq, Egypt or Algeria, Yemen or Bahrain and even the United States (we do have some Middle Eastern prisoners, don’t we?) or Sudan, if a journalist could cover the story, interview former of present detainees, visit the prisons and watch the interviews you would find a level of dehumanizing, cruel, semi-torture techniques in use that would shock your sensibilities.  And those practices are one of the basic freedoms people are universally seeking – freedom from government and police oppression.

In a perfect world we would all use 2011 in the Arab world as a case study – from China to Cuba, America to Algeria – everyone – and make those reforms necessary in our systems to insure human and just treatment of any and all prisoners; and if you ask John McCain that includes prisoners of war.  Not likely I hear people saying, well try this.  Iceland is using social media to rewrite its constitution; Iceland had one of the worse economic meltdowns in the world – in fact Icelandic banks were some of the major culprits in the mortgage loan debacles.  The citizens were understandably upset with their government for allowing the meltdown to happen and failing in that most basic government responsibility: protecting the citizens from harm.  The government apparently listened and decided to redo the constitution, with the help of the citizens.  Image what the world might be like if every country took this kind of risk and really listened to the citizens.  Here is the quote from the UK Guardian:

“I believe this is the first time a constitution is being drafted basically on the internet,” said Thorvaldur Gylfason, member of Iceland’s constitutional council.  “The public sees the constitution come into being before their eyes … This is very different from old times where constitution makers sometimes found it better to find themselves a remote spot out of sight, out of touch.”  Iceland’s existing constitution dates back to when it gained independence from Denmark in 1944. It simply took the Danish constitution and made a few minor adjustments, such as substituting the word “president” for “king”.  In creating the new document, the council has been posting draft clauses on its website every week since the project launched in April. The public can comment underneath or join a discussion on the council’s Facebook page.

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