Death and Its Handmaidens

What the foreign papers are saying.
Aug. 2 2004 1:06 PM

Death and Its Handmaidens

The international press reports on pogroms—major, minor, and imminent.

With Iraq's Shiites and Kurds having earlier been targeted by bombings, it was probably only a matter of time before the country's Christians would get their turn. On Sunday, five coordinated explosions in Baghdad and Mosul were directed against churches and a monastery, killing 11 people and injuring dozens of others. A sixth explosion, in front of a police station in Mosul, killed another person and injured many more.

Lebanon's Al-Anwar, which caters mostly to a Christian readership, was obvious, but also alarmed, in the question making up its banner headline: "Who Attacked Four Churches and a Monastery in Baghdad and Mosul Using Car-Bombs?" It provided no answer, though the Iraqi authorities have blamed the followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The Iraqi daily Al-Zaman reported that the bombings were suicide attacks, and, from Mosul, its correspondent wrote, "doctors expect the number of dead to rise, and said that most of the injuries were serious." According to London's Guardian, there are some 750,000 Christians in Iraq, who are feeling increasingly vulnerable: "Several hundred Christian families—who were relatively free to practice their religion under the former Ba'ath regime—have reportedly left the country out of fear of religious persecution at the hands of Islamic extremists. … Christian leaders have also complained that kidnappings and murders of Christians and threats against bishops, especially in the Sunni Arab stronghold of Mosul, have gone unreported."

Advertisement

The United States went on high alert Sunday for bomb attacks, London's Daily Telegraph noted, specifically "against 'iconic' financial institutions in New York City, Washington and Newark, New Jersey." American officials duly raised the terror threat level at those locations (the British authorities didn't juggle with levels, the paper added, but repeated their warning that a threat in the United Kingdom was "real and serious"). Among the potential American targets were "the Citigroup building and the New York Stock Exchange, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank buildings in Washington and the Prudential building in Newark."

A more specific incident was highlighted by London's Al-Hayat, following on from a recent much-publicized article in WomensWallStreet.com by Annie Jacobsen, in which she described how she mistook a Syrian band flying on a domestic flight to Los Angeles for a cohort of Arab hijackers. Upon landing, the band, named Kulna Sawa Crew, or the "All Together Crew," was questioned by the FBI and then released.  The Al-Hayat Damascus correspondent picked up on the story and couldn't avoid a tart turn of the knife by asking, just as 19 hijackers spent years preparing for the 9/11 attacks, "why couldn't 14 Syrians train for years as musicians to carry out a suicide attack against thousands of Americans present at their show?" Perhaps the incident will induce the band to change its name and travel separately, since one of the things that Jacobsen found most alarming was that the Syrians acted "as a group."

Acting as a group, too, are the government of Sudan and the so-called Janjaweed militia, which have helped perpetrate what has been called the worst humanitarian disaster in the world today, in Darfur. Some 1.2 million people have been displaced thanks to violence in Sudan's westernmost province. On Friday, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution giving Sudan a 30-day deadline to start disarming and bringing to justice the Janjaweed, or else sanctions could be imposed. According to France's Le Monde, the Sudanese Army reacted by calling the resolution "an act of war." A military spokesman argued that the 30-day deadline "was just a 'preparatory period' to launch a war against Sudan… [He also] accused the United States and other Western forces of preparing to militarily attack Sudan, after the failure of economic sanctions and diplomatic boycotts." The statement was aimed at derailing possible Western military intervention in Darfur. Khartoum has said it is already cracking down on the militia, but critics have retorted that this is hypocritical, since the Sudanese government is in cahoots with the Janjaweed.

On Sunday, London's Observer confirmed this by offering a rare glimpse into the training of the Janjaweed, based on the testimony of a militia deserter. The Janjaweed are mostly Arab nomads who are fighting sedentary black African tribes, though both communities are Muslim. According to the paper, the militiamen were "roused for battle with songs and speeches that declared all black civilians to be their enemies." The deserter said: "There were many songs against the Zurgha [a term for black Africans]. They sang in Arabic: 'We go to war, we go to defeat the rebels—we are the original people of this area.' " He added that the government regularly resupplied the Janjaweed with weapons. But why is the government using a militia? Because the army's rank and file is made up of black Darfurians "who might prove reluctant to fight their kinsmen." So, instead, it "activated its network of Arab tribal contacts. … They were supplied with weapons and air support from helicopter gunships and Antonov bombers. And a pogrom was unleashed."

Michael Young is opinion editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut and author of The Ghosts of Martyrs Square: An Eyewitness Account of Lebanon's Life Struggle, which the Wall Street Journal listed as one of its 10 standout books for 2010.

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Dec. 17 2014 12:27 PM Listen to Our Ultimate Holiday Playlist Holiday tracks for the season, exclusively for Slate Plus members.