Saudi Arabia’s Yemen war – a crisis that the West wants to ignore

The Washington Post published an article in November 2015 entitled ‘Yemen is turning into Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam’ by Hugh Naylor. The main thrust of the article is an examination of how Saudi Arabia, nearly nine months after it launched an invasion of its southern neighbour, is now bogged down in a prolonged, bitter and costly war that is straining its budget, stretching its military forces, exacerbating internal political divisions and worsening a declining economy. Saudi Arabia, the key US ally in the Gulf region, launched a full scale military offensive in March 2015 to dislodge the Shia Houthi rebel movement, and restore the government of Yemeni President Mansur Hadi. The Houthi militia, largely allied to Shia Iran, has been able to hang on to the capital Sana, and also retain control of vast swathes of Yemeni territory.

The conflict has dragged on not only because of the intransigent opposition and resilience of the Yemeni Houthi rebel group, but also largely because the Saudi Arabian military effort is fully supported by the United States and Britain. Indeed, it is fair to say that without the logistical, military and political support of the United States and Britain, the Saudi military machine would not have been able to mount such a prolonged and sustained military campaign. Britain has been, and continues to be, the silent partner of Saudi Arabia in its war on Yemen. British-made jets, missiles and military equipment are regularly sold to the Saudi authorities, and these weapons enable the Saudi military to continue its war on the Yemeni population. The vast majority of Yemeni casualties in this conflict are civilians, and the Saudi authorities have boasted that during this offensive, they have been able to drop 1000 bombs in 125 air strikes per day.

The infrastructure of the already-struggling nation of Yemen has been devastated, and the population now faces the prospect of mass famine. The Saudi-led naval blockade of the country has interfered with the importation of food, and as of October 2015, half a million Yemeni children are vulnerable to malnutrition as a result. The humanitarian crisis, already serious in the early stages of the Saudi invasion, has worsened throughout 2015, with the BBC reporting that aid organisations are struggling to cope with the magnitude of the crisis. For instance, ordinary Yemenis are now compelled to rely on untreated water for drinking and washing, placing them at risk for water-borne communicable diseases. The Saudi blockade, having restricted the supply of fuel, means that the water and sewage systems – reliant as they are on functioning fuel pumps and working mechanical parts – has broken down. Children are bearing the brunt of these terrible privations.

Let us bear in mind that the Saudi Arabian military offensive is possible not only because of the unstinting support of the UK government, but also because of the full backing of the United States. Saudi Arabia, for decades a pillar of US foreign policy in the region, is able to count on the unwavering support of its American patrons. The United States provides intelligence and logistical support, sells military equipment, and provides mid-air refueling for Saudi jets in order to continue their military attacks. The Saudi air force, in October 2015, bombed the Medecines Sans Frontieres – Doctors Without Borders – MSF hospital in Yemen, even though the MSF had supplied the Saudi-led coalition with the GPS coordinates of their hospital. That attack only underlines the fact that the Saudi authorities, and their US-British backers, regard any infrastructure – roads, bridges, hospitals, electricity grids – as legitimate targets for destruction, thus destroying the ability of the society to sustain itself.

Iona Craig, writing in The Independent newspaper, states that:

More than 2.3 million Yemenis have been internally displaced by the war, many forcibly by the bombings, while more than 160,000 people have arrived in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Sudan to escape the conflict. The majority took the treacherous journey by boat across the Bab-el-Mandeb strait that separates Yemen from the Horn of Africa.

The Saudi war on Yemen has destroyed the community on the ground, with indiscriminate attacks on civilians and the ruination of civilian infrastructure. This carnage has been possible with the support of the United States military-political complex. The latter has directly assisted in the direction and targeting of Saudi air strikes in Yemen, resulting in the deaths of thousands of civilians. The bombs used by the Saudi air force are manufactured in the United States.

The details of this war, and the complicity of the United States and Britain, expose the enormous hypocrisies behind their recent declarations of support for the newly-formed Saudi Arabian-led Muslim anti-terror coalition. The latter, a grouping of 34 Muslim-majority nations, is intended to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and yet, for their proclamations against terrorism, Riyadh is employing terroristic tactics of its own in the war against the people of Yemen. Not surprisingly, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, declared his full support for this anti-terror coalition, all the while ignoring the culpability of Washington in Saudi Arabia’s criminal war against Yemen.

The toxic nature of the US-Saudi alliance, and Australia’s growing support for it, has to be questioned and re-evaluated. This strategic relationship, one that has been solidified over the years with increasing military and economic relations between the two states, is a toxic influence on the people of the Arab and Islamic countries. As Medea Benjamin wrote for an article in Common Dreams magazine:

The Yemen crisis should also serve as a prime moment for the U.S. to reconsider its alliance the Saudi regime, a regime that not only denies human rights to its own people but exports death and destruction abroad. An upcoming activist-based Saudi Summit, which will be held in Washington DC on March 5-6, is an effort to build a campaign to support challenge this toxic relationship.

Seventy years after the Nuremberg trials, international law must be applied equally to all powers

November 2015 marked the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials, a series of tribunals convened by the victorious Allied powers at the end of World War Two to prosecute the highest-ranking political and military leaders of the defeated Nazi German regime for war crimes. Hitler himself escaped punishment by committing suicide – a number of other highly-placed Nazi officials were by this time already dead by their own hand or killed while trying to escape the approaching Allied armies. Robert Ley, head of the German Labour Front and organiser of slave labour, committed suicide rather than face his accusers.

However, the surviving elite of the Nazi party were rounded up and put on trial, the genocidal savagery of German imperialism laid bare for all the world to see. Hermann Goering, former head of the Luftwaffe was in the stand, along with the former deputy to the Fuhrer, Rudolf Hess. Julius Streicher, the rabidly racist editor of the German news Der Sturmer (The Attacker) was in the dock, facing trial for the vitrolic anti-Semitic commentary and images that he propagated through his newspaper. Streicher routinely advocated the extermination of the Jewish people in the pages of Der Sturmer, and this formed an important part of overall Nazi propaganda.

Hans Sauckel, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Wilhelm Keitel – these were the politicians and military officers who organised the murderous machinery of German imperial power, leading to the deaths of millions of victims. They were all now facing judgement – the prosecutors at Nuremberg organised the documents and files of the former Nazi German government to provide evidence of criminal activity and war crimes. Nuremberg established the principle of accountability – no single political and military leader could rely on their own national laws to legitimate their policies and practices. Now, international law was the standard against which the homicidal and racist politics of the German state was to be judged.

For the first time in history, the elite decision-makers of an imperial state were held to account for their actions. This is the historic significance of the Nuremberg tribunals. This is not to pretend that there were no problems with, or criticisms of, the Nuremberg trials at the time. The Soviets, sitting in as one of the presiding judges, had a long history of show trials in the late 1930s. Admiral Karl Doenitz, named by Hitler as his successor, was charged with attacking civilian maritime traffic during the war years in the Atlantic. While was found guilty of the crime of initiating a war of aggression, the charge of unrestrained maritime warfare was dropped. Why? US Admiral Chester Nimitz issued a statement admitting that the United States Navy carried out a practice of unrestrained submarine attacks and warfare against the Japanese enemy. The corresponding charges against Doenitz were cancelled. Not a single German commander was charged with carrying out aerial bombardment against civilian populations, because the latter tactic was a pillar of US and British policy towards Germany throughout the war years. Between December 1946 and April 1949, more tribunals were held, most importantly in Japan with regard to Tokyo’s war leaders and their crimes.

After overcoming the legal and procedural hurdles for proceeding with war crimes trials, the Nuremberg trials, taking place during the initial stages of the Cold War, were quietly forgotten as the former colonial powers began their plans for re-establishing control over their previous domains. France and Britain wanted to retain their glory days of empire, while the United States, fresh from its successful emergence as the leading economic and military power in the world at the end of the war, went on to expand its influence throughout the world. No charges for war crimes were ever brought against any American, British or French politician or military leader. There was an enormous problem of  ‘applying justice to ourselves’, as veteran Australian journalist John Pilger wrote when discussing the chances of bringing today’s crop of political leaders to account for their war crimes.

In 1998, while 160 countries met in Rome to establish a statute of an international criminal court, the way that the remit of the ICC has been applied in the ensuing years indicates an important feature regarding the current configuration of world power-politics. Every one of the 23 cases that are currently open at the ICC involves leaders and countries in Africa. Does that continent’s political leadership contain the majority of the world’s war criminals? Rather, this speaks to the selective and political motivated way in which criminal tribunals are applied to smaller countries, while the larger, greater purveyors of violence in the world continue to operate with impunity.

For instance, during the very year that the ICC was established – 1998 – then US President Bill Clinton carried out the premeditated and surprise bombing assault on Khartoum, the densely populated capital of the Sudan. The reason? The US offered the justification that the bombing targeted a chemical and biological weapons facility in the city, the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory. At the time, the Sudan was not at war with the United States, did not have any of its troops or military personnel stationed on US soil, or threaten the US in any way. There was no warning provided to Khartoum about the attack, the latter having a population of one million people. It is impossible to avoid civilian casualties when targeting a non-military facility – and indeed there were civilian casualties.

The Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory had produced medicines for use by the people in the city. Sudanese and foreign experts involved with the factory had intimate first-hand knowledge that no chemical or biological weapons were being manufactured there. The factory had only opened in July 1997, and was largely self-reliant in producing medicines for the Sudanese residents of Khartoum. Did the US, which had diplomatic relations with the Sudanese government at the time, provide any warning about the attack, or issue any protest to the Khartoum regime? No they did not. Without adequate supplies of vital medicines, it is the ordinary people of Khartoum that have suffered diseases as a result of this attack. The various, shifting justifications offered by the United States government at the time – that Sudan was harbouring Al Qaeda agents, that the Al-Shifa factory was producing nerve agents – all turned out to be false.

After the 1998 bombing, the Sudanese government offered to allow the US, and any UN-sponsored team of experts, to travel to Khartoum to conduct chemical testing to see if any chemical or biological weapons had been produced. The United States government refused. The irony of the attack on this factory was that only a few months prior to the bombing, the US-dominated Sanctions Committee at the United Nations agreed to contracts with the one and only Al-Shifa factory to provide badly needed medicines to the country of Iraq, the latter suffering under the dead weight of US-imposed sanctions. The President of the Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, called the 1998 attacks a war crime and former US President Bill Clinton a war criminal – an accurate description…..

This is not an endorsement of the Sudanese regime, a government that tortures and kills its own citizens with impunity, that jails dissidents for years without trial, that is guilty of using unrestrained force on its own people. This is an exhortation to apply the international laws equally to all powers, great and small. The Nuremberg trials established a valid precedent for bringing political-military leaders to account, not just in the case of Germany, but also in the case of say, the crime of fracturing a nation, like the United States 2003 invasion of Iraq. Rather than honouring the senior US leaders who planned and carried out the invasion of Iraq (Cheney has just had a bust of himself unveiled in Capitol Hill), it is high time to prosecute the war criminals responsible for the barbaric assault on Iraq, the latter still struggling with the horrific humanitarian consequences of that war until today. What does it say about the character of US political culture when, after the Obama administration has retreated from its pledges to prosecute Bush-Cheney-era war criminals, it is now protecting and honouring them? Iraq’s decline into a state of bitter sectarian division is directly attributable to the policies and practices pursued by senior American ruling class officials.

No more excuses – that is the title of a new report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW), that elaborates the powerful legal case for pressing criminal charges against US military and civilian leaders for their culpability in the CIA programme of torture and illegal imprisonment. The report states that:

It is now well established that following the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operated a global, state-sanctioned program in which it abducted scores of people throughout the world, held them in secret detention—sometimes for years—or “rendered” them to various countries, and tortured or otherwise ill-treated them. While the program officially ended in 2009, the cover-up of these crimes appears to be ongoing.

Many detainees were held by the CIA in pitch-dark windowless cells, chained to walls, naked or diapered, for weeks or months at a time. The CIA forced them into painful stress positions that made it impossible for them to lie down or sleep for days, to the point where many hallucinated or begged to be killed to end their misery. It used “waterboarding” and similar techniques to cause near suffocation or drowning, crammed detainees naked into tiny boxes, and prevented them from bathing, using toilets, or cutting their hair or nails for months. “We looked like monsters,” one detainee said of his appearance while in CIA custody.

The HRW report stands as a searing indictment of the depraved and sadistic practices of the CIA, and also condemns those officials who authorised such treatment. The CIA and military personnel were allowed to torture with impunity because of the general erosion of civil liberties and the incremental drift towards police-state measures in the United States. The capitalist class, dispensing with traditional forms of representative democracy, is now embarking on the militarisation of society, the expansion of the coercive powers of the state apparatus, and the simultaneous assault on workers’ living conditions across the board. We would do well to remember the words of the late great Dr Martin Luther King, that the United States is the greatest purveyor of violence and militarism throughout the world. He correctly identified US militarism as not only a problem for its victims outside the United States, but also as part of a deeper malady inflicting his own society. Dr King accurately stated that while the US continued to spend millions recklessly and alarmingly on wars of aggression overseas, none of the social problems afflicting US society – racial and economic inequality, gun violence, social alienation, the breakdown of health and education, poverty – can be resolved.

The United States military finds itself not guilty of any wrongdoing in the Kunduz hospital attack

In November 2015, the US military and the Department of Defence (DOD) announced the results of an investigation into the attack on the large hospital centre operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) – Doctors Without Borders – in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The airstrike on the hospital was conducted by the US forces in that country, killing patients, civilians and medical staff. After investigating itself, the DOD and military declared that they are not guilty. While attributing blame for the attack on human error, faulty intelligence and technical failures, the top military command was cleared of any wrongdoing. The top commander for the US military in Afghanistan, in presenting the results of the internally-supervised investigation to the media, declared that the Kunduz attack was a tragic and avoidable accident. General Campbell’s remarks were explained in a Washington Post story:

The location of the Doctors Without Borders Hospital was widely known in Kunduz. But the aircrew, hampered by a technical communications breakdown, mistook it for the headquarters of the Afghan security service, which Taliban fighters had reportedly seized when they briefly took control of the city and which was the intended target, Campbell said.

Some of the aircrew involved in the airstrike have been suspended, and face disciplinary action. Other than that, the guilt for the attack will be apportioned no further.

The US military investigation’s findings contradict the eyewitness testimony of survivors from the attack, who recorded that the MSF hospital was attacked for one and a half hours, not the half-hour as claimed by General Campbell. The latter claimed that the hospital was mistaken for a Taliban target, giving aid to insurgents – another fabrication refuted by the MSF and independent corroborative witnesses. The medical personnel at the Kunduz trauma centre had repeatedly provided the GPS coordinates of their location to Afghan and US military authorities, the latter being fully aware of the location and nature of this facility. Interestingly, the US military did launch airstrikes on Taliban positions, which they had supposedly confused for the hospital.

MSF demanding independent investigation

The general director of the MSF, Christopher Stokes, stated that the US military’s version of events raises more questions than answers. Responding to the findings elaborated by the DOD, Stokes commented that:

It appears that 30 people were killed and hundreds of thousands of people are denied life-saving care in Kunduz simply because the MSF hospital was the closest large building to an open field and ‘roughly matched’ a description of an intended target.

There are growing calls for a full independent investigation into the Kunduz attack, and the MSF has persisted in raising this issue with the international community. It is vital to not only challenge the constantly shifting evasions and excuses provided by the DOD for this attack, but to hold the political and military leaders of the US ruling class to account.

Attacking hospitals, while an egregious war crime, is nothing unusual for the rulers of US imperialism. In the American way of war, civilian casualties are a useful and terrifying reminder of the fate that awaits those who resist. In an article entitled ‘The US Way of War: From Columbus to Kunduz’, published in the Counterpunch magazine, the authors demonstrate the essential continuity of tactics and purpose when US political and military rulers wage war. While the indigenous American nations were the targets of colonial expansion, and subjected to numerous atrocities, the US rulers adopted similar tactics when expanding their imperial project beyond the American continents. The authors of the article, Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, quote the words of George Washington, who stated of the indigenous people that:

The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more. I would recommend, that some post in the center of the Indian Country, should be occupied with all expedition, with a sufficient quantity of provisions whence parties should be detached to lay waste all the settlements around, with instructions to do it in the most effectual manner, that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed. But you will not by any means listen to any overture of peace before the total ruinment of their settlements is effected.

Washington was referring to the treatment meted out to the Six Nations of the Indigenous people in the New York area.

Many decades later, in 2004, as the Bush-Cheney administration ordered an American assault on the Iraqi town of Fallujah, the medical centres and hospitals – developed extensively under the Iraqi Ba’athist state – were targeted in a military offensive. The Fallujah residents were subjected to intense assault, destroying the city with its arsenal of heavy weaponry, backed up by depleted uranium and white phosphorus. The hospitals were easy targets, and the US began its assault on Fallujah by taking out the Hai Nazal Hospital, a new facility that was just beginning its operations. Intended as an act of collective punishment for fighting the US occupation, Fallujah was made an example of, and hitting the hospitals was the first step in inflicting severe casualties in an act of willful state-sanctioned murder.

The bombing of the defenceless civilian population of Guernica by the Germans during the Spanish civil war, became emblematic of the barbaric nature of the perpetrator. The airstrikes and attacks on hospitals are no less terrifying in their intent to intimidate. This comparison is timely, because this month marks the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials, a series of tribunals held at the end of the Second World War to prosecute the German political and military leadership for their crimes, including the bombing of civilian populations. The genocidal savagery of German imperialism was laid bare for all the world to see, and its leaders prosecuted. Surely it is high time to apply the lessons of Nuremberg to the modern-day American leaders, who are responsible for unleashing American militarism on the civilian populations around the world. The Obama administration, no less than its predecessor, has thrown aside international law and waged aggressive war throughout the world, including Afghanistan. The Kunduz attack is the predictable outcome of a predatory and criminal savagery. After fourteen years of the ‘war on terror’, it is time to stop the downward spiral of violence and counterattack, and to stop treating the people of the Middle East as subjects of colonial expansion.

Last but not least – lest we forget: July 3 1988.

Netanyahu’s poisonous nonsense about World War Two

In October 2015, at the meeting of the 37th World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an extraordinary claim about the genocide of the Jews during World War Two; killing the Jewish population of Europe was not the idea of Hitler and the Nazi Party, but was originally espoused by the Palestinian cleric and national leader at the time, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini. According to Netanyahu, the Palestinian cleric, in a meeting with Hitler in 1941, implanted the notion of physical liquidation of the Jews of Europe in the minds of Hitler and the Nazi hierarchy. Hitler’s original intention, so Netanyahu stated, was to expel the Jews to Madagascar. However, the Mufti complained that European Jews would only make their way to Palestine, then a British colony facing an influx of Jewish immigration. When Hitler then asked what he could so to resolve this problem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini allegedly responded with the words ‘burn them’.

This version of World War Two history provoked a storm of reactions, denunciations and condemnations by historians and political leaders around the world. The Germans basically responded by stating that they had no idea what Netanyahu was talking about. Israeli leaders and historians blasted Netanyahu’s remarks, stating that the primary and ultimate responsibility for the Holocaust lay with the Nazi party and its associated military and police establishment. Historians of the Holocaust are overwhelmingly united in their analysis that the Nazi party did not need any outside encouragement to systematically murder the Jewish communities of Europe. Indeed, the Final Solution had been in full operation by 1941, when Hitler and the Mufti had their meeting. The India Today online newspaper stated that not only did Netanyahu stir up controversy with his remarks, but was basically absolving Hitler of responsibility for the murder of the Jewish people of Europe. The secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in the West Bank, Saeb Erekat was quoted as saying, “It is a sad day in history when the leader of the Israeli government hates his neighbour so much that he is willing to absolve the most notorious war criminal in history, Adolf Hitler, of the murder of six million Jews”.

The Mufti and Germany

Erekat’s comment speaks to a wider issue regarding Netanyahu’s remarks. The Israeli prime minister was speaking from an approved speech – it was not an off-hand remark. He has made similar comments previously, portraying the Palestinians, and by extension Arab and Muslims, as crazed existential enemies hell-bent on exterminating every single Jewish person. Netanyahu’s speech in Jerusalem, coming in the context of increasing tensions and violence between Israelis and Palestinians, serves as an inflammatory element, worsening tensions between the two communities. Anti-Arab racist lynch mobs, supported by the Israeli military and security services, are on the rampage against the Palestinians, the latter bearing the brunt of the suffering. It is customary to ignore blatant nonsense, such as when bigoted, irrelevant windbags and cretins make speeches inciting racial hatred. They can be ignored and everyone can get on with their lives. But Netanyahu’s fairy tales about the Mufti, the Holocaust and World War Two are poisonous nonsense, and attempts to rewrite the history of the Second World War deserve a strong rebuttal.

It is most certainly true that the Mufti, having met Hitler in 1941, raised three divisions of Bosnian Muslims as a unit to fight in the Waffen SS. They were recruited, and formed part of the elite German troop formations, to fight the Communist Partisans and anti-Nazi forces waging a guerrilla struggle in German-occupied Yugoslavia. The Mufti was motivated by the naive, simplistic notion that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. He had hopes that the Germans would recognise the Arab states as independent entities after the defeat of Britain and France. As Tony Greenstein, British socialist and anti-Zionist activist notes in his article for Jacobin magazine:

In reality, Hitler had no intention of supporting Arab independence. If Germany had conquered the Arab countries, it would simply have supplanted Britain and France as the imperialist power. For many Nazis, Arabs were considered lower on the racial ladder than the Jews.

When the mufti met with Hitler, the Final Solution had already begun, with the invasion of Russia in June 1941. By this time, the mass shooting of some one million Jews by the Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommando killing squads, which operated in the rear of the Wehrmacht in White Russia and Ukraine, had taken place.

The Bosnian SS units, after being formed, showed minimal interest in fighting alongside the Germans, and promptly abandoned their former masters once they had been sent to France for retraining. A number of the Bosnian Muslim recruits for the Axis, having deserted the German side, ended up in France helping the French Resistance. What Netanyahu did not mention in his speech, and perhaps he should have done his homework, was that the Muslim clerics in Bosnia issued forceful denunciations of Nazi atrocities in their country, and heavily criticised the killings of Jews and Serbs. While the Jewish communities in Yugoslavia faced deportation and eventual mass murder, there was one country that offered asylum and took Jewish refugees from the German-occupied territories of the Balkans – Muslim Albania. As Greenstein notes in the article quoted from above;

Muslim Albania was the only Nazi-occupied country in Europe where the number of Jews at the end of the war (two thousand) was greater than the number at the beginning (two hundred). Not one Jew was deported from Albania under Nazi occupation.

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The Arab-Nazi connection, exaggerated and over-inflated by Netanyahu and his co-thinkers, is meant to smear the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for an independent state as a continuation of an existential motivation by Arabs (and by extension Muslims) to exterminate the Jewish people. The Mufti’s sad and repulsive collaboration with Nazism demonstrates the importance of understanding politics, especially to understand the motivations of the imperialist states. Netanyahu’s repugnant remarks are intended to place the Palestinians on an equal footing with Nazi Germany, and thus slander the Arab and Muslim people as irredeemably anti-Semitic. The explosion of political and social contradictions between the capitalist states that resulted in World War Two cannot be reduced to simplistic ‘they hate us’ slogans, much like the former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott did with his repetitive and oversimplified expressions that passed as policy decisions (stop the boats, death-cult, carbon tax). Netanyahu is attempting to extend the obnoxious legacy of European anti-Semitism onto the Arab and Islamic worlds.

The genocidal savagery of German imperialism, at first aided and abetted by the British and French, was primarily directed at crushing the German working class, and then unleashed against the Soviet Union. However, the ambitions of the German ruling class did not stop at Eastern Europe. They wanted to subjugate France and Britain as well, including their colonial possessions. Why is this aspect of the war important?

Remembering the Muslims who fought against the Axis powers

In the wake of the criminal, horrifying and repugnant Paris terrorist attacks, Muslim communities in Europe are facing a heavy backlash, with Islamophobic and racist outbursts targeting Muslim people as the enemy within, a hostile and alien presence that must be expunged. Cynical exploitation of the Paris terror atrocities by current Western political leaders is a sad fact in this day and age, as anti-Muslim prejudice and anti-refugee bigotry increases, and ultra-right political parties such as the National Front in France, seek to gain political capital from this tragedy. As French President Hollande, and other political leaders turn this Paris tragedy into a blank-cheque for more wars and increasing repression at home, it is worth remembering that at a time of great peril, when Britain and France faced the mortal danger of German imperialism and conquest, they asked their former colonies for help. Millions of Muslim subjects answered that call.

It is entirely incorrect to portray the Arab and Islamic contribution to World War Two as pro-German, or pro-Axis. Millions of Muslims fought alongside their English and French counterparts in the Allied effort to stop German and Italian fascism. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims of fighting age, putting aside their contempt for British and French colonialism in their home countries, enlisted to fight against Nazi Germany because they realised the mortal danger that German imperialism and racism posed. German military personnel, thoroughly indoctrinated in half-baked ‘theories’ of white racial superiority, treated the subject populations as sub-human species.

In an article for The National newspaper, Hussein Ibish notes that the Free French army, fighting heavily in North Africa, was composed mainly of Arabs:

In the French defeat of June 1940, about 5,400 Arab soldiers were killed fighting on the Allied side, and an estimated 60,000 Algerians, 18,000 Moroccans, 12,000 Tunisians and 90,000 other Muslims were captured by the Germans. It has been estimated that 233,000 North African Muslims were serving in the Free French Army in 1944, and that about 52 per cent of all its troops killed during the final year of the war were Muslims, mostly from North Africa. Some 40,000 North Africans are estimated to have given their lives in fighting for the liberation of Europe in 1944-45.

It was not just the French who recruited Muslims into their ranks to fight – the British appealed to their former possession of India, and millions signed up to the British military’s Indian Army. Tens of thousands of Indian Muslims, fighting while wearing the uniform of the British army, sacrificed their blood, sweat and lives in Italy, North Africa, the Middle East itself, and Southeast Asia. Tens of thousands were killed, taken prisoner, and suffered the horrors of war alongside their British companions. Indian Muslim soldiers distinguished themselves in battle, and having fought along with British all throughout Libya, Tunisia and North Africa, then went on to fight in Italy against the collapsing Mussolini regime.

Ibish notes in the article quoted above that:

Additional untold numbers were recruited from various Arab states, or among Muslims fighting in the Soviet, Chinese and other Allied armies. Exceptionally few took up arms on the Axis side. About 9,000 Palestinians, for example, joined the British Army during the war.

One last point to make on this issue; read the article by Michael Wolfe in the Washington Post, published in September 2014 entitled “Meet the Muslims who sacrificed themselves to save Jews and fight Nazis in World War II”, which recounts the details of the life of Noor Inayat Khan, a courageous and intelligent Muslim woman.

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We must resist this downward spiral of hysteria, hatred and more war that the terrible Paris attacks have accelerated. Calls by French, British, Australian and other politicians for national unity and resistance are meaningless, given that after fourteen years, the war on terror has demonstrably failed. More overseas wars, the further erosion of civil liberties and increasing surveillance at home, and a reliance on drone-strikes-policy of war from a distance, have made the world a more dangerous place.

The poisonous nonsense of Netanyahu, elaborated above, can only thrive in a media-and-political culture that promotes the nonsense of humanitarian war. Imperial powers, disguising their motivations as purely humane, can carry out wars of aggression overseas, resulting in the deaths of thousands and the destruction of those societies. Refugees from those war zones are met with hysteria, suspicion and hatred, even though they are fleeing from countries demolished as a result of Western policies. It is time to re-examine our own values and political system, and the policies that have resulted in turning the Middle East into a cauldron of suffering. Further tragedies, like the Paris atrocity, can be avoided, if we recognise our common humanity and stop repeating the destructive cycle of this ‘war on terror’. That will require a huge rethink from our side of the fence.

The US bombing of Kunduz hospital in Afghanistan – a crime against humanity

In early October 2015, the hospital operated by the medical organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF – Doctors Without Borders) in Kunduz, Afghanistan, was attacked by an American air force gunship, the AC-130. At least 30 people were killed in the immediate attack, and another 30 were injured. The air raid on the MSF hospital last for at least one-and-a-half hours, with patients, doctors, medical staff and support workers killed and maimed. The MSF had provided the American and Afghan authorities with the precise coordinates of their facility, in order to avoid being hit.

The MSF issued a report earlier this month entitled the Kunduz Hospital Strike. It provides details of the gruesome nature of the attack, and the severity of the fatalities and casualties. The fact sheet accompanying the report states that:

From around 2:00-2:08am until 3:00-3:15am on Saturday, 3 October, MSF’s trauma hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan came under precise and repeated airstrikes. The main hospital building, which housed the intensive care unit, emergency rooms, laboratory, x-ray, outpatient department, mental health and physiotherapy ward, was hit with precision, repeatedly, during each aerial raid, while surrounding buildings were left mostly untouched.

Patients burned alive in their beds, and some bodies are yet to be identified because the remains are unrecognisable. There were no armed combatants, or insurgents, or any fighting personnel in or around the vicinity of the hospital.  The American aircraft circled the hospital, with full cognisance of the attack and its effects. Multiple and rapid cannon fire hit the hospital and its wounded. The survivors were also targeted. The AC-130 is not just a small, reconnaissance aircraft, but a murderous airborne gunship, used in the commission of a war crime. Why was this lethal killing machine used to attack a hospital? The ability of such a gunship to spread death and destruction over a large swathe of territory is unmistakable.

The MSF fact sheet elaborated the tragic consequences of this air strike:

In the aftermath of the attack, the MSF team desperately tried to move wounded and ill patients out of harm’s way, and tried to save the lives of wounded colleagues and patients after setting up a makeshift operating theatre in an undamaged room.

MSF’s hospital was the only facility of its kind in northeastern Afghanistan, providing free high level life- and limb-saving trauma care. Since opening the hospital in 2011, more than 15,000 surgeries were conducted and more than 68,000 emergency patients were treated.

The MSF hospital in Kunduz has been substantially destroyed and is no longer operational. This leaves thousands of people without access to emergency medical care when they need it most.

The response of the US military authorities, and the Afghan government in Kabul, has been largely predictable – first claiming it was an accident, then shifting the story to one of blaming the other; there were insurgents holed up in the hospital – actually, the Afghan government gave us permission to go ahead with the strike. The New York Times, the loyal lapdog of the US empire, did its best to find excuses for the atrocity – the Afghan units in and around the area of Kunduz were new and inexperienced, lacking any familiarity with the area and its people, so you can understand why such an accident took place.

Glenn Greenwald has documented the constantly shifting rationales offered by the US military and political authorities for the attack, couched as they are in the standard obfuscation of ‘collateral damage’. This turn-of-phrase reduces flesh-and-blood fatalities and casualties into pure statistics and euphemism – now we can move on. Usually this standard tactic of stonewalling works; the victims are in faraway countries, speaking non-English languages that we cannot understand, and so the public’s conscience is salved. However, this time, the victims are not just the ordinary Afghans that we can ignore – or lock up in Australian detention centres when they arrive on our shores. MSF has a strong international presence, provide factual, up-t0-date documentation about their activities, and give articulate interviews to the media.

A few weeks after the original Kunduz attack, an American tank carrying US and Afghan military personnel crashed through the locked gates of the remains of the MSF hospital compound. Their unannounced and forced entry raises deep concerns about the intentions of such an incident – damaging not just the property, but also destroying crucial evidence, were among the concerns raised by MSF spokespeople, who have demanded an independent, impartial investigation of the Kunduz hospital attack.

The Obama administration has apologised for the air strike, sticking to the story of it being a tragic accident. So far, the United States has refused to agree to an independent investigation of this crime. Indeed, the response of the international community to appeals by the MSF for an exhaustive and independent investigation into the Kunduz attack has been lethargic, to say the least. The Common Dreams magazine quotes the following observation regarding the lack of response by governments around the world:

“The silence is embarrassing,” MSF executive director Joanne Liu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview on Monday. “We have seen an erosion over the years of international humanitarian law. Enough is enough. We cannot keep going like this.”

When hospital attacks like this occur, they are not simply war crimes, serious as they are. They affect the patients, medical staff, paramedics, the people in the vicinity who depend on the hospital for quality medical care. They cause lasting, perhaps irreparable damage, to the civilian population that relies on the medical facilities. These kind of strikes are not just crimes against the immediate patients and medical staff of the hospital – they signal a degree of psychopathic disregard for human life by the perpetrator. This is not the first time that US military authorities have bombed hospitals and civilian infrastructure. The Kunduz hospital bombing is just the latest in a long line of war crimes by the United States. While the specific chain of command needs to be traced back to determine who was responsible for giving the orders to launch the attack, it is not wholly surprising that a war crime of this kind has occurred, given that the US imperial adventure in Afghanistan is a criminal enterprise.

Since the October 2001, the United States has been bogged down in a quagmire of its own making. The war was launched not as a humanitarian enterprise to liberate the Afghan people groaning under a strict Islamist regime – the US has been financing and arming fundamentalist Islamist militias in Afghanistan for decades. The high-point of this venture being the 1980s, when the US engaged in a clandestine ideological insurgency to fight the former socialist and Soviet-supported Afghan government, sponsoring the former landlords and reactionary mullahs to topple the leftist regime.

Professor Mahmood Mamdani wrote an excellent account of this episode in his book “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror.” He devotes an entire chapter to the Afghan anti-communist insurgency, and makes clear where the responsibility for that conflict lies. In the context of organising an ideological right-wing religious crusade against an “infidel’ enemy, right-wing Islamist groups were the front-line troops to be used, with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Arab Gulf monarchies providing solid military-political support bases for such a crusade. Out of this enterprise, the Islamist groups that spawned the Taliban arose. The American effort in Afghanistan is hardly humanitarian, but aimed at restoring the privileges and power of a narrow financial elite, an elite class amenable to the interests of the dominant imperial power in the West.

American imperial power has always maintained a friendly, working sponsorship of right-wing Islamism – fractious at times, yes, turbulent in places, but the solid support of American financial and military power for fundamentalist groups in the Arab and Islamic world has never been broken. Not only must the Kunduz attack be investigated and its perpetrators punished. The predatory criminality of American imperial arrogance must also be questioned. After fourteen years of continual warfare in Afghanistan, it is high time to stop this utter disregard for international law.

Let us remember Kunduz, and not forget July 3 1988.

 

The US Department of Justice admits the growing problem of terrorism – from the ultra-right

The Washington Post published an article in mid-October 2015, stating that the American government’s Department of Justice (DOJ) is finally redressing the growing terrorism problem inside the United States – no, not the much-hyped and exaggerated threat from the Islamist camp, but the real and growing menace of ultra-right terrorism. The DOJ announced the creation of a new position, reporting to Assistant Attorney General John P. Carlin, to identify, combat and prosecute domestic terrorism, emanating from white supremacist, patriot militia and anti-federalist groups. The article by Ellen Nakashima, entitled ‘Domestic extremists have killed more Americans than jihadists since 9/11. How the government is responding’, elaborates on measures by the DOJ to stem the tide of ultra-rightist violence that has taken more lives than self-proclaimed Islamist groups since the September 11 attacks.

Preoccupation with the Islamic community

The main preoccupation of the United States law enforcement authorities, and the corporate-media, has been the threat (real or imagined) of Islamist groups, mislabeled ‘jihadist’, since the terrible atrocity of September 11. There is extensive, interminable discussion about the ideology of Islamism, analysis by reams of experts about what is contained in the pages of the Quran, whether that text endorses violence, bombings, killings, beheadings, suicide assassinations, female genital mutilation – the list of crimes is seemingly endless. There are intimations that the wider Muslim community, sharing the basic theological tenets of the Quran and Hadith, are a sympathetic reservoir of passive support for extremist and radicalising elements. There are calls by political leaders for further surveillance, monitoring and intelligence-gathering of the Islamic community.

Politicians of all stripes demand that the Islamic community denounce terrorism, investigate the mosques and whether they are incubators of ‘radicalisation’ – and even the latter term is open to debate. Images of ISIS abound in the media, this group seemingly epitomising the Islamist extremism that we are meant to be afraid of – even though the case can be made that it is a serious mistake to blame Islam for the rise of gangterish militias like ISIS. The latter is an inevitable product of the policies that US and Saudi imperialism have pursued in the Arab world, and indeed the ruling circles of the United States have a long and sordid history in deliberately cultivating the most fanatical segments of Islamic and Arab countries as political allies. Be that as it may, the US government’s single-minded focus on Islamic radicalism has meant that the increasing and violent attacks by ultra-rightist terrorist groups has gone largely overlooked. Hopefully, this imbalance will change, because the targets of ultra-rightist violence are not only government officials and law enforcement authorities, but members of ethnic and religious minority communities.

Ultra right extremists, motivated by a combination of ideologies involving white supremacy, Christian identity and patriot sovereign citizen federalism, have plotted and carried out attacks against the Islamic community, Muslim religious institutions, and persons of ‘Middle Eastern appearance’, whatever the latter phrase may mean. In the wake of the Boston marathon bombings in 2013, the entire Islamic community in Boston has been subjected to greater intrusive surveillance, entrapment operations and suffered a new wave of hostility and racial attacks.

It is not just the Muslim community that is facing increased animosity; the old anti-immigrant canard, the Latin American ‘brown’ menace, has been resurrected by leading Republican presidential candidates (most notably but not exclusively by Donald Trump) to whip up obnoxious bigotry against Mexican and Latino migrants. To be sure, the noxious rantings of a buffoonish, ignorant braggart hardly qualify as a terrorist threat – but when such a repulsive ideology is promoted by leading politicians of a major political party, such messages reach an audience of millions, and create a groundswell of ethnic hatred in which localised racial attacks on minority groups becomes possible.

New domestic terrorism counsel

Assistant Attorney General John Carlin, when announcing the new position of domestic terrorism counsel, elaborated the scope and operation of the new position, and he explained the rationale behind this new role:

The domestic terrorism counsel is one of the ways the Justice Department is responding to extremists in the United States. Mr. Carlin explained that although threats from Al Qaeda and ISIL are a danger in the United States, more people have died in attacks by domestic extremists harboring anti-government views, racism, bigotry, anarchy and other hateful beliefs. He cited examples such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the recent mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

The study of domestic extremism is hardly new; in 2014, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists summarised the findings of a 2009 report issued by the US Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Environment Threat Analysis Division. The article in the bulletin, entitled ‘Looking clearly at right-wing terrorism’, examined the expanding activities of ultra-right movements and the political climate that routinely discounts the threat posed by right-wing extremist groups. Charles P. Blair, the article’s author, explained that:

In the five years following the report’s release, far-right extremists have also plotted against and, at times, successfully attacked a wide-range of additional targets, including government buildings and leaders, law enforcement personnel, polling stations, courthouses and judges, a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, anti-racist gatherings, a Mexican consulate, synagogues and other Jewish institutions, mosques, a Sikh temple, African-Americans and other minorities, and interracial couples and families.

Interestingly, Blair notes that the foot-soldiers of the ultra-right, whether they be from white supremacist or patriot militia backgrounds, are more likely than potential Islamically-inspired militants to use unconventional weapons, chemical or biological – weapons that cause mass casualties and maximum disruption. The use of such weapons indicates not only a psychopathic disregard for human life, but the intent to make a political statement, and maximise the propaganda-utility of such attacks for the underlying ideology of ultra-rightist violence.

The American ultra-rightist political landscape

West Point Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Centre issued a report in November 2012 called ‘Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far Right’. This report provides the best, accurate synopsis of the political landscape inhabited by the ultra-right. There are three broad, interconnected strands of political ideology that can be classed as the ultra-right.

The first and best known is the white supremacist and racist movement. Traditionally this space has been occupied by the Ku Klux Klan, and similar homegrown segregationist militias. This has broadened out to include neo-Nazi types, national alliance skinhead groups and white supremacist militias that intermingle American white racism with concepts of cultural superiority, and intend to enforce racial-cultural hierarchy over what they see as the threat from immigrant and minority communities. Rejecting any foreign influences in the culture and economy of American life, they are most likely to attack individuals from racial and religious minority groups, religious institutions and community centres that involve non-Anglo Saxon migrants.

The second, and less-well known, strand in the ultra-right comprises the libertarian anti-federalist movement, which views government intrusion as the main crime in American society. Believing that the American government is rapidly descending into a tyrannical dictatorship, the anti-federalist movement portrays itself as the true defenders of the original liberties and values enshrined in the US constitution. Challenging the legitimacy and credibility of all American government institutions, the patriot and sovereign citizen militias constitute an armed ideological opponent of the US government.

The rationale behind these militias is multi-varied, but they share a common distrust of what they see as an American government hijacked by special interest groups, a purported New World Order (NWO) that has not only corrupted the American government, but intends to absorb it into the control of the United Nations, the international banking cartels, or some other shadowy international cabal. Alex Jones is the most outspoken and media-savvy exponent of this anti-federalist, libertarian and conspiracy-peddling ideology. Actually, the case can be made that there is nothing but a new world disorder, and that the US ruling class is the most lawless brigand in this international disorder, but that is a separate debate.

The third and final category in ultra-rightist ideology is the Christian Identity movement, a fusion of Christian supremacist thinking with racialism. A multi-faceted social layer, the Christian identity groups maintain the ultimate sovereignty of Christian doctrine, inspired by what they believe is the literal inerrancy of Biblical scripture. They maintain a particular interpretation of religious texts in which the Anglo Saxon race is considered the chosen people, the lost tribe of ancient Israel, regarding modern Europeans, and Anglo Saxons in particular, of being biologically descended from the biblical tribes of Israel that were subsequently scattered by succeeding invasions of Hittites, Assyrians and Babylonians. The Anglo Saxon settlement of the American continent has resurrected the lost tribe, and they are engaged in a religious-racial war with the non-Anglo communities, starting with the indigenous Americans and expanding to include the migrant communities in the United States. Advocating a theology of hate, violence carried out by Christian supremacist groups normally targets members of ethnic minorities and non-Christian denominations.

The above summary is meant to provide a basic ideological framework, and of course individuals and groups do not come in neat, organised packages. There is cross-over and intermingling between the three tendencies of ultra-rightist ideology identified above. And it is no secret that the Republican party, and its political strategists, pander to such sentiments hoping to convert them into electoral success. The main point is that no individual’s actions or ideology can be considered in isolation from the wider political climate from which they emerge.

The DOJ and law enforcement authorities will certainly prosecute the individuals that engage in acts of ultra-rightist violence, but that on its own is not enough. It is time to confront the message of hate, xenophobia and desperation that leads individuals and groups to carry out violent acts of hatred. Bigotry and racial extremism can only thrive in a political and economic system which is in an advanced stage of decay and terminal crisis. As the capitalist system lurches from crisis to crisis, and more people face impoverishment, it is high time to recognise that there is a minority that is a huge threat to our safety and existence – but it is not welfare recipients, migrants, Muslims, Latinos, single mothers, indigenous people, or any other favourite target of the ultra-right. It is the ultra-wealthy one percent, the top one percent that owns more than half of the world’s wealth, while the majority of the world’s population struggle to make ends meet in this global wealth pyramid.

We can start by heeding the words of the late Eugene V. Debs, American socialist and labour activist, who said:

I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.

Columbus Day is steadily being replaced by Indigenous Peoples Day – and it is about time

The second Monday of the month of October has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1937. The reason? Columbus Day. The landing of Christopher Columbus on the shores of Hispaniola in 1492, and the subsequent European incursion into the native American territories, has been the subject of official commemorations and celebrations. Columbus Day is the time when American audiences are exhorted to celebrate the ostensibly heroic adventure of the great explorer, and subsequent economic and political success of the European project to colonise the indigenous civilisations of the American continents. This laid the groundwork for the emergence of the American nation-state as a capitalist entity. The story of great explorers from Europe, discovering hitherto ‘untouched’ lands, and forging the path to a new settled and urbanised white-settler nation-state has particular resonance in Australia.

The story of the intrepid and entrepreneurial Columbus, actively seeking out an imperial patron in his determined quest to discover new lands for adventure, excitement and the expansion of scientific understanding, is taught in American schools and universities. A native of Genoa, an Italian trading city-state, he courted the European monarchs of his time, finally finding acceptance at the Spanish court. The Spanish monarchs, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, had done their bit of ethnic cleansing in the Iberian peninsula, expelling the Spanish Jewish community in 1492, and conquering the largely Moorish territory of Granada, thus forcibly converting the entirety of the Iberian territories to their brand of Christianity. The Spanish Inquisition was given free reign to extend its fanatic savagery. Classical books, libraries, manuscripts that had been preserved by the educated Moorish Islamic emirate were systematically destroyed. The civilisation that had flourished in Granada, its cultural and educational contributions, had to be wiped out.

What has that got to do with Columbus? In the same year, the Spanish royals gave their consent to Columbus’ proposed journey of conquest – a fact not lost on Columbus himself, who recorded as much in his diaries. The Spanish royalty had enforced its religious and political conformity on their Iberian territory, defeating and expelling the Jewish and Muslim communities. Now, the stage was set for the barbarity of European expansion to begin.

Columbus did not actually discover the Americas – he was lost and thought he had reached India. However, with that out of the way, Columbus set about making a tremendous impact both demographically and economically on the native civilisations that initially welcomed his presence. The late Howard Zinn, the socialist American historian, wrote of how the Bahama Indians, the Arawaks, were quite hospitable towards the new arrivals – the boat people – but Columbus had other plans. He immediately began to take slaves, subjugating whole tribes and nations to his project of exploiting the natural and mineral resources of Hispaniola. Setting up gold mines, he forced thousands to work to death, taking hostages, killing any recalcitrant persons, and using brute force to implant his economic system on the population.

Howard Zinn wrote that:

In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up 1,500 Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the 500 best specimens to load onto ships. Of those 500, 200 died en route.

Too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death.

Apart from the lucrative gold mines, Columbus found another use for the indigenous people – as slave labour on enormous landed estates, the encomiendas. The indigenous population was not only physically subjugated, but its culture, languages, and education had to be eliminated. He also engaged in another form of entrepreneurial activity – sexual slavery. Columbus himself wrote that:

A hundred castellanoes (a Spanish coin) are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten (years old) are now in demand.

Back in 2004, in an article called ‘Rethinking Columbus Day’, published in Counterpunch magazine, Patrick W. Gavin quotes the words of Bartolome de las Casas, a Spanish priest who wrote of what he saw while accompanying Columbus on his exploits. De Las Casas recorded what he had witnessed:

“What we have committed in the Indies stands out among the most unpardonable offenses ever committed against God and mankind and this trade [Indian slavery] as one of the most unjust, evil and cruel among them.” Natives who did not deliver enough gold had their hands cut off. Those who ran away were hunted down by dogs. Prisoners were burned to death. Las Casas wrote that his countrymen “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.” To avoid such treatment, many natives committed suicide, and mothers killed their children to spare them from such an abject life.

The European enslavement of the Americas is no cause for celebration. As James Nevius wrote in an article published in Common Dreams online magazine, Columbus was a lost sadist, and does not deserve a holiday in his honour. The Columbus Day narrative feeds into a false history of the Americas as untamed, wild nature, which was subdued and flourished due to the economic and cultural enhancements brought by European settlement. The purpose of removing this holiday and replacing it with Indigenous Peoples Day is not just to regurgitate a painful history, necessary as that is. It is also to celebrate a series of cultures and nations that have been struggling to find acceptance and understanding.

Movement to abolish Columbus Day based in indigenous people’s resistance

A number of American cities have moved to officially replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, and this is a welcome achievement. Seattle city authorities abolished Columbus Day last year, 9 other cities have followed suit this year, and Alaska has become the first state to rename Columbus Day the Indigenous Peoples Day. We must stop celebrating an enemy, and recognise the reality of the Indigenous nations, and their suffering at the hands of European conquest. The push to abolish Columbus Day has broader political, social and cultural implications.

It compels all of those nations that have their origins in colonial-settler projects – like Australia – to face up to uncomfortable truths about history and identity. Columbus represents the European conquistador, much like Captain James Cook is the archetypal British pirate………sorry, explorer. Columbus, in a similar way to Cook, was the first boat person, to establish his presence on lands that had complex and cultured civilisations. The resistance of the indigenous nations forms the basis for the abolition of Columbus Day, and also sets a necessary precedent for those of us in Australia who originate from the non-Indigenous nations to re-examine our own history of pushing the indigenous people to the margins. We can start by heeding the words of socialist councillor in Seattle, Kshama Sawant, who stated that abolishing Columbus Day is part of a wider struggle against racism and discrimination:

The 15th-century explorer “played such a pivotal role in the worst genocide humankind has ever known,” Sawant said, referring to the decimation of the Native American population in the decades after Columbus.

She continued:

“Learning about the history of Columbus and transforming this day into a celebration of indigenous people and a celebration of social justice … allows us to make a connection between this painful history and the ongoing marginalization, discrimination and poverty that indigenous communities face to this day.”

 

Standing up against hatred: a group of UK Jews who confronted post-war fascism

The Independent newspaper carried an inspirational story on October 2 2015; the 43 Group, a band of British Jews who fought against the resurgence of British neo-fascism after the end of the world war, is to be the subject of a new TV series. While half a million Jews served in the Soviet Army during the years of World War Two, about 30 000 fought in the British army. After witnessing the horrors of that war, with its concentration camps, systematic extermination of subject peoples and maltreatment of Jews and other ethnic groups as ‘sub-human’, the Jewish veterans of that conflict returned to their homes in Britain, only to find that British neo-fascism was marching in the streets, stirring up hatred against alien peoples, namely Jewish communities.

Oswald Mosley, the main British exponent of fascism in the UK, had reorganised his group, and the Blackshirts were on the rampage in London. Interred during the war, Mosley had led the British Union of Fascists, (BUF) the largest ultra-rightists and white supremacist political organisation in Britain. During the 1930s and 1940s, their shrill rhetoric against Jews, socialists and anyone who opposed fascism brought terror directly to the streets of Britain. The defeat of Nazi Germany had removed the immediate appeal of fascism to the British public, and after the war, newsreels about the genocide of the Jews brought home the full genocidal horror of the concentration camps.

Morris Beckman, a Jewish veteran of the British army, returned home after seeing the devastating consequences of that war; however, as the Guardian explained:

He, like thousands of British Jews, came home from the war thinking fascism was buried. Each week they saw fresh newsreel evidence of the Nazi genocide. But they were sickened to find Mosley released from internment and reviving the British Union of Fascists, which had flourished in Jewish areas such as the East End before the war. He says:

“The Talmud Torah (religious school) in Dalston had its windows smashed. Jewish shops were daubed ‘PJ’ (Perish Judah). You heard, ‘We have got to get rid of the Yids’ and ‘They didn’t burn enough of them in Belsen’.”

With the Labour home secretary James Chuter Ede refusing to take action and the Jewish establishment urging peaceful protest, the demobbed Jews had had enough.

The reformed Mosleyites – calling themselves the British League of Ex-Servicemen and Women, were railing against the foreign presence in England, smashing businesses owned by Jews, daubing racist graffiti across the streets, and terrorising the Jewish community.

Another group of British ex-servicemen and women decided that they had had enough. From April 1946, 43 Jewish war veterans met at the Maccabi Sports and established the 43 Group. Their purpose? To confront and disrupt the Mosleyite fascist organisation, sabotage its activities and shut it down. From then on, whenever and wherever the neo-fascist groups organised to intimidate and terrorise the Jewish community, they were confronted by Jewish ex-soldiers and paratroopers equipped with the necessary skills to fight back.

Let The Independent correspondent, Cahal Milmo, elaborate the consequences:

The result was a succession of pitched battles during fascist gatherings where the 43 Group and their opponents gave no quarter. Knuckledusters, knives, steel-toed boots and sharpened belt buckles were wielded on both sides with devastating effect. One former veteran said he was told: “We’re not here to kill. We’re here to maim.”

It is easy to dismiss post-war fascism of the Mosleyite variety as a lunatic fringe movement, unworthy of so much attention and publicity. Let us not forget that Mosley’s reinvention of British fascism as a nationalistic defender of British values and empire against the swarthy tide of foreignness was not an uncommon view in Britain in the years after the war. Mainstream British political parties have found electoral success with campaigns designed to stir up xenophobic sentiment among the voting public. While the Mosleyites transcended social class, incorporating the thuggish hooligan in the street into their ranks, it is the quiet support of the genteel entrepreneurial class that has provided expression for the anti-immigrant political stream in Britain, minus the low-level shouting and thumping hooligan aspect. Anti-semitism and racism of the street has always found a similar yet refined expression in the socially acceptable middle and upper classes in Britain.

The 43 Group spent five years breaking up fascist meetings, confronting white supremacist violence on the streets, and infiltrating fascist groups for the purpose of smashing them. Jewish cemeteries were guarded to protect them from desecration by racist vandals. Aided by sympathetic black taxi drivers, who provided crucial intelligence updates and transport, the Mosleyites were successfully repulsed. The British variant of neo-fascism was broken. The Mosleyites disbanded in 1950.

Their story, to be told in a new television series, is an interesting, inspirational and encouraging episode amidst the decline and greyness of post-war Britain. When ordinary people stand up against hatred, they can achieve extraordinary accomplishments.

Go read the article in The Independent here.

Adam Goodes threw an imaginary spear – Eric Cantona took a stand against racism by throwing a kung-fu kick

Eric Cantona, the long-term French footballer (now retired), was in the news again only a few days ago. He used to be in the news quite frequently, having played for a number of French football clubs before moving to England and making his mark for Manchester United. Cantona’s arrival at Manchester, his strong, tenacious and skillful footballing and his determination despite the odds revived the fortunes of the Manchester United club. His career was closely followed by the mainstream media, and his football prowess, along with his fiery temperamental nature, were never in doubt. However, earlier in September 2015, he was quoted in the news for an issue unrelated to football (okay, soccer for our Australian readers).

He made a strong, assertive statement about the current refugee crisis now confronting the European Union. The former Manchester United legend stated that he was quite happy to open his home to accommodate refugees, and blamed the Western governments for the refugee crisis through their devastating wars in the Middle East. Appalled by the rising ultra-right and anti-immigrant xenophobia in Europe, Cantona stated that “We create wars for economic reasons and then people flee countries because we’ve created chaos and we’re not even able to receive them.”

Cantona reasoned that his French compatriots had swung to the right on a national level, and while he voted for the nominally socialist French President Hollande, he expressed his disappointment in the rightward trajectory of the governing party in France. Cantona’s remarks were widely reported in the British media, and were made in response to the current influx of refugees seeking entry in European Union countries – the most serious refugee crisis in Europe since the end of World War Two. As Molly Scott Cato stated in her article for the New Statesman magazine, the response of European governments to the refugee influx today has ominous parallels with the treatment of Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Germany in the 1930s. Today we know what happened to those Jewish people who were denied sanctuary. Scott Cato notes the overwhelming cacophony of xenophobic outpouring, and the expression of semi-fascistic viciousness exemplified by the cowardly sneering of Murdoch columnist Katie Hopkins, in greeting those who are escaping the horrors in their own countries – nations that have been driven into chaos by the wars of the imperialist states.

Je Suis Cantona – twenty years on

This is not the first time that Cantona has confronted racism – indeed, this years marks twenty years since the most seminal moment in English football history. This moment has significance not so much because of its association with football – okay, soccer – but because it forms the equivalent JFK moment for those who follow football in the United Kingdom.

In an excellent article published in Counterfire magazine, Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman described the immediate impact and ongoing repercussions of Cantona’s actions in ‘Je Suis Cantona’. January 1995, in an ordinary match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace, Cantona, after being targeted by the opposition Crystal Palace players, is red-carded. Nothing unusual there – Cantona, being a Frenchman playing in the English premier league was the frequent recipient of foul play by other players and jeering abuse by opposing football fans.

The game was proceeding as normal – the fans were shouting, cheering their respective teams, booing the opponents. Cantona was walking off the field when a particular fan, who happened to be a member of the anti-immigrant and racist British National Party (BNP), made his way down eleven rows to the fence on the field and expressed his opinion of Cantona. What did he say? According to court transcripts, our racist friend offered the following intelligent commentary about Cantona’s presence in the sceptered isle: “You dirty French bastard. Fuck off back to France”. Some versions of the event have the foul-mouthed, racist assailant, expressing the following variation on the theme: “Fuck off back to France you French motherfucker.”

We can see here the common theme expressed by the racist abuser; a profound cultural aversion to anything of foreign importation, in this case, French. Not exactly a criticism one would find in the arts and cultural review pages of The Guardian or The Independent newspapers, but nevertheless we can discern an emergent theme: foreigners are not welcome. Cantona, already seething, did the unthinkable – he ran up to the fence, and launched himself feet-first at the racist footballer fan – something that sent shock waves not just through Britain, but through the rest of Europe as well. The Guardian newspaper covered the event here. The BBC offered a retrospective on the incident in an article largely hostile to Cantona here.

Counterfire’s Mark Perryman summarised the issues in his article in the following way:

Je Suis Cantona? To identify with Eric then rather than his National Front and BNP supporting foul-mouthed verbal assailant was about taking sides. Football, from the authorities and players to the media and the fans, then and now, would excuse almost anything said at a game as ‘banter’. A collective refusal to bother with making any kind of distinction between a wind up, anti-social behaviour causing offence and criminal acts of racist abuse. Eric knew the difference.

Adam Goodes and Nicky Winmar know the difference between banter and racist abuse

Cantona proved his worth on the field – in 1996, he scored the winning goal for Manchester United in the FA cup final of that year, defeating the renowned and intimidating Liverpool side. Not his most brilliant goal, but one that lifted Manchester United out of the doldrums, bringing redemption to a team that had been underestimated and written off. In that year, Cantona hoisted the FA Cup trophy for Man-United – the first non-English captain to lift the hallowed trophy in victory. While the 1996 victory has not been forgotten, it has been overshadowed by the kung-fu kick that Cantona administered to a racist, shrieking football fan that is still the subject of discussion. He took his stand against racism – albeit in the language that someone like a BNP violent offender can understand. Yes, Matthew Simmons, the cultural-critique antagonist of Cantona’s, has a history of violent offences.

In 2013, Indigenous footballer and two-time Brownlow medalist Adam Goodes was the subject of racial abuse by a 13-year old fan. How did he react? He called the security guards, and the offending person was escorted off the field. When he was booed again in May 2015, how did Goodes respond? By performing a war dance and throwing an imaginary spear.

In 1993, at St Kilda, Indigenous footballer Nicky Winmar was subjected to a torrent of racial abuse. How did he respond? He lifted his jersey, and pointed to his chest, affirming his pride in his Indigenous heritage and culture. As Keith Parry, lecturer in Sports Management at the University of Western Sydney explained in his article “Booing Adam Goodes – racism is in the stitching of the AFL”:

Although the AFL became the first major Australian sporting code to outlaw on-field racial sledging in 1995, there continues to be too many shameful incidents of racial vilification by fans towards Indigenous AFL players. That Goodes has now been consistently booed by a variety of opposition fans for a sustained period of time suggests racial abuse may be an endemic problem.

We all have our personal preferences when it comes to sport. Some players we like, others we do not like. Some teams we support, others we do not. Granted that not every single person who booed Adam Goodes over the course of his matches is a vicious, small-minded racist. There has been an interminable debate in the pages of the Australian corporate media about whether or not the booing of Goodes is motivated by racism. This can be examined from here until the end of time, so for the purpose of clarity, let’s make a judgement call – as elaborated by Chris Graham of New Matilda magazine:

We can debate the booing of Adam Goodes till the cows come home, but it doesn’t really get us anywhere. So in the interests of moving forward, how about we negotiate a deal.

Racists, you can boo Adam Goodes all you want, and pretend it’s not racist.

The rest of the nation: We’ll continue to call it what it is. Racist.

And in the meantime, maybe the AFL can pull its finger out and actually do something practical to address the problem.

Robbie Blowers, legal practitioner and American expatriate who has adopted Australia as his home, wrote a insightful essay for Business Insider Australia. He notes that Goodes was not booed (well, no more than normal) prior to his speaking out against racism. Blowers elaborates that in many ways, Australia’s problem with racism has parallels to America’s problem with guns: they are both so deeply culturally ingrained that its practitioners and purveyors can hardly see that they are problems for the wider society. As Blowers explains:

It is a fact that Adam Goodes gets booed horrendously at football games because of his race. It is also a fact that many people out there who boo Adam Goodes are not doing it with the intention of racially vilifying him. While these two facts seem diametrically opposed, they can and do coexist. However, the people booing at these football games need to understand that, irrespective of their intentions, they are contributing to racial vilification nonetheless.

Goodes has attracted this level of hostility, precisely because he has emerged as an advocate for his people. As Nisha Thapliyal elaborates in her article for Green Left Weekly, Adam Goodes is not just an exceptional player, but stands apart because he has gone beyond philanthropic work and spoken out about the endemic racism against the First Nations of Australia that is found at all levels and sectors of Australian society. He has used his position as a sporting star not just to enrich himself, but to be an advocate for his people. Confronting racism against the Indigenous people by speaking out in the public domain will elicit a hostile reaction from those who wish to shut down any such discussion, because it confronts basic notions of ‘Australianness’, and the historical amnesia that surrounds the frontier wars waged by colonial Australia against the First Nations.

There should be no excuses for racism in sport. As Celeste Liddle elaborates in her informative article regarding the Adam Goodes issue:

If there is one lesson I’ve learnt from AFL recently, it’s that in the world of competitive contact sport, nothing is more terrifying than an Aboriginal player lobbing an invisible spear in the general direction of the crowd. What’s more, despite this imaginary projectile being, well, imaginary, it is clear that it is far more offensive to commentators than any of the racist jeers from the crowd that preceded it.

Adam Goodes threw an imaginary spear; lucky for the fans that booed him, he did not react like Eric Cantona.

Let us leave the last word to the Indigenous Australian journalist and writer, Stan Grant. He wrote a thought-provoking, poignant commentary called “I can tell you how Adam Goodes feels. Every Indigenous person has felt it“. The First Nations are estranged and marginalised, pushed to the outskirts of an otherwise wealthy society. Grant explains that his nation is marooned on the tides of history, excluded from the ‘boundless plains to share’ celebrated in Australia’s national anthem. Grant found a path to success through education and journalism; Goodes found his path through exceptional sporting prowess. But the weight of history, and the ongoing systemic exclusion of the Indigenous from the wider society, cannot be overcome so easily. It is heartening to see the groundswell of support for Goodes, indicating that there are Australians who realise that racism is not a historical artifact, but a living part of the Australian political and economic society. However, it is also high time to recognise that the political athlete, the sportsperson who stands up for their community, is a welcome and necessary component of an equitable society.

For once, the New York Times is correct – the threat of ultra-right terrorism is real and growing

In the spirit of giving credit where it is due, even to ideological opponents, it is with considerable respect that we must state that the New York Slimes, the loyal lapdog of the US imperial empire, finally got something right. In June 2015, the august newspaper of American ruling class expansionism published an article called ‘The Growing Right-Wing Terror Threat”, which elaborated upon the threat posed by the politically active ultra-right. Written by Charles Kurzman and David Schanzer, the opinion piece elaborates on the numerous studies and data sets aggregated by academic institutions and think tanks across the country that highlight the mortal danger of far-right terroristic violence. While the headlines of major newspapers and media channels are dominated by hyperbole regarding terrorism from Islamist-inspired individuals, the writers go on to state that:

But headlines can mislead. The main terrorist threat in the United States is not from violent Muslim extremists, but from right-wing extremists. Just ask the police.

It is easy to find stories that regale the public with the threats (real or imagined) from groups that proclaim themselves Islamist-oriented. Since the ‘war on terror’ and the September 11 attacks, public anxiety about such movements has reached incredible levels, and almost every discussion in the corporate media about terrorism immediately focuses on the issue of Islam, the Islamic ideology, and the presence of the Muslim community as an allegedly stealthy reservoir of support for terrorist activities. Blame for attacks by Islamist individuals warrant apportioning onto the entire Islamic community.

However, the New York Times writers, summarising the findings of numerous studies into the subject of terrorism, state otherwise:

Despite public anxiety about extremists inspired by Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, the number of violent plots by such individuals has remained very low. Since 9/11, an average of nine American Muslims per year have been involved in an average of six terrorism-related plots against targets in the United States. Most were disrupted, but the 20 plots that were carried out accounted for 50 fatalities over the past 13 and a half years.

In contrast, right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities, according to a study by Arie Perliger, a professor at the United States Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center. The toll has increased since the study was released in 2012.

Collective responsibility, applied far and wide to the Muslim community when a terrorist perpetrator is ostensibly motivated by his/her religion, evaporates into thin air when the perpetrators of violence are white. When Jerad and Amanda Miller, in Las Vegas in 2014, killed two police officers stating that the citizen revolution had begun, were they speaking for white America when they placed the Gadsden flag, and a swastika, on the bodies of the slain police officers?

The rightist killers had, six days prior to the killing, posted a rambling manifesto on their Facebook page, explaining that they were joining the militia movement to fight the government oppression of their kinfolk. Patriot and far-right groups cloak their actions in the mantle of liberty and fighting tyrannical government, citing the doctrines of America’s Founding Fathers (the founders of white America that is). After all, are they not just remaining faithful to the literal interpretation of the foundational documents of the American constitutional system?

Rightist and white supremacist violence are routinely interpreted as isolated incidents, blown out of proportion by the allegedly liberal bias in the American media. The Department of Homeland Security would disagree with that interpretation, issuing a report detailing the rising and constant menace of ultra-rightist terrorist groups. The shootings at Charleston, South Carolina, back in June 2015, by white supremacist Dylann Roof, refocused some attention back on the terror threat presented by the ultra-right. Al Jazeera (American edition) carried a story in July 2015 analysing the understated yet intimidating menace of white supremacist terrorism. At a White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, hosted by President Obama in February 2015, there was extensive discussion about Islamic-inspired movements, such as Islamic State, and their propensity for violence. However, ultra right extremism did not rate a mention.

Since September 11, numerous legislative measures have been taken to combat the ostensible threat of Islamic extremism, legislative measures clamping down on civil liberties have been approved by political bodies on the basis of combating this terrorism, and the character of Western political society has changed, perhaps irrevocably. The purported rationale for launching the ‘war on terror’ was precisely the combating of Islamist groups that resort to violent methods. Domestic and foreign policies have been influenced by this paradigm, even though the scale of this eruption of American militarism is poorly understood by the public. It is interesting to note that the multiple interventions carried out by the United States has not actually reduced the threat of terrorism. The rationalisation of US invasions overseas as part of a war on terror only serves to disguise the violent methods and predatory aims of American imperial conquest.

It is necessary for the New York Times writers to ask the next question – what steps are being taken to combat the rise of ultra-right terrorism, directed against federal authorities and minority groups? Surely white supremacist shooters are not as likely to use the same methods as Islamic fanatics, like flying airplanes into buildings on a suicide mission? Well, actually, ask that question to the residents of Austin, Texas.

It is not just a question of greater numbers, or more violent methods, of ultra-rightist violence. White supremacist and sovereign citizen militia groups are allowed to flourish and recruit because of deep-level sympathies their ideologies draw from Republican and associated right-wing parties. The disparity in media scrutiny between white ultra-right terrorism, and Islamist-based attacks, serves to shift public attitudes away from examining the racism and discrimination that pervades American capitalist society itself. Right-wing violence results in greater casualties, higher fatalities, but is met with lower rates of prosecution of the perpetrators by the federal authorities.

Make no mistake – white supremacist groups have been waging an ongoing war on the African American community for decades, something that is under-reported but deeply entrenched in the capitalist system. Dylann Roof was caught, but the threat has not subsided. The ultra right threat is not only physical, but political as well. If the ideologies motivating its practitioners find a level of community support, then extremism becomes the new normal. Social and economic policies can be changed to influence the character of the society in which we live to be more intolerant, xenophobic, and based on ultra-competitive individualism. The ultra right can commit its atrocities because the ideologies that underpin it are ubiquitous, aided and abetted by a culture of complicity that refuses to recognise the magnitude and extent of racism in capitalist society.