Tuesday, June 26, 2018
From celebrities calling on citizens to take to the streets, to members of Congress calling for the public harassment of White House officials, to mob justice at restaurants — is the US heading toward a new kind of Civil War?
Well, some people think the seeds of a new Civil War have already been sown — and in a recent article, University of Tennessee Law Professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds argued in a USA Today column that this new war is indeed “well underway.”
Reynolds was echoing similar comments from political scientist Thomas Schaller who wrote in a recent Bloomberg column that America is “at the beginning of a soft civil war,” and author Tom Ricks who agreed that the country seems to be“lurching” in that direction.
Much of the recent disquiet has been spurred on by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies and the decision to separate children from their parents at the US-Mexico border, but things have been bubbling up since Trump took office 18 months ago.
1. ‘God is on our side!’
Representative Maxine Waters (D-California) caused a huge stir last week when she encouraged critics of the White House’s immigration policies to go out and harass members of the Trump administration in public. Waters made an impassioned call for citizens to ensure there would be “no sleep, no peace” for White House officials.
"If you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. You push back on them. Tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere," she said.
But her comments were so extreme and incendiary that it prompted a former secret service agent to call them “dangerous”and warned they “go beyond breaking the norms” of civil discourse and criticized her for “endorsing mob-rule to satisfy a political goal.”
Not long after Waters’ comments, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked to leave a restaurant in Virginia because she works for the Trump administration.
2. ‘Surround their homes and schools in protest!’
Celebrities are getting in on the action, too, encouraging Americans to take to the streets in the millions to protest the Trump administration.
Last week, comments by actor Peter Fonda put the secret service on alert when he suggested that Trump’s 12-year-old son Barron should be taken from his mother Melania and put “in a cage with pedophiles” and that citizens should “surround the schools” of administration officials’ children in response to the child-separation policy.
Somewhat less dramatically, other Hollywood figures have called for protests and change. Actor John Cusack accused the Trump administration of “fascism” and “torturing” children — while musician Serj Tankian wrote on Instagram that the US is in a state of “utter regression” and that it is time for a “peaceful revolution.”
3. Confederate monuments controversy
The fierce debate over the removal of confederate monuments and symbols across the US epitomizes the current political and social divide and the competing interpretations of American history, with one side believing the monuments revere figures who fought to maintain slavery while the other side believes they honor great patriots.
When white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine black Americans attending a prayer service in Virginia in 2015, it prompted a movement to have Confederate monuments removed from public spaces across the country. More than 100 publicly-supported monuments and symbols have been removed since 2015 — but not without controversy and counter-protests. While monuments are being removed across the US, other groups are pushing for new ones to be erected.
Last year a ‘Unite the Right’ rally called in protest at the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia turned violent when a protester drove a car through a crowd of counter-protesters, killing activist Heather Heyer.
4. Media wars, polarization of opinion
All of this social discord is playing out, magnified, on Americans’ TV screens in a way that appears to be exacerbating the problem. Eager to up their ratings, news networks invite the most polarizing of guests for daily screaming matches to be beamed into people’s homes. Far from the days of simply favoring one news channel over another, now if Americans don’t like how something is reported, it instantly becomes “fake news” or “propaganda.”
In his article, Reynolds wrote that news media which “promote shrieking outrage in pursuit of ratings and page views, are making the problem worse” and reminisced about a time when Americans could disagree with each other without hating each other.
5. Stratification of society
While all this is being played out on TV screens and social media, those at the fringes of society are feeling the effects of a sick system perhaps more than anyone. The socio-economic stratification of American society appears more obvious than it has at any time in recent years.
Inequality and rampant police violence against African-Americans prompted the NFL kneeling protests, which turned into a nationwide controversy between Americans who are proud of their flag and national anthem and all they stand for — and those who believe true freedom and justice have not yet come to America. A devastating opioid crisis, one of the highest child poverty rates in the world, and a strict adherence to policies which make the poor poorer and the rich richer, have all helped take anger in America from a simmer to a boil.
Reynolds wrote that part of the problem now is that Americans don’t feel social ties which transcend politics. It’s all us vs. them — and nothing in between. He argues that churches, fraternal organizations and neighborhoods used to cross political lines, but that this America has “shrunk and decayed” and people are increasingly finding their identity only in politics.
Marriage counselors, Reynolds explains, say that a relationship is doomed to fail when the couple begin to view each other with contempt — and in America today, there seems to be nothing but feelings of contempt felt on both sides of the political spectrum.
The new Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief is no ordinary militant. Indeed, Abu Mansoor Mufti Noor Wali is of particular interest to this country. Not least because of an important confession contained in his Urdu-language book, Inqilab Mehsud South Waziristan: From British Raj to American Imperialism. Posted online back in November 2017 — a decade after former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated — it confirms for the first time that the TTP was behind the murder.
Fast-forward to the present and he is known to be making the most of militant safe-havens on the other side of the Durand Line. In the company of the so-called second suicide bomber, known as Ikramullah; that is, the man who served as back-up in case the first failed to detonate. He was identified as such in Mufti Noor Wali’s book.
According to a BBC report this week, Ikramullah now belongs to a TTP splinter group; though it does not disclose the name. Be that as it may, he has now released a video statement denying all involvement in the plot to murder the first woman to lead a Muslim nation. Though the Beeb suggests that this is a staged ‘retraction’; in response to purported threats to his family from the Pakistani security establishment. There is also the question of other Afghanistan-based militants attacking him last year.
Be that as it may, a video message is no substitute for due process. Not when there is a penned confession naming Ikramullah as the second suicide bomber. Not when other suspects have identified him by name before the Pakistani courts. Not when the latter features on list of this country’s most wanted terrorist suspects. Towards this end, therefore, we fully support Senator Rehman Malik’s calls for Kabul to hand over both Ikramullah and Mufti Noor Wali to Pakistan. Just as we fully back the PPP stalwart’s moves to urge the interim set-up to approach Interpol with a view to issuing Red Notices for the ‘extradition’ of both terrorists. It is, after all, a matter of national interest and justice.
Similarly, we hope that the Ghani government next door will do the needful. After all, it is clear that both the US and Afghanistan must do more, more, more to contain the anti-Pakistan terror threat emanating from across the border. The targeted strike against Mullah Fazlullah Rehman earlier this month is, in and of itself, simply not good enough. For what we are talking about here are terrorists who have the blood of a twice-elected premier on their hands; and who have not been flushed out from their safe-havens by a military occupying power that happens to the most sophisticated in the world. This is to say nothing of the presence of the NATO war machine in Afghanistan.
In short, Pakistan needs both men alive. For there is a vast difference between pulling the trigger in remote-controlled warfare and bringing the guilty to book. And we know which Benazir deserves.
By Saeed Shah
A major Pakistani newspaper recently discovered the new limits of press freedom here after it published an interview with ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in which he questioned the military’s counterterrorism efforts.
Pakistan’s powerful military is stifling the media ahead of a July 25 election, part of a larger power grab that seeks to ensure a pliant government emerges from the polls, say human-rights groups, politicians and media personnel.
“I’ve not seen this before under any democratic rule, not even under martial law,” said Hameed Haroon, Dawn’s CEO and president of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society, which represents newspaper owners. “They seek to influence the election results, influence the national narrative and liquidate the press.”
The military declined to comment. But it has denied accusations of press censorship or political interference, and says it supports democracy.
Pakistan’s armed forces have staged several coups in the past. But since democracy was last restored in 2008, critics say the military has instead focused on gaining influence over civilian spheres from behind the scenes. The military has since gained leverage over government policy, the political opposition, moved against dissent in civil society, and allied with the courts, critics say.
That effort gained momentum over the past couple of years as Mr. Sharif’s government clashed with the armed forces over his desire to make peace with India and his call for action against jihadist groups operating from Pakistan.
Washington has long accused the Pakistan army of using militant groups as its proxies, including the Taliban in Afghanistan, a charge it denies. Pakistan’s military alleges that India uses Afghan territory to support Pakistani insurgents, an accusation that Delhi denies.
The media has long been an irritant to the military.
In periods of martial law, the military imposed official censorship, with Pakistan’s state broadcaster a prime target. In a now democratic Pakistan with an abundance of private media, more subtle forms of censorship and self-censorship pervade, reporters and lawmakers say. “There has been a systematic, creeping coup. The powers have been taken over by the security establishment,” said Farhatullah Babar, a recently retired opposition senator. “Without taking over a single television station, the media has been tamed.” In this election, the military seeks to boost the party of Mr. Sharif’s toughest challenger, Imran Khan, to ensure that Mr. Sharif’s party loses its majority in parliament and must forge a coalition, say Mr. Babar and analysts. Both the military and Mr. Khan’s party—which brought the lawsuit that led to Mr. Sharif’s court-ruled ouster and his current corruption trial—dismiss any links to one another. Mr. Sharif denies any corruption. The judiciary says it is independent.
Polls show Mr. Sharif’s party is ahead in the election race, which journalists say explains a recent ratcheting up of repression against the media. One result, these people say: What little reporting there is on sensitive national security issues is told from the military’s viewpoint. Criticizing the military “would be suicidal,” said one media executive who has clashed with the military.
For example, TV stations have virtually avoided covering a new protest movementlambasting the military for human-rights abuses of the Pashtun ethnic minority. Dozens of the protest movement’s followers have been charged, including with sedition.
Meanwhile, many newer private news channels are owned by industrial tycoons outside the media, from tobacco to cooking oil, trying to gain influence, the journalists say. Those owners won’t often take a stand on editorial freedom, and some openly support the military’s stance, these people say.
In practice, the military contacts many TV channel owners about content it finds troubling, who in turn convey editorial direction to their journalists, say reporters at several channels, adding that the military also exercises influence over some hirings and firings at the stations.
Broadcasters have also reduced live programming to allow time to edit out dissenting opinion, these reporters say.
Cable distribution is also manipulated through its owners. The owners of four cable TV local distribution companies told The Wall Street Journal that they have been told directly by security officials to take particular channels off the air in recent months. Geo News, the leading news channel, was taken off air by cable companies for several weeks this year until it negotiated directly with senior military officials to be allowed back, say two people familiar with the talks. Several columnists at the group’s newspapers recently tweeted their reports when the papers wouldn’t publish them. Geo declined to comment. Security officials privately say they found Geo’s coverage too sympathetic toward Mr. Sharif. The Pakistan Broadcasters Association, which represents many channels, didn’t respond to a request to comment. But one of its members disputed the notion that editorial policy is compromised.
“By and large I don’t see any coercive pressure,” said Taher Khan, owner of the News One channel and an association board member. “As a responsible media, we shouldn’t say anything that’s antistate,” he said. In Pakistan, the term antistate is often used to describe opinion critical of the military.
At a press conference this month, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, the military’s spokesman, challenged any media owner or journalist who was told what to report by the military to disclose it on air. Maj. Gen. Ghafoor also displayed a chart showing which journalists have retweeted “antistate and anti-army” posts on Twitter. He said “anti-Pakistan” Twitter accounts based abroad had grown fivefold between January and May this year.
“We have to stay united, we have to defeat them,” he told journalists.
The next day, Gul Bukhari, a journalist and military critic with dual British-Pakistani citizenship, was abducted by uniformed and plain clothes men in the Lahore military zone. She was released hours later after her channel publicized the news and an outcry ensued. But journalists said the message was clear: No one is safe. In an interview, Ms. Bukhari said she has since sought police protection. Police say they are investigating.
The military denies involvement in her abduction.
Last year, five bloggers critical of the military said they were kidnapped by security officials, held for more than three weeks and badly tortured, they said after they were freed and fled abroad. One of the bloggers, Ahmad Waqass Goraya, said his parents, still in Pakistan, were threatened by military officials this month. The military denies involvement.
Independent-minded reporters say they will persevere.
“People who know the craft, they somehow push out information, using metaphors, sarcasm, signs, tone,” said Murtaza Solongi, the host of a political talk show on TV. “I don’t see censorship and self-censorship working.”