Racism against indigenous Americans, 1776 and settler colonialism

Rick Santorum, conservative political commentator and former US Republican senator, remarked in a speech that there was nothing on the American continent prior to European settlement. The latter, he opined, built civilisation from a blank slate. While he partially retracted his comments, his statements can occur only because of widespread and ongoing ignorance about the indigenous nations.

Nick Estes, assistant professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico, wrote that it is racist ignorance which allows Santorum to claim that white Europeans ‘birthed from nothing’ the nation that became the United States. This issue is more important than the rantings of individual conservative commentators. Estes makes the crucial point that while the US government recognises genocides in other nations – the Armenian genocide being the latest case – there is stubborn resistance to the recognition of indigenous genocide.

Writing in the Washington Post, Glenn Morris and Simon Maghakyan state that the denial of indigenous genocide runs deep:

Denial of the genocide against indigenous peoples by the United States is rampant. The massacre of Native peoples — from Mystic River, Gnadenhütten and Sacramento River to Bear River, Sand Creek, Camp Grant and Wounded Knee (and the fact that most readers have probably never heard of these) — is evidence of American amnesia about its homegrown genocide.

Indeed, the United States as it exists today took shape and reached its extent because of two related yet distinct processes – indigenous oppression and transatlantic African slavery. We tend to think of both these processes as historical and terminated, relics of a long-gone obsolete past. This limits our understanding of American capitalism and its conjoined twin, white nationalism, today.

While competing European colonial powers acquired colonies in the New World at the expense of the indigenous peoples, they were united by two necessities; the subjugation of the indigenous, and the importation of African slaves to economically build their colonial possessions. We like to think of slavery as an institution separate from capitalism – the slave owning Southern states versus the mercantile and capitalist North. This is superficially true, but a deeper examination leads to a different conclusion; slavery was instrumental in the development of American capitalism.

The crucial importance of slavery for the development of capitalism was understood by Karl Marx, who wrote that:

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement, and entombment in mines of the indigenous population of the continent, the beginnings of the conquest and plunder of India, and the conversion of Africa into a preserve for the commercial hunting of black skins are all things that characterize the dawn of the era of capitalist production.

Settler colonialism began to take shape. It is true that rival colonial powers threatened their opponents with the prospect of arming fleeing slaves. France and Spain had separate armed detachments of freed African slaves on the condition that they convert to Christianity, and fight rival colonial powers, namely Britain. The mainland settlers, already apprehensive about the possibility of a slave uprising, viewed the machinations of the European colonial states with increased anxiety.

Arming former slaves – at least the threat of such action – was a mechanism for slave owning states to compete on the American mainland for colonies. In fact, inter-European rivalry took a lethal turn with the eruption of the Seven Years War, with England the eventual winner. The American mainlanders, having witnessed the slave uprisings in Jamaica, Barbados and the Caribbean, were worried about the growing numbers of African slaves in their midst. In many ways, the 1776 American war of independence was not just an anti-British uprising, but a pro-slavery measure as well.

What solidified the European push to conquer indigenous lands, and hold down the African slaves? The invention of whiteness as a distinct racial category. The notion did not spring fully formed from the brain of one individual, but took on a life of its own during the westward expansion of New England, and the victory of the American patriots against the English crown. Inter-European divisions, while not resolved, were put on hold. Protestant versus Catholic, England vs France vs Spain vs Portugal vs the Netherlands were subsumed within the greater project of imperial expansion.

In fact, the racialisation of whiteness is the most successful application of identity politics in history. Born of the slave trade and indigenous subjugation, whiteness was a new category which consolidated the emerging American ruling class. The ultimate victims of this project were the so-called ‘red Indians’, the indigenous nations. The slave owners were defeated in the American Civil War, and this opened up the possibility of westward conquest for the mainland settlers.

Settler colonialism requires systematic violence to achieve economic and political dominance. It is more urgent than ever to recognise that the settler colonial state of the United States committed genocide against the indigenous peoples. That would constitute a minimal and necessary step on the road to justice for the dispossessed nations.

Harun Yahya, creationism and a media empire

Adnan Oktar, better known by his pen name Harun Yahya, is a Turkish Islamic creationist, cult leader and televangelist. He was sentenced to 1075 years for sexual offences, abuse of children and running a criminal organisation. A pseudo intellectual, Yayha distributed creationist literature and DVDs worldwide, and established a particular theologically-based cult of creationism.

Arrested in 2018 along with 200 of his followers, Oktar was sentenced earlier this year. His imprisonment gives us an opportunity to examine the rise and fall not only of this particular televangelist and cult leader, but also to examine the creeping influence of creationism – and its modern-day theological equivalent, intelligent design – on our own society.

Oktar’s pseudoscientific-based theology, a version of Islamic creationism, reached widespread audiences in the millions. Beginning his career as a TV speaker, railing against Jews, Freemasonry, Communism and evolutionary biology – all of which are interlinked enemies in his fevered imagination – he reached the high point of his fame with his 800-page Atlas of Creation. Distributed to leading academics, scientists, museums, journalists and experts across the world, he claimed to have refuted evolution which he mischaracterised with the scare-word ‘Darwinism’. That book was only one among many produced by Yahya’s burgeoning media empire.

It would be a mistake to dismiss Yahya as a crackpot or lunatic. He organised a very politically-and-business savvy empire, replete with educational materials and devoted followers. In 2007, Yahya seemed to be on top of the world, with access to a vast TV audience and increasing influence for his creationist views. While his sect was the subject of numerous sex scandals and legal investigations, in 2011 he started his own online TV channel.

Surrounding himself with blonde-dyed, sometimes scantily-clad young women – whom he called his ‘kittens’ – Yahya continued his prolific efforts to purportedly debunk evolutionary biology, and reach an English-speaking audience beyond his dreams. With his TV platform, backed by his Science Research Foundation, Yahya seemed unstoppable. His Versace harem was gaining popularity. But his fall was not long in coming. The Turkish authorities finally caught up with him and his sexually-charged proclivities.

The denial of evolutionary biology, not unique to Yahya, enabled him to make friends in numerous unexpected places. Yahya emerged from the turbulent political milieu of the 1980s, when the Turkish military and associated far rightist paramilitaries were attacking the labour unions and the Left. Yahya found his voice by advocating an Islamic-Turkish Union, a pan-Turkic neo-Ottoman project combining the various Central Asian republics. He found a readymade scapegoat for the ills afflicting Turkey – the nefarious Jews.

The Turkish ultranationalist Right, imbued with racism towards non-Turkic peoples, advocated a conspiratorial worldview. The Jews, along with doctrines perceived to be ‘western’ in origin, were targeted. This included the phantom of ‘Darwinism’ – a scientifically meaningless term, but one with sinister undertones.

Evolutionary biology, by positing natural causes to explain the diversity and radiation of species, was seen as a frontal assault on the notion of God and the supernatural. The notion of ‘Darwinism’ was mobilised by Yahya, among others, to denounce the materialistic godlessness of the West – backed up of course, by the always conspiratorial Jews.

His attacks on atheism and the associated bogeyman of ‘Darwinism’ gained Yahya adherents among ultrarightist Zionist Jews and orthodox rabbis. While Yahya had penned books in the 1990s denying the Holocaust, this did not stop him from gaining a platform in Israeli media, allying with equally far right Zionist politicians. Ultranationalist Israelis have long desired to replace the Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem with a Third Temple for Jewish people to pray – a position Yahya has spoken of sympathetically.

His organisation has cultivated links with Christian creationist figures in the United States as well. The anti evolutionary message of Yahya’s publications has found receptive audiences across the globe. There has been extensive analysis of the evolution-creation debate already, and there are numerous resources debunking Yahya’s publications. These topics can be discussed in another article.

The purpose here is to demonstrate that while proponents of creationism – and is modernised incarnation known as ‘intelligent design’ – wrap themselves in the mantle of academic freedom and scientific inquiry, advocate a strongly political theocratic project. Yahya may be an outlier, but he is hardly alone or an exception. The United States has its own equivalent televangelist Yahyas, misdirecting the public on science education.

Does every single creationist belong in gaol? No, of course not. Is every televangelist a serial sex pest? No, they are not, although there growing numbers of them being exposed as moral hypocrites. Yayha was held accountable for his crimes, arrested in 2018, and gaoled earlier this year. It is high time to closely scrutinise the activities of the cultish televangelists in our own midst.

Haitian workers in the Bahamas struggle to rebuild after Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian hit the northern Bahamas in September 2019. Making landfall early that month, the Category 5 hurricane devastated the communities of Abaco and the Grand Bahama Islands. The scenes of destruction were indescribable, with 84 deaths and hundreds missing. At least 70 000 have been left homeless.

What is important to note here is that thousands of Haitian migrant workers, living in shanty towns and upon whom the tourist industry depends, face stigma as ‘outsiders’ and are fighting the prospect of deportation. The Haitian population, resident in the Bahamas for generations, perform all the menial and low paying jobs which sustain the tourist marinas and luxury hotels. Haitians farm the land, work in construction and repair the infrastructure used by wealthy Bahamians and incoming tourists.

Haitians must undergo a rigorous and onerous process to register as a Bahamian citizen, and most Haitian workers are undocumented. Seeking refuge from the political violence and US-backed dictatorships that have plagued their home nation, the Bahamas provided an opportunity to start a new life – a reasonably wealthier country in the Caribbean.

Hurricane Dorian not only left a trail of destruction and trauma, but also exposed the economic inequalities that underscore the capitalist structures in the Bahamas. The Mudd, once a shanty-town home to thousands of Haitians, was flattened in minutes. As David Smith wrote in The Guardian newspaper:

Natural disasters often expose the gap between the haves and have nots and Dorian was no different. While the Bahamas has a reputation as one of the most desirable tourist destinations on earth, its luxury hotels and homes depend on a life support system of fishermen, hotel workers and laborers. Once again, it is the poorest who have been hardest hit when catastrophe strikes.

While the Bahamas is a tourist paradise – and an offshore tax haven – it comes at an enormous social and economic cost. International business entities in the Bahamas do not have to pay corporate tax unless the income is generated locally. The nation is also one of the most starkly unequal societies in the Caribbean.

Let’s get one misconception out of the way – the question which inevitably arises after such an extreme weather event is – ‘was it caused by climate change?’ Such a question is misleading, because no single weather event – not hurricane, flood or drought – can be individually attributed to human-induced global warming. The more fruitful question would be ‘was this hurricane worsened by climate change?’ The emphatic answer is Yes.

The oceans absorb enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, and warming surface waters contribute to the energy of hurricane formation. The duration and ferocity of hurricanes is increasing, with Dorian being the severest one to hit the Bahamas. Dorian had one minute of 185 miles per hour winds. The country has been struck by hurricanes in recent years – in 2016 with Hurricane Matthew, and 2017 with Hurricane Irma.

The majority of the victims of the 2019 hurricane occupied shanty towns – makeshift ramshackle residences – of the Abaco Islands. This indicates that the relationship between the Haitians and Bahamians was fraught with inequality prior to Hurricane Dorian. The Bahamian tourist economy was heavily dependent on Haitian day labourers, and the government has maintained their temporary status through a series of bureaucratic and legal measures.

As the survivors have fled into shelters, and accommodate wherever they can find it, the Bahamian government has ramped up the existing xenophobia. Haitians, while of similar Afro-Caribbean heritage as their Bahamian counterparts, face discrimination and cultural hatred, dismissed as lowly-educated buffoons only fit for labouring work. The government in Nassau has taken steps to ‘reclaim’ land once occupied by Haitian workers.

The prime minister, Hubert Minnis, has lamented the generational devastation of Hurricane Dorian, but has not actually defended the Haitian community from racial hatred. When visiting the catastrophic scenes in Abaco Islands, he deliberately made a gesture of kicking in the door of a shantytown home, denouncing illegal immigrants, and declaring that he will do his utmost to make them leave. The attorney general stated that any Haitians who have lost their jobs ‘need to go home’ regardless of whether or not their work permits have expired.

Before any Australian readers sympathise with the statements of the Bahamian government and repeat the oft-heard contemptuous phrase – ‘ go back to where you come from’ – consider the following. Haiti is already a food-insecure nation, with running water, electricity and health care scarcely available. In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, thousands of Haitians became refugees, and sought work in the Bahamas.

Haiti was forcibly occupied by the United States in 1915, and has endured repeated interventions in its internal political and economic affairs in the years since. The resultant political instability in that nation prompted an outflow of Haitian refugees.

Rather than resort to lazy, obnoxious slogans, it is high time for the Bahamian economy to look after its Haitian labourers. In times of crisis, whether a hurricane or a pandemic, it is the cleaners, caterers, labouring people and health care workers who keep the economy going.

Albert Einstein, social justice and his relationship with Zionism

Albert Einstein (1879-1955), the world’s first celebrity-scientist, thought deeply about physics, and originated the theories of special and general relativity. The ubiquitous image of him is that of the disheveled, shaggy-haired absent-minded professor, delving deeply into scientific problems, but unable to remember where he last left his coffee cup.

This stereotype, while appealing, is also quite misleading. As much as Einstein worked on physics problems, he also thought deeply about social justice and anti racism issues. He used his platform to speak out against racism and antisemitism. Having witnessed, and been victimised by, European antisemitic bigotry, he supported the efforts of the Jewish community to organise themselves, but remained critical of the Zionist nationalism inherent in constructing the Israeli state.

Einstein was nonreligious, abandoning the tenets of Judaism at a very young age. He maintained a rationalist perspective – not the monotheistic God of divine origin and supernatural revelation, but a logical pantheism in the manner of Spinoza.

He was also a cultural Jew, and did his best to support the Jewish community. Europe, and in particular Germany, was experiencing a resurgence of anti-Semitism in the immediate aftermath of military defeat – the end of World War One. That antisemitism motivated Einstein to support Jewish efforts to construct their own future.

Einstein joined up with the Zionist movement to build the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Founded in 1925, Einstein cooperated with Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organisation (WZO) to promote its construction. Attending the opening of the university, Einstein hailed what he viewed as the progress of secular, scientifically-inclined Jews to build a new society where Jewish people would feel safe and free.

However, he was a critic of nationalism and militarism, and he opposed the militaristic trends in Zionism. Attending the Sixteenth Congress of the WZO in 1929, Einstein was widely known to be a non-Zionist participant. In various speeches and public pronouncements, Einstein distanced himself from the ideology of Zionism. For instance, in 1938, he stated his desire to see a binational state within the borders of Palestine, and was appalled by the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian towns undertaken by armed Zionist forces.

On his single trip to Palestine, Einstein warned that building an exclusively Jewish state constitutes a repudiation of the spiritual nature of Judaism. He was elaborating his opinion that Zionism, with its army and militarised-garrison ideology, was in contradiction to the spirit of the Jewish faith. He warned of a narrow nationalism overtaking the Jewish people in the process of building the Zionist state, and opposed any partition of Palestine.

In 1948, Einstein, along with numerous Jewish-origin intellectuals, signed an open letter to the US government and President Truman. The purpose of this letter was to warn the Zionist-supportive US administration of the racist and fascistic tendencies in the newly-recognised state of Israel. Condemning the Herut party, the political expression of the Irgun terrorist gangs that had massacred Palestinians, Einstein and his co-signatories described Herut in its methods and philosophy as closely akin to Nazi and fascist parties.

Herut is one of the constituent forerunners of today’s rightwing Likud party, headed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The significance of this letter, written so soon after the end of World War 2 and the Holocaust, cannot be underestimated. Einstein and his co-thinkers demonstrated the gulf that separated pro-Zionist politicians and the wider humanist community. In fact, if Einstein were alive today, he would face condemnation as a ‘self-hating anti-Semite’ from Zionism’s political partisans. Offered the presidency of Israel late in his life, Einstein refused.

In 1919, with observational confirmation of Einstein’s equations of general relativity, he became a scientist-rock star. In 1921, at the behest of the WZO, he traveled to the United States for the purpose of promoting – and fundraising for – the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Greeted by cheering crowds in New York, his celebrity status was confirmed. He never rested on his laurels – he deployed his fame to speak out against racism and the European drift to war.

While Einstein was still in Germany, he joined the international campaign to free the Scottsboro boys. The latter were a group of nine teenage boys falsely accused of rape by a white woman. A miscarriage of justice, their convictions, and the attendant racism upon which the case was built, was challenged by the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), the Communist party USA, and various civil rights organisations. Einstein used his platform to attack racial segregation in the United States.

This was not just a once-off occurrence. Einstein befriended and supported African American activists, such Paul Robeson, and the first black Harvard University PhD graduate WEB Du Bois. Einstein, making Princeton University his home ground from 1932, mixed with black neighbourhoods in racially-segregated America, gave impromptu lectures, and supported civil rights for African Americans.

He routinely refused honorary degrees – regarding them as illegitimate credentials; but he did make one notable exception. Invited by Lincoln University, an African American institution, to give the commencement address in 1946, Einstein condemned racism as a problem of white people.

Whether he was critiquing Zionism, or American racism, Einstein the celebrity-scientist stayed true to his social justice commitment. While never an official politician, he was never afraid to speak out about contemporary political issues.

The Israeli elections, ultranationalist parties and a victory for the late Meir Kahane

The latest Israeli elections have produced an electoral stalemate, but it was also a victory of ultranationalist and far right parties that collectively ascribe to the philosophy of Kahanism. The Israeli far right can best be understood as the ideological successors to the doctrines of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, an ultrarightist and Judeo-supremacist political operator.

While his party, Kach, never achieved mainstream success during his lifetime, the parties that trace their ideological origins to Kahanism can best be described as the Israeli equivalent of the KKK. Kahane himself was assassinated decades ago, but his ultranationalist and Judeo-supremacist ideology looms large in Israeli society. It is to these Kahanist parties, including the KKK-equivalent Jewish Power party, that current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is appealing for political partners to establish a coalition government.

Institutionalised hateful incitement is the role that Kahanism plays in Israeli politics. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his Likud partners, tolerate this incitement of anti-Arab hatred, and welcome its inclusion in the mainstream.

This was the fourth general election in two years; political instability is set to continue, with electoral deadlock the outcome. Netanyahu’s Likud right wing bloc secured 52 seats, short of the necessary 61 to govern outright in the 120 seat Israeli parliament, the Knesset. The other seats are occupied by various ultranationalist and soft Left parties, whose only common feature is hostility to the Likud.

The Kahanist far right parties, while having their tactical differences with each other, strongly agree on the basic platform of anti-Arab racism, expansion of settlements in occupied Palestinian Territories, and maintaining Judeo-supremacist character of the Zionist state.

Netanyahu embraces the far right

While Kahanism has remained on the margins of parliamentary politics, there is no doubt that Netanyahu and his far-right supporters have consciously cultivated cooperative relationships with Kahanist parties. Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of the Kahanist Jewish Power party, has routinely called for the expulsion of the Palestinians, advocated the expansion of Israeli settlements leading to annexation, and has praised Israeli Kahanist gunman Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Palestinians in 1994 at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

The Religious Zionist party, of which Jewish Power is a part, has long advocated for a strictly Orthodox religious basis of Israeli society, platforming fundamentalist and homophobic views. These are the plausible coalition partners that Netanyahu is considering bringing into government.

During the election cycles, the Likud party – and its Labour Party rivals – have adopted and platformed ultranationalist talking points. Calling the Arab minority a potential fifth column, Netanyahu has done his utmost to demand the continuation of settlement building, denouncing concessions to the Palestinian Authority as treasonous, and passing laws to maintain the Judeo-supremacist character of the Zionist state.

In fact, what Netanyahu’s political calculations have done is expose the logical continuity from so-called mainstream Zionism to Kahanism. The late Rabbi Meir Kahane, during his brief time in the Knesset, did make one correct observation – the state of Israel could either be exclusively Jewish, or democratic; it could not be both. When Zionist politicians condemn and outlaw mixed marriages (between Jews and non-Jews), and denounce relations between Jews and Arabs, they are unwittingly exposing the Judeo-supremacist and nondemocratic nature of the Zionist project.

Not outside the mainstream

Parties such as Jewish Power, and its Kahanist cousins, have attracted their fair share of condemnation, to be sure. However, the ideology they represent are not outliers, nor are they completely outside the mainstream of Israeli society. The construction of a Jewish Ulster – and Zionism is the equivalent Orange Order of the Jewish community – then numerous Meir Kahane-types are bound to arise.

The late Rabbi Meir Kahane, born in the United States in 1932, devoted his life to promoting a militant ethnic chauvinism combined with religious nationalism. As a young man, he worked with the FBI, advocating pro-Vietnam War sentiments on college campuses as the student and antiwar movements were gathering momentum. However, it was with the Judeo-supremacist ideology of Zionism where he found his natural calling.

Condemning the secularism he found in Israeli society, Kahane found a position of marginalised, but appreciated, respectable extremism. While his efforts to found a new political party were doomed to failure, the ideas he advocated found a receptive far right audience inside Israel. Eventually losing his seat in the Knesset, Kahane returned to the US. He was murdered by an Egyptian-born American gunman in November 1990.

After Kahane’s death, the mantle of Kahanism was taken up by various ultrarightist forces, and eventually working their way back into the Knesset. However, a parliamentary seat was not necessary for the Israeli far right to thrive – in November 1995, a Kahanist militant assassinated then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, for the ostensible reason that Rabin signed the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians.

The 2021 elections will only further expose the far right trajectory of official Israeli politics, and showcase the malign but ultimately foreseeable influence of Kahanism. Let’s dispense with the tired and worn-out cliche that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, and instead have an honest conversation about dismantling Israeli apartheid.

Greco-Roman societies, Western civilisation and whiteness – we need to redesign the classics

Ancient Greece and Rome are endlessly fascinating societies, collectively called Greco-Roman antiquity. The Classics, as they are commonly known, are taught in universities across the English-speaking nations. Greco-Roman societies, their philosophy, literature, art and class structures, provide lessons and parallels with contemporary communities. Studying them on their own merits is great – but do not learn about them to construct an imagined community of whiteness called ‘Western civilisation‘.

Rebecca Futo Kennedy, Associate Professor of Classics at Denison University, makes the following point:

An important point to emphasize: one can have histories of antiquity, of Europe, of the US, without recourse to the imaginary identity of ‘western civilization’. There are more programs in the US today (classics and history) that don’t use the term ‘western civilization’ than do and still teach the histories of these regions and people. And the histories are still fascinating. What removing the language of western civilization does is allows these histories to exist more so on their own terms than tied to an artificial justification of white superiority.

The study of Greco-Roman antiquity has taken a battering in our neoliberal age. Corporatised universities have been cutting funding for the Classics, and shunting students into supposedly more lucrative areas, such as business and languages. The Classics usually gets derided as a fast track to unemployment and irrelevance, and classical scholars have long lamented the decline of their profession, stressing the contemporary relevance of Classics subjects.

However, the popularity of the Classics has not waned, but in fact increased, among one particularly telling group – the Alternative Right, which is a euphemism for the ultranationalist white Right. We will examine the reasons for their Classics advocacy in a moment, but for now let’s make one important observation. The Alternative Right’s obsessive preoccupation with Greco-Roman societies is not unique or original, but derives from the mainstream scholarly concern of “Western civilisation.”

The concept of a “Western civilisation” is an imagined community, a constructed continuity from specifically Greco-Roman civilisations right down to today’s white majoritarian societies, namely Britain and the United States, but also Western European nations (to a lesser extent). Indeed, the term ‘western civilisation’ was created by mainstream scholars for the precise reason of lassoing the Greco-Roman antiquity into a historically-cemented identity of whiteness.

The narrative of ‘western civilisation’, while grounded in mainstream conservative endeavours, appeals to the ultranationalist white Right. Interpreting ancient history through the retroactive prism of whiteness, the Alt-Right’s partisans have found philosophical rationalisation of their bigotry and misogyny. Quoting the works of Homer and Ovid, modern-day white supremacists have found ancient writers a source of historical ‘authority’ for their modern political prejudices.

By making Greco-Roman antiquity the ground zero starting point – and tracing all our philosophical and scientific achievements from there – we are necessarily excluding the accomplishments of the ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern civilisations that do not neatly fit into a monoracial lily-white version of history. The Roman Empire, long considered the pinnacle of cultural-scientific success by the partisans of the British empire, was very multicultural. In fact, Greco-Roman societies lacked any conception of race as an exclusionary characteristic.

There were numerous ancient civilisations whose scientific and philosophical legacies reverberate down the ages, and to whom we owe an enormous debt – Babylonians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Mesopotamia, Persians – no need to go on. While we are all familiar with the story of Alexander III of Macedon – popularly known as ‘the Great’, how many of us are familiar with the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, who rebuilt Babylon after its liberation from Assyrian rule?

When Professor Mary Beard, an expert on Roman history, described a BBC illustration of a black soldier fathering a family in Roman Britain, she faced a torrent of online abuse, insults and attacks. Apparently accepting black persons – in this case, North African (Numidian) as being part of Britain’s ancestry caused enormous consternation in conservative circles.

The outrage over this BBC cartoon reflects the deeply-held notion of ‘whiteness’ as a key defining factor of those societies that see themselves as part of ‘western civilisation.’ Conservative commentators have heavily invested their respectable academic careers in this imagined community. This is in line with the modern right wing agenda to downplay – and repudiate – the contributions of nonwhite minorities to Anglo majoritarian nations.

Earlier we mentioned Alexander the Great, the King of Macedon (and the united Greek city-states) who conquered the formidable Persian empire. In his wake, he brought the culture of Hellenism. However, the Persians remember him, not as a ‘great’ figure, but a cultural and religious vandal. His forces destroyed Zoroastrian temples and artefacts – then the religion of Persia. While Alexander’s military genius has been admired in our universities, his destruction of the ancient city of Persepolis remains forgotten.

The empire that Alexander conquered was one of the largest, successful and culturally enriched civilisations, arguably the greatest prior to its conquest by Hellenic forces. The soldiers of Alexander despised Persia, but were also envious of its remarkable cultural accomplishments.

The purpose of redesigning the Classics is not to censor every single ‘dead white man‘ – by no means. It is not intended to demolish the entire profession, or dismiss the importance of Greco-Roman antiquity. The goal is to reclaim the Classics for the people, repudiate the embedded white supremacy, and make the study of ancient Mediterranean societies accessible, inclusionary and enjoyable for everyone.

Ten years on, the results of the NATO intervention in Libya are disastrous

This month marks ten years since the beginning of the NATO bombing campaign in Libya. Launched on the spurious pretext of ‘protecting human rights’, the bombardment of Libya resulted in the toppling of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and the installation into power of CIA-backed Islamist rebels. The US administration at the time, under President Obama, intended to effect regime change and seize Libya’s extensive oil assets.

The bombing of Libya, it was claimed by the Obama-Clinton administration, was undertaken to protect Libyan civilians protesting the rule of Colonel Gaddafi. This excuse turned out to be transparently false. The imperialist states, led by Britain and France, began a mad scramble for Libya’s oil reserves in the immediate aftermath of the Gaddafi regime’s ousting. Obama, in a 2016 interview, claimed that the biggest mistake of his presidency was the ‘lack of planning’ for a post-Gaddafi Libya.

We will return to this pathetic and tired excuse of ‘failure to plan’ later. For now, let’s make a number of relevant observations, taking a historical perspective. Under Gaddafi, Libyans had the highest standard of living in Africa, ranked in the Human Development Index. The oil wealth of the nation was distributed to its citizens, and health care was available to all. Libya had the lowest infant mortality rate, and had the highest life expectancy in Africa.

Today, ten years after the NATO bombing campaign, the country remains mired in ruins and militia-chaos. The health care and electricity systems have all but collapsed. Fractured into warring regions, two rival governments compete for authority. The new Libyan governing militias, composed of Islamist fundamentalist groups, participate in the trading of black African slaves. Refugees from sub-Saharan Africa are making their way to Europe, using Libya as a transit point.

After ten years of lawlessness and violent conflict, Libya is a failed state, where the majority of its people live in squalor. Bearing that in mind, it is interesting to read an editorial from the highly-esteemed New York Times. In a column called “Can Libya Put Itself Back Together Again?“, the writers admit that Libya is fractured, blame the ‘lack of planning for rebuilding’ by the Obama administration, and set out reasons for the post-2011 chaos. However, they avoid mentioning the main reason why Libya is stuck in anarchy – the 2011 NATO intervention which broke the nation in the first place.

The Obama excuse – lack of planning for rebuilding – does not stand up to scrutiny. In fact, it is ludicrous to suggest this tired, worn-out cliche, considering that the Libya intervention was conducted with the full knowledge and participation of then US President Obama, his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and his Vice President Joe Biden. Intelligence gathering and sharing, the use of armed drones, and the deployment of CIA-recruited Islamist fundamentalist rebels were all measures adopted with the permission of the Obama administration.

As Eric Draitser wrote in Counterpunch magazine, the disastrous state of post-2011 Libyan affairs was not the result of hawkish Republican neoconservatives;

No, it was the great humanitarian Barack Obama, along with Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Susan Rice, Samantha Power and their harmonious peace circle of liberal interventionists who wrought this devastation. With bright-eyed speeches about freedom and self-determination, the First Black President, along with his NATO comrades in France and Britain, unleashed the dogs of war on an African nation seen by much of the world as a paragon of economic and social development.

This is not the first attempt at overt or covert intervention in Libyan affairs. The effort to topple the Gaddafi regime extends over decades. The man appointed to lead the Libyan rebels in 2011 is General Khalifa Haftar (sometimes spelt Hifter), a former army general who defected in the mid-1980s. Recruited by the CIA and relocated with his family to Virginia, he led several unsuccessful attempts to overthrow the Gaddafi administration.

Provided with armaments and logistical support, the Libyan Islamist rebels and Haftar, backed up by NATO sorties, overthrew the Gaddafi regime, and in October 2011, Gaddafi himself was murdered by a lynch mob. The anti-Gaddafi Libyan exiles, based in England, the US and other nations, provided the foot soldiers for the rebel cause. In fact, the Manchester bomber, who detonated a bomb at Manchester arena in 2017, was himself a Libyan rebel who had fought for the anti-Gaddafi cause.

It is interesting to note that while anti-Gaddafi Libyan refugees were welcomed in the capitalist nations of Europe, since 2011, refugees from Libya and sub-Saharan Africa are met with a range of hostile militarised responses. The European Union has used the Mediterranean Sea as a maritime barrier to refugees escaping from the horrendous conditions in Libya.

Dissecting the hypocrisies of the imperialist states is basically a full time project. The Libyan intervention of 2011, a criminal and predatory undertaking, has been disguised as a humanitarian‘ enterprise. The international powers who currently act in Libya are doing so for the purpose of extending their economic and military powers. It is time to condemn the criminal war against Libya in the same manner we have denounced similar predatory wars in the past.

The Myanmar coup, Aung San Suu Kyi and Buddhist nationalism

It has been one month (actually a bit longer) since the February 1 military coup in Myanmar (Burma) and the ousting of former State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. There have been numerous analyses in the media about the coup itself, Suu Kyi’s role, and the politics leading up to it. Mass sustained protests have brought the popularity into direct confrontation with the Myanmar generals, and the coup’s leader General Min Aung Hlaing.

Myanmar is a Buddhist majority nation. That fact, coupled with the near-universal admiration of Aung San Suu Kyi, has contributed to a widespread misconception which hinders our understanding of the military regime. In the West, the religion of Buddhism (at least, the version we are offered by way of the Dalai Lama and Richard Gere) is associated with meditation, harmony and universal tranquility.

In line with Buddhism’s ostensibly pacifist underpinnings, we also hear the claim that Buddhism is not a religion at all, in contrast to the Abrahamic cousins (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Attempting to rescue that faith from the charge of violence, Buddhism is viewed as a ‘way of life’, or even a ‘mind science‘, with deference to modern psychology. We may also see the ludicrous attempts to reconcile quantum physics with the ancient precepts of Buddhism – the pseudoscientific quantum woo.

The military-monastic complex

The claim that Buddhism, in contrast to the monotheistic faiths, lacks a history of violence does not stand up to scrutiny. The monastic complex, inextricably bound up with the Myanmar military, has a long and bloody history of religious and political violence. Aung San Suu Kyi, while advocating a multiparty plurality to shore up her democratic credentials, is a strong proponent of Buddhist supremacism. The monks have not remained on the sidelines, but have incited violence and ethnic cleansing, particularly against the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Buddhist monks and soldiers make up an army of faithful to take up the crusade against the Rohingya Muslim community. Respected Buddhist abbots – the equivalent of our clerics – have denounced the Rohingya as Muslim ‘invaders’, whose hyperfertile women breed like ‘cockroaches’ for the alleged purpose of conquering Myanmar. The Buddhist organisation Ma Ba Ta, the shorthand reference for Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, is known for its social welfare work, and for advocating genocidal violence against the Rohingya Muslim community.

In Foreign Policy magazine, authors Artinger and Rowand explain that Myanmar’s Buddhists have never been reticent in agitating for (and using) violence in pursuit of ethnocentric goals. Prior to the February coup, thousands of monks demonstrated in favour of the military, the Tatmadaw. As Foreign Policy explains:

The military advances the goals of Buddhist nationalists by protecting Buddhism against the Muslim threat, and Buddhist nationalists provide the military with religious and cultural permission for their atrocities.

Ethnic cleansing

Aung San Suu Kyi, while criticising the military’s grip on power, never challenged the Buddhist supremacism underlying military rule. In fact, she has gone out of her way to defend Myanmar’s policy of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya Muslim community. Suu Kyi became the West’s favourite politician in Myanmar because of her promotion of privatisation and IMF-style economic reforms. When one promotes neoliberal changes, one’s majoritarian racism gets a free pass.

The main targets of ethnic hatred in Myanmar have been the Rohingya people. Predominantly residing in Rakhine state, they have been excluded from citizenship in a form of ethnic apartheid. Portrayed falsely as ‘invaders’, the Rohingya have been subjected to discrimination and persecution by the Myanmar authorities. Since 2017, the military launched a sustained offensive in Rakhine province, killing thousands of Rohingya Muslims and driving more out as refugees.

During all this time, Suu Kyi deliberately defended the military’s campaign, denying that it amounted to genocide, and spoke of Islam as an ‘existential threat’ to the Buddhist way of life. When the International Court of Justice (ICJ) charged Myanmar’s military with genocide, it was Suu Kyi who rushed to the military’s defence. Her Islamophobic rhetoric corresponds to the outlook of European ultranationalist politicians.

The democracy icon has fallen from favour in the West. Rather than being an icon, she has more in common with late Israeli political figure Golda Meir. Both advocated a racist nationalism which turned a blind eye to the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim populations in their respective nations. Suu Kyi was not the only one to contemptuously dismiss claims of Rohingya genocide.

In 2017, at the height of the military’s ethnic cleansing campaign, there were no mass protests against that particular criminal undertaking. The assault on the Rohingya Muslim community was met with virtual silence, although there have been some protesters over the last month raising the Rohingya issue. It is interesting to note that Rohingya refugees, stuck in Bangladeshi refugee camps, condemned the military coup, but blasted Suu Kyi’s complicity with the military and Buddhist supremacism.

While the cement of Buddhist nationalism remains unchallenged, the military-monkhood complex will continue to shape the political order in Myanmar – in an authoritarian and ethnonationalist direction. Aung San Suu Kyi has done her part to maintain this state of affairs.

Revoking citizenship, Australia’s NIMBYism and avoiding responsibilities

New Zealand-born Australian woman Suhayra Aden has been stripped of her Australian citizenship by the federal government. Accused of Islamic State affiliation, she was detained by Turkish authorities. The latter, initially charged Aden with IS-related charges, but later dropped them and began deportation proceedings. Currently Aden, and her two children, are languishing in the Al-Hawl refugee camp in northern Syria.

She retains her NZ citizenship. Though born in NZ, Aden had been living in Melbourne since the age of six. Raised and educated in Australia, she did have dual citizenship, until the federal government recent revocation. Aden had traveled to Syria in 2014 on the Australian passport, and both governments of NZ and Australia discussed what to do should she ever return.

By canceling Aden’s citizenship, the Australian government adopted the laziest, parochial path of least responsibility. The Morrison government, adhering strictly to the relevant legislation, followed the course of leafblower diplomacy. What does that mean? A leafblower pushes the leaves off your territory, and they become someone else’s problem.

The following image is not mine, and is included here only for educational purposes. Copyright belongs to the creator of the picture, not me:

While the image above refers directly to the issue of asylum seekers, it applies equally to the global NIMBYism demonstrated by the Australian authorities. NZ Prime Minister Ardern levelled heavy criticisms of the Morrison government’s cowardly ducking of responsibility. Ardern stated that Canberra was “exporting its problems”, abdicating responsibility by washing its hands of Aden.

Legal experts in NZ criticised Australian authorities’ handling of this issue, saying that by divesting Aden of citizenship, they were practically handpassing the ball to NZ. Associate Professor John Ip, from the faculty of law at the University of Auckland, described Morrison’s actions as legalised NIMBYism.

Cancelling citizenship for overseas fighting offences is problematic at best. While Aden travelled to Syria in 2014, there is no actual concrete information about what she did there. Once the mere accusation of terrorism is levelled, the person is convicted in the public eye. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) admitted in one of its articles that the Turkish government has in the past, accused people who simply lived under IS-rule of terrorism, when there was no actual evidence of their role as combatants.

At the time Aden travelled to Syria, the US, British, and associated allied governments, including Canberra, quietly if not openly supported the various Islamist fundamentalist rebel militias fighting to overthrow the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. The Saudis, Turkey and similar ‘frontline’ states were actively supporting and financing fundamentalist rebel groups, and these organisations attracted recruits from around the world. The foreign policy establishment in Canberra did not question the consequences of training armed Islamist militias, and what would follow should the secular Arab nationalist Syrian regime be successfully toppled.

The Syrian problem arose, from the perspective of Washington, London (and Canberra) when the wrong Islamist fundamentalist militia was strengthened in Syria – Islamic State. The preferred proxies of the West found themselves weakening with the rise of IS. Clandestine American military aid – and the inflow of non-Syrian recruits – was going to the wrong side. The corporate media suddenly ‘discovered’ the ultra-sectarian and violent nature of the militias opposing the Syrian regime.

The policies of Washington, and Canberra, created conducive circumstances for the outflow of non-Syrian foreign fighters. Of course, no Australian or American official openly stated ‘go join the Islamist rebels.’ Actually, the late Republican Senator and war-enthusiast John McCain, encouraged his government to assist the ‘right people‘ in the Syrian conflict. When Australian citizens, encouraged by the friendly policies of their government to the Islamist rebel cause, end up as foreign fighters, we must acknowledge our responsibility in creating the Syrian war.

The Syrian regime has largely defeated the rebel groupings, and the non-Syrian fighters are returning home. The UK, adopting the tactic of citizenship revocation, has used that measure against Shamima Begum, the British-born woman who travelled to Syria to join IS in 2015. She was stripped of UK citizenship in 2019. The UK government has argued that Begum, being of Bengali background, can go and live in Bangladesh, even though she is British-born. Begum has never resided, or even visited Bangladesh.

The Australian federal government is following the UK’s example, engaging in its own act of sordid opportunism with regards to Aden. Morrison, taking his cue from his Tory ideological forebears in the UK, is sending a clear signal to Australians of Muslim heritage – your citizenship can be taken away, and you don’t really belong here. Audrey Macklin, human rights expert at the University of Toronto, states that conservative governments trade in the implicit understanding that citizens of brown skin do not ‘really belong’.

Macklin writes that non-white and non-Christian citizens can be easily excluded, for instance through citizenship revocation, because they can return to their ‘real’ country of origin. Permanently temporary seems to be the category to which non-white migrants and refugees are assigned. This formalises the underlying ‘go back to where you come from‘ anti-immigrant xenophobia which pervades Australian politics.

Should Aden be treated with a ‘soft’ approach? No, of course not. She cannot face justice if she is permanently barred from returning to Australia. Her decision to join IS – if that allegation is true – is horrendous. It is our responsibility to step up and ensure that she is held accountable for her actions – which is the standard we (should) apply to every Australian. Flimsy presumptions of guilt do not constitute evidence.

Ancient Egypt-mania, preserving antiquities and why Indiana Jones is an archaeological looter

On any given day, you may find numerous documentaries about ancient Egypt – just do a cursory search on YouTube to find multiple results. The Indiana Jones movie franchise increased interest in and public awareness of archaeology. That is all well and good, except for one pertinent fact – Indiana Jones is a treasure hunter, and his behaviour is more in line with archaeological looting.

Let’s examine this subject.

Archaeologists today would have no problems with punching Nazis – as Indiana Jones does. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jones replaces a gold statue with a sandbag and hightails it out of the cave – the behaviour of a looter. He shows no curiosity about the numerous traps in the cave, how they worked and survived intact over the centuries, resistant to humidity and natural deterioration. The indigenous tribes turn out to be hostile and treacherous, cooperating with Belloq, the villainous French archaeologist who steals the artefacts that Jones retrieves.

While Spielberg blended fact with fantasy, he overstepped the mark by portraying the French character Belloq as a deceitful and opportunistic villain. If not for the painstaking and persistent hard work of the French – and in particular, Napoleon Bonaparte – Egyptology would never have taken off as a branch of archaeology.

When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, he brought with him not only soldiers, but an army of scholars, scientists, researchers and writers to collect and document ancient Egyptian artefacts. Prior to Napoleon, Greece and Rome were known through Europe as ancient civilisations. The French expedition broadened the knowledge of Europe to include Egypt as an equivalent ancient civilisation. National Geographic wrote that:

Along with 35,000 soldiers, more than 160 scholars and artists traveled to Egypt in 1798. Officially known as the Commission of the Sciences and Arts of Egypt, this group would end up making a greater contribution to history than the French fighting forces. Their careful work, carried out over many years, would give birth to the field of Egyptology in Europe and reveal to the world the history of the grand civilization that had ruled along the Nile for millennia.

French illustrators painstakingly drew detailed drawings of what they found, and numerous engravers reproduced plates of the archaeological findings in Egypt. In the era before photography, everything had to be reproduced by hand. Multivolume collections were produced, and French scholar Jean-Francois Champollion was the first to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs, opening up that ancient language to a modern audience.

With all due respect to Hollywood filmmakers, Indiana Jones and Brendan Fraser fighting the curse of the mummy, ancient Egypt was the first regional state and had philosophy, grand architecture and remarkable civilisational achievements.

The French military expedition to Egypt was defeated, and the British moved in – taking with them most of the Egyptian antiquities, although the French were able to keep the illustrations and documents they created. Egyptian artefacts ended up in the British national museum. This raises an interesting question – Indiana Jones, alone out of all the archaeological competitors, wants to retrieve artefacts for museums. A noble goal, but we have to ask – which museum?

Jones is endeavouring to steal antiquities, not for the museums of the country in which he operates, but for either British or American museums – precisely the behaviour of an archaeological looter. Jones may be an appealing, wise-cracking character with a fedora hat whose handy with a whip – but that has nothing to do with archaeology.

The main impression – implicit yet important – in the Indiana Jones movies is the white saviour, an outsider motivated only by the purest of intentions, risks life and limb to help the native civilisations preserve their archaeological artefacts from unscrupulous foreigners. What exactly is this implicit theme based upon? If anything, the American presence in archaeologically significant sites has been destructive and disrespectful to the local ethnicities.

When it comes to the Mesopotamian civilisations, we may see that the natives looked after their archaeological heritage very effectively. Mesopotamia – modern day Iraq – is home to ancient cultures. Archaeological looting had been a recurring, if not severe, problem in 20th century Iraq. The only time in Iraq’s modern history that archaeological treasures were preserved, looters heavily punished, and archaeology seriously promoted, was under the regime of the Iraqi Ba’ath Party and its leader the late President Saddam Hussein.

The Iraqi Ba’ath party, cultivating a strong Iraqi nationalism, heavily increased funding for archaeological research, implemented school and university programs for the study of Mesopotamian civilisations, and constructed protections for Iraqi antiquities. The Iraqi leadership was trying to portray itself as the legitimate inheritors of the Babylonian legacy, and read Iraqi history along nationalist lines. The BBC, ever prone to exaggeration, emphasised the personal aspects of Hussein’s presidency.

Even the BBC had to admit that archaeology flourished under the Ba’ath party’s leadership. Stealing archaeological treasures in Ba’athist Iraq incurred heavy police-state penalties. The 2003 American invasion of Iraq was devastating for archaeology, with widespread looting permitted by the invading authorities. Iraq today is slowly but surely working towards recovering its stolen artefacts.

If you wish to enjoy the Indiana Jones movies, please do so. Just bear in mind that he is not so much an archaeologist, but a treasure hunter; a male Lara Croft with archaeological pretensions.