Although the French still eat cheese, as President Francois Hollande orders troops into one of the world’s most dangerous hotspots once again, it’s worth remembering that another of their culinary favorites is about as red meat as you can get: the raw beef dish steak tartare.
So far this year, France has battled Islamist insurgents in Mali, led calls for international intervention in Syria and talked tougher than the United States in getting Iran to accept a nuclear deal.
Now Hollande is sending troops into the chaos that is the Central African Republic (CAR).
The new gung-ho France seems to have well and truly buried the “cheese-eating surrender monkey” tag invented by The Simpsons later taken up with glee by American hawks during the Iraq War.
Under siege at home, Hollande gets tough on the world stage
Photo by AFP/Getty Images
ALEPPO, Syria and ANTAKYA, Turkey — Nawar refuses to be seen as a victim. Even when describing how Syrian soldiers tortured and assaulted her, she remains tough and outspoken. Sitting in a quiet corner of a coffee shop in Antakya, she spoke unashamedly, with anger rather than fear while she smoked a chain of cigarettes.
“For me, speaking out is about revenge. Revenge has become an obsession,” she said.
Violence against women has skyrocketed since the Syrian conflict began. Incidents of gang rape, sexual assault, and domestic abuse have risen with the intensity of the conflict, both throughout the country and in refugee camps across the region. This means horrific stories like Nawar’s are becoming tragically common.
In April last year, Nawar and her fiancé Ahmed, referred to by first name only to protect their identities, were captured at a checkpoint in the Syrian province of Latakia by government troops. They were pulled from the car, thrown to the ground and tied with rope. One month later Nawar was released alone after experiencing what she describes as excruciating torture and sexual abuse while her fiancé was forced to watch. Ahmed was a doctor whose crime had been treating and delivering medical supplies to Syrian rebel fighters.
Syria has become a terrible place to be a woman
6,000 women raped during Syrian conflict, human rights group says
Photos by AFP/Getty Images
Damascus has changed profoundly since my last reporting visit two years ago — and definitely not for the better. While Damascus of 2011 was home to frequent rallies and marches calling for freedom, the Damascus of 2013 is a city at war. Concrete barriers block formerly busy thoroughfares and military checkpoints pockmark the city.
6,000 Syrians have fled violence to seek refuge at the Lebanese border since Saturday, according to a United Nations spokesperson.
Syria’s army pushed rebels out of the southern town of Qara, strengthening its hold on a highway linking the capital to government strongholds along the coast, state media said on Tuesday. Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad launched an offensive on Friday in Qara, a town which sits on the strategic route 80 km (50 miles) north of Damascus in the Qalamoun mountains.
Lebanon is keen to secure the highway as it wants to use it to transport chemical agents as part of a U.S. and Russian-backed program to eliminate its chemical weapons arsenal.
More photos from the past 24 hours: http://reut.rs/17InNGk
Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
Unfortunately, the violence of the Syrian civil war has spilled over into Lebanon as well, with twin bombings outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut on Tuesday killing at least 23.
Tracey Shelton writes from Beirut:
Victims were sent to several hospitals in the area, said Wassim Wazzam, chairman and director of Rafik Hariri Hospital. His hospital took in seven dead and 25 injured. Four were undergoing emergency surgery, but he said they hoped to release the majority of the victims within the next 24 hours.
“This is the largest amount of casualties we have received in such a short period since the Israeli bombings of 2006,” when Israel and Lebanon went to war, he said. “But here in Lebanon we have seen a lot of war so this is not new to us.”
REYHANLI, Turkey — In the wilds of war-torn Syria, there’s a young Persian girl outdoing the United Nations on aid.
At first glance, it hardly seems possible that this 28-year-old Iranian-American, with her California slang and her Converse shoes, is going inside Syria at all. Even harder to believe that she could be getting aid into more civilian hands than many established aid organizations who face major obstacles.
But, in a way, it’s true: Puneh Alai’i brings funds directly to Syrian villagers in rebel-held parts of the country — which is more than the UN can say.
That’s because legally, the UN still considers Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a sovereign head of state, so funding must go through Damascus — right under the regime’s nose.
Alai’i, whose trips are the first for her new global not-for-profit For the Unseen, is focusing on areas that have broken away from regime control because she is concerned that aid is not reaching Syrian civilians that have been left stranded there, often without food and shelter.
Meet the young woman who traverses Syria’s battlegrounds to put aid in civilian hands
Polio — known by the scientific name poliomyelitis — has existed as long as human civilization.
It terrified parents because children were especially susceptible to the incurable disease, which caused paralysis and in some cases death.
Only 60 years ago, the United States experienced an epidemic, with nearly 58,000 cases reported in 1952. More than 3,000 died of polio that year.
Still, as of 2012 polio was eliminated in a majority of the world thanks to global initiatives to vaccinate children. It only remained endemic in three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
However, the chaos of war and breakdown of infrastructure have allowed polio to rear its head again in places like Syria and Somalia.
GlobalPost spoke to Walt Orenstein (WO), a vaccine expert at Emory University, Oliver Rosenbauer (OR), spokesperson for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative at WHO and Simon Ingram (SI), senior spokesperson for UNICEF in the Middle East and North Africa, about the recent outbreaks.
Polio: A common enemy from Syria to Somalia (Q&A)
Photos via AFP/Getty Images
“When I think about all that has happened in my country between the government and the opposition groups, the people who have lost the most are the civilians,” said Adam, an economic student who fled Syria this week to look for work in Turkey.
“We have lost almost everything. Our memories have been destroyed. We are afraid to return to our own cities. The Syria we knew is gone.”
How the war in Syria has become a terrible, tragic mess
Photo by AFP/Getty Images
→ Red Cross leader explains how polio vaccination campaign in Syria could work
Under any circumstances, vaccinating 10 million people would require a lot of coordination and manpower. But in a country like Syria where civil war has mangled the health care system and driven millions from their homes, it’s a particularly tricky proposition.
GlobalPost spoke with Siddharth Chatterjee, head of strategic partnerships at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, about how such a campaign might work. Chatterjee, who is a polio survivor himself, has coordinated immunization campaigns in a number of unstable countries, including Somalia and Sudan.
“We have to push, push, push in order to get kids taken care of during periods of violence,” Chatterjee said. “But it can be done; I’ve seen it happen.”
NEED TO KNOW
Syria’s uncivil war. It’s long been apparent that the conflict in Syria includes a cast of regional, even global, forces in addition to the original players of government and rebels. In the latest reminder of just how ugly things could get if those supporting actors come out of the wings, US officials say that Israel launched an air strike in Syria this week on Russian-made weapons possibly destined for Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
The alleged attack, which took place in the government stronghold of Latakia early Thursday morning, hasn’t been officially confirmed by either Israel or Syria. But American security officials have indicated that Israel is carrying out its pledge to act whenever it has reason to believe arms are reaching Hezbollah from Syria, as it’s believed to have done at least five times this year already. None of which bodes well for the internationally brokered peace talks that still hang in the balance.
Life for a life. A court in South Africa has sentenced a man found guilty of one of the country’s most violent and notorious rapes to life in prison. Johannes Kana, convicted earlier this week, was ordered to serve two life sentences without parole for the rape and murder of 17-year-old Anene Booysen, who was found bleeding to death at a building site in February. Her injuries were so horrific that the doctors who tried to save her life required counseling.
In a country with one of the highest rates of rape in the world, Booysen’s tragic case was one too far. Activists used her name as a rallying cry; the government called for the toughest possible sentences for those convicted of sexual violence. So far, the progress is limited. Before she died, Booysen said as many as six men attacked her; three were arrested; Kana was the only one to stand trial.
WANT TO KNOW
Male, female, other. From today, Germany is the first country in Europe to add a third gender option to its birth certificates. Where once a child’s sex had to be marked ‘M’ or ‘F,’ parents of babies born with both male and female characteristics will now be able to mark, simply, ‘X.’
The aim is to allow parents — or rather, the child — the space to decide just what she or he is, without rushing to pick a gender for the sake of a bureaucratic deadline. Of course, many parents feel obliged to assign their baby’s sex, surgically and irreversibly, due to more profound societal pressures. Those, gender rights activists say, will take more than a new checkbox to change; but it’s a start.
'Tech support here. Edward Snowden speaking. How can I help?' The US intelligence analyst turned whistleblower has dusted off his suit and tie — or more likely, jeans and “Ctrl+Alt+Delete” tee — and is back in the office for his first day of work since copying a motherload of confidential NSA documents and hightailing it to Hong Kong. According to his lawyer, Snowden started a new job this morning, offering IT support to an unnamed but “major” website in Russia.
Don’t mention this to the HR department, but he might soon be telecommuting: Snowden met with a member of the German opposition yesterday with a view to securing safe passage to Germany — firstly to testify before parliament on how the US spies on its European allies, but potentially with view to staying on. (Berlin is way hipper than Moscow, to be fair.) That would have been unthinkable when Snowden was first seeking asylum; but in the wake of revelations that the NSA may have tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone, he might just find the German government a touch more sympathetic. We’ll know more after a press conference in Berlin, later today.
Juarez, the sequel. Not long ago, all headlines out of Ciudad Juarez screamed drugs, gangs and murder. But now, something unexpected is happening in the Mexican border town.
Homicides have plummeted. Some who fled have returned. Sports clubs keep kids out of gangs. In a new series, GlobalPost goes on location to find out if this amazing comeback is built to last.
STRANGE BUT TRUE
The ghosts of presidents past. Eight months after his death, Hugo Chavez casts a rotund shadow over Venezuela. And we’re not just talking his politics: the dead president genuinely haunts his successor.
First it was a “little birdie” appearing to Nicolas Maduro while he campaigned for Chavez’s freshly vacated office. Then the newly elected President Maduro claimed to commune with the spirit of Chavez in the mountains outside Caracas. Now Maduro says he’s seen El Comandante in a subway tunnel. Like most supernatural sightings, the account is secondhand (workers digging the tunnel were the ones who reported it), the evidence blurry (cell phone pictures), and the vision long since disappeared. That hasn’t stopped Maduro citing it as evidence that — we quote — “Chavez is everywhere.” Now that, this Day of the Dead, is a truly scary thought.
NEED TO KNOW
A spanner in the sarin works. Hard hats off to the world’s chemical weapons watchdog. Less than a month after arriving in Syria, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is ready to confirm that the Syrian government is no longer capable of making the toxic stuff. According to unnamed sources — who say there’ll be an official announcement later today — OPCW inspectors have overseen the destruction of the equipment Damascus would need to produce, mix and load poisonous agents into missiles.
And all this a day ahead of their November 1 deadline, which many feared couldn’t be met — let alone beaten. Was it winning the Nobel Peace Prize that got them going? Whatever it was, there’s no time to rest on their laurels: Syria may not churn out any new death machines, but it still has a hefty stockpile of them stored in multiple hiding places all over its territory. The OPCW is supposed to supervisetheir destruction by the middle of next year; with Syria’s war still raging and peace negotiations uncertain, that’ll certainly be a harder deadline to keep.
The cloud has ears. Before anyone complains the NSA is unfairly spying on foreign citizens, remember: it’s also doing it to Americans. The Edward Snowden saga began with revelations that the US intelligence agency had “front-door” access to user accounts on Google, Yahoo, Facebook and domestic giants of the internet; now the latest leaks suggest it’s been getting in the back door, too.
The documents indicate that NSA operators, working with their UK counterparts, found a way to intercept data as it traveled to and from data centers belonging to Google and Yahoo, giving them access to hundreds of millions of supposedly private records. The director of the NSA, Gen. Keith Alexander, says the agency is “not authorized to go into a US company’s servers and take data” — but he didn’t say anything about going between them. And besides: authorization, schmauthorization. Google has expressed concern at the latest demonstration of the NSA’s long reach, and added its voice to the calls for “urgent reform.”
WANT TO KNOW
Death in the desert. The bodies of at least 87 people have been found in the Sahara, a month after they set off to cross the desert. They were discovered near Niger’s border with Algeria, where they’re believed to have been heading in quest of opportunities to work, or travel further. Instead, the vehicle carrying them broke down and, stranded, they died of thirst. Many were just children.
Local officials suspect that they fell victim to unscrupulous human traffickers, the same who load migrants into rickety boats and sail them from North Africa to Europe — sometimes safely, more frequently not. The Sahara tragedy is yet another reminder that a migrant’s journey, by land or by sea, is too often a fatal one.
The power of Putin. It’s official: Vladimir Putin is the most powerful man in the world. That’s according to Forbes magazine, anyhow, which has put the recurrent Russian president at the top of its global ranking.
In doing so they’ve shooed Barack Obama out of the spot for the first time in three years. Ouch. Putin leads the pack while Obama’s a lame duck? Perhaps; or perhaps just a bid to stir the hornets’ nest.
STRANGE BUT TRUE
Get your fright on. You know what day it is — and if you don’t, an impertinent little candy-grabber in a Smurf costume will soon be knocking at your door to remind you. Back before trick-or-treating, spray-on cobwebs or pugs dressed as pumpkins, All Hallows’ Eve had its share of genuine jitters.
In its honor, here are 10 of the most haunted places on earth (and beyond). An abandoned asylum in Australia? A den of devil worship outside Dublin? A suicide forest in Japan? Today of all days, remember: the world is a seriously spooky place.