'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Memorial Day Reflection 

A voice from the past:

Wartime brings the ideal of the State out into very clear relief, and reveals attitudes and tendencies that were hidden..In times of peace the sense of the State flags in a republic that is not militarized.. For war is essentially the health of the State. The ideal of the State is that within its territory its power and influence should be universal. As the Church is the medium for the spiritual salvation of man, so the State is thought of as the medium for his political salvation. Its idealism is a rich blood flowing to all the members of the body politic. And it is precisely in war that the urgency for union seems greatest, and the necessity for universality seems most unquestioned. The State is the organization of the herd to act offensively or defensively against another herd similarly organized. The more terrifying the occasion for defense, the closer will become the organization and the more coercive the influence upon each member of the herd. War sends. the current of purpose and activity flowing down to the lowest level of the herd, and to its remote branches. All the activities of society are linked together as fast as possible to this central purpose of making a military offensive or a military defense, and the State becomes what in peacetimes it has vainly struggled to become-the inexorable arbiter and determinant of men's businesses and attitudes and opinions. The slack is taken up, the cross-currents fade out, and the nation moves lumberingly and slowly, but with ever accelerated speed and integration, towards the great end, towards that peacefulness of being at war, of which J.P Jacks has spoken so unforgettably.

The classes which are able to play an active and not merely a passive role in the organization for war get a tremendous liberation of activity and energy. Individuals are jolted out of their old routine, many of them are given new positions of responsibility, new techniques must be learnt. Wearing home times are broken and women who would have remained attached with infantile bonds are liberated for service overseas. A vast sense of rejuvenescence pervades the significant classes, a sense of new importance in the world. Old national ideals are taken out, readapted to the purpose and used as the universal touchstones, or molds into which all thought is poured. Every individual citizen who in peacetimes had no function to perform by which he could imagine himself an expression or living fragment of the State becomes an active amateur agent of the Govemrnent in reporting spies and disloyalists, in raising Government funds, or in propagating such measures as are considered necessary by officialdom. Minority opinion, which in times of peace was only irritating and could not be dealt with by law unless it was conjoined with actual crime, becomes with the outbreak of war, a case for outlawry. Criticism of the State, objections to war, lukewarm opinions concerning the necessity or the beauty of conscription, are made subject to ferocio'us penalties, far exceeding severity those affixed to actual pragmatic crimes. Public opinion, as expressed in the newspapers, and the pulpits and the schools, becomes one solid block. Loyalty, or rather war orthodoxy, becomes the sole test for all professions, techniques, occupations. Particularly is this true in the sphere ofthe intellectual life. There the smallest taint is held to spread over the whole soul, so that a professor of physics is ipso facto disqualified to teach physics or to hold honorable place in a university-the republic of learning-if he is at all unsound on the war. Even mere association with persons thus tainted is considered to disqualify a teacher. Anything per taining to the enemy becomes taboo. His books are suppressed wherever possible, his language is forbidden. His artistic products are considered to convey in the subtlest spiritual way taints of vast poison to the soul that permits itself to enjoy them. So enemy music is suppressed, and energetic measures of opprobrium taken against those whose artistic consciences are not ready to perform such an act of self-sacrifice. The rage for loyal conformity works impartially, and often in diametric opposition to other orthodoxies and traditional conformities or ideals. The triumphant orthodoxy of the State is shown at its apex perhaps when Christian preachers lose their pulpits for taking in more or less literal terms the Sermon on the Mount, and Christian zealots are sent to prison for twenty years for distributing tracts which argue that war is unscriptural.

If anything, the fact that similar objectives have been attained with a lesser degree of repression as occurred during and after World War I is particularly disturbing. Furthermore, unlike after World War I, the populace has become inured to a low level, perpetual state of global conflict, and the utilization of military force, or the threat of it, as one of the most common American responses to resistance of any kind. The acceptance of the primacy of vengence as a US foreign policy objective, as recently expressed in the execution style assassination of Osama Bin Laden in front of his family, is ominous.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Weekend Reading 

Sometimes, I read As'ad Abukhalil's blog, and wonder, what's the point of this one? Here are a couple of examples of important articles linked there over the weekend. First, this one by Christine Ahn and Kavita Ramdas:

The IMF has earned its villainous reputation in the Global South because in exchange for loans, governments must accept a range of austerity measures known as structural adjustment programs (SAPs). A typical IMF package encourages export promotion over local production for local consumption. It also pushes for lower tariffs and cuts in government programs such as welfare and education. Instead of reducing poverty, the trillion dollars of loans issued by the IMF have deepened poverty, especially for women who make up 70 percent of the world’s poor.

IMF-mandated government cutbacks in social welfare spending have often been achieved by cutting public sector jobs, which disproportionately impact women. Women hold most of the lower-skilled public sector jobs, and they are often the first to be cut. Also, as social programs like caregiving are slashed, women are expected to take on additional domestic responsibilities that further limit their access to education or other jobs.

In exchange for borrowing $5.8 billion from the IMF and World Bank, Tanzania agreed to impose fees for health services, which led to fewer women seeking hospital deliveries or post-natal care and naturally, higher rates of maternal death. In Zambia, the imposition of SAPs led to a significant drop in girls’ enrollment in schools and a spike in survival or subsistence sex as a way for young women to continue their educations.

But IMF’s austerity measures don’t just apply to poor African countries. In 1997, South Korea received $57 billion in loans in exchange for IMF conditionalities that forced the government to introduce labor market flexibility, which outlined steps for the government to compress wages, fire surplus workers, and cut government spending on programs and infrastructure. When the financial crisis hit, seven Korean women were laid off for every one Korean man. In a sick twist, the Korean government launched a get your husband energized campaign encouraging women to support depressed male partners while they cooked, cleaned, and cared for everyone.

Nearly 15 years later, the scenario is grim for South Korean workers, especially women. Of all OECD countries, Koreans work the longest hours: 90% of men and 77% of women work over 40 hours a week. According to economist Martin Hart-Landsberg, in 2000, 40 percent of Korean workers were irregular workers; by 2008, 60 percent worked in the informal economy. The Korean Women Working Academy reports that today 70 percent of Korean women workers are temporary laborers.

Please help, can someone tell me when, if ever, the National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority Foundation or NARAL Pro-Choice America, among others, have drawn attention to the misogyny inherent in neoliberal policy? Oh, I forgot, the Feminist Majority Foundation has been too busy supporting the war in Afghanistan.

And, then, there's this one, an opinion piece by Joseph Massad:

The problem with US policy in the Arab world is not only its insistence on broadcasting credulous US propaganda - easily fed to Americans, yet with few takers elsewhere in the world - but also that it continues to show a complete lack of familiarity with Arab political culture and insists on insulting the intelligence of most Arabs, whom it claims to address directly with speeches such as Mr Obama's.

In the past three decades, Arab leaders allied with the United States (and even the few who were not) have been telling their peoples that Iran, Shia, Sunni Islamists, the Palestinian people and their wretched cause, among others, are the reason for the hardship of Arabs. Indeed this conjuring up of enemies started with the US-Saudi-Kuwaiti plan to subcontract an all-out war against revolutionary Iran, as the enemy of Arabs, which was launched by Saddam Hussein in 1981 to defend America's oil wells - and which resulted by 1988 in the death of one million Iranians and 400,000 Iraqis.

In the meantime, and since the late 1960s, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon have engaged in wars with the Palestinian guerrillas and against Palestinian civilians, whom they identified as the enemy. Egypt launched a war against Libya when Sadat was in power, and later, under Mubarak, against its own Islamists and against the Palestinian people. Indeed even Algeria was conjured up as the enemy of Egyptians in Mubarak's last year on the throne.

Saudi Arabia, while repressing all of its population in the name of Wahabism, has not stopped hatching various plans (and plots) since 1982 to bring Israel into the Arab fold. When President Obama peddles the Israeli lie, that his pro-Israel advisors at the White House - and there has been no other kinds of Middle East advisors at the White House since the Clinton administration - feed him, that too many leaders in the region tried to direct their people's grievances elsewhere. The West was blamed as the source of all ills, a half-century after the end of colonialism. Antagonism toward Israel became the only acceptable outlet for political expression, to which leaders is he actually referring? Sadat, Mubarak, Ben Ali, Kings Hussein and Abdullah II of Jordan, Kings Hasan II and Muhammad VI of Morocco, President Bouteflika, any of the Gulf monarchs or the two Hariri prime ministers, Rafiq and Saad?

Not only are such lies not believable to anyone in the wider world, but also, were the US administration to believe them, explain the ongoing foreign policy failures in a region the US insists on dominating - but which it refuses to learn much about.

Empires always construct a world view compatible with the preservation of them. So, there's nothing surprising here, including the eventual outcome, except that so many Americans remain either unaware of it, or derive emotional fulfillment from it. Meanwhile, during his speech before AIPAC, President Obama sounds eerily like a 19th Century southern plantation owner when he expresses concern about the birthrate of Palestinians and its implications for Israel.

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

BART: One of the Great Modernist Projects 

Peter Hartlaub has posted a number of graphic photographs from the late 1950s and early 1960s at SFGate about the still unfulfilled ambitions of the planners of BART. Of course, there is the iconic picture of an imaginary BART train going across the Golden Gate Bridge, but are some other delightful ones as well. The introductory image is an early BART fare card from 1974.

Burrito Justice has also posted images of some of the early promotional materials used by proponents, such as the firm responsible for much of the construction of BART (yes, you guessed it, General Electric), obtained through Eric Fisher. Consider this one, Progress is Our Most Important Product:

If you look at the advertisement closely, you will see a graphic photograph of an above-ground train traveling through Berkeley in the lower right corner. The city of Berkeley passed a measure to provide for additional financing in order to have the system subsequently constructed underground, as any of you familiar with the East Bay undoubtedly know.

Looking at these images and advertisements, BART evokes a kind of Keynesian nostalgia. It is almost impossible to imagine a project of this scale being constructed today, except for the military-industrial complex and utilities insistent upon the generation of electricity through the use of nuclear power. As with any modernist endeavor, however, there is a suppressed dark side to the cutting edge allure of modern transit. Concealed beneath the glamour of these images and advertisements is the disruption, and, in some instances, destruction, of communities that resulted from the construction of BART, as well as the extent to which it facilitated the segregation of the Bay Area in a new form along lines of race and class.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Obama's Speech: The Ghost of Carterism 

Earlier today, President Obama delivered a speech concerning US objectives in the Middle East and North Africa. Overall, As'ad Abukhalil probably has it right: It is not that it brought nothing new: It was not even novel or original rhetorically. I don't see any reason why he delivered it.

The tiresome centerpiece of this speech was this gem about Palestine:

So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

What one hand giveth, the other hand taken away, as the purpose of any land swaps is, of course, to allow Israel to retain settlements illegally constructed in the occupied territories. Furthermore, Obama is well aware that there is a tremendous power imbalance between Israel and the Palestinians, as most recently evidenced in the Palestine Papers, so the notion that these swaps would result from a mutual agreement is merely an effort to legitimize a coercive process.

Zlyad Clot, one of the people responsible for their release, put it succinctly:

The peace negotiations were a deceptive farce whereby biased terms were unilaterally imposed by Israel and systematically endorsed by the US and EU. Far from enabling a negotiated and fair end to the conflict, the pursuit of the Oslo process deepened Israeli segregationist policies and justified the tightening of the security control imposed on the Palestinian population, as well as its geographical fragmentation. Far from preserving the land on which to build a state, it has tolerated the intensification of the colonisation of the Palestinian territory. Far from maintaining a national cohesion, the process I participated in, albeit briefly, was instrumental in creating and aggravating divisions among Palestinians. In its most recent developments, it became a cruel enterprise from which the Palestinians of Gaza have suffered the most. Last but not least, these negotiations excluded for the most part the great majority of the Palestinian people: the seven million Palestinian refugees. My experience over those 11 months in Ramallah confirmed that the PLO, given its structure, was not in a position to represent all Palestinian rights and interests.

Today, Obama announced that this farce will continue. But there is something else embedded in his speech that deserves comment as well. Obama rhetorically aligns himself with the liberatory aspirations of the protest movements that have proliferated throughout North Afica and the Middle East, while retaining a close alliance with monarchies in the Persian Gulf, most importantly, the House of Saud. For those of you with long memories, it should sound familiar. Back in the late 1970s, President Carter, along with his Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, and his United Nations Ambassador, Andrew Young, emphasized the importance of human rights as an objective of US foreign policy, while announcing that the Gulf states now fell underneath a protective US military umbrella.

Needless to say, this is a policy that has become increasingly threadbare, with events in Palestine and Bahrain exposing the cynical calculation behind it. Throwing money at the problem in an effort to corral the fractuous revolutionary movements within safe, neoliberal boundaries, is one patchwork solution, with Obama promising US assistance to the governments of Tunisia and Egypt, but this is consistent with the paradoxical naivete that so characterized Carter's presidency, as I noted back in 2007:

Carter, as later, with Clinton, consciously eschewed the trappings of the imperial presidency, and emphasized a religious inspiration for his life in politics quite different than the fundamentalist kind repeatedly described by Bush. He, with a charming naivete, has sought to live a life of humble Christian service, and, while President, believed that the public would respond to his example, and his attempts to educate them. It was a simpleminded idealism that might have been very effective in a communitarian society, but it was destined to fail in the crucible of the final stages of the Cold War, with the contours of the coming neoliberal order, designed to drain away the energy of the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, already visible.

Accordingly, it was now the primary function of leaders to depoliticize the social life of their countries, not encourage it, and sadly, a lot of people were ready to acquiesce. Carter, unlike his successors, lacked a clear understanding of his role, and, hence, swung between social and economic policies that disempowered people, and attempts to motivate people through education, appeals to rationality and community involvement (and, if necessary, sacrifice, as with his national energy policy).

In other words, Carter actually believed that Americans, and, indeed, people everywhere, could be persuaded to endorse an increasingly deregulated, privatized world under the benign oversight of the US, and, curiously enough, he still seems to believe it today.

There is very little in this analysis that cannot be equally applied to Obama. Unfortunately, just as the neoconservatives have consistently warned, the consequences of such a paradoxical fusion of realpolitik and idealism are combustible, as Carter discovered with the revolutions in Iran and Nicaragua.

And, as I observed in 2007, the US is now confronting an even more politically charged situation than Carter did:

Now that it has become evident, after Iraq, that the world cannot be subjected to the demands of transnationals and finance capital through force, Carterism suggests a rosier outcome through dialogue, multilateralism and economic coercion. If adopted, it will fail again, even more so than in the 1970s, because it retains that enduring American perspective that it is our mission to modernize the world in our image, despite increasing opposition to such an endeavor.

Nothing reveals the poverty of US policy in North Africa and the Middle East more than the fact that, faced with one of the most important political uprisings in human history, the US can only respond by throwing more gasoline onto the fire.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Occupation as Part of a Global System of Border Control 

Someone, perhaps it was the ubiquitous Sasha, asserted that if people from Mexico attempted to force their way across the border with the US, the US would respond with force equal to, and possibly even greater than, the force used by Israel against Palestinians on Sunday. I tend to disagree with him for several reasons, primarily because of the economic relationship between the US and Mexico as well as the social unrest that it would ignite within the US itself, particularly in states like California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. But he has revealed an important aspect of the occupation that deserves more than the scant attention that it commonly receives, with the recognition of it limited to academia and international providers of security services.

Sasha has implicitly associated the occupation with broader issues of global border contral, and despite his Zionist stance, he is correct in doing so. It is an emerging narrative of the occupation that is as important as the dominant one regarding the conflict between Zionists and Palestinians for the land of Palestine. There is, in fact, a frightening symmetry between the evolution of the occupation and international methods of border control, so much so that the occupation often serves as a testing ground for policies and technologies utilized elsewhere, especially in the US. Prior to the mid-1990s, there was a time when the occupation took a somewhat more benign form in terms of the intrusiveness of social control measures and technologies, but, in the immediate aftermath of Oslo accords, Israel commenced the installation of a system of border checkpoints that has culminated with the ongoing construction of what critics have called the Apartheid Wall, as well as the militarization of daily life. The part of this process that gets ignored, possibly because it is contrary to the tendency of many around the world to hold Israel solely responsible for the abuses of the occupation, is the effort to integrate these measures into other border control situations.

One of the most obvious examples of this process was the attempted construction of a border fence, known as the Secure Border Initiative network, or SBInet, by the US along the border of the US and Mexico, cancelled last fall. Not surprisingly, the US looked to Israel in 2006 for its construction before abandoning the project:

For the SBInet project, the Boeing/Elbit consortium proposed the radical idea of 1,800 towers equipped with cameras and motion detectors stretched across the border. For possibly the first time ever, the words Israel and border are in the same sentence and it doesn't have anything to do with its own borders. The talent and expertise that Elbit Systems (NASDAQ ELST) has employed for years in protecting Israel's borders will now be put to use on US borders to keep Americans safe.

Kollsman Inc., an American-based subsidiary of Elbit, has been selected as a member of the winning consortium by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the Secure Border Initiative (SBI) to supply technology to identify threats, to deter and prevent crossings, and to apprehend intruders along the US borders with Canada and Mexico.

Kollsman, headquartered in Merrimack, New Hampshire, is a development, manufacturing and support organization providing advanced electro-optical and avionics systems to the commercial aerospace, military and homeland security markets. The company's expertise includes enhanced vision systems, flight displays, head-up displays, thermal imaging systems, fire control systems, and advanced security and surveillance solutions.

The Secure Border Initiative is the latest attempt by the United States government to use technology to secure its borders, stop smuggling, and prevent illegal immigration. After September 11, illegal immigration is not just seen as a social problem, but also a national security issue. A unique aspect of this initiative was that Homeland Security gave the bidders total freedom to create new ideas of how to apply both new and old technology to secure the US borders.

Except that it is not really accurate to say that the US looked to Israel, as the consortium of corporations involved in the aborted construction of the fence, Boeing and Elbit, are transnational, with both companies listed on US stock exchanges. Accordingly, it is more appropriate to say that transnational corporations, many headquartered in the US and Israel, have utilized the occupation as an experimental testing ground for technologies with an anticipated global application. Given the proliferation of surveillance cameras and airborne surveillance in the United Kingdom to the extent that it is considered the most surveilled society among industrialized countries, I would not be surprised to discover that UK corporations are playing a prominent role in this effort as well. Of course, the deployment of technologies originally developed for border control for the purpose of mass surveillance shouldn't surprise anyone. Hence, the occupation, and the technologies associated with its imposition, are part of a global, transnational corporate effort to maintain the separation of the poor of the Global South from the wealthy of the Global North and monitor virtually every aspect of our daily lives. In this respect, Chicano activists in California have much in common with the Palestinians enclosed within the occupied territories, and they have supported the actions of Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of California, as most recently expressed through the support of MECHA for the Irvine 11.

Furthermore, as you may recall, the US engaged in extemporaneous forms of occupation inspired border control within Iraq during some of the most intense periods of Iraqi resistance. Starting in late 2003, the US partitioned Iraqi cities, creating, in the words of Robert Fisk, a controlled populace. By August 2004, Toufic Haddad described US methods as synonymous with those of the occupation:

. . . the use of aggressive techniques of urban warfare with an emphasis upon special units, house to house searches, wide scale arrest campaigns (almost 14,000 Iraqis are now in prison), and torture; the erecting of an elaborate system of watchtowers, military bases, check-points, barbed wire, and trenches to monitor, control, and restrict transportation and movement; the clearing of wide swaths of land next to roads; the use of armored bulldozers to destroy the homes of suspected militants; the razing of entire fields from which militants might seek refuge; the heightened relevance of snipers and unmanned drones; and the attempted erecton of collaborator networks to extract information from the local populace about resistance activities -- both military and political.

Accordingly, an ethnic, sectarian emphasis upon the nature of the conflict in Palestine, while appealing to those seeking to organize among nationalistic Americans seeking to avoid US culpability in the actions of Israel, doesn't come close to addressing the real dimensions of the struggle.

Meanwhile, in regard to Europe, the occupation is consistent with an ideological belief in the necessity of rigorous border control to prevent the entry of people characterized as culturally dangerous. The governments of Italy and France are expressing alarm over the possibility of an influx of North Africans in the absence of Gaddafi's willingness to interdict them, but such xenophobia is not a recent development, as demonstrated by periodic statements by German politicians about the purported inability of Turkish immigrants to adopt German values, as if this matters. Several years ago, Behzad Yaghmaian spent two years in Europe interviewing Muslim immigrants, many of them imprisoned within refugee camps, and published a book about what they told him, Embracing the Infidel. In this book, he humanizes his subjects while exposing an impersonal system of social control across the European continent that restricts them to ghettoes and refugee camps. In a sense, the police methods of stopping people for their identity cards, detaining them and incarcerating them in refugee camps evokes a bygone era, one that predates the accelerated technological modernization connected to the occupation and US military operations in lesser developed countries, but it retains the cultural superiority and xenophobia at the heart of this project. Last week, the suppressed brutality of it erupted on the streets of Athens, as right wing Greek mobs attacked the undocumented.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Palestine: From Utopia to Reality? 

UPDATE 3: Here comes your non-violent resistance:

In any case, if you're among those who have made the argument that Israelis would give Palestinians a state if only the Palestinians would learn to employ Ghandhian tactics of non-violent protest, it appears your moment of truth has arrived. As my colleague writes, what happened on Nakba Day was Israel's nightmare scenario: masses of Palestinians marching, unarmed, towards the borders of the Jewish state, demanding the redress of their decades-old national grievance. Peter Beinart writes that this represents Israel's Palestinian Arab Spring: the tactics of mass non-violent protest that brought down the governments of Tunisia and Egypt, and are threatening to bring down those of Libya, Yemen and Syria, are now being used in the Palestinian cause.

So now we have an opportunity to see how Americans will react. We've asked the Palestinians to lay down their arms. We've told them their lack of a state is their own fault; if only they would embrace non-violence, a reasonable and unprejudiced world would see the merit of their claims. Over the weekend, tens of thousands of them did just that, and it seems likely to continue. If crowds of tens of thousands of non-violent Palestinian protestors continue to march, and if Israel continues to shoot at them, what will we do? Will we make good on our rhetoric, and press Israel to give them their state? Or will it turn out that our paeans to non-violence were just cynical tactics in an amoral international power contest staged by militaristic Israeli and American right-wing groups whose elective affinities lead them to shape a common narrative of the alien Arab/Muslim threat? Will we even bother to acknowledge that the Palestinians are protesting non-violently? Or will we soldier on with the same empty decades-old rhetoric, now drained of any truth or meaning, because it protects established relationships of power? What will it take to make Americans recognise that the real Martin Luther King-style non-violent Palestinian protestors have arrived, and that Israeli soldiers are shooting them with real bullets?

UPDATE 2: J Street responds to the right of return protests on Sunday:

J Street is deeply alarmed by the serious outbreaks of violence in and around Israel today.

We call on Palestinian leaders and the Israeli government to work to minimize further violence and casualties, and to prevent further escalation. We urge governments and communal leaders in surrounding states to similarly avoid escalation.

The violence comes at the start of an important week, during which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit the United States, meet President Barack Obama, and deliver several speeches outlining his government’s thinking about the state of the political process with the Palestinians. President Obama too has scheduled an important address Thursday in which he may lay out his ideas for reviving the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

This weekend’s violence only reinforces J Street’s concern that the absence of a credible diplomatic route to achieving a two-state solution sows the seeds of hopelessness that lead to conflict and violence.

J Street’s goal is to promote the security and survival of the state of Israel and its future as a democracy and a Jewish homeland. We fear that the failure of either leader to lay out bold steps toward a two-state solution this week and then to follow through on them in the months ahead condemns Israel, the Palestinians and their neighbors to more dark days of violence and bloodshed and puts Israel’s future and security at risk.

If you had a residual belief that J Street possessed some promise of protecting the Palestinians from the predations of Israel, this should dispel any remaining doubt. Indeed, the language of President Jeremy Ben-Ami's statement is eerily reminiscent of Tony Kushner's defense against the criticisms of Jeffrey Wiesenfeld.

Hat tip to Max Ajl at Jewbonics.

UPDATE 1: Syrian Revolution: It is all about Israel's security.

INITIAL POST: It is difficult to put into words, especially for someone who is not Palestinian like myself, but I believe that the yesterday's events in Palestine, where many Palestinians sought to exercise their right of return by forcing their way past Israeli checkpoints in Gaza, Lebanon and Syria, are momentous, a foreshadowing of major changes in the Middle East, and perhaps, even the rest of the world.

Consider this account by Matthew Cassel:

Climbing up the mountain to reach the Palestinian right-of-return protest in Maroun al-Ras in south Lebanon on Sunday felt a bit like being back in Tahrir Square.

The thousands of mostly Palestinian refugees were smiling as they joked about the strenuous climb, and helped each other up the mountain to reach the site where they were going to stage their demonstration. Some knew it could even be dangerous, but that didn't matter as much as the rare opportunity to join together and call for their rights.

The small elevated Lebanese village just overlooking the border with Israel became a massive parking lot as buses carrying Palestinian refugees and Lebanese from across Lebanon converged for a protest commemorating what Israeli historian Ilan Pappé calls the ethnic cleansing by Zionist militias of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their lands and homes in 1948 – what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or catastrophe. Large buses had difficulties reaching the top of the mountain, and rather than wait, protesters chose to make the half-mile climb by foot.

Men and women, young and old, secular and religious, were all present. This was the first time in 63 years that Palestinian refugees would go to the border in their tens of thousands and call for their right to return home. For most, it was their first time even seeing the land that they've grown up hearing described in precise detail through the popular stories of elders old enough to remember life in what is today considered Israel.

Or, consider this one about Maroun al-Ras as well, sent to As'ad Abukhalil, the Angry Arab:

I saw courage and heroism today in front of my eyes. The sight was unbelievable. 10 death and dozens injured and the Palestinian guys would not stop. It is mind boggling. I was 200 meters behind the fence. The Lebanese army at the end attached us and was shooting like crazy up in the air. They chased us up the whole mountain. A day I won't forget in my life. Thousands of bullets wire fired above us to drive us back. Friends were literally at the fence and saw the guys falling. I will upload pics and videos later on FB. I will email you my thoughts later. We are still under shock. We were literally taking cover behind rocks, I really don't know what to say.i swear if only these Palestinians are trained, given arms and support, Israel will not last a week. Every shot Asad from Israelis, a wounded or a killed from our side, dozens of ambulances leaving the scene.. and the guys would not stop. Showers of rocks were going the other way, and the damn Israelis snipers were shooting them down one by one.

Perhaps, I exaggerate. Perhaps, with the passage of a week, a month, a year, yesterday's protests and the typically violent Israeli response to them, will be incorporated into the lethargic flow of history as the grinding brutality of the occupation persists unabated. But I don't think so. For those of us unable to perceive the subtle changes in the current, yesterday was, in the words of Fredric Jameson and others, a rupture, one that, paradoxically, did not constitute an actual, violent departure from the continuity of the past, but, rather, exposed our reflexive embrace of something that no longer existed. After all, a rupture is in the eye of the beholder, a subjective perspective incapable of keeping pace with the dynamism of social transformation.

And, what, precisely, was it that we embraced, that many of us considered so inexorable? It was, quite simply, the permanence of Zionism, and, more specifically, the impregnability of the state of Israel. And, beyond that, and, even more important, the invisibility of the Palestinians themselves, their lack of a historical agency that would enable them to ascend the stage and challenge the interrelated historical processes of capitalism and imperialism that had reduced them to marginality. Much as Marxists and anarchists have challenged capitalism, while considering its demise generations, if not centuries, into the future, anti-Zionists, with exceptions like As'ad Abukhalil and Hossam el-Hamalawy, characterized the dissolution of Israel as a Zionist state in utopian terms, something for which we should aspire to achieve without any expectation that we should expect to live to see it. Of course, I speak as someone at the intersection of engaged people and activists and the bourgeois world, so I am willing to concede that I may have possessed a pessimism that activists like Max Ajl and others, such as those involved in the International Solidarity Movement, have already overcome.

Certainly, the Palestinians have done so. And their Egyptian allies sense the historical opportunity as well, as it was necessary for Egyptian security forces to disperse Egyptians who attempted to storm the Israeli embassy in Cairo last night with tear gas and projectiles. Hossam el-Hamalawy has several posts, with video, about the confrontation. Naturally, as with any political movement in which the masses become engaged, those in power, regardless of their purported ideological identity, act to contain it. Hence, the efforts of the Egyptian security forces, the militaries of Lebanon and Syria and the political functionaires of Hamas, to suppress it, to insist that the participants act within the boundaries imposed by established authority. March to the border, but no further. Chant, hold up some signs and throw a few stones, but no more. Stand in front of the embassy and chant slogans, but don't try to breach the compound. In other words, stay within the acceptable confines of innocuous, non-violent, stage managed protest so adored by American liberals, thus the enabling existing regimes to perpetuate the social order while appearing as if they oppose it. Predictably, US and European media, such as the New York Times and the Guardian, looked for the usual suspects behind the protests, Hizbullah, Hamas and the Syrian government, as the alternative, acknowledging the mass base of the effort was too frightening to contemplate.

But, as they used to say long ago, the jig is up, and, if the movement is successful, it may result in the overthrow of other governments in the region, mostly American client states, in addition to the defeat of Zionism. Accordingly, a substantial escalation of violence, including a military conflict on the scale of the 2003 invasion of Iraq or greater, is not out of the question. Of course, as to the movement itself, we shouldn't romanticize. As in any such situation, there are many fissures amongst the Palestinians and those who support them around the world. The Palestinians live in conditions of severe poverty and state repression, represented by governments in the West Bank and Gaza insistent upon brokering away their revolutionary potential in return for the preservation of a dominant position in society. But, yesterday, the Palestinians refused to let any of that deter them, as they have been doing to a lesser, unpublicized degree for quite awhile. For those of us who advocated for them from the safe distance of utopianism, we will have to accept that they are likely to succeed much sooner than we ever anticipated, if we ever believed that they would at all. And, for some of us, this will be discomforting, as we will now have to address the future of Palestine as a real world transformation, with all of the messiness that it will invariably entail. Just as there were civil rights advocates who championed the rights of African Americans, but subsequently had problems when African Americans subsequently exercised their independent power and judgment, we can expect something similar here.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Israel Celebrates the Nakhba: 15 Dead, Scores Injured 

UPDATE 1: 15 dead, according to the Los Angeles Times.

INITIAL POST: From the Guardian:

Israeli troops opened fire on pro-Palestinian demonstrators attempting to breach its borders on three fronts, killing at least eight people. Scores more were wounded at Israel's borders with Syria, Lebanon and Gaza.

Clashes also erupted in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as Palestinians commemorated Nakba Day, the anniversary marking the 1948 war in which hundreds of thousands of people became refugees after being forced out of their homes.

Thousands of Palestinian refugees in Syria marched towards the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967. At least four people were killed by Israeli troops as they crossed the border, Israel Radio reported. Up to 20 were injured, according to the Israeli Magen David Adom ambulance service.

A statement from the Israeli military said: Thousands of Syrian civilians breached the Israel-Syria border near the Israeli village of Majdal Shams.

IDF forces opened fire in order to prevent the violent rioters from illegally infiltrating Israeli territory. A number of rioters have infiltrated and are violently rioting in the village. From initial reports there are dozens of injured that are receiving medical care in a nearby hospital.

Most of the inhabitants of Majdal Shams, a large village close to the border, hold Syrian citizenship and have family on the other side of the border, from whom they are cut off. The Israeli army declared the area, which is heavily mined, a closed military zone on Sunday.

Despite being occupied by Israel for 44 years, the Golan is usually calm. Syria has repeatedly demanded Israel hand back the area.

A similar Nakba Day protest on the Lebanon border led to four people being killed and around 15 wounded, according to Lebanese media reports. Dozens of protesters approached the border from the Lebanese town of Maroun a-Ras.

Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai, an Israeli military spokesman, said soldiers fired when demonstrators began vandalising the border fence. The army was aware of casualties on the other side, he said.

Witnesses said that Israeli troops had fired across the border at protesters throwing stones from within Lebanon, a move that could have serious repercussions and prompt further cross-border incidents.

UN peacekeepers on the Lebanese side of the border appealed for maximum restraint to prevent casualties

In Gaza, around 60 people were injured by shelling and machine-gun fire when protesters approached the heavily fortified Erez border crossing, according to Palestinian medical sources. Israelis living near Gaza were advised to stay inside bomb shelters.

As'ad Abukhalil is correct. It is time for troops on the other side of the border to start shooting back.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Greece, As Always (Part 2) 

Attacks on immigrants and anarchists in Athens since May 10th:

Hassan, a 9 year old from Afghanistan:

My mummy, my small brother and me were going home this afternoon. We had to cross Omonia square. I am very afraid. We had to run a lot because we were chased in Omonia. All my friends were chased and beaten – also their mums and dads. One of my friends was brought to hospital. Why was this happening? I am in my room now, but I am very afraid!

Hassan is since 6 months in Greece. The rest of his family is in Germany. Only a few months ago his mummy was beaten up by a Greek old men in Victoria square. They spend all the time in their room, because they are afraid to go out.

Ahmad, 12 years old from Afghanistan:

Yesterday some Greeks came to Victoria square. They beat all people there. They also beat me on my head!

In the early morning hours of the 10th May a theft ended up in the tragic murder of a come-to-be father in the centre of Athens. During the following hours of the day, the media started reporting about three dark skinned suspects, hence, initiating a propaganda which ended up in a manhunt by fascists of the extreme right group Golden Dawn on all migrants in the centre of the city. Around 16 o’clock 100 inhabitants of the neighbourhood, as the media said, protested against the violent death of the Greek citizen. Only some hours later central streets were closed by the police, the neighbourhood was patrolled by armed officers, while a group of 100 fascists attacked migrants and refugees at a central square, beating up many of them. A young men from Bangladesh was so violently stabbed 10 times that he died on the way to the hospital. The fascists split into smaller groups and while some of them threw stones on squatted houses of the areas, others invaded private households of migrants leaving behind them destruction and blood. The public discourse is reigned again by the construction of fear and racist propaganda. During the whole night inhabitants of different neighbourhoods of Athens reported single attacks of fascists on bypassing migrants. At the 11th of May Neonazis threw a molotov cocktail into the house of a Pakistani national in the region of Reddi. In two cases labourers interfered and protected their migrant colleagues from the violent outbursts of fascists.

The attacks continued also Wednesday 11th and at the 12th with further demonstrations – meaning a huge and enduring POGROM against migrants.

Fascist groups attacked Wednesday and Thursday again the two anarchist squats of the area, this time together with the police, and after splitting into smaller groups of up to 10 chased immigrants in the further area…..

At the 12th and during the beginning of the demonstration against the murderous police brutality of the 11th against demonstrators of the general strike in another part of the cities’ centre around 500-1.000 fascists demonstrated towards Omonia square and invaded a soup kitchen of the municipality of Athens, where poor people – mostly migrants – try survive from hunger, beating up blindly refugees and migrants and stabbing them with knives and hitting them with bottles!!!!! After returning back to the area of Victoria Square and St. Panteleimon / Attiki they attacked again the anarchist squats while continuing their POGROM against migrants in the whole area in the most violent way. Rumours talked about more migrant deaths. The hospitals talked about at least 25 migrants with severe injuries 12 of which were stabbed with knives one was shot!!!

The area around Omonia, St. Panteleimon, Victoria Square and Attiki has become a field of war with extreme right wing groups walking around with Greek flags shouting fascist slogans against migrants. Consciously and on purpose the cold-blooded Neonazis kill and destroy in the whole neighbourhood without being severely disturbed by the high numbers of police officers in the area. Migrants report of repeated violent and cruel attacks: beating with clubs on the head, stabbing with knives. A number of migrant shops were destroyed also and fascist were chasing and beating even small children of 6-10 years, beating also them on all parts of their bodies!!!!!

Attiki Square and St. Panteleimon Square that had been in the past central places of agglomeration were already occupied by fascist groups and marked with graffities of Greek flags. Now Victoria Square also seems like a deserted empty hole. The migrants who know have disappeared and hide inside their homes. Fear is ruling the area that is covered by silence.

The place of the death of the 44 old man has become a place of pilgramage and worship for the extreme right wing. The slogan on the mourning table says: Here three migrants stabbed a Greek family man to death!’ The demonstrators are shouting: ‘Greece to the Greek Christians’, ‘Foreigners, out of Greece’ and threaten everybody who is renting flats to migrants by saying: ‘violence has to be answered with violence!’. Their memorial for the dead is accompanied by the Greek anthem…

The murder of the 44 old Greek in the early morning hours of the 10th is being misused as the symbol for the new crusade of the Neonazis in the area. Instead of mourning the loss with respect, the grieving fascists are violating and exploiting the tragic death for their own purposes. Though the media report also about the pogrom and the extreme right wing violence in the area, they highlight the death of the Greek citizen and the increased criminality and violence in the cities centre and the ghettoisation due to immigrants – but the victims of the Neonazis were referred to until the 13th only in one sentence as collateral damage. Only since the further brutalisation and intensification of the pogrom at the 12th newspapers are titling also about the right wing violence.

The municipality of Athens plans to encounter the problem by police raids against illegal.migrants, shops, street vending and brothels while increasing their repressive measures, they plan to ‘clean’ the area. The centre of Athens is an area to be gentrified and up-graded, thus, the pogrom of the Neonazis is adding its part on the dirty job to be done – no matter what the consequences.

For updates on the situation in Greece, visit the From the Greek Streets blog at Occupied London.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Greece, As Always (Part 1) 

On Wednesday, there was a general strike in Athens and much of Greece over the continued imposition of austerity measures by the government, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Towards the end of the day, the police attacked a group of people participating in a protest march, with the doctors who treated the injured, many of them severely, condemning the assault:

Today, we witnessed the the barbarism of the IMF government, which seeks to repress every healthy act of resistance to their plans, laid out by Greek and international capital, and faithfully implemented by their local servants. Dozens of injured demonstrators were transfered to our hospital by ambulances, or by themeselves. Most of them were suffering from fractured skulls. Among them, a 30-year old demonstrator, which arrived in a serious antemortem ["prothanatio"] state, anisocoria and extradural hematoma. At this moment, he is in surgery, operated by colleagues fighting to save his life. We denounce this form of police brutality, and consider the members of Greek government as responsible for this attempt at murder, as well as all attacks upon demonstrators.Violence and repression against the people will not serve them much longer.

A common response to such protests has been police and fascist terror against the undocumented, and the anti-authoritarian movement has, as usual, attempted to defend them. Consider, for example, what has happened in the aftermath of Wednesday's protest, as reported by Occupied London:

In the early hours of May 12th a 21-year old Bangladeshi migrant was stabbed to death in the Kato Patisia district of Athens. The victim, wrongly reported in mainstream news (and reposted on this blog) as a Pakistani migrant, was lethally stabbed almost certainly by fascist thugs who have launched a series of attacks in the centre of Athens following the murder of a Greek man on Tuesday night, on the corner of Ipirou and Tritis Septemvriou Street. Eyewitnesses report that the murderers of the 21-year old man chased him around the neighbourhood and spoke Greek. On Wednesday night alone fascist thugs roamed through a number of districts of central Athens, injuring at least another fifteen migrants most of which were hospitalised.

And, then, more recently, this:

In Thessaloniki, a fascist gathering at the square opposite the city’s train station was temporarily cancelled after approximately 300 anti-fascists gathered at the point first. The fascists were forced to meet at their headquarters instead. There are two demonstrations in the city at the moment, a fascist one (around 50-people strong) and an anti-fascist one, with about 300 people participating.

In Athens, there are reports that fascists stopped public transportation buses passing by Tritis Septemvriou street, where the murder of a 44-year old man on Tuesday night sparkled the tension. The fascists forced passengers out, beating those who looked foreign to them.

Did anyone stand up for the foreigners forced off the buses? The report does not address this urgent question. In Greece, as in France and Italy, the government is complicit in the scapegoating of the undocumented for its political and econcomic failures.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Star Chamber Begins? 

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tony Kushner and Academic Zionism 

You've probably heard about it already. City University of New York planned to give playwright Tony Kushner an honorary degree, until one of its vociferous, Zionist board members, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, condemned it:

According to a podcast of the Monday meeting and accounts from two CUNY officials who attended it, one of the 12 trustees present, Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, objected to John Jay College’s submission of Mr. Kushner for an honorary degree. Mr. Wiesenfeld described viewpoints and comments, which he ascribed to Mr. Kushner, that he had found on the Web site of Norman Finkelstein, a political scientist and critic of Israel.

Mr. Wiesenfeld, an investment adviser and onetime aide to former Gov. George E. Pataki and former Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato, said that Mr. Kushner had tied the founding of Israel to a policy of ethnic cleansing, criticized the Israel Defense Forces and supported a boycott of Israel.

I think it’s up to all of us to look at fairness and consider these things, Mr. Wiesenfeld said. Especially when the State of Israel, which is our sole democratic ally in the area, sits in the neighborhood which is almost universally dominated by administrations which are almost universally misogynist, antigay, anti-Christian.

Unable to approve the entire list of honorees with the inclusion of Kushner, the trustees removed his name.

Wiesenfeld then maligned the Palestinians in a subsequent public statement:

In the wake of his intervention against Kushner, he told the New York Times that he believed the Palestinians had developed a culture which is unprecedented in human history. He said: People who worship death for their children are not human.

The situation became a cause celebre in academic and entertainment circles, with some past recipients of the degrees, such as Barbara Ehrenreich and Michael Cunningham, renouncing them. Yesterday, the trustees reversed their decision and awarded the degree to Kushner. But, sadly, Kushner's defense of his political perspective merely reinforced the Zionist narrative about the creation of the state of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians:

- My questions and reservations regarding the founding of the state of Israel are connected to my conviction, drawn from my reading of American history, that democratic government must be free of ethnic or religious affiliation, and that the solution to the problems of oppressed minorities are to be found in pluralist democracy and in legal instruments like the 14th Amendment; these solutions are, like all solutions, imperfect, but they seem to me more rational, and have had a far better record of success in terms of minorities being protected from majoritarian tyranny, than have national or tribal solutions. I am very proud of being Jewish, and discussing this issue publicly has been hard; but I believe in the absolute good of public debate, and I feel that silence on the part of Jews who have questions is injurious to the life of the Jewish people. My opinion about the wisdom of the creation of a Jewish state has never been expressed in any form without a strong statement of support for Israel’s right to exist, and my ardent wish that it continue to do so, something Mr. Weisenfeld conveniently left out of his remarks.

- I believe that the historical record shows, incontrovertibly, that the forced removal of Palestinians from their homes as part of the creation of the state of Israel was ethnic cleansing, a conclusion I reached mainly by reading the work of Benny Morris, an acclaimed and conservative Israeli historian whose political opinions are much more in accord with Mr. Weisenfeld’s than with mine; Mr. Morris differs from Mr. Weisenfeld in bringing to his examination of history a scholar’s rigor, integrity, seriousness of purpose and commitment to telling the truth.

With all due respect to Kushner, who is, by all accounts, a brilliant playwright, this makes no sense. There is no way to square his embrace of secular democratic values and institutions with the creation of Israel. From its inception, Israel has provided a privileged status to Jews to the detriment of the rest of the indigenous, non-Jewish population, and, as part of the process by which the country was founded, ethnically cleansed Palestinians, which it still does. One cannot separate the existence of Israel from Zionism, which, in its political manifestations, is centered around the forcible removal of Palestinians from Palestine and the erasure of their social and cultural experience.

Consistent with this illogical line of reasoning, Kushner concludes his support for secular democratic principles with this declaration:

My opinion about the wisdom of the creation of a Jewish state has never been expressed in any form without a strong statement of support for Israel’s right to exist, and my ardent wish that it continue to do so, something Mr. Weisenfeld conveniently left out of his remarks.

So, despite his acknowledgement that Israel came into existence through the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, Kushner not only supports Israel's right to exist, but ardently wishes that it continue to do so. One suspects that he agrees with Benny Morris, a scholar that he cites in reference to the nakhba in 1948, in regard to the suitability of it, but is unwilling to say so publicly. After admitting that the evidence established that the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians occurred, Morris has expressed the opinion that it was regrettably necessary for Israel to come into existence, and that, as a Zionist, he accepts it. Indeed, Morris has said that David Ben-Gurion did not go far enough, and that it would have been better if he had expelled the entire Arab population, although I doubt that Kushner, the good liberal that he is, would go this far. Not surprisingly, Morris is now an advocate for a first strike upon Iran.

Meanwhile, in regard to academia, there is nothing positive about the fact that CUNY reversed its decision and awarded the degree to Kushner. Kushner successfully resisted the attempt by Wiesenfeld to deprive him of it by accepting Wiesenfeld's underlying premises, that it is illegitimate to object to the existence of Israel and that support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is implicitly anti-semitic. He was so sensitive on these points that he vehemently asserted that Wiesenfeld has engaged in slanderous mischaracterizations against him, while, as already noted, embracing Israel's right to exist and disassociating himself from his friends in the BDS effort:

- I am on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace, and have remained there even though I disagree with the organization about a number of issues, including the boycott. I remain affiliated because the women and men of JVP are courageous, committed people who work very hard serving the interests of peace and justice and the Jewish people, and I’m honored by my association with them. I have a capacity Mr. Weisenfeld lacks, namely the ability to tolerate and even value disagreement. Furthermore, resigning from the advisory board of JVP, or any organization, to escape the noisy censure of likes of Mr. Weisenfeld is repellent to me.

Note how skillfully Kushner seeks to placate Weisenfeld by distancing himself from Jewish Voice for Peace while still empathizing with the people involved in it. If I was a participant in JVP, I'd submit a motion to kick him off the Board, but I guess that would just make me intolerant and incapable of valuing disagreement. In any event, Kushner provided Wiesenfeld with a great victory, one that is likely to resonate in similar conflicts in the future. The outcome is one in which the boundaries of acceptable public discourse are delineated by standards imposed as a result of internecine struggle between conservative and liberal Zionists.

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Sunday, May 08, 2011

Shameless (Part 3) 

UPDATE 1: As contemplated in paragraph 1 of the original post:

A Texas school district says a teacher won't return to work after being accused of mocking an American-born Muslim student by asking if she was grieving because her uncle had died, a reference to Osama bin Laden.

The teacher was put on leave after making the alleged remark May 2, hours after bin Laden was killed in a U.S. military raid.

INITIAL POST: The death of Bin Laden brings an old question to the forefront: why is it that people are willing to accept state violence, no matter how extreme and indiscriminate, while responding angrily to acts of individual or group violence that are minor by comparison? In the United States, it appears that many have a vicarious relationship with the violence of the government, exulting in a sense of collective superiority associated with its use against others, particularly those with whom they have developed a pre-existing bias. Socialists have always struggled to overcome this nationalistic sensibility, partially because of the gratification connected to such violence. Not surprisingly, to the extent that the people of another culture are different from the still predominately European, Christian one of the US, the use of violence against them is frequently considered an unavoidable necessity.

There are many examples: the near extermination of Native Americans, the continued support for the use of nuclear weapons upon the civilian populace of Japan to end World War II, the bombing of North Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and, of course, more recently, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan as part of a larger war on terror. During the 19th Century, European Americans believed that it was impossible for them to coexist with Native Americans on the North American continent unless Native Americans were violently suppressed and, thereafter, socially controlled, and such a perspective is central to the current approach to the peoples of North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, an approach that is an extension of prior European imperial practice. The US military made the connection explicit when it selected Geronimo as the code name for Bin Laden prior to the raid on his compound. Both constitute modernization projects based upon the principles of the Enlightenment, one in which the peoples of non-Eurocentric cultures must be forcibly incorporated into a neoliberal, nation state system that had its origins in, first, Western Europe, and then, in North America. Significantly, most people on the left supported this effort in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, and some still do, with people like Christopher Hitchens and Fred Halliday being prominent examples.

Of course, this is one of those binary oppositions that has little basis in social reality. The peoples of North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia are not monolithic, and they do not live in inferior, debased societies that evolved as a result of a separation from the peoples of other parts of the world, such as Africa, Europe, South Asia and East Asia. In other words, this effort is based upon a mythology of social superiority that has no basis in fact. There were, and remain, less violent, more collaborative alternatives of transformation, ones that the proponents of the purist Eurocentric imperialist vision cannot accept. But, beyond such an academized, abstract discussion, there is a more immediate, direct problem. Why is it that so many people that otherwise have no connection to it so strongly support this violent enterprise? An enterprise, that, if Libya is an indication, is now gaining more and more European participation? If there is any possibility for Osama Bin Laden to be embraced as a martyr, despite his heinous qualities, it resides in his symbolic opposition to American and European imperial domination. To the extent that this domination becomes even more remorseless, the greater the prospect that Bin Laden's perverse failings will become less and less prominent in future representations of him.

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Friday, May 06, 2011

Shameless (Part 2) 

The true extent of the hypocrisy associated with the celebration of Bin Laden's death is captured in this chart, one of several by government_employee (hat tip to the Angry Arab for directing me to it). Predictably, there are numerous comments to government_employee's post that attribute a unique propensity for violence solely to Arabs and Muslims.

9/11 memorials, such as the one yesterday, serve a clear, odious purpose: to establish a hierarchy of death whereby American ones as a result of Islamic fundamentalist violence are elevated to a quasi-religious, saint-like status, while the deaths of others around the world as a consequence of subsequent US military violence are either repressed, justified as a legitimate response to 9/11 or dismissed as the inevitable result of warfare.

No one should participate in them absent an acknowledgement of all of the victims of such violence, and the perpetrators of it. Without such an acknowledgement, they are yet another instance of the persistence of the American narrative of victimization that elites have manipulated since the country's inception to their benefit, especially in regard to Native Americans and African Americans, people characterized historically by whites with the same moral deficiencies that many Americans currently ascribe to Arabs and Muslims. To the extent that there were members of families of 9/11 victims that refused to participate in the ceremony with the President yesterday, they deserve our profound respect, regardless of their motivation, as they declined to facilitate the jingoism interwoven into it.

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

Shameless (Part 1) 

Of course, I don't expect any better from Obama, but why do the families of the victims of 9/11 persist in allowing themselves to be exploited in such nauseating publicity stunts?

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Eurocentrism (Part 2) 

UPDATE 1: Now we know what prompted Blanc to issue a public apology:

Mohammed Belkacemi, a respected official responsible for liaising with young players in suburbs and highrise estates, on Wednesday admitted he was the whistleblower who had recorded the controversial meeting in November 2010 where race quotas were discussed. It is believed he gave the tape to other officials rather than directly to the media.

The French national coach Laurent Blanc first flatly denied any discussion about quotas, then apologised for any offence about certain terms he used.

The recordings show officials were debating French players with dual-nationality who could train in France but leave to play for other teams. Several officials suggested limiting these players. Blanc reportedly talks about black players' morphology. He says of the training centres, which produced French champions such as Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka: You have the impression that they really train the same prototype of players, big, strong, powerful … What is there that is currently big, strong, powerful? The blacks. He said other criteria should be used to bring in players with our culture, our history.

One can only imagine how the players at this meeting reacted to hearing their national coach talk like a Klansman.

INITIAL POST: From The Guardian:

France has been plunged into a fresh race crisis after claims that football officials tried to limit black and Arab players on youth training schemes to make the French team more white.

The French football federation has opened an internal investigation after website Mediapart reported that top management approved a quota system to limit young black players and those of north African origin emerging as candidates for the national team. The alleged plan involved limiting non-white youngsters as young as 12 or 13 from entering the selection process through training centres and academies.

For the top brass in French football, the issue is settled: there are too many blacks, too many Arabs, and not enough white players in French football, the website said.

According to Mediapart, one of the most senior football federation figures wanted to set a cap of 30% on players of certain origins, but insisted at a meeting the quota should be kept quiet. At another meeting, the French national team coach Laurent Blanc allegedly backed changing youth talent selection criteria to favour players with our culture, our history. Sources claimed Blanc cited current world champions Spain, saying: The Spanish, they say: 'We don't have a problem. We have no blacks'.

In response, the technical director of the French Football Federation, Francois Blauquart, has been suspended pending an investigation. But it just seems to get worse with every new revelation:

On Saturday Mediapart published further claims about a meeting at which Blaquart, the France coach, Laurent Blanc, the under-21 coach, Erick Mombaerts, and the under-20 coach, Francis Smerecki, among others, allegedly debated African players with dual nationality who were groomed in France but opted to play for their country of origin.

We can mark out, in an unspoken way, a sort of quota. But it needs to remain unspoken, Blaquart was quoted as saying by Mediapart. Blaquart told RMC radio's website: I cannot not acknowledge these remarks. But they have to be put in their context. We acknowledged the fact that there were many players with dual nationality ... we had to control the management of these players who might be leaving us. There is nothing more to it.

Blanc, who played in the 1998 World Cup-winning team that was dubbed Black-Blanc-Beur (Blacks, Whites and Arabs) by French media, has often raised the issue of dual nationality players, but rejected the claim he was in favour of quotas based on race. On Friday he said: No such project has been revealed to me. It's a lie. You cannot have quotas in football. It does not exist. Football is made of diversity. It really bothers me because it's against my values. To me, this is totally false.

Last night Blanc said in a statement: I do not withdraw what I said yesterday. I admit that some remarks made during a work meeting, taken out of their context, may be misinterpreted and, as far as I am concerned, I apologise if I have hurt some feelings. But I, who am against any form of discrimination, do not stand being accused of racism or xenophobia.

Note the deviousness of Blanc's emphasis upon the loss of players trained in France because of their dual nationality. By speaking critically of it, he motivates even more French Arabs to play for their countries of origin, insuring that the French national team is predominately constituted of players with our culture, our history. No need to worry, though, we can sure that Sarkozy will get to the bottom of it, given his empathy for Arabs living in France.

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Monday, May 02, 2011

A Note on the Death of Osama Bin Laden 

UPDATE 2: From Issandr El Amrani at The Arabist:

The radical-theological option that Bin Laden represented as a solution to the state of the Arab world has long been discredited. It was discredited before it even began, in that it was a result of the failure of the violent Islamist movements of the 1970s-1990s era. Also discredited, or at least on the ropes, are the pro-US reformist option of the moderate Arab regimes. Moderate, in the way Saudi Arabia or Mubarak's Egypt was, and reformist, because they are interested in changing to survive, not making a radical break. But the people spoke and they don't want reform, they want rupture.

UPDATE 1: From the Angry Arab, As'ad Abukhalil:

But what is not yet acknowledged here in the US is that Bin Laden is a product of horrific US policies in the Cold War: of their alliance with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The people in Pakistan and Afghanistan would be relieved today: not because they hated Bin Laden (many do sympathize with him only to spite the US), but because scores of Afghans and Pakistanis have been killed over the years during the campaign to get and kill Bin Laden. Remember that time in late 2001 when the US incinerated a convoy there because a tall dark man was seen getting into one of the cars. The US intelligence analyst on the scene assumed that there were no tall people other Bin Laden. But the factors that produced Bin Laden and Al-Qa`idah are still there: the US is still very tempted to arm and fund fanatical groups if they think it is politically convenient for US national security interests. Look at that lousy Libyan Transitional Council: there are fanatics in the ranks and I assume that we will hear from some of them, especially once they declare the victory of their holy cause.

INITIAL POST: Osama Bin Laden is dead, and I am not particularly interested in whether it happened yesterday or was merely announced yesterday. After all, there are many who believe that he has been dead for years. Instead, I am more interested in how the public announcement of his death reveals, yet again, an inability by Americans to seize upon opportunities to reflect upon the interrelationship between violence and US policy.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, I expressed the hope, however misguided, that Americans, having experienced such traumatic acts of violence, would now empathize with many others around the world who have suffered similarly. For example, the 9/11 attacks took place on the same day in 1973 that the Chilean military, with the support of the US, forcibly removed President Salvador Allende from power and subsequently killed thousands of Chileans. Shortly thereafter, Chile, along with other US backed dictatorships in the region, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Peru, launched Operation Condor, a covert intelligence operation with the express purpose of exterminating the left in the southern cone of South America. With the support of the CIA, these countries killed, at minimum, 40,000 people and incarcerated 200,000 others. In other words, the destabilization of Chile by Nixon and Kissinger and subsequent military coup by Pinochet were preconditions for a more ambitious effort to erase the left in much of South America. The coincidence that both 9/11 and the Chilean coup occurred on the same date could have served to provoke Americans to reflect upon the horrible consequences of the infliction of such violence for political purposes. Beyond South America, we could have understood the horrible suffering that resulted from US military and covert operations all over the world.

We could have taken responsibility for our actions even as we grieved over those who died on 9/11, and strove to induce other countries to resolve political disputes non-violently. But this would have required Americans to relate to 9/11 as an act of violence, as opposed to an act of nihilistic resistance to American hegemony, and identify with others who have experienced such violence as well, regardless of their nationality, religion and political ideology. Unfortunately, most Americans responded vengefully, villifying those around the world who objected to the militaristic response to the attacks and the exploitation of them to extend the reach of US imperial influence. Invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq followed, and, to this day, despite the lack of any significant al-Qaeda presence in either country, US troops remain, as Bush and Obama have discovered new enemies to justify their presence. Needless to say, the death and destruction associated with these occupations far exceeds that related to 9/11. Sadly, in Iraq, the US has relied upon the same kind of death squad activity that was such a prominent feature of Operation Condor, as well as covert operations in Vietnam, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. And, under Obama, the US has expanded its military and covert operations in Pakistan, Yemen and Libya.

In this, Bin Laden succeeded in his one of his primary objectives, to reduce much of the relationship between the US and the countries of the Middle East and Central Asia to one of military violence or the threat of it. But, as Baudrillard predicted, this effort to overcome the vulnerability revealed by the 9/11 attacks merely increased the perception of US weakness. US troops are mired in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan without any prospects for success by any recognizable standard, other than the perpetuation of conflict indefinitely. To the extent that people are euphoric over Bin Laden's death, this is a measure of the permanence of his achievement. Paradoxically, though, one of the consequences has been an eruption of more secular, more inclusive activism throughout North Africa and the Middle East, an eruption in which al-Qaeda has been conspicuously absent. Hence, Americans are celebrating success in a struggle that has already been rendered largely irrelevant.

Bin Laden often expressed his belief that this objective would lead to the attainment of another, more serious one, the economic decline of the US, a decline so pronounced that it would no longer be capable of imposing its will upon other countries. Here, the record is mixed. Admittedly, countries in Asia and South America have a freedom of maneuver that they did not possess prior to 9/11. About seven months later, in April 2002, Hugo Chavez survived a coup supported by the US, signalling to the rest of South America that the door was now open to the emergence of center-left governments. It is still uncertain, however, as to whether US economic influence is been impaired globally. The US, with the assistance of Germany and the United Kingdom, has successfully imposed a program of extreme austerity upon Europe, marked by the evisceration of historic social welfare programs, as a means of addressing the severe global recession of 2008 and 2009.

Meanwhile, within the US, the ongoing war on terror serves to ring fence spending on the military and the intelligence services, despite substantial budget deficits, thus empowering those who aspire to eliminate the remaining vestiges of social protection initiated during the New Deal and the Great Society. At this time, it would be more accurate to say that Bin Laden indirectly participated in the creation of circumstances that have made it possible to reconfigure the global economy in ways even more amenable to finance capital. It is tempting to say that Bin Laden lacked a sophisticated understanding of the relationship between the US and global capital, but this is doubtful. Rather, it is more likely that he considered the aggressive neoliberalism of recent years as compatible with his social philosophy and beneficial to the future of al-Qaeda. In this, there is a perverse, unacknowledged alliance between al-Qaeda, neoliberals and neoconsevatives, as all three groups are in agreement about the urgency associated with the need to marginalize and impoverish workers even if it is in the service of strikingly different visions of the future.

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Egypt to Open Rafah Crossing into Gaza? 

From Haaretz:

Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces General Sami Anan warned Israel against interfering with Egypt's plan to open the Rafah border crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis, saying it was not a matter of Israel's concern, Army Radio reported on Saturday.

Egypt announced this week that it intended to permanently open the border crossing with Gaza within the next few days.

Palestinians take part in a protest at the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, April 27, 2011.

The announcement indicates a significant change in the policy on Gaza, which before Egypt's uprising, was operated in conjunction with Israel. The opening of Rafah will allow the flow of people and goods in and out of Gaza without Israeli permission or supervision, which has not been the case up until now.

Obviously, if this happens, it is a significant development. And, then there are the spontaneous actions of Egyptians to impair the delivery of Egyptian natural gas to Israel through the Sinai, as demonstrated by this explosion along the pipeline a few days ago. As explained by Yolande Knell of the BBC:

Egypt's agreement to supply gas to Israel, built on the 1979 peace accord, has long been controversial. A former energy minister and other officials face trial for allegedly agreeing below market prices. Recent protests outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo called for supplies to be cut.

Last week, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil el-Araby told the BBC that gas exports are going on. Now though, it appears saboteurs have had their way.

Opposition to the exports is also reportedly related to Bedouin resentment over poor treatment in the area traversed by the pipeline as well. One of the interesting things that has happened since the removal of Mubarak has been increased public criticism of Israel, even by those associated with the military leadership, as evidenced here. One gets the impression that the military is attempting to preserve its economic preeminence within Egypt by cosmetically aligning itself with public displeasure with Israel. But, if so, the announcement of the opening of the Rafah crossing is an indication that Egyptians are insistent upon more concrete action. Protests at the Israeli embassy in Cairo are becoming an ongoing feature of Egyptian political activity, after being consistently suppressed by Mubarak, violently, if necessary.

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