I will take a break from blogging about politics and vent my fury at the cowardly and not-uncommon habit of abusing maids in the Arab world.
Syrian actor Samer al-Masri and his retired actress wife are accused of torturing their Filipina maid and inflicting horrific injuries on her.
For those who don't know who al-Masri is (I didn't before I came across this story of human evil), he's an actor in a popular Syrian historical drama that I know of but never watched, Bab al-Hara.
Al-Masri denies torturing the maid and claims that with her contract about to end she sought a large end-of-contract payoff, threw herself out of a window and suffered the horrific injuries you see in the video as well as older injuries including a fractured arm that healed with the bone obviously not set properly. She says she hasn't received her salary in three years.
You watch the video and decide if this girl jumped through a window.
My view: this young woman, thousands of miles away from her home and loved ones, has endured terrible and inhuman abuse. It makes my blood boil.
Whoever did this to her must face the consequences of their brutal actions.
The Arabs are perfectly entitled to dignity and human rights. But they must also ensure that they treat migrant workers as they wish to be treated.
Making the rounds on the web today...
Warning to Earthlings:
A sputtering space vehicle has landed on Earth. On board is a weird creature believed to be called Gaddafi. He is armed with an umbrella and speaks unintelligibly and is believed to descend from the Pokemon species. Earthlings are advised against interacting with him and warned against popping any kinds of pills in front of him as this drives him nuts.
تحذير إلى سكان كوكب الأرض:
هبطت مركبة فضائية توكتوكية على متنها كائن غريب يطلق عليه القذافي، يتحدث بلغة غير مفهومة ومسلح بشمسية ويعتقد انه من سلالة البوكيمون. نهيب بسكان كوكب الأرض عدم التعامل معه ونحذر من تناول الحبوب أمامه مهما كان نوعها حيث ان هذا يثير غضبه.
Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi Just appeared a few minutes ago in Green Square and spoke to several hundred of his supporters. Unlike his phone call yesterday, today he was defiant, seemed in good spirits and delivered a battling speech, the message being I'm not leaving and come and get me if you can! He announced that he's ready to open arsenals and arm the tribes. Now that's a recipe for disaster.
I must admit that he wrong-footed me!
This could turn out to be a protracted, drawn out crisis, with Gaddafi holed up in Tripoli and the opposition on the outside but so farwithout the means to march on Tripoli and evict him.
Unless he is it taken out with a bullet from the inside I'm afraid that the battle for Tripoli will follow Gaddafi's formula announced in his historic speech on Tuesday, February 22: Acre by acre, house to house, room to room, alley to alley, individual by individual. That is far too high a price for the unfortunate Libyan people to pay. But the price of liberty has always been exorbitant.
The bomb that brought down Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland was a joint effort between Libya and Abu Nidal, according to a senior defector from Abu Nidal's group, Atef Abu Bakr.
In an interview conducted with Abu Bakr in Prague and published today by the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat, Abu Bakr adds that the bomb was assembled in Lebanon by the Scientific Committee of Abu Nidal's faction, sent to Tripoli and then onto Malta before being placed aboard Pan Am 103.
Abu Bakr also claims the UTA bomb went through the same process.
I have now had the opportunity to watch two performances by Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. The first was his stunning speech 2 days ago, the ferocious ranting and raving 75-minute spectacle that ended with the chilling threat to launch a sacred march, with the millions he leads in Africa, Latin America and even Europe, against the rebellious Libyans! He threatened to to cleanse Libya “house to house”, “individual by individual”!
Earlier today I was thinking about that threat and decided he did not have the force to do it. Whatever forces Gaddafi has left under his command will stay put in Tripoli to defend his otherworldly home/headquarters, the Bab al-Aziziyya barracks, and smash whatever civilian unrest that materializes in the Libyan capital. He will seek to destabilize the regions that have shaken off his grip, even terrorize them. But he will not win. He has already lost.
Going back to the speech 2 days ago, I was reminded of Bruno Ganz' portrayal of Hitler in Downfall, the powerful story of the German dictator's last hours. Then today I watched/listened to Gaddafi's bizarre phone call to Libyan TV, almost pleading with the residents of Zawya, beseeching them to get their kids off the streets, to stop the rebellion. Once again he said that if the men are afraid to go out and get the young men off the streets then the “women and girls” should go and do it! Apparently everyone in opposition to the colonel's will is on “hallucinogenic pills”. He did go on to tell us a couple of days ago that these pills are “bad for the heart”. I never cease to find these nuggets of wisdom funny.
I pity the Libyan TV presenter who had to sit poker-face and almost motionless on camera throughout Gaddafi's ramble today. I am certain that presenter would have wet himself right there if the call of nature was overwhelming.
Sadly, Muammar's show is not funny, it's not a black comedy. It is a tragic manifestation of how unchecked power unleashes the terrors of madness. This was brought home when I saw the footage of about 19 bodies, hands tied behind their backs and shot execution-style. I could tell they had been executed from the pooling of blood around the heads. It must take some very brave men to commit such a cowardly act.
What an unfortunate episode in the history of the Arab world these past decades have been. These are criminal regimes, in every sense of the word.
So Muammar al-Gaddafi, who has spent the better part of these decades hunting down “stray dogs”, shooting dead his opponents across the globe, kidnapping, torturing and murdering and making Libya a bizarre spectacle is now a concerned guardian appealing to those in his custody. And that's where Libya and the Libyans have been all this time: in his custody.
Problem is Gaddafi actually believes what he said. Unlike Mubarak he was not pressured or manipulated by his son Gamal and the closed circle surrounding him. Nor does he resemble Tunisia's Ben Ali whose wife Laila apparently wielded tremendous influence over him.
Gaddafi has lived in a bubble for the past 41 and a half years, closing his country to the rest of the world, banning the teaching and learning of foreign languages and placing Libya in virtual time warp. He changed the names of months to suit his whims and interpretations, made his country's flag into a plain piece of green cloth, went against the traditions of the whole Islamic world and scrapped the traditional Islamic calendar and dictated that it should mark the death of the Prophet Muhammad, not his flight from Mecca to Medina, Hijra. It's called the Hijri calendar for a reason!
Like Mubarak before him, threatening chaos if the leader departs is both an insult and indictment. It's an insult to the millions of citizens to say they would be lost without the dear leader. And it's an indictment of these leaders because it's tantamount to an admission that no state institutions were built over all these years.
In 1990 American journalist Charles Glass published his book Tribes with Flags in which he described the majority of Arab countries as being just that, groups of tribes that raised a national flag. I regret to admit that he was correct in his assumption back then and that title holds true today. So many countries are basically a fiefdom, the citizens no more than serfs with a powerful overlord presiding over the whole miserable lot.
I suppose this is best illustrated by the pro-Gaddafi rabble I watch on Libyan TV these days, chanting Allah, Muammar, Libya wa bass (Only God, Muammar and Libya).
It is what I call the Colonel's Unholy Trinity, where the Brother Leader of the Revolution is second only to God and comes before the country.
It is a sordid chapter in the history of the Arabs whose end I sincerely hope is being written by the unfolding events across the region.
I cannot say I am confident that what follows today's news will be a better, brighter future. But if it affords us the opportunity to confront the transgressions of this shameful period, with all its brutality, hypocrisy and lies then I gladly accept it.
I do not have family members who are engaged in a selfless and brave struggle to win back their freedom and that of their societies. I bow with the utmost respect to those out in the streets facing overwhelming odds, to those who have paid the ultimate price. But I will not preach and call on the people of Libya, or whichever Arab society is next in its bid for dignity, to shed the blood of sacrifice. I think we have enough analysts and members of the opposition in exile who are doing this now. Some, I am certain, are pure and well-intentioned, while others are obviously jockeying for political position in the post-Gaddafi period.
The people know what they have to do and they're doing it. But no one, no leader or group, has the right to fight by proxy and shed the people's blood while living in grandeur and safety and the people wallow in misery.
What I hope we can get out of this juncture in our history is a sense of real belonging to our countries, creating a sense of civic duty and responsibility, building the institutions that are sorely lacking in all Arab societies, not the soulless shells equipped with computers, or 19th Century ledgers in some cases, that we still contend with.
It is time to tell the truth; to say it to ourselves, our families and our societies.
The cult of the leader has brought woes upon us. Awaiting the savior, the hero, the latter-day Saladin (a Kurd) who will liberate Jerusalem and regain for the Arabs their long-lost dignity, this false promise, this unrealizable fantasy must come to an end.
Our dreams must be firmly rooted in reality, our plans concrete, our societies unafraid to express opposition to whatever it is they deem unjust. But this justice cannot be a one-way street. It has to encompass everyone in our societies, all the minorities no matter what their religion, sex, race, creed or orientation.
This is not achievable overnight, but we need to start and I'm hoping that the process has already begun.
I am convinced that Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi will either be killed or commit suicide.
I am leaning towards the former, I believe he will be shot by one of those close to him. I think the plan is being hatched as I write.
I will march with millions, they will come not from Libya but from the desert to the desert (Libyan to Sahara), to cleanse every [Libyan] city, every alley, every street, from house to house... God is with me...
That's the bone chilling, blood curdling threat from Muammar al-Gaddafi. It came right at the end of his speech. And he will carry it out.
I hope I am wrong but I fear for the Libyan people who are going to pay a very dear price in their quest for freedom from this psychopath's lethal grip.
I sincerely hope that once Gaddafi departs the scene there will be a serious effort to uncover the fate of 4 people for whose disappearance, and presumed murder, he is responsible.
The first is is that of Imam Musa Sadr, the Lebanese cleric and political figure who disappeared, along with his two Lebanese companions, after arriving in Libya in August 1978.
In 1993 Libyan dissident Mansour al-Kikhia vanished from Cairo without a trace while attending, ironically, a human rights conference. You can read about Kikhia's case here and here. Hosni Mubarak's state security apparatus are believed to have colluded in the kidnapping of Kikhia and Cairo needs to come clean.
For decades Muammar al-Gaddafi has acted with impunity, killing at will his opponents at home and abroad.
It is time for human rights in the Arab world to take precedence. The crimes of the regimes, Gaddafi's and others', must be exposed, documented and enshrined in the collective memory of the Arabs.
What a shameful period in our history.
2 years ago the world lost one of the most brilliant minds I ever met. I first saw Kassem Jaafar in Lebanon in the early 1990s, but only got to know him when fate brought him to Doha in 1997 and he moved in almost literally across the road from where I live.
In the ensuing 12 years Abu Ali and I shared countless long nights of intense political debate, intellectual challenges, soul searching and soul baring, laughter and tears and a bond I doubt will ever be replicated again in my life.
The above picture is a grab from an interview I conducted with him at his home for my documentary, War of Lebanon. Kassem was one of the stars of the program; his ability to give the viewer strategic analyses of the subject in question in a fluid, easily-digestible manner earned him many plaudits. His depth of knowledge and command of detail never ceased to amaze me.
He was a lover of life with the heart of a child, and as sophisticated his political views were and seemingly infinite his mastery of strategic affairs was he had an unfathomable innocence when it came to the way people behave on a personal level.
I cannot count the number of nights when dawn broke and we were still at it, talking, arguing, debating... "Tayyeb (OK), have another cigarette before you go," he'd say, prodding me to stay just a bit longer. Ya Abu Ali, no (Arabs also call each other with the name of their first-born, in his case he was the Father of Ali), I wanna go sleep!" Of course a cigarette would be lit, and it would turn into another half-hour, sometimes more.
Kassem always wondered what prevented the Arabs from changing their reality. He and I asked of each other what it was that prevented the people of this region from taking their destiny into their own hands. Would the day come when Arabs rise up?
Well, it's happening, ya Abu Ali. The people are doing it. You would've been so proud of the secular revolutions of the people of Tunisia and Egypt. And now the Libyans have risen against their tyrannical leader. It's exactly as you imagined it might be. I wish you were here to see it.
I won't say he's still with me every day because I'd be lying. But he's there every single week, at some point, and I revisit our long hours late into the night. I think of him so highly that his mind is the benchmark: What would Abu Ali say? What would he do? How would he analyze this situation?
His death was a hammer blow to me. But he left behind 4 wonderful kids. Inevitably the two eldest, Ali and Zein, are making a name for themselves as astute, insightful, creative professionals in media and news. I have no doubt that the younger ones will in due course also show their dad's DNA.
Kassem Jaafar died on February 19, 2009. He was 53.
I miss you, ya Abu Ali.
A man on a long journey through a perpetual desert.
The opinions expressed in this blog are mine and mine alone. They do not represent the views of any of my employers, past, present or future.