After years of debate and a 2014 referendum, the Spanish town of Castrillo Matajudíos—yeah, that's right, "Fort Kill the Jews"—has officially changed back to its original name of Castrillo Mota de Judíos, or "Jew's Hill Fort." It's believed that the town, in Burgos province of Castile and León region, was originally a Jewish town. Residents had to convert under threat of death (generally being burned at the stake) or exile under the 1492 Edict of Expulsion, and adopted the new name as a way of proving their loyalty to the Catholic kings. No self-identified Jews live in the town today, but many residents have Jewish roots and the town's official shield includes the Star of David. The city's mayor Lorenzo Rodríguez led the initiative, saying that the name was offensive to many. (No, ya think?) (NPR, June 23)
In the wake of last week's massacre at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church, there have been a few rare media mentions of the Gullah people of the Sea Islands, a barrier chain that stretches from South Carolina to Florida. Queen Quet Marquetta Goodwine, head of state of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, spoke to the Charleston City Paper after the massacre, saying that many members of Mother Emanuel are Gullah—as were some of the nine shooting victims. The church had once hosted a traditional Gullah libation ceremony to honor the people's ancestors. "Mother Emanuel has embraced me as a mother for many, many years on my journeys to Charleston," Queen Quet said, but added that after the bloodshed, "It will be difficult for me to re-enter those doors." She said she counted massacre victim Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church's pastor and a state senator, as a friend. WJCL of Savannah, Ga., also noted that the Gullah Geechee Commission of Johns Island, SC, expressed shock at the massacre and offered condolences to the survivors.
Online activists are calling for the Confederate flag that remains flying outside South Carolina's state house after nine parishioners were shot dead at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston to be removed on the grounds that it is "insulting" to the victims of the shooting. Gawker reports that, in fact, every flag at the state house is flying at half mast in honor of the slain—except the Confederate one! Apparently because the Stars-and-Bars is so revered that it requires an act of the state legislature to even lower it. So, the flag of slavery stays proudly at full mast in the wake of a massacre of Black folks at a church associated with the anti-slavery and civil rights struggles. The mind boggles.
Talk about "No good deed goes unpunished." Now that the Kurds of Rojava (northern Syria) are nearly within striking distance of Raqqa, the ISIS de facto capital, charges are mounting of a campaign of ethnic cleansing by Kurdish forces against Arabs and Assyrians. BBC News on June 15 reported the welcome development that the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) have taken the border town of Tal Abyad from ISIS. From here it is a straight shot of less than 100 kilometers down a major road to Raqqa (see map). The report says that more than 16,000 residents have fled the Tal Abyad area into Turkey—but only says they have fled the fighting, not targeted attacks by the YPG.
The interminable cartoon wars now move back to Iran, where 28-year-old artist Atena Farghadani has been sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison. Her crime? A cartoon that depicts members of parliament as animals—seemingly a ruse to avoid specifically identifying them, so as to avoid trouble. According to Amnesty International, she was charged with "spreading propaganda against the system," "insulting members of parliament through paintings," and "gathering and colluding against national security." The offending cartoon depicted parliamentarians as monkeys, cows or goats as they cast votes for proposed laws that would ban some types of birth control and restrict women's access to contraception.
The New York Times offers this sobering lede on the anti-ISIS summit now underway: "With Islamist militant fighters on the ground in Syria and Iraq moving faster than the international coalition arrayed against them, a meeting in Paris by coalition members on Tuesday seemed unlikely to reverse the momentum anytime soon. With the French and American governments playing host, 24 foreign ministers or their representatives have been meeting here in the aftermath of serious losses to the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria last month and the possibility that more territory will be lost in the coming days." Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, whose forces are virtually collapsing, was of course on hand to appeal for more aid. (Reuters) Disgracefully, no Kurdish leaders were invited to the summit—despite the fact that Kurdish forces have been by far most effective on the ground against ISIS. "The [Iraqi] federal government didn't invite any representative from Kurdistan to the Paris meeting and have participated in this gathering alone," reads a statement from the Kurdish Regional Government. "The Peshmerga are the only forces that have so far bravely battled the terrorists and driven them out of our territories." (IBT) Needless to say, no representatives of the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Syria were invited either.
Despite the persistent pseudo-left hallucination of a US campaign to destabilize Bashar Assad, the evidence mostly goes the other way: the US is tilting to Assad in the Syrian war, viewing him as a bulwark against the jihadists. Now Daily Beast offers an interview with Syrian rebels who say they are turning down Washington's offer of training due the predictable strings attached. "We submitted the names of 1,000 fighters for the program, but then we got this request to promise not to use any of our training against Assad," said Mustapha Sejari, a leader of the Revolutionary Command Council. "It was a Department of Defense liaison officer who relayed this condition to us orally, saying we'd have to sign a form. He told us, 'We got this money from Congress for a program to fight ISIS only.' This reason was not convincing for me. So we said no."
The Guardian reports May 29 that women are being officially denied the vote in "the most socially conservative regions" of Pakistan, where local elections were held over the weekend. In races for district and village council seats in Hangu and Malakand districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, deals have been struck with village elders barring women from voting—and not for the first time. In a parliamentary by-election in KP's Lower Dir district earlier in May, none of the eligible 50,000 women in the constituency turned out to vote. Reporta said mosques broadcast warnings to women, and polling stations were guarded by "baton-wielding men" who blocked the few women who did show up to vote. A court in Peshawar threw out a petition brought by 12 women from Lower Dir who demanded the election be re-run. The case was dismissed in just 15 minutes. Siraj-ul-Haq, leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, argued that the women of Lower Dir had chosen to respect local traditions by not voting. Jamaat-e-Islami governs KP in coalition with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by the former cricket star Imran Khan.