Sunday, March 13, 2011

Our Support for Saleh's Yemen

Yesterday, security forces in Yemen fired on anti-government protesters. Reports suggest that a toxic tear gas was also used. At least six people died and around 1250 were injured, perhaps 250 seriously. This follows violence earlier in the week when security forces brutally confronted a sit-in near Sanaa University. Obviously these recent attacks prove that President Ali Abdullah Saleh's announcement last Thursday saying he would be willing to hold a referendum on a new constitution–which the opposition wisely rejected–was an empty promise and not a true concession to the people. Need we be reminded that President Saleh is one of the longest standing dictators in the region, having ruled Yemen since 1978.

With all that is going on in Yemen, where protests have continued unabated for weeks, we should all seriously question the Western media's general indifference towards Yemenis revolutionaries. Jody MacIntyre of The Independent also blames Al Jazeera and ultimately concludes that "only some revolutions will be televised." Hopefully this fact does not influence whether or not they end up being successful. We should also critically examine Western governments' stark silence on the bloodshed, which is probably not unconnected to the media blackout. Especially since last year the United States doubled its military aid to Yemen, which means it is likely that the weapons now being used to kill civilians were provided by the United States (and the United Kingdom).

Washington says that Yemen is a crucial ally in the fight against al Qaeda. Periodically the United States conducts air strikes in Yemen and recently killed up to 41 civilians in cluster bomb attacks. All of this is done in the name of the so-called war on terror, despite the fact that many of the Yemenis killed are not self proclaimed supporters of al Qaeda. Some are not even Sunnis. Indeed Yemen's government frequently uses the umbrella of the war on terror to kill Houthi Shi'is. Yemen's neighbor Saudi Arabia has also attacked and indiscriminately killed Houthi separatists. Again Houthis do not even share the same religion as al Qaeda. They are, however, against President Saleh's repressive regime.

In light of the above, perhaps it should not come as any surprise that in response to the almost daily atrocities in Yemen the Obama administration has merely urged dialogue and even applauded President Saleh's offer of reform. In fact, according to Obama's anti-terrorism advisor John Brennan, Yemen's "government and the opposition share responsibility for achieving a peaceful resolution of the crisis." How protesters lacking fundamental political rights can be held accountable for the brutal repression against them is beyond me. Yemenis obviously occupy one of the many spaces of exclusion that Derek Gregory (2004) analyzes where basic rights, including respect for human life and dignity, do not apply.

Of course the ultimate irony is that America's top terrorism advisor does not publicly recognize state terrorism when he sees it. Fortunately the Arab peoples are now rising against this injustice and hopefully in the not too distant future the many spaces of exclusion that we have created will start to erode. Perhaps someday the world will even be a place where all of us are equally held accountable for our actions. In the meantime, we should all suffer to know that America and her allies continue to terrorize. 

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