Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"There Are Marxists in India?"


"There are Marxists in India?" Economist Prabhat Patnaik on the global crisis

By Robert Jensen (about the author)


After an engaging half-hour interview with India's pre-eminent Marxist economist during a conference at New York University, I told a friend about my one-on-one time with Prabhat Patnaik.

"There are Marxists in India?" came the bemused response. "I thought India was the heart of the new capitalism."

Indeed, we hear about India mostly as a rising economic power that is challenging the United States. While there certainly are no shortages of capitalists, there are still lots of Marxists in India, as well as communist parties that have won state elections. Patnaik represents the best thinking and practice of those left traditions -- both the academic Marxism that provides a framework for critique of economics, and the political Marxism that proposes public policies -- which is why I was so excited to talk with him about lessons to be learned from the current economic crisis.

In the interview, conducted during a break in the NYU Institute for Public Knowledge's "Futures of Finance" conference, http://rethinkingcapitalism.ucsc.edu/ I asked Patnaik two main questions: First, is there a "golden age" of capitalism to which we can return? Second, can we ever expect ethical practices from the financial sector of the global capitalist economy? Before explaining why his answer to both questions is "no," some background.

Prabhat Patnaik started his academic career in the UK, earning his doctoral degree at Oxford University and then teaching at the University of Cambridge. He returned to India in 1974 to teach at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi until his retirement in 2010. He's the author of several influential books, including The Value of Money, published in 2008. Patnaik-the-politician served as Vice-Chairman of the Planning Board of the state of Kerala from 2006-2011 and is a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). He regularly writes on economic issues in the Party's journal and addresses trade union meetings.

In the United States, where people believe Marxism was buried under the rubble of the Berlin Wall and communism can only mean Soviet-style totalitarianism, his political affiliations would guarantee a life on the margins. But India's political spectrum is considerably wider, and left ideas have a place in the national political discourse there. On the world stage, Patnaik brings an unusual perspective: An experienced economist with a history of political organizing; an Indian who is engaged in the political debates of the West; a leftist who is not afraid to critique the weaknesses of the left tradition.

The quixotic quest for a "golden age"

Ever since the financial meltdown of 2008, there's been more and more nostalgia in the United States -- especially among liberals -- for the immediate post-WWII period, the so-called "golden age" of capitalism during which profits and wages rose, and unemployment was low. This was the achievement of Keynesianism, the philosophy that unwanted market outcomes can be corrected through monetary and fiscal policy designed to stabilize an otherwise unstable business cycle. Primarily through "military Keynesianism" -- massive spending on wars and a permanent warfare state -- the U.S. government helped stimulate the economy when it went into inevitable periods of stagnation. That worked until about the mid-1970s, when growth started to slow.

Whether or not that system was good for everyone (lots of people in the Third World, for example, were not particularly happy with it), the question remains: Can we go back to that strategy? Patnaik says that golden age was necessarily short-lived, as the pressure for global investment pushed nations to give up the ability to impose controls on capital. This globalization of finance made national Keynesian policies less relevant. At about the same time, steep increases in the price of petroleum generated even more capital in the oil states, which went looking for investment opportunities around the world.

Globalization -- this concentration of capital moving freely around the world -- meant that no single nation-state could go up against international finance. And with the global flow of goods, the large "reserve army of labor" (the unemployed and under-employed) in places like China and India meant that workers in the advanced industrial countries had less leverage. So, productivity continued to rise, but wages stagnated. Patnaik said it's important to see the contemporary crisis in that historical context.

"The collapse of the housing bubble in the United States is certainly part of the problem but not the root cause of the problem today," he said. "The immediate crisis it touched off helps make the underlying problem visible."

If this financialization of the global economy, which has put so much power in so few hands, is at the heart of the problem, the question is clear: In the absence of a global state, who is going to control international finance capital?

If capital is going to be concentrated, can we at least make it behave?

If the power of finance capital can't be diminished, is there a way to at least make it follow some sane rules to prevent the worst from happening again? Short answer: No.

"It's important to understand that capitalism is a spontaneous system, not something that is always necessarily planned or controlled," Patnaik said. Because the reward for ignoring, evading, or getting around rules is so powerful, the attempts to make capitalism follow ethical norms are bound to fail.

"Keynesianism worked in a specific time and place, but capitalism escaped Keynesianism," he said. New rules will suffer a similar fate, absent a force as strong as international finance capital to enforce the rules.

Next Page Although Patnaik often talks in detail about the complex workings of the global economy, he also articulates simple truths when that kind of straightforward analysis is needed. In doing so, he often draws on aspects of Marx's analysis that the world tends to forget.

To make the point about the futility of talking about ethical norms in capitalism, Patnaik pointed to Marx's insight that a capitalist is "capital personified." Here's the relevant passage from the first volume of Marx's Capital:

"[T]he possessor of money becomes a capitalist. " [A]nd it is only in so far as the appropriation of ever more and more wealth in the abstract becomes the sole motive of his operations, that he functions as a capitalist, that is, as capital personified and endowed with consciousness and a will."

What Marx described as "the restless never-ending process of profit-making" and "boundless greed after riches" reminds us that as actors on the economic stage we are less moral agents and more "capital personified," relentless in our restlessness and bound to believe in an illusory boundlessness. Society might be able make some moral claims on people with wealth if they were merely working in capitalism, but it's more difficult to find common moral ground with "capital personified."

What should people fight for?

If we can't go back to business as usual, and there's no reason to expect that new rules will solve our problems, what kinds of solutions are possible? Patnaik said that neither of the two most obvious responses to the financial crisis -- creating a surrogate global state to impose controls on finance, or "delinking" a nation's economy from the global finance system -- are in the cards now. Even though capitalism is in deep crisis, resistance to capitalism is not nearly strong enough to produce movements that could make that possible.

Given his intellectual roots and political affiliation, it may seem surprising that Patnaik argues for organizing to bring back of the liberal welfare-state policies that developed in the advanced industrial countries during the postwar period when Keynesian economics ruled.

"That is not about going back, which is impossible," Patnaik said. "We have to go forward with new ideas." The call for a more robust social safety net (protecting workers' rights, unemployment insurance, social security, health insurance, etc.) isn't new, but such policies can be a step toward new ideas, a transitional measure, he explained. Rather than making those policies the final goal, as part of a more-or-less permanent accommodation with capitalism, they should be seen as a stepping stone toward radical change.

"We can work toward a reassertion of welfare state policies, not as an end but as a vehicle toward greater justice, as a way of making visible the inherent limitations of capitalism," he said.

In additions to the limitations of capitalism, there also are ecological limitations we can't ignore, he said, which means the goal can't be raising India and China to material standards of the United States. Patnaik recognizes the need to adjust older socialist goals to new realities.

"The world simply has to be refashioned," both in the Third World and in advanced capitalist countries, and specifically in the United States, Patnaik said, which means experiments in alternative ways of living that are not based on material measures.

"This really is a spiritual/cultural question, about what it means to live a good life," he said, which should not be seen as foreign to socialism. "Marxism shouldn't be reduced to productionism. The goal of socialism has always been human freedom, which is about much more than material wealth."

"Gandhi talked about the ethical demands of nature, but I don't like that phrase, being a socialist and anthropocentric," Patnaik said with the hint of a grin. "But we do have to live within the limits of nature."

The role of Marxism

It is easy to misjudge Patnaik from first impressions. Unlike many intellectuals, Patnaik does not immediately thrust himself into a discussion, and he's soft-spoken both in conversation and from the podium. But when he does speak, his passion for justice comes through loud and clear. And, while Patnaik identifies very much as a communist, he also is quick to poke at some of the tradition's platitudes.

"I just came from the (Communist) Party Congress, and I keep reminding everyone that they have to give up notions of a one-party State, of democratic centralism (the Leninist notion that party members are free to debate policy but must support the final decision of the party)," Patnaik said. "Democratic centralism always leads to centralism."

Next PageIf leftists reject the current dominance of finance in the world, Patnaik said it's important to reject any suggestion that a single perspective or party should dominate.

"The hegemony of finance throttles democracy. The hegemony of finance beats you into shape," he said. If the goal is to resist that kind of hegemony, then the approach of the old communist movement simply isn't relevant, Patnaik said, but socialist principles are more relevant than ever.

"Any resistance has to be about opening up alternatives, opening up critical thinking to imagine those alternatives," he said. "The only way to challenge that global regime is mass mobilization."

Patnaik has no off-the-shelf solutions to offer, and it's difficult to reduce his thinking to slogans. At the age of 66, when many people hold on tightly to what they believe will work, Patnaik doesn't hesitate to say, "It's time to invent."


Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin, one of the partners in the community center "5604 Manor," http://5604manor.org/ .

He is the author of All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice, (Soft Skull Press, 2009); Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South End Press, 2007); The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (City Lights, 2005); Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (City Lights, 2004); and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang, 2002).

Jensen is also co-producer of the documentary film "Abe Osheroff: One Foot in the Grave, the Other Still Dancing," which chronicles the life and philosophy of the longtime radical activist. Information about the film, distributed by the Media Education Foundation, and an extended interview Jensen conducted with Osheroff are online at http://thirdcoastactivist.org/osheroff.html .

Sunday, June 17, 2012

George Carlin on who owns America (hint: it's not you)

The War of Lies

Uri Avnery's Column

The War of Lies


THIRTY YEARS ago this week, the Israeli army crossed into Lebanon and started the most stupid war in Israel’s history. It lasted for 18 years. About 1500 Israeli soldiers and untold numbers of Lebanese and Palestinians were killed.

Almost all wars are based on lies. Lies are considered legitimate instruments of war. Lebanon War I (as it was later called) was a glorious example.

From beginning to end (if it has ended yet) it was a war of deceit and deception, falsehoods and fabrications.

THE LIES started with the official name: “Operation Peace in Galilee”.

If one asks Israelis now, 99.99% of them will say with all sincerity: “We had no choice. They launched katyushas at the Galilee from Lebanon every day. We had to stop them.” TV anchormen and anchorwomen, as well as former cabinet ministers have been repeating this throughout the week. Quite sincerely. Even people who were already adults at the time.

The simple fact is that for 11 months before the war, not a single shot was fired across the Israeli-Lebanese border. A cease-fire was in force and the Palestinians on the other side of the border kept it scrupulously. To everybody’s surprise, Yasser Arafat succeeded in imposing it on all the radical Palestinian factions, too.

At the end of May, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon met with Secretary of State Alexander Haig in Washington DC. He asked for American agreement to invade Lebanon. Haig said that the US could not allow it, unless there were a clear and internationally recognized provocation.

And lo and behold, the provocation was provided at once. Abu Nidal, the anti-Arafat and anti-PLO master terrorist, sent his own cousin to assassinate the Israeli ambassador in London, who was grievously wounded.

In retaliation, Israel bombed Beirut and the Palestinians fired back, as expected. The Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, allowed Sharon to invade Lebanese territory up to 40 km, “to put the Galilee settlements out of reach of the katyushas.”

When one of the intelligence chiefs told Begin at the cabinet meeting that Abu Nidal’s organization was not a member of the PLO, Begin famously answered: “They are all PLO”.

General Matti Peled, my political associate at the time, firmly believed that Abu Nidal had acted as an agent of Sharon. So do all the Palestinians I know.

The lie “they shot at us every day” has taken such a hold on the public mind that it is nowadays useless to dispute it. It is an illuminating example of how a myth can take possession of the public mind, including even of people who had seen with their own eyes that the opposite was true.

NINE MONTHS before the war, Sharon told me about his plan for a New Middle East.

I was writing a long biographic article about him with his cooperation. He believed in my journalistic integrity, so he told me his plan “off the record” and allowed me to publish it – but without quoting him. So I did.

Sharon had a dangerous mental mixture: a primitive mind unsullied by any knowledge of (non-Jewish) history, and a fatal craving for “grand designs”. He despised all politicians – including Begin – as little people devoid of vision and imagination.

His design for the region, as told me then (and which I published nine months before the war), was:

To attack Lebanon and install a Christian dictator who would serve Israel,
Drive the Syrians out of Lebanon,
Drive the Palestinians out of Lebanon into Syria, from where they would then be pushed by the Syrians into Jordan.
Get the Palestinians to carry out a revolution in Jordan, kick out King Hussein and turn Jordan into a Palestinian state,
Set up a functional arrangement under which the Palestinian state (in Jordan) would share power in the West Bank with Israel.

Being a single-minded operator, Sharon convinced Begin to start the war, telling him that the sole aim was to push the PLO 40 km back. He then installed Bashir Gemayel as the dictator of Lebanon. Then he let the Christian Phalanges carry out the massacre in Sabra and Shatila in order to terrify the Palestinians into fleeing to Syria.

The results of the war were the opposite of his expectations. Bashir was killed by the Syrians and his brother, who was then elected by Israeli guns, was an ineffective weakling. The Syrians strengthened their hold over Lebanon. The horrible massacre did not induce the Palestinians to flee. They staid put. Hussein remained on his throne. Jordan did not become Palestine. Arafat and his armed men were evacuated to Tunis, where they won impressive political victories, were recognized as the “sole representative of the Palestinian people” and eventually returned to Palestine.

THE MILITARY plan went awry right from the beginning, no less than the political one. Since the war was celebrated in Israel as a glorious military victory, no military lessons were drawn from it – so that Lebanon War II, some 24 years later, was an even greater military disaster.

The simple fact is that in 1982, no unit of the army reached its goal at all, or certainly not on time. Valiant Palestinian resistance in Sidon (Saida) held the army up, and Beirut was still out of reach when a ceasefire was declared. Sharon simply broke it, and only then did his troops succeed in encircling the city and entering its Eastern part.

Contrary to his promise to Begin (repeated to me at the time by a very senior coalition partner), Sharon attacked the Syrian army in order to reach and cut the Beirut-Damascus road. The Israeli units on that front never reached the vital road, and instead suffered a resounding defeat at Sultan Yacoub.

No wonder. The Chief of Staff was Rafael Eitan, called Raful. He was appointed by Sharon’s predecessor, Ezer Weizman. At the time I asked Weizman why he had appointed such a complete fool. His typical answer: “I have enough IQ for the two of us. He will execute my orders.” But Weizman resigned and Raful remained.

ONE OF the most significant and lasting results of Lebanon War I concerns the Shiites.

From 1949 to 1970, the Lebanese border was the quietest of all our borders. People crossed by mistake and were returned home. It was commonly said the “Lebanon will be the second Arab state to make peace with Israel”, not daring to be the first.

The mostly Shiite population on the other side of the border was then the most downtrodden and powerless of Lebanon’s diverse ethnic-religious communities. When King Hussein, with the help of Israel, drove the PLO forces out of Jordan in the “Black September” of 1970, the Palestinians established themselves in South Lebanon and became the rulers of the border region, which was soon known in Israel as “Fatahland”.

The Shiite population did not like their overbearing new Palestinian lords, who were Sunnis. When Sharon’s troops entered the area, they were actually received with rice and candies. (I saw it with my own eyes.) The Shiites, not knowing Israel, believed that their liberators would drive the Palestinians out and go home.

It did not take them long to perceive their mistake. They then started a guerrilla war, for which the Israeli army was quite unprepared. The Shiite mice quickly turned into Shiite lions. Faced with their guerrillas, the Israeli government decided to leave Beirut and much of South Lebanon, holding on to a “security zone”, which duly became a guerrilla battleground. The moderate Shiites were replaced by a much more radical new Hizb-Allah (“Party of God”) which eventually became the main political and military force in all of Lebanon.

To stop them, Israel assassinated their leader, Abbas al-Musawi, who was promptly replaced by a vastly more talented assistant – Hassan Nasrallah. At the same time, Sharon’s clones in Washington started a war that destroyed Iraq, the historic Arab bulwark against Iran. A new axis of Shiite Iraq, Hisbollah and Alawite Syria became a dominant fact. (The Alawites, who rule Assad’s Syria, are a kind of Shiite. Their name derives from Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet, whose descendents were rejected by the Sunnis and accepted by the Shiites.)

If Sharon were to wake up from the coma which has been his lot for the last six years, he would be shocked by this result - the only practical one - of his Lebanon War.

ONE OF the victims of the war was Menachem Begin. Many legends have been woven around his memory, blowing it out of all proportion.

Begin had many excellent qualities. He was a man of principle, honesty and personal courage. He was also a great orator in the European tradition, able to sway the emotions of his audience.

But Begin was a very mediocre thinker, completely devoid of original thought. His mentor, Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, treated him with disdain. In his way, he was quite naive. He let himself be easily misled by Sharon. Being single-mindedly devoted to defeating the Palestinians and extending the rule of the “Jewish” state to all of historical Palestine, he did not really care about Lebanon, Sinai or the Golan.

His behavior during the Lebanon War bordered on the ridiculous. He visited the troops and asked questions that became the butt of jokes among the soldiers. In retrospect, one wonders whether by that time he was already mentally affected. Soon after the Sabra and Shatila massacre, which shocked him to the core, he retreated into deep depression, which lasted until his death ten years later.

THE MORAL of the story, relevant today as ever: Any fool can start a war, only a very wise person can prevent one.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

more stirring tales of the only democracy in the middle east, enforcing white supremacy

From Haaretz

Fear mounts among African migrants as Israel begins deportation
The South Sudanese are the most concerned of all, after a Jerusalem court last week legitimized their deportation.
By Dana Weiler-Polak | Jun.11, 2012 | 1:11 AM | 8

Many African migrants in the country are living now in a state of fear, more worried than ever about being deported.

"They told us in January they were removing our collective protection, but it's only now that we're seeing action in the field, and it's starting to close in on us," said Bernard Abbot, who came to Israel 15 years ago from the Ivory Coast.

"I've been living here many years and I never believed that there would come a day that they [the authorities] would start pursuing the few Ivory Coast citizens who live here," he continued. "But this morning we understood that it will reach everyone, because they've arrested a woman and child from the community.

"It's a hard situation, because people live full lives here, with families and children," Abbot said. "You can't hole up now at home and hope that they won't come. Still, people aren't going out unless it's absolutely necessary."

Ismail, a migrant from Darfur, is also afraid, even though the collective protection offered by authorities to citizens of northern Sudan, including those coming from Darfur, is still in place.

"With everything that's been going on recently, I know it's just a matter of time before we're also deported," he said. "I'm afraid to go out of the house because on the one hand, people curse me because I'm black, and on the other hand they've already arrested me in the street and tried to get me to admit that I was from South Sudan."

The South Sudanese are the most concerned of all, after a Jerusalem court last week legitimized their deportation.

"I heard the news and I couldn't believe it was really happening," said Kamal, a South Sudanese who has been living here since 2008. "Parents are afraid to send their kids to school, and whoever has work is afraid to go lest he get arrested."

On Sunday, Israel's Immigration Authority began rounding up African migrants, with eight arrests reported in Eilat and central Israel.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Addendum re: Rachel Maddow's "Drift," ...I can't think of everything

Some things I forgot to mention in my last post:

In her book, Maddow bemoans the decisions being made about going to war behind closed doors in the executive branch, with the House and Senate, the supposed "check and or balance," being left out of the loop. But the most bellicose calls for government secrecy (meaning keeping the public in the dark) and draconian punishments for those who leak information are members of the House and Senate. We also get standard speeches from these august statesman (meaning semi-literate stumble bums with envelopes stuffed with cash bulging from their coat pockets) braying for war on Iran, war on Syria, killing Julian Assange of Wikileaks and similar Ciceronian orations.

About US imperialism:

By saying the USA is a predatory imperialist power (you don't have to engage in Marxist-Leninist theoretics to reach this conclusion, anyone can figure it out empirically) I'm not saying that it's unique. It's just that the USA muscled aside the tattered French and English imperialist operations at the end of WWII, and remains on top. But not necessarily for long. The rise of China and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa)shows the handwriting is on the wall. Thus, the US rulers become all the more desperate to try and stay on top. Technology has been enlisted with a vengeance to make up for lost ground economically and politically in the world. Israel plays an important role in this regard. Many new weapons and security/repression technologies are tested on the Palestinians by Israel in US-Israel joint military and business ventures.

About AIPAC and US power:

Maybe you could say that Israel and the USA are locked in a mutual death-grip. It clearly is a unique relationship. In the early days of the state of Israel there was some friction with US policy. Especially in 1956 when Israel joined in with French and British attack on Egypt in reaction to Nassar's nationalization of the Suez Canal. President Eisenhower ordered them out. He wasn't going to tolerate any reassertion of the old colonial powers. It was time for the new colonialist:the USA.

Since 1967 backing Israel in all things has been the basic policy, with some twists and turns due to the cold war. With the Soviet demise and Egypt locked in as a US client state, the Israel uber alles policy had smooth sailing for many years.

Now things are different and the maintenance of US hegemony over the Mid-east and its resources is not a sure thing. The tight embrace of Israel is starting to ill serve US imperialism. It needs to have some flexibility and the current Israel "policy" in problematic. Israel needs the US to protect it politically, economically and militarily, but it's also an ungrateful, insubordinate protectorate of the US. Israel has political clout in the belly of the beast: AIPAC, Zionist organizations, politicians, people with huge amounts of money. Israel and its minions invoke a dishonest,threadbare "moral high ground," which involves guilt-baiting and smearing anyone critical of Israel as antisemitic, holocaust deniers, and so on. To recognize the strange, outsized leverage that Israel has in US politics does not mean that they directly cause and are solely responsible for the US playing a destructive role in the Mid-east. If AIPAC and its money disappeared overnight, the US government would still play the same role. But it could be more flexible without AIPAC terrorizing US politicians.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Rachel Maddow's Book, "Drift," shows she is adrift

Rachel Maddow, the Democratic Party-line talking head on MSNBC has suddenly discovered that the USA goes to war at the drop of a hat and only a few people at the top are making the decisions behind closed doors. WHAT A SHOCK! How could this be happening after all these two hundred some years of following in the footsteps of the the drafters of the constitution which puts the military under civilian command and declarations of war in the hands of the House and Senate? This state of affairs isn't what Washington, Jefferson, Franklin et al had in mind. They would be really pissed.

A studious researcher, Maddow has learned that since Lyndon Johnson's war in Vietnam the founding father's strictures have been tossed out the window and we now have a system where decisions of war, life, death (Obama now personally sighs off on who will be summarily executed by drone attack), where troops are sent, etc. are made in secret by unaccountable heads of committees or agencies.

Since there's no conscription most people aren't affected by all of this and the government (whichever party is in power) does what it can to not clue in the populace of what is going on. Open debate, votes on declarations of war, the give and take of diplomacy, that's not happening anymore. How to right this wrong?

Maddow suggests restoring the balance between the executive and the legislative branches of government (take some power from the Presidency and give more to the House and Senate...somehow), banning private contractors like Blackwater from war making and having not so much secrecy. The odds of these things happening are, of course, slim to none. Why? Because Maddow's own fellow Democratic Party liberals are just as much gung-ho for permanent US warfare, and military bases being spread around the world, as any Republican. Also because everyone is on the take from the military-industrial complex among other businesses.

Maddow herself is adrift: untethered to reality. The USA has been an imperialist, predatory nation from the beginning. "Manifest Destiny" was the watchword for the march across the continent and the wiping out of the Indians; which begat the 1848 theft of half of Mexico, the 1898 war with Spain that led to planting the flag in Puerto Rico and Manilla; which presaged a revolving door of US military attacks and occupations in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and on and on morphing in more recent history to funding and using the local military and oligarchs to put US puppet governments in power (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, El Salvador among others). Then there is 1954 and reinstalling the Shah in Iran and then the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Guatamala, both of which were CIA capers. Democrats and Republicans collaborated on all of these interventions.

There is a seamless trail of US intervention in Vietnam from Truman,Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ and Nixon. The legislative branch has happily ceded it's warmaking powers to the executive. Sometimes there is a ritual of pseudo democracy to rubber stamp executive imperialism.

There is no "drift." There are a couple of centuries of policy: the US will dominate politically and economically whoever it can. If there's no submission, then send in the Marines, or in our higher tech world, the drones. Mark Twain could figure this out. He participated in the Anti-Imperialst League,which opposed the US war of conquest in the Philippines over 100 years ago. Maddow can't figure it out. The stark truth blows her whole rationale out of the water: the USA is good, good, good. But it makes mistakes that can be corrected...by Democrats.

The fact that Obama is far worse than Bush in committing war crimes and shredding democratic rights has escaped Maddow's notice.

Some commentators have suggested that the neo-cons and their obsession with supporting Israel at all costs are behind all this interventionism, at least in the mid-east. We can't point to The Weekly Standard or AIPAC as the motivating forces behind, say, the US marines occupation of Nicaragua from 1927 to 1933; but they have been enthused backers of the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and now Kenya and soon to be Mali.

The use of threats, bullying and military force is a longstanding tradition of the good ole' USA and the latest mid-east wars fit right in. You could say that AIPAC and the neo-cons make everything more reducto ad absurdum and shrill. Also they do hamper the use of more flexible tactics by US imperialism by their "Israel firstism." But in no way would US policy in the world be benign if they had no influence. This is a case of a falling out among thieves. The American people have no stake in what is euphemistically called our "National Interest." National Interest is a code word for the interests of banks, mulit-national corporations, and their political operatives in both parties.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Holocaust Religion & its Results

The roots of Israeli exceptionalism
Supporting Palestinians, not 'Holocaustianity' the best way to remember the Holocaust, says author.
Mohamed El-Moctar El-Shinqiti Last Modified: 28 Jun 2010 06:56 GMT

An American academic once told me: "Many people in the Islamic world think America does not believe in human rights, but they are wrong; America believes in human rights indeed, the problem is the American definition of human."

In other words: the American definition of 'human' is not a universal one. This is not purely an American characteristic; every culture faces the challenge of broadening its cultural limits and universalising its moral norms.

But among all human cultures and ideologies, the Israeli case is unique in its double standard.

Criminality wrapped in self-righteousness and aggression immersed in victimhood are a few striking characteristics of the Israeli reality and discourse.

The Israeli personality

The duality of "Israel's insistent emphasis upon its isolation and uniqueness, its claim to be both victim and hero," as Tony Judt wrote in Haaretz a few years ago, reflects the fragility and self-centeredness of the Israeli personality. This is not, unfortunately, exclusive to Israel's political elite, but rather it extends to their Zionist supporters worldwide, including those, such as novelist Elie Wiesel and philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, who portray themselves in humanistic and aesthetic images.

I was profoundly moved by the graphic description of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust in Elie Wiesel's Night, which depicts his and his father's experience of a terrifying process that violates human life and degrades human dignity.

But I was struck by the tone of self-righteousness and self-justification in Wiesel's fictional Dawn, particularly when he writes: "The commandment thou shalt not kill was given from the summit of one of the mountains here in Palestine, and we were the only ones to obey it. But that all over ... in the days and weeks and months to come, you will have only one purpose: to kill those who have made us killers."

When the Jewish South African judge, Richard Goldstone, exposed Israeli war crimes in Gaza, Wiesel called that "a crime against the Jewish people". But this is simply an immoral use of past atrocities as a moral justification for present brutalities and oppression.

Moreover, one cannot but entertain two questions here: Firstly, what kind of moral claim does Wiesel, who was born of a Romanian father and a Hungarian mother, have over the divine call at Mount Sinai in the heart of a Middle Eastern desert? And secondly, by which moral or legal norm are the Palestinians of today responsible for the wrongdoings of the Germans of yesterday?

Self-serving myths
Israel uses past atrocities as a moral justification for present brutalities [GETTY]

The worst of this hypocritical language, however, can be found in Bernard-Henri Lévy's article about Israel's aggression against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla published in Haaretz on June 8, 2010.

Lévy presents himself in self-glorifying terms as being "someone who takes pride in having helped to conceive, with others, this kind of symbolic action ‏(the boat for Vietnam; the march for the survival of Cambodia in 1979)...".

But when it comes to Gaza's plight, Lévy simply dismisses the tragedy by denying the existence of the Israeli blockade and attacking easy targets, such as "the fascislamist government of Ismail Haniya" and "the Islamist gang who took power by force three years ago".

Thus, he shamelessly dismisses the grand effort of the multiethnic, multinational and religiously diverse group of humanistic leaders and activists on the Freedom Flotilla.

Moreover, Lévy lacks the objectivity to address the fascizionist - to borrow from his own terminology - gangs who aggressively invaded Palestinian land over six decades ago, and uprooted a whole population forcing them into the new Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps - Gaza and the West Bank.

Indeed, for those who put their selfish desires above the moral principles of justice and compassion, their self-serving myths are better in their eyes than the ugly truth.

Jewish humanistic intellectuals, such as Professor Tony Judt and musician Gilad Atzmon deplore Israel's self-indulgence and lack of maturity. Judt writes: "Israel still comports itself like an adolescent: consumed by a brittle confidence in its own uniqueness; certain that no one 'understands' it and everyone is 'against' it; full of wounded self-esteem, quick to take offence and quick to give it ... that it can do as it wishes, that its actions carry no consequences, and that it is immortal."

Atzmon writes: "We are dealing here with a uniquely and seriously disturbed immature nation. We are dealing with a self-loving narcissistic child .... The more the Israelis love themselves and their delusional phantasmic innocence, the more they are frightened that people out there may be as sadistic as they themselves proved to be. This behavioural mode is called projection .... Jews have a very good reason to be frightened. Their national state is a racist genocidal entity."


What is most disappointing, however, is not the Zionist self-righteousness and narcissism; rather it is the Western acceptance and support of this attitude - an attitude that is better understood when placed in a historical context.

The main theoretical basis of the acceptance of Israeli exceptionalism in Western culture is the diversion, mainly within the Protestant branch of Christianity, of the Christian incarnation of God in the person of Jesus to a new incarnation of God in the Jews as a people - the Chosen People.

This tendency started with Martin Luther (1483-1546) who subdued Christianity theologically and morally to the Jewish factor in his small epistle That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew. Luther wrote in that epistle: "When we are inclined to boast of our position, we should remember that we are but Gentiles, while the Jews are of the lineage of Christ. We are aliens and in-laws; they are blood relatives, cousins, and brothers of our Lord."

Through this Luther - who was paradoxically a staunch anti-Semite - inadvertently opened a theological window, that would centuries later allow the 'cult of Israel', as it has been dubbed by the American writer Grace Halsell, to replace Christianity in most Protestant denominations, especially among American Baptists. After all, what they are doing is no more than a literal implementation of Luther's deification of the Jews.

Professor Yvonne Haddad of Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding calls this heresy 'Holocaustianity'. And within this new heresy lie the roots of the Israeli exceptionalism.

Trivialising the Holocaust

Israel is becoming a moral burden for those who value social justice [GETTY]

Professor Judt writes that: "What Israel lost by its continuing occupation of Arab lands it gained through its close identification with the recovered memory of Europe's dead Jews." But he knows well that the memory of the dead is the worse moral justification for murdering innocents: "In the eyes of a watching world, the fact that the great-grandmother of an Israeli soldier died in Treblinka is no excuse for his own abusive treatment of a Palestinian woman waiting to cross a checkpoint. 'Remember Auschwitz' is not an acceptable response."

But that is exactly the kind of moral justification we have from the Israelis today.

When an advisor to Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, tried to attack Helen Thomas' remarks in which she said Israelis should "go home ... [to] Poland, Germany ..." all he did is remind her that some of his relatives were killed in Poland and Germany more than half a century ago, as if that is a good reason to starve the Palestinians to death and to kill humanitarian activists in international waters today.

After all, the Israeli politician was just confirming what Thomas said: you belong there; not here.

This is how the Holocaust memory, a memory of a human tragedy by any and every measure, is trivialised by Israeli criminality.

A moral burden

Many political thinkers and politicians have recently realised that Israel is becoming a liability and a strategic burden for the US. It has always been a strategic burden. But the problem is much deeper. Israel is becoming a moral burden on all those who have an ethical conscience, including Jews who value human dignity and social justice.

Even those who spent their lives advancing the Zionist cause are today realising the moral paradox of their life's achievement. Henry Siegman, a German-born American writer who served as the executive director of the American Jewish Congress from 1978 to 1994, wrote in Haaretz on June 11, 2010: "A million and a half civilians have been forced to live in an open-air prison in inhuman conditions for over three years now, but unlike the Hitler years, they are not Jews but Palestinians. Their jailers, incredibly, are survivors of the Holocaust, or their descendants."

All decent human beings must support the oppressed Palestinian against the Israeli oppressor.

The oppressed Arabs of Palestine (Muslims and Christians) are rendering through their suffering a great service to the entire body of humanity, by exposing the most self-centered and supremacist ideology in our world - an ideology that is wrapped today in a bloody sacredness.

Mohamed El-Moctar El-Shinqiti is an author in political history and history of religion. He is a research coordinator at Qatar Foundation.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.