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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, December 31, 2007

The Two Hegemonies 

Perhaps, many of you have already encountered it, but I thought that posting an excerpt from this excellent Democracy Now! interview of Tariq Ali about the assassination of Benazir Bhutto might be informative:

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go now to Britain to Tariq Ali, the British Pakistani historian, activist, commentator, one of the editors of the New Left Review, author of more than a dozen books, was recently back in Pakistan, where he was born. Tariq, talk about your response on Thursday when you heard the news, and talk about why Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan.

TARIQ ALI: Well, Amy, my first reaction was anger. I was livid that Bush and his acolytes in Britain had fixed this deal, pushing her to do a deal with Musharraf, forcing her to play a role, which, of course, she agreed to do—it has to be admitted—in Pakistan, which she was not capable of playing. She made some extremely injudicious remarks, saying that she would go back, she was the only person who could deal with terrorism, etc., etc. The fact was that this was not the case.

And, you know, to—I wrote at the time that it is a big, big problem when you try and arrange a political marriage between two parties who loathe each other. And so, Musharraf very rapidly, after her return, embarrassed her by instituting a state of emergency. And she then didn’t know whether to defend the state of emergency; finally, she attacked it. So the whole situation was a complete mess.

And now, everyone in Pakistan knows that an election organized in this fashion, under the leadership of a guy who’s become a master at rigging elections, is not going to achieve anything. So Benazir was advised by close advisers, including one of the central leaders of her party, Aitzaz Ahsan, who is still in prison, by the way, saying we must not participate in this election, it’s totally fake and rigged, it should be boycotted. She refused to accept that, because Washington insisted that she participate in this election, and she was torn in her loyalties. And finally, she, a woman of great physical courage, lacked the political courage to defy Washington. And I have to say this, it’s cost her her life. Had she decided to boycott the election, this would not have happened.

And for Washington to send her to Pakistan, reassuring her that she would be safe, is shocking. At the very least, if they were insistent on doing this, they could have provided her with a Marine guard like Karzai gets in Kabul. But, you know, they depended on the locals to guard her, and they obviously couldn’t do it. So she’s now dead. And it’s a tragedy. It’s a personal tragedy for her and her family. And it sort of has begun, embarked on a new crisis for Pakistan, which is going to get worse.

I mean, I think Musharraf’s days are numbered. I don’t think he will be, even if he has this fake election in a week or ten days’ time, which Bush is forcing him to do—I mean, I cannot understand, for the life of me, how the President of the United States can be so isolated and remote from reality as to insist that an election goes ahead when one of the central political leaders in the country, backed by Washington, has just been assassinated. I mean, what the hell are they going to achieve from this election? Nothing. It will not give legitimacy to anyone. It will create possibly, very rapidly afterwards, a new crisis, and then they will have to have a new military leader stepping in.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Tariq Ali, a British Pakistani historian, activist, commentator; also Manan Ahmed, historian of modern Pakistan and South Asian Islam. This is Democracy Now! We’re talking about Benazir Bhutto and Pakistan for the hour. Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN: For our radio listeners, you can go to our website to see the video images that we show throughout the broadcast today on Pakistan. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez. Our guests are Manan Ahmed, historian of modern Pakistan and South Asian Islam, as well as Tariq Ali, British Pakistani historian, activist and commentator, one of the editors of the New Left Review. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, I’d like to ask Tariq Ali, I was struck by your counter-posing the physical courage of Benazir Bhutto with some of the lack of political courage. And this is something that you’ve remarked in many of your articles in the past, including interviews you had with her. I remember one article where you talked about a 1988 interview, I think it was, that you had with her when she was prime minister and how she was hemmed in by the political forces in Pakistan, but would not publicly tell her supporters what was going on. Could you talk about that in this sort of—this trend throughout her leadership of this lack of political courage.

TARIQ ALI: Well, Juan, this is absolutely right, and it’s been her tragedy and the country’s tragedy. When she came to power, elected for the first time, it is absolutely true she was hemmed in by the military on one side and an old rogue of a bureaucrat who had been made president on the other.

And she told me very openly, “I can’t do anything.” And I said to her at the time in Prime Minister’s house in Islamabad, “I understand that, but there are two things you have to do. One, you have to make it very clear to the people publicly that this is the reason I can’t deliver my promises on land reform, on health, on education. They won’t let me do anything. This is why I can’t make any readjustments in foreign policy. They have imposed their own foreign minister, Yacoub, on me, who insists we carry on as before,” etc. etc. She didn’t do that.

And I think by this time she had become a very different person politically from what she had been earlier and had decided that she didn’t want to be on the wrong side of history, so to speak. She more or less said that to me. And she realized or she thought that the only way to survive in this world was basically to do the bidding of the army at home and Washington abroad, two institutions which had led to the—which had basically bumped off her dad in 1979 and which were not going to do her any favors.

AMY GOODMAN: Tariq, explain that, how her father died and who was involved in his assassination, in his execution.

TARIQ ALI: Her father was probably the most popular politician in Pakistan, pledging massive social reforms. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had been elected in the 1970 elections, had won a large majority in the country that we now know as Pakistan and had been elected on a very radical platform. He came to power.

He implemented some of his reforms, not all, became extremely autocratic, clashed with the United States on a number of issues, including Pakistan’s right to have nuclear weapons. Henry Kissinger warned him in private that if you do not desist on the nuclear issue, we will make a terrible example out of you. That’s what Bhutto wrote from his death cell. The United States organized a military coup d’etat. General Zia-ul-Haq took power in 1977, organized a trial against Bhutto, charging him with an absurd charge of murdering someone. The judges were pressured, and they found him guilty, and Bhutto was hanged in April 1979. It could not have happened without US support and approval, because Zia was a nobody, and Washington clearly green-lighted the murder.

And Bhutto, from his death cell, wrote a very moving document called “If I Am Assassinated,” in which he said there are two hegemonies—these are his words. He said, “There are two hegemonies that dominate our country. One is an internal hegemony, and the other is an external hegemony. And unless we challenge the external hegemony, we will never be able to deal with the internal one,” meaning Washington is the external hegemony and the army is the internal one. And this is a problem which still haunts Pakistan and which, I have to say, has now created this new crisis.

And unfortunately, his daughter decided to collaborate with both of these hegemonies. One has to say this. Her second period in office was a total disaster, because not only did she do nothing for the poor or her natural constituency, but basically it became an extremely corrupt government, and she and her husband accumulated $1.5 billion through corruption. This is well known to everyone.

Now, when the United States decided they wanted to put her back in there, they told her, we are going to whitewash you so clean no one will even know. And this is what the global media and networks have been doing. Look, I knew her well. I’m very upset that she’s dead. But the piety being displayed on the global media networks is beyond belief. You know, it’s as if there’s no past, no history in this country or its politicians.

Manan Ahmed, a historian of Pakistan and Islam in South Asia participates in this interview as well. Well worth reading in its entirety.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto Assassinated 

She returned to Pakistan, triangulating her way between the demands of the US and the political necessity of appearing to challenge Musharraf while negotiating a power sharing arrangement with him. She marketed herself to the US as someone willing to more ruthlessly prosecute the "war on terror" and intensify the imposition of neoliberal economic policies. She hoped to recover power for herself and her family through the dismissal of charges that would hold them accountable for their notorious corruption. Much of the global media will now describe her as courageous, but she was, quite simply, merely a fool for believing that she could successfully navigate the violent currents of Pakistani politics in such a contrived, self-serving way. Would she still be alive if she had attempted to shatter the elitism of the Pakistani political system by appealing directly to the populace as a figure of radical reform? It is, of course, an impossible question to answer, but one thing is certain, the democratization of Pakistan is vehemently opposed in equal measure by both the US and her al-Qaeda assassins.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

The Normalization of the "War on Terror" 

2007 will soon come to a close. We are over 6 years removed from 9/11, and over 4 and 1/2 years removed from the invasion of Iraq. 9/11 initiated the "War on Terror", the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the seizure of purported terror suspects around the world, their rendition to other countries where they can be more readily subjected to torture and their indefinite incarceration at facilities around the world under dehumanizing conditions. Hundreds of thousands, if not over a million people have died as these measures have been arbitrarily implemented.

After participating in numerous protests against the anticipated invasion of Iraq in 2002 and early 2003, and then, engaging in civil disobedience after it was launched, I expressed my great fear to my friends: the occupation would become normalized, that is to say, that it would be incorporated into the background mosaic of our lives by the government and the media. The public would come to see it as an immutable part of their existence, akin to paying taxes and sitting in cramped seats on airplanes. In retrospect, I should have expanded the focus of my concern to the "war on terror" in its entirety.

Despite everything that has happenend, Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, the forced feeding of hunger striking detainees at Gitmo and airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan that kill large numbers of civilians, there is no reason to believe there is any political prospect of ending the "war on terror". Just the notion of curtailing its excesses is out of the question. It has been incorporated into the background noise of our lives. The surge in Iraq, we are assured, is a success, even Harry Reid, in his own circumspect way, says so.

How did this happen? One is tempted to say that it was inevitable, given the postmodern state of contemporary politics and social life, the alienation of people from any belief that they can organize as a class, a coalition or an amorphous political movement to insist upon radical change, and perhaps, it was. Even so, we should not hesitate to indict those responsible for it.

Bush has stated that Iraq is the central front of the "war on terror", and he is correct in so far as the end of the occupation of Iraq necessarily means the end of the "war on terror", the reduction of it to scattered rear guard actions in places like Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Indonesia and the Phillippines. MoveON.org, and the politically expedient liberals associated with it, have played an essential role in making sure that the occupation continues without restraint. From 2003 through 2005, it assiduously refused to condemn the occupation of Iraq, but it did fetishize the US troops enforcing the occupation against the Iraqi people. By doing so, it laid the foundation for the firewall that the Bush Administration has relied upon to obtain funding from a compliant Democratic Congress.

After all, according to Bush, anyone who cuts funding for the occupation, or even places conditions upon it, is endangering the troops. Such an argument has cut through congressional opposition like a knife through butter because it is the inescapable destination at the end of the path blazed by MoveON.org. If you are concerned because the troops lack sufficient body armor and find themselves exhausted by long tours of duty, one after another, as MoveON.org implored us, time and time again, then how can you plausibly suggest that the occupation be brought to an end by cutting funding for the war? Of course, you can't. And, quite logically, at the end of the day, MoveON.org didn't, capitulating to the passage of the first funding bill after the Democratic election victory in November 2006.

It encourages one to turn the old saying inside out: with enemies like this, who needs friends? With the first tests of the presidential campaign ahead, it is evident that there is no movement within the political mainstream that will seek to end the occupation of Iraq and abandon the "war on terror". All the major Democratic candidates demand more defense spending, not less, and all of them exhalt the virtues of counterinsurgency. With the exception of some idealistic direct action proponents and counter-recruitment efforts, there is no organized social effort that presents the prospect of transforming American foreign policy in a more humanistic direction.

Instead, one looks forlornly to the daily activity of floor traders in bonds and currency. Subject to the dictates of market manias and software programs, it is more likely that they will ultimately bring down the curtain on the American Empire than the political activism of an atomized populace. In a sense, that would be fitting, as a generation of neoliberals have advocated for the primacy of markets over democratic political processes.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

The Irish Rover 

A great Pogues/Dubliners song from 1987:

By incorporating the values of punk into traditional Irish music, and, indeed, creating their version of it, the Pogues gave it a renewed vitality, a sense that it reflected the real, everyday life experiences of people. Note also that this particular performance was for the benefit of the Irish Republican movement.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

But Zionism Isn't Racism 

From today's Washington Post:

Fatina and Ahmad Zubeidat, young Arab citizens of Israel, met on the first day of class at the prestigious Bezalel arts and architecture academy in Jerusalem. Married last year, the couple rents an airy house here in the Galilee filled with stylish furniture and other modern grace notes.

But this is not where they wanted to live. They had hoped to be in Rakefet, a nearby town where 150 Jewish families live on state land close to the mall project Ahmad is building. After months of interviews and testing, the town's admission committee rejected the Arab couple on the grounds of "social incompatibility."

They petitioned Israel's high court to end such screening, claiming discrimination, a charge town officials are challenging.

"We can't just be good citizens," said Fatina, 27, who is expecting the couple's first child. "If they won't develop our villages, then we will choose where we want to live. The problem lies not with us, but with Jewish society that does not accept the other."

The Zubeidats are players in a wider ethnic clash unfolding in the Galilee, a northern region where Arabs, those who remained in Israel after its creation in 1948 and their descendants, outnumber Jews. Israel's policies have deepened the gulf between Arab and Jewish citizens in recent years, through concrete walls, laws that favor Jews, and political proposals that place the Arab minority outside national life.

This process of separation within Israel's original boundaries mirrors in many ways the broader one taking place between Israelis and Palestinians in the occupied territories.

With most of Israel's land controlled by a government agency, Israeli Arabs have long had more trouble acquiring property than Jews, who outnumber them five to one in a population of about 6.5 million people. In response, Arab lawmakers joined a Jewish parliamentary majority this year in endorsing the construction of a new Arab city in the Galilee, where demographic rivalry and ethnic separation are most pronounced. Arabs say it will be the first city built on their behalf since the state's founding.

But some Jewish political leaders have suggested that Israel's Arabs, who commonly refer to themselves as Palestinian citizens of Israel, should eventually live in a future Palestinian state, the subject of peace negotiations inaugurated last month in Annapolis, Md. Israel's foreign minister and lead negotiator, Tzipi Livni, said before the meeting that such a state would "be the national answer to the Palestinians" in the territories and those "who live in different refugee camps or in Israel."

Arabs and Jews study in separate schools in Israel -- the Arab system receives fewer resources -- and learn Israeli history in different ways. Israel's Jewish education minister, Yuli Tamir, ordered this year that Arab third-grade textbooks note that Arab citizens call Israel's 1948 War of Independence "the catastrophe." Many Jewish lawmakers reacted with scorn.

You have to hand it to those Israelis. Can't have any Arabs living in the neighborhood because of social incompatibility. Just think how different things might have been if southern segregationists had been smart enough to think of it.

"I don't think that it is a good idea to admit negroes to the University of Alabama, Mr. President", said Governor Wallace, "being that they would be socially incompatible and all."

"I hadn't really thought of it that way", said President Kennedy, "I'll call Bobby straight away and get those marshals called back. Let's try to talk more often, so that we can avoid misunderstandings like this in the future."

Furthermore, note that Arabs, after being excluded from predominately Jewish neighborhoods, are often prevented from constructing their own separate communities. If you read this excerpt from the article carefully, I believe that you will quickly recognize the reason for it.

Hat tip to the Angry Arab.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Hillary the Hawk 

Consistently, across the board, in fact, as laboriously described in detail by Stephen Zunes. A brief excerpt:

Her presidential campaign has received far more money from defense contractors than any other candidate – Democrat or Republican – and her close ties to the defense industry has led the Village Voice to refer to her as "Mama Warbucks." She has even fought the Bush administration in restoring funding for some of the very few weapons systems the Bush administration has sought to cut in recent years. Pentagon officials and defense contractors have given Senator Clinton high marks for listening to their concerns, promoting their products and leveraging her ties to the Pentagon, comparing her favorably to the hawkish former Washington Senator "Scoop" Jackson and other pro-military Democrats of earlier eras.

Clinton has also demonstrated a marked preference for military confrontation over negotiation. In a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations, she called for a "tough-minded, muscular foreign and defense policy." Similarly, when her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination Senator Barack Obama expressed his willingness to meet with Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro or other foreign leaders with whom the United States has differences, she denounced him for being "irresponsible and frankly naive."

Senator Clinton appears to have a history of advocating the blunt instrument of military force to deal with complex international problems. For example, she was one of the chief advocates in her husband's inner circle for the 11-week bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999 to attempt to resolve the Kosovo crisis.

If elected, Hillary will continue to fuse her feminism with contemporary neoconservative militarism, all marketed to select audiences with a dollop of soft focus religious fundamentalism. It is a surprisingly good fit. All three are elitist, all three satisfy a narcissitic craving for participation in the utopian transformation of the world, and, most importantly, all three put themselves in the service of global neoliberal policy. In other words, they reinforce the existing order of things, at least as it is perceived by the power elite.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

It's That Time Again 

Charitable contributions for alternative, left and radical causes. Here are some of the ones that I posted last year, and they remain equally suitable today:

KDVS Community Alternative Radio

Now, I admit that I broadcast on KDVS, so my self-interest is rather obvious. But KDVS is a station that is cooperatively managed by students and community programmers, with very little oversight by the UC Davis administrators. Programmers are free to broadcast almost anything outside of the commercial constraints of the marketplace. If you live beyond the confines of Northern California, look for a station with similar values, and consider financially supporting them, and remember NPR stations don't qualify.

Common Ground Collective

Hurricane Katrina has exacted a terrible toll upon New Orleans, one that endures to this day. Both the federal government and institutions, such as the Red Cross, have failed to respond adequately, requiring local, grassroots organizations to step forward: Common Ground's mission is to provide short term relief for victims of hurricane disasters in the gulf coast region, and long term support in rebuilding the communities affected in the New Orleans area. Common Ground is a community-initiated volunteer organization offering assistance, mutual aid and support. The work gives hope to communities by working with them, providing for their immediate needs and emphasizes people working together to rebuild their lives in sustainable ways.

Middle East Children's Alliance

Living conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are dire, with more than one in four Palestinians considered deeply impoverished, as are the prospects for the creation of a Palestinian state that would acknowledge their right to self-determination. Western governments have withdrawn funds because of the electoral success of Hamas, seeking to collectively punish them as a means of forcing them to elect a new government more agreeable to them. The Middle East Children's Alliance, or MECA, raises funds for food and medical supplies for them, as well as for the people of Lebanon.

AK Press

As described by wikipedia, AK Press is a collectively owned and operated independent publisher and book distributor that specialises in radical and anarchist literature. It has published numerous books that describe social movements within the US and around the world that have been depreciated or otherwise deliberately erased from public memory by both the mainstream as well as the institutionalized left.

Last year's reissuance of The Subversion of Politics, by Georgy Katsiaficas, is an excellent example, and, having read it myself, a real page turner, as the suppressed memories of the past are remembered. Consider becoming a Friend of AK Press to assist in the continued publication of books that challenge the mainstream view of history, social relations and the origins of political change.

And, just to bring things up to date, living conditions in Gaza remain horrible, so a contribution to the Middle East Children's Alliance remains as important as ever, while AK Press has published a number of excellent books in the last year or so, including Marina Sitrin's Horizontalism and Ben Dangl's The Price of Fire. A contribution will enable it to continue to release more excellent works of this kind.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Too Funny 

Between work, family and writer's block, I haven't posted anything for awhile, but hope to get in the swing of things soon. Meanwhile, some of you may remember my earlier post about the pseudo-scientific imperialism of James Watson.

Turns out that Watson, like those old Southern plantation owners and overseers, has a much closer connection to Africa that he thought:

A Nobel Prize-winning scientist who provoked a public outcry by claiming black Africans were less intelligent than whites has a DNA profile with up to 16 times more genes of black origin than the average white European.

An analysis of the genome of James Watson showed that 16 per cent of his genes were likely to have come from a black ancestor of African descent. By contrast, most people of European descent would have no more than 1 per cent.

"This level is what you would expect in someone who had a great-grandparent who was African," said Kari Stefansson of deCODE Genetics, whose company carried out the analysis. "It was very surprising to get this result for Jim."

The findings were made available after Dr Watson became only the second person to publish his fully sequenced genome online earlier this year. Dr Watson was forced to resign his post as head of a research laboratory in New York shortly after triggering an international furore by questioning the comparative intelligence of Africans. In an interview during his recent British book tour, the American scientist said he was "inherently gloomy about the prospects for Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really".

I never cease to be amazed at the extent to which people are still willing to believe long discredited notions of racial purity. From Isabella to Jackson to Hitler, the notion persists, despite the history of human ingenuity associated with migrating from one place to another. In this instance, Watson has accidentally indicted his own intelligence, with his record of scientific achievement invalidating his odious racial doctrine.

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