Thursday, October 30, 2014

More Evidence that Elie Wiesel is a Lying, Racist Schmuck

Elie Wiesel hides ethnic cleansing behind a prayer shawl
This ostensible messenger of peace supports an organization that evicts Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.
By Yossi Sarid | Oct. 17, 2014

Much have I learned from gossip columns, which for reasons of propriety are also called “social columns.” Without them how would we know who’s going with whom and for what gain?

Before turning to the news pages, cast an eye on the yellow stuff. It will help you understand how the system works.

The special ads – not those intended to sell chocolate pudding – also provide important information and develop your awareness. According to the numbers, under 10 percent of readers look at them, but that’s a mistake to be corrected.

So last Friday, this paper of all papers carried an ad in Hebrew blessing the “dozens of new families joining the Jewish community in the City of David.” According to the ad, “We salute the Zionist action of those involved; we all share the challenge of strengthening the Jewish presence in Jerusalem. With you we’ll receive the pilgrims who visit over the holiday.”

This is followed by the signatures of people linked to settler group Elad. Some of the names are unfamiliar, but some are astonishing. After all, this organization is notorious for making trouble in the City of Eternal Peace.

I wasn’t surprised to see singer Yehoram Gaon’s name, for example. He sees a flag in every rag and takes every broomstick for a flagpole.

But what are former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, former police chief Shlomo Aharonishki and former Hadassah University Hospital chief Shlomo Mor-Yosef doing there? What’s a former director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Ilan Cohen, doing there? Maybe they should explain why they’re willing to sponsor people who evict people and take over their homes?

As they say in Isaiah 5:8, “Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no room, and ye be made to dwell alone in the midst of the land.”

And who’s their chairman? You’ll never guess. Not casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, not Jewish organization leader Malcolm Hoenlein. Not even U.S. businessman Irving Moskowitz and his wife Cherna.

It’s somebody identified more than anyone with the memory of the Holocaust — a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom — Elie Wiesel. The Nobel Prize Committee in Oslo wrote: “Wiesel is a messenger to mankind; his message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity.”

This is a man expected to show special sensitivity to the suffering of the other, whether in Romania’s Sighetu Marmației, where he’s from, or Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood. This is the man who portrays himself as a friend of Barack Obama, but who lends a hand to those who insult the president publicly.

Before every meeting in Washington, these people prepare another invasion in Jerusalem, sabotaging others’ laborious efforts. Maybe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knew why he offered Wiesel Israel’s presidency at the time, but we didn’t.

He’s the man who declared he was keeping himself out of Israeli politics, anointing himself with pure olive oil. Every time he was asked to respond to some injustice in our midst, reminiscent of some injustice far away, he evaded the question.

He of all people burst into one house after another, houses bought in shady deals, fit for the night to be carried out before the sheets and coffee cups have cooled. He of all people is hiding creeping ethnic cleansing behind a prayer shawl.

Of all the organizations in Israel, he chose Elad, the most controversial, a group with no truth, grace or compassion. It’s all too clear why they chose him as chairman, but not at all clear why he agreed.

Wiesel has garnered enormous respect from the Jewish people and Gentile nations for surviving and becoming a mouthpiece for Holocaust victims. How about sharing some of that respect? Won’t you reconsider, identify with them and sign their cursed blessings?

Defend Free Speech, Stop Corporate and Zionist Censorship at our Universities

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai donates $50,000 to Gaza schools

Pakistani teen who won Nobel Peace Prize for education advocacy donates entire sum of World's Children's Prize to UNRWA schools damaged during summer's Gaza war.
Malala Yousafzai ahead of the 2014 World's Children Prize for the Rights of the Child award ceremony
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai addresses a press conference ahead of the 2014 World's Children Prize for the Rights... / Photo by AFP

By Haaretz
Published 19:44 29.10.14

Malala Yousafzai, the 17-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for speaking out for girls' right to education, has announced that she is donating the $50,000 she received for winning the World's Children's Prize to rebuild UN schools damaged during the summer's fighting in Gaza.

She said the money would go the United Nations United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, to help rebuild 65 schools damaged during the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas.

"Innocent Palestinian children have suffered terribly and for too long," said Yousafzai, who won this year's Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy efforts in Pakistan. "We must all work to ensure Palestinian boys and girls, and all children everywhere, receive a quality education in a safe environment. Because without education, there will never be peace. Let us stand together for peace and education because together we are more powerful.

Pierre Krahenbuhl, the commissioner general of UNRWA, said the recognition of someone who has "campaigned so valiantly for the essential right of a child to receive an education" will lift the spirits of the 250,000 Gazans who attend the UNRWA schools and the 9,000 people who teach there.

UNRWA shares with you the profound belief in the importance of education as a means to lift young girls and boys out of isolation, exclusion or oppression," said Krahenbuhl. "Acquiring skills and knowledge to improve prospects for the future is profoundly engrained in the Palestinian consciousness."


Monday, October 27, 2014

Minority Life in Israel

from NYT International edition

My mother, Zakia, was so proud that my sister and I spoke better Hebrew than Arabic. Osman, my father, believed that by achieving the highest levels of education, we would one day be treated as equal in our country, Israel. He sincerely believed that Palestinians capable of articulating their narrative would win the hearts and minds of Israeli Jews.

My parents believed in the promise of a democracy that transcends ethnicity. I still retain that dream, but it is tested every time I go home. I am a citizen of Israel, married to an American Jew, yet I am not welcome in Israel. For I am Palestinian.

During a recent visit, my husband breezed through security at Ben-Gurion airport, but our teenage daughter and I — who both have dual citizenship of Israel and Italy — were strip-searched. I’m inured to the procedure: I have to endure it almost every time I enter and leave the country. But our daughter, age 17, sobbed with chagrin. “This place breeds hate everywhere!” she cried.

On the same trip, I attempted to renew her Israeli passport. “She is not Jewish,” an official told me, “and therefore we are not sure she is entitled to citizenship.”

For Israeli Palestinians — and we make up 20 percent of the population — these are ordinary humiliations. But I wonder what my parents, both now dead, would have made of the graffiti that recently appeared on the walls of our family home in Haifa, a mixed city in the north of Israel.

“Death to Arabs,” it read.

During the recent war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, my cousin was walking on the beach near her home, also in Haifa. She overheard a group of Israeli sunbathers casually discussing how the Israeli Army should deal with the residents of Gaza — “Just kill them all,” she heard one say.

“I’ve never felt so scared in my 32 years,” she told me. “I don’t want them to know I’m Palestinian.”

Israel is increasingly becoming a project of ethno-religious purity and exclusion. Religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox parties occupy 30 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, and are part of the coalition government. Central to their politics is a program of discriminatory legislation, designed to curtail the civil rights of Palestinian Israeli citizens.

Chief among the more than 50 discriminatory Israeli laws documented by Adalah, the Haifa-based Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, is the Law of Return, which automatically guarantees Israeli citizenship for every Jew regardless of birthplace. Often, they are shepherded into settlements in the West Bank (illegal under international law), where they receive government benefits. Palestinian Israeli citizens, meanwhile, are subject to a ban on family reunification: If they marry a fellow Palestinian from the West Bank or Gaza, they are prohibited from living in Israel under the Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law.

In September, Israel’s Supreme Court dismissed a petition challenging the Admissions Committees Law, which allows communities to reject housing applicants based on “cultural and social suitability” — a legal pretext to deny residency to non-Jews. In practice, even before the law was passed, it was virtually impossible for a Palestinian to buy or rent a home in any majority-Jewish city.

Further ethnic separation is maintained by the education system. Aside from a few mixed schools, most educational institutions in Israel are divided into Arab and Jewish ones. According to Nurit Peled-Elhanan, a Hebrew University professor of sociology who has produced the most comprehensive survey of Israeli public school curriculums, not one positive reference to Palestinians exists in Israeli high school textbooks. Palestinians are described as either “Arab farmers with no nationality” or fearsome “terrorists,” as Professor Peled-Elhanan documented in her book “Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education.”

Israel’s system of segregation has led to a situation where, according to a recent poll, 42 percent of Jews say they have never met a Palestinian.

Historically, ultra-Orthodox Jews did not serve in the armed forces. Today, they do — and serve in every capacity, including in the most important elite Israeli army units, such as the Sayeret Matkal special forces and Unit 8200, whose responsibilities include gathering intelligence on any Palestinian they deem a “security threat.”

Unlike every former head of Shin Bet, Israel’s equivalent of the F.B.I., Yoram Cohen, who today heads the agency, is a religious Jew. That change is typical of Israeli society. The greater integration of ultra-Orthodox Jews clearly offers benefits to Jewish Israelis, but for Palestinian Israeli citizens, it has meant a new, religiously inspired racism, on top of the old secular discrimination.

National leaders proudly promote hate policies. Israel’s foreign minister and the leader of the secular nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, Avigdor Lieberman, has championed a call to boycott the businesses of Palestinian citizens of Israel and, ominously, has even sought to make the “transfer” of Palestinians legal. Secretary of State John Kerry has met with Mr. Lieberman — apparently without challenging him on such reprehensible views.

This is the atmosphere in which Israel’s Palestinians live. And there is no redress available to us elsewhere. Our rights and welfare certainly cannot be represented by the Palestinian Authority, whose jurisdiction is limited to partial control of the population of the West Bank. Its president, Mahmoud Abbas, cannot negotiate for us because we are Israeli citizens. Israel, however, prefers not to think of us as such, and thus resorts to all manner of petty aggressions to prove it, like trying to deny my daughter a new passport.

Israel is quick to point out efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state. Yet what truly undermines Israel’s international standing is not its critics, but Israel’s abysmal treatment of its own citizens who are Palestinian. It is little different than other countries that have systematically discriminated against and segregated a whole class of its people based on race, religion and ethnicity.

While Israel (like the United States) claims to abhor racism and human rights violations elsewhere, the country’s political leadership is actively enacting laws that ensure a pervasive institutionalized system of discrimination. What Israel needs, conversely, is a civil rights movement.

Rula Jebreal is a journalist, foreign policy analyst and aut

Saturday, October 25, 2014

More tales of equal rights and justice in the Jews-only democracy of Israel

How Israel forces Bedouins to live in a graveyard

Stephanie Westbrook The Electronic Intifada 24 October 2014

Women gather in the cemetery of al-Araqib as Israeli police raid the village in June. (Keren Manor / ActiveStills)
There is no exit sign off Route 40 for the unpaved road leading to the village of al-Araqib.

Located in the Naqab (Negev) region of present-day Israel, al-Araqib is older than the state itself: its cemetery dates back to 1914. Yet that is not considered significant by the authorities.

Home to a Palestinian Bedouin community, al-Araqib is deemed an “unrecognized village” by Israel.

That gives the authorities an excuse to deprive it and many other Bedouin villages of essential services such as electricity and water.

Acute deprivation

The deprivation is especially acute in al-Araqib. Because their homes have been demolished more than seventy times since 2010, the local Bedouins are forced to live within the confines of the cemetery. Rubble from their old houses has been removed by the authorities but remnants of kitchen and bathroom tiles still litter the ground.

Today, the Bedouins have to rely on a well dug in 1913 for water. “Before, we had electricity and water piped to the houses, but the government destroyed the infrastructure,” said resident Sheikh Sayah al-Turi. “We just want tap water like everyone else.”

By contrast, water is abundant across the road in the Jewish-only settlement of Givot Bar. Lawns are green in this settlement — even though it is located in the desert.

Givot Bar was established ten years ago by the Or Movement.

Along with its partner organization, the Jewish National Fund (JNF), the Zionist group is building a network of towns exclusively for Jews. The Or Movement has set the ambitious goal of bringing 600,000 Jews to the Naqab and Galilee regions of present-day Israel by 2020.

Decades of dispossession

To achieve this goal, the two organizations are furthering the decades-old project of dispossessing Palestinians.

The JNF portrays itself as an environmental group dedicated to afforestation. In reality, it is trying to purge Palestine of the trees and crops best suited to its arid landscapes, at the same time ridding the land of its indigenous communities and their agriculture-based economy.

To make way for a eucalyptus plantation it is developing, around 4,500 citrus, fig and olive trees have been uprooted in al-Araqib.

Water for the recently planted eucalyptus trees is taken to the area in tanker trucks. Yet the Israeli authorities have forbidden Bedouins from trucking water in to al-Araqib. Tankers and trucks for carrying water have been confiscated during the demolitions of the village.

“The government says it is illegal to bring water here, but at the same time, they won’t connect us,” al-Turi said.

Discriminatory pricing

Mekorot, Israel’s national water company, implements the official policy of cutting off the water supply to Bedouin communities.

Mekorot recently came under fire from a committee headed by Ram Belinkov, a former Israeli interior minister. Belinkov’s committee found that Mekorot was inflating its costs.

The Israeli business press has reported that while Mekorot has repeatedly called for rate hikes, the company was actually raking in “excessively high profits.”

Mekorot was also among the state-owned companies included in a $4 billion privatization plan approved by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government earlier this month.

A price list issued by the Israeli Water Authority in 2012 showed that “individual users” who bought water directly from Mekorot rather than through a local administration were subjected to a 67 percent rate hike. Most of these “individual users” lived in Palestinian villages that Israel has refused to recognize.

“Driving us from our land”

“There is a troika of Israeli entities working to drive us from our land: the state, Mekorot and the Jewish National Fund,” said al-Turi.

Mekorot’s involvement in the ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine has not prevented it from striking international deals. It has, for example, signed a cooperation agreement with Acea, Italy’s largest water company, in which the City of Rome has a 51 percent stake.

This writer recently visited al-Araqib — as well as Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank — with an Italian delegation of activists organizing against water privatization. The intention of the trip, sponsored by the Beyond Walls project, was to gain first-hand knowledge of Mekorot’s activities in order to assist the campaign against its agreement with Acea.

The villagers of al-Araqib deeply impressed us with their defiance of Israeli apartheid.

They have refused to sell one centimeter of land to the Israeli authorities. They have also rebuilt their village after each demolition.

And some of the olive trees that were cut rather than completely uprooted are sprouting new growth.

“This is very symbolic for us,” said Aziz al-Turi, the son of Sheikh Sayah al-Turi.

Even though it is a quasi-governmental Israeli agency, the Jewish National Fund is registered as a charity in many countries. Donations to it are therefore tax-deductible.

Aziz al-Turi, a father of five, underscored the hypocrisy of that status when he told The Electronic Intifada that “supporting the JNF is killing me and my family.”

Israel plans to present itself as an innovative and environmentally progressive country by celebrating its “water conservation” projects at the Expo 2015 in Milan.

The criminal behavior of Israel and its allies in al-Araqib prove that it is anything but progressive.

Stephanie Westbrook is a US citizen based in Rome, Italy. Her articles have been published by Common Dreams, Counterpunch, The Electronic Intifada, In These Times and Z Magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @stephinrome.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Dispatch From Guerrero The Real Criminals

OCTOBER 23, 2014

Shops are closed, with metal shutters pulled tight over the storefronts. Government employees have be18. en given the day off and warned to stay inside. Schools are out for the day, to the delight of the children. The new car agency has even removed the models from the show floor.

Acapulco, the Pearl of the Pacific, looks like it’s in hurricane mode. But there was no hurricane Friday. The government ordered the city lockdown to scare people off the march. Despite the campaign to create fear among the local population, close to ten thousand people marched to demand the safe return of 43 education students, forcibly disappeared by local police on Sept. 26 in the nearby city of Iguala .

Acapulco is the most violent city in the nation, and murder and extortion are everyday events. One resident who defied official warnings and joined the march told me, “You’ve seen those movies about the gangster days and Al Capone, with shoot-outs in the street and pay-offs to the cops? That’s us. I used to think that only happened in movies.”

But in a city where violence has become commonplace, for the city government the presence of citizens demonstrating for justice was the main threat to be reckoned with.

“Due to the protest, municipal authorities decided to suspend work and close offices, to avoid exposing personnel,” read the local Novedades Acapulconewspaper Friday. Municipal spokesperson Ricardo Castillo made the rounds of radio and television stations warning residents to remain inside their homes because of the possibility of violence.

“This is a peaceful march. Walk in your contingent, everyone behind the front banner. Men line up on the outside, women inside.” March organizers gave specific instructions to the thousands of teachers, students, local residents and regional grassroots organizations, including indigenous community police. The protesters followed them to the letter and despite high emotions at the assassinations and disappearance of the students, the march proceeded without incident. Even the graffiti was reserved for OXXO stores and politicians’ propaganda.

Two demands dominated the march: safe return of the missing students, and the resignation of the state governor, Angel Aguirre. Aguirre is blamed for the impunity that characterizes the state, a “cemetery of organized crime”, where the surrounding hills hide hundreds of bodies and body parts in mass graves. Members of the criminal gang, Guerreros Unidos, implicated in the disappearances originally led investigators to the supposed grave of the students, but the Attorney General announced this week that the semi-burned bodies are not those of the students. The fact that everyone has forgotten to even ask whose bodies were in the graves gives an idea of how “normal” mass graves and unidentified bodies have become in this part of the country.

The false warnings of violent protest are just the latest in years, if not decades, of government efforts to criminalize the students of the rural teaching college, Ayotzinapa. Casting a permanent image of dangerous youth threatening law-abiding citizens is part of a strategy to isolate the students.

Now they are the victims of police who opened fire leaving three students dead and abducting and disappearing 43 with the participation of Guerreros Unidos, an organized crime gang, But still, the press and government officials continue to paint the young people as the problem. Within local society, residents have grown so used to media and politicians’ harangues against the students for commandeering buses and blocking roads, that many will tell you privately that they believe the dead and missing got what they deserved.

But thousands more don’t agree. The movement to support the students and hold all levels of government accountable for the crime is growing. As the federal government insists that organized crime is behind the disappearance with just a few corrupt politicians, at the march not one of the chants or slogans or demands was directed at organized crime. All laid responsibility at the feet of the government, primarily the state government.

First, because citizens can’t make demands of organized crime. Criminals are criminals. It is the responsibility of the state to protect its citizens, which in Guerrero is clearly not happening. Second, because the protesters view the drug cartels and the state as partners.

“Sicarios, policia–la misma porquería” read one sign. (Hit men, police–the same trash”). The mayor of Iguala implicated in the attack on the students of Ayotzinapa has vanished after being allowed to take a leave of absence. He allegedly has close ties through his wife and friends to the local crime gang. He is accused of knocking off people who cross him, notably grassroots leader Arturo Hernandez Cardona two years ago who he is said to have murdered in person.

This also is not the first time that the governments’ hostility toward the Ayotzinapa college has led to violence. In 2011 police assassinated two students at a roadblock in a crime for which no one was held accountable.

The media and political push to blame the victims is particularly surreal when compared to the attitude of the state towards the real criminals. The state Congress decided yesterday–three weeks after the crime–to withdraw immunity for the mayor, José Luis Abarca. It’s not even clear if the federal government has issued an arrest order for him despite his obvious involvement in the crime from the outset.

Now Abarca is long gone, on the lam with a 21-day lead on police who apparently have little interest in capturing him. One can’t help but doubt that justice will prevail.

Laura Carlsen is director of the Americas Program.

Intent on Defying an All-Seeing Eye


‘Citizenfour,’ a Documentary About Edward J. Snowden NYT Critics' Pick
By A. O. SCOTT OCT. 23, 2014

Edward J. Snowden in the documentary “Citizenfour.” Credit Radius-TWC

There are two ways to look at “Citizenfour,” Laura Poitras’s documentary about Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor whose revelations of widespread surveillance launched a hundred Op-Ed columns a year ago. The first and most obvious is as a piece of advocacy journalism, a goad to further argument about how security and transparency should be balanced in a democracy, about how governments abuse technology, about how official secrets are kept and exposed. The second is as a movie, an elegant and intelligent contribution to the flourishing genre of dystopian allegory

CitizenfourOCT. 24, 2014
Edward J. Snowden with the journalist Glenn Greenwald in the documentary The Documentary ‘Citizenfour’ Raises Political QuestionsOCT. 17, 2014
Those who regard Mr. Snowden as an unambiguous hero, risking his freedom and comfort to expose abuses of power, will find much to agree with in Ms. Poitras’s presentation of his actions. This film is an authorized portrait, made at its subject’s invitation. In 2013, Mr. Snowden, using encrypted email under the alias “citizen four,” contacted Ms. Poitras and the journalist Glenn Greenwald, inviting them to meet him in Hong Kong, where he would share what he had learned about the N.S.A.’s capacity to intercept data from the phone calls, emails and web wanderings of American citizens. When asked why he had chosen her, Mr. Snowden, his identity still electronically shrouded, replied that she had selected herself, based on her previous work as a journalist and filmmaker, including a short documentary about William Binney, an N.S.A. whistle-blower who also appears in “Citizenfour.”

Communication between Edward J. Snowden and the director Laura Poitras in the documentary "Citizenfour." Credit Radius-TWC
And “Citizenfour,” much of which consists of conversations between Mr. Snowden and Mr. Greenwald, emphasizes his bravery and his idealism, and the malignancy of the forces ranged against him. This is obviously a partial, partisan view, and several journalists on the national security and technology beats — among them Fred Kaplan at Slate and Michael Cohen (formerly of The Guardian) at The Daily Beast — have pointed out omissions and simplifications. Those criticisms, and George Packer’s long, respectful and skeptical profile of Ms. Poitras in a recent issue of The New Yorker, express the desire for a middle ground, a balance between the public right to know and the government’s need to collect intelligence in the fight against global terrorism.

Fair enough, I guess. Such balance may be a journalistic shibboleth; it is not necessarily a cinematic virtue. “The Fifth Estate,” last year’s nondocumentary attempt to tell the story of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, bogged down in the pursuit of sensible moderation, losing the chance to write history in lightning.

“Citizenfour,” happily, suffers no such fate. Cinema, even in the service of journalism, is always more than reporting, and focusing on what Ms. Poitras’s film is about risks ignoring what it is. It’s a tense and frightening thriller that blends the brisk globe-trotting of the “Bourne” movies with the spooky, atmospheric effects of a Japanese horror film. And it is also a primal political fable for the digital age, a real-time tableau of the confrontation between the individual and the state.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
Mr. Snowden’s face is by now well known — it has been printed on demonstrators’ masks and stylized posters — but when he first encounters Ms. Poitras and her camera, he is anonymous and invisible, a nervous young man in a Hong Kong hotel room. He is shy, pale and serious, explaining his actions and motives in a mixture of technical jargon and lofty moral rhetoric. While he seems almost naïve about the machinery of celebrity that is about to catch him in its gears, he is adamant in his desire to take public responsibility for his actions, partly to protect others who might be blamed. At the same time, he defers to Mr. Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, a reporter for The Guardian, about when, how and how much of the information he is passing on will be shared with their readers.

Maybe some of this is ordinary-guy shtick, but it hardly matters. What makes Mr. Snowden fascinating — a great movie character, whatever you think of his cause — is the combination of diffidence, resolve and unpretentious intelligence that makes him so familiar. Slightly hipsterish, vaguely nerdy, with a trace of the coastal South in his voice (he was born in North Carolina and grew up mostly in Maryland), he is someone you might have seen at Starbucks or college or Bonnaroo. One of us, you might say.

But if he is us, then who is them? The officials from the Obama and George W. Bush administrations who have defended the N.S.A. in court, before Congress and on television, promising that the rule of law and the rights of citizens are being respected, even as the bad guys are being chased down and spied upon? Those presidents themselves, who preach liberty even as they expand the prerogatives of the executive branch? The telecommunications executives who collude in the collection of data?

All of the above, but maybe also not quite any of them. Plenty of movies have tried to imagine the contours of state power, but “Citizenfour” stands alone in evoking the modern state as an unseen, ubiquitous presence, an abstraction with enormous coercive resources at its disposal. To some extent, Ms. Poitras and Mr. Greenwald are engaged in a theoretical inquiry, a kind of speculative mapping, of the shape and reach of this mysterious entity. That is not to say that the United States government’s data collection program is not real, but rather that its extent and implications are only beginning to be understood.

Mr. Greenwald, a prolific writer and prodigious talker (in Portuguese, too!), has made his case against secrecy and surveillance in numerous articles, blog posts, books and television appearances. Ms. Poitras, who does not appear on camera in her film and speaks only when reading Mr. Snowden’s emails to her, pursues a slightly different project. She deploys the tools of her trade — spooky music and fluid editing, subtle camera movements and suggestive compositions — to try to coax a specter into view.

It is everywhere and nowhere, the leviathan whose belly is our native atmosphere. Mr. Snowden, unplugging the telephone in his room, hiding under a blanket when typing on his laptop, looking mildly panicked when a fire alarm is tested on his floor, can seem paranoid. He can also seem to be practicing a kind of avant-garde common sense. It’s hard to tell the difference, and thinking about the issues Ms. Poitras raises can induce a kind of epistemological vertigo. What do we know about what is known about us? Who knows it? Can we trust them? These questions are terrifying, and so is “Citizenfour.”

“Citizenfour” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Not because of the nightmarish spectacle of unchecked state power, but because of the s

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Palestinian-American Prof. Steven Salaita, fired for criticising Israel : Live streaming of his talk at George Mason University

Neoliberalism and the Corporatization of Universities

October 27, 2014 7:15PM
George Mason University
Johnson Center, Room 239A


Steven Salaita

[Details Coming Soon]

Moderated by Bassam Haddad
Addressing: The New "Academic Bullying" on Campus and its Remedies

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This event will be Live-Streamed at
courtesy of STATUS Audio Journal

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Phantoms of the Past: Britain's Vote on Palestine is a Nonstarter

Phantoms of the Past: Britain's Vote on Palestine is a Nonstarter

Oct 22 2014 / 6:51 pm
Without a clear course of action to help Palestinians gain their freedom, the British vote will remain another symbolic gesture.
By Ramzy Baroud
Palestine Chronicle

It would be intellectually dishonest to reflect on the British House of Commons' vote of Monday, 13 October, on a Palestinian state without digging deeper into history. Regardless of the meaning of the non-binding motion, the parliamentary action cannot be brushed off as just another would-be country to recognise Palestine, as was the Swedish government decision on 3 October.

Unlike Sweden, and most of the 130 plus countries to effectively recognise Palestine, Britain is a party in the Middle East's most protracted conflict. In fact, if it were not for Britain, there would be no conflict, or even Israel, of which to speak. It is within this context that the British vote matters, and greatly so.

As I listened to the heated debate by British MPs which proceeded the historic vote of 272 in favour and 12 against, phantoms of historic significance occupied my mind.

When my father was born in historic Palestine in 1936, he found himself in a world politically dominated by Britain. Born and raised in the now long-destroyed Palestinian village of Beit Daras - which, like the rest of historic Palestine has now become part of "Israel proper" - he, along with his family - were entrapped between two anomalies that greatly scarred the otherwise peaceful landscape of Palestine countryside. A Jewish colony called Tabiyya, along with a heavily fortified British police compound that was largely aimed at safeguarding the interests of the colony, subjugated Beit Daras.

The residents of the village, still unaware of the plan to dispossess them from their homeland, grew wary of the dual treachery with time. But by 1947-48, it was too late. The British-coordinated withdrawal from Palestine was aimed at creating space for a Jewish state, today's Israel. The Palestinians, for 66 years and counting, suffered from more than homelessness and dispossession, but also a military occupation and countless massacres, ending with the most recent Israeli war on Gaza. In what Israel calls Operation Protective Edge, nearly 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed and five fold more were wounded. Yet, Palestinians continue to resist, with greater ferocity than ever.

Because of this, and the fact that the British government remains a member of the ever-shrinking club of Israel's staunch supporters, the vote in the British parliament greatly matters. "Symbolic" and non-binding, it still matters. It matters because the Israeli arsenal is rife with British armaments. Because the British government, despite strong protestation of its people, still behaves towards Israel as if the latter were a law-abiding state with a flawless human rights records. It matters despite the dubious language of the motion, linking the recognition of Palestine alongside Israel, to "securing a negotiated two-state solution."

But there can be no two states in a land that is already inhabited by two nations, who, despite the grossness of the occupation, are in fact interconnected geographically, demographically and in other ways as well. Israel has created irreversible realities in Palestine, and the respected MPs of the British parliament should know this.

The MPs votes were motivated by different rationale and reasons. Some voted "yes" because they have been long-time supporters of Palestinians, others are simply fed up with Israel's behaviour. But if the vote largely reflected an attempt at breathing more life in the obsolete "two-state solution" to a conflict created by the British themselves, then, the terrible British legacy in Palestine which has lasted for nearly a century will continue unabated.

British army boots walked on Palestinian soil as early as 1917, after the British army defeated Turkey, whose vast Ottoman Empire, that included Palestine, was quickly disintegrating under the combined pressure of European powers. As soon as Jerusalem was captured by British forces under the command of General Sir Edmund Allenby in December 1917, and the rest of the country by October 1918, the will of the Palestinian people fell hostage to the British Empire. The figures of how many Palestinian Arabs were killed, wounded, tortured, imprisoned and exiled by Britain since that date, until the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948, is beyond depressing.

However, Britain's integral role in the suffering of the Palestinians and the establishment of Israel was hardly a coincidental policy necessitated by the nature of its immediate colonial ambitions. It was calculated and rooted in political and diplomatic intrigues that go back to the 19th century. It was also predicated on an unmistakable element of racism, rampant in the colonial culture at the time. Its manifestations still bring shame to Britain today, which still refuses to fully and unconditionally reverse that early policy.

It is inexplicable that one century after the British involvement in Palestine, which has proved its astounding failure, the current British foreign policy is not far removed from the language and policies executed by the British Empire when Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour "promised" Palestine for a Jewish state. The Balfour Declaration is dated 2 November, 1917, before Palestine was even occupied by the British, thus reflecting the sheer arrogance and disregard of Palestinians and their rights. In one of his letters at the time, Balfour so conceitedly wrote:

"For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country ... The four great powers are committed to Zionism, and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes of far profounder import than the desire and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land. In my opinion that is right."

Encouraged by the overwhelming recent vote in favour of Palestine at the parliament (although nearly half of the MPs didn't show up or abstained,) one can hardly deny the signs that both the British public and many in the country's political establishment are simply disenchanted by Israel's continued war and occupation which are the main reason behind the destabilisation of the region long before the Syrian civil war and other upheavals began. Many British MPs are furious over Israel's violent, expansionist and anti-peace conduct, including those who were once strong allies of Israel. That must not be denied.

But it is hardly enough. When the British government insists on maintaining its pro-Israeli policies, and when the general attitude of those who truly hold the reins of power in London remain committed to a farce vision of two-states, defending Israel and disempowering Palestinians at every turn, the Balfour vision of old will remain the real guidelines for British policy regarding Palestine.

66 years after ending its "mandate" in Palestine, Britain remains a party in a bloody conflict, where Israel is still carrying the same policies of colonial expansion, using western - including British - funds, arms and political support. Only when Britain fully and completely ends its support of Israel and financing of its occupation, and works diligently and actively towards correcting the injustice it had imposed on the Palestinians a century ago, one can consider that a real change in British policies is finally taking hold.

Without a clear course of action to help Palestinians gain their freedom, the British vote will remain another symbolic gesture in a conflict in which military occupation, war, siege, death and destruction are very much real. And when British leaders, like conservative Prime Minister David Cameron continue to parrot their unconditional support for Israel, even after the Gaza wars and massacres, one will also continue to seek even moderate proof that the Balfour legacy has truly and finally ended.

- Ramzy Baroud is a PhD scholar in People's History at the University of Exeter. He is the Managing Editor of Middle East Eye. Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).

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]


[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 ( is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of - Email:

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.


The Intercept


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., 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

video: Steven Salaita and Ali Abunimah speak out for free speech and academic freedom

(Luay Sababa / Maan Images)
Video: Steven Salaita and Ali Abunimah at University of Chicago
Submitted by Ali Abunimah on Tue, 10/14/2014 - 21:25
Labor Beat: Steven Salaita and Ali Abunimah at University of Chicago

During his recent Chicago-area tour, Professor Steven Salaita spoke at the University of Chicago on 7 October.

I joined him on his panel, along with former prisoner of conscience and grassroots resistance leader Bassem Tamimi from the occupied West Bank village of Nabi Saleh.

The topic of the event was Salaita’s recent firing by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) from a tenured position in the American Indian Studies program after pressure from pro-Israel donors and others enraged by Salaita’s tweets condemning Israel’s attack on Gaza.

University officials insist that they fired Salaita for a lack of “civility,” a vague standard that barely masks an act of outright censorship.

While the event itself lasted two hours, videographer Larry Duncan of Labor Beat has edited it down to 28 minutes for broadcast on local cable television. It therefore includes comments from Salaita and myself, and part the introduction by Brian Leiter, professor of jurisprudence at the University of Chicago.

“Brazen attack”

Leiter calls Salaita’s firing over his tweets “the single most brazen attack on freedom of speech in American universities in my lifetime.”

He says that the First Amendment “does not come with a caveat to the effect that only civil or respectful expression is actually protected … Yet the chancellor and the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois have acted as though they have a right to punish speakers who say ‘fuck the draft’ or ‘fuck America’ or ‘fuck Israel.’ But they have no such right.”

“Openly dictatorial”

Salaita and I focused on what Salaita’s firing means in the critical battle on US campuses over academic freedom, free speech and US policy toward Israel.

The crackdown on free speech is also part of the broader neoliberal agenda and corporatization of universities.

“There are countless mechanisms in place to ensure conformity to the imperatives of the powerful and the wealthy. These mechanisms regulate tone, content, actions and access. They will become unnecessary only when campuses become openly dictatorial,” Salaita says. “UIUC took an open and unapologetic step in that direction.”

He adds that Israel wants Palestinians to think of themselves “that our barbarity is atavistic and immanent. It precedes our subjectivity, restricts our earthly presence and marks us as inferior. We can achieve the lofty status of pitiable only when we grovel.”

In my comments, I talk about pressure from wealthy pro-Israel donors and university officials’ lack of transparency in the Salaita affair.

Referring to my book The Battle for Justice in Palestine, I note that “Key pro-Israel lobby groups, like the David Project, have said in their own internal strategy documents that the future of the US-Israel relationship will be decided on campuses … and they actually identify as positive trends for Israel the corporatization of higher education, the growth of private, for-profit education … and business schools that are growing at the expense of the humanities as a trend that is positive for Israel.”

I also talk about how the attack on Salaita fits in with the kind of strategies recommended by the David Project to silence criticism of Israel by accusing educators of “academic malpractice.”

With thanks to Larry Duncan of Labor Beat.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Origins of the Ebola Crisis


Is Microsoft Medicine the Solution for Ebola?


Tariq Ali: Today we are going to discuss medicine and what is going on in Africa but not just there, in other parts of the world too, and how privatised medicine is now dominating the field except in a few oasis there are still left Cuba, Venezuela, etc. With me is Professor Allyson Pollock, one of the best known public health scientists and experts in her field anywhere. Ebola. What are its origins and how did it spread so quickly in these three African countries and is now causing panic elsewhere?

Allyson Pollock: Well Ebola is a virus, nobody quite knows what the origins are, some think it might be from the bat, and it is spread through bodily fluids, so that is an important mechanism. In most normal situations it should be very easily contained by quarantine and by isolation but the big problem in the countries where it is most prevalent, which is Sierra, Liberia and Guinea, is that these are very, very poor countries, where the infrastructure has increasingly been ripped out, especially in terms of health systems and the, um, virus is now in urban areas where there is close human contact, so it makes it very difficult to control and contain especially when it is happening in areas where there is a lot of overcrowding and poverty and poor sanitation.

Tariq Ali: And the Western health community, so to speak, the World Health Organisation, was slow to react, I felt, in terms of what could have been done at an early stage of this disease.

Allyson Pollock: Well I suppose the WHO was hoping, as in the previous outbreak - large outbreak in the 1970s, that it would be fairly easily contained. Perhaps what happened that they hadn’t reckoned with the fact that these countries where it is emerging are actually among the very poorest countries? Liberia and Sierra Leon have been through their own long periods of civil war, conflict with displaced refugees where the gross domestic product and the economy has very badly suffered and what we have seen in all these countries is a real hollowing out of all sorts of public services but especially health systems. So it is very, very difficult to contain it and we have got real issues of poverty. So, I suppose the first hope was that these would be fairly, err, the disease would be fairly easily contained but actually of course it is a virus that has a very high case fatality rate, they say about 55% chance of dying if you contract the virus. So this is very serious but one of the big problems is that the Western world, especially the US government is coming back with solutions of guns and magic bullets so we’ve been here before; the announcement by Obama that he is going to send in 3,000 troops and the parallel announcement that they are going to focus on rapid vaccine production. And this is a complete removal from the social and structural determinance of public health because the origins of all public health are in very simple and basic solutions. It’s about clean water, sanitation, good nutrition – so the evils of poverty. And, on top of that you need very good health systems with proper doctors and nurses and facilities that you can isolate people and you can also do what’s called ‘contact tracing’ so you need to go back into the community to find out who the affected individuals have been in contact with so that you can then quarantine and isolate those individuals to make sure that they actually then don’t get the disease and then pass it on during the incubation period. And all of that has been stripped out.

This is what these countries are looking at, they’ve had a total erosion and collapse of their public health care systems and this is the tragedy. So the population has very, very few doctors and nurses. They simply cannot cope and of course the public facilities that are there are overcrowded, they are in terrible conditions and they are completely and utterly understaffed. So this problem of an epidemic was going to hit them, it could have been Ebola, it could be something else – it could be cholera or whatever. This was actually going to come home to hit these countries very hard indeed. This was entirely predictable and it’s been predictable for more than 20 years and it is what the public health lobby and the public advocates have been talking about. The solution to these epidemics is not the magic bullets of vaccines and it is not sending in the troops. It’s structural, it’s social, it’s economic, it’s environmental and it is putting in all the public health measures.

Tariq Ali: But the entire world capitalist system as it functions is basically not in favour of public health services, they are in favour of privatised solutions, privatised facilities which means that in most countries increasingly you have a two or three tier system; you have very good quality hostpitals for the rich and people who can afford them, you have a second tier for more middle class people who also have to pay but not so much and their facilities aren’t so good and then you have public hospitals, not just in Africa but in countries like India and Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which are a total complete disgrace and nothing is done about it on a global level at all because this is not a priority. I mean it is just outrageous. Do you think, I mean, given that this is how the health system functions from what you said, the obvious solution, medium-term and long-term, is to create a strong social infrastructure in these countries but that is what the International Monetary Fund asked them not to spend money on, the last four decades so what do you think they can do?

Allyson Pollock: Well I think you are raising important issues; what is the role of the IMF, the World Bank, the African Development Bank because again if we look at Liberia and Sierra Leone and Guinea, which actually have a lot of natural resources, what is happening to these countries, in terms of their economics is that increasingly the lands are being privatised and being occupied by foreign investors who are coming in and they are simply stripping out the resource and the assets. Liberia has a GDP, gross domestic product, of a couple of billion dollars, and a population of five or six million, so how are they meant to rebuild when actually you’ve got foreign directors coming in and public private partnerships and great flows of money going out and you don’t have any mechanism for redistribution because redistribution means you are trying to build a fairer society and you are trying to put the resources back in.

So it starts with the economy, it starts with what’s happening to the land, it starts with the fact that palm oil and cocoa and rubber are important cash crops and there’s land, and these ownership, has been transferred and I mean this is very well documented by important organisations like Global Witness but also the Oakland Foundation in the US, who have actually chartered what is happening to the land and remember, many of the farmers, for instance in Liberia, 70% of the population, live in rural areas. They will be subsistence farmers so this is an issue and when you have the population spending 80% of the money on food and then you have all these cordons around them, then of course you have got a real problem because the poverty is actually going to be accelerated in these countries because of the Ebola virus, because the borders are closing and because you don’t even have economic flow any more. So I think we need to start with the economics because that is the cause of the structural problems and then we’ve got the World Health Organisation, which is the international global authority on health. It has the law making powers but systematically over 20 years it has been completely starved of funds and such funding as it gets are tied to all sorts of conditions and those conditions are being set by large, global NGOs such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which have no democratic base, no accountability and which in turn are doing untold harm through their vertical disease programmes because they are not rooted in public health and the public health systems. And a good example of a vertical disease programme is when you take Ebola and then you bring in your operation to tackle Ebola and you ignore all the other causes of disease, such as TB or malaria, or poverty, malnutrition and at the same time when you focus all the efforts of the industry on vaccine development.

But actually vaccines are not what these countries need. It’s proper redistribution and public health measures and we learn nothing from history; that is what is shocking. All the great reforms, all the great collapse of infectious disease epidemics was actually not down to drugs and vaccines, it was to redistributive measures, which included sanitation, nutrition, good housing and actually above all a real democratisation. And with it came education and all the other measures that we need. Now I’m not saying we don’t need vaccines, but one of the big problems is that that vaccine developments itself is now in the hands of these large very powerful foundations like NGOs, like GAVI – the Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiative, who in conjunction with big companies like GSK and Merck, are out to seek patents and the reason why they like vaccines is it gives… because vaccines mean mass immunisation, it means numbers and numbers mean money. And of course is being paid for by the West and Western governments when this money could much more easily flow into the governments themselves to re-build their health systems because we are talking about re-building public health infrastructure and that includes putting in community primary health care, community health systems, infection control units at community level, putting in hospitals and training nurses and doctors. And the big, other big problem in all of these countries is not just a brain-drain, because a few doctors and nurses are there, they want to leave and that is happening also in Nigeria, or they want to work in the private sector or they want to work for these NGOs because the money is much better and so the whole public health system is completely hollowed out. And this is a real problem because the Gates Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates, do not believe in the public sector, they do not believe in a democratic, publically owned, publically accountable.

Tariq Ali: So in fact the WHO, because of governmental policies, and the priorities of the Washington consensus, i.e.. neoliberalism, privatisation of medicine, inability to control Big Phgarma, has effectively ditched what it used to do? In the sense that it can’t do what needs to be done, shore up, strengthen, build if necessary in some of these countries public health systems.

Allyson Pollock: Well, there is a very important paper recently in the British Medical Journal, I think by David Legg, which actually sets out what has been happening to the WHO over two decades where the US refuse to give the funding that it should have done and then what you have is when Western governments and the US come in, they tie it to conditionalities, which is usually around the Bill & Melinda Gates priorities and not around the essential public health priories and the WHO has its hands tied. And actually it is the world health organisation, it has got the law making powers and yet it has never exercised these functions we are talking about democratic deficits that are happening when large global funds like the Gates Fund or the Buffett Fund can actually determine what the world priorities are and so distort what the priorities should be for public health because it is tied to the economics, they need to industrialise, they need to medicalise and they need to pharmaceuticalise. But there is a big backlash coming, a big backlash in the Western world, much more critical thought about the ethicacy and the safety and the appropriateness of the drugs and vaccines and medications and this group is beginning to be more and more articulate and more and more and more concerned. But one of the big problems is that because of this huge amount of money that the Bill & Melinda Gates Fund have, is that the technicians, like myself, the public health tribes, have been captured because of their success in predicated upon getting jobs, or research, tied to the interests of the Global Fund. So the critical thought is being hollowed out and so at the same time are the essential public health functions because public health is there as Ibsen would say, to be the enemy of the people, but actually it is there to be critical, to appraise and to think rationally and to remind everybody about what the social determinance of health are, and it is not rocket science. It doesn’t need magic potions or millions of dollars spent on genetics and the laboratories, it needs very, very basic things, but they are essential because they are what the public health infrastructures are built on.

Tariq Ali: Contrast this, what’s going on in the bulk of the world with a tiny country like Cuba, which has managed to construct a public health system, which is precisely many things that you are arguing for. It is very oriented to preventive medicines which stop a disease from spreading, and has now amongst the best record of both public health services and its affects in terms of what Cuban’s citizens and increasingly because the help they have given Venezuela, Venezuelan citizens and other South American citizens who never used to have health are now in much better shape than many people, for instance, in Eastern Europe which went in for big privatisation; leave alone Africa and large parts of Asia. You’ve studied the system I think?

Allyson Pollock: Well yes I think the Cuba’s system is very inspiriting and anybody who has been to Cuba can’t but feel the public health benefits of it. I mean they are a country that really know the meaning of austerity and yet their GDP, which is the equivalent of many of these poor countries, but they don’t have this extraordinary inequalities because their vision and campaign has been around public health and health for all. So they have done extraordinarily well and quite remarkably well. I mean the real problem comes as what’s happening now and will they get side-tracked by neoliberal policies and the need to get drugs to market, and the need to sell drugs; it is a very important time for Cuba to think about it. But actually they need to all the time be remembering what their GDP is and what they’ve achieved with their GP compared with some of these poorer countries in the world like Sierra Leone and Liberia – Liberia especially.

Tariq Ali: The other thing of course is that the Cubans have sent out a lot of their doctors to parts of Africa, South America, to whenever there is a disaster . I remember during bad floods in Pakistan, really bad, a whole team of Cuban doctors arrived and were taken to the remotest parts of the country where women were not allowed by their menfolk to see doctors because most doctors were male. And when they saw the Cuban team, which was 60% women, 40% male doctors, the men in these communities said ‘ah you have women doctors; you are doctors, and they said, ‘yes, yes’, they say, ‘okay you can see the women whenever you want’. So amazing rapport developed between them and the women were very pleased and so were their kids and a Cuban doctor told me that they said to us, ‘where do you come from you people?’ and she said, ‘we come from Cuba’. ‘Where is that?’, and she said, ‘it’s a tiny island in the Caribbean’ and they said, ‘who is your leader? I mean who/what is the government’. So they were careful because they were on a medical mission but they said, ‘do you want to see a picture of Fidel Castro who is our leader’ and said ‘yes’. So they showed a picture of Castro and the women said, ‘my god, he’s got a beard like they have in that village 20 miles from here, do you want to go and see those beards’. [laughs]. But they were incredibly impressed and the entire media in Pakistan was talking about what they’d done, they said we don’t want any help from the government, we arrive with our tents, our equipment, all we want is receptacles in which we can heat clean water and the rest we will do; we will bring our medicines with us. And the thing is this is the other point which rises that unlike the health services constructed in Western Europe after the 2nd World War including the National Health Service, the governments in these countries never actually set up pharmaceutical industries to compliment those health services. Nor did they even seriously consider nationalising them, because that would have brought the prices of medicine right down and they need never have charged prescriptions. So let’s come for a minute to a subject you know very well – the health service in Britain and in the European Union countries, I mean what is happening to that Allyson? It is one thing to talk about Africa but what is happening to the health services in Europe.

Allyson Pollock: What is happening now in Europe as many people are aware is that, we have got neoliberal policies coming from the US both the health care industry in the US, which have exhausted the funds of America because health care is running it about 18, 18% of GDP, compared with 9 or 10% average in Europe, so the European health care investors need to find new markets and they are busy attempting to penetrate and open up the health care systems of Europe. And of course the biggest trophy for them is the United Kingdom NHS because it was for a long time the most socialised of all the health care systems. So we’ve had devolution; so Scotland, Wales and England all have their own health care services and Scotland and Wales which are very tiny, they don’t cover more than 8 or 9 million people, they have retained a national health service but England, which many people don’t realise this, England abolished its national health service in 2012 with the Health and Social Care Act. What remains of the NHS is a funding stream, or a government pair, and the NHS has now been reduced to a logo and what the government is now doing is accelerating a break up of what remains of the national health service under public ownerships, so closing hospitals, closing services and privatising or contracting out. So just as we heard in Liberia and Guinea about how the public lands are being transferred like the enclosures to private owners from abroad, the same thing is happening with our pubic services, our public hospitals, our public facilities are also being enclosed in a way and given over to private-for-profit investors and this is happening in extraordinary speed in England. Faster than anywhere in Europe. And this is a major global neoliberal project, if you like.

Tariq Ali: To privatise health.

Allyson Pollock: Well to privatise not just the healthcare system but also ultimately the funding. Now in the US, just under half of that 18% GDP is actually paid for by the government but the government is in effect a tax payer and then channels the money into private-for-profit corporations. The government in England abolished the health and social care act because it wanted to open up new funding streams. So it wants to reduce the level of services that are available publically, create a climate of discontent with the NHS, forcing people who are in the middle classes, that’s like you and me Ali, to go and privately and pay either out of pocket or with our healthcare insurance, so that we desert, we exit what is left but at the same time the government is reducing all our entitlements because there is no longer a duty to provide universal healthcare. That duty that has been in place since 1948 was abolished in 2012. So that duty has now gone and so now the government can reduce all the entitlements, reduce everything that is available and increasingly we are going to have to pay out of pocket or though private health insurance. And the private health insurance industry are here, they are here form the US and they are absolutely gearing up with the new structures the government has put into place to move into private-for-profit health insurance; that is what we are going to be seeing. And actually the new system the government is putting in place is modelled on the US and yet that will come at huge loss and it will also be a public health catastrophe because it will mean that many, many millions will increasingly go without care and of course markets render people invisible, they are not seen. Nobody knows. The doctor in front of you only sees the patient that come to them; it doesn’t see the many tens of thousands who are being denied access to healthcare, which is why in the US the doctors are not out on the street campaigning. But in the UK the doctors are out on the street campaigning, they are putting in, they are standing now for the National Health Alliance Party, they are now putting in candidates to stand against the conventional parties. And so you see that the doctors are still prepared to fight for universal health care but once our NHS has gone completely, it’s been abolished, but once all the remnants have gone, you have to use the parallel of the oak tree, it seems to be blooming and flourishing but the roots have been severed and that can take many months or years for that to completely decay. But once it has gone the doctors will no longer be there. They’ll be like the doctors in the US interested in themselves, interested in their own pockets and not interested in universal access to healthcare. And this is the crime of the century, if you like, the way in which the English coalition, both Conservative and Liberal Democrat, have actually abolished our NHS but they have had a lot of help along the way from the Labour government before them.

Tariq Ali: Labour more or less set the basis for it when they were in power.

Allyson Pollock: Absolutely. Alan Milburn the Health Secretary did this in in 2000. In 1997 the Labour government had its, had its chance to reverse the privatisation and marketization policies, to get rid of the private finance initiative and they had a very good Secretary of State who was quite determined to some of that….

Tariq Ali: Frank Dobson?

Allyson Pollock: Frank Dobson. But they got rid of him extra quick and instead of which we got Alan Milburn and his ten-year plan and now he has gone off to join the very healthcare companies that he helped to build up. And I mean I think that is the tragedy as when that bill was going through parliament to abolish the NHS, many of the peers, and many of the MPs had conflicts of interests because they had actually interest in the healthcare companies that they were establishing.

Tariq Ali: It is outrageous really. And Milburn himself is one of them.

Allyson Pollock: Well, it is a travesty for democracy, it really is and as a public health doctor it is an absolute catastrophe because at the moment we know, people of all ages, with serious mental illnesses who cannot get access to health care, people with stroke, people with chronic illnesses, chronic diseases who are increasingly being denied access to healthcare and they are voices in the wilderness, they are not being heard because there is no collective mechanism for them to be heard any more. And the doctors and nurses are absolutely in despair. Now we do have solution; my colleagues we’ve written an NHS reinstatement bill which we hope that whichever party comes to power, they will actually run with to reinstate the NHS, so there is a solution out there, which is drafted and written and ready, that would restore and reinstate the NHS.

Tariq Ali: It is perfectly legitimate to make huge profits from the basic needs of ordinary people?

Allyson Pollock: Yes from people’s diseases and people’s illnesses. Well it began with a pharmaceutical industry and the vaccine production, it is perfectly acceptable to make profits from them, so why shouldn’t we now go and make profits from illness and care. But of course the NHS in England was set up, to be redistributive. It’s funded through taxation, which is meant to be progressive and the money is meant to flow according to need. But what we are now beginning to see is that money will flow according to the needs of shareholders and not patients, and that is a very real concern. Of course. It is all down to political will. Everything can be reversed but it comes down to politics, to democracy and people making their voices heard.

Tariq Ali: Agreed.

Allyson Pollock is professor of public health research and policy at Queen Mary University of London.

Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).