Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 5, 2015

Thistle and the Drone

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,indigenous,Islam,Islamophobia,war — louisproyect @ 5:02 pm

This review appeared originally in Critical Muslim #10 under the title “Tribal Islam”, which is useful as a way of explaining what is largely missing from the analysis of the Taliban, Boko Haram, and other Islamist armed groups, namely their tribal origins. Akbar Ahmed’s “The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam” is required reading for anybody trying to understand the deeper roots of such groups, particularly those who trying to develop a Marxist analysis. Akbar Ahmed is a mainstream social scientist but his research is first-rate.

We live in a period of such mounting Islamophobia that it became possible for Rush Limbaugh, one of the most venomous rightwingers in the U.S., to make common cause with Global Research, a website that describes itself as a “major news source on the New World Order and Washington’s ‘war on terrorism’”. Not long after the Sarin gas attack on the people of East Ghouta, Global Research became a hub of pro-Baathist propaganda blaming “jihadists” for a “false flag” operation. Limbaugh, who claims that there is no such thing as a “moderate Muslim”, touted a Global Research “false flag” article on his radio show demonstrating that when it comes to Islamophobia the left and right can easily join hands.

Therefore the arrival of Akbar Ahmed’s “The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam” is most auspicious. It puts a human face on the most vilified segment of the world’s population, the “extremist” with his sharia courts, his “backwardness”, his violence, and his resistance to modernization. The central goal of Ahmed’s study is to subject the accepted wisdom of the punditry on both the left and right, which often descends into Limbaugh-style stereotyping, to a critique based on his long experience as an administrator in Waziristan, a hotbed of Islamic tribal “extremism”, and as a trained anthropologist. Reading “The Thistle and the Drone” can only be described as opening a window and letting fresh air and sunlight into a dank and fetid sickroom.

The drone in the title needs no explanation except for Ahmed’s pointed reference to Obama wisecracking at a press conference. If the Jonas Brothers, a pop music sensation, got too close to his daughters at a White House visit, he had two words for them: “predator drone”.

The thistle required more explanation. We learn that this is a reference to a passage in Tolstoy’s neglected novel “Hadji Murad” that takes the side of a Muslim tribal leader against the Czarist military campaign to stamp out resistance to Great Russian domination. Considering Putin’s genocidal war on the Chechens and his support for Bashar al-Assad’s onslaught against his own countrymen, not much has changed since the 19th century. The narrator in Tolstoy’s novel attempted to pluck a thistle for its beauty but was ultimately thwarted by its prickly stalk, a perfect metaphor for the experience of trying to subdue proud and independent peoples living in inhospitable desert or mountainous regions.

Although some anthropologists consider the word “tribal” retrograde and/or imprecise, one would never confuse Ahmed with the colonial-minded social scientist that used it as a way of denigrating “backward” peoples. For Ahmed, the qualities of tribal peoples are to be admired even if some of their behavior is negative. Most of all, they are paragons of true democracy resting on the “consent of the governed”. Their love of freedom inevitably leads them to conflict with state-based powers anxious to assimilate everybody living within their borders to a model of obedience to approved social norms.

While tribal peoples everywhere come into conflict with those trying to impose their will on them, it is only with Islamic tribal peoples that global geopolitics gets drawn into the equation. “The Thistle in the Drone” consists of case studies in which the goal is to disaggregate Islam from tribal norms. For example, despite the fact that the Quran has strict rules against suicide and the murder of noncombatants, tribal peoples fighting under the banner of Islam have often resorted to such measures, especially on the key date of September 11, 2001. In an eye-opening examination of those events, Ahmed proves that a Yemeni tribe acting on the imperative to extract revenge was much more relevant than Wahabi beliefs. While most of the hijackers were identified as Saudi, their origins were in a Yemeni tribe that traced its bloodlines back to the prophet Mohammad. And more to the point, they were determined to wreak vengeance against the superpower that had been complicit in the murderous attack on their tribesmen in Yemen, an element of the 9/11 attacks that has finally been given the attention it deserves.

In chapter three, titled “Bin Laden’s Dilemma: Balancing Tribal and Islamic Identity”, we learn that the al-Qaeda leader admitted to an interviewer that the 9/11 attacks were not sanctioned by the Quran but based on a need to “get even”: ”We treat others like they treat us. Those who kill our women and our innocent, we kill their women and innocent, until they stop from doing so.” As someone who has studied Native American tribes for some two decades, this has a very familiar ring. The Comanches, the Sioux, and the Apache lived by this credo. While they were always loyal to their own clans and treated outsiders with hospitality if they came in good faith, woe betide the aggressor who took the life of a fellow tribesman.

Ahmed elaborates on the connection between American Indians and Muslim tribal peoples in chapter six titled “How to Win the War on Terror”, citing Benjamin Franklin who saw the tribes of the Northeast as paragons of democracy and freedom:

The Indian Men, when young, are Hunters and Warriors; when old, Counselors; for all their Government is by Counsel, or Advice, of the sages; there is no Force, there are no Prisons, no Officers to compel Obedience, or inflict punishment. Hence they generally study Oratory; the best speaker having the most Influence. The Indian Women till the Ground, dress the Food, nurse and bring up the Children, and preserve and hand down to posterity the Memory of Public Transactions. These Employments of Men and Women are accounted natural and honorable. Having few Artificial Wants, they have abundance of Leisure for Improvement by Conversation. Our laborious manner of Life, compared with theirs, they esteem slavish and base; and the Learning, on which we value ourselves, they regard as frivolous and useless.

Unfortunately, this is where I have to part company with Akbar Ahmed’s analysis since he gives far too much credit to the founders of the American republic whose treatment of the tribal peoples might ostensibly serve as a guide to Pakistan’s relations with the Pakhtun in Waziristan. Despite the respect that Franklin held for native peoples, the behavior of the American industrialists and plantation owners that followed him were governed by the need to safeguard private property. The American Indian was simply not allowed to live as hunters in the Great Plains as they had in the past since cattle generated far more profit than the free roaming Bison.

Even on the basis of words, there were problems indicated early on. Ahmed cites Thomas Jefferson favorably as arguing against “an augmentation of military force proportioned to our extension of frontier.” However, this is the same Thomas Jefferson who proposed removal of the Cherokee Indians from the Southeast to west of the Mississippi, a policy finally carried by Andrew Jackson in the “trail of tears”. To show that he meant business, Jefferson told Secretary of War General Henry Dearborn “if we are constrained to lift the hatchet against any tribe, we will never lay it down until that tribe is exterminated, or driven beyond the Mississippi.”

To a large extent, Ahmed’s hope that the White House can be persuaded of the counter-productiveness of drone attacks rests on a view of American history much more in accord with its rulers’ self-portrait than Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States”. Ahmed details his meetings with both the Bush administration and Obama’s on how to deal with terrorism, an invitation that would only be extended to someone who tends toward an “inside the beltway” perspective. No matter the limitations of such an outlook, the world would certainly be better off if the Obama administration adopted his proposals on a wholesale basis. For that matter, it would also be far better off if Obama’s campaign promises going back to 2008 had been adopted, promises that convinced some that the Islamophobia of years past would be abandoned. Those hopes now seem vain, especially with the White House’s indifference to the overthrow of the Morsi government in Egypt and Bashar al-Assad’s ongoing murderous attacks on Syrian neighborhoods in the name of defeating “extremists”.

“The Thistle and the Drone” is not only a stunning analysis that will allow you to see the “war on terror” in a new way; it will also have lasting value as a reference book that can be drawn upon for its scholarly citations and baseline for considering “trouble spots” like Somalia, Mali, and Libya. As someone who has more than a glancing familiarity with these nations, Ahmed’s book went a long way to clearing away the lingering fog.

My interest in Somalia and Mali was heightened by the need to provide some historical background on two films (I am a long-time critic whose reviews appear on Rotten Tomatoes website). The first was “Captain Phillips”, a narrative film based on Somali pirates seizing a cargo ship. My research persuaded me that the stiffest resistance to the pirates came from the Islamic Sharia Courts that saw such crimes as “haram”, or against Islam. It was this Islamic coalition that America and its Ethiopian and Kenyan allies were determined to crush as part of the war on terror. The second film was “Behind the Blue Veil”, a documentary on the Tuareg who have been in a struggle with the Malian state. They are regarded as a jihadist threat rather than a proud people asserting tribal claims for sovereignty and demanding social and economic justice.

Despite Ahmed’s admiration for tribal values, he is no romantic when it comes to Somalia’s clans that he blames for most of the country’s recent troubles. Under Siad Barre’s “socialist” dictatorship, all expressions of tribal identity were suppressed. As was the case with Libya’s Gaddafi, the centralizing state was for all practical purposes the instrument of clan rule in and of itself. Siad Barre ruled on behalf of the Darod Marehand subclan and Gaddafi on behalf of the Gadafa, a Western tribe that tried to bring the Benghazi-based Cyrenaica tribe under its thumb.

The implosion of clan-based warlordism led Islamists to seize power in Somalia in a manner reminiscent of the Taliban in Afghanistan. After the Sharia Court government was toppled by the West and its African allies, the struggle took an even sharper Islamist turn under the auspices of Al Shabab (“the youth”), a group that was responsible for the terrorist attack on a Kenya shopping mall in September 2013.

Since Washington regards Al Shabab as an al-Qaeda affiliate, it has deployed drone attacks at them, often victimizing innocent herdsmen. Like Afghanistan, Somalia seems destined to be part of a senseless “war on terrorism” when the only real solution to its problems—a Sharia based government willing and able to resolve contradictions between its rival clans—had been eliminated.

Mali threatens to become another example of unceasing warfare against a jihadist threat with the Tuareg serving as victims of an American crusade incapable of making critical distinctions between genuine enemies and those unfortunate enough to be wrongly perceived as such. No other people are less deserving of this treatment than the Tuareg, who, like the Kurds, were victims of circumstances far too frequent in Sub-Saharan Africa. French and English colonialism left behind states that did not map to the traditional tribal structures. Furthermore, if you belonged to a tribe that straddled multiple state entities, you were powerless to defend your interests as a people. Regarded by the state of Mali as bothersome nomads, the Tuareg were forced to rely on themselves and their heterodox Islamic beliefs in which the men wore the veils and the women bright and colorful garments.

The French were determined to assimilate the Tuaregs as farmers, something that was as inimical to their values as it was to the Sioux and the Comanches. When Mali gained independence, the drive to assimilate kept apace. The military rulers banned the Tuareg language just as the Kemalists would ban the Kurdish language. In all of these postcolonial states, there was a tragic and unnecessary urge to follow in the footsteps of the colonizer. If you were Islamic in your beliefs and lived according to thousand-year-old tribal norms, your suffering was magnified when you were unfortunate enough to live within the borders of a “modernizing” non-Islamic state like the USSR. Stalinist oppression of its Caucasian Islamic citizens went to genocidal extremes.

The government of Mali was determined to bring the nomads under control, from poisoning their wells to killing their herds. After many years of suffering and neglect, the Tuaregs rose up against their oppressor. In early 2012 the Tuaregs took control of a vast region of northern Mali the size of France. Viewing the Malian state as a firm defender of “law and order”, the U.S. attempted to aid its troops with C-130 transports of arms and supplies. There are two main Tuareg rebel forces in the area, one carrying the banner of tribalism and the other al-Qaeda’s Black Flag. There are worrisome signs that Washington lacks the capability to distinguish between the two. It has called upon the Algerian government to provide military aid to Mali in the name of fighting al-Qaeda but it is likely that the bullets will be fired at Tuaregs whatever banner they carry. The Algerians have been merciless against the Berbers, the Tuareg’s northern cousins, so one must regard any alliance between Mali and Algeria as inimical to the rights of Islamic tribesmen once again.

Let me conclude with some thoughts on Libya, which should not be construed as a criticism of Ahmed’s research. Since I lack his expertise and those of the research team that worked under his direction, I only offer this in the same way that I would pose a question to a speaker at a conference who has just delivered a powerful and informative lecture.

“The Thistle and the Drone” treats Libya almost as an example of a clan-divided society after the fashion of Somalia. But I have been under the impression that such tribalism has always been exaggerated. In an interview I conducted with a young Libyan who took part in the rebellion, I was assured that there are no real tribes in Libya now. He claims that he has no idea what tribe he belongs to and that population flows from one city to another has largely eroded tribal society, mostly through unforced assimilation.

However, there are still centripetal tendencies in Libya that threaten the country’s future. Are they tribal? Can a modernizing state based on the will of all its citizens be created in a timely enough fashion to preempt a Somalia type evolution? A lot rests on such an outcome and one can only hope that scholars like Akbar Ahmed can help provide the insights necessary to help move the struggle forward.

January 16, 2015

Voltaire versus Mohammad

Filed under: Charlie Hebdo,Islamophobia — louisproyect @ 9:27 pm

One of the things heard frequently in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack was Voltaire’s “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, a precept that seems consistent with the Enlightenment even if the words were written by his biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall in her 1906 “Friends of Voltaire”.

Not long after Voltaire’s name began to be bandied about, some people began to point out that this exemplar of Western Civilization might not be as enlightened as he was cracked up to be, especially when it came to the Jews. Blogger Scott Long was one of them:

Charlie Hebdo, the New Yorker now claims, “followed in the tradition of Voltaire.” Voltaire stands as the god of satire; any godless Frenchman with a bon mot is measured against him. Everyone remembers his diatribes against the power of the Catholic Church: Écrasez l’Infâme! But what’s often conveniently omitted amid the adulation of his wit is how Voltaire loathed a powerless religion, the outsiders of his own era, the “medieval,” “barbaric” immigrant minority that afflicted Europe: the Jews.

Voltaire’s anti-Semitism was comprehensive. In its contempt for the putatively “primitive,” it anticipates much that is said about Muslims in Europe and the US today. “The Jews never were natural philosophers, nor geometricians, nor astronomers,” Voltaire declared. That would do head Islamophobe Richard Dawkins proud:

The Jews, Voltaire wrote, are “only an ignorant and barbarous people, who have long united the most sordid avarice with the most detestable superstition and the most invincible hatred for every people by whom they are tolerated and enriched.” When some American right-wing yahoo calls Muslims “goatfuckers,” you might think he’s reciting old Appalachian invective. In fact, he’s repeating Voltaire’s jokes about the Jews. “You assert that your mothers had no commerce with he-goats, nor your fathers with she-goats,” Voltaire demanded of them. “But pray, gentlemen, why are you the only people upon earth whose laws have forbidden such commerce? Would any legislator ever have thought of promulgating this extraordinary law if the offence had not been common?”

In doing some further research on Voltaire, starting with the indispensible Wikipedia, I learned that he more than anticipates much that is being said about Muslims today. Nearly three centuries ago he said the same sort of thing that you can hear on Fox News on the right and Bill Maher on the “left”.

In 1736 Voltaire wrote a play titled “Mahomet” that oozes Islamophobia. After reading it online, I feel as if I have been locked in a room for three hours and forced to listen to Bill O’Reilly out of my right ear and Richard Dawkins out of my left.

It is a strange play with Oedipal overtones. The four main characters are Mohammad (spelled Mahomet), his mortal enemy Zopir, the sheikh of Mecca, and a young man and woman named Seid and Palmira, who are Mohammad’s slaves. Unbeknownst to each other, Seid and Palmira are brother and sister and the long lost children of Zopir. Since they have the hots for each other, the shadow of incest hangs over them.

Mohammad covets Mecca, a city-state that he plans to conquer. He also covets Palmira, who he wants to conquer in bed. To kill two birds with one stone, he riles up Seid with a bunch of radical Islamic rhetoric in order to motivate him to go on a suicide mission to kill Zopir. With Zopir out of the way, Mecca like Palmira will below-hanging fruit ripe for the taking. Of course, none of this happened in history but why let that stand in the way?

You only get one act of the play reproduced on Google Books but it does contain the letters Voltaire wrote to Frederick the Great and Pope Benedict XIV, two shining lights of the Enlightenment. Frederick the Great was totally into the whole Enlightenment thing even though he made an exception for the Poles as Wikipedia reports: He passionately hated everything associated with Poland, while justifying his hatred with ideas of Enlightenment. He described Poles as “slovenly Polish trash”. As far as I know, he did not employ a court artist to put his ideas about the Poles into a pictorial form.

Pope Benedict XIV appeared to be a pretty enlightened soul as well, devoted to science and the arts. To his credit, he issued a Papal bull against the enslavement of indigenous peoples in the Americas but somehow left Africans out of the equation. Oh well, nobody’s perfect.

Voltaire advised Frederick the Great: “Why may we not go back to the histories of those ancient ruffians, the illustrious founders of superstition and fanaticism, who first carried the sword to the altar to sacrifice all those who refused to embrace their doctrines?”

In his letter to the Pope Voltaire seems to have forgotten what Diderot, his Enlightenment co-thinker, once said or at least was attributed to have said: “The world will never truly be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” Nothing about entrails in this 1747 letter to his Holiness:

Most blessed Father—

Your holiness will pardon the liberty taken by one of the lowest of the faithful, though a zealous admirer of virtue, of submitting to the head of the true religion this performance, written in opposition to the founder of a false and barbarous sect. To whom could I with more propriety inscribe a satire on the cruelty and errors of a false prophet, than to the vicar and representative of a God of truth and mercy? Your holiness will therefore give me leave to lay at your feet both the piece and the author of it, and humbly to request your protection of the one, and your benediction upon the other; in hopes of which, with the profoundest reverence, I kiss your sacred feet.

Despite this business about feet kissing, some scholars view “Mahomet” as really targeting the Church. In other words, he like Charlie Hebdo was an equal-opportunity offender even if you sort of had to squint to see the message.

Probably inspired by the 2005 publication of the Jyllands-Posten Mohammad cartoons, some freethinking souls decided to mount a production of “Mahomet” in Saint-Genis-Pouilly, France. The socialist mayor resisted local Muslim objections and allowed the show to go on as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported:

The production quickly stirred up passions that echoed the cartoon uproar. “This play … constitutes an insult to the entire Muslim community,” said a letter to the mayor of Saint-Genis-Pouilly, signed by Said Akhrouf, a French-born cafe owner of Moroccan descent and three other Islamic activists representing Muslim associations. They demanded the performance be cancelled.

Instead, Mayor Hubert Bertrand called in police reinforcements to protect the theater. On the night of the December reading, a small riot broke out involving several dozen people and youths who set fire to a car and garbage cans. It was “the most excitement we’ve ever had down here,” says the socialist mayor.

Yes, just what the French need, some excitement to accompany the excitement going on in Iraq at the time.

I imagine that local residents of the sort that would be demanding French Muslims to disavow the terrorist attack and to get with the program might have stood on their feet and given the play a standing ovation. Where else could you find a character like Mahomet who was just as violent and totalitarian on stage as he was in the Danish cartoon that showed him with a bomb in his turban? Voltaire put these words in his mouth in Act V with a clear intention to turn him into demon:

Beneath a nobler yoke I mean to bend
The prostrate world, and change their feeble laws,
Abolish their false worship, pull down
Their powerless go., and on my purer faith
Found universal empire: say not Zopir,
That whom betrays his country, no:
I mean but to destroy its weak supports,
And banishing idolatry, unite it
Beneath one king, one prophet, and one God:
! shall subdue it but to make it glorious.

At least one Frenchman saw through this Islamophobic bullshit. His name was Napoleon Bonaparte and this is what he thought, according to a biographer:

Mahomet was the subject of deep criticism. “Voltaire,” said the Emperor, “in the character and conduct of his hero, has departed both from nature and history. He has degraded Mahomet, by making him descend to the lowest intrigues. He has represented a great man, who changed the face of the world, acting like a scoundrel, worthy of the gallows. He has no less absurdly travestied the character of Omar, which he has drawn like that of a cut-throat in a melodrama.”

Too bad we don’t have any bourgeois politicians today with Napoleon’s guts.

January 13, 2015

Charlie Hebdo ‘not racist’? If you say so

Filed under: Islamophobia — louisproyect @ 2:11 pm

TUESDAY, JANUARY 13, 2015

Charlie Hebdo ‘not racist’? If you say so. posted by Richard Seymour

I’m going to publish a number of English language translations of French articles on the background to Charlie Hebdo controversies for those who wish to follow it.  The first few are from the publication Les Mots Sont Importants.  Thanks immensely to Daphne Lawless for the translations.

Charlie Hebdo”, not racist? If you say so…

Thursday 5 December 2013

by Olivier Cyran

translated by Daphne Lawless

He worked there from 1992 to 2001, before walking out, angered by “the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices” of a certain Philippe Val [former CH editor – trans.] Since then, Olivier Cyran has been an observer from a distance, outside the walls, of the evolution of Charlie Hebdo and its growing obsession with Islam. He went over this long-term drift on the occasion of an opinion piece in Le Monde, signed by Charb [Stéphane Charbonnier, one of the cartoonists murdered in January 2015 – trans.] and Fabrice Nicolino.

Postscript 11 January 2015: to all those who think that this article was validation in advance of the shameful terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo (that they were asking for it), the editorial team of Article 11 would like to give a hearty middle finger to such vultures. To make things absolutely clear, please see this text.

*

Dear Charb and Fabrice Nicolino,

“We hope that those who claim, and will claim tomorrow, that Charlie is racist, will at least have the courage to say it out loud and under their real name. We’ll know how to respond.” Reading this rant at the end of your opinion piece in Le Monde[1], as if to say “come say it to our face if you’re a real man”, I felt something rising within me, like a craving to go back to fighting in the school playground. Yet it wasn’t me being called out. Which upright citizens you hope to convince, moreover, is a mystery. For a good long while, many people have been saying “out loud” and “under their real name” what they think about your magazine and the effluent flowing out of it, without any one of you being bothered to answer them or to shake their little fists.

And so Le Monde has charitably opened their laundry service to you, for an express steam-cleaning of your rumpled honour. To hear you talk, it was urgent: you couldn’t even go out in Paris without a taxi driver treating you like racists and leaving you helpless on the footpath. I understand your annoyance, but why did you have to go give yourself another black eye in a different publication than your own? Don’t Charlie Hebdo, its website and its publishing house give you space to express yourself to your heart’s content? You invoke “Charlie’s” glorious heritage of the 60s and 70s, when it was political censorship and not haunting disrepute that gave your magazine something to worry about. But I doubt that, at the time, writers like Cavanna or Choron would have asked for help from the posh press to make themselves respectable.

If it also occurred to me, in the past, to scribble out some furious lines in reaction to some of your exploits, I never dwelled on the subject. Doubtless I would not have had the patience or the stoutness of heart to follow, week after week, the distressing transformation which took over your team after the events of September 11, 2001. I was no longer part of Charlie Hebdo when the suicide planes made their impact on your editorial line, but the Islamophobic neurosis which bit by bit took over your pages from that day on affected me personally, as it ruined the memory of the good moments I spent on the magazine during the 1990s. The devastating laughter of “Charlie” which I had loved to hear now sounded in my ears like the laugh of a happy idiot getting his cock out at the checkout counter, or of a pig rolling in its own shit. And yet, I never called your magazine racist. But since today you are proclaiming, high and loud, your stainless and irreproachable anti-racism, maybe it’s now the right moment to seriously consider the question.

Racist? Charlie Hebdo was certainly no such thing at the time when I worked there. In any case, the idea that the mag would expose itself to such an accusation would have never occurred to me. There had, of course been some Francocentrism, as well as the editorials of Philippe Val. These latter were subject to a disturbing fixation, which worsened over the years, on the “Arabic-Muslimworld”. This was depicted as an ocean of barbarism threatening, at any moment, to submerge the little island of high culture and democratic refinement that was, for him, Israel. But the boss’s obsessions remained confined to his column on page 3, and overflowed only rarely into the heart of the journal which, in those years, it seemed me, throbbed with reasonably well-oxygenated blood.

Scarcely had I walked out, wearied by the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices of the employer, than the Twin Towers fell and Caroline Fourest arrived in your editorial team. This double catastrophe set off a process of ideological reformatting which would drive off your former readers and attract new ones – a cleaner readership, more interested in a light-hearted version of the “war on terror”  than the soft anarchy of [cartoonist] Gébé. Little by little, the wholesale denunciation of “beards”, veiled women and their imaginary accomplices became a central axis of your journalistic and satirical production. “Investigations” began to appear which accepted the wildest rumours as fact, like the so-called infiltration of the League of Human Rights (LDH) or European Social Forum (FSE) by a horde of bloodthirsty Salafists[2]. The new impulse underway required the magazine to renounce the unruly attitude which had been its backbone up to then, and to form alliances with the most corrupt figures of the intellectual jet-set, such as Bernard-Henri Lévy or Antoine Sfeir, cosignatories in Charlie Hebdo of a grotesque “Manifesto of the Twelve against the New Islamic Totalitarianism”[3]. Whoever could not see themselves in a worldview which opposed the civilized (Europeans) to obscurantists (Muslims) saw themselves quickly slapped with the label of “useful idiots” or “Islamo-leftists”.

read full article at Lenin’s Tomb

January 10, 2015

Representing Mohammad

Filed under: Islamophobia — louisproyect @ 5:31 pm

Mohammad in a painting from the Topkapi museum in Istanbul

Among the many articles on Charlie Hebdo defending Western Civilization and the Enlightenment, especially the Voltairean precept (that he never actually stated) “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, it was inevitable to find some that debunked the notion that Islam banned pictorial representation of Mohammad.

For example Newsweek published an article titled “The Koran Does Not Forbid Images of the Prophet” that states:

Over the past seven centuries, a variety of historical and poetic texts largely produced in Turkish and Persian spheres—both Sunni and Shiite—include beautiful depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. These many images were not only meant to praise and commemorate the Prophet; they also served as occasions and centerpieces for Muslim devotional practice, much like celebrations of the Prophet’s birthday (Mawlid) and visitations to his tomb in Medina.

Author Christiane Gruber has the credentials to back up her claims, as the accompanying note indicates. She is “associate professor and director of graduate studies at the University of Michigan. Her primary field of research is Islamic book arts, paintings of the Prophet Muhammad, and Islamic ascension texts and images, about which she has written two books and edited a volume of articles.”

Now there are those with more of an axe to grind who invoke the same arguments. Nick Gillespie, the execrable editor of the Koch brothers funded Reason magazine, alludes to the same history but makes sure to line up on the right side of the clash of civilizations question while he is at it:

Especially as the radical elements of Islam become violent and desperate in their attempts to engender Ummah, it’s important to stress that their interpretations are one among many and anything but universal. At least since the 9/11 attacks, an ongoing query in America and the West more broadly has been, “Where are the moderate Muslims?” They’re out there, for sure, and we’d all be better off creating a dialogue in which the anti-modernity Islamists are recognized as a common enemy.

Actually, for many of us the real question post-9/11 has been “Where are the moderate Westerners?” As is so often the case when individual terrorism is put under a magnifying glass, state terrorism goes by the wayside. By definition, state terrorism is pardoned since it is seen as a purely defensive measure. Without our Cruise missiles or drones, the jihadists would be an even greater danger. Like LBJ telling the American people in 1967 that we invaded Vietnam to stop the spread of Communism, we were “forced” to invade Afghanistan and then Iraq to protect the homeland. This was exactly the scenario that Orwell described in “1984”, making war to preserve the peace.

It was exactly in such a charged geopolitical environment that the question of representing Mohammad became one of war and peace, and life and death. The real struggle was not over artistic freedom but how to protect the right of artists to serve as ideological combatants in the “war on terror”.

On September 30, 2005 the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten (The Jutland Post, the country’s largest circulation newspaper) published cartoons of Mohammad that were really at the root of the Charlie Hebdo killings. Unlike the respectful images alluded to in Gruber’s article, these were designed to draw blood. The most infamous of them depicted Mohammad with a bomb in his turban:

Protests across the Muslim world led to 200 deaths. For much of the Islamophobic right and their liberal allies such as Bill Maher, the cartoons were seen as courageous truth-telling exercises akin to Honoré Daumier or Thomas Nast. But for most Muslims, it would be hard to distinguish them from the overall propaganda machine operating on behalf of George W. Bush’s new crusade, especially if you looked hard at the Danish role in making it possible.

At the time Anders Fogh Rasmussen was Denmark’s Prime Minister. Rasmussen was one of the first European heads of state to go nativist, well in advance of Le Pen, Farage et al. To enact tough anti-immigration laws that were hostile to asylum seekers, he relied on the support of the Danish People’s Party, a white nationalist outfit with affinities to the French National Front, Golden Dawn and the rest of the neofascist parties that are determined to cleanse Europe of its darker-skinned Muslim immigrants, legal or illegal.

Rasmussen was also a strong supporter of Bush’s war in Iraq. In defending his decision to send Danish troops to Iraq, he stated: “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. This is not something we think. We know it.”

It was against a backdrop of nativist opposition to mostly Muslim peoples at home and imperialist aggression against their brothers and sisters abroad that the Jyllands-Posten cartoons must be seen.

Editor Flemming Rose was the mastermind of this project. He felt that self-censorship existed in Denmark and wanted to challenge it by publishing “daring” cartoons. On February 19, 2006 he wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post titled “Why I Published Those Cartoons” that makes him sound virtually Islamophilic:

We have a tradition of satire when dealing with the royal family and other public figures, and that was reflected in the cartoons. The cartoonists treated Islam the same way they treat Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions. And by treating Muslims in Denmark as equals they made a point: We are integrating you into the Danish tradition of satire because you are part of our society, not strangers. The cartoons are including, rather than excluding, Muslims.

How nice. Making Muslims feel part of his society. Under Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the number of immigrants being accepted for political asylum declined by 84 percent. That sounds pretty exclusionary to me.

Eventually Rose toured the USA in order to interview people on his wavelength, including Francis Fukuyama, Bill Kristol, Richard Perle, and Bernard Lewis. Birds of a feather, I guess. He also found time to sit down with Nick Gillespie’s Reason Magazine in 2007. Interviewed by Michael Moynihan, a creature as oleaginous as Gillespie, Rose charged the left with being soft on Islam, a charge being raised once again in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo killings:

Moynihan: Were you surprised by the reaction of those who argued not for unfettered free speech, but “responsible speech?”

Rose: Well, no. I think many people betrayed their own ideals. The history of the left, for instance, is a history of confronting authority—be it religious or political authority—and always challenging religious symbols and figures. In this case, they failed miserably. I think the left is in a deep crisis in Europe because of their lack of willingness to confront the racist ideology of Islamism. They somehow view the Koran as a new version of Das Kapital and are willing to ignore everything else, as long of they continue to see the Muslims of Europe as a new proletariat.

If you were paying close attention to the charges being leveled against the antiwar movement in 2007, this will ring a bell. Nick Cohen, Oliver Kamm, David Aaronovitch, and Johann Hari were all accusing the British SWP, which at the time was spearheading the Stop the War Coalition, of trying to fuse with radical Islamists.

In fact the entire world was polarized around the “clash of civilizations” in this period, so much so that nearly every jihadist would have been reacting to it even if frequently being unable to articulate it.

In 2005, the year prior to the Danish cartoons being published, the French police arrested Chérif Kouachi for trying to join the guerrillas fighting American occupation alongside his comrade Thamer Bouchnak, a Tunisian-Frenchman. The two were reportedly united by their hatred for the war in Iraq. The photos of torture from Abu Ghraib prison angered them particularly.

I would say it was those photos that are the real images that led to the Charlie Hebdo killings. If American imperialism had not decided to invade a nation, divide it along sectarian lines, kill hundreds of thousands of its citizens, torture its captives, mock its religious figures, and then once the war ended continued to make war against Sunni tribesmen all around the world through drones, maybe things wouldn’t have reached the state they did.

In any case, the only true path to peace is one in which Arabs and Muslim peoples are not dominated and exploited by imperialism and their own elites. Yes, I know. That is a Quixotic prospect but anything that falls short of that goal will only cost more innocent lives, even those as wretched as the smug, puerile and racially insensitive cartoonists who think that lampooning Mohammad has anything in common with Daumier or Jonathan Swift.

 

 

August 3, 2014

Christians United for Israel

Filed under: Christian fundamentalism,Islamophobia,Palestine — louisproyect @ 5:50 pm

Gary Bauer: friend of Israel

If you google “Israel support”, the second link that comes up points to Christians United for Israel (CUFI.org), a rightwing evangelical outfit that was founded by Gary Bauer, a long-time Republican Party operative who co-hosted a radio show with Tom Rose in 2006. Rose was the CEO of the Jerusalem Post, a newspaper that publishes articles openly promoting ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Gaza.

This week CUFI ran a full-page ad in the New York Times. It might as well had come from the Likud party itself:

Screen shot 2014-08-03 at 1.47.15 PM

See ad in detail

The affinity between Israel and the most reactionary Christian fundamentalist wing of the Republican Party is not a new story. The board of directors of CUFI includes John C. Hagee who generated controversy in 2008 when he said in a sermon that Hitler was acting on God’s plan. The Judeocide was a necessary first step in the creation of the state of Israel, which in his eyes was a precondition for the Second Coming of Christ. Hagee has also said “anti-Semitism, and thus the Holocaust, was the fault of Jews themselves — the result of an age old divine curse incurred by the ancient Hebrews through worshiping idols and passed, down the ages, to all Jews now alive.” Nice.

Another board member is Jonathan P. Falwell, Jerry’s son who continues his dead dad’s legacy. Jerry Falwell, like Hagee, was preoccupied with the Second Coming and also like Hagee thought that Jews had a dual role, both as catalyst for redemption and as a roadblock. He said once “Who will the Antichrist be? I don’t know. Nobody else knows. Is he alive and here today? Probably. Because when he appears during the Tribulation period he will be a full-grown counterfeit of Christ. Of course, he’ll be Jewish. Of course, he’ll pretend to be Christ. And if in fact the Lord is coming soon, and he’ll [the Antichrist] be an adult at the presentation of himself, he must be alive somewhere today.”

None of this gets interferes with the long-time bromance between Zionist muck-a-mucks and the Christian ultraright. Back in May 2003, there was a conference of the Interfaith Zionist Leadership Summit May 17-18 in Washington, D.C. Sponsoring groups included the National Unity Coalition for Israel, African American Women’s Clergy Association, Christian Coalition, Jewish Action Alliance, the Episcopal-Jewish Alliance, and the Jewish Political Education Foundation.

The National Unity Coalition for Israel is cut from the same cloth as CUFI. In 2002 it held a pro-Israel rally in Washington that included Ehud Olmert as a featured speaker who spoke alongside Gary Bauer and Pat Robertson. Robertson, like the other bible-thumping turds, is a hundred percent for Israel. It is Jews that he doesn’t care much for.

In March 2014, Robertson interviewed Daniel Lapin on his 700 Club TV show about his new book titled “Thou Shall Prosper”. Lapin is a rabbi who has come up with his own version of the “prosperity gospel” that is purveyed in megachurches everywhere. I got a taste of it once selling the Militant outside a Kansas City grocery store in 1978. As a woman strode past me on her way to do her shopping, she pointed to the parking lot and said “See that Buick? Jesus got me that.”

The website for Lapin’s book advises:

The book details the ten permanent principles that never change, the ten commandments of making money if you will, and explores the economic and philosophic vision of business that has been part of Jewish culture for centuries. By blending contemporary business stories and his own business experiences with the wisdom of the Torah, Talmud, and even examples from the Zohar, (the Jewish book of Kabalah or mysticism), Rabbi Daniel Lapin, your rabbi, explains the essence of each commandment and shows you how to use this knowledge to prosper financially.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin helps you understand such timeless truths as “Being in business for yourself”, avoiding the trap of ‘wage-slavery’, learning to become a leader, changing with the times, and particularly this: Everyone, and that includes you, is in business, unless you happen to be a tenured university professor or a Supreme Court judge.

This sort of rings a bell with me. Back in 1957, when I was 12 years old and forced to go to synagogue on High Holy Days, I used to stare at all the mink coats and diamond jewelry. My mom had neither. Back then Jews didn’t need Lapin’s advice; they had a booming economy.

Introducing Lapin, Robertson offered this observation:

What is it about Jewish people that make them prosper financially? You almost never find Jews tinkering with their cars on the weekends or mowing their lawns. That’s what Daniel Lapin says and there’s a very good reason for that, and it lies within the business secrets of the Bible.

He later added that Jews were too busy “polishing diamonds, not fixing cars.” Lapin took that as a compliment.

Lapin was not a featured speaker at the Interfaith Zionist Leadership Summit conference but a couple of other of my co-religionists was there to engage in Muslim-bashing—the obvious purpose of the conference. As Against the Current magazine reported, they were just the sort of people who were obviously comfortable around Gary Bauer and Pat Robertson:

Thomas Neumann, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, argued that some people think the problem we face is “radical” Islam, but the problem is in fact Islam. Most Muslims are anti-American and anti-Israel; they are not a fringe who feel this way.

Charles Jacob, who promotes Zionism on college campuses through the Davis Project, offered the following pearls in a power point presentation to explain the difference between Israelis/Jews and “Arabs/Palestinians:

Israel teaches its kids songs of peace; Arab/Palestinian kids sing songs of hate. Sesame Street is about being a suicide bomber. Israelis make every effort to prevent civilian death; Arabs kill lots of civilizations. Israel is in anguish when civilians are hurt; Palestinians are dancing when atrocities happen. Israeli mothers don’t want kids to fight; Palestinian mothers celebrate fighting.

Jacob summed up his presentation saying, I grieve for Palestinian people who have leaders that succumbed to evil, and have fallen prey because of their “perceived sense of oppression.” They are filling their children with hate and death.

Helen Freedman, Americans for a Safe Israel, then declared that “Those who are with Israel are with God.” However, she argued that there is no room to negotiate with Arab peoples because they are “religiously” motivated. There will only be peace, Freedman argued, when Arabs love their children as much as they hate us. But, she said, Arabs are simply incapable of loving their children.

The problem for Israel is that it is increasingly reliant on the Republican right for unstinting support. Despite the slavish devotion of the Democratic Party to Israel, the average liberal voter is growing increasingly uneasy with Israel’s colonizing project. This was reflected in a confused article “Why Israel is losing the Obama coalition”, written for Haaretz by Peter Beinart, the author of “The Crisis of Zionism”. The subhead of the article was “As America grows less nationalistic, less hawkish, and less religious it will grow less sympathetic to an Israel defined by exactly those characteristics.” Exactly.

Beinart, like the late Tony Judt, was one of the first high-profile Jews to break from the Zionist consensus, so much so that the Atlanta Jewish Book Festival canceled his talk on the book in 2002. Beinart writes:

In Washington, Democratic politicians from Obama on down still overwhelmingly support Israeli actions. Earlier this month, the entire United States Senate —including socialists like Bernie Sanders and progressive firebrands like Elizabeth Warren—supported a resolution on Gaza so one-sided that it didn’t even acknowledge any Palestinians had died.

But if Sanders and Warren haven’t changed, the people who vote for them have. One can still find older commentators like Alan Dershowitz and Abe Foxman who defend Israel’s actions in Gaza while championing a liberal agenda inside the United States. Among younger pundits, by contrast, that combination has virtually disappeared. One of the last holdouts was New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, a highly regarded critic of Republican domestic policy who over the years has generally blamed Palestinians more than Israel for the ongoing conflict. Yet earlier this week, in a widely discussed column, Chait wrote that “it has dawned on me that I am one of the liberal Jews who…has grown less pro-Israel over the last decade.” Among younger Americans, including younger American Jews, “liberal except on Israel”—once a common political identity—barely exists.

You get pretty much the same analysis from NY Times op-ed writer Roger Cohen in today’s Review section:

Oppressed people will respond. Millions of Palestinians are oppressed. They are routinely humiliated and live under Israeli dominion. When Jon Stewart is lionized (and slammed in some circles) for “revealing” Palestinian suffering to Americans, it suggests how hidden that suffering is. The way members of Congress have been falling over one another to demonstrate more vociferous support for Israel is a measure of a political climate not conducive to nuance. This hardly serves America’s interests, which lie in a now infinitely distant peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and will require balanced American mediation.

Something may be shifting. Powerful images of Palestinian suffering on Facebook and Twitter have hit younger Americans. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that among Americans age 65 or older, 53 percent blame Hamas for the violence and 15 percent Israel. For those ages 18 to 29, Israel is blamed by 29 percent of those questioned, Hamas by just 21 percent. My son-in-law, a doctor in Atlanta, said that for his social group, mainly professionals in their 30s with young children, it was “impossible to see infants being killed by what sometimes seems like an extension of the U.S. Army without being affected.”

One can only wonder if Roger Cohen’s son-in-law was one of those people who voted for blackballing Peter Beinart in Atlanta two years ago. Like Dylan said, the times they are a changin’.

 

 

April 24, 2014

Tony Blair joins “axis of good”

Filed under: Islamophobia — louisproyect @ 1:32 am

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/tony-blair/10781481/West-and-Russia-must-unite-to-tackle-radical-Islam-says-Tony-Blair.html

West and Russia must unite to tackle radical Islam, says Tony Blair

The former prime minister says that the danger from religious extremism is ‘growing’ and is more important than differences over Ukraine

By Hayley Dixon, and agencies

Highlighting the ”growing” danger from religious extremism, the former prime minister is to call for it to be put at the ”top of the agenda”.

Failing to ”take sides” with moderates in the Middle East and North Africa could mean the 21st century is dominated by conflict rather than peaceful coexistence, he will say.

Mr Blair is due to make the intervention in a speech at Bloomberg in London on Wednesday morning.

It comes with tensions still running high in eastern Ukraine, and after Russia was jettisoned from the G8 group of nations over Vladimir Putin’s decision to annexe the Crimea.

But Mr Blair will describe a wider crisis with its roots in ”a radicalised and politicised view of Islam, an ideology that distorts and warps Islam’s true message”.

”The threat of this radical Islam is not abating. It is growing. It is spreading across the world.

”It is destabilising communities and even nations. It is undermining the possibility of peaceful coexistence in an era of globalisation.

”And in the face of this threat we seem curiously reluctant to acknowledge it and powerless to counter it effectively.”

Mr Blair – Middle East envoy for the quartet of the United Nations, EU, US, and Russia – will say there needs to be a new policy of ”engagement” in the region and beyond.

”We have to elevate the issue of religious extremism to the top of the agenda,” he will say.

”All over the world the challenge of defeating this ideology requires active and sustained engagement.

”Consider this absurdity: that we spend billions of dollars on security arrangements and on defence to protect ourselves against the consequences of an ideology that is being advocated in the formal and informal school systems and in civic institutions of the very countries with whom we have intimate security and defence relationships.

”Some of those countries of course wish to escape from the grip of this ideology.

”But often it is hard for them to do so within their own political constraints. They need to have this issue out in the open where it then becomes harder for the promotion of this ideology to happen underneath the radar.

”In other words they need us to make this a core part of the international dialogue in order to force the necessary change within their own societies.

”This struggle between what we may call the open-minded and the closed-minded is at the heart of whether the 21st century turns in the direction of peaceful coexistence or conflict between people of different cultures.”

Conceding that recent conflicts such as Iraq had eroded the willingness of Western nations to act, Mr Blair will say it is nonetheless necessary to ”take sides”.

”The important point for Western opinion is that this is a struggle with two sides. So when we look at the Middle East and beyond it to Pakistan or Iran and elsewhere, it isn’t just a vast unfathomable mess with no end in sight and no one worthy of our support,” he will say.

”It is in fact a struggle in which our own strategic interests are intimately involved; where there are indeed people we should support and who, ironically, are probably in the majority if only that majority were mobilised, organised and helped.

”But what is absolutely necessary is that we first liberate ourselves from our own attitude. We have to take sides. We have to stop treating each country on the basis of whatever seems to make for the easiest life for us at any one time. We have to have an approach to the region that is coherent and sees it as a whole. And above all, we have to commit. We have to engage.”

Mr Blair will argue that ”on this issue, whatever our other differences, we should be prepared to reach out and cooperate with the East, and in particular, Russia and China”.

He will repeat his defence of the popular coup that overthrew Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi last year.

The Muslim Brotherhood had been ”systematically taking over the traditions and institutions of the country”.

”The revolt of 30 June 2013 was not an ordinary protest. It was the absolutely necessary rescue of a nation. We should support the new government and help,” he will say.

Aides to the former premier insisted it was too ”blunt” to suggest Mr Blair is simply advocating more military action.

He is trying to make clear the issue has to be addressed in its ”religious as well as its political context”, they said.

December 20, 2013

Jew-baiting okay at Moon of Alabama, but not me

Filed under: Islamophobia,Syria,ultraright — louisproyect @ 3:52 pm

Gerhard, the Moon of Alabama blogger

It’s very rare nowadays to find Jew-baiting on nominally leftwing forums but that’s exactly what I ran into during a brief time commenting at Moon of Alabama, an “anti-imperialist” website that like Global Research and Voltairenet can be relied upon to defend the Syrian dictatorship to the hilt.

I very rarely check in on Moon of Alabama but after doing a Google search on Sy Hersh’s “Whose Sarin” to see where it had shown up, I was not surprised that they had crossposted it. In a bear-baiting exercise, I posted a couple of comments that challenged the accepted wisdom of the blog owner and his regulars fully expecting them to gang up on me. But the response of one Rowan Berkeley who blogs at http://niqnaq.wordpress.com/ came as a complete surprise. He was responding to my calling attention to  European far right support for Bashar al-Assad:

Now, Louis, you must understand that the fact that [x] expresses rhetorical support for [y] simply tells you nothing about [y]. Indulging in this kind of guilt by involuntary association is a very common Jewish weakness in argument.

A very common Jewish weakness in argument? What the fuck?

This was the first time I had run into Jew-baiting since abandoning alt.politics.socialism.trotsky about 10 years ago when a character who uses the tag “Dusty” began harping on “globalists”, all of whom happened coincidentally to be Jews. It didn’t take him long to become a full-blown neo-Nazi with frequent crosspostings from Brother Nathanael Kapner, including a recent one titled “Racial Traits Of The Jews”.

If you go to Rowan Berkeley’s blog, you won’t find quite the same level of knuckle-dragging stupidity of “Dusty” but there’s no mistaking what he is about based on a December 13th posting titled “doesn’t it ever strike you as odd that ALL US treasury, fed, world bank, etc officials are jews?

Meanwhile, when I posted a comment there on December 17th calling attention to a Tea Party delegation visiting Lebanon at the behest of Mother Agnes, it was removed unceremoniously. One wonders how secure these “anti-imperialists” are in their politics when a single message out of 80 that goes against the grain cannot be tolerated. Apparently, Jew-baiting is acceptable but questioning the Baathist faith of the Moon of Alabama blog owner, a German named Gerhard, is not.

Just to make sure that people understand where I am coming from, I don’t use the term anti-Semitism since that has become so inextricably linked with mass movements of the 1930s that presented a mortal threat to Jews. The only people today in that kind of danger are Muslims, especially those whose rights are being abrogated in the name of fighting “jihadists”. This, to be sure, is one of the primary goals of Moon of Alabama—to demonize Muslims after the fashion of Christopher Hitchens, Michael Ignatieff and Paul Berman. Using the same inflamed rhetoric about “Wahhabists” and “Salafists”, the regulars at Moon of Alabama would have been invited to the Bush White House back in 2003 if the sole criterion were Islamophobia. For example, Gerhard is capable of saying things like “Why is the U.S. so much interested in creating a Sharia law state in Syria?” This moron is apparently more perturbed about Sharia law than he ever was about MIG’s firing rockets into tenement buildings in Homs or Aleppo.

The Islamophobia that runs rampant at Moon of Alabama is exactly the same as found in the ultraright today. If you want to check this for yourself, just Google “Seymour Hersh sarin” and see what turns up. In addition to Democracy Now et al, you will find links from Fox News’s hardcore rightist (I guess that is a tautology) Greta Van Sustern and Newsmax.com, the website launched by conservative journalist Christopher Ruddy in 1998 with financial support from the family of the late Central Intelligence Agency Director William J. Casey and ultrarightist billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.

This common cause between “anti-imperialists” and the hard right around the need to defend Bashar al-Assad prompted blogger Ibrahim Moiz, a young Pakistani graduate student, to make these profound observations:

The other danger is a rather subtler one. It also involves the blanket label of the entire Syrian opposition as a homogenous breed of radical Islamic jihadists–Salafists is the popular term nowadays, last decade it was Wahhabists–who want to establish the always-dreaded global caliphate. There is certainly a spillover of disturbingly fanatical jihadists, most notably from Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, into Syria; their conquest last winter of the eastern stronghold of Raqqa is an alarming development that signifies their growing influence. Yet to assume that all factions in the opposition are as irredentist, fanatical and extreme as ISIL is to fundamentally misunderstand the situation at best, and to turn it into a self-fulfillment at worst. To paint the entire opposition, on political rather than realistic grounds, as radical fundamentalists is to marginalize the more inclusive, open and reconcilable elements among them. The same scenario has taken place time and again over the past twenty years–in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Algeria, Chechnya and Somalia.

Among the more surprising hosts of this viewpoint was the usually-excellent Boiling Frogs blog run by repeatedly-gagged former intelligence agent Sibel Edmonds: in an alarmingly broad-stroked screed last year, contributing writer William Engdahl submitted a wildly swinging attack on, among others, the Syrian opposition, branding them all as hardline Sunnis called “Salafists” and “Wahhabites” whose raison d’etre is to wipe out “moderate Muslim” movements, such as mystical Sufism, in favour of a rigid revivalist hard line. Among his examples of “Salafi terror” was, along with the (Deobandi, not Salafi) Taliban leader Mohammed Omar, Egypt’s only legitimately elected president in history, Mohamed Morsi, who through that same twisted, broad-stroked logic was deposed in Egypt this summer during a bloody coup whose leaders termed any opposition as “terrorists” who deserved to be bloodily eradicated (a line repeated by, among others, the Wahhabi government of Saudi Arabia–so much for that theory) (3). Another usually excellent website, Global Research, which has long critiqued Western narratives in war zones, published an article by Michael Chossudosky that blamed the rise of death squads in Syria solely on opposition Sunni jihadists, never mind that both Sunni radicals and the same Iran-affiliated Shia extremists who had dominated post-Baathist Iraq have used such tactics. I privately contacted Chossudosky to pursue this rather unlikely claim further but have received no response. (4)

It is the same line toed by, among others, American neoconservatives such as David Frum and Richard Perle, their Muslim apologists like Stephen Schwartz and Zuhdi Nasser, and the brutal dictatorships of Central Asia, who have resorted to branding any dissent as Wahhabism to justify a savage crackdown for the past twenty years. While criticism of Wahhabis and Salafis is certainly not unwarranted–and there are certainly some voluble Wahhabis and Salafis, including Al-Qaeda, who uphold an extremely rigid and exclusive interpretation of Islam and authorize violent persecution of Shia and other minorities–the Muslim Matters website points out (5) that it is a usually politically motivated label, used by foreigners since colonial Britain to brand any native Muslim opposition to imperialism without much regard to accuracy. Hardly a black-and-white measure, in short, of judging radicalism. The killer of the Pakistani governor of Punjab, for instance, was a member of the generally more liberal Sufi persuasion, while the West’s closest Arab partner, Saudi Arabia, is the birthplace of what is broady termed Wahhabism. In Tunisia, meanwhile, Salafist party leader Saleh Bouazizi has condemned violence and refused to cooperate with violent Salafis; a self-described “true Salafist” Marwa, offered her interpretation of a Salafi as any emulator of Prophet Muhammad’s followers, which would put most observant Muslims in the category (6).

The practical dangers of such an approach–as if the detainment of random suspected Wahhabists and co in Guantanamo Bay and similar facilities is not enough–is the marginalization of the more inclusive Islamists and the empowerment of radicals like Al-Qaeda. While critics of intervention, such as the Irish parliamentarian Clare Daly (in an otherwise superb and rousing speech that railed at the Irish media and government’s slobbering reception of the Obamas last spring), have branded the Islamist rebels radicals and defended the Assad regime on the grounds of it being “secular” (7), the secularism of Baathist Syria (and indeed, of most Arab and Muslim regimes, from Central Asia to Egypt) is of a very different sort from the non-partisan, above-sectarianism brand seen in the West. In the Muslim world, where religion tends to be a far more public and encompassing affair than in the West, secular rulers–from the Young Turks to Islam Karimov to the Assads to Saddam Hussein–have sought to impose their usually nationalism-inclined rule not by rising above sectarian differences but by exploiting them.

June 19, 2013

From my archives on Ray Markey

Filed under: Islamophobia,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 1:44 am

This guy is a former member of the SWP who just wrote a stupid baiting comment on my long piece on Syria. Ordinarily I don’t pay much attention to Islamophobes but a word or two might be useful. Markey was on the NYC Central Labor Council for years as the President of the Librarian’s Union. At some point he joined the Committees of Correspondence and turned into a typical Ed Schultz Democratic Party pwogwessive labor leader fulminating about how the evil Republicans were destroying the country. Ten years ago, long before I began blogging, I sent him an open letter about his crappy reformist politics. What’s interesting, now that I’ve had a look at it for the first time in years, is how his buddy Carl Davidson had the hots for Colin Powell who was taking the fight to al-Qaeda. Disgusting.

Letter to Ray Markey on stopping Bush

 posted to www.marxmail.org on September 25, 2003

 (Ray Markey is President of the New York Public Library Guild, Local 1930, in New York City)

Dear Ray,

I can’t say that I am totally surprised by your signature on “Bush Can Be Stopped: A Letter to the Left”.

(www.petitiononline.com/LttrLeft/petition.html)

The letter seems to be a project of the Committees of Correspondence, which I joined on your recommendation over a decade ago. I dropped out after attending my one and only convention, where much time and energy was wasted–in my opinion–on how to boost the fortunes of Democratic Party candidates.

Camejo was in the C of C at the time and although I stopped communicating with him after he screwed up my portfolio, I suspect that he switched to the Greens after drawing conclusions similar to my own. I remember when the three of us would discuss the problem of the Democratic Party back in 1981 when we were all involved with the North Star Network and before the C of C had been formed. Memory can play tricks on you, but I think that we said that we could belong to a radical group that endorsed Democrats on a local level and that we did not want to make that a split question. I am much less sanguine about that nowadays after seeing the steady degradation of the Democratic Party. When an NPR interviewer asked Camejo how he felt about the Nader campaign helping Bush to win (www.votecamejo.org/debate_links.php), he replied that the Democrats had ensured their own defeat by failing to challenge the Republican Party. What kind of opposition party stands up to cheer George W. Bush’s State of the Union speeches, he asked quite pointedly.

I think to an extent the furor over George W. Bush reflects a kind of failure to fully appreciate how awful the Clinton administration was. In the latest Village Voice, there’s an article by Richard Goldstein on how progressives like Leslie Cagan (your co-signer) and NOW leader Rita Haley are all “are willing to break bread with the Democratic mainstream”, even going so far as to stop “focusing on Clinton’s perfidy these days”.

C of C leader Carl Davidson, who initiated “Bush Can Be Stopped: A Letter to the Left”, might understandably be in a position to look more fondly on Clinton than on Bush, despite the war on Yugoslavia serving as a model for the current war on Iraq since–after all–Davidson was an outspoken supporter of US goals in the Balkans.

More recently, he has found himself seduced by the war on terror. He called for “all necessary forces–police, civil authority, national guard, intelligence and military, here and abroad” to defeat al-Qaeda and projected a tactical alliance with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has “maintained a ‘narrow the target’ focus on al-Quaida and has worked to build a broad coalition of support.” (www.isreview.org/issues/21/anti_imperialism.shtml)

I must say that the older I get the more adamantly I am opposed to supporting the Democratic Party even in a backhanded “Part of the Way with LBJ” fashion. Perhaps it is my Trotskyist indoctrination. Or perhaps it is an identification with Eugene V. Debs who said that “I’d rather vote for what I want and not get it than vote for what I don’t want and get it.” Or Malcolm X who said about the supposed differences between the two major parties: “One is the wolf, the other is a fox. No matter what, they’ll both eat you.”

My hostility to the two-party system was only deepened by research I have done recently on slavery, the civil war and reconstruction–aided in no small part by Camejo’s book on the topic. What I discovered is that the modern two party system really grows out of agreements made in the 1870s to basically run the country as a kind of joint stock company run by the two capitalist parties. Whatever principled differences they had up to and including the Civil War were papered over in the Gilded Age.

In Goldstein’s Voice article, he quotes the Nation Magazine’s Katrina vanden Heuvel who says the left is less obsessed with the Democratic Leadership Council these days because “it has lost its sway on the party.” This is a remarkable statement in light of the Democratic Party’s willingness to vote for war in Iraq, Bush’s tax cuts, prison spending, etc. If, as blackcommentator.com’s Glen Ford put it, the issue is “Anybody but Lieberman”, then I suppose we deserve what we get. Just as Ronald Reagan’s rightwing revolution permanently changed the character of the Republican Party, so had the DLC’s policies changed their opponents. Both, of course, were driven by the same class forces: the need to maximize corporate profits and expand US imperialist hegemony.

July 23, 2012

Libya, Syria, and left Islamophobia

Filed under: Islamophobia,Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:38 pm

Pepe Escobar’s inspiration

In his brilliant analysis of leftist hostility to the revolutions in Libya and Syria titled Blanket Thinkers, Robin Yassin-Kassab described the way that the Syrian rebels are viewed in those quarters:

They are also depicted as wild Muslims, bearded and hijabbed, who do not deserve democracy or rights because they are too backward to use them properly. Give them democracy and they’ll vote for the Muslim Brotherhood, and slaughter the Alawis and drive the Christians to Beirut.

Exactly.

This has been on my radar screen ever since the struggle against Qaddafi got off the ground, but Yassin-Kassab’s article persuaded me to investigate a bit further. Basically what seems to be taking place is a hatred for Islamism that is reminiscent of what we heard from Christopher Hitchens and Paul Berman during the heights of the war in Iraq, but deployed on behalf of an “anti-imperialist” narrative.

Perhaps the most prominent exponent of left Islamophobia is Asia Times’s Pepe Escobar. In an article on Libya titled How al-Qaeda got to rule in Tripoli,  Abdelhakim Belhaj became an object of hate:

Abdelhakim Belhaj, aka Abu Abdallah al-Sadek, is a Libyan jihadi. Born in May 1966, he honed his skills with the mujahideen in the 1980s anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan.

He’s the founder of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and its de facto emir – with Khaled Chrif and Sami Saadi as his deputies. After the Taliban took power in Kabul in 1996, the LIFG kept two training camps in Afghanistan; one of them, 30 kilometers north of Kabul – run by Abu Yahya – was strictly for al-Qaeda-linked jihadis.

After 9/11, Belhaj moved to Pakistan and also to Iraq, where he befriended none other than ultra-nasty Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – all this before al-Qaeda in Iraq pledged its allegiance to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and turbo-charged its gruesome practices.

(For what it is worth, Escobar’s article contains an ad for the Central Intelligence Agency. Talk about crowning ironies.)

Escobar adds that “In Iraq, Libyans happened to be the largest foreign Sunni jihadi contingent, only losing to the Saudis.” Well, how despicable, Libyans going to Iraq to fight against the American occupation. He also considers Belhaj a rather shifty sort, “not remotely interested in relinquishing control just to please NATO’s whims.” What an ingrate.

Not long after the overthrow of Qaddafi, left Islamophobes held up a magnifying glass to detect any evidence of Jihadist influence in the new Libya. Last November word went out that the al-Qaeda flag was flying over the Benghazi courthouse. Not surprisingly, this became a cause celebre for the rightwing but the vanguard of the “anti-imperialist” left got just as worked up. Voltairenet.org, a website devoted to 9/11 conspiracy-mongering and the defense of Qaddafi and al-Assad, alerted its readers through an article that included a graphic of the flag:

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the former Justice Minister of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya who became chairman of the National Transitional Council, announced the rebels’ intention to turn Libya  into an Islamic state and implement Sharia as the only law.

For some odd reason, the Libyan people were never clued in that they were about to willingly accept such a state of affairs. As it turned out, the vote for the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood was a paltry 130,000 nationally, just 21.3%. Today’s Australian  explained the low total:

But another reason for the strong “liberal” turnout is the “blood” factor. “I am not giving my family’s votes to the MB. Two of my cousins died because of them,” Mohamed Abdul Hakim, a voter from Benghazi, told me. He agrees that Islam should be the source for legislation, and his wife wears a niqab. Nonetheless, he voted liberal: his cousins were killed in a confrontation in the 1990s, most likely between the Martyrs Movement (a small jihadist group operating in his neighborhood at the time) and Gaddafi’s forces.

But many average Libyans, including Hakim, do not distinguish between Islamist organisations and their histories. For them, all Islamists are “Ikhwan” (MB). The “stain” of direct involvement in armed action, coupled with fear of Taliban-like laws or a civil war like Algeria’s in the 1990’s harmed Islamists of all brands.

A third reason for the Islamists’ defeat had to do with their campaign rhetoric. “It is offensive to tell me that I have to vote for an Islamic party,” Jamila Marzouki, an Islamic studies graduate, told me. Marzouki voted liberal, despite believing that Islam should be the ultimate reference for Libyan laws. “In Libya, we are Muslims. They can’t take away my identity and claim that it’s only theirs.”

So much for Libya turning into a Taliban state.

Without skipping a beat, the dreadful Pepe Escobar now has Syria in his sights, using the same hackneyed analysis:

Syria, the new Libya

A Kalashnikov in Iraq, until recently, sold for US$100. Now it’s at least $1,000, and most probably $1,500 (those were the days when Sunnis joining the resistance in 2003 could buy a fake Kalashnikov made in Romenia [sic] for $20).

Destination of choice of the $1,500 Kalashnikov in 2012: Syria. Network: al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers, also known as AQI. Recipients: infiltrated jihadis operating side-by-side with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Also shuttling between Syria and Iraq is car bombing and suicide bombing, as in two recent bombings in the suburbs of Damascus and the suicide bombing last Friday in Aleppo.

Who would have thought that what the House of Saud wants in Syria – an Islamist regime – is exactly what al-Qaeda wants in Syria?

Christopher Hitchens couldn’t have put it better.

For left Islamophobes, the idea of a secular, nationalistic and populist Syria serves as a kind of rallying point in the same way that “existing socialism” in the USSR once was for a gullible left, whether or not either proposition was true.

Syria Freedom Forever, an antidote to the stupidity found in Escobar’s columns, Global Research, MRZine, Voltairenet.com et al (Counterpunch fortunately never bought into this junk for the most part), had an article titled Understand the Syrian regime and the dialectics of the Syrian revolutionary process  that is most useful for separating the truth from bullshit.

It explains that al-Assad, just like Saddam Hussein, was not above catering to the needs of the Islamic clergy in the interests of wielding power Machiavelli-style:

The last important base of support for the Syrian regime is the high religious establishment of all sects, which has benefited the regime for the past twenty years and supported it since the beginning of the revolution. The Syrian regime and its security services established political and economic links with the religious establishment, especially from the Sunni community following the repression of the 1980s. The high religious establishments of all the sects have increasingly been presented by the regime as actors of the “Syrian civil society” in the past as soon as a foreign delegation would visit the country.

The State’s behavior these past years has been in total contradiction with the official picture of a secular country. A religious vocabulary appeared more often in political discourse, along with a massive increase in the building of religious sites from the eighties until now. These government measures were also accompanied by censorship of literary and artistic works, while promoting a religious literature filling more and more the shelves of libraries and Islamizing the field of higher education. This is true particularly in the humanities and expressed itself in the rather systematic referral to religious references of any scientific, social and cultural phenomenon. Around 10,000 mosques and hundreds of religious schools were built. More than 200 conferences headed by clerics were held in cultural centres of important towns during 2007.

Of course you wouldn’t know any of this if your reading material was limited to the Islamophobic left.

When you are dealing with a phobia, facts do little to change the mind of the stricken. No matter how many times you might have told Howard Hughes that washing one’s hands 2 or 3 times a day was sufficient, only 25 times would suffice. No matter how many times you tell the Islamophobic left that the purpose of the struggle in places like Libya and Syria is to get rid of an oppressive regime, it will not overcome the deep belief that the real purpose is to reestablish the Caliphate, sharia law and the cult of the suicide bomber.

Speaking for myself (and who else matters in the long run), this is what I think of when Islamic resistance to Bashar al-Assad is cited. I don’t find it threatening at all. In fact I am inspired by it:

January 24, 2012

The bipartisan attack on democracy and human rights

Filed under: Islamophobia,Obama,ultraright — louisproyect @ 7:14 pm

Three articles appearing on page one of today’s NY Times overlap with each other in terms of what they say about the deepening erosion of democratic and human rights in the United States since the “war on terror” began after 9/11. It is difficult to decide which one is more outrageous. You can judge for yourself.

From the article titled “In Police Training, a Dark Film on U.S. Muslims”, we learn that a viciously Islamophobic film titled “The Third Jihad” was shown to 1489 N.Y. cops as part of their official training. When Tom Robbins, described as a former Village Voice columnist, was tipped off by a cop that the film was being shown, the police brass lied about it, saying that it had been mistakenly shown only a “couple of times” for a few officers. It should be stated that Robbins left the Voice under conditions very much related to the political morass the country finds itself in. When the newsweekly fired Wayne Barrett, a ferocious critic of metropolitan political abuses just like the one taking place in the police department today, Robbins resigned in protest. Nowadays the only full-time columnist for the paper is one Michael Musto, whose “La Dolce Musto” covers the gossip beat. His most recent column was titled “Keira Knightley Reveals the Secret Behind Her Spanking Scene!” There’s a place for that sort of thing, of course, but not at the expense of hard-hitting investigative journalism.

A half-hour version of “The Third Jihad” can be seen on Youtube:

The film is narrated by Zuhdi Jasser, a “devout Muslim” as he describes himself, who is a fixture on rightwing television and radio shows. Media Matters reported:

Jasser is also conspicuous in his willingness to appear on Fox News to mitigate the effects of their pundits’ anti-Islamic rhetoric. After Fox host Bill O’Reilly went on The View and declared that “Muslims killed us on 9-11,” triggering a walk-off of the show’s hosts, he turned to Jasser, who declared that he was “absolutely not” offended by O’Reilly’s comments and actually thanked the Fox host for making them. Likewise, after NPR fired Juan Williams for his own controversial comments about Muslims, Fox hosted Jasser, who was again “absolutely not” offended.

The Times reports that the film was produced by the Clarion Fund, a group bankrolled by Sheldon Adelson, a gambling casino magnate and ultra-Likudnik who is described in one of the other three NY Times articles as a major funder of the super-PAC that helped Newt Gingrich defeat Romney in the South Carolina primary. Zuhdi Jasser appeared in another ultraright film titled “America at Risk: The War with No Name”, a joint product of the Koch brothers’ Citizens United and Gingrich Productions.

The police department is stonewalling efforts by Faiza Patel, the director of the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU Law School, to get to the bottom of its sordid ties to the Clarion Fund’s political agenda. The Times states: “None of the documents turned over to the Brennan Center make clear which police officials approved the showing of this film during training. Department lawyers blacked out large swaths of these internal memorandums.”

For its part, the Clarion Fund has resisted efforts to come clean:

Repeated calls over the past several days to the Clarion Fund, which is based in New York, were not answered. The nonprofit group shares officials with Aish HaTorah, an Israeli organization that opposes any territorial concessions on the West Bank. The producer of “The Third Jihad,” Raphael Shore, also works with Aish HaTorah.

Sheldon Adelson is the perfect symbol of American support for Israel today. Against a backdrop of declining support by secular Jews, particularly the younger and college-educated, it naturally rests on the shoulders of a man who became a billionaire in the gambling casino business. He is the 8th richest person in the U.S. and 16th in the world, sitting atop a fortune of $21 billion. As the owner of the non-union Venetian hotel and other properties in Las Vegas, Adelson has staked out a viciously anti-labor position vis-à-vis the city’s militant trade union movement. In a profile on Adelson, Connie Bruck told New Yorker Magazine’s  readers:

Like all major Las Vegas hotel casinos, the Sands was a union hotel when Adelson bought it, but the Venetian was non-union. This sparked a singularly bitter war with the Culinary Union, which had for many years maintained good relations with most hotels on the Strip. (Adelson has said that the benefits he gives his employees are superior to union benefits.) After a rally in which a thousand union supporters picketed in front of the Venetian, Adelson tried to have them removed by the police, and when that failed he went to court, arguing that the sidewalks outside the Venetian were private property, and not subject to the First Amendment. The Venetian lost in the district court and the appellate court, and in 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Using his ill-gained fortune, Adelson has become a major player in Israeli politics as one of Netanyahu’s staunchest supporters. Bruck reports:

Adelson is also funding, with a $4.5-million grant, a think tank, the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies, at the right-leaning Shalem Center, in Jerusalem. Netanyahu allies are on its staff. Natan Sharansky, the chairman of One Jerusalem, also chairs the Adelson Institute. Sharansky helped organize a “Democracy and Security” conference last June, in Prague, which was attended by President Bush. Iran was a major topic of discussion. A month after the Prague conference, Adelson attended a fund-raising event at the C.A.A. talent agency, in Los Angeles, for Steven Emerson, an investigative journalist specializing in Islamic extremism and terrorism, who was showing a ten-minute trailer for a film he wanted to make. Emerson introduced Sheldon and Miriam to the overflow crowd in C.A.A.’s two-hundred-seat theatre, saying that they were his generous supporters. After Emerson’s presentation, Pooya Dayanim, a Jewish-Iranian democracy activist based in Los Angeles, chatted with Adelson. Recalling their conversation, Dayanim observed that Adelson was dismissive of Reza Pahlevi, the son of the former Shah, who had participated in the Prague conference, because, Adelson said, “he doesn’t want to attack Iran.” According to Dayanim, Adelson referred to another Iranian dissident at the conference, Amir Abbas Fakhravar, whom he said he would like to support, saying, “I like Fakhravar because he says that, if we attack, the Iranian people will be ecstatic.” Dayanim said that when he disputed that assumption Adelson responded, “I really don’t care what happens to Iran. I am for Israel.”

Given his predilections, it is no surprise that Adelson would rally around the candidacy of Newt Gingrich who announced recently that there was no such thing as a Palestinian people. While some might be tempted to describe Mr. and Mrs. Adelson’s donation of 10 million dollars to a pro-Gingrich super-PAC as a kind of bribe, the reality is that Gingrich needed no bribing. His Islamophobic views would be dispensed for free, although he could always use an extra 10 million dollars or so given his expensive tastes, including shopping sprees at Tiffany’s.

In the article titled “‘Super PAC’ for Gingrich to Get $5 Million Infusion”, N.Y. Times reporter Nicholas Confessore informed his readers:

A wealthy backer of Newt Gingrich will inject $5 million into a “super PAC” supporting his presidential bid, two people with knowledge of the contribution said on Monday, providing a major boost to Mr. Gingrich as he seeks to fend off aggressive attacks from Mitt Romney, his main Republican rival.

The supporter, Dr. Miriam Adelson, is the wife of Sheldon Adelson, a longtime Gingrich friend and a patron who this month contributed $5 million to the super PAC, Winning Our Future. Dr. Adelson’s check will bring the couple’s total contributions to Winning Our Future to $10 million, a figure that could substantially neutralize the millions of dollars already being spent in Florida by Mr. Romney and Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting him.

Confessore connected this sordid business to the Supreme Court decision on behalf of the Koch-funded Citizen’s United, a co-producer of the Gingrich Islamophobic documentary “”America at Risk: The War with No Name”:

The contribution also underscored how the advantages built by Mr. Romney’s campaign, including a potent get-out-the-vote operation in Florida and tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions raised in chunks of no more than $2,500, are being challenged by new forces, including the high-profile debates that have elevated Mr. Gingrich and the emergence of new campaign finance rules in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling.

That decision paved the way for super PACs, including the kind that have spent more than $30 million in the Republican primary so far: political committees run by each candidate’s former aides and financed by a few wealthy supporters. Because they are technically independent of the candidate, the groups can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, rendering less relevant the limits that Congress imposed in the 1970s on contributions to candidates.

As might be obvious at this point, even a lobotomized goose could connect the dotted lines between Adelson, the Likud, the NY Police Department, and Gingrich.

Now, lest anybody mistake me for the hysterical liberals at MSNBC who are rehearsing to get out the vote for Obama in 2012 as America’s last best hope for forestalling the Republican Party’s fascist bid, the last article on the front page of the N.Y. Times should dispel such illusions.

We learn from Charlie Savage’s article titled “Ex-C.I.A. Officer Charged in Information Leak” that one John Kuriakou has been arrested:

The Justice Department on Monday charged a former Central Intelligence Agency officer with disclosing classified information to journalists about the capture and brutal interrogation of a suspected member of Al Qaeda, Abu Zubaydah — adding another chapter to the Obama administration’s crackdown on leaks.

In a criminal complaint filed on Monday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation accused John Kiriakou, the former C.I.A. officer, of disclosing the identity of a C.I.A. analyst who worked on a 2002 operation that located and interrogated Abu Zubaydah. The journalists included a New York Times reporter, it alleged.

“Safeguarding classified information, including the identities of C.I.A. officers involved in sensitive operations, is critical to keeping our intelligence officers safe and protecting our national security,” said Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., in a statement.

While not exactly a Julian Assange, Kuriakou is being made an example in order to intimidate anybody in the intelligence corps who might be tempted to reveal one or another of America’s torture state infelicities. Ironically, despite being depicted by Holder as a threat to national security, Kuriakou was an advocate of water-boarding and not some latter-day Philip Agee.

However, the real eye-opener in the article is something buried within it and mentioned almost casually:

At the same time, the department on Monday cleared of wrongdoing a legal defense team for inmates at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for its efforts to identify officials involved in the coercive interrogations of “high value” suspects. The effort was a project by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to bolster the representation of detainees facing death sentences in military commissions.

I did a double-take after reading this. Why in the world would a legal defense team for inmates at Guantánamo Bay be under any kind of legal threat for trying to identify torturers? A legal defense team, I should add, that was made up of military men trained as lawyers. Given the legal reasoning underpinning the prosecution of Nazi war criminals at Nuremburg, the real wrongdoing would be torture itself and Holder’s stubborn defense of the right of the torturers to remain free of the consequences of their actions. What kind of society are we living in when the President of the United States, a constitutional lawyer trained at Harvard University, ends up threatening lawyers in the same way that they are in countries like China, Zimbabwe or Iran for defending “enemies” of the state?

The ACLU was threatened back in 2009 as a result of showing some photographs to prisoners at Guantanamo as the Times reported:

The Justice Department is investigating whether three military defense lawyers for detainees at the Guantánamo prison illegally showed their clients photographs of C.I.A. interrogators, two leaders of civilian legal groups that are working with the defense lawyers said Thursday.

Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation approached the three lawyers with the Judge Advocate General’s Corps nearly two weeks ago, said Anthony D. Romero, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is helping the military lawyers defend the detainees in military commissions.

The agents informed the uniformed lawyers of their right to remain silent, and then questioned them about whether they showed their clients pictures of Central Intelligence Agency officials — possibly including covert agents — that came from an “independent investigation” by the A.C.L.U. and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Mr. Romero said.

The lawyers were trying to identify the torturers not so much as an effort to have them arrested, as just as this might be, but to prevent their clients from being executed. If the torturers could be forced to testify to their deeds in court, then the court might have decided that their confessions were extracted illegally. What an amazing statement on life today in the U.S.A. when an African-American president and his African-American attorney general behave like a couple of goons from Pinochet’s Chile or some other rotten torture state.

If you want to get some insight into how Obama manages to sink to such depths, I recommend an article by Ryan Lizza in the latest New Yorker magazine. Lizza is a conventional liberal and supporter of the President but he is also a very good reporter. He has made a very convincing case in all of his articles on Obama that the man is about as progressive as Joe Lieberman, a politician he stumped for in his last election in Connecticut before voters decided they had enough of the creep.

Titled “The Obama Memos“, Lizza’s article describes the President as a right-leaning politician motivated both by ideology and a desire to win elections based on cynical calculations. Lizza writes:

Obama’s homily about conciliation reflected an essential component of his temperament and his view of politics. In his mid-twenties, he won the presidency of the Harvard Law Review because he was the only candidate who was trusted by both the conservative and the liberal blocs on the editorial staff. As a state senator in Springfield, when Obama represented Hyde Park-Kenwood, one of the most liberal districts in Illinois, he kept his distance from the most left-wing senators from Chicago and socialized over games of poker and golf with moderate downstate Democrats and Republicans. In 1998, after helping to pass a campaign-finance bill in the Illinois Senate, he boasted in his community paper, the Hyde Park Herald, that “the process was truly bipartisan from the start.”

Given the stupendously reactionary character of the contemporary Republican Party, this really tells us all that we want to know about Obama. His fence-straddling approach explains the bipartisan assault taking place today on democracy and human rights. The Republicans steam ahead to the right and Obama chases after them like a dog after a car, trying to catch up.

If the existing left can’t figure out a way to break with this filthy system, then some other left must come along and do a job we are incapable of carrying out. The future of humanity rests on it.

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