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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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