Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Time Mag Eases Americans into Reality

The only time I read Time magazine is in a doctor’s waiting room, but yesterday I asked to take the December 19th issue home with me because what could have been a standard year-end article turned out to be revolutionary. Ian Bremmer, President of Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, breaks with the MSM’s failure to tell the world like it is to the American people. Titled ‘An Uneasy Path Abroad’ it confirms in soothing terms everything being written by Pepe Escobar, Paul Craig Roberts and others, about America’s declining position in the world.

I don’t know how most of my readers will see this, but I believe it marks a watershed: wrapped in Christmas paper, it outlines the new international reality after decades of failure by the American press to inform readers about the world beyond our seas.  Reviewing all the pluses in America’s arsenal, such as a young work force and the presence of the world’s biggest tech companies, it then admits: “Foreign policy is a different story. American power is on the wane, power being the ability to force others to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do.”Bremmer admits there are now “a growing number of emerging powers (with) more than enough power to ignore what America wants” - and horror of horrors! - “even to block U.S. plans they don’t like”.

Though the MSM has been denigrating the BRICS countries since they appeared on the scene a few years ago, Bremmer reveals to the American people that “In 2014 they launched a $50 million development bank, which together with China’s develop-ment bank and an expanding list of regional lending institutions makes borrowers less dependent on Western lenders.”

As for America’s European vassals born with the end of WWII, like the US they are “unhappy with Vladimir Putin and his  assault on Ukraine” (note the mild ‘unhappy’), but “Russia is not the Soviet Union. It’s not a global military power.” Bremmer should have elaborated on the fact that Russia, unlike the Soviet Union, is not Communist, and therefore we have no ideological reason to oppose it. However he does admit that: “European nations have far more economic exposure to Russia (another understatement for a region dependent on Russian gas to keep warm in winter) than America does.” Bremmer appears to be preparing Americans for the day when Europe declares its independence from Washington, although that day seems much farther off than grownups in the room would wish.
Blaming cooling Atlantic relations on things like the Merkel spying incident, and foreseeing more distancing from the torture report, Bremmer reveals a less obvious transformation when he admits that US influence in Europe has flowed through Britain.  As that country loosens ties with the EU, he says, US influence in Europe will lessen.

Acknowledging that the rise of China “will fray US ties with allies in Asia” he admits that “the American public won’t support a lasting US commitment to solve what are perceived to be other peoples’ problems.”  Citing numerous polls, Bremmer announces that “reliable public support is no longer there” (for an ambitious, expensive foreign policy) “and the world knows it.” Bremmer admits that ‘dollar dominance is on the wane” returning once again to China’s financial clout, crashing the wall of silence that greeted the creation of the “$40 billion Silk Road Fund designed to extend Chinese commercial influence across South and Central Asia and into Europe.”  Identified in his Wiki biography as a hard-edged Republican partisan who following World War II wanted the US to back the Nationalist government of Chang Kai-Check against Mao, Henry Luce must be turning over in his grave as the magazine he founded admits: “Nor will it be easy for the US to build greater support for market-driven capitalism, as China continues to demonstrate the growth potential of the state-driven variety”.

Turning to the Middle East quagmire, regarding efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran, Bremmer notes much too mildly that: “The Saudis are not working as hard as they could to track funding and arms that militants from ISIS receive” and “even in areas where the US and Saudis have shared interests, the two countries are no longer closely coordinating their policies.”
Returning yet again to China, thus showing the extent to which it is his main concern, Bremmer concludes “Globalization will continue to spread new ideas, speed the flow of information, lift nations out of poverty (sic) and drive global consumption.  But it’s less likely than before to promote American values and an American worldview.”

Bremmer’s article is a salute to Pepe Escobar and Paul Craig Roberts among others, who day after day keep readers informed of what is really going on in the world.  I want particularly to recommend PCR’s latest contribution for its link to an in-depth analysis by an author identified as Larchmonter 445, about Russia-China military and economic cooperation in the face of what PRC believes is the US’s plan to destroy both countries in turn, using nuclear weapons. The article appeared on ’The Vineyard of the Saker’, which has half a dozen language versions and is planning one by Muslims. 

That Bremmer’s article should appear in what for almost a century has systematically promoted a conservative worldview to a vast American readership, is astonishing.  (Time was founded in 1923, and it was Luce who coined the expression ‘The American Century’ in 1941.) It suggests that as the American century wanes, the magazine that accompanied it no longer promotes interventionism, recommending instead that the United States calm down and live with the new world taking shape instead of destroying it.  

The Christmas Cauldron

I often refer to the planet as a system, but right now it feels more like a cauldron. I wrote this sentence last night but was too tired to continue.  This morning the news is about another shooting and another protest, near Ferguson, the presenter suggesting the US could be headed for another period similar to the nineteen sixties race war.

The comparison is inaccurate: not only because much has changed since the 1960’s, but because today’s protests have a different kind of energy behind them. They are less violent than in the past, and more focused, the marching and the chanting grounded in an awareness of the wider world that no American community possessed in the nineteen-sixties.  Critics have chided the now three year old Occupy Movement for having lacked a leader and an agenda, but we are witnessing its fruits: Occupy was about rejecting a system of government that disdains the needs of the many, but its participants were convinced that before you can propose something new you have to possess a detailed knowledge of what is wrong with the old.  That knowledge was elaborated and disseminated via ‘mike checks’.

Three years on, shouting “I can’t breathe” is not a one-off, superficial reaction to a specific death - or even a plethora of assassinations. It expresses a deep awareness of the flaws of the American system of government.  Although Americans are not presented with a lot of news about the rest of the world - Opednews being a significant exception even among on-line journals -  the limited information they receive, focusing on the ‘need’ to intervene in an ever longer list of locations across the globe, lets filter popular reactions to our aggressions.  Starting with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, those who today are in their 20’s and 30’s are increasingly aware that the injustices they face are mirrored across the world.  Just as the French Revolution divided American colonial politicians, today’s American protesters are beginning to insert their struggle against police killings into the  worldwide uprising against capitalism and globalization. Just as importantly,  they know that because they are ‘in the belly of the beast’,  they are a key element in that struggle, as the ‘forces of law and order’ become increasingly brutal in their determination to preserve the 1%’s advantages.

The cauldron is not one pot on a small fire, but a gigantic receptacle that gathers the determination of an expanding universal ‘umma’, a community of peoples who subscribe to different religions - or none - who live under a variety of political systems, and whose vision of the good life rejects modern behavioral models.

As I write this, France 24 reports on the latest conflict between secularism and religious tradition. One of the pillars of the French Revolution was a commitment to secular government, and probably no other country has stuck to that principle as has Catholic France for over two centuries.  But reacting to the presence of the largest Muslim population in Europe, traditiona-lists have installed creches in municipal buildings, only to see them challenged by the courts in the name of secularism. The growing reaction to these decisions is in large part enabled by the National Front Party of Marine Le Pen, which has moved from the far-right, anti-Semitic stance it embodied under her father (Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder), to a mainly pro-tradition party which, together with similar parties in other European countries, salutes Vladimir Putin’s efforts to reclaim religious and family values.

What makes the present situation so frightening is that the cauldron contains fundamentalists determined to impose a barbaric version of Islam. Today ISIS shot down a Jordanian plane, capturing its pilot, while yesterday France reported on ISIS atrocities against Yazidi women in Northern Iraq. The struggle for equity between the global 1% and the 99% is accompanied by a growing realization that the traditional values lost in modernity’s pursuit of ever more ‘stuff’, are more important than was once believed. Peaceful but determined struggles to achieve a more equitable world must avoid being derailed by calls for war against militant Islam, which represents a brutal campaign to recapture those lost values. Fundamentalism will dissolve as the world restores some of the values it seeks to impose by force, side by side with governments committed to equity. The crucial question today is whether the 1% will allow this to happen.  Protesters chanting ‘I can’t breathe’ or equally mild accusations will increasingly be met with militarized force, thea cauldron a ready-made laboratory for the perfection of its use.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Day I Thought Would Never Come

In July, 1963, with the proceeds of my first book, “The Two Hundred Days of ‘8 /2’”, I used my French passport to travel to Cuba, which was already off-limits to Americans.  Having recently become part of the fourth estate, via the French News Agency’s Rome bureau, I wanted to find out whether the corporation I had joined met my standards for truth-telling.  Everything I had read in the international press, whether American, French or Italian, had been negative, but French free-lancers with whom I’d worked on stories in Rome were telling a very different story.  I had to find out who to trust.
The story of what turned into an almost two year stay on the Island of the Red Devils, complete with conversations with all the members of the 1964 government, (several each with Fidel, Raul, Che and a valued friendship with Celia Sanchez), is told in “Cuba, 1964: When the Revolution was Young”, and I’m probably the only writer to have received her first classes in Marxism from that indomitable quartet.  It had taken me three weeks to reach Fidel and before deciding whether to grant my request to do a (non-political) portrait of him for the French weekly Paris-Match he wanted to know how I lived, in particular what things I owned.  When I told him that my sole possessions of any value were a Fiat 600 and a typewriter, he rightly figured that I would be sympathetic to the Revolution (always spelled with a capital R in Cuba).
In Cuba, my passion for the cinema took a back seat to what  became a total immersion in the East/West conflict which, as I have written in many blogs, continues to this day.  After leaving the island in 1965 for Poland, then Hungary, I did not return until 2011, when the Italian version of my book was presented at the 20th International Havana Book Fair, whose theme that year was Latin America  The two week-long event coincided with the revolt in Tahrir Square, which I watched from time to time on television in my bed-breakfast in Old Havana.  While Hosni Mubarak was being ousted after a  U.S. backed thirty year rule that had no pretense of being democratic, Fidel Castro met with about twenty Latin American writers in a live six-hour televised conversation.
Washington’s refusal to entertain normal relations with the Cuban government would have gone on indefinitely if American power had an indefinite lease on life.  What is striking is that America’s fifty-year long Cuba policy coincided with its period of world supremacy. The fact that President Obama chose this moment to end the ridiculous standoff is probably not due to a need to rescue his disastrous reputation as perhaps the worst President in American history.  Nor is it a gesture toward the Latino community that will be crucial to Hillary’s campaign.  I believe it is a way too late attempt to regain the South American hemisphere as a consolation prize, as the BRICS join China’s new silk roads and even Europe, our sixty-five year old junior partner begins to question American hegemony.  The ill-fated Ukraine adventure makes clear that Washington never gave up on the goal of dismembering Russia, putting Europe once again on the front line. 
Nor is it any coincidence that Obama’s declaration coincides with the European Parliament’s recognition of a future Palestinian state. Obama will not win over Netanyahu any more than he won over Fidel and Raul Castro.  And although the day I thought would never come for Cuba has arrived, it is a bittersweet end to 2014, as the world Uncle Sam built heads for even greater trouble than it did in 1914, before America became too big for its boots.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Two Ways to Own the World

In a recent interview on RT’s ‘Breaking the Set’ Chris Hedges excoriated mainstream journalism while lamenting that jour-nalists can’t make a living from alternative media. The real problem is that many people don’t know the alternative exists, or don’t know the names of the serious journals, or don’t have access to a computer or a sophisticated phone. An Opednews writer recently suggested that we need to change the way journalism is taught in order to change the MSM, but that’s like trying to change the way newspapers are owned, or a constitution that allows money in elections.
 Perhaps we should consider instead the two ways of ‘owning’ the world. Governments seek to ‘own’ the world by taking over companies and countries. In order to be able to counter the actions of governments beyond their borders, citizens have to own not just their neighborhood or the town they live in, but the rest of the world, insofar as possible. I’m talking about becoming familiar with the domestic face of other countries, insofar as possible. When our government seeks to 'possess' the world, we must identify with it, becoming familiar with the domestic face of other countries, so that they become as real to us as our own.
My first media boss, the head of Agence France Presse’s Rome bureau, taught me a fundamental rule of journalism that translates as ‘death/miles’: the relative importance of a news item is largely determined by the number of deaths involved and how far away it is from the location of its readership. Very soon, however, I realized that there is a better way to judge journalism: how well does it take its readers inside foreign lands, as opposed to reporting on government policies vis a vis toward them (which we could call reverse death/miles)?
As someone who has done ‘immersion’ in half a dozen countries, I got an early start on being able to identify with other zeitgeists, thus when living in the U.S., as I’ve been doing for the last fifteen years, I see the world through a series of foreign eyes. And it’s precisely because everyone can’t do immersion that the media has to do a better job of taking people into foreign lands. France 24 and RT do just that.  From France’s ‘Reporters’, where stories are sent in by people on the ground in other countries, to its focus on Africa, it’s obvious that the government-supported outreach channel that broadcasts in several languages is world oriented. (Today you can catch a round table in which Mediterranean Arab artists and intellectuals discuss whether they are freer following the Arab Spring and what the Mediterranean means to them. Russia’s so-called ‘bullhorn’, RT, airs documentaries and news stories both Russian and foreign, while interviewers like razor-sharp Oxana Boyko fearlessly joust with international figures. Meanwhile the US media exclusively serves up sound bites with beltway insiders Washington’s about worlds which never actually revealed
Because the media fails to bring the world to life, Americans cannot imagine what their government’s actions mean to those on the receiving end, believing Bush Jr.’s ‘They hate us because we’re free’.  
Not only is Americans’ knowledge of other countries limited to the geography they notice when they travel, or the food, they haven’t a clue about the history of each country as it is transmitted from generation to generation. When it was announced this week that France’s most unpopular president ever had stopped off in Moscow from what was referred to as ‘a visit to Kazakhstan’, I wondered what on earth Francois Hollande could have been doing in that Central Asian country. Googling the news item, I discovered that he had not just ‘happened’ to go there after attending the conference of Francophone nations in Africa, but that he is the third French President to do so, France being Kazakstan’s fifth largest trading partner. And that’s because half of France’s electricity comes from nuclear power and Kazakstan is the world’s largest uranium exporter. According to Fox News Latino (sic) Hollande was accompanied by more than 50 corporate executives..…
Now back to the significance of his ‘improvised’ meeting with Putin at the Moscow airport. The first thing that came to mind on the basis of my long years of living in France was that maybe, just maybe, this could mark the start of Europe’s emancipation from the United States. (I tweeted ‘Hollande use of diplomacy in Ukraine crisis may be sign Europe ready to cut US umbilical cord’, and ‘Hoping de-escalation of Ukraine crisis could pave the way for delivery of warships’.) I might not have seen things that way had I not known that Hollande’s historically low approval rating was due to his handling of domestic policy, as Europe struggles to contain the fallout from the 2008 Wall St instigated financial crisis that has forced country after European country (including Merkel’s Germany), to adopt austerity measures (austerity in the welfare state!). And also, that until his election to the highest office, Hollande had been a socialist party ‘apparatchik’ (as he would be described by the US media were he not the president of a ‘friendly’ country). And finally, however much Hollande may have betrayed socialist egalitarian principles, he is likely to cling to the socialist principal that problems should be solved through negotiations, not war. And finally, that however much they currently hate Hollande, in the decade or so following the end of World War II, the US was seen very negatively by a large swathe of the French population that is still alive today.
As the cherry on the cake, I would not have seen Hollande’s initiative in quite the same way had I not been aware of France’s pride in its diplomatic tradition, and to a lesser but nonetheless real extent, its renewed conviction, dating from the De Gaulle era, of its enduring importance on the world scene.
Francois Hollande appears to be shooting for a two-fer: rescuing his disastrous standing in the polls by a) saving the jobs of shipbuilding workers (the second Mistral ship still to be built), and b) participating - and even appearing to lead! - what may be an initial attempt by European leaders to cut the umbilical leash that has made them the US’s poodle for decades.
During the Cold War, Germany, which had maintained close ties with the satellite nations of Eastern Europe, ultimately refused US demands to station Pershing missiles aimed at the Soviet Union on its territory.  Today, ‘Ossie’ (the familiar term for residents of the former East Germany) Angela Merkel has to work her way through the series of knots that tied Germany to the United States first through occupation, then through the continued existence of American bases, in order to disassociate her country from the neo-conservative plan to ‘finish the job’ of dismantling Russia that was interrupted with the fight against Nazi Germany.
Perhaps one reason why Hollande’s stopover in Moscow’s airport was given so little attention by the Western media is the fact that Kazakstan, whence he came, is a member of the Russian led customs union that the US doesn’t want Ukraine to join, reason for which it ousted its democratically elected President during the Maidan campaign energized by neo-Nazi battalions whose leaders are now part of the US-engineered Kiev government. For Americans, fascism is just a word, but it is a dirty word among most - if not all - Europeans, because their parents or grandparents lived under it. Beyond that, the struggle over Ukraine may just possibly be the watershed that cures Europe of its Atlantic tendencies. Just as Ukrainians (and Russians) are not really Europeans, Europeans are not Americans; both are Eurasians. And while Washington alternately derides and condemns Vladimir Putin’s claim that Eurasia is a really existing entity that represents the future, Europeans are increasingly attracted to his project, which is not about consumption but about values.

But since the US media is not about to start reporting on these and other on-going trends, I’m suggesting that readers of Opednews, whose offerings are renewed every twenty-four hours, post copies in supermarkets and on telephone poles, so that more people will know what their government is really doing abroad and how its actions are being perceived.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Of Kids and Drones and Culture Wars

The other day I viewed a French film with Catherine Deneuve that featured an impossible pre-teen boy, and I vaguely remembered having remarked on similar behavior in other recent French films. Having lived in France when kids and teens behaved very differently, I was saddened, once again. 
This morning RT ran a short feature on the upsurge of drones, including soon to be under-the-tree toy drones. Imagine a near future when kids will add a deadly panoply to their propensity to act out. The RT series is part of a broader take that includes battlefield weapons scheduled to soon make their own decisions about killing.

I know I’ll invite criticism for saying this, but I think we need to consider a heretofore taboo idea: could Putin possilby be right to oppose Western culture?

We’re headed for a time when the fight between different parts of the world will increasingly be about ‘morals’ - and that includes attitudes toward war, and violence in general. In the West, morality is almost a dirty word, while for most of humanity, it’s something people still care about. Even if the Western press doesn’t acknowledge it, Putin is far from alone. His determination to steer Russia back to traditional values is applauded by a growing cohort of right-wing Western leaders, but also, and increasingly, by anti-globalization movements that tend to be left-leaning. Most importantly, it puts him squarely on the side of Islamic polities, which account for a quarter of humanity. 

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, represents a sort of middle way between those anxious to create libeal consumer societies and Islamists who want to return to the Middle Ages. It was briefly in power in Egypt after the fall of Mubarak, but Tunisia’s Ennhada Party appears to have been the most adept at straddling this divide. Reading Eric Walberg’s “From Post-modernism to Post secuarlism: Re-Emerging Islamic Civilization”,  I learned that Ghannouchi is not only a politician but the movement’s intellectual leader. According to Walberg, for Ghannouchi, “The Islamic contribution is primarily a form of ethics, a transcendent morality that seems to have no place in today’s democrtic practice.” He criticizes the “total stripping of the state from religion, which turns the state into a mafia, the world economic system into an exercise in plundering, and politics into deception and hyocrisy.” In 2012, Ghannouchi, Ennhada’s leader since 1991, was named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People in the World and was also among Foreign Policy’s top global thinkers. (Apparently he did not take Washington’s bate, because in this year’s parliamentary election, Ennahda was defeated by a liberal rival.)

Reading about Tunisia, I was reminded of Samuel Huntingdon’s famous 1994 essay ‘The Clash of Civilizations’, that has recently been evoked - and dismissed - by political thinkers of right and left, both at home and abroad. It turned out I stiill had among my books a French translation, published by the magazine Commentaire together with rebuttals from various English and French language authors. I myself had dismissed the essay at the time, but now, rereading it, I recognize that although Huntingdon inevitably got some details wrong, its main thrust, that of a clash between liberalism and Islam, aptly describes what has been happening for the last decade. (Huntington sets the beginning of the clash in the nineites, with the Kosovo war.)

In other, not unrelated news, today the Russian currency, the rouble, took a significant tumble following on OPEC’s decision not to slow oil production in order to let its price closer to $100 a barrel. I strongly suspect that the preponderant Gulf producers were doing Washington’ bidding as part of a campaign to weaken Putin when they held firm on their decision. But in yet another demostration of the chessman’s talents, while that vote was taking place, Putin was in Turkey, making a deal with President Erdogan to route Russian oil through that country to Europe, instead of via the South Stream pipeline that was to have transited via Bulgaria: Brussels had leaned on Bulgaria to put the project on hold, and tonight both Bulgaria and Hungary are hoping Putin will reconsider, according to RT.com. 

The Russia/Turkey deal can be seen as merely an oppor-tunistic commercial alliance, but according to Walberg, Turkey wants to recreate an Ottoman Empire-type Califate, and that dovetails with Putin’s Eurasia project. A lot of ink is being spilled in the West about that project, with most analysts claiming that Putin wants to recreate the Soviet Union. They utterly fail to see an Orthodox Christian nation teaming up with neighboring Muslim nations in anything other than power relations. 

The West’s obssession with the broad arc of bedroom politics prevents it from seeing that tradition and morality are every bit as significant as power, and more significantly that morality is not only about sex. It warns of a mindless tomorrow in which some killing machines become independent of humans, and others become toys.

P.S. Today, (December 3), Steven Hawking predicted in an interview with the BBC that the development of artificial intelligence (of which he is the beneficiary) would lead to the demise of hte human race.....

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Netanyahu Has Lost It!

(Published on OpedNews on November 23)

Or else, he is cooly, calmly and deliberately seeking war.

Is this the result of a traumatic family history (his brother Yonatan was killed during the hostage rescue mission in Entebbe in 1976) following upon the traumatic Holocaust that killed six million Jews across Europe? Or does it perhaps have a more mundane explanation, inspired by Netanyahu's business training in the United States and long-term Neo-con allegeance?

One could surmise that in anticipation of a P plus 5 deal with Iran that would make it virtually impossible for Israel to take out that country's nuclear facilities, the Israeli Prime Minister has decided to 'take on the House' with his last remaining chips: As the international community, weighted toward a developing world pro-Palestinian majority, turns toward recognizing the occupied territories as a state (Palestinians have the distinct honor to be the longest-occupied people ever), Netanyahu wants a world of assorted 'goyim' to know who God's chosen people are, once and for all.

Today he annouced a new law that proclaims Israel as the National Homeland of the Jewish People. It reocgnizes Israel's Jewish character, institutionalizes Jewish law as an inspiration for legislation, and delists Arabic as an official language. The law states that 'only jewish people have national rights', though all citizens will still have equal legal rights and protections.

No one can say that Bibi's announcement is an olive branch.

More likely, it is slap in the face to Obama (and by extension Kerry), and a warning of things to come, in this period of flux between Thanksgiving, Christmas and the seating of the new, ever more pro-Israeli Congress Congress in January.

rom Barcelona to Berlin to Donetsk to Damascus

Note:  this blog was published on OpedNews on November 9th, and for some reason was not posted here at the time:

As the Catalans defy the central Spanish government to vote on a non-binding resolution to become an independent country, Germany continues to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall that enabled the two Germanies to be reunited, while shelling continues against the largely Russian-speaking population of Eastern Ukraine that recently voted itself independent from Kiev, and Syria and Iraq lose large swathes of terriroty to Islamist militants. 

At the same time as these violent events, twenty-five years after German reunification, there is a growing call among political activists for smaller political entities where it is hoped democracy can be more participatory.But you’d never know that from watching Fareed Zakaria’s GPS.

Today’s guests, Brent Snowcroft and the British Charles Powell, an advisor to Prime Minister Thatcher at the time, gave an extraordinary accounting of the most earth-shattering event of the last century, which they claim took Washington and London completely by surprise, to which they responded  by “trading carefully carefully in order not to destroy the hopeful signs it represented”.  These two high ranking officials are still pretending that Gorbachev didn’t give the OK to the East German govenment to dismantle the wall, essentially withdrawing its decades-long support for the most draconian of all the Eastern European regimes - or that the opening of the Hungarian border with Austria over the summer, through which thousands of vacationing East Germans fled to the West, did not portend the end of the Eastern European regimes! The British guest even pretended that it took Chancellor Kohl unawares (but if Kohl did say that, it could only have been in order to prevent the West from trying to interfere….).

In his last segment, Zakaria invited Joshua Landis, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, and a recognized authority on Syria, to present his Syrian ‘solution’ complete with a multi-colored map of Syria and Iraq.  According to Landis, neither ISIS nor Al Qaeda can be defeated, so the best solution is to leave Assad in power in the southern part of the country, which he controls, and which includes 65% of the population, (the Northeastern part of the country, together with Northwestern Iraq that ISIS conquered, being mainly desert).  Landis suggests that ISIS be left in control of this Sunni territory, which it calls the Islamic State of Al-Shams, the goal of the West being over time to put in a better leadership.

Here is the way OEN’s contact in Syria - a Sunni, by the way, characterizes the Assad regime:

“What about the notion of getting along in a secular society, with equality under the law, and freedom of religion? Syria was the only secular nation in the Middle East. The Ba’ath party created the secular Syrian state from 1970’s onwards.

Many political analysts say Syria was attacked and destroyed for the following reasons:

1. It was the only secular nation in Middle East.

2. It had a national policy of RESISTANCE to the occupation of Palestine, and is the only country other than Palestine to demand the end of the Israeli occupation (all other Arab countries deal with Israel openly and have no demands on the end of occupation).

3. Syria was discovered to have the largest natural gas field on earth, offshore, in June 2010. By March 2011 the attack and destroy plan began.

The goal of the Syrian Opposition: (Syrian National Coalition and Free Syrian Army) is:

1. To remove the current government of Syria.

2. To create a SUNNI only form of goverment under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, who are the founders and supporters of the SNC and FSA. (The same ideology in control of Turkey).

3. To create a Sunni only enclave in Syria, which will drop all claims to the occupied lands, as well as the state of war with Israel, and begin a full relationship with Israel, never demanding the rights of Palestinians.

When you travel to most Arab countries, you never hear or perceive Anti-Israeli sentiments. The population has been taught to love Israel in order to get along, the Palestinians are a sad story, but not ‘our’ story, so they are left to hang-out-to-dry. I have never found any Arab country that puts the plight of Palestine before everything. You would think that Jordan should, since they are 98% Palestinian in ethnicity. But Jordan never takes a firm stand on Palestinian rights. Maybe they think it’s a hopeless fight. I can understand that feeling of defeat, but it is immoral, unethical and goes against all humanity to allow the only occupation on earth of over 5 million souls, and never raise the issue.

I am very proud of Syria’s commitment to RESISTANCE. Medea Benjamin’s Code Pink 4 Peace motto: “Occupation is Indefensible”, says it all.”

Just as the Sunni/Shi’a divide is never referred to as being as much ideological as religious, with the historically down-trodden Shi’a representing the left (think Iranian revolution), Syria under the Shi’a Alawite sect and the Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party, is never acknowledged in the West as the only secular, left-oriented Arab state. 

Fareed’s third guest was the author of a book on the public’s lack of political knowledg in various countries, with the US coming in second only to Italy in terms of ignorance, but he referred to that ignorance only in terms of national policies.  If knowledge of foreign countries was not even part of such a survey, it’s no wonder Western talking heads are so far off the mark.

Mubarak/Wilson, Catalonia/Edinborough/Ukraine, Same Combat

The acquittal of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak who ruled with an iron fist for thirty years and was accused of ordering the shooting deaths of hundreds of protesters during the events that removed him from power reflects the same determination as the acquittal of a white police officer via a lesser judicial process than a trial in the uncontested shooting death of a black, unarmed teenager in Furguson Missouri. Corresponding to the growing worldwide revolt against the pax americana is an increase in the militarization of police forces, backed by justice systems that can be relied on to exonerate rulers while eliminating an increasingly redundant majority.

Judicial aberrations are only one of the ways in which the 1% protects itself. Grass roots initiatives such as the secessionist referenda in Catalonia, Scotland and Eastern Ukraine are defeated by hook or by crook. David Cameron’s last minute promises of greater autonomy swung just enough Scottish voters away from a yes vote for independence, but today when he delivered on that promise they realized they had been duped, while Calatonia’s non-binding 80% vote for independence resulted in a hardening of Madrid’s position. As for the referenda in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, they have been condemned by the West as part of a campaign against Russia, the so-called international community refusing to recognize only those referenda that interfere with its agenda.

Referenda are an example of participatory democracy, and nothing shows up liberal democracy’s fakery like a secessionist referendum. Confronted with the will of a significant number of citizens, the rules of liberal democracy allow governments to say: ‘Once you elect us, you must abide by our rules, one of which is that you cannot evade our rules by holding a referendum to sucede and form a different state with different rules.’ 

Secessionist movements will not be saved by a miraculous transformation of liberal democratic politics, but by a growing movement in favor of small political entities, in which direct democracy can effectively be practised. Grown too large and complicated to be effectively governed, the modern nation-state born with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 will eventually disintegrate under combined pressure from Occupy-type activists and minorities determined to secure their own space.  Meanwhile, the 1% will go to any lengths to remain in charge, even if it sometimes looks ridiculous: 

Less than a month after the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, taking its cue from Israel, Ukraine is building a wall on its border with Russia…..And in another copycat decision, its president Petro Poroshenko has invited American and German citizens to apply for top jobs in his cabinet. There was a time after World War II when Americans were forbidden to hold dual citiznships, but now Ukrainian-American candidates from among the tentacular Banderite diaspora will vie for seats in Kiev’s halls of power, whence to cover the atrocities committed by their brethren in its Neo-Nazi batallions (see George Eliason’s reports for details about them).

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Twenty-Five Years after Fall of Berlin Wall

I wasn’t there, but I foresaw it’s happening in a book entitled ‘Une autre Europe, un autre Monde’, begun in 1983 and rejected by every major publisher in Paris between 1985 and 1989, as I revised it to keep pace with events. In early 1989 a small academic publisher in Lyon run by a professor of cybernetics accepted it because it took a systems approach to what was, at the time, a divided Europe. I was in a taxi from the Gare de Lyon to my home in Montmartre, carrying the first copies of the book fresh off the presses when the driver’s radio announced the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Before climbing the stairs to my fifth floor apartment, I bought a bottle of champagne at the corner bistro and called up to a German-Italian couple from the courtyard to come and celebrate.  As we toasted the news, I declared confidently that Germanay would be reunited within a year. My neighbors thought I was way off the mark, but it happened eleven months later, as Mikhail Gorbatchev reminded us yesterday in a speech during the twenty-fifth anniversar festivities in Berlin.
In that speech - of which I’ve only heard excerpts on RT, the Russia Today English language news channel - he affirmed that the Soviet government - which he led at the time - had been ahead of the East German government led by Erich Honecker.  
Indeed it was: My first inkling that Europe would in fact be reunited came in the spring of 1989 when Gorbatchev was seen giving a most perfunctory fraternal kiss to his East German counterpart. Of course I had no way of knowing that during his visit to East Berlin the Soviet leader had told Honecker, the most rigid of Eastern European leaders, to get with the times and allow the wall to come down.
During that incredible summer of 1989, the Hungarian government, that had always seen itself as a bridge between Western Europe and the Soviet Union, quietly ceased demanding visas from East Germans vacationing on Lake Balaton and began dismantling its border fence with neutral Austria, the real no man’s land between Eastern and Western Europe.  As the news made its way through the grapevine, thousands of East Germans vacationing on Lake Balaton (known as the Hungarian Sea) took their suitcases and fled the coup. From there the reunification of Europe was unstoppable. In August, Poland got a non-Com-munist, Catholic, prime Minister, with Solidarity leader Lech Walesa eventually becoming president and after the Berlin Wall fell, Czechoslovakia saw the start of the Velvet Revolution that culminated in long-time dissident writer Vaclav Havel becoming President. I watched his inauguration at the Charles University in Prague on French television.  During his speech he said, with the usual twinkle in his eye, that his mother was happy that her son the dunce had finally made it.
It’s truly disheartening to contrast the euphoria of that fall with what is happening in Europe today.  One is tempted to see in the European Union’s economic crisis, the rise of Fascist parties and the crude attempts to bring Ukraine into its fold a third repeat of Europe’s modern history, in which it seems unable to resist descending into violence every twenty-five or thirty years or so: 1870, the Franco-Prussian War that resulted in the unification of Germany; 1914-1918: World War I; 1939-1945: World War II.
If you think Europe has enjoyed almost sixty years of peace since then, you’re overlooking NATO’s war against Serbia over Kosovo that took place in the 1990’s. Actually, many political observers refer to that war as a precursor to the pro-European coup in Ukraine that has been followed by fighting in the pro-Russian eastern part of that country.
Try to catch Gorbatchev on RT or RT.com, then take the time to listen to a speech made by Vladimir Putin at a European Security Conference in Munich in 2007 by clicking on this link http://vimeo.com/38311242 sent by my friend and colleague Jeff J. Brown in Beijing.  You’ll see McCain and Liberman sitting with bored expressions in the front row, while Angela Merkel looks at the Russian President with undisguised admiration. 
I’m not implying that the German Chancellor has a crush on Putin, but rather, that they share a common commitment to peace and solidarity, the foundational principles that set Communism apart from ‘The West’. The Western media thas consistently affirmed that the enunciation of those principles is mere propaganda, that Communist leaders cannot be trusted no matter what they say, and they extend that opprobrium to Putin who is guilty of being a former Communist apparatchik. I’ve often affirmed that Putin did not throw the solidarity baby out with the Communist bathwarer and comments by The Saker (http://vineyardsaker.blogspot.com) emphatically confirm that he is a social democrat.)

Never before has a world been so greatly in need of a leader who seeks peace and solidarity rather than full spectrum dominance.  The question is will Obama-as-lame-duck will enable Putin’s worldview to become the driving force behind the international community.

See Putin Run

Wow!  I can't belive it's been more than two weeks since I last posted here: I've been in hospital with a life-threatening emergency, met by fancy no-holes surgery.

My colleague in Beijng, Jeff J.Brown, sent me a link to a speech Putin made to a security conference held in Munich in 2007.  For once the translation is very good, and easy to read.  You can see Senators McCain, Lieberman and a third unknown American sitting in the front row, as well as Angela Merkel who appears mesmerized.


I invite you to listen to this speech - about half an hour long - and share it with as many people as you can!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

From Berlin to Kobani - and Ebola

There is no direct link between the two stories in this week’s headlines, but they share the fact that a year ago, most people had never heard of either, thanks to the media’s reluctance to cover the big picture. Even when ‘stories’ (sic) grow exponen-tially in prominence, this does not result in any significant background information. Journalists take for granted that events appear out of the blue, to be dropped when the next ‘big thing’ grabs the public’s attention. Last week marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and I was only reminded of it when James Baker remarked on a talk show that he and Henry Kissinger had been to Berlin for the celebration. By globally failing to acknowledge that momentous event, the media shows that it has no more concept of history than of the big picture. That’s part of the reason why we’re facing the threat of a third world war - if not in Europe, then in the Middle East - not to mention a deadly virus out of Africa!
 What is scary about Ebola is that although it was first identified in 1976, until last year only 1,716 cases had been reported, while this year to date four thousand people have died from the disease. The sudden rise to prominence of an illness that kills an average of 50% of those it strikes can be compared to the rise in severe weather incidents resulting from climate change: nothing can be done about either. Recently on RT’s Keiser Report, Alec Baldwin mentioned that he had campaigned for Mayor De Blasio, but after seeing the hardships Hurricane Sandy’s blackouts caused New Yorkers, he realized that government is totally unprepared to confront similar challenges. We can assume that when American pubic health officials claim there will be no Ebola rampage here, they are keeping their fingers crossed, for the staggering amount of global air travel almost guarantees that temperature checks of passengers from West Africa will be like paper against swords.
Speaking of swords, the latest news about ISIS is that it admits and defends the practice of slavery http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/islamic-state-officially-admits-to-enslaving-yazidi-women/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Syriacomment+%28Syria+Comment%29.  While  the fall of the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani seems inevitable, I believe that by publishing a defense of slavery, ISIS has sealed its fate.  Defenders of fundamentalist Islam can rightly point out that beheading is no more criminal than drone strikes, but they will find it difficult to defend slavery by quoting the Prophet, who lived fourteen hundred years ago.
The women who are being taken as ‘concubines’ by ISIS fighters belong to a group that was heretofore known only to Middle Eastern specialists, the Yazidis, who made their appearance in headlines a couple of months ago when they were besieged in Syria. While the Yazidis had probably never been in the news, the Kurds, today’s headline group, have been in the news off and on since 1916. Although this ancient Iranian people is the fourth largest ethnicity in Western Asia after Arabs, Persians, and Turks, they were passed over in the Sykes-Picot Agreements between France and Great Britain that planned the creation of sovereign Middle Eastern States once the Ottoman Empire would be dissolved. In that carve up and the drawing of national borders, the Kurds, who inhabit contiguous areas belonging to what became Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran, were left out, and none of their host countries is willing to see their Kurdish areas become part of an independent Kurdish nation. 
Although Saddam Hussein was not far behind, Turkey has had the most violent relationship with its Kurdish minority, which comprises between 15% and 25% of its population. In 1984, the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers’ Party, formed the Peshmerga, a military organization, to struggle for cultural and political rights and self-determination. After failed Kurdish rebellions in the 1920’s Kemalist Turkey, thousands had fled across the border to northern Syria, where they were granted citizenship by the French mandate authorities. After independence in 1962, the Syrian government used the fact that the Kurds came from Turkey to justify discriminatory policies. Today they comprise 10 to 15 percent of the Syrian population and are the country’s largest ethnic minority.  
Meanwhile, after twenty years of fighting for self-determina-tion in Turkey, in 2013, the PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is serving a life sentence for terrorism, endorsed a peaceful resolution of the conflict. That process is now threatened by Turkey’s refusal to allow its Kurds to join the Syrian Kurds’ fight against ISIS. 
In an interview with France 24 yesterday, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlot Cavusoglu justified this refusal by putting the PKK and ISIS on an equal footing. This is perhaps the first time that a high-ranking government official anywhere has declared specific freedom fighters and a specific aggressive force to both be terrorists. (The ideological difference between the Peshmerga and ISIS alone justifies not seeing them as equals: far from the Salafists, the Kurds, though Sunnis, appear to be closer to the Lebanese and Syrian Shi’a in their social attitudes: their women are soldiers AND are allowed to wear make-up…..)
Turkey’s often emotional President Erdogan appears to have a steely Foreign Minister who speaks excellent English, as he walks a tightrope between containing Turkey’s Kurds and fending off the Islamic State. You can see the contrast between Cavusoglu’s cool determination and the violent demonstrations in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast on France’s English language channel or on-line. According to Cavusoglu, Turkey is ready to send ground troops to Syria on condition that the goal is to destroy both the Assad regime and ISIS - while keeping the Kurds on both sides down. As the remaining Kurds in Kobani face slaughter, Turkey not only prevents its own Kurds from coming to their aid, it refuses entry to new refugees, claiming they already number more than a hundred thousand. In ghoulish defiance of international opinion, Turkish tanks have been massed for weeks on a barren plane like so many giant insects.
 You have to go digging on the internet to discover that in 2006, as they sought political autonomy within a democratic federal state - if not outright independence as part of a Kurdish state - the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria held two major conferences, one at the US Senate and the other at the EU parliament in Brussels http://kurdmedia.com/article.aspx?id=1287. In 2012, after the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdish National Council (KNC) signed a cooperation agreement that created the Kurdish Supreme Committee as the governing body of all Kurdish controlled areas in Syria, protests evolved into armed clashes, leading to the creation of the Popular Protection Units (YPG) - otherwise known as the - Syrian - Peshmerga) that are currently in the headlines.
No more than it provides details about the Kurds, does the MSM tell us that the fight for Kobani is part of a larger campaign.  In July of this year, the YPG captured the towns of Kobanê (Ayn al-Arab), Amûdê and Efrîn in the north, and the KNC and PYD formed a joint leadership council to run them. By the end of July, the Syrian Kurdish cities of Dêrika Hemko (Al-Malikiyah), Serê Kaniyê (Ra's al-'Ayn), Dirbêsî (Al-Darbasiyah) and Girkê Legê (Al-Ma'bada) came under the control of the Popular Protection Units and were declared parts of autonomous Syrian Kurdistan, the only major Kurdish cities remaining under government control being Hasaka and Qamishli. So Kobani is part of a large swathe of Syrian territory that has now fallen from the hands of the Syrian Kurdish YPG into those of ISIS, and the battle for Kobani is part of an on-going struggle for control of the Turkish/Syria border. For details about the several year long war in Syrian Kurdistan, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_Kurdistan_campaign_(2012–present)
President Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice yesterday assured Meet the Press that Washington, with almost sixty allies, has everything under control in the Middle East.  She failed to mention that as a result of Turkey’s brutal Kurdish policy, the Turkish PKK has called its fighters back from Iraqi Kurdistan, where they had agreed to retreat as part of the peace effort, threatening renewed attacks against the Turkish government. In a fascinating discussion with RT’s crack interviewer, Oxana Boyko, Fadi Hakura, head of Chatham House’s Turkey Project, confirmed Erdogan’s anti-Kurdish stance. Hakura and Boyko agreed that the Turkish President appears to be taking a page from Vladimir Putin’s playbook in terms of reorganizing the Presidency and the Constitution, however when it comes to foreign affairs, he seems to be playing hara kiri rather than chess: while America’s Neo-cons are eager to divide the world into manageable small states, Erdogan insists on playing a colonial game vis a vis the Kurds. (Time will tell whether, in one of his signature non-sequiturs, Obama agrees that the Kurds should remain without a state of their own, notwithstanding their fighting skills…) 

For a detailed and highly readable primer on the Kurds, who together with Ebola will increasingly be in the news, see Dexter Filkins’ report in the September 19th New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/29/fight-lives.  

For more about ISIS, based on research that does not appear in the MSM, see my next article.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Baghdadi's Pitch

The American Sunday talk shows alternate between discussing ISIS and the ebola epidemic, however none of those I caught mentioned the latest news about ISIS, which is that the Pakistani Taliban have pledged allegiance to it.
During this past week much of the ISIS focus has been on the fear of jihadis returning to their Western countries of origin to kill people. And although American TV channels have mentioned Vice-President Biden’s criticism of the Saudi and other Gulf monarchies’ role in the training and financing of jihadi groups.
Biden also mentioned the madrassas that blanket the Middle East. Their existence has of course long been known, but after the initial reaction to 9/11, surprisingly little has been made of them, so Biden was right to bring them back to our attention. The Vice-President’s quiet outburst probably has three functions: as a message from the administration to ISIS’s Gulf backers, as well as to the jihadi leadership, and as a message from the White House to Senator McCain and his followers who have been intimately involved in securing US weapons for what were presented as anti-Assad fighters but were in reality jihadis. 
As yet, however, no major figure that I have seen has tackled the question of what to us is astonishing support for the Islamic State across the Islamic world. The Pakistani pledge makes that an urgent task. In my previous post I presented evidence of support by individuals and groups across the Arab world gathered by a researcher on hte Middle East, but the pledge of a major entity has different implications.
I see it first of all as a response to what, to many Muslims,  is an exciting idea, that of, the revival of a border-erasing state that really did exist - and persist - for centuries, and which some Muslims will undoubtedly see as having been, in its time, much more significant than U.S. global dominance today. Just the simple idea that ‘yes we can’ do this, that our disparate bands of warriors can, with the right support, and under inspiring leadership, impose an ancient morality on populations that are not only deprived of their potential wealth, but degraded by Western mores, is likely to bring new groups into Baghdadi’s fold with each passing day.
It looks as though Baghdadi’s pitch has two basic strands: the intensely personal element that stresses the degradation of human dignity inherent in the West’s ‘cultural’ message, and which has been shown to attract highly educated people across Europe and the United States, and the political element that addresses the West’s seemingly unstoppable momentum toward global domination based on profit and consumerism.
Once again, the daily headlines show how intertwined events are: today in France major demonstrations are taking place against the government’s recent recognition of same sex marriage, while in the U.S. the Supreme Court is deciding whether it will take up the same issue in the coming year’s judicial calendar.
It would be a mistake to take these events for mere coincidences. However trite the expression may be, they are ‘a sign of the times’. We can no longer see events in different countries as self-contained: the continued resistance in the West to legislation endorsing same sex marriage - and, in the case of France, violent opposition to the legality of assisted reproduction for the benefit of same sex couples - rejoins the opposition among Muslim populations to the relaxation of Western sexual mores, which in part fuels enthusiasm for ISIS’s  goal of recreating the Caliphate.

I would venture to say that today’s Jihadis see their mission in terms very similar to those that brought American - or rather English - Pilgrims to the New World to found a ‘City Upon a Hill’, where extreme puritanism would reign under what was, in fact, a theocratic government. Puritanism’s legacy is still alive and well among large swathes of the American population, and one has to wonder what the opinion of Born-Again and other fundamentalist Christian groups would be to Baghdadi’s moral pitch - if they knew about it.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ships Passing in the Night

The latest street campaign for democracy is taking place in Hong Kong, which is a unique case. Here are some excerpts from the Wikipedia article to set the stage:
  (This Chinese peninsula) became a colony of the British Empire after the First Opium War (1839–42). As a result of the negotiations and the 1984 agreement between China and Britain, Hong Kong was handed over to the People's Republic of China and became its first Special Administrative Region on 1 July 1997, under the principle of "one country, two systems”. The educational system followed the British English model until 2009, and Hong Kong's independent judiciary functions under the common law framework.[15][16] The constitutional document drafted by the Chinese side before the handover based on the terms enshrined in the Joint Declaration,[17] governs its political system, and stipulates that Hong Kong shall have a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign relations and military defense.[18][19] Although it has a multi-party system, a minority controls 30 out of 70 seats of its legislature. Hong Kong has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world but also the highest income inequality among advanced economies.[5]
A mainly youthful and educated elite linked to Hong Kong’s position as an international financial hub wants China to no longer have veto power over its electoral candidates, but, as Jeff Brown has written http://www.opednews.com/articles/The-Skinny-on-Hong-Kong-s-by-Jeff-J-Brown-Assassination_CIA_Capitalism_Chaos-141001-157.html:
<blockquote>China signed a UN witnessed treaty that after Hong Kong reverted to the Mainland in 1997 it would not change the Territory's way of life for the next 50 years -- until 2047. ….While [the Chinese government] would find it next to impossible to influence Hong Kong's billionaire class's investments in the Territory, all of them have billions in investments on the Mainland. If Occupy Central drags on, and it undoubtedly will, with the CIA's NGOs putting money in the protesters' pockets to maintain the vigil, a haircut north of the border” (meaning Hong Kong’s Chinese investments) “might be in order to get Hong Kong's Princes of Power to share more of the Territory's wealth, passing laws to funnel money to the working and poor classes.</blockquote>.
The difference here with ‘Western’ capitalism is that our rulers have neither the power nor the inclination to pressure the 1% to do right by the 99%.  And they are ever ready to foment revolutions in other parts of the world, to the extent that upheavals serve their interest.
Like most color or other named revolutions (Hong Kong’s is the ‘umbrella’ revolution), the one on mainland China’s doorstep is a Monkey See, Monkey Do affair. The media falls far short worldwide of its obligation to inform objectively, but luckily, the mere fact of reporting on social movements - and if it didn’t it would be out of business - has finally brought confidence in their rights to people the world over. Seeing revolutions happening in other countries, they think ‘Why not us?’ What the protesters don’t realize, is that as soon as they begin to stir, they will be supported and encouraged by the CIA and a plethora of other american institutions.  As Jeff Brown notes, all we need to know is that “Hong Kong is gladly letting CIA front NGO the National Endowment for Democracy operate on its soil.” (Jeff’s post includes a list of US organizations operating around the world to make it ‘safe for democracy’ (scratch that: ‘safe for business’).
‘The right of people to choose their leaders’ as the BBC says in its report about the Hong Kong revolt against Chinese overlordship, sounds hollow to those who have lived under so-called ‘democratic’ regimes for generations, whether in Europe or the United States. For although the press does a good job of pretending that democracy works, people are coming to the realization that it too hides a multitude of sins that grow over time. (Churchill famously claimed that “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”, an awkward sentence that rules out future systems such as participatory democracy, which the Occupy movement and its offshoots endeavor to prefigure.)

It’s as though we were in an amusement park hall of mirrors in which two demonstrations parade by, one for ‘democracy’, the other against, like ships passing in the night.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Great White Lie

I must have been six or seven years old when I first heard the words ‘white lie’. My mother explained that it was ok to tell a lie to spare someone’s feelings. At present a gigantic white lie is being perpetrated on the American people. The government warns that the war against Islamic terrorism will go on for years, but fails to tell us why. That white lie spares us the feeling of despair we would experience if we knew that we’re not only fighting ISIS and its acolytes in Syria and Iraq, but eventually like-minded groups that stretch across entire swathes of the world.
As long as the public is only aware of ISIS and Al Queda, it can resign itself to the idea of the Untied States having ‘one more enemy’ in the long list of enemies it has faced  Were people aware of the fact that the convictions that motivate ISIS and AQ are shared by ever rising numbers of Muslims around the world, they would be so distraught that they might actually begin to wonder what those convictions are, so that perhaps an open-ended war could be averted.
I’ve always disputed Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ because it implies that Western civilization is superior to all others. Now it’s precisely that conviction that is being challenged ever more forcefully and ever more broadly by Muslims, at a time when many Westerners have arrived at the same con-clusion.
There are two strands to Muslim opposition to the West: the one we hear about is religious, focusing on sexual freedom and attitudes toward women, however, the Muslim world counts a growing cohort of secular young people. As we saw with the Tamarod movement against President Mubarak, many of these youth are attracted to neo-liberal ‘democracy’, with its accent on ‘progress’ and ‘making it’. But there is another group, epitomized by the young Turks who demonstrated for weeks in Istanbul’s beloved Gezi Park to prevent it from being razed to build a shopping mall. This group rejoins a growing number of Westerners who see consumerism as detrimental both to the planet and the soul.
Now just imagine that the religious majority of the world’s Muslim population of 1.6 billion (23% of the world’s population), is affected by the spread of Islamist groups. That is what is being hidden from Western publics, as governments gear up for another round of war.
Aymenn Jawad Al Tamimi, a graduate of Oxford University and a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum, has analyzed support for radical Islamist leaders, including Baghdadi, in countries across the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific.
The first part of his analysis was published last August by Jihadology http://jihadology.net/2013/08/22/musings-of-an-iraqi-brasenostril-on-jihad-bayah-to-baghdadi-foreign-support-for-sheikh-abu-bakr-al-baghdadi-and-the-islamic-state-of-iraq-and-ash-sham/. It leaves out Malaysia and China, as well as the ‘Stans’ on Russia’s Southern border, but it is sufficiently broad to command attention. Here are some excerpts from his country-by-country analysis:
"Gestures of support from Saudi Arabia primarily take the form of anonymous individuals holding placards declaring admiration for ISIS. The ideological inclinations of the placard-holders are made clear by calling Saudi Arabia ‘Bilad al-Haramain’ (‘Land of the Two Sanctuaries’- referencing Mecca and Medina).
A photo taken near the Kaaba in late July, 2013, celebrates the successful prison breaks orchestrated by ISIS at Abu Ghraib and Taji in Baghdad that resulted in the release of hundreds of detainees, including muhajireen who had been imprisoned since 2006/7. The placard reads: ‘Greetings from Bilad al-Haramain to the lions of the two rivers [Tigris and Euphrates] for the liberation of Taji and Abu Ghraib prison; for the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham’.
In a photo released on a jihadi forum a young Saudi girl holds a placard with ISIS insignia. The first and relevant part of the placard reads: ‘How excellent you are, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and your heroic soldiers! Verily you have caused pain to the Safavids.’ In this context, the term ‘Safavids’ is a derogatory reference to the Shi’a.
I would suggest that by conveying these gestures of support from Saudi individuals to ISIS, jihadi circles are implying that ISIS is receiving significant funding from private Saudi citizens who support ISIS.
Somalia, home to the official al-Qa’ida affiliate Harakat Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM), has also seen gestures of support for ISIS and Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as illustrated by images released by the pro-ISIS media channel ash-Sham, which is based in Raqqa, Syria. There have of course been rumors and anecdotes of Somali fighters in Syria. Somalia itself has also seen small demonstrations in support of the uprising in Syria.
Despite Sheikh Ẓawahiri’s indication of the need to dissolve ISIS, not only are al-Qa’ida affiliates elsewhere acknowledging ISIS and Sheikh Baghdadi as the leader of the jihad in Bilad ash-Sham, but also official jihadi forums like Shamūkh Islām no longer appear to be deleting posts put out in ISIS’ name.
Tripoli, Lebanon
Tripoli, marked by sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Alawites, has long been known as an area of greater Sunni religiosity than other parts of Lebanon. For years, observers on the ground (e.g. my friend and colleague Phillip Smyth), have noted the regular appearance of the black flag of jihad at rallies.In a similar vein, Facebook pages dedicated to the Sunni community in Tripoli feature the ISIS banner to indicate ideological affiliation. Noteworthy are the thousands of likes these pages have received.
While it may be the case, as Diana Rudha ash-Shammary suggests, that many of these likes come from fake accounts or duplicates, the numbers must reflect in some way a significant support base for ISIS in Tripoli, especially when corroborated with other evidence.
Referring to the recently failed Latakia offensive into Alawite territory that was launched by ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and Salafi groups, the second FB page featured a statement from ‘our lord Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (may God protect him): We are striving for there to be Eid prayers in al-Qardaḥa.’
This statement should illustrate what the ultimate purpose behind the Latakia offensive was. Far from being an area of vital strategic importance, the aim was instead to score a symbolic and psychological victory against the regime by aiming to capture the Alawite heartland and Assad’s ancestral village in particular.
In addition to this online material, videos have emerged recently from Tripoli showing the ISIS banner.  For example, on 9 August, a video was posted on Facebook of a demonstration in Tripoli for Islamist inmates imprisoned at Roumieh prison in Lebanon - an issue that has been around for quite some time. In the video, entitled ‘Victory march of the oppressed in Roumieh,’ demonstra-tors can be seen holding ISIS banners. It is quite possible that the inspiration for this demonstration came from the ISIS jailbreaks in Baghdad the previous month.
This year’s Eid celebrations also saw the ISIS banner on display in Tripoli’s Sunni areas.
As for the Sinai, support for ISIS is limited to an image doing the rounds on pro-ISIS social media pages, purporting to show jihadists in the Sinai pledging allegiance to ISIS.  In the grand scheme of the wider jihad in the Sinai since the coup that deposed Morsi, this photo and the purported explanation for it mean very little. Yet depending on ISIS’ long-term success, it would not be all that implausible if some ISIS muhajireen in particular eventually decide to bring armed struggle to Egypt beyond the Sinai with support from Sheikh Baghdadi."
In the second part of his analysis, published this August on Syria Comment file:///Users/deen/Documents/Support%20for%20bagdadi%20Part%202.webarchive, Tamimi states: 
"IS, it should be recalled, has a Gazan contingent known as the Sheikh Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi Battalion. Thus it would be fair to characterize Jamaat Ansar al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Bayt al-Maqdis as an IS network in the Gaza-Sinai area.
More recently, a statement was put out on jihadi forums with the announcement of a “Jund al-Khilafa bi Ard al-Kenana” (“Soldiers of the Caliphate in Egypt”), declaring a pledge of allegiance to IS. Pointing to the actions of the “dogs of the Rafidites- the agents of the Majus from the filthy Safavids, and the disbelieving Nusayris [Alawites]” against Sunnis in Iraq and al-Sham, and attacking the “dog of the Jews - the disbelieving tyrant of Egypt” Sisi, the purported new group pledged its allegiance to “the commander of the believers, the Caliph of the Muslims - Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini (may God protect him).” A threat was also issued to the “enemies of Islam from among the Americans and the Cross-Worshippers,” making clear that their bases and embassies are legitimate targets.
Ansar al-Shari’a Tunisia was known for its staunchly pro-ISIS stance last year, as one of its leading members had written a lengthy tract concluding that it was obligatory on members of Jabhat al-Nusra to switch allegiance to ISIS. The group has found the notion of IS as the Caliphate more difficult to accept, however rank-and-file ground members are aligning with IS and heading off to Iraq-Syria to become fighters for IS.
Like Ansar al-Shari’a Tunisia, many of Ansar al-Shari’a Libya’s rank-and-file members have undoubtedly had IS leanings, translating to a Libyan fighting division within IS:
Maghreb Area
Of note here is a pro-IS break-off from AQIM known as “Jund al-Khilafa fi Ard al-Jaza’ir” (‘The Soldiers of the Caliphate in the land of Algeria’), which released a statement this month affirming a ‘renewal’ of allegiance to the Islamic State, criticizing the “corruption” of the “manhaj [program] of al-Qa’ida."
(Recently, a French tourist was captured in a mountainous region of Algeria by a local Islamist group and, when France refused to pay a ransom, beheaded.)
" Philippines
There have been some indications of support for IS (and its prior incarnation ISIS) from some members of the jihadi group Abu Sayyaf: the most notable case being a bay’ah to IS by a senior Abu Sayyaf leader called Isnilon Hapilon, who emerged with a group of followers in a video pledging allegiance to the ‘Caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Last year, I noted that the main place to watch for pro-ISIS sentiment in Lebanon was the city of Tripoli. This trend of support - extending into the period since the Caliphate’s announcement - has endured. Online, it is represented by an outlet calling itself “News of Tarabulus [Tripoli] of Sham” (reflecting the fact that Lebanon is considered a part of al-Sham).
More recently, in the wake of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes on IS, combined with IS and Jabhat al-Nusra playing on sectarian tensions and local animosity in Arsal against Hezbollah, there was a pro-IS demonstration in Arsal after Friday prayers this week, featuring the slogan: “The people want the Islamic State."
Much of Al Tamimi’s research centers on the competition between Al Qaeda and ISIS, and he concludes this report by saying that examples of support shown for IS, though by no means insignificant, fail to show that ‘IS has eclipsed al-Qa’ida.
In a final remark that Americans are likely to find chilling: 
<blockquote>I do not quite buy the notion that al-Qa’ida needs to carry out a large-scale attack on the West in the near-term to fend off competition for support from IS.
That said, projections into the future need to take account of current developments and possible scenarios. First, it still remains true that the majority of foreign Sunni jihadis who head to the Syria-Iraq arena join IS, primarily because it is easier to join than Jabhat al-Nusra and places emphasis on the Islamic state-building enterprise and its ultimately global scope: how the Arab world jihadis who end up returning to their home countries will affect local jihadi group dynamics needs to be considered. 
Further, in my view both IS and al-Qa’ida Central are vulnerable to loss of stature if the leader is taken out: IS has invested so heavily in Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s image as a caliph - particularly with the lineage claims and his accomplishments - that it seems doubtful IS has a contingency plan for succession to the Caliphate in the event of his death. Meanwhile, in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area, one can legitimately ask if there is anyone in al-Qa’ida Central to replace Zawahiri in the event of his death."
These disparate excerpts from two much longer documents should suffice to convey the fact that the American government is perpetrating a gigantic white lie, by not painting a clear picture of the ‘civilizational’ phenomenon that it is gearing up to confront militarily. It's clear that widespread grassroots support for ISIS is motivated first of all by pride in an indigenous movement that aims to restore the Arab world across boundaries to prominence.  On a more sophisticated level, and in terms of many Western fighters, it's about affirming traditional values that dovetail with anti-consumerism.  Efforts to roll back this multi-faceted phenomenon will not only be open-ended, to succeed it would have to be more massive than anything seen heretofore.