Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Time of Ignorance

Why is Islam the fastest growing religion in the world, threatening the two thousand year Christian culture of Europe? The medium is the message, and in this case it is the gesture of submission.  While Judaism and Christianity emphasize the metaphysical aspect of religion, Islam demands that humans submit to God’s command to behave better toward each other.

Although Mohammed was forced to fight several battles in order to safeguard his flock when it came under attack, he was not a man of war. After his death, Islam conquered North Africa and Spain, and later the Ottoman Muslims conquered Eastern Europe, by defeating reigning kings, but at a time when atheism is on the rise, Islam is making individual converts because of its teachings. No religion remains exactly as its founding prophet conceived it, but the basis of Islam’s teachings, which is peace, has been stood on its head by fundamentalist terrorists.  In the climate of fear promoted by Western governments, it is unlikely that non-Muslims will discover, that, as British religious scholar and author Karen Armstrong points out, Muhammed is actually A Prophet for our Time

“His life was a tireless campaign against greed, injustice and arrogance, a struggle against the early ‘market economy‘ of Mecca, which depended upon ruthless compe-tition, greed and individual enterprise.”  

In Mohammed’s time, most Arabian tribes led a hard-scrabble life in an inhospitable desert, where survival required pride, courage, devotion to one’s tribe, the basic social unit, and within that unit, equity. But new-found wealth gained from trade and the servicing of caravans enabled the merchants of Mecca to live in unheard of luxury, resulting in the abandonment of those traditional values.  For Mohammed, “ignoring the plight of the poor...exploiting the rights of orphans and widows, absorbing their inheritance into their estates, signaled a time of ignorance, or “jahiliyyah”. The revelations he is said to have received from God and which are compiled in The Qu’ran “gave Muslims a mission to create a just and decent society in which all members were treated with respect.” 

Notwithstanding all the NY Times bestsellers, the best resource on Islam is still Alastair Crooke’s Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution, published in 2009.

In addition to the relevance of Islam’s teachings to today’s strife-torn world, it would seem, from Armstrong’s research, that the licentious culture of modern societies is comparable - all things being equal - to that which held sway in seventh century Mecca. This makes Muslim disapproval of Western mores - along with that of various other polities in which a significant proportion of inhabi-tants practice a religion, such as Russia - as logical now as it was then. What is different is the political climate: in Mohammed’s time there was no political ideology per se.  Notions of justice and fairness were propounded by religion.

A few days ago Wolf Blitzer interviewed Malala Youssefzai at a camp for Syrian refugees. The CNN host may have been antsy hearing her preach restraint and the pursuit of a negotiated settlement to the Syrian conflict, but he knew he would look very bad if he tried to cut her off.  Since being shot in the head by the Taliban, the Pakistani teenager, who underwent multiple surgeries in Britain, appears to have taken to the spotlight, however she  clearly has a mind of her own. Malala’s intellectual family allowed her to become both knowledgeable and mature beyond her years, and I don’t think she is being manipu-lated when she preaches for girls to be educated while wearing a headscarf.

Yesterday a former Italian Prime Minister, the former President of the European Commission who ushered in the Euro, the center-left politician Romano Prodi, published an Oped in the New York Times calling for a negotiated settlement in Ukraine.  It was Prodi who took Italian troops out of Iraq, stating that the war had been a "grave mistake that has not solved but increased the problem of security". Though a former Goldman Sachs employee and associate, Prodi is a good example of the enduring strength of the socialist ethos, which does not exist among Americans with similar professional back-grounds.

When discussing the crisis in Ukraine, pundits invariably claim that it’s the Ukranain people who want to have closer ties to the West, just as they claim that the alliance be-tween Assad and the Iranians with Russia is a matter of opportunism.  But that is because they know little about history, fascism, or the socialist ethos, and probably nothing about Islam. To make sense of the current array of forces on the world stage, one has to know that center left forces worldwide share a commitment to equity that supersedes socialism’s long tradition of secularism.  As long as our own ‘time of ignorance’ endures, the global merchants will be able to continue their aggressions unopposed.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hollande in Washington and Fascism's Revenge

Who could have imagined at any moment during the last half century, that fascism would again become a major force in the world?  The image of history as a relentless forward march has blinded us to the equally powerful truth that it often repeats itself.
A little-noticed reason for the return of fascism is that since the Second World War, Western Europe has remained an American vassal, its individual nations hardly more independent than those of Eastern Europe that until 1989 were part of the Soviet sphere of influence for forty years.  I know because I lived in both.

In Une autre Europe, un autre Monde, published in France on the day the Berlin Wall fell, I foresaw the reunification of the old continent as well as the dissolution of the Soviet Union. I chastised Western Europe for accepting the stationing of American Pershing missiles intended to prevent Soviet tanks from completing their ‘takeover’ of the old continent, instead of working for its reunification.  I argued that an enlarged Europe had nothing to fear from the Soviet behemoth, because in reality that country was merely one of several giants on the Eurasian continent: China, India and the Middle East being the others, along with Europe.  

A quarter of a century later, three of the five Eurasian giants (Russia, China and India) form the backbone of the BRICS countries, which account for 40% of the world’s GDP. But although it is whole again and has the second largest economy in the world, Europe has been ravaged by the financial system based on Wall Street. The single currency that went into effect in 2000 could have guaran-teed its independence, however without a political union, the welfare system which had been its pride and joy was overcome by austerity. 

Meanwhile the fifth giant, the Muslim crescent, is experiencing an upheaval comparable to that of the Christian Reformation that embroiled Europe in conflict for a hundred and thirty years (1524-1648). What I call the Muslim Reformation, and the nexus between Europe and Africa, both play a crucial role in the current rise of fascism. Post-colonial Africa’s 1.772 billion people account for more than a fifth of the world’s 7 billion inhabitants, and the continent is in a state of upheaval that may not have been equalled anywhere at any time in history.  Govern-ments of fifty-five separate states, relatively new at ruling, must weave antagonistic tribal groups into national entities, even as outsiders - former colonial masters as well as newcomers like China and imperial America - compete for its riches, including not only minerals, but forests and agricultural land.  (Saudi Arabia is particularly interested in the latter...).

Africa’s challenges spill over into Europe as unwelcome migrations of the upheavals’ victims as well as of those who simply believe they can do better in the North. Al-though in the United States, white people will be a minority by 2050, or even sooner, the northern and southern American hemispheres are both Christian. Very differently, in Africa, three major religious traditions interact: Christi-anity, Islam and a myriad of tribal religions. For their respective white majorities, the prospect of a mainly Latino/Black/Asian United States is nothing, compared to that of a brown, Muslim Europe.  That ‘threat’ has revived the spirit of the anti-Muslim crusades of the Middle Ages, as Europe sees in Islam a threat to its 2000 year Christian culture.  

In the country I’m most familiar with, France, the National Front Party has been off bounds even to most conser-vatives for the virulence of its anti-Semitism and racism, yet today it is drawing support from right-wing voters of all classes, especially in the provinces where closing factories leave workers unemployed and rising crime worries the middle-class. The voters who in a recent report on France 24 expressed their intention to back the National Front in up-coming municipal and European elections tacitly acknowledged the opprobrium that attaches to a Neo-Fascist party in a country that was occupied by Nazi Germany, apologetically describing it as their only hope.

Hitler too, was Germany’s only hope in 1933, as it strug-gled to meet the financial burdens imposed upon it after the first world war.  And just as the Germans began to see the Jews among them as responsible for their difficulties, today’s Europeans see the Muslims among them as contributing to the state’s burdens and the lack of jobs. In Africa, Christians, Muslims and traditionalists also reciprocally condemn each other, however the fact that in Europe all parties are legal masks the threat of fascism, its parliamentary ups and downs making it seem no different from other parties.  But fascism IS different in that it does not rule out the use of force to impose its will.  This has been particularly evident in Greece, with the rise of the fist-raising, immigrant attacking Golden Dawn Party (while ironically, Greece’s  left-wing parties see Angela Merkel as a new Hitler because of the painful conditions Germany imposed on Greece as part of its bailout).

Nor is fascism in Europe limited to the southern, poorer tier: Norway’s welfare state is so advanced that it runs a unique prison offering comforts and opportunities to inmates in a relatively successful rehabilitation program. Yet the avowed fascist Anders Brevik killed 70 young socialists on a vacation island two years ago in protest against the country’s immigration policy.  (Africans make up less than 2% of Norway’s population, but there has been a significant rise in their numbers since 2000.)

Across the EU, Africans only account for 1.5% of the population, however Muslims account for 10%, and the number of mosques is increasing. (In France, which has the largest Muslim population, there are over 2000).  What is most significant is that about a third of Muslims actually practice their religion compared to only 5% of Christians, meaning that attitudes promoted by religion are far more prevalent among the former than the latter. (Conservative Christians cannot admit that they share Muslims’ rejection of women’s liberation and non-traditional sexual life-styles.)

From anti-Muslim sentiment to a grass roots fascism, embodied in hyper-nationalistic, racist political parties is a short step that conveniently dovetails with the so-called ‘war on terror’ being waged by governments. In the U.S., and increasingly in Europe, that war justifies the most far-reaching surveillance of citizens ever seen, the visible part of the corporate/fascist governance that is replacing government of, by and for the people.

Russian President Vladimir Putin may be using KGB methods to spy on his own citizens, but the Soviet Union lost over 20,000,000 in the conflict with Nazi Germany, leaving its people with a lasting rejection of fascism. Even capitalist Russians value the socialist commit-ment to the peaceful resolution of conflicts. Rather than going to war against islamic terrorism, Putin encourages gradual modernization among Russia’s Muslim neighbors, while supporting religious values both there and in Russia, as evidenced by the sentencing of the Pussy Rioters who desecrated a cathedral, and the law against the proselytization of gay lifestyles to youth.  

Very differently, American leaders claim that negotiation is useless because ‘the enemy’ is by definition in bad faith (see the conflict with Iran). And any country that is not a bona fide ally is painted as a potential enemy. Presented as a righteous attitude toward the responsibility to defend the homeland, this is an indispensable part of corporate/government fascism, which is about profit: war is good for the bottom line, as is the rebuilding of devastated lands. 

By making a state visit to Washington, French President Francois Hollande may be hoping that a rapprochement with the United States will lure France’s right-wing voters away from the fascist temptation. But by clinging to its Cold War status as an American vassal, Europe risks coming full circle with 1940, when Nazi Germany occupied the entire continent.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Re the Olympics: 'Do Not Trust Your Friends'

I’ve been watching Russia’s English language television channel, RT (Russia Today) for several hours a day for about a year now, and this has given me a picture of Vladimir Putin’s presidency that casual watchers miss.  When you have seen dozens of interviews by American educated Russian Oxana Boyko, or French educated Georgian Sophie Schevarnadze, Americans Abby Martin and Max Keiser, or Briton’s goof-off John Brown exploring the farthest reaches of this vast country - or even the American ‘Resident’ who poses short questions to New Yorkers on the street, you realize that Russia‘s President is searching for something that is neither Western style capitalism nor Communism. That puts him on the same wave length as grassroots movements around the globe, whether we’re talking about the demonstrators in Muslim Turkey’s Taksim Square, Spain’s ‘Indignados’ or the Occupy Movement.

While taking every opportunity to reveal America’s problems at home and abroad, the ‘Voice of Russia’ seeks out movers, shakers and thinkers from around the world who have something useful to say about the possibilities of combining equity with development for humans in the throes of religious upheaval on a planet that challenges their survival as a species. American dissidents like Tom Hartmann or Peter Lavelle have been joined by Larry King, who prefaces his interviews with the slogan ‘Does the Media Abandon Us or Do We Abandon the Media?’

The sound bites that have accompanied the Sochi Winter Olympics, whether about security or the meaning of the low-level official US delegation (headed by the former head of Homeland Security, Janet Napoletano, while a U.S. warship stands ominous guard in the Black Sea over an anticipated terrorist threat), are part of an American campaign to persuade the world that alas, although the Communist Soviet Union has been succeeded by a capitalist Russia, the largest country in the world is still not an acceptable partner on the international stage because it is not a democracy but an ‘autocracy’, ruled by a  former KGB operative, Vladimir Putin. (Never mind that President George H. W. Bush was a former head of the CIA.)

This campaign is made more difficult by RT’s message that according to a recent article in the Buenos Aires Herald ( is seen by 630 million people around the globe: cooperation is better than competition and confrontation. The new motto of France’s English language channel, France 24, ‘Understand the World’, is equally subversive, and both define the growing divide between official America and the rest of the planet. After a century of anti-Communism, it is almost impossible for an American politician or diplomat to see anything other than political maneuvering in Russia’s behavior, a lamentable continuation of the Cold War, when the turn to capitalism of a re-baptized Russia fails to signal its alignment with everything we represent. Washington’s antagonism toward the Soviet Union was based on its theoretic espousal of redistribution as opposed to ‘a level playing field’. But the reasons for its current antagonism vis a vis Moscow are the same as those which drove us to war against Germany and Japan: commercial interests, which have only been heightened in a world scrambling for the last resources. And in that confrontation, resource rich Russia is seen as a threat to Washington.
Beyond that, while ‘the West’ (or ‘Global Corporatism’) seeks to maximize profits, Russia and China, harking to other traditions, see capitalism as the latest tool for achieving humanistic solutions to the problems of a post-industrial world, placing people above profits. And whether we are talking about the much-derided ‘harmonious society’ being touted in China, or Putin’s emphasis on traditional values evidenced in RT’s choice of investigations and conversations, both continue to believe that solutions require dialogue, negotiation and coopera-tion, while the now old ‘new world’ mindlessly touts naked power and confrontation.

Many Americans are prevented from understanding what is going on by a permanent background noise that goes something like this: “The ‘other side’ claims to want ‘peace’, but it really wants to take over the world.” The dominant theme of the Cold War interpreted the slogan ‘Workers of the World, Unite’ to mean that the Soviet Union - the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ - wanted to conquer the world in the same way that Hitler did. This misapprehension is enabled by ignorance of both the fascist and socialist ideologies. Incapable of defining either political system, the American people have been taught to fear only one thing: lack of ‘freedom’. The Nazi dictatorship having been defeated, we do not need to fear fascism: however, the Soviet Union having imploded without undergoing Western directed regime change, can still not be trusted under the name ‘Russia’ for notwithstanding elections, it is still an ‘authoritarian regime’, meaning one in which the people are not ‘really free’.

The claim that the United States is bringing freedom and democracy to the world rings every day more hollow, as drones assassinate American citizens abroad, infra-structure crumbles, poverty grows and spy mechanisms that Goebbels and the KGB could not even dream of penetrate every global citizens’ thoughts.

For forty years the United States beamed its propaganda to the captive countries of Eastern Europe, and just as the Russian dissidents relied on America as a source of inspiration and information, American activists flock to RT to get their message out. Meanwhile, mainstream progressives continue to rely on the Old Gray Lady, fearing the contamination of Russian propaganda as much as they did that of the Soviet Union. They do not realize that precisely because state-owned channels such as RT or France 24 - or the BBC - can be counted upon to propagandize their respective state’s ideas, their viewers get a clear picture of these governments beliefs and goals. Similarly, American television (not ‘state-owned’, but ‘corporate-owned’, which is the same thing) broadcasts that the United States is determined to organize the world to suit the goals of the global corporatocracy; that if it doesn’t like what a country is doing, it will do what it takes to change its government, and if that doesn’t work it will go to war (all options being always on the table...). 

But 2013 marked a bifurcation point in America’s hundred year ascendance: having begun with citizen revelations about war crimes and spying (Manning, Assange, Snowden), it’s descent gathered an unstoppable momentum when two American diplomats were heard discussing who should be the next President of Ukraine: although Germany’s Angela Merkel has been part of the plot to replace the elected Ukrainian President with a nationalist tinged with fascism, she said out loud what presidents around the world are thinking: they will no longer defer to a country that spies on them.

Russia and China, while doing what they can to hasten the dissolution of the American Empire, are gathering the rest of the emerging world around the search for constructive ways to meet the challenge of feeding what will soon be nine billion people without allowing the branch on which they are sitting to crash. And ubiquitous signs suggest that the 99% AS WELL AS THE POLITICAL CLASSES they would defeat, no longer recognize American supremacy.  With the Olympic Games in full swing, never was an ancient Greek saying more a propos: "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes" Beward of Greeks Bearing Gifts" or "Do Not Trust Your Friends".

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Munich II?

The increasingly nagging thought that Europe seems to be witnessing a double deja vue becomes irresistible as heads of state gather in Germany for the 50th Annual Munich Security Conference, event that is no less significant at this point for being privately organized.
This year Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and American Secretary of State John Kerry, are duking it out over Ukraine, possibly the most ironic crisis in recent history.  As pundits here and there evoke the hundredth anniversary of the First World War, how not to focus as well on the Russian Revolution of 1917 that provoked Western Intervention on the side of the Czar - as well as the Cold War that shaped the second part of the twentieth century?

Considering President Reagan’s policy of forcing the Soviet Union to maintain a costly arms race, to the detriment of consumer satisfactions, are we now witnessing an attempt to diminish a rising Russia by detaching Ukraine - then Belo Rus and Georgia - from the largest country on the planet that harbors all sorts of natural resources including oil and natural gas?

One thing is certain: no conference venue could be more ironically appropriate for that attempt than the lovely Bavarian city whose name became a synonym for captulation in 1939.