The Irish Times states it plainly – Hiroshima was a crime against humanity

This month marks the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States in August 1945. Hiroshima city remembered the attack with solemn ceremonies, commemorative and educational activities, and the city fell silent on the day of August 6 to respect all those who were killed and maimed by the bombing. During the official ceremonies to mark the event, doves were released into the sky, and a Buddhist temple bell tolled at 8.15 am. That was the exact time the atom bomb, dropped by the pilots and crew of the American B29 bomber Enola Gay, detonated over the city of Hiroshima in the first nuclear attack in human history on August 6, 1945, 70 years ago.

The blast from the bomb, the latter codenamed with the euphemistic ‘Little Boy‘, vaporised 80 000 people in the city, with thousands more dying over the following days and weeks. Much of the city was flattened, with every building, excepting a few earthquake-resistant buildings, within a 1.6 kilometre radius of the explosion destroyed.

The effects of the radiation took their toll over the subsequent years, leaving a poisonous legacy. In the months and years that followed, thousands more succumbed to leukemia and other cancerous diseases, the consequence of prolonged exposure to severe radiation.  This attack, followed by the bombing of Nagasaki three days later, involved atomic weapons. The United States had already subjected Japanese cities to firebombing by conventional means, such as that of Tokyo, in March 1945. That firestorm was so intense and unrelenting, it remains the subject of intensely emotional debate, much like that surrounding the atomic bombings.

Within the period March to August 1945, the United States Army Air Force systematically attacked and firebombed 66 Japanese cities, with any town with a population greater than 30 000 considered a legitimate target. As Associate Professor Tilman Ruff from the University of Melbourne notes, the US Army Air Force deployed on average 500 bombers with a payload of 4000-5000 tons of conventional bombs per city. These bombings took their toll, with the Japanese war effort shattered, and the economy grinding to a halt in 1945. The Toyko firebombing remains the single most destructive and overwhelming attack on any city in a time of war.

Hiroshima – an act of terror masked as a mercy killing

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are portrayed, mainly in the English-speaking world, as actions motivated by a strong desire to end the war as quickly as possible in order to save lives (American). The Hiroshima bombing, and the similar atomic attack on Nagasaki, are given a humanitarian cover, disguised as mercy killings by an American political and economic leadership intent on reducing the death and destruction resultant from a ground invasion of the Japanese mainland.

This narrative of ‘saving lives’, portraying the incineration of two cities and their inhabitants as life-saving measures to avoid a prolonged and bitter war, has become deeply ingrained in the English-speaking countries. Hiroshima has come to symbolise the beginning of a new atomic age of warfare. Remembering Hiroshima as a world-changing event, serves to disguise the destructive impact of the atomic bombings. The New York Slimes, the faithful lapdog of the imperial American ruling class, described the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as ‘awesome brutality’. While the article’s author, Serge Schmemann, does admit that the atomic age escalated the danger of geopolitical disputes to human survival, he casts doubt on ever resolving the ethical question of whether these attacks are justifiable.

This official portrayal, underlying the motivation for the pursuit of nuclear weapons by the United States and associated imperialist powers, is undermined by a number of stubborn facts. By 1945, the Japanese war machine had been largely defeated, the Imperial Japanese navy sunk to the bottom of the ocean, and the economy laying in ruins. The Japanese air force had an achilles heel – fuel supplies, which were in short supply. The Japanese army was retreating, and fighting only rearguard defensive actions to maintain its losing grip. In July 1945, the Allied powers – the USSR, the United States and Britain – issued the Potsdam declaration, insisting on a complete surrender of the Imperial Japanese forces.

As Professor Gar Alperovitz, the principal expert on the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks and author of the definitive works on the decision to use the bomb, notes that:

Long before the bombings occurred in August 1945—indeed, as early as late April 1945, more than three months before Hiroshima—U.S. intelligence advised that the Japanese were likely to surrender when the Soviet Union entered the war if they were assured that it did not imply national annihilation. An April 29 Joint Intelligence Staff document put it this way: “If at any time the U.S.S.R. should enter the war, all Japanese will realize that absolute defeat is inevitable.”

The Japanese government was already suing for peace, sending out overtures to the United States and the Soviet Union. The Japanese leadership was worried, not so much by the destruction of cities, but by the removal of the emperor-system should a surrender be negotiated. As early as April 1945, the Japanese government was approaching its main antagonists with proposals for terms of surrender. The United States, under then President Harry S Truman, knew full-well of these tentative proposals, and were aware of the sensitivity with which the Japanese regarded the preservation of the emperor.

Henry Stimson, then US Secretary of War, wrote that:

the true question was not whether surrender could have been achieved without the use of the bomb but whether a different diplomatic and military course would have led to an earlier surrender. A large segment of the Japanese cabinet was ready in the spring of 1945 to accept substantially the same terms as those finally agreed on.

Atomic bombings were militarily unnecessary but politically expedient

In an article for The Nation magazine, Professor Alperovitz stated that; “The War Was Won Before Hiroshima—And the Generals Who Dropped the Bomb Knew It”. That is the title of an informative article in which Alperovitz elaborates that the top American military leadership, fanatical conservatives in their political beliefs, were quite clear in their opinion about the atomic bombings – they were unnecessary and militarily futile. Alperovitz quotes the writings of Admiral William Leahy, President Truman’s Chief of Staff and the most senior American naval military officer on active service during World War Two. Leahy wrote in his memoirs that:

the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.… in being the first to use it, we…adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.

It is interesting to note that Leahy, writing these words back in 1950, clearly resolved the ethical question surrounding the atomic bombings, an issue that Schmemann, writing for the New York Slimes in 2015, cannot.

Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, stated in a speech two months after the atomic attacks that “the atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military standpoint, in the defeat of Japan…” General Henry Arnold, commander of the US Army air forces, stated in an interview that the Japanese military position was hopeless even before Hiroshima, and that the Japanese air force had lost control over its own skies. This was General Arnold’s statement only eleven days after the destruction of Hiroshima. General Dwight Eisenhower, later to become president, regretted the use of the atomic bomb, and expressed his misgivings when its use was being debated to then Secretary of War, Stimson. After the war was over, Eisenhower expressed the opinion that “it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”

The bombing of Hiroshima, and Japanese cities in general, was very expedient politically. The United States had a long history of not only racism towards its indigenous nations, but also against any non-white nations generally. Anti-Japanese, and wider anti-Asian racism, was a deeply embedded features of American media and popular culture. Japan had emerged as an imperialist competitor at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, directly challenging the United States. The ‘yellow peril’ became a fixture in American cultural output. As Christian Appy, author of an article in The Nation magazine explains it:

American wartime culture had for years drawn on a long history of “yellow peril” racism to paint the Japanese not just as inhuman, but as subhuman. As Truman put it in his diary, it was a country full of “savages” — “ruthless, merciless, and fanatic” people so loyal to the emperor that every man, woman, and child would fight to the bitter end. In these years, magazines routinely depicted the Japanese as monkeys, apes, insects, and vermin. Given such a foe, so went the prevailing view, there were no true “civilians” and nothing short of near extermination, or at least a powerful demonstration of America’s willingness to proceed down that path, could ever force their surrender. As Admiral William “Bull” Halsey said in a 1944 press conference, “The only good Jap is a Jap who’s been dead six months.”

As Appy elaborates, while the most virulent expressions of anti-Asian racism have diminished in the post-World War Two years, the idea that the atomic bombings saved lives, has not.

The entry of the Soviet Union into the Pacific war

The USSR had agreed, at two international conferences with the western Allies, to enter the war against Japan in the event of the defeat of Germany in Europe. In May 1945, Germany surrendered, and three months later, the Soviet Union entered the war against Imperial Japan by invading the Japanese-occupied area of north-eastern China, Manchuria. Though this military invasion occurred in between the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it had been planned well in advance, and the Soviets were also making preparations to invade the Japanese mainland.

Japan was facing a war on two fronts, its military forces already overstretched. The USSR brought with them not just military prowess and strength, but an ideological commitment to destroy the emperor system, overturn capitalistic relations in the areas they occupied, and implement a socialist system in tune with their political calculations, as the Soviet Army had done in Eastern Europe. Even the most hardline elements in the Japanese leadership knew that the war was all but lost with the entry of the USSR. Now it was a question of not whether it was feasible to continue the war, but what the best possible terms might be in any imminent surrender. In the meetings of the Japanese War Cabinet in 1945, it was recognised that if the USSR brought its full might to bear in the Asia-Pacific, the ability of the Imperial Japanese military to fight would be extinguished.

Japanese historian Yuri Tanaka, interviewed by ABC Radio’s North Asia correspondent Mark Carney, explained that the Soviets would have had no hesitation in overturning the emperor-system, changing the economic structures, and even killing members of the royal family. By August 1945, the Japanese ruling class had no choice but to surrender.

The Soviet Army smashed through the remaining Japanese formations in Manchuria in August 1945. But this was not the first time that the USSR and Japan had faced off – back in 1939, Japan, using Manchuria as a launching pad, began an annexationist war against the Soviet Union. In what was the largest tank battle in history up till that time, the Soviets decisively defeated the Imperial Japanese troops at the Battle of Khalkhin Gol. From May until September 1939 the two antagonists fought it out in this this important, decisive, yet largely-forgotten theatre of war. Japan sued for peace with the USSR, and a peace treaty was signed in September 1939.

Japan’s leaders were aware that the Soviet contribution to the war effort would be strategically decisive. However, the political leaders in Tokyo were not the only ones aware of the Soviet Union’s aspirations and capabilities to realise them – the ruling class of the United States was also worried by the rise of an economic and military superpower. The bombing of Hiroshima, while less important that the participation of the Soviet Union in convincing Japan to surrender, was also an opening salvo of a long Cold war against a new ideological and economic enemy. Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Tokyo’s Temple University, stated that the atomic attacks were opening shots in the subsequent cold war, a demonstration of which power has the most destructive weapon in order to intimidate and coerce a post-World War Two political settlement favourable to their interests.

Emperor Hirohito remained in place after the surrender, and the American occupation of Japan resulted in the gradual rehabilitation of that country as a largely pro-western capitalist power in the Pacific, always under the watchful eye of the United States. Atomic diplomacy became a new reality, as the United States used its near-monopoly of nuclear weapons to threaten, coerce and cajole its rivals in its bid to become a supreme international power after the end of World War Two. Hiroshima was the start of atomic intimidation, directed not just at the Japanese ruling class, but also at the emergent Soviet Union. Greater numbers of historians, such as Peter Kuznick, director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at the American University in Washington, and Mark Selden, Senior Research Associate in the East Asia Program at Cornell University, are recognising that the atomic bombings were not purely defensive and humanitarian gestures, but rather belligerent actions by an aggressor power intent on demonstrating its capacity for destruction.

A crime against humanity

The atomic bombings by the United States were part of its ruthless drive to extend its economic and military domination in the Pacific, demonstrating the same economic motivations, and contempt for human life, as their Japanese counterparts in Tokyo. The war planners in Japan have blood on their hands – the mass killings of Chinese in Shanghai, the mass murder and rape of civilians in Nanking, the coercion of women prisoners into sexual slavery, the death marches of malnourished and diseased war prisoners as they toiled in hard labour – these are not in dispute, nor are they being whitewashed. Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, must apologise for the crimes of the Japanese military and political command, and cease his efforts to sanitise these aspects of Japan’s war-time history. Abe’s push to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution so as to allow the deployment of Japanese troops overseas must be resisted.

The nuclear age, the age of atomic weaponry, has been constructed on an edifice of lies – that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima ushered in an era of peace. The Hiroshima bombing, and its counterpart in Nagasaki, underlie the mythological absurdity that atomic weapons bring peace and stability. The scramble by the imperialist states to build and stockpile nuclear weapons has only resulted in escalating tensions, and brought the risk of total annihilation of human (and planetary) life ever closer. Each geopolitical dispute can spiral into a cascade of out-of-control events, and the use of nuclear weapons becomes a realistic possibility. The Cold War, far from being a period of peace, was one of an armed truce. While the major imperialist states were largely unaffected by war, the non-white world of Asia, Africa and Latin America bore the brunt of inter-imperialist competition, suffering heavy loss of life in proxy wars of geopolitical rivalry.

The title of the current article comes from an article by Irish journalist Eamonn McCann – Hiroshima was a crime against humanity. McCann writes that the full horror of the Hiroshima bombing was first brought home to the English-speaking world by an Australian journalist, Wilfred Burchett:

It wasn’t until the Australian Wilfred Burchett arrived as the first journalist to make it to Hiroshima that the aftermath of the explosion was described to a western audience: “I write this as warning to the world,” was his intro on page one of the Daily Express. He described in detail how he had walked through a hospital ward packed with people with their skin hanging in flaps from their bodies, eyes opaque, dying, but with no visible marks. There being no word for it yet, he wrote of “an atomic plague.”

The voice of the Irish Times is a welcome break from the usual Hiroshima apologia that is recycled on the anniversary of that event. More voices are being raised, asking the difficult questions about this attack. The numbers of the hibakusha – the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings – are dwindling, and their experiences and testimonies need to be circulated around the world to warn of the danger of nuclear weapons. Not only should the United States apologise for the gratuitous acts of mass murder committed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but they should listen (as we all should) to the words of the mayor of Hiroshima, Kazumi Matsui. In his remarks on the seventieth anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, he said:

Meanwhile, our world still bristles with more than 15,000 nuclear weapons, and policymakers in the nuclear-armed states remain trapped in provincial thinking, repeating by word and deed their nuclear intimidation. We now know about the many incidents and accidents that have taken us to the brink of nuclear war or nuclear explosions. Today, we worry as well about nuclear terrorism.

As long as nuclear weapons exist, anyone could become a hibakusha at any time. If that happens, the damage will reach indiscriminately beyond national borders. People of the world, please listen carefully to the words of the hibakusha and, profoundly accepting the spirit of Hiroshima, contemplate the nuclear problem as your own.

The Confederacy lost the civil war, but found acceptance in fighting America’s imperialist wars of conquest

April 2015 marked the 150th anniversary of the end of the US civil war. The sesquicentennial was celebrated with many commemorative activities, historical reenactments, seminars, documentaries and presentations by academic associations. General Robert E. Lee, the overall commander of Confederate forces whose Army of Northern Virginia had twice tried to invade the North and failed, finally surrendered on April 9 1865 at Appomattox Court House, Virginia to the commander of Union troops, General Ulysses S Grant. Lee’s forces had abandoned the Confederate capital, Richmond, in the face of advancing Union soldiers, and had no option but to surrender.

The year of 1864 was actually the decisive year of the American civil war, when the fate of the United States hung in the balance. Either side was still capable of winning, and the slave-owning secessionist war showed no signs of slowing down. In July 1863, General Lee’s second foray to carry the war into the North failed, with his defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg. Grant was appointed commander of all Union military forces in March 1864, and began a series of heavy, bloody battles with the Confederacy. The Emancipation proclamation, freeing around four million African American slaves, had been in effect for just over a year. Millions of former slaves flocked to the Union armies, depriving the Confederacy of essential labour power.

The Gettysburg Address by President Lincoln, along with the Emancipation Proclamation, transformed the Union’s attempts to defeat a secessionist rebellion into a revolutionary war. The economic and social underpinnings of the Southern slave-owning economy were being attacked. After all, the Emancipation Proclamation can rightly be considered the largest, government-sanctioned expropriation of private property in world history until the Russian Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

Add to that the following: in November 1864, Union General William T. Sherman launched his March to the Sea, (otherwise known as the Savannah Campaign) a military attack designed to cut the Confederacy into pieces, and destroy its economic base. Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee left their supply lines behind, lived off the land, attacked the economic infrastructure of slavery and liberating thousands of slaves. Having captured Atlanta, Georgia in September 1864, Sherman’s army was well placed to launch a serious offensive aimed at destroying the Confederacy’s transport networks, industrial base, as well as military targets.

Sherman captured Savannah Georgia at the end of 1864, the Confederacy’s economy destroyed and the slaves liberated. By the end of the year, the slave-owners rebellion was in retreat. By April 1865, the civil war was over. The slave-owning Confederacy was defeated, but white racial supremacy as a political ideology was not long in recovering, and reasserting itself in a different way.

150 years later, the struggle against racism continues

Abayomi Azikiwe, writer and activist for the Workers World Party in the United States and the editor of Pan-African News Wire, wrote an article about the end of the civil war and the efforts at Reconstruction. He wrote that while formal emancipation and the defeat of the Confederacy were historic steps forward, the effort to construct a nation without racial oppression is still unrealised. The former Confederate states, having lost the military campaign, now resorted to underground and rearguard actions to preserve racial segregation. Under the Federal government’s programme of Reconstruction, former slaves acquired land, competed for jobs, sought out education, and raised money to improve their economic position. The hungry and unemployed mass of African American labourers were now looking for work and economic security. All this was done in the shadow of millions of US troops stationed at strategic points in the South.

The Southern power structures resorted to dual tactics to resist the desegregation of public life. The former Confederate general and slave trader Nathan Bedford Forrest founded the Ku Klux Klan to advance the cause of white racial supremacy and waged a racist terrorist war against the black communities of the South. This terror campaign targeted the Reconstruction process, and attempted to sabotage efforts at racial integration.

Democrat politicians in the South whipped up a campaign of white racial hatred against the African American community, helping to pass a series of laws that racially segregated public and economic life in the South. These laws became the basis of Jim Crow legislation, a system of racial caste laws that enforced racial segregation in the economy, education, infrastructure and in public interactions between blacks and whites.

These were the laws overturned by the Civil Rights movement decades later in the 1950s and 1960s. Lynchings and racist terror against the African American community undergirded the systematic exclusion of the later, and their enclosure into impoverished ghetto-communities. The Reconstruction process ended in 1877, and while it is not the purpose of this article go into a rigorous examination of its successes and failures here, it is important to note that American capitalism, while demolishing the secessionist basis of slavery, still needed racism in its drive for economic conquest. The American civil war – the Emancipation Proclamation and the liberation of slaves – encapsulated revolutionary ideas about equality in the social and economic spheres. These ideas are at direct odds with the underlying basis of the capitalist system as an exploitative, class-based social structures. This contradiction came to the fore in years of Reconstruction.

While the Confederacy was defeated, its cause found re-acceptance into the American family – firstly through the waging of wars against the indigenous nations of the United States, and secondly through the launch of imperialist conquests overseas.

Endless wars need and reinforce domestic racism

The sub-heading above comes from an informative article by Greg Grandin, history teacher at New York University and author of the essay “The Confederate Flag at War (But Not the Civil War)”. The Stars and Bars, the Confederate flag, was lowered after the surrender at Appomattox Court House. But it found readmission into the American family with the wars against the first nations of the Americas. In the era of westward expansion, as white settlers interacted with the native American nations, conquest and annexation were the order of the day. The ‘Lost Cause’ of the Confederacy found renewed expression in the racist wars to subjugate the indigenous populations. As Grandin states in his article:

But Confederate veterans and their sons used the pacification of the West as a readmission program into the U.S. Army. The career of Luther Hare, a Texas son of a Confederate captain, is illustrative. He barely survived Custer’s campaign against the Sioux. Cornered in a skirmish that preceded Little Big Horn, Hare “opened fire and let out a rebel yell” before escaping. He then went on to fight Native Americans in Montana, Texas, the Pacific Northwest, and Arizona, where he put down the “last of the renegade Apaches,” before being sent to the Philippines as a colonel.  There, he led a detachment of Texans against the Spanish.

The crucial moment for the full rehabilitation of the ‘Lost Cause’ arrived at the end of nineteenth century, when the United States ruling class embarked upon its own programme of imperialist conquest. Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam – these were the first countries to be fully subjugated by the projection of American military power overseas, and were wrested from the control of the Spanish empire. The Spanish-American war of 1898 marked the rise of the United States as an imperialist power in its own right, and the seamless integration of the Confederate-brand of racism into the imperial project. Since the days of slavery, Cuba was viewed as a potential slave state. Now, the American army left the shores of the United States waving the Confederate flag, joined by Confederate veterans and their descendants.

In June 1898, as the United States conquered Cuba, veterans of the Confederacy were gathering for a reunion in Atlanta Georgia. The city was festooned with Confederate flags. The event was marked by speeches appreciative of the historic conquest of Cuba, valorising the heroism of the soldiers that gone to subjugate the island. Long gone were any references to equality, emancipation and liberation, ideals that permeated former President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address. Here was the language of class rule and conquest. President McKinley, on a victory tour of the South, praised the invincible fighting spirit of the American military, united as one, to vanquish foreign enemy. To quote from Grandin’s article again:

War with Spain allowed “our boys” to once more be “wrapped in the folds of the American flag,” said General John Gordon, commander of the United Confederate Veterans, in remarks opening the proceedings. Their heroism, he added, has led “to the complete and permanent obliteration of all sectional distrusts and to the establishment of the too long delayed brotherhood and unity of the American people.” In this sense, the War of 1898 was alchemic, transforming the “lost cause” of the Confederacy (that is, the preservation of slavery) into a crusade for world freedom. The South, Gordon said, was helping to bring “the light of American civilization and the boon of Republican liberty to the oppressed islands of both oceans.”

During World War One, then-President Woodrow Wilson, a Southerner, re-segregated Washington, pushing out African Americans from federal jobs, and began the annual tradition of laying a wreath at the Arlington Cemetery’s Confederate war memorial. He screened the racist film, Birth of a Nation, in the grounds of the White House with major political figures and officials in attendance. This film depicted the ‘Lost Cause’ of the South as a noble, unflagging venture against the unscrupulous racially-integrative project of the capitalistic North.

But more than that, Wilson willingly appropriated the Confederate cause into his own advocacy of militant, messianic imperialism. World War One was not just about justice, but about America going out to conquer. Confederate veterans and their descendants rallied in Washington in June 1916 to demonstrate their support for Wilson and empire-building. The conquered banner was no longer relegated to the past, but was rehabilitated as an active participant in American wars overseas. The Confederate flag was hoisted by American troops in battle fields around the world – Okinawa, northern Europe, and later in Vietnam. It was also hoisted by serving American soldiers in Baghdad in 2007. Grandin quotes African American soldiers serving in Vietnam, who witnessed the proliferation of Confederate flags among the white troops in that conflict. One African American trooper wrote home’ “and we still have some people who are still fighting the Civil War.” Two weeks after he wrote these words, he was dead – officially killed in action.

As American militarism engages in mass violence and wars overseas, whether through drone strikes, outright invasions, and the use of greater domestic repression at home, racism is not confined to one particular geographic region or economic system. It is a necessary pollutant that sustains an unjust, inequitable, and exploitative system. Imperialist wars not only eat away at the fabric of the republic, they toxify the cultural and political environment. Democratic ideals, enshrined in documents such as the Emancipation Proclamation, are shunted aside as more repressive tactics are adopted by the ruling class, and suggestions by top-level political figures for further suppression of ethnic and minority groups are considered to be quite normal.

As the capitalist system remains mired in terminal crisis, greater levels of police violence are directed against the African American community, and indeed against minority communities across the United States. We in Australia need to re-examine our political and economic directions, as we are tobogganing head-first into the American scenario. If the United States is characterised by social decay, racist violence and economic growth that benefits only the ultra-wealthy, why is this example being held up as worthy of emulation?

Charleston, the Confederate flag and racism – the political intersection of ultra-right terrorism

In June 2015, a young gunman Dylann Roof, shot dead nine people of African American descent in the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina. He was attending a bible study group and prayer service, when he took out an automatic weapon, opening fire, and killing nine persons including the senior pastor and state senator the late Clementa C Pinckney. Roof, the shooter shouted racial slogans, declaring that African Americans were destroying his white kinfolk.

He deliberately spared the life of one person so that she could bear witness to the attack. Roof hoped that the living witness would explain to the wider world his motivations for the shooting. His decision to kill was motivated by his desire to stop black people taking over the country, as he saw it. After his arrest, he stated to police that his intention was to ignite a racial war. The facts of the mass murder are well established.

In the immediate aftermath of the killing, there was an intense debate among politicians, media commentators and the corporate media about whether the mass murder at Charleston constituted an act of domestic terrorism, a hate crime, or both. The governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, in speaking about the atrocity, stated that she cannot and never will understand what motivates someone to enter a holy place of worship and kill.

Well, it is true that the motivations driving the perpetrator in each and every case of murder are complex and multifarious. In the more recent case of the Chattanooga shooting, involving the death of four US marines, there was never any doubt that this act constitutes a case of terrorism, especially given the fact that the shooter’s name is something like Mohammed Yousuf Abdulazeez. In this case, the shooting is immediately categorised and understood as terrorism. However, when a white mass murderer is arrested by police, he is provided with a hamburger meal, and a bullet-proof vest for his protection should he be the target of vigilante violence.

Let us help Governor Haley understand the motivations of Dylann Roof by having a closer look at his picture – on his jacket, he is wearing two flags, one of the previous apartheid South African regime, the other the flag of the white supremacist state of Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was previously known. Indeed, Roof’s own web page, in which he elaborated his melange of white racist and sovereign-citizen-militia ideas as a manifesto, described himself as the ‘last Rhodesian’. Roof never made any secret of his ultra-rightist political motivations.

As Eugene Puryear, author of the article “Charleston Massacre: Yet another terrorist act against Blacks in America” explains it, the reason for the obfuscation of this issue as an expression of ultra-rightist terrorism is clear:

The establishment in capitalist America is fearful of revealing the depth of racist oppression that continues to exist. Particularly in South Carolina, a state run by hard-core Tea Party types with a deep strain of racism that involves quite a bit of Confederate boosterism.

The leaders of South Carolina, then, will be loathe to admit their own complicity in not only the terrorism of the past but its glorification in the here and now.

The Confederate flag – the long reach of the US civil war

South Carolina, one of the states involved in the Confederacy’s secessionist war of the 1860s, has a long history of deep-seated racism. South Carolina’s government, in 1961, raised the Confederate flag atop the state government headquarters as a direct response to the rise of the black American civil rights movement and racial desegregation. South Carolina state authorities resisted desegregation for as long as they could, and the ubiquity of the Confederate, slave-owners flag throughout the southern states is astounding: it can be seen on licence plates, coffee mugs, articles of clothing, and body tattoos. Roof was not unaware of this cultural and historical context.

Indeed, April this year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the US civil war. In the wake of the Charleston shooting, there is renewed interest in the legacy of that war, and the question of racism in American society has taken on political urgency. Roof chose the target that he did, not out of sheer coincidence, but for specific political reasons. Barry Sheppard, long-time socialist and anti-racist activist in the United States penned a thoughtful article called “Racist Charleston massacre has clear political roots”. In it, Sheppard states that:

Roof’s choice of the Emanuel African Methodist Church as the scene of his terrorist attack was also political. It is one of the oldest Black churches in the South, having been established as a refuge for slaves in the early 1800s. Ever since, it has played an important role in the fight for Black rights, including up to the present.

One of the founders of the church was a former slave, Denmark Vesey, who had been able to buy his freedom from his owner. Vesey was the main leader of a planned armed slave revolt in 1822.

South Carolina, being one of the defeated states after the civil war, has a long history of terrorist violence against black Americans. In the immediate aftermath of the US civil war, when the slave-owning class and its economic base were smashed, South Carolina witnessed a white supremacist backlash against Reconstruction, with newly-formed racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan launching an underground war of terror to sabotage any attempts at racially integrating the political and economic structures of the state.

Eric Foner, professor of history at Columbia University and an expert on race relations in the US, wrote that South Carolina authorities resisted the federal government’s Reconstruction programme tooth and nail, and appealed to white resentment against black ‘encroachments’. This generated an interpretation of US civil war and reconstruction history where whites were the aggrieved party, facing a hostile takeover by the formerly subservient African Americans. Roof’s exclamation that ‘you are taking over the country’ has historical resonances that derive from this interpretation of white ‘victimhood’. Southern ‘victimhood’ provides an outlet for the Dylann Roofs of the world to vent their racial hatred wrapped in the mantle of purported injustice.

When elaborating his reasons for committing the crime, Roof provided his own perverse fascination with a mythologised history of the Confederate white-supremacist political platform, drawing from the reservoir of the ‘lost cause of the South’. The slave-owning Confederacy is not just a long-defeated historical artifact, but lives and breathes through its lineage with racist terrorism aimed at the African American community.

The Confederate flag was finally lowered from South Carolina’s state house in July 2015, after a concerted campaign by political and community figures across a wide spectrum of American society. As Monica Moorehead, activist and writer for the Workers World party stated in her article “Who gets credit for removing Confederate flag?”:

Finally. The profoundly offensive, pro-slavery Confederate flag no longer flies high in front of the State House grounds in Columbia, the capitol of South Carolina. It was taken down on July 10, 43 years after it was first hoisted in a ceremony “officially” marking the centennial of the start of the U.S. Civil War.

It is unfortunate that is took the Charleston shooting, a terrorist tragedy, to finally achieve even this limited step, but a forward step it is for race relations in the United States. It required a mass outpouring of public justifiable outrage after the Charleston mass murders for the political establishment to remove this symbol of slavery and racism.

However, consider the following: the US military still has major bases named after Confederate slave-owning military figures. In the Workers World online magazine, Sara Flounders lists the following symbols of US military domination honouring the slave-owning officers:

Fort Hood, Texas, is the largest military base in the U.S., named after a Confederate general, John Bell Hood.

Fort Rucker, Ala., named for Confederate Col. Edmund W. Rucker, is where all of the Army’s aviation training has taken place since 1973.

Fort Bragg, N.C., named to honor Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg, is home to the 82nd Airborne Division and Special Operations Command Center.

Fort Benning, Ga., named for Confederate Brig. Gen. Henry L. Benning, is home to the formerly named School of the Americas, which provides military training tactics of torture, assassination and subversion for Latin American military officers.

Fort Gordon, Ga., is home to the U.S. Army Signal Corp and the former base of a military police school. The base is named after Confederate Lt. Gen. John Brown Gordon, head of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia. Gordon was a vicious segregationist who fought Black Reconstruction following the U.S. Civil War with racist terror.

This issue goes deeper than just names and symbols. The Confederate influence in the US military goes beyond symbolic honours. While after the US civil war, little united North and South, and the Confederate cause was defeated, there was one area where the white separatist cause could find reconciliation and acceptance; the pacification of the indigenous American nations and the emergence of American imperialism.

How and why that happened will be the subject of the next article – part two.

Summing up Part One

The Charleston shooting was a wake-up call not just about the issue of racism in the United States, but also about an equally important trend – the resurgence of ultra-right terrorism. Dylann Roof’s political motivations were the product of a very fertile soil – the continuing presence of not only a white supremacist political platform in American society, but the growth of the ultra-right and its propensity for violence against minority groups. As Brendan McQuade, a visiting assistant professor in international studies at DePaul University states in his essay for Counterpunch online magazine, the reanimation of the Ku Klux Klan, the Sovereign Citizens and patriot militia groups, the John Birch Society and its influence in the ultra-right libertarian Tea Party, point to the need for a serious examination of the visceral racism and white supremacy that is built into the social and economic roots of the capitalist system. If an anti-racist alternative is too limited or weakened, there will be a steady stream of willing recruits, the Dylann Roofs of future generations.

 

Iran Air Flight 655 – Lest We Forget

The title above comes from an article in the Washington Post published in 2013, referring to the shooting down of civilian Iranian Air Flight 655 back in 1988. The Iranian airliner was on a routine flight from Tehran to Dubai, when it was shot down by two surface-to-air missiles launched from the US warship USS Vincennes. The aircraft was in Iranian airspace, flying over Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf, and was flying away from US warships in the area. All 290 passengers and crew were killed. There were no survivors.

Why is this important to remember?

In the context of the tragic downing of Malaysian airliner M17, where official outrage in the United States and Australia were squarely directed at the Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, it is appropriate to explore the conduct of the US with regard to the comparable crime of shooting down a civilian airliner.

There was near unanimity in the corporate-controlled media about the culpability of Putin, and the blame was placed on the shoulders of the Ukrainian rebels opposed to the US-backed, ultra-rightists and racist regime in Kiev. The possibility that one of many neo-fascistic, thuggish militias operating under the guidance of the Kiev regime was never seriously considered or investigated. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott threatened to ‘shirtfront’ Russian President Putin at the G20 Leaders Meeting in Brisbane. The Russian government laughed off the remarks, but it does indicate that the Australian ruling class is willing to play the role of attack-dog for the American imperialist power. The steady and unrelenting barrage of accusations of the Russian side’s culpability has never been seriously questioned.

Be that as it may, the perpetrators of a such a horrific crime should be brought to account.

July 3 1988

Throughout the Iran-Iraq war, which lasted most of the 1980s, the United States actively encouraged the Iraqi regime of former President Saddam Hussein with military assistance, intelligence-sharing and loans. The US stationed naval warships in the Persian Gulf, supposedly to protect maritime commercial traffic in that region. The US Navy was monitoring naval and air traffic out of the Persian Gulf, and had engaged in attacks with Iranian warships. The USS Vincennes commander, Captain William C. Rogers III, ordered the shooting down of the Iran Air 655 and two missiles were launched. The aircraft was destroyed and all on board were killed. They included 66 children.

In the subsequent investigation into the attack, the US authorities blamed human error, describing the airliner’s downing as a regrettable tragedy. Then US President Ronald Reagan, basing himself on the reports submitted by US naval officials, stated that the commanding crew of the USS Vincennes believed they were under threat and took appropriate defensive action given the circumstances. Admiral William Crowe, then the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also defended the actions of Captain Rogers, remarking that the USS Vincennes had sufficient reasons to believe they were in danger and took the necessary defensive measures.

All of the assertions of the US government in relation to the shooting down of Iran Air 655 have been shown to be false. The Iranian airliner was transmitting signals indicating its civilian status, something that the US Navy with all of its sophisticated technology could hardly have mistaken. Flight 655 was ascending, flying away from the military carrier rather than descending towards the ship.

The cover-up of the criminal action of bringing down a civilian airliner is just as inexcusable as the crime itself. In 1990, the captain of the USS Vincennes, William Rogers III, was awarded the Legion of Merit for meritorious conduct for his performance as a commanding officer.

The writers and editors of Veterans Today magazine, a journal that deals with the concerns of returned service personnel, had a different assessment of Captain Rogers and his crew. In an article entitled ‘Murder in the Air’, they wrote that:

The officers and sailors of the USS Vincennes may have the honor of being among the absolutely worst and most shameful of any who have ever served in uniform. 

In 1991, Admiral William Crowe grudgingly admitted that the USS Vincennes was inside Iranian waters when the shooting down took place, not in international waters as the US Navy had first claimed.

In 1996, the Iranian and US governments reached an arrangement organised at the International Court of Justice. A compensation payout of 61.8 million dollars was agreed to be provided to the families of the Iran Air 655 victims, and the United States expressed deep regret over the incident. The US government has never actually admitted responsibility for the attack, or ever apologised for it. Indeed, in August 1988, in the immediate aftermath of the airliner’s downing, former US Vice President George Bush (senior) stated that:

I will never apologize for the United States — I don’t care what the facts are… I’m not an apologize-for-America kind of guy.

The enormous fury and frustration that accompanies the drumbeat of denunciations regarding the downing of Malaysian Airliner 17 reeks of hypocrisy. The deceptions of the United States ruling class are astounding, given that they have flouted the international laws that they now claim to uphold. The outrage over the demise of MH17 (whether real or manufactured) serves a useful tribal function – to unite us in an aura of  hyperbolic self-affirmative superiority over an enemy that stoops to new barbaric lows – surely we are not as savage as them?

Iranians honour those who perished in the attack

The Iran-Iraq war ended in August 1988. The shoot-down of Iran Air 655 constitutes an unhealed wound for the Iranian side, evidence of the perfidy and cunning deceptions of the power to the West. The Iranians mark July 3 with commemorative events and sombre ceremonies to uphold the event lest we forget:

Courtesy of Mehr News Agency
Courtesy of Mehr News Agency

In 2014, the Harvard Political Review published an article entitled ‘Sorry, but Iran Air 655 is not equivalent to Malaysia Flight 17’, a prolonged obsequious apologia for the shooting down of the Iranian aircraft. The author does make an interesting point – the United States, during the Iran-Iraq war, positioned its naval warships in the Persian Gulf to protect trade routes and uphold free navigation of the seas. This is actually a legitimate difference between MH17 and Iran Air 655. Perhaps that is the only valid point in the entire article.

The US imperialist power regards the Persian Gulf, and indeed the oil resources of the Middle East and Central Asia, as necessary to its own strategic and military interests. It will brook no opposition to its economic expansion, at the expense of the people in that region, the true owners of those natural resources. The attack on Iran Air 655 did constitute a strong signal delivered by the trigger-happy rulers of the American war machine – this region belongs to us, defy us, and we will take steps to blast you into oblivion. Malaysia has no economic or material interests in the Ukraine, or Eastern Europe. It has never attacked any European country, nor placed its soldiers on foreign soil, or constructed military bases in foreign countries.

Perhaps it is time to examine the deceptions, hypocrisies and evil committed by our own political and economic leaders. Successive Australian governments, both Labour and Liberal, have made it a virtue (if it can be called that) of riding on the coattails of US foreign policy objectives. An axis of evil can only exist when a criminal power has willing underlings that comply with its predatory actions.

Why are so many winners of the Nobel Prize of Jewish background?

This question is one of those dinner party, or coffee shop, conversations that rises periodically in the course of a social outing with friends. In a similar fashion to a brain-dead zombie, this question put to rest numerous times, only to rise out of its coffin to startling the unsuspecting. This topic arises because it speaks to our deepest anxieties – the seeming connection between race, intelligence and genes. Now the latter topic is too broad and wide-ranging to go into detail here, so let us confine ourselves to the immediate question, posed by the title above. However, it is a matter of record that numerous scientists that have won the Nobel Prize come from a Jewish background.

The conversation usually rears its head as the end point of a series of off-the-cuff observations – Einstein, he was Jewish, right? And Richard Feynman, co-winner of the Nobel Prize in 1965 and author of numerous popular science books – he was Jewish, right? Even scientists that are popularly known but not necessarily winners of the Nobel Prize get lumped into this topic – Sigmund Freud, the psychoanalyst, he was Jewish, right? And numerous psychologists that have followed in his footsteps, or based themselves partly on his theories – Erich Fromm, Erik Erikson – they were Jews, weren’t they?

The first observation to make in this regard is a statement by Einstein himself, commenting on the status of his theories of special and general relativity. Presenting his theories at the Sorbonne University in 1921, he stated, “If I am proved correct, the Germans will call me a German, the Swiss will call me a Swiss citizen, and the French will call me a great scientist. If relativity is proved wrong, the French will call me a Swiss, the Swiss will call me a German and the Germans will call me a Jew.” Being of Jewish origin in the scientific community was hardly a distinct advantage, given the strong anti-Semitism rampant in Europe in the early part of the 20th century.

Israeli writers have engaged in their own fist-pumping, high-five-boasting, chest-thumping commentary themselves whenever examining this question. This is understandable, given that they are trying to construct an image of the Jewish people being sturdily resilient in the face of numerous obstacles. Having been subjected to anti-Semitic pogroms, outcasts from mainstream society, educational achievement is one way to overcome the impediments of anti-Semitic prejudice.

Numerous theories are proposed to explain this apparent explosion of Jewish domination in the sciences. While there are various nuances and permutations of all those purported explanations, they fall into two broad categories. One is that Jews are possessed of super-DNA genetic material, elevating them into hereditary over-achievers. After all, DNA is the metaphor for our age, particularly since the latter half of the twentieth century is characterised by the monumental growth of genomic research, biotechnology and the human genome project? Did not former Australian Prime Minister, and leader of the Australian Labour Party, state that Australia’s support for Israel was ‘in my DNA?’

Let us dispense with simplistic and utterly ridiculous psycho-gene-babble nonsense about superior and inferior quality genes. The achievement of Jews in the sciences in a completely 20th century phenomenon. Jews were confined to ghettos, driven out of society for centuries in Europe. American psychologists, lawmakers and scientists, confronted by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and the former Imperial Russian empire, regarded the Jews, Mediterraneans, Slavs, and basically anyone who was non-Nordic as intellectual inferior. American policy-makers and educators, steeped in the newly ascendant doctrines of genetic determinism and racial eugenics, were deeply worried that this new stock from Europe would cause a precipitous decline in the American intellectual achievement if they were allowed to settle in the United States. If the Jewish people had super-genes, surely they would have been enthusiastically welcomed into the country obsessed with improving the genetic quality of its human stock.

The second broad category of theories relates to Jewish culture, more specifically to the bookish traditions of the Jewish people. Basically they like hitting the books, driving themselves to excel in education. This sounds nice, partly true by appealing to longstanding cultural traditions, but falls short of explaining why Jewish intellectuals have flowered in the sciences. Back in the ghettos where they floundered for decades, religious education was the main order of the day; studying in the Yeshiva, absorbing ancient texts and the Talmud were all well and good, but that was hardly preparation for tackling the difficult – and at the time burgeoning – scientific fields of biology, geology, and physics. As Jonathan Valk explained in his article for Haaretz magazine, Einstein did not undertake his groundbreaking scientific work on the photoelectric effect (for which he won the Nobel Prize) in the Yeshiva, nor did Sigmund Freud elaborate the basic foundations of what became psychoanalysis by studying religious texts. As Valk goes on to explain:

But we aren’t dealing with something uniquely Jewish as such. Other than a common identity, what is it that unites all of these Jewish thinkers, innovators, and doers? With only the odd and arguable exception, every Jewish Nobel Prize winner has been steeped in the intellectual traditions, mores and values of secular, non-Jewish culture, in addition to whatever attachment they may have had to their Jewish origin.

It is precisely when Jews turn away from the narrow, sclerotic world of sectarian particularism and embrace the humanitarian and educational culture of their host society that enables them to achieve in the sciences. The sciences are based – at least theoretically – on a meritocratic basis, where commitment to investigation, empirical fact-finding and rigorous impartiality allowed minority groups to escape the confines of discrimination and where intellect can grow and develop. Achieving excellence in education, while being its own reward, was also the best way to integrate into the new society of the United States, and achieve acceptance as equal citizens. As Noah Ephron, lecturer in at Bar-Ilan University wrote in his article in Haaretz magazine, education and scientific achievement was the way to achieve what they wanted to become, productive and respected members of the wider community, breaking out of the anti-Semitic confines in which they had been imprisoned in Europe for so long.

This is not to suggest that anti-Semitism and racism evaporated overnight in American universities – far from it. But is was the first place that a minority group could transcend the barriers that had held them down. The mid-twentieth century in the United States provided the first fertile ground where Jews could achieve without the traditional hostility and encumbrances of European anti-Semitism.

The United States had always had a strong scientific sector, but it was the twentieth century combination of circumstances – the wars in Europe and the resultant disruptions they caused, and the newly emerging Cold War – that spurred the US ruling class into action, pushing scientific research as a top priority. Numerous European scientists – Leo Szilard, Enrico Fermi – emigrated to the United States, elevating the scientific melting pot occurring in that country. Across the European continent, the USSR loomed large, with its remarkable scientific establishment rising into international prominence, rivaling the traditional centres of scientific research and development in Britain, France, and western Europe. Though devastated by the German invasion, Soviet science and education made significant strides in the mid-twentieth century, frightening the American ruling class with the spectre of a rival, and scientifically advanced, power bloc.

As Canadian blogger and intellectual Stephen Gowans explains:

Soviet accomplishments in space, considered in light of the mistaken view that the USSR was always a poor second-best to the supposedly more dynamic United States, is truly startling. Soviet achievements include the first satellite, first animal in orbit, first human in orbit, first woman in orbit, first spacewalk, first moon impact, first image of the far side of the moon, first unmanned lunar soft landing, first space rover, first space station and first interplanetary probe. The panic created in Washington after the allegedly innovation-stifling Soviet economy allowed the USSR to beat its much richer ideological rival into space galvanized the United States to take a leaf from the Soviet book. Just as the Soviets were doing, Washington would use public funds to power research into innovations. This would be done through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Science research and development became a multicultural agency in the United States in the wake of the Second World War.

There is one other point worth making here, one that Noah Ephron makes in his article – winning the Nobel Prize is a sensational achievement, there is no doubt. However, if a scientist does not win one, it is not worth losing any sleep over it. Nobel Prizes are given to scientists who have done remarkable work, achieved incredible discoveries or formulated revolutionary innovations. Notice that this is in the past tense – they did great work, but their best is behind them. As Ephron states, while not detracting from the importance of winning the Nobel Prize, they are a fading snapshot of bygone days for a scientist.

The current US Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter, is a physicist. A graduate of Oxford, his specialty is the field of quantum chromodynamics, a theory regarding the strong interactions between quarks and gluons that compose the hadron family of particles. He is also a representative of the military-industrial complex, pushing for a more aggressive US foreign policy, promoting the privatisation of scientific enterprises for further military research, and typifies the fusion of corporate and military power to further the agenda of the US ruling class. While working in the private sector, he held important posts in the government advisory boards promoting greater collaboration between the scientific community, the military and private companies. He speaks and works for the enrichment of defence contractors.

Murray Gell-Mann, a Nobel Prize winning physicist of Jewish origin, worked on the development of military technology in the 1960s. He has since become committed to disarmament and dialogue between nations. Gell-Mann is a pioneer in the field of quantum chromodynamics, the subject in which Ashton Carter took his PhD. It is not so important to note whether a scientist is of Jewish or non-Jewish background, but to note the role that they play in the wider community – as a spokesperson for peace, or a technocrat for war and profit. Rather than look back in dismay or jealous rage about the numbers of particular ethnic groups in the sciences, perhaps we should be devoting our collective energies to providing solutions for the economic and ecological problems that confront humanity today. Scientific enquiry and achievement cannot be sustained within the diseased political and economic order of capitalism that condemns larger numbers of people to a pauperised existence.

The US criminal justice system gives ultra-right terrorism a free pass

In Australia, there is ongoing and extensive commentary about the actions and motivations of Man Haron Monis, the Iranian-born self-styled Islamic sheikh who took hostages in the Lindt chocolate cafe located at Martin Place, Sydney, in December 2014. This attack was immediately elevated to a national terrorist threat by the Australian federal authorities, and media coverage of the siege itself and subsequent tragic shootout was at saturation level. Monis and two hostages were killed in the police raid that ended the cafe siege.

This hostage-taking has become part of the Australian national conversation about terrorism and its origins – Monis is the subject of regular articles, labeled a monster by some journalists, and every aspect of his individual psyche and religious affiliations is examined in careful detail. Monis was known to Australian police and intelligence agencies, and he did not actually have any connections with Al Qaeda, ISIS, or any other Islamist fundamentalist group.

A federal inquest was held into the Lindt cafe siege, although it does not appear to have answered many questions. However, one thing is certain, Monis has become the archetype for jihadist terrorism in Australia. His actions are portrayed as part of an international terrorism threat originating from the Islamic communities and religion, even though his motivations have been assessed as a mix of mental health problems, criminality and narcissistic attention-seeking, as well as extremism. The notoriety surrounding the name of Man Haron Monis should find comparable expression with that of the American Robert Doggart.

Who?

Christian terrorist

Meet 63-year old Robert Doggart, an ordained minister in the Christian National Church, former US Naval Sea Cadet Corps serviceman, electrical engineer, and businessman resident of Tennessee. He was arrested for plotting, along with nine other men, to massacre the entire Islamic community of Islamberg, a rural hamlet in Delaware County, New York. Stopped by the FBI before he and his co-conspirators could carry out their intended attacks, Doggart made no secret of his intentions. The residents of Islamberg, mostly African-American people of the Muslim faith who left New York to escape its endemic poverty, corruption, racism and lack of opportunities, have been living the quiet life in their city – much like the Amish and other religious minorities in the United States.

Doggart was chillingly clear in his social media posts, articles and statements about how and why he wanted to eradicate Islamberg and its residents from the map. He planned to start a military-style assault on the town, armed with automatic weapons, burn down the mosque and schools, and kill all the people in the town. In an article for The Daily Beast called “America snores when Christian terrorist threatens to massacre Muslims“, writer Dean Obeidallah quoted Doggart’s words that, backed up by members of an ultra-right terrorist militia from Texas and South Carolina, the people of Islamberg would face extermination by his self-styled holy Christian warriors:

“We will be cruel to them. And we will burn down their buildings [Referring to their mosque and school.] …and if anybody attempts to harm us in any way… we will take them down.”

He also detailed the weapons he would use in the attack, including an M-4 military assault rifle, armor-piercing ammunition, explosives, pistols, and a machete, because  “If it gets down to the machete, we will cut them to shreds.”

Doggart expressed a hope that he would survive the terror attack, but explained, “I understand that if it’s necessary to die [in this attack] then that’s a good way to die.”

Doggart explicitly based the rationale for his actions in his religion:

Doggart’s own words highlight his motive being grounded in at least partially in his view of Christianity:“Our small group will soon be faced with the fight of our lives. We will offer those lives as collateral to prove our commitment to our God.” Doggart continued, “We shall be Warriors who inflict horrible numbers of casualties upon the enemies of our Nation and World Peace.”

What is noteworthy about this case?

Doggart and his associates were never charged with any terrorism-related offences. While admitting that he spent months collecting weapons, plotting his attack, bringing weapons and far-right militia members together for the purpose of burning Islamberg to the ground and killing all its people, he was charged with interstate communication of threats, soliciting others to violate civil rights, and attempting to damage religious property. He was released on bail.

Islamberg residents responded, through their legal and collective representatives, that Doggart and his accomplices should have been charged with terrorism, as every Muslim American suspect has been similarly arraigned, regardless of how tenuous or fragile the case against them may be. A spokesperson for the Islamberg community stated the following:

Our community consists of veterans, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. We are true American patriots, unlike Doggart, who is not representative of Christianity, but more like the American Taliban.

The community has cooperated with federal and local law enforcement authorities, and no links have ever been found between the residents of Islamberg and any fundamentalist or extremist Islamist groups. However, that has not stopped the constant rumours of “jihadist training camps” circulating about the town, spread by always-credible news outlets like Fox News.

Looking clearly at ultra-right terrorism

The obsessive preoccupation with the threat of jihadist fundamentalism, and the subsequent smearing of the entire Islamic community, blinds us to the very real and greater danger that lurks within our society, the terrorism of the ultra-right. The increased surveillance of Muslim American communities, FBI-manufactured plots clearly based on entrapment, and the misguided belief that mass surveillance of the Islamic communities is necessary but unfortunate, are based on an enormous and erroneous assumption – that the Muslim faith encourages violent solutions to societal problems, and that Muslim communities are more conducive to take up violent actions in response to their challenges. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The sub-heading above is derived from an article by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists called “Looking clearly at right-wing terrorism.”  That article’s author states quite clearly that ultra-rightist groups have a long, and more violent, track record than any Al Qaeda or Islamist fundamentalist organisations:

Far-right terrorism in the US is more common than other types of violent radicalism. A recent study by the New America Foundation found that since 9/11, far-right extremists “have killed more people in the United States than have extremists motivated by al Qaeda’s ideology.” And perhaps most important, far-right terrorists are more prone to seek unconventional weapons—that is, weapons that might generate mass casualties or mass disruption. The study found that while no “jihadists indicted or convicted in the United States” had obtained or employed chemical or biological warfare agents, 13 individuals motivated by far-right extremist ideology, “acquired or used chemical or biological weapons or their precursor materials.” In the recent past, far-right extremists have also plotted the use of radiological weapons.

Since September 11 2001, the ‘war on terror’ has influenced the public perception and media conversation about terrorism as a purely foreign, mostly Islamic, importation. The focus of law enforcement authorities on the Islamic communities is underscored by an obsessive prejudice against anyone perceived to be Middle Eastern. The domestic ‘jihadist’ menace, if there is one, was superseded long ago by the violent activities of the white supremacist, and Christian Identity, ultra-rightist movements. The United States does have a serious terrorism problem, but simply refuses to tackle it.

Back in 2012, the Combatting Terrorism Centre at West Point issued an extensive report called “Challengers from the Sidelines – Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right (pdf).” It details the extensive political landscape of the ultra-right, its activities, growth, motivations and trends. Does the US criminal justice system regard the main targets of ultra-right terrorism, ethnic and minority groups, expendable and less worthy of attention than victims of white Anglo-American extraction?

The Iraq war is far from over, and the fall of Ramadi blasts US policy to pieces

The long-running Iraq war, now entering its twelfth year, re-appeared in the corporate news media with the announcement that another major city, Ramadi, had fallen to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The much vaunted Iraqi army, barely eleven months after their decisive defeat in Mosul, turned and fled the battlefield, surrendering American military equipment and resources to the ISIS militia. Ramadi, situated in the predominantly Sunni province of Anbar, had always resisted the American military occupation and its client armies, namely the associated Shia-militias controlled by the Baghdad authorities.

As David Alpher, adjunct professor at George Mason University states it;

The loss is devastating, and not only because of the city’s size or symbolic value, or because it’s another reminder that ISIS is on the march. The loss is devastating because between Ramadi and Baghdad there is only one major city, Fallujah, which has long since fallen to ISIS and has always been known as a radical hotbed.

American policy, still reeling from the Saigon-style debacle at Mosul last year, has been blasted to smithereens. After the Mosul defeat, the Obama administration and their associates in Baghdad made reassuring noises that the difficulties of the Iraqi army were temporary and measures would be implemented to reinforce its demoralised ranks. Former Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was held responsible for the defeats on the Mosul battlefield and ousted in backroom manouevres initiated by the United States.

In September 2014, after the removal of Maliki, US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Baghdad to express the American government’s continued support for its clients in Baghdad, stating that the reformed Iraqi government would be the engine of the fightback against ISIS. US President Obama pledged his enthusiastic support for the new Abadi regime in a televised speech, declaring that his government would adopt a fresh strategy for dealing with the Iraq crisis. Promising a more inclusive government, the Baghdad authorities announced their determination to turn a new page in Iraq’s history, and fight determinedly against the ISIS militia.

Seven months after the Obama administration launched ‘Operation Inherent Resolve’ to respond to the reversals on the Iraqi battlefield, ISIS has not only remained a viable force on the ground, and taken Ramadi, but expanded. As the Financial Times correspondent in Washington put it, the ISIS takeover of Ramadi ‘blows a hole’ in Obama’s Iraq strategy. Maliki has remained one of three vice presidents in Baghdad – and Mosul remains in the hands of ISIS.

The loss of Ramadi is not only a serious defeat for current Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. This defeat indicates that the Iraqi army, no matter how much training, money and munitions, is incapable of becoming an effective fighting force. The continuing failure of the American-backed Baghdad authorities to create an efficient fighting army, undermines the United States post-2003 political project in Iraq.

The political class in Baghdad, installed in the immediate aftermath of the March 2003 US invasion, is unable to rise above its own factional squabbling, and implement a functioning government capable of providing services. Composed of former CIA assets, political exiles, con artists, warlords, economic charlatans, and self-identified agents of American and British secret services, this political class is currently under attack and being decapitated by an Iraqi Sunni insurgency. The remains of the former ruling Iraqi party, the mainly Sunni Ba’athist Party, has entered an alliance of convenience with the Sunni fundamentalist guerrilla groups, the Salafi ISIS being the most obvious spearhead. This alliance of Iraqi Sunnis has managed to shatter the post-2003 American-imposed order in Iraq.

Professor Juan Cole, expert in Middle East and Islamic history from the University of Michigan, stated back in 2005 that the possibility of a Ba’athist Sunni uprising was not only probable but quite likely. This prediction has turned out to be quite accurate. Professor Cole wrote recently for Common Dreams online magazine that:

In early 2005, I wondered if the Sunni insurgency could eventually turn into a “Third Baath coup.” By that I meant that the remnants of the Baath Party (socialist, nationalist) allied with Salafi Muslim hardliners were systematically killing members of the new political class being stood up by the Bush administration, and were angling to take back over the country. We now know that former Baath officers set up the so-called “Islamic State” as a means of gaining recruits for their ongoing insurgency, at a time when the Baath Party no longer had any cachet but political Islam seemed a growing trend. The ex-Baath/ Salafi cells of resistance were all along strong in Ramadi.

As Cole states, while Washington is asking ‘who lost Ramadi?’, they are actually asking the wrong question – they never had Ramadi in the first place. And this evaluation of the current Iraqi situation is from someone who has supported US military policies in the past, hardly the prognostications of a hardened anti-war Leftist-Bolshevik.

The revenge of the past

Iraq’s Sunni people, having been overthrown from positions of power by the 2003 American invasion, were marginalised by the Shia-Kurdish dominated political class in post-Ba’athist Iraq. The Sunnis were now the targets of revenge by the American – and Iranian – backed Shia and Kurdish parties. Sunnis were excluded from top jobs, the largely state-owned industries set up by the Ba’athist Party were privatised, Iraqi oil opened up to foreign multinational corporations, and throughout 2006-07, the sectarian Baghdad authorities carried out a program of ethnic cleansing, systematically killing and removing the Sunnis of Baghdad. Former Prime Minister Maliki, with the support of his American and Iranian patrons, launched a war of terror against the Iraqi Sunni population. American General David Petraeus, implementing a ‘troop surge’, is responsible for this ethnic-sectarian warfare, empowering the Shia militias to carry out their revenge attacks.

It is no surprise that the Ba’athist Party members and supporters, driven underground and marginalised, formed the first cells to militarily resist the US occupation. The staggering reversal of Sunni fortunes in Iraq since the 2003 invasion left them desperate for allies. They found such allies, in a rival and growing another strand of resistance, one that we now see today – the Sunni fundamentalist Salafi groups, advocating their particular brand of political Islamism.

While the roots of the ISIS militia reside in the Syrian conflict, its ability to tap into the grievances of the embattled Sunni people in Iraq demonstrates gives it a beachhead inside Iraq where it can batter the American-supported Baghdad regime. The fall of Ramadi is not the only recent success of the fundamentalist ISIS; Palmyra in neighbouring Syria fell to the group earlier in May 2015. Its ability to inflict military defeats on its opponents indicates to regional powers that American policy is either inadequate, or unwilling, to confront the disturbing reality on the ground.

ISIS a product of US and Saudi imperialism

Make no mistake; ISIS is a fundamentalist movement that is the child of American and Saudi parents – more specifically the policy of the US to use political Islamism as a battering ram in the Arab and Islamic countries. As Jacobin Magazine stated in an article earlier in 2015, do not blame Islam for the rise of ISIS. It bears the imprint of its American and Saudi sponsors – religious fanaticism, virulent anti-socialism and strong dedication to capitalism. Originating in the soil of Al Qaeda and similar fundamentalist groups, ISIS has taken root by exploiting the social and economic grievances of large sections of the Iraqi population.

It is out of the scope of this article to examine the entire history of the ISIS movement or to go into an extensive history of the financial and military collaboration between US imperialism and reactionary political Islamist groups. However, we can note that ISIS was incubated and nurtured by the political patrons of Sunni fundamentalist movements, namely US and British imperial power. The reaction of US officials to the fall of Ramadi and the rise of ISIS is one of bewilderment and shock. But a cursory examination of recent history makes such a reaction unnecessary. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists noted in June 2014 that the success of ISIS in Iraq is an unsurprising surprise, and is no shock to those who have followed developments in Iraq closely. The loss of Ramadi to ISIS, in one sense is a replay of the loss of Mosul in 2014.

The monster of Frankenstein

The loss of Mosul eleven months ago was attributed to the personal failings and leadership inadequacies of former Iraqi PM Maliki. While all individual politicians have their failings, it is simplistic to ascribe military and political defeats to the personal qualities of this or that politician. Maliki was made a scapegoat for a wider failure – the fundamentally flawed, sectarian and kleptocratic nature of the post-2003 Baghdad political order.

Excessive violence is a feature of ISIS, particularly against Christian minorities. But it is not the original practitioner of such extreme coercion. Sectarian fanaticism was built into the post-2003 political system in Iraq, dividing up power along ethno-sectarian lines. The responsibility for this setup rests with the United States. Its criminal and predatory invasion of Iraq, and its exacerbation of sectarian divisions as a tactic to keep control, has resulted in the fracturing of the country and the demolition of the reasonably developed, educated and functioning society that Iraq was during the Ba’athist era.

For instance, Iraq did have a self-sustaining, technologically advanced and functioning health care system under the Ba’athist state, back in the 1970s and 1980s. That health care system was deliberately targeted by the incoming US invaders. Now, Iraq is a society that has high rates of child malnutrition and mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases. There were hospitals and clinics being built in Iraq to be sure – by the Bechtel corporation, an American private company that secured the rights to privatise the health system in the country. Bechtel failed to adequately provision the population with medical facilities, and finally pulled out of Iraq in 2006-07.

While ISIS is definitely the monster that has turned against its master, the US imperialist Dr Frankenstein, the real poison is the sectarianism inherent in the Baghdad political class. ISIS savagery is nothing to be celebrated, but its actions are only occurring within the larger context of the savagery of the US imperialist power in the region. Reversing ISIS cannot be done by military means alone – the policies that the United States has pursued over the decades to subjugate Iraq must be reversed as well.

Reflections about Anzac Day: respect the dead, heal the wounded, end all imperialist wars

April 25, 2015 marked exactly one hundred years of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp (Anzac) offensive against the forces of the Ottoman Turkish empire at Gallipoli. There were many moving, and emotional commemorative activities on the day, as Australians like myself remembered those who fell in what was an ultimately disastrous campaign. Anglo-French military leaders had figured on opening a new front, intending on capturing the Dardanelles, defeating the German-allied Ottoman empire, and assisting the Imperial Russian ally in the East.

The amphibious assault, involving thousands of British and French troops, also witnessed the participation of soldiers from the former colonial possessions of the British and French empires. Thousands of Indian troops, a Sikh brigade, fought alongside the Anzac soldiers for the duration of the Gallipoli campaign. Let us not forget the 10 000 French soldiers who died fighting the Ottoman Turkish army, even though the French (along with the British) had colonial ambitions for the territories controlled by the Ottomans. The campaign by the Western Allies was not humanitarian in nature – political and economic calculations motivated the desire to defeat the Ottoman Turkish forces, and subsequently partition the Middle East into easily controllable portions (the Sykes-Picot Agreement was negotiated in secret).

The invading forces were multinational in composition, however, in Australia it is the Anzacs that understandably receive the most attention. Obviously we must remember our own compatriots that have lost their lives in battle. Hopefully, this compassion will be extended to the thousands of indigenous Australians who served in the Australian military. Even though the First Nations of Australia were not even considered citizens at the time, indigenous people signed up to the military and served with distinction in World War One. They participated in various campaigns of that war, including Gallipoli.

The Ottoman Turkish forces were also multiethnic, consisting of Arabs, Assyrians, Greeks and other minorities. The soldiers confronted by the Anzacs at Gallipoli were not only Turkish, but Arabs, conscripted from the various Arabic-speaking territories under the control of the Turkish Sultan.

Every year in Australia, there is a national discussion about how the Gallipoli campaign forged our national identity, graduated us to the world of independent nations and provided a foundational sense of national assertiveness. All that may contain an element of truth, but it is a very distorted picture that obscures a number of important lessons about Australia’s role in the international system.

After all, Gallipoli was not the first time that Australians served as auxiliary troops for the British empire. Back in 1885, volunteers from New South Wales (at the time still technically a colony of the English) served in the British-led campaign to violently suppress an anti-British, indigenous and Islamist-inspired uprising in the Sudan. Australians fought alongside the imperialist states in 1900-01 in China to help defeat an indigenous and nationalist uprising against foreign domination by the Chinese Boxer rebellion.

Serving an imperial master

The importance of Anzac day lies not in remembering the fallen, buttressing our notions of mateship, sacrifice and courage – as important as those are. Anzac day has become another stepping stone in Australia’s role as an unthinking, subservient junior partner to imperialist empire-building. Professor Tim Anderson, an academic and solidarity activist at the University of Sydney, wrote an article “The ANZAC Myth, a cult of imperial dependence”. He states that:

It is no accident that, one hundred years after the disastrous Gallipoli operation, Australian troops are again being sent to the Middle East. While in 1915 the ‘First Australian Imperial Force’ was used by the British Empire to attack the Ottoman Empire, in 2015 the ‘Australian Defence Forces’ are being used as part of an extended North American operation to control the entire Middle East.

These decisions to follow the British empire are not just a relic of a long-gone age of our history. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the momentous decision by then Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies to voluntarily commit Australian troops to America’s war on Vietnam. This decision firmly tied Australia to the mast of US imperialist empire-building. No longer were we just an ally; now we were a junior mercenary advancing the war aims of the rising power in the North. Nicholas Ferns, PhD candidate in history at Monash University stated in his article on this subject that Menzies’ commitment is the forgotten skeleton in the closet:

This forgetfulness suggests a great deal not only about the current national “besottedness” with Gallipoli, but also concerning our collective unwillingness to confront less honourable aspects of our diplomatic and military history. With some notable exceptions, the nation’s populist commentators and the war pathos industry have used Gallipoli as a vehicle for national self-aggrandisement, despite the efforts of some academic historians to push for a more considered approach.

The sordid aspects of our military history

The present author’s late father was born and raised in Egypt. He knew the about the Anzacs very well, years before he migrated to Australia. He learned about the Anzacs not in the context of the Gallipoli commemorations however. Back in 1919, the Anzac troops were in Egypt, but not as tourists or cultural vacationers. They had their orders from the British commanders – violently suppress the nationalist uprising that was convulsing Egyptian society at the time. They gained a reputation as racist overseers, carrying out acts of violence against the population they viewed as ‘darkies’ and ‘niggers’. Looting, arson and assault were the trademark methods of the Anzac forces as they assisted the English in putting down the 1919 Egyptian revolution.

This is one of the less honourable aspects of our military history that has not been properly explored. This underlying squalid record does not correspond to the publicly marketed perceptions of courage, mateship and sacrifice that the Anzacs are portrayed as typifying. Philip Dwyer, a professor of history at the University of Newcastle, wrote an article entitled “Anzacs behaving badly: Scott McIntyre and contested history”. In it, he wrote of the behaviour of the Anzacs, acting more like an army of occupation rather than a friendly force in a country subjugated by British rule:

On Good Friday 1915, things got out of hand. Around 2,500 Anzacs rioted in the Wazza district of Cairo, sacking and setting fire to brothels, terrifying the locals, and clashing with military police who tried to intervene. These were no angels. Between 12% and 15% of the AIF had contracted venereal disease.

The battle of the Wazza, as it was dubbed, was not the only riot that took place. Others followed. Drinking and whoring, leaving bills unpaid, threatening, bullying and beating locals because they were “niggers”, and generally behaving in ways that we now condemn our sportsmen for behaving was standard fair for these boys who had money, were far away from home, and had no one to control them.

This is not to besmirch the reputation of each and every Anzac soldier as a violent psychopath – by no means. It is meant to expose a pattern of behaviour that directly contradicts the officially sanctioned nationalist gloating about war and militarism that surrounds every Anzac day. Australia’s involvement in military campaigns overseas cannot be reduced to simplistic assertions about national identity. What is less well known is the record of those Anzacs (and Australian civilians) who opposed war and militaristic adventures at the time.

Anzacs who opposed the war

Pip Hinman is an activist with the Socialist Alliance in Sydney. She wrote a moving, informative article for Green Left Weekly called “Lest we forget why Anzac Day glorifies war”. She wrote of her relative, great-uncle Arthur G Hinman, who joined the 15th Australian Infantry Battalion and fought at Gallipoli. He expressed his opposition to the entire Gallipoli operation, and voiced his concerns to his commanders. However, he followed his orders like a loyal soldier, landing at the peninsula with his outfit, digging trenches and performing his duties – he was killed in action at the age of 24.

The voices of those returned servicemen and women, horrified by the slaughterhouse of World War One, have been drowned out by the almost cult-like obedience demanded in remembering Anzac day. Resistance to the promotion of militarism was widespread throughout the societies affected by World War One, and Australia was no exception. Opposition on the home front has been amply documented, and consisted of strikes, demonstrations, political campaigns against the proposed introduction of conscription, and public debates about the nature of the war and the capitalist system.

The last surviving Gallipoli veteran until his death in 2002, was Alec Campbell. Upon his death, he was accorded a nationally televised state funeral, with dignitaries paying their respects for Campbell’s war service and undoubted heroism. He was a soldier for less than a year, but it was to be a transformative experience. Upon his return to Australia, he became an opponent of the war, a trade union organiser and socialist. Regarding war as a futile activity, he spoke out in favour of peaceful resolution of conflicts.

In fact, he did want to serve in a war again, after his return from Gallipoli, but not for the Australian military. He intended to fight for the anti-fascist and socialist side in the Spanish Civil war, as he quite correctly regarded the fascist counter-revolution of General Franco to be a mortal threat to the workers of that country. In 1999, Gallipoli veteran Alec Campbell, having served King and Country, voted in favour of Australia becoming a republic when the country went to the polls on that question.

Hugo Throssell, another Gallipoli veteran, declared that “The war has made me a socialist”. Winner of a Victoria Cross for bravery at Gallipoli, he spent the rest of his life scarred by his experiences. There was no term for it at the time, but today we would identify it as post-traumatic stress disorder. He wrote that “I have never recovered from my 1914-18 experiences”. Lacking any prospects for the future, he committed suicide in 1933.

The war that defined Australia as a nation

There is a war that shaped our identity and psyche as a nation, but it was not Gallipoli. It is the frontier wars, the wars of conquest waged by the English colonial authorities against the First Nations of Australia that defined the kind of country we became. Amy McQuire wrote a thoughtful, compelling article for New Matilda magazine that examines the frontier warfare, the silence that has until recently accompanied this subject, and the slow painstaking work by historians to examine its impact. The lack of acknowledgement of the black deaths in these successive frontier wars points to our failure to truly come to terms with the origins of the Australian state. While we commemorate those who died at Gallipoli, we must also face the fact that it is the First Nations of Australia that have paid the highest price in the formation our national identity.

In 1885, while New South Wales volunteers were serving in the Sudan as noted above, there was a very real war being waged in Queensland against the First Nations of that area by the English colonial overlords. Pastoral expansion was achieved at the expense of the indigenous people. As Paddy Gibson notes in his article “Frontier Wars: the wars that really forged the nation”:

Massacres of Aboriginal people to clear them from land continued in Australia into the 1920s. In Queensland alone it is estimated 25,000 Aboriginal people were killed by the Native Police and a similar number by punitive parties of squatters and their supporters.

Whereas an estimated 250,000 Aboriginal people lived in Queensland prior to colonisation, there were only 20,000 left alive by the time Australian troops set sail for Gallipoli in 1915.

Honestly acknowledging the history and consequences of a genocidal campaign has particular resonance for the present author. Indeed, April 1915 was not just the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign, but also the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Being a descendant of genocide survivors, the centenary is a pivotal occasion to persist with the ongoing campaign for recognition and for the perpetrators of that crime to admit their culpability. The Turkish authorities still refuse to face up to their guilt and deny that such a genocide took place. The first case of mass ethnic cleansing of the twentieth century, the inconvenient genocide, in the words of Geoffrey Robertson QC, has yet to take its place as a seminal event of World War One, just as crucial as any of the military campaigns that took place during that conflict.

November 11 1918

The end of World War One on November 11 1918 is the occasion to commemorate all those who fell in that conflict. Australians, English, Turkish, German, Armenian, Russian, Indian – all nationalities that were affected, either directly or indirectly, must be remembered for their heroism, sacrifice and resilience in the face of tremendous difficulties. While it was dubbed ‘the war to end all wars’, sadly World War One was anything but the end of organised slaughter. The imperialist powers, never giving up their quest for colonial expansion, set their sights on redesigning the defeated territories into commodities that could be governed by the victors.

In Sydney, the cenotaph that stands at Martin Place is one of the oldest war memorials in Australia, unveiled on Anzac Day 1927. It is a constant reminder of Australia’s war dead. It is fitting to ask why they died at Gallipoli, serving the interests of an imperial overlord. Why does Australia spend 28 billion dollars a year on armaments and the military, serving as a deputy sheriff, a junior partner for the United States? Australia is intimately bound up with the American financial-military establishment, providing comprehensive cooperation in matters of spying and intelligence-gathering. How many more shattered Anzacs will it take, families and survivors that cope with the psychological trauma of wars, before we stop serving as an auxiliary force for the imperialist system?

Saudi Arabia’s best known export is oil, but the export of its ideology is just as important

Saudi Arabia’s aerial offensive against Yemen has continued for the fourth week at the time of writing. Yemen is undergoing a humanitarian crisis, with millions of Yemenis lacking basic access to food, clean drinking water, and health care. The Saudi bombardment has only worsened the plight of the Yemenis, with schools destroyed, hospitals and health care facilities targeted, and electricity supplies cut off. Basic infrastructure is being shattered, thus precipitating a catastrophic health situation for Yemeni residents.

The Saudi war on Yemen is intended to prop up the tottering regime of Yemeni President Abed Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. This war has the full backing of the United States, and the latter has materially assisted Saudi Arabia with intelligence sharing, military supplies and logistical support. Indeed, the armaments used by the Saudi military are imports from the United States, Britain, Germany, France and other imperialist countries. The Saudi regime has become the world’s leading arms importer, spending an estimated $6.4 billion dollars on weapons in 2014.

Patrick Cockburn, the intrepid foreign correspondent and expert commentator on Middle East issues for The Independent, rightly notes that this war on Yemen, and the unstinting support the United States has provided for the Saudi attack on Yemen, will only inflame sectarian tensions across the Arab and Islamic-majority countries. All of the reactionary petro-sheikhdoms – Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and so on, united in the peak body of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – have lined up shoulder to shoulder with Saudi Arabia. Egypt, under the US-backed military dictator General al-Sisi, was quick to provide military and political support to Riyadh. There are reports that Saudi and Egyptian troops will launch a ground invasion.

In the wake of this Yemen war, the GCC has taken steps to create a pan-Arab military alliance, an Arab NATO, to serve as a cohesive rapid-response force to be deployed anywhere in the Middle East in response to political unrest or military upheaval. Such a goal has been a long-term desire of the GCC, but the latest Saudi assault on Yemen has prompted not just the Gulf States, but Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and the pro-western Arab states to make concrete proposals for such a multinational military force. The United States welcomes such an alliance, because it would provide a strong counter to Iran – but is also cautious about the potential for the strongest members of that formation to develop an agenda of their own.

Saudi-American cooperation – a longstanding alliance

For more information on the Yemen conflict, you may read the article published by Counterfire here. The purpose of providing a brief overview of the latest developments in the Saudi war against Yemen is to highlight the deep, strong and abiding connections between the highest levels of the Saudi military and political elite with the imperialist powers, in particular with the United States. These military and economic connections did not materialise overnight, but have been cultivated between the United States and Saudi Arabia over decades. The political and military support to the House of Saud – the ruling royal family of the Saudi nation – is a principal basis for United States policy in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is an important bulwark of power for the United States, acting as a junior partner and mercenary for the latter. The intimate US-Saudi partnership is in no danger of breaking anytime soon – US President Obama, who was in Riyadh in January 2015 for the funeral of the former Saudi King, described the relationship as a ‘force for stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.’

It is important to closely examine the origins, nature and impact of the Saudi state. It is playing a major role not only in exporting its natural resources of oil, but also in exporting its particular ideology of Wahhabism. Understanding this background helps us to understand the current role of the Saudi polity and the counter-revolutionary bulwark that it has constituted in the Middle East.

Wahhabism and the rise of the Saudi state

The official ideology of the Saudi Arabian state is Wahhabism, and derives from the teachings of the eighteenth century preacher and itinerant cleric Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-91) who advocated a strict, literalist interpretation of the Koran. A learned scholar from the central Arabian region of Najd, he witnessed what he saw as the corrupting, weakening influences of modernisation, innovation and laxity in religion in the Ottoman Turkish empire. Lamenting the demise of the former greatness of Islamic civilisation, he wished to remove all accretions, what he termed bidah (innovations) that he regarded as heretical to the original meaning of Islam. Basing himself on the Sunnah (customary practices of the Prophet Muhammad) and the hadith (accounts, collections of reports, sayings and deeds of the Prophet), he wished to purge the Islamic world of what he viewed as the degenerative practices introduced into the Islamic world by the Ottoman Turks and their associates. He urged the Islamic scholars (the ulema) to reject all introduced ideas and return to the Oneness of God, the Muwahiddun, central to the monotheistic religions.

Wahhab would have remained an obscure theologian, and was attacked by the ulema, if not for one crucial development – Muhammad ibn Saud, the leader of the Najd tribes, made a pact with Wahhab. The latter’s ideology would provide an important and religious underlying foundation for a centralised state under the control of the Saud family. Religious piety was combined with a political programme of state building. Saud set about crushing his rivals, to form a Saudi state based in Najd, with the Wahhabi ideology as the rallying cry.

Wahhab developed another important concept, one that has implications for political state building until today – Muslim impostors, those who did not accept the purity of the Wahhabi ideal, would be declared takfir (infidels), enemies of the original faith. Any Muslim who engaged in practices deemed to be bidah, and forbidden in the Wahhabi cannon, were to be annihilated. The main targets of this takfiri were Shia Muslims, Sufis and all those who refused to accept the strict impositions of Wahhabism. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Saudi clan and their Wahhabi associates controlled most of the Arabian heartland, and parts of what are today Iraq and Syria. In 1801, they ransacked the largely Shia city of Karbala (located in today’s Iraq), killing its Shia inhabitants. Medina itself fell to the Wahhabis. Wahhabism was no longer a fundamentalist theological creed; it was now an instrument of political imposition.

The Ottoman Turkish empire, viewing the rising Wahhabi-Arab threat as a growing danger to their empire, finally crushed the first experiment in the Saudi state-building in 1815, utilising Egyptian troops. The domination of the Ottoman Turks was restored, and that situation lasted until the final defeat of the Turkish empire at the end of World War One. The seeds of the Saudi state had been planted, and it would not grow again, until after the Ottoman Turks had been driven out. The new Saudi state that arose from the ashes would not be a purely Arab affair, for the rival imperialist powers of Britain, France and the United States coveted the Arab possessions formerly under Turkish control.

Out of the chaos of World War One, a new state is born in alliance with imperialism

The chaos of World War One, and the breakdown of the Ottoman Turkish empire, presented an opportunity for the Saudi-Wahhabi forces, organised into a new Ikhwan (Brotherhood) of Muslim insurgents, to assert their authority in the Arabian lands. The Ikhwan embodied the puritanical ambitions of the Wahhabi ideologists, and they began to conquer the lands that eventually became the first modern Saudi state.

However, Britain, France and the United States also sensed new opportunities to acquire the formerly Ottoman territories for their imperial ambitions. The Sykes-Picot agreement, arranged in secret between Britain and France in 1916 while the war was raging, defined sphere of influence for the rival imperialist powers once the defeat of the Ottoman Turkish empire was defeated. The borders of the newly defined Arab states, carved out of the defeated Turkish empire, facilitated the entry of the imperialist states into the Middle East.

Britain acted as the ‘godfather’ of the emergent Saudi state, forging an alliance with the Saud entity and promoting an Arab facade while real control remained in British hands. With British backing, the new Saudi-Wahhabi state was tied to the interests of western imperialism, serving as a bulwark in the Arab and Islamic worlds against any anti-imperialist forces. Over the twentieth century, Saudi Arabia has fulfilled its purpose as a faithful proxy fighting against any revolutionary, Arab socialist, or anti-imperialist project, be it pan-Arab nationalism, secular socialism or Ba’athism.

However, Wahhabism was not just a state policy, it was an overarching proselytising Islamic purist movement, refusing to remain confined national borders. It does not recognise political boundaries and projects drawn up by politicians motivated by state-interests. The Ikhwan, while initially recognising the need for a centralised and modern Saudi state, began to revolt against the Saudi rulers for elevating realpolitik and state-building over the militant puritanical drive to convert the world. The Ikhwani insurgents, after conquering the various regions of Arabia, began to attack the British and French protectorates of Transjordan, Syria and Iraq in order to force them to subjugate to Wahhabi doctrines. They came into direct conflict with imperialist interests in the Middle East.

Throughout the 1920s, the Saudi royal family, now elevated to kingly status with British imperial patronage, set out to crush the Ikhwani revolt. Wahhabism would no longer be a zealous ideological movement to convert the infidels and apostates, but an ideological foundation of a state. The Ikwanis were eventually crushed by the Saudi state by the end of the 1920s, and the remnants were absorbed into what became the Saudi national guard. However, this contradiction between the needs of a conservative state-building ideology and the movement of an Islamic-Wahhabi vanguard to proselytise has remained throughout the existence of the Saudi Arabian entity.

Here we can see historical echoes in the current activities of ISIS – the latter has set about smashing national boundaries, upsetting the post-World War One Sykes-Picot arrangement that has prevailed in the Middle East. The ISIS project, just like the Ikhwani revolt of the 1920s, seeks to redivide the imperialist status-quo, carrying the ideological zealotry of the Wahhabi project across state boundaries. The imperialist states, viewing their interests threatened, have responded with military force to reimpose the state boundaries and political actors subservient to their economic and military agendas.

Britain declines, the United States steps up

The 1930s and 1940s witnessed the last gasp of the once-mighty British empire. Having stretched across the world, its time had arrived. The United States was emerging as a strong and powerful economic and military force, and it viewed the Middle East, particularly its enormous oil wealth, as an asset to be acquired.

Already in the early 1930s, the United States established diplomatic relations with the Saudi state, entered into lucrative business contracts, helped to develop oil fields, participated in oil exploration in Saudi Arabia, reforming and revitalising the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (ARAMCO), and began the ongoing entrenched relationship with the Saudi royal family that has witnessed the emergence of deep military and economic connections. In 1945, at the conclusion of World War Two, no less a figure than US President Franklin Roosevelt met with the Saudi King Ibn Saud to conclude economic and military arrangements. The story of the mega-corporations and deep-seated political and economic links between the US and Saudi Arabia is quite detailed and is well known. What is less well known is the soft-power impact of this American support for the Saudi client.

Petro-nationalism underlies soft-power export of ideology

The 1960s and 1970s saw the emergence of a Saudi petro-nationalism, based upon the burgeoning oil industry and the growth of enormous transnational energy corporations. The petrol bonanza, and the western economies’ furious consumption of oil, not only filled the coffers of the Saudi state, but also provided the Saudi state with a new avenue to explore – petro-nationalism, spreading the Wahhabi ideology not as a creed of militant jihad, but as a cultural export to influence the direction of Islam.

Gilles Keppel, in his book Jihad: The trail of political Islam, notes that this oil wealth enabled the Saudi royal family to export its Wahhabite doctrine, countering the rival interpretations and denominations of the Islamic world, and to spread its influence over the Ummah (the community of the faithful). The oil bonanza enabled the Saudi ruling elite to maintain its hold over the holiest sites in Islam – Mecca and Medina – but also to project itself as the ultimate definer and protector of the Ummah. The Wahhabi project continues to be a useful counter-revolutionary opponent in the Arab world, first of Nasserist socialism, Ba’athism and since 1979, opposing the Shia radicalism of the Iranian revolution.

The Saudi state, a dynastic and tribal entity that serves as a proxy for imperialist states, now also developed its own regional ambitions as a power in its own right. Saudi wealth extends to its allies in the region – the Egyptian secular dictatorship of General al-Sisi has received generous and lavish financial support from Riyadh. Saudi Arabia’s current war on Yemen is part of this pattern of serving as a regional strongman for western capitalist imperialism. The Saudi role as a regional gendarme for the United States has never been clearer. But the Saudis have never given up their goal of being the spearhead of Wahhabi cultural and social conservatism in the Muslim-majority countries. While ISIS is a product of the Wahhabist fountainhead, it has come into conflict with the political-state imperatives of the Saudi ruling class, who intend to remain a state actor within the overall imperialist system. ISIS wishes to demolish national state boundaries in their drive to resurrect their version of a Caliphate.

The Saudi attack on Yemen, and its ability to militarily intervene to crush democratic uprisings such as it did in Bahrain in 2011, is made possible and practical by sales of sophisticated weaponry to the Saudi state. Cutting off military supplies to the Saudi military would be a practical beginning in stopping the ability of the Saudis to act as a regional proxy. For instance, the European Union’s brisk armaments business with Saudi Arabia has continued unabated for decades.  The European states, along with Saudi Arabia’s long-term supporter the United States, have aided and abetted the spread of terrorism and increased the suffering of the people in the Arab and Islamic worlds. It is time to call out the criminals for who they are and hold them to account.

We remember the Boston marathon bombing – but do not forget what happened at Oklahoma City

Twenty years ago this month (April 19, 1995 to be exact), a truck laden with explosives, 13 plastic barrels of ammonium nitrate fertiliser and nitromethane fuel, blasted the entire complex of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma. This explosion devastated the building in which the truck bomb was located, damaged downtown Oklahoma City, killing 168 people including 19 children. Five hundred were injured.

Initial speculation in the American and Australian media pointed the finger of blame at Islamic suspects. The attack was actually carried out by white, American radical rightist extremists, former soldier Timothy McVeigh and his accomplice Terry Nichols. Both of these men were stepped in the conspiratorial and hateful ideology of ultra-rightist sovereign citizens and patriot movement militia, a form of domestic terrorism that receives little, if any, coverage outside of specialist circles.

You can read an extensive list of terrorist bombings, conspiracies and plots arranged and executed by the ultra-right at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

While the bombings perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalist groups and individuals tend to receive saturation coverage in the corporate media (such as the Boston marathon bombing), domestic terrorism carried out by ultra-right hate groups are not only subject to passing commentary, but the causes of the right-wing violence is rationalised away as the actions of mentally disturbed individuals, lone wolves cut off from the rest of society and unable to find healthy avenues to express their grievances. While the entire Islamic community is held responsible for the criminal actions of minuscule fundamentalist groups within its midst, and expected to repeatedly apologise for their actions, the criminal enterprises of the ultra-right are almost always dismissed as the unfortunate aberrant actions of disturbed individuals.

Through the media’s prejudiced lens

The sub-title above comes from an article in the Socialist Worker, published in April 2013, elaborated on the anti-Islamic hysteria that swept the United States in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing. Politicians of all stripes, media pundits and self-proclaimed experts on the subject of Islam were on the television and radio airwaves explaining how this bombing was the result of a clash of civilisations, the Muslim population representing a unique and direct threat to ‘our western way of life’. There was little questioning of the suspects’ motives, their actions or their reasoning – the Boston marathon bombing was an assault on us by Islam. The Muslim community experienced a new wave of hostility, repression and surveillance.

Let us look clearly though, at ultra-rightist violence – no less an authority than the United States Department of Homeland Security issued a report back in 2014 called ‘Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment’. A summary of the report, and an examination of its findings, was elaborated in an article published by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The report’s author, Charles Blair, stipulates that the government had ample warnings about the rising tide of, and increasing recruitment to, sovereign citizens ultra-rightist groups. The anti-immigrant and far-right political groups have attacked a range of targets, not just federal buildings, but ethnic community centres, mosques, religious places of worship, courthouses, the parade for Martin Luther King day, African American institutions, inter-racial couples – the list goes on.

The ultra-right and its underlying ideology

Since the Oklahoma City bombing, ultra-right groups have grown in number, media reach, community appeal and organised violence. For instance, there has been an expansion of patriot militia groups, many of them having links to white supremacist and Confederate organisations. The combined ideology of white separatism and hostility to the federal government is a useful breeding ground for ultra-rightist organisers and activities. The gradual intermingling of white racist views, anti-government sovereign citizen militias, nostalgia for the separatist Confederacy, and fascination with guns has produced a toxic cocktail of hate that periodically explodes.

However, white supremacist attacks are usually dismissed as ‘mass shootings’, and the ideological motive behind those actions is almost always downplayed. No matter, the numerically inferior crimes perpetrated by Islamist groups (however vague or tenuous their links to Islam) are recycled constantly – the media has moved on to the Charlie Hebdo killings, repackaged and marketed as yet another Islamic problem for the self-righteous West.

In Australia, we have the December 2014 Sydney siege crisis – immediately publicised as a brazen Islamist terrorist attack – to preoccupy ourselves. Maintaining an atmosphere of hysteria only serves those who wish to increase the powers of the corporatist state at the expense of civil liberties. The narrative was unrelenting – a counter-terrorism operation was required to deal with this Islamist outburst on our free society, even though the attacker in question had no links to ISIS, Al Qaeda or any organisation, let alone an Islamist group.

In the meantime, there is a terror threat that is increasing in frequency and volume. The Department of Homeland Security has highlighted the ultra-rightist domestic sovereign citizens movement as the main concern of its personnel. That was from assessments published in February 2015. As the summary published by CNN states:

Some federal and local law enforcement groups view the domestic terror threat from sovereign citizen groups as equal to — and in some cases greater than — the threat from foreign Islamic terror groups, such as ISIS, that garner more public attention.​

CNN quotes Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who explained that deteriorating economic conditions have created a reservoir of poor and disaffected people that the sovereign citizen militia groups can attract. Persons facing foreclosure on their homes, or bankruptcy, find a friendly and welcoming presence in the patriot movement, the latter encouraging them to defy the federal government. Their grievances are channeled away from purely economic issues into a wide-ranging opposition to supposed government tyranny. There is a government tyranny – the financial aristocracy that is protecting its wealth and privileges from the demands of the increasingly impoverished population. Hospitals and schools are closed, jobs cut back, people thrown out – but the ruling class, a financialised aristocracy, continues to rake in enormous profits.

Twenty years on from the Oklahoma city bombing, the time to acknowledge that the United States has a serious terrorism problem is way overdue. However, over and above the need to confront the ultra-rightist threat, there is another extremist ideology that has seized the highest levels of economic and political power. The damage inflicted by this ideology’s proponents is brutal and lasting. What is this ideology? The ideology of capitalist corporatisation, the dogmatic and fundamentalist belief that everything public should be privatised and subject to corporate control. The extremists who propound this ideology sit on company directorships, university boards, chair political parties, and devise economic policies in the IMF and World Bank. This free-market fundamentalism condemns millions to poverty, squalor, and immiseration. The people marginalised by this extremism, end up on the streets, vulnerable and desperate. They lash out in various ways, against a system that has abandoned them. It is time for all of us – white, black, Muslim, Christian, – all of us representing the diversity of the human experience, to unite and fight this extremist ideology, before another Oklahoma City explosion shakes up our collective conscience.