World Peace Update
I know this is hardly an earth-shattering revelation, but there's always a direct correlation between the amount of chaos demonstrated in the world every week and the difficulty (or not difficulty) of writing this column. Sometimes I feel spoilt for choice, like last week, for instance, when Mama Nature felt like it was time to join the horrible party and gift the Caribbean and the US with a mutant-storm because, according to this dude, they are gay and have abortions.
This time around, however, I had to scrape the proverbial pint glass for dregs of world fuck-uppery seeing as most governments have put on their best-behaviour suit as they sat on the corners of their seats, waiting to see which American will be bossing them around for the next four years. Ironically, that didn't actually include the US. And, of course, Syria could not give less of a fuck about the American election, so they kept on firmly rockin' in the conflict zone. Thanks, guys, you've made my life a whole easier. The rest of you: I'm deeply disappointed and expect a lot more.
UNITED STATES, PORTLAND
On Saturday, hundreds of Occupy-affiliated protesters marched through Portland, Oregon against cuts to social services, before meeting up with a wall of hilariously-dressed bike cops and stormtrooper wannabees. Surprisingly, the two groups didn't seem to get on very well, as the protesters quickly tried to break the bike barrier and the police crop-dusted their front lines (which were mostly made up of high school students) with pepper spray.
The police then claimed that the protesters didn't have a marching permit ('cause that's reason enough to start chasing teenagers around with pepper spray) and the protesters said they weren't even aware they needed a permit. On the eve of a Presidential election, you'd think the United States would want to show off its democratic credentials, but I suppose they just figured pepper spraying a bunch of children was the best way to go.
USA! USA! USA! FOUR MORE YEARS! Etc, etc.
For fuck's sake, Pakistan, I thought we were done with this shit. Getting upset about blasphemy and insulting the prophet is, like, sooo September 2012. The country's strict blasphemy laws once again proved to be the thorn in its ability to progress into a modern functioning democracy, when a girls' school in the city of Lahore was attacked by a 200-strong mob, setting fires and generally fucking the place up like a bunch of scorned former students getting revenge on their maths teacher. The mob threw its toys out of its pram when they decided that homework that had been set for the Eid holiday insulted the prophet Muhammed. Every time I suggested forming a mob to revolt against holiday homework, people just looked at me funny, which makes this hurt doubly hard.
What's more, it turns out the whole thing wasn't even done on purpose. Apparently the teacher, Ms Iftikhar, had made a mistake when copying out the passage in the homework sheet. Still, that did very little to dissuade the authorities, who, instead of trying to keep her safe, are now looking to arrest her for blasphemy. On the other end, a bunch of the students are claiming that a group of hardliners are trying to stop local girls from getting an education by trying to shame the school. All in all, it hasn't been the greatest few months for women's education in Pakistan.
Syria-related news has been dominated this past week by a massacre committed by the FSA against regime forces (SAA) in the town of Saraqeb, an extremely vital crossroads town in the north of the country. Last Thursday, FSA units swept through Saraqeb taking over a number of regime-controlled checkpoints, managing to capture around 20 soldiers and to effectively cut off Aleppo from regime reinforcements in the south. In a video that was released shortly after, the soldiers can be seen gathered in a circle, hands bound on the floor, begging for mercy, while their captors praise god and hurl insults at them. The camera then pans away as gunfire erupts and cuts back to a scene of dead bodies and spent ammunition.
The killing has brought the FSA the condemnation of the international community and a lot of separate FSA units aren't particularly happy with it, either. One commander said to the Guardian: "We have to show we are different from the regime." This killing is not the first of its kind, but highlights the spiralling brutality of this conflict and the failings of the international community to stop the continuing atrocities committed by both sides (see SAA soldiers cutting the ears off dead FSA fighters).
In other, more positive developments, the FSA were able to mount a well coordinated assault last Saturday on one of the regime's most important air bases: Taftanaz, in Idlib province. The air base is home to a number of regime helicopters that strafe the surrounding villages and nearby Aleppo daily. If the siege is successful, coinciding with the capture of Saraqeb, regime forces in the north of the country will become increasingly isolated and under-supplied. Additionally, the FSA were able to take a key oil field near the eastern city of Deir Ezzor. As well as putting a stranglehold on the Syrian war machine's fuel reserves, the capture will dent the economic output of the regime, which is already struggling with an economic meltdown.
As the Syrian civilians continue to suffer and the FSA fight tooth and nail to push back the regime, the Syrian political 'opposition' groups met on Sunday for a week of talks about forming a united political front and plan for post-conflict Syria. The talks are desperately touted by the US as the only alternative to foreign military intervention (which, in an election year, was never going to happen), but those worried that the Assad regime would be a part of these talks or a part of a future Syria were quickly encouraged by a statement released by the opposition: "Assad and his entourage leaving power is a non-negotiable precondition for any dialogue aimed at finding a non-military solution, if that is still possible."
A few days later, our very own Prime Minister David Cameron clearly hadn't got the memo. In an interview to Al Arabiya during his recent trip to Saudi Arabia, our enlightened leader said: "All of us are coming together, wanting to see this transition in Syria, wanting to see Assad go. I am certainly not offering him an exit plan to Britain, but if he wants to leave, he can leave in a way that could be arranged.” Clearly pandering to his autocratic hosts who would rather a precedent wasn't set where an Arab dictator sees a war crimes/human rights abuses tribunal. Awk.
Check back next week to see whether the world got its shit together and resumed fighting or if I lost my job.
Follow Henry on Twitter: @Henry_Langston