Britain’s imperial role, Oman, the current Yemen war and the durability of empire-building delusions

Five years ago, I wrote about Britain’s secret war against a nationalist pan-Arab uprising in the 1960s and 70s in Oman. The latter is a British-backed monarchy, a former colony of the British empire. Knowledge of Britain’s secretive role in suppressing that uprising helps us to understand the continuing durability of imperial delusions in the English ruling class, even though the old Empire is dead.

Well, it is great to have your analysis confirmed. Jacobin magazine has published an extensive article this month explaining Britain’s counterrevolutionary role in suppressing pan-Arab uprisings and revolutionary movements in the Arabian peninsula. Britain’s imperial aspirations can be seen in the ongoing role that the UK plays in supporting the western-aligned petro-monarchies in the Middle East.

While Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and all the gulf petro-monarchies are known for their role as pro-imperialist stalwarts, what is not known is the strong emergence and political influence of revolutionary pan-Arab nationalist and socialist movements. These revolutionary upsurges were suppressed with the crucial counterrevolutionary support of the British military. It is no exaggeration to say that these Gulf monarchies constitute AngloArabia, given how vital the UK’s role was – and is – as an economic and political buttress.

The Sultanate of Oman, a British colony since the 1800s, had one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, and the majority of Omani people lived in abject poverty. Inspired by socialist ideas, and the example of the Soviet socialist style republic of South Yemen to its west, a guerrilla nationalist insurgency erupted in the 1960s against the British-backed Sultan. Oman became, in many ways, Britain’s Vietnam.

The Dhofar rebellion, as it is known, lasted through to the 1970s. The Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arabian Gulf (PFLOAG) fought valiantly against an Omani state equipped and trained by the British. The tactics the British army and Air Force used included mass aerial bombardment, free-fire zones where any person resident was considered a legitimate target, the use of strategic hamlets (ie detention camps), and the torture of suspects. British army officers occupied key positions in the Omani military.

In 1970, as the uprising showed no signs of abating, the British authorities engineered a palace coup against the reigning Omani Sultan, and replaced him with his son, Qaboos bin Said. A British soldier, Qaboos remained in power, feted as a moderniser, until his death in 2020. While some political reforms were enacted, the Omani state remained an autocracy, firmly within the British orbit. By the mid-70s, the Arab nationalist rebellion had run out of steam.

While the Dhofar uprising was defeated, Arab nationalism remained a potent ideological force. Britain continued its financial and military backing for the Gulf petro-monarchies; a particular British royal, who now happens to be King, visited Oman back in 2016.

It is quite hypocritical of the corporate media to denounce the supposedly culturally regressive practices of the Gulf monarchies. Those authoritarian regimes, like Qatar, are propped up by British imperialism, the latter then using the ‘backward Arab’ stereotype to condemn the Arabian peninsula for culturally regressive social mores.

Yemen – the target of multiple UK interventions and intrigues

Another nation on the Arabian peninsula that has been – and still is – the subject of UK intervention is Yemen. A former British colony, Yemen occupies a strategic location where the Gulf of Aden leads into the Red Sea. Until today, the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden are vital for global maritime traffic. The Bab al Mandeb, the strait linking the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea, separates Yemen on the Arabian peninsula, and Eritrea/Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa.

In 1962, Arab nationalist officers launched a revolution against the British-supported monarchy. The UK, along with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other pro-western governments, started a royalist insurgency to restore the Yemeni monarchy. Britain began its covert military intervention at this time.

The UK government at the time – under Labour Prime Minister Harold Macmillan – knew full well that the royalist rebellion would not win. However, they kept the counterrevolutionary insurgency going in order to sabotage any post-civil war settlement. As Dan Glazebrook wrote:

Yemen is the sole country on the Arab peninsula with the potential power to challenge the colonial stitch-up reached between Britain and the Gulf monarchies it placed in power in the 19th century

Since 2015, the Saudi invasion of Yemen, intended to install a pro-western government in Yemen, has been fully supported by the United States and the UK. Britain not only supplies the bombs for the Saudi military, but provides training for Saudi Air Force pilots. Intelligence gathering and logistical support – Britain makes the ongoing Saudi attack on Yemen possible and enduring.

Yemen and its victims have been relegated to media oblivion. The Ukraine war, with its white Christian victims of Moscow’s aggression, receive saturation coverage and sympathies. The criminal actions of the UK and its allies, and the humanitarian crisis for which we are responsible, are airbrushed from history. Yet, with all of the financial and military muscle of Saudi Arabia and its solid alliance with London and Washington, the Yemeni resistance Ansar Allah movement – popularly known as the Houthis – are winning.

Indeed, the US government has entered into a truce with the Houthis in Yemen; Washington belatedly recognising that its seven year war waged by Saudi proxies is facing certain defeat. The prospect of a Houthi victory in Yemen will hopefully compel a change of strategy in London as well. In many ways, the US/UK intervention in Yemen has become the Vietnam of our times.

The ADL, civil rights, Palestine and interethnic solidarity

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) claims to be a civil rights organisation, standing against antisemitism and for the rights and liberties of the Jewish and non-Jewish people alike. However, a closer examination of this organisation’s activities reveals a different story; a group that actively sabotages interethnic and multicultural solidarity.

Founded in 1913, ostensibly in response to antisemitic attacks, the ADL began its life as a branch of the Jewish service organisation, the B’nai B’rith. It split away from the B’nai B’rith later on, and became an independent nonprofit organisation. Its mission statement says that the ADL fights to stop the defamation of Jewish people, and secure the rights of all American citizens.

However, the ADL spent its considerable resources in attacking African American, migrant and antiracist groups, cooperating with law enforcement agencies in spying operations African American, Arab, and antiracist communities.

Listen to the words of Benjamin Epstein, national director of the ADL in 1961. He wrote:

T]he Anti-Defamation League for many years has maintained a very important, confidential investigative coverage of Arab activities and propaganda….Our information, in addition to being essential for our own operations, has been of great value and service to both the United States State Department and the Israeli government. All data have been made available to both countries with full knowledge to each that we were the source.

The ADL has an extensive website, filled with interesting and relevant information regarding racism in the United States, profiles of extremist groups, and news releases informing the public about current controversies pertaining to civil rights. At first glance, the ADL appears to be an ally of antiracist and progressive organisations. However, its self-description as a civil rights group conceals its long-standing hostility to antiracist movements.

In the 1970s and 80s, as the international community placed sanctions on apartheid South Africa, one of the nations which ignored those sanctions was Israel. Military and intelligence sharing activities continued between Tel Aviv and Pretoria. The ADL, for its part as a supporter of Zionism, used its resources to actively spy on anti-apartheid and antiracist activists in the United States. They collected information on those activists, and shared that information with US law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI.

One of the groups which the ADL collected information about was the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). The west coast chapter of the ADC was headed by a Palestinian Christian, Alex Odeh. The ADL, in cooperation with the FBI, paid a spy to infiltrate the group, and gather intelligence on its members and activities. In 1985, Odeh was assassinated by a bomb planted in his office. The murderers, two Judeo-supremacist militants, had access to the floor plans and map of the ADC offices. You can draw your own conclusions.

Not only are Arab Americans, and Palestine solidarity activists, targeted by the activities of the ADL – routinely smeared as antisemites – so are anti-Zionist and leftist Jews. The group Jewish Currents has elaborated how the ADL’s purported commitment to racial justice and social causes is undermined by its strident advocacy of Zionism. While the ADL has monitored white supremacist and neo-Nazi organisations, it has consistently deployed the accusation of antisemitism against Palestinian, Arab and African American groups in their efforts to criminalise Palestine solidarity campaigns.

In the 1950s, the ADL assisted the anticommunist campaigns of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the US government by cooperating with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), monitoring and informing on Jewish socialist and leftist groups. While there were Jews who condemned the surveillance and intelligence activities of the ADL, their voices were drowned out.

African American organisations, such as Black Lives Matter and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which have taken an anti-Zionist and anti colonialist position, have incurred the wrath of the ADL. The latter, taking up the cudgels in support of the Zionist state, denounced the SNCC as a ‘Negro extremist’ group. At the height of the civil rights movement, the ADL did its utmost to undermine the traditional solidarity between the black and Jewish communities.

While the ADL has spent countless hours and gallons of ink attacking African American groups as antisemitic, it has routinely sanitised the record of actual antisemitic and white supremacist groups, when those groups align with the interests of US foreign policy. In a recent statement, the ADL announced that the white supremacist Azov battalion in Ukraine, which is based on a racist and antisemitic ideology, is no longer a far right institution.

The Azov battalion, along with its ideological brethren in Kyiv, trace their philosophy back to the Nazi-collaborating Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). The latter intended to create an ethnically pure, white Ukraine, cleansed of Jews, Poles, Russians and other non-Ukrainian nationalities. This historical context is important, because it helps us to understand the gyrations of the ADL, in its support for US policies.

The ADL downplayed the Ukrainian nationalist collaboration with Nazi Germany, deeming it purely tactical and opportunistic. The flags of the OUN, and the statues of its wartime white supremacist leader Stepan Bandera, are explained away as just Ukrainians ‘honouring their heritage’, in much the same way that Confederate flags in the US are sanitised as mere expressions of historical curiosity.

The ultranationalist features of the Ukrainian right wing movements somehow provide a shield for covering up their antisemitic crimes and ideology. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, stated that neo-Nazi collaborators cannot keep deflecting attention from their documented massacres by constantly resorting to their nationalist credentials. “Holocaust perpetrators are the last people on Earth who deserve to be glorified”, stated Zuroff.

We must take the advice of Omar Zahzah, the education and advocacy coordinator of Eyewitness Palestine, and drop the ADL, because it is not an ally of antiracist organisations.

Joseph Roth, assimilation, territorial nationalism and finding a sense of belonging

We are all familiar with the novelists F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell – you get the idea. Another novelist who should be better known and deserves worldwide recognition is Joseph Roth (1894 – 1939). A Galician Jew by birth, but Austrian by nationality, his story is one of a restless and constant search for homeland and belonging.

Roth was a perceptive observer, gaining a feel for the streets of 1920s Europe. He was not a professor or scholar, he never submitted papers for academic journals. He was however, a literary journalist, and he accurately portrayed the reflections, people and events that transpired in the rising tide of nationalist sentiment. As Paul Scraton wrote in the New Statesman, Roth captured the mood of ascendant nationalism, and foresaw the looming contours of the Second World War.

Roth denounced nationalism, and political ideologies generally, because he remained loyal to the defunct Austro-Hungarian empire, a theoretically multicultural entity which absorbed numerous ethnic groups. Defeated at the end of World War One, Roth was traumatised by the experience. The empire’s territories were mostly divided up among the victorious powers, creating numerous independent states in Eastern and Central Europe.

While he was a pacifist before WW1, and sympathetic to socialism, he nevertheless joined the Austro-Hungarian army in 1916. Fighting for the Hapsburg monarchy, the subsequent defeat of that political and multicultural empire was disorienting for Roth.

He lost a sense of belonging, and lead a peripatetic existence for the rest of his life. He also became an alcoholic, and that condition would eventually result in his premature death at the age of 44. His birthplace, the province of Galicia, reflected the changing dynamics of Eastern European nationalism in the twenties and thirties.

Eastern Galicia, (the town of Brody, where Roth was born in 1894), was located in the most easterly territories of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It was also home to a lively centre of Jewish culture and community. The shtetls, Jewish communities and settlements, bustled with activity across Eastern Europe in the Austro-Hungarian and Tsarist Russian empires. But that all changed with the defeat of both those empires in WW1.

The part of Galicia where Roth was born changed hands several times between the short-lived West Ukrainian People’s Republic, emerging as a breakaway from the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918. That was quickly contested by the ultranationalist Polish republic, who incorporated territory in 1919. Both sides, in the shifting territorial dynamics, committed massacres of Jews as well as their rival ethnic groups. Roth witnessed such developments with increasing alarm, as the shtetl life was being shattered.

Monocultural nationalism and fascism

Roth’s writings, whether his journalistic pieces or his novels, contained the recurring themes of monocultural nationalism as a menace, the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and the homicidal kernel of rising European nationalisms. For instance, his novel The Radetzky March, chronicles the rise and fall of the Trotta family, an Austro-Hungarian family. The action occurs through the mid-nineteenth century to the 1930s.

The title of the novel refers to an Austro-Hungarian field marshal who led his armies against the empire’s enemies. Radetzky was celebrated in music by the Austrian composer Johann Strauss, who composed a celebratory piece in honour of his hero. Roth is longing for such a similarly triumphant return of the Hapsburg empire.

Roth, while born Jewish, was raised Catholic. While he never advocated the Hebraic tradition, he maintained a basic identification with Eastern European Jewry. There were times however, when he expressed hostility to Jewish people; during one of his frequent disputes with his publishers, he expressed contempt for ‘piggish Jews’ who had allegedly failed to pay him. In one of his novels, a spy character is referred to as a ‘duplicitous Jew’.

He wrote a nonfiction book, The Wandering Jews, dedicated to the long suffered and dispossessed Jews of Eastern Europe. Opposing the increasingly materialistic, selfish bourgeoisie of Western European nations, he demonstrated his compassion for the poor and displaced refugees of Eastern Europe. He objected to the creeping colonisation of Palestine by the incipient Zionist movement. Roth stated that the halutz – the Jewish emigrant settler in the Middle East, while Jewish, takes the values of the European to that part of the world.

Shortly before his death, he expressed his opposition to Zionism, equating that movement with German Nazism – he was not wrong on that score. Does that make Roth an antisemite? No, it makes him a fallible, flawed, brilliant yet troubled human being. He was not an easy person to get on with. He was quarrelsome, broke off friendships, had extramarital affairs. His longing for Austrian patriotism gave him a permanent sense of transience, never truly settling in one location.

His unswerving loyalty to the restoration of the Hapsburg monarchy was quixotic. He spent his days and nights in the cafes of Paris and Berlin, drinking and trading exchanges with other exiles. He has no fixed political outlook. However, his warnings against the rising tide of ultranationalism in 1920s and 30s Europe was not only eerily prophetic, but contains lessons for our current times.

The partisans of Eastern European nationalism like to portray their patriotism as a simple and justifiable reaction in confronting the colossus of Russia to the east, and Germany to the west. This partial truth, while important, has served to obscure the crimes and massacres committed by ultranationalist East European forces over the shifting course of the twentieth century. Roth was a direct witness to the ardent ultranationalism of his time and circumstances.

As for the new biography of Roth, called Endless Flight by Keiron Pim – I am looking forward to reading it.

Hey – multiethnic gatherings do not make Australia ‘look like the United Nations’

Everyone has their pet peeves, a list of seemingly minor irritations that can serve as major annoyances. We can all think of things that belong on this list – crying babies on a airplane, loud talkers on the phone, attention hogs, rude drivers, leaving chewing gum on a seat, a customer who continues talking on their mobile while ordering at the counter….you get the idea.

Well, in that spirit of unburdening, I wish to tell you my pet peeve, the one that irritates me to heights of homicidal rage. The offending behaviour is purportedly a joke. When seeing a group of migrants, random strangers walking on the street, who come from various ethnic backgrounds, one very clever Anglo Australian will make the comment – ‘looks like the United Nations around here!’

Do you get it…see? A multiethnic or multicultural environment, with people from Asian, Arabic, African or other ethnic backgrounds, it reminds us Aussies of the United Nations? Isn’t that clever? Wonderful comedy. This highly intelligent joke, a shallow statement hiding an ignorant ugly sentiment underneath, has all the wit and charm of a putrefying corpse.

I have heard this alleged observation a million times, and it still grinds my gears. While the person who said it grins with smug self-satisfaction, I manage a half-smile, projecting an air of mild amusement at their oh-so-clever witticism. All the while, I am contemplating the most effective way to put my fist through their face. This ‘joke’ ranks in the same category of irritations as footpath hogging, chewing food loudly, and asking questions during a movie.

Immigration, multiculturalism, the United Nations, and ethnic minorities are entirely separate entities. Yes, of course the United Nations deals with, among other things, disputes between nation states, and with the movement of refugees across and within nation states. The only time that Australian audiences hear about the UN is in news reports about wars and conflicts overseas. However, the UN and its branches perform more work than we are aware of.

Unesco, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation is dedicated to the preservation of world historic sites. These places have scientific, cultural and educational value of inestimable quality, and are listed as protected under the UNESCO charter. One of those protected sites is in Sydney – Cockatoo Island. Australian authorities, as signatories to the UN, are compelled to maintain the historical significance of this site. The convict heritage of Sydney as a former British penal colony is being preserved under the auspices of UNESCO.

There is no socialist conspiracy to deprive Australians of their individual liberties; there is no Beijing-inspired Communist plot to impose totalitarian rules over the world. No, Australians are not being lectured to by ‘UN bureaucrats’. There is a shared commitment by the nations of the world, through the mechanism of UNESCO, to maintain sites of cultural and scientific importance.

To be sure, there is no shortage of leftist criticisms of the UN – with which I agree – that it is a thieves’ kitchen. Subject to the balance of forces among the imperialist nations, the UN flag has been deployed as a fig leaf to provide a legitimate cover for imperialist interests. The 1991 Gulf War, more appropriately called the first attack on Iraq, had the imprimatur of the UN.

It was still a criminal, predatory war designed to implement the economic and geopolitical interests of the United States. The latter, which had long criticised the UN for its supposed bias towards poorer nations, began singing praises for the UN in the lead up to the 1991 attack.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of a UN resolution which still has consequences until today. The UN resolution on the partition of Palestine was a momentous decision, the implications of which still reverberate today. The British Mandate authorities left behind a divided state, and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians by Zionist forces proceeded apace. The Palestinians have been denied the pledge of an independent state ever since.

This resolution was a diplomatic victory for Zionism and its imperialist supporters. The UN’s role as an instrument for imperialist diplomacy was exposed by this episode. The wrong conclusion to draw, which sometimes the left does, is complete indifference or hostility to the UN. The solution is to democratise the UN, so that it becomes truly representative of the will of the world’s majority population.

Perhaps I am taking this ‘joke’ too seriously. Well, if that is the case, and I should just ‘lighten up’, here is my suggested storage location for that advice. Actually, the Australian government does take the UN seriously. The Australian authorities denied permission to a UN delegation investigating torture access to prisons, immigration detention centres, and youth detention compounds.

Human rights groups have raised concerns about the use of torture in Australian detention facilities. It appears the authorities are a bit sensitive about the UN poking around, potentially uncovering all sorts of breaches of UN protocols.

Let’s understand the nature and role of the UN in the modern world, and leave the juvenile jokes in the dustbin.