Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How Not To Understand ISIS

from Jadaliyya
Oct 03 2014
by Alireza Doostdar


The group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant or simply the Islamic State (ISIL, ISIS, or IS) has attracted much attention in the past few months with its dramatic military gains in Syria and Iraq and with the recent U.S. decision to wage war against it.

As analysts are called to explain ISIS’ ambitions, its appeal, and its brutality, they often turn to an examination of what they consider to be its religious worldview—a combination of cosmological doctrines, eschatological beliefs, and civilizational notions—usually thought to be rooted in Salafi Islam.

The Salafi tradition is a modern reformist movement critical of what it considers to be misguided accretions to Islam—such as grave visitations, saint veneration, and dreaming practices. It calls for abolishing these and returning to the ways of the original followers of Prophet Muhammad, the “salaf” or predecessors. Critics of Salafism accuse its followers of “literalism,” “puritanism,” or of practicing a “harsh” or “rigid” form of Islam, but none of these terms is particularly accurate, especially given the diverse range of Salafi views and the different ways in which people adhere to them [1].

Salafism entered American consciousness after September 11, 2001, as Al-Qaeda leaders claim to follow this school. Ever since, it has become commonplace to demonize Salafism as the primary cause of Muslim violence, even though most Salafi Muslims show no enthusiasm for jihad and often eschew political involvement [2], and even though many Muslims who do engage in armed struggles are not Salafi.

ISIS is only the most recent group whose behavior is explained in terms of Salafism. What makes it unique is its aspiration to form immediately a caliphate or pan-Islamic state. Even so, analysts’ emphasis on Salafi thought and on the formation of a caliphate makes it easy to ignore some important aspects of the ISIS phenomenon. I would like to draw attention to some of these neglected issues and to offer a few cautions about attempts to understand ISIS purely in terms of doctrines. My argument is not that studying doctrines is useless; only that such study is limited in what it can explain.

I should begin by emphasizing that our knowledge of ISIS is extremely scant. We know close to nothing about ISIS’ social base. We know little about how it made its military gains, and even less about the nature of the coalitions into which it has entered with various groups—from other Islamist rebels in Syria to secular Ba‘athists in Iraq.

Sensationalist accounts of “shari‘a justice” notwithstanding, we do not have much information about how ISIS administers the lives of millions of people who reside in the territories it now controls.

Information about the militants who fight for ISIS is likewise scarce. Most of what we know is gleaned from recruitment videos and propaganda, not the most reliable sources. There is little on the backgrounds and motives of those who choose to join the group, least of all the non-Western recruits who form the bulk of ISIS’ fighting force. In the absence of this information, it is difficult to even say what ISIS is if we are to rely on anything beyond the group’s self-representations.

Let me emphasize this last point. What we call ISIS is more than just a militant cult. At present, ISIS controls a network of large population centers with millions of residents, in addition to oil resources, military bases, and roads [3]. It has to administer the affairs of the populations over whom it rules, and this has required compromise and coalition-building, not just brute force.

In Iraq, the group has had to work with secular Ba‘athists, former army officers, tribal councils, and various Sunni opposition groups, many of whose members are in administrative positions [4]. In Syria, it has likewise had to negotiate with other rebel factions as well as tribes, and relies on local (non-ISIS) technical expertise to manage services such as water, electricity, public health, and bakeries [5].

The vast majority of ISIS’ estimated 20,000-31,500 fighters are recent recruits and it is not clear whether and how its leadership maintains ideological consistency among them. All told, our sense of ISIS’ coherence as a caliphate with a clear chain of command, a solid organizational structure, and an all-encompassing ideology is a direct product of ISIS’ propaganda apparatus.

We see ISIS as a unitary entity because ISIS propagandists want us to see it that way. This is why it is problematic to rely on doctrines espoused in propaganda to explain ISIS’ behavior. Absent more evidence, we simply cannot know if the behaviors of the different parts of ISIS are expressions of these doctrines.

And yet, much of the analysis that we have available relies precisely on ISIS’ propaganda and doctrinal statements. What does this emphasis obscure? Here I will point out several of the issues I consider most important.

First, we lack a good grasp of the motivations of those who fight for or alongside ISIS, so we assume that they are motivated by Salafism and the desire to live in a caliphate. What information we do have comes almost entirely from ISIS propaganda and recruitment videos, a few interviews, and the occasional news report about a foreign fighter killed in battle or arrested before making it to his or her destination.

Focusing on doctrinal statements would have us homogenizing the entirety of ISIS’ military force as fighters motivated by an austere and virulent form of Salafi Islam. This is how ISIS wants us to see things, and it is often the view propagated by mainstream media.

For example, CNN recently quoted former Iraqi national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Ruba‘i as claiming that in Mosul, ISIS was recruiting “Young Iraqis as young as 8 and 9 years old with AK-47s… and brainwashing with this evil ideology.” A Pentagon spokesman is quoted in the same story as saying that the U.S. was not intent on “simply… degrading and destroying… the 20,000 to 30,000 (ISIS fighters)... It’s about destroying their ideology” [6].

The problem with these statements is that they seem to assume that ISIS is a causa sui phenomenon that has suddenly materialized out of the thin ether of an evil doctrine. But ISIS emerged from the fires of war, occupation, killing, torture, and disenfranchisement. It did not need to sell its doctrine to win recruits. It needed above all to prove itself effective against its foes.

In Iraq, the cities that are now controlled by ISIS were some of those most resistant to American control during the occupation and most recalcitrant in the face of the newly established state. The destruction that these cities endured seems only to have hardened their residents’ defiance. Fallujah, the first Iraqi city to fall to ISIS, is famous for its devastation during U.S. counterinsurgency operations in 2004. It still struggles with a legacy of rising cancer rates, genetic mutations, birth defects, and disabilities blamed on depleted uranium in American munitions [7].

In Mosul, many of those who joined ISIS last summer had been previously imprisoned by the Iraqi government. They numbered in the thousands and included peaceful protesters who opposed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s increasingly authoritarian rule [8].

The situation in Syria is not entirely different. ISIS emerged on the scene after a long period of strife that began with peaceful protests in 2011 and deteriorated into civil war after President Bashar al-Asad’s military and security forces repeatedly deployed brutal force against the opposition.

A large number of ISIS fighters in Syria (as in Iraq) are indeed foreign, but the majority are local recruits. The emphasis on ISIS’ Salafi worldview has tended to obscure the many grievances that may motivate fighters to join an increasingly efficient militant group that promises to vanquish their oppressors. Do they need to “convert” to ISIS’ worldview to fight with or for them? Do they need to aspire to a caliphate, as does ISIS leadership, in order to join forces with them? These questions are never asked, and “beliefs” are made simply to fill the explanatory void.

Second, the puzzle of foreign fighters is no less obscured by an overemphasis on the allure of Salafism. Again, the tendency here is to ignore any motivation except the overriding call of the Salafi jihadist who persuades converts of the truth of Islam and of their responsibility to wage war in defense of the Islamic community. In ISIS’ case, the aspiration to create a caliphate is added to the equation. Foreign fighters must be joining ISIS, we are told, because they desire to live in a pristine Muslim utopia.

Some analysts allow the possibility that the jihadi convert is mentally unstable, a privilege usually reserved for white non-Muslim mass murderers. But rarely do they consider that sensibilities and motivations other than or in addition to mere commitment to Salafi Islam or a desire to live in a utopic state may guide their decisions.

For example, could it be that a sense of compassion for suffering fellow humans or of altruistic duty—sensibilities that are very much valued and cultivated in American society [9]—has prefigured their receptiveness to a call to arms to aid a people they consider to be oppressed?

The novelist and journalist Michael Muhammad Knight has recently argued that his own flirting with jihad in the Chechen war of the 1990s did not grow out of his then commitment to Salafi Islam, but from American values: “I had grown up in the Reagan ‘80s. I learned from G.I. Joe cartoons to (in the words of the theme song) ‘fight for freedom, wherever there’s trouble.’ I assumed that individuals had the right—and the duty—to intervene anywhere on the planet where they perceived threats to freedom, justice, and equality” [10].

Unfortunately, such first-person accounts that give us a view beyond recruiter-side doctrine are rare. The situation is even more difficult with non-Western foreign fighters, about whose conditions and motivations we know still less.

Finally, the belief that Salafi Islam is exceptional in its extremism has made it convenient to view ISIS brutality as likewise exceptional. We are variously told that ISIS’ killings—especially the beheadings of victims, most recently of foreign journalists—are medieval, barbaric, pornographic, and ends in themselves (rather than means to any end). This violence is apparently counterpoised against civilized, non-gratuitous, means-end rational forms of killing, such as those practiced by the American military.

The anthropologist Talal Asad has questioned the presumptions that guide these distinctions between what we might call “humanitarian” and “gratuitous” violence and cruelty [11]. It is not my intention to pursue that line of thought here. Instead, I want only to point out that once again, ISIS’ brutality did not emerge in a vacuum; rather, it is part of a whole ecology of cruelty spread out over more than a decade.

Perhaps a decapitation is more cruel than blowing a body to bits with a high-caliber machine gun, incinerating it with a remote-controlled drone, or burning and lacerating it with a barrel bomb. But even if we limit ourselves to close-up, low-technology brutality, ISIS beheadings are hardly out of place.

The earliest video-taped decapitation of an American citizen in Iraq was conducted by ISIS’ predecessors in 2004 in response, they claimed, to the photographed and video-recorded torture, rape, and murder of detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison [12]. In 2011, it emerged that some American soldiers in Afghanistan had been hunting civilians for sport and collecting their fingers and teeth as souvenirs [13]. In the sectarian bloodshed that engulfed Iraq after the U.S. invasion, beheadings by Sunni insurgents turned into a morbid form of reciprocity with Shi‘a militiamen who bore holes into their victims using power drills [14].

The point is not to identify when cruelty emerged in the long American-led Global War on Terrorism—only that the view that one particular religious doctrine is uniquely extremist will not help us understand the cycles of brutality that have fed on years of circulating narratives and images of torture, violent murder, and desecration.

[This article ws originallly published on divinity.uchicago.edu]

Footnotes:

[1] For example, see Bonnefoy, Laurent. Salafism in Yemen: Transnationalism and Religious Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012; and Hirschkind, Charles. The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics (Cultures of History). New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Gilsinan, Kathy. “The Many Ways to Map the Islamic ‘State’.” The Atlantic. August 27, 2014.

[4] Sayigh, Yezid. “ISIS: Global Islamic Caliphate or Islamic Mini-State in Iraq?” Carnegie Middle East Center, July 24, 2014. (Originally published in Arabic in Al-Hayat).

[5] Caris, Charles C. and Samuel Reynolds. “ISIS Governance in Syria.” Middle East Security Report.

[6] Karadsheh, Jomana, Jim Sciutto, and Laura Smith-Spark. “How foreign fighters are swelling ISIS ranks in startling numbers.” CNN, September 14, 2014.

[7] Dewachi, Omar. “The Toxicity of Everyday Survival in Iraq.” Jadaliyya, August 13, 2013.

[8] “Inside Mosul: Why Iraqis are celebrating Islamic extremists’ takeover of their city.”Niqash, June 12, 2014.

[9] Graeber, David. “Army of Altruists.” Harper’s Magazine, January 2007.

[10] Knight, Michael Muhammad. “I understand why Westerners are joining jihadi movements like ISIS. I was almost one of them.” Washington Post, September 3, 2014.

[11] Asad, Talal. “Reflections on Violence, Law, and Humanitarianism.” Critical Inquiry. Accessed September 30, 2014.

[12] Nichols, Bill. “Video shows beheading of American captive.” USA Today,November 5, 2004.

[13] Boal, Mark. “The Kill Team: How U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan murdered innocent civilians.” Rolling Stone, March 27, 2011.

[14] Democracy Now! “Nir Rosen on “Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World.” November 10, 2010.

Further Reading:

Armstrong, Karen. “The Myth of Religious Violence.” The Guardian, September 25, 2014.

Haddad, Bassam and Basileus Zeno. “ISIS in the News: Extensive Media Roundup (August-September 2014).” Jadaliyya, September 26, 2014.

Latest posts in Syria:
[Crop of image from Slide presentation from Department of Defense Press Briefing by Rear Adm. Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room. Fighter aircraft from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and the United States attacked modular oil refineries in eastern Syria controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Sept. 25, 2014.]O.I.L. Media Roundup (20 October)
[Bullet-pocked buildings in Daraa City, in the south of Syria. 14 October 2014. From Lens Young Hourany.]Syria Media Roundup (October 20)

Monday, October 20, 2014

"Theonlydemocracyinthemideast":More tales of the great Jewish democracy's hatred of free speech


Lieberman: Time to jail 'terrorist' MK Zoabi
Foreign minister urges law enforcement to act against lawmaker who equated Israeli pilots with Islamic State.
By Haaretz | Oct. 20, 2014 | 2:20 PM | 3


Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Monday said that "terrorist" MK Haneen Zoabi should be jailed and called on Israeli law enforcement to take action against her.

Lieberman's remarks come a day after Zoabi, not one to shy from controversy, equated Israeli army pilots with Islamic State terrorists.

"The law must be used to put the terrorist – there is no other word for it – the terrorist Haneen Zoabi in jail for many years," Lieberman told Israel Radio.

He also said that Zoabi should have stayed in Qatar when she visited over the summer. "There is no reason she should be here in Israel or have Israeli citizenship," he said.

"She can also live in Gaza. As a single woman, dressed the way she dresses, she will feel very comfortable in the company of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. I am just looking forward to law enforcement's action."

Zoabi on Sunday told Channel 2 Online that an Israeli pilot “is no less a terrorist than a person who takes a knife and commits a beheading.”

She said she believes that “both are armies of murderers, they have no boundaries and no red lines.”

“In Iraq and Syria they have their picture taken with a knife and here they have their picture taken with dead bodies and with their bombardments and they also laugh,” she said. “The M-16 and the bombardments kill more than a knife.”

Her remarks drew harsh responses from fellow Israeli lawmakers, including Likud MK Miri Regev, who said, "Zoabi is a dangerous enemy of the Israeli public who should not be in the Knesset." Regev also said Zoabi's "incitement are as grave as the acts of a terrorist who harms innocents."

Zoabi's remarks are "nothing more than cheap provocation," said Labor MK Itzik Shmuli, who added that this was not an issue of left-wing versus right-wing views. Zoabi is "a fundamentalist Israel-hater who knows how to take full advantage of Israeli democracy."

Lieberman also intends to try, once again, to disqualify Zoabi's Balad from running for Knesset.

“The Balad party has turned into an arm of Hamas," Lieberman wrote on his Facebook page. "It aids it while using the Knesset to promote terrorism, and taking advantage of its Knesset members' parliamentary immunity.”

"After its previous leader, Azmi Bishara, fled the country because he was suspected of espionage against Israel and assisting Hezbollah," Lieberman wrote, "Balad members continue their activity against the state."

Fellow Balad MK Basel Ghattas also joined the fray on Monday, saying the Islamic State is murderous and cruel, but that unlike the IDF it has not committed crimes against humanity.

"Israel is the one that has the ability to commit crimes against humanity," Ghattas told Army Radio on Monday morning.

"Even [Defense Minister Moshe] Ya'alon said that they shelled Shejaiya ruthlessly to prevent the abduction of a soldier. That quote will bring Ya'alon before prosecutors at the Hague," he said, referring to a Gaza neighborhood that was hard hit during this summer's war between Israel and Hamas.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sectarianism In Mideast Is Not At All Coincidental

By Ramzy Baroud

October 16, 2014 "ICH" - "Arab News" - Consider this comical scene described by Peter Van Buren, a former US diplomat, who was deployed to Iraq on a 12-month assignment in 2009-10.

Van Buren led two Department of State teams assigned with the abstract mission of the “reconstruction” of Iraq, which was destroyed in the US-led wars and sanctions. He describes the reconstruction of Iraq as such:

“In practice, that meant paying for schools that would never be completed, setting up pastry shops on streets without water or electricity, and conducting endless propaganda events on Washington-generated themes of the week (“small business,” “women’s empowerment,” “democracy building.”)”

As for the comical scene: “We even organized awkward soccer matches, where American taxpayer money was used to coerce reluctant Sunni teams into facing off against hesitant Shiite ones in hopes that, somehow, the chaos created by the American invasion could be ameliorated on the playing field.”

Of course, there is nothing funny about it when seen in context. The entire American nation-building experiment was in fact a political swindle engulfed by many horrifying episodes, starting with the dissolving of the country’s army, entire official institutions and the construction of an alternative political class that was essentially sectarian.

Take the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), which was founded in July 2003 as an example. The actual ruler of Iraq was the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), headed first by Gen. Jay Garner, then by Paul Bremer, who, affectively was the governor of Iraq. The figureheads of the IGC were mostly a conglomerate of pro-US Iraqi individuals with a sinister sectarian past.

This is particularly important, for when Bremer began mutilating Iraqi society as dictated to him from Washington, the IGC was the first real sign of the American vision for Iraq with a sectarian identity. The council was made of 13 Shiites, five Sunnis, five Kurds, a Turkmen and an Assyrian.

One would not dwell on the sectarian formation of the US-ruled Iraq if such vulgar sectarianism were embedded in the collective psyche of Iraqi society. But, perhaps surprisingly, this is not the case.

Fanar Haddad, author of Sectarianism in Iraq: Antagonistic Visions of Unity, like other perceptive historians, doesn’t buy into the “ancient hatred” line between Sunnis and Shiites. “The roots of sectarian conflict aren’t that deep in Iraq,” he said in a recent interview.

Between the establishment of the modern Iraqi state in 1921 and for over 80 years, “the default setting (in Iraq) was coexistence.” Haddad argues that “Post-2003 Iraq... identity politics have been the norm rather than an anomaly because they’re part of the system by design.”

That “design” was not put in place arbitrarily. The conventional wisdom was that the US army is better seen as a “liberator” than an invader, where the Shiite community was supposedly being liberated from an “oppressive” Sunni minority. By doing so, those in their name Iraq was “liberated” were armed and empowered to fight the “Sunni insurgency” throughout the country. The “Sunni” discourse, laden with such terminology as the “Sunni Triangle” and “Sunni insurgents” and such, was a defining component of the American media and government perception of the war. In fact, there was no insurgency per se, but an organic Iraqi resistance to the US-led invasion.

The design had in fact served its purposes, but not for long. Iraqis turned against one another, as US troops mostly watched the chaotic scene from behind the well-fortified Green Zone. When it turned out that the US public still found the price of occupation too costly to bear, the US redeployed out of Iraq, leaving behind a broken society. By then, there were no more Shiite vs. Sunni awkward football matches, but rather an atrocious conflict that had claimed too many innocent lives to even be able count.

True, the Americans didn’t create Iraqi sectarianism. The latter always brewed beneath the surface. However, sectarianism and other manifestations of identity politics in Iraq were always overpowered by a dominant sense of Iraqi nationalism, which was violently destroyed and ripped apart by US firepower starting March 2003. But what the American truly founded in Iraq was Sunni militancy, a concept that has, till recently been alien to the Middle East.

Being the majority among Muslim societies as a whole, Sunnis rarely identified as such. Generally, minorities tend to ascribe to various group memberships as a form of self-preservation. Majorities feel no such need. Al-Qaeda for example, seldom made such references to being a Sunni group, and its targeting of Shiite and others was not part of its original mission. Even its violent references to other groups were made in specific political contexts: They referred to the “Crusaders” when they mentioned US military presence in the region, and to Jews, in reference to Israel. The group used terror to achieve what were essentially political objectives.

But even Al-Qaeda’s identity began changing after the US invasion of Iraq. One could make the argument that the link between the original Al-Qaeda and current group known as the Islamic State (IS) is Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. He was the founder of Al-Tawhid Wa Al-Jihad group, and didn’t join Al-Qaeda officially until 2004. A merger had then taken place, resulting in the creation of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)

While Zarqawi’s move to Iraq had originally targeted the US occupation, the nature of his mission was quickly redefined by the extremely violent sectarian nature of the conflict. He declared “war” on the Shiites in 2005, and was killed a few months later at the height of the civil war.

Zarqawi was so violent in his sectarian war to the extent that Al-Qaeda leaders were allegedly irritated with him. The core Al-Qaeda leadership, which imposed itself as the guardians of the Muslim Ummah (nation) could have been wary that a sectarian war would fundamentally change the nature of the conflict — a direction they deemed dangerous.

If these dialectics ever existed, they are no longer relevant today. The Syrian civil war was the perfect landscape for sectarian movements to operate, and, in fact, evolve. By then, AQI had merged with the Mujahideen Shura Council resulting in the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), then the Levant (ISIL), which eventually declared a Sunni-centered Caliphate on land it occupied in Syria and, more recently in Iraq. It now simply calls itself the Islamic State (IS).

Sunni militancy (as in groups operating on the central premise of being Sunni) is a particularly unique concept in history. What makes IS an essential sectarian phenomenon with extremely violent consequences is that it was born into an exceptionally sectarian environment, and could only operate within the existing rules.

To destroy sectarian identities prevalent in the Middle East region today, the rules would have to be redesigned, not by Paul Bremer type figures, but through the creation of new political horizons, where fledgling democracies are permitted to operate in safe environments, and where national identities are reanimated to meet the common priorities of the Arabs.

While the US-led coalition can indeed inflict much damage on IS and eventually claim some sort of victory, they will ultimately exasperate the sectarian tension that will spill over to other Middle Eastern nations.

Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com - Email: ramzybaroud@hotmail.com


The Two-state Solution is Ultimately Doomed to Fail


By Jonathan Cook

October 16, 2014 "ICH" - There can have been few Palestinians whose hearts did not warm at least a little to the news that the British parliament voted overwhelmingly this week to recognise a Palestinian state. After all, it was a British decision to issue the Balfour Declaration – taken almost 100 years ago – that set in motion Israel’s creation and the territorial conflict that has raged ever since.

The parliamentary win, as has been widely noted, was symbolic – and in more ways than one. The motion, backed by 274 votes to 12, is not binding.

Like most of the European Union, the UK government still appears unwilling to join more than 130 states worldwide that have recognised Palestinian statehood.

If, as expected, the Palestinian leadership returns to the UN next month to renew its statehood bid, British officials have indicated they will not be swayed by parliamentary sentiment.

A late amendment also tied recognition to a “negotiated two state solution”. But in cleaving to the US position, which opposes unilateral Palestinian moves, British MPs continued to implicitly acknowledge the veto of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Palestinian ambitions.

The vote was symbolic, too, because the Conservatives, the dominant party in the ruling coalition, effectively opted out of the debate. More than half of all MPs either abstained or stayed away.

Research shows four out of five Conservative MPs – and a significant proportion of opposition Labour MPs too – belong to their party’s Friends of Israel caucus. Each year large numbers fly to Israel at the expense of the Israeli government.

In a country that has so often betrayed the Palestinians, the other major parties’ voting behaviour hardly inspired confidence. At the last minute Labour downgraded its “whip”, leaving its MPs largely free to decide how they voted or whether they attended. The Lib Dems, the junior coalition partner, did the same.

Nonetheless, there was cause for celebration. The wariness of all the main parties to be seen publicly opposing Palestinian statehood undoubtedly signalled a change of political climate.

Labour leader Ed Miliband and his shadow cabinet backed the motion. The party appears to have accepted that there is a price for endlessly postponing recognition of Palestinian rights, or conditioning them on Israel’s approval. Not least, anger at western hypocrisy has spilt out in unpredictable ways: from murderous jihadis destabilising the Middle East to radicalised Muslim youth on Europe’s streets.

Importantly, too, the British vote adds to the momentum initiated this month by the Swedish government’s decision to break with its established EU partners by pledging to recognise Palestine. Others are likely to follow suit. On Tuesday, France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, indicated his country would also recognise Palestine if negotiations fail.

In short, the tide of history is turning. Israel is losing the moral argument in Europe, where the Zionist movement began. That tide will spread across Europe and ultimately lap up against the shores of Capitol Hill and the White House.

It was for that reason Israelis followed the British vote with concern. Matthew Gould, Britain’s ambassador and a much sought-after guest on Israeli TV and radio, warned that the UK public’s mood was shifting inexorably against Israel.

That process accelerated over the summer with Israel’s assault on Gaza, which killed large numbers of civilians, followed by yet another wave of settlement building and land appropriations in the West Bank.

Mr Netanyahu, who worked with Israel’s opposition Labor party unsuccessfully to defeat the House of Commons vote, shows no signs of willingness to compromise.

His officials were muted in their criticism of the UK, which is Israel’s second largest export market after the US. But Sweden’s ambassador was called in last week for a public scolding.

On Monday, Mr Netanyahu rebuked in person Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, after he suggested the cause of the summer’s hostilities in Gaza was “a restrictive occupation that has lasted almost half a century”. Mr Netanyahu flatly denied Gaza was even occupied.

Similar levels of denial are exhibited in western capitals. The evolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Israel’s relentless settling of Palestinian land over many decades, now fatally militates against the traditional two-state formula, as even western diplomats in Jerusalem privately concede.

This month saw the publication in English of a book by Israeli historian Shlomo Sand, whose previous works have proved unlikely bestsellers around the world. His latest provocative title – How I Stopped Being a Jew – should ensure another publishing success.

Sand has been popularising challenging ideas for some time. His latest argument is no less controversial.

He believes a Jewish tribal identity is incompatible with a democratic Israeli identity, and that one or other must give way. Is Israel to be a democratic state that abandons its tribal identity, or a Jewish tribal state that has no room for universal and democratic norms and is incapable of accommodating Palestinians as citizens or neighbours?

The implications are profound, suggesting a tribal Jewish state may, by its very constitutional make-up, be averse to peace and instead destined to endless conflict.

If Sand is correct, the traditional idea of creating a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state – the goal of the British vote and of every peace initiative since the UN announced its partition plan in 1947 – is ultimately doomed. A two-state solution would achieve little more than redrawing the battle lines.

Jonathan Cook is a Nazareth- based journalist and winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. http://www.jonathan-cook.net/

WHAT ‘DEMOCRACY’ REALLY MEANS IN U.S. AND NEW YORK TIMES JARGON: LATIN AMERICA EDITION

The Intercept

WHAT ‘DEMOCRACY’ REALLY MEANS IN U.S. AND NEW YORK TIMES JARGON: LATIN AMERICA EDITION
BY GLENN GREENWALD @ggreenwald TODAY AT 7:53 AM

One of the most accidentally revealing media accounts highlighting the real meaning of “democracy” in U.S. discourse is a still-remarkable 2002 New York Times Editorial on the U.S.-backed military coup in Venezuela, which temporarily removed that country’s democratically elected (and very popular) president, Hugo Chávez. Rather than describe that coup as what it was by definition - a direct attack on democracy by a foreign power and domestic military which disliked the popularly elected president – the Times, in the most Orwellian fashion imaginable, literally celebrated the coup as a victory for democracy:

With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona.

Thankfully, said the NYT, democracy in Venezuela was no longer in danger . . . because the democratically-elected leader was forcibly removed by the military and replaced by an unelected, pro-U.S. “business leader.” The Champions of Democracy at the NYT then demanded a ruler more to their liking: “Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a strong democratic mandate to clean up the mess, encourage entrepreneurial freedom and slim down and professionalize the bureaucracy.”

More amazingly still, the Times editors told their readers that Chávez’s “removal was a purely Venezuelan affair,” even though it was quickly and predictably revealed that neocon officials in the Bush administration played a central role. Eleven years later, upon Chávez’s death, the Times editors admitted that “the Bush administration badly damaged Washington’s reputation throughout Latin America when it unwisely blessed a failed 2002 military coup attempt against Mr. Chávez” [the paper forgot to mention that it, too, blessed (and misled its readers about) that coup]. The editors then also acknowledged the rather significant facts that Chávez’s “redistributionist policies brought better living conditions to millions of poor Venezuelans” and “there is no denying his popularity among Venezuela’s impoverished majority.”

If you think The New York Times editorial page has learned any lessons from that debacle, you’d be mistaken. Today they published an editorial expressing grave concern about the state of democracy in Latin America generally and Bolivia specifically. The proximate cause of this concern? The overwhelming election victory of Bolivian President Evo Morales (pictured above), who, as The Guardian put it, “is widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia’s natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses.”

The Times editors nonetheless see Morales’ election to a third term not as a vindication of democracy but as a threat to it, linking his election victory to the way in which “the strength of democratic values in the region has been undermined in past years by coups and electoral irregularities.” Even as they admit that “it is easy to see why many Bolivians would want to see Mr. Morales, the country’s first president with indigenous roots, remain at the helm” – because “during his tenure, the economy of the country, one of the least developed in the hemisphere, grew at a healthy rate, the level of inequality shrank and the number of people living in poverty dropped significantly” - they nonetheless chide Bolivia’s neighbors for endorsing his ongoing rule: “it is troubling that the stronger democracies in Latin America seem happy to condone it.”

The Editors depict their concern as grounded in the lengthy tenure of Morales as well as the democratically elected leaders of Ecuador and Venezuela: “perhaps the most disquieting trend is that protégés of Mr. Chávez seem inclined to emulate his reluctance to cede power.” But the real reason the NYT so vehemently dislikes these elected leaders and ironically views them as threats to “democracy” becomes crystal clear toward the end of the editorial (emphasis added):

This regional dynamic has been dismal for Washington’s influence in the region. In Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, the new generation of caudillos [sic] have staked out anti-American policies and limited the scope of engagement on development, military cooperation and drug enforcement efforts. This has damaged the prospects for trade and security cooperation.

You can’t get much more blatant than that. The democratically elected leaders of these sovereign countries fail to submit to U.S. dictates, impede American imperialism, and subvert U.S. industry’s neoliberal designs on the region’s resources. Therefore, despite how popular they are with their own citizens and how much they’ve improved the lives of millions of their nations’ long-oppressed and impoverished minorities, they are depicted as grave threats to “democracy.”

It is, of course, true that democratically elected leaders are capable of authoritarian measures. It is, for instance, democratically elected U.S. leaders who imprison people without charges for years, build secret domestic spying systems, and even assert the power to assassinate their own citizens without due process. Elections are no guarantee against tyranny. There are legitimate criticisms to be made of each of these leaders with regard to domestic measures and civic freedoms, as there is for virtually every government on the planet.

But the very idea that the U.S. government and its media allies are motivated by those flaws is nothing short of laughable. Many of the U.S. government’s closest allies are the world’s worst regimes, beginning with the uniquely oppressive Saudi kingdom (which just yesterday sentenced a popular Shiite dissident to death) and the brutal military coup regime in Egypt, which, as my colleague Murtaza Hussain reports today, gets more popular in Washington as it becomes even more oppressive. And, of course, the U.S. supports Israel in every way imaginable even as its Secretary of State expressly recognizes the “apartheid” nature of its policy path.

Just as the NYT did with the Venezuelan coup regime of 2002, the U.S. government hails the Egyptian coup regime as saviors of democracy. That’s because “democracy” in U.S. discourse means: “serving U.S. interests” and “obeying U.S. dictates,” regardless how how the leaders gain and maintain power. Conversely, “tyranny” means “opposing the U.S. agenda” and “refusing U.S. commands,” no matter how fair and free the elections are that empower the government. The most tyrannical regimes are celebrated as long as they remain subservient, while the most popular and democratic governments are condemned as despots to the extent that they exercise independence.

To see how true that is, just imagine the orgies of denunciation that would rain down if a U.S. adversary (say, Iran, or Venezuela) rather than a key U.S. ally like Saudi Arabia had just sentenced a popular dissident to death. Instead, the NYT just weeks ago uncritically quotes an Emirates ambassador lauding Saudi Arabia as one of the region’s “moderate” allies because of its service to the U.S. bombing campaign in Syria. Meanwhile, the very popular, democratically elected leader of Bolivia is a grave menace to democratic values – because he’s “dismal for Washington’s influence in the region.”


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Evo Morales has proved that socialism doesn’t damage economies


Bolivia’s re-elected president has dumbfounded critics in Washington, the World Bank and the IMF.

theguardian.com, Tuesday 14 October 2014 09.00 EDT

Evo Morales campaigns for the presidency
Evo Morales in the runup for the vote at the inauguration of a thermo-electric plant in Yacuiba in September 2014. Photograph: Aizar Raldes/AFP/Getty

The socialist Evo Morales, who yesterday was re-elected to serve a third term as president of Bolivia, has long been cast as a figure of fun by the media in the global north. Much like the now deceased Hugo Chávez, Morales is often depicted as a buffoonish populist whose flamboyant denouncements of the United States belie his incompetence. And so, reports of his landslide win inevitably focused on his announcement that it was “a victory for anti-imperialism”, as though anti-US sentiment is the only thing Morales has given to Bolivia in his eight years in government.

More likely, Morales’s enduring popularity is a result of his extraordinary socio-economic reforms, which – according to the New York Times – have transformed Bolivia from an “economic basket case” into a country that receives praise from such unlikely contenders as the World Bank and the IMF – an irony considering the country’s success is the result of the socialist administration casting off the recommendations of the IMF in the first place.

According to a report by the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, “Bolivia has grown much faster over the last eight years than in any period over the past three and a half decades.” The benefits of such growth have been felt by the Bolivian people: under Morales, poverty has declined by 25% and extreme poverty has declined by 43%; social spending has increased by more than 45%; the real minimum wage has increased by 87.7%; and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean has praised Bolivia for being “one of the few countries that has reduced inequality”. In this respect, the re-election of Morales is really very simple: people like to be economically secure – so if you reduce poverty, they’ll probably vote for you.

It’s true that Morales has made enemies in the White House, but this is probably less to do with rhetoric than the fact that he consistently calls for the international legalisation of the coca leaf, which is chewed as part of Bolivian culture but can also be refined into cocaine (via a truly disgusting chemical process). Before Morales was first elected, the Telegraph reported: “Decriminalisation would probably increase supply of the leaf, which is processed into cocaine, providing drug traffickers with more of the profitable illicit substance.” In fact the opposite has happened – in the past two years, coca cultivation has been falling in Bolivia. This inconvenient fact is a source of great consternation to the US government, which has poured billions of dollars into its totally ineffective and highly militaristic war on drugs in Latin America. Morales has – accurately in my view – previously implied that the war on drugs is used by the US as an excuse to meddle in the region’s politics.

Having said this, it would be dishonest to argue that Morales’s tenure has been perfect. Earlier this year the Bolivian government drew criticism from human rights groups for reducing the legal working age to 10. But what most news outlets neglected to mention is that the government was responding to a campaign from the children’s trade union, Unatsbo, which sees the change in legislation as a first step to protecting Bolivia’s 850,000 working children from the exploitation that comes with clandestine employment. Although Bolivia has made massive strides in reducing poverty, more than a million of its citizens still live on 75p a day – a legacy of the excruciating poverty of Bolivia before Morales took office.

Nevertheless, Morales must make reducing the number of child workers a priority during his third term. Not doing so will be a serious failure of his progressive project. In terms of social reforms, Morales should heed recent calls from the public advocate of Bolivia, Rolando Villena, to legalise same-sex civil unions and pave the way for equal marriage. He should also follow the lead of Uruguay’s president, José Mujica, and completely liberalise abortion, which would be a good first step to tackling the country’s high rates of maternal mortality. And Morales must also address the criticism of indigenous leaders who accuse him of failing to honour his commitments to protect indigenous people and the environment.

But however Morales uses his third term, it’s clear that what he’s done already has been remarkable. He has defied the conventional wisdom that says leftwing policies damage economic growth, that working-class people can’t run successful economies, and that politics can’t be transformative – and he’s done all of this in the face of enormous political pressure from the IMF, the international business community and the US government. In the success of Morales, important political lessons can be found – and perhaps we could all do with learning them.

Why I Cannot Support This Motion on Palestine By George Galloway


Statement from George Galloway on Parliament Palestine motion

October 14, 2014 "ICH" - October 11, 2014 - I have been urged by a number of my constituents to support a motion being debated and voted on in parliament on Monday “that this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel”.

As many probably know the Palestinian cause has been central to my political activity for the last 40 years. I appreciate the good intentions many have in urging me to support this motion.

However, unfortunately I cannot support this motion as it accepts recognition of the state of Israel, does not define borders of either state or address the central question of the right of return of the millions of Palestinians who have been forced to live outside Palestine.

Israel was a state born in 1948 out of the blood of the Palestinians who were hounded from their land. Since then it has grabbed ever more land from the Palestinian people. In the last five years it has twice launched murderous assaults on the Palestinian people of Gaza, some 1.8 million people crammed into what is in effect a prison camp. In the wake of the most recent war on Gaza, Israel has announced its biggest land grab in the Occupied West Bank so far. Israel has defied UN resolution after UN resolution with impunity because of the continued backing of Western countries and, above all, the US.

I continue to support the only realistic solution, one democratic and secular state, called Israel-Palestine or Palestine-Israel. The proposed two-state solution is to all intents and purposes dead and is only used in order to provide Israel further breathing space to consolidate the illegal settlements and expand its land grab further.

For these reasons, I am afraid I cannot support this motion and will abstain on Monday.

George Galloway, MP for Bradford West