Albert Einstein, social justice and his relationship with Zionism

Albert Einstein (1879-1955), the world’s first celebrity-scientist, thought deeply about physics, and originated the theories of special and general relativity. The ubiquitous image of him is that of the disheveled, shaggy-haired absent-minded professor, delving deeply into scientific problems, but unable to remember where he last left his coffee cup.

This stereotype, while appealing, is also quite misleading. As much as Einstein worked on physics problems, he also thought deeply about social justice and anti racism issues. He used his platform to speak out against racism and antisemitism. Having witnessed, and been victimised by, European antisemitic bigotry, he supported the efforts of the Jewish community to organise themselves, but remained critical of the Zionist nationalism inherent in constructing the Israeli state.

Einstein was nonreligious, abandoning the tenets of Judaism at a very young age. He maintained a rationalist perspective – not the monotheistic God of divine origin and supernatural revelation, but a logical pantheism in the manner of Spinoza.

He was also a cultural Jew, and did his best to support the Jewish community. Europe, and in particular Germany, was experiencing a resurgence of anti-Semitism in the immediate aftermath of military defeat – the end of World War One. That antisemitism motivated Einstein to support Jewish efforts to construct their own future.

Einstein joined up with the Zionist movement to build the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Founded in 1925, Einstein cooperated with Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organisation (WZO) to promote its construction. Attending the opening of the university, Einstein hailed what he viewed as the progress of secular, scientifically-inclined Jews to build a new society where Jewish people would feel safe and free.

However, he was a critic of nationalism and militarism, and he opposed the militaristic trends in Zionism. Attending the Sixteenth Congress of the WZO in 1929, Einstein was widely known to be a non-Zionist participant. In various speeches and public pronouncements, Einstein distanced himself from the ideology of Zionism. For instance, in 1938, he stated his desire to see a binational state within the borders of Palestine, and was appalled by the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian towns undertaken by armed Zionist forces.

On his single trip to Palestine, Einstein warned that building an exclusively Jewish state constitutes a repudiation of the spiritual nature of Judaism. He was elaborating his opinion that Zionism, with its army and militarised-garrison ideology, was in contradiction to the spirit of the Jewish faith. He warned of a narrow nationalism overtaking the Jewish people in the process of building the Zionist state, and opposed any partition of Palestine.

In 1948, Einstein, along with numerous Jewish-origin intellectuals, signed an open letter to the US government and President Truman. The purpose of this letter was to warn the Zionist-supportive US administration of the racist and fascistic tendencies in the newly-recognised state of Israel. Condemning the Herut party, the political expression of the Irgun terrorist gangs that had massacred Palestinians, Einstein and his co-signatories described Herut in its methods and philosophy as closely akin to Nazi and fascist parties.

Herut is one of the constituent forerunners of today’s rightwing Likud party, headed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The significance of this letter, written so soon after the end of World War 2 and the Holocaust, cannot be underestimated. Einstein and his co-thinkers demonstrated the gulf that separated pro-Zionist politicians and the wider humanist community. In fact, if Einstein were alive today, he would face condemnation as a ‘self-hating anti-Semite’ from Zionism’s political partisans. Offered the presidency of Israel late in his life, Einstein refused.

In 1919, with observational confirmation of Einstein’s equations of general relativity, he became a scientist-rock star. In 1921, at the behest of the WZO, he traveled to the United States for the purpose of promoting – and fundraising for – the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Greeted by cheering crowds in New York, his celebrity status was confirmed. He never rested on his laurels – he deployed his fame to speak out against racism and the European drift to war.

While Einstein was still in Germany, he joined the international campaign to free the Scottsboro boys. The latter were a group of nine teenage boys falsely accused of rape by a white woman. A miscarriage of justice, their convictions, and the attendant racism upon which the case was built, was challenged by the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), the Communist party USA, and various civil rights organisations. Einstein used his platform to attack racial segregation in the United States.

This was not just a once-off occurrence. Einstein befriended and supported African American activists, such Paul Robeson, and the first black Harvard University PhD graduate WEB Du Bois. Einstein, making Princeton University his home ground from 1932, mixed with black neighbourhoods in racially-segregated America, gave impromptu lectures, and supported civil rights for African Americans.

He routinely refused honorary degrees – regarding them as illegitimate credentials; but he did make one notable exception. Invited by Lincoln University, an African American institution, to give the commencement address in 1946, Einstein condemned racism as a problem of white people.

Whether he was critiquing Zionism, or American racism, Einstein the celebrity-scientist stayed true to his social justice commitment. While never an official politician, he was never afraid to speak out about contemporary political issues.

The Israeli elections, ultranationalist parties and a victory for the late Meir Kahane

The latest Israeli elections have produced an electoral stalemate, but it was also a victory of ultranationalist and far right parties that collectively ascribe to the philosophy of Kahanism. The Israeli far right can best be understood as the ideological successors to the doctrines of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, an ultrarightist and Judeo-supremacist political operator.

While his party, Kach, never achieved mainstream success during his lifetime, the parties that trace their ideological origins to Kahanism can best be described as the Israeli equivalent of the KKK. Kahane himself was assassinated decades ago, but his ultranationalist and Judeo-supremacist ideology looms large in Israeli society. It is to these Kahanist parties, including the KKK-equivalent Jewish Power party, that current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is appealing for political partners to establish a coalition government.

Institutionalised hateful incitement is the role that Kahanism plays in Israeli politics. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his Likud partners, tolerate this incitement of anti-Arab hatred, and welcome its inclusion in the mainstream.

This was the fourth general election in two years; political instability is set to continue, with electoral deadlock the outcome. Netanyahu’s Likud right wing bloc secured 52 seats, short of the necessary 61 to govern outright in the 120 seat Israeli parliament, the Knesset. The other seats are occupied by various ultranationalist and soft Left parties, whose only common feature is hostility to the Likud.

The Kahanist far right parties, while having their tactical differences with each other, strongly agree on the basic platform of anti-Arab racism, expansion of settlements in occupied Palestinian Territories, and maintaining Judeo-supremacist character of the Zionist state.

Netanyahu embraces the far right

While Kahanism has remained on the margins of parliamentary politics, there is no doubt that Netanyahu and his far-right supporters have consciously cultivated cooperative relationships with Kahanist parties. Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of the Kahanist Jewish Power party, has routinely called for the expulsion of the Palestinians, advocated the expansion of Israeli settlements leading to annexation, and has praised Israeli Kahanist gunman Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Palestinians in 1994 at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

The Religious Zionist party, of which Jewish Power is a part, has long advocated for a strictly Orthodox religious basis of Israeli society, platforming fundamentalist and homophobic views. These are the plausible coalition partners that Netanyahu is considering bringing into government.

During the election cycles, the Likud party – and its Labour Party rivals – have adopted and platformed ultranationalist talking points. Calling the Arab minority a potential fifth column, Netanyahu has done his utmost to demand the continuation of settlement building, denouncing concessions to the Palestinian Authority as treasonous, and passing laws to maintain the Judeo-supremacist character of the Zionist state.

In fact, what Netanyahu’s political calculations have done is expose the logical continuity from so-called mainstream Zionism to Kahanism. The late Rabbi Meir Kahane, during his brief time in the Knesset, did make one correct observation – the state of Israel could either be exclusively Jewish, or democratic; it could not be both. When Zionist politicians condemn and outlaw mixed marriages (between Jews and non-Jews), and denounce relations between Jews and Arabs, they are unwittingly exposing the Judeo-supremacist and nondemocratic nature of the Zionist project.

Not outside the mainstream

Parties such as Jewish Power, and its Kahanist cousins, have attracted their fair share of condemnation, to be sure. However, the ideology they represent are not outliers, nor are they completely outside the mainstream of Israeli society. The construction of a Jewish Ulster – and Zionism is the equivalent Orange Order of the Jewish community – then numerous Meir Kahane-types are bound to arise.

The late Rabbi Meir Kahane, born in the United States in 1932, devoted his life to promoting a militant ethnic chauvinism combined with religious nationalism. As a young man, he worked with the FBI, advocating pro-Vietnam War sentiments on college campuses as the student and antiwar movements were gathering momentum. However, it was with the Judeo-supremacist ideology of Zionism where he found his natural calling.

Condemning the secularism he found in Israeli society, Kahane found a position of marginalised, but appreciated, respectable extremism. While his efforts to found a new political party were doomed to failure, the ideas he advocated found a receptive far right audience inside Israel. Eventually losing his seat in the Knesset, Kahane returned to the US. He was murdered by an Egyptian-born American gunman in November 1990.

After Kahane’s death, the mantle of Kahanism was taken up by various ultrarightist forces, and eventually working their way back into the Knesset. However, a parliamentary seat was not necessary for the Israeli far right to thrive – in November 1995, a Kahanist militant assassinated then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, for the ostensible reason that Rabin signed the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians.

The 2021 elections will only further expose the far right trajectory of official Israeli politics, and showcase the malign but ultimately foreseeable influence of Kahanism. Let’s dispense with the tired and worn-out cliche that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, and instead have an honest conversation about dismantling Israeli apartheid.

Greco-Roman societies, Western civilisation and whiteness – we need to redesign the classics

Ancient Greece and Rome are endlessly fascinating societies, collectively called Greco-Roman antiquity. The Classics, as they are commonly known, are taught in universities across the English-speaking nations. Greco-Roman societies, their philosophy, literature, art and class structures, provide lessons and parallels with contemporary communities. Studying them on their own merits is great – but do not learn about them to construct an imagined community of whiteness called ‘Western civilisation‘.

Rebecca Futo Kennedy, Associate Professor of Classics at Denison University, makes the following point:

An important point to emphasize: one can have histories of antiquity, of Europe, of the US, without recourse to the imaginary identity of ‘western civilization’. There are more programs in the US today (classics and history) that don’t use the term ‘western civilization’ than do and still teach the histories of these regions and people. And the histories are still fascinating. What removing the language of western civilization does is allows these histories to exist more so on their own terms than tied to an artificial justification of white superiority.

The study of Greco-Roman antiquity has taken a battering in our neoliberal age. Corporatised universities have been cutting funding for the Classics, and shunting students into supposedly more lucrative areas, such as business and languages. The Classics usually gets derided as a fast track to unemployment and irrelevance, and classical scholars have long lamented the decline of their profession, stressing the contemporary relevance of Classics subjects.

However, the popularity of the Classics has not waned, but in fact increased, among one particularly telling group – the Alternative Right, which is a euphemism for the ultranationalist white Right. We will examine the reasons for their Classics advocacy in a moment, but for now let’s make one important observation. The Alternative Right’s obsessive preoccupation with Greco-Roman societies is not unique or original, but derives from the mainstream scholarly concern of “Western civilisation.”

The concept of a “Western civilisation” is an imagined community, a constructed continuity from specifically Greco-Roman civilisations right down to today’s white majoritarian societies, namely Britain and the United States, but also Western European nations (to a lesser extent). Indeed, the term ‘western civilisation’ was created by mainstream scholars for the precise reason of lassoing the Greco-Roman antiquity into a historically-cemented identity of whiteness.

The narrative of ‘western civilisation’, while grounded in mainstream conservative endeavours, appeals to the ultranationalist white Right. Interpreting ancient history through the retroactive prism of whiteness, the Alt-Right’s partisans have found philosophical rationalisation of their bigotry and misogyny. Quoting the works of Homer and Ovid, modern-day white supremacists have found ancient writers a source of historical ‘authority’ for their modern political prejudices.

By making Greco-Roman antiquity the ground zero starting point – and tracing all our philosophical and scientific achievements from there – we are necessarily excluding the accomplishments of the ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern civilisations that do not neatly fit into a monoracial lily-white version of history. The Roman Empire, long considered the pinnacle of cultural-scientific success by the partisans of the British empire, was very multicultural. In fact, Greco-Roman societies lacked any conception of race as an exclusionary characteristic.

There were numerous ancient civilisations whose scientific and philosophical legacies reverberate down the ages, and to whom we owe an enormous debt – Babylonians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Mesopotamia, Persians – no need to go on. While we are all familiar with the story of Alexander III of Macedon – popularly known as ‘the Great’, how many of us are familiar with the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, who rebuilt Babylon after its liberation from Assyrian rule?

When Professor Mary Beard, an expert on Roman history, described a BBC illustration of a black soldier fathering a family in Roman Britain, she faced a torrent of online abuse, insults and attacks. Apparently accepting black persons – in this case, North African (Numidian) as being part of Britain’s ancestry caused enormous consternation in conservative circles.

The outrage over this BBC cartoon reflects the deeply-held notion of ‘whiteness’ as a key defining factor of those societies that see themselves as part of ‘western civilisation.’ Conservative commentators have heavily invested their respectable academic careers in this imagined community. This is in line with the modern right wing agenda to downplay – and repudiate – the contributions of nonwhite minorities to Anglo majoritarian nations.

Earlier we mentioned Alexander the Great, the King of Macedon (and the united Greek city-states) who conquered the formidable Persian empire. In his wake, he brought the culture of Hellenism. However, the Persians remember him, not as a ‘great’ figure, but a cultural and religious vandal. His forces destroyed Zoroastrian temples and artefacts – then the religion of Persia. While Alexander’s military genius has been admired in our universities, his destruction of the ancient city of Persepolis remains forgotten.

The empire that Alexander conquered was one of the largest, successful and culturally enriched civilisations, arguably the greatest prior to its conquest by Hellenic forces. The soldiers of Alexander despised Persia, but were also envious of its remarkable cultural accomplishments.

The purpose of redesigning the Classics is not to censor every single ‘dead white man‘ – by no means. It is not intended to demolish the entire profession, or dismiss the importance of Greco-Roman antiquity. The goal is to reclaim the Classics for the people, repudiate the embedded white supremacy, and make the study of ancient Mediterranean societies accessible, inclusionary and enjoyable for everyone.

Ten years on, the results of the NATO intervention in Libya are disastrous

This month marks ten years since the beginning of the NATO bombing campaign in Libya. Launched on the spurious pretext of ‘protecting human rights’, the bombardment of Libya resulted in the toppling of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and the installation into power of CIA-backed Islamist rebels. The US administration at the time, under President Obama, intended to effect regime change and seize Libya’s extensive oil assets.

The bombing of Libya, it was claimed by the Obama-Clinton administration, was undertaken to protect Libyan civilians protesting the rule of Colonel Gaddafi. This excuse turned out to be transparently false. The imperialist states, led by Britain and France, began a mad scramble for Libya’s oil reserves in the immediate aftermath of the Gaddafi regime’s ousting. Obama, in a 2016 interview, claimed that the biggest mistake of his presidency was the ‘lack of planning’ for a post-Gaddafi Libya.

We will return to this pathetic and tired excuse of ‘failure to plan’ later. For now, let’s make a number of relevant observations, taking a historical perspective. Under Gaddafi, Libyans had the highest standard of living in Africa, ranked in the Human Development Index. The oil wealth of the nation was distributed to its citizens, and health care was available to all. Libya had the lowest infant mortality rate, and had the highest life expectancy in Africa.

Today, ten years after the NATO bombing campaign, the country remains mired in ruins and militia-chaos. The health care and electricity systems have all but collapsed. Fractured into warring regions, two rival governments compete for authority. The new Libyan governing militias, composed of Islamist fundamentalist groups, participate in the trading of black African slaves. Refugees from sub-Saharan Africa are making their way to Europe, using Libya as a transit point.

After ten years of lawlessness and violent conflict, Libya is a failed state, where the majority of its people live in squalor. Bearing that in mind, it is interesting to read an editorial from the highly-esteemed New York Times. In a column called “Can Libya Put Itself Back Together Again?“, the writers admit that Libya is fractured, blame the ‘lack of planning for rebuilding’ by the Obama administration, and set out reasons for the post-2011 chaos. However, they avoid mentioning the main reason why Libya is stuck in anarchy – the 2011 NATO intervention which broke the nation in the first place.

The Obama excuse – lack of planning for rebuilding – does not stand up to scrutiny. In fact, it is ludicrous to suggest this tired, worn-out cliche, considering that the Libya intervention was conducted with the full knowledge and participation of then US President Obama, his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and his Vice President Joe Biden. Intelligence gathering and sharing, the use of armed drones, and the deployment of CIA-recruited Islamist fundamentalist rebels were all measures adopted with the permission of the Obama administration.

As Eric Draitser wrote in Counterpunch magazine, the disastrous state of post-2011 Libyan affairs was not the result of hawkish Republican neoconservatives;

No, it was the great humanitarian Barack Obama, along with Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Susan Rice, Samantha Power and their harmonious peace circle of liberal interventionists who wrought this devastation. With bright-eyed speeches about freedom and self-determination, the First Black President, along with his NATO comrades in France and Britain, unleashed the dogs of war on an African nation seen by much of the world as a paragon of economic and social development.

This is not the first attempt at overt or covert intervention in Libyan affairs. The effort to topple the Gaddafi regime extends over decades. The man appointed to lead the Libyan rebels in 2011 is General Khalifa Haftar (sometimes spelt Hifter), a former army general who defected in the mid-1980s. Recruited by the CIA and relocated with his family to Virginia, he led several unsuccessful attempts to overthrow the Gaddafi administration.

Provided with armaments and logistical support, the Libyan Islamist rebels and Haftar, backed up by NATO sorties, overthrew the Gaddafi regime, and in October 2011, Gaddafi himself was murdered by a lynch mob. The anti-Gaddafi Libyan exiles, based in England, the US and other nations, provided the foot soldiers for the rebel cause. In fact, the Manchester bomber, who detonated a bomb at Manchester arena in 2017, was himself a Libyan rebel who had fought for the anti-Gaddafi cause.

It is interesting to note that while anti-Gaddafi Libyan refugees were welcomed in the capitalist nations of Europe, since 2011, refugees from Libya and sub-Saharan Africa are met with a range of hostile militarised responses. The European Union has used the Mediterranean Sea as a maritime barrier to refugees escaping from the horrendous conditions in Libya.

Dissecting the hypocrisies of the imperialist states is basically a full time project. The Libyan intervention of 2011, a criminal and predatory undertaking, has been disguised as a humanitarian‘ enterprise. The international powers who currently act in Libya are doing so for the purpose of extending their economic and military powers. It is time to condemn the criminal war against Libya in the same manner we have denounced similar predatory wars in the past.

The Myanmar coup, Aung San Suu Kyi and Buddhist nationalism

It has been one month (actually a bit longer) since the February 1 military coup in Myanmar (Burma) and the ousting of former State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. There have been numerous analyses in the media about the coup itself, Suu Kyi’s role, and the politics leading up to it. Mass sustained protests have brought the popularity into direct confrontation with the Myanmar generals, and the coup’s leader General Min Aung Hlaing.

Myanmar is a Buddhist majority nation. That fact, coupled with the near-universal admiration of Aung San Suu Kyi, has contributed to a widespread misconception which hinders our understanding of the military regime. In the West, the religion of Buddhism (at least, the version we are offered by way of the Dalai Lama and Richard Gere) is associated with meditation, harmony and universal tranquility.

In line with Buddhism’s ostensibly pacifist underpinnings, we also hear the claim that Buddhism is not a religion at all, in contrast to the Abrahamic cousins (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Attempting to rescue that faith from the charge of violence, Buddhism is viewed as a ‘way of life’, or even a ‘mind science‘, with deference to modern psychology. We may also see the ludicrous attempts to reconcile quantum physics with the ancient precepts of Buddhism – the pseudoscientific quantum woo.

The military-monastic complex

The claim that Buddhism, in contrast to the monotheistic faiths, lacks a history of violence does not stand up to scrutiny. The monastic complex, inextricably bound up with the Myanmar military, has a long and bloody history of religious and political violence. Aung San Suu Kyi, while advocating a multiparty plurality to shore up her democratic credentials, is a strong proponent of Buddhist supremacism. The monks have not remained on the sidelines, but have incited violence and ethnic cleansing, particularly against the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Buddhist monks and soldiers make up an army of faithful to take up the crusade against the Rohingya Muslim community. Respected Buddhist abbots – the equivalent of our clerics – have denounced the Rohingya as Muslim ‘invaders’, whose hyperfertile women breed like ‘cockroaches’ for the alleged purpose of conquering Myanmar. The Buddhist organisation Ma Ba Ta, the shorthand reference for Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, is known for its social welfare work, and for advocating genocidal violence against the Rohingya Muslim community.

In Foreign Policy magazine, authors Artinger and Rowand explain that Myanmar’s Buddhists have never been reticent in agitating for (and using) violence in pursuit of ethnocentric goals. Prior to the February coup, thousands of monks demonstrated in favour of the military, the Tatmadaw. As Foreign Policy explains:

The military advances the goals of Buddhist nationalists by protecting Buddhism against the Muslim threat, and Buddhist nationalists provide the military with religious and cultural permission for their atrocities.

Ethnic cleansing

Aung San Suu Kyi, while criticising the military’s grip on power, never challenged the Buddhist supremacism underlying military rule. In fact, she has gone out of her way to defend Myanmar’s policy of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya Muslim community. Suu Kyi became the West’s favourite politician in Myanmar because of her promotion of privatisation and IMF-style economic reforms. When one promotes neoliberal changes, one’s majoritarian racism gets a free pass.

The main targets of ethnic hatred in Myanmar have been the Rohingya people. Predominantly residing in Rakhine state, they have been excluded from citizenship in a form of ethnic apartheid. Portrayed falsely as ‘invaders’, the Rohingya have been subjected to discrimination and persecution by the Myanmar authorities. Since 2017, the military launched a sustained offensive in Rakhine province, killing thousands of Rohingya Muslims and driving more out as refugees.

During all this time, Suu Kyi deliberately defended the military’s campaign, denying that it amounted to genocide, and spoke of Islam as an ‘existential threat’ to the Buddhist way of life. When the International Court of Justice (ICJ) charged Myanmar’s military with genocide, it was Suu Kyi who rushed to the military’s defence. Her Islamophobic rhetoric corresponds to the outlook of European ultranationalist politicians.

The democracy icon has fallen from favour in the West. Rather than being an icon, she has more in common with late Israeli political figure Golda Meir. Both advocated a racist nationalism which turned a blind eye to the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim populations in their respective nations. Suu Kyi was not the only one to contemptuously dismiss claims of Rohingya genocide.

In 2017, at the height of the military’s ethnic cleansing campaign, there were no mass protests against that particular criminal undertaking. The assault on the Rohingya Muslim community was met with virtual silence, although there have been some protesters over the last month raising the Rohingya issue. It is interesting to note that Rohingya refugees, stuck in Bangladeshi refugee camps, condemned the military coup, but blasted Suu Kyi’s complicity with the military and Buddhist supremacism.

While the cement of Buddhist nationalism remains unchallenged, the military-monkhood complex will continue to shape the political order in Myanmar – in an authoritarian and ethnonationalist direction. Aung San Suu Kyi has done her part to maintain this state of affairs.

Revoking citizenship, Australia’s NIMBYism and avoiding responsibilities

New Zealand-born Australian woman Suhayra Aden has been stripped of her Australian citizenship by the federal government. Accused of Islamic State affiliation, she was detained by Turkish authorities. The latter, initially charged Aden with IS-related charges, but later dropped them and began deportation proceedings. Currently Aden, and her two children, are languishing in the Al-Hawl refugee camp in northern Syria.

She retains her NZ citizenship. Though born in NZ, Aden had been living in Melbourne since the age of six. Raised and educated in Australia, she did have dual citizenship, until the federal government recent revocation. Aden had traveled to Syria in 2014 on the Australian passport, and both governments of NZ and Australia discussed what to do should she ever return.

By canceling Aden’s citizenship, the Australian government adopted the laziest, parochial path of least responsibility. The Morrison government, adhering strictly to the relevant legislation, followed the course of leafblower diplomacy. What does that mean? A leafblower pushes the leaves off your territory, and they become someone else’s problem.

The following image is not mine, and is included here only for educational purposes. Copyright belongs to the creator of the picture, not me:

While the image above refers directly to the issue of asylum seekers, it applies equally to the global NIMBYism demonstrated by the Australian authorities. NZ Prime Minister Ardern levelled heavy criticisms of the Morrison government’s cowardly ducking of responsibility. Ardern stated that Canberra was “exporting its problems”, abdicating responsibility by washing its hands of Aden.

Legal experts in NZ criticised Australian authorities’ handling of this issue, saying that by divesting Aden of citizenship, they were practically handpassing the ball to NZ. Associate Professor John Ip, from the faculty of law at the University of Auckland, described Morrison’s actions as legalised NIMBYism.

Cancelling citizenship for overseas fighting offences is problematic at best. While Aden travelled to Syria in 2014, there is no actual concrete information about what she did there. Once the mere accusation of terrorism is levelled, the person is convicted in the public eye. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) admitted in one of its articles that the Turkish government has in the past, accused people who simply lived under IS-rule of terrorism, when there was no actual evidence of their role as combatants.

At the time Aden travelled to Syria, the US, British, and associated allied governments, including Canberra, quietly if not openly supported the various Islamist fundamentalist rebel militias fighting to overthrow the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. The Saudis, Turkey and similar ‘frontline’ states were actively supporting and financing fundamentalist rebel groups, and these organisations attracted recruits from around the world. The foreign policy establishment in Canberra did not question the consequences of training armed Islamist militias, and what would follow should the secular Arab nationalist Syrian regime be successfully toppled.

The Syrian problem arose, from the perspective of Washington, London (and Canberra) when the wrong Islamist fundamentalist militia was strengthened in Syria – Islamic State. The preferred proxies of the West found themselves weakening with the rise of IS. Clandestine American military aid – and the inflow of non-Syrian recruits – was going to the wrong side. The corporate media suddenly ‘discovered’ the ultra-sectarian and violent nature of the militias opposing the Syrian regime.

The policies of Washington, and Canberra, created conducive circumstances for the outflow of non-Syrian foreign fighters. Of course, no Australian or American official openly stated ‘go join the Islamist rebels.’ Actually, the late Republican Senator and war-enthusiast John McCain, encouraged his government to assist the ‘right people‘ in the Syrian conflict. When Australian citizens, encouraged by the friendly policies of their government to the Islamist rebel cause, end up as foreign fighters, we must acknowledge our responsibility in creating the Syrian war.

The Syrian regime has largely defeated the rebel groupings, and the non-Syrian fighters are returning home. The UK, adopting the tactic of citizenship revocation, has used that measure against Shamima Begum, the British-born woman who travelled to Syria to join IS in 2015. She was stripped of UK citizenship in 2019. The UK government has argued that Begum, being of Bengali background, can go and live in Bangladesh, even though she is British-born. Begum has never resided, or even visited Bangladesh.

The Australian federal government is following the UK’s example, engaging in its own act of sordid opportunism with regards to Aden. Morrison, taking his cue from his Tory ideological forebears in the UK, is sending a clear signal to Australians of Muslim heritage – your citizenship can be taken away, and you don’t really belong here. Audrey Macklin, human rights expert at the University of Toronto, states that conservative governments trade in the implicit understanding that citizens of brown skin do not ‘really belong’.

Macklin writes that non-white and non-Christian citizens can be easily excluded, for instance through citizenship revocation, because they can return to their ‘real’ country of origin. Permanently temporary seems to be the category to which non-white migrants and refugees are assigned. This formalises the underlying ‘go back to where you come from‘ anti-immigrant xenophobia which pervades Australian politics.

Should Aden be treated with a ‘soft’ approach? No, of course not. She cannot face justice if she is permanently barred from returning to Australia. Her decision to join IS – if that allegation is true – is horrendous. It is our responsibility to step up and ensure that she is held accountable for her actions – which is the standard we (should) apply to every Australian. Flimsy presumptions of guilt do not constitute evidence.

Ancient Egypt-mania, preserving antiquities and why Indiana Jones is an archaeological looter

On any given day, you may find numerous documentaries about ancient Egypt – just do a cursory search on YouTube to find multiple results. The Indiana Jones movie franchise increased interest in and public awareness of archaeology. That is all well and good, except for one pertinent fact – Indiana Jones is a treasure hunter, and his behaviour is more in line with archaeological looting.

Let’s examine this subject.

Archaeologists today would have no problems with punching Nazis – as Indiana Jones does. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jones replaces a gold statue with a sandbag and hightails it out of the cave – the behaviour of a looter. He shows no curiosity about the numerous traps in the cave, how they worked and survived intact over the centuries, resistant to humidity and natural deterioration. The indigenous tribes turn out to be hostile and treacherous, cooperating with Belloq, the villainous French archaeologist who steals the artefacts that Jones retrieves.

While Spielberg blended fact with fantasy, he overstepped the mark by portraying the French character Belloq as a deceitful and opportunistic villain. If not for the painstaking and persistent hard work of the French – and in particular, Napoleon Bonaparte – Egyptology would never have taken off as a branch of archaeology.

When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, he brought with him not only soldiers, but an army of scholars, scientists, researchers and writers to collect and document ancient Egyptian artefacts. Prior to Napoleon, Greece and Rome were known through Europe as ancient civilisations. The French expedition broadened the knowledge of Europe to include Egypt as an equivalent ancient civilisation. National Geographic wrote that:

Along with 35,000 soldiers, more than 160 scholars and artists traveled to Egypt in 1798. Officially known as the Commission of the Sciences and Arts of Egypt, this group would end up making a greater contribution to history than the French fighting forces. Their careful work, carried out over many years, would give birth to the field of Egyptology in Europe and reveal to the world the history of the grand civilization that had ruled along the Nile for millennia.

French illustrators painstakingly drew detailed drawings of what they found, and numerous engravers reproduced plates of the archaeological findings in Egypt. In the era before photography, everything had to be reproduced by hand. Multivolume collections were produced, and French scholar Jean-Francois Champollion was the first to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs, opening up that ancient language to a modern audience.

With all due respect to Hollywood filmmakers, Indiana Jones and Brendan Fraser fighting the curse of the mummy, ancient Egypt was the first regional state and had philosophy, grand architecture and remarkable civilisational achievements.

The French military expedition to Egypt was defeated, and the British moved in – taking with them most of the Egyptian antiquities, although the French were able to keep the illustrations and documents they created. Egyptian artefacts ended up in the British national museum. This raises an interesting question – Indiana Jones, alone out of all the archaeological competitors, wants to retrieve artefacts for museums. A noble goal, but we have to ask – which museum?

Jones is endeavouring to steal antiquities, not for the museums of the country in which he operates, but for either British or American museums – precisely the behaviour of an archaeological looter. Jones may be an appealing, wise-cracking character with a fedora hat whose handy with a whip – but that has nothing to do with archaeology.

The main impression – implicit yet important – in the Indiana Jones movies is the white saviour, an outsider motivated only by the purest of intentions, risks life and limb to help the native civilisations preserve their archaeological artefacts from unscrupulous foreigners. What exactly is this implicit theme based upon? If anything, the American presence in archaeologically significant sites has been destructive and disrespectful to the local ethnicities.

When it comes to the Mesopotamian civilisations, we may see that the natives looked after their archaeological heritage very effectively. Mesopotamia – modern day Iraq – is home to ancient cultures. Archaeological looting had been a recurring, if not severe, problem in 20th century Iraq. The only time in Iraq’s modern history that archaeological treasures were preserved, looters heavily punished, and archaeology seriously promoted, was under the regime of the Iraqi Ba’ath Party and its leader the late President Saddam Hussein.

The Iraqi Ba’ath party, cultivating a strong Iraqi nationalism, heavily increased funding for archaeological research, implemented school and university programs for the study of Mesopotamian civilisations, and constructed protections for Iraqi antiquities. The Iraqi leadership was trying to portray itself as the legitimate inheritors of the Babylonian legacy, and read Iraqi history along nationalist lines. The BBC, ever prone to exaggeration, emphasised the personal aspects of Hussein’s presidency.

Even the BBC had to admit that archaeology flourished under the Ba’ath party’s leadership. Stealing archaeological treasures in Ba’athist Iraq incurred heavy police-state penalties. The 2003 American invasion of Iraq was devastating for archaeology, with widespread looting permitted by the invading authorities. Iraq today is slowly but surely working towards recovering its stolen artefacts.

If you wish to enjoy the Indiana Jones movies, please do so. Just bear in mind that he is not so much an archaeologist, but a treasure hunter; a male Lara Croft with archaeological pretensions.

Texas – a failed state with blackouts, but high-tech border walls

The Texas electricity grid breakdown, and the confluence of disastrous consequences, is a window into a climate-change future.

Millions of Texans are still freezing, and are having to cope with the total failure of the state’s electricity infrastructure amid a severe winter storm. Texans are struggling to acquire drinking water, the snowstorm freezing water pipes and rendering them inoperable. Water supplies remain contaminated as water plants cannot function.

The medical system in Texas has been thrown into chaos due to the snowstorm and subsequent electricity breakdowns. Hospitals are running out of essential equipment, and no power means patient care is deteriorating. Hypothermia is a very real danger for many vulnerable patients, and several state hospitals are on the brink of total collapse. Houston hospitals are conserving precious water by collecting rain water to wash out the toilets and remove faeces by using trash bags.

Energy experts were warning, years ago, that such an environmentally-driven disaster impacting the electricity grid was waiting to happen. This cascading catastrophe, and the lack of preparation for weather-based scenarios, stems from the fanatical opposition to renewables as an energy source, the exclusive promotion of fossil fuels as a basis for corporate profit, and a stubborn refusal to accept the scientific consensus of human-induced climate change.

Justin Worland, writing in Time magazine, states that the current social disaster in Texas was no surprise. In fact, experts had been warning that such a catastrophe was on the cards:

Ten years ago, in 2011, energy regulators warned the state’s electric-grid operators that they were ill-prepared for an unprecedented winter storm. And for decades before that, climate scientists had cautioned that a warming planet would cause climate chaos, raising the average global temperature while driving unusual weather events like this one. For Texas, it was always just a matter of time.

This catastrophe comes on top of the ever-present pandemic, and the Covid-19 vaccine rollout remains disrupted due to the severe weather conditions and blackouts. Minority communities in Texas are suffering especially hard, given the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the lack of affordable health care for the poor, and now the collapse of the electricity grid.

Texas disconnected its power grid from the US, because of an obsessive ideological fixation on ‘intrusive government authority.’ Combine that with continued talk among Republican lawmakers about the secession of Texas from the Union, and you may see the contributing factors in this current disaster. The unfettered ‘free market’ and removal of regulations helped to create a system vulnerable to breakdowns.

Talk of secession has all but dissipated in the aftermath of the critical infrastructure failures in Texas. Outspoken Republican Senator Ted Cruz fled to the comfort of Cancun, thus showing his contempt for the millions of his fellow Texans suffering privations. His conduct, reminiscent of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Hawaiian holiday while Australia experienced its worst bushfires, demonstrates that the wealthy will flee from difficult circumstances for shelter and warmth.

Reality, in this case the effects of climate change, intrude and upend people’s xenophobic preoccupations. Spending the last four years, at least, demonising Hispanic migrants and refugees, and building high-tech border walls, has done nothing to improve the lives and living standards of ordinary Texans.

The Republican Party has consistently dominated Texan politics for decades. Their climate change denial, and fanatical obsession with ‘free market’ capitalism, has held sway in Texas for years. Today, Texas stands as a failed state. The ideology of maximising corporate profit, and ridiculing every move at government regulation as ‘socialism’, has brought Texas to its current catastrophic condition. An oil-and-gas rich state such as Texas has problems providing electricity to its own people.

Coddling the rich with favourable economic policies has been the core guiding fiction of the Republican Party, though this is not to let the Democrats off the hook. Mocking government regulations and health/environmental safety standards with the shocker-word ‘socialism’ is a tactic not confined to the Republican Party. However, it is the doctrine of capitalist neoliberalism, implemented in Texas in unimpeded form, that has resulted in the inability of the state to care for its citizens.

One of the adverse impacts of the winter storm was is the severe disruption of the state’s fruit and vegetable crop production. Stores are running out of food, and it is easy to find images of long queues of Texans, lining up to buy bread, milk, groceries and common products. Pictures of empty shelves and long queues from Texas are powerful and heart-rending. They remind me of the shabby point-scoring by Eastern European emigre communities, circulating pictures of food queues in their home nations to allegedly prove the failure of socialism.

There is no reason why the United States cannot solve its own economic and social problems. At the same time that we were reading about the disaster afflicting Texas, we also received news that NASA’s Perseverance rover, deployed for a mission to Mars, successfully touched down on that planet. The technical and scientific expertise that went into that mission is extraordinary.

There is no question that the Americans have the scientific expertise and ingenuity to send space missions. Yet the challenges of climate change, the pandemic, and the collapse of the Texan electricity grid, remain unsolved. While not counterposing space exploration with other scientific ventures, it is time to re-examine priorities – pictures from Mars are awe-inspiring, but do not help the Texans freezing to death, sheltering in gymnasiums, and scrambling to protect themselves with meagre resources.

The drive for corporate profits and the deregulation of the Texan electricity market surely require reexamination after this terrible disaster.

Hong Kong, Ugandan Asians and imperial-service refugees

The speed with which Britain, the US and Australia offered refugee status to Hong Kongers protesting the Beijing government contrasts sharply with the harshness and punitive nature of mandatory detention handed out to refugees from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine and other nonwhite nations.

Emma Graham-Harrison, writing in the Guardian, highlighted an underlying reason why the UK government, in the aftermath of Brexiteer turmoil, responded with alacrity to Hong Kongers:

A large and rapid influx of people from Hong Kong is likely to be a financial boon to a Britain battered by Covid-19 and the end of the Brexit transition period.That would be a financial blow and a political embarrassment for China. Bank of America estimated in a recent report that departing Hong Kong residents could trigger capital outflows of HK$280bn (£26bn) this year alone, as people sell property and withdraw pension funds. Government figures put the “net benefit” for the UK at between £2.4bn and £2.9bn.

This idea that refugees are an entrepreneurial rocket boost, in the words of Jeevan Vasagar, is based on imperial-nostalgic stereotypes.

The hypocrisy of the Leave campaign’s premise has been – perhaps unintentionally – exposed; that refugees and migrants are a ‘burden’ on the economy. The basis of the Brexit vote was an anti-immigration economic hysteria, and stopping the alleged ‘influx’ of resource-sapping migrants and refugees was the main goal of Tory Brexiteer claims. Now, the Johnson government has opened a ‘pathway to citizenship’ for up to five million Hong Kongers – an influx of refugees if there ever was one.

Imperial-service refugees

Throughout the far-flung, now defunct, British Empire, specific ethnic communities were implanted by the British authorities for the purpose of shoring up the imperial project. Hong Kong was established as an entrepôt, and Uganda’s Asians formed a similarly-entrepreneurial community. Uganda’s Asians, insular and pro-colonial, constituted an anti-African racist constituency in the racial pyramid of the white supremacist British empire.

The tribe from which I originate – Armenians in Egypt – are a very similar pro-colonial minority, internalising the imperial outlook of their British masters. Adopting a hostile mindset against the majority nation – Arab and Muslim Egyptians in this case – imperial-service communities make for good media copy when they undergo political turmoil in their host country.

Ugandan Asians, while victims of racism, were also perpetrators of the colonial mindset. Targeted by the administration of General Idi Amin, the Asian community were expelled en masse, and took up refuge in Britain. Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath advocated the cause of Uganda’s Asians in the 1970s. Never matter that Amin had been a long-term British asset, and became demonised in the corporate media after he turned against his former paymasters.

Heath responded to the anti-immigration sentiments of his fellow Conservatives by appealing to the moral grounds of the Ugandan Asian refugee case. Gone was the overblown rhetoric about the ‘ economic burden’ of refugees; the mythical ‘flood’ of migrants was nowhere to be seen. 25 000 Ugandan Asian refugees were accepted by Britain, and they and their descendants went on to have successful lives.

Hong Kongers and Australian anti-Asian racism

The Australian government has been very receptive to calls for providing a safe haven for Hong Kong residents. Coverage of the Hong Kong protests have been very sympathetic, routinely referring to protesters as ‘pro-democracy.’ Note that the sustained, large and politically motivated protests by the poor in Haiti are described as ‘anti-government‘, thus subtly undermining their political legitimacy.

Much was made of a proposed extradition law between China and Hong Kong which, its critics claimed, would have allowed Beijing to crack down on politically-dissident Hong Kongers. However, let’s have some truth in advertising before we proceed. The extradition law was proposed in the wake of a gruesome crime by a Hong Kong national. Having murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan, the man returned to Hong Kong – Taiwan does not have an extradition treaty with HK.

The proposed law specifically defined extraditable crimes, and ruled out political opposition as a basis for extradition. The bill also provided the HK Chief Executive with the power to review and refuse extradition requests. However, Hong Kongers, playing up to the Sinophobic anxieties of the western powers, claimed that the proposed extradition treaty was political in nature. For more detail about the extradition bill, you may read here.

The Hong Kongers made their political affiliations very clear when they waved the Union Jack, and demanded that former US President Donald Trump intervene militarily to ‘save’ Hong Kong. In fact, the main advocates of the Hong Kong protests have deliberately allied themselves with far-right and racist Americans politicians, the latter sworn enemies of Black Lives Matter and anti-racism. When your allies are fanatical regime-change neoconservatives, you are exposing to the world exactly what kind of politics you stand for.

When your pathway to self-determination is paved by the National Endowment for Democracy, and your demands specifically reject solidarity with other oppressed and marginalised ethnic communities, then it is time to question the direction of that pathway.

The Australian government must take this opportunity to re-examine its refugee policy, and stop refugee demonisation. Otherwise we will only indulge in a self-congratulatory exercise, cynically portraying sanctuary for imperial-service refugees in a humanitarian disguise.

Long distance nationalism, diaspora politics and statues of Nazi collaborators

In Blacktown, western Sydney, there is an unassuming yet significant statue, which deserves examination. On the grounds of a Serbian Orthodox Church, there is a statue honouring wartime Serbian General Dragoliub ‘Drazha’ Mihailovic. Commander of the Serbian Chetniks, it is flanked by the Australian, Serbian and Chetnik flags.

What is the significance of this statue of wartime Serbian Chetnik commander Mihailovic? The fact that he was a Nazi collaborator and war criminal, under whose command Chetnik units massacred thousands of Bosnians, Croats and non-Serb ethnicities. Building a statue to commemorate the career of a Nazi collaborator helps to revive the doctrines of white supremacy and racial inequalities in the current era.

Mihailovic’s Chetnik movement, while theoretically opposing the 1941 German invasion of Yugoslavia, ended up collaborating with the invading Nazi and Italian fascist forces. Mihailovic concluded that the Yugoslav resistance, headed by the Communist Partisans under Josip Tito, were a threat to his authority in any post-occupation Yugoslavia. Chetnik commanders actively worked with German and Italian military units.

Committed to the cause of conservative royalism and extreme Serb nationalism, the Chetniks committed numerous acts of homicidal ethnic cleansing to ensure the creation of an ethnically pure ‘Greater Serbia.’ As the tide of the war turned against Nazi Germany after their defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad, the Chetnik leadership began to make secret overtures to the western Allies. Their acts of resistance to the Axis powers was always minimal and driven by opportunistic considerations – their ideological affinity was with the fanatical anti communist and fascist powers.

This statue is not an isolated example; across the Anglo-centric world, statues of fascist accomplices have risen, and with them a dangerous rewriting of history to absolve them of their heinous crimes. Forward magazine has compiled extensive evidence of the spread of monuments to Nazi collaborators around the world.

Since the early 1990s, these antisemitic killers and racists have gained importance in their countries of origin as nationalist and anticommunist heroes. Their corresponding diaspora communities, many dating from the end of World War 2, helped to create ultranationalist histories which rationalised and justified their Nazi collaboration.

Ukrainian nationalism

In the immediate aftermath of WW2, Canada provided sanctuary for thousands of ultranationalist Ukrainians, fleeing Eastern Europe. They established their presence in their adopted nation, and immediately began constructing a cult of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), and its leader Stepan Bandera. The OUN, and its associated armed wing, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) were the main antisemitic and Nazi collaborator organisations which assisted the invading Germans in the 1940s.

Structured as a fascistic and racist organisation modelled on the Croatian Ustasha, the OUN set about creating an ethnically cleansed Ukraine, massacring Jews, Poles, Russians – all the while helping the German military. After the Soviets scored major victories against Germany, the OUN militants made overtures to Britain and the United States. The OUN’s followers have disingenuously claimed ‘the Germans forced us to do it’ – a hollow lie which does not stand up to scrutiny.

Finding refuge in Canada, the Ukrainian ultranationalist diaspora built monuments to their former OUN leaders. The cult-like worship of the OUN has served as a social cement, forging a distinctive ethnic identity for the Ukrainian newcomers in the new Canada. The OUN and Bandera worship has been conducted under the rubric of multiculturalism, the latter policy ostensibly encouraging respect for multiethnic diversity.

Canada’s Nazi monuments may seem like a narrow issue, but they have wider implications. Upholding war criminals and killers as heroes not only distorts Eastern European history, but is a steppingstone towards Holocaust obfuscation. Shifting blame away from the shoulders of those Eastern European groups who actively participated in antisemitic killings absolves the perpetrators of their culpability.

As statues of Confederate white supremacists and colonisers are coming down, it is high time question why statues of fascism’s foot soldiers still stand.

The underbelly of multiculturalism – historical mythologising

When constructing an ethnic identity amidst an Anglo-majority, there are better role models than fascist collaborators and war criminals. Cultivating a fanatical devotion – a cult – of Bandera, or Mihailovic, or Pavelic, or other Nazi accomplices – is not a healthy basis on which to build an ethnic identity. Of course Australia is a multicultural nation, and every ethnicity has the right to be respected. However, this does not mean that the ideology of imported white supremacists – the bulk of Eastern European collaborators – should go unchallenged.

The history of Ukrainian nationalism is being revamped in an ultranationalist direction under the tutelage of the current Maidan regime in Kiev. These developments have repercussions for the corresponding diaspora communities. Professor Rudling calls this long-distance nationalism, a rereading of history to serve narrow nationalistic ends. The mythologising of the OUN is an important part of diaspora politics, and feeds into the current historical revisionism sweeping through Eastern Europe.

The underbelly of Australian nationalism is the provision of sanctuary for those fascist collaborators seeking to escape justice. The doctrines of antisemitism and racial inequality are revived when we venerate the practitioners of those lethal ideas.