Thursday, May 29, 2014

Who's a Terrorist, What's a Terrorist?

Terrorist and terrorism are probably the most often used words in today’s media, making an inquiry into their definition and use long overdue.  Having shifted the role of watchdog to whistle-blowers as part of its new mission to propagate the government’s views, journalists mindlessly apply the word “terrorist” to any group or individual engaging in activities that governments do not like. 
Although it has no legally binding definition under international criminal law, according to Wikipedia, “Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, often violent, especially as a means of coercion.”  Common definitions tend to ignore the crucial notion of coercion, referring only to violent acts intended to create fear (terror), perpetrated for a religious, political or, ideological goal that deliberately targets or disregards the safety of civilians (otherwise known as non-combatants). Both these definitions enable governments to designate anyone who disagrees with them - regardless of how they manifest that disagreement - as a terrorist.
Under these definitions, the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack can rightly be defined as terrorists.  Clearly however, groups and individuals whose aspirations and beliefs are simply in conflict with those of governments cannot. This makes it imperative to deconstruct the method used by power and its enablers to reverse engineer the “civilized world’s” sacred rights of citizenship into offenses punishable by detention and death.
Government begins by labeling ideas that deviate from its own as “extremist”, then it dubs those holding such views as extremists; then it moves on to alternating the word “extremist” with that of “terrorist”. Finally, like seasoning on a botched recipe, it equates both words with the term “anarchist”, scrubbing the word’s philosophical meaning to leave only actions of crowd violence perpetrated by individuals, as indelibly memorialized by Sacco and Vanzetti in the early twentieth century. 
While the two Italian anarchists were being condemned to death for a crime they probably did not commit, Zionists fighting to free Mandate Palestine from British rule were setting up two terrorist organizations. The motto of the Haganah and the Irgun, “only thus” was inscribed beneath a hand holding a rifle superimposed on a map of Mandatory Palestine, implying that force was the only way to “liberate the homeland". Although they were at odds with official Jewish policies, these groups are never referred to as “terrorists”, but as “paramiltary organizations”. Similarly, European underground fighters that thwarted German occupations during the Second World War are never referred to as terrorist organizations but are correctly labelled as “resistance fighters”.  
Why then are Palestinians fighting to free their land from Israeli occupation referred to as “terrorists” rather than as “resistance fighters”? The long and bloody resistance of the Palestinian people to occupation, using the same methods as those employed by Irgun and Haganah, played a key role in the West’s gradual banalization of the word “terrorist”,  with successive Israeli governments, along with the United States, Canada, the European Union, Turkey and Japan, designating Hamas as a terrorist organization.  Unbeknownst to most Americans, Arab nations are not the only ones to disagree with this label: Iran, Russia, Norway, Switzerland, the United Nations and most Latin American countries hold firm to their dictionaries.
Never mind: the Palestinian precedent - as well as that of Syria’s civil war, in which government supporters are referred to as terrorists while Islamists seeking to establish a Califate receive American weapons -  prepared the terrain for Ukrainians opposing a government that came to power through a bloody coup to be labelled as terrorists - or at best ‘rebels’. Section 802 of the USA PATRIOT Act, signed into law by President Bush on October 26, 2011, is applied urbi et orbi.  
The September 11th attack on the United States gave the word “terrorist” its noble colors.  Gradually, other governments realized its usefullness, and began to apply it indiscriminately to any person or group that challenged their power in any way. In Ukraine,  politicians who overthrew an elected president with the help of five billion American dollars and openly fascistic organizations indulging in “acts dangerous to human life, intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population” have labeled citizens who reject that coup as terrorists.  Like a veritable ‘open sesame’, this single word is all that is needed to justify the use of air strikes by the military and ground campaigns by fascist thugs officially belonging to the government’s security apparatus but free to burn people alive, hack body parts and race tanks through city streets shooting at will.
The American Patriot Act expands the definition of terrorism that originally came to be associated with the 9/11 attacks perpetrated by foreign nationals, to include “domestic” terrorism. A person engages in domestic terrorism if, within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, he/she commits an act "dangerous to human life", (...) that “appears to be intended to: (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping”. 
Thanks to this series of linguistic manipulations, almost any activity that the United States and its allies do not condone is today labelled as terrorism, whether it’s anti-bankster Occupiers or Ukrainians who don’t want to be governed by fascists out to reverse their World War II defeat. 
And yet, the use of this label on a European population to justify what is fast becoming a full-fledged civil war appears to have gone unnoticed by activists. Even intellectuals who are suing the American government over anti-terrorist legislation have failed to identify the subtle means being used to ensure public acceptance of the government violence that is engulfing the world.


From Dreux to Nanterre

The names of these two French towns will be unfamiliar to American readers, however I hope they will indulge me this bit of ‘poetic license’: Dreux is a town to the south of Paris that in 1983 gave the Front National it’s first important electoral victory in a backlash against immigrants, setting it on the road that led to yesterday’s upset, the socialists and the conservatives each having used it as a wedge against the other party along the way while failing to arrest its ascent.  Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter Marine won the party’s presidency in 2011 after her father retired, and she has labored tirelessly to soften its fascist tendencies, coming in third in the 2012 presidential election with over 17%.  The party’s first place showing of 25% in the European Parliamentary elections yesterday is sounding alarm bells among France’s former front runners, the socialists and conservatives, but I doubt they will they notice the supreme irony of the location of the headquarters where it was celebrated: the Paris suburb of Nanterre, home to a large part of the University of Paris, whose students and faculty set off the events of May 1968 that led to the nation’s first general strike and the short-lived Paris Spring.
Alas, there is nothing ironic about the results of the European Parliamentary elections. A quarter of electors in Great Britain, France and Greece voted for their respective ultra-right nationalist parties, eating into the pro-European majority enjoyed by a combination of centre right and center-left parties in the Parliament. Although it has relatively little power compared to the Eurocrats in Brussels, that body may turn out to be the wheel of destiny that sends Europe into another one of those fratricidal wars that have been its specialty for centuries.  If that happens, it will also be the result of Europe becoming a pawn in America’s standoff with the Soviet Union instead of defending the free play of electoral forces that would have brought socialists to power.  All across the continent socialists and communists had been in the forefront of resistance to German occupation, and they had strong electorates: however the architect of the ‘Allied’ victory saw to it - with slightly less sophisticated and powerful means than those it deploys at present - that this did not happen. Greece was the most tragic example of American - and British - meddling when, with the tacit assent of the Soviet Union, the civil war that pitted liberation movements against a sclerotic monarchy was quashed.  Not surprisingly, Greece’s Golden Dawn Party, founded, like the National Front, in the 1980’s, has yet to become ‘gentrified’, its public brutality the closest to Ukraine’s Right Sektor. 

Fifty years of pusillanimity - as I have written here and judiciously dispensed dollars - have led to a resurgence of fascism all across the continent, culminating in acts of violence by thugs wearing swastica-like armbands (referred to as ‘wolf angles’ the better to obfuscate their meaning), who are so out of tune with the real world that they film and post their brutal exploits on YouTube. 

How ironic that this series of right-wing electoral outcomes from Europe to Egypt, to India, to name only those that come readily to mind, should take place in the season of weddings!  The season’s hotspot, Ukraine, is at the center of a continent-straddling area that is seeing the extreme right come to undisputed power: in India, one of the founders of the Hindu Nationalist anti-Muslim party, the BJP is now President; Egypt is getting ready to elect a former young general who rounded out his military training in the United Kingdom and the United States.  As for Ukraine, the idea that its newly elected president is ‘a chocolate king’ couldn’t be more misleading: billionaire Petro Poroshenko, with a degree in economics, has headed the Council of Ukraine’s National Bank, and worked with all three past presidents, as Minister of Foreign Affairs or Trade and Development. With this background he could be expected to implement a pragmatic policy that would keep most of Ukraine together in a three way relationship with the European Union and Moscow.  However, while announcing his intention to do so, he warned he would defeat the newly declared Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in the country’s industrialized east, which would require him to allow the nationalist praetorian guard to continue their unsupervised rampage.

In India, Narendra Modi is likely to be no less dialogue averse vis a vis India’s poor and dispossessed than the chocolate king vis a vis his breakaway regions.  As for Europe, it’s seeing a replay of the situation that brought Hitler to power: a dire economic crisis coupled with the appearance, alongside the traditional Jewish scapegoat, of another Semitic community whose numbers cannot be contained by ‘Schengen’ or other EU border agreements.  And if World War II saw the debut of nuclear weapons, the ‘teens’ have perfected technologies that favor both mass organization and government repression. 

As Americans continue to parse the probability that their favorite politicians will back legislation affecting one aspect or another of their largely tranquil daily lives, the rest of the world is headed for the ultimate round between Occupy on Steroids and Darth Vader that constitutes those politicians’ real order of business.

The New York Times as Binky

I’ve always known that there was something special about people who read the NYT other than the fact that they consider themselves to be well-educated and serious about the responsibilities of citizenship.  But today, glancing at the couple next to me in my favorite neighborhood restaurant, each scrutinizing his half of “The Times” over one of those leisurely week-end breakfasts that seem to have been designed to accompany the reading of the newspaper of reference, identical images contemplated over decades, whenever I was living in the United States, suddenly reappeared accompanied with a subtext: “The information herein comes with a guarantee of credibility, hence by reading this newspaper, I am perfectly informed about all that matters in the world, and can enjoy my Saturday or Sunday coffee knowing that my country has matters in hand.”

When newscasts tell otherwise: marshall law in Thailand, Boko Haram readying 280 Nigerian schoolgirls for forced marriage, Ukrainians preparing to vote for a new president - or not - under the guns of thugs avenging the defeat of the Third Reich, two killed in Brussels’ Jewish museum shooting, unprecedented floods in the former Yugoslavia as Europe’s national socialist parties prepare to  condemn the welfare state in European Union elections tomorrow, protesters around the world vowing death to Monsanto while demanding living wages to serve in MacDonald’s, etc. etc., the image of America’s well-meaning ‘liberals’ eyes glued to “The Times” as they reach for their coffee has never seemed so ludicrous.

World's Largest Democracy Now Ruled by the Extreme Right

The stunning electoral victory of the leader of India’s militant nationalist party, the BJP, may momentarily make Indians hungry for development rejoice, but it is cause for concern for the rest of the world - as well as for India’s Muslims.
The BJP erupted onto the scene in 1984 and has been gaining strength ever since. The new Prime Minister, entrepreneur Narendra Modi, raised the economic profile of his state of Gujarat, however as chief minister he did nothing to stop the 2002 massacre of up to 1000 Muslims in revenge for the alleged murder of 54 Hindu pilgrims who were burned to death on a train. In 2005 this incident caused him to be barred from entering the United States. The fact that, less than ten years later, as Prime Minister of the ‘world’s largest democracy’ he will be received in Washington with all due honors, is not just a matter of issues fading with the passage of time.  It is, rather a sign of the times.

The BJP’s rise coincides with that of France’s far-right nationalist party, the National Front, created in 1972  and led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, a former officer in the French Foreign Legion who has never ceased to mourn the loss of France’s colonies. Having failed to take it seriously, in 1983 France work up to find that the National Front had polled 17% in municipal elections in a town near Paris.  Its electoral performance has continued to pose a threat to center-right parties ever since. Le Pen’s daughter Marianne, succeeded her father at the head of the party in 2010 and her efforts to make it respectable resulted in another shock when it gained third place in the 2012 presidential election.

As in France, right-wing nationalist parties are regular features in most EU countries. Their impact has grown as a result of the economic crisis that began in 2008, making the headlines in countries as diverse as Greece and Norway, largely due to rising immigration from the Third World.

At the same time that it sends hundreds of thousands each year northward, the largest countries of the Third World - or as some commentators prefer to call it, the Non-Western World - are forming a potentially powerful consortium known as the BRICS. If it stays on message, there is every reason to believe the alliance between Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will eventually replace the United States as world’s preeminent political force.  
Alas, in early reports of the BJP’s victory, Indian commentators stressed Modi’s close ties with Japan’s return right-wing leader Shinzo Abe, who wants to modify Japan’s postwar constitution to once again make it a  military power, while being silent on Modi’s China views. The Russian on-line site Russia-India Report expresses hope that good relations will continue, however Modi’s election could represent a serious blow to BRICS cohesion. (In a typically alarmist comment, a participant in a France 24 debate today noted that China would now be ‘surrounded’ by India and Japan...)

 Modi’s victory also coincides with the tragic turn of events in Ukraine, where the U.S. literally brought to power (via an investment of $5 billion dollars, according to assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, wife of prominent Neo-conservative historian Robert Kagan and former NATO ambassador under George Bush), a government that relies on Neo-Nazis who trace their roots specifically to World War II.  The MSM has managed to somehow ignore even the most brutal, caught-on-camera atrocities committed by Right Sektor thugs on behalf of the Kiev government, while the American public, largely incapable of locating Ukraine on a map, continues mesmerized by fictional tales of violence.

The sad truth is that fascism is not on the rise solely because political leaders want it to be.  Although the conduct of foreign affairs is out of reach of the average citizen, domestic affairs are not, and of late in countries across the world, fascism has been increasingly alive and well on the street. In the United States, a Nevada rancher’s war with the Federal government over land use brought hundreds of armed citizens belonging to various right-wing anti-government movements from across the country to stand with him. The eminently newsworthy story afforded Cliven Bundy a platform to air his right-wing views, one of which is that slavery, “was better for Black people than the present situation in which they kill their babies and send their men to prison because they never learned how to pick cotton”.
Paired with this, a story currently featured on RT is about a vast California military site at which everything needed to conduct war is stored, repaired and recycled, or order to save the government money. The documentary is pegged to the upcoming removal from Afghanistan of U.S. war materiel, but the guided tour of the site ends with the casual statement that some of the recycled material goes to domestic law enforcement.  
This points to the fact that notwithstanding the power of Western govern-ments, their aggressive international behavior would not be possible were domestic progressive movements not countered by far-right grass roots organizations. Reciprocally, national governments would not allow far-right organizations to flourish if they were truly committed to a progressive ethos. The probability that American military hardware will be used against Bundy’s right-wing supporters as easily as it will against progressive groups asserting their rights, is no consolation. Oligarchy can increasingly be expected to use force not only against foreign enemies, but - as the saying goes - ‘against its own people’.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Has Democracy come Full Circle?

Yesterday’s referendums in Donetsk and Lugansk, two regions of eastern Ukraine, garnered affirmative votes of over eighty percent, yet they have been dismissed as ‘illegal’ and ‘irrelevant’ by the foremost representatives of modern democracy: France, the land of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, Britain, the land of the Magna Carta from which all subsequent Anglo-American constitutions take their inspiration, and the United States, whose Constitution stands as the epitome of democracy, all of which were inspired by ancient Athenian ‘democracy’.

These documents sanctified the power of ‘the people’ (however diversely defined), and specifically, the notion of majority rule.  They established the inalienable right of citizens to rule them-selves, the principle of free choice and the primacy of law. Nowhere, however, is the primacy of law placed above the principle of majority rule or the right of citizens to reject an illegal government.  

Since the beginning of the remotely-controlled events in Ukraine, the hallowed notion of ‘Western Democracy’ has been tarnished as never before - all the more easily that few American pro-gressives bothered to condemn their government’s continuing military support for an Egyptian military regime that toppled an elected president last year.

Marxists claim that democracy is an illusion, while men of good will ever ready to come to the aid of their country continue to believe that nothing better has yet been found. These latter need to stand and be counted now, for the inalienable right of the people of Ukraine to determine their own future, a right that cannot be denied in the name of man-made laws.  As written by Thomas Jefferson, ME 1:29, Papers 1:315,  our Declaration of Independence reads: 

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

Americans have lived with their democracy for over two hundred years, plenty of time for it to be distorted via campaign contributions and lobbyists.  Ukrainians, on the other hand, have been told for decades that they should aspire to democracy, which they undoubtedly see more as the Athenian kind than the C Street kind.  In a less distorted world, they would be congratulated for their initiative.  Or should I say a more advanced world, that would have constitutions like that of Ecuador, that guarantees the people’s right to hold referenda.

Much has been made recently of America’s double-standard when it comes to Russia. If Washington and its ever obedient allies, who should know better, go so far as to deny democracy’s fundamental rights to the citizens of Ukraine, they will be sending the so-called ‘civilized world’ back to pre-Athenian antiquity. And they would make Putin right to call the collapse of the Soviet Union the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Finishing the Job

The existence of an American-backed putsch government in Ukraine suggests that Washington has decided to finish the job it started almost a century ago. The remotely controlled events in Ukraine are not about bringing liberal democracy to that country, but about securing its rich black soil for agribusiness, its minerals for defense contractors, its cheap labor for Washington's European 'allies', and most of all, about drawing Russia into an armed conflict that would finish what was started in 1919, when a motley Western coalition known as the White Army tried to arrest the momentum of the Russian Revolution. Since then, pernicious socialist ideas have spread beyond the industrial world to the four corners of its former colonies, seriously inconveniencing the 1%'s plan to dominate the planet. 
World War II interrupted the task of defeating people's power. (Soviets were workers' councils, and today's referendum in Donetsk and Lugansk calls for a People's Republic.) The war against Germany and Japan was a school yard fight among capitalists for supremacy, forcing the liberal democracies to engage Germany and Japan, momentarily interrupting their main task, which was to defeat Stalin's Soviet Union. As soon as that war ended, Washington picked up the fight against communism,with the Berlin Air Lift, the Korean War, containment and the Cold War. 
Fast forward, the 'communist threat' having been officially extinguished with the demise of the Soviet Union, in 2001 Americans were instructed to focus on Islamic terrorism so that the war complex could finish off the so-called 'peace dividend', obfuscating the fact that Russia would be an enemy in the halls of power as long as the socialist ethos remained popular across the globe: was not the second largest economy in the world, the European Union, a social democracy? Were not most third world countries trying to combine capitalist development with socialist protections? The economic crisis of 2008 seriously wounded the European welfare state, but did nothing to dissuade the rest of the world from setting up free clinics and Bolsas Familiales (as in Brazil), putting a crimp in the goal of world domination by the 1% centered around Wall Street and the defense industry.
Although upon the demise of the Soviet Union Gorbatchev had been given to understand that NATO would not advance into the former satellite countries of Eastern Europe, NATO got around that by coupling its membership with that of the European Union, to which most of the former satellite countries aspired. Currently, as Russia is forced to defend its influence in Ukraine (the two countries being not only neighbors, but essentially part of the same geo-political entity going back a thousand years), NATO rushes to conduct war games in the Baltic counties while readying missiles for Poland, ostensibly to defend against Russia's supposed goal of recreating the Soviet Union.
My review of 'The Russian Tradition' by Tibor Szamuely ( details Russia's evolution following two hundred and fifty years of Mongol domination, how it came to be the largest country on earth and why long frontiers imply constant threats. It also suggests that absent any direct threat, Russia has no reason to again take over the Baltic republics, much less Poland. Last but not least, it suggests why Putin's plans for a Eurasian entity include support for modernization in the Muslim countries on its southern rim, which is the opposite of America's bellicose approach to the Islamist threat.
Alas, relying on sound bites to follow current events, the American public fails to differentiate between self-defense forces and shock troops determined to take power in Ukraine, allowing Washington to praise Neo-Nazi fighters that deposed an elected President in Kiev, while describing ordinary people erecting barricades against them in Odessa as terrorists. This abysmal lack of knowledge results in the most powerful country the world has even seen being able to accuse others for its bellicosity. Forcing Russia into a defensive position by accusing it of designs on its neighbors, then offering NATO protection, is part of Washington's fight against the only two countries which together could challenge its dominance: Russia and China.
While war against Germany and Japan was a regrettable necessity among capitalist countries vying for world power, war against China and Russia is a battle between a dominant power that consider the 99% redundant as it rapes the planet, and two older civilizations that have replaced communism with capitalism in order to better secure the well-being of their populations. Russia, with the greatest land mass, and China with the largest population, head a coalition that includes India, Brazil and South Africa, and because it is to them that a world determined to shake off American hegemony is looking, that battle combines an Asian pivot intended to contain China, with efforts to finish off Russia once and for all.
Eastern and southern Ukrainians do not have to think twice about who to support as their country is literally forced into civil war by outside forces, because their worldview was formed by their grandparents' recitations of atrocities endured at the hands of Hitler and his Ukrainian allies, the Banderists worshiped by the Right Sektor now in power. They are as incapable of accepting fascism now as their grandparents were in The Great Patriotic War. But because the arrow of time is irreversible ( and the same playbook used on Russia's ally, Syria is being repeated in Ukraine, that country too is likely to descend into civil war without there being anything anyone can do about it.

There crucial question is: Will popular resistance to a fascist takeover of Ukraine inspire activists around the world? Will the 1% succeed in its effort to plunder the planet while marginalizing 99% of its inhabitants, or will the spring and color revolutions that morphed into occupies lead to a unified 99% across frontiers and religions to defeat globalization, which is fascism's latest avatar?