Ukraine – anti-refugee hostilities, racism and ‘good’ refugees

The Russian invasion of the Ukraine, ongoing at the time of writing, has prompted an outflow of Ukrainian refugees, numbering in the millions. The EU member nations, such as Poland and Hungary, have accepted Ukrainian refugees, and there has been an outpouring of sympathy and solidarity for their plight. This is a humane and considerate response to people experiencing traumatic circumstances.

This sympathy and solidarity stands in stark contrast to the racialised hostility and militarised xenophobia that the EU nations have demonstrations towards nonwhite refugees from war-torn countries in the Global South. Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, and people from African nations have faced the violent response of fortress Europe. Only last year, at the Polish-Belarus border, Middle Eastern and African refugees were greeted with tear gas, batons, electrified razor wire, and pushed into makeshift detention camps.

One of the governments supporting the harsh Poland-EU response to the new arrivals was Kiev. Denouncing the Middle Eastern and African refugees as ‘invaders’, the Ukrainian authorities, along with Poland, Lithuania and other EU nations, implemented the practices of Fortress Europe. The policies of deterrence and forcible detention of asylum seekers is not new in Europe; the EU nations have turned their immigration and refugee practices into hostile organs of repression.

EU governments have made numerous arrangements with non-EU European nations, such as Turkey and states in the Balkans, to detain incoming Middle Eastern and African refugees in isolated and decrepit camps, where refugees are subjected to violence. Greek authorities have imprisoned nonwhite asylum seekers in makeshift camps, and Croatian police have used violent tactics to keep refugees out of their nation.

Why have Ukrainian refugees received such a friendly reception? Let’s listen to the words of Bulgarian Prime Minister, Kiril Petkov. When discussing Ukrainians fleeing from the war-torn circumstances of their home nation, he said that Ukrainians are just like us:

These are not the refugees we are used to; these people are Europeans,”……These people are intelligent. They are educated people…. This is not the refugee wave we have been used to, people we were not sure about their identity, people with unclear pasts, who could have been even terrorists.

Petkov was hardly alone in expressing these kinds of sentiments. That the Ukrainian refugees are white, educated, middle class, ‘just like us’ was a common theme throughout the corporate-controlled media. Numerous media commentators have emphasised that the Ukrainians constitute the ‘good’ refugees, in contrast to those sinister, nonwhite arrivals from Africa and the Middle East.

While the hospitality extended to Ukrainian refugees is commendable and necessary, it highlights the racist hypocrisies of the EU imperialist states in selectively sympathising with ostensibly white refugees, while dismissing South Asian, African and Middle Eastern refugees as the eternal Other. As Binoy Kampmark writes, the rich nations can now posture as generous benefactors by extending solidarity to the ‘right type’ of refugee.

The EU fortress, mobilised to its fullest extent to expel nonwhite refugees, is now showing a morally respectable face to the influx of ‘good’ Ukrainians. The hypocrisy of this terrible exercise in racialised public relations exposes the cynical manipulation of humanitarian pretexts of refugee policy in the EU, and Australia for that matter.

Saturation coverage of Ukrainian families fleeing the Russian invasion are a feature of our TV screens in the West. Funnily enough, Iraqi, Afghan or Yemeni families, fleeing the terrifying destruction caused by American made bombs, do not receive the same human-interest angle in our corporatised media. The attack on Mariupol hospital was indeed outrageous, but the long track record of American bombings of hospitals, such in Fallujah, Iraq, or Kunduz in Afghanistan, receive scant coverage because the victims do not conform to our stereotype of the ‘good’ refugee.

There is one claim that we should dispense with from the start; that the Ukrainian refugee outflow is the largest refugee crisis in Europe since the end of WW2. The situation in Ukraine is in flux, certainly, and it is one of the fastest growing crises in Europe. However, we would do well to remember that Europe experienced huge displacements of refugee populations since the 1990s.

The 1989-91 dismantling of the Soviet Union, in which capitalist austerity programmes were implemented in the former Soviet republics, resulted in the displacement of 9 million refugees, fleeing poverty, industrial collapse and fratricidal ethnic warfare. The economic dislocation caused by a return to neoliberal capitalism resulted in, among other things, a severe drop in life expectancy in Russia and an increase in child malnutrition.

The other catastrophic surge in refugee outflows was caused by the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early to mid-1990s. Bosnians fled the fratricidal ethnic conflict in their nation (1992-95), resulting in the production of at least 2 million refugees. The Bosnians, who are majority Muslim, never acquired the kind of sympathetic coverage we are witnessing today in relation to the Ukrainian refugees.

The Berlin Wall came down in 1989, and the capitalist press hailed the inauguration of a new, united Europe. However, since the early 1990s, European Union nations have constructed new walls, border forces and guards – along with politically motivated hysteria – to expel refugees from the global South. The Mediterranean Sea is used as a maritime border to prevent the influx of African and Arabic-speaking asylum seekers.

It is high time to end rank hypocrisies, and change our refugee policies, basing them on our common humanity and international law. While we cannot order Moscow to stop its invasion of Ukraine, we can stop our participation in imperialist and predatory wars overseas – the wars which create outflows of refugees in the first place.

Liberia, Africom and proxy imperialism in Africa

The US Africa Command – Africom – has been quietly expanding its footprint across the African continent since its establishment in 2007 (activated in 2008). A military and economic project, it represents the latest version of American imperialist intervention in Africa. An extension of Euro-American colonialism, Africa has been the target of colonial plunder for centuries – for its people as slaves, and also for its mineral resources.

While the transatlantic slave trade ended long ago, the imperialist powers continued in their designs to carve up Africa, exploit its tremendous natural resources, and maintain spheres of influence. Decolonisation in the 1950s and 60s achieved formal political independence for African nations, but the machinations by the capitalist West to recolonise Africa in more subtle ways never ceased.

When it comes to Africa the corporate-controlled media reports a depressing litany of cascading evils – corruption, interminable civil wars, dictators and child soldiers. Omitted from this picture is the very real, and ongoing, interventions by imperialist powers to keep African nations underdeveloped, and simply a source of raw materials for western transnational corporations.

Liberia – a settler colony similar to Israel

Was not Liberia, the small West African nation, founded by freed black slaves from the US, for the purpose of repatriating emancipated slaves and free African Americans? The sentiment to return to Africa was very noble, but such long distance nationalism was exploited, in the early days of the United States, to remove an important challenge to slavery – emancipated African Americans.

The American Colonisation Society, in the early 1800s, proposed a scheme of repatriation to West Africa – namely what became the nation of Liberia. Worried by the increasing population of emancipated slaves, as well as free blacks, the US authorities sponsored a return of formerly enslaved people, couched in the language of restitution.

The Americo-Liberians – as the new settlers are known – formed a new settler-colony in Liberia, and began to suppress the indigenous African nations. Indeed, the America-Liberians brought with them not only the outlook of the American society, but also fanatical Protestant Christianity. The project of peopling a new nation with settlers, armed with a fundamentalist interpretation of a monotheistic religion – the parallels between Liberia and Israel are quite apparent.

The vast majority of African Americans rejected this Liberia repatriation scheme, preferring to challenge slavery, racism and fight for equal rights in the United States. While prominent black nationalist and Northern abolitionists supported the Liberia project initially, the colonising practices of the new Americo-Liberian settlers soon attracted criticism.

The corrupt and dictatorial leaders of Liberia, such as former president Samuel Doe, were strongly supported by the United States, even as he was murdering his political opponents, embezzling state funds, while leaving his people in poverty.

Proxy imperialism

The extension of Africom into numerous African nations has been implemented on the spurious excuse of conducting the ‘war on terror.’ This flimsy pretext, mobilised by successive American administrations, has disguised the predatory nature of Africom’s proxy imperialism with a humanitarian cloak.

South Sudan, one of the newest nations in sub-Saharan Africa, is the result of a secessionist project, clandestinely supported by the US and Israel. Possessing vast reserves of oil, western multinational corporations have longed to get their hands on South Sudan’s energy reserves. It is no secret that Israeli armaments exports ended up in the hands of secessionist South Sudanese rebel groups, contributing to the destabilisation of the Sudan.

Since 2011, when South Sudan declared formal independence, Israeli arms, military surveillance technology and training for security forces has continued, despite the well-documented record of war crimes and atrocities committed by South Sudanese military forces. Poverty, endemic violence and corruption have plagued South Sudan, reducing it to a failed state.

Africom and exile communities

Africom is not only a military mechanism but also a money-making machine for the American military-industrial complex. The allegedly light footprint of Africom bases in sub-Saharan Africa is proving to be quite enduring. The inter-imperialist competition for Africa’s natural resources has intensified with the expansion of Africom.

Most of Sydney’s African communities, small and multiethnic, have concentrated on multicultural assimilation, and have distanced themselves from the struggle for social change. There is no shortage of African recruits among the politically regressive evangelical cults, the latter emphasising individual ‘salvation’ as opposed to collective solidarity.

Sociopolitical issues, such as the role of Africom, get forgotten amid the largely indifferent political and cultural wasteland of western Sydney. However, it is incumbent on the activist Left to raise awareness of the role of imperialist institutions, such as Africom, in extending colonial power across Africa.

The Cambrian explosion, and understanding geological history

High school geology classes were difficult, and also lots of fun. No, becoming a geologist was never the goal – education is not an ‘apprenticeship’; geology is not a garden implement or lawn mower that you study so you can ‘use it’ later. Purely career-oriented motivations are not the only reasons to take up science.

However, there is an important way that geology can be used, for lack of a better expression – countering the false claims, made by intelligent design proponents, regarding the Cambrian explosion. Let’s unpack this subject.

The vast majority of the Earth’s evolution is marked by the predominance of single-celled bacterial life. The apparently sudden appearance of nearly all the main body types of animal life around 541 million years ago – along with the evolution of multicellular life – seems like a major discontinuity.

This rapid diversification is referred to as the Cambrian explosion. Named after the Cambrian geological period, this ‘explosion’ purportedly presents a problem for evolutionary biology – except that it does not. Lasting between 13 and 25 million years, this apparent ‘explosion’ witnessed the divergence of all the modern metazoan phyla. Some biologists place the duration of the ‘explosion’ at 20 million years – a monumental length of time, but not uncommon when examining geological time. The Early Cambrian was 25 million years long – hardly a short time frame, so the label of an ‘explosion’ is a bit of a misnomer.

There are many unanswered questions regarding the causes and progress of the seemingly sudden appearance of major animal phyla during the Cambrian explosion. Scientists are debating its duration, and whether it is more accurate to call this episode a diversification or radiation of major metazoan phyla.

However, given these disagreements, let’s highlight one point – please stop using the episode to in the fossil record and biological evolution to pose a false challenge to the general validity of evolutionary theory. The term sudden appearance should not be used to sneak in the biblical Genesis story of creation as a supposed ‘verification’ of scripture.

There was rapid multicellular growth in the Cambrian, but this era did not mark the first appearance of multicellular life. Complex multicellular life preceded the putative Cambrian explosion by millions of years. There certainly are fossils, such as Anomalocaris, whose lineage cannot be traced directly to the Middle Cambrian. However, this does not prove the ‘sudden emergence’ of animal phyla in the Cambrian explosion. It was in this period that organisms became of extensively mineralised, increasing the amount of fossils left behind.

Indeed, the development of the field of geology – examining the bio-stratigraphic record of the Earth – was the major challenge upturning the biblical view of natural history, decades prior to the publication of Charles Darwin’s books on evolution. As geologists began to dig, especially in search of commercially viable oil deposits, what they found did not harmonise with a biblically-based account of the planet’s history. Conditions in the geological field compelled scientists to revise their previously cherished notions of a Genesis-compatible Earth.

Darwin himself realised the difficulty the rapid diversification of animal phyla in the Cambrian explosion presented for his theory of evolution by natural selection. The seeming rapidity of the rise of animal phyla apparently contradicted the prolonged, gradual and incremental change that evolutionary biology allegedly required. Findings in the field after Darwin’s death provided solutions.

The National Centre for Science Education (NCSE) published the findings of a team of geologists from the University of Adelaide, South Australia, who addressed this precise question. As the NCSE summarised:

Was the geologically fast diversification during the Cambrian too fast to be explained by normal evolutionary processes? Does the Cambrian explosion threaten the theory of evolution? To these questions researchers at the University of Adelaide offer a definitive answer: “No.”

The researchers concluded that even using the fastest inferred rates – and they examined arthropod lineages, the dominant species during the Cambrian – the purported rapidity of change is still consistent with evolution biology. While there are numerous competing theories regarding what prompted the Cambrian radiation, intelligent design advocates are not presenting a necessary corrective or contribution to the debate, but only more supernatural obfuscation.

Geologist and author Donald Prothero, writing in Skepticblog, explained that the term Cambrian ‘explosion’ is archaic, dating from the beginnings of geology, and a bit misleading. The Cambrian radiation was more of a slow burning fuse, with increasing numbers of fossil types tracing their lineage back to the Ediacaran period, the 94 million-year period preceding the Cambrian.

Let’s all understand geology and the Earth’s natural history – it is an endlessly fascinating and developing subject. However, scriptural reconciliation is not the goal of the natural sciences, no matter how much intelligent design proponents would like it to be. It is advisable keep theological speculations separate from scientific investigations.

The Nation of Islam, anti-vaccine falsehoods and Covid-19 denialism

The Nation of Islam (NOI), one of the most famous and wealthy black nationalist organisations in the US, has been cooperating with anti-vaccine fanatics, and recycling antivaccinationist falsehoods in their social media content. While the NOI has an extensive and bizarre theology setting it apart from other right wing organisations, it has found common cause with other antivaccinationist and Covid-19 denier spokespeople on the political spectrum.

The NOI, founded in 1930, advocates a bizarre invented cosmology, purportedly demonstrating the inherent superiority of the black race. A UFO religion, NOI adherents are taught that the original, divinely imbued human is the black man. Consisting of the Arabic-speaking Tribe of Shabazz, the black man himself is the original Allah.

Already, we can see a major divergence from the beliefs of mainstream Islam; the NOI is a polytheistic religion, advocating multiple gods. In fact, Islamic scholars have denounced the NOI as a completely different theological sect, believing in concepts alien to mainstream Islam.

While Wallace Fard Muhammad was the founder of the NOI, it was Elijah Muhammad who made the organisation into a strict, hierarchical setup we see today. Proclaiming himself the messenger of Allah, Elijah Muhammad advocated black separatism, a theologically-nationalist outlook, and black empowerment through wealth creation. Finding recruits among the black prison population, as well as among the poor and dispossessed African Americans in Detroit, the NOI appealed to many because of its message of black nationalism in confronting white supremacy.

Elijah Muhammad taught – and longtime NOI leader Minister Louis Farrakhan reiterated – that a mad black scientist, Yakub (identified with the biblical Jacob) created a new race through selective breeding and combining recessive genes. Weeding out the darker-coloured babies, Yakub created what became the white race – an inherently sinful, depraved people who would rule the Earth for 6000 years. This experimentation apparently took place on the Mediterranean island of Patmos.

This white race is currently approaching the end of its time, according to the NOI. At this point, the man-made Mothership, an alien intervention, would intercede in human affairs and bring to an end the domination of the white race, restoring the black man to his rightful place as custodian of the Earth. Once again, these beliefs are completely foreign to mainstream Islamic thought.

The NOI’s most famous recruits – Malcolm X and the boxer Muhammad Ali – helped the NOI gain a national following. It is important to stress here that black nationalism is not racism; after centuries of racial oppression, it is no surprise that ethnic minorities react by proposing a complete separation from their abusers. Malcolm X, while famously breaking with the NOI and denouncing its theology as fraudulent, never broke away from black nationalism.

The NOI has performed remarkably successful outreach among marginalised African American communities; its influence extends far beyond its core membership. The NOI membership is estimated at 50000, the African American population in the US is at 46 million. It has successfully built its organisation, requiring members to lead an abstemious lifestyle – no alcohol, tobacco, gambling or premarital sexual relations.

The NOI, under Farrakhan’s leadership, emphasised the importance of racial justice and economic empowerment for African Americans. In 1995, the NOI organised the Million Man March on Washington. In contrast to the white supremacist gathering in Washington on January 6 2021, not a single NOI member attempted to storm the US Congress or subvert the democratic process.

Since the beginning of the current pandemic, NOI leaders have advocated a Covid-19 denialist position, and preached an anti-vaccine message. This vaccine denial stems at least in part from a very real mistrust of government institutions and directives. The US has a long and sordid history of unethical medical experimentation on marginalised communities.

However, the NOI, alongside other antivaccinationist voices, have exploited such skepticism to promote harmful misinformation and deter African Americans from receiving the required vaccinations. Uniting with anti-vaccine proponents such Robert F Kennedy Jnr, and ultranationalist conspiracy theorist and politician Marjorie Taylor Greene, the NOI has amplified antisemitic and tawdry conspiracy theories about the Covid-19 virus and the vaccinations for it.

Conspiratorial viewpoints, reproduced in NOI materials, usually blames the Jews for either instigating the virus, or in another iteration, producing vaccines to depopulate the planet – by reducing the numbers of African Americans. Apportioning the culpability for the plight of the black community to the Jewish people has long been a staple tactic of the NOI. Everything from the transatlantic slave trade, to the civil rights movement – the latter advocating racial integration, the opposite of racial separatism – have been blamed on conspiracies by rich and powerful Jews.

While the NOI has given voice to marginalised African American communities, we should be honest in also repudiating the misinformation they spread, and the ludicrous fictional cosmology they advocate. The NOI’s antivaccinationist platform is a huge disservice to the communities they purport to represent.