Education in Texas, Holocaust denial and fabricated outrage over critical race theory

A school administrator in Southlake, Texas, has come under heavy criticism for suggesting that the school district’s curriculum should contain books that offer an ‘opposing view’ of the Holocaust, balancing out the existing Holocaust materials already being taught. The suggestion of including Holocaust denial resources took place in the context of a wider debate regarding educational materials, and viewpoints that should be taught to students.

The Republican controlled state legislature in Texas, in line with their political colleagues in other states, has been waging a campaign to ban critical race theory (CRT) – which involves teaching students the history of bigotry and racism in the United States. A newly passed law in Texas, HB3979, legislators have undermined efforts to teach CRT. This effort is part of an ultranationalist right wing campaign to deflect from teaching future generations about racism and white supremacy.

The dispute in Texas involves more than just one school board or curriculum; it speaks to the nature of whitewashing history, removing any reference to the culpability of racism and white nationalism in American – and western – colonialism. Influencing the school curriculum obviously impacts how future generations understand their history – and develop amnesia regarding the crucial role of racism in shaping American capitalism.

Holocaust denial hiding behind the shield of scepticism

How does Holocaust denial fit into all of this? The denial of the Holocaust is sadly nothing new. It is part of a concerted attempt by ultranationalist and hard Right forces to remove the genocidal culpability of the Nazi regime and its ideology, white supremacy. By cancelling the main crime of Nazism, its doctrines are open to rehabilitation. This is already occurring in numerous Eastern European nations with ultrarightist regimes.

Holocaust deniers do not live in a vacuum – they have witnessed the condemnation of Nazi doctrines after the end of World War 2. So to make their message palatable, they have adopted the disguise of being ‘sceptics’; academics and writers who are merely ‘questioning’ the globally accepted version of the Holocaust. What is wrong with free scholarly inquiry?

The notion of balance – listening to opposing points of view – is all well and good, but it is not unlimited. The Texas state teachers repudiated any attempt to shrewdly introduced Holocaust denial material into the curriculum, stating that the notion of ‘balance’ does not give anyone the right to attack historically verified facts. There are not ‘two sides’ of the Holocaust.

Critical race theory – don’t buy into the ultrarightist hysteria

The Australian Senate explicitly voted to reject CRT – which is surprising, given that Australian politicians think they have the power to restrict the national curriculum. In the United States, CRT has come under strong attack for being a purportedly ‘divisive’ subject. So, what is it?

CRT began as an obscure collection of legal doctrines which sought to answer serious questions – why do economic inequalities and racial disparities in health care, law, education, employment, real estate and so on – persist decades after the abolition of segregation and the civil rights movement? A number of academics, such as Kimberle Crenshaw, sought to answer these questions in terms of intersectionality. People experience oppression and discrimination in multiple ways, including race and ethnicity.

Race is now recognised as a social construct, but this does not prevent people from categorising into biological ‘races.’ Institutional discrimination, while suffering a fatal blow in the 1960s, did not end there. Numerous systemic measures – from the economic to the cultural – have maintained racial disparities over the succeeding decades. This is part and parcel of settler-colonial capitalism, and understanding these facts contributes to a better appreciating of measures at redressing racial discrimination.

The purpose of CRT is not to create a new racial hierarchy with African Americans at the top – it is to expose the racialised hierarchy of settler-colonialism, and work towards abolishing racist hierarchies altogether. No, CRT is not ‘racist towards white people’, but rather seeks multiethnic cooperation in an antiracist alliance.

No, not every mention of settler-colonialism is an application of CRT. It is an understanding of the history of societies based on the violent dispossession of indigenous peoples. It is not entirely surprising that the conservative airwaves have resounded with shrill denunciations of CRT, with supportive politicians attempting to block it. An exposure of the embedded white racism in the foundations of American capitalism highlights American culpability for the crimes of white nationalism.

CRT is not a Marxian conspiracy to subvert the American way of life. It is an attempt to comprehend the racist history of settler-colonialism, and understand ways to change it. Let’s recognise that white supremacy continues to harm minority communities. Rather than denying history, it is better to focus our energies on strategies to confront racism and build a more inclusive and socially just society.

Iraq rejects moves to begin ties with the Israeli state

The Iraqi government has cracked down on participants in a conference which called for the normalisation of ties between Baghdad and Tel Aviv. Attended by political, business and community leaders in Erbil – the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan – the conference was organised by the Centre for Peace Communications, a conservative American think tank.

Normalisation of a sordid situation

What could be wrong about establishing connections between Israel and its Arab neighbours, such as Iraq? Surely the Abraham accords – the recent peace deals struck between Tel Aviv and several Arab capitals – are a positive development? Behind the cynical deployment of promoting cultural understanding between Muslims and Jews, Tel Aviv is pursuing a calculated, strategic goal of furthering its own economic and military interests.

In fact, Tel Aviv has long practiced the cynical manipulation of the stories of Jewish communities in Arab nations, to promote support for the narrow settler-colonial policies of Zionism. By alleging that Arab nations – in the late 40s and early 50s – engaged in a systematic policy of expelling their Jewish minority populations – Tel Aviv hopes to rebalance the moral calculus, and distract from its own ethnic cleansing of Palestine in the 1940s, and in subsequent settlement expansion.

The subject of the dispossession of the Palestinians by the Zionist movement – its ‘original sin’, so to speak – is a sensitive issue for Tel Aviv. Countering attempts by Palestinians, and their supporters, from exposing the criminal policies of the Zionist parties requires the cynical and selective deployment of sympathy. The story of Iraq’s Jewish community, and the complex, multi-factorial causes of their flight from Iraq, have been twisted and oversimplified into a falsely slanderous portrayal of Iraq, and Arab societies generally, of being hatefully antisemitic.

The Iraqi Jewish community – victims of ruthless geopolitics

The Iraqi Jewish community had historical connections and roots in Iraq, going back to Mesopotamia. Iraqi Jews built economically and culturally successful communities when Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire. Britain, which acquired Iraq as a mandate colony after the defeat of the Ottoman Turkish empire in 1920, maintained cordial relations with Iraq’s – and particularly Baghdad’s – prosperous Jews. The latter had successfully integrated into Arabic-majority Iraq.

The Baghdadi Jewish community, having had special protected status as a non-Muslim minority under the Ottoman Turkish authority, appealed to the British for similar recognition. Britain, eager to put down Iraqi nationalist revolts in its new colony, shrewdly appealed to Baghdad’s Jews. While employing their commercial prosperity and administrative skills, the British authorities made sure that the Jewish community did not grow too powerful.

Britain supported the Zionist movement’s drive to colonise Palestine – from 1917 onwards. There was hardly a mass exodus of Iraqi Jews to the kibbutzim of Palestine. The Baghdadi Jews were assimilated, occupying crucial positions in the administration of British authority in the nation, and were indifferent to the Zionist project.

By the time World War 2 began, the only multiconfessional political formation in Iraq was the Communist party. Pro-German factions in the Iraqi army cunningly appealed to Iraqi nationalism, hoping to establish a pro-Nazi regime in the nation. However, the troubles of those times passed, and the Iraqi Jewish community thrived.

It was the 1948 Zionist colonisation of Palestine, and the Iraqi military’s incompetent performance on the battlefield, which brought sectarian polarisation to a head. The close identification of the Jewish community with the British-backed Iraqi monarchy made them convenient targets for anticolonial sentiment. As much as Iraq’s Jews protested that they were loyal citizens, and repudiated Zionism, the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Said regarded them as a potential fifth column.

The new Zionist government in Tel Aviv claimed to speak for Jews worldwide, and its agents did their utmost to increase tensions between the Iraqi government and the Baghdadi Jewish community. Encouraging the latter to emigrate was the intended goal of the Zionist movement; exploiting internal Iraqi problems would create enough of an external push-factor to incite Iraqi Jewish emigration.

Zionist operatives, active inside Iraq, organised the bombings of cafes, synagogues and areas that Iraqi Jews frequented, increasing sectarian tensions. The government, under British and American pressure, passed a denaturalisation law in 1950, allowing those Iraqi Jews who renounced their citizenship to emigrate.

Nuri al-Said was Britain’s right-hand man in Iraq; dedicated to maintaining the British-backed monarchy in the country. Facing this destabilising campaign by Zionist agents, he relented and allowed thousands of Iraqi Jews to leave. Was he incapable of providing a political programme to unite Iraq’s various ethnicities? Yes. Was he a vicious antisemite, out on a Hitlerian frenzy to eliminate every Jewish person in sight? No, he was not.

The evacuation of Iraqi Jews, presented by Tel Aviv as an ‘in-gathering of the exiles’, was actually the uprooting of an ancient and established community. The Israeli forces, throughout 1947-48, acquired territories outside those allotted by the UN partition plan – extra space, especially ethnically cleansed areas, require filling by extra numbers of people.

The misleading characterisation of the Israel/Palestine conflict as resulting from ‘ancient hatreds between Muslims and Jews’ only serves to disguise the original guilt of the Zionist movement; the dispossession of the Palestinians. Do not use the claim of ‘cultural understanding’ or ‘religious tolerance’ to mask economic and political objectives.

The Lost Cause myth – a long running disinformation campaign to rehabilitate white supremacy

In September this year, the 12-tonne statue of Confederate general and racist traitor, Robert E Lee, in Richmond Virginia, was taken down by the authorities. In its place, a statue commemorating the emancipation of slaves was erected. This measure, undertaken by the Virginia state government, reignited a debate about memorialising the Confederacy, and the persistent myth of the Lost Cause.

Let’s examine why this is not only a historical issue, but compellingly relevant for today’s politics.

The Lost Cause, a propaganda campaign developed over several decades after the end of the Civil War, downplays the importance of slavery and racism in driving the Southern states to secede. Instead, the partisans of Lost Cause mythology posit several, seemingly legitimate reasons for secession – states rights, preserving the ‘Southern way of life’, and hostility to ostensibly greedy Northern interests. The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), a pressure group formed after the Civil War, promoted public activities to rehabilitate the Confederacy.

By denying the role of slavery – and its aggressive promotion by the slave owning states – the Lost Cause myth absolves the Confederacy of its racism, and recasts the Southern states as historical patriots. The Lost Cause – advocated by ex-Confederate generals and soldiers – is a counter factual reading of history, removing the stain of white supremacy from the Confederate cause.

Fighting for ‘states rights’ against a supposedly overbearing federal authority sounds like a ‘noble’ motivation. Fighting for the expansion of slavery to benefit white Southern landowners and politicians sounds more materialistic in intent.

The naming of streets, statues, military bases and public spaces after Confederate generals is not a matter of simply adhering to historical veracity. They are public tributes to segregationist traitors and slave-owning racists, and promote the claim that white supremacist ideology is something to be normalised. After the Civil War, Confederate apologists worked tirelessly to deny the expressly stated intention of the secessionist states – slavery, and the white supremacy upon which it was based.

Repurposing the Confederate cause as one of defending ‘cultural heritage’ has a cynical and perverse consequence – uniting whites from the Southern and Northern states into one racialised block against the African American community. Disguising the role of the Southern landowning aristocratic class in instigating the Civil War serves to break down interethnic bonds between poor whites and black Americans.

The UDC, and similar Confederate advocacy organisations, monitored school textbooks and evaluated the history sections, ensuring that a Southern-sympathetic point of view was included. As the decades after the end of the Civil War proceeded, and the veterans of that conflict passed on, a concerted effort was made to ensure that succeeding generations learned the repackaged Lost Cause myth of the Civil War.

From the 1880s onwards, numerous projects to erect statues to Confederate generals were undertaken. As Reconstruction was wound back, new ways of enforcing racial segregation were explored – resulting in extensive Jim Crow legislation. Public rallies, children’s activities, ceremonies honouring the bravery of Southern soldiers, renaming military bases after Confederate generals – and the growing white supremacist vigilante insurgency by the KKK – all these events helped to reintegrate the Confederate cause into the public consciousness.

The Lost Cause advocates have never tired of recycling an old falsehood – the myth of the loyal slave. While slave owning was downplayed by neo-Confederates, the pernicious distortion of the happy black slave has been promoted in books and films. Indeed, the Lost Cause contends that these ‘loyal slaves’ even took up arms for the Confederacy. Former US President Donald Trump recycled this myth in his frequent outbursts defending the old South.

That claim is interesting, because the Confederacy – even when the tide of the Civil War turned against the South – the ‘happy slaves’ were never armed by the ‘non racist’ slave owners. In fact, the Southern aristocratic class were constantly terrified of slave uprisings, escapes and rebellions. This unending anxiety was not confined to the Confederacy; throughout the slave owning colonies in the Americas and the Caribbean, slave owners were terrified of the growing number of – and possible uprisings by – the African slaves.

The Emancipation proclamation only heightened the fears of the Confederate slave owners that the erstwhile slaves would escape to the North for freedom – which they did. Black persons were employed by the Confederate armies – as servants. Armed black slaves was the last thing the Confederacy wanted; a situation which undermines the claim that racism was not a factor in secession.

Are we being too harsh, with the benefit of hindsight, to judge our forebears and their actions? In our everyday world, that makes sense. However, Confederate statues were not constructed as public artefacts to commemorate history. They were erected as part of a toxic campaign of white nationalist resentment, not for any innocuous cause of states rights. By removing these memorials to white supremacy, we can see the racist history of American capitalism more clearly.

Kamala Harris visits Vietnam – and demonstrated that the US learnt nothing from its defeat

US Vice President Kamala Harris toured southeast Asian nations last month, and finished with a visit to Vietnam. Before she arrived in Vietnam, she gave a speech in Singapore attacking China for its allegedly ‘bullying’ behaviour. VP Harris has been promoting an Indo-Pacific military buildup; however, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chin stated that Hanoi, regardless of its maritime disputes with Beijing, would not join any anti-China military alliance.

Just to clarify – the United States is seeking the military cooperation of a nation it spent decades pulverising with weapons. Be that as it may, VP Harris placed flowers at a memorial in Hanoi, thinking it was erected in honour of former military aviator the late John McCain. It transpired that the site which VP Harris visited was built in honour of the Vietnamese defenders who shot down McCain, turning him over to civilian authorities.

VP Harris was not making a cultural faux pas – that can be forgiven. By honouring the cause for which McCain was fighting – involving the bombing of infrastructure in North Vietnam – Harris was contributed to the effort to rehabilitate the American war in Indochina. The site which she visited – the place where McCain was shot down and captured – was constructed to remind visitors of the criminal actions of American imperialism in Vietnam.

Harris, by singling out McCain to whom to pay homage, disrespected the Vietnamese who fought against the American empire. She demonstrated that the US is not sorry for its destructive impact on the people and ecology of Vietnam.

The US ruling class, since the defeat of its forces in Vietnam in 1975, has eagerly sought to reverse the main political consequence of that defeat – domestic mass opposition to imperialist wars overseas. Rather than accept the presence of anti-war hostility among the population, successive US administrations have launched PR campaigns to minimise the criminal actions of US foreign policy, and demonise domestic critics of the Vietnam war.

Rehabilitating the American war on Vietnam began in the late 60s with the Nixonian inspired ‘bringing the POW/MIAs home’ mythology, which I have examined in detail in previous articles (part one is here; part two published here). The putative concern for those killed in action was cynically manipulated to divert attention from American crimes in Indochina, and garner public support for the failing military operation in Vietnam.

While that issue reached its peak in the 1980s and 90s, it petered out by the 2000s. A new way had to be found to revitalise super-patriotic whitewashing of America’s war on Vietnam. The renewed campaign to rehabilitate the Vietnam war was initiated, not by conservative Republican politicians, but by ostensibly antiwar Democrat and former President Barack Obama.

In 2012, on Memorial Day, Obama took the opportunity to announce a multi pronged series of commemorative activities, intended to last over the next 13 years. Intended as a national activity to honour the allegedly ‘disrespected’ Vietnam veterans, the commemorative events are politically motivated to revive a ‘warrior spirit’ and to distort the main US responsibility for keeping the war going for decades. Obama maintained that 2012 marked 50 years – 1962 – since the first American combat troops were deployed to Vietnam.

Had the Obama administration bothered to consult the historical record, US intervention in Vietnam began, not in 1962, but covertly in the mid-1950s. As the French war effort to recolonise its former possessions in Indochina were failing, the Eisenhower administration stepped up its secretive activities to sabotage efforts by the Vietnamese to achieve independence. Undermining the intended 1956 democratic elections, the US created a false statelet called ‘South Vietnam’, and proceeded to maintain its artificial proxy through state violence.

The Saigon regime, utterly dependent on American support for its survival, tortured dissidents and used police-state methods against any and all opposition. The United States dropped thousands of tonnes of bombing ordnance in Indochina, used napalm and chemical weapons to obliterate villages, and attempted to sabotage civilian infrastructure.

Obama was elected to office for, among other things, opposition to overseas wars. The George W Bush administration stood thoroughly discredited in the eyes of the public. Obama and the Democrats exploited this popular opportunity to war to get elected. However, Obama’s record in office indicates that he advocated new wars, and dedicated himself to downplaying the crimes of US imperialism in Vietnam.

The antiwar protesters, combined with Vietnam veterans, launched a principled campaign against US military aggression, and have nothing for which to apologise.

A four-legged whale, fossils and the public understanding of science

Scientists in Egypt have made the discovery of a four-legged whale, an ancestral species and a transitional form between land-dwelling mammals and modern, purely aquatic whales.

The newly discovered ancestral whale, called Phiomicetus anubis, is named partly after Anubis, the canine-headed Egyptian god associated with death and the afterlife. Found in the Fayum depression, it is in line with similar ancestral semi-aquatic fossils found in other continents.

Whale evolution is amply documented with a strong evidentiary basis in the fossil record. Evolving from aquatic artiodactyls, palaeontologists have been examining the ancestral species of modern whales – and the related cetaceans – for decades. Protocetids are semiaquatic whales that inhabited a niche midway between their semi-terrestrial predecessors and the ocean-going whales.

Possessing a raptor-like feeding style, they were fearsome predators. Phiomicetus anubis weighed an estimated 600 kilograms, and was three metres in length. The Phiomicetus is not the only ancestral quadrupedal whale fossil that has been found.

Back in 2019, scientists in Peru discovered the fossil of an ancient four-legged whale with hooves – adapted for a semi-aquatic lifestyle. Located in marine sediments off the coast of Peru, that finding, of a 42.6 million years old creature, shed light on the transition from land to sea by the ancestors of today’s largest mammals.

Fossils which are morphologically transitional from land mammals to modern, purely aquatic, whales are not without precedent. In 2010, National Geographic magazine reported that whales are descended from aquatic, hoofed ancestors. Indohyus, an amphibious ancestor of modern whales, had hooves with slender legs, and would take to water in the course of feeding and avoiding danger.

Indohyus, now extinct, lived 50 million years ago in what is now Southern Asia. It is an early member of the cetacean stem, related to whales and dolphins. While Indohyus had legs resembling a small deer, it also possessed the dentition of early modern whales. It lived life in both terrestrial and aquatic milieus, it possessed an involucrum, an ancient cetacean trait – a thickened piece of bone which helps whales to hear underwater.

Do palaeontologists and evolutionary biologists expect to find a transitional form of half-salamander and half-giraffe? Of course not. Creationist commentators make ridiculous claims, imputing them to evolution. They have no understanding of phyla and existing morphological similarities.

Back in 1985, when I was learning high school biology and geology, creationist Michael Denton made the following statement about a purported difficulty in evolutionary biology – a hyperbolic claim repeated in different forms over the years:

to postulate a large number of entirely extinct hypothetical species starting from a small, relatively unspecialized land mammal and leading successively through an otter-like state, seal-like stage, sirenian-like stage and finally to a putative organism which could serve as the ancestor of the modern whales. Even from the hypothetical whale ancestor stage we need to postulate many hypothetical primitive whales to bridge the not inconsiderable gaps which separate the modern filter feeders (baleen whales) and the toothed whales.Denton (1985) Evolution: A Theory in Crisis Adler & Adler Publishers:Chevy Chase, MD. p. 174

Be careful what you wish for – because the quadrupedal and semi-aquatic ancestral whale is precisely the finding that renders Denton’s observation completely irrelevant. Back in 2007, former child actor now creationist preacher Kirk Cameron, mocked evolution by presenting a fictional hybrid animal consisting of half duck-like features, and half-crocodile – a crocoduck.

Once again – be careful what you wish for; Kirk should make the acquaintance of Anatosuchus, a species among numerous examples of what can be reasonably described as a ‘crocoduck.’ The purpose of the current article is not an exercise in egotistical chest-thumping. Learning about evolutionary biology and geology in high school – a Catholic school – was a rewarding and enriching experience. The curriculum was set by the Australian Academy of Science.

Science education, and the public understanding of science, are crucial areas which impact public policy. In this age of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has become painfully obvious why more people should engage with scientists and achieve scientific literacy. Of course, no single individual can become a subject matter expert on every branch of science. However, we cannot afford to be indifferent to the developments of science – and not just because of the impact of technology.

Understanding new technology is important, but it is only one part of the full interplay between science and society. Science denialism is a serious hindrance to the public acceptance of policies based on scientific issues. Climate change denialism, while relatively new, is actually based on earlier denial of evolutionary biology, and anti-vaccination hostility for that matter. We have trained ourselves to be deniers – it is time to retrain our minds to accept evidence.

Ancient alien astronauts, UFOs and Atlantis – pseudoarcheology is not just harmless fun

Alien astronauts building ancient megastructures, the lost continent of Atlantis, the Kensington Runestone and the Roswell UFO – all these are examples of pseudoarcheology. The History Channel and cable tv generally, under the pretext of promoting academic debate, has given credence to one or more of these claims, posing as a contrarian outsider challenging the ‘orthodox’ archeological establishment.

Playing the Galileo gambit – the courageous genius maverick waging a lonely fight against the dominant forces of orthodoxy – is a cynical ploy, one that has enabled misleading and dangerous pseudoscientific nonsense to gain credibility. It is impossible to refute each and every pseudoarcheological claim, however, we can make important observations here that will enable us to be skeptical next time outlandish claims about the past are made.

The Atlantis myth

The story of Atlantis, and the perpetual search for that alleged continent, is the mother lode of pseudoarcheological theories. Plato, the Ancient Greek philosopher, first elaborated an allegorical tale in his Socratic dialogues – Timaeus and Critias – about a lost paradise. Criticising the hubris, corruption and greed of his time, Plato was making a commentary regarding the sociopolitical issues of his time.

A lush paradise inhabited by people who were half-god and half-human, Plato employed this allegorical device about Atlantis as a cautionary tale regarding the cataclysmic downfall of hubristic civilisations – and the superiority of his theory of the ideal state. Atlantis was abundant in minerals, a utopian state that became morally bankrupt. It sank, 9000 years before Plato was writing this story in 360 BC, and remained a cautionary tale.

The idea of an ultimate catastrophe destroying a once-prosperous civilisation – the Armageddon in Christian theology – is a powerful literary device used by political writers, poets, and commentators throughout the ages. However, the question that lingered bedevilled writers since Plato’s time – was he referring to an actual place?

This question remained in the background for centuries, until the discovery of the Americas. Here was a previously continent, peopled by indigenous civilisations, with no connection to any of the monotheistic religions – and they developed independently for centuries. The existence of entire nations, developing their own science, ethics and technology shattered the exclusivity of the biblically-based worldview – there was no mention of indigenous Americans in the Bible.

Could Atlantis be another lost continent, inhabited by its own resident peoples, with its own science and technology? Interest in Atlantis pseudohistory erupted with the publication of books such as Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, by Ignatius Donnelly, a populist American politician. Numerous publications followed, with an intermingling of speculation about a ‘race’ of Atlanteans, and their allegedly superior intelligence responsible for seeding the achievements of various non-white civilisations.

Ancient alien astronauts and megastructures

The notion that superior extraterrestrial intelligence – visiting aliens – built the majority of the world’s ancient megastructures has a long lineage. Erich von Danikin got the ball rolling in 1968 with his book Chariots of the Gods? Speculating that alien astronauts are responsible for constructing ancient monuments, such as the Egyptian Pyramids, alien astronaut responsibility for megastructures has made its way around the world.

Indeed, nonwhite civilisations have had to defend themselves from claims that extraterrestrial visitors seeded their nations and built their structures. Numerous popular culture movies – such as Stargate – have popularised notions of ancient Egypt, and the pyramids, being enmeshed with alien races, demons and curses. The Nazca Lines, a series of geoglyphs in Peru, have also been assigned to alien creativity.

What is the harm of these kinds of pseudoarcheological beliefs? So what if a person thinks aliens built the pyramids, or indigenous American structures?

The problem with this kind of thinking is the inherent racism in such an outlook, dismissing the possibility that indigenous civilisations could develop the mathematics, science and technology to construct sophisticated megastructures. Julien Benoit, writing in The Conversation magazine, states that misdirecting responsibility for great archeological structures in nonwhite civilisations to alien intelligence contains a component of dismissive racism.

African nations have extensive archeological records, and impressive monuments in their own right. While Egypt has the well-known pyramids, Africa also has the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe, not to mention archeological sites in South Africa and Mali. The proponents of alien architects not only misunderstand the depth of knowledge and scientific skills in nonwhite civilisations, they go to great lengths vandalising such monuments in order to prove their outlandish theories.

The Egyptian pyramids have attracted the speculations of alien enthusiasts, occultists and Atlantis advocates. Pyramidology is a particularly fertile branch of pseudoarcheological obsession. Sir Isaac Newton, the noted English scientist, spent hours not only on physics, but also examining the geometry of the pyramids, looking for signs of the Christian God’s presence in its design. The pyramids as a product of some ‘lost superior wisdom’ has preoccupied Atlantis enthusiasts and alien advocates for decades.

The purpose here is not to denounce each and every instance of ancient alien speculation. It is to highlight that archeologists deal with unsolved mysteries every day; they are passionate about their work and driven by a profound sense of curiosity about the past. They explore numerous evidentiary avenues to bring the past back to life – alien astronauts and Atlantis theorising are dead-ends.

Afghan refugees, Vietnamese asylum seekers and the weaponisation of immigrant stories

The victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan has, correctly, prompted demands of the Australian government to increase the intake of Afghan refugees. Other capitalist states, such as Canada and Britain, are opening the doors to provide sanctuary for Afghans fleeing the misogynist Taliban.

Historical comparisons have been made between today’s outflow of Afghan refugees in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover, and the post-1975 Vietnamese refugees, the majority of whom were loyal to the former Saigon South Vietnam regime. Such comparisons, while giving us a sense of comfort that ‘we have been through this before’, can be misleading. For while the Australian government of Malcolm Fraser (1975-83) admitted Saigon loyalist Vietnamese refugees, Fraser was not the champion of human rights and compassion that he is made out to be today.

This crisis provides us with an opportunity to examine an underlying trend of refugee-intake stories in Australia and other Western nations. The political use of good-news refugee stories to bolster domestic propaganda purposes is nothing new – but it reveals the true nature of our colonial-settler mindset.

Back in 2012, Rachel Stevens, research fellow at the Australian Catholic University, wrote that:

Australia has rarely had a humane refugee policy and the idea that the Fraser government compassionately welcomed Vietnamese asylum seekers is amiss.

Our ostensibly generous attitude towards selected refugee groups has always hidden ulterior motives. Since the end of World War 2, the United States applied the label of refugee to those fleeing from Eastern European nations and Soviet Union. Numerous white supremacist and Nazi collaborator groups – Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Poles, Hungarians and so on – were rebranded as refugees escaping Communist persecution. Their wartime crimes were swept under the carpet, and their skills in recruiting and fighting for the anticommunist cause were utilised by the US in the new Cold War.

Right wing communities, residing outside their country of origin, were in a practical and de facto alliance with US political elites. They became the politically acceptable refugees, and their stories were harnessed to the Cold War objectives of US foreign policy. These fascist collaborators became repurposed as ‘freedom fighters’, while their ideological similarities to Nazism and white supremacist ideology were downplayed.

Weaponising refugee and immigrant stories, the US has deployed ultrarightist and ethnonationalist communities as ideological battering rams against the USSR and officially-designated ‘enemy’ nations abroad. The Saigon loyalists, while not Eastern European, fit into this policy of the selective application of sympathy. Used as weapons to install a fanatical right wing regime – a regime that tortured dissidents and committed horrific human rights abuses – the imperialist nations then applied the label ‘refugee’ to this community of right wing exiles.

So why did Fraser provide sanctuary for the Saigon loyalist Vietnamese? Australian big capital was orienting towards business with the emerging markets in the Asia Pacific. Former Australian PM Gough Whitlam had abolished the White Australia policy, and opened direct relations with Beijing. Fraser, continuing this trend, demonstrated Australia’s willingness to abandon its racist past and accept Asian immigrants as equal citizens in a multiethnic Australia.

With the fall of Saigon, the outflow of refugees increased, and the Fraser government responded to this crisis with a combination of opportunism and cynicism. Whipping up hysteria around the ‘boat people’, it was Fraser who set the stage for increased anti-refugee paranoia. Denouncing boat arrivals as ‘queue jumpers’, the Fraser government was at pains to reassure xenophobic anxieties about Asian immigrants ‘not fitting in.’

By 1981, 53 refugee boats arrived in Australia, bringing with them a grand total of 2100 people – hardly a tsunami of unauthorised arrivals. The rhetoric used by Fraser government ministers was very similar to the tropes recycled today – that of unscrupulous operators bringing economic migrants to Australia, seeking a better life and thus not ‘real’ refugees. In fact, Fraser’s approach seems generous by today’s standards precisely because Canberra has moved even further to the far right on the question of refugees. Today’s inhumane compulsory detention of asylum seekers has its origins in the Fraser years.

Our refugee intake should be based on humanitarian concerns, and not narrow ideological interests. We must remember the time that Peter Dutton, Home Affairs minister in 2018, suggested the fast tracking of refugee visas for white South African farmers, based on reports of persecution.

Yes, there is a moral obligation to take Afghan refugees. That ethical obligation did not begin with the victory of the Taliban. Imperialist nations had the opportunity to take Afghan refugees since 2001 – ethnic minorities in Afghanistan have been persecuted for every year of the US/NATO war on that nation. Australian authorities ignored their moral obligations to refugees for the duration of that war, and only invoke sympathy for asylum seekers in the aftermath of the military defeat of the imperial project.

Afghanistan and the defeat of the US military

Afghanistan has witnessed the swift victory of the Taliban insurgency, and the complete disintegration of the US-backed Afghan government. The former President, Ashraf Ghani, and his colleagues have fled the country. While the situation remains in flux, it is possible to examine the defeat of the US and UK military forces, after nearly twenty years of warfare in Afghanistan.

The evacuation of the US embassy in Kabul – which US authorities are rebranding as reducing its functions to a ‘core presence’ – is an indication of the staggering defeat of US forces and its Afghan proxies. Highly reminiscent of the chaotic evacuation of US embassy personnel from Saigon in 1975, the fall of Kabul, and the disintegration of the Afghan security forces, occurred much faster than predicted by US intelligence.

The ease with which the American-supported Kabul regime was defeated, and the ousting of former President Ashraf Ghani, points to the failure of American state-building and the fragile nature of the US occupation.

The Kabul government, a collection of anti-Taliban fundamentalists, Tajik and Uzbek warlords, and pro-American Pashtun nationals, turned into a kleptocratic elite unable to meet the needs of the majority of Afghans. Foreign Policy magazine, back in 2014, noted that Afghanistan under the US/NATO occupation, had become the world’s most sophisticated kleptocracy.

There is no pleasure to be derived from a victory for the misogynistic Taliban insurgency – Afghan civilians are fleeing from territories under their control. Religious terrorism, while disgraceful, was not introduced into Afghanistan by the Taliban. The practitioners of fundamentalist terrorism were the Afghan Mujahideen, supported by the US-Saudi-Pakistani axis. This was the largest and most expensive anti communist fundamentalist insurgency during the Cold War.

Please do not deploy the cynical claim of defending ‘women’s rights’ to provide an ethical spin on this 20-year military occupation. There was no concern for women’s rights as the US-sponsored Afghan Mujahideen, in the 1980s, steadily undermined the Afghan socialist government which implemented and extended women’s emancipation. From schooling for girls, higher education for women, financial independence and employment opportunities, the 1979-92 Afghan socialist regime empowered women in ways not seen since its demise.

The Mujahideen forces cultivated by the US – and its Saudi and Pakistani allies – are the socially regressive, misogynistic militias which were welcomed as ‘freedom fighters’ by US ruling circles in the 1980s. Rebranded as the ‘Northern Alliance’ in the mid-1990s, it is completely hypocritical for the United States to condemn the mistreatment of women in Afghanistan, and denounce the (allegedly) culturally regressive practices of Islam – all the while supporting and promoting those very same culturally regressive fundamentalist groups.

The Afghan Mujahideen, bankrolled by the US, provided the ideological breeding ground for the subsequent emergence of the ultrarightist Taliban. In the 1980s, then President Reagan welcomed the leaders of the Mujahideen – the latter involving a young Saudi Arabian fanatic called Osama Bin Laden – as ‘freedom fighters’, comparable to the founding fathers of the 1776 American war of independence.

The Bagram air base, speedily evacuated by US forces earlier in July, was a small implantation of ‘Americana’ in Afghanistan. It had car dealerships, swimming pools, fast-food outlets, internet connection – but it was not a state. The air base was actually built by the Soviets back in the 1950s. In fact, from that time onwards, the USSR maintained friendly and cooperative relations with its noncommunist neighbour to the south, and constructed numerous infrastructure building projects.

The Soviets contributed towards building a functioning society. The twenty-year US occupation of Afghanistan built a failed narco-trafficking state. Not only did the US-installed Kabul kleptocracy take advantage of the narcotics trade, the proceeds of this trafficking business were used in the 1980s by the CIA-backed Mujahideen forces. It is a Hollywood myth that the Soviets were building an ‘empire’ in Afghanistan – such myths assist the US is recycling tropes about regime change and ‘humanitarian intervention.’ Due to rightward shifts in Moscow in the late 1980s, the Soviets withdrew their forces.

Ironically, and perhaps understandably, it is Russia along with China and Iran, who are stepping up to provide stability in the new Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. In the late 80s and early 90s, the last Communist president of Afghanistan, the late Dr Mohammad Najibullah, proposed a national reconciliation policy, involving multiparty elections, including non-Communist politicians in any new government, and a reconciliation between the Pashtuns and various ethnic minorities. This proposal was never implemented – resigning in 1992, Najibullah was brutally murdered by the Taliban in 1996.

The American ‘war on terror’ – ostensibly begun to demolish Al Qaeda in Afghanistan – was portrayed as a just, legally-sanctioned response to the September 11 terrorist atrocity. This rationale stands exposed as utterly hypocritical. After the trillions of dollars spent on fighting in and occupying Afghanistan, it is time to dispense with deceitful claims about waging a ‘good war.’ Wars of imperial conquest always end in defeat.

US President Joe Biden has the opportunity to learn from this military defeat, and abandon ‘regime change’ policies that have led to so much death and destruction. As an initial step, it is necessary to hold the political and military leaders of the US (and their allies) accountable for the crimes they have committed in Afghanistan.

Let’s stop misusing the Nazi analogy – it’s sloppy and trivialises the Holocaust

In this age of social media, it is inevitable that we will come across a debate where one party will portray their opponents as modern-day equivalents of Nazis. The latter is evil personified – and accusing someone with that word stirs the passions.

We have all heard or read the words – Eco-Nazi, feminazi, Soup Nazi – and now a variation on a theme, Chinazi, a portmanteau deployed by Hong Kong protesters comparing the Beijing regime to Nazi Germany. Ok, I understand that Seinfeld was being comical when writing the soup Nazi episode.

However, the misuse and exaggerated recycling of the Nazi/Holocaust analogy is anything but funny. It is sloppy thinking, serves to inflame polarising rhetoric, and trivialises the serious nature of the historical nature of Nazism, but also underestimates the growing problem of white supremacist ideology today.

Anti-vaccine protesters have misused the Holocaust analogy, and in their latest protest in France, in July, they displayed their wilful distortion of contemporary history. Wearing the yellow Star of David similar to the symbol imposed upon Jewish people in Nazi-aligned Vichy France, anti-vaxxers portrayed themselves as a beleaguered minority, objecting to the proposal by French President Macron to implement a health pass only for vaccinated individuals. That vaccine passport would allow people to mingle and visit public areas, vaccinated against Covid-19.

Arthur Caplan, an expert on medical ethics, wrote that in discussions about medical practices, inevitably, a participant will invoke the Nazi analogy:

Whether the subject is stem cell research, end-of-life care, the conduct of clinical trials in poor nations, abortion, embryo research, animal experimentation, genetic testing, or human experimentation involving vulnerable populations, references to Nazi policies or practices tumble forth from critics. “If X is done, then we are on the road to Nazi Germany” has become a commonplace claim in contemporary bioethical debates.

In countering the anti-vaxxer protest in France mentioned earlier, Holocaust survivor Joseph Szwarc, now in his nineties, condemned the far right protesters. He stated that he and his fellow Jews were victims of white supremacy and antisemitism; the anti-vaccination crowd knew nothing about the horrendous suffering of Jewish people under Nazism.

The discussions today surrounding euthanasia, gun control, medical testing conducted on animals, stem cell research and so on, are grounded in a strong foundation of bioethics, respect for the dignity of each individual person, and promoting individual human autonomy and decision-making. The Nazi party, and its cothinkers around Europe, were motivated by the philosophy of eugenics and white supremacy. Classifying people into racial categories, they were determined to exterminate all those whom they regarded as sub-human.

The Nazi euthanasia programme, for instance, had nothing to do with consideration of quality of life, nor with the provision of palliative care for the terminally ill. In fact, labeling the Nazi policy of systematically murdering the differently-abled ‘euthanasia’ is a misnomer. The white supremacist ideology is that of a death cult, condemning the nonwhite nations to oblivion through industrialised killing.

Scientifically informed and medically sound responses to the pandemic, medical approaches to serious illness and public health measures have nothing to do with the mass slaughter of the Holocaust. In fact, the latter is being trivialised when we invoke horrid comparisons with that crime against humanity, demeaning the suffering of those who lost their lives.

When Ben Carson, former Republican presidential candidate, misuses the Nazi analogy in a debate about gun control – comparing Obama’s proposed gun control legislation as akin to Hitler and the Nazis – he is demonstrating his appalling ignorance. The Weimar Republic, the regime prior to the Nazis ascent to power, had tougher gun control legislation that the Nazi regime.

Carson recycled the damaging myth of ‘good guys with guns’, stating that Jews could have reduced the numbers killed in the Holocaust if only they were allowed guns. This ridiculous, good cowboy-with-a-gun stereotype is demolished by the facts of World War 2 – Jewish people in the ghettos did fight back, with guns, and were overwhelmed and killed by German forces.

Mike Huckabee, Republican stalwart, denounced any kind of deal with Iran on the subject of nuclear weapons, by stating that former President Obama’s arrangement with Iran was like marching Israelis to the door of the ovens. Such inflammatory and wildly inaccurate statements fit the pattern of reductio ad Hitlerum. Accusing your opponent of ‘behaving like Nazis’ shuts down debate, and distracts from the very real and growing problem of white supremacist groups around the world.

Should the use of the Nazi/Holocaust analogy be completely terminated? No. Just make sure you know the history of WW2, Nazism and fascism before you start casually throwing around the Nazi analogy. Ensure that your comparison does not serve to simply slander your opponent, or merely turn up the heat of a debate without shedding any new light on your case.

The fanatical Iranian cult, the MEK, deserves condemnation

This month, Ebrahim Raisi, the Iranian President elect, will assume office. This provides an opportunity to restart the stalled dialogue between Tehran and Washington. For its part, the Biden administration should stop listening to the advice of a fanatical and delusional cult, which has steadily gained access to, and high-level supporters on, Capitol Hill.

The Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK), People’s Mujahedin of Iran, began as an anti-monarchist, semi-socialist and Islamist group fighting to overthrow the US-backed Shah of Iran. Participants in the 1979-80 Iranian Revolution, they have gradually metamorphosed – deteriorated – into a dictatorial exile cult, dependent on imperialist support. Serving as a cat’s paw of the US, they have gained a devoted band of neoconservative supporters, and plush offices – and have incited the US into a belligerent and bellicose stand against Tehran.

Once regarded as a terrorist group, the MEK was delisted from that classification in 2012, by an American administration intent on cultivating exiled Iranian forces able and willing to confront the regime in Tehran. Bravely fighting the US-supported monarchy in the 1960s and 70s, they played a strong part in the overthrow of the Shah and the defeat of his US-trained secret police.

After the success of the anti-American 1979-80 revolution, the Ayatollah Khomeini and associated mullahs turned again the MEK. The latter fought back with bombings, street-battles and guerrilla warfare, but their days were numbered. Most of the MEK militants were killed, or fled to neighbouring Iraq. Here, with the official support of the Ba’athist regime, they became willing footsoldiers of the Iraqi army in its long war against revolutionary Iran.

In the 1980s, setting up at Camp Ashraf, the MEK lost its support inside Iran, viewed as an accomplice to a foreign regime. Iraq’s President, Saddam Hussein, was an ally of the US and the western powers. Only after the Iraqi regime became an officially demonised enemy of the US in 1991, did the MEK gain listing as a proscribed terrorist organisation.

Headed by Maryam and Massoud Rajavi, the MEK began its descent into a dictatorial, obsessive cult. Former members have spoken of the strongly controlled lifestyle, enforced gender segregation and celibacy, and the indoctrination of MEK members. Abandoning its origins in the struggles of pre-Revolutionary Iran, MEK militants had only one purpose in life – to sacrifice their lives to overthrow the Islamic republic.

In 2003, with the American invasion of Iraq, the MEK transferred their base of operations to Albania – a client state of the US in the Balkans. There, the MEK soldiers live in their compound, shut off from the outside world. Massoud Rajavi, disappearing in 2003, is rumoured to be dead. Maryam Rajavi has since become the public face of the totalitarian cult, and has deliberately cultivated links with the most hawkish ultrarightist politicians in Washington.

However, it would be shortsighted to focus exclusively on the US Republicans who support the MEK, such as former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former national security adviser John Bolton, and previously mayor of New York and Trumpist advocate Rudy Giuliani. Democrat politician Howard Dean, former Congressman and civil rights activist the late John Lewis, former FBI director Louis Freeh, former CIA chief Porter Goss, and former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge, have all spoken at MEK events, lent their voices to the group, and successfully lobbied to have them delisted from the proscribed terrorist groups label.

Republican and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich compared Rajavi to George Washington in one of his many occasions championing the cause of the MEK. Lauded as a ‘government in exile’, the latter has gained the support of strongly pro-Zionist voices, such as Alan Dershowitz, and the late Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. The Israeli spy agency, the Mossad, has used MEK operatives to carry out terrorist acts of sabotage inside Iran, in line with ‘regime change’ policy in Washington.

Delusional and terroristic cults, like the Rajavi MEK, are fostered by powerful American politicians to create an illusion of legitimacy. This cult, agitating for outright war with Iran, is not a credible source on which to rely for policy decisions. The US administration, already a belligerent protagonist with regard to Iran, has contributed financially and materially to what was considered by US authorities until 2012 as a terrorist organisation. Removing the MEK from the terrorism listing does not retroactively legalise the activities criminalised by the original legislation.

It has been a long way to respectability on Capitol Hill for the MEK.

Last year, when the US House of Representatives voted to condemn QAnon and its harmful conspiracist ideology, Democratic Congressman and chair of the House Rules Committee Jim McGovern, called it a sick cult. In that spirit, it is high time to condemn the MEK as an equally destructive and delusional cult, and its influence on American foreign policy towards Iran must be cancelled.