#1 : Terrorism

#1 : Terrorism

NM_14trump5.jpgAfricans have an important skill to teach Americans: how to deal with terrorism.

Thousands were killed this year by terrorists in Nigeria and Mali, and hundreds in Kenya and Somalia. But Nigerians and Malians and Kenyans and Somalis know that things are actually getting better. They are winning the battle against terrorism.

Just as Britain overcame the IRA and Spain overcame the Basque Separatists and Japan overcame the Red Army and Germany overcame Nazism: the solution takes time. It does not include creating impenetrable defenses. Africans successful fight against terrorism includes taking on head-to-head the two most significant causes of terrorism:

Hunger, physical and psychological.

Exclusion, ethnic and economic.

Most Americans when asked who Timothy James McVeigh is don’t even pretend to know. Yet many Americans when asked who presents the greatest threat of terrorism insist with divine certainty that it is Muslims and refugees.

On April 19, 1995, a 27-year old Gulf War veteran, Starpoint (NY) Central High School’s Most Promising Computer Programmer, devout Roman Catholic, registered member of the Republican Party and National Rifle Association, killed 168 Americans and injured another 600 by blowing up a federal building in Oklahoma City. Why?

Because, in his own words, he wanted to inspire a revolution against America’s tyrannical government.

“I’m sorry these people had to lose their lives. But that’s the nature of the beast….Innocents [have to die] to win the war.”

Hundreds followed McVeigh in America as terrorists since 1995. Almost all of them were fully fledged, driver-license endowed, passport eligible home-grown boys – Americans through and through.

McVeigh was Irish American. Hear any calls from Trump to ban Irishmen from entering the U.S.?

Terrorism – which we once incorporated into the phrase, “guerilla warfare” – is nothing new, but seems so, and that may be because it’s finally becoming successful.

Terrorists can’t amass enough fire power to prevail. So their strategy is simple: get inside the shirt of their adversary, inject the heart with fear and make the adversary turn on himself.

Fear uncovers our soul. We run or we fight. We save others at the risk of ourselves or we hide. We can’t masquerade our inner identity when we get afraid – it all shows.

Donald Trump and his frighteningly large number of followers are cowards of the simplest sort. They won’t fight the real battles, so they make up battles that don’t exist, like the religious “clash of civilizations.”

They want to believe they can still gun down their opponents, so they amass huge stockpiles of arms, but in their heart of hearts they’ve been frightened into believing in the near invincibility of terrorists.

So they want to build walls to barricade themselves from the rest of the world, an ultimate defense against the foreign phantom. What irony that future Timothy McVeighs, Americans through-and-through, Christians of the most flowery sort, Republicans and NRA contributors will all be behind the wall together. Easier to blow things up from the inside, isn’t it?

If the wall’s big and strong enough, the blast won’t hurt anybody at all on the outside.

Africans are fighting for ways to fairly redistribute diminishing resources, to find better ways of feeding everybody who’s hungry, to end corruption to make life inclusive for everyone. I don’t doubt that long before America achieves economic inclusiveness, most African nations will.

I’ve written about all these last year. These are tireless, thankless but meaningful battles. How pitiful are the extremists on the right who refuse to take these battles on.

Listen to Africa. Listen to Europe. Listen to Trump and his followers, too, but beware of them: This isn’t just entertainment. They’re standing in front of a white flag.

(For my summary of the top 10 stories in Africa in 2015, click here.)

Cheering Your Opponents

Cheering Your Opponents

cheeringtooloudlyNigerian forces have fallen into a jihadist trap as they wipe out Boko Haram.

Terrorist strategies are simple: provoke fear and reprisal, and that’s exactly what’s happening worldwide as their power declines.

The change of presidents in Nigeria last year heralded a major offensive against the jihadists that once controlled nearly a third of the country. The army was finally paid and reconstituted by the new Nigerian president Buharu who was previously a decorated Army general.

In Nigeria, like in Syria with Russian forces, jihadists began falling like straws. In Iraq ISIS, too, has been in retreat following increased coalition attacks.

So what’s the problem?

Non-jihadist Muslim Nigerians warned Buharu yesterday “against plunging the country into another Boko Haram-like insurgency.” Read carefully: “another” – ‘ a different.‘

Terrorists are terrorists because they don’t have battleships and long-range bombers. They are guerrillas who master weapons of small but notorious destruction. The success of their killings is not evident across fields of slaughter, but on millions of tiny television screens. Geographical control is no longer as important as mind control.

The Nigerian sweep against Boko Haram has been impressive and fast. Hundreds of hostages have been freed after months, almost all of the country has been liberated from the terrorists’ control.

That’s good. Cheers to the Nigerian Army! But they didn’t stop. Fed by the propaganda of the bits of Boko Haram that remain, their fears were stoked and they charged on.

Nigerian soldiers this weekend swept into Islamic areas that had never been under jihadist control and that had never been associated with insurgents.

They ransacked homes of these Muslim leaders, detained others, laid to waste several Muslim facilities and in the course of this “over-reaction” provoked a number of Muslim (but non-jihadist) leaders to vow revenge.

This is exactly what the terrorists want: they will die happily knowing that others will replace them.

As a real corollary here in the U.S., individuals attacking mosques and presidential candidates claiming they will somehow effect policy against virtually all Muslims… this breeds new terrorism.

Nigeria is the petri dish right now for this theory.

Personally, I fear President Buharu has already gone too far. He’s a ruthless soldier. Not exactly a Donald Trump, he nonetheless swept to power in a wave of nationalist sentiment of “no-holds barred” against the terrorists.

He delivered on his promise, but then he didn’t stop. In a sense it’s not entirely reflective of any over intentions, it’s just that terrorists are the chimera of world conflict. One moment they’re al-Qaeda, and the next, ISIS. Hack one down, and another arises.

Nigeria must stop now and read history: As Russia and the U.S. learned decades ago, you never wipe out terrorists, whether that be in Vietnam or Afghanistan. You simply clean the surface of old terrorists so that new ones can grow.

Terrorists will never be defeated on the battlefield. Terrorists might never be defeated, period. But they can be massively diminished and with time suffocated out of importance.

This requires a certain military restraint by the aggrieved societies of the sort I worry Nigeria cannot develop so long as Buharu is at the helm.

Vitriolic Visa

Vitriolic Visa

visapprejectOnline visa applications are being rushed to operation by countries all over the world, including India and Kenya.

Most of these new sites are very difficult to use. Many countries like Kenya have inadequate servers to process even the fewest simultaneous requests. While it’s unlikely this new impediment to a vacation will impede tourism growth, it’s a horrible blemish on the country’s image as a holiday destination.

Kenyan officials justified the new process when their site went live last July as providing a better level of security.

Kenya, in particular, has dramatically turned around its level of security in just the last 18 months. That country’s incidence of terrorism is now lower than the U.S.’

I’m also sure of another benefit: less corruption. Immigration officials were notorious at extracting bribes from incoming travelers. This occurred most often when the agent claimed there was no change when a visitor used a large note (like $100) to pay for a less expensive ($50) visa.

So I think without question this benefits the countries instituting the procedures, at least in the short run. They really have to improve their processes, though, or it will begin to take its toll on future tourism:

Of the couple sites I reviewed India’s is the worse, and that seems incredibly ironic given the technological level of the country. But their difficulty was in building a site without adequate foreign culture input.

Like all cultures whose principal script is not letters but images, the transliteration into a language like English tends to get very wordy and organization is often in color rather than structure.

Kenya, on the other hand, has a wonderfully intelligible site. Problem is, it’s ridiculously slow and often crashes. It’s the same problem I presume that Obamacare went through, only the Kenyans have not remedied this problem after six months.

Kenyans deal with this every day, and so to them, it’s no big deal. Everything from their home electricity to the turn signals on their cars will frequently stop working … but it always comes back. Kenyans must understand that isn’t good! It doesn’t take much for a visitor to wonder if the small aircraft taking them to the Mara might lose power as easily!

In all cases the bugaboo to most applicants is the uploading of images of their passport pictures and the front sections of their passports.

The majority of leisure travelers to India and Kenya are retired and have not mastered image manipulation. Many aren’t capable of scanning at all. And for those who can scan, the restrictions to the size, resolution and shape of the images that these sites impose are too difficult for the visitor to manipulate.

It seems to me that as a simple courtesy these countries ought simply accept whatever legible image is presented, and then develop their own technology to manipulate it however they wish.

That hasn’t happened, and so this is the point which stymies most travelers. The remedy requires finding someone or some business that will manipulate the images to the required parameters.

Many travelers have previously used visa application services, and I expect in due course these agencies will learn to process these applications in a way that overcomes a liability issue for them, now:

Currently they aren’t allowed to setup the initial account online or fill in the particulars on the pages that accept what is tantamount to a digital signature from the applicant. Although these steps aren’t the difficult online ones, it reduces the visa agency’s assistance to nothing more than what a local Kinkos or nephew must do to manipulate image structure.

All travelers must applaud efforts to enhance the security of their vacation. We’ve spent years now complaining about TSA but we’ve come to accept it, and to its credit TSA has also improved.

Let’s hope these countries’ online sites also do. For the time being, though, if you’re a typical traveler accustomed to little time getting your visa, better think twice and set aside a week or two!

Rumblings of Revolution

Rumblings of Revolution

PhotoPix by William Hong / Reuters
PhotoPix by William Hong / Reuters
Many believe – I find it intriguing – that the mounting catastrophes of global warming will undo the global economic system with rapid and radical redistributions of wealth.

Ergo, global revolution.

If this right, we must view conferences like the one today in Paris as presaging a very violent future. The powers-that-be seem to know what to do, but seem incapable of doing it.

I find the rather humorous now technical term employed by conference negotiators, “mitigation,” particularly revealing. For the COP conferences it’s the “nice way” to justify wealth distribution to the poorer countries incapable of the investments needed to prepare for global warming.

That’s what they say, anyway. What they really mean is mitigation against another Arab Spring, another Syrian civil war, another Ukraine, another series of mass migrations.

The COP20 (the conference before this one) pledged $100 billion annually from developed countries to undeveloped countries as “mitigation” to help them avoid high carbon emitting fuels. This is offensive: hardly a drop in the bucket, almost useless. What’s worse: hardly half of the pledges materialized as one western leader after another faced pushback from their legislatures.

“$100bn is an inadequate political figure. What the international community needs to mobilise … is in the order of trillions,” Seyni Nafo, spokesman for the African Group of Negotiators, told the press at the conference.

“Mitigation” admits that the world’s order is changing as human suffering accelerates: ISIS leaders may be evil souls, but the support from the people over which they reign comes from a desperation to survive.

Desertification is a process that was identified more than 100 years ago showing that the Sahara Desert is growing. But the expansion has been ridiculously fast in just the last few years. In 1925 Lake Chad in Africa was 25,000 sq. km. Today it is only 2,500 sq. km.

The highest temperature ever recorded in October on our planet, 119F, occurred just a few weeks ago in South Africa’s Western Cape.

The link between global warming and terrorism is clear, ridiculously so as the summit occurs in Paris. It’s a simple connection that only crazy deniers try to refute. It’s a simple extrapolation of the tension on societies as their needs grow but planet earth’s bounty diminishes.

As crises pile upon one another, fixes will, too: migration, GMO agriculture, storm shelters, zoning away from coastal cliffs, etc. But only the developed world is capable of mounting these kinds of viable challenges.

Nuclear power, for example, seems like a quick fix if you discount the potential catastrophes it can produce on its own. But the cost of a single new nuclear power plant in France (which enjoys 75% of its power from nuclear) is $15-20 billion dollars. This is about a third of the Kenyan GDP.

The raw fact that the cost of fixes today is so high but exponentially greater for each moment of delay is, unfortunately, a non-starting argument where it matters most with the world’s biggest contributors to global warming: the U.S., China and India. There are still too many deniers in the U.S., too many impoverished waiting for rapid development in China and India.

There are naysayers as well as deniers. Naysayers, though, deserve our attention.

“Even if the world celebrates a Paris climate deal on December 11, the process will still have to be regarded as failure,” writes Prof. Steffen Böhm of the University of Essex.

Böhm is hardly alone in embracing the science of global warming while simultaneously insisting that the global economic system is incapable of confronting it meaningfully.

“Talking will continue until we realize climate change is a failure of a system, which – on the back of fossil fuel – is geared towards exponential economic growth. Nobody who sits at the negotiation table in Paris has the mandate nor inclination to ask fundamental, systemic questions of the logic of the dominant economic system and the way we consume the resources of this planet.”

But for the time being, for the day-to-day moments on which an Indian businessman or Kenyan farmer survive, we can only hope for greater western generosity.

But the end is nigh. No financier can reverse global warming. Nature is demanding greater justice for the deprived of mankind as the only logical way the planet can survive.

We either give it now with all the turbulence of the more privileged finally suffering some, or it will be taken away by the force of nature, and that will be much more painful to all.

Violence Check

Violence Check

Westgate mall attackIs it safe to travel to Nairobi? Is it safe to travel to LA?

To date this year there have been 352 mass shootings in the U.S. which have killed 461 people and wounded 1309. To date this year in Kenya there have been two (that’s “2”) mass shootings which have killed 161 people and wounded another 113.

The murder rate in Kenya (including from “terrorism”) is 6.8 per 10,000 inhabitants. This is less than the murder rate in South Carolina, Michigan, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and about the same as the murder rate in Delaware, Maryland and Missouri.

Are you considering a vacation to Carolina’s outer banks, to the Mardi Gras, to our nation’s capital or maybe to a concert at Branson? Better watch out.

Why is Kenya’s murder rate lower, and its deaths from terrorism lower than in the U.S.?

Why is the U.S. so violent?

U.S. residents own more guns than residents of anywhere else in the world, 50% higher than the next two highest nations, Yemen and Serbia, and three times as many as major European countries such as France and Germany.

And 17½ times as many guns as in Kenya.

Racism or Stupidity?

Racism or Stupidity?

larrymadowo“Terrorists aren’t just… in Syria; sometimes they’re card-carrying defenders of the Second Amendment.”

The above is not the rant of some leftie like myself. It’s from a respected, very popular national news anchor in Nairobi.

Chastising his American colleagues for not calling the Planned Parenthood shooter, Robert Dear “what he really is, a terrorist,” Madowo in a few paragraphs explained American racism, why we go into endless wars, why black policeman are now being prosecuted, and probably a dozen other American ailments.

Larry Madowo is probably the most watched and liked young African news anchor on the continent north of South Africa. He’s witty and insightful. He writes and speaks English better than most Americans, travels constantly entangling himself in injustices that he recounts with mounds of humor.

But time and again after drilling down into some western wrong (like Dutch MacDonald’s selling their tiny packets of ketchup for 75¢) Madowo sees the root explanation as western racism.

“If [Robert Dear] was a man of colour, the talking heads and think-pieces would not have stopped theorising about his motive and how his background led to all this. But white shooters are almost always ‘mentally disturbed lone rangers’ in need of understanding and support from society.”

“Three people were killed and at least five others wounded” but because the murderer wasn’t Muslim and didn’t behead his victims “American news outlets won’t call him what he really is… because of the colour of his skin.”

It’s worth considering but Madowo has fallen into the trap of many modern media personalities: oversimplification while playing to the ratings.

Racism surely is at the root of many American evils but American media aren’t calling the Planned Parenthood shooter a terrorist not because he isn’t black but because Americans foolishly believe that terrorism is something strictly external.

We have compartmentalized foreign violence as terrorism and domestic violence as anything but, something less threatening and onerous.

Statistics don’t seem to matter: exponentially more Americans are killed annually by American rebels and shooters than foreigners. Extent of destruction doesn’t seem to matter: the effect on Boston’s economy from the marathon shooters is multiple times anything foreign that’s happened in the last few years.

“Home-grown” is a nice adjective for Parisian bombers which is begrudgingly becoming accepted by the American populace as the sobriquet for the killers there, but it just doesn’t apply here.

This isn’t racism. It’s stupidity.

Another Madowo episode also illustrates this.

Madowo recently visited to the U.S. carrying two really favorite gifts for his Kenyan friends here: Ujimix and Royco Cubes.

Customs agents in San Francisco delayed him unconvinced that they were foods.

“A young black male travelling internationally always raises eyebrows. Traveling while black is to accept indignity, racism and delays because of the colour of your skin, even in a post-Obama world. Those of us village boys who grew up dreaming of faraway cities and now have opportunities to visit are resigned to that ugly downside to it all.”

It’s quite possible that the San Francisco customs agent had never been east of Vegas or north of Monterey. Anything that isn’t labeled “Hamburger Helper” is suspect.

Indeed racism is sustained by ignorance, and ignorance is what I’m talking about here. We’ve got a barrel full of problems in the U.S. as a result of a generation of negligence from a government hamstrung by crazies.

But as we begin to disentangle our rotting fibers to start applying fixes, let’s be clear about what to do. In these cases, it starts with education.

Ridiculous, Simply

Ridiculous, Simply

carsonstoneageTwo notable attacks this morning, one on the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali and a powerful Nigerian air force offensive against Boko Haram, clarify what terrorism means to many Americans when overlaid Paris.

Up to a dozen masked gunmen driving cars with diplomatic license plates stormed Bamako’s principal expatriate hotel this morning, forced their way in, briefly interrogated a few people who were allowed to leave after reciting sections of the Koran, then rounded up others in what at this moment remains a hostage situation.

Next door, Nigeria’s powerful air force blasted to smithereens “an outdoor gathering” that it claimed was of Boko Haram terrorists in the east of the country.

When these two events play themselves out, over no more time than it took the Paris events to unfold, many more people will have been killed than in Paris, and many more terrorists as well.

And I’ll wage you dollars to donuts it will receive a fraction of the attention, even in this currently charged atmosphere so sensitive to security and terrorism.

Why?

First, because the vast majority (say 90%?) of media consumers take little interest in Africa.

Second, media consumers presume that bad things happen more in Africa than where they live. It’s not as unusual.

Third and most sinister, media consumers impugn African failures at moral governance – a sort of “they got what they deserve.”

I doubt you will disagree with the first reason.

The second is almost a tautology; I think we’ll agree.

I may get resistance to my third from holier-than-thou effetes, but the more honest among us will be unable to completely shed this characterization. We may resist our weakness to believe punishment is both just and a course of remedy, but we must admit to it.

So while it’s not a satisfying analysis and hardly one that naturally leads to any rectification of the problem, it stands solid.

Let’s own the situation and our frailty at grappling with it, and then let’s roll up our sleeves and figure out what to do about.

Here’s when I get mad: When instead of confronting this terribly complex situation head-on, we look for shortcuts out of dealing with it.

Today on PBS’ Morning Edition, the intellectual weakling Steve Inskeep asked his even worse reporter assigned to the Mali attack, the ever confused Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, ‘Is this attack linked to anything more global?’ (I can’t remember the exact words. That’s my characterization: Listen to the link.)

Then in a terribly disappointing followup, the good journalist Renee Montagne asked Gerard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United States, if the Mali attacks were linked to anything globally.

To his eternal credit there was an unnatural radio pause before he answered that he thought the situation was more “local.”

Americans want everything linked to the Joker. They want Syrian refugees to be trained by Him. They want the Syrian Opposition (which yet isn’t organized) to fight Him. They want then “to wipe him out.”

The trouble in the world today is, first it’s not more than it’s probably always been, but second, it’s more deadly because of the geometrically increased number of available weapons, and third: it’s way more complicated than before and if linked to anything singular it’s probably climate change.

I’d love to hear how the Republicans plan on wiping out Climate Change.

There is no Joker. Massive increases in technology allow us to know about so much more of the conflicts in the world than we used to. Huge illogical wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq coupled with the end of the Cold War have thrown unimaginable amounts of weapons out there to be picked up.

So throw all that on your chess board and stop trying to simplify it.

Africans Speak About Paris

Africans Speak About Paris

BELGIUM-FRANCE-ATTACKS-POLICEConsider seriously Africans’ reactions to the Paris attacks.

There’s no shortage of empathy in Africa for the victims, nor any support for the barbarism of ISIS. But there’s an understanding of the situation that most Americans lack.

Many more thousands of Africans in Nigeria, Somalia, Mali, Kenya and elsewhere have been barbarously slaughtered by radical Islamists than westerners, with little note in the west. Sidelined by this western arrogance understandable anger animates much African analysis.

In an open letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg published in one of Nigeria’s main newspapers, writer Jafaar Jafaar politely criticizes the French flags and other gifs that Facebook spread over its platform, worldwide:

“While my heart goes to the French over [the] terrorist attacks… I couldn’t but lash at the folly of Facebook for failure to identify with Nigeria when an estimated 15,000 Nigerians were killed by terrorists in round-the-clock attacks in eight years.

“Sir, I don’t want to believe your bias was informed by the assumed superiority of the races you often identify with.”

Why do westerners pay so much attention to their own suffering at the expense of even the slightest attention to the much greater suffering of Africans?

“Well the simple answer is that to some in the world some lives are more important than others. Western media … has made this abundantly clear,” writes Christopher Charamba for Zimbabwe’s Herald.

I’d say the majority of analysis also lays the blame for the Paris attacks fundamentally on the west itself, for having disrupted Mideast societies for so many years:

The respected author, Charles Onyango-Obbo, recounts almost a thousand years of history in his analysis for Kenya’s Daily Nation this morning.

He reminds readers of the constant exploitation of the world by the powers that be, including the horrible epoch of slavery. Pointing out that the Mideast “is not much bigger than DR Congo and Algeria… mostly desert with relatively few people,” the wars there are all about oil and Israel.

He concludes so appropriately as so many of us have for so many times, that the foolish notion of “wiping out” ISIS or whatever other horrible group might be contesting the region will only ready it for something worse.

This dynamic – fighting to eliminating the bad guys in the Middle East – has been going on for many centuries, but has never ended well for any of the temporary victors. Each time a bad group is eliminated, a worse group arises.

Some in Africa are not as polite as Jafaar, Charamba or Obbo.

A South African Muslim cleric, Farid Esack, told a South African news agency yesterday, “I am sickened … that whenever [western] chickens come home to roost then I must feign horror.

“Stop supporting and funding terror outfits, get out of other people’s lands and continents… abandon your cultural imperialism, destroy your arms industry that provides the weapons that kill hundreds of thousands of others every year.

“The logic is quite simple: When you eat, it’s stupid to expect that no shit will ever come out from your body. Yes, I feel sorry for the victims… But, bloody hell, own it; it’s yours!” he said.

Just as in Nigeria much more attention is paid to Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria than ISIS attacks in Paris, it’s understandable on the one hand that western media – which is predominantly the world media – will focus more on attacks to westerners than Africans.

But the margin of that difference in attention is hard to justify, given the simple numbers of people suffering at the hand of radicals in Africa versus in the west. And Obbo’s astute analysis that this whole mess is a western derivative makes it even less explicable.

We are arrogant. We are forgetful of even recent history. We are small, reactionary thinkers as demonstrated by the lunacy surrounding our fear of accepting Syrian refugees. We should listen to some Africans, rather than just ourselves.

Please Stand Up

Please Stand Up

religiouswingnutsSane Americans need to speak up. Obama has tried to quell our embarrassment by admitting how shameful many of our leaders are acting, but he needs our support.

Calling we Americans out for “knee-jerk right wing reactions” South Africa’s Daily Maverick pointed out for the upteenth time that virtually all the terrorists we know of with for the last multiple years have been home-grown westerners. Not refugees.

Belgian born and bred. French born and bred. American born and bred. Not born and bred in the Middle East.

If you can’t put two and two together, let’s try one and one. A refugee cannot seek asylum from a country he’s born in. That isn’t the law, it’s just grammar.

“Governor Huckabee,” the co-anchor Mike on Morning Joe this morning said, “there have been 794,000 immigrants allowed into the U.S. from the Middle East since 9/11 and not one of them has been arrested for anything. Why should we worry now?”

Huckabee insisted that there “were at least two Syrians” involved in the Paris attack.

The moderator pointed out that we didn’t know that, and that there was only one possibility and that it was unconfirmed so far. “Everyone else was home-grown.”

“How many is too many?” Huckabee retorted before continuing a rant that included prohibiting Episcopalians and Methodists, if they went around shooting people, “but as far I know they don’t.”

I, too, am on the verge of being nuts: I could get to the point where I believed that Mike Huckabees should be arrested and stashed away for inciting hate and inflicting evil. But I’m not there yet.

Facts comfort me: The Obama strategy in the Middle East is actually working. ISIS controls less territory and has fewer trained leaders. That’s one of the reasons we expect more terrorist attacks in the West…

…as their accomplished social media weavers encourage local western citizens into acts of terror, the same way that individuals in the U.S. have been worked up into shooting church citizens and Army soldiers.

It’s the same, and it’s horrible, and it’s racist and shameful of so many Americans like Huckabee to claim the problem is carried with Syrian refugees.

What are we going to do about it? Today, France announced that it would pay all the tuition for all the 109 students who survived the Garissa University terrorist attack in Kenya in April.

We should go a step further: we should pay all the tuition for any student who wants to attend that university.

South Africa’s Daily Maverick concludes today:

“And so it is that tragedy often causes a suspension of logic, and a somewhat ahistorical response. Global terror has a history, and a face that goes far beyond ISIS, Osama Bin-Laden and Al Qaeda. Its faces are those of George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, with shrewd hawkish Condoleeza Rice in the background. It is also the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair’s recent apology for ‘Iraq war mistakes’.”

Stand up if you aren’t too arthritic and still sane. The right wing response in our country to the tragedy in the Middle East and the refugee crisis is shameful and despicable. I can’t believe the media gives it traction, and that so many people really embrace these lies.

Just remember the Weimar Republic. Remember how all those well-off German citizens dismissed the right wing insurgency as insignificant, because it was so laughable and unbelievable.

Yourself & Terror

Yourself & Terror

018794-01-02“Aren’t you afraid of going to Africa, now?” a friend asked me during the intermission of a play this weekend.

“No more afraid than you must be staying home,” I replied, angry as usual with the question.

Terrorism has been a part of the troubled world for all of history and “No, Bernie; No, Hillary; no, Donald” we can’t get rid of it. We can contain it, but we are doomed to a worse fate if we think we can end it.

That’s what’s brought us to the current tragedy: a misguided notion that invading Iraq would make the world safer. Misguided heaped upon misguided, for our mistake in Vietnam and Russia’s in Afghanistan seemed to have been ignored.

We as Americans are masterful at fooling ourselves, because we have inflated notions of our might and because we can hide so well in our insular communities.

But I reminded that questioner Saturday of the Cold War, and she remembered then how her own family had built an air raid shelter. She began to remember how it was stocked and maintained.

Was that not done out of fear? That’s terrorism’s success: making you afraid: the presumption that some awful inhumanity which you believe or have actually seen happening somewhere else, might strike you.

We’ve got to get Americans to register facts. It takes memory, a bit of studied research and a huge helping of honesty. Terrorism from Timothy McVay to the Mailbox Bomber to 9/11 to the Twin Towers to a hundred or thousand other incidents of terror have all struck at home. Right here. Not Paris. Not Nairobi. Here.

And so they have for all of our history in virtually every part of the world. The information age allows more of us to know about more of these incidents more quickly than in the past; that’s all that’s different.

Play the odds, folks, and your fears should abate. It doesn’t lessen the horror of a beheading or bomb attack or the phenomenal confusion and angst trying to understand a suicide bomber, but it ought to make you less afraid.

And once you’ve got your senses back, then and only then consider how we should deal with the mess. Take a lesson from Sunday morning’s editorial in Nairobi’s newspaper, the Daily Nation:

“As a country that has known only too well the pain that merciless and misguided fanatics can inflict, Kenya obviously stands united with France in this hour of deepest anguish.

“The world must certainly stand together to battle the scourge of terrorism that has taken an even more menacing face in recent years.

“It would not be wise to rush into ever greater confrontation and war guided by justifiable anger.

“Instead, the voices of the peacemakers must come to the table, too.”

Kenya Backs into The Future

Kenya Backs into The Future

charcoal stockpilesJust as Kenya was doing everything right it arrests a journalist for uncovering corruption, while the Kenyan army that Obama built to route Somali terrorists turns out to be in cahoots with the terrorist leaders!

When will Kenyans stop being on the take?

The government’s interior minister oversaw the arrest Tuesday of a prominent Kenyan journalist who’d uncovered possible corruption in his ministry. The backlash was swift, the journalist was released, the minister comically claimed he hadn’t order the arrest, but the damage was done.

And today another courageous group of Kenyan journalists released a scathing report linking Kenyan occupying forces with the illicit half billion dollar trade in sugar and charcoal that had hugely financed Somali pirates.

Interior Secretary Joseph Nkaissery oversaw the arrest Tuesday of Kenyan journalist John Ngirachu. The journalist had discovered a multi-million dollar hole in Nkaissery’s budget that was unaccounted for.

By the time police brought Ngirachu to the station, the outcry in Kenya was so loud that he was simply kept for a short time and not even interrogated before being released.

Then yesterday, acting as if this was all news to him, Nkaissery ordered the “end to any investigation” by journalists claiming he knew nothing about it.

It’s so lame. Just before the arrest Nkaissery told Reuters that Ngirachu’s reporting was “unacceptable” and “calculated to harm the nation” since it portrayed his ministry as corrupt and that it was a trend by journalists “increasingly taking the shape of a larger plot of economic sabotage.”

So whether the minister then went down a floor and ordered the arrest by his chief of arrests, or whether his chief of arrests knew he would be canned if he didn’t do it on his own, the arrests came swiftly thereafter.

We often scratch our noggin wondering how in the world corrupt politicians think they can get away with it. Well, in Kenya you have to scratch all the way through the scalp to wonder how this guy would think just by denying what he had just said to a worldwide news agency, everything would be fine!

Today Kenyan soldiers are paid well and are well equipped, because of our own dear Obama. I’ve written critically many times about the Obama war effort in Somalia. We Americans built, funded and trained the Kenyans to oust the Somali warlords that had more or less run that evaporating country for nearly 20 years.

And they did a great job.

Now they’re flipping.

According to the Kenyan Journalists’ report, “Eating with the Enemy,” the Kenyan occupying soldiers have struck a deal with what’s left of the al-Shabaab they were supposed to nuke.

They are splitting about $24 million annually through illicit exporting of charcoal to the Arabian peninsula.

Charcoal burning stoves still fire many of the homes in the Arabian peninsula, where there aren’t any forests. Somalia has been deforesting itself for decades to supply them. So this isn’t just an illegal and corrupt act, it’s raping the planet.

But the Kenyan soldier scandal doesn’t stop there. Putting together UN reports with other Kenyan journalist reports, Nancy Agutu of Kenya’s Star wrote today that $400 million is being earned by the Kenyan soldiers and their middlemen back home for the illegal importation of sugar from Somalia.

There are so many angles to this story it’s hard to parse: America once again duped into trying to do good with military means; the ongoing rape of Somalia’s earth even after the war is stopped; the corruption of Kenyan officials high and low; the demand for charcoal in a modern age…

Only one thing is clear. There are some really good, possible heroes among Kenyan journalists.

One of Kenya’s most famous anti-corruption activists, John Githongo, told Reuters recently, “This is the most corrupt Kenya has been since we began measuring corruption in the ’90s.”

Kenya has been working so hard recently to combat crime and corruption, to work through their new constitution, to deal with the Somali crisis at their borders and stem terrorism … that’s it’s simply a crying shame that idiots like this minister and cowboys in the army we built would try to blow their future to smithereens.

Not Surprising

Not Surprising

metroTourists have been slaughtered in Egypt for a long time. It’s crazy the way the media paints Metrojet as something new.

In fact as tourist numbers increased in Egypt in the last 30 years so did terrorist killings: The period of greatest growth in Egyptian tourism, 2006-2008, also saw the largest number of tourists killed and attacked, nearly 500.

We retrieve memories of terrorism very selectively, often for political reasons. No one should be surprised by the terrorist bombing last week in Sharm el-Sheik.

Below is a quick summary hardly exhaustive. My point is that terrorism is a way of life for all of us, now, and it has been for some time.

Traveling on a vacation to an exotic destination is today similar to taking your kids on an interstate road trip. You do everything in your power to be safe, but you know that the statistics are chilling and that it’s possible that through no fault whatever of your own, tragedy can strike.

But you also know that the statistics are in your favor … as they are in Egypt, or London or Kenya or New York, and that road trip’s value to you and your family outweighs the risk.

The more exotic or unusual the adventure, usually that means the greater the risk. But I believe without this desire to travel to the far corners of the world, we’re doomed to a worse future than terrorism can create, one that secularizes the world and makes it even riper for even more terrorism.

All this doesn’t mean that the Sharm el-Sheik tragedy isn’t worthy of news, or isn’t shocking. But let’s keep it in context. Egypt is in the center of the Muslim/Christian – Democracy/Autocracy conflict, today. It’s horrible what happened, but it’s not surprising.

And if you haven’t visited Egypt yet, you must!

* * *
egyptattacksvstouristsTerrorism in Egypt has been happening for millennia. Many of us believe in the current era the attack that began a continued escalation of terrorism against tourists was on on April 18, 1974, when 100 rebels stormed a military college trying to assassinate President Anwar Sadat.

Sadat’s overtures to Israel and ultimate peace treaty galvanized Muslim militants. They’ve never stopped protesting that in Egypt. Virtually every year since has seen violent attacks on tourists.

The Luxor Massacre took place on November 17, 1997, in front of the famous Hatshepsut temple. Six terrorists disguised as security forces simply gunned down the tourists as they filed from their bus.

The fact that the horrible Luxor Massacre was followed by years of increasing tourist growth to Egypt means either that quite a few tourists understand the risks and consider them worth taking, or that they don’t care.

I think it’s the former.

It was in the period of 2004 – 2006 that the numbers of tourist deaths and injuries really escalated, and it was not because of any any single large events like the Luxor Massacre, but rather numerous tourist killings at places like a tea house in Cairo or a beach on the Sinai. Yet this period in particular was the beginning of the fastest growth in tourism Egypt has ever seen.

Dangerous Dennis

Dangerous Dennis

norwegiansuitShould a paid aid worker in a dangerous part of the world be able to sue his NGO for not protecting him well enough?

Steve Dennis sued his employer, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), for gross negligence that resulted in his kidnapping in 2012. Dennis refused more than a half million dollars out-of-court settlement, and a Norwegian judge will now soon decide the matter.

Dennis and several others were kidnapped from the Dadaab Refugee Camp on the Kenyan/Somali border by Somali insurgents. They were freed four days later by a commando raid of Kenyan and Somalia government forces.

He contends that his PTSD syndrome and continuing physical ailments that resulted from the kidnapping were all preventable had NRC better security procedures in place.

I think this is nuts.

Everyone – even soldiers and aid workers – should have redress through the courts for being abnormally maligned or mistreated, but Dennis was not.

The NRC is one of the most respected NGOs in Africa. The 100+ recommendations the NRC generated from its own internal investigation into Dennis’ kidnapping have all been implemented and are being widely considered by all NGOs in the Dadaab area.

I suspect there is much more to the story than has reached the media.

Just after the actual incident, the then 37-year old Dennis told his home-town Toronto Globe and Mail:

‘[that] he remains committed to aid work despite having just gone through “a very bad long weekend. I’m still going to be engaged somehow. How, I don’t know. For now I think my job is to take a couple months off and then, if I feel good, take a couple more maybe,” he said with a laugh.’

Dadaab is one of the most dangerous refugee camps in the world, and if I know this I imagine that aid workers do, too.

There are about 22 million refugees living in camps around the world, the majority in United Nations’ organized mini-cities. There are nearly a million in Dadaab alone.

The 10,000 UNHCR employees overseeing these facilities are assisted by an estimated 50,000 other aid workers of the sort Steve Dennis was, persons who are actually working in refugee camps. (Altogether there are around a quarter million humanitarian aid workers worldwide.)

Aid workers are characteristically the most dedicated, moral and upstanding individuals you can imagine. I’ve often pondered why these incredibly intelligent and motivated individuals give up traditional lives with usually greater compensation for such hazardous work.

About a year after the July, 2012, incident Dennis began issuing more and more serious allegations and complaints: his mood had obviously changed. In court documents he chalks this up to his PSTD.

Also about a year after the incident, NRC changed CEOs. In a letter introducing himself, Jan Egeland concluded, “And finally. Be careful, take the necessary precautions and wear a seatbelt. We cannot afford to lose any of you.”

The NRC media arm that issued the letter featured a picture of a smiling, handsome and weathered Egeland holding a large hand-written sign that read, “Listen to Locals And Stay Safe.”

As Dennis’ legal wrangle starting taking shape, he asked the public for $50,000 through FundRazr. The $20,000 that the Guardian newspaper reported he finally raised was apparently sufficient enough to attract ambulance chasers now working on speculation.

I don’t doubt that Dennis suffers from PTSD or that he has other lasting infirmities from his kidnapping. I’m not even sure I approve of the half million dollar settlement NRG offered Dennis, but at the very least it strikes me as incredibly generous.

But if aid organizations are now sued by employees who work in the most dangerous conditions in the world, it would be like soldiers suing the Army for sending them into war!

Norwegians are among the most dedicated aid workers in the world, and Norway among the most committed countries on our planet to making the whole wide world better. So it’s not surprising that they will find fault with themselves.

But I hope the judge notes that Dennis used crowdfunding to attract ambulance chasers. This is not how to save the world.

Terrorism Today

Terrorism Today

CGTerrorismFour countries in sub-Saharan Africa are at increased risk of terrorism: Uganda, Ethiopia, Burundi and the Central African Republic.

The warning is issued by the 2014 Global Terrorism Index, a massive compilation of each year’s terrorist incidents.

The report is good news for Kenya, continuing good news for Tanzania and all the rest of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Although the index has only been produced for the last five years, its track record so far is good.

Uganda and Ethiopia’s increased risk is linked directly to their increased authoritarianism. Burundi is essentially an ethnic conflict.

In fact last week Uganda’s principal opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, was arrested and put under house arrest to end his organizing protest rallies. This stands in marked contrast, for example, with Tanzania’s heated up but very free presidential election and Kenya’s exceptional transparency in government.

The GTI is by some measure overly thorough and as a result some of its lesser predictions might be seen as premature, but the overall index suggesting increased or decreased terrorism will be used in critical decisions by many global businesses including tour companies.

The index is not without controversy, since it refuses to view Israel and Palestine with the same parameters as the rest of the world. The much less used but competing British index, the Verisk/Maplecroft Terrorism Dashboard actually suggests an increased terrorism risk in Nairobi.

The GTI report is less of a chronology of terrorist events than it is a measure of those events’ impact on the country. In other words larger economies more capable of shrugging off terrorist incidents, like the United States, will be less impacted by terrorism than smaller economies like Kenya.

As a result Kenya continues to be seriously impacted by terrorism, because the index is a 5-year weighted average, and Kenya’s terrorists incidents in 2008-2013 included severe attacks like the Westgate Mall.

From this perspective Kenya ranks the 13th most impacted in the world of the 162 countries studied, compared to the U.S.’ 30th, even though there were more actual deaths and injuries in the U.S. considered terrorism than in Kenya.

Terrorism as defined by the GTI includes such acts as school shootings.

The bottom line is that mayhem from terrorism is increasing substantially, although localized and heavily a result of the ongoing conflicts in the Mideast. GTI dissects nine organizations it has determined are the main terrorist organizations worldwide:

Hamas, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Al-Qaida in Iraq & Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, ISIS, The Taliban in Pakistan, Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, Al-Shabab and Boko Haram.

(Currently, the Tamil Tigers have signed a peace agreement in Sri Lanka, Al-Shabab is almost gone and Boko Haram is retreating in Nigeria. That leaves today’s principal terrorist organizations all from the Mideast.)

Terrorism is as old as time itself. Were the GTI Index to be applied to all the years since the American Revolution, it’s likely that America would vie with the Mideast for the most terrorism overall.

Our revolution, Indian wars, Civil War, presidential and other political assassinations and today’s contemporary school shootings would likely add up to as much all the trouble over that same time in Africa.

What’s changed is technology and the likelihood that every person with a smart phone knows what bad things are happening where and when. That’s good for the possible resolution of bad things, if you believe as I do that we are all basically good.

But it causes us great angst when forced to try to understand such wanton harm. My novel, Chasm Gorge, tries to help you understand that.

There was a time when those who considered themselves good easily sheltered themselves from those they considered evil. Today, what is “good” and what is “evil,” as well as the ability to “shield” onself, are no longer quite as certain as in the old days.

Terrorism is as much an intellectual challenge to understand as a political challenge to stop.

The darker the red, the more impact from terrorism.
The darker the red, the more impact from terrorism.

The Rise of The Have-Nots

The Rise of The Have-Nots

MaliErruptsThe deteriorating situation in Mali this week made me realize the crises throughout the world aren’t clashes of ideologies or religions. It’s so simple: the Have Nots are rising.

Mali, you might remember, was the final joint success story of the Obama/Hollande alliance to defeat terrorism in Africa.

Since the Kenyan invasion of Somali on October 16, 2011, I have chronicled in my blogs the slow but methodical Obama/Hollande alliance that pushed the Afghani/Iraqi bad guys to Yemen, to Somalia, through East Africa and to Central Africa, thence finally to Mali.

Where, I wrongly presumed, they were finally clobbered to death by the French foreign legion in January, 2013.

I should have read more carefully my guest blogger, Conor Godfrey, who so passionately described the shock of a Mali suicide bomber which followed in February, 2013.

I mostly ignored that piece by Conor, who is now with the State Department and then as now has one of the finest analytical minds about Africa. That was a mistake. I jumped the gun. Mali was not pacified.

The insurgents that I believed were swept up into a single pile and ultimately defeated by the French Foreign legion that scattered the few remaining fugitives to doom in the Sahara, is now threatening central Mali.

Conor’s piece in 2013 expressed the surprised horror that a suicide bombing had taken place in Mali.

If you asked a random American if there were any suicide bombings here, what percentage do you think would say “None?”

To date this year alone, there have been 285 mass shootings in America, and while I have not had the time to go through them one by one to determine how many ended with the shooter killing himself, I know it was more than several.

That is simply a more modern consumer society’s suicide bomber. It’s easier in America to get a gun than make a bomb.

America is not yet threatening to implode like Mali, even with today’s announced resignation by John Boehner. But the acts are identical, across radically different cultures and historical time zones.

Whether Charlie Hebdo or Boston or Chechnya or a Finish island, people are blowing themselves up in order to kill others.

Conor knows what suicide bombing doesn’t mean:

“Maybe somewhere where life comes a little cheaper, and craziness prevails. This is nonsense…”

He suggests that it might be “blowback from our global war on terror.”

But folks, there has to be a common thread among all these seemingly disparate places and peoples, something that as horrible as it sounds, connects the bomber in Mali with the bomber in Colorado.

In ancient history legions of soldiers knew they were headed into sacrificial battles. But not really until the age of kamikazes did “suicide war” become an individual act.

There has always been desperate dissatisfaction with life by individuals, but the kamikaze, the suicide bomber seems fundamentally screwed up, totally irrational.

Unless you really embrace the concept of hopelessness. Everything is then lost. There is no more morality. Vengeance is the only possible success.

People become hopeless for a lot of different reasons. Many are obvious, like hunger. But many are more complicated, like losing a job. (US 2015 Mass Shooter #246, Vester Flanagan.) But certainly this isn’t just a feature of our modern age. So what is?

Guns and bombs. Never before has such powerful destruction been so easily obtained by an individual.

Hopelessness. There really seems today to be an unusual amount of this worldwide.

Anger. Today we worship and encourage anger like never before.

Hopelessness curls the finger around the trigger. Anger pulls it.

All three are needed for the tragedy. We gotta work on them all, and quick.