Tag Archives: Islamism

SYNDICATED COLUMN: NYC Attack: Another Reason to Protect Bicycle & Pedestrian Paths

Image result for bike paths close to traffic

This week’s ISIS-inspired truck attack in lower Manhattan by Uzbek immigrant Sayfullo Saipov has prompted discussions on a number of fronts. There is blowback, the foreign-policy-chickens-come-home-to-roost indicated by an increasing number of radical Islamists emerging from the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, a Central Asian nation whose brutal dictatorship is financed and armed by our U.S. taxdollars.

There is the ongoing verbal diarrhea of our mentally diseased president, whose tweets that Saipov deserves the “DEATH PENALTY” (caps his) were overshadowed by his even more outlandish suggestion that the suspect be reclassified as an “enemy combatant” (a Bush-era phrase undefined by American law) and sent to the U.S. torture-concentration camp at Guantánamo. Always the opportunist, Trump also said the “diversity visa” program ought to be abolished because Saipov came to the U.S. under what is more commonly known as the visa lottery.

Seems to me that the biggest issue raised by the New York attack is the one we’re not talking about: the need to protect bicyclists from cars and trucks on public roadways.

Saipov drove his rented Home Depot truck down the West Side Highway onto what becomes West Street, the six-lane road that follows the Hudson River in Manhattan. At Houston Street, just south of Greenwich Village, he made a quick right and a quick left onto the joint pedestrian-bike path that runs alongside the highway. There he mowed down cyclists and pedestrians, killing eight people.

Those eight people aren’t dead solely due to Saipov. They were also killed by the City of New York and its lousy urban planning.

Though in recent years there has been considerable progress in terms of setting aside asphalt for bike paths, walkways and urban parklets in New York and many American other cities, city officials seem largely oblivious to the risks of placing soft human bodies in close proximity to speeding cars, SUVs and trucks.

New York, where I live, is one of numerous cities to report success with bike-rental programs. Ours is called Citibike; you rent a bike from a kiosk and return it to a docking station near your destination. In between you make your way down and across city streets, where cars and trucks rule.

I almost understand the city’s reluctance to dedicate a bike lane to, or to dedicate entire streets to, along smaller crosstown thoroughfares. They’re too narrow; you’d have to eliminate a lot of street parking, which would create more congestion. But the way New York has handled bike lanes along big boulevards is nothing short of inexplicable.

Nothing separates the bike lane from motor vehicle traffic but a line of white paint or, in some cases, short plastic sticks. Forget terrorism — hype aside, terrorism kills so few people that the only rational way for individuals to respond to it is to ignore it and live your life. It’s the ordinary accidents that worry me: two cars collide, one or both lose control and enter the bike path. It happens all the time in New York and elsewhere.

The West Street path where Saipov murdered his victims benefits from a short jersey barrier along the automobile section. But it’s easily accessible to even a large truck driven by a person of ill will, as we saw a few days ago — not to mention the random drunk who thinks it’s a service road. And it contains yet another ridiculous design flaw: putting pedestrians and bicyclists in the same space. Cyclists weave between walkers, terrifying them. Walkers are oblivious to cyclists, creating more accidents. Each deserve safe, discrete spaces to enjoy the outdoors.

What’s maddening about this is that this is the kind of tragedy that is predictable and easy to avoid with minimal expense. Bike paths running adjacent to traffic should be separated by solid concrete or metal barriers between intersections. At intersections, a series of metal bars wide enough to allow bikes to pass through but too narrow for cars, and solid enough to stop one traveling fast, should be installed.

The same precautions should be taken along densely-populated urban streets in order to protect pedestrians. In May 2017 a man high on PCP drove on a sidewalk in Times Square, killing a woman and leaving more than dozen others injured. But it would have been worse had his vehicle not been blocked by a bollard. Sturdy metal barriers should be installed along busy streets to protect pedestrians from out-of-control cars; at intersections they should go with those poles I mentioned above.

You can’t protect everyone. You can’t anticipate every nefarious plot. But disasters that are predictable, easy to avoid or mitigate, and relatively inexpensive are a no-brainer.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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Special to The Los Angeles Times: Political Cartooning is Almost Worth Dying For

CharlieHebdoShooting

 

 

Originally published by The Los Angeles Times:

An event like yesterday’s slaughter of at least 10 staff members, including four political cartoonists, and two policemen, at the office of Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris, elicits so many responses that it’s hard to sort them out.

If you have a personal connection, that comes first.

I do.

I met a group of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, including one of the victims, a few years ago at the annual cartoon Festival in Angoulême, France, the biggest gathering of cartoonists and their fans in the world. They had sought me out, partly as fans of my work – for whatever reason, my stuff seems to travel well overseas – and because I was an American cartoonist who speaks French. We did what cartoonists do: we got drunk, complained about our editors, exchanged trade secrets including pay rates.

If I lived in France, that’s where I’d want to work.

My French counterparts struck me as more self-confident and cockier than the average cartoonist. Unlike at the older, venerable Le Canard Enchainée, cartoons are the centerpiece of Charlie Hebdo, not prose. The paper has suffered financial troubles over the years, yet somehow the French continued to keep it afloat because they love comics.

Here’s how much France values graphic satire:

  • More full-time staff political cartoonists were killed in Paris yesterday than are employed at newspapers in the states of California, Texas and New York combined.
  • More full-time staff cartoonists were killed in Paris yesterday than work at all American magazines and websites combined.

            The Charlie Hebdo artists knew they were working at a place that not only allows them to push the envelope, but encourages it. Hell, they didn’t even tone things down after their office got bombed.

They weren’t paid much, but they were having fun. The last time that I met print journalists as punk rock as those guys, they were at the old Spy magazine.

They would definitely want that attitude to outlive them.

Next comes the “there but for the grace of God” reaction.

Every political cartoonist receives threats. After 9/11 especially, people promised to blow me up with a bomb, slit the throats of every member of my family, rape me, and deprive me of a livelihood by organizing sketchy boycott campaigns. (That last one almost worked.)

The most chilling came from a New York police officer, a sergeant, who was so careless and/or unconcerned about getting in trouble that his caller ID popped up.

Who was I going to call to complain? The cops?

As far as I know, no editorial cartoonist has been murdered in response to the content of his or her work in the United States, but there’s a first time for everything. Political cartoonists have been killed and brutally beaten in other countries. Here in the United States, the murder of an outspoken radio talkshow host reminds us that political murder isn’t something that only takes place somewhere else.

Every political cartoonist takes a risk to exercise freedom expression.

We know that our work, strident and opinionated, makes a lot of people very angry, and that we live in a country where a lot of people have a lot of guns. Whether you work in a newspaper office guarded by a minimum wage security guard or, as is increasingly the norm, in your own home, you are always one pull of a trigger away from death when you hit “send” to fire off your cartoon to your syndicate, blog or publication.

Which brings me to my big-picture reaction to yesterday’s horror:

Cartoons are incredibly powerful.

Not to denigrate writing (especially since I do a lot of it myself), but cartoons elicit far more response from readers, both positive and negative, than prose. Websites that run cartoons, especially political cartoons, are consistently amazed at how much more traffic they generate than words. I have twice been fired by newspapers because my cartoons were too widely read — editors worried that they were overshadowing their other content.

Scholars and analysts of the form have tried to articulate exactly what it is about comics that make them so effective at drawing an emotional response, but I think it’s the fact that such a deceptively simple art form can pack such a wallop. Particularly in the political cartoon format, nothing more than workaday artistic chops and a few snide sentences can be enough to cause a reader to question his long-held political beliefs, national loyalties, even his faith in God.

That drives some people nuts.

Think of the rage behind the gunmen who invaded Charlie Hebdo’s office yesterday, and that of the men who ordered them to do so. It’s too early to say for sure, but it’s a fair guess that they were radical Islamists. I’d like to ask them: how weak is your faith, how lame a Muslim must you be, to allow yourself to be reduced to the murder of innocents, over ink on paper colorized in Photoshop? In a sense, they were victims of cartoon derangement syndrome, the same affliction that led to the burning of embassies over the Danish Mohammed cartoons, the repeated outrage over The New Yorker’s insipid yet controversial covers, and that NYPD sergeant in Brooklyn who called me after he read my cartoon criticizing the invasion of Iraq.

Political cartooning in the United States gets no respect. I was thinking about that this morning when I heard NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley call Charlie Hebdo “gross” and “in poor taste.” (I should certainly hope so! If it’s in good taste, it ain’t funny.) It was a hell of a thing to say, not to mention not true, while the bodies of dead journalists were still warm. But these were cartoonists, and therefore unworthy of the same level of decorum that a similar event at, say, The Onion – which mainly runs words – would merit.

But no matter. Political cartooning may not pay well, or often at all, and media elites can ignore it all they want. (Hey book critics: graphic novels exist!) But it matters.

Almost enough to die for.

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The High Price of Abortion Rights

Hillary Clinton supporters are resurrecting an argument made by Obamabots to progressives: Despite her support for right-wing policies like NAFTA and voting for war against Iraq, liberals should vote for her because she might get to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court that might determine whether abortion remains legal. I’m pro-choice, but I’m nauseated by the thought that the right to an abortion necessitates voting for someone like Hillary Clinton, who has the blood of millions of innocent people on her hands.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Right-Wing Liberals

Learning the Lessons of Egypt 

I’m not much for sports analogies, but any athlete knows about the home field advantage. It’s easier to win if you play your game, not your opponent’s.

This is even more true in politics. Playing by your enemy’s rules is a mug’s game.

For whatever reason, conservatives and right-wing activists — the latter distinguishable from the former because they want to push past stodgy establishmentarianism into radical reactionism (e.g., fascism and its close relatives) — understand that he who makes the rules usually wins the fight. Whether it’s the aggressive redistricting of Texas voting districts engineered by Karl Rove on behalf of Republicans, or the brutalist media activism of FoxNews and other Murdoch properties like The Wall Street Journal, or hiring goons to beat up election officials during the 2000 Florida recount, right-wingers get that politics is war, no Queensbury rules. Only victory matters.

Leftists — not soft, smooshy liberals but real, honest-to-a-nonexistent-God socialists and communists — get it too. Not that you could tell from recent history, at least in the United States. They’re dispirited and disorganized. Nevertheless, they remember enough Marx and Mao to remember that might makes right.

Liberals, on the other hand, can’t manage to internalize this depressing, historically proven fact.

Columnist’s Note: At this point, if you’re a seasoned reader of opinion essays, you no doubt expect me to list examples of liberal wimpiness. Al Gore giving up in 2000. Obama not getting anything done with a Democratic Congress a few years after Bush rammed through a raft of right-wing legislation through…a Democratic Congress. Next should follow the usual exhortation to grow a pair.

A reasonable assumption, but I’m taking a different tack this time: liberals don’t understand why others refuse to get suckered.

On the morning of Thursday, August 15th, NPR interviewed a “liberal intellectual” in Egypt, where the ruling military junta had ordered soldiers to slaughter hundreds of nonviolent demonstrators staging sit-ins to protest the coup d’état that toppled the democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party. As is typical in these pieces, we were given no explanation as to why this man was picked to represent the reaction of the Egyptian public to the crackdown. Fluency in English? Friend of the reporter? Well-connected publicist? They didn’t say. Regardless of the reason, the effect was to anoint this “liberal” as a reasonable, albeit extraordinarily well-educated, Average Joe. Whether or not NPR producers intended it, Mr. Egyptian Liberal Voice of Reason served as the voice of NPR and thus, by extension, of American liberalism.

NPR’s pet Egyptian liberal Thursday was “novelist Alaa al-Aswany, who protested against the Mubarak regime and criticized ousted president Mohammed Morsi during his time in office.”

Al-Aswany wasted no time discrediting himself — “No, there is no military rule in Egypt, and there will never be a military rule in Egypt. And what happened is that we are living in a transition period” — before an observation I found unintentionally illuminating: “We must have the constitution first, of course. And then after that, the election. And I believe that there would be civil elected president and elected parliament who will take over.”

What about the Muslim Brotherhood? They should participate in the democratic process, he said.

But why?

On the same network, on the same show, Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations was pointing out that “it’s hard to make a credible claim if you’re an Egyptian liberal” because they supported the military coup.

“There is something called the Repression Radicalization Dynamic,” said Cook. “And one can imagine Muslim Brothers saying that they tried to play by the rules of the political game. They were shut out, shut down and now being hunted and they have no recourse but to take up arms against the state. We’ve seen that before, in fact, in Egypt, in the mid-1990s. There was a low-level insurgency which killed anywhere between 1,500 and 2,000 people. Throughout the Arab world we’ve seen it in places like Algeria.” In 1992 the Front Islamique de Salut (FIS) was expected to win Algeria’s elections. The military, acting with the backing of the U.S., canceled the election, prompting the coining of the term the “American Veto.” The Americans also effectively vetoed Hamas’ win of fair elections in Gaza in 2006.

From Algeria to Gaza to Egypt, the message to Islamists is clear: don’t follow the West’s rules. Electoral democracy is for them, not for you. If you play the West’s game, if you work within their system, they’ll do whatever it takes, including cheating, to prevent you from winning. If you win anyway, they’ll overthrow you in a coup. And if you demonstrate — peacefully, nonviolently, just the way they tell you you’re supposed to, they’ll shoot you like dogs.

I’m pretty sure Islamists — and other radicals who seek political power — have learned their lesson. Goodbye ballot boxes, hello guns.

Liberals, on the other hand, clearly haven’t. Not only do they themselves insist on accepting the rhetorical framework of the right, they expect everyone else to do so as well.

Of course, there may well be a simple if unpleasant explanation for that. Stylistic differences (e.g., George W. Bush vs. Barack Obama) aside, when push comes to shove, liberals side with authoritarianism — even though the autocrats in question plan to get rid of them sooner or later — over their leftist “allies.” We’ve seen it over and over, from Germany in 1848 to Washington in 2013, where a liberal president presides over an empire of torture camps, fleets of killer robot planes, and a police state that makes East Germany’s Stasi look penny ante.

Liberals are right-wing.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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Afghanistan Redux

Free Syrian Army rebels, supported with money and arms by the United States, are establishing Taliban-style sharia law in the areas they control. Here we go again, replacing secular socialist governments with Islamist fanatics poised to become our future enemies.

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Moojs Redux

As in Afghanistan during the 1980s, the U.S. is backing the radical Islamists of eastern Libya against a socialist regime. The law of unintended consequences surely awaits.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: America Against the People

Why Is Obama Coddling Egyptian Dictator?

Here is Egypt, America’s neo-con dream come true. Democracy! In the Middle East! And it isn’t costing us a single soldier. You’d think American policy makers would be pleased as punch. So why are they messing it up?

At first glance the uprising in Cairo and other Egyptian cities puts the United States in an awkward spot. We’ve propped up Hosni Mubarak for three decades. If we cut him loose, our other pet dictators will stop trusting us. If we don’t, all that yapping about democracy and freedom rings hollow. Which do we choose, our purported principles or our actual allies?

Actually, it’s not that hard. We lost the trust of our puppet tyrants when Saddam dropped through the trap door. We lost the people with a zillion CIA-backed coups, not to mention the $37 billion we’ve paid to Mubarak. The dictator’s wealth is estimated at $40 billion. That’s right: no one dime of U.S. foreign aid made it to the Egyptian people.

The Obama Administration has an easy way out. They can disavow the policies of the past 30 years, policies they merely inherited. The president can make a clean break, announcing that he is cutting off U.S. funding to the Mubarak regime until things settle down. Then shut up.

Simple. Yet the president is handling this Middle Eastern crisis with all the class and diplomacy of a George W. Bush.

There’s the arrogance. On Fox News he agreed with Bill O’Reilly that he doesn’t want the Muslim Brotherhood to take over. “I want a representative government in Egypt,” Obama said. Dude, it doesn’t matter what you want or what we want. What matters is what the Egyptians want.

There’s the shortsightedness. Like previous presidents, Obama doesn’t understand that repression isn’t a synonym for stability.

There’s the failure to recognize the broader implications. Hated for Egypt’s joint blockade with Israel of the Gaza strip, Mubarak is viewed throughout the Muslim world as the embodiment of American-funded corruption. Obama’s refusal to cut him loose fuels radical Islamists’ argument that the U.S. will never allow the Palestinians to live with dignity.

Last but not least, there’s that classic Cold War-era mistake: backing the wrong side. In this case, Mubarak’s new vice president Omar Suleiman. Since 1993 Suleiman has run Egypt’s feared Mukhabarat intelligence agency. He is Egypt’s chief torturer.

As head of the General Intelligence Directorate Suleiman was the Bush Administration’s main liaison and coordinator for its “extraordinary rendition” program. Victims of extraordinary rendition are kidnapped by CIA agents and illegally transferred to other countries for the purpose of being tortured.

According to experts on the war on terror, Suleiman is a torturer’s torturer, a hard man who sets a high bar—from which he hangs his bleeding victims. Personally.

One of the CIA’s victims was Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian citizen. U.S. agents bought him from Pakistani intelligence and shipped him to Egypt. “In Egypt,” reports Lisa Hajjar for Al Jazeera, “he was repeatedly subjected to electric shocks, immersed in water up to his nostrils and beaten. His fingers were broken and he was hung from metal hooks. At one point, his interrogator slapped him so hard that his blindfold was dislodged, revealing the identity of his tormentor: Suleiman. Frustrated that Habib was not providing useful information or confessing to involvement in terrorism, Suleiman ordered a guard to murder a shackled prisoner in front of Habib, which he did with a vicious karate kick.”

Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi was a former trainer in the Afghan jihadi camps who famously “confessed” a connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda while under torture in one of Suleiman’s dungeons. Colin Powell cited al-Libi’s “information” in his 2003 speech of lies to the U.N. arguing for war against Iraq.

Note the word “was.” Al-Libi died in a Libyan prison in 2009.

Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism analyst for NBC News, cites a classified source: “Al-Libi’s death coincided with the first visit by Egypt’s spymaster Omar Suleiman to Tripoli. “The Egyptians were embarrassed by this admission [that he had lied under torture…Omar Suleiman saw an opportunity to get even with al-Libi and traveled to Tripoli. By the time Omar Suleiman’s plane left Tripoli, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi had committed ‘suicide’.”

Suleiman’s fearsome resume may come as a surprise to you. But Egyptians know all about him. Headlines like ” Obama Backs Suleiman – Led Transition ” (from the New York Times) aren’t making us more popular.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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