Friday, August 14, 2015

Cuba Comes in From the Cold

As they watch the US flag being raised over the Embassy in Havana that was closed for 54 years, (by the same Marines who lowered it then), Americans will hear news reports that emphasize the lack of certain individual rights that drove many Cubans to flee to the US. What they don't know is that Cuba is recognized the world over for the quality of its free health care and education system, 
which is also free nursery to post-doc. When I returned to Cuba four years ago I saw that many newly minted engineers and scientists could not find work in their fields. But this problem is not unique to Cuba: it is true in most developing countries, and will only disappear by cooperative efforts rather than by American-led trade agreements that increase the wealth of the 1%.[tag]
Tourists from around the world have been visiting Cuba throughout the five decades in which Americans were banned by their government from doing so, as those who are now able to go there will notice. Personally, I'll be curious to see whether three generations of Cubans who have been educated to the idea that life should not revolve around 'stuff' will be transformed into avid consumers. I'm wagering that the educational system as well as government messages will have succeeded in creating, if not the 'new man' that Che told me about in 1964, at least a population aware of the planetary consequences of an American-style consumer-society.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Scandinavia Joins the Crowd

For weeks now the foreign news has been following the immigrant drama playing out between France and Great Britain, as refugees from the Middle East and Africa try to stow away on trucks crossing the English Channel.  Before making it to Calais, many camp in pup tents in various locations in Paris, formerly known as The City of Light.  But England and France are not the only countries being up-ended by uncontrollable immigration, and the tidal wave fleeing US and European-led violence in their home countries has boosted the popularity of far-right groups across the continent, with Germany’s Pegida as the most vociferous.
A couple of years ago a Norwegian fascist killed almost a hundred young socialists in a youth camp near Oslo, becoming the first anti-immigrant Scandinavian to reach the public eye.  But as RT recently reported, the Swedish city of Malmo has been the scene of repeated anti-immigrant crimes. While violence is ubiquitous all over the world, it is difficult to imagine it in Scandinavia, seen for decades as an almost perfect place.
Not to mention the Nordic countries’ well-known commitment to the developing world, going back decades to the time when it was known as the ‘Third’ world.  What has happened to transform the Scandinavian paradise, whose welfare system inspired that of the entire EU, into a place just like any other, where the presence of dark folk gives rise to shootings and car burnings?  According to RT, the Malmo police are running out of space to store confiscated weapons, and there have been 68 shootings so far in 2015. As one youth put it: “Hand grenades grow on trees.” Others claim that whites are becoming a minority.
Few Americans know just how far the Nordic countries have carried their commitment to universal human rights, consistently being in the forefront of NGO’s helping desperately poor developing countries, as shown in many documentaries and news reports over the years. It seems Scandinavians are discovering that it is one thing to travel to underprivileged areas of the globe to lend a helping hand, and another to stand next to under-privileged immigrants in their supermarket checkout - or see their children sitting next to them in school.
In other words, Scandinavians at home turn out to be just as racist as any other white folk - or maybe it’s just the lesser educated. Whatever the explanation, it is certain that we are witnessing a sea change in the attitudes of the most ‘enlightened’ members of the world’s minority - its Caucasians - toward its majority: people of color.
Hitherto, white people have dominated a world that is, in fact, the color of honey in all its varieties, as I write in America Revealed to a Honey-Colored World. The growing stream of economic migrants from Africa and the Middle East shows that many are not willing to wait until peace and prosperity come to their countries: informed by the internet about how the rich world lives, they are risking their lives to achieve the same living standards.
When the European powers were colonizing Africa in the nineteenth century, they never dreamed their actions would come to haunt their descendants. The power of the white world seemed to rule out the possibility of the black and brown worlds ever rebelling. Even during the decolonization period that followed World War II, who could have imagined that a failure to assist newly independent countries to develop, enlisting their upper classes instead to pillage their resources, would result in pristine-white Europe being subjected to a reverse invasion by dark-skinned peoples, most of whom are not ‘even’ Christians, but Muslims.
Not since the Ottoman invasion of Eastern Europe has Christianity been threatened in its bastions. The Caliphate occupied those lands for four hundred years, setting them up to be far less developed than Western Europe. The Turkish onslaught was halted in 1526 at battle of Mohacs, and Hungarians are quick to point out what the West owes them for stopping the Ottoman penetration of Habsburg lands before they reached Vienna.
At the Western end of Europe, the Muslims conquered Spain in the eighth century, remaining there until Columbus discovered America in 1492, and although tourists admire the monuments they left behind, until the twenty-first century, most Europeans never dreamt they could become a minority in their own lands.  Of course, that is not yet the case, but far right parties have been protesting, some, like France’s National Front, for decades, originally against government encouragement of immigration to meet manpower needs.
The National Front got it right: Europe will gradually be Islamized: but it is wrong to claim that this transformation can be avoided: numbers are incontrovertible. In 2014, the population of Africa was 1.2 billion. That of the European Union was 507 million, less than half.  And it’s not a question of space: the EU counts 1.67 million square miles while that of Africa has 11.67 million square miles.  Africa has more than double the population of Europe, but it is six times larger.
Not only: according to Wikipedia, “Africa has a large quantity of natural resources including diamonds, salt, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, silver, petroleum and cocoa beans, woods and tropical fruits” - and oil,”  so it would be difficult to make the case that African emigration is due to natural causes.

As for the Middle East, Western intervention has made it the most violent part of the world, sending thousands fleeing for their lives from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, straining the resources of neighboring countries. Europe is the logical place for them to go, and most immigrants believe they will not be welcomed with open arms because of the Union’s commitment to human rights. Recently, one Syria refugee having reached the Greek island of Kos, near Turkey, declared to France 24:  “In my own country I am not a human being.  Here I am a human being.”  The following day, one of his countrymen stood in the same place shouting:  “Why are we being kept locked in a stadium with neither food nor water?  Why? Why?”

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Trump vs Sanders: The End of Rep/Dem Rule

I know it's early days, and anything can happen, but I believe that American voters will be choosing between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. They are finally realizing that they have been stuck for decades in what is referred to as the ideal political 'center', but in reality is a steadily worsening situation for the majority, to the advantage of a tiny minority. The United States is the only developed country that has not made room for any kind of socialist party, no matter how democratic, that could counter-balance the weight of corporate capital and ensure a fair deal for the average citizen.

But then, why Trump?  Because he offers American voters something they have consciously been aching for: a leader who projects strength (just look at that jaw!)  Donald Trump reminds me of 'Il Duce’: Mussolini was a small man, but in his high boots and khaki jodhpurs he looked like he could lick the world. Many short men suffer from a Mussolini complex, but Trump is six foot three. 

Moving on, America’s Middle East quagmire exemplifies nothing if not repeated bungling, and the electorate, notwithstanding a coopted media, finally sees that.  If Trump can convince undecideds that he will treat existing illegals 'fairly' (as he wants to be treated by the RNC), and protect women's right to choose, he will appeal to two of the Democratic Party’s major constituencies. notwithstanding that in social policy he is the antithesis of Bernie Sanders, claiming that trickle-down, if done right, can lift all Americans to a life of Reilly.

But why Bernie Sanders?  Notwithstanding black accusations of indifference, he will stand corrected. Black consciousness having moved from yearning for Africa in the sixties to forging ties to liberation movements around the world, Black Lives Matter is the right movement in the right place at the right time.  Similarly, Hispanics take a page from Latin America’s left-wing and the indigenous movement claims its place in the sun. (It's not for nothing that Obama made peace with Cuba: relations with the entire southern continent, home to large indigenous populations, were at stake, as its elected rulers made clear.)

Finally, the rise of ISIS, abetted by Washington's political rednecks, is a threat that can only grow, not so much thanks to American support as to its murderous presence in Muslim lands.   Violence at home and abroad is finally creating a true left-right divide in the United States, in place of the so-called Rep/Dem middle ground in which the country has been mired for decades, while the world evolved.

If Trump's wealth frees him from lobbyists, as he claims, he will potentially be the closest thing to a king that America has ever had, the only possible president since FDR who could really 'get things done'. The problem is that he aspires to be like Ronald Reagan, and that is where Bernie Sanders comes in.

Though international violence is sometimes dressed in misleading costumes (as in ISIS versus Hezbollah), the world continues to be divided between right and left, and with Sanders, a democratic socialist, the US will finally be participating in that struggle. Democratic socialism includes both private and public ownership in order to ensure that every human being receives food, shelter, education and medical care. It is practiced across Europe as well as in Russia and China, and is the reason why NATO seeks regime change in Moscow before taking on China’s ‘peaceful rise’. 

The world is no longer divided between Communism and Capitalism, but between social democracy and fascism, in which government is subordinated to private enterprise. This is the same alternative that presented itself to Germany a century ago, after the Russian Revolution. Historical research shows that the US only fought Germany because Hitler was out of control: the real enemy, then as now, is any regime that touts cooperation rather than conflict, and the responsibility of the community for the individual, as in all human families.

Trump vs Sanders may sound like a fantasy, but it’s probably the only alternative to revolution, for which American police departments, oath keepers and the military are preparing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Islamic Resistance to Imperialism, by Eric Walberg

Eric Walberg is a Canadian journalist who converted to Islam and has been covering the Middle East for a number of years.  I do not know whether there are other books about Islam by converts, but this one is written by someone who is fiercely political and who sees Islam as a remedy to the world’s ills.
Although Walberg does not say so explicitly, the notion of resistance to imperialism has been basic to Islam since the beginning of the Palestinian struggle against Great Britain in the nineteenth century.  After the creation of Israel, Iran, Lebanon and Syria became known as ‘frontline states’ in that resistance (see my review of
This is an ambitious book that may suffer from being at once an argument for Islam as the solution to the woes of the modern world and an analysis of the various aspects of Islamism as well as a history of Islamism’s progress or lack thereof by country.
The fact that Islam is the fastest growing religion on the planet - growing faster, according to Time magazine, than the population - notwithstanding Islamophobia - suggests that its appeal is fundamentally different from that of other religions, and Walberg makes that point eloquently, quoting Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood member Essam el-Erian, on the Iranian revolution:
“Young people believe Islam is the solution to the ills in society after the failure of western democracy, socialism and communism to address the political and socio-economic difficulties.” It prompted Saudi rebels to occupy the Kaaba that same year in an attempt to spark revolution, Syrian Muslims to rise against their secular dictator Hafez al-Assad in 1980 and future Al-Qaeda leader Aymin Zawahiri to conspire to assassinate Egyptian president Sadat in 1981.”
And just as the US is credited with contributing to the rise of ISIS, according to Walberg “the imperialists had a strong influence on the development of political Islam during Great game II (empire against communism) encouraging Muslims opposed to theism/secularism and their nationality and/or socialist offshoots to resist leaders such as the Syrian and Iraqi Baathists and Egypt’s Nasser. This resistance caught fire in the 1980s as Afghans were catalyzed to oppose the Soviet occupation…”
In Part I Walberg sets out a theory of political Islam, first confronting “Political Spirituality and Jihad”, then the “Sunni Failure in Egypt” with theoreticians Banna and Qut’b, and finally Shia Success in Iran.  
Part II traces “The Expanding Parameters of Political Islam”, reviewing the theory of violence against invaders as opposed to Bin Laden’s violence in the Imperial Center, Zawahiri’s violence against client Regimes, the legacy of Al-Qaeda, Terrorism before an after 9/11.
In “The Perils of Cooperation” Walberg reviews recent history in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan and Turkey, four very different examples, turning then to “The Perils of Implementation”, which includes a much longer list of countries that have flirted or invested in Islamic power.
Finally he considers the Return of the Caliphate, Color Revolutions and the Arab Spring, to conclude with the Twenty-First Century Umma’s Striving for a New Modernity, Muslim, Christian-Jewish Understanding and Post-materialism.
There are two strands to political Islam, the first being exploitation:
"Western economies for nearly 100 years have been sustained and built on cheap fossil fuel from the Middle East and Persian Gulf. While the vast majority of people in the Muslim world remain impoverished, their tiny ruling elites, sequestered into statelets, have enriched themselves by aligning with Western powers and allowing them to exploit the energy and mineral resources of Muslim lands."
Walberg notes that “traditional Muslim scholars, the ulama, were not much help.  Confronted by invaders, and faced at home with movements which sought to emulate the West, including nationalists and secularists, they retreated, shutting down debate about how to extricate the Muslim world from the grip of empire.”
In one of the most original insights of his books, Walberg writes: 
"The new economic order, embedded in the legal systems being fashioned by the occupiers, was resisted by both secularists and Islamists. Marx et al clarified the underlying problem: ‘the law’  in each land was being fashioned to meet the needs of the economic order, where all economic activity was condoned as long as it is carried out in conformity with ‘the law’."
For Walberg:
 "it is this enforced ascendancy of economic power over the popular political will that makes political Islam necessary today, after the defeat of the communist resistance to capitalism.  Nothing short of a ‘new law’ will do, where a code of ethics is embedded.  The communist revolutions for the most part failed to achieve this and Islamists became the main force of resistance to imperialism by default."
With this notion Islamic Resistance to Imperialism rejoins the growing global movement known as post-modernism, which is both cultural and economic, a rejection of senseless materialism based on the notion that ‘more stuff is better’, and a realization that community is better than rampant individualism that leaves scope for a religion whose God demands above all that humans treat each other with ‘’respect, justice and dignity’. 
In one of his most original contributions, Walberg makes the case that humans are wired for religion:
"Why would this ability of the brain evolve, if there were no underlying truth to it? The most sensible explanation is that indeed religion is the living embodiment of moral truth which helps people align themselves with the moral axis of the universe (and thereby survive). This is possible without religion, but requires a highly developed moral sense.
(In A Taoist Politics: The Case for Sacredness, I wrote:  “Now, as always, the masses need rituals and communion, while intellectuals require their serenity to be based on logic. By adding a touch of poetic intuition to scientific certainties, Taoism can bring serenity to non-believers while softening the impact of Otherness on believers.)
In the second part of the book, after reviewing the contributions of major players and in particular the various Sunni/Salafi movements, Walberg chronicles efforts to achieve an Islamic umma country by country according to two rubrics, cooperation with the empire and efforts to create an islamic state, in which the Iranian Revolution of 1979 is of course given pride of place. (Walberg documents its ideological background extensively in Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games (2011).) No less significantly, he clarifies the oft confused similarities and differences between Hamas and Hezbollah, describing the Islamic State project, and concluding with efforts to arrive at a caliphate that would unite Sunnis and Shia, thus freeing the Middle East of its main source of turbulence.