Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 18, 2012

The black bloc, jihadism, and Counterpunch

Filed under: Alexander Cockburn,black bloc idiots,Jihadists — louisproyect @ 6:06 pm

Anybody who reads Counterpunch on a regular basis as I do (I also donated $50 to a recent fund-drive and subscribe to the electronic version of the newsletter—so I do understand its value) must be aware of its two highest priority talking points of late:

1. Al-Qaeda type jihadists are a terrible danger to al-Assad’s Syria and good enough reason to back the dictator. For example, Peter Lee wrote an article in this weekend’s edition:

More worryingly, al-Qaeda’s enthusiastic attempt to piggyback on the spiraling unrest in Syria—and the car bombings in Aleppo which, if not the work of Zawahiri’s minions, can probably be traced back to al-Qaeda’s Gulf-funded Sunni Islamist fans in western Iraq—are a warning that backing the feckless SNC in an agenda of regime collapse is not going to be the carefree, Iran-bashing romp so many interventionists are advertising.

2. Chris Hedges’s attack on the black bloc is an ominous threat against radical politics in the U.S. and every effort must be mounted to defend the vandalistas, either critically or uncritically. One of the prime examples is an article that appeared in the February 9th edition by Peter Gelderloos, the author of the aptly named “How Nonviolence Protects the State”. In the article, titled “The Surgeons of Occupy”, Gelderloos draws an unfortunate amalgam between the black bloc and the anarchist movement as a whole: “But beneath the black masks, anarchists have been an integral part of the debates, the organizing, the cooking and cleaning in dozens of cities.” So, in effect, when Hedges attacks vandalism, he is also attacking cooking and cleaning—I suppose. I say suppose because Gelderloos, like many black bloc aficionados, is skilled at demagogy. Or more accurately, uses demagogy rather ineffectively to avoid a serious debate.

I had no idea who Gelderloos was, but was intrigued to discover in the midst of a spittle-flecked attack on me by a Kasama Project commenter (I am a “Pseudo-Trotskyist renegade… practicing revisionist right-deviationism”) that “Gelderloos makes statements of support for the mass-murder of Spanish civilians by the right-wing Muslim group Al-Qaeda” in “How Nonviolence Protects the State”.

Wow, how about that!

As it turns out, there is a pdf version of the book. Wasting no time, I tracked down the passage in question and converted into regular text:

A good case study regarding the efficacy of nonviolent protest can be seen in Spain’s involvement with the US-led occupation. Spain, with 1,300 troops, was one of the larger junior partners in the “Coalition of the Willing.” More than one million Spaniards pro-tested the invasion, and 80 percent of the Spanish population was opposed to it, but their commitment to peace ended there—they did nothing to actually prevent Spanish military support for the invasion and occupation. Because they remained passive and did nothing to disempower the leadership, they remained as powerless as the citizens of any democracy. Not only was Spanish Prime Minister Aznar able and allowed to go to war, he was expected by all forecasts to win reelection—until the bombings. On March 11, 2004, just days before the voting booths opened, multiple bombs planted by an Al-Qaida-linked cell exploded in Madrid train stations, killing 191 people and injuring thousands more. Directly because of this, Aznar and his party lost in the polls, and the Socialists, the major party with an anti-war platform, were elected into power. The US-led coalition shrunk with the loss of 1,300 Spanish troops, and promptly shrunk again after the Dominican Republic and Honduras also pulled out their troops. Whereas millions of peaceful activists voting in the streets like good sheep have not weakened the brutal occupation in any measurable way, a few dozen terrorists willing to slaughter noncombatants were able to cause the withdrawal of more than a thousand occupation troops.

So nonviolence lacks “efficacy” but killing 191 Spaniards in train stations does not. A while back, I made a big deal about a book on Infoshop.org making the case that the black bloc is following in the steps of the Weathermen but this reaches level of insanity that simply takes my breath away.

What can we say about this? Can we make a connection between the black bloc and jihadism? Probably not. But I would say this. Alexander Cockburn would be well-advised to exercise a bit more editorial scrutiny in the future. I know that it gets hard when you hit 71 to stay on top of details but I am quite sure that there would be any number of interns out there who would be willing to give him a hand, if for no other reason to spare a once very admired journalist from allowing his website to embarrass itself further.

May 3, 2011

Code name Geronimo

Filed under: Jihadists,pakistan,war — louisproyect @ 1:50 pm

The code name for Bin Laden was “Geronimo.” The president and his advisers watched Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, on a video screen, narrating from his agency’s headquarters across the Potomac River what was happening in faraway Pakistan.

“They’ve reached the target,” he said.

Minutes passed.

“We have a visual on Geronimo,” he said.

A few minutes later: “Geronimo EKIA.”

Enemy Killed In Action. There was silence in the Situation Room.

Finally, the president spoke up.

“We got him.”

–NY Times, May 2, 2011

* * * *


The Big Question: Who was Geronimo, and why is there controversy over his remains?

By Guy Adams
Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Why are we asking this now?

The US government has been dragged into a bizarre legal battle between descendants of the Apache leader Geronimo and a secret society of Yale students called Skull and Bones, whose members allegedly raided his grave during the First World War. Yesterday, the Justice Department asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed in February, on the 100th anniversary of Geronimo’s death, seeking to recover the legendary warrior’s remains and re-bury them near to his birthplace in the Gila Wilderness of southern New Mexico.

The legal action, by 20 descendants of Geronimo, claims a group of Skull and Bones members, including George W Bush’s grandfather, Prescott, took his skull from Fort Sill in Oklahoma in 1918. The artefact has allegedly been stored in a glass case at the organisation’s clubhouse in New Haven, Connecticut ever since. The Justice Department became involved because Barack Obama and his defence secretary Robert Gates are named alongside the Skull and Bones society as co-defendants, due to the fact that Geronimo was initially buried on public land.

So who was Geronimo?

For much of his lifetime, Geronimo was considered the greatest terrorist in America. These days, he’s feted as a fearless guerrilla fighter, whose famously brave troops were the last American Indian force to hold out against the United States.

Born Goytholy, meaning “the one who yawns,” he took up arms when his wife, children and mother were massacred by Mexicans in 1851. His nickname stems from daring retaliatory raids, when he led men on cavalry charges, often into a hail of bullets. Legend has it that victims would scream a plea to St Jerome (hence “Jeronimo!”) as they died.

Geronimo evaded capture for more than three decades. Though wounded countless times, he was never defeated, and his men are perhaps the most effective light cavalry force in military history. They numbered no more than a couple of hundred at any one time, but are said to have killed more than 5,000 enemies.

Why did he fight?

Geronimo was a member of the Chiricahua Apache tribe whose homelands in the deserts of New Mexico were annexed first by Mexico and later by the United States during its expansion into the south-west during the 19th century. His insurgency was part of a wider rebellion by Native Indians against their treatment by white settlers, who carried out what in modern terms might be called ethnic cleansing: removing tribes from ancestral territories and (in some cases) placing a bounty on their scalps. Geronimo’s success was down to old-fashioned derring-do, and sheer good luck. Because of repeated close shaves with mortality, many followers believed he was resistant to bullets. His men were adept at using their opponents’ technology – including rifles and pistols – against them.

How was he captured?

After more than 30 years the US General Nelson Miles tracked Geronimo to Arizona. The rebels were exhausted after decades on the run, and their number had dwindled to just 36 men, many of whom (including their leader) had taken to heavy drinking. In the autumn of 1886, Geronimo negotiated a tactical surrender, agreeing to lay down his arms on condition that his followers would be allowed to disband and return home to their families. But the US reneged on its promises, and promptly took Geronimo and his troops into custody. They spent seven years in prison in Alabama before being transferred to Fort Sill, where they lived out the rest of their days in a form of open prison.

What became of him?

Ironically, Geronimo’s fame only grew during his year in captivity. He became a local celebrity, charging visitors to Fort Sill to have their photo taken with him, and keeping a stock of autographed cards and other souvenirs to sell to tourists. In old age, he was constantly interviewed (for a small fee) by the US press, and took part in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Circus, where performers recreated his most daring battles. He was a star attraction at the 1904 World’s Fair in St Louis, and had a prominent place in Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade in 1905.

Having embraced capitalism, Geronimo also took up the white man’s religion, converting to Christianity saying he believed it to be “better than the religion of my forefathers.” He joined the Dutch Reformed Church in 1903, but was expelled four years later, apparently for gambling. He died in 1909, at the age of 79.

What happened to his remains?

Three members of the Skull and Bones society, including Prescott Bush, were stationed at an artillery school at Fort Sill during the First World War. In a bizarre prank, they are rumoured to have dug up his grave, and taken his skull and femurs back to their alma mater.

Why does this matter?

Although unproven, the alleged desecration of Geronimo’s grave carries significant political baggage. Like Chief Sitting Bull, who defeated General Custer at the battle of Little Bighorn, Native Americans view him as a symbol of their people’s righteous rebellion against white colonialists. Geronimo is also firmly embedded in the US psyche as a symbol of bonkers bravado. Paratroopers shout his name after leaping from aeroplanes, apparently as part of a tradition that began in 1940, when they prepared for their first mass jump by watching the film “Geronimo.” In a scene based on one of its subject’s many narrow escapes – and mimicked by generations of schoolchildren – the movie’s hero yells his own name as he leaps from a cliff into a river to escape capture by approaching soldiers.

What is the Skull and Bones?

Adding to the intrigue is long-standing public fascination with the Skull and Bones society, an organisation of privileged Yale Students whose alumni include both Presidents Bush and John Kerry. The club, founded at the Ivy League school in 1832, selects 15 new members each year. They are sworn in at the “Tomb,” a windowless campus clubhouse which is purported to hold the skulls of a range of famous figures, including Che Guevara. During the initiation ceremony, recruits are apparently required to kiss the skull of Geronimo, which is said to be held in a glass case near the door, and take a solemn oath to support fellow members.

Since the society is secret – it has never clarified the exact contents of the “Tomb” – some regard it as vaguely sinister. Others say it is a harmless networking organisation. In this respect, it is perhaps best described as an upmarket version of the Freemasons.

What happens next?

The lawsuit by Geronimo’s descendants was filed in a federal district court in Washington DC, and seeks: “to free Geronimo, his remains, funerary objects and spirit from 100 years of imprisonment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the Yale University campus at New Haven, Connecticut and wherever else they may be found.”

Presuming the case isn’t immediately thrown out – and the political ramifications of doing so would be enormous – the court’s immediate next step must be to determine if the Skull and Bones society really does own Geronimo’s disputed skull.

Does the Skull and Bones society really have Geronimo’s skull?


*The Skull and Bones has repeatedly refused to discuss the skull, still less surrender it for DNA testing

*A letter written in 1918 by a society member says it gained possession of it

*A history of the society written in 1933 claimed that Prescott Bush ‘engaged in a mad expedition’ at Fort Sill to obtain Geronimo’s skull


*Geronimo’s grave was miles from where Prescott Bush was stationed

*The exact location of Geronimo’s grave was unmarked at the time of the alleged theft

*Historians say that, while the Skull and Bones may very well have a Native Indian’s skull, it is unlikely to be that of Geronimo

October 30, 2007

A Mighty Heart

Filed under: Film,Jihadists — louisproyect @ 6:28 pm

This is the time of year when I begin to get DVD’s from major Hollywood studios in anticipation of the New York Film Critics Online awards ceremony in December. While we are a lot scruffier than the Oscars jury, our picks do get a fair amount of press play since the Internet is becoming a more trusted source of movie reviews than print.

Last night I watched “A Mighty Heart,” a docudrama about the kidnapping and beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in February 2002 by jihadists in Karachi, Pakistan. The film focuses on the emotional roller coaster of his wife Mariane, who is played by Angelina Jolie–touted as a possible Oscar best actress.

I enjoyed “A Mighty Heart” in the same way that I enjoyed “United 93,” another docudrama that grew out of the maelstrom following 9/11. Both films avoid strident editorializing about “Islamofascism” and are content to allow the events to unfold methodically as a kind of diary. Since both films are directed by Britons, perhaps this is no accident. With such compelling subject matter, there really is no need for embellishment. They also made the wise choice to cast non-marquee actors in all the leading roles, with the exception made of course for the highly bankable Angelina Jolie. By contrast, Daniel Pearl is played by Dan Futterman, whose career has mostly involved minor television roles on “Sex and the City,” “Will and Grace,” etc.

Another important calculation in “A Mighty Heart” is to make this a movie much more about Mariane Pearl than her husband. The screenplay is based on Mariane Pearl’s book, of the same title, which is an account of her unsuccessful struggle to save her husband’s life and a relatively more successful struggle to make sense of the ordeal. You see Daniel Pearl on his way to his appointment with Omar Sheikh, the kidnapping ringleader, but never afterwards. By leaving out the ordeal that led up to and included his beheading, the film therefore reduces the element of sensationalism that typifies more mainstream movie-making.

Unfortunately, many of the deeper insights found in the book are not reflected in the screenplay, which obviously could have only been conveyed through voice-over narration. Mariane Pearl’s dialog mostly consists of impatient imprecations hurled at the Pakistani cops alternating with appeals to them to follow up leads she digs up. Not given much to work with, Jolie turns in a serviceable performance.

What drives the plot forward is the detective work of the Pakistani and American cops, who come across as morally and politically compromised throughout, working in tandem with the WSJ reporters. When Mariane Pearl first approaches a top Pakistani cop, she is told that her husband was looking for trouble by interviewing a jihadist to being with. He also wonders if he was an Indian spy, a charge that mirrors the jihadist claim that he was working for the CIA and/or Mossad. As the vice tightens on the network that organized his kidnapping, one of the arrested men is tortured by Pakistani police. The CIA agent who has been assigned to the case assures Mariane Pearl that the Pakistani cops will hang suspects by their feet and worse to get information. By revealing this dimension of the police work around Pearl’s kidnapping, “A Mighty Heart” is a reminder that the forces of law and order are often no better than the criminals they are pursuing.

If you want to really understand who Daniel Pearl was, you have to look elsewhere. I strongly recommend the HBO documentary “Journalist and the Jihadi: the murder of Daniel Pearl” that can be ordered here. This film reveals Daniel Pearl as a forthright and courageous journalist who was just the opposite of a lackey of US foreign policy. Despite the Wall Street Journal’s editorial stance in favor of the “war on terror,” Pearl was quite sympathetic to Arab and Islamic culture, so much so that he got the nickname “Danny of Arabia” in the WSJ newsroom.

Mariane Pearl’s book recounts an early encounter between her husband and Omar Sheikh, who was known to him as Bashir:

As they were leaving, Danny asked Bashir if he thought he could arrange an appointment with Gilani [a radical cleric who was meant to lure Pearl into a trap.] Bashir answered that he would try, but Danny would first have to prove first that he was “neither anti-Islamic nor anti-Pakistani” by sending a collection of his articles. Another hurdle. If the articles passed muster, the meeting would take place in the capital after our return from Peshawar.

As it turns out, the HBO website for “Journalist and the Jihadi” has a collection of Pearl’s WSJ articles that are well worth reading. Perhaps an article about a revival of pop music in Iran was “proof” of his CIA connections. Mostly they reflect an independent streak that defies any easy connection with US foreign policy–unlike the newspaper’s editorial pages. One of the more interesting pieces is a refutation of the claim that there was genocide in Kosovo in line with Edward Herman and Diana Johnstone’s articles:

British and American officials still maintain that 10,000 or more ethnic-Albanian civilians died at Serb hands during the fighting in Kosovo. The U.N.’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has accused Serbs of covering up war crimes by moving bodies. It has begun its own military analysis of the Serb offensive.

But the number of bodies discovered so far is much lower — 2,108 as of November, and not all of them necessarily war-crimes victims. While more than 300 reported grave sites remain to be investigated, the tribunal has checked the largest reported sites first, and found most to contain no more than five bodies, suggesting intimate acts of barbarity rather than mass murder.

Even if Pearl’s reporting had an anti-Arab or anti-Islamic tilt, it was a terrible error to kidnap and kill him. The tendency of jihadists to kidnap or kill reporters makes them susceptible to needless condemnation in the West. When a reporter has a demonstrable willingness to report fairly about events on the ground, as was the case with Daniel Pearl or the Christian Science Monitor’s Jill Carroll, it makes the insurgents look like barbarians. In trying to understand the difference between the antiwar movement of today and that of the 1960s and 70s, one must first of all recognize that the absence of a draft today reduces an irritant that would coalesce a much more powerful and massive movement around the war in Iraq. The other important factor is the utter inability of the jihadists to think in class terms. The Vietnamese were always thinking of possible wedges that could be driven between ordinary Americans and the ruling class strategists who were trying to conquer the country. Unfortunately, as reflected through one miscalculation after another, the jihadists end up using superglue rather than wedges. Perhaps the only thing that explains continuing resistance to the war is the fact that the ruling class strategists of today are even more boneheaded than those of the 1960s and 70s.

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