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Posts Tagged ‘Terrorism’

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.


Sticking Our Head In The Sand Or We Just Liked Afghanistan Better When The Soviet’s Were Raping It

In Essays On Embedded Photojournalism, Journalism, Our Wars, Photography, The Daily Discussion on December 29, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Larry Towell is looking for money for a new project in Afghanistan and has placed his request on Kickstarter. This would all have been fine had it not been for the fact that he is doing the wrong project.

Larry Towell has been an inspiration, one of the first photographers whose works compelled me to come to photography. So it is with great disappointment that I read his description of what he intends to do in Afghanistan.

The opening sentence from his project description, a project called Crisis In Afghanistan, left me stunned:

For 30 years, Afghanistan has known only civil war.

No it has not. For the last ten years at least it has known a brutal, violent, devastating, and illegal American military occupation and war. For the last ten years it has known torture, tens of thousands of civilian deaths, the installation of a corrupt and illegal political administration, torture centers and sites, drone warfare, a flourishing drug trade, a venal political and international aid agency class and a dismemberment of any and all civil administration that may have once existed.

This is not a crisis it is an American war and an American military occupation, one that is using an unpopular, illegitimate and corrupt local elite to maintain a facade of a ‘political administration’.

For the last ten years Afghanistan has known American violence and venality. If we were outraged at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan then it is sheer hypocrisy to accept our pillaging and occupation of Afghanistan today. It is unbelievable the ease with which we, citizens of a democratic republic, have adopted the lies and obfuscations of our governments, and the obsequiousness with which we have become collaborators and apologists for its misguided military adventures and violence.

I find it shocking that we cannot admit or accept that we are occupiers and collaborators in a hideous military and political adventure in the country and today principally responsible for the daily horrors, violence, bloodshed, brutality, criminality and venality that infests it. I find it laughable that we will not accept that today we are ‘the Evil Empire’, a place that once the Soviet’s held. I am dismayed, angered even, that photographers of Larry Towell’s intelligence and courage must resort to an outdated language, to bygone military adventures and histories and skip past the most current and pressing pathology plaguing the nation of Afghanistan.

How long are we going to pretend that we do not have anything to do with Afghanistan’s current devastation, mutilation, corruption, and mass dispossession? How many more embedded perspective do we need to keep ourselves from accepting what we are doing there, and how we are seen there?

Here is Larry telling us what he will cover in his project;

…landmine victims, male and female drug addicts, political detainees in Puli-Charki prison, ex-Russian soldiers, and veterans.

My goodness, what temerity to ask for funds for a project that offers nothing new, and for subjects that have been done to death. To say nothing about the fact that they say nothing of the current reality and horrors plaguing the country.

Russian soldiers? Pul-i-Charki prison?

Larry, what about drone attack victims, illegal detainees at Bagram, those tortured and left mentally deranged, what about the millions living in refugee camps displaced by American and NATO military operations, or the families whose men have disappeared into prisons and never heard from again, what about the families of those killed by the dozens each month because of our bombs and our indiscriminate aerial strikes?

I feel that such projects and their associated language are selling us a time machine, one that takes us to an Afghanistan horror story more palatable, more acceptable to our gentle American sensibilities. We want to hear about the errors from another period, when our participation in Afghanistan was heroic, moral and based on a rhetoric of freedom and liberation. Yes, the days back when the Islamic fundamentalists were labeled ‘freedom fighters’, invited to dine at the White House, and we could not stop having ourselves photographed with. The same people who today we have had to re-cast as ‘the bad guys’, but were once our allies, and the recipients of billions of dollars of American tax-payers money. All for an imagined great war of liberation, the one we all rushed to cover and then to garland ourselves with later.

This need to fly past our modern-day pathologies and back towards a period of imagined righteousness was also on display during the recent International Center of Photography’s Infinity Award ceremony where the photographer Reza was handed ICP’s highest award for his work in Afghnistan covering the Soviet invasion and its aftermath.

Did any in that room full of luminaries and glitterati feel any irony when Reza opened his acceptance speech with the following words:

“Once upon a time there was an unequal battle; that of a giant and murderous Empire, which was trying all the way to subdue a defenceless but rebellious people who had repelled all foreign invasions.

Once upon a time there was the Russian Empire against Afghanistan. It was thirty years ago. As a young photojournalist, I was covering that unequal conflict and the resistance of a handful of men led by Commander Massoud. Russian fire was heavy, with helicopters, tanks, bombers, leaving no relief and little chance of escaping certain death. The massacred people was suffering. The resistance Afghan fought for the freedom of their country.

Did anyone in that grand ballroom feel a tinge of anxiety when Reza said:

Empires, tyrants and their desire of conquest are but little things in front of passing Time and the will of a people marching towards freedom.

Did anyone notice the irony and the hypocrisy of an American institution handing out awards to a photographer who once covered an illegal military occupation of Afghanistan when at that very moment America’s own military is mired in an illegal military occupation of that very same country? I doubt it. We prefer not to be bothered by such niceties for it ruins the flavor of the champagne.

(Aside: I take nothing away from Reza who has also been an inspiration to me. His work from Afghanistan remains unique and reflects his passion and dedication to the story and the situation back in the 1970s and 1980s. My comments reflect my disappointment with ICP and an American cultural space that wants to contribute towards obfuscations to help hide the fact that we are and remain at war and as oppressors of another people.)

I have written extensively about the situation in Afghanistan in a number of earlier posts. Most recently in response to the cynical and hypocritical exploitation of Afghani women by Time Magazine (and later by National Geographic Magazine as well). But you can ignore my blather if you wish and at least listen to those doing independent i.e un-embedded work in the country and understand what is going on there.

There is Jeremy Scahill who has been featured on this blog a few times, most recently in a piece called What It Looks Like When  You Leave The Embed Or Thank Goodness Some Remember The Basics. You can listen to Scahill here:

Jeremy Scahill Talks About Afghanistan

There is also Nir Rosen, a freelance journalist and scholar, who had done some remarkable reporting from the regions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Aftermath By Nir Rosen

You can listen to Rosen talk with Amy Goodman about the situation in Afghanistan here

Nir Rosen On Democracy Now

In an interview with Salon’s Glenn Greenwald Rosen makes specific reference to the issue of how our elites (cultural, creative, artistic, intellectual, political etc.) represent our wars. As Glenn Greenwald points out:

…there is between how American elites talk about our wars and the reality of those wars and the things that you actually see by being there and in an unembedded function, and there’s this interesting speech that I’ve written about a few times by Ashleigh Banfield, who at the time was an MSNBC war reporter who was sort of the rising star of the MSNBC and NBC news and she was relatively new to covering wars, and she had come back from Iraq and she gave this speech at Kansas State University and she talked about the huge disparity between how television conveys wars to the American people and the reality of wars and all the things that embedding does in terms of distortions and this sliver of reality that ends up being conveyed.

The attitude, the distance we have maintained from those we today oppress are clearly discussed by Rosen as well when he points out that:

And I too often also found that Americans keep on going back to the same books, the same orientalist books which are used to justify empire, that Arabs only understand force, they are tribal, they are Bedouin. I’ve seen very little progress actually in the Americans’ ability to grasp the cultures in the Muslim world and they refer to a handful of academics who are far outside the mainstream of academics trying to understand the Middle East of Afghanistan, but who have been used to justify various wars and occupations.

So they still will talk about tribal societies and Bedouin societies as if they are some kind of cultural secrets, and if you just unlock these secrets, if it’s Pashtunwali in Afghanistan or Islamic code or Bedouin code, or Koranic society—you heard these weird terms often—if you just unlock these codes, you can understand the people and manipulate them and control them…you often hear American soldiers talking about if you, as if it’s the Sopranos…as if the primary motivator for people fighting occupation is money and not what it really is, issues of dignity, of freedom, of nationalism, of ideology. It’s almost as if Americans aren’t able to understand those concepts and they think that Taliban are fighting for $10 a day.

But I guess if the Americans were able to understand that, then that would make us seem like we were the bad guys, and we don’t want to feel like we’re the bad guys, we don’t want to feel like we’re the British in Braveheart fighting locals who are nationalists and freedom fighters. So I guess we have to try to understand their motives as being more financial whereas in reality I think they’re much more deeply ideological and nationalistic.

Indeed, it is perhaps impossible to raise funds on Kickstarter if you simple argue that you want to produce a project that explores and documents the horrors of the American occupation and a people’s resistance to it. I suppose it’s not palatable to present your work as documenting the new Empire and its oppressions. And herein lies another issue with these ‘alternative’ models of funding.

There has been a rather naive celebration of crowd sourced journalism projects and how it may be the solution to journalism and photojournalism’s woes. Perhaps another round of desperate attempts to avoid facing the economic realities of mainstream journalism, driven as they are by profit over reporting. When I hear a new crowd sourcing venture argue that the allure and sexiness of photojournalism will be a major selling angle, something pointed out in a piece called Photojournalism Site Emphas.is Wants To Leverage The Crowd Through The Romanticism Of Its Craft, I begin to wonder where we are heading. I quote from the piece above:

Photojournalists, particularly war photographers, have a certain allure, one Ben Khelifa hopes is the basis for a business model. “We have a romanticism around our profession,” he says. “We realized that our work isn’t the end product, but how we got to it. This is what we expect to monetize.”

Are you serious? Do photojournalists really think like this? Not only is a very specious argument for a business model but it is a terrible place to arrive as a person and a professional.

However, there is a larger concern as demonstrated by Larry Towell’s proposal where, a photographer who I am sure knows well what is really going on in Afghanistan, has chosen to ‘soften’ his words to appeal to ‘the market’. Perhaps, though I will never know. Crowd sourcing requires that we adopt a populist angle to a project, it may force reporters and photographers to avoid self-critical and uncomfortable subjects and demand that we pitch our stories for the widest sell rather than for the deepest truths. It’s not inevitable, but it is likely. I will add that outlets like Kickstarter and Emphas.is may in fact be best suited for highly controversial, critical projects as audiences look to find photographers and reporters taking risks to tell the stories our mainstream media is too constrained to tell. It could be that Larry Towell is missing an opportunity here!

I want to support Larry’s work. His has been a very important career for my own. But I find myself unable to do so as the project stands at the moment. For no other reason than the fact that such obfuscations and veils continue to eat away at the body politic and society of my country. America is weaker for not confronting her government and its pathologically misguided adventures. Our wars are weakening us, and making us more insecure. They are also destroying the liberties that we enjoy as citizens and increasing the intrusive and oppressive presence of the intelligence and security apparatus into our lives. As an American citizen of Muslim background – the only facet about my identity that seems to matter to people these days and the one that colors and overwhelms whatever else I am and have worked to become as an individual, I am already completely vulnerable to powers of the state with little or no recourse to her avenues of justice and rights.

The greatest danger of a military occupation is that inevitably the paranoia fueled security-oriented political and administrative decision-making procedures required to sustain an occupation eventually come home and undermine and weaken the occupier’s political system. Andif that political system is a participatory democracy, the consequences are even more devastating. You can’t claim liberty at home and repression abroad because the decisions to maintain the repression abroad are eventually made and sanctioned by the same political and bureaucratic individuals and institutions that sanction the horizons of liberty at home. The values that inform the occupation inevitably begin to inform the liberties as the divide between the ‘there’ and the ‘here’ become blurred and danger lurk all around and every thing becomes a source of fear and worry. The French have seen this from their experience in Algeria, the Israelis from their occupation of the Palestinian Territories, the Indians fromin Kashmir and now in the Eastern provinces and there are many more examples.

If not for the Afghanis, then for ourselves we have to adopt an honest and clear language about what is happening in our wars, and what we are doing out ‘there’. A project to tell the story of what we have done in Afghanistan, and the devastation and inhumanity we are facilitating, is a must and I would support it with all that I can afford to.

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?

 

 

The European Twist To An American Dance Or European Collaboration In American Crimes

In Musings On Confusions, Our Wars on November 16, 2010 at 1:23 am

So, my brothers, how is it that we do not understand that we have better things to do than to follow that same Europe? That same Europe where they were never done talking of Man, and where they never stopped proclaiming that they were only anxious for the welfare of Man: today we know with what sufferings humanity has paid for every one of their triumphs of the mind…When I search for Man in the technique and the style of Europe, I see only a succession of negations of man, and an avalanche of murders.

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched Of The Earth Chapter Six

Amnesty International has just released a new report called Open Secret: Mounting Evidence of Europe’s Complicity In Rendition & Secret Detention which clearly identifies the European nations that have collaborated with the Americans on this program. That list, as described in Amnesty International’s page introducing the release of the report;

  • Sweden: charged with failing to investigate fully the renditions at the hands of the CIA in December 2001 of Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed al-Zari to Egypt, where the men reported that they were tortured. Despite having awarded the men compensation, the government has also failed to provide the men with full and effective redress.

Since Sweden is my current home, I will point out this fact from the Executive Summary of the report:

..the UN Committee against Torture and UN Human Rights Committee both held that Sweden had violated the prohibition on torture by its involvement in the men’s transfers to Egypt and that Egypt’s diplomatic assurances did not provide a sufficient safeguard against that manifest risk of torture and other illtreatment.

Some other European nation that have actively participated in the rendition and illegal detention program include such luminaries as:

  • Germany: complicit in the secret detention of Muhammad Zammar, interrogated by German agents while held in secret detention in Syria in November 2002. Germans officials acknowledged that torture occurred in Syrian prisons. He has yet to receive justice, despite a German parliamentary inquiry into his and others’ claims of abuse.
  • Macedonia: alleged to have assisted in the unlawful detention and subsequent CIA-led rendition to Afghanistan of German national Khaled el-Masri, who has taken the against Macedonia before the European Court of Human Rights: the first time this court is likely to consider a case involving a Council of Europe member state’s alleged complicity in the CIA programmes. Macedonia continues to deny that its agents acted unlawfully.

Macedonia is also infamous for the real murder of alleged Al-Qaeda operatives that were later revealed to be hapless Pakistani illegal immigrants who had smuggled themselves into the country and found themselves in custody. As Greg Bearup of The Guardian reported back in 2004:

Several senior police officers have been charged with murder. After a lengthy investigation, the Macedonian authorities have admitted that the six Pakistanis and one Indian were simply illegal immigrants, trying to get to Greece to find work on the Olympic sites, or anywhere else. “This was the act of a sick mind,” Mirjana Konteska, a Macedonian official, said. “They lost their lives in a stage murder [so the police and officials] could present themselves as participants in the war against terror.”

European governments have been complicit in acts that are blatant crimes against humanity and in clear violation of international law all under the all-encompassing and all-obfuscating umbrella of the ‘war against terror’. While participating in our (America’s) illegal and unjust wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ostensibly fought to bring ‘democracy’, and ‘civility’ to ‘the other’ – justifications that continue to be used to excuse our continuing occupation of these countries, European governments have been busy contorting the fundamental laws of democracy and civility within their own borders. The silence in the face of the open violation of our own laws is shocking and it is time to open a broader debate on the question.  It becomes imperative to bring this to the forefront of our national debates and perhaps remind ourselves than it is our own leaders, politicians, pundits and intellectuals – hiding behind the cheap tinsel of patriotism and the easy bludgeon of the fear of ‘Islam, who are the greatest dangers to our societies and to any set of ‘values’ we so claim to hold dear.

At this very moment the American’s are getting away with torture and crimes of war, as the Slate Magazine writer Dahlia Lithwick so wonderfully pointed out in a piece called Interrogation Nation:

In an America in which the former president can boast on television that he approved the water-boarding of U.S. prisoners, it can hardly be a shock that following a lengthy investigation, no criminal charges will be filed against those who destroyed the evidence of CIA abuse of prisoners Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.* We keep waiting breathlessly for someone, somewhere, to have a day of reckoning over the prisoners we tortured in the wake of 9/11, without recognizing that there is no bag man to be found and that therefore we are all the bag man.

Our former president is making the rounds of the tv-talk shows promoting his color-by-number memoirs, and openly bragging about having sanctioned the use of torture. By not condemning and prosecuting those throughout the chain of command who have sanctioned these unjust, inhumane and clearly criminal acts, we are leaving the door open to their continued use, and our (citizens) continued participation in these crimes. As Lithwick says:

Doing nothing about torture is, at this point, pretty much the same as voting for it. We are all water-boarders now.

But the likelihood is small, certainly in the USA, where even an appropriate, constitutionally defined right to a free and fair civil trial is being denied to America’s detainees and the citizen ‘accused’, forcing us towards an untenable and unjust social, legal and political order. As Glenn Greenwald points out in a new piece The ‘Pro-Constitution = Pro-Terrorist’ Canard :

How could it ever “cross a line” for a civil liberties lawyer to represent an American citizen in an American court arguing that the Government is transgressing the limits of the U.S. Constitution?  The only thing that crosses a line is to insinuate that there’s something improper about that.

The contortions of our ideals, the mutations of our justice system, the bending of our principles, and the jettisoning of our common-sense imply a weakening of the very idea of our societies. Our paranoia about ‘the other’, and the ease with which we have chosen the expedient over the essential can only damage our own way of life, our own society and our own laws. Sooner or later – in the USA we can argue that it is sooner, these same contortions, these same mutations will be used against the citizens themselves. As the al-Awlaki case already proves.

Can we in Europe do better? Do we believe that these collaborations make any sense? And if we do, what is our calculus?

Losing Our Moral Compass Or When Genocide Becomes A Necessity And Can Be Explained

In Israel/Palestine, Musings On Confusions, Our Wars on December 28, 2009 at 11:33 am

We have often wondered what led so many Germans to just sat by or appeared to ‘collaborate’ during the Jewish genocide, or the Rwandans to engage in mass slaughter of each other, or the Serbians to look away as Sarajevo burned, or the Pakistanis to celebrate the slaughter of the Bengali. And many more such situations that leave so many ‘civilized’ and ‘decent’ people asking themselves that old question: how can a people do this to another?

Well, this is how we do it.

Civilized, decent people very much like ourselves, very much like our neighbors, reveal the lies, hyperbole, ethnic hate, religious delusions, ethno-centric racism that is worn easily and comfortably and thousands of innocents will quietly bleed, die and disappear. And all along we will go about convinced that we were just, civilized and humane. We refuse to raise our consciousness and our sense of morality and justice above primitive ethnic, religious, and nationalist allegiances.

Max Blumenthal continues to reveal an ugly side of our society that today has become a force so contorting that it is simply murderous and genocidal. And yes, what is happening in the name of Israel, in the name of ‘liberty’ and ‘civilization’ – what has been happening there for over 100 years, is an ethnic cleansing, a ethnic genocide of a people who are ‘not Jews’. And it is events such as this, held on the very streets of our very modern city, that fuel it all.

And lets be honest: a strain of American Jewry – more fundamentalist, rabid and hate filled than anything we can find elsewhere, is fueling murder and slaughter. There is so much evidence of it that even Israeli journalists have had to step up to expose it – see Akiva Eldar’s piece called U.S. tax dollars fund rabbi who excused killing gentile babies.

And then there was this recent discussion, thanks for Tikum Olam, that sent chills down my spine (click the CC to get the english translation):

On the streets of New York City, they are dancing in anticipation of Palestinian blood. They are calling for kill. They are lusting for death. And we still have to wonder how the Germans, or the Rwandans, or the Serbians did it? Right under our noses, and right where our fine media, with its self-proclaimed liberal and civilized values, finds it impossible to report, reveal and condemn.

Never again…..indeed!

Getting The Pakistanis To Sing Our Songs But Sending Them Villains And Not Violins

In Journalism, Our Wars on November 26, 2009 at 11:52 am

A few weeks ago another typically obtuse and brain dead New York Times journalist lamented the said state of affairs of the country of Pakistan where apparently her pop singers were not entertaining him sufficiently with songs against the Taliban. Adam B. Ellick was confused and upset about this and pointed out, in a piece called Pakistan Rock Rails Against The West, Not The Taliban that there is..

…a surge of bubble-gum stars who have become increasingly politicized. Some are churning out ambiguous, cheery lyrics urging their young fans to act against the nation’s woes. Others simply vilify the United States.

But while Mr. Ellick is writing pointless and frankly infantile pieces about the country and her pop stars, we can be grateful that other American journalists are stepping out to in fact conduct actual journalism.

So here comes a shocking, if not altogether surprising, report by Jeremy Scahill for The Nation that reveals the extensive involvement of Blackwater Security in military and security operations inside the country. All of this with the full collaboration and support of the Pakistani Government and military of course.

Posted on The Nation website, the extensive and detailed investigation was published in a piece called Blackwater’s Secret War In Pakistan and it is explicit in the shenanigans taking place there, and the lives that are being lost there:

A former senior executive at Blackwater confirmed the military intelligence source’s claim that the company is working in Pakistan for the CIA and JSOC, the premier counterterrorism and covert operations force within the military. He said that Blackwater is also working for the Pakistani government on a subcontract with an Islamabad-based security firm that puts US Blackwater operatives on the ground with Pakistani forces in counter-terrorism operations, including house raids and border interdictions, in the North-West Frontier Province and elsewhere in Pakistan. This arrangement, the former executive said, allows the Pakistani government to utilize former US Special Operations forces who now work for Blackwater while denying an official US military presence in the country. He also confirmed that Blackwater has a facility in Karachi and has personnel deployed elsewhere in Pakistan. The former executive spoke on condition of anonymity.

Scahill makes clear the extent to which this private security and mercenary firm has made inroads into Pakistani’s government and security establishments, and the deep collaborations between the Pakistanis and Blackwater in carrying out a second series o drone attacks, independent of the predator campaigns being run by the US military. They are also involved in planning targeted assassinations, “snatch and grabs” and other sensitive actions inside and outside the country of Pakistan. Oh, and they may be posing as USAID workers!

There is an interview with Jeremy Scahill on Amy Goodman’s DemocracyNow station – America’s last bastion of independent, non-corporate, take-it-to-the-throat-of-power journalism. You can listen to Scahill here:

As the New York Times and Mr. Ellick sit inside their comfortable Islamabad villas and listen to the radio, getting upset that the stupid Pakistanis don’t seem to understand that the only way to actually ‘understand’ or ‘see’ their own country is through the myopic and policy eyes of the United States, The Nation has revealed facts and goings ons that only confirm the fears and paranoia’s of the nation’s people.

It will only further convince them that it is not the Taliban that is a serious or even a real threat to Pakistan, but in fact the rapacious (hundreds are being killed each month in this drone campaign) and covert operations that will undermine and tear apart the fabric of the country just so we Americans, for just a little bit longer, do not have to confront the colossal failure of our policies and strategies in Afghanistan.

Sing away boy!!

Where The Head Spun: November 13th 2009

In Israel/Palestine, Musings On Confusions, Our Wars, The Daily Discussion on November 13, 2009 at 11:28 pm

A wide range of issues came across recently and though I would love to wax lyrical about all of them I find my head space considerably limited to speak of each in some reasonable fashion. But I wanted to draw your attention to some interesting developments, a few of which are being carefully ignored in our press and oh-so-alert media

The Pakistanis are holding elections in Gilgit-Baltistan: Yes, as we continue to babble on about Kashmir and the conflict there, a monumental shift in Pakistan’s stance towards the regions of Gilgit-Baltistan. This is significant because these regions are part of what was once the Princely state of Jammu & Kashmir and were occupied by Pakistan in the 1948 invasion of the state. Dawn, one of Pakistan’s major English daily’s, reveals in a series of detailed reports what is happening there. We should not underestimate the significance of this decision, one that would have required considerable debate within the echelons of power and the military because, as we learn from Dawn

:

The problem though has to be seen in the international context because of the Kashmir issue. Historically, Gilgit-Baltistan was not merged into Pakistan proper because the fear was that it could undermine our claim on Kashmir and it was not merged into AJK because it could complicate a settlement on the area. If, for example, Gilgit-Baltistan is made a full-fledged province within the constitutional framework of Pakistan, India could perhaps argue that the state it has carved out of the disputed area, Indian-held Jammu and Kashmir, is also a legitimate entity and that it is a settled issue.

Of course it is premature to assume that this means anything significant, but we would be wrong to under estimate the meaning of this and the shift in the position of the Pakistani government when it comes to the areas once known as ‘The Northern Areas’. Could this be the beginning of a shift in the language and rhetoric towards the regions of Kashmir Valley? Could the situation there be transformed into a discussion about citizen rights, laws, accountability and representation? The Indians would do well to listen and pay attention. Others, who continue to write about Kashmir as if we are still back in the early 1990s, would do well to try to understand this issue at greater depth.

In Sweden much to no one’s surprise, IKEA is revealed to be a mini-fascist state: Ok, I exaggerate, but there has a new tell-all, gossip book out by a former senior management member of the enterprise who reveals a lot of unmentionables about this otherwise ‘most Swedish’ of companies.  Tidbits include such exciting stuff such as:

On the executive floor, Stenebo claims, foreigners were repeatly denigrated as “niggers.” They apparently had no chance of promotion within the company — something Stenebo blames on Kamprad’s increasing paranoia. Ikea, in spite of being the world’s largest furniture company, is run exclusively by people from Älmhult in the Swedish region of Smaland — the small town where Kamprad himself grew up. “Born on the farm” is how the Swedish describe it. The importance of blood and place of birth within Ikea is no coincidence, Stenebo claims — blatant racism exists within the company.

Ah, yes, that never-ending flower of rampant nationalism continues to raise it skirts to reveal things incredibly hideous!

On a different note, the incredibly obvious has been turned into a documentary, and many are ‘shocked’. Philippe Diaz’s has a new documentary called “The End of Poverty?” which reveals, according to a review in Salon magazine, that:

What’s most profound, and also most controversial, in this analysis is the question of how much this pattern of exploitation continues today. Between 1503 and 1660, the precious metals looted from the Americas by the Spanish crown increased the European silver reserves fourfold, funding a massive expansion of imperialism. Today, the World Bank estimates that the developing world spends $13 in debt repayment for every $1 it receives in grants. Exactly how different are these scenarios? Is our affluent, consumer-democracy Western lifestyle only possible because we are, in effect, still stealing from the poorest people in the world?

Well, neither profound, nor controversial, but in fact a banal reality that most ignore willingly. This of course is not a criticism of the film which hopefully can educate many more about how things actually work. I was also reminded of Mike Davis’ book Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines & The Making Of The Third World the only work I know that actually asks the obvious question: How did the 3rd World become the 3rd World? - something that is rarely if ever discussed, and certainly never approached in our much celebrated higher education institutions.

Speaking of the scourge of terrorism, yet another lame-duck reporter for the New York Times reminds us, or purports to remind us, that Pakistani pop musicians seems to be producing a lot of music criticizing America, while ignoring the threat of the Taliban.  Adam B. Ellick is indignant at the Pakistani musicians, particularly the new generation of pop stars at their clear ignorance and irresponsibility. Oddly, it never occurs to him that the reason could be that the Pakistanis do in fact consider America to be a more real, dangerous and immediate threat to the country than the marginal, and very small so-called Taliban threat!

It seems beyond his ability to accept that perhaps most Pakistani musicians, much like their countrymen, are focus on the core problem that has plagued the country since the late 1950s i.e. American intervention and meddling in the nation’s affairs, facilitated and supported by a cabal of shallow, venal elites bent on retaining control of legal and illegal revenue sources. That includes the military mind you. And that they understand that ridding Pakistan of America – and Afghanistan for that matter, will rid the country of the so-called Taliban too! In fact, I have quoted Eqbal Ahmed frequently to make this point. His analysis is from some decades ago when he said:

There is an increasingly perceptible gap between our need for social transformation and America’s insistence on stability, between our impatience for change and American’s obsession with order, our move towards revolution and America’s belief in the plausibility of achieving reforms under the robber barons of the ‘third world’, our longing for absolute national sovereignty and America’s preference for pliable allies, our desires to see our national soil free of foreign occupation and America’s alleged need for military bases.

And that was back in the 1970s! Mr. Ellick’s blinders make it impossible for him to see how his nation is seen from the perspective of a Pakistani’s economic and political emasculation, a trait shared by most every American reporter reporting from that country. Now lets see, where did I put my iPod play-list of American pop musicians sonorously protesting her illegal wars, torture centers, illegal detentions, thirst for the blood of Iraqi and Afghani ‘half-humans’? Oh, wait, there isn’t one!

Speaking of thirst for blood, an American ultra-orthodox fanatic and frankly, lets admit it, deranged lunatic, Yaakov Teitel is on trial in a Jerusalem court room. He is the latest concoction of the fanatical and murderous settler groups infesting the West Bank (I apologize for using the ‘insect’ language here – infest – but it was too tempting not to since it is usually how such murderous religious terrorists are spoken about when it comes to some other religions!). Most of these, by the way, are not Israeli, but in fact, American zealots being trained there and being sent to the West Bank and once to Gaza. Yaakov Keitel made a home in a West Bank settlement of Shvut Rachel, that was also the home of yet another Jewish terrorist, Asher Weissgan, convicted of massacring five Palestinian laborers in a 2005 terror incident.

But, then again, this is not surprising given that deans of yeshiva can go about issuing statements justifying the killing of non-Jews in specific conditions – most by the way are written to justify Jewish killings and harassments of Palestinian on whose lands they are building settlements. The dean of the ultra-fundamentalist Od Yosef Hai yeshiva (orthodox religious school) in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar recently made this enlightened fatwa (thanks to Didi Remez)

“In any situation in which a non-Jew’s presence endangers Jewish lives, the non-Jew may be killed even if he is a righteous Gentile and not at all guilty for the situation that has been created…When a non-Jew assists a murderer of Jews and causes the death of one, he may be killed, and in any case where a non-Jew’s presence causes danger to Jews, the non-Jew may be killed…The [Din Rodef] dispensation applies even when the pursuer is not threatening to kill directly, but only indirectly…Even a civilian who assists combat fighters is considered a pursuer and may be killed. Anyone who assists the army of the wicked in any way is strengthening murderers and is considered a pursuer. A civilian who encourages the war gives the king and his soldiers the strength to continue. Therefore, any citizen of the state that opposes us who encourages the combat soldiers or expresses satisfaction over their actions is considered a pursuer and may be killed…There is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults.”…In a chapter entitled “Deliberate harm to innocents,” the book explains that war is directed mainly against the pursuers, but those who belong to the enemy nation are also considered the enemy because they are assisting murderers.”

The entire fatwa can be read on Didi Remez’s blog site. Thankfully some of this has been noticed by the media in the USA, and words spoken. Glenn Greenwald has written a piece about Teitel and others like him for Salon where he takes to tasks religious fanaticism and madness infesting not just the Jewish settler movement, but the US military and right-wing extremist groups in the USA. Oh, and by the way, Teitel walked around free in Israel for over 12 years before being taken into custody as Alex Fishman reveals in this piece called They Are Not Scared,

They shouldn’t be telling us that Yaakov Teitel’s arrest is a success story. They shouldn’t try to sell us, again, the weak excuse about the individual terrorist that cannot be traced. When a murderer like Yaakov Teitel walks around freely for 12 years, carries out attacks, trains, creates an explosives lab, and builds up a weapons depot with no interruption, this means there is no deterrence.

All in the name of religion and belief – and before members from other monotheism or any other faux-ism start to rant lyrical, just listen to Teitel’s justifications and realize that it is not just a fundamentalist Jew speaking, but that it could be any religiously delusional mind, narcissistic to the core, convinced, through no evidence whatsoever, of his unique mission for god here on earth to kill, murder, pillage and ruin:

“It was a pleasure and an honor to serve my God,” said Teitel at the Jerusalem courthouse. “I have no regret and no doubt that God is pleased.”

What kind of a god is pleased with murder? We should all ask that question.

Speaking of taking the facts to the deluded, Shlomo Sands and Avi Shlaim gave a talk at the Frontline Club in London which you can see here (if you don’t see the video, click the reload button on the lower left side of the video itself):

Shlomo Sands is the author of a fascinating study of Jewish heritage and history called The Invention of The Jewish People (no, it is not an anti-simetic tract and morons who step up to use it as such should be condemned immediately and vociferously. I will do so here on this blog if i have to.) The book is a huge best seller in Israel, and has already been translated into a number of languages. As described on the book description itself:

A leading Israeli historian shatters the national myth of the Jewish exodus from the promised land. A historical tour de force that demolishes the myths and taboos that have surrounded Jewish and Israeli history, The Invention of the Jewish People offers a new account of both that demands to be read and reckoned with. Was there really a forced exile in the first century, at the hands of the Romans? Should we regard the Jewish people, throughout two millennia, as both a distinct ethnic group and a putative nation—returned at last to its Biblical homeland?

Shlomo Sand argues that most Jews actually descend from converts, whose native lands were scattered far across the Middle East and Eastern Europe. The formation of a Jewish people and then a Jewish nation out of these disparate groups could only take place under the sway of a new historiography, developing in response to the rise of nationalism throughout Europe. Beneath the biblical back fill of the nineteenth-century historians, and the twentieth-century intellectuals who replaced rabbis as the architects of Jewish identity, The Invention of the Jewish People uncovers a new narrative of Israel’s formation, and proposes a bold analysis of nationalism that accounts for the old myths.

Avi Shlaim is author of Israel & Palestine: Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutations and another fine Israeli historian whose works like The Iron Wall: Israel & The Arab World are must reads. The interview is worth a listen.


Finally, the always provocative, Slavoj Zizik reminds us of the continued delusion conflation of capitalism with liberty and democracy could pose a great danger to our societies in a recent piece in The London Review of Books concluding with the thought that:

Today we observe the explosion of capitalism in China and ask when it will become a democracy. But what if it never does? What if its authoritarian capitalism isn’t merely a repetition of the process of capitalist accumulation which, in Europe, went on from the 16th to the 18th century, but a sign of what is to come? What if ‘the vicious combination of the Asian knout and the European stock market’ (Trotsky’s characterisation of tsarist Russia) proves economically more efficient than liberal capitalism? What if it shows that democracy, as we understand it, is no longer the condition and engine of economic development, but its obstacle?

What if indeed!

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

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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!


The Palestinian Wedding Or More Studies In Farce & Fanaticism

In Israel/Palestine, Journalism, Our Wars, Photography on August 7, 2009 at 6:09 am
A Wedding At Masara, West Bank Photo By: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org

A Wedding At Masara, West Bank Photo By: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org

This post today celebrates a Palestinian wedding thanks to the photography of Israeli activists at Activestills and Haggai Matar who was in fact beaten by Israeli soldiers while participating in this event, as he explains here in this piece called Assault-A Personal Story

And a different union of sorts, where yet another Palestinian family, living in Israeli-occuppied East Jerusalem is united with the long, painful and tragic history of the rest of the Palestinian people.

Update: By the way, this is not some random event; the transformation, or ‘Judaization’ of East Jerusalem is a project financed by many in the USA, including Irving Moskowitz about whose direct involvement in the hideous, and yes, racist, project is well explained in a recent Guardian piece called Irving Moskowitz’s Bingo Madness by the wonderfully clear headed Richard Silverstein who also rights a fabulous blog about all things Israeli and its associated illigal occupation driven pathologies, obfuscations, lies, and brutalities called Tikun Olam – which means  ‘healing the world’ in Hebrew.

There is an odd silence amongst the world’s finest photojournalists when it comes to the West Bank and Gaza. Few if any of the self-proclaimed best-in-the-business are anywhere near the determination, courage, dignity and civility of the Palestinian struggle to overcome the Israeli occupation juggernaut. Quick to rush to cover ‘spotlight’ events – those making it to the front pages of the daily press and the prime-time TV news broadcast, their cameras are silent about situations that actually require the strength of their voices and the power of their images. Citizen documentation of the situation in the West Bank and Gaza in fact towers over anything that is being produced, or has been produced, by the professionals.

There is a growing and extensive archive of photographic and video documentation of the brutality, inhumanity, and infantile banality of the Israeli occupation and the horrors and humiliations inflicted on an unarmed and defenseless civilian population of the West Bank and Gaza. And its all being shot by amateurs! And when you compare it to the simplistic works being produced by the professionals, you get a sense that the professionals are simply afraid to confront the realities – with all its humiliations and brutalities, of the occupation itself!

But I digress.

Lets celebrate today, a Palestinian wedding!