Police in Jakarta last week arrested five suspected members of an "anarcho-syndicalist" group they claim was hoping to trigger unrest across the island of Java amid public anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic. The group allegedly painted graffiti inciting people to riot with messages such as "time to burn," "kill the rich," and "die ridiculously or fight" on the walls of a shopping complex in Tangerang, an outlying city of the Greater Jakarta metropolitan area. Their plan to spark mass looting was announced on social media, police said. The five have been charged with "misinformation" and "public provocation," and face up to 10 years imprisonment.
Nine years ago this week, the Syrian Revolution began with peaceful pro-democracy protests. The first demonstrations broke out in the city of Deraa after local schoolchildren painted a mural depicting scenes and slogans from the recent revolutions in other Arab countries, and were detained and brutalized by the police. The Bashar Assad regime responded to the demonstrations with serial massacres. After months of this, the Free Syrian Army emerged, initially as a self-defense militia to protect protesters. But the situation soon escalated to an armed insurgency. The regime lost control of areas of the country, and local civil resistance committees backed by the FSA seized control. Assad then escalated to levels of violence rarely seen on Earth since World War II.
Donald Trump and the man he executed in a targeted assassination on Jan. 3, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, mirror each other as war criminals who treat the people of Iraq and the greater region as pawns in their power game. And, in fact, they were long de facto allies—Soleimani had been overseeing a "dirty war" in Iraq against Sunni militants and suspected ISIS sympathizers. His allied paramilitary forces have serially massacred anti-government protesters in Baghdad over the past months. In less explicit alignment with Washington, Soleimani also provided similar services on a far greater scale to the Bashar Assad dictatorship in Syria. As overall commander of Iranian forces in Syria backing up Assad's genocidal counter-insurgency campaign (and by no means just against ISIS and jihadists, but the secular opposition as well) Soleimani is probably responsible for the loss of hundreds of thousands of Syrian lives.
In Episode 42 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg interviews Yoseph Leib Needelman-Ruiz (Ibn Mardachya), author of Cannabis Chassidis: The Ancient and Emerging Torah of Drugs. In this far-ranging meeting of the minds, the pair explore contemporary dilemmas of Jewish identity in both Israel and the diaspora, Zionism and gentrification (drawing parallels from the West Bank to Williamsburg), nationalism and anarchism, and such strange contradictions as the embrace of cannabis by Israel's right-wing political establishment. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo was sworn in for a second term Oct. 20 amid an official ban on protests, and Jakarta's streets flooded with 30,000 police and military troops. The inauguration was preceded by a wave of mass protests in September, mostly led by students. The demonstrations were sparked by a new law that weakens Indonesia's anti-corruption agency, and another that instates such moralistic measures as a ban on extramarital sex—the latter a play to cultural conservatives who accuse Widodo of being insufficiently Muslim. But protesters' anger was also directed at plans for a tough new criminal code, at troops mobilized to put down the unrest in Papua region, and at the failure to stem forest fires in Sumatra and Borneo that are causing toxic haze across Southeast Asia.
After meeting in Ankara Oct. 17, US Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached a deal to suspend Turkey's military offensive in northern Syria over the next five days to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from a designated area along the border. This is being widely reported as a "ceasefire." However, the 13-point agreement does not use the word "ceasefire," but states: "The Turkish side will pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow the withdrawal of YPG from the safe zone within 120 hours. Operation Peace Spring will be halted upon completion of this withdrawal." Operation "Peace Spring" is the utterly Orwellian code-name for the Turkish offensive, and the YPG is the People's Protection Units, the Kurdish militia in northeast Syria. The YPG was not a party to the "ceasefire," but nonetheless agreed to abide by it. Still, fighting has continued, with at least eight civilians reported killed less than 24 hours into the deal. There is also no consensus on the geographic limits of the area covered by the deal. The official text does not define it, and Turkey and the US remain at odds on the size the "safe zone" (another Orwellian construction) that Ankara seeks to establish in Syria. Ankara is still asserting it will be 100 kilometers deep, while Washington is calling for 20 kilometers. (Rudaw, Middle East Eye, AP)
Protesters are rejecting what they call Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam's "fake concession," with the demonstrations now in their fourteenth straight week. Contrary to widespread media reports, Lam's supposed "withdrawal" of the extradition bill is actually only a promise to withdraw it when the Legislative Council reconvenes next month—with no date yet set. Lam refused the other four demands of the current unprecedented mass movement: repudatiation of the term "riots" for the protests (with "riot" charges carrying a 10-year prison term); an independent investigation into police brutality during the demonstrations; release of all detained protesters, and the dropping of all charges; and "universal suffrage" in elections of the chief executive and Legislative Council. (Nikkei Asian Review, The Villager)
In Episode 37 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg explores the politics of the Spanish Civil War—how leftists around the world mobilized to support the anti-fascist struggle, despite contradictions and complexities within the anti-fascist ranks; how this heroic resistance was betrayed by the world; and how this betrayal presaged a greater and far more destructive war. Today in Syria, a similar struggle is being waged against a fascistic regime—similarly heroic, despite inevitable contradictions and complexities within the anti-fascist ranks. Yet this time, leftists around the world are deeply complicit in the world's betrayal of the Syrian resistance. Weinberg asks: Why is that? Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.