Texas – a failed state with blackouts, but high-tech border walls

The Texas electricity grid breakdown, and the confluence of disastrous consequences, is a window into a climate-change future.

Millions of Texans are still freezing, and are having to cope with the total failure of the state’s electricity infrastructure amid a severe winter storm. Texans are struggling to acquire drinking water, the snowstorm freezing water pipes and rendering them inoperable. Water supplies remain contaminated as water plants cannot function.

The medical system in Texas has been thrown into chaos due to the snowstorm and subsequent electricity breakdowns. Hospitals are running out of essential equipment, and no power means patient care is deteriorating. Hypothermia is a very real danger for many vulnerable patients, and several state hospitals are on the brink of total collapse. Houston hospitals are conserving precious water by collecting rain water to wash out the toilets and remove faeces by using trash bags.

Energy experts were warning, years ago, that such an environmentally-driven disaster impacting the electricity grid was waiting to happen. This cascading catastrophe, and the lack of preparation for weather-based scenarios, stems from the fanatical opposition to renewables as an energy source, the exclusive promotion of fossil fuels as a basis for corporate profit, and a stubborn refusal to accept the scientific consensus of human-induced climate change.

Justin Worland, writing in Time magazine, states that the current social disaster in Texas was no surprise. In fact, experts had been warning that such a catastrophe was on the cards:

Ten years ago, in 2011, energy regulators warned the state’s electric-grid operators that they were ill-prepared for an unprecedented winter storm. And for decades before that, climate scientists had cautioned that a warming planet would cause climate chaos, raising the average global temperature while driving unusual weather events like this one. For Texas, it was always just a matter of time.

This catastrophe comes on top of the ever-present pandemic, and the Covid-19 vaccine rollout remains disrupted due to the severe weather conditions and blackouts. Minority communities in Texas are suffering especially hard, given the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the lack of affordable health care for the poor, and now the collapse of the electricity grid.

Texas disconnected its power grid from the US, because of an obsessive ideological fixation on ‘intrusive government authority.’ Combine that with continued talk among Republican lawmakers about the secession of Texas from the Union, and you may see the contributing factors in this current disaster. The unfettered ‘free market’ and removal of regulations helped to create a system vulnerable to breakdowns.

Talk of secession has all but dissipated in the aftermath of the critical infrastructure failures in Texas. Outspoken Republican Senator Ted Cruz fled to the comfort of Cancun, thus showing his contempt for the millions of his fellow Texans suffering privations. His conduct, reminiscent of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Hawaiian holiday while Australia experienced its worst bushfires, demonstrates that the wealthy will flee from difficult circumstances for shelter and warmth.

Reality, in this case the effects of climate change, intrude and upend people’s xenophobic preoccupations. Spending the last four years, at least, demonising Hispanic migrants and refugees, and building high-tech border walls, has done nothing to improve the lives and living standards of ordinary Texans.

The Republican Party has consistently dominated Texan politics for decades. Their climate change denial, and fanatical obsession with ‘free market’ capitalism, has held sway in Texas for years. Today, Texas stands as a failed state. The ideology of maximising corporate profit, and ridiculing every move at government regulation as ‘socialism’, has brought Texas to its current catastrophic condition. An oil-and-gas rich state such as Texas has problems providing electricity to its own people.

Coddling the rich with favourable economic policies has been the core guiding fiction of the Republican Party, though this is not to let the Democrats off the hook. Mocking government regulations and health/environmental safety standards with the shocker-word ‘socialism’ is a tactic not confined to the Republican Party. However, it is the doctrine of capitalist neoliberalism, implemented in Texas in unimpeded form, that has resulted in the inability of the state to care for its citizens.

One of the adverse impacts of the winter storm was is the severe disruption of the state’s fruit and vegetable crop production. Stores are running out of food, and it is easy to find images of long queues of Texans, lining up to buy bread, milk, groceries and common products. Pictures of empty shelves and long queues from Texas are powerful and heart-rending. They remind me of the shabby point-scoring by Eastern European emigre communities, circulating pictures of food queues in their home nations to allegedly prove the failure of socialism.

There is no reason why the United States cannot solve its own economic and social problems. At the same time that we were reading about the disaster afflicting Texas, we also received news that NASA’s Perseverance rover, deployed for a mission to Mars, successfully touched down on that planet. The technical and scientific expertise that went into that mission is extraordinary.

There is no question that the Americans have the scientific expertise and ingenuity to send space missions. Yet the challenges of climate change, the pandemic, and the collapse of the Texan electricity grid, remain unsolved. While not counterposing space exploration with other scientific ventures, it is time to re-examine priorities – pictures from Mars are awe-inspiring, but do not help the Texans freezing to death, sheltering in gymnasiums, and scrambling to protect themselves with meagre resources.

The drive for corporate profits and the deregulation of the Texan electricity market surely require reexamination after this terrible disaster.

Hong Kong, Ugandan Asians and imperial-service refugees

The speed with which Britain, the US and Australia offered refugee status to Hong Kongers protesting the Beijing government contrasts sharply with the harshness and punitive nature of mandatory detention handed out to refugees from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine and other nonwhite nations.

Emma Graham-Harrison, writing in the Guardian, highlighted an underlying reason why the UK government, in the aftermath of Brexiteer turmoil, responded with alacrity to Hong Kongers:

A large and rapid influx of people from Hong Kong is likely to be a financial boon to a Britain battered by Covid-19 and the end of the Brexit transition period.That would be a financial blow and a political embarrassment for China. Bank of America estimated in a recent report that departing Hong Kong residents could trigger capital outflows of HK$280bn (£26bn) this year alone, as people sell property and withdraw pension funds. Government figures put the “net benefit” for the UK at between £2.4bn and £2.9bn.

This idea that refugees are an entrepreneurial rocket boost, in the words of Jeevan Vasagar, is based on imperial-nostalgic stereotypes.

The hypocrisy of the Leave campaign’s premise has been – perhaps unintentionally – exposed; that refugees and migrants are a ‘burden’ on the economy. The basis of the Brexit vote was an anti-immigration economic hysteria, and stopping the alleged ‘influx’ of resource-sapping migrants and refugees was the main goal of Tory Brexiteer claims. Now, the Johnson government has opened a ‘pathway to citizenship’ for up to five million Hong Kongers – an influx of refugees if there ever was one.

Imperial-service refugees

Throughout the far-flung, now defunct, British Empire, specific ethnic communities were implanted by the British authorities for the purpose of shoring up the imperial project. Hong Kong was established as an entrepôt, and Uganda’s Asians formed a similarly-entrepreneurial community. Uganda’s Asians, insular and pro-colonial, constituted an anti-African racist constituency in the racial pyramid of the white supremacist British empire.

The tribe from which I originate – Armenians in Egypt – are a very similar pro-colonial minority, internalising the imperial outlook of their British masters. Adopting a hostile mindset against the majority nation – Arab and Muslim Egyptians in this case – imperial-service communities make for good media copy when they undergo political turmoil in their host country.

Ugandan Asians, while victims of racism, were also perpetrators of the colonial mindset. Targeted by the administration of General Idi Amin, the Asian community were expelled en masse, and took up refuge in Britain. Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath advocated the cause of Uganda’s Asians in the 1970s. Never matter that Amin had been a long-term British asset, and became demonised in the corporate media after he turned against his former paymasters.

Heath responded to the anti-immigration sentiments of his fellow Conservatives by appealing to the moral grounds of the Ugandan Asian refugee case. Gone was the overblown rhetoric about the ‘ economic burden’ of refugees; the mythical ‘flood’ of migrants was nowhere to be seen. 25 000 Ugandan Asian refugees were accepted by Britain, and they and their descendants went on to have successful lives.

Hong Kongers and Australian anti-Asian racism

The Australian government has been very receptive to calls for providing a safe haven for Hong Kong residents. Coverage of the Hong Kong protests have been very sympathetic, routinely referring to protesters as ‘pro-democracy.’ Note that the sustained, large and politically motivated protests by the poor in Haiti are described as ‘anti-government‘, thus subtly undermining their political legitimacy.

Much was made of a proposed extradition law between China and Hong Kong which, its critics claimed, would have allowed Beijing to crack down on politically-dissident Hong Kongers. However, let’s have some truth in advertising before we proceed. The extradition law was proposed in the wake of a gruesome crime by a Hong Kong national. Having murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan, the man returned to Hong Kong – Taiwan does not have an extradition treaty with HK.

The proposed law specifically defined extraditable crimes, and ruled out political opposition as a basis for extradition. The bill also provided the HK Chief Executive with the power to review and refuse extradition requests. However, Hong Kongers, playing up to the Sinophobic anxieties of the western powers, claimed that the proposed extradition treaty was political in nature. For more detail about the extradition bill, you may read here.

The Hong Kongers made their political affiliations very clear when they waved the Union Jack, and demanded that former US President Donald Trump intervene militarily to ‘save’ Hong Kong. In fact, the main advocates of the Hong Kong protests have deliberately allied themselves with far-right and racist Americans politicians, the latter sworn enemies of Black Lives Matter and anti-racism. When your allies are fanatical regime-change neoconservatives, you are exposing to the world exactly what kind of politics you stand for.

When your pathway to self-determination is paved by the National Endowment for Democracy, and your demands specifically reject solidarity with other oppressed and marginalised ethnic communities, then it is time to question the direction of that pathway.

The Australian government must take this opportunity to re-examine its refugee policy, and stop refugee demonisation. Otherwise we will only indulge in a self-congratulatory exercise, cynically portraying sanctuary for imperial-service refugees in a humanitarian disguise.

Long distance nationalism, diaspora politics and statues of Nazi collaborators

In Blacktown, western Sydney, there is an unassuming yet significant statue, which deserves examination. On the grounds of a Serbian Orthodox Church, there is a statue honouring wartime Serbian General Dragoliub ‘Drazha’ Mihailovic. Commander of the Serbian Chetniks, it is flanked by the Australian, Serbian and Chetnik flags.

What is the significance of this statue of wartime Serbian Chetnik commander Mihailovic? The fact that he was a Nazi collaborator and war criminal, under whose command Chetnik units massacred thousands of Bosnians, Croats and non-Serb ethnicities. Building a statue to commemorate the career of a Nazi collaborator helps to revive the doctrines of white supremacy and racial inequalities in the current era.

Mihailovic’s Chetnik movement, while theoretically opposing the 1941 German invasion of Yugoslavia, ended up collaborating with the invading Nazi and Italian fascist forces. Mihailovic concluded that the Yugoslav resistance, headed by the Communist Partisans under Josip Tito, were a threat to his authority in any post-occupation Yugoslavia. Chetnik commanders actively worked with German and Italian military units.

Committed to the cause of conservative royalism and extreme Serb nationalism, the Chetniks committed numerous acts of homicidal ethnic cleansing to ensure the creation of an ethnically pure ‘Greater Serbia.’ As the tide of the war turned against Nazi Germany after their defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad, the Chetnik leadership began to make secret overtures to the western Allies. Their acts of resistance to the Axis powers was always minimal and driven by opportunistic considerations – their ideological affinity was with the fanatical anti communist and fascist powers.

This statue is not an isolated example; across the Anglo-centric world, statues of fascist accomplices have risen, and with them a dangerous rewriting of history to absolve them of their heinous crimes. Forward magazine has compiled extensive evidence of the spread of monuments to Nazi collaborators around the world.

Since the early 1990s, these antisemitic killers and racists have gained importance in their countries of origin as nationalist and anticommunist heroes. Their corresponding diaspora communities, many dating from the end of World War 2, helped to create ultranationalist histories which rationalised and justified their Nazi collaboration.

Ukrainian nationalism

In the immediate aftermath of WW2, Canada provided sanctuary for thousands of ultranationalist Ukrainians, fleeing Eastern Europe. They established their presence in their adopted nation, and immediately began constructing a cult of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), and its leader Stepan Bandera. The OUN, and its associated armed wing, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) were the main antisemitic and Nazi collaborator organisations which assisted the invading Germans in the 1940s.

Structured as a fascistic and racist organisation modelled on the Croatian Ustasha, the OUN set about creating an ethnically cleansed Ukraine, massacring Jews, Poles, Russians – all the while helping the German military. After the Soviets scored major victories against Germany, the OUN militants made overtures to Britain and the United States. The OUN’s followers have disingenuously claimed ‘the Germans forced us to do it’ – a hollow lie which does not stand up to scrutiny.

Finding refuge in Canada, the Ukrainian ultranationalist diaspora built monuments to their former OUN leaders. The cult-like worship of the OUN has served as a social cement, forging a distinctive ethnic identity for the Ukrainian newcomers in the new Canada. The OUN and Bandera worship has been conducted under the rubric of multiculturalism, the latter policy ostensibly encouraging respect for multiethnic diversity.

Canada’s Nazi monuments may seem like a narrow issue, but they have wider implications. Upholding war criminals and killers as heroes not only distorts Eastern European history, but is a steppingstone towards Holocaust obfuscation. Shifting blame away from the shoulders of those Eastern European groups who actively participated in antisemitic killings absolves the perpetrators of their culpability.

As statues of Confederate white supremacists and colonisers are coming down, it is high time question why statues of fascism’s foot soldiers still stand.

The underbelly of multiculturalism – historical mythologising

When constructing an ethnic identity amidst an Anglo-majority, there are better role models than fascist collaborators and war criminals. Cultivating a fanatical devotion – a cult – of Bandera, or Mihailovic, or Pavelic, or other Nazi accomplices – is not a healthy basis on which to build an ethnic identity. Of course Australia is a multicultural nation, and every ethnicity has the right to be respected. However, this does not mean that the ideology of imported white supremacists – the bulk of Eastern European collaborators – should go unchallenged.

The history of Ukrainian nationalism is being revamped in an ultranationalist direction under the tutelage of the current Maidan regime in Kiev. These developments have repercussions for the corresponding diaspora communities. Professor Rudling calls this long-distance nationalism, a rereading of history to serve narrow nationalistic ends. The mythologising of the OUN is an important part of diaspora politics, and feeds into the current historical revisionism sweeping through Eastern Europe.

The underbelly of Australian nationalism is the provision of sanctuary for those fascist collaborators seeking to escape justice. The doctrines of antisemitism and racial inequality are revived when we venerate the practitioners of those lethal ideas.

No, the Houthi movement in Yemen is not a proxy of Iran

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in the last days of the Trump administration, designated the Ansar Allah movement in Yemen – colloquially known as Houthis – a terrorist organisation. This measure, combined with the ongoing US-supported Saudi war on Yemen, will only exacerbate the humanitarian crisis wracking that country. Not only is this designation slanderously false, it also obscures the culpability of US and Saudi Arabia for the calamity they have created in Yemen.

The new Biden administration, after intense criticism of this designation from human rights organisations, has moved to exempt aid groups, the United Nations agencies, the Red Cross and relief groups from this classification. Nevertheless, designating the Houthis as a ‘terrorist’ group increases the likelihood of famine in the stricken nation.

The Ansar Allah group (Supporters of God), are an armed organisation of Zaydi Shias, a minority denomination within Shia Islam. They are a Yemeni nationalist group, waging a campaign against the US-supported Saudi war since March 2015. The Saudis, having implemented a strict land, air and sea blockade of Yemen, have prevented food and medical supplies from reaching that country.

The Saudi war against Yemen has resulted in catastrophic conditions, where 80 percent of the population are dependent on some form of food aid. The medical system, already under strain from the casualties caused by Saudi bombing, collapsed under the combined weight of war and the impact of Covid-19.

The corporate media, when mentioning the Houthis, almost always preface their remark with ‘Iran-backed’, or ‘Iran-aligned’. This incessant repetition is intended to convince us of a falsehood that obscures the origins of the conflict – the Houthis are proxies of Iran. This lie, circulated by Saudi Arabia’s supporters and allies, falsely portrays this conflict as a regional proxy war. This misleading characterisation ignores the indigenous roots, and causes, of the Houthi rebellion against foreign domination.

The majority of Yemeni Muslims belong to the mainstream Sunni denomination. The Shia Zaydis, a minority in their own nation, are lazily lumped together with Shia-majority Iran in a simplistic formulation. This mischaracterises the Yemen conflict as a sectarian issue. The Houthis have legitimate political and economic grievances against the Saudi-imposed government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. In fact, there are serious doctrinal disagreements between the official Shia ideology of Iran and Yemen’s Houthis.

Even if they wanted to, it would be a practical impossibility to establish an Iranian-style Shia theocracy in Yemen. The Houthis, while upholding Iran as an ideological template, have their own philosophy for dealing with Yemen’s problems. While much is exaggerated about the purported Iranian backing of the Houthis, Tehran’s influence on the group is actually quite limited.

What is important to note is that the Houthis are actively resisting the spread of Saudi-inspired Wahhabi extremism in Yemen. As Saudi influence grows in the region, the literalist and fanatical interpretation of Islam – as practiced in Saudi Arabia – also spreads. This Saudi soft power push is no secret; Riyadh’s finances enable it to publish and disseminate its version of fanatical religion around the world. The Houthis, as Shia adherents, are targeted by extremist groups as apostates and renegades.

In fact, the truly scandalous aspect of this attack on Yemen is the quiet but significant marriage of convenience between the Saudi forces with Al Qaeda fighters. The militants of Al Qaeda, a Sunni supremacist and fanatical organisation, have found a sympathetic ally in Saudi Arabia. Shared hostility to the Houthis and Yemeni nationalism have brought the US-supported Saudis and Al Qaeda together in Yemen.

This tacit alliance is not only known by policy makers in Washington, but is being actively encouraged. Al Qaeda militants, while formally denouncing their previous membership of that group, obtain American-made armaments as part of this de facto arrangement. Al Qaeda fighters have been deployed against the Houthis in further of US-Saudi objectives in Yemen.

The US-Saudi backed puppet government of President Hadi is currently aligned in a working alliance with Al Qaeda militants. While the United States is ostensibly committed to a ‘war on terror’ whose main objective is the elimination of Al Qaeda, Washington has a long history of allying with and encouraging Sunni supremacist militias in the Middle East.

The designation of the Houthis as a ‘terrorist’ group is actually a diplomatic victory for Saudi Arabia and its Al Qaeda associates. Placing the blame for the Yemen war squarely on the shoulders of Ansar Allah removes guilt for this conflict from the main culprits – the US, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf state allies. Whatever the stated intention of the Biden administration to remove this designation, we must exert maximum pressure to end US (and British) support for the Saudi offensive in Yemen.

On Capitol Hill, the Confederate and South Vietnamese flags found common cause

During the January 6 ultranationalist attempted coup on Capitol Hill, numerous hate symbols and flags flew together – incited by the far-rightist US President Donald Trump. The Confederate flag, a historic symbol of white nationalism, made for a ubiquitous appearance on that day. There were numerous far right flags and symbols, each with their own history and political significance.

However, there was one flag included in the chaos of that day, which may at first seem out of place – the yellow and red flag of the defunct South Vietnamese state.

What is the flag of the long-lost Saigon regime, doing alongside hateful symbols of white supremacy? Actually, South Vietnamese nationalists have much in common with their white nationalist and Trumpist counterparts. Let’s elaborate this subject.

The South Vietnamese community have been among Trump’s staunchest supporters. Their anti communism, combined with strident anti-China views, dovetailed with Trump’s boisterous attacks against Beijing. But common Sinophobia is not enough as an explanation for the ideological convergence between the white nationalist conservative support base and the South Vietnamese.

Both white nationalists and Saigon loyalists share not only an ultra conservative social philosophy, but also a deep commitment to the ‘lost cause’ – a retrograde and resentful sectional nationalism. The Confederate flag symbolises the conservative reaction to the progress made by African Americans, and their Anglo American supporters, since the end of the civil war.

The Saigon regime, an installation propped up by American armed forces, waged a decades-long and ultimately unsuccessful war against the Communist North Vietnam. It was an authoritarian military dictatorship, while maintaining a democratic facade. Theoretically, it boasted powerful military forces, bu corruption was eating away at its structure from within. Falling to the Communist forces in 1975, its history of torture and violence has been disguised by its partisans as an outpost of American ‘democracy’.

At the end of the war, in 1975, millions of South Vietnamese fled as refugees, making up the bulk of the Vietnamese populations settling in the US, Australia and other countries. Their conception of a militarised patriotism took hold, and became the lens through which post-Vietnam war generations viewed that conflict. The ‘lost cause’ of the Saigon regime corresponded with the Cold War aims of the United States.

The South Vietnamese acquired a kind of privileged status, when remembering and memorialising the victims of the American war on Vietnam. In a similar fashion to the fallen Confederacy, the Saigon regime became an emblem of a ‘lost cause‘, purportedly abandoned by nefarious elements in the US government. With white nationalists, it is African Americans, along with ethnic minorities and liberal ‘Northern elites’, who have conspired to rob the Anglo white community of their rightful place.

Viet Thanh Nguyen, writing in the Washington Post, noted the similarities between Confederate and Saigon regime loyalists in their nostalgia for a lost cause. This nostalgic view mythologises the regimes to which they follow, and dismisses the many victims of their ruthless and predatory policies. The millions of Vietnamese, tortured in the prisons of South Vietnam, or obliterated by the napalm and chemicals of numerous American bombings, are forgotten as our sympathies are monopolised by the cult of Saigon worship.

Victimisation by Communist authorities makes for good and popular storytelling in the corporate media. The South Vietnamese have steadily contributed towards a narrative of ‘betrayal’; their regime was defeated not by more effective military opposition, but by leftist antiwar activists, and their liberal sympathisers and civilian policymakers, in the United States. This ‘stab-in-the-back‘ mythology sits comfortably with the effort to rehabilitate the Vietnam war.

The notion of being undermined by treacherous elements in the US finds common grounds with the neo-Confederate Right, and with the modern conspiracist QAnon Alternative Right. Blaming conspiratorial forces in the federal government is nothing new for the South Vietnamese loyalists. Since the 1970s, they have heavily contributed, through their Vietnamese language media, to the mythical figure of American aviators, and military personnel, being secretly held captive in Vietnamese detention camps, after the conclusion of the Vietnam war.

This official mythology, marketed by Washington as the POW/MIA issue, was deliberately cultivated with the active connivance of the Saigon loyalist community. Fleeing South Vietnamese refugees, sensing the political opportunity, told American authorities what they wanted to hear – live captives, or at least the remains of, American soldiers left behind in Vietnam.

Agitating for the ‘last man to come home‘ from Vietnam became a story of official government perfidy – a mythical victim hood to buttress the special sympathy for the South Vietnamese loyalists. Any steps taken by successive American administrations towards normalisation with Vietnam were portrayed as ‘betrayals’ of the Saigon lost cause.

Trump, and his Republican supporters, actively platformed ultrarightist views that saw insidious conspirators lurking in the halls of power. This view is not far removed from the political perspective of the functionaries of the defunct Saigon regime. The former military officers and government officials of that regime have formed a strongly conservative, and nostalgically resentful, community.

Longing for a ‘lost cause’, and holding out hope for an eventual military victory has much in common with the apologists for the Confederacy. These conservative ultranationalist communities are not such strange bedfellows after all.

Anne Frank, European Jewish refugees and American responses to the Holocaust – lessons for today

Anne Frank, the German/Dutch girl of Jewish background, has achieved posthumous fame as a brave and principled refugee through her diaries – and rightly so. Her writings are studied in schools and colleges throughout the world.

The Franks – mainly her father, Otto – tried repeatedly to find asylum in the United States. While the US government never outright denied a visa to the Franks, Washington authorities did everything they could to thwart European Jewish refugee applications, thus abandoning those asylum seekers to a tragic fate.

The sabotage of the Franks’ numerous attempts to acquire asylum, the response of the American government to the persecution of European Jews, and the arguments against allowing Jews to settle in the US have lessons for us today.

German-born Anne Frank, along with her family, fled Nazi Germany in the early 1930s. Finding relative security in the Netherlands, the Franks’ security – as a family of Jews – was imperilled by the 1940 Nazi invasion and occupation of Holland. Dutch Jews were subjected to racial persecution, and Anne – with her sister Margot – went into hiding. From 1942 until August 1944, Anne kept an extensive diary of her experiences and observations. Arrested by the Gestapo, Anne and Margot died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, in February 1945.

Her diaries were eventually published posthumously. News reports about the horrors of the concentration camps, the legalised discrimination against Jews in Nazi Germany – and by neighbouring anti-Semitic Eastern European regimes – filtered out of Europe. America’s response, from the 1920s onwards, was to tighten immigration and refugee restrictions, impose more restrictive criteria about whom was eligible to apply, and encouraged public anti-refugee sentiments.

Otto Frank wrote multiple letters, documenting his increasing sorrow and desperation as he made attempts to gain asylum. His ultimately tragic journey was emblematic of the plight of European Jewish refugees. In fact, Jewish asylum seekers were denounced in ways that we would find familiar today when discussing Muslim refugees. Slandered as foreign agents, European Jews were targeted as ‘communist conspirators’, plotting to overthrow the capitalist system, impose a dictatorship and undermine the Anglo-Christian way of life.

European Jews were already regarded with racial suspicion, and immigration laws limited the number of refugees allowable in the US. These quotas were almost always never completely fulfilled. Jews from Eastern Europe were considered perennial outsiders, unable to assimilate into American culture. Condemned as purveyors of ‘foreign interference’, the Jewish presence in the US was regarded as a potentially treasonous element – which has disturbing parallels with the mistreatment of Muslims today.

Otto Frank, while considered a ‘prosperous’ person in Nazi-occupied Holland, continued to navigation the tortuous and demoralising procedures for seeking asylum. As the US made it harder for Jewish refugees to emigrate – the latter were also denounced as ‘leeches’ seeking to parasitise the American system – applicants had to prove they could pay their own way. Additionally, affidavits were required by US-born citizens vouching for the financial capacities of the intended applicant.

The Franks attempted to apply for asylum in Cuba – the latter nation at that time being economically and politically dominated by the United States. Those Jewish refugees who tried to use this route to mainland United States were thwarted. The US ambassador to Cuba advised that those Jews on refugee visas were untrusting because – ironically – they could be undercover agents of the Nazi German government.

It is true that the most famous German Jewish refugee scholar, Albert Einstein, successfully found asylum in the United States. By the early 1930s, he was already an internationally renowned scientist – by 1932, he was appointed a professor at Princeton University. He had strong academic ties inside the US, and so while he acquired asylum, his example is atypical. His intellectual capital was a highly sought-after commodity.

As the Second World War began, (1939-40) Jewish immigrants formed more than half of those entering the United States. However, economic and political expediency overtook whatever fleeting humanitarian considerations may have existed with regard to refugee policy. By the end of 1941, the doors were being slammed shut, and the Franks were among those excluded. American political and media figures recycled slanderously false claims that Jewish refugees would end up ‘leeching’ resources, or otherwise taking jobs from ‘real Americans.’

In the current policy climate, after 19 years of the so-called ‘war on terror‘, we are recycling the same hateful rhetoric against refugees from Muslim-majority nations that we once reserved for Jewish refugees. Islamophobia plays the same functional and ideological role as anti-Semitism. Muslims are vilified as a ‘fifth column’, potential jihadists waiting for an opportune moment to rise up and impose ‘Sharia law’.

These kinds of prejudicial public sentiments have real-world policy consequences. From anti-refugee policies to Trump’s loudly proclaimed ‘Muslim ban’, there are countless Anne Frank equivalents currently labouring away in numerous countries – Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Palestine – all of which suffer from US foreign policies which create refugees.

It is time to end vindictive anti-immigrant policies which only scapegoat the vulnerable. How many more Anne Franks have to die before we question the xenophobic ideology which not only condemns refugees, but rationalises the economic and social policies which create them?

Trump was defeated, but his white nationalist base remains a powerful political movement

There are no tears for the election loss of lame-duck US President Donald Trump. The latter will leave office and return to the bowels of financial speculation from which he emerged. However, the political base which sustained and reinforced his presidency – ultranationalist conspiracism and white supremacy – will remain a powerful political force.

Late last year, Minnesota Democrat and ‘squad’ member Representative Ilhan Omar made an accurate observation. Trump rallies, she said, closely resemble the Klan rallies of old. This is not hyperbole, but a succinct description of the political forces which coalesced around the Trump presidency – white nationalism and far rightist groups. We like to think that Trump was an aberration, or a deviation from standard American political processes. Actually, his politicking was extreme, but not outside the mainstream.

Jamelle Bouie, writing in the New York Times, states that while the Democrats won the 2020, the electoral outcome was not a repudiation of Trumpism. Trump actually outperformed his 2016 result, and made inroads into the Hispanic and African American communities. Right wing populism, while largely based in the majority Anglo American community, also appeals to nonwhite voters. The American racial pyramid, where being considered ‘white’ is the ticket to upward mobility, still exerts a profound influence.

The Republican party’s racism is usually disguised by the promotion of a few African American faces – those whose message is on point with the imperatives of American big capital. In the days of racial slavery, a few African American slaves were raised to a ‘house negro‘; today, a small stratum of ultra wealthy African Americans serves the same political function with regard to modern-day capitalism.

White nationalist organisations, and their Republican Party allies, deployed an age-old yet winning strategy – use social and economic alienation to promote a racialised economic vision. Trump and his colleagues portrayed themselves as ‘anti-elite’ – the elite being defined as liberals, proponents of ethnic and racial equality, the Democrat party, feminism, secularism, environmental groups – in short, anyone opposed to a free-marketeering agenda. Redirecting blame to minority groups, Trump exploited social grievances in order to build a white majoritarian platform.

This political strategy is nothing new. Since the end of the American civil war, white nationalism has been fighting a rearguard action – a low-intensity campaign aimed at undermining the ability of African American – and other marginalised groups – from exercising their equal rights within the American capitalist system. The Klan, and its white nationalist supporters, denounced the ‘Northern elites’ as beholden to a secretive, multiethnic cabal intent on denying white Americans their rightful place.

This notion of white anxiety has exploded into open violence over the decades in American history. While the Klan is often regarded as a marginal presence, composed mainly of buffoons and the ignorant, it actually has its origins in the affluent, educated middle-class segments of white American society.

Christopher Petrella, writing in the Washington Post, states that white nationalism was never only on the extremes of American capitalism:

Contrary to popular belief, white supremacy has not gestated on the fringes of American politics. Rather, it has flourished as a social movement grounded in respectability politics and led by elites. Understanding this history is essential to eradicating the scourge of white supremacy and advancing more just political alternatives.

Blaming racism exclusively on Anglo working class Americans distorts our understanding of white nationalism, but also let’s the capitalist class and its academic supporters off-the-hook. Deploying conspiratorial viewpoints to underscore a racist political perspective has its working class supporters, to be sure. However, we need to accurately apportion the blame for the rise of white supremacist groups on the shoulders of the billionaire oligarchs without whose support organised racism would not be possible. Today’s Silicon Valley tech oligarchs – while deploying a ‘woke’ persona – are heavily implicated in funding racist Republicans.

Racism has a long history of influencing American electoral politics – no doubt about that. Conspiratorial thinking however, experienced a resurgence under the Trump presidency. Covid denialism is shockingly harmful, and Trump did his utmost to downplay the severity of the current pandemic, at least initially. However, this pandemic is not the first time that ultranationalist conspiracism has raised its toxic head.

Murtaza Hussain, writing for The Intercept, notes that the far right, coalescing under Trump, is seizing the opportunity to inflict deadly violence against its opponents and influence the course of a post-pandemic society. Social and economic tensions predate the pandemic, of course; but in the current breakdown of American society, fascistic and sectarian tendencies are making their morbid presence felt.

Covid denialism has found a ready-made audience in the cesspit of Trumpism – white nationalism is very much a conspiratorially-minded ideology. In the 1950s and 60s, racial integration and desegregation were denounced as part of a ‘communist plot’ by liberal elites to dilute the integrity of the white race. Today, anti-quarantine rallies have featured condemnations of ‘government intrusion’, melding seamlessly with white supremacist and neo-Confederate themes about ‘big government tyranny.’

If the incoming Democrat administration is going to seriously tackle white nationalism, they need to offer more than just ‘woke‘ appointments and statements about the meritorious contributions of migrants to US society. An urgent reckoning with the politics and economics of American racial capitalism needs to be on the agenda, otherwise the ultranationalist Right will continue to grow.

Columbus statues are coming down, and it is time to abolish Columbus Day

Throughout 2020, dozens of Christopher Columbus statues in the United States have been dismounted; some vandalised, and others demolished. This in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, and increased examination of American systemic racism. The veneration of Columbus, epitomised by the national holiday dedicated to him, has come under renewed and heavy criticism from anti-racist organisations.

While Columbus needs to be dethroned from his exalted position as a pioneering explorer, it is also necessary to guard against the recycling of pseudoarchaeological pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact theories. In the effort to challenge racist scholarship in the United States, demolishing the myth of Columbus as the original navigator and intrepid entrepreneur is essential. We must stop mythologising Columbus, and his voyages, as motivated by scientific concerns – no, he was not out to prove the Earth is a globe.

Centuries before Columbus, the Vikings successfully navigated their way across from the Old World to the new. There is extensive archaeological evidence to prove this contention beyond a shadow of a doubt. However, the question of ‘who was before Columbus’ has opened up a field of speculation, pseudoscientific nonsense and fringe theories that do harm to the cause of anti racism.

We are not questioning the longevity and solid evidence of the presence of indigenous nations in the Western Hemisphere. Whether the native peoples crossed the Alaskan land bridge – prior to the emergence of the Bering Strait – or not, it is indisputable that the indigenous nations formed their own civilisations before the arrival of Columbus and his conquistador practices.

Since the death of Columbus, numerous theories about pre-Colombian trans-oceanic contact with the indigenous American civilisations have proliferated. Since Columbus was acting as a paid agent of the Spanish crown, rival colonial powers have encouraged the spread of pseudoscientific scenarios which challenged Columbus’ status as the pioneering navigator.

Columbus himself, dissatisfied with the financial compensation offered him by the Spanish crown, began legal proceedings and thus, earned the hostility of the Spanish monarchs, who quietly encouraged rival theories of pre-Colombian trans-oceanic contact to spread. The French, English and other colonial powers – including Venice, the fierce rival city-state of the Genoan Columbus – all had motives to deprive Columbus of credit as the original navigator.

The English monarchy, desiring to lay claim to extensive lands in the Americas, promoted the Welsh folkloric myth of Prince Madoc (or Madog) who purportedly sailed to the Western Hemisphere in 1170. This has in turn given rise to a flurry of racist speculations about ‘Welsh Indians’, which holds that Native American peoples mixed with, or are descended from, the Welsh.

Not to be outdone, long term Turkish President Reyyip Erdogan suggested in 2014, that it was the Muslims who first traveled from the Old World to the Americas. His claim is based upon a long line of pseudoscientific and dubious ‘scholarship‘, which suggests that Columbus – and the ensuing Spanish conquistadors – observed mosques in the Western Hemisphere.

This is a deliberate obfuscation; when the Spaniards said they saw mosques – mezquitas – they were referring to the indigenous American places of worship. The only non-Christian referential experience the Iberian kingdoms had was of Muslim civilisation. Not long before Columbus set sail, the Reconquista had been completed, expelling the longtime Moorish (Muslim) present in the Iberian peninsula. When the Spanish explorers observed the indigenous American women, they commented on how they resembled the moriscas – Moorish women.

The late Ivan van Sertima, an African American scholar, published a multivolume history purportedly demonstrating that black African navigators made their way to the New World, and seeded what became the Olmec Mesoamerican civilisation. The origins of the Olmec is still shrouded in mystery, and so various pseudoscientific alternative theories have circulated.

The notion of ‘black Indians‘ has been promoted by numerous Afrocentric writers over the decades. Responding to racist scholarship, and upholding the originality and vitality of African civilisations prior to the rise of Europe, these writers have unfortunately reflected a kind of distorted ethnic supremacist view of history. The Olmecs have been subjected to an Afrocentric perspective, where their civilisational achievements are reported to be ‘African’ in origin.

We could go on with the list of African – and ancient – peoples which have supposedly pioneered trans-oceanic contact with the New World: Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Malians, Egyptians, Irish, Scottish, Chinese, Arabs, biblical Hebrews – and this article would run into volumes responding to each claim. Continuing to play this game of ‘who was first’ is counterproductive and unresolvable.

It is advisable to listen to Danielle Battisti, associate professor of history, who wrote that while Columbus Day may have had value for Italian Americans in the past, it is now time to abolish it. Responding to white racism, Italian Americans promoted Columbus as an exemplar of entrepreneurial ingenuity, a typical American story of how an immigrant picked himself up and found success. Unfortunately, this appeal to pluralism was predicated on Italians becoming ‘white‘, and thus reinforcing the racial pyramid that is American capitalism today.

It is urgent now more than ever, to abolish Columbus Day, if for no other reason than a basic recognition that Columbus was a genocidal maniac, intent on exploiting to death the indigenous nations he contemptuously dismissed. There are numerous Italian Americans who actively fought racial discrimination and economic inequalities. They are better anti-racist icons for our times.

Morocco and Israel agree to normalise a sordid relationship

Morocco has become the fourth Arab nation to normalise relations with the state of Israel. Previously clandestine, Morocco’s cooperation with the Israeli government stretches back decades. The US, for its part, has officially recognised Morocco’s annexation of the fledging nation of Western Sahara. Lame duck US President Donald Trump overturned years of official US neutrality by taking this step.

Let’s untangle the many threads of this issue. Israel has cultivated extensive military, intelligence-sharing and economic ties with the Moroccan kingdom since the 1960s. This latest normalisation only formalises an existing secretive relationship. Pursuing ties with African and Muslim-majority nations located outside the direct Middle East is part of Tel Aviv’s periphery strategy – outflanking its immediate hostile Arab neighbours by building links with periphery nations. Morocco is considered part of the peripheral zone.

Interestingly, in the 1960s, then King of Morocco Hassan II, allowed the emigration of Moroccan Jews to Israel, thus boosting the number of settlers to counter the demographic problems of colonising occupied Palestinian land. Israeli leaders have always encouraged Jewish populations in the Muslim-majority nations to emigrate. Today, one million Israelis are either Moroccan Jews, or descendants of the original migrants from Morocco.

Ronen Bergman, writing in the NY Times, states that:

The king permitted mass emigration of Jews and allowed Mossad to establish a station in Morocco. Israel provided weapons and trained Moroccans in using them; it supplied surveillance technology and helped organize the Moroccan intelligence service; and the two shared information gathered by their spies — the start of decades of such cooperation.

Morocco acquired Israeli weapons, its intelligence service was trained by and coordinated with Mossad, and opponents of the Moroccan royal family were tracked using Israeli-made surveillance technology. Mehdi Ben Barka, a left wing nationalist opponent of the Moroccan regime, was kidnapped and murdered by Moroccan intelligence agents with the cooperation of the Mossad.

It was the intelligence sharing by Moroccan authorities with Israel about the military capabilities and numbers of Arab armed forces that gave Tel Aviv a decisive edge in launching the 1967 war. Knowledge of the troop movements, logistics and military technology of the Arab nations was provided to Israel by, among others, the Moroccan regime.

The quid pro quo for Morocco’s formal recognition of Israel consists of a scandalous ‘bribe’ – official US recognition of Morocco’s occupation and annexation of the Sahrawi republic, otherwise known as Western Sahara. Overturning decades of US foreign policy and in violation of international law, Trump’s recognition of the Moroccan occupation inflamed a long-simmering conflict.

Western Sahara, formerly a Spanish colony, was forcibly occupied by Moroccan troops in 1975. Listed by the United Nations as a non-self-governing territory, the people of Western Sahara – the Sahrawi – rose up in rebellion in the 1970s. Launching an armed insurgency, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is the internationally recognised authority in the country. The conflict continued for decades, until the signing of a ceasefire in 1991.

The insurgency simmered after 1991, and Morocco continued to control most of Western Sahara. The political authority of the Sahrawi people, the separatist Polisario movement, continues to fight for the independence of Western Sahara. Its representatives are deployed overseas to promote the cause of Sahrawi national self-determination.

Trump’s decision to officially recognise Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, accompanied by his usual narcissistic Twitter-bragging, has ensured that this conflict will continue for decades to come. The US has formally taken the side of Morocco. Kamal Fadel, the Polisario representative in Australia, reacted to this news by stating that only the Sahrawi people can determine the future of their nation.

Sahrawis and Palestinians, along with pro-independence activists, have condemned the cementing of ties between Morocco and Israel. The hashtag ‘Moroccans Against Normalisation’ has taken off, uniting online outrage against this latest deal. Hanan Ashrawi, longtime Palestinian legislator and activist, branded the Morocco-Israel normalisation as sinister and ugly.

Alex MacDonald, writing in Middle East Eye magazine, states that Palestinian and Sahrawi activists will seize this opportunity to renew solidarity between the two struggles for self-determination. The Palestinians and Sahrawis find themselves victims of post-colonial intrigues and backroom manoeuvring between imperialist powers.

These kinds of deals are arrived at by sacrificing the legitimate demands of the Palestinians – and Sahrawis – for an independent state. Nazha el-Khalidi, a Sahrawi human rights activist, denounced the Morocco-Israel agreement, and stated that the resolve of the Sahrawis and Palestinians remains undiminished.

The Japanese Hayabusa-2 mission and the origins of the solar system

Hayabusa-2, the Japanese Space Exploration Agency’s mission to the Ryugu asteroid, deposited a capsule carrying fragments of asteroid rock at Woomera, South Australia. This was the culmination of a six year project.

The Australian corporate media pounced on this story because of the ‘Aussie connection’. However, that is the least interesting reason for understanding the importance of the Hayabusa-2 mission. The asteroid samples returned by the spacecraft contain clues regarding the origins of life in the universe.

The Hayabusa-2 mission deployed hopping rovers on the asteroid Ryugu. They were able to pierce the surface of the asteroid, and retrieve contents from the underground. This is an extraordinary achievement in itself – no other space agency has been able to accomplish such a scientifically important goal on an asteroid.

First of all, let’s address one misconception that people may have. An asteroid is usually thought of as a lifeless, irregularly-shaped lump of rock, hurtling through space and occasionally crashing into Earth as in the movie Deep Impact. This view only hinders our ability to understand the geological importance of asteroids. Each one, like Ryugu, contains minerals and features from the origins of the solar system.

A near-earth asteroid, Ryugu contains organic compounds and ice, geological features that are remnants from the earliest origins of the solar system. Examining Ryugu’s minerals – contained in the capsule deposited at Woomera – will help scientists unveil vital clues on the formation of the solar system, and perhaps of life itself. Hayabusa-2’s cameras obtained pictures of Ryugu, revealing a surface hit by meteorites and weather-beaten by cosmic rays.

Australia and Japan, while depicted as rivals from media-driven anti-Asian racism, have a long history of scientific cooperation. A Japanese team of scientists and experts were deployed by JAXA – the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency – in South Australia preparing for the return of the Hayabusa-2 cargo.

Earlier, we mentioned that Hayabusa-2 deployed hopping rovers on the surface of the asteroid. These bouncing explorers, equipped with cameras, relayed images of Ryugu. You may see examples of the pictures sent back by the hopping rovers in this NPR article. Asteroids have weak gravity, so keeping movable rovers on the surface of Ryugu presented particular technical challenges.

John Bridges, professor of planetary science at the University of Leicester, explains the following:

Ryugu could tell us a lot about the Solar System’s history. The Earth and the other planets formed from small, rocky bodies in a disk of gas, ice and dust called the solar nebula. Asteroids are the leftovers from this process. While the planets have undergone extensive changes, developing crusts, mantles and cores during their lifetimes, asteroids have not. By studying primitive samples from asteroids, we can therefore crack many secrets about how the solar system formed.

The organic compounds in the Ryugu samples remain unchanged since the earliest ages of the solar system. Planetary bodies such as the Earth went through enormous geological changes, altering the composition of its formative materials.

The asteroid fragments will be shared for analysis between Japanese space agency and NASA. Hayabusa-2 continues its mission, aiming for two more asteroids for research.

There are numerous problems confronting humanity at the moment – climate change, ecological destruction, and the current pandemic, just to name a few. These ecological issues, in combination with socioeconomic inequalities, require urgent attention. Exploring the vastness of outer space may not seem like a priority. However, counterposing scientific ventures would be a colossal mistake.

Space exploration has provided a powerful impetus to develop technologies that we regard as everyday conveniences today. The smartphones we use, satellite navigation – these innovations rely on technology originally developed by space agencies. The camera in your smartphone is using small imaging sensors first created by NASA.

Questions regarding outer space exploration occupy a significant chunk of our attention – landing on and terraforming Mars, space travel, exploring the Moon – among other subjects. These topics inspire generations of students – and adults for that matter – to consider scientific issues in the larger context of human culture and social organisation. While nationally-based space agencies compete to launch and accomplish missions, it is international cooperation that is necessary to understand the results of what we find.

As a follow-up, have a look at what the Hayabusa-2 mission has accomplished.