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Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Your Brain Of Mud Or President Obama’s Magic Show In Cairo

In Israel/Palestine, Journalism, Our Wars on May 19, 2011 at 8:26 am
(Originally written in response to Obama’s first condescending speech to the A-rabs back in 2009. Reposted to reflect that nothing really has changed.)
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“It is well”, I said carelessly “…beware! Play us no tricks, make us no snares, for before your brains of mud have thought of them, we shall know them and avenge them. The light from the transparent eye of him with the bare legs and half haired face [the white man with his magnifying glass] shall destroy you and go through your land: his vanishing teeth shall fix themselves fast on to you and eat you up, you and your wives and children; the magic tubes shall talk with you loudly, and make you as sieves. Beware!”

Qautermain confronts the African Kukuana tribe, from the book King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard

Ruth Mayer, in her work Artificial Africas, points us to Mary Pratt’s book  Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing & Transculturation, in which Ms Pratt:

…differentiates two main stances in colonial self-stylizations, an imperial ‘rhetoric of conquest’ suffusing the absolutist era and an ensuing rhetoric of ‘anti-conquest’ demarcating the split consciousness of Western travelers in the 18th and 19th centuries, their paradoxical desire ‘to secure their innocence’ in the same moment as they assert European hegemony

she further points out that:

To contain an imperialist system within a rhetoric of anti-conquest calls for confusion … and indeed a highly contradictory symbolic system resulted from the efforts to reconcile the irreconcilable. What I call ‘trick translation’ is perhaps one of the most persistent troupes for casting colonial contact in terms of mutual understanding without abandoning the idea of a clear-cut hierarchy of communication and an European [today American] monopoly of meaning production.

It was an act of ‘trick translation’ that Barack Obama had actually come to perform on June 4th 2009 in Cairo, Egypt.  To offer a language of ‘anti-conquest’, and should we add ‘anti-involvement’, in a region with the most deeply entrenched American political, economic, and military involvement since WW II.

On June 4th 2009, President Barack Obama (a man I voted for!) took the stage on the soil of one of the region’s most despotic and repressive regimes. But more than that, he was standing in the center of the geography of American imperial projections that has been the Middle East since the British, Germans, French and other smaller European nations were forced to leave it in the 1940s.

The Middle East is home to some of America’s most important client states – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, The United Arab Emirates and of course, the unbreakable, Israel. It is also the site of some of her largest military bases and home to tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of American military and undercover operations personnel. It is the site of her most extensive energy resources and investments. It is the site where she has repeatedly engaged in covert and overt political and military operations to ensure access and control to these energy resources. It is the region where her operatives, military, covert and political, keep a close hand on political and economic developments and work to ensure that the nations of the region remain in the realm of American influence.

But, we are here to weave a rhetoric of ‘anti-conquest’, and I focus on those specific areas of his speech that I felt were particularly obfuscatory and Huxlian (Aldous Huxley being one of the original genius’ to describe a modernity where language becomes the most powerful weapon of war and conquest).

Like a great white hunter confronting a group of cannibals about the eat his friend alive, President Obama arrived with a few rhetorical tricks up his sleeves meant to appease the torridly infantile minds of his audience and hosts by offering them trinkets and hoping to dazzle them with his erudition and ‘respect’ for their histories.

We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world — tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate

The determination to see something called ‘the Muslim world’ as one large homogeneous entity is the hallmark of a classic Orientalist mind who fails or refuses to recognize that the polity of ‘Islam’ covers a remarkable diversity of people, cultures, ethnicity’s, and most importantly histories and heritages. To say nothing about the horribly embarrassing fact that the largest number of Muslims in fact live outside of the Middle East (Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India contain the largest number of officially defined Muslims), and where many practice regional varieties of Islam that many in the Middle East consider blasphemous!

More importantly, it is an act of the most egregious arrogance and even ignorance to suggest that if there are ‘tensions’ between a people who may be Muslim, and a nation that is in fact imperialistic and colonizing in the lands inhabited by Muslims than it is because of ‘historical forces’ and not because of  immediate military, political and economic realities.

Perhaps I am being naive in believing that it is less the crusades that concern the Palestinians, or their slaughter by Richard the Lionheart, and more the ongoing and brutal military occupation of their lands being carried out by one of America’s favorite client states, Israel!

The hubris of a statement the attempts to erase the entire post-WWII history and engagement of the United States of America in the region of the Middle East, and replaces it with imagined ‘historical forces’ that point to events and imagined acts from hundreds if not thousands of years in the past is staggering! Perhaps President Obama, this self-claimed student of history, needs to return to his college library and pick up a few books on the American entanglements in the region. He could not do badly by starting with Robert Fisk’s  The Great War For Civilization, or Michael B Oren’s Power, Faith & Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 – Present . I could suggest many others.

And to say nothing about the fact that the issues that cripple the Middle East are the least likely to be understood if seen as emerging from the region’s ‘Islamic’ character. They would in fact be better acknowledged if seen, as we see most every other region of the globe, with a careful and rigorous examination of the local and regional political, economic, social and strategic issues that infect the region. The crisis in Lebanon and the crisis in Kuwait have separate, if only tangentially related if that, issues and require a local focus.

It is this refusal to engage the region in its specificity that allows a number of American intellectual, commentators, politicians, journalists and other opinion makers to repeatedly conflate entities like Hamas with others like Hezbollah, the Islamic Brotherhood with Al -Qaeda. In a tribute to the most obscurantist and simplistic ideas perpetuated by classical Orientalists, the American administration and her providers of thought (think tanks, hired intellectuals, lobby and media organizations) continue to aggregate largely diverse and political complex matters that should in fact be examined within their local and regional social, political and regional contexts.


Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Perhaps the only thing more embarrassing than this statement – a classic Orientalist construction that cleverly claims modernity for ‘the white man’ while falsely praising the natives for their ‘traditions’  (read: backward, anti-modern, unchanging, out-dated, medieval), was that probably none of the luminaries in the audience, representing the worst and most illiterate of their nations, understood what had just been said to them!

And ironically, it was a statement that would have appealed to the most obscurantist and fundamentalists of reactionaries in the audience; the people who in fact work day and night through state control of media, culture, society and speech to ensure that their people remain in the shackles of ‘traditions’ and avoid such modern day comforts such as full and enforceable rights as citizens of a functioning democracy with the rule of law and equality for all. In that room full of hereditary leaders or despots, there could not have been a mind not nodding in quiet agreement at the American presidents endorsement of Islam’s ‘traditional’ values and the threat it faces from the ‘foreigner’s’ modernity, for after all, these same people use this very argument, with the help of their obscurantist mullahs and TV celebrity preachers, to demand that their citizens not ask for such modern innovations such as equal justice under the law, juridical accountability for elected representatives, legal and social ad human rights,  and a representative polity.

But the presence of this orientalist canard was certainly a surprise. Recent works by the historian Jack Good (The Theft of History) and Marcel Detienne (The Greeks And Us have challenged Europe’s belief in her modernity and certainly her assumptions that she was uniquely equipped to facilitate it. As John B Hobson states in his work Eastern Origins of Western Civilization:

“Eurocentrism errs by asking wrong questions at the outset. All Eurocentric scholars (either explicitly or implicitly) begin by asking two interrelated questions: ‘What was it about the West that enabled its breakthrough to capitalist modernity?’ and ‘What was it about the East that prevented it from making the breakthrough?’” But these questions assume that western dominance was inevitable, and lead historians to scour the past for the factors that explain it. “The rise of the West is understood through a logic of immanence: that it can only be accounted for by factors that are strictly endogenous to Europe.”


His words were frequently met with applause. President Obama threw them some crumbs, and they gobbled them up like hungry natives. Condescension were accepted as genuine respect and appreciation by people so devoid of dignity and honor that they will accept false pearls to disguise their being real swine. (I hope people get the colonial reference here!)

They applauded when he spoke to them in the only Arabic phrase he could be bothered to remember; the greeting of Assalaamu alaykum. How touching. Taking a note right out of an off-the-shelf travel guide to sites remote and exotic, Mr Obama did not forget that even ‘attempting’ the local lingo will result in smiles and graciousness!

They applauded when he appeared to respect something called ‘Islam’s’ contributions to European civilization.

Perhaps most had failed to realize that he was referring to contributions that were some 500 years or more old while retaining, subtly of course, the right to all other innovations since then for the more civilized and ‘modern’ Europe. Or the fact that, once again, it was not ‘Islam’ that made these contributions but individuals of questionable Muslim, Jewish, and other uncertain origins who were given deeply to issues of intellectual inquiry and study and open to influences all the way from China and India, who just happened to be living under a Muslim dynasty made these contributions.

Algebra is not a religious achievement – it is a human achievement, produced by men for man and with the effort of man. Religion has had no influence on the creation of this, or the arch or the compass or the other items Mr. Obama seemed to think ‘Islam’ contributed to. To attribute the discover of vaccine to a spiritual, religious, and some would argue, mythical philosphy is ignorant and anti-intellectual. It would be the equivalent of suggesting that Penicillin was a Christian discover, or the splitting of the atom a Jewish one! But apparently such inanities go down well in the Middle East!

(Rather than applaud, they should have hung their heads in shame; there is not a library of note, nor a university of even mediocre repute in all the lands across all the sands in all of the oil drenched nations in this region! That Arabs (and Obama was speaking to Arabs, not Muslims or even a nebulous ‘Islam’) continue to contribute to modernity, science, culture, arts, literature and the future, but must often flee their homelands and do so elsewhere!)

They applauded again when he spoke about Islam’s traditions of tolerance and racial equality. It was bizarre to say the least to offer this conventional sop to a room filled with representatives of intolerant and at times rascist regimes, applauding a philosophical concept alien to the very societies they have created and rule. They applauded when told that Thomas Jefferson kept a copy of the Koran in his personal library – did they imagine that he consulted it for his political and personal affairs, or was influenced by it?

They applauded when Mr. Obama claimed that the 7 million American Muslims enjoy incomes and educational levels that are higher than the American average. What that says about the deprivations of the average American, particularly the African-American community I am not so sure about. Who are these extremely successful and wealthy Muslims we do not quite know. But to make a claim to suggest that in fact in America the Muslims even do better than the Americans is sheer nonsense!

Their success or failure, as that of any immigrant in the USA is independent of their status as ‘Muslims. The Asian American, the West Indian and most recently the South Asian Indian community are highly successful immigrant communities and there is no way to claim that their religious choices are a determinant or a measure of their success. Furthermore, given that America allows only the ‘best and the brightest’  or the very wealthy from ‘other’ nations to come to the country, particularly when they are from Asia and/or the Middle East, it should not surprise us that these immigrant communities in fact do rather well.

But this obfuscation was essential to hide America’s ridiculous and immoral detainment, harassment, incarceration, deportation, and torture of hundreds of ‘Muslims’ either living in America or abroad. It was necessary to say to hide the rendition programs targeting of Muslims, the ‘black’ sites and their exclusively Muslim inhabitants, and the air and environment of overtly racist anti-Muslim sentiment that pervades American print, radio and television, particularly if you are of the conservative kind. And I will not even mention what the Evangelical fanatics and retards have been saying and encouraging amongst their congregations! By the way, I doubt that the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis festering in hovels in Jamaica Plains, scrambling from apartment to apartment to avoid the prying and ‘black’ eyes of the Homeland Security Department, quite fit into this fabulous President Obama statistic.

They applauded when Mr. Obama claimed that
the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it. Which left me perplexed because I was sure that I was told that we had invaded Afghanistan to liberate that nation’s women from ‘oppression’ symbolized by the burqa! And yet as devastation and horror now marks that country, with the arguments for the liberation of their women center stage, I wonder if it is not time to bring the daisy-cutters and pilot-less drones back to the USA where apparently women are being given constitution protection for a practice that elsewhere is considered by the Americans to be a sign of their backwardness and oppression!

And is this the same government that did not go to court to protect the rights of men and women being held at Guantanamo? As men continue to die in American ‘black’ site custody, I find it shocking that legal and judicial resources are available for women’s right to cover themselves where as they have been argued away for men we are torturing, murdering and discarding at unknown locations around the world!

And the inanities continued.


President Obama called the war in Iraq – this most brutal, hideous, illegal and greed based invasion of a nation in recent memory, as a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Quite the soft way to describe an event that was and is in fact nothing less than an illegal, unprovoked, premeditated invasion of a sovereign nation (to say nothing about the genocidal 12 year sanctions regime instituted against the civilian population of a de-armed state!)  led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands, the deaths of nearly a million, the torturing of thousands (pictures of which President Obama recently decided to censor to protect our delicate sensibilities – we are so civilized) and frankly remains a hell hole for those outside the centrally air-conditioned ‘green zone’ and should in fact be a crime prosecutable in the International Court of Justice.

Oh but wait, as President quickly added,  he believes that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

Ah, then its ok. For now at least we have a ‘democracy’ that requires private/corporate armed militia to protect politicians, businessmen, journalists and anyone not sanctioned by the many crooks and criminal organizations that now actually control the country while  masquerading behind banners of religions and sects. And for added measure the under cover assassination teams/death squads, massive torture centers, prisons, 24×7 hour private security, walls/dividers, daily 24×7 military patrols, towns like Falujah that remain under marshal law, kidnappings, criminality, a dysfunctional social and civil service, and the entire government under the guidance of our American generals and politicians necessary just to keep this duct-tape kleptocracy together for a little while longer.

Nine-eleven was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals.

What then are the consequences, Mr. Obama, of the fear and trauma of the Iraqis and the Afghanis who are in fact at this very moment confronted as they are by American tanks and pilot-less drones trying to understand how they will act contrary to their traditions and ideals? Or perhaps we will just blame their actions on ‘Islam’.


Speaking of America’s intolerance of extremism and violence, Mr Obama went out of his way to celebrate Israel. Walking in the footsteps of his predecessor, he proclaimed with great stress America’s ‘unbreakable’ relationship with the country. He even manufactured completely fictitious ‘cultural and historical’ ties. I can’t imagine what ties a group of European religious fanatics determined to create an ethnically exclusive state by intentionally and violently colonizing and driving out its original inhabitants would have with the United States of America? Oh yes, I forgot, it would be the penchant for violent European colonization of native lands, institutionalized and military cleansing of them from these lands, and the celebration of the now completed fact as liberty, modernity, progress and civility, with a neat set of ‘reservations’ for the unfortunately who survived. How silly of me!

It is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.

No Mr President, they have not suffered in the pursuit of a homeland. They have suffered in the dispossession of it.

They are waiting not for gifts from America, but for their rights, rights for which we have gone to war for other nations (Bosnia, Kuwait and now would love to for Chad) but remain silent on their behalf.

And in what can only be described as the most contorted reading of history, Mr Obama laid claim to the entire process of decolonization as one of a long heritage of non-violent resistance

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed…from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That’s not how moral authority is claimed; that’s how it is surrendered.

I wonder if Mr Obama is reading the same books of history.. I also wonder as President Obama escalates the now senselessly immoral and unjust conflict in Afghanistan if he listening to himself!

The history of colonial Africa, Middle East, South and South East Asia is marked by repeated and consistent armed insurrections and resistance to the colonial enterprise. The colonialists often painted this resistance as ‘minor’ or ‘marginal’ but none of the occupied people, even the Africans who were so savagely raped and enslaved, did not ‘go quietly into the night’. To say nothing about the intellectual, artistic, cultural and political resistance to occupying and colonizing regimes across the globe. Edward Said’s Culture And Imperialism would be a decent place for him to begin to start to understand regimes of resistance to colonial oppression that existed from the very moment the colonialists arrived on the shores of Africa, Asia and elsewhere. Or if Said is too politically sensitive for him, then perhaps he would like to read a fellow African; C.L.R. James’ masterful The Black Jacobins will remind our President of the power of violent resistance in breaking the back of a rapacious and brutal colonizer and usurper.

And if these nations and peoples of the far South and Africa are too complex for him to understand, then perhaps he would do well to remember if nothing else then the American Revolution and the great American war of independence, celebrated every year with great fanfare on July 4th. I believe that General George Washington would take umbrage to the suggestion that violence is a dead end. Or perhaps he would remember the American Civil War, a war that liberated the ancestors of his black citizens and moved America towards the path of modernity. Perhaps if they had followed a non-violent approach…… But then again, the oppressors and users of violence always love to lecture the oppressed about their ‘barbaric’ violent resistance and their need to demonstrate ‘civility’ by adopting a softer and more nuanced tone to the occupiers continued and increasingly military and violent responses!

Notice how the occupier is never told to adopt a non-violent occupation!

And the sheer arrogance to lecture to an unarmed and hopelessly repressed and dehumanized people, while their lands are under brutal military occupation from the only nation in the region that has in fact repeatedly attacked, occupied, summarily killed and displaced lands and peoples across the entire region is sheer mind boggling. The Palestinians are being asked to renounce violence, while the Israelis are being funded with more arms, more jets, more tanks, more training, more excuses for their illegal nuclear weapons program, and more aid packages – all of which continue to go towards and fund the creation of more settlements and more dispossessions and more brutality and more killings and more strangulations.

Continuing what has now become an almost too-boring-to-repeat cliche’s, President Obama placed all the blame for the violence, the intransigence of the conflict in Palestine on the Palestinians. There, in the world he was weaving on that stage in Cairo, where there is no Iraq and no Afghanistan, and no oil and interests, and business connections and shady deals and under handed greed, there was also no nuclear-armed, American funded, religiously fundamentalist, military controlled, ethnically discriminatory pseudo-democracy only for Jews with its American funded M16s and jackboots across the throats of a helpless and desperate people.

Yes, we are told that it is not the military bases, the settlements, the Wall, the check points, the gates, the farm lands, the murdering settlers, the curfews, the summary arrests, the targeted assassinations, the random detentions, the expropriations, the home demolitions, the expulsions, the incarcerations, the discrimination, the humiliations, the bombings, the phosphorous, the slow and daily grinding away at human dignity that are all part and parcel of a highly sophisticated military, architectural, social, political and economic settlement regime. Its the Palestinians with their handful of AK-47s and their donkey carts!

Calling the democratically elected Hamas Government as having ‘some support’ amongst the Palestinians, while calling upon the corrupt and discredited Palestinian Authority to develop a capacity to govern President Obama continued the insistent, anti-democratic approach of supporting the very people the citizenry rejected, while rejecting the very people the citizenry selected.

The only democratically elected official government in the very Middle East Mr. Obama claims to be talking to, and it is just not the one that we want.

Israel is in illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It has permanently constructed roads, settlements, military camps and emplacements, check points and gates, a massive Wall, security fences and cameras, farms and industrial estates all across the West Bank and done so with the absolute and complete support of the United States of America who funds these activities through a myriad and complex set of private, corporate and governmental institutions.

It is not there because the Palestinians are ‘violent’ or have ‘rockets’. It has been there because it wants these lands. It has done everything in its power to destroy the prospects of an independent Palestinian state, and only the beltway in Washington D.C. are a handful of people who think otherwise.

Israel’s obligations are not just what President Obama claimed: to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society but in fact to withdraw completely from the West Bank and Gaza to the 1967 green lines, to compensate financially the victims of the 1948 displacements, and to offer restitution both verbal, financial, legal and other to the millions who now suffer thanks to its intransigence, occupations, wars and religiously sanctioned hysteria and radicalism. The settlements don’t just need to be stopped, they need to be destroyed, dismantled, reversed, erased, and along with it the entire occupation machinery of men, tanks, gates, check points, walls, soldiers, settlers, goons, fanatics, businessmen and of course Palestinian collaborators.


And far from distancing himself from the pathologies of religious mysticism and mumbo-jumbo, President Obama sadly chose to pander to it further. Continuing yet another grand orientalist tradition of speaking to ‘the natives’ through the use of what the orientalist imagines is their particular world formulations – they are too stupid to understand our modernity, so we must use our ‘trick translation’ and speak to them about reality in their barbaric tongue – Mr. Obama like a modern day Quatermain decided to end his speech in a ‘one for the road’ chorus of quotations from the 3 religious texts and this shocking and rather insulting statement:

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God’s vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.

President Obama may have pulled off the greatest Evangelical mind tricks in history when he may have convinced a room full of ‘Muslim’ despots and criminal national leaders to join him in the support of a vision fantastically and naively created on the basis of a religious text that has been variously used to different degrees to also justified the inquisition, the crusades, the holocaust and possibly even the recent slaughter of the people of Iraq by an Evangelical, fanatic and religiously drunk American administration.

America engages the Middle East through conquest, investments, manipulations, espionage, education, extraction of resources, training of the military, politics and geo-political entanglements. For some odd reason President Obama can’t see that it can also be communicated with in simple, worldly, adult language without resorting to false and frankly cynical and hypocritical exploitation of religious texts and quotes, like a high school kid desperate to decorate a poor term paper that lacks content but may sound interesting if a few ‘notable’ quotes are thrown in!

As President Obama walked off that Cairo stage to go and bask in the glow of the glory that was being orchestrated for him by his obsequious hosts and minders, a General McChrystal was being appointed to head the operations in Obama’s favorite war in Afghanistan. As Tom Engelhart explained in a recent post on the fabulous Tom’s Dispatch blog site:

General McChrystal comes from a world where killing by any means is the norm and a blanket of secrecy provides the necessary protection. For five years he commanded the Pentagon’s super-secret Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)…McChrystal gained a certain renown when President Bush outed him as the man responsible for tracking down and eliminating al-Qaeda-in-Mesopotamia leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The secret force of “manhunters” he commanded had its own secret detention and interrogation center near Baghdad, Camp Nama, where bad things happened regularly, and the unit there, Task Force 6-26, had its own slogan: “If you don’t make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it.” Since some of the task force’s men were, in the end, prosecuted, the bleeding evidently wasn’t avoided.

Tomorrow we will explain the war in Afghanistan as that between the liberal values of the United States of America and obscurantist, mysoginist and barbaric values of ‘radical Islam’. General McChrystal, with his legacy of broken souls and bodies, his torture centers and assassination teams, his professionally executed operations of terror and mayhem, will be left to the sidelines and forgotten. Some old orientalists, or obfuscators (perhaps a newer version of a Ahmed Rashid!) will be trotted out to explain why ‘they hate us’.

President Obama stood in Cairo and wove a fantasy. A fantasy that claimed that there is something called ‘Islam’ that he could speak to as if he was speaking to a homogeneous entity. A fantasy that claimed that America does not in fact have interests and protects interests with military and other means in the Middle East. A fantasy that denies the roots of the violence that does in fact plague that region and emanates from within regimes whose despotic and irrational leaders are amongst America’s closest allies. A fantasy where the tiresome, outdated, discredited and artificial construct of ‘the clash of civilizations’ is trotted out to obfuscate the hard political and economic factors that in fact create alliances and foster the conflicts.

The speech on June 4th 2009 will sadly not go down in history as a great moment in diplomacy. There is an air of desperation about the writings that are trying to claim it so. Much like the photo-op in the White House Lawn the day the Oslo Accords were signed, we will drown our fears under misguided hopes and self-imposed delusions while the relentless machinery of imperial power and politics will continue to cut its merciless path through a region cursed with oil and men of supreme venality.

A few hours after this speech President Obama headed to Buchenwald where he said:

I have no patience for people who would deny history

Indeed Mr. President.

Indeed.

ADDENDUM: I was reminded by a friend that in fact there could be religious motivations for the explorations of algebra e.g. man’s need to measure time more precisely, or to work out the geometries and structures of complex domes, mosques or even the decorative patterns that decorated it. A similar argument has in fact been made by Kim Plofker in his new book Mathematics in India – that Indian innovations in mathematics may have been driven by a need for temple designs or astrology. Regardless, as has already been argued, these remain worldly requirements to serve worldly needs and for universal relevance and application must apply consistently across man’s known world. Their measure of innovation comes from their universality, their non-specificity to any one set of beliefs of religious values.


Ask Not What The Country Can Do To You But What You Can Do To Yourself

In The Daily Discussion on November 19, 2010 at 4:21 pm

I’ve decided that if the government wants to monitor me that’s fine. But I could do a much better job monitoring myself than anyone else.

Hasan Elahi

Trackingtranscience is a brilliant response by Professor Hasan Elahi, a Bangladeshi-born American citizen, to his detention and interrogation at the hands of Home Land Security and FBI personnel. Professor Elahi was accused by his neighbors for being a 9/11 terrorist (description; dark, Muslim) and later taken off a flight returning from Europe for questioning. The FBI accused him of hoarding explosives in a Florida warehouse. He was subjected to months of interrogations, nine polygraph tests, and left on the ‘watch list’.

So he decided that he will just watch himself and effectively erase all pretence at ‘privacy’.

Now Elahi posts his day, every single mundane aspect of it, on the project website at Trackingtranscience.net A globe-trotting Professor of media, he posts all his activities, complete with GPS coordinates and the date/time stamps at the site, effectively monitoring his daily life. His meals, toilet breaks, airport waits and almost all the mundane acts that define 99% of what constitutes modern life. His server logs reveal that the Pentagon, and even the Executive Office of The President have clicked in while the FBI continue to monitor his activities through this site itself. Our tax payer’s money at work.

Tracking Transcience

Tracking Transcience

Hasan Elahi was featured in a Colbert Report interview, where Steven Colbert not-so-subtly reminds us that the only reason Professor Elahi was, and continues, to be taken as a ‘threat’ is because he is ‘foreign’ i.e. non-white, Muslim, from Asia.

Hasan Elahi on The Colbert Report (Click To Go To Video)

Hasan Elahi on The Colbert Report (Click To Go To Video)

There is something refreshingly subversive about this work, a trait I find missing in most uses of photography. There is also humour and criticism, another thing I find largely missing from photography. It is a subversion and a humour that is also a means of criticism of the ever smaller space we occupy as independent, private and autonomous human beings in our so-called modern, industrial societies. This may seem contradictory – the full surrender of privacy as a means to counter our loss of privacy. But the project is in fact a creative show of the middle-finger to authorities that claim technical and methodological sophistication but in fact rely on simplistic racial profiling to get their jobs done.

We seem to believe that our intelligence services rely on sophistication technical and research, when in fact the apparent methods of operations seem rather banal and simplistic. However, I have always prefered the honesty of the rabidly bigoted and ignorant. Like Tunku Varadarajan who argued:

We are a civilized society. One of our cardinal rules of coexistence is that we (try always to) judge people only by their actions and not by their identity, whether racial, religious or sexual. This is our great strength as a society, and also, in the present circumstances, our great weakness: How to address the threat posed by the fact that, of the hundreds of thousands of Muslims in our midst, there are a few (perhaps many more than a few) who are so radicalized that they would kill their fellow Americans? Must we continue to be neutral in handling all people from different groups even though we know that there are differential risks posed by people of one group? The problem here is a heightened version of the airport security problem, where we check all people–including Chinese grandmothers–regardless of risk profiles. But can we afford that on a grand, national scale? (And I mean that question not merely in a financial sense, but also in terms of the price we’d pay in failing to detect a threat in time.)

Indeed. Why beat about the bush when in fact we have, in complete ignorance of facts or reality, decided that it is the Muslims who have an exclusively penchant for violence and terrorism?

Professor Elahi is also revealing the fact that citizens of the West already surrender entire details of their lives, habits and preferences choosing to surrender their privacy for services and entertainment. With our greater reliance on electronic media and communications, the process of tracking and monitoring has become even easier. Even Facebook has become the target of ‘surveillance’, and tens of thousands of cameras and monitors litter our urban landscape, creating practically a 24×7 record of every citizen’s every movement and action. Our internet behavior is monitored and recorded, and available to any intelligence agency. I will say nothing about our cell phone usage, which we already know is carefully tracked.

Works such as this are a reminder of the reality of a state whose surveillance activities have grown far beyond any we would have tolerated in the pre-9/11 era, eroding our constitutional liberties and rights in the process. We seem to have forgotten that our liberties were hard-fought, and that they are always and constantly under threat. Elahi’s project reminds us that we choose the wrong answer to the questions that David Foster Wallace once put to us in the aftermath of 9/11 when, he asked:

Are some things still worth dying for? Is the American idea one such thing? Are you up for a thought experiment? What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”? In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?

Clearly, we have not considered these questions enough. And if we have, we chosen not to insist on our rights enough. There is no small irony in the fact that an entire conservative, venal, backward looking, revisionist, culturally revanchist, racist and retrograde segment of our nation is screaming against ‘big government’ when it comes to the provision of services that serve our society – healthcare, welfare, education, while simultaneously cheering greater government intrusion and control of everything that hinders of liberties and rights – more soldiers on our borders, greater surveillance and monitoring, larger military and budgets and the larger wars.

I became an American citizen in 1999. While preparing for my interview with the immigration authorities in New York City I spent considerable time studying the Constitution. However, when it came time for the interview, the bored and distracted official simply asked me inane questions about the day America celebrates its independence and other some such irrelevant matters. When I questioned him about whether he was going to ask me whether I understand the rights and responsibilities I had as a citizen of this nation – the rights defined in the Constitution, he simply said ‘No’. When I inquired why a new citizen was not expected to know his rights and liberties, the rights and liberties that were the very foundations of the nation he was in fact being asked to defend at all costs, the official simply looked annoyed and informed me that the interview has done. It seems that it is not important for an American citizen to know what it is that s/he is meant to defend. The evidence of this is quite apparent today.

We are this very moment confronting one of the largest, most concentrated assault on our civil liberties, and the main front of this assault are our legal rights. We should not forget that as we deny justice to those we claim are ‘our enemies’ we deny justice to ourselves. Confessions through torture, unlimited detentions, denial of access to counsel, illegally obtained evidence, renditions and other illegal and unconstitutional means make delivering justice impossible and weakens our system from within. The contortions and mockery of due process by which we try our prisoners and enemies will one day become the contortions and mockery that we will try ourselves. The ease with which we deny justice to ‘our enemies’, in complete violation of our own and of international law, will be the same ease with which it may be denied us. And our president, who once promised so much, continues to look away from the Guantanamo he promised to close, the suspects he promised to give civil trials and rights to, the torture evidence he promised to release and the adherence to our laws he promised to uphold.

The more of ourselves we surrender to those we believe are ‘protecting’ us, the more we leave ourselves susceptible to abuse and injustice. The tentacles of the security and fear driven state are endless. There is always an argument for more security, more protections, more safety and more controls.There are always crisis that require extraordinary measures. The incredible stupidity of the Transport Safety Authority (TSA) and the back-scatter x-ray machines is evidence enough that the entire security bureaucracy has run amuck, with rules and regulations that are now completely devoid of meaning or necessity, and overtly driven by a corporate security sector that works from fear and towards excess.

On the other front we have a system of ‘infiltrating’ poor, Muslim communities in the USA with paid-for informants and entrapment experts who lure people into acts criminal and then parade them as powerful evidence of a working security system. Fear, insecurity and doubt are being spread in most all Muslim communities as entire people are singled out for observation, targeting and surveillance simply on the basis of their religion and ethnicity. Most all so-claimed ‘major’ terrorism plots foiled have been incidences of CIA informants helping entrap otherwise innocent and innocuous individuals through suggestion, coercion, greed and outright lies to become involved in plots whose outlines and intents were defined and prepared by the CIA informants in the first place. We are now trying to police ‘intent’ and ‘ideas’ by further eroding civil rights and legal procedures. Amitava Kumar’s A Foreigner  Carrying In The Crook Of His Arm A Tiny Bomb examines this question in greater detail is a highly recommended read.

Professor Elahi’s project is the first that I have seen that attempts to raise important questions about the meaning of the security state and its implications for the individual citizen. This is creative art as resistance and criticism. It can’t replace direct action, as that by the courageous and determined John Tyner who recently confronted the intrusive and ridiculously pointless back-scatter x-ray machines being used by the TSA, but it is crucial to making the argument.

The audience in the Colbert show may have laughed, but the vision that is outlined in Trackingtranscience.net is no laughing matter.

It may be our tomorrow.

Its time to remind ourselves of David Foster Wallace’s question again: … is [ours] a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?

 

 

What It Looks Like When You Leave The Embed Or Thank Goodness Some Remember The Basics

In Essays On Embedded Photojournalism, Journalism, Our Wars, The Daily Discussion on October 30, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Jeremy Scahill has written a fascinating piece for The Nation called Killing Reconciliation. He and film maker Rick Rowley (of Big Noise Films – see a recent one called The Return Of The Warlords on Afghanistan) traveled in Afghanistan outside the predictability and suffocating inanity of the ‘embedded’ war and bring back some fascinating insights into the situation.

He was also interviewed on Democracy Now! which you can see here:

Jeremy Scahill On DemocracyNow! (Click Image To Go To Interview)

Jeremy Scahill On DemocracyNow! (Click Image To Go To Interview)

In case you don’t bother to listen to the interview, here is a summary of what he had to say:

So, to give you a sense of what’s happening, what the United States is doing through its night raids, where they’re going into people’s homes, they’re corralling women, which is just anathema to the culture there, into one room, hooding men, zip-tying their arms, helicoptering them to secret prisons—what they’re doing is they’re enraging populations throughout Afghanistan that wouldn’t necessarily support the Taliban. So what you see happening is that the United States says, “We’re here to win hearts and minds,” their targeted killing campaign, the reliance on bad information from individuals in Afghanistan who are accusing their neighbors of being Taliban to settle personal grudges. The perception is that the United States government is just on a killing spree there, that they rarely get the right people. The Karzai government is utterly corrupt to the bone and exists only for the purpose of facilitating corruption. When you combine those things and then you look at the rhetoric coming from the Obama administration and the military, that we’re there to win hearts and minds, you realize that the single greatest blows being dealt to the stated US strategy in Afghanistan are being dealt by the US itself through this targeted killing campaign.

Let me repeat:

…the single greatest blows being dealt to the stated US strategy in Afghanistan are being dealt by the US itself through this targeted killing campaign.

The entire interview is essential reading/listening.

(Thanks to Osman Ahmed.)

Cornel West Speaks And He Speaks With The Voice Of A Righteous Man!

In The Daily Discussion on March 13, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Tariq Ali On The Mess In Afghanistan And Why Its Only About To Get Worse

In Our Wars on December 11, 2009 at 1:37 pm

Whats Happening In Pakistan? Its Not What The New York Times Will Tell You

In Journalism, Our Wars on November 5, 2009 at 12:49 pm

A couple of insightful pieces appeared recently. Both, in different ways, challenge the mainstream narrative being bandied about in Washington D.C. and being stenographed by individuals pretending to be reporters but in fact are really acting as government/official stenographers out of Pakistan and the USA.

The first piece is by Mohammad Ahmad Idress, founder of Pulse Media, and appeared in the recent issue of Le Monde Diplomatique. Title Pakistan Creates Its Own Enemies, if offers us some valuable background and some excellent insights. I will quote a few here, but I recommend that you read the entire piece to help cut past what can only be described as willful lies and obfuscations (these editors and journalists are not stupid, just cowards or ‘professionals’, which these days means the same thing really!) being sold to us by our press here in the USA.

Helping us understand how we got ourselves into this mess, Idress reminds us (and we do need to be reminded that):

This war began in 2002 under intense US pressure, with piecemeal military action in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a semi-autonomous region of seven agencies along Pakistan’s north-western border. The Afghan Taliban were using the region to regroup after their earlier rout: veteran anti-Soviet commander Jalaluddin Haqqani headquartered his network in North Waziristan; Gulbuddin Hikmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami had a presence in Bajaur. However, the military, reluctant to take on pro-Pakistan Afghans, whom the government sees as assets against growing Indian influence in Afghanistan, instead marched into South Waziristan to apprehend “foreigners” (mainly Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs). Following the regional code of honour, the tribes refused to surrender the guests and were subjected to collective punishment that soon united them against the government.

This was a situation that I had been able to document during my work in Waziristan in 2004. See (Mother Jones Magazine: Frontier Justice, October 2004). I recommend that you read the entire piece.

Another piece that caught my eye was by Manan Ahmad called Start A War where he too reminds us of some ground realities:

The 3.5 million or more inhabitants of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, of which Waziristan is a component, only received the adult franchise in 1997 – 50 years after the creation of Pakistan. This area, with the highest poverty and lowest literacy rates in Pakistan, is still governed according to the brutal British colonial legal code: a family or even a village can be punished for the crime of a single individual, there is no protection from multiple sentences for the same offence, and most damnably, the state has no obligation to show cause for imprisonment. Most damaging is the utter lack of a judicial system that can adjudicate civil disputes – one reason for the persistent calls to impose Sharia within the region. The Pakistani state has yet to resolve these issues and, in the meantime, segments of the discontented population have resorted to armed aggression against the centre – which has taken both secular and religious forms. Decades of frustration allowed the Taliban a foothold in Swat, and the same conditions exist in Baluchistan.

and as if to shake us out of our intellectual stupor, he ends with this warning:

The true crisis facing Pakistan is not the Taliban: it is the rupture between the federal state and its constituent parts, and Islamabad’s refusal to accede to the legitimate needs and demands of its citizens in places like Swat and Baluchistan. It is a rupture, indeed, that is written into the very fabric of the state, and the reason why Bangladesh seceded from West Pakistan in 1971, after it was denied political legitimacy by the military regime and then brutalised by an oppressive army operation aimed at quashing any opposition.
But the Pakistan Army learnt exactly the wrong lesson from Bangladesh: since 1971 it has been determined to move as rapidly and violently as possible against any sub-nationalist movement elsewhere in Pakistan. The spectre of Taliban conquering Islamabad and the state’s American-backed resolve to press on in a series of wars against its own people have effectively ended any chance for political consideration of the Baluchistan issue. Instead Baluchistan will be, once again, merely an empty badland where Taliban are hiding, waiting, plotting. It awaits yet another military operation. And we await another declaration of success.

For those of you interested in Ahmed Rashid, Tariq Ali has recently penned a strong criticism of Mr. Rashid’s fear-mongering, in a piece called Ahmed Rashid’s War , pointing out that:

The main people who consult Rashid, apart from Robert Silvers at the New York Review of Books, are US policy-makers in favor of a continuous occupation of Afghanistan. Rashid provides them with many a spurious argument to send more troops and wipe out the Pashtuns opposing the occupation. Within Afghanistan, Rashid’s principal backer and friend is Hamid Karzai who has now managed to antagonize even the tamest US liberals such as Peter Galbraith, recently sacked as a UN honcho in Kabul because he suggested that Karzai had rigged the elections. Rashid the journalist has no time for people who suggest that Karzai is a corrupt rogue, whose family is now the richest in the country, or that he manipulates US public opinion with the aid of PR companies, friends in Washington and, of course, Ahmed Rashid himself.

As more and more Pakistani’s are killed to appease American domestic policy needs, and the insatiable greed of the venal individuals who have grabbed hold of Pakistan’s government, we would do well to at least understand how this situation has emerged. Perhaps we care not for some poor Pushtun and his pointless family being cut to pieces by tax-payer funded, but oh-so-sexy pilot-less drones, but maybe we can speak honestly about it and go to bed at night without fear or guilt. After all, international human rights laws, the Geneva Conventions, and even Pakistan’s own constitutional laws to protect the lives and rights of its citizens, were not really written for a bunch of baggy pant barbarians living in barren hills? Or were they, in fact, actually written for precisely such dehumanized, ignored, and invisibly erased people?


Spreading Democracy Around The World…By Seducing One Brutal, Egomaniacal Dictator At A Time

In Our Wars on September 23, 2009 at 5:48 pm

2009_09_21_berdimuhammedov__250_1

Speaking of a history of ugliness, that lovely man shaking the hands of our Secretary of State is Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the President of the nation of Turkmenistan. This photo was taken on September 21, 2009. At the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. Quite the address.

This gentleman, all decked in what appears to be the uniform of the civilized, modern, accommodating, liberal, peace loving dictators we so love, heads a country that has one of the most heinous record when it comes to human rights and justice. Just a search on the Amnesty International website or the Human Rights Watch website yields just too many reports to actually read! But even a cursory search on the HRW website report reveals the following:

Turkmenistan remains one of the most repressive and authoritarian countries in the world because the government has not altered the institutions of repression that characterized Niazov’s rule. Hundreds of people, perhaps more, languish in Turkmen prisons following unfair trials on what would appear to be politically motivated charges. Draconian restrictions on freedom of expression, association, movement, and religion remain in place. Teaching of the Ruhnama, Niazov’s “book of the soul,” has been cut back, but is still part of the state education curriculum.

Oddly, our Assistant Secretary of State Robert O’ Blake was quick to point out that

…human rights is not as big an issue in Turkmenistan as it is in some of the other Central Asian countries.

Really?

I wonder if it had something to do with this earlier comment he made in the same meeting:

U.S. [oil] companies are already doing a lot of business in Turkmenistan, particularly offshore, and are interested, I think, in doing more work to develop some of the onshore hydrocarbon resources there. And so the Secretary conveyed that interest. The Turkmen president said that he’s going to be meeting – in fact, next – tomorrow – with a lot of the U.S. oil companies to, again, explore what more they can do in Turkmenistan. So that’s certainly a welcome development.

So remind me again, what was it that we had hoped would change with this new administration?

I really can’t remember!


Fighting Ghosts And Selling The Good War Or Why Are The Toy Soldiers On The Front Lines!

In Essays On Embedded Photojournalism, Journalism, Our Wars, Photography on July 9, 2009 at 11:04 am
Alex Webb Magnum Photos (

Alex Webb Magnum Photos: The Invasion of Haiti 1994

The silence is deafening. As American troops are dropped in on Afghanistan to fight their fantasy war, there is no sound from our defenders of truth and checkers of power i.e. the media, about the operation, its objectives, our continued presence in the country, our blood thirsty allies, our ‘pretend’ Afghani democracy, our support of drug lords and genocidiares, our consistent killing of innocents and our blind faith in our own righteousness and unquestioned right to trample on another people and bend them to ‘our ways.

The glory of war is being sold on the front pages of our newspapers, none of which have the courage to ask what they know is in fact a fake war, aimed at a poor and defenseless people, fueled by the ‘intelligence’ and advice of a group of venal, corrupt, blood thirsty and power hungry clique of Afghani warlords, drug barons and oil huckster!

Here is The Washington Post’s idea of war. How purposeful!

Here is The Sacramento Bee looking at this war. How glorious!

Here is The Denver Post blinding themselves. Oh, Our Lord Calls!

Did someone in a marketing department at the pentagon think to arrange all this to coincide with hysteria and myopia that typically captures the nation on every 4th of July? I have to think so. Could they have found a better moment to sell ‘the good soldier’, and the righteous nation, by launching what is increasingly looking like yet another ‘ghost’ operation meant more for ‘domestic’ consumption and sales rather than any serious attempt to go after any real enemy. That something called ‘The Taliban’ are a manufactured foe is something I have written about in an earlier piece called To The Last Man: Fighting The Wrong War in Afghanistan. At most a band of village elders and fanatics with AK-47s scrambling about the remotest and barren regions of the globe have been re-cast as an existential threat to the world’s most powerful military and imperial power, and we all have fallen for it like children for the tooth fairy. Our think tanks, media ‘intellectuals’ and pundits, newspaper columnists and our politicians have become the finest marketing arms of the brand called ‘Al Qaeda’ and ‘The Taliban’, a brand that is perpetually maintained in front of our eyes and sold complete with music, video, and live performances such as this latest operation in Afghanistan.

I am reminded of the ‘great’ American military fantasy in the little country of Haiti – and Alex Webb was there to cut past the lies that these ‘toy soldier’ photojournalists love to sell once their work is done. He was abused for his ‘irresponsible’ pictures. I on the other hand remember hearing a rare honest voice.

Soon these ‘war’ pictures will be sent to competition around the globe, and winners will give interviews about how they wanted to ‘shed light on the truth’ and other such gibberish that is used to obscure the fact they mostly want to glorify themselves. This band of clowns who confuse bravado with bravery  will then be awarded trinkets at annual photo competitions by behind-the-desk warriors in offices at major magazine headquarters in metropolises around the globe. No questions will be asked about the veracity of the work, the independence of the sources, the commitment of the individual.

Chris Hedges said it best in a piece called On War:

The vanquished know war. They see through the empty jingoism of those who use the abstract words of glory, honor, and patriotism to mask the cries of the wounded, the senseless killing, war profiteering, and chest-pounding grief. They know the lies the victors often do not acknowledge, the lies covered up in stately war memorials and mythic war narratives, filled with stories of courage and comradeship. They know the lies that permeate the thick, self-important memoirs by amoral statesmen who make wars but do not know war. The vanquished know the essence of war—death. They grasp that war is necrophilia. They see that war is a state of almost pure sin with its goals of hatred and destruction. They know how war fosters alienation, leads inevitably to nihilism, and is a turning away from the sanctity and preservation of life. All other narratives about war too easily fall prey to the allure and seductiveness of violence, as well as the attraction of the godlike power that comes with the license to kill with impunity.

Professor Marc Herold has been working to reveal the media’s role in selling us war. In a piece called War As An Edsel: The Marketing & Consumption Of Modern American Wars he points out that

By the first Gulf War, reporters were confined to pools and the Pentagon distributed video-game like footage to TV channels extolling the precision of U.S. weaponry. In September/October 2001, the Bush Administration hired the public relations firm, Rendon Group1, and also Ms. Charlotte Beers, former “queen of Madison Avenue” and chairperson of both advertising giants J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather (she had successfully promoted Head & Shoulders shampoo and Uncle Ben’s Rice), to “explain” the new Bush wars to Muslims abroad (and the American consumer), creating the new post for her of the State Department’s Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy with a half billion dollar budget.2 According to Colin Powell, Beers was fluent with branding and she was:

“from the advertising business. I wanted one of the world’s greatest advertising experts, because what are we doing? We’re selling. We’re selling a product. That product we are selling is democracy.”

Democracy sold abroad, war sold at home. But while the battle for minds abroad led by Beers and Rendon fared badly in Muslim lands, the battle on the home front to persuade the American public led by MIMIC succeeded eminently. The Bush Administration worked hard to encourage and benefit from a compliant mainstream domestic corporate media – led by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, Time Warner’s CNN, the Clear Channel radio network, radio talk shows, and major dailies like the New York Times, the Los Angles Times, and the Washington Post and journals like Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard – which served as giant megaphones of State Department and Pentagon positions on the Bush wars… Clear Channel, the largest owner of radio stations in the country, has scrapped even any pretense of objectivity with its sponsorship of pro-war rallies in major cities throughout the U.S. The mainstream media bosses recognized – led by CNN’s coverage of Iraq in 1991 – that media flag-waving, fabricated personal story heroics, action-movie like storytelling, techno reporting could boost TV ratings and profits.

And so here we go again – the blatant entanglement of our media barons with the purveyors of power are known and obvious and the war in Afghanistan is being ‘produced’ for us much as the previous wars. The tired cliches are being published by machine-tool journalists who cannot even bother to confront the obfuscating language they have become so used to using. Rory Stewart recently wrote about the use of language to curtail thought and achieve results in a piece called The Irresistible Illusion :

When we are not presented with a dystopian vision, we are encouraged to be implausibly optimistic. ‘There can be only one winner: democracy and a strong Afghan state,’ Gordon Brown predicted in his most recent speech on the subject. Obama and Brown rely on a hypnotising policy language which can – and perhaps will – be applied as easily to Somalia or Yemen as Afghanistan. It misleads us in several respects simultaneously: minimising differences between cultures, exaggerating our fears, aggrandising our ambitions, inflating a sense of moral obligations and power, and confusing our goals. All these attitudes are aspects of a single worldview and create an almost irresistible illusion.

It conjures nightmares of ‘failed states’ and ‘global extremism’, offers the remedies of ‘state-building’ and ‘counter-insurgency’, and promises a final dream of ‘legitimate, accountable governance’.,,It papers over the weakness of the international community: our lack of knowledge, power and legitimacy. It conceals the conflicts between our interests: between giving aid to Afghans and killing terrorists…It is a language that exploits tautologies and negations to suggest inexorable solutions. It makes our policy seem a moral obligation, makes failure unacceptable, and alternatives inconceivable. It does this so well that a more moderate, minimalist approach becomes almost impossible to articulate.

Our ‘brave’ photojournalists continue to cloister their minds and thump their chests as they rush into ‘combat’ protected of course by entire battalions of some of the best trained military men and women in the world. No need to think how they got there, or why they are there on the front lines.

The toy soldier lives.

The Afghani dies.

I still wonder how we got here and why the slide to this mediocrity has proven so easy!

The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum! How We Americans Privatized Our National Treasury

In Journalism, The Daily Discussion on April 1, 2009 at 9:54 am

One of the least realized and understood consequences of the financial/economic crisis is that the National Treasury of the United States of America has effectively been privatized and handed over to the very criminals and psychologically deranged business goons who crippled us in the first place.

For more, read a recent piece in The Atlantic magazine called The Quiet Coup Simon Johnson reveals the hideous truth

And if you are still not convinced, you can read Naomi Klein writing in Rolling Stone Magazine

Or if you still want more, you can read Matt Taibi in his piece called The Big Takeover

President Obama has yet again decided to fight the wrong war with the wrong people and against the wrong people.  I wrote about his plans in Afghanistan earlier – plans based on a misreading and a misrepresentation of the causes of the crisis in that country.

The lunatics have taken over the asylum!

To The Last Man: Fighting The Wrong War in Afghanistan

In Journalism, Our Wars, Photography on February 10, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Perhaps the most illuminating moments in Eroll Morris’s documentary The Fog Of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara is when Mr. McNamara begins to offer his explanation for why the war in Vietnam went so terribly wrong.

Aside for the detailed discussions about the escalation of the conflict due to domestic political issues, he makes the following statement which I believe best captures why nations, any nation, can find itself mired in a conflict and unable to resolve it.

Let me quote Robert S. McNamara himself

“Let me go back one moment.  In the Cuban Missile Crisis at the end I think we did put ourselves in the skin of the Soviets. In the case of Vietnam we did not know them well enough to empathize.  There was total misunderstanding as a result.

They believed that we had simply replaced the French as a colonial power and we were seeking to subject South and North Vietnam to our colonial interest, which was absolutely absurd. And we…we saw Vietnam as an element of the cold war and not what they saw as…a civil war.”

Robert S. McNamara then discusses how he later met with his ‘former enemy’ – on a trip to Vietnam in 1995 he meets with the former foreign minister of Vietnam, Tran Van Lam, and quickly getting into a heated argument which went a something like this (as told by Mr. McNamara in the film):

TVL: ‘You were totally wrong! We were fighting for our independence, you were fighting to enslave us!

RSM: Do you mean to say that it was not a tragedy for you when you lost 3, 400,000 of Vietnamese…killed…what did you accomplish?

You did not get anything more than we were willing to give you at the beginning of the war!

TVL: Mr. McNamara, you must have never read a history book! If you had you would have known that we were not pawns of the Chinese or the Russians….did you not know that?

Don’t you know that we have been fighting the Chinese for over 1000 years?

We were fighting for our independence!

And we would fight to the last man and we were determined to do so! And no amount of bombing or US pressure would have ever stopped us!

President Barack Obama is about to escalate a war in Afghanistan that I fear will prove once again to be the wrong war.

He and his administration have, without blinking an eye, adopted the language and rhetoric of the discredited Bush administration about the reasons and goals of the conflict in Southern Afghanistan.  President Barack Obama, much like his predecessor, claims to be fighting ‘the war against terror’ and supposedly ‘Al-Qaeda’ forces in Afghanistan, when in fact what he faces is a large scale Pushtun nationalist insurgency against the US-backed minority kleptocracy that current sits in Kabul.

Since 2001 the Bush administration and its allies in Kabul have attempted to convince us that the ongoing conflict in the country is against Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces, most of which are finding safe havens in Pakistan.  This has been the public face of America’s policies in the country, though it is evident to many who travel and work there, that it hides as much as it reveals.

Under US tutelage Afghanistan has become one of the world’s largest narco-state, with crime and criminality the principal means of business, law and life.

With few if any reporters working independetly in the Southern Afghanistan region, it has been impossible to get voices outside of the official American/NATO ones.  However, one individual who has spent considerable time in the country, as both a reporter and a social worker, is Sarah Chayes.  She was a correspondent for National Public Radio from 1997 to 2002 and later founded an agribusiness cooperative in the country.  Her stark and honest assessment of the situation in the country comes from direct experience in the region where the insurgency is most extreme.

Here is what she had to say in a piece she wrote for The Boston Review called ‘Days of Lies and Roses: Selling Out Afghanistan’

Our first error was to subordinate every other concern to a cowboys-and-Indians-style hunt for al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership-a hunt that has thus far proved singularly fruitless. We collected a posse of former anti-Soviet commanders who had been repudiated by the Afghan population for their rapacious and bloody-minded behavior after the Soviets withdrew in 1989. Because we believed them essential to our hunt, we installed these thugs in positions of local power, bolstered them with the priceless weight of our partnership-made unmistakable to ordinary folk by the uniforms we issued to their militiamen, the guns we armed them with, and the bricks of cash we delivered to their homes and offices.

And she a few lines later adds the devastating conclusion that:

But in my view it is precisely this decision to ignore good governance and cultivate criminality that has led to the disastrous security conditions in the Afghan south. The independent-minded Afghans relinquish sovereignty to a state apparatus reluctantly, and only for as long as the state can either cow them or be seen to be acting in their practical interests. The current Afghan government is doing neither. The only obvious alternative-or beneficiary of a protest vote-is the Taliban.

The Obama administration is walking in to the wrong war.  Rather than recognize that nearly 7 years of rape and pillage of the lives, livlihood and welfare of the people of the Pushtun people of the South by a group of once anti-Soviet warlords is fueling a rebellion, they prefer to sink their heads in the quicksand of ‘the war against terror’.

Nothing that Mr. Gates has recently said, or President Obama parroted, acknowledges the complexity of the situation on the ground in the country.  There is talk of sending more troops, or the continuation of the bombing campaigns in the Southern provinces and Pakistan that are killing many, many civilians, and many other mind numbing regurgitations of ‘terror networks’ and ‘havens’ and ‘flushing out’ Al Qaeda and what not.

Even the Swat rebellion of local militants against the Pakistani government and the heavy handed presence/response of the Army is lumped into the broader ‘Taliban/Al-Qaeda’ collective.

There is a collective silence about the situation in Southern Afghanistan, and its fall out in Pakistan.  Writers, journalists, intellectuals and others seem oblivious to the fact that a people live in these areas, and that their voices need to be heard and engaged.

Instead, there is a determined effort or ignorance that insists that the entire region is ‘infested’ with terrorists that deserve little more than more American bombs and more  troops.  We insist on seeing the entire region and its people only through the prism of American foreign policy myopia’s – as we did in Vietnam, and refuse to see how the locals see the war.

In an extensive piece in the New Left Review called ‘Afghanistan: Mirage of a Good War’ writer Tariq Ali had this to say:

The argument that more NATO troops are the solution is equally unsustainable. All the evidence suggests that the brutality of the occupying forces has been one of the main sources of recruits for the Taliban. American air power…is far from paternal when it comes to targeting Pashtun villages. There is widespread fury among Afghans at the number of civilian casualties, many of them children. There have been numerous incidents of rape and rough treatment of women by ISAF soldiers, as well as indiscriminate bombing of villages and house-to-house search-and-arrest missions.’

The Afghans, particularly the Pushtuns, have been resisting imperial occupation of their lands for centuries.  This current insurgency may have more modern day causes, but it is a direct lineage of a battle for autonomy and independence from foreign invaders that the Pushtuns have fought repeatedly and are fighting again.

The Americans think that this is one of the many battles in ‘the war against terror’.

The Pushtuns however are not fighting this war.

There is a Pushtun nationalist insurgency in the works.  It is being actively supported by Pushtun communities residing in Pakistan. It has been fuelled by the rapacious and criminal regime that currently sits in Kabul and has used its position to not only pillage the country, but enrich a few, and carry out ethnically defined pogroms and acts of revenge for the last 7 years.

And the USA has been funding this.

The war begins in Afghanistan and not in the ‘havens’ of Pakistan.

And it can only end there.

President Obama is stepping into his first quagmire.

We are about to once again fight the wrong war.