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French election a pivotal European test

Related story: Security issues dominate key French vote. Above, a man looks at campaign posters of the 11th candidates who run in the 2017 French presidential election in Enghien-les-Bains, near Paris, France April 19, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo

By Richard Maher 
April 21, 2017

French voters go to the polls on April 23 for the first round of what has been the most unorthodox, unpredictable and potentially momentous presidential contest in recent French history. The Conversation

For the first time in 60 years, polls suggest that the two candidates who garner the most votes in the first round will likely not belong to either of France’s main parties.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, is all but certain to advance to the May 7 runoff. There she is likely to face the independent Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old former investment banker and one-time economic adviser to President François Hollande.

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A Le Pen victory could lead to France’s withdrawal from the Eurozone and even from the European Union, a once unthinkable prospect that would have repercussions far beyond the continent.

In a crowded field of 11 contenders, which includes a car factory mechanic, a Trotskyite high school economics teacher and a long-term activist who wants to colonise Mars, four candidates have a realistic shot at making it to the second round.

In addition to Le Pen and Macron, they include former prime minister François Fillon, who is under judicial investigation for misuse of public funds, and far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Le Pen and and Fillon ended their campaigns early after a gunman shot dead a police officer and wounded two others on the Champs-Élysées on the evening of April 20. The gunman was shot dead by police while attempting to flee.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, and Le Pen’s chances might get a boost from the incident because she has taken a hard line against Muslim immigration and has vowed to make the fight against Islamic terrorism an “absolute priority”.

Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for the French 2017 presidential election, attends a news conference in Paris, France, April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Top two contenders

Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche!, or Onwards!, and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, attends the France 2 television special prime time political show, “15min to Convince” in Saint-Cloud, near Paris, France, April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Martin Bureau/Pool

The National Front has been around for 45 years, but it has never been in a better position to capture the French presidency; it is no longer a fringe party.

For the past year, Le Pen has been at or near the top of the polls. The question has never been whether she would make it to the second round runoff but who she would face there.

Le Pen has vowed to “drastically” reduce immigration into France, combat the “Islamification” of society and renegotiate the terms of France’s EU membership.

Saying that she wants France to be a “true country” and not “a mere region of the European Union”, Le Pen proposes to exit the Eurozone and reintroduce the franc, leave the EU’s Schengen border-free area and hold a national referendum within six months of taking office over leaving the EU.

Emmanuel Macron, who has never held elected office, is neck-and-neck with Le Pen in the latest polls. A graduate of the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA), the traditional training ground for France’s business and government elite, he launched his En Marche! (Onward!) movement just over a year ago.

Only 36 when Hollande appointed him to run the ministry of economy in 2014, he is one of the youngest people to ever hold a cabinet position in France.

Macron presents himself as a reformist, pro-Europe, pro-business technocrat. He wants to preserve many elements of France’s social model while enhancing the country’s global competitiveness.

He is a strong defender of European integration, and has said that he wants to forge a new Franco-German partnership to lead Europe. He praised German chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to welcome more than a million migrants and refugees into Germany, saying it saved Europe’s “collective dignity”.

Still, many voters remain sceptical of Macron, pointing to his youth, inexperience and undistinguished record in government.

A combination picture shows candidates for the French 2017 presidential election, 1st row L-R : Nathalie Arthaud, France’s extreme-left Lutte Ouvriere political party (LO) leader, Francois Asselineau, UPR candidate, Jacques Cheminade, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Debout La France group candidate, Francois Fillon, the Republicans political party candidate, 2nd row L-R : Benoit Hamon, French Socialist party candidate, Jean Lassalle, Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader, Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche ! (or Onwards !), Jean-Luc Melenchon, candidate of the French far-left Parti de Gauche, Philippe Poutou, Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) presidential candidate, after the official announcement in Paris, France. France goes to the polls on Sunday April 23, 2017 in the first round of its presidential election. REUTERS/Staff

Corruption and disarray

Just a few months ago, François Fillon was widely considered to be a shoo-in for the Elysée Palace. A socially conservative free-market defender, he defeated former president Nicolas Sarkozy (his one-time boss) and former prime minister Alain Juppé to win the nomination of the centre-right Republicans last November.

Accused of giving his wife and two children generous salaries for fictitious jobs as parliamentary aides, Fillon was last month charged with several counts of embezzlement. His support has steadily declined since the story broke in January 2017, and it now appears unlikely that he will advance to the second round of voting.

France’s traditional left is also in disarray. Hollande, its first Socialist president since François Mitterrand’s tenure ended in 1995, is the most unpopular president in modern French history. With an approval rating that at one point sunk to 4%, Hollande is now the first sitting president in the history of the Fifth Republic not to run for reelection.

Instead, the Socialist Party nominated Benoît Hamon, who beat out former prime minister Manuel Valls. Hamon’s campaign, which promises a universal basic income, has failed to gain traction; he is currently polling in fifth place.

Unexpectedly, though, the radical leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, backed by the Communist Party, has made a late surge. He is now running neck-and-neck with Fillon in the number three spot, behind Le Pen and Macron.

Mélenchon, who has called for a “citizen revolution”, opposes the EU and NATO, wants a 90% maximum income tax rate and to lower France’s official working week from 35 hours to 32.

Detrimental to Europe

Most current polls concur that Le Pen and Macron will advance to the second round runoff next month, with Macron ultimately beating Le Pen by a 20-point margin.

While a Le Pen victory remains unlikely, it is not implausible. Much will depend on voter turnout; a low showing is expected to help Le Pen. Her supporters tend to be more motivated to cast their ballots than those of other candidates.

Current forecasts suggest that turnout may be as low as 65% in the first round. That would be the lowest in recent history (the previous low was 72% in 2002).

If, in the second round, Fillon’s, Hamon’s and Mélenchon’s supporters opted to stay home rather than vote for Macron, Le Pen could eke out a narrow victory.

Europe has had a number of important elections and referenda over the past year, but none with the gravity and significance of France’s presidential election.

The EU will survive Brexit: the UK entered the European Economic Community, the EU’s precursor, late and was always lukewarm on the enterprise. But it would not survive a French exit. And a Le Pen victory next month may lead to the unraveling of both the idea — and the reality — of a united Europe.

There’s folly in mistaking the improbable for the impossible, as Brexit and Donald Trump proved in 2016. “What seemed impossible.” as Le Pen herself said the morning after Trump’s presidential triumph, “is now possible.”

Creative Commons

Richard Maher is a Research Fellow in theGlobal Governance Programme, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, at European University Institute. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Next story: Security issues dominate key French vote, by Leigh Thomas and Marine Pennetier: The killing of a policeman by a suspected Islamist militant pushed national security to the top of the French political agenda on Friday, two days before the presidential election.

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Security issues dominate key French vote

Related story: French election a pivotal European test. Above, French CRS police patrol the Champs Elysees Avenue the day after a policeman was killed and two others were wounded in a shooting incident in Paris, France, April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

By Leigh Thomas and Marine Pennetier 
April 21, 2017

PARIS (Reuters) – The killing of a policeman by a suspected Islamist militant pushed national security to the top of the French political agenda on Friday, two days before the presidential election.

With the first round of voting in the two-stage election taking place on Sunday, far-right nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen promised tougher immigration and border controls to beat “Islamist terrorism” if elected.

Centrist Emmanuel Macron, who narrowly leads a tight race ahead of Le Pen, said the solutions were not as simple as she suggested, and that there was “no such thing as zero risk”.

Anyone who said otherwise was irresponsible, said Macron, a former economy minister in the government that Le Pen has repeatedly criticised for its security record.

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There are four leading candidates in a race that is still too close to call. Sunday’s voting will be followed by a runoff on May 7 between the top two candidates.

The first poll conducted entirely after Thursday’s attack suggested Le Pen had gained some ground on Macron.

While he was still seen winning the first round with 24.5 percent, his score slipped half a percentage point while Le Pen’s rose by one to 23 percent.

Conservative Francois Fillon, a former prime minister, and the far left’s Jean-Luc Melenchon were both down half a percentage point on 19 percent in the Odoxa poll for the newspaper Le Point.

The attack on the Champs-Elysees boulevard in the very heart of the capital added a new source of unpredictability to an election that will decide the management of France’s 2.2 trillion euro economy, which vies with Britain for the rank of fifth largest in the world.

U.S. President Donald Trump told the Associated Press on Friday he thought the attack will “probably help” Le Pen because she is the candidate who is “strongest on borders, and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France.”

Trump told the AP in an interview he was not explicitly endorsing Le Pen but that he believes the attack will affect how French people vote on Sunday.

The outcome could also have a bearing on France’s place in the world and in a European Union still reeling from Britain’s decision to leave. While Macron is ardently pro-EU, Le Pen wants to quit its single currency and potentially hold a referendum on leaving the bloc.

All the candidates are seeking to woo the huge number of undecideds – some 31 percent of those likely to vote, according to an Ipsos poll on Friday.

Fillon also seized on the attack, which was claimed by the militant group Islamic State, saying the fight against “Islamist totalitarianism” should be the priority of the next president. “It’s us or them,” he said.

A combination picture shows candidates for the French 2017 presidential election, 1st row L-R : Nathalie Arthaud, France’s extreme-left Lutte Ouvriere political party (LO) leader, Francois Asselineau, UPR candidate, Jacques Cheminade, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Debout La France group candidate, Francois Fillon, the Republicans political party candidate, 2nd row L-R : Benoit Hamon, French Socialist party candidate, Jean Lassalle, Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader, Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche ! (or Onwards !), Jean-Luc Melenchon, candidate of the French far-left Parti de Gauche, Philippe Poutou, Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) presidential candidate, after the official announcement in Paris, France. France goes to the polls on Sunday April 23, 2017 in the first round of its presidential election. REUTERS/Staff

TRUMP TWEET

Financial markets, though, shrugged off the latest twist in the campaign, with French benchmark bond yields hitting a three-month low.

The Champs-Elysees shooting is the latest in a series of attacks by Islamist militants on France since 2015, in which more than 200 people have been killed. A truck ploughed into a Bastille Day crowd in Nice last year, killing more than 80, while coordinated attacks on the Bataclan concert hall and other sites in Paris claimed about 130 lives in November 2015. There have also been attacks on a satirical weekly and a kosher store.

However, previous attacks that have taken place shortly before elections, including the November 2015 attacks in Paris ahead of regional polls, and a shooting in a Jewish school before the 2012 presidentials, did not appear to boost the scores of those espousing tougher national security.

An assault on a soldier in February at Paris’s Louvre museum by a man wielding a machete also had no obvious impact on this year’s opinion polls, which have consistently said that voters see unemployment and the trustworthiness of politicians as bigger issues.

SECURITY FORCES ON ALERT

One policeman was shot dead and two others were wounded in Thursday night’s attack.

Investigators are trying to assess whether the gunman had accomplices, anti-terrorism prosecutor Francois Molins told a news conference, adding that the shooter had never shown any signs of radicalisation despite a long police history.

After an emergency meeting of security officials, Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said security forces, including elite units, were on alert to back up the 50,000 police earmarked to ensure safety during the election.

“The government is fully mobilised. Nothing must be allowed to impede the fundamental democratic process of our country,” Cazeneuve told reporters. “It falls to us not to give in to fear and intimidation and manipulation, which would play into the hands of the enemy.”

Controls on immigration and national security are cornerstones of Le Pen’s National Front agenda, and on Friday she said she would reinstate border checks and expel foreigners who are on intelligence services’ watch lists.

Macron was quick to respond.

“I’ve heard Madame Le Pen saying again recently that, with her in charge, certain attacks would have been avoided,” he told RTL Radio. “There’s no such thing as zero risk. Anyone who pretends (otherwise) is both irresponsible and deceitful.”

TIGHT RACE

In an Elabe poll conducted on Wednesday and Thursday, and published on Friday, both Fillon and Melenchon were seen narrowing Macron and Le Pen’s lead.

Should both Macron and Le Pen make it to the second round, he was likely to win the runoff by 65 percent to 35, according to the survey for BFM TV and L’Express magazine.

Fillon, who has slowly clawed back some ground lost after a fake jobs scandal, saw his score in the first round rise half a percentage point to 20 percent.

Melenchon, who would hike taxes on the rich and spend 100 billion euros ($107 billion) of borrowed money on vast housebuilding and renewable energy projects, gained 1.5 points to 19.5 percent as he built further on the momentum he has generated with strong performances in television debates.

If Melenchon makes it to the runoff, he was projected by the survey to beat either Le Pen or Fillon by comfortable margins, although he was seen losing to Macron by 41 percent to 59.

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Ingrid Melander, Laurence Frost, Bate Felix, Jean-Baptiste Vey, John Irish; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Cynthia Osterman)

Next story:  French election a pivotal European test, analysis by Richard Maher: French voters go to the polls on April 23 for the first round of what has been the most unorthodox, unpredictable and potentially momentous presidential contest in recent French history. It could have repercussions far beyond the continent.

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Extremist terrorism Germany’s biggest threat: Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel poses for photographs after the television recording of her annual New Year's speech at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, December 30, 2016. REUTERS/Markus Schreiber/Pool

German Chancellor Angela Merkel poses for photographs after the television recording of her annual New Year’s speech at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, December 30, 2016. REUTERS/Markus Schreiber/Pool

December 31, 2106

BERLIN (Reuters) – Islamist terrorism is the biggest test facing Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday in a New Year’s address to the nation, and she vowed to introduce laws that improve security after a deadly attack before Christmas in Berlin.

Describing 2016 as a year that gave many the impression that the world had “turned upside down,” Merkel urged Germans to forsake populism and said Germany had an interest in taking a leading role in addressing the many challenges facing the European Union.

“Many attach to 2016 the feeling that the world had turned upside down or that what for long had been held as an achievement is now being questioned. The European Union for example,” Merkel said.

“Or equally parliamentary democracy, which allegedly is not caring for the interests of the citizens but is only serving the interests of a few. What a distortion,” she said in a veiled reference to claims by the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) that is stealing votes from her conservatives.

Liberals across the Atlantic have hailed Merkel as an anchor of stability and reason in a year that saw the Donald Trump elected as U.S. president, Britain vote to leave the EU and U.S-Russia relations deteriorate to Cold War levels.

She compared Brexit to a “deep incision” and said that even though the EU was “slow and arduous”, its member states should focus on common interests that transcend national benefits.

“And, yes, Europe should focus on what can really be better than the national state,” Merkel said. “But we Germans should never be led to believe that each could have a better future by going it alone.”

It was her second allusion to the populist AfD, which wants Germany to leave the EU and shut its borders to asylum seekers, more than one million of whom arrived in the country this year and last.

The record number of migrants has hurt Merkel’s popularity and fuelled support for the AfD, which says Islam is incompatible with the German constitution. But her conservatives are still expected to win the general election in nine months.

Merkel, who is seeking a fourth term, has made security the main election platform for her Christian Democrats (CDU).

In her speech, she said the government would introduce measures to improve security after a failed Tunisian asylum seeker drove a truck into a Christmas market in the capital on Dec. 19, killing 12 people in the name of Islamic State.

He was shot dead by Italian police in Milan on Dec. 23 and investigators are trying to determine whether he had accomplices.

A YouGov poll conducted after the attack found that 73 percent of Germans were in favour of more resources for the police and 60 percent backed more video surveillance in public spaces.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Reporting by Joseph Nasr, editing by Larry King)

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Security Chief: Europe Must Brace for New Extremist Attacks

By Alastair Macdonald
December, 2016

A general view of the scene that shows rescue services personnel working near the covered bodies outside a restaurant following a shooting incident in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

A general view of the scene that shows rescue services personnel working near the covered bodies outside a restaurant following a shooting incident in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Islamic State will attack Europe again, security chiefs warned Dec. 2, and may add car bombs, cyber and chemical warfare to its local arsenal as European militants drift home after reverses in Syria and Iraq.

Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union’s Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, said it was impossible to know for sure how many militants were already in Europe plotting. A report on Friday by the EU’s Europol policy agency referred to dozens.

Some 2,500 Europeans may still be fighting in the Middle East, de Kerchove estimated in an interview with Reuters. But as they face setbacks in Mosul, Aleppo and elsewhere, Europe must track them if it is to contain a diaspora of trained militants like that which followed the 1989 Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“We have to be prepared because some of them will come to Europe,” said de Kerchove, a veteran EU official whose Brussels office is packed with books and souvenirs from nine years of intensive travel and talking with Europe’s troubled neighbours.

“They may try to come back home and we don’t want to repeat the mistake we made in the late 80s when the Russians left Afghanistan and we left these mujahideen … in the wild.”

Many of those fought in Algeria’s bloody 1990s and went on to operate in conflicts from Chechnya and Kosovo to Yemen.

Some Europeans, among them also wives and children of fighters, may choose to stay in the Middle East even if IS loses its territorial grip. Others may go further afield, with lawless Libya already looking like a new base for European militants and the movement likely to go on recruiting over the Internet.

“The physical caliphate … is collapsing but we still have the virtual caliphate and this allows the organisation to direct attacks,” de Kerchove said.

In his post since 2007, the Belgian lawyer said the past two years have seen an “impressive” leap forward in intelligence cooperation among EU states and a tightening of law and practice on Europe’s borders in response to the variety of IS attacks that have included mass killings in Paris, Brussels and Nice.

“We have nearly fixed most of the loopholes,” he said of what Europe could do internally to combat the Islamist militants who pose by far the bulk of violent threats.

European Union's Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove is seen during an interview with Reuters in his office in Brussels, Belgium December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Alastair Macdonald

European Union’s Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove is seen during an interview with Reuters in his office in Brussels, Belgium December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Alastair Macdonald

NEW THREATS

The tougher part is now, de Kerchove said, to address root grievances for militants, whether among alienated people at home or angry Sunni Muslims in Iraq and Syria.

“The way the fight is developing in Aleppo will have an impact,” he said. “The way we will try to address the grievances of the Sunni population both in Iraq and in Syria will have an impact.”

Inside Europe, he said, “we are doing a lot better”.

Europol identified immediate threats as similar to recent attacks: groups using automatic rifles and suicide vests packed with home-made TATP explosive, or loners with knives or trucks. IS was also infiltrating Syrian refugee communities in Europe in a bid to inflame hostility to immigrants in places like Germany.

De Kerchove stressed also a new risk of IS bringing car bomb tactics, common in Syria and Iraq, into Europe. Agencies were, he said, also preparing to counter more complex tactics in years to come, such as cyber attacks and biological weapons.

For now, he said, the Internet was a weapon mainly of recruitment and radicalisation of individuals — something the EU was working on countering in alliance with network companies.

“So far the terrorist organisations have not used the Internet as a weapon, to mount an attack through the Internet,” he said, citing the risk of disrupting nuclear power stations, dams, electricity grids or even air traffic control systems.

“It has not happened so far … but I don’t exclude that before five years we will be confronted by this,” de Kerchove said, noting IS had the funds to hire seasoned criminal hackers.

The EU was, he said, “actively working” to counter chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats but did not see an “acute risk”, despite evidence of militants dabbling with germs or using poison gas in Syria. “We need to be prepared,” he said.

International cooperation is a priority and de Kerchove spends much of his time building relationships with Arab countries, Turkey and other neighbours.

Ties with the United States had become very close under President Barack Obama and de Kerchove voiced a hope they would remain so under Donald Trump. Working with Britain, a leader in counter-terrorism in Europe, should not be greatly affected by its decision this year to leave the EU.

Noting Britain’s decision to opt in to closer ties with Europol, he said: “Intelligence sharing is developing outside the EU framework so … Brexit will not have any impact.”

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Related on F&O:

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

  • F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Disappearing the Middle East

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
December 3, 2016

An Afghan policeman patrols next to a burning vehicle in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan October 1, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Related story: Security Chief: Europe Must Brace for New Extremist Attacks Above, an Afghan policeman patrols next to a burning vehicle in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan October 1, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Strangely enough, I don’t want to start this column by talking about the Middle East. I start  instead in Afghanistan in Southeast Asia, because its case is a microcosm of what’s happening throughout the Middle East, and a valuable lesson in the way most media covers what’s happening there or — to put it bluntly — doesn’t cover it.

Are you aware that little more than a week ago, the top commander of the US and allied forces in Afghanistan said the Afghan government only controls about 60 per cent of the country? The rest is controlled by insurgent Taliban forces, which are getting stronger and are likely to take over even more territory. This despite the fact that the United States alone has spent billions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan (as of January 1, 2015, the total was $685.6 billion, making it one of the two most expensive wars in American history – the more expensive one is Iraq). This includes training Afghan troops to fight the Taliban, supplying hardware and troops and drones attacks to wipe out Taliban commanders, yet it appears the Taliban is poised to recapture Afghanistan once again.

Do you remember reading about any of this? Or seeing it on America’s nightly news? Or hearing it being discussed on CNN or Fox News or MSNBC? The chances are highly unlikely. While the story was certainly covered by wire services like Associated Press, almost none of the major media outlets in America carried it for longer than about 10 minutes. It probably didn’t appear on cable news at all, a medium that is more fascinated by Donald Trump’s tweets than by America’s longest and second-most costly war.

To our supporters, thank you. To newcomers, please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We will continue only if readers like you chip in, on an honour system. Please, if you find our work of value, contribute below. Details and more payment options here.

Migrants, hoping to cross into Hungary, walk along a railway track outside the village of Horgos in Serbia, towards the border it shares with Hungary, August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Migrants, hoping to cross into Hungary, walk along a railway track outside the village of Horgos in Serbia, towards the border it shares with Hungary, August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Now let’s look at the Middle East. Are you aware that over 600 car-bombs have been used against Iraqi security forces in their attempt to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (IS)? Are you aware that the battle of Mosul is still happening? Do you know that Lebanon has a new president who is closely aligned with the terrorist group Hezbollah and Iran? Do you know that Libyan forces have almost wiped out IS forces in Libya, isolating the remainder in the Libyan town of Sirte? (The Pentagon claims IS forces now control only about two blocks and 50 buildings in Sirte itself.) Or that the biggest problem may come after the IS forces have been wiped out, because the various groups who came together to fight them don’t get along and could fall to fighting amongst themselves for control of the country? What about accusations that Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia has committed war crimes against its battles against Shia Muslim Houti forces in Yemen? Did you even know Saudi forces were fighting in Yemen? Or that many experts have said the US and the UK may be complicit in some of these war crimes because of their support of Saudi Arabia? How about the recent success of Islamist, nationalist and liberal (strange bedfellows indeed) opposition forces in Kuwaiti parliamentary elections that may throw the country into complete chaos?

The answer to all these questions is … probably not. Because, to all intents and purposes, the Middle East has disappeared from American media. Americans have moved on: the recent presidential elections hardly focused on questions of foreign policy outside President-elect Donald Trump’s promise to block illegal Hispanic, and most Muslim, immigrants, and his claim that China is trying to destroy jobs in the US and so invented the climate-change “hoax” as a way to accomplish that goal.

Since covering Trump generated much, much more money for the news media —  in particular the cable news networks — these very important developments in the Middle East, which have serious implications for the United States and the world, were barely mentioned. Some were not mentioned at all.

The disappearance of the Middle East from American newspapers, radios and TV screens probably has several causes: President Obama’s attempted pivot away from the Middle East to focus on relations with Pacific nations; the non-stop Trump-fest coverage of the presidential election; media fatigue after almost 14 years of covering conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan; dwindling resources that force many outlets to focus on coverage of the Syria conflict (and even that is increasingly dropping off the media radar); and the fact that Americans are just bored and want the whole thing to go away.

But there’s the rub — it won’t just go away. The issue of millions of people displaced by war in the region isn’t going away; it played a role in both Brexit and the US election, and will likely also do so in Italian, Austrian, Dutch, and France elections in the coming months. While the Islamic State has been weakened, it isn’t going away. Iran’s presence in a divided Syria isn’t going away. The Palestinian issue is likely only to get worse under a Trump administration.

The Middle East is still the other elephant in America’s living room (the bigger one is racism). Despite the best efforts of the American media and the US public in general, the Middle East will continue to be a cause for concern. No matter how hard they try to ignore it.

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

 

You might also wish to read:

Security Chief: Europe Must Brace for New Extremist Attacks, by Alastair Macdonald

 Islamic State will attack Europe again, security chiefs warned Dec. 2, and may add car bombs, cyber and chemical warfare to its local arsenal as European militants drift home after reverses in Syria and Iraq.

Related in F&O’s Archives:

Turkey’s Shock Waves Slam Middle EastJONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs, July 30, 2016

The Middle East: Meltdowns, Crises and DaeshBy Simon Mabon, January, 2015  

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Afghanistan http://www.unocha.org/afghanistan

Further information:

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Conflict Induced Displacements graphic as of Nov. 27, 2016: http://reliefweb.int/report/afghanistan/afghanistan-conflict-induced-displacements-27-november-2016

 

~~~

 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92. He is based near Washington, D.C.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Joyful rebels sign ceasefire with Colombian government

Women hug as they celebrate the signing of a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels in Bogota, Colombia, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

Women hug as they celebrate the signing of a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels in Bogota, Colombia, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

By Marc Frank and Carlos Vargas
June 23, 2016

HAVANA/BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia’s government and leftist FARC rebels signed a historic ceasefire deal on June 23, that brought them tantalisingly close to ending the longest running conflict in the Americas.

The accord, capping three years of peace talks in Cuba, sparked celebrations and tears of happiness among some in the Colombian capital. It sets the stage for a final deal to end a guerrilla war born in the 1960s out of frustration with deep socio-economic inequalities that outlived all other major uprisings in Latin America.

People celebrate the signing of a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels at Botero square in Medellin, Colombia, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Fredy Builes

People celebrate the signing of a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels at Botero square in Medellin, Colombia, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Fredy Builes

“May this be the last day of the war,” said bearded FARC commander Rodrigo Londono, better known by the nom de guerre Timochenko, his voice choked, after shaking hands with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at a ceremony in Havana.

Santos, 64, is half-way through his second term and has staked his legacy on peace in the face of opposition from sectors of the country who think the FARC should be crushed militarily.

“This means nothing more and nothing less than the end of the FARC as an armed group,” Santos said, adding that the final peace deal would be signed in Colombia. “The children and youth of our country have never known a single day without the violence of the conflict. Neither have the adults.”

In Colombia, even before Santos spoke, church bells pealed at noon to mark the start of the signing. Crowds in Bogota, the capital, gathered around giant TV screens set up in the streets, dancing, cheering and clapping as the ceremony unfolded.

One placard read, “we’ve finished the war, now let’s build peace.”

About 1,000 people gathered in the Plaza Bolivar, the city’s main square, to celebrate despite rain. Some waved flags and balloons, others hugged and wiped their eyes.

“I’m 76 and have lived this war all my life – I never thought the time would come when these characters would sign peace. I’m so happy – I can die in peace,” said Graciela Pataquiva, a retired teacher, crying as she spoke.

Santos’ government says a final deal, which he said will be ready by July 20, would add one percentage point annually to economic growth in Colombia, which over the past two decades has turned itself around from a failing state to an emerging market darling.

Thursday’s agreement went further than many had hoped, with the FARC committing to putting a final accord to the Colombian people in a plebiscite, a promise made by Santos that had been a key sticking point.

Not everybody supports the peace process, and Santos will have to work hard to convince opponents to back it in a referendum.

Former President Alvaro Uribe, the leading critic of the talks, said the agreement was “a surrender to terrorism” by Santos.

Under the agreement read out by mediators Norway and Cuba, the rebels will lay down their arms within 180 days of a final accord and demobilize into 23 temporary zones and eight camps. The ceasefire will only kick in when the final deal is agreed, although the two sides effectively stopped attacks almost a year ago and violence is already at historic lows.

During their transition to democratic politics, the FARC’s weapons will be handed over to the United Nations, which will begin a mission to verify the ceasefire.

The government will guarantee the safety of ex-rebels and their political allies, who have historically been targets for right-wing paramilitary groups, the accord said. Special protection units, comprised of both ex-rebels and security forces, will guard FARC politicians and other community leaders.

Under accords already struck in Cuba, perpetrators of the worst crimes in the war will face “transitional justice” aimed more at finding out the historical truth than meting out harsh punishments.

“This is an extraordinary achievement. But there are serious challenges ahead related to security, implementation and guarantees of no repetition,” said Roddy Brett, director of peace and conflict studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (L) and FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londono (3rd L) better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, shakes hands as Cuba's president Raul Castro (2nd R) Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos (2nd L) and Norway's Foreign Minister Borge Brende (R) look on after signing a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels in Havana, Cuba, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (L) and FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londono (3rd L) better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, shakes hands as Cuba’s president Raul Castro (2nd R) Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos (2nd L) and Norway’s Foreign Minister Borge Brende (R) look on after signing a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels in Havana, Cuba, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

“WHAT ABOUT THE OTHERS?”

The FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, was one of many 20th century Latin American guerrilla movements inspired by Marxist ideology and the success of the 1959 Cuban revolution. Its conflict began an as a peasant revolt before exploding into a war that killed at least 220,000 and displaced millions.

Across the region, other rebellions were either crushed by right-wing military governments or convinced to lay down their arms and join conventional politics by the 1990s. But funded by its involvement in the cocaine industry, the FARC grew to a 17,000 strong force operating across vast swaths of territory. Kidnappings for ransom also helped bankroll the rebel group.

That began to change in 2002, when Uribe launched a U.S.-backed counterinsurgency campaign that killed many FARC leaders and reduced it to an estimated 7,000 fighters.

Even after peace with the FARC, formidable obstacles will remain. The smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) only recently said it would start talks, while gangs born out of right-wing paramilitary groups have taken over drug trafficking routes, filling the vacuum left by rebels, some say.

“It’s great to end the war with the FARC, but we’ve got to be serious, we finish with the FARC but what about all the others?” said Jhon Duarte, a 26-year old mechanic, echoing the concerns of many Colombians.

Despite the challenges and the opposition from some quarters to letting FARC rebels re-enter society after years of kidnapping and attacks across the country, the mood on Thursday was buoyant.

“This is a beacon of hope, our children will be able to enjoy what we could not – a childhood of peace and a life in peace,” said Adriana Beltrán, a 25-year-old housewife in Bogota.

(Additional reporting by Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta in Havana and by Luis Jaime Acosta and Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Tom Brown and Andrew Hay)
~~~

Below are some highlights of the accord between Colombia’s government and FARC rebels:

A man celebrates the signing of a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels at Botero square in Medellin, Colombia, June 23, 2016. The sign reads "RIP the War in Colombia 1964 - 2016".  REUTERS/Fredy Builes

A man celebrates the signing of a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels at Botero square in Medellin, Colombia, June 23, 2016. The sign reads “RIP the War in Colombia 1964 – 2016”. REUTERS/Fredy Builes

* DEFINITIVE BILATERAL CEASEFIRE

Both sides commit to democratic values and agree not to use weapons for political ends. The ceasefire will be effective once a final peace deal is signed.

* DEMOBILISATON AREAS

The government and FARC will establish 23 transition zones and eight camps where rebels will demobilize and begin the process of returning to civilian life.

Teams led by the United Nations, including government and FARC representatives, will monitor the demobilization.

Police and other armed officials will only be allowed into the transition zones in coordination with the monitoring teams. No civilians are allowed into the FARC camps.

* SURRENDERING ARMS

FARC rebels must hand over their weapons to United Nations officials within 180 days of the signing of the final deal. The weapons will be stored in secure containers monitored by the U.N. before being broken down and used for the construction of three memorial monuments.

* GUARANTEEING FARC SAFETY

The government will guarantee the safety of ex-rebels and their political allies, who have historically been targets for right-wing paramilitary groups.

A special investigation unit will be created within the prosecutors’ office to focus on rooting out criminal gangs born out of right-wing paramilitary groups. This unit will have its own elite police force.

Special protection units, comprised of both ex-rebels and security forces, will guard FARC politicians and other community leaders.

* REFERENDUM

During talks on the ceasefire deal, the FARC accepted putting a final deal to a plebiscite, a promise made by President Juan Manual Santos that had been a key sticking point. The FARC accepted the referendum on the condition it is sanctioned by Colombia’s Constitutional Court.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana and Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Tom Brown)

 ~~~

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Massacre at US nightclub

Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius

Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius

Massacre at U.S. nightclub, ISIS claims responsibility, by Reuters

 A man armed with an assault rifle killed 50 people at a packed gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida on Sunday in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, which President Barack Obama described as an act of terror and hate.

Police killed the shooter, who was identified as Omar Mateen, 29, a Florida resident and U.S. citizen who was the son of immigrants from Afghanistan.

Islamic State claimed responsibility, but U.S. officials said they had seen no immediate evidence linking the militant group to the massacre …. read more.

Recommended elsewhere: Frederic Lemieux, a criminologist at George Washington University, writes about the six things Americans should know about mass shootings.

Related on F&O: analysis from our archives:

America’s gun cult, Switzerland’s firearms culture, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs columnist

In the ranks of “barbaric cultural practices,” the United States’ addiction to firearms is among the most deadly. The results of gun violence in the U.S. are in the same order of magnitude as the fruits of terrorism in the entire world. But the epidemic of gun slaughter in the U.S. is not entirely down to the simple availability of firearms in, it seems, almost every home. The Swiss also have firearms readily available, but they do not massacre each other at nearly the same rate as the Americans.

Why ISIS is winning, with America’s help, by Tom Regan, Summoning Orenda columnist

The attacks in Paris were as much a sign of ISIS’s weaknesses, as a demonstration of its ability to strike. If Western governments had grasped the opportunity to turn this horrible tragedy against ISIS, we might have pulled off a small but important victory against these murderers. Instead, we played the hand that ISIS dealt us like a bunch of hillbilly rubes at a blackjack table in Las Vegas.

Waiting for America’s next mass murder, by Tom Regan, Summoning Orenda columnist

We won’t have to wait long. He’s out there right now. We don’t know his name, or where it will happen, but he will do it. We’ll know his name within the next week or so. It will be a he. Very few mass murders are committed by shes. It’s hard to even think of any. He’s likely early, maybe mid-20s.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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The triumph of fear in America

Photo by Ren Rebadomia, Creative Commons

Photo by Ren Rebadomia, Creative Commons

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
May 21, 2016

Americans are afraid. Oh, they like to pretend that they are the bravest people on the planet. But in reality, fear dominates America society.

There isn’t a fear that Americans won’t embrace. Fear of blacks. Fear of Muslims. Fear of Latinos. Fear of women controlling their own bodies. Fear of big government.  Fear of a transgender person using a bathroom. Fear of change. Fear of gluten. Fear of vaccines. Fear of GMOs. Fear of growing old. Fear of poverty. Fear of getting sick. You name it, Americans are afraid of it.

Fear controls almost every aspect of America society. It seeps into every part of our lives. Not that there aren’t things that we need to fear. But that fear is being used to manipulate us by a variety of entities.

Fear dominates politics. Politicians use fear in a variety of ways, occasionally like a razor blade, most often like a blunt instrument. Pronouncements about what to fear come of Washington or state capitols as regularly as updates about the weather.  Politicians have learned that fear-based moralizing “sticks” (in the words of linguist George Lakoff) even when it is blatantly wrong or dangerous. Men and women speaking in somber tones or hysterical yelps (normally Republicans but sometimes Democrats too) urge Americans to be afraid of … well, it’s something different every day. ‘Our way of life is at risk,” “The nation is in danger”, “This is a cause for great concern!”, “What about the children?”

That fear is then magnified by the media. American media runs on fear. It’s their biggest money maker. This is particularly true at the local level where “Be afraid, be very afraid” should be the tagline of every newscast. At the national level, media incantations about fear are often shrouded in a fog of authority and technology. The Ebola crisis was the perfect example of how national media encouraged Americans to fear in a way that transcended the actual threat. Levels of fear are coded by how they affect the bottom line. If a network thinks a fear will bring in a lot of viewers, and thus, a lot of advertisers, then they will exploit that fear until they have drained every last drop of terror.

Fear is what motivates us to give up our privacy to state security institutions, far beyond what is needed. And these institutions know that and count on us being afraid in order to control us, to convince us that it’s OK that we are being watched, our emails read, our social media hacked, our private musings screened. These are things we should be afraid of, but not an incapacitating fear — an angry one at these outrageous violations. But fear is used to placate us. We’re told if we don’t allow these intrusions, we and our loved ones will be killed. And if we stand up to these injustices, then we need to fear punishment.

Fear, you see, incapacitates reason. It takes our emotions by the throat and lies to us about what needs to be done, which leads us to make the wrong decision far too often. If Americans could calmly look at what they fear, they would likely dismiss these fears as just so much nonsense, not borne out by fact or study. But they can’t. It’s easier to be afraid than to be brave. Easier to be afraid than to actually invest in understanding or thoughtfulness. As a species, we tend to look for the easy way out, the simple solution. Fear provides us with that option.

Fear is what has allowed the master of fear, Donald Trump, to be one step away from being the most powerful man on the planet. Fear is what allows Trump to say that Oakland and Ferguson are two of the most dangerous places in the world … and have people believe him. Fear is what allows him to paint Hispanics as racists and say that “China is eating our lunch.” Fear is what attracts people to Trump like flies to manure. He knows it, too. He plays Americans’ fears, particularly the fears of white Americans, like a virtuoso playing a violin.

Trump did not, however, invent these fears or make Americans afraid. He is merely capitalizing on how the media and politicians laid the groundwork for him. He isn’t actually promising to “Make America Great Again!” His real message (like all liars and snake oil salesmen) is, “I’m the only one who will make you less afraid. Trust me.”

There is no easy way to move away from these fears, and many Americans never will, for some of the reasons mentioned above.

But you can do it. You can pay attention to how things are said. The internet offers us ways to fact-check fears like never before. Don’t just react. Treat every political or media pronouncement with skepticism. Assume that what they are telling you is either incomplete, propaganda or an outright lie, until you know otherwise.

Years ago, on one of my favorite shows, MASH, a character described a brave person as one who does what he or she is the most afraid of doing. Maybe that is the only answer that really works.

 

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Links:

Fear Dominates Politics, Media and Human Existence in America—And It’s Getting Worse, Alternet.org

http://www.alternet.org/fear-america/fear-dominates-politics-media-and-human-existence-america-and-its-getting-worse

 

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned, and relies on the honour system: try one story at no charge and, if you value our no-spam, no-ads work, please chip in at least .27 per story, or a sustaining donation, below. Details here. 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92. He is based near Washington, D.C.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

 

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Perspective — and bogeymen

Stuart Anthony/Flickr/Creative Commons

Stuart Anthony/Flickr/Creative Commons

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
December, 2015

For many years I have had two particular pictures above my desk at work. One is from the mid-90s, of a Bosnian Serb executing a man in cold blood. The other is of a star, the same size as our own sun, going nova.

I call them my perspective pictures. I have the first one because it reminds me no matter how bad things in my life seem to be, there is always some place in the world much, much worse. The second one reminds me that one day all this (all life on earth, all traces of us ever having been here) is going to go away. So why worry? What does it truly matter in the scheme of things? At both the micro and the macro level, it’s all a matter of perspective.

These pictures have been very helpful to me lately because I currently live in a country that has lost all sense of perspective. The ability of Americans to reason and to calmly take a step back and look at the big picture seems to have vanished faster than Scott Walker’s presidential aspirations. If I may borrow a quote from Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers, everybody just needs to R – E – L – A – X.

Let’s take a recent example.

To listen to the talking heads on cable news networks or politicians in Washington DC, the country is about to be overrun by terrorists at any moment. They lurk everywhere. (Muslim terrorists that is … Christian terrorism, like the attack on the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, is never included in the “terrorism” category by the so-called experts that bloom on cable TV like kudzu in the South.)

Well, consider this. So far in the United States this year, 17 people have been killed by Muslim terrorists, and 15 people have been killed by Christian terrorists. That’s 32 people in total.

Every year in the United States, an average of 176 people are killed by televisions falling on them. (True fact.)  You are 40,000 times more likely to die crossing the street than in a terrorist attack on a commercial airliner. Your chances of being killed by a terrorist are about one in 3.5 million. Your chances of being killed in an accident with a deer are one in 2 million. Your chances of being hit by lightning TWICE are greater than being killed in a terrorist attack. I could go on and on. (All of the above statistics come from organizations like the National Safety Council, the CDC in Atlanta, or universities that have done research on this topic.)

Yet under a constant bombardment of intentionally provocative images and often false information, alongside many people’s bigotry and racism, and with a dose of confirmation bias added,  people who will never in their lives, even if they live to be 150, come into contact with a terrorist, act like there’s one living next door, ready to slaughter them in their sleep.

As a result, instead of looking at situations like the current refugee crisis squarely and reaching out a hand to help Syrian families in dire need, Americans allow themselves to be bamboozled. They allow themselves to think all of the people fleeing from terrorism may themselves be terrorists. And while other countries, like Canada, put fears aside and allow their humanity to be the deciding factor, many Americans retreat into dark little holes of xenophobia, quietly muttering the word “freedom” under their breaths while clutching AK-47s.

And it’s not just the so-called threat from terrorism that causes Americans to lose all sense of perspective. Last year the Ebola “crisis,” which claimed the life of exactly one American, had people behaving hysterically.

There always seems to be something in this country that pushes people towards a place where they lose all ability to think rationally.

When did Americans become such fraidy cats? When did their own shadows start to scare them so much? When did they become so gullible that a snake oil salesman politician, or a greasy cable news commentator, can convince them to be so afraid of false bogeymen?

It’s not that these issues are without concern, but they need to be put into (wait for it…) perspective. When you lose all sense of perspective, when you allow yourself to be thrown about on a sea of misinformation and fear like a boat whose engine has failed, then you behave in ways that betray the very values you say you stand for.

How do we restore perspective in a country so sorely lacking it? Take a look at the world around you. Not the world you see on cable news talking head shows. Not the world you hear about on talk radio. The real world. There are more than enough sources at your local library, for heaven’s sakes, that will help you gain better understanding of important issues.

It’s time for Americans to stop being so afraid of everything. There are real problems that need to be solved. Being afraid of things that go bump in the night is not the way to find those solutions.

LINKS:

The Terrorism Statistics Every American Needs to Hear: http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-terrorism-statistics-every-american-needs-to-hear/5382818

10 Things More Likely To Kill You Than Islamic Terror: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-12-12/10-things-more-likely-kill-you-islamic-terror

You’re 55 Times More Likely to be Killed by a Police Officer than a Terrorist: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2015/03/youre-55-times-likely-killed-police-officer-terrorist.html

The 25 most common causes of death: http://www.medhelp.org/general-health/articles/The-25-Most-Common-Causes-of-Death/193?page=1

Copyright Tom Regan 2015

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Facts and Opinions relies on the honour system: try one story at no charge and, if you value our no-spam, no-ads work, please chip in at least .27 per story, or a sustaining donation, below. Click here for details. 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Paris attacks: France vows “merciless” response

The Eiffel Tower in mourning on November 14, via Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo.

The Eiffel Tower in mourning on November 14, via Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo.

By Ingrid Melander and Marine Pennetier
November 14, 2015

French President Francois Hollande speaks at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, the day after a series of deadly attacks in the French capital, November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane de Sakutin/Pool

French President Francois Hollande speaks at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, the day after a series of deadly attacks in the French capital, November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane de Sakutin/Pool

PARIS (Reuters) – An angry President Francois Hollande on Saturday promised a “merciless” response to a wave of attacks by gunmen and bombers that killed 127 people across Paris, describing the assault claimed by Islamic State as an act of war against France.

In the worst attack, a Paris city hall official said four gunmen systematically slaughtered at least 87 young people at a rock concert at the Bataclan concert hall before anti-terrorist commandos launched an assault on the building. Dozens of survivors were rescued, and bodies were still being recovered on Saturday morning.

Some 40 more people were killed in five other attacks in the Paris region, the official said, including an apparent double suicide bombing outside the Stade de France national stadium, where Hollande and the German foreign minister were watching a friendly soccer international.

The assaults came as France, a founder member of the U.S.-led coalition waging air strikes against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, was on high alert for terrorist attacks.

It was the worst such attack in Europe since the Madrid train bombings of 2004, in which 191 died.

Hollande said the attacks had been organised from abroad by Islamic State, with internal help.

Sources close to the investigation said one of the dead gunmen was French with ties to Islamist militants. Syrian and Egyptian passports were found near the bodies of two of the suicide bombers.

A man arrested in Germany in early November after guns and explosives were found in his car may be linked to the attacks in Paris, Bavaria’s state premier said, without giving details.

 

French police with protective shields walk in line near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

French police with protective shields walk in line near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris, France, November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

“MERCILESS”

“Faced with war, the country must take appropriate action,” Hollande said after an emergency meeting of security chiefs. He also announced three days of national mourning.

“France will be merciless towards these barbarians from Daesh,” he said, using an Arab acronym for Islamic State.

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement: “The war we must wage should be total.”

During a visit to Vienna, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said “we are witnessing a kind of medieval and modern fascism at the same time.”

In its claim of responsibility, Islamic State said the attacks were a response to France’s campaign against its fighters.

It also distributed an undated video in which a militant said France would not live peacefully as long it took part in U.S.-led bombing raids against them.

“As long as you keep bombing you will not live in peace. You will even fear travelling to the market,” said a bearded Arabic-speaking militant, flanked by other fighters.

A French government source told Reuters there were 127 dead, 67 in critical condition and 116 wounded. Six attackers blew themselves up and one was shot by police. There may have been an eighth attacker, but this was not confirmed.

The attacks, in which automatic weapons and explosives belts were used, lasted 40 minutes.

“The terrorists, the murderers, raked several cafe terraces with machine-gun fire before entering (the concert hall). There were many victims in terrible, atrocious conditions in several places,” police prefect Michel Cadot told reporters.

Police patrol near the Eiffel Tower the day after a series of deadly attacks in Paris , November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Police patrol near the Eiffel Tower the day after a series of deadly attacks in Paris , November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Yves Herman

STATE OF EMERGENCY

After being whisked from the stadium near the blasts, Hollande declared a national state of emergency, the first since World War Two. Border controls were temporarily reimposed to stop perpetrators escaping.

Local sports events were suspended, department stores closed, the rock band U2 cancelled a concert, and schools, universities and municipal buildings were ordered to stay shut on Saturday. Some rail and air services were expected to run.

Sylvestre, a young man who was at the Stade de France when bombs went off there, said he was saved by his cellphone, which he was holding to his ear when debris hit it.

“This is the cell phone that took the hit, it’s what saved me,” he said. “Otherwise my head would have been blown to bits,” he said, showing the phone with its screen smashed.

French newspapers spoke of “carnage” and “horror”. Le Figaro’s headline said: “War in the heart of Paris” on a black background with a picture of people on stretchers.

Emergency services were mobilised, police leave was cancelled, 1,500 army reinforcements were drafted into the Paris region and hospitals recalled staff to cope with the casualties.

Radio stations warned Parisians to stay at home and urged residents to give shelter to anyone caught out in the street.

The deadliest attack was on the Bataclan, a popular concert venue where the Californian rock group Eagles of Death Metal was performing. Some witnesses in the hall said they heard the gunmen shout Islamic chants and slogans condemning France’s role in Syria.

The hall is near the former offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. France has been on high alert since Islamist gunmen attacked the paper and a kosher supermarket in January, killing 18 people.

Those attacks briefly united France in defence of freedom of speech, with a mass demonstration of more than a million people. But that unity has since broken down, with far-right populist Marine Le Pen gaining on both mainstream parties by blaming immigration and Islam for France’s security problems.

It was not clear what political impact the latest attacks would have less than a month before regional elections in which Le Pen’s National Front is set to make further advances.

The governing Socialist Party and the National Front suspended their election campaigns.

U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel led a global chorus of solidarity with France. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the “despicable attacks” while Pope Francis called the killings “inhuman”.

France ordered increased security at its sites abroad. Britain, Germany, Italy, Russia, Belgium, Hungary and the Netherlands also tightened security measures.

Poland, meanwhile, said that the attacks meant it could not now take its share of migrants under a European Union plan. Many of the migrants currently flooding into Europe are refugees from Syria.

Police patrol the Gare du Nord train station the morning after a series of deadly attacks in Paris , November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Police patrol the Gare du Nord train station the morning after a series of deadly attacks in Paris , November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Yves Herman

POINT-BLANK

Julien Pearce, a journalist from Europe 1 radio, was inside the concert hall when the shooting began. In an eyewitness report posted on the station’s website, Pearce said several very young individuals, who were not wearing masks, entered the hall during the concert, armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and started “blindly shooting at the crowd”.

“There were bodies everywhere,” he said.

The gunmen shot their victims in the back, finishing some off at point-blank range before reloading their guns and firing again, Pearce said, after escaping into the street by a stage door, carrying a wounded girl on his shoulder.

Toon, a 22-year-old messenger who lives near the Bataclan, was going into the concert hall with two friends at around 10.30 p.m. (2130 GMT) when he saw three young men dressed in black and armed with machine guns. He stayed outside.

One of the gunmen began firing into the crowd. “People were falling like dominoes,” he told Reuters. He saw people shot in the leg, shoulder and back, with several lying on the floor, apparently dead.

Two explosions were heard near the Stade de France in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis, where the France-Germany soccer match was being played. A witness said one of the detonations blew people into the air outside a McDonald’s restaurant opposite the stadium.

In central Paris, shooting erupted in mid-evening outside a Cambodian restaurant in the capital’s 10th district.

Eighteen people were killed when a gunman opened fire on Friday night diners sitting at outdoor terraces in the popular Charonne area nearby in the 11th district.

 Copyright Reuters 2015

(Additional reporting by Geert de Clercq, Jean-Baptiste Vey, Emmanuel Jarry, Elizabeth Pineau, Julien Pretot and Bate Felix Tabi-Tabe; Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Further reading:

Notebook: IS claims responsibility, world reacts
Reuters

Scores killed in Paris attacks
Reuters, Report & Photo-gallery

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