The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

A killer twist to the Syrian civil war

by fpman

It is probably worth watching out for developments in the Latakia area in Syria these days. One of the last few strongholds of the Assad regime, it is simultaneously under attack from rebels and developing mixed feelings towards the Syrian leadership that has so far been the unquestionable protector of this Alawite-majority region.

This comes after Suleiman al-Assad, a first cousin once removed of President Bashar al-Assad has, on August 7, killed a Colonel of the Syrian Air Force, Hassan al-Sheikh in what is varyingly described as “a traffic dispute” or “a road rage accident.” Suleiman al-Assad shot Colonel al-Sheikh dead either “because he overtook him at a crossroads” or “because he did not give way in a traffic jam.”

The son of Hilal al-Assad, commander of Latakia’s defence up till his death in battle last year, has thus killed an officer of the force that is still able to give a bit of an edge against rebel forces where it matters.

The killer has by now been arrested. Locals are demanding his execution. Bashar al-Assad promised there would be punishment but will surely have second thoughts as to how he should mediate between the interest of justice (and sane governance, you might add) and the interests of his powerful family.

Monica Lewinsky on cyber-bullying

by fpman

Monica Lewinsky jokes that she is the only person above 40 who is not dreaming of being 22 again, given the “improbable romance” she was involved in with Bill Clinton when she worked in the White House, between 1995 and 1996. She explains the why of this in the video below.

A TED talk

Some of the specifics of the case are worth mentioning that some may not remember by now. The whole affair came to light after Linda Tripp, a colleague of Lewinsky’s, whom she confided in, secretly recorded long hours of telephone conversations with her in which she talked about her relationship with Clinton. These recordings, “made for patriotic reasons” by Tripp, were eventually made public and are still available online today. Past is always present on the internet.

The atrocity that will not be televised

by fpman

Fresh reports in from Nigeria, via allAfrica.com:

Boko Haram Killing ‘Wives’ to Prevent Marraige to ‘Unbelievers’

The reason why this will not be televised — or in other words widely known:

1. This is happening in Africa, not in the Middle East.

2. This is happening to Africans, not Westerners.

3. The Islamic State has just killed Western tourists in Tunisia in the meantime, and that would divert the attention on any day.

4. Wives of Boko Haram’s Islamist combatants are perceived at first sight by unsuspecting readers as part of the enemy, or, psychologically speaking, as part of an “outgroup.”

Two quotes from the article should make clear why this is as terrible a human tragedy as can be.

The Islamist fighters apparently told “their” wives before they killed them:

“We will not spare anyone of you because if unbelievers marry you, when we get to heaven, there is no way we can meet again.”

And the context to all of this shows that in all likelihood most of the women concerned have never really consented to being married to them in the first place.

“The insurgents had decided to flee to the nearby town of Gwoza (after fleeing the town of Bama earlier on, in the course of their retreat) before the troops’ arrival but they first decided to kill their wives so that nobody would remarry them.

Boko Haram forcibly married scores of women in Bama after seizing it in September. Nigeria’s military announced the recapture of the town on Monday.”

In other words, many or most of the women concerned were just given to their future killers as property, and before they were killed, they were offered the “consolation” that they could be with their killers forever and ever, thanks to being saved from the alternative.

Developments in Sierra Leone, and the quote of the day

by fpman

You may remember that towards the end of February, as we have reported here, Sierra Leone’s Vice-President Samuel Sam-Sumana voluntarily went into quarantine for twenty-one days after one of his bodyguards died of Ebola. Now it seems that there may have been more to the decision than mere precaution, or at the very least the consequences are proving more complex.

There is apparently a power struggle in the background. VP Sam-Sumana was expelled last week from the ruling All People’s Congress Party for allegedly “orchestrating political violence,” and also for supposedly untrue statements about himself. He faces the prospect of impeachment in the near future. A superficial look at the affair seems to suggest that what is happening at the moment is that his political opponents are happy to use his isolation in quarantine against him, trying to unseat him.

It is not unprecedented for epidemics to have far-reaching political implications as this whole book may make clear:

And so, in conclusion, here is a somewhat random example from the above book of the many power struggles throughout history that were affected by epidemics, from page 46, for a broader perspective — our quote of the day:

“In northern Italy, the Duke of Mantua and his only son succumbed to smallpox in December 1612. Abruptly ending the male line of succession of the Gonzaga family, this led directly to the War of the Mantuan Succession between Austria and France.”

A small correction may be due here: the male line of succession did not completely end in 1612 but given that Francesco IV Gonzaga (the son of Vincenzo I Gonzaga) did not have a male heir, his brother Ferdinando I had to take over from him. The problems, and the war of succession, came when eventually Ferdinando I and the third brother, Vincenzo II died without a son, too.

The point that epidemics and political instability make for an explosive combination should not be lost, though.

Certain interactions repeat themselves

by fpman

Here is a very interesting piece in the NY Post (“My ISIS boyfriend”), looking at the story of a French woman who delved real deep into some research on radicalisation in France and the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) phenomenon. As the lady reveals through her own fascinating experience:

“This is why girls go there,” said Erelle. “It’s the dream of a good life. They are persuaded that it’s a paradise and that they don’t have any future in Britain or France and they won’t find good husbands and can never be good Muslims surrounded by infidels. Bilel told Melodie she could have a beautiful life, a big apartment and lots of children.”

These considerations are important to understand. It is equally important to understand that this is nothing new.

Take this book as an example: “The Convert,” by Deborah Baker.

It is the story of Margaret Marcus, a Jewish-American girl from New York who suffered from some major vulnerabilities for some time in her life and eventually chose to convert, seeking a solution to all her troubles, and went to Pakistan. She was invited there by Abul A’la Maududi (1903-1979), an Islamist scholar-politician who was the founder there of the Jamaat-e-Islami party. One of the most influential Islamist thinkers in the early development of modern political Islam.

Margaret went to Pakistan in 1961. Maududi, happy that in distant America someone chose Islam (it was more of a big deal at the time), accepted her into his house, and attempted to find a husband for her.

The story is in fact quite complicated from hereon and I would not like to shoot it down with a cheap summary — let me point out that Margaret Marcus went on to live as Maryam Jameelah in her new life. The story of her conversion (a version of it) is widely known in the Islamic world.

Now guess what… one of the arguments that tempted Margaret-Maryam to foreign land was that as a Muslim convert she would not find decent existence (in both a spiritual and a material sense) and a good husband if she stayed in non-Muslim land.

Given that these interactions, which apparently show a durable pattern, nowadays gain strategic significance in the context of the Islamic State, perhaps it is time to pay more attention to the excellent book mentioned above.

Ayatollahs, Khameneis, Khomeinis

by fpman

Given the recent health problems of Iran’s supreme ayatollah, Ali Khamenei, there is speculation about who would follow in case someone needs to replace him.

Here is a great overview of some of the possible candidates, including Mojtaba Khamenei, who is Ali Khamenei’s hardliner son, and Hassan Khomeini, the late ayatollah Khomeini’s grandson who has reformist leanings.

Neither dynastic-like succession, nor a radical or a reformist choice for successor is anything sure yet, it is worth adding.

Of helpmeets and dirt-throwers

by fpman

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara Netanyahu is to some extent at the center of the upcoming Israeli legislative elections these days. She hit the deadlines having recently spoken on the phone with Monique Ben Melekh, wife of the former mayor of Sderot, Eli Moyal — in this conversation she made a series of passionate remarks about her husband and to her unpleasant surprise Monique Ben Melekh apparently recorded the conversation. Theirs is a relationship of tension, mostly because Monique’s husband Eli Moyal is a critic of some of Netanyahu’s policies.

Sara Netanyahu’s rant comparative assessment of the two husbands is as follows:

“(….) he (Netanyahu) behaves with rare political wisdom, speaks with leaders all the time! Binyamin Netanyahu’s experience, his wisdom, his education! [He has] extensive education, university degrees. He also reads books, understands the economy, security, policy, he knows how to speak with leaders of the world! Where is your man? He doesn’t even reach the ankles of my husband, what, did Eli Moyal ever speak once with leaders of the world?!”

The good wife’s intention in this case was, in her words, to be a true “helpmeet” to her husband, something she sees as a “great responsibility” in a world where her husband is facing, on behalf of “the free world,” Iran and the Islamic State. In fact she sees her husband effectively as the leader of the free world. She says:

“He is one of the most veteran leaders in the world. In the United States they say that if he had been born in the US, he’d have been elected president there.”

In politics, of course, consequences weigh more than intentions. The leaking of the recorded conversation’s transcript (parts of it, with possibly worse to follow) comes at a time when allegations of the Netanyahu family’s former housekeeper about Sara Netanyahu’s allegedly bad temper are already making some waves around her. Opponents have thus found a way to turn her efforts against her husband on the eve of the upcoming elections.

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post (a form of damage limitation) she reflects on the housekeeper’s allegations, too.

“It’s the idea that some people earn their livelihood by throwing dirt on other people, their reputations – and not just anyone, but someone who you worked for, who was by your side. If you’re unhappy at work, why not just leave? Why do you have to spit into the well you drank from? What kind of person does something like that? I can’t help thinking of the BBC drama Downton Abbey, with its upstairs/downstairs intrigue, scheming staff and the bubbling cauldron of endless gossip.”

We shall see if such witty comments help her help husband.

Contagion

by fpman

This was waiting to happen. The Ebola epidemic which has not actually ended even though Western media these days is hardly paying attention to it (approaching 10,000 dead and 25,000 total infected) is within one step of reaching members of the political leadership in one of the countries hardest struck by the outbreak, in Sierra Leone. One of Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana’s bodyguards recently died of the disease and the VP is now in quarantine for 21 days, along with his staff.

The R0 value for the current epidemic is still around 2. That means: infection is passed on, on average, to around two persons in one’s environment.

An encounter

by fpman

Uruguay’s socialist president, José Mujica, although the experience of his government tells us he may not be a true master of politics, is, no doubt, mostly “a truly wonderful guy” at the present. He added this UN speech to the legacy of humanity and is also known (and loved by many) for the old VW Beetle he still likes to drive around in.

MujicaMujica, the Beetle and el perro del presidente: Cute power (photo: Ivan Franco, EPA)

What makes him news here at this point is that he recently extended his usual warm-hearted welcome to his country’s guests from the Guantanamo detention facility — people whom Uruguay offered refuge once the United States was no longer interested in keeping them “at bay.”

He is, in the wake of this visit, apparently not altogether happy with what the former detainees are doing — for example, that they reportedly turned down certain job offers and are not interested in starting to work.

He therefore summed up what he thought about them in the following way:

“If these people were humble people of the desert, poor people, they’d surely be stronger and more primitive, but they’re not. Through their hands, features and family histories, it seems to me that they’re middle class.”

Mujica is the kind of guy to whom one can forgive many things. Let’s face it — even with the best of intentions the guy has just made a very prejudiced statement about “Arabs from the desert,” even if he was looking to express how reality deviated from his expectations (prejudices) on the occasion. The reason why this can nevertheless be taken as a benign statement from him is that he, the child of very poor immigrant (Basque and Italian) parents, was mostly looking to discover his own very broadly understood “kin” in the former detainees. His prejudice was the opposite of rejection.

Gaffe

by fpman

The official narrative of what you see below is that VP Joe Biden was “comforting (newly installed Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s wife) Stephanie Carter after she slipped and fell on ice outside the White House earlier in the day” — while her husband was being sworn into office, that is. Just a bit of shawl chivalry, if that rings a bell.

 

There is not too much in the way of scientific commentary to be offered related to this.

What constitutes a gaffe is, to state the obvious, socially constructed — a matter of intersubjective consensus between observers. You be the observer, watch the video.

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