Archive for February 19th, 2011

February 19, 2011

Unrest spreads across Arab world


Jubilant Bahrainis have reoccupied Pearl Square. (AFP : Joseph Eid)

Anti-government protests have once again flared across the Middle East in a wave of unrest that threatens to destabilise the entire region.

As calls for regime change grow louder across Bahrain, Libya, Algeria, Yemen and Djibouti, some leaders are calling for dialogue, while others have ordered brutal crackdowns.

In Libya, human rights groups say more than 80 people have been killed, with the army reportedly using snipers to break up the protests.

There are reports that one protester was shot and killed in Yemen, while riot police in Algeria have dispersed a crowd of hundreds with batons.

Thousands of jubilant Bahrainis have reoccupied a symbolic central square in the capital – the focal point of bloody anti-regime demonstrations – after earlier being beaten back by at least 100 riot police.

Crowds had approached Pearl Square in Manama from different directions, creating a standoff with riot police, before security forces withdrew in an apparently conciliatory move on orders from the crown prince.

Police were seen racing to their buses, which drove away mounting kerbs in their haste to escape.

“We don’t fear death anymore, let the army come and kill us to show the world what kind of savages they are,” said Umm Mohammed, a teacher wearing a black abaya cloak.

Troops and armoured vehicles had occupied the square since Thursday after riot police staged a night-time attack on sleeping protesters who had camped out there, killing four people and wounding 231.

Following the withdrawal, crowds in Pearl Square swelled into the tens of thousands, to celebrate what is being hailed as a triumph for the mostly Shiite protesters who took to the streets on Monday, inspired by popular revolts that toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.

Bahrain’s 70 per cent Shiite majority has long felt discriminated against in the Gulf Arab state that is ruled by a Sunni Muslim dynasty and is a close US and Saudi ally.

Shiites feel cut out of decision-making and complain of unfair treatment in access to state jobs and housing.

Libyan crackdown

Meanwhile, security forces in the Libyan city of Benghazi killed at least three people on Saturday but have withdrawn to a fortified compound, a witness said, after the worst unrest in embattled leader’s Muammar Gaddafi’s four decades in power.

Human Rights Watch said 84 people have been killed over the past three days in a fierce security crackdown mounted in response to anti-government protests that sought to emulate uprisings in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia.

A resident in Benghazi said security forces had killed dozens of protesters over the past 72 hours but were confined to a compound, which he called the Command Centre, from which snipers were firing at protesters.

“They shot dead three protesters from that building today,” said the witness, who did not want to be identified.

“Right now, the only military presence in Benghazi is confined to the Command Centre complex in the city. The rest of the city is liberated.

“Thousands and thousands of people have gathered in front of Benghazi’s court house. There are now makeshift clinics, ambulances, speakers, electricity. It’s fully-equipped.

“There is no shortage of food although not all stores are open. Banks are shut. All of the revolutionary committee (local government) offices and police stations in the city have been burned.”

The account could not be independently verified and foreign journalists have not been allowed to enter Libya since the unrest began. Local reporters have also been barred from travelling to Benghazi and mobile phone connections have been frequently cut.

A security source earlier gave a different account, saying the situation in the Benghazi region was “80 per cent under control”.

The private Quryna newspaper, which is based in Benghazi and has been linked to one of Mr Gaddafi’s sons, said security forces had opened fire to stop protesters attacking the police headquarters and a military base where weapons were stored.

“The guards were forced to use bullets,” the paper said.

The government has not released any casualty figures or made any official comment on the violence.

In other parts of the region similar demonstrations have flared.

In Iraq 10 protesters were injured in clashes with Kurdish security forces in the latest violent rally, calling for officials to combat graft and improve basic services, after protests earlier in the week left two dead.

Authorities in Djibouti have detained three top opposition leaders the day after a rally to demand regime change erupted into violence that left two dead.

While in Kuwait, riot police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of stateless Arabs who demonstrated for a second day demanding basic rights and citizenship.


February 19, 2011

For the Hmong, an enduring sense of exile


By Mai Der Vang

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Buried in a closet is a suitcase where my mother hides an heirloom from the war. I have seen it only once, by chance when she was reorganizing. It is a traditional Hmong jacket. Instead of being pristine and vibrant like the ones I wear to the Hmong New Year, it is thin, tattered and faded. This is the jacket my mother wore as a girl, growing up in the mountains of Laos. It is what she wore the night her family fled their village in fear of retribution from the Communists following the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.

Underneath this jacket is another one, also old and ragged. It belonged to my mother’s youngest sister. Like many others, my aunt and mother were forced to separate that fateful night. In the final seconds of good-bye, my aunt pulled off her jacket and handed it to my mother to keep in case they never met again. Eventually, they found each other in a refugee camp in Thailand, and my mother kept the jacket.

Born and raised in this country, I was not privy to the experiences of my mother’s generation. I can only listen to the stories and feel the tangible remnants, such as my mother’s jacket. I have come to know these remnants as objects of exile that speak of a different era and a life left behind.

These and other memories were evoked recently by the passing of Gen. Vang Pao, who was venerated worldwide as the leader of the Hmong people. During the early 1960s, the U.S. government recruited Vang Pao to lead a clandestine army against communist forces in a covert war that was thrust into the lives of the hill tribe Hmong. As defeat neared and the United States abandoned Vietnam in 1975, it left behind a war-torn Laos and hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians. After years in squalid Thai refugee camps, most of them resettled in the United States.

In processing Vang Pao’s death last month, I wondered whether it is more devastating for a people to lose their homeland or their most revered leader. It seemed that the loss of Laos created the need for a leader, someone who would usher the Hmong into the next migration, the next life.

Perhaps Vang Pao also personified for many Hmong the need to remember our story of exile, one that speaks of a people without a country who long to return to something that no longer exists.

Exile can be understood not merely as being banished from a place but, rather, that returning to one’s place may never happen, or that it may happen but the place will never be what it was. This narrative haunts the memories and desires of many elders who long to return to Laos, yet I believe it can also fuel efforts to preserve who we are.

On Feb. 4, the start of a six-day funeral for Vang Pao, thousands of Hmong crowded into downtown Fresno, jostling gently to capture photos and glimpses of the horse-drawn carriage bearing his body. The procession consisted of Hmong servicemen and women. Hundreds of elders appeared impressive yet solemn in their fatigues. It was as if a long-lost ancient army had been resurrected.

My friend and I squatted on a curb and watched these veterans pass. Some moments it felt as if we were not in Fresno but in a Hmong village, two young girls bidding farewell to soldiers going off to war.

I wonder what happens to the generation of children who are born or raised in this country but whose elders came here in exile. What will happen to our sense of exile?

Somewhere in my American identity, in my fluent English and Western clothing, in my reliance on technology and my college degree, the exile lives in me, too. Writer Andre Aciman says, “Exiles see double, feel double, are double. When exiles see one place, they’re also seeing – or looking for – another behind it.”

I inherited a sense of exile from my elders that puts me in a state of limbo. It forces me to constantly search for something I have yet to find and continually feel as though I do not belong anywhere.

Yet this narrative also calls me back and grounds me in the unwavering knowledge that I am Hmong, no matter how far I roam, how American I become or even if I choose to marry someone who is not Hmong. It ingrains within me a willingness to understand and be open to my elders, for I, too, share in the dream of seeing the idyllic homeland once again. If I lose this narrative, it is as if I lose the story of my identity and what so many before me have sacrificed to sustain.

For the Hmong, there is no country to return to, no homeland to help us preserve who we are. We are an inherently exiled people. But I believe our story of exile must help us preserve who we are. It moves us forward, even in the midst of the general’s passing, and emboldens us to continue searching for those objects of exile in the suitcases of our parents or wherever else they may be buried.

The writer, a commentator for New America Media, lives in Fresno, Calif.

February 19, 2011

Egyptian Men Apologize to Lara Logan for Attack


Posted Feb 17th 2011 at 11:40AM by Stephanie Gaskell
Not everyone is bashing Lara Logan. 

Lara Logan at Afghan

The CBS News correspondent is recovering with her family after being beaten at sexually assaulted by an angry mob in Cairo last week. Since news of her ordeal broke on Tuesday, many people, including fellow journalists, have criticized the 39-year-old TV reporter for everything from seeking publicity to blaming her for the attack.

But now an unlikely group has taken to Logan’s official Facebook page to show support and sympathy — Egyptian men.

“We are really sorry about what happened. Sure you know that every country has a few bad people but we true Egyptians [who] appreciate your efforts for the success of the glorious revolution and to deliver our voice to the world,” wrote Zakaria F. Shrief, who lives in Benha, Egypt, just north of Cairo.

Mohamed Saeed of Cairo posted this comment: “I’m Egyptian.. We are so sorry .. Plz accept my apologize. I know it’s hard but plz don’t take bad idea about us, we kind people but the criminals everywhere [sic].”

Several Facebook users from Egypt have pasted the same message on Logan’s site: “On the behalf of all the Egyptians I apologize to you. Those who attacked you can’t be Egyptians or even human beings . We are sincerely sorry for what happened to you, and we are hoping you could forgive us and understand that those who… did this do not represent the Egyptian people or the revolution.”

And there’s even a “We are sorry, Lara Logan” Facebook page. It’s unclear who started the page, but it states that “Egyptians apologize for this act” and encourages others to send messages of support.

Mohammed Gamal Kishk, a student a Suez Canal University, went even further and told Logan that “Egypt is now welcoming you if u want to report from the new and free Egypt.”

Hear Lara Logan Talk About Being Under Attack (of a different sort) on “60 Minutes”:


Was Lara Logan’s Bravery Dangerous Bravado?


There are risks to being an uppity woman. The down side of being a role model is that women who act like they own the place inevitably tick people off as much as they inspire.

Lara Logan, the glamorous and seemingly fearless CBS Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent who was attacked last Friday in Cairo during the moments of chaos following President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, is the kind of woman who gets noticed. She has one of the hardest and most prestigious jobs in journalism and she got it in spite of, or because of, a habit of saying and doing whatever she wanted to.

I don’t know Logan personally, but as the newest diva on the oldest and most respected TV news magazine in the business, her work is inescapable. For what it is worth, in the tiny world among her co-workers and neighbors, where we both live and toil, she is also a force. Even before joining the ranks of legendary journalists sharing space with Sunday night’s tireless ticking clock, Logan was putting a fresh face on the iconic image of girl reporters. During the early days of the Iraq war she emerged (allegedly from South Africa but possibly from a planet of Amazons) as the straight-talking CBS war correspondent who had the rare quality of looking like she was born in front of a camera.

Lara Logan at Afghan

She was embraced as the thinking man’s news babe with attitude, not afraid to criticize even her own news department. Appearing on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” in June 2008, she told Jon Stewart, if she had to watch the watered-down version of the war in Iraq the American public was exposed to, “I’d blow my brains out.

The fall of Egypt’s government, after weeks of public demonstrations in the very square from which she was seized, had been televised by Logan herself, along with her colleagues in the international press.

On Tuesday, CBS reported, in the most economic of dispatches, that she was brutally sexually attacked and beaten by a mob of thugs. It was several hours after the melee had separated her from her crew before she was rescued by some courageous Egyptian women accompanied by armed soldiers. It was the second time in the short, televised revolution that Logan had been captured, interrogated and released, the previous incident by the Egyptian army.

It seemed to some like her risks put her on a collision course with catastrophe. But risks are the stock in trade of both war correspondents and ambitious women. Sure the job is dangerous, her fans noted, but Lara Logan is brave. Courage however does not protect — it simply helps one to endure.

The circumstances of Logan’s personal peril, however cursorily related, have been extraordinarily affecting because, like Logan, they occurred in a larger-than-life moment of history. But for women, the violent incident has a familiar and intimate resonance. Until this tragic attack, the “60 Minutes” correspondent came off as a wonder woman whose “intrepid hotness” paired with sassy self-confidence, brains and ambition made men notice her and women envy her. The day of her attack, Foster Kamer at Esquire asked her not unkindly, “Is CBS insured for this shit? Are you insane?” Her answer, with typical Logan confidence: “You know, I don’t worry about things like that.”

Now inevitably, the question of whether those confident qualities also got her burned occurs. Should she have dimmed the wick a bit? Even in a throng of thousands of Middle Easterners, a towheaded Western woman in lipstick draws attention. A head scarf would seem prudent from hindsight — but it’s difficult to argue that the gesture of cultural consciousness would have guaranteed her safety. It might be that her intense gravitational force helped her survive at least as much as it incited aggression. After she was detained and interrogated by the army Logan was sent back to the U.S. but returned to Cairo in time for Mubarak’s departure.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the situation we were caught in before, we are now arriving into again,” she told Esquire. “We were accused of being Israeli spies. We were accused of being agents. We were accused of everything.” (The New York Post reported that during her subsequent attack and beating, the mob was chanting “Jew, Jew.”)
These questions and more for her anguished crew will no doubt eventually be answered (a reporting shoot requires a tiny family to function: the correspondent out front and wired with a microphone; a producer wearing the hat of business manager, organizer, fixer, and paterfamilias; a cameraperson, who assures once-in-a-lifetime images are captured — and heavy expensive equipment is vouchsafed; and a sound technician who hears and checks whatever comes through the correspondent’s microphone). Although the “60 Minutes” team is in the news business, that report will wait until she is ready. In time, we will hear directly from the reporter how she persevered in the moments and hours after they were separated. That is her story to tell.

In my experience, near-death experiences are often followed by great periods of productivity. As Logan recovers, I expect, as strong women often do, she’ll find a way to make use of her unthinkable experience to enhance our understanding of the times. That is her calling and her craft.

In the meantime, as a sister in arms, I’ll light a candle to women who “woman up” despite what consequences await them.

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