Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Clues from a Bomber's Wife

In the search for answers as to the motivation of the Boston bombers, it has been mentioned that the elder brother, Tamerlan, had an American wife.  On other occasions it has been mentioned that he had been reported to police for domestic violence.

Today RT reports that testimony from relatives in Russia describes Tamerlan (sic) as very respectful and devoted to family.  Apparently, he was interested in Islam, but not fanatically.

Comments claim with no direct evidence that he was radicalized in the United States.But I’m also remembering a quote from Tamerlan  to the effect that he had no American friends, and of a quote from the younger brother, Dzhokhar, that he had been in this country for ten years and wanted out.

Finally, there is a report that Tamerlan engaged in non-speicified vociferous interventions at the mosque he frequented. I believe that taken together, these clues point to a radicalization in the United States, which is not about religion as such but about disapproval of American culture.

The American media never mentions this fundamental aspect of Islam’s problem with the West. Yet it is not that Muslims see God differently, but  rather that the differences are about culture.  We deplore the treatment of women in Muslim societies, failing to recognize that the burka and segregation of the sexes are extremes whose counterpart is the vulgarity that has accompanied - and even preceded - women’s liberation.  Our failure to recognize the aberrations of our own society is no different from the failure of Muslim men to recognize theirs.

Though this may be the subject of a separate blog, in other news today it would appear that the FBI’s failure to monitor the Tamerlan Tsarnaev may have been because we consider the possible radicalization of Chechen young men to be Russia’s problem - and further, that we had supported the Chechen ‘rebels’ in their fight for independence from Russia.  Yet another example of our proteges - or ‘enemies’ enemies’ turning against us, perhaps for the same reasons they were fighting the modernizing Russians (see my blog ‘Astonishing Chechnya’).

Monday, April 22, 2013

One World

I hope my readers realize that my post about Chechnya was serendipitously written before the Boston Marathon attack.  I'd like to know whether my point about Russia's way of dealing with Islamic terrorism - as opposed to ours - came across, so please comment on this story.

Today all I had to do was turn on the TV for another story to impose itself.

RT is running a documentary about an area in northern Greece where inhabitants are fighting an international company that wants to mine gold.  What’s striking about this story is that in northern Columbia, locals have been mining gold for centuries, and they too are fighting an international company that wants to close down independent activity.  The Columbians scoff at the health risks involved in separating the gold from the rock, and seem oblivious to the larger environmental risks, while the Greeks are concerned about the damage to the land and water.

Aside from these differences in detail, what’s notable is that in both countries locals are pitted against powerful international interests.  One could also mention the Niger Delta, or areas of Africa being taken over by foreign agricultural companies to grow food for export.  Or any number of other places where the local many are pitted against the international few.

Who was it that said ‘Workers of the world, unite’?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Astonishing Chechnya

Astonishing Chechnya

RT is airing an incredible documentary on the Republic of Chechnya, known to the outside world for having been practically destroyed by repeated separatist wars with Russia.

According to Wikipedia, the Caucasus mini-state  is returning to sharia law and all its accoutrements, with some resistance to Russian rule still remaining in the mountains.

The RT documentary  presents a very different picture which does not necessarily contradict this information. It describes a Muslim society deter-mined to appear ‘modern’.  With the help of Qatar, which is the most visible of the Gulf monarchies (think Al-Jazeera), the capital Grozny, has been rebuilt to resemble Doha, with illuminated skyscrapers, shopping malls, fancy restaurants, glitzy spectacles and fireworks - Putin’s version of war benefitting construction investments. But the skaking rinks are sexually segregated.

A new fashion industry is dedicated to luxury wear for the head-scarfed woman and eager to attract wealthy clients from other Muslim countries with strict female dress codes. The models parading gracefully down the catwalk will soon marry, after which they will be expected to remain at home, according to Islamic custom.  Unmarried women cannot travel abroad.

If this all sounds terrible, note that the brand of Sunni Islam practiced in the Caucasus is Sufism, which is accompanied by much rhythmic singing and dancing.

However some families are still sending their sons to madrassas where they are taught the Koran, wrestling and boxing (sports in which it is prohibited to attach the adversary’s head under Islamic law), and Dubai made an exception by sending some of the Prophets personal items to the Russian Islamic republic that boasts the world’s largest mosque.

Putting these pieces together, what emerges is a picture entirely in keeping with what I described in a previous blog as Putin’s cultural policy.  (“March 18th: ...the Russian leader appears to also hanker after an era when ‘fun’ was ‘clean’ and families were intact.  The Pussy Riot trial is less a defense of religion than the belief that all freedoms have limits, in contradiction to Washing-ton’s unqualified commitment to the First Amend-ment.”)

Putin’s cultural policy as practiced in the Russian Republic of Chechnya seems intended to assure Muslim populations that a) their religion is entirely respectful; b) while practicing it they can be part of the modern world; and c) that ‘clean’ modernity is better than vulgar modernity.

In centuries past, Chechen Sufi leaders were already dreaming of a vast califate. With the Kremlin’s help, their modern descendants are busy creating a ‘modern’ Islamic society. Putin is shrewdly betting that if the larger mainly Islamic states on its periphery (the ‘Stans’) bring ‘modernity’ to their masses, they will be less of a threat than if they maintain them in a feudal time warp. It will be interesting to see whether the young women of Chechnya and other Islamic societies will long be willing to sacrifice their independence for the sake of Western glitz.  In any case if Putin’s policies can displace dour Wahab-bism from Saudi Arabia, that will be a good thing.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Venezuela's Election

Where did Maduro’s double-digit lead go? Undoubtedly, the U.S.’s myriad intelligence services, special ops and other known un-knowns have been busy bullying, buying and backroom dealing, in a desperate attempt to regain control of our closest and richest supply of oil.

To doubt considerable U.S. involvement in the Venezuelan election is to be utterly naive. The details will eventually be made available by Wikileaks or a similar organization.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Quick Pat on the Back

A female advisor to Syria's Bashar al-Assad speaks to Sophie Shevardnadze on RT today.  The program also airedyesterday, but I had muted my TV as I wrote.  Today I listened to it from start to finish, and the final words were an emphatic statement that the crux of the entire Middle East situation was the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the specific importance of Syria being its alliance with Hezbollah.  Sorry I didn't note the woman's name: she made a lot of sense.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Israel Redefined

Israel is not so much ‘in the eye of the Middle East storm’ as it is the eye of the storm.

The wave of terrorism that struck the world in 2001 has many causes, among them poverty and foreign exploitation of mineral wealth, which can easily be exploited by religious extremists. However, the Western media’s decades-long near silence on the Israeli occupation of land attributed by the United Nations to the Palestinians, removes from the public perception of the ‘war on terror’ a vital element that can be added to any grievance on the part of Muslim populations: the unlawful subjugation of one member of that community.

As I write this, Peter Lavelle’s ‘Crosstalk’ on RT discusses the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and its shocking insistence on continuing to build settlements on land that was intended by the international community to be part of a Palestinian state, while accusing the Palestinians of refusing to restart negotiations.

Given its geographic position, surrounded by Muslim countries in the throes of revolt against their respective governments, the Jewish state would appear to be in existential danger, not from Iran, but from its neighbors on all sides. The fact that life goes on as usual suggests that Israel will feel invulnerable as long as it can count on unconditional American support.

Opponents of that support need to realize that the American government’s decades-long policy is not so much about saving Israel from its neighbors as it is about keeping those neighbors’ governments in the hands friendly to us for as long as possible. Israel’s prowess in IT, weaponry and spying (a word I prefer to the euphemistic ‘intelligence’) is never mentioned by the press, yet as Andrew Bacevich pointed out in a recent op-ed piece: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/how-we-became-israel/, Israel and the United States share not only know-how but fundamental attitudes toward war.

It is truly astonishing that activists continue to indict Israel’s supposed ‘hold’ on American foreign policy, when the relationship between this giant and its David is clearly one of mutual benefit, and for that reason not about to end any time soon.  Washington evidently feels that the value Israel brings to its ability to destabilize, attack and occupy countries of economic interest out weights the inconvenience that Israel’s behavior toward those countries represents, certain of the ability of the two countries joint strategic resources to overcome any foe.






Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Castro on Korea

My Italian publisher, Zambon, sends me stuff from foreign progressive websites.  Today I received Fidel Castro’s latest post, on North Korea’s nuclear threats.

This man in his late eighties so often pronounced dead by his enemies, has the most cogent take I have encountered: http://en.cubadebate.cu/category/reflections-fidel/.

Castro starts by noting how old our solar system is, and points out that we shouldn’t confuse the existence of life with that of intelligent life.  That’s a great example of someone who thinks in terms of the Big Picture, but not in order to conquer the world.

Castro goes on to say that five of the seven billion people in the world live in the area that would be most affected by a nuclear war.  I don’t know how he arrives at this figure, but it hardly matters.  The man who led the Cuban Revolution more than fifty years ago and outlasted seven presidents not counting Obama, called the present situation the most dangerous since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

He also noted that the Korean War began only a few years after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States, and the fact that President Truman rejected General MacArthur’s request to nuke North Korea.

While the world community waits for China to find a way to calm Kim Jong Un’s impetuosity, the Cuban leader salutes the North’s technological achievements while reminding its youthful leader of his obligations toward those who have been his friends, and noting that it would be ‘unjust’ for him to forget that a conflict would kill 70% of the world’s inhabitants.

Even-handedly, he concludes that a Korean conflict would paint the American president in a sinister light, and that it is his obligation and that of the American people to avoid such a tragedy.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


Comments to Chris Hedges‘  Treason of Intellectuals on Truthdig, (http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/04/01-0) and those related to Obama’s intention to cut Social Security and Medicare on Firedog lake, suggest that we are witnessing a decisive change in the meaning of  ‘leadership’.

From huntsmen to kings, there have always been leaders. Until recently, this fact was part of conventional wisdom, and yet, with the advent of deliberative chambers, the notion had already began to change. Instead of the bravest and cleverest male being recognized by his peers as their uncontested leader, interest groups began to dilute a king’s power. With the advent of banking and industry, hereditary kings required the knowledge of ‘gray eminences’ to guide them. In the twentieth century, as all-powerful kings were replaced with democracies run by presidents, political parties made opposition to power legitimate, and money began to talk.

And yet, until the end of World War II, the concept of ‘leader’ remained intact, embodied in images of a smiling Roosevelt, a ranting Hitler and a cunning Stalin. Until recently there could be no wars without leaders: the sovereign on horseback flanked by standard bearers was durably replaced by a captain whose bravery and fairness commanded the respect of his troops. Leaders are also indispensable when ‘classes’ make history.  The French Revolution was prepared by the writings of countless intellectuals such as Voltaire and Rousseau.  But without the rise of leaders such as Danton and St. Just - whatever their later sins - the desperation of the French peasants would never have coagulated into the force that took the Bastille. The same holds true for the Russian Revolution, prepared by writers like Tolstoi and Dostoievski, but implemented thanks to the leadership of Lenin and his comrades.

After a failed campaign against it by the West, the Russian revolution of 1917 gave rise to European-wide efforts to deflect its influence, leading to fascist governments in Italy and Germany and eventually to World War II.  That conflict, led by towering military leaders such as Eisenhower and MacArthur, put the brakes on a system in which the state and industry cooperate to secure the obedience of the many to the few. However it did not adjudicate the antagonism between liberal markets and central planning. There followed half a century of hot and cold wars against regimes intent on securing a reasonable share of wealth for the most, as opposed to the  greatest share for the few.

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the   release from its orbit of the countries of Eastern Europe, the struggle against specific, really existing socialist governments morphed into a worldwide campaign against an increasingly demanding many by generals beholden to CEO’s. As blog comments are beginning to recognize, fascism has achieved an astounding resurrection. Thanks to drones and electronic communication, a global financial and industrial elite can now realize Hitler’s’ dream of conquering the world, without requiring an identifiable leader, however tempting it may be to ascribe that role to recent American presidents.

Obama (referred to in one blog comment as ‘Obomber’) is seen either as a closet conservative who made progressive promises in order to get elected, or as powerless in the face of Republican stonewalling. I believe more disturbingly that this   intelligent, educated and deft president thought he could manipulate the power elite, but quickly found out he would be putting his life on the line.

Whatever the reasons for Obama’s betrayal, the  really significant fact is that legitimate government counterbalanced by an identifiable opposition has been replaced by Eisenhower’s oft-cited ‘military-industrial complex’. That entity is no longer the powerful element of society that he knew, which could be kept in check: it has grown to replace the concept of legitimate government counterbalanced by a legitimate opposition, and consigned the concept of leader to the dustbin.

Last year Chris Hedges put his freedom on the line by suing members of the U.S. government over section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act that authorizes the president to detain individuals indefinitely without habeas corpus. He was later joined by other activists including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg. A district court judge ruled the law unconstitutional but the administration has obtained a stay of that decision by the Supreme Court pending its appeal to that body.

I totally agree with Chris Hedges’s that if imprisonment without a hearing is judged constitutional by the highest court in the land, we will be living under a fascist dictatorship, and with his indictment of intellectuals who continue to play it safe. But we must remember the fate of German intellectuals who tried to warn their countrymen of the growing danger: those who did not leave in time died in concentration camps. And we must ask ourselves whether, in the absence of mass leaders, the pen can indeed be mightier than the sword.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Euro Crisis or War on Welfare?

France 24's half-hour documentary on Holland may be the first in a series designed to reconcile Europeans to their Union by focusing on each country in turn.  Today, equal time was reserved for Holland’s mainly Moroccan immigrants and for the royal family.

But however much Europeans may be justified in resenting the Brussels bureaucracy's overreach, they are truly powerless with respect to the international financial system.

Television anchors across the board announce the failure of the European project, even as they identify banks as the main culprits. None, however, follows that information to its logical conclusion: the worldwide financial crisis was created and is maintained by a world financial system based in the United States.

In the feature on Dutch society, a Moroccan immigrant referred to the Holland of the sixties as a paradise. I happen to have spent the year 1969 in Amsterdam, and knew he was right.  How did this state of affairs - not very different from that of the other Western European countries - degenerate into a nightmare?

Since those happy days, the United States has transformed the world financial system into a high stakes game for the very few.  The 1% are not on the minds of bankers and fund managers, but Europe’s successful welfare society is very much on the mind of American politicians: notwithstanding a complicit media that never mentioned the stark difference in philosophies between Europe and the United States, well-read Americans were beginning to wonder why Europeans could afford free health care while we could not. By the turn of the century, as the gap between the top ten percent and the rest grew all out of proportion to their respective contributions to society, it was no longer enough to discredit the European welfare state: clearly, it had to be done away with.