Libya and Yemen – actually different places.

And to top it off, they’re 2100 miles apart.
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(Please note: This is the third map I’ve posted, because they’re all wrong in some way. Here, Palestine should be listed next to Israel, but is completely ignored. Apparently it’s really hard to find up-to-date, non-exclusionary maps of MENA online).

This week the US lost an apparently highly skilled and much-loved diplomat to the vagaries of violent extremism and a weak central government, and, possibly, the failure of the Foreign Service to adequately protect its Ambassador in the face of terrible upheaval (including “a string of assassinations [in Benghazi] as well as attacks on international missions”).

The Libyan people responded to this horrific turn of events in a genuinely moving way, many spontaneously demonstrating in support of the United States and expressing their sorrow over Ambassador Chris Stevens’s murder. Signs read “Thugs and killers don’t represent Benghazi or Islam” and “USA: We are sorry. We are sad.” and “Sorry people of America this is not the behavior of our Islam & Prophet.”  Words of condolence and statements of grief came pouring out, from the government to journalists to folks on Twitter and Facebook — these Libyans share our loss, and they wanted to make sure we know that they have no affection for those Libyans who attacked our consulate, ostensibly in reaction to an offensive film about the Prophet Muhammad (though signs are emerging that the attack may have been planned well in advance [UPDATE 9/16/12: US Ambassador to the UN says the attacks began spontaneously; the President of Libya disagrees).

Today, on the other hand, hundreds of Yemenis stormed the embassy in the capital city of Sana’a, in reaction to that very same offensive film.

You see, it turns out that Arabs and Muslims are as many and varied as any other set of humans.

Many Libyans hold the United States in affection and high regard, because America helped them gain their freedom from a terrible tyrant. We didn’t roll in and push people aside, we helped the people already there to do what they wanted to do. Their new government is weak and (as the recent turmoil clearly indicates) not entirely well established, but Libyans can look behind and look ahead and see the potential for better — and that’s thanks to us. That’s why Libya has the highest approval rating for the United States in the Middle East and North Africa outside of Israel.

On the other hand, as Jeremy Scahill reported for The Nation in February, this is what we’ve been doing in Yemen:

[In the spring of 2011], rather than fighting AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], US-backed units—created and funded with the explicit intent to be used only for counterterrorism operations—redeployed to Sanaa to protect the collapsing regime from its own people. The US-supported units exist “mostly for the defense of the regime,” says [Abdul Ghani al Iryani, a well-connected political analyst]…. President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, acknowledged late last year that the “political tumult” has caused the US-trained units “to be focused on their positioning for internal political purposes as opposed to doing all they can against AQAP.”

…Even as demonstrations grew against the Saleh regime, US officials praised his government’s cooperation. “I can say today the counterterrorism cooperation with Yemen is better than it’s been during my whole tenure,” Brennan declared in September.

But US counterterrorism policy is extremely unpopular in Yemen….

By last summer, the Obama administration had begun construction on a secret air base on the Arabian peninsula, closer than its base in Djibouti, that could serve as a launching pad for expanded drone strikes in Yemen. The September [2011] drone strike that killed US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki was reportedly launched from that new base, which analysts suspect is either in Saudi Arabia or Oman, both of which border Yemen…. The Americans have also provided real-time intelligence, obtained by drones, to Yemeni forces in [the hotly contested province of Abyan]. “It has been an active partnership. The Americans help primarily with logistics and intelligence,” [Gen. Mohammed al-Sumali] says. “Then we pound the positions with artillery or airstrikes.”

…Some of the unilateral strikes have killed their intended targets, such as the CIA attack on Awlaki. But others have killed civilians—at times, a lot of civilians. And many of these have been in Abyan and its neighboring province of Shebwa, both of which have recently seen a substantial rise of AQAP activity. President Obama’s first known authorization of a missile strike on Yemen, on December 17, 2009, killed more than forty Bedouins, many of them women and children, in the remote village of al Majala in Abyan. Another US strike, in May 2010, killed an important tribal leader and the deputy governor of Marib province, Jabir Shabwani, sparking mass anger at the United States and {then-President] Saleh’s government. “I think these airstrikes were based on false intelligence from the regime, because that is the nature of the contractor,” [opposition leader Mohammad] Qahtan charges. “The contractor wants to create more work in return for earning more money.”

…The October drone strike that killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, a US citizen, and his teenage cousin shocked and enraged Yemenis of all political stripes. “I firmly believe that the [military] operations implemented by the US performed a great service for Al Qaeda, because those operations gave Al Qaeda unprecedented local sympathy,” says [Abdul Rezzaq al Jamal, an independent Yemeni journalist]. The strikes “have recruited thousands.” Yemeni tribesmen, he says, share one common goal with Al Qaeda, “which is revenge against the Americans, because those who were killed are the sons of the tribesmen, and the tribesmen never, ever give up on revenge.” Even senior officials of the Saleh regime recognize the damage the strikes have caused. “People certainly resent these [US] interventions,” Qirbi, the foreign minister and a close Saleh ally, concedes.

For the United States, the most serious question that lingers over Yemen after [President] Ali Abdullah Saleh is: Did US counterterrorism policy strengthen the very threat it sought to eliminate? “It was a major fiasco,” Iryani says of the past decade of US counterterrorism policy in Yemen. “I think if we had been left alone, we would have less terrorists in Yemen than we do now.”

(Note: This is only a small portion of a truly excellent piece of reporting. I highly recommend that you read the whole thing – click here).

And just to be clear: President Saleh may have resigned last November, but his family and cronies still retain a firm grip on power — which is why Yemenis are still protesting.

So it turns out that Yemenis and Libyans are autonomous actors, human beings who respond to others in a manner that reflects their relationship with those people.

There are, of course, many, many differences between the two countries, not least Libya’s much higher level of education and much lower rate of poverty, and all the complex, domino results that such factors create in two societies that are already very different. The position of women, life expectancy, the function of tribal alliances — all of these play different roles in each country.

But one simple thing may still be said: Help a nation topple a tyrant and reclaim their own power? They’ll probably like you. Help a tyrant kill his own enemies and then allow his power base to stay in control? The people he ruled might not like you so much. To the tune of an 18% approval rating.

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Signs. Not necessarily wonders.

Note: I spent last week dealing with the world’s Horrible Things, so this week, I’ve chosen not to. I’ve been tweeting about the Awful, or commenting elsewhere, but this space has been Awful-free — except at the end of each post, where there have been a few links to The Day In Horrible. Same-same today!

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Signs — of spring, of trouble, of the times, of speed limits. They’re everywhere, by gum, occasionally locking out the scenery and breakin’ my mind! (Click on the link. It’s a quote).

But, useful as signs can be in directing us to gender-specific restrooms and/or the exit we’ve just missed, some retain an element of mystery, a need for correct interpretation. One woman’s sign being another woman’s insignificant bit of grit (click on the link. It’s another quote. And a dang funny one!), and so on.

In the course of a life veritably chock-a-block with experience, I have, myself, unearthed some signs that need a bit of exegesis in order to be properly understood, but reveal Significant Truths. Or at least support for our nation’s public radio. I’ve done the work for you — now you need but learn, grasshopper:

  1. Sign That Civilization Is Not Ending? Starbucks’ unfortunately tweely-named “Petites.” I left this country for an unexpectedly long time in 1984, and when I got back in 1998, coffee house pastries were as big as your head. I ask you: Who needs a scone as big as your head? Or my head, for that matter? Certainly not the English, who invented the scone, and had no idea that Americans would appropriate their tea-time staple and reboot it as a vast flour desert over which one might hike for days. And while we were all hiking across our scones, you know what happened? Reality TV! Skinny baggies! (no, seriously, you have to click). The confusion of electronic devices with books! Into this maelstrom of slippery slope-ism Starbucks very recently stepped, with a line of wee little goodies, all just the right size to go with a cup of coffee (not a chai frappacino with low-fat vanilla whip & cinnamon dusting or some such monstrosity – a cup of damn coffee). My faith in the ability of civilization to right itself has been restored.
  2. Sign That Momentous Events Are About to Unfold on the Domestic or World Stage? The Daily Show goes on vacation. For real, man: Health Care Reform? Passed when The Daily Show was on vacation. Stimulus bill? Passed when The Daily Show was on vacation. The UN declared a no-fly zone over Libya yesterday? The Daily Show is on vacation. If a thing long talked about is ever going to happen? It needs Jon Stewart to take his kids to Disney World (where he was, on vacation, when Hosni Mubarak stepped down).
  3. Sign Of Spring’s Arrival? My house is daily revealed to be a hovel. If I wake up, come downstairs, and all the dust on my furniture and crumbs on my floor are standing out in sharp relief, almost as if a sprite had tip-toed in and scattered them about to try my patience, it means our earth has reached that point in its annual circuit that allows sunlight to pour in, blindingly, through my front window, at just the right angle to illuminate every single limitation of my family’s paltry housecleaning skills. Luckily, as a Jew, there’s a holiday for that — soon I will be cleaning for Passover, and the earth will continue its orbit, and the sun will no longer fill my house in just that fashion — and I can go back to feeling like, hey! The place looks pretty good!
  4. [Related] Sign That I Will In Fact Get The Kitchen Cleaned And Various Other Small Kitchen-Suitable Tasks Done of a Saturday Morning? I’m listening to NPR’s Wait Wait! Don’t Tell Me! I’m not always at home and/or near a radio at 10:00 am on Saturday, when Wait Wait! is broadcast in the Greater Chicagoland Metropolitan Area. Sometimes I’m already running errands, occasionally I’m out of town, and now and then, I’m actually praying with the Jews (Saturday being Shabbat and all). But if I’m home and Wait Wait! is on, it’s on in my kitchen, and if it’s on in my kitchen? I find myself miraculously doing jobs that have been piling up for days (that vase that needs the green gunk picked off, those season-specific tchotchkes that need to be put back in their boxes, that floor that apparently really needs sweeping), and laughing! All but whistling as I work! Because Wait Wait! is just that awesome, and I’m laughing so hard, that I hardly even notice that I’m in the midst of drudgery. It’s entirely likely that I should have podcasts of the show on endless loop in every room of the house — perhaps that lovely springtime sun would not then find so many crumbs to illuminate. But it’s hard to know for sure. If only I could get some kind of sign.

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Your Day in Horrible:

  1. Yemen declares ‘state of emergency’ – “Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president, has declared a nationwide state of emergency, after a violent crackdown on anti-government protests killed at least 41 people, and left scores more wounded, in the capital Sanaa….Security forces opened fire in attempts to prevent protesters from marching out of the square where they were gathered, sources said. Medical sources said the death toll was likely to rise.”
  2. Voting – The Rising Degree of Difficulty – “There are new efforts across the country, led mostly by conservative activists, aimed at making it more difficult for people to vote…. The new laws pending in more than 30 states “are far more restrictive than we’ve seen in the past,” said Weiser. To voting rights activists, the trend represents an alarming reversal. In the decade since the Help America Vote Act was enacted in the wake of the contested 2000 presidential election, state and federal officials have toiled to modernize voting through better machines and streamlined registration systems.”
  3. How Obama Lost Karzai – “The road out of Afghanistan runs through two presidents who just don’t get along…. Ironically, 2010 was supposed to be a new “year one” for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, when the Americans, after years of neglecting the country in favor of Iraq, finally invested the resources necessary to defeat the Taliban and rebuild the country. Instead, things got worse…. At the heart of the failure, both a cause and consequence of it, is the tattered U.S. relationship with Karzai, an alliance that has cost the United States more than $330 billion and nearly 1,400 soldiers’ lives, but is now at the lowest ebb of its nearly decade-long history. U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration plainly do not trust the Afghan leader, or even much like him.”

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

The perils of kindness.

Last night, sitting at my desk, trying to write a book review, I finally just burst into tears.

The book deals with Israel/Palestine, and the many brave and noble people attempting to find a path to true peace and genuine justice, and it comes on the heels of two other books that dealt with what amounts to the same subject matter — and last night’s book and the earlier two came at either end of days and days in which I was dealing quite intensely, in my writing and in my heart, with the topic of rape (a couple of times on this blog, on and on at Twitter, and elsewhere across the wilds and in the corners of the blogosphere), while all the while, people living across a swath of the world that holds a place very deep in my soul are being shot at from their own fighter jets and by their own police forces. And the public employees in some quarters of this country — teachers, for God’s sake! — find themselves faced with the possibility of losing their freedom to ever collectively organize again. And at some point I discovered that a (male) blogger had accused me (specifically) and other women bloggers of “raping” Lara Logan by choosing to use the story of her assault as a reason to write about rape. And then an earthquake in New Zealand….

What finally reduced me to tears was a good friend being kind.

In this case, the good friend happens to be a truly, genuinely lovely person who has spent his life telling the truth about Israel/Palestine, and the one clear thought I could get to (as I read his completely unrelated email and cried) was: How can the world still suck so hard, when there are such beautiful people in it?

I’m tired. I’m tired of the world sucking and of beautiful people dedicating themselves and their lives and all too often their deaths to trying to heal a world that still sucks. I’m tired of the ever-peeling layers of suckage — after all, just under “pro-democracy protests turn violent in the Middle East,” you’ll find “well-founded fears of chaos,” “well-founded fears of military takeover,” and “well-founded fears of economic collapse and further human suffering.” Under which, of course, you will also find “Lara Logan was brutally assaulted and more than 80% of Egyptian woman complain of constant harassment and women are raped everywhere, anyway.” Under which you will find… many other things that I cannot bear to think about right now.

It matters not that I’m tired. Not really. Despair and exhaustion are luxuries, and I already live in the lap of luxury.

But I confess that I have found it easier to not know over much about about Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and Iran, or Wisconsin and Indiana over the past 24-48 hours (oh, and Ohio. Where apparently someone decided it would be a good idea to lock the people out of their own statehouse) — or even of New Zealand, where, after all, it’s not the sucky people, it’s the sucky tectonic plates we have to thank for the wave of grief and sorrow now washing over a nation. It feels wrong to admit this. I confess that, too.

I’m going to the J Street Conference this weekend, and I think that will have to count as my good deed for the next week. Me being tired doesn’t matter — but me crying doesn’t help.  I think it’ll be helpful to go hang out in a room full of compulsive do-gooders for a couple of days.