Lone Wolves and Collective Guilt: Kandahar to Toulouse

Image

 

In the litany of crimes those perpetrated against innocents, particularly children, are rightly seen as the most heinous and the most deserving of soul-searching as well as reprimand. The past weeks have seen murderous rampages take place in disparate parts of the globe, perpetrated by individual gunmen against innocent civilians. In the streets of Toulouse a young man named Mohammed Merah gunned down three Muslim French military servicemen, and then proceeded days later to a Jewish school where he killed four people, including a 7 year old girl. A week before the horror unleashed by Merah in France, another young man, an American in Afghanistan, conducted a massacre of his own. Robert Bales murdered 17 Afghan civilians, mostly women and toddlers in a prolonged massacre in a village in Kandahar. After executing them in their homes in the dead of night and at point blank range, he proceeded to drag the bodies into a pile and set them alight. It is thought that at least one of his victims, a two year old boy, was burnt alive with the bodies of his family members.

What the perpetrators of these two heinous acts had in common was that they were both young men with a history of violence and mental illness. Merah was documented to have been suicidal and was described during a prior psychiatric evaluation as a “polar introvert” who said he wanted only to “sit in his corner alone” – a portrait of a young man mentally disturbed by growing up poor in a broken home without a father. Robert Bales as well showed a history of potential mental illness. Suspected to have suffered personality altering brain injuries in a vehicle accident in 2010, he was also believed to have suffered from PTSD due to repeated combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both men have had run-ins with the law apparently unrelated to any type of ideological motivation, Merah for armed robbery and Bales for aggravated assault.

In the popular responses to these two men and their crimes we can see a marked double standard in regards to who besides them is responsible for their actions. In the case of Bales, the media has been quick to identify him as a deranged, lone, and decidedly isolated individual whose actions have occurred in a vacuum and are a result of his own personal moral failings and mental defects. The identification of Bales as such means that no community is responsible for him and thus no action needs to be taken outside reprimanding him personally; he is alone and apart from any society which might own him. For Merah however, there has been an exuberant rush to identify him and his actions; again, the actions of a young man documented to be mentally disturbed, as the collective responsibility of his community no matter how much that community expresses its disgust and outrage at his crimes. Merah’s claims of affiliation with groups such as Al-Qaeda have been viewed with deep skepticism by French authorities; as the grandiose boasts of a mentally ill young man should be, however media and political figures with an interest in utilizing his crimes to further their own agendas have taken it upon themselves to do so despite this. The actions of Merah, a solitary, sick individual, have been utilized to put all French Muslims on the defensive and to cast an aura of collective guilt and responsibility the way the crimes of Robert Bales never have been. Indeed, the enthusiasm with which pundits around the world have used Merah’s crimes as a bludgeon to smear Muslims everywhere has been disgraceful if nonetheless predictable.

The argument that Merah’s actions fit a pattern and as such must be indicative of a broader communal failing among Muslims whereas Bales do not does not stand up to even the lightest scrutiny. While young Muslim men in disparate places on the globe have committed acts of terror against civilians, countless young men fitting the rough description of Bales; young, white and American, have committed similarly unconscionable acts of violence against innocents on a regular basis as well. From the young men of the so-called “kill team” in Afghanistan who killed Afghan civilians for sport, keeping fingers as keepsakes and taking smiling trophy photographs; to the men who gang-raped and murdered a 14 year-old Iraqi girl in Mahmudiyyah after killing her family, the litany of crimes committed by men whom one could claim belong to the “white American community” is readily comparable to those committed by their Muslim counterparts in both number and scope. The notion that perhaps these crimes are indicative of some sort of collective failure or guilt which would require drastic remedy is rarely entertained, in each case the perpetrators are a mere aberration to be explained away. In no way is the community to which they belong responsible for the creation of these violent, destructive young men, no matter how steady a stream of Robert Bales’ are created. In the case of Muslims however, there is a frantic rush, a need, to associate every Muslim individual who commits a crime with the broader community. Which communities should carry the burden of collective guilt for the crimes of their members can be seen to be wholly selective, if the Muslim community not just in France but around the world is responsible for Mohammed Merah then someone correspondingly must be responsible for Robert Bales, Steven Green, Calvin Gibbs, and the countless other Americans who have also carried out criminal acts of violence.

Robert Bales has been condemned by his society for his actions just as Mohammed Merah has by his. The difference between them is that only in the case of Merah are there demands for soul-searching and greater scrutiny, while the conditions which created Bales continue to remain unreflected upon and unaddressed. The cynical hypocrisy and double standards represented in these two cases is done with specific intent; the actions of individuals can either be brushed aside as anomalies regardless of the frequency with which they occur, or used as a weapon to attack a specific community as required. What we see here clearly is the latter, a reflection of a double standard which continues to exist against Muslims around the world today.

Bahrain Commission report details deadly pogroms against migrant workers

Image

Amidst the violence of Bahrain’s revolution, an uprising broadly characterized by violent clashes between pro-democracy protestors and government security forces, a different and equally disturbing narrative was taking place throughout the country.

The recent Bahrain Independent Commission Inquiry (BICI) reveals the broad scope and extremely violent nature of the ethnic pogroms which were reported to have targeted the migrant worker class during the unrest. The stories are recounted with a cold, clinical detachment which belies the scenes of horror described therein:

“…a gang carrying metal bars and knives attacked a group living in a building in Naeem…The residents who managed to escape the building were met by the group waiting at the entrance to the building. This group beat the deceased to death.”…

Continued at Bikya Masr

Take a Dollar, Leave a Penny: Tax Evasion and “Corporate Social Responsibility”

Isn’t it nice how much corporations seem to care these days? The charity walk-a-thons, the grade school volunteer activities, the “community partnerships”, it seems as though a corner has been turned and corporations have finally developed a holistic conception of society which sees them as an active and responsible member. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a concept whose popularity has grown exponentially in recent years, in which companies have purportedly embraced a new vision which calls for their involvement in providing services to the communities in which they operate. These services are provided ostensibly for altruistic reasons, and are often completely outside the normal competencies of the organization as a business. CSR has become an integral part of their overall strategy of many major corporations and its popularity in the business world continues to grow year over year. In many ways, it’s the new craze in business.

On the surface, this would appear to be a positive development. Having corporations going out of their way to ease the burdens of citizens and to promote positive social causes would seem to take some of the harsh edge off of capitalism, and in the process nudge these organizations away from their legally prescribed singular goal of maximizing profits for their shareholders. While there are undoubtedly many decent people in the corporate world, including many of those residing in the C-Suites of major companies, why would they steer their organizations away from the goals for which they have been solely created? In what context are corporations deciding to double as social caretakers despite the intense pressure they are under from their owners to fulfil their goal of maximizing profits?

The answer can be found in the transactional relationship between major corporations and society at large; a transactional relationship where the terms greatly favour corporations to the detriment of their societal stakeholders. In the fiscal year 2010, the largest financial institutions in America paid an income tax rate of only 11%; a rate which is below the legally mandated 35% and is itself vastly overstated due to financial manipulation and the utilization of tax shelters. A recent report showed that 30 of the most profitable companies in the United States have paid no taxes or even negative taxes (in the form of transfer payments from the government) over the past three years. The companies on this list include some of the most prominent in the world, such as General Electric, Dupont and Honeywell. Through the use of offshore tax havens, the manipulation of tax loopholes, and through active lobbying of the government to create additional legal protections to insulate them from paying taxes these companies and others have managed to effectively extricate themselves from the social contract. While they continue to reap huge benefits from public resources and patronage, they do not contribute their share to the continued maintenance of society as they legally are required to, and as all of its productive citizens do.

It is against this background which Corporate Social Responsibility has risen to prominence in recent years. With one hand companies are detracting from the public good on a huge scale by creatively avoiding their obligation to pay taxes; while with the other they are theoretically giving back to the public good through their CSR activities. However what they are “giving back” is a pittance and perversely still serves their primary goal of increasing profits as a result of the self-promotion these activities naturally provide them. Public relations campaigns masked behind a thin yet highly visible veneer of “responsibility” is what corporations have given in return for what they continue to take through their negligence towards the society which makes their very success possible.

While corporations may sponsor barbeques, tree planting days and softball games to show their commitment to causes of social import, they are helping to destroy the very institutions upon which the citizenry relies for its well-being. The result of billions of dollars of taxes unpaid has been the methodical and inevitable destruction of social infrastructure. Cuts to education, health care and entitlement programs have been the natural result of a new economic order where those entities whose income is highest still find ways to pay the least taxes to the societies to which they owe their very success.

Given the rise of Corporate Social Responsibility in tandem with the accelerating decline of government as a competent provider for the body politic, it would be plausible for one to argue that in many ways corporations are gradually positioning themselves as a future alternative to government. Imagine if you would, a corporate government; it would be one in which the people have no say and where the ultimate goal is one which is indifferent at best to the condition of those who would come to rely on it. This is no longer a fantasy vision of a dystopian, necessarily fascist future; this is observably happening and the vision of it is what is inspiring individuals to take to the streets in the protest of that amorphous entity which is “Wall Street”. My advice to those at Occupy Wall Street and those at Occupy protests across the world; distil your message to one main point and make it this: corporations must stop obfuscating by pretending to be our friends and must pay their obligated share of taxes. Ending the legalized criminality of tax loopholes and offshore tax shelters, simply enforcing the social contract, would fill public coffers and would allow government to do its job of building and supporting the social infrastructure upon which we all rely.

Every organization should have an ethical code which governs its actions in order to reduce negative externalities to society, but the rise of Corporate Social Responsibility in the form of proactive public engagement is a significant and potentially dangerous development in the long term. The government is ours as citizens, corporations are the sole possession of their shareholders, and we allow the latter to starve the former at our own long term detriment. Occupy Wall Street, say it loud and clear that corporations must pay their taxes and you will find that most of what else you want will naturally be satisfied with this demand. Corporate tax evasion masked by the sham of CSR is no replacement for a responsible and accountable government, something which we as citizens should never lose sight of as we evaluate the gap between the words and deeds of business leaders and unscrupulous politicians.

The Open Bigotry of the Neoconservative American Right

Executive Director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, dressed in Arabface

The past few decades have seen an admirable amount of progress in making overt racism socially taboo and imposing limits on hate speech in American society. This change is not something that came about through pure enlightened reflection, but as a response to hundreds of years of intimate experience with the evils of racism and from a recognition of what a permissively racist environment can lead to. In a sign of legitimate social progress, in most cases being an open bigot today is something for which an individual can expect to be ostracized and shunned in society. While it may still exist, this type of behaviour is generally not a welcome part of the public discourse any longer.

There is one threshold however which is still crossed on a regular basis by both political and media figures; bigotry and racism against Muslim and Arab-Americans. Try and imagine Noah Pollak, Executive Director of the Emergency Committee for Israel’s Leadership pictured above dressed in blackface, lampooning African-Americans the way he is doing Arabs in the picture. The response would be justifiable outrage and there would likely be consequences imposed on him for wearing his bigotry so proudly in public. For dressing as an Arab however, there is scarcely a response because although he is acknowledging his pride in his bigotry he is doing so in the last remaining space where it is not considered taboo. The same reasons why dressing in blackface is considered wrong exist in this case, and the same motivations and attitudes which would drive an individual to dress in blackface exist here as well.

The example of Pollak casually indulging in racism is indicative of the deep seated attitude of the neoconservative American right towards Arabs and Muslims, and of its role in spreading race hatred in the United States. Far from being a fringe figure or the leader of an obscure organization, Pollak is the Executive Director of one of the most powerful and influential Israel lobby groups in America. That their leader and director, the cream of the crop, their ideological course-setter, dresses up in Arabface and spends his days writing bloodthirsty screeds against Palestinians, Arabs and those who he perceives as supporting them is a good window into the thought process and worldview of the neoconservative right.

Newspaper ad campaign placed by right wing Israeli advocacy organization in American papers.

Another recent window into the ideology of this group was a recent article written by Rachel Abrams, wife of former Bush Administration Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams and sister of prominent neocon and Iraq War advocate John Podhoretz. In the article she described Palestinians as “shark feed”, and “unmanned savages”, among other things. Again, this is an individual at the very heart of the neoconservative movement in America. The mask slips from time to time and reveals the radical ideologues who hold strong influence in Washington, who have hijacked American policy to send it off into countless wars, and who continue to try and sway American policy in the Middle East, as well as American cultural attitudes towards Arabs and Muslims in general.

This is not about demonizing individuals advocating for Israel in the United States; whatever your opinion on the Israel-Palestine conflict it is a democratic right to lobby for any cause one desires. What the problem is is the increasingly vitriolic and hateful propaganda being used by neoconservatives to push their agenda. Demonizing, caricaturing and attacking Arabs and Muslims by using tactics straight out of the worst of the Jim Crow era, indifferent to, or even trying to catalyze, the same type of destructive influence that type of racism has created in the past. Try and imagine the leader of a prominent Arab-American organization dressed up as a Jewish caricature the way Noah Pollak has dressed as an Arab above, and you’ll understand how potentially deleterious such behaviour can be.

The ideological inspiration to Noah Pollak's bigotry against Arabs and Muslims today.

Mindlessly Expanding Militarism: The U.S. in Pakistan and Afghanistan

(Spencer Ackerman’s response to this piece can be read on his personal blog)

Wired.com national security reporter Spencer Ackerman recently penned a highly emotional and incendiary piece on his personal blog regarding Pakistani support of militants opposing the U.S. in Afghanistan and describing what in his view should be the consequence for these actions. The piece is significant not only because Ackerman is ostensibly a serious journalist whose opinion carries weight and is widely read, but because it provides a good example of how militarism can be endlessly self-justifying when viewed as a cause unto itself. Here’s an excerpt of his analysis:

It’s time for the U.S. to stop issuing idle threats about how Pakistan must take on the Haqqanis OR ELSE. Cut off all aid until the Pakistanis stop helping any insurgent networks and shut the safe havens down. Pull the drones from Shamsi to Jalalabad and fucking bombs-away. Let the Chinese move into Khyber-Pakhtunkwa and announce a brand new relationship with the subcontinent’s real superpower, India. Watch that shit concentrate the Pakistani imagination.

In effect Ackerman recommends launching full scale war with Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country of over 180 million people, in response to its support for the Haqqani Network and others involved in launching cross-border attacks against U.S. troops operating in Afghanistan, thus launching an exponentially more serious war with Pakistan in order to continue fighting the war in Afghanistan. This is an extremely serious decision to take, and one that is popular with an increasing number of armchair foreign policy experts and war correspondents. Going to war with Pakistan would undoubtedly have far more significant consequences than any previous war fought by the U.S. in the past few decades. In stark contrast to Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (the last 3 major wars the U.S. has fought), Pakistan actually maintains some capacity to meaningfully react to a U.S. attack. While its military capabilities are of course not sufficient to win a war against the U.S, they are certainly enough to cause serious harm to U.S. interests around the world, including at home. Especially when considered in tandem with its massive and well-funded intelligence agency, going to war with Pakistan is an action which has the real potential to destabilize the entire planet; a war between the 3rd and 6th largest countries in the world, both armed with nuclear weapons.

What exactly would make such a course of action necessary? The U.S. is involved in a full blown war in Afghanistan for reasons today which are increasingly unclear. High ranking U.S. officials in the defense and intelligence establishments have made known their belief that there are only “a few hundred” Al Qaeda members in total between Afghanistan and Pakistan combined, yet there are hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan, most of whom fighting for reasons which have only tangential, if any, connection to “fighting terror”. This is apparently insufficient overkill for Ackerman and others who want to expand the war to Pakistan so that the U.S. can continue at all costs to prop up the corrupt and ineffectual regime of Hamid Karzai in Kabul. Little reflection is done about why the U.S. needs to sacrifice global stability to continue pursuing this path against the wishes of those who actually live in this region, or why regional actors are reacting the way they are to their continued presence there.

Far from being needlessly provocative, a dispassionate analysis would show that there are in fact extremely compelling reasons for Pakistan to continue to support the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani Network et al; a better question might be what good reason is there not to? The U.S. is planning their exit strategy from Afghanistan, however Pakistan will never be able to “exit” from the region and as such has to live with whatever government is in power in Kabul and with whatever non-state actors are operating on its territory and beyond. The Pakistani military could go to war with the Haqqani Network, further destabilizing its own country in order to continue to assist with a deeply unpopular U.S. war which is widely viewed as a pointless and nihilistic exercise, or they can simply continue operating as they have been and wait out the clock until the U.S. inevitably leaves. Over 32,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives as a result of the War on Terror and the civil war triggered by U.S. escalation in Afghanistan; but despite this enormous sacrifice U.S-Pakistani relations are worse than they have ever been. Ackerman points out that Pakistan has been the beneficiary of huge sums of U.S. largesse, failing to acknowledge that both the economic and human costs of continuing what is now a war of choice have hugely outweighed any monetary remuneration which has been provided to the Pakistani government. From the perspective of the average Pakistani zitizen their country has already been grievously destabilized by an unwelcome and largely needless war across the border, not to mention regular extra-judicial bombings and murders carried out by Americans on Pakistani soil, so what possible reason is there to further tear apart the country as a parting gift to the U.S. on its way out of the door?

Here is the crux of Ackerman’s anguished argument, its time to give Pakistan a reason to want to continue going along with U.S. policy by threatening it with full-blown war. Never mind that it cannot be articulated why propping up Hamid Karzai is more important than not launching a third world war; since Pakistan has displayed the utterly surprising decision to protect its interests in the region against the American pet-project in Kabul it is time to sacrifice global stability and shove the U.S. empire further towards the brink in order to protect the integrity of its elective military operations. Many Pakistani actions have been deeply provocative towards the U.S, but they are arguably far less provocative (and far less significant) than what U.S. actions in Central Asia have wrought for Pakistan.

Pakistan has very predictably pursued actions which are at cross-purposes with the U.S. mission in the region because their interests as a foreign power and local one inevitably conflict. When fighting war for its own sake, this would naturally mean that the U.S. war should now expand to Pakistan. When viewed in the context of the foreign policy priority maintaining of U.S. security, this is an insane and possibly suicidal course of action. None of this is to say U.S. policy vis-à-vis Pakistan has not been a dismal failure over the past several years and should not be changed. America is under no compunction to continue funding parties whose interests run counter to its own, though it will be ultimately forced to as long as it continues fighting its war in Afghanistan. Those who see foreign policy primarily as a vehicle for warfare would be well served to realize that there is a lot of space between, “giving you billions of dollars” and “fighting you to the death”. Perhaps Ackerman and others would like explore that space for policy prescriptions before demanding the U.S. engage in another war, the consequences of which would dwarf anything occurring in the world today.

The American Gilad Shalit

Watch this, then read.

For an interesting contrast in societies and to see what “supporting the troops” really means, the Gilad Shalit affair offers a good example of a country that actually understands what that statement implies and does not simply use it as a hollow slogan. For the 5 years since his capture by Hamas, the entire Israeli state was singularly focused on the fate of this one individual, his name was known well by every Israeli and his image was ubiquitous in the media.  He was, as a soldier, truly “supported” and it is difficult to argue that popular pressure did not help influence the Israeli government to engage in the lopsided prisoner swap which resulted in his repatriation. None of this is brought up to whitewash or apologize for the crimes of the Israeli government or to endorse military jingoism, but rather as a concrete example of actually doing what many of those in the West who support and advocate for wars claim they do, that is “Support the Troops”.

Who is the American Gilad Shalit? There is no figure who occupies such a place in the consciousness of the average citizen; but it should be Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The overwhelming majority of Americans, including those supporting the continued U.S. military intervention in foreign countries are likely unfamiliar with his name, but he is a U.S Army POW captured by the Taliban in 2009 and still believed to be held by them today. He has a bit in common with Gilad, they are both the same age (25), the same rank, and both have parents who have tried through their own efforts to bring awareness to the continued incarceration of their sons. The difference is that Gilad became a cause celebre among the people of his own country, while Bowe continues to suffer in obscurity. Where is the outcry and demand for his freedom among the war cheerleaders, but more importantly where is it from the average citizen?

Let me be clear, I am fiercely opposed to the war in Afghanistan, but the blame for its continued prosecution (and the crimes against humanity all such wars and occupations inevitably entail) does not ultimately lie with the average soldier sent over into an impossible situation. Sgt. Bergdahl’s father released a video earnestly (which I HIGHLY recommend you to watch), directly appealing to the Pakistan military as well as his captors in the Haqqani Network to release his son; a step presumably  taken in light of the apparent  ineffectiveness of his appeals to the U.S. government. There is no one who can watch this father’s appeal and not conclude that he and his family are not also victims of the war; nearly as out of sight and out of mind in the media as its Afghan victims. Their son has been a POW for nearly three years, their only glimpses of him coming through intermittent video releases, the last being over a year ago. His image is unknown to the average American, his name is obscure and his fate is not brought up in public discussions of the conflict.

War has myriad victims, the overwhelming majority of whom having no voice in the popular discourse yet suffering the consequences of others ill-thought out and malicious decisions. People like David Frum, Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer beat the war drums and implore others to go kill and die for their ideologies, but it is Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis and American servicemen (and, if the aforementioned individuals have their way in the future, Iranians) who actually deal with the grave consequences of what their words represent. “Support the Troops” is a hollow slogan used to stifle debate, but it is not actually practiced in a meaningful way. Bowe Bergdahl is an American, and the U.S. citizenry should take it upon themselves to advocate his cause. “The Troops” are not a propaganda tool to be used to promote more warfare, they are individuals, as are Afghan and Iraqi citizens. The Israeli government has committed crimes against humanity and is on the whole not admirable, but the overwhelming commitment of average Israelis to alleviating the plight of a single one of their citizens is, and should be emulated by Americans and others. For Americans, an appropriate place to start would be with their own Gilad Shalit.

Occupation and Co-optation: The Tea Party to Occupy NYC

 

The outraged, indignant, and unrefined message of tens of thousands of individuals who have taken to the streets of New York and other cities across the United States these past weeks that “we are the 99%” signals the arrival of something as inevitable and predictable as it is fantastic. Occupy Wall Street is another expression of populist anger over rising economic inequality and corruption, unfocused but very real, that has manifested since the financial collapse of 2008 and the unprecedented display of corporate socialism which occurred thereafter. The bailout of financial institutions whose reckless behaviour caused the crash coupled with the austerity and tough-love capitalism shown to the homeowners and working individuals whose lives were devastated by its effects was the one-two punch that led many people to begin seeking alternatives to a status quo which no longer seemed tenable. This was channelled in different ways by different individuals. For some the financial crash itself (pre-bailout) led them to embrace what was at the time viewed as a message of ambiguous yet transcendent “change” from Barack Obama, and led others to take to their communities and embrace the grassroots populism of a nascent political movement which came to be known as the Tea Party.

What was the Tea Party about and what was it protesting? Despite differences in culture and in tone it would seem that many (though absolutely not all) of its grievances run parallel to many of those of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Populist Tea Party anger over the financial bailout and government corruption are naturally related to the anger over government malfeasance which has been expressed by many individuals taking part in Occupy protests across the country. Corruption and perceived failure of leadership is a theme that they both share and which seems to brand the two movements as relatives, albeit estranged.  A seed planted in two different locales will grow to resemble something different but its roots are the same regardless where it is. Cultural differences are extraneous to the overlap between many of the core issues both movements grew to address, and differences of character between participants in both movements have certainly been exacerbated by those in media and government who caricature them for their own purposes. It remains to be seen what Occupy Wall Street will become, and by no means is it identical to the Tea Party, but the reflexive drive of those in the media to demonize its participants while ignoring their core message closely mirrors how the Tea Party was caricatured before it was, safely once and for all, co-opted.

Millions of people around the country took part in Tea Party rallies, many of them for the same ambiguous yet viscerally emotional reasons that have led people today to take part in hundreds of Occupy rallies across the United States. Such a display of popular self-determination unharnessed and un-channelled into existing political structures was quickly recognized as an unacceptable threat to the status quo by those in the political establishment who are wholly invested in the maintenance of the present order. Politicians and media personalities, those well integrated within the present power structure of the country began to show face at Tea Party events and made promises to address the demands of the protestors while at the same time subtly steering the movement in a direction that would for them be less subversive and more useful. Movements are malleable, especially when they grow from the grassroots and gain the interest of powerful individuals and institutions. The Tea Party slowly but surely began to be identified less with any legitimate populist movement than with the Republican Party itself, as well as its various operatives and pseudo-celebrities within the media and popular culture. A movement that was created in part to confront official corruption and cronyism vis-à-vis the corporate world is now a recipient of funding from the Koch brothers and is the “sponsor” of countless status quo GOP politicians who pay lip-service to some of its ideals while continuing to maintain business as usual within Washington DC. There are many theoretically “Tea-Party” politicians sitting in Congress today but are they really in tune with the actual demands of the movement whose banner they took up? Is John Boehner faithful or contemptuous of the demands of millions of people whom his party convinced to channel their energy into the Republican Party? The GOP recognized, harnessed, and eventually co-opted what was the Tea Party and used it to accomplish its own goals while largely extinguishing the movement itself. What existed for a brief moment as a legitimate and virulent protest against the failures and abuses of government became another perverse curiosity in Washington DC, neutered of any capacity to effect real change. The “movement” is now another hollow badge to be worn by status-quo politicians and discarded in a few years once it is no longer useful.

All this leads us back to the crowded, energized streets of New York, Boston, San Francisco and countless other cities today. A new movement has coalesced, again from the grassroots and again galvanized in anger and outrage at government corruption and cronyism. The contours and aesthetics are different, but the same populist ferment is there, and with it the same potential for either magnificent success or abject, cynical failure. The same forces who saw the Tea Party and knew that it could (and must) be co-opted and utilized for their own purposes have already set their eyes on the people in the streets today, but this time they come from the supposed left instead of the right. Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama and the same crew of establishment politicians have recognized both an opportunity and a threat in the Occupy movement and by expressing support for it have begun the process of co-opting and making it irrelevant if the need should arise.

When people like Van Jones or Michael Moore, tell you to vote for Democratic politician X it is worth asking yourself, “If I want to change the status quo, why would I vote for someone who is wholly invested in maintaining the status quo?” How can you vote your way to change when you are voting for people for whom change is totally counter to their interests? This is how promising movements get co-opted and ultimately destroyed, when the energy that gives birth to them is channelled into the same pre-existing structures which they were created to challenge in the first place. The real enemies of Occupy Wall Street are not just faceless financial oligarchs and corrupt bureaucrats, but anyone who says, for instance, that voting for Barack Obama in 2012 is the solution to the country’s problems. A defunct and seemingly decrepit establishment needs a complete reboot, not more hollow promises from those who have so utterly failed and betrayed their constituents already. If politicians or parties arise which are faithful to what the people demand then by all means fight for them, but giving new energy to those who have already shown themselves to be corrupt and ineffectual will lead to Occupy Wall Street being just one of many potentially powerful movements to be co-opted, used, and discarded by those they were created to confront.

Murder by the State

Murder by the State

“Those about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls, may God bless your souls.” These were the last words of Troy Davis before being executed by the State of Georgia on charges of first degree murder stemming from a shooting incident which took the life of a police officer. To his last moments Davis maintained his innocence, but despite serious questions regarding his guilt his appeals were denied. He died on September 22nd 2011 at 11:08PM, strapped to a gurney, his veins filling with sodium penathol.

Executions are not an extraordinary occurrence in the United States, Davis was the 36th person to be executed this year and the 1267th since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. It is an accepted part of the legal system that the state has the power of life and death over its citizens, and the exercise of that power is relatively regular and mundane. It is worth noting that this power is exercised even more liberally over individuals whom the state does not jurisdiction over, as hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan citizens have come to find out through no culpability of their own.

What was interesting in the outcry over Troy Davis’ execution was the reaction of many individuals to his death. Prospect of his innocence aside, there was a general revulsion and feeling that “something had changed” in the country that allowed such an act of devastating, methodical violence to occur. How could the government, that benevolent if sometimes confused entity which safeguards both freedom and order allow such an event to occur? How could they have had such a callous and relaxed attitude towards the taking of a life? It is good that people ask these questions (although sadly it seems as though the issue is already being drowned out in the hyperactive noise machine which is the popular media). The reality is that the manner in which Troy Davis’ life was taken, one which did not respect life by taking it only in the absence of doubt of innocence, is the modus operandi for the state in how it operates across the world.

“We think its worth it.” is how Madeleine Albright characterized the deaths of an estimated 500,000+ Iraqi children from sanctions when the question was posed to her. The destruction of huge amounts of life, undoubtedly innocent life; the life of children, justified and executed by government technocrats with the same clinical detachment as those who inserted the needle into Troy Davis’ right arm. His execution could only have been shocking to a person who is completely oblivious to how the government operates in their name, without their specific consent or often, knowledge. As much of a miscarriage of justice Davis’ case appeared to have been, he had still been granted the right to some sort of trial and hearing however flawed and inconclusive. On a daily basis people are killed by the state in a way not dissimilar to Mr. Davis, but without even the pretext of a judicial process respecting the sanctity of their life. “Suspected militants” are murdered every day in faraway places just as “suspected cop-killers” are murdered at home; just as much people, just as potentially innocent as Troy Davis may likely have been. Don’t forget about Troy Davis, remember who killed him and scrutinize his murderer as closely as you would scrutinize one who lives on your block. Nothing is new or innovative here; this is standard operating procedure. When you go off fighting monsters you inevitably become one, whether you are taking lives at home or abroad. If his death affected you in any way, please fight to honour his passing by circumscribing the ability of the state to destroy life; and stop it from creating millions more Troy Davis’ in every corner of the world.

Identity and Conflict



Faced with a world of violence and seemingly intractable conflict, it is tempting for an individual to view current events as part of a grand narrative of inter-civilizational antagonism which has always existed and will always continue to exist; simply as a result of human nature.  The way one views contentious and oft-emotional issues such as the Israel-Palestine conflict is inevitably coloured by their view of their own identity in relation to this conflict as well as their view of the identities of the parties involved. The idea that the conflict is one between “Muslims and Jews” is one that is one that is tempting for its simplicity, and it indeed has been taken by individuals across the political spectrum as being an easy explanation to an immensely complex issue. While there are undoubtedly religious overtones to the conflict on the ground level (like many other conflicts around the world that happen to be between different communities), this explanation ignores the existence of other parties such as Palestinian Christians as well as some Arab Israelis who have served in the IDF and the Israeli government. The conflation of a political conflict, one which is not unique in history, with a cosmic religious battle is bad for all parties involved, making the possibility for eventual peaceful coexistence more remote and causing negative externalities across the world.

The bigger problem with this identity driven view of conflict is that it has for many people become one of the defining aspects of their own conception of self; the self in opposition to the other. Being a Muslim or a Jew should rightly encompass a set of morals and cultural practices which have little or nothing to do with politics let alone with passing ideologies or contemporary conflicts which are always fought for reasons more political than transcendent, regardless of what demagogues on all sides try and claim.

The resulting situation we have today is one where many Jews around the world see their own identity inextricably tied to the nation state of Israel, and many Muslims also see it as a key part of their own identity to be in opposition to this state. This is not good for Palestinians and Israelis nor Muslims and Jews, as it leads individuals to view the situation uncritically and with a degree of emotion that makes rational action and thought nearly impossible. It also inevitably feeds xenophobia and leads to the demonization of individuals in parts of the world remote from the conflict simply due to the fact that their personal identity has become identified with this brutal conflict. A conflict between Palestinians and Israelis has resultingly become one between Muslims and Jews in the minds of many people, a situation that is dangerous and also breeds apathy in that the conflict becomes viewed as inevitable “because Jews and Muslims have been around forever and thus this has been going on forever”. This ignores the shared history of peaceful coexistence Muslims and Jews have had with each other throughout history, and which they continue to have with each other in many places around the world apart from the current centre of conflict (such as North America).

Judaism and Islam, and the communities of people around the world who identify with the morals and practices of these religious are an unimpeachable part of the human family and are beyond reproach inasmuch as they  continue to reflect their true teachings and are not perverted or used as a means to attack others. The state of Israel is not unimpeachable or beyond reproach, it is a modern nation-state and it is involved in a military occupation with all the resulting human rights violations and crimes against humanity which this type of undertaking by necessity entail. However nothing about Israeli actions reflects on Jews or Judaism; identifying oneself completely with a nation-state or an ideology will inevitably lead one into this type of logical trap. There is nothing about Judaism which condones occupying, dispossessing and killing others; quite the opposite. The conflation of Judaism with Israel gives cover to those real anti-Semites who do exist and it makes the conflict more difficult to solve by clouding rational judgement. In addition, Muslims should not see it as part of their faith to attack or oppose Israel, nor to make provocative calls for its destruction. This type of uncritical and oft-hysterical rhetoric further convolutes the issue and turns it into a religious war where it is in fact a political one. This is exacerbated when crimes occurring in Muslim countries are nearly ignored but those committed by Israel are denounced regularly, a perception of hypocrisy develops which does not help the pursuit of peace and justice and leads others to logically conclude that deep seated bigotry is at play.

None of this is to suggest that one should not have a position on this issue and be vocal about their convictions, merely that it is better that it be approached as a human rights issue rather than a religious one. If people are inveighing against others only on this conflict in places such as houses of worship and religious conventions, regardless of whether religion is brought up it becomes a religious issue. Human rights issues can be solved, religious issues cannot be solved. Turning an issue into a biblical battle will ensure that it is never peacefully resolved. The degree to which the Israel-Palestine conflict has turned into a Muslim-Jewish conflict is truly tragic; for the global communities of both faiths as well as for the Israelis and Palestinians themselves. This is especially so when Muslims and Jews have had, across thousands of years before the contemporary period, a conspicuously positive relationship with each other which has now devolved into suspicion and enmity. This conflict is unique in that it has reverberations that are felt around the world. Whether we are Jewish or Muslim let us try to look at it in a new light that allows us to use our judgement and does not make it a religious duty to oppose each others identity or most closely held beliefs. Human rights is a concern not unique to any faith, giving both Palestinians and Israelis the right to live in peace and security is a duty of all believing Muslims and Jews and only in approaching the world from this perspective can there be ever be a future of peace and prosperity in the holy land and beyond. A just an equitable solution would be the most likely outcome if Muslim and Jewish communities around the world looked at Israel and Palestine as a shared problem to be resolved instead of a war between each other to be endlessly fought.

Western Muslims and the Nexus of Loyalty and Militarism

In the midst of Peter King’s congressional inquisitions into the purported radicalization of American Muslims and against the backdrop of rising domestic hysteria over the supposedly subversive intentions of Islam in America, a recent Gallup poll provided insight into how Muslims actually view themselves and their place in the United States. Overwhelming majorities say they consider themselves to be loyal U.S. citizens and feel confident in their future as Americans. Greater than 90% of Muslims say that they reject the ideology of terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, and Muslims are the most likely of any religious group to believe that violence against civilians is always unjustified, regardless of the perpetrator. Despite their general feelings of confidence in and loyalty towards America, Muslims as a community continue to be subjected to indiscriminate scrutiny and harassment from law enforcement agencies and government, as well as from significant minorities among other ethno-religious groups within their own country. 48% of American Muslims report to have been target of discrimination within the past year, a figure which has no doubt been influenced by hatred and mistrust resulting from a full decade of war and conflict between the U.S. and Muslim majority countries.

One of the consistent criticisms levelled by critics against the American Muslim community is that Muslims are “not American when it comes to war”; the implication being that they have not been unquestioningly supportive and compliant with the past decade of war and occupation to a degree satisfactory to those who have advocated for these actions. Aside from the troubling assertion that within a democracy dissent is somehow undesirable or inherently suspect, it can be observed that those purportedly “loyal” to America have in fact led it down a path of self-destructive behaviour from which it is not able to easily extricate itself. How “loyal” were the Americans who consciously fabricated information, invented false narratives, and maliciously stifled opposing viewpoints with the intention of terrifying their fellow citizens into waging an unprovoked war of aggression? What fealty do those who wish to cut the lifelines of the most desperate Americans show to their country today?

It should be taken as given that in a healthy democracy the freedom to voice dissent without recrimination upon ones loyalty is an absolute necessity. Muslim Americans are twice more likely to say that distrust towards the U.S. from Muslim-majority countries is a result of U.S. actions and not “because of who we are”; an extremely convenient and juvenile explanation which a cadre of unscrupulous U.S. leaders fed to a susceptible public. The demonstrably sound and logical advice that a foreign policy which disregards human rights and international law may engender anti-American sentiment abroad has been demonized and cast as a disloyal and un-American suggestion of itself. Muslims who are American yet still capable of providing insight and understanding of the sentiments of their countries of origin have been discouraged to do so for fear of appearing as a subversive fifth column. This has been to the significant detriment of democracy and to the robust marketplace of ideas which should filter out poor ideas such as imperialism and endless, ever-expanding war.

Slavish adherence to narratives used to justify open-ended global war without clearly identifiable goals or metrics of success is neither loyal nor beneficial to America’s future. The conflation of militarism with patriotism has proceeded to such a degree that now entire ethnic groups within American society can be demonized and targeted by the state for their reluctance to unquestioningly support policies which are inherently destructive to America itself. A decade of war with the Muslim world, combined with the conscious and deliberate demonization of Muslim-Americans by unscrupulous and opportunistic politicians and media figures has helped to turn a segment of society, which statistics have shown to be overwhelmingly loyal to the ideals of America, into an “enemy within” in the eyes of many of their fellow citizens.

While there does exist a threat from extremists in the Muslim community, this threat has most often emanated from solitary individuals, similar to the terrorist threats which have emanated from other religious communities. Study upon study has shown that the threat of terrorism against the United States from these individuals is not commensurate to the level of scrutiny and suspicion which Muslims in general receive, and that the strongest defense comes from developing trust between Muslim groups and the broader community itself. It is unlikely and unrealistic to expect that American Muslims will ever engage in the cheerleading for militarism that many find them lacking in, and some will continue to view this as grounds for charges of disloyalty or worse. The best antidote for this increasingly fraught situation is to call for an end to the perceived conflict between the United States and the Muslim world at large. Hatred and demagoguery is the necessary by-product of prolonged war; the United States has a Muslim population which is overwhelmingly well-integrated, productive and socially engaged. Sacrificing this relationship on an altar of hatred and demonization, and most importantly, in pursuit of ill-defined, self-destructive goals which are causing huge detriment to the American citizenry as well to the global standing of the U.S. is both morally and strategically questionable. Inasmuch as the acid test for “loyalty” in society will continue to rest upon the degree to which individuals support nihilistic militarism, America can only maintain its generally cohesive and harmonious society by putting to an end the prolonged wars which are slowly tearing at its diverse social fabric; one of its most unique features and one of its greatest sources of strength and moral authority.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers