Protesting students express their rightful outrage; a broken system requires a complete overhaul

Throughout 2013 and 2014, students across Australia, Britain and other countries have been protesting against the introduction of full-fees tuition, and opposing the onrush towards the full privatisation of education in their respective countries. Their protests have been raucous, enthusiastic and captured the attention of the corporate media. The students have marched in the streets, venting their opposition to the current Federal government of Australia. They have marched in Britain, occupying the offices of the Conservative party in one town, marching on the parliament in that country.

In October 2013, students targeted the Australian federal treasurer, disrupting his speaking engagement, opposing not just the privatisation of education, but the entire direction of the federal budget that punishes the poor and disadvantaged, while rewarding the wealthy.

In Hong Kong, students have led a poltically diverse protest movement against the reigning politicians in that statelet. A mass movement of civil disobedience and political resistance has brought the Hong Kong authorities to a standstill.

In Mexico, thousands of students have led the way in revitalising a political opposition to the corrupt and decrepit Mexican political system. The immediate catalyst for the current uprising against the Mexican authorities was the premeditated murder of 43 student teachers in the town of Iguala, in southern Mexico. The student teachers were going to protest against the mayor of that town; on his orders, the police arrested them and handed them over to a drug-trafficking cartel which proceeded to kill the student teachers. This was the spark that lit the fuse of constant and organised protests against the endemic corruption and inequality in Mexico. These protests, ranging from peaceful vigils to attacks on government buildings, have created the most serious political crisis for the Mexican regime in recent history.

In the United States, increasing numbers of university students have joined the country-wide protests in solidarity with the African American community of Ferguson. Mike Brown, a student from that suburb, was unarmed when he was shot down by a St Louis police officer. A grand jury decided that no criminal charges would be laid against the officer in question, sparking nation-wide protests against the racist violence of the police and the failure of the legal system to prosecute a white man for the hate crime.

Across the world, we have witnessed the resurgence of student activism, not just against the proposed introduction of full-fee paying tuition at universities, but opposition to the neoliberal direction of privatisation and corporatisation of education that has been ongoing for the last three decades. Education policy has increasingly adopted the mechanisms of the market, the perspective of education as a commodity to be sold to fee-paying customers, the students who are seen as the consumers. Since the economic meltdown of 2008, the advocates of privatisation have continued to push their free-market ideological fanaticism onto the education system, turning the latter into a market.

The marketisation of education could not happen without the active support of the political establishment, in league with the hierarchy of the elite universities, who are pushing this transformation of higher education into a marketplace. In England, the Browne review, a governmental panel of experts commissioned by the UK government, released a report in 2010 detailing recommendations about the future of higher education. The chair of the committee, Lord Browne, is a former CEO of British Petroleum, a long-term corporate functionary best suited to turn education over the tender mercies of the market. The Browne Review, whose recommendations are being adopted by the Cameron government, effectively remove any limits on the amount of fees the universities can charge, and that universities have to compete for customers, much like mega-education-corporations.

Student debt becomes an enormous burden under the proposed changes, and the Browne review engineers a kind of mass indebtedness that will saddle future students for years to come. For instance, the British Medical Association, commenting on the Browne review, stated that medical students would be shackled with a crippling debt, 90 000 pounds being the projected figure, thus making a medical career all but out-of-reach for poorer students. More details about the Browne Review can be found here.

Professor David Graeber, an anthropologist and lecturer at the London School of Economics, wrote a thoughtful article called “Students are right to march against the markets. Why can’t education be free?”. He makes a number of strong points about the ongoing privatisation of education and the legitimate grievances of the students. However, let us focus on a wider and more important point that Professor Graeber makes, a point that is directly relevant to an Australian audience.

The protesting students are routinely and consistently portrayed in the media as a selfish, privileged layer, complaining about the supposed loss of their advantageous status under the proposed changes to education. Upset that their previously comfortable lifestyle will be over, they resort to anti-social and barbaric tactics, like smashing property and street hooliganism. Typical of this type of commentary is a column by Annabel Crabb, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald. Her whole screeching rant can be accessed here. It is not intended to provide a point-by-point rebuttal of her article, because that is a waste of time and energy. However, the general charge that the students are vandals merits a certain response.

As Professor Graeber points out in his article;

But if you think about it, who are the barbarians here? We don’t call Goths and Huns barbarians because they broke things. Romans broke things too. We call them barbarians because they had no interest for the art, science, philosophy, music or poetry of the civilisations they conquered. They didn’t see them as values in themselves. They just cared about wealth and power. What the students were doing in 2010, and what they’re doing today, is defending art, science and philosophy against a regime that believes none of these things are of any value except as a means to wealth and power. They are quite literally defending the values of civilisation from those who have abandoned them.

Education is not simply a conveyor belt to a higher paying job, or a career mechanism to maximise income earning potential. Education is about the way the world works, and our place in it. The current crop of psychopaths that are in charge of the Australian government measure every aspect of a society purely in terms of profitability. The vandals in suits are intent on destroying the value and purpose of public education. The students are concerned not just with income and lifestyle, but with the future of science, art, education and philosophy – in short, those things that make human society a civilisation.

The next generation of students is telling us adults that we need to worry not just about the marketisation of education, but the overwhelming corporatisation of every aspect of human society. We should be listening to the student protesters and taking heed of their demands for a complete overhaul of education.

We should be joining them.

The ultra-right UKIP surges, and British politics undergoes UKIP-ization

UKIP is exploiting anti-establishment, (and opposition to EU) sentiment to channel discontent into its pro-business, xenophobic platform.

********************

The title comes from an article written by expert commentator on British politics and culture Richard Seymour. In his article ‘The UKIP-ization of English politics’, he examines the emergence of the racist, ultra-right United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) as a major third electoral force on the English political landscape. Seymour deconstructs their populistic phrases, disguising a hard-right anti-immigrant bigotry. It is well worth reading Seymour’s incisive analysis in its entirety.

Previously, the current author has examined the rise of the ultra-right xenophobic parties in Europe. The surge of UKIP in recent months gives us reason to evaluate the ongoing threat of the ultra-right party, the crisis in the British ruling establishment, and how working class anger at years of austerity and cutbacks is being channeled into creating a mass, racist and right-wing populist party as a respectable alternative.

UKIP is pushing politics in Britain to the ultra-right. The traditional parliamentary alternatives, the two main bourgeois parties, are undergoing a crisis of legitimacy. They are strongly associated with the unpopular policies of austerity and the corresponding impoverishment that they have caused. UKIP is exploiting this breech in the parliamentary walls and gaining support from its anti-EU and populist rhetoric.

UKIP speaks for those sections of the English ruling class who are Euro-sceptic, a strong undercurrent in the existing Tory party. Withdrawal from the European Union, it is contended, would be more advantageous for the English establishment in the view of the Euro-sceptics. Basing themselves on anti-immigrant hostility and British national chauvinism, these ruling class circles regard abandoning the European Union as a viable measure, intending to further pursue the exploitation of the working class through more privatisation and deregulation.

Rochester and Strood seat is the second parliamentary victory for UKIP, after the defection of a second Conservative MP to that party. The Conservatives lost the seat of Clacton earlier this year when another Tory MP defected to UKIP. These defections reflect widespread dissatisfaction with the ruling Tory-LibDem coalition government.

This is a strong blow to the Tories, but Labour cannot take any consolation from this situation. While Labour hung on to win the by-election in the seat of Heywood and Middleton earlier this year, it was a narrow victory, with Labour hemorrhaging votes and disaffected Tory voters supporting UKIP.

This situation is not just another turn in the inevitable fluctuations of bourgeois politics. There is deepening concern at the pervasive economic and social problems of capitalism, and electoral protests like this are symptomatic of deep-seated hostility to the Westminster establishment.

UKIP is posing as a defender of the average working person, expressing populist hostility to the Westminster elites. This is a perverse claim, given that UKIP originates from that very Westminster elite. The supporters and backers of UKIP originate in the highest echelons of the British financial oligarchy. The leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, is a wealthy stockbroker and former Conservative party member. The treasurer of the UKIP party, Stuart Wheeler, is himself an Eton-educated businessman. The list of the party’s influential bankrollers goes on. UKIP is most definitely a party lead by a section of the ultra-wealthy aristocratic elite. But make no mistake – UKIP has been able to attract disaffected voters from all classes of society, including working class people.

Owen Jones, columnist in The Guardian and expert commentator on British politics, elaborates that while UKIP originates from the elite part of town, the beliefs and sentiments that propel its supporters are often those that are advocated by the Left. The leaders of UKIP are unashamedly ultra-Thatcherite in their politics, their voting base, polled on several occasions, support traditional left-wing demands such renationalisation of railways and banks, higher taxes on the rich, and an increase in the minimum wage. While UKIP portrays itself as a people’s revolt against the establishment, it is basing itself on the very real grievances that the working class has against the policies and programme of the British financial elite.

The Tory party is facing a terminal crisis, and the Labour party is not in much better shape. UKIP has appealed to disaffected Tory voters, pushing its anti-immigrant and anti-EU message in the short term to pick up seats. But is electoral success, while worrying, is only part of the larger picture. After years of austerity, preceded by economic policies that have seen industries shut down, communities abandoned because of closing factories and lack of employment, the privatisation of education and the closing of educational opportunities for the poor, people are hurting economically. Disillusioned with the main parties that have delivered variations of the same free-market fundamentalist ideology, people are looking for a political alternative.

Jo Cardwell, writing for the Socialist Review magazine, writes that UKIP is dragging British politics to the Right, having successfully exploited the convergence of three political factors; anti-austerity, anger at the British establishment, and anti-immigrant and anti-refugee racism. Working class communities throughout Britain have been decimated over decades of relentless ruling class attacks on their jobs and living conditions. As Owen Jones writes in his Guardian article:

Over the last generation or so, working class identity, culture and community have faced a relentless battering. Many of the old skilled jobs – back-breaking and male-dominated as they could be –gave people a sense of pride, but were stripped from the economy. Industries that were once the focal point of communities disintegrated. A sense of solidarity, sometimes cemented by a strong trade union movement, was eroded.

In some working class communities, a sense of Englishness filled the vacuum. I grew up near the centre of Stockport: publicly displayed English flags were not uncommon.

English nationalism has indeed been a social cement, bringing together once-thriving communities now afflicted by the combined problems of immiseration and unemployment. Flying the English flag is just one outward symbol of a people discarded by an economic system that treats them as disposable commodities, reaching as they are for some sense of belonging. The outsider is the migrant, the refugee, the alleged ‘threat’ that they pose not just to ‘Englishness’, but now transformed into an economic menace. The Labour Party, basically dancing to UKIP’s tune, has lost much of its traditional working class base as its has implemented the capitalist programme of cutbacks and privatisation, policies that have undermined working class solidarity.

However, economic crisis does not inevitably mean the rise of anti-immigrant UKIP-style parties. Owen Jones, writing in The Guardian, provides an elaborate description of a successful, politically powerful and left-wing alternative that has emerged out of economic chaos – Podemos in Spain. There is no doubt that Spain has experienced an unmitigated economic disaster, with high unemployment and declining living standards. Yet the Podemos political party, capitalising on the anti-establishment and anti-politics sentiment of the people, has surged ahead as a strong political alternative offering the politics of hope for the disaffected. It is an unfolding and burgeoning Green Left political alternative.

Go read Owen Jones’ article the Guardian here.

 

 

Responding to the Ebola crisis, Cuba shows the world how it is done

The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Margaret Chan, was speaking about the terrible crisis afflicting the poor West African countries Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, namely, the growing outbreak of the Ebola virus disease. This condition is a fatal disease, transmitted from undomesticated animals to people, and is transmitted by contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.

The Ebola virus attacks the body’s immune system, undermining the latter and preventing the body from detecting the disease. Currently there is no vaccine, and treatments of infected people are basically supportive, that means helping the person’s immune system recover and fight the disease, but without actually attacking the original virus. This disease has been known since the early 1970s. The 2014 outbreak though, is the most complex epidemic since the discovery of the virus, and the challenges facing health care workers with the current outbreak are severe.

Dr Chan, in addressing this public health issue, made a sharp and observant comment about why the current Ebola outbreak is so severe:

Speaking to the WHO’s regional committee for Africa in Benin, she said: “Ebola emerged nearly four decades ago. Why are clinicians still empty-handed, with no vaccines and no cure?”

She continued: “Because Ebola has historically been confined to poor African nations. The R&D incentive is virtually non-existent. A profit-driven industry does not invest in products for markets that cannot pay.”

You can read her comments here in The Independent newspaper.  Dr Chan criticised the pharmaceutical industries lack of research and development into an Ebola vaccine, stating that with the lack of a profitable market, the drug companies were simply uninterested in investing money and resources into an Ebola vaccine project. Not only was there a lack of investment in vaccine research, but also a complete lack of investment in public health care structures that would have heavily mitigated against the severity and scope of the current Ebola outbreak.

Dr Chan, as chief of the WHO, is in the best position to understand the scale of the Ebola outbreak. She pointedly blamed the real culprit for this crisis; the for-profit medical system.

The Ebola virus has been known for approximately 40 years, yet no vaccine has been developed because it was not profitable to do so. The pharmaceutical companies responsible for medical research into vaccines decided that lacking a market, the development of an Ebola vaccine was not worthwhile. This demonstrates the irrationality of an economic system that subordinates human welfare to the corporate bottom-line. The private ownership of pharmaceutical production and health care has meant that without a required vaccine, thousands of people have suffered needlessly, and preventable fatalities have occurred because of this disease. The for-profit medical system subordinates the physical and mental well-being of people to the pursuit of higher corporate profits.

As Dr Chan noted, Ebola has historically impacted the poor West African nations, namely Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. These countries, while gaining formal political independence during the wave of decolonisation through the 1950s and 1960s, have remained in an economically dependent relationship with their former colonial overlords. Economic colonialism never truly ended for these nations, as they provide the raw materials and human labour power for giant multinational corporations headquartered in transatlantic countries.

The deleterious impact of the Ebola virus, as well as other vaccine-preventable diseases such as Dengue and Lassa fever, has been magnified by the poverty and immiseration in which these nations find themselves. Imperialism has plundered West Africa, and Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea still bear the brunt of the ravages of economic colonialism. The main imperial powers – the United States, Britain and France respectively – are responsible for a policy of malignant neglect, extracting the mineral wealth from these nations while leaving the majority of their populations in a state of abject poverty.

The nations of West Africa are among the poorest in the world. For instance, Sierra Leone has a GDP of 4.9 billion (US) dollars. In comparison, the former colonial power of that nation, Britain, has a GDP of 2.52 trillion (US) dollars. Liberia, with its GDP of 1.95 billion (US) dollars, is dwarfed by its imperial master the United States, whose GDP stands at 16.8 trillion (US) dollars. These economic statistics translate into massive inequalities for the people of West Africa, most of whom live in fetid, disease-ridden overcrowded slums without access to basic services. (By the way, the statistics above come from the World Bank). Sierra Leone’s main export is – diamonds, accounting for 63 percent of that country’s total exports, which could contribute to the wealth of that nation. However, Sierra Leone’s people remain dirt poor. One wonders where all that wealth is going.

West Point is an administrative district of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. It is home to 75 000 people. The poor sanitation and hygiene conditions of the district have been known for years. For instance, West Point has an inadequate water service, with only four public toilets – to be shared between 75 000 people. The beach serves as the lavatory, provides the drinking water, and fish from that water are consumed. Disease is rife, with outbreaks of cholera, tuberculosis and diarrhoea. These appalling conditions have been known for years. Yet the Liberian government and its colonial supervisor, the United States, have never addressed this serious public health issue. It is no wonder that a serious epidemic has spread so rapidly in west Africa, infecting thousands and claiming 5420 lives at last count, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. It is time to ask why the Ebola outbreak, the most serious medical and humanitarian emergency in years, was missed by the relevant authorities.

The reaction of the United States and other imperialist countries to the Ebola outbreak reveals a great deal about their domestic politics. In the United States, there has been an outpouring of racist hysteria, xenophobia and panic about the threat of immigrants, particularly from West Africa, swamping the domestic population and spreading this disease. In fact, fear itself has become an epidemic. As thousands of west Africans were afflicted, there was hardly a murmur of concern. However, that all changed when one Liberian, Thomas Eric Duncan, was diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. Then, the corporate media went into full hysteria mode, as Nicole Colson from the US Socialist Worker explained:

The popular concern about Ebola is understandable given its frightening symptoms and lethal outcomes in West Africa, where thousands of people are infected. But that only makes the sensationalized frenzy of the cable news networks even more appalling, as they peddle lies and fear about the risk to anyone in the city of Dallas, where Thomas Duncan, the patient in question, was staying.

And they don’t stop with Dallas, either. Right-wingers speculated about how supposedly lax U.S. border security could be putting us all at risk. “We have a border that is so porous, Ebola or ISIS–or Ebola on the backs of ISIS–could come through our border,” Fox News’ Greg Gutfield hyperventilated, as a red “Alert” logo flashed on screen.

Proposals for “tough action” were equally frantic: Halt all flights to and from Western Africa! Don’t let anyone with a passport from a Western African country into the U.S.! Build a “double fence, triple fence, whatever it takes!” according windbag Charles Krauthammer, captured in The Daily Show‘s brilliant montage of the right-wing freak show.

The nurses who treated Duncan were themselves subjected to hysterical outbursts, even though they received proper medical attention and have subsequently been cleared of the disease. The main problem in the United States was not the Ebola virus itself, but hysteria and xenophobia, fueled by political opportunism of the lowest kind. Anti-immigrant politicians and right-wing crusaders have howled their prejudices over the air waves, as Liberians, and west African migrants in the US, have been subjected to racial attacks and derision as they go about their lives. The stigma of infection has done as much damage to people’s lives as the disease itself. Liberians in the United States have organised themselves and fought back; they have taken on the discrimination and hate they face with calm dignity. They are Liberians, not a virus.

Professor Priscilla Ward, writing for The Conversation, stated it plainly; the outbreak narrative adopted by the major corporate media, spreads unwarranted panic, with headlines screaming ‘apocalypse’. We need to break this destructive cycle of hysteria-stigma-more-panic by adopting a responsible course of action. As Professor Ward states “We are all human. We are all susceptible. More importantly, we are all responsible.”

There is one measure that the United States has taken, one that significantly impacts the lives of the west African people, a measure that has gotten lost amid the maelstrom of hysteria and panic. The US has deployed troops to west Africa, drawn from military personnel that make up AFRICOM, the military command structure and African military footprint of the United States in that continent. President Obama insisted that a militarised response was the correct one, because the United States needed to maintain its vital interests in that part of the world. The deployment of American troops is not new, but the latest response in an ongoing competition in Africa for resources and markets by the imperialist states. Note that the first priority of the US empire is to protect its flow of minerals and profits, not the alleviation of human suffering, an affliction that could be prevented with the deployment of medical resources. The retired chief of the British army, General Sir David Richards, even proposed that NATO send troops and take command of the operation to fight Ebola in west Africa.

There is one country, with only a fraction of the finances and resources at the disposal of the United States, that has sent doctors, health care workers and professionals straight to the afflicted regions, and has lead the world in its medical international humanism; socialist Cuba. While the United States (and Britain) have sent troops, Cuba has sent thousands of doctors around the world, and has lead the world in disaster management. Cuba actually has medical brigades, composed of medical personnel, equipped with the skills and logistics of tackling medical emergencies – all financed by the state. Back in September, the Cuban health ministry announced that it would send 165 doctors, nurses and experts in infectious diseases to west Africa. This measure was praised by the chief of the WHO, Dr Margaret Chan, when she stated that:

“This is “the biggest commitment of personnel to the health crisis so far by any country,” said Chan. Even as some countries have committed funds or small treatment centers, she stresses, “The thing we need most of all is people, health care workers.”

Cuba possesses exactly what West Africa needs right now – a well-trained, organised and efficient health care system. This is the judgement of the senior editor of Medicc Review, Conner Gorry. She explains in her article, published in the online magazine Links:

The Henry Reeve Brigade, as it’s known, was established in 2005 by more than 1500 Cuban health professionals trained in disaster medicine and infectious disease containment; built on 40 years of medical aid experience, the volunteer team was outfitted with essential medicines and equipment and prepared to deploy to US regions ravaged by Hurricane Katrina (the offer was rejected by the Bush administration). Today, Cuba’s Henry Reeve Brigade is the largest medical team on the ground in west Africa battling Ebola.

Cuba’s government has directly offered to cooperate with the United States in joint efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak. Thus far, apart from low-level discussions and sporadic communications, the United States has not replied. Cuba’s leading role in fighting the Ebola outbreak, its experience in emergency management and the organised response of its medical system has thus far been largely ignored, a telling comment on the priorities of the major corporate media. This has implications for Australia, where the federal government is intent on pursuing the full privatisation of health care. The for-profit health care system has failed to respond to the medical disaster of our times, and is responsible for the inadequate conditions that have worsened the impact of the epidemic. The country with the state-funded and planned medical system has demonstrated to the world how to respond in a humane way, saving lives and offering solidarity.

There is one head of state who immediately recognised the seriousness of the Ebola outbreak, urging the relevant international and local authorities to act decisively to save lives. He stated that:

A dreadful epidemic is advancing today on our fraternal peoples of Africa, and threatening us all. A high number of cases have been diagnosed with Ebola and many people have perished from the disease in several countries, including two outside the African continent.

This poses a huge challenge to humanity, one that should be met with utmost urgency. The action of the international community as a whole, under the leadership of the World Health Organization, the Pan American Health Organization and the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, is much needed.

That was Cuban President Raul Castro. Go read his whole speech here.

 

Libya is fractured into warring regions, its people are suffering, and the West is indifferent

Patrick Cockburn, the veteran and expert commentator on international affairs for The Independent newspaper, wrote a disturbing, powerful and insightful article called The West is Silent as Libya falls into the abyss. Cockburn exhorts his readers to consider the calamitous consequences of the 2011 NATO-led intervention into Libya, and the resultant lethal chaos that has gripped the country.

The Western powers, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron in particular, were lauding the 2011 Libyan intervention as a successful example of humanitarian liberation, toppling an authoritarian regime and bringing hope to its people. Cameron is today completely silent, along with the other interventionists, as Libya is fractured into rival statelets, controlled by tribal militias fighting each other, and central authority has all but collapsed. There are rival authorities based in different cities of the country, each controlling its own fiefdom.

The revolving door of official Libyan politics has seen a rapid succession of governments and cabinets, each equally incompetent and unable to unify the country and provide basic services for the population. With a complete absence of the rule of law, human rights abuses are rampant, with the various competing militias equally culpable. Health care is woefully inadequate, government services non-existent, and the education system abysmal. In other words, Libya is today a failed state because of Western intervention. Cameron and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, proudly grandstanding in 2011 about the supposed Libyan revolution, today remain indifferent to the disastrous humanitarian consequences of the military intervention they once loudly advocated.

The latest incarnation of the ever-fluid Libyan government, has relocated its headquarters to the eastern city of Tobruk, and exercises little authority over the rest of the country. In September 2014, there were reports that the Libyan cabinet had hired a Greek ferry in which to meet, with the security situation so dangerous it had to find secure surrounding offshore.

In July 2014, US embassy staff fled the capital city Tripoli in a panicked flight in order to avoid the heavy fighting that erupted between government forces and militias. In August 2014, the Libyan government fled Tripoli, after that city was finally overtaken by a combination of Islamist militia groups. As Cockburn explains in his article:

Without the rest of the world paying much attention, a civil war has been raging in western Libya since 13 July between the Libya Dawn coalition of militias, originally based in Misrata, and another militia group centred on Zintan. A largely separate civil war between the forces of retired General Khalifa Haftar and the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries is being fought out in the city. Government has collapsed. Amnesty says that torture has become commonplace with victims being “beaten with plastic tubes, sticks, metal bars or cables, given electric shocks, suspended in stress positions for hours, kept blindfolded and shackled for days.”

The Amnesty report that Cockburn quotes from is called “Libya: ‘Rule of the gun’ amid mounting war crimes by rival militias” published in October 2014. The report details the systematic use of torture and coercion by the Libyan army, itself an enormous militia, and the various Islamist militia groupings.

Ill-treatment, abductions and torture have become the usual modus operandi of the competing militia factions, and the Libyan government is no better. This chaotic and lawless situation makes a mockery of the claims by the 2011 liberal interventionists that stopping human rights violations was a prime motivator of Western military concerns. It is absolutely true that the previous Libyan regime of Qadhafi tortured dissidents and political Islamist activists – when the US and UK cooperated with the Qadhafi regime, the latter allowing the rendition of suspected Islamist militants to secret prisons in Libya where they were mistreated; after those Islamist militants were tortured by the CIA first. Most of those subjected to ill-treatment in Qadhafi’s prisons, at the behest of the CIA, were members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), the latter joining the NATO-led campaign in 2011 to oust the Qadhafi administration; the ironies of imperialist intrigues.

The abyss of violent lawlessness and turmoil into which Libya has descended, and the consequent destruction of the meritorious health care and education systems that Libya once had, are the direct responsibility of the imperialist states. As Garigkai Chengu, scholar and fellow at Harvard University’s Du Bois Institute for African research explains;

In 1967 Colonel Gaddafi inherited one of the poorest nations in Africa; however, by the time he was assassinated, Gaddafi had turned Libya into Africa’s wealthiest nation. Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy on the continent. Less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.

After NATO’s intervention in 2011, Libya is now a failed state and its economy is in shambles. As the government’s control slips through their fingers and into to the militia fighters’ hands, oil production has all but stopped.

Libya did have a standard of education, health care and housing that was the envy of sub-Saharan Africa – not any more.

When Cameron and Sarkozy made their bellicose and boastful pronouncements in 2011, they did not have any inkling that their words would come back to haunt them. Nothing exemplifies the sheer contempt that the imperialist states have for the lives of people outside their immediate coterie than the disgraceful comments of former US secretary of state Hilary Clinton. Upon witnessing the lynch-mob murder of Qadhafi, she commented that “we came, we saw, he died”. Such a cowardly statement indicates a psychopathic personality, devoid of concern for human life. Qadhafi was murdered, and along with him Libya 2014 has suffered and thousands have been killed. After a nation has been broken down by Western intervention, it is not the capitalist powers that pick up the tab. The people in that country are condemned to an existence blighted by human rights abuses and immiseration.

The shattered oil industry, the collapse of the economy and social services, and the fracturing of the Libyan state into warring regions is a terrible indictment of the actions of US and European imperialism in Africa and the wider Middle East.

Cockburn’s timely article in The Independent is a stark warning for those in the West that advocate military intervention. As Cockburn notes, while imperialist military actions may temporarily protect a besieged minority, the intervention ultimately serves the interests and principal goals of the intervening force. The devastating consequences of the 2011 intervention are there for all to see. Libya 2014 demonstrates that the foreign policy of the imperialist states is driven by political scoundrels and financial parasites, who plunder everything and create nothing in resource-rich, militarily-smaller countries.

 

ISIS does have a counterpart in the Levant – but it is not the Palestinians

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), subsequently renamed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and currently called Islamic State (IS), has dominated the television news of the corporate media as the very incarnation of evil. Pictures of gruesome beheadings, massacres and atrocities committed by the ISIS militants are prominently displayed and circulated to a wide audience, intending to elicit the justifiable revulsion that such horrifying tactics generate. The ISIS group is fanatically anti-socialist, committed to capitalism, and is dedicated to establishing an ethno-sectarian state that does not recognise national borders. It defines itself as the ultimate and purest representative of Islamic people around the world, and is pushing out all those ethnic and religious groups that disagree with its fundamentalist vision, including those Muslims opposed to ISIS.

During the latest attack on the Palestinians of Gaza by the Israeli state, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deliberately drew a direct comparison between the ISIS militants and the Palestinian movement Hamas. Netanyahu, in drumming up support for the Israeli military offensive in Gaza dubbed Operation Protective Edge, portrayed Israel’s military actions as defensive in nature, aimed at a group that is hellbent on the destruction and physical liquidation of the Jewish population in Israel. Netanyahu claimed that Hamas shares the same millenarian fanaticism as ISIS, and that Hamas is a natural and important ally of ISIS in the Arab-Islamist project of creating a Muslim-exclusive political entity in the Levant.

This is a sweeping claim by Netanyahu, and it was successful to a point in associating the Palestinian Hamas organisation and its resistance as an ideological support for the ISIS group. Netanyahu cleverly framed the Israeli assault on Gaza as another crucial and important chapter in the global ‘war on terror’, fighting the good fight against the creeping and ubiquitous Islamist terror threat in its Palestinian incarnation. Hamas has been deliberately associated with ISIS by Netanyahu for the purpose of obfuscating the reality in Gaza, portraying Israel’s actions as defensive, motivated by the same lofty ideals of defending Western values and democracy against the international enemy, political Islamism – in this case, personified by Hamas.

But upon closer examination of this claim, it is clear that Netanyahu has turned the current reality on its head. He is either unwittingly ignorant, or what is more likely, making a deliberately perverse and false allegation to distort the nature of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and its assault on Gaza.

ISIS does have an ideological bedfellow in the Levant, with whom it shares many philosophical and political similarities; the Jewish State in Israel and the Levant.

The latter phrase is the title of an informative and perceptive article by Ben Norton published in the Socialist Worker online magazine. Norton elaborates upon the key programmatic similarities between the philosophy underlying the actions of ISIS, and the foundational ideology of the state of Israel. We will examine this article more closely a little later, but first some preliminary points.

In a previous article, the current author elaborated upon the differences between Hamas and the ISIS group. Hamas is an Islamist organisation, that is true; but it is not exterminating ethnic minorities, not waging a totalising war of annihilation against its opponents, and has demonstrated its tactical flexibility in negotiations with its regional counterparts. The main difference however, was elaborated by Larry Derfner, in an article for the +972 magazine entitled “No, Hamas isn’t ISIS, ISIS isn’t Hamas”. After detailing the features that distinguish the two organisations, Derfner explains the key difference:

But for all those differences, the decisive one between Hamas and ISIS, of course, is that Hamas represents a nation under foreign rule, which means Hamas is fighting a war of self-defense against Israel. ISIS is trying to take over a nation, or nations, that are beset by civil war, so ISIS, being the most murderous, totalitarian and feared of any of the factions, is fighting a war of aggression.

However, rather than elaborating on all the characteristics that distinguish ISIS from Hamas, it is more relevant to explain the similarities between ISIS and the Jewish State in Israel and the Levant. The underlying programmatic similarities between the two entities are striking, and relevant to a discussion of just exactly who is the aggressor in the Middle East. Both organisations are motivated by a hyper-ethnonationalism, one that seeks to create sectarian exclusive states that exclude ethnic minorities, and both organisations claim to represent their respective co-religionists around the world, regardless of nationality.

ISIS has been roundly condemned for its tactic of beheadings – a savage method of killing to be sure. Does the Israeli military behead its opponents? No it does not, because it has a more technologically sophisticated way of killing; flechette bombs. The latter are a type of metallic dart, sprayed out in all directions by an exploding flechette bomb. The flechette darts tear apart and mutilate anything and everything within its range. During the most recent Israeli attack on Gaza, the lethal effectiveness of the flechette bombs was noted in a speech by musician and Stop the War Coalition activist, Brian Eno. In July 2014, he stated that:

Today I saw a picture of a weeping Palestinian man holding a plastic carrier bag of meat. It was his son. He’d been shredded (the hospital’s word) by an Israeli missile attack – apparently using their fab new weapon, flechette bombs. You probably know what those are – hundreds of small steel darts packed around explosive which tear the flesh off humans. The boy was Mohammed Khalaf al-Nawasra. He was 4 years old.

ISIS has been condemned for targeting journalists, humanitarian aid workers and medical personnel. That is a crime against humanity, to be sure. In the latest Israeli offensive against the Palestinians in Gaza, Israeli forces deliberately targeted medical workers, hospitals and clinics, and ambulance crews rushing to rescue the wounded were ambushed.

ISIS has been recorded as recruiting indoctrinated foreign fighters, from the United States, Australia, Canada and other countries, to fight in its war against Iraq and Syria. Yes, that much is true. Let us look at the Jewish State in Israel and the Levant; foreign recruits from around the world, indoctrinated in religious Zionism, travel to the state of Israel to serve in its army, help to settle in occupied Palestinian lands, and displace the indigenous population. The foreign fighters, from Peru, from countries like Australia, from the United States,  all of these fighters actively helping in the expansionist and colonising project of Zionism.

ISIS does not recognise national borders, and has stated that it represents all Muslims around the world, regardless of their nationality or country of origin. ISIS guerrillas have been smashing the borders between the Arab states in the Levant, borders that were determined by the imperialist powers in the aftermath of World War One. ISIS has been upsetting the imperial status quo, set by the Sykes-Picot agreement, and reuniting the Arab lands in the Levant. This redivision of the spoils of war, upsetting the apple-cart so to speak, has earned ISIS the ire of the imperialist states. ISIS has destabilised the entire imperialist-imposed status quo.

The state of Israel currently does not define its borders, and its founding documents do not delineate the borders of the new state. The only formally defined borders are those with Egypt and Jordan, in the context of peace treaties with those countries. Otherwise, Israel’s borders are up for discussion and interpretation. The closest that anyone has come to a specific definition of the Israeli state’s borders are the advocates within Israel of a ‘Greater Israel’, the most expansionist and Zionist-fanatical politicians and proponents that claim all the lands between the Nile and the Euphrates rivers as the ancestral home of the Jewish people. This is derived from particular political interpretations of several passages in the Old Testament. It is not the purpose of the current article to go into all the various nuances and permutations of this question. The point to remember is that the project of Zionism, just like the war waged by ISIS, seeks a religiously-based justification for its political and economic programme of annexation.

However the Israeli establishment comes to define its borders, its expansionist project suits the interests of the imperialist states, and indeed the latter provide the funding and military equipment for the Jewish state to continually expand at the expense of the indigenous population. Zionism serves as a colonial settler outpost of the imperialist powers, and its annexationist drive poses no problems its Western sponsors.

The entire article by Ben Norton on the Jewish State in Israel and the Levant can be found here. It is well worth the read. However, let us conclude with another important observation, and one that sums up the current discussion; groups like ISIS, and the Israeli state, can only flourish because of the policies and actions of the imperialist states and their partners. The Western powers have created and maintained the fertile ground in which groups like ISIS can grow, and in which the Zionist project can continue its predatory practices of colonisation.

While the actions of ISIS militants on the ground are savage, it is the savages in our midst that need our attention in the capitalist West. The latter is undergoing a terminal economic crisis, and the psychopaths that are currently steering our political and economic rudders, are implementing a savage philosophy of austerity-cutbacks at home, while pursuing aggressive wars overseas. While there are barbarians in other countries in the Middle East, we must first recognise that we are living in the belly of the imperialist beast. If we want meaningful change around the world, the first thing we must do is change ourselves.

The Ferguson uprising: America’s most famous export, the war on terror, comes home

In early August 2014, a young African American man, Michael Brown, was fatally shot by a St Louis police officer in the suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. The latter is an outlying suburb of St Louis. The 18-year old man was unarmed, and an autopsy revealed that he had been shot six times, twice in the head. His corpse was left on the ground for four hours, cordoned off by the St Louis police. This shooting sparked sustained, peaceful, and militant protests by the largely African American community in Ferguson against police brutality, racism and the lack of economic opportunities for the mainly poor residents of that community.

These protests, generalised into an uprising against the institutional racism and inequality that pervades capitalist America, elicited a heavy-handed and violent response by the militarised police. Specialised police units were deployed to confront the protesters. American police forces have been quietly and steadily acquiring military hardware for many years, as well as absorbing the lessons of suppression of civil dissent. Indeed, even mainstream corporate media outlets, such as the Business Insider, have noted the terrifying consequences of the militarisation of police forces:

Militarised police deployed in Ferguson
Militarised police deployed in Ferguson

It is getting increasingly difficult to distinguish police officers from soldiers.

In fact, the residents of Ferguson were confronted not only by heavily armed robocop-style police, but also by a weapon normally deployed in war zones – mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAP). Such vehicles have been developed to withstand improvised explosive devices, possess heavy blast-resistant surfaces and reinforced glass, and are used in various types of terrain, whether urban, rural or mountainous. MRAP vehicles, such as the one below, are part of the US military arsenal in Afghanistan, Iraq and were supplied to the Israeli army for use in their latest attack on Gaza:

This is Ferguson - a Latin-Americanised police force
This is Ferguson – a Latin-Americanised police force

Note the sniper at the top of the vehicle, ready to shoot down any person. Such a militarised deployment against a peaceful African American community stands in stark contrast to the softly-softly approach taken by federal authorities in their standoff with the scrounging and racist rancher Cliven Bundy, who has been flouting the American government and laws for so long. Bundy is only the tip of an iceberg – a terrorism problem the United States refuses to acknowledge. White supremacist groups, patriot militia, sovereign citizens groups and other states’ rights outfits have an obsession with guns, openly defy what they believe to be a tyrannical federal government, and spread their hateful views through social and electronic media. One wonders why such a deep malaise is allowed to continue, but the peaceful response of a marginalised African American community to a racist police shooting is met with heavy-handed police repression.

Interestingly, the National Rifle Association, (NRA) whose members are known for their strident denunciations of federal government tyranny and have warned about jack-booted thugs taking over the streets, have remained silent about the display of jack-booted thuggery against the African American population of Ferguson Missouri. The NRA, advocates of citizen sovereignty against an overwhelming government power, have remained conspicuously silent on the unfolding dystopian catastrophe witnessed by the black American community in Ferguson. But somehow, a bigoted rancher parasitically abusing the federal land system is worthy of armed support against attempts to bring him to justice.

While police violence against ethnic minorities in America is sadly nothing new, a number of commentators drew attention to the recent development of a heavily militarised police force. The latter has deployed military-grade equipment and used similar tactics to military forces around the world that have a history of repressive actions against civil dissent. In Counterpunch magazine, Cosme Caal, a community activist and scholar, spoke about the Latin Americanisation of the US police force. In Latin America, the United States actively assisted in the creation of militarised police forces in those countries ruled by tyrannical pro-American military dictatorships. The police became not so much a force for protecting and serving the community, but for policing and suppressing political dissent. Caal notes that this model of policing, fed by impunity from accountability for their actions, now serve as a bulwark of civil suppression. Allowed to imprison, torture and kill without any regard for civilian oversight, the police became a law unto themselves. Equipped with military-style hardware, they became the defenders of the elite and privileged, serving to violently repress any outbreak of unrest among the dispossessed and marginalised.

That model of policing, now being adopted in the United States, is intimately bound up with the deepening economic crisis gripping the capitalist countries. As more people are impoverished, lacking educational and social opportunities, the ruling class is becoming increasingly fearful of social and political unrest. The methods of the US ‘war on terror’, previously applied overseas, are now being practiced domestically. As Sean Ledwith, lecturer in politics and philosophy, wrote in his article for Counterfire:

On the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and the urban uprising in Watts, American streets once again resounded to the sounds of chanting protesters, tear gas canisters and police banging their shields. The shooting dead of Brown, an 18-year old, on August 9th in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson was the catalyst for almost two weeks of mass protest across the US over the intractable levels of racism that still afflict the country in what is supposedly its post-racial era.

The outrage over police brutality and racial profiling are horribly familiar but what was new about this recent scenario was the militarisation of the state response. Many Americans have made  disturbing comparisons between the scenes they witnessed on their own streets with what citizens in Baghdad, Fallujah, Kandahar and other far-flung locales have endured as the US leviathan has pursued its global projection of power.

The democratic facade of the US capitalist system is being stripped away to reveal the savage financial oligarchy that deploys power to protect its own wealth and privileges.

The comparison to the repression of civilians in Baghdad, Fallujah and Kandahar is apt. However, there is another comparison that needs to be made, in the light of recent events. The toolbox of racist repression in Ferguson can be compared to the tactics and methods used by the state of Israel in Gaza. Israel carried out a direct military assault on the Palestinians of Gaza, that is true, and that was of an intensity and savage magnitude outstripping the police actions in Ferguson. That much is true. However, the similarity in militarised responses, the deployment of barbaric levels of force against civilian populations and the use of mass incarceration indicate that the tools being used underscore the class power and racial hierarchies evident in the Israeli society and the United States. That is the finding of the Common Dreams activists and scholars Corinna Mullin and Azadeh Shahshahani in their article From Gaza to Ferguson: Exposing the Toolbox of Racist Repression.

The authors of the above article note that the United States is a national security state, a state of untrammeled power for the oligarchy, where democratic rights are being tramped, the intelligence apparatus increasingly surveils the wider population, the police act with impunity and constitutional provisions against the abuse of power are ignored, and entire communities, such as the African American community are being criminalised. At the time of writing, it has been over a month since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, and while the identity of the police officer who perpetrated the crime is known, the authorities in St Louis have so far done nothing to bring the perpetrator and his accomplices to justice. St Louis county officials are delaying justice for the Brown family, and this basically means that justice is denied. It is no coincidence that more commentators are drawing the comparison between Gaza and Ferguson, after all, the United States basically underwrites the Israeli repression of the Palestinians, and violent policing of the occupied Palestinian territories bears remarkable similarities to the policing of the African American community. While America has exported violence overseas, that violence is now coming home.

It is increasingly the case that in the United States, terrorism is perpetrated not by the usual suspects (insert your favourite scapegoat here; Muslims, Arabs, radicals, anarchists, Communists…..) but by the police themselves. When the law enforcers behave in a systematically lawless manner, then this indicates a deeper malaise in the American capitalist system. As the activist Linn Washington wrote in his article for Counterpunch;

Today, politicians, press pundits and preachers across America, portray terrorism as having a foreign face. Yet, for far too many Americans, the terrorists that they encounter daily are the police.

The issues of class and race intersected starkly at Ferguson. President Obama, the first African American president, has now confronted the simmering issues of racial hierarchy reinforced by an underlying class structure in the second term of what was touted as a ‘post-racial America’. In Ferguson Missouri, we may see the weight of history: Missouri is after all shaped by its history as a slave state, the home of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, when pro- and anti-slavery factions battled it out over the issue of slavery. Missouri, one of the states that formed part of the slave-owners’ secessionist Civil War in the 1860s, resisted attempts at integration, and indeed has a long history of implementing Jim Crow laws, that is, legalised segregation. In more recent times, the black community has faced a more covert, underhanded type of segregation, whether it is access to education, restrictions on housing, and disproportionate levels of unemployment as compared to the larger white community. St Louis possesses one of the most segregated metropolitan areas in the United States, and this economic inequality is fueling the anger and resentment of the black community. The spark that lit the fuse was the racially motivated killing of the unarmed African American teenager by a St Louis police force that is still overwhelmingly white.

There is growing recognition that American capitalism is a class-structured society. Until the economic meltdown of 2008, it was near-impossible to discuss the issue of class. The impoverishment of larger and larger section of the population, and the preservation of privileges by the ultra-wealthy, laid bare the essentials of the class war, the war on the poor, that we are witnessing today. However, any discussion of class inequality cannot be separated from a recognition that the United States is a racially stratified society. Back in 1903, W. E. B. Dubois the great African American scholar, activist and first black American to graduate from Harvard with a doctorate, stated that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.” In the 21st century, that problem is still with us, and Ferguson demonstrates that the racial divide intersects with and reinforces the class divide. Not only is there systemic economic inequality, but that inequality is perpetuated along colour lines.

The interplay of race and class, and how that feeds the social discontent that erupted at Ferguson require a deeper discussion. That will be the focus of the next article. Stay tuned.

 

Hamas is fighting the legitimate struggle for Palestinian self-determination

The Islamic Resistance Movement – Hamas is the abbreviation from the Arabic – has constituted the democratically elected government of the Palestinian territories since January 2006. It swept to power in that year, winning a majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament, amidst recognition of the failure of the traditional secular nationalist Palestinian parties, in particular the Fatah party which had dominated the Palestinian leadership for decades. The Washington Post, hardly a friendly voice for the Palestinians, examined the 2006 election results, admitted that they were a stunning blow for Israeli and American officials, and the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas consolidated its hold in the West Bank thus undercutting Hamas’ chance to assume power in that region.

Israel responded to the election results with economic warfare, imposing a blockade of Gaza, encouraging the Palestinian Authority to move against the incoming Hamas officials, and launched punitive raids into the occupied Palestinian territories in 2006. Israel, with the connivance of the American government, encouraged a mini-civil war between the Fatah group (the main component of the Palestinian Authority) and Hamas. It is no secret that the Bush administration conspired to undermine the democratic election of Hamas, and advised President Abbas to dissolve the Hamas organisation. Hamas was able to respond to these manoeuvres and consolidate its position in the Gaza strip, even with the Fatah-Hamas near-civil war over the 2006 and 2007 period. In June 2007, the split between Fatah and Hamas emerged as a split in the Palestinian government, with Fatah controlling the West Bank, and Hamas remaining in charge in Gaza.

This background is necessary in order to understand the latest onslaught by the Israeli military against the population of Gaza. The Palestinians in Gaza, suffering under an economic siege that has undermined basic living conditions, have been fighting for their very survival.

It is interesting to note that in 2006, immediately after the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections, several and repeated attempts were made by the Hamas government to establish diplomatic and economic channels with the United States, the European Union and other countries. The Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, wrote to former US President George Bush, offering to recognise the post-1967 boundaries of Israel, and offered a long-term truce. Cata Charrett, writing in an article called Understanding Hamas for the online magazine Mondoweiss, elaborated that Haniyeh proposed a truce, indicating that stability and security were top priorities for his government,  and called for an end to the economic blockade of Gaza on humanitarian grounds.

His letter has remained unanswered until today.

The latest Israeli incursion into the Gaza strip, dubbed Operation Protective Edge, is one part of the long-term strategy of Israel to undermine and demolish the Hamas government, and the chances of building a viable Palestinian state. A ceasefire has taken effect, and at the time of writing is still holding. This provides welcome relief for the people trapped inside Gaza. However, let us make no mistake, the Israelis deliberately targeted civilians, civilian infrastructure, and 2139 Palestinians were killed, 490 of them children. Thousands have been made homeless, with the United Nations stating that 20,000 homes have been rendered uninhabitable by Israeli shelling and air strikes. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) deliberately targeted the economic infrastructure, with factories destroyed, farmland ruined, and even livestock killed by aerial strikes. The Stop the War Coalition UK published an account of the devastation of the Gazan economy; croplands decimated, factories demolished and economic activity grinding to a halt:

GAZA’S ECONOMY will take years to recover from the devastating impact of the war, in which more than 360 factories have been destroyed or badly damaged and thousands of acres of farmland ruined by tanks, shelling and air strikes, according to analysts.

The same article continues:

Almost 10% of Gaza’s factories have been put out of action, said the Palestinian Federation of Industries. Most other industrial plants have halted production during the conflict, causing losses estimated at more than $70m(£42m), said the union of Palestinian industries. The UN’s food and agriculture organisation (FAO) said about 42,000 acres of croplands had sustained substantial direct damage and half of Gaza’s poultry stock has been lost due to direct hits or lack of care as access to farmlands along the border with Israel became impossible.

Even with the ceasefire in place, it will takes years for the Gazan economy to recover. Operation Protective Edge was just the latest in a string of Israeli offensives designed to inflict collective punishment, a crime under international law, on the Palestinians. As Palestinian intellectual Professor Rashid Khalidi wrote in the New Yorker magazine, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu made it clear during the latest attack on Gaza that his government demanded control of all the territory west of the Jordan river. The land, resources and wealth of that region was to be under Israeli control, nothing less than that. According to Netanyahu, the Palestinians must accept subordination, no question about that. Professor Khalidi elaborated that:

In the past seven or more years, Israel has besieged, tormented, and regularly attacked the Gaza Strip. The pretexts change: they elected Hamas; they refused to be docile; they refused to recognize Israel; they fired rockets; they built tunnels to circumvent the siege; and on and on. But each pretext is a red herring, because the truth of ghettos—what happens when you imprison 1.8 million people in a hundred and forty square miles, about a third of the area of New York City, with no control of borders, almost no access to the sea for fishermen (three out of the twenty kilometres allowed by the Oslo accords), no real way in or out, and with drones buzzing overhead night and day—is that, eventually, the ghetto will fight back. It was true in Soweto and Belfast, and it is true in Gaza. We might not like Hamas or some of its methods, but that is not the same as accepting the proposition that Palestinians should supinely accept the denial of their right to exist as a free people in their ancestral homeland.

Origins of Hamas

Hamas began in the context of the First Intifada (Uprising) by the Palestinians against Israeli occupation in 1987. There were Islamist-based Palestinian organisations prior to the First Intifada in Gaza and the West Bank. But they had been largely marginalised by the superior numbers and organisational capability of the secular nationalist parties, mainly Fatah, the main constituent party of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). The latter, founded in the 1960s, embodied the hopes and aspirations of the Palestinians, fighting against Zionism and Israeli occupation, and served as an umbrella organisation for the various Palestinian political groups. The PLO was never a socialist group, but it did contain Communist and socialist political currents. The PLO emphasised the complete liberation of all of historic Palestine from the Zionist rule.

However, while the secular nationalist parties like Fatah dominated the Palestinian cause, the religiously-based groups were not silent. The antecedents of Hamas reside in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The latter can be viewed as the parent organisation, which gave birth to the Islamist parties that eventually spawned Hamas. In 1948, in the immediate aftermath of the Nakba (catastrophe), the Gaza strip was nominally under Egyptian control. The cadres of the Muslim Brotherhood made their way into Gaza, to establish an Islamist counterpart among the Palestinians.

In 1967, when Israel took over the West Bank and Gaza directly, the Muslim groups in those territories merged, and began to organise in coordination. From 1967, the number of mosques and religiously-based schools in Gaza increased, along with social services, charities, helping the needy, medical clinics and welfare groups. The Islamist parties stressed the need to assist the downtrodden, and their standing increased among the people. In 1973, the Al-Mujamma al-Islam (Islamic Centre) was founded. This organisation is the direct ancestor of Hamas. In 1978, the Israeli occupation authority in Gaza formally recognised the Mujamma, this at a time when the PLO was ignored and slandered as a terrorist organisation. How ironic that today, Hamas faces the same snubs and slanders.

The Israelis at this stage looked upon the growth of the Islamist opposition as a necessary and beneficial development, because the Islamist groups provided a strong counterweight to the dominant secular nationalist Palestinian parties. The Israelis encouraged the growth of Al-Mujamma, even recognising it as a legitimate group and providing it funding. While it is incorrect to state that Israel created Hamas, the policy of the Israeli government to cultivate a religiously-based opposition to the secular parties in Gaza helped to lay the groundwork for the rise of Hamas. Israel’s tactic of tolerating the growth of politically Islamist parties corresponded to the wider US strategy of cultivating ties and encouraging the growth of politically conservative Islamist forces, such as Saudi Arabia, as a necessary blockage to the development of secular-based Palestinian and Arab nationalism. Islamist parties were a useful bulwark against the more politicised Arab and Palestinian movements. Clashes between the PLO and Mujamma supporters were not uncommon, and no doubt the Israelis looked upon such clashes with smug satisfaction.

The Mujamma organisation was not political, or at least looked up politics and fighting the occupation as a secondary issue. The main goal and activity of the group was to Islamise the society. New mosques and schools were built, charities started, medical services provided, youth and sports clubs opened, and community activities were associated with the mosque. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, the Mujamma group had been building up the trust and goodwill of the population in Gaza, permeating the social and economic structures of the society, and they were in a strong position to launch themselves as the Hamas organisation in 1987 amid the first intifadah.

Throughout the 1980s, the PLO had suffered a series of defeats, and ended up retreating from their strongholds in Lebanon, relocated to faraway Tunis. While it is out of the scope of this article to examine in detail the reasons for these setbacks, suffice it to note that the PLO leadership began to retreat politically from the core demands of the Palestinian struggle – the return of the pre-1948 refugees, the reversal of all the measures of Zionism, the one-state solution for the whole of Palestine, the failure to address the apartheid-like conditions of the Palestinians in the occupied territories.

As John Rees, organiser with the Stop the War Coalition UK, and editor of Counterfire online magazine states in his article:

The Palestine Liberation Organisation adopted a one-state solution as its aim in 1969. In January 1969 Fatah declared that it was not fighting against Jews, but against Israel as a racist and theocratic entity. The fifth national council of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in February 1969 passed a resolution confirming that the PLO’s objective was ‘to establish a free and democratic society in Palestine for all Palestinians whether they are Muslims, Christians or Jews’. Only successive attempts to compromise with US-inspired peace processes have moved the PLO away from this initial goal.

As the PLO withdrew from these basic demands, their popularity with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza began to diminish. With the weakness of the secular nationalist PLO, the Hamas group was ready to step into the breach. While the Mujamma organisation largely abstained from politics, Hamas adopted an avowedly political approach, and proposed political solutions based on their religion.

Hamas charter

It was in this period of the First Intifadah that the Hamas organisation was established with the explicit political goals, namely the liberation of Palestine from Zionist colonisation, the return of the pre-1948 Palestinian refugees, and the foundation of a new independent Palestinian state. These goals were elaborated, along with the religious basis of Hamas’ worldview, in the foundational charter of that organisation. The Lillian Goldman Law Library of the Yale University Law School has kindly provided the full text of the Hamas charter. Go read the whole document – Hamas Charter 1988 – here it is.

This charter has been the obsessive focus of Israel’s supporters and Hamas’ detractors for the alleged inclusion of the goal of the destruction of Israel. Firstly, nowhere in this charter is that phrase ever used. There is talk about the liberation of historic Palestine, though what that involves is left unresolved by the document’s authors. The charter, written at the time of the first intifadah, represents the political thinking of Hamas at that time. This is the period when Hamas, moving from a purely religious interpretation of the Israel-Palestine conflict to a political one, responded to the realities on the ground. To depict Hamas as an intractable, unyielding menace to the very survival of Israel is more a matter of emotional sensationalism and not based upon a sound understanding of political and economic reality.

Khaled Hroub, director of the Arab Media Project at Cambridge University and a Palestinian refugee, authored a book called Hamas: A Beginner’s Introduction. He addresses the question of the charter, the target of such obsessive propaganda by Israel’s supporters.  Hroub wrote this book back in 2006, when Hamas’ political strategy was paying off electoral success. He states that any suggestion that Hamas, or any other Arab political party, intends on physically destroying Israel is naive and slanderously false. Hamas’ charter is actually irrelevant to the day-to-day operation of that organisation. Hamas has moved into the political sphere, and is responding to the challenges and obstacles of the political process.

In fact, let us clear up another misconception: No, Hamas is not ISIS and ISIS is not Hamas. That is the title of an article by Larry Derfner, feature writer for The Jerusalem Post, as well as the correspondent in Israel for the U.S. News and World Report. No, Hamas is not hell-bent on exterminating every single person that opposes its views, like ISIS. No, Hamas is not targeting ethnic and religious minorities, like ISIS is currently doing. No Hamas does not want to establish a worldwide caliphate, like ISIS intends on establishing. However, Derfner elaborates that the most important difference to note is:

the decisive one between Hamas and ISIS, of course, is that Hamas represents a nation under foreign rule, which means Hamas is fighting a war of self-defense against Israel. ISIS is trying to take over a nation, or nations, that are beset by civil war, so ISIS, being the most murderous, totalitarian and feared of any of the factions, is fighting a war of aggression.

The Hamas charter does contain anti-Semitic statements. It conflates Judaism with Zionism, makes a reference to the notorious and execrable forgery the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and recycles long-refuted tropes about Jewish monetary influence inciting the French and Russian revolutions, Jewish financial power being a uniquely nefarious originator of major political upheavals. These statements are inexcuseable, but they are also irrelevant, along with the charter itself, because Hamas has developed its politics and worldview from the narrow dichotomy between ‘believers’ and ‘unbelievers’ into a more sophisticated understanding of imperialist politics and the role of western colonialism in creating the tragedy of Palestine.

Hamas has not repudiated its charter, and it has maintained that document as an historical artifact. Indeed, Hamas leaders and documents, especially in the lead-up to the 2006 elections, made no mention of any such calls for the destruction of Israel. Such claims never featured in any election documents, or in its 2006 election manifesto. In the run-up to the 2006 elections, Hamas released its platform to the public. The manifesto maintains its support for armed struggle, opposition to Zionism, and an acceptance of an interim Palestinian state should Israel withdraw to the pre-1967 borders.

It is not unusual for political parties to move away and develop from their original founding documents: the Australian Labour Party has in its founding platform statements that call for the socialisation of the means of production, but the party has implemented economic and political reforms that have paved the road to privatisation and corporatisation of government assets. There are many complex political reasons for this, and the course of these reforms is up for debate. The current ALP leader Bill Shorten has repudiated the description of his party as socialist, and is demanding that Labour further accommodate the needs of big business. The equivalent process overtook the British Labour Party in the 1980s, with that organisation moving away from its socialistic roots and adopted a pro-corporate agenda when in power. Once again, the evaluation of this course can be debated, and is being debated both within and outside these parties.

The purpose here is not to have these debates over again, but to assert that political parties adapt and change according to economic and political realities. However, there is one party in the Middle East that is implementing its charter until today.

The Likud party of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu explicitly states in its charter that there will be no Palestinian state west of the Jordan river. The Likud charter goes on to state that the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza represent the implementation of Zionist values, and constitute an asset in the defence of the state of Israel. Netanyahu’s government has not repudiated this charter, but is actually making it a reality on the ground until today. The latest Israeli offensive into Gaza was another episode of what Israeli officials like to describe as “mowing the lawn”; just as the Palestinians in Gaza get themselves organised into something resembling even the possibility of a viable state, Israel moves in to mow the lawn, undermining any chance of a survivable Palestinian state taking hold.

It is interesting to note that Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas political leader, did state that his organisation was ready to peacefully co-exist with Jews, Christians, and all other ethnic and religious minorities. He elaborated that;

Asked by veteran interviewer Charlie Rose whether he could foresee living beside Israelis in peace, Meshaal said only a future Palestinian state could decide whether to recognize Israel.

“We are not fanatics, we are not fundamentalists. We are not actually fighting the Jews because they are Jews per se. We do not fight any other races. We fight the occupiers,” he said.

“I’m ready to coexist with the Jews, with the Christians and the Arabs and non-Arabs,” he said. “However, I do not coexist with the occupiers.”

Hamas has developed an understanding of the multidimensional nature of the Israeli occupation, and articulated a political opposition to the Zionist project of colonisation. Hamas has accepted the concept of a Palestinian nation state, but not abandoned the more generalised Islamic concept of the Ummah; the wider Islamic community composed of Muslims around the world.

Oslo and beyond

The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993 between the Israeli authorities and the PLO, represented the culmination of a long process of retreat by the Palestinian side. The PLO basically relinquished all the basic demands of the Palestinian liberation movement, while the Israelis made symbolic concessions. It is not necessary to go into the full details of the Oslo accords here; further information can be found in the article by the present author here. The salient point to note here is that the Oslo agreement, while being presented to the world as a mechanism of peace, is actually a device to undermine the legitimate grievances of the Palestinians, and undercut any possibility of an independent Palestinian state. Fatah and the PLO became an instrument of continuing the occupation, albeit by indirect means. Israelis were no longer directly deployed, even though the settlements remained and have expanded. Fatah, which eventually became the Palestinian Authority, was now responsible for policing the Palestinian territories. This abstention of leadership by Fatah allowed Hamas to step up and fill the gap.

The Israeli settlement expansion continued apace after 1993, Palestinian political prisoners still languished in Israeli jails, and the pre-1948 refugees remained stuck in refugee camps. Hamas began to campaign against the terms of the Oslo agreement, which they portrayed as capitulation to the occupiers. By 2000, with the eruption of the second major Palestinian intifadah, disillusionment with the Oslo process and the Palestinian Authority ran high. Hamas emerged as the undisputed leader of the uncompromising demands for Palestinian liberation. Its work among the poor, its social welfare services and educational programmes, and its unwavering commitment against the Israeli occupation won it adherents, and translated into electoral victory in 2006.

There are many criticisms to be made about Hamas’ underlying religious perspective, its stance on women, socially conservative positions on abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, all the usual issues that involve the debates between the secular and religious. In this, Hamas is no different to the similar debates that occur in the Christian-majority countries, like the United States, Australia and Britain. The point to emphasise hear is that while Hamas is struggling for the survival of the Palestinians, it is the duty of all humanitarian people to support its legitimate fight against the Israeli assault and blockade of Gaza. To use a parallel example, the international community’s support of the East Timorese people’s struggle for independence did not hinge upon the East Timorese giving up their traditional Catholic faith. Hamas is fighting the honourable fight.

Mustafa Omar, an Egyptian socialist explains, support for Hamas is unconditional, but not uncritical. Hamas is fighting against a barbaric enemy, a powerful military force that is deployed against civilian infrastructure in Gaza. The disproportionate use of unrelenting force by the occupying power, Israel, is lost amidst a barrage of emotionally sensationalist claims about Hamas rocket attacks, fired randomly as a desperate defensive measure which may cause civilian casualties. Hamas militants have carried out rocket attacks, that is true. Israel has used the entire Gaza strip and the Palestinian trapped inside as guinea pigs for testing its military technology, with Israel being the largest per-capita arms exporter in the world. Israel can rightly claim that its weapons work successfully in combat, having been used in Gaza with maximum impact.

Having tested their weapons against a defenceless civilian population, Israeli armaments manufacturers sell their wares to the highest bidder. All this business activity could not be done without the partnership of the United States. As the Stop the War Coalition UK explained;

The Israeli arms industry operates in close cooperation with its bigger sister in the US. The military aid the US gives to Israel ensures this cooperation, and every conflict in the Middle East contributes more to the profits of US arms giants (such as Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon) than to the Israeli arms companies.

What has Hamas proposed in the middle of all this death and destruction? The activist and author Medea Benjamin lists the practical demands raised by Hamas while the latest Israeli assault on Gaza was occurring:

  • Withdrawal of Israeli tanks from the Gaza border
  • Freeing the prisoners arrested after the killing of the three youths
  • Lifting the siege and opening the border crossings to commerce and people, under UN supervision
  • Establishing an international seaport and airport under U.N. supervision
  • Increasing the permitted fishing zone to comply with international norms
  • Reestablishing an industrial zone and improvements in further economic development in the Gaza Strip

Benjamin explains that these proposals are not only reasonable, but a basis for constructing a durable peace settlement. It is time to talk with Hamas as a serious negotiating partner, and stop libellously dismissing it as a fanatical, uncooperative terrorist organisation. Hamas has based its appeals to the wider community on international laws and human rights, laws that the United States government has routinely broken. Hamas speaks for the Palestinians of Gaza – let us listen to them seriously.

 

Israel’s latest attack against the Palestinians – Gaza today resembles the Warsaw Ghetto of yesterday

Israel’s latest incursion into the Gaza strip, entitled Operation Protective Edge, is part of the long-term strategy of the Israeli state to blockade and collectively punish the Palestinians in that territory. Since 2006, the Israeli military and state has been maintaining a complete land, sea and air imprisonment of the Gaza strip Palestinian population, a retaliatory response to the democratic election of the Islamist movement Hamas as the government of the Palestinians. The blockade of Gaza has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe for the Palestinians, with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) documenting the terrible consequences of this tactic. Back in 2009, the UN OCHA released a report stating that the Palestinians, locked inside one of the most densely populated areas in the world, are suffering a prolonged crisis, denying them basic imports, food, medicines, economic activity, the resultant unemployment, and breakdown of infrastructure. The Palestinians are living in conditions that are basically suffocating them, undermining the basic services and necessities for survival. The updated and ongoing reports of the UN OCHA can be found here.

Access to the Gaza strip is tightly controlled by a system of heavily reinforced military checkpoints, the main crossings between Israel and Gaza opened only with the permission of the Israeli authorities. Egypt’s military rulers, General Sisi, does his part in blockading Gaza, helping to imprison the Palestinians as punishment for their election of Hamas, the Islamist political party aligned with and borne out of the Egyptian mother organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood. The military dictatorship in Egypt has effectively sided with Tel Aviv in the latter’s latest offensive against Gaza, though this decision has earned condemnation from international quarters.

The continued strangulation of the Palestinian population in Gaza has eerie parallels with a similar episode during World War Two, an episode that has come to typify the savagery of that conflict, but also serve as an emblem of the resilience of the human spirit. The Warsaw Ghetto, deliberately established by the Germans after their invasion of Poland, served the function of an open-air prison for the surviving Polish Jewish population. This ghetto was blocked off from the rest of the city, enclosed by fortified walls, and access to the ghetto was strictly controlled by military checkpoints. Jewish organisations inside the ghetto tried to meet the basic needs of the imprisoned population, as all imports, movement of goods and services, economic activity and trade were all severely restricted by the Germans.

In 1942, the inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto, through the various political parties that organised them, decided to rise up and resist the Germans, knowing full-well that they faced militarily superior forces. The Germans deployed the overwhelming might of their military to raze the ghetto to the ground. The heroism of the defenders, suicidal in their bravery, has gone down in legend as one of the most emotionally uplifting, terrifying and emblematic episodes of the twentieth century. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising makes for fascinating and moving reading. As the Australian socialist activist and intellectual John Passant states “The Warsaw Ghetto Jews had no chance of victory. But they fought to restore their humanity and to show that the Nazis were not unbeatable.”

The direct comparison of Gaza today with the Warsaw Ghetto of yesterday is not the sole invention of the present writer. The online magazine Counterpunch published an article in July 2014 entitled Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto. The author of that article lists the basic similarities in tactics used by the Israeli state of today, and the German state of yesterday. For instance, read the following lines from the beginning of the article:

THE WARSAW GHETTO WAS THE LARGEST OF ALL THE JEWISH GHETTOS IN NAZI-OCCUPIED EUROPE DURING WORLD WAR II.  The Gaza Strip is the largest Palestinian ghetto in the Middle East and among the most densely populated parts of the world.

THE GERMANS CLOSED THE WARSAW GHETTO TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD IN 1940.  Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005, but maintains exclusive control of Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters.  It controls the movement of people and goods in or out of Gaza.  As a result, the European Union and Human Rights Watch as well as agencies of the United Nations consider Gaza to remain occupied by Israel.

UNEMPLOYMENT WAS A MAJOR PROBLEM IN THE WARSAW GHETTO, AND OVER 100,000 RESIDENTS OF THE GHETTO DIED DUE TO DISEASE OR STARVATION.  The Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza has devastated the economy and caused a shortage of basic medicines and medical equipment. In 2010, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that “humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions.  Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.”

Another similarity between the tactics of the Israelis today and Germans yesterday is the formation of a ‘buffer zone’ in the north of Gaza. Israeli forces, during the latest assault on Gaza, demolished the suburbs that are within a three-kilometer area that is continuous with the Israeli border. The Germans created ‘buffer zones’ in the areas they occupied in Europe, the Israelis implemented a so-called ‘security belt’ in the south of Lebanon when they occupied that country back in 1980s. The security zones failed to achieve their objectives.

Of course historical analogies can be pushed too far, and comparisons can be drawn that are wildly exaggerated. However, it is clear from the conduct of the Israeli authorities against Gaza that the parallels with the Nazi German treatment of the Warsaw Ghetto are comparable and instructive.

Counterpunch magazine published another article in  July 2014, drawing out the explicit comparison between the Gaza territory and the Warsaw Ghetto. Dave Lindorff, an American activist of Jewish background, wrote that ‘Once it was the Nazis Leveling the Warsaw Ghetto; Now it’s Israel’s IDF Leveling Gaza’. He writes that the Israel Defence Forces are deliberately targeting hospitals, mosques, heavily populated areas and the casualties number women and children. The scale of the assault on Gaza, backed up by a widespread racial animosity throughout Israeli society, incited by various politicians and military figures. Lindorff explains that:

And like the horrific case of the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, here too we have a small-scale, improbable, resistance being put up by fighters who use home-made rockets, small arms and a network of tunnels to challenge their much better armed attackers. We also have people — ironically this time it’s Jewish citizens of Israel — dragging lounge chairs and refreshments out to hillsides in the evening to watch the fireworks as the IDF’s tanks, bombers and ships off the coast of Gaza pulverize this huge ghetto that is fully under Israeli control.

The comparison between Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto helps us to understand that this is not a fight between equally matched military forces. The Palestinians, represented by Hamas, are definitely the outmatched and out-gunned party, responding to a military occupation and siege that intends to force them into submission. Israel possesses one of the most powerful, computerised, high-tech military forces in the world – a navy, air force and army that is more than a match for any of its neighbours. The weapons, drones, military hardware and computer software that enables Israel to conduct its attacks on the Palestinians come from the United States and Britain primarily. The United States has willingly provided the F-16 fighter jets and Apache military helicopters that Israel is using to assault Gaza. The US replenishes the parts for armoured vehicles, replaces the spent ammunition cartridges, and provides the Howitzers that Israeli forces use in their continued offensive in Gaza.

Let us not forget the complicity of Britain in Israeli crimes – the drone technology, targeting systems and ammunition currently deployed by the Israeli forces were manufactured by British armaments companies. As explained by a report in The Independent newspaper, republished by the Stop the War Coalition UK;

Among the manufacturers given permission to make sales were two UK companies supplying components for the Hermes drone, described by the Israeli air force as the “backbone” of its targeting and reconnaissance missions. One of the two companies also supplies components for Israel’s main battle tank.

The Hermes drone has been widely used during Operation Protective Edge, the ongoing Israeli military action in Gaza, to monitor Palestinians and guided missile strikes.

There is no mistaking the complicity of the United States and Britain in the crimes of the Israeli military, and their role in enabling the latter to continue the siege of Gaza is a crime in itself. Stop the War Coalition UK published the statement signed by hundreds of intellectuals, activists and prominent campaigners (among them South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu) stating that the western powers who arm Israel are complicit in the crimes of the Israeli state.

Seumas Milne, expert political commentator for The Guardian newspaper, states it plainly in his column; “Gaza is a crime made in Washington as well as Jerusalem.” The carnage unleashed by Israel’s powerful military would not be possible without the active cooperation of the imperial powers, in particular the United States and the United Kingdom. The majority of those targeted, and the majority of Palestinian casualties, are civilians. Israel’s leaders, Milne explains, are attempting to ‘mown the lawn’, a favoured description of their repeated offensives against the Palestinians in Gaza over the years. However, things have not gone according to plan. Not only was the rate of Hamas’ rocket fire unaffected, but the rate of Israeli military casualties, in comparison to their earlier wars, has increased dramatically.

John Rees, one of the conveners of the Stop the War Coalition UK, summarised the results of an article published by the respected IHS Janes security and defence magazine called ‘Palestinian militants inflict substantial casualties on Israeli forces in Gaza’. The Israeli ground troops, unlike previous campaigns, faced an enemy that did not melt away, but stood up and fought on their home ground (much like the imprisoned population of the Warsaw Ghetto). John Rees explains that in contrast to the previous Israeli attack on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, the numbers of Israeli soldiers dying has greatly increased. During Operation Cast Lead (December 2008 – January 2009) ten Israeli soldiers died, four of them in friendly-fire incidents. During the most recent assault on Gaza, 53 soldiers have been killed.

Interestingly, Janes notes that with the new unity bewteen Hamas and the Palestinian Fatah movement, greater coordination and scope for the resistance has been the benefit. Hamas has adopted the training it has received from the Hezbollah party:

A key element of Hamas’s performance in this regard appears to be its emulation of the tactics of Lebanese Islamist group Hizbullah. A senior official in Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, speaking to IHS Jane’s on condition of anonymity on 22 July, stated, “We have benefited from all the Iranian, Syrian, [and] Hizbullah tactical combat schools, and finally formulated [a] Qassam independent one that matches our situation and [leaves us] capable to respond to our enemy’s challenge.”

The costs of this incursion are starting to weigh heavily on the minds of the Israeli leaders. Make no mistake though, the suffering of the Palestinians has been, and continues to be, horrendous beyond description. However, just like the fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto, the Palestinians have taken the fight to the occupier, inflicting casualties and causing enough pain for the occupying forces to rethink their position. Indeed, as Paul Rogers’ article in the Stop the War Coalition UK notes, Israel withdrew its ground troops from Gaza because it was losing, facing the stubborn resistance of a population refusing to be cowed. Rogers explains that:

The Jewish population of Israel is about one-tenth of the population of the UK. This means that the proportional losses in twenty-eight days exceed the UK’s combined losses in six years’ fighting in Iraq and twelve years in Afghanistan.

The attack on Gaza is sadly not over, by no means. However, as Rogers has stated, the IDF has confronted a war of surprises, with Hamas, far from crumbling but actually maintaining its support among the population.

One of the stated reasons for Israel’s incursion into Gaza is to stop Hamas from firing rockets into Israel proper. Hamas has certainly fired into the Israeli state – but from November 2012, which ended Operation Pillar of Defence, until July 2014, Hamas did strictly observe the ceasefire. Israeli forces continued their aerial warfare however, striking any target they deemed was a threat or military installation. As Eric Ruder from the Socialist Worker explained in his article “Resistance is justified when Gaza is occupied”:

During this time, Israel continued to carry out air strikes against whatever targets it deemed legitimate, and Israeli snipers fired on–and killed–farmers if they strayed too close to the Israeli-designated “buffer zone” along the Gaza-Israel border. The terms of the cease-fire also stipulated that Israel would lift its blockade of Gaza–which instead intensified, especially after the Egyptian military took over power after toppling Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi a year ago.

The nature of Hamas, its political program and vision, its origins and current situation, were only lightly touched on in this article. Setting the record straight about Hamas, obtaining a clear picture of this political party, and responding to the egregious lies perpetuated against by the Israeli political establishment and its supporters, is the subject of the next article. Stay tuned.

 

America has a serious terrorism problem – and refuses to acknowledge it

The United States of America contains a vast, nation-wide network of terrorist groups, armed to the teeth, conspiring to overthrow the federal government. These groups operate mostly in the shadows, a semi-legal world where they acquire the latest arms, organise secret cells, carry out operations to destabilise the government and undermine their authority, and rely on a reservoir of latent support in the communities they inhabit. These groups are fascinated by guns, absorbed by doctrines of supremacism that regard their community as elevated over the majority of the population, and are abusing the civil liberties and general tolerance of the wider community to spout their vitriol through various social and electronic media channels.

Oh and by the way, the terrorist groups which pose the greatest threat to the United States are not Muslim – they are white.

Professor Juan Cole, the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, wrote a comment piece on his blog entitled ‘Top 3 White Terrorist Attacks in America this week’. In this article, he pointed out that the American white supremacist Right, with its fixation on ‘big government’ and obsession with guns and arms, poses a mortal threat to the federal government. Wrapping itself in the mantle of constitutional patriotism and portraying its fight against ‘tyranny’, the American far right has built up its strength, incorporating people disaffected with the system. Most of the victims of America’s violent ultra-right are civilians, their deaths rationalised away by the right wing’s supporters as the unfortunate casualties of a war against big government tyranny. As Professor Cole explained in his article;

Although their attacks are ideological, directed at civilian victims and violent, they are seldom categorized as ‘terrorists.’ Rather what they do is “mass shootings.” In the meantime, plots hatched by Muslims in the US during the past few years appear almost always to be a form of entrapment by the FBI.

Only a few months ago, in April 2014, a white supremacist gunman and organiser of several racist groups, targeted residents of the Jewish Community Centre in Kansas. The killer, Frazier Glenn Miller, was known to authorities as a violent anti-Semite with a history of espousing white supremacist views and targeting ethnic minorities. Miller continued his activities in a climate of racial hatred and vitriol, a climate created and abetted by mainstream media outlets, particularly those associated with the Republican party and right wing ideology. Media corporations operated by yellow media mogul Rupert Murdoch, Fox Cable News, CNN, and other media outlets, propound virulent hate speech that promotes a political discourse of hatred against ethnic minorities, the latest targets being the Arab and Islamic communities.

Miller’s outburst did not occur in isolation. Back in 2012, white supremacist and ‘citizen patriot’ gunman Wade Michael Page walked into a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and killed six people, critically wounding three. He thought he was attacking Muslims. Page was also far from a ‘lone nut’. He was a vocal neo-Nazi, operating in white supremacist circles, and espoused hateful ideology by participating in bands that are categorised as ‘white power music’. Significantly, Page was an army veteran, and he brought his military training and knowledge into the service of white racist extremism. He transformed into a violent racist while serving in the army, the latter providing a milieu in which white racist ultra-rightist ‘patriotism’ could flourish.

These are not isolated incidents. The most recent example of white supremacist terrorism, given coverage in the corporate media, was the shooting of police officers in Las Vegas in June 2014 by Jared Miller and his wife, Amanda Woodruff Miller. The latter were steeped in white supremacist, ultra-right wing ‘patriotic’ ideology, blamed their setbacks in life on a tyrannical American government, and expressed their hopes of striking back through an obsession with guns. The two shooters began their terroristic rampage by killing two police officers, stripping the corpses of their weapons, and then covered the bodies with the Gadsden flag, a historical flag used during the American independence wars, featuring a coiled rattlesnake poised to strike with the words ‘Don’t tread on me.’

The Miller couple had long spoken of their alienation from the ‘system’, their lack of access to adequate health care, their contempt for the federal government, and their inability to make ends meet in tough economic times. From this wellspring of resentment, emerged a racial hatred, a fascination with guns, all cloaked in the ‘patriotic’ sentiments of ‘defending the constitution’ as designed by the fathers of American independence. Wrapping up anti-ethnic hysteria in the American flag is nothing new; it is a standard theme of the Tea Party ultra-right fanatics .

As the capitalist economic crisis worsens, wages stagnate while the pay of CEOs continue to increase, more people are declining into poverty, and becoming desperate. As this desperation takes hold, they are looking for ways to strike back. The Millers are just one couple among millions who had been pushed down into penurious circumstances. They represent the kind of people ripe for recruitment into white-supremacist, ultra-right wing militia groups that give vent to simmering hatreds. As the gulf between rich and poor widens, hope in the future of the current society is lost. The demise of hope contributes to a growth in crime, social disorder, and the appeal of escapist cults. The latter venerate martyrdom for a cause as a way to provide a new meaning to life. Sacrifice for a cause is very noble – but that cause must target the centres of economic and political power, not deflect hatred onto other ethnic and dispossessed minorities.

In a thoughtful and disturbing article for The Daily Beast online news web site, Dean Obeidallah wrote that the incidence of right wing terrorism is very real, frightening, and large in scope. However, the American political establishment, mainly the right wing Republican faction, refuses to see the problem for what it is. Obeidallah lists the most egregious examples of ultra-right terrorism in the United States over the last few years, and documents the reaction of the conservative media and political establishment in either ignoring the problem, or responding with sympathetic voices. In most cases, the American corporate media has enabled such ultra-right extremism to flourish. As Obeidallah explained, “The actual reason Republicans won’t investigate right-wing extremists is that it would not only anger their base, it would actually indict some parts of it.”

This is not the first, nor the last time, that the American Right has willfully ignored, and sometimes aided, the rise of violent white-supremacist extremism. The Cliven Bundy standoff provides an instructive example of how American politics is infected with the malaise of white, gun-friendly extremism. A rebellious rancher, Bundy has refused to pay taxes to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for the land on which his cattle grazes. Bundy claims it is his right to refuse to pay taxes – very true, but he also parasitically using federal land that thousands of other ranchers use in Nevada. He has scrounged off this land for free, making a profit for many years, and defeating numerous lawsuits against him. When he was confronted by BLM personnel, his case became a cause celebre among far-right militias. Here was a rancher, standing up to a tyrannical federal government. His case was taken up by right wing media outlets, Fox news, CNN, as well as Tea Party supporters and far-right libertarian politicians. But then Bundy opened his mouth and expounded his views. He is of the opinion that African Americans should be returned to slavery, that they never had it so good since the days of slave-owning, and that the sooner the black Americans were returned to a slave-owning system, the better.

The conservative politicians and media outlets then made awkward reversals and distanced themselves from Bundy. While the ravings of an out-of-touch racist scrounger like Bundy can be dismissed, it is harder to dismiss the reaction of mainstream politicians and pundits. Bundy became a lightning rod, attracting the ultra-right white supremacists from around the country, providing a beacon of support, and was enabled in his standoff because of the support he has for his racist views. The political and media establishment provided the oxygen for the Bundyite views to spread. As Margaret Kimberley of the Black Agenda Report commented in her article;

Bundy is no outlier in any of the opinions he holds. There are millions of Americans who would take up arms to kill mostly because they would enjoy it. They might defend their actions with an appeal to patriotism or a sage brush rebellion or doomsday prepping or whatever rationale would be most convenient, but the bottom line is that they would like to get away with killing as many people as possible.

Kimberley examined the undercurrent of racism that underpinned the gathering of ultra-right extremists at the Bundy standoff:

Bundy is also not alone in seeing chattel slavery as being worthy of nostalgia. It is not a coincidence that gun and slavery lovers so often find common cause. The two go together and the Second Amendment is directly tied to the granting of police force status to every white person in the country in the days of slavery. Bundy’s popularity is deep and dangerous and he is no less popular now in some circles than he was before he made his remarks. Most racists know how to filter their thoughts in polite society. But Bundy is an ignorant man with no clue about niceties and said what was on his and others’ minds. It doesn’t matter that Rand Paul and Fox News back tracked from the Bundy love fest. If millions of white Americans were granted their ultimate fantasy, black people would be back in chains on the auction block.

There is even less excuse for the racist diatribes of Donald Sterling, billionaire owner of the LA Clippers, who was caught on tape making racist derogatory remarks about African Americans. The irony of Sterling owning a sporting team in which African Americans are prominent participants was not lost upon the corporate media, countless comedians and talk-show hosts, who all quite rightly made Sterling the object of scorn, ridicule and derision for his repugnant views. But what is startling is that Sterling made his billions as a slumlord, hiring out his sub-standard tenements to African American, Hispanic American and people of other ethnic minorities. Sterling made his views about ethnic minorities quite clear earlier in his career, before he became involved in the professional sports business. For instance, he went on record stating that he did not like to rent his accommodation to Hispanics because they smoke, drink and are lazy, and that African American ‘smell and attract vermin.’

The real tragedy, according to Kevin Blackistone writing in The Guardian newspaper, is not that Sterling made racist comments, scandalous as they are. It is the fact that Sterling’s racism was allowed to go unnoticed and unpunished all these years, even when he entered the business of professional sports and became an owner of an NBA team. Where was the outrage, the denunciations, the ridicule and scorn as Sterling made his way up the corporate ladder?

Margaret Kimberley, in her article, noted that:

Sterling’s racism was well known in Los Angeles prior to the taped conversations being revealed but obedience to a rich man protected him from full exposure. In 2008 he was sued by former NBA star and Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor, who claimed a “plantation mentality” permeated the work environment in that organization. Also in 2009 the Sterlings were forced to pay $2.7 million due to discriminatory housing practices against black and Latino tenants in apartment buildings they owned in Los Angeles. It was the largest such judgment paid in a housing case at that time. None of this mattered to the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP, which honored Sterling with a humanitarian of the year award in 2009 and was prepared to give him a lifetime achievement award before the scandal was revealed.

Kimberley asks the obvious question – would African Americans, or Americans from any ethnic minority, be allowed to gather weapons, espouse a hateful ideology, encourage disobedience to the federal government, and form militaristic militias without any reaction from the US law enforcement authorities?

Tackling ultra-right extremism will take a concerted effort to change the deeply dysfunctional and brutalised system that American capitalism has become. The Department of Homeland Security released a report on right-wing extremism and analysed the political and economic climate that fuels such ultra-right violence, back in 2009. This report was attacked upon its release by the very forces of the corporate media establishment that enabled the Bundys and Sterlings of the world to vent their vitriolic hatred. The rightist purveyors of violence, like Frazier Glenn Miller mentioned above, operate in a political climate that is at least partially sympathetic to their views, and at worst, positive enablers of such violent ultra-right fanaticism. It is interesting to note that Miller’s terrorist attack, while driven by anti-Semitism, claimed the lives of a similar number of victims as the Boston Marathon bombings. (Many more were injured in the Boston bombing however). The Boston Marathon bombing, while reprehensible, received disproportionate media coverage. Miller’s attack, while noted, invited no soul-searching scrutiny.

Since the September 11 2001 attacks and the ‘war on terror’, Islamist groups that advocate a jihadist ideology have become the sole focus of concern. It is true that attacks could happen. Islamist guerrillas, returning from a war zone, could be sufficiently motivated to carry out similar attacks on their home soil. This is a case of circumstantial guilt by association. There are cases of merchant and investment bankers who, travelling overseas, are lured by the promise of easy money engage in illicit and illegal money-laundering activities upon their return to their home country. (And this has happened). Do we stop the activities of transnational financial corporations because some of their executives have turned into drug-money launderers and fraudsters? Given the extent of corporate criminality, perhaps we should.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists published an informative article examining the growth of right wing terrorism. The article elaborates upon the rise of the far right in times of economic hardship, how the majority of terrorist attacks in the United States have been committed by groups with an ultra-right, anti-immigrant ideology, far more than groups driven by an al-Qaeda-type mentality, and how many of the most violent groups contain members with backgrounds in the United States military. It appears that service in the US military is serving as an incubator of violent extremism, rather than the preachings of obscure Islamic clerics.

The entire article ‘Looking clearly at right-wing terrorism’, can be found here.

It is appropriate to conclude with the words of Dr Martin Luther King. In 1967, he gave a speech in which he remarked that the United States government is the main purveyor of violence around the world. He toured the cities of Detroit, Chicago, and the ghettos of the North American states, finding grinding poverty, helplessness and demoralisation. He then witnessed the financial exhaustion of the American economy as the military-industrial complex funded wars overseas, particularly in Vietnam. He drew the conclusions that an exhausted, impoverished people, bereft of hope and optimism, resort to desperate and violent means to survive. Some find expression by joining similarly disenchanted groups, focusing their resentments on the most vulnerable. Expressing his hope that a complete revolution of values and ideas occurs in American society, Dr King stated;

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look easily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: This is not just.”

As the capitalist system lurches from crisis to crisis, and the individual capitalists of the West continue to fund wars of expansion overseas while millions remain mired in poverty, it is time to ask ourselves whether we can continue to live in such a dysfunctional system. We would do well to heed the words of Dr King, because they are still relevant all these years after they were first spoken.

 

What do Detroit and Iraq have in common? Both are the targets of disaster capitalism

The title above comes from a thoughtful and perceptive article by Margaret Kimberley, writer and activist with Black Agenda Report. Her essay called ‘The Plunder of Detroit and Iraq’ was republished in the Common Dreams online magazine, a nonprofit reader-driven independent news outlet dedicated to building a progressive community, an antidote to the corporate-controlled media. Kimberley accurately points out that disaster capitalism, driven by the imperative of corporate profits, has created and is responsible for the humanitarian catastrophes that we are now witnessing in Detroit and Iraq. Kimberley starts her essay by stating that ‘the ugly face of empire and disaster capitalism is visible all over the world’.

Detroit deindustrialised

Detroit exhibits all the classic signs of a city that has been systematically deindustrialised over many decades. Once the hub of the car industry in America, a city that exemplified the best US labour, industry and technology, Detroit is now a bankrupted city, with urban decay, declining infrastructure, a diminishing population, and a financial system that is preserving its own wealth while leaving the residents to struggle with making ends meet. Dollars and Sense magazine, which publishes articles on economic justice, critiques of the mainstream bourgeois economics and primers on economics for activists, published an extensive analysis of the decline of Detroit back in 2013. The authors of that article correctly note that there were the standard conservative-driven reasons given for the blight of Detroit – greedy unions, incompetent black American politicians, people taking easy loans from the big banks knowing that they could ill-afford repayments. Perhaps all of these are partially valid.

However, the major share of the blame for the deindustrialisation and subsequent decline of Detroit rests on the shoulders of the corporate class, the owners of the large multinational corporations, the large financial institutions that not only systematically withdrew from Detroit and undermined the living and working conditions of the majority of people. The new financial managers of Detroit, led by the emergency manager Kevyn Orr, are deliberately shifting the cost of the financial burden onto the working people. Detroit’s plan of adjustment, introduced by the city’s creditors, involves privatisating the city’s public assets, massive cuts to pensions and health services, the sell-off of the electricity and sewerage systems, and most scandalously of all, selling off the assets of the Detroit Institute of Arts. In the meantime, the residents of Detroit will have to continue living in squalid conditions, recorded in a photo-essay here.

Meanwhile in Iraq

The nation of Iraq lies in tatters, fractured by sectarian divisions enshrined in the post-2003 invasion political establishment. The country underwent terrible destruction as a result of sanctions, and they took their toll on the population. Food, medicines, the necessities of life were denied Iraqis as they struggled to overcome the destitution brought on by crippling sanctions. For instance, water purification became virtually impossible, because chlorine was banned as an import. What happens to drinking water if it is not regularly purified? What bacterial diseases spread when water supplies become contaminated?

Iraqis bravely resisted the US invasion, and brought the troops of the marauding empire into defeat. So the US empire, just like the Roman empire of old, resorted to the tried-and-true tactic of divide and rule, inflaming sectarian divisions by rewarding political office on the basis of religious affiliation. The current Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was installed with US support, even though his political party has strong ideological ties to Iran. Maliki implemented the sectarian division of the country, worsening relations between Iraq’s ethnic and religious communities. Meanwhile, he did nothing to restore the once-functioning health and electricity systems that made Iraq a standout in the Arab world.

The Baghdad government is now tottering precipitously on the brink of total defeat, after its much-vaunted and American-sponsored army was routed by the Islamist guerrillas of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). While this is a stunning defeat for American (and British) foreign policy in Iraq, the ISIS guerrillas, buoyed by a burgeoning Sunni insurgency that began back in 2013, will only worsen the sectarian hatreds that are currently inflicting damage on the country. Margaret Kimberley of the Black Agenda Report correctly notes that the Islamist guerrillas, once financed by Washington, represent a growing threat not just to the American empire’s interests in the region, but also undermine the existence of a corporate-viable Iraqi state that can be subjugated to imperial dominance.

The invasion of Iraq was driven by deep capitalist interests intending on exploiting the vast mineral and economic resources of the Arab region. The plunder of Iraq, just like the devastation of Detroit, is designed to enrich a tiny financial minority class while the majority are left to struggle to their own devices. Margaret Kimberley points out in her article that;

Iraq was invaded with soldiers, guns and bombs. Detroit was invaded by the corporate “suits” who made a fast buck for themselves. The end result is the same for Michiganders and Iraqis alike. They end up suffering in a plundered society while other people make out like the bandits that they really are.

The Obama administration, while marketing itself as an anti-war government, has actually continued to expend resources on propping up and extending the imperial reach of the US empire, while impoverishing the American people at home. The demolition of viable societies in Iraq and Detroit are not the result of any innate human propensities, but rather the end result of a specific political programme to enrich a capitalist financial oligarchy at the expense of working people. As Kimberley explains in her essay:

…millions of Americans live an existence far from the myth of the great country. They are struggling to survive just like millions in the so-called third world. It is the gangsters who run the show in Baghdad and in Michigan too.

It is time to overthrow this criminal regime. Go read Margaret Kimberley’s full article here.