Kamala Harris, pro-imperial refugees and racially diverse imperialism

Current US Vice President, Kamala Harris, made her first overseas trip as sitting VP to Mexico and Guatemala in June this year. She had a blunt, concise messages to the people of Central America seeking refuge in the US – do not come. She pointedly told the asylum seekers from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – the main countries from where Hispanic refugees originate – that they will be turned back if they approach the US border.

Interestingly, there is one group of Hispanic refugees who are received with welcoming arms in the US – the pro-imperial anti communist Cubans, largely based in Miami. They were on full display as participants in the January 6 2021 assault on Capitol Hill, waving the pre-Revolution Batista flag. The Miami Cubans have long circulated ultranationalist conspiracy theories in their immediate circles, and have supported the most belligerent, war-mongering policies of successive US administrations.

Intersectional imperialism

Harris’ statement, while lacking Trumpist vulgarities, is essentially the same message that the anti-immigrant Republicans have advocated. Harris, whose African American and Asian background was leveraged by the Biden campaign, ignored the fundamental role of US imperialism in undermining the living conditions of Central American republics, thus creating the outflow of refugees. Harris, herself the child of migrant parents, was upheld as a candidate purportedly sympathetic to the plight of new immigrants.

The Vice President’s statement, a continuity of anti-immigration and refugee-hostile policies, is also evidence of a deeper political process. While overt white supremacy is out of fashion, there is a distinct adoption of a multicultural facade for US imperial policies. The cooptation of racial diversity by the US ruling class is indicative of an important tactical ploy – intersectional imperialism.

American imperial wars, and institutions, now come with a rainbow flag and multicultural appearance. Thomas Friedman, the court jester for US empire, encapsulated this sentiment in one of his drivel-pieces masquerading as journalism. Writing in April this year about the US war on Afghanistan, he noted that the strength of US military forces derives from one essential feature – racial diversity. White, black, Hispanic, Asian – all the ethnicities are represented in the special forces and elite troops occupying Afghanistan.

Barely three months after Friedman wrote that, the multicultural forces of the US empire quietly packed up their belongings and, in the dead of night, fled the sprawling Bagram air base, once the pride of the US imperium in Afghanistan. Be that as it may, the ruling circles in Washington have relentlessly pursued this message of ‘wokeness’ – posturing as racially inclusive, LGBTQIA-friendly, ecologically-sound institutions, all the while carrying out the same predatory policies overseas and domestically.

To be sure, this is not a new or original PR tactic. The Israeli military, to improve its image abroad, has frequently run pinkwashing campaign, as well as showcasing its transgender-friendly policies. Disguising the violent and inhumane character of its occupation of Palestinian Territories, the Israeli armed forces have deliberately cultivated an image of a socially-progressive institution.

Humans of the CIA

Earlier this year, an American institution known for its secrecy and covert activities tried its hand at wokewashing – the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Releasing a recruitment video in March this year, the CIA featured personnel from nonwhite backgrounds, speaking about the exciting and rewarding careers they have in an ethnically diverse organisation. One young woman, describing herself as a cisgender millennial with generalised anxiety disorder, spoke glowingly about the awards she has won while working for the racially-respectful CIA.

The CIA would like its audience to forget its long, sordid and criminal activities in overthrowing democratically elected governments overseas. Perhaps we should forget the CIA’s underhanded and predatory role in arming nationalist Chinese in Myanmar (Burma) in the 1950s and 60s, organising the remnants of the Kuomintang party as a secret army waging a terroristic war against China.

The CIA-supported Chinese rebels, not only found sanctuary in Burma to carry out their covert war, but also financed their activities by turning to the drug trade. This secret operation, in which the CIA was fully involved, is the origin of the booming Golden Triangle narcotics trafficking business.

Myanmar (Burma) is not the only instance where the CIA has aided and nurtured a criminal enterprise – Afghanistan, long a target of a secret war of destabilisation by CIA-backed Mujahideen militants, became a safe haven for the cultivation and export of opium. While the politicians in Washington hailed the Afghan Mujahideen as ‘freedom fighters’, the CIA allocated billions to a covert war that still casts a long shadow over Afghan affairs to this very day.

When the late great Reverend Dr Martin Luther King demanding racial equality, he was tackling not only the ideology of white supremacy – important as that is. He was also exposing the intricate linkages between imperial wars overseas, economic inequalities and racial disparities at home. Let’s not reduce the demand for racial diversity to a PR exercise in wokewashing the racist nature of American capitalism.

Pan-Turkism, the Ottoman Empire and Turkish imperial ambitions

Pan-Turkism, the ideology that underpins the modern Turkish state, provides the impetus for the imperial ambitions of President Reyyip Erdogan. Negotiations are currently underway between the US and Turkey, the latter intending to deploy troops to Kabul airport once the US completes its Afghanistan withdrawal. Turkish military forces are already present in Libya, staking out a claim in that nation’s affairs.

Pan-Turkism is the political philosophy that holds all Turkic people, regardless of their cultural and linguistic particularities, belong to one supranational and racial Turkish nation – with Ankara at its head. This idea is not new, originating in the late 19th century with the rise of European and Balkan nationalist movements. However, Pan-Turkism acquired a new lease of life in 1990-91, with the disbanding of the USSR. The newly independent Central Asian republics, most of whom have Turkic ancestry, established relations with Turkey.

Is Pan-Turkism a resurrection of the Ottoman Turkish empire? Yes and no. Certainly, bringing all the Turkic peoples into one overarching political and economic union has its similarities with the Ottomans of old. However, Pan-Turkism is also a distinct departure away from the Ottoman Empire template. The modern day Turkish Republic, established by the Young Turk Revolution (1908), advocated a specifically racial definition of a Turkish person.

The Kemalist Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), deliberately cultivated a racist concept of Turkishness, and projected this template onto any territory where Turkish people lived. For instance, Crimean Tatars, while under Russian sovereignty, were said to be one branch of the Turkic family, and therefore to be brought under Turkish control. The Kemalist authorities set about eliminating non-Turkish minorities, carrying out the genocide of the Armenians, Assyrians, and purging vestiges of Hellenism in Turkey.

This is in stark contrast to the cosmopolitan nature of the Ottoman Empire. For while there were conflicts, the Ottoman Sultan accepted the presence – grudgingly – of non-Turkish minorities within the Ottoman realm. Arabs, Greeks, Jews – all found their place within the Ottoman territories. In fact, Ottoman identity was an ethno-religious one, not a racial category. While the Sultan dealt with nationalist rebellions in his empire, the Ottomans attempted to meld a distinctly Ottoman identity from the diverse peoples of the empire.

The European powers, engaging in their own acts of colonialism, postured as ‘champions’ of the Christian minorities in the Ottoman Empire. Their concern was not humanitarian, but cynical politics – the weakening of the Ottoman Turkish polity would open up vast territories for European expansion. In fact, European colonialism, rather than providing self-determination for the formerly subject peoples, implemented a sectarian division of the Arab peoples in furtherance of colonial objectives.

When the French took over the former Ottoman territory of Syria, they created not a united Syrian nation, but a divided confessional patchwork of sectarian polities. Alawis, Druzes, Sunnis, Shias and Maronite Christians all had their sectional territory, with the state of Lebanon carved out of Syria for the Maronite minority. The Ottomans, for all their faults, allowed minorities to live together under the one political federation.

Theodor Herzl, one of the founding fathers of political Zionism, approached the Ottoman sultan with a business proposition; in exchange for a financial contribution to alleviate the Ottoman Empire’s debts to foreign powers, the Zionist movement would acquire Palestine as a territory to build a new Jewish state. Attempting to buy land from the Ottomans was initially an appealing idea; but the Sultan rejected the proposal. Indeed, Ottoman Jews rejected Zionism, professing their loyalty to the Ottoman Sultan.

The military assertiveness of the modern Turkish state derives, not from a sense of Ottoman cosmopolitanism, but from an ideology of racist Pan-Turkish exclusivity. Whether it is the Turkish republic’s covert and critical support for ISIS militants in Syria, or the tactical outreach to the neofascist regime in the Ukraine, Ankara’s motivation is not an Ottoman-era respect for multicultural confessionalism, but a desire to acquire strategic depth and establish an ethnically pure Turkish polity.

Indeed, Pan-Turkism is the application of a European settler-colonial ideology in the context of Western Asia (what we normally call the Middle East). The forced Turkification of place names, cities and villages inside Turkey is the domestic face of an expansionist Pan-Turkism. When linguistic and cultural policies are deployed to construct a racialist narrative of Turkey’s pre-Kemalist history, it is an outright denial of the multinational composition of the Ottoman Empire.

As I frequently remind members of my own Armenian tribe, the enemy is not some amorphous mass called ‘the Turks’, or Muslims, or refugees, or mosques, or Islam. The enemy is Pan-Turkism and its manifestation in the Turkish state. It is not only myself saying this – there are mass Turkish and Kurdish political parties and organisations who strongly oppose the Turkification policies of Ankara, reject imperial expansion, and ally themselves with the oppressed and anti-colonial non-Turk minorities.

An anti-imperialist platform, crossing over multiethnic and confessional boundaries, is a necessary first step in defeating the destructive ideology of Pan-Turkism.

Refugees who advocate our prejudices are repurposed into heroic dissidents

It has been at least six months since the January 6 Capitol Hill riot, incited and carried out by white supremacist and QAnon conspiracist groups. It was a jarring assault on the democratic process.

Alongside these white supremacists were a motley collection of ultrarightist multiethnic refugee groupings – South Vietnamese Saigon loyalists, pre-Revolution era Cuban Batista cultists, Tibetan independence flag-wavers, Iranian-American Shah loyalists, and xenophobically-resentful Hong Kongers agitating for US intervention. While this assortment of multicultural footsoldiers for imperialism may seem strange, actually it is not.

Cultivating a multiethnic flavour of imperialism is a cynical and perverse tactic of the United States to portray itself as a bastion of freedom. Those refugees who reflect the imperatives and ideological underpinnings of American empire receive a favourable welcome and a media platform to disseminate their views.

The Australian government imprisons refugees in offshore detention centres, marginalising their presence. However, there are refugees who acquire the status of ‘heroic dissidents’ because of their functional utility in the service of US imperial power.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch-Somali refugee, has received preferential treatment, been given a multimedia platform to advocate her views, and has had books published as a self-proclaimed ‘expert’ on radical Islam. Her personal story, that of a courageous formerly Muslim woman, escaping the clutches of patriarchal and tyrannical Islam to find sanctuary in the enlightened liberal West touches the heart strings. Fleeing war and religious persecution, Hirsi Ali has leveraged her personal journey into a remarkable story of tenacity and hope. That is all well and good, except for one consequential detail – none of it is true.

Provided a comfortable life and education in a UN-funded school in Kenya, she never actually witnessed the war-torn conditions of Somalia. In a 2006 interview, she admitted fabricating huge portions of her personal story, and she was never in danger of being forced into an arranged marriage, or subject to the threat of an honour killing. Playing up the stereotypes of the misogynistic Muslim family, she found favour with the anti-immigrant and far righting Dutch government of former PM Rita Verdonk.

Ali, elected to the Dutch parliament in 2003, did her best to advocate Islamophobic politics, pushing anti-immigrant xenophobia and denying refugees from sub-Saharan Africa a legitimate status. After her bogus claims were exposed in the Netherlands, the Verdonk government fell, and Ali fled to the homeland of the foreign-born bigot, the United States.

Taking up a position as an ‘intellectual’ at the neoconservative swamp masquerading as a think tank – the American Enterprise Institute, she has continued to outdo Donald Trump in promoting Trumpist state violence against the Muslim-majority nations. Her statements, bordering on incitement to homicidal violence, make her the perfect spokesperson for the imperialist project – an African woman demanding the genocidal intervention of the US military.

Interestingly, there is another Somali refugee woman, Representative Ilhan Omar, who has escaped war and violence in her homeland, respected the US political system, and risen through the ranks to become an advocate for the oppressed and marginalised in the US. She is the first woman of colour to represent Minnesota.

While Ali’s star has waned over the years, newer ultranationalist refugees have risen to become repurposed as ‘heroic dissidents.’ Both Alexei Navalny and Roman Protasevich, from Russia and Belarus respectively, have achieved celebrity dissident status in our corporate media. Each claims to be fighting domestic tyranny – Putin in Russia and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko pigeonholed into the respective role of ‘dictator’ – but each has a political track record which indicates white nationalist racism and subservience to American imperial power.

Navalny, rebranded as a liberal defender of democracy in the West, has a long history of racist and anti-immigrant views. Denouncing the peoples of the Caucasus and Central Asia as ‘cockroaches’, he has advocated for the creation of an ethnically pure Russia, in line with white supremacist thinking. A far rightist businessman, Navalny has fallen foul of the Russian business community, and has spent his energies condemning the Putin administration as a reincarnation of Soviet Communism – a demonstrably ludicrous proposition.

At the same time that Navalny was having health problems, allegedly at the hands of devious Kremlin agents, Roman Protasevich was fighting alongside neo-Nazi militias in the Ukraine, using that as a springboard for his regime-change activities in his native Belarus. Arrested by Belarusian authorities after his plane was forced down in May this year, his detention prompted a wave of hypocritical denunciations in the West. It is no secret that the United States, in an act of air piracy, forced the landing of former Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane in 2013.

Protasevich, initially denying his neofascist connections, has lost his initial lustrous appeal once his unsavoury activities came to light. His reputation, virtually unsalvageable, has not stopped the corporate media campaign to cast him as a principled democratic crusader.

The refugees arriving in Australia are victims of wars and economic/ecological devastation wrought by the policies of the United States and its allies. Do not weaponise their stories into a toxic narrative of US ‘emancipatory’ liberation. The politics of Hirsi Ali, Navalny and Protasevich found expression in concentrated form on January 6 this year at Capitol Hill. We would do well to stop implementing destructive policies which create outflows of refugees in the first place.

Cancelling Canada Day is the first step towards justice for the Indigenous nations

Canada, in contrast to the United States, has an international reputation of being the nice one in North America. The quiet Canadian is usually held up as the nicer person as opposed to the loud, ugly American. There is a component of truth to this; any nation with a half-decent health care and education system appears reasonable in contrast to the ultraindividualistic dystopian nightmare that is the US.

However, a closer examination of Canadian capitalism reveals the brutal and racist underbelly of that nation. Why is such a deeper scrutiny warranted? In the wake of the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the grounds of the former residential school for Indigenous children at Kamloops, British Columbia – followed by a similarly grisly discovery of 751 unmarked graves of Indigenous children buried at the Marieval Indian Residential school in Saskatchewan – a spotlight is shining on the genocide of the Indigenous nations implemented by the Canadian ruling class.

These gruesome discoveries are only the tip of the iceberg; the residential school system in Canada was implemented to assimilate the indigenous children, on the presumption that the Catholic faith provided a superior set of morals and values to indigenous ethical systems.

Canadian residential schools, established in conjunction with churches, were intended to forcibly assimilate indigenous children into the mainstream Christian religion and culture. Begun back in 1831, and finally abolished in 1996, the Canadian state, along with their religious counterparts, kidnapped thousands of indigenous children and separated them from their families. This policy of cultural genocide was challenged by indigenous peoples, and in June 2008, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established to investigate the full extent of the residential school system.

In 2015, the TRC concluded that over the span of one hundred years, more than 150 000 indigenous children were taken from their families. These boarding schools, usually run by the Catholic Church, were decrepit places where physical and sexual abuse was rampant. The residential schools were spread out over the nation, and thousands of unmarked gravesites remain to be uncovered. Until today, indigenous communities still struggle to maintain a level of equality with non-indigenous Canadian society – be it lack of access to potable drinking water, or racism in the healthcare system.

You may read more about the impact of the residential school system on indigenous communities here. For our purposes, let’s examine the other troubling, and no less traumatic, features of Canadian capitalism.

There is a persistent myth that Canada, the nice guy, did not have slavery, like the obnoxious United States. Is that true? Yes and no. Canada did not have a large slave-worked plantation economy like the Deep South of the US. The colder climate in Canada made it impossible to construct profitable mass plantations of tobacco, sugar, cotton, rice – all of which were worked by African slaves in the US and the Caribbean.

However, Canada did have slaves – and entrenched slave trading. British and French controlled territories in what became the Canadian federation definitely used and traded in the African slave trade. When the Canadian state was officially created in 1867, the story of slavery had to be glossed over. After all, a new nation cannot afford to admit that one group of its citizens were oppressed, and still uphold itself as an example of constitutional liberty in action.

While Canada has a reputation of being a peaceful nation, as opposed to its militaristic neighbour to its south, the Canadian military has participated in all US imperialist wars overseas. The Canadian military was deployed to the USSR, as part of the multinational foreign intervention in 1918-22 to overthrow the new Bolshevik regime. The foreign military forces, such as the Canadian forces, assisted the White anticommunist Russians in their failed bid to restore the Tsarist system.

Canada has provided military and logistical support to the ultranationalist regime in Kiev, the Ukraine. Canada has a long history of providing refuge to Ukrainian ultrarightist and neo-Nazi war criminals, giving sanctuary to those Ukrainians who collaborated with Nazi forces during World War 2. These Ukrainian communities in Canada have helped to push Canadian politics in a rightward direction.

Canada allowed itself to become a haven for Ukrainian neo-Nazis, and subsequent generations of Canadian politicians have recycled the ultranationalist view of history bequeathed to them. Racism against ethnic minorities – including Islamophobic killings – has reared its ugly head in Canada. Ottawa’s participation in the ‘war on terror’ has brought its domestic consequences of increasing racism against Islamic communities to its doorstep.

It is time to cancel Canada Day as a first step towards confronting Canada’s racist past. Only by being honest about the horrific discoveries of the recent past – and the impact they have on perpetuating racist practices in the present – can we rebuild a new equitable vision of the future.

Zionism and antisemitism are not such strange bedfellows

Zionism, the underlying ideology of the state of Israel, claims to be the Jewish equivalent of Black Lives Matter, and an expression of national self-determination. Israel, we are told, provides a sanctuary for the Jewish people from the ravages of antisemitism. These claims are without foundation – Zionist leaders have a long history of seeking antisemitic allies. Antisemites in Europe have long argued that Jews are a distinct and unassimilable racial minority – a position accepted by Zionism.

The charge of antisemitism is thrown at the supporters of the Palestinian cause by Zionist organisations. If the Palestinians can be portrayed as motivated by irrational bigotry, then their case for self-determination can be easily dismissed. This accusation is obscene and perverse, given that the founders of political Zionism made clear that their platform depends upon the support of European antisemitism. Theodore Herzl, writing in his seminal pamphlet The Jewish State, explicitly says that European antisemitic powers will be the allies of the Zionist project in Palestine.

Antisemitism is in fact a white European creation – an ideology which views the presence of European Jews as a ‘problem’ to be solved. It is not surprising that European Christendom has a long history of persecuting and expelling historical Jewish populations. However, it is with the rise of 19th century European nationalism that provided a racialist basis for the redefinition of antisemitism from its original religious foundations.

It was the Protestant Reformation, with its emphasis on a strict reading of the Bible, that gave rise to the identification of European Jewry with descent from the biblical ancient Hebrews. This alleged historical continuity enabled the Zionist movement to utilise a particular millenarian theology to disguise the colonisation of Palestine as a biblically-sanctioned ‘repatriation’ of the Jewish people. In fact, European Jews are not the direct genetic descendants, over thousands of years, of the biblical Hebrews, but rather, European converts.

In the 19th century, the linguistic category Semitic – denoting a group of languages – became transformed into a racial classification. European antisemitic thinkers, from Houston Stewart Chamberlain to Wilhelm Marr, popularised racist ideas, dividing the white ‘Aryan’ race from the ‘Semitic’ Jews. Antisemitism became an indispensable tool for the construction of white supremacy.

European Jews reacted with furious opposition to the rise of racialist thinking – not so the Zionist movement. Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau and Zionist proponents accepted that Jews were a biologically distinct and unassimilable ‘race’ living in the midst of Christian Europe. Their solution was to build a separate ethnonationalist state in Palestine. Herzl, writing in his diaries, stated that:

The anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.

The Zionist movement sought the cooperation of Europe’s antisemitic governments, finally securing the agreement of Imperial Britain to provide a state in Palestine. In 1920, as the British acquired the mandate to govern Palestine, the first military governor of Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs, made clear Britain’s intentions to create a loyal Jewish Ulster in Palestine.

As Zionist colonisation proceeded in Palestine, there was one particular antisemitic European government that looked favourably upon Zionism – Nazi Germany. Since the 1933 assumption of power by the Nazis in Germany, the one German Jewish organisation that actively sought an accommodation with the Nazi regime was the Zionist federation. In 1935, when the Nuremberg laws were passed preventing Aryans and Jews from intermarriage, German Jewish anti-Zionist groups opposed those laws – but the Zionist federation welcomed them.

While Hitler himself was never a committed Zionist, the Nazi leadership did see a marriage of convenience with Zionism as a practical implementation of their antisemitism – ridding Europe of its Jews and transferring them to Palestine. In the 1930s, the Nazis sent envoys to Palestine to solidify connections with the Zionist settlers there. One of those delegates was none other than SS officer Adolf Eichmann, who spoke glowingly about the Zionist effort to construct a state in Palestine.

With the end of World War 2, the full horrors of the genocide of the European Jews was revealed to the international community. The logical endpoint of European antisemitism was on trial at Nuremberg. However, the end of the world war meant the demolition of the Nazi regime, it did not mean the end of antisemitism. In Europe today, ultranationalist and far right antisemitic parties are among the most enthusiastic supporters of the Israeli state.

Hungary’s PM Victor Orban, known for his praise of Hungary’s antisemitic wartime dictatorship of Admiral Horthy, is a strong proponent of cooperation with Tel Aviv. It is not only the European antisemitic far right that upholds Israel as a model ethnostate worth emulating; Brazil’s ultrarightist President, Jair Bolsonaro, speaks of the Israeli state in gushing terms, and has rejected the demands of the Palestinians.

European antisemitism, a form of racism, has existed symbiotically with Zionism. The latter cannot proceed without the active cooperative of the former. The ideological and practical alliance of Zionism with antisemitism can no longer be ignored. The Palestinians are paying the price, with the loss of their ancestral homeland, for the crimes of European antisemitism. It is time to repudiate this settler-colonial Ulster in Palestine.