The Hollywood Arab stereotype, vilifying an ethnicity, and Orientalism

There is one character that has made an appearance in numerous Hollywood films, novels and writings – the hostile Arab. Negative stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims predates the September 11 attacks by decades. The villainous Arab/Muslim takes on multiple varieties – lecherous oil sheikh, fanatical bomb-throwing terrorist, or deceitful dodger. Let’s not forget Arab women, who make an appearance either as veiled and tragically oppressed, or sensuous belly dancers tempting lustful men.

The late Jack G Shaheen, Arab American scholar and consultant, pioneered research in this area. The Hollywood Arab is a pervasive character, polluting the minds of millions of movie goers and novel readers. He elaborated, in his books and documentaries, the vilification of the Arab and Muslim cultures in numerous films, novels and media depictions. These negative stereotypes do more than a thousand words to cement hostile images and malignant misunderstandings in the public consciousness.

The barbaric Arab terrorist is a recurring presence in Hollywood action dramas. From films such Delta Force (1986), to The Siege (1998), the Arab as terrorist is portrayed as fanatical, motivated by an irrational hatred of the West, cruel and vindictive. This notion of the barbaric Arab only serves to stigmatise an entire ethnicity. The 1970s and 80s witnessed a growing number of films where the Arab terrorist – usually a Palestinian – is the villainous enemy deserving of annihilation.

Edward Said, the late Palestinian intellectual, elaborated his crucial concept of Orientalism. Said suggested that the European colonial societies in their scholarship and writings produced a contemptuous and hostile view of the Arab and Islamic worlds. Such depictions, reinforced in literature and film, only serves to buttress an imperialist view of the outsider, demonise the oppressed, and obscure the crucial role of imperialist intervention in subduing the Arabic-speaking peoples.

Said lived in the United States, and he witnessed firsthand the demonisation of the East as the eternal enemy. He not only denounced the harmful impact of negative stereotyping, but also noted the strong linkage between centres of knowledge and political power. As a Palestinian living in America, he wrote the following observation:

The web of racism, cultural stereotypes, political imperialism, dehumanizing ideology holding in the Arab or the Muslim is very strong indeed, and it is this web which every Palestinian has come to feel as his uniquely punishing destiny…The nexus of knowledge and power creating ‘the oriental‘ and in a sense obliterating him as a human being is therefore not for me an exclusively academic matter. Yet it is an intellectual matter of some very obvious importance.

In this context, it is worthwhile to observe that the late Murray Bookchin, anarchist activist and mini-pop-star on the green ecological left, was a fervent Zionist who recycled tropes about the barbaric and backward Arabs in his writings. His work on democratic confederalism and ecological awareness is commendable; but he demolished his credibility as a social activist by condemning the Arab people as languishing in cultural regression and violent, irrational antisemitism.

Arab women are portrayed as either veiled, and subject to patriarchal oppression, or belly dancers, and subject to exotic sexualisation. Apparently the imperialist countries are highly advanced in women’s rights, while the Arab and Islamic nations need to ‘catch up’ to us in that regard. Patriarchy is a problem the world over, and Arab women have been fighting for their rights for decades, without any help from the purportedly enlightened West.

Indeed, the Arab regimes which we condemn for being culturally regressive – in particular the Gulf petro-monarchies – are the regimes most closely allied with the European powers. Imperial power, while projecting itself onto the rest of the world, uses negative stereotyping domestically to create pro-imperial constituencies, imbued with a racist outlook.

While the image of the billionaire oil sheikh buying up English football clubs abounds in the UK media, it is precisely the Gulf sheikhdoms – Saudi Arabia in particular, with its culturally regressive practices – that are staunch allies of Britain. The US has done its utmost to maintain the pipeline of armaments and financing to the Saudi regime, while the latter epitomises the oil-sheikh image in the western imagination.

There are numerous Arab writers and novelists articulating the struggles, trauma and aspirations of the Arab nations. We never hear about them in the Anglosphere, because they go against the grain of imperial power. They expose the falsity of the hostile stereotypes we have imbibed in the West.

Let’s put down Leon Uris’ Exodus, and pick up copies of books by Palestinian authors, so we can improve our understanding of the plight and resilience of the Palestinians. Let’s ditch the Orientalism of our predecessors for a more engaged examination of the Arab world.

Belonging in America, educating German and Mexican children, and racism

In an article for the Boston Review, Jonna Perrillo, associate professor at the University of Texas El Paso, writes that for some migrants and refugees, America has been very welcoming. However, for those from nonwhite backgrounds, getting to be accepted as American has been a difficult course filled with obstacles. Her observations have contemporary relevance for the Anglospheric world, as conversations about how we define ourselves have erupted in a series of culture wars.

In 1946, 144 German children were moved from war-torn Germany to El Paso, Texas. They were the children of Nazi scientists, captured in the waning days of World War 2, as part of a secret American government programme called Operation Paperclip. The latter involved taking Nazi scientists, especially those involved in designing the V2 rockets, to the US. These ex-Nazi scientists, including the most famous Wernher von Braun, were instrumental in launching the space missions of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The participation of these Nazi scientists in the German war machine was overlooked or whitewashed, as they and their families settled in the United States. The German children, attending school in El Paso, were welcomed and warmly integrated into the school community. In numerous press articles, the German students were described as smart, sociable and capable. Rewarded for speaking German, as well as learning English, there was never any question that these kids would grow up to be American citizens.

This educationally privileged experience contrasts sharply with that of the Mexican American children, who made up the vast majority of the El Paso student community. Pushed into underfunded and overcrowded public schools, these students were punished for speaking Spanish, the only language they had ever known. Condemned as antisocial, unintelligent and super sensitive, the Mexican children were viewed as the eternal outsiders, incapable of becoming a part of the American landscape, which was exclusively reserved for whiteness.

The Paperclip children, defined as white, held the key to access the best of American society. Never mixing with the Mexican children, the German kids were taught that American values of self-reliance, individual achievement and democratic tolerance were integral in becoming American. Paperclip children were viewed as basically white in the process of becoming American. If the German children could be integrated into US society, then maybe Operation Paperclip could be interpreted as something positive, or at least benevolently motivated.

As Jonna Perrillo notes:

German children were quickly embraced as “American” because they were white, whereas the Mexican American children were consistently treated as foreign despite being U.S. citizens by birth.

Mexican children, stigmatised as lazy and hypersensitive, were at the lower steps of the capitalist and racialised pyramid. It is relevant to observe here that while Paperclip children were warmly welcomed into American society, the US authorities had done everything they could to heavily restrict the numbers of European Jewish refugees attempting to enter the United States. While the most famous European Jewish refugee, Albert Einstein, did gain entry to the US, thousands of his fellow Jews were not so lucky.

It is also relevant to note that African American military veterans – who served their nation in both world wars – were rejected by the country for which they fought. Facing legalised discrimination at home, black American veterans found themselves at odds with a society for which they risked their lives.

The black Olympians who competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, found themselves equally ostracised when they returned home. We have all heard of the story, highly exaggerated, that Jesse Owens, gold-medal winning African American athlete, was reputedly snubbed by Hitler. That story is largely a myth; however, what is not in dispute is that successive US administrations ignored the contributions of the 18 black American Olympians.

In an irony not lost in the mists of history, the 18 African American athletes lived in a racially integrated Olympic village while in Berlin – something they could not experience in their own nation. Snubbed by the American authorities, they were eventually thanked for their sacrifices by former President Barack Obama.

We have come a long way since then, with the civil rights movement, and campaigns for racial and economic justice. However, it would be wrong to draw a false finish line underneath the issue of redressing racial inequities. There is no intention, as falsely claimed by conservative commentators, that white children will be saddened or feel guilty if we teach the history of racism and genocidal violence against the indigenous nations in our schools.

The Paperclip children were never taught about the history of systematic violence against the indigenous American nations – nor the conquest of Mexican territory in a series of predatory wars in the southwest. Removing the presence of – and crimes committed against – the indigenous nations, the Paperclip children were included in a narrative of whiteness. We can observe what a nation stands for by what it omits from its curriculum, as much as by what it includes.

This pedagogy of omission, as Perrillo calls it, can be rectified by a pedagogy of inclusion, filling in the gaps so to speak. Only then can we have an honest reckoning about ourselves.

The Britain-Rwanda refugee deal, sordid 21st century imperialism and economic coercion

The UK government announced, in April this year, an arrangement with the East African nation of Rwanda, to relocate asylum seekers to the latter nation. The UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, herself born to a family of Ugandan-Indian refugees, stated that this deal with Rwanda will deter people smugglers.

Asylum seekers, after being processed in the offshore detention facilities in Rwanda, will be required to stay in that nation for five years. It is unclear what will happen to those unsuccessful refugee applicants.

Rwanda, having recovered from the ravages of warfare and genocide in the early 1990s, still remains one of the poorest nations on earth. Its human rights record is questionable, to say the least. It is not clear, beyond changing a hostel into a detention camp, how relocated asylum seekers will be housed and treated. There is though, a deeper issue which needs to be examined – the coercion of poor nations by rich imperialist countries to act as border guards, taking unwanted arrivals.

Offshore processing – a euphemism for institutionalised people trafficking – is a new way that rich nations dump the problems of unwanted migrants onto the poorer nations. While the UK-Rwanda deal is framed as a partnership, the reality is quite different. The UK’s per capita GDP is immensely larger than that of Rwanda. The poor nations face unequal conditions in the international arena. The imperialist nations are in a position to make aid and financing conditional on the forcible relocation to poorer nations of asylum seekers.

This kind of arrangement could best be described as a form of imperialism, 21st century style. The UK-Rwanda arrangement is not the first of its kind. Indeed, the inspiration for outsourcing the refugee issue comes from the Australian government’s Pacific Solution. Bribing the poorer nations of the Asia-Pacific region, successive Australian governments have detained asylum seekers in offshore camps in Nauru and Manus Island. Alexander Downer, former foreign minister and advocate of offshore processing, is one of Priti Patel’s advisers.

Implemented by the Australian Tories – the ultra conservative Liberal party – the Pacific Solution was revived, after a brief suspension, by the conservative Labour party in 2012. Offshore processing doubly victimises the asylum seekers. The latter, fleeing wars and conflicts instigated by the imperialist states, are denied their fundamental human right to seek asylum under the International Refugee Convention.

The EU, for some time now, has been using the African nation of Niger as an outsourcing migration laboratory. Niger, another impoverished nation, accepted millions of euros in aid on the condition that asylum seekers – those from outside of Europe – would be housed and their applications processed there. Rich nations have transformed international aid from a policy of development into an instrument of short term geopolitical interests.

In fact, the EU-Niger refugee arrangement is a way for the EU nations to construct a border patrol in the Sahel; rather than wait for asylum seekers to approach the heavily patrolled and militarised Mediterranean Sea, the flow of non-European refugees is stemmed and controlled by the poorer nations themselves. Outsourcing border patrols and coercive migration controls is part of a wider strategy to gain economic footholds in the poorer but resource-rich nations.

The richer nations have had decades of toxic political debate about immigration, multiculturalism and asylum seekers. Demonising refugees and alleged ‘queue-jumpers’ has influenced election campaigns and outcomes. Throughout the prime ministership of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli politicians denounced African refugees as ‘infiltrators’, a ‘cancer’ in the society. Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers were relocated from Israel to Rwanda.

Priti Patel’s background, as the child of Ugandan Indian refugees, draws a spotlight on the issue of the 1970s Uganda Asian refugees. The latter – known as Asians back then – were persecuted by the regime of General Idi Amin. Britain, having originally backed Amin’s rise to power, condemned his government’s mistreatment of the Ugandan Asian community.

Britain, over the objections of racist and right wing politicians and pundits, accepted Ugandan Asians as refugees. It would be wrong however, to forget that the Ugandan refugee crisis was the result of cumulative and historical decisions by Imperial Britain to import and privilege one ethnic group over the majority Ugandan population. This is not to excuse the actions of the Amin regime. The purpose is to highlight the original criminal policy of the British empire; divide and rule.

The British empire implanted generations of economically driven imperial service communities; after decolonisation they become the acceptable refugees. The unrelenting hostility directed at non-European refugees contrasts sharply with the favourable and welcoming attitude towards the recent outflow of Ukrainian war refugees. Rather than pushing refugees onto someone else, there are practical solutions to the refugee outflows, addressing the wars and inequalities that produce them.

Holocaust denial has experienced a resurgence, and the fight against it must continue

Holocaust denial, based in antisemitic conspiratorial thinking, is the active attempt to create pseudoscientific materials denying the Nazi German programme to exterminate European Jewry. While old-school Holocaust denial has declined, obfuscation and distortion of the antisemitic killings in WW2 has increased, especially in Eastern Europe. This corresponds with the rise of ultranationalist and far right parties.

Professor Deborah Lipstadt, a Holocaust scholar, was sued by Nazi apologist and white supremacist writer David Irving in the late 1990s. Irving, a long time Holocaust denier, sued Lipstadt and Penguin Books for libel. Lipstadt wrote a comprehensive book – published back in 1993 – called Denying the Holocaust: the growing assault on truth and memory. In that book, Lipstadt traced the origins and trajectory of Holocaust denial from the ruins of WW2, through the works of white supremacists and Nazi apologists, including Irving.

The trial of Irving versus Lipstadt and Penguin Publishers, dramatised in the 2016 film Denial, was decided in 2000 in favour of Lipstadt and Penguin books. Irving was comprehensively defeated in a legal action he initiated. Holocaust denial suffered a terrible blow, but it was not defeated.

Irving was following in the footsteps of previous generations of Holocaust deniers, which Lipstadt detailed in her book. Intending to exculpate Nazi Germany and its collaborators of the main crime – the extermination of European Jewry – Holocaust deniers and ultranationalist writers of all stripes were keen on rehabilitating white supremacy.

German nationalists, American racists and white European Nazi apologists found Holocaust denial to be the ideological cement glueing together their respective parallel agendas. Deniers and antisemites cast doubt on the existence of the gas chambers, and produce pseudoscientific materials in order to gain academic respectability for their cause. For instance, the denialist 1974 pamphlet Did Six Million Really Die?, written by an English white supremacist and neo-Nazi, attacked the war crimes trials at Nuremberg, criticising the objectivity of the judges and the veracity of the evidence presented.

The Institute for Historical Review, a think tank established by Holocaust deniers and antisemites in 1978 in California, churns out racist materials with a veneer of academic credibility. While reaching a high point in the 1980s and 90s, its activities have declined somewhat since then. Hiding behind a facade of free speech and scholarly enquiry, the IHR’s mission is to promote an updated white supremacy and recycle Holocaust denial.

Numerous books have been written rebutting the nefarious claims of Holocaust deniers. Richard Evans’ book, Telling Lies About Hitler is one such book; Michael Shermer’s Denying History: Who says the Holocaust never happened and why do they say it? is another. These books, and other multimedia materials, are indispensable in combating Holocaust denial.

However, we cannot be complacent – with the growth of social media, Holocaust denial has found a new arena in which to grow. From the very first days of the internet, antisemites and racists have utilised the new technologies to disseminate their views far and wide. The old school denialism has been superseded in many ways; no longer is it necessary to submit paper manuscripts for publication. Irving and other Holocaust deniers have either grown old, reduced their activities or passed away.

Holocaust obfuscation received a boost from the early 1990s onwards, and the reasons for that can be found in the politically tectonic shifts which occurred in Eastern European nations in 1989-91. The dissolution of the Soviet Union and its allied Eastern bloc paved the way for a resurgence of pre-Communist era ultranationalism, particularly in the Baltic states. With Communist ideology now discarded, the Eastern European states harked back to the ostensibly ‘good old days’ of the 1920s-1940s.

Investigating the Soviet period, and examining Moscow’s crimes is one thing; downplaying the culpability of Baltic, Ukrainian and Eastern European ultranationalism is quite another. Baltic and Eastern European collaboration with Nazism, and the crucial role these ultrarightist ideologies played in helping to massacre Jewish populations, had to be obscured. Today’s Eastern European ultranationalist Right intends to obscure its antisemitic actions in the past.

The Baltic states, prior to their occupation by Soviet forces, enthusiastically collaborated in antisemitic purges; the Ukrainian nationalist army, while theoretically independent of Nazi Germany, recycled antisemitic conspiracy theories, blamed ‘Muscovy-Communism’ on the Jews, and massacred Jewish communities. The ‘double genocide’ theory, which explicitly ties Soviet conduct to Nazi war crimes, turns the Jews from victims into perpetrators.

These political developments have created a climate conducive to the spread of Holocaust obfuscation, intended to exculpate Baltic and Eastern European ultranationalist parties of the crimes of antisemitism and ethnic cleansing. No, David Irving is not gaining a wide audience in Eastern Europe, however, the denial of European Jewry’s suffering at the hands of Baltic and Ukrainian ultranationalism is gaining a hearing.

When Baltic Waffen SS veterans are honoured as heroes in public parades, the doctrines that motivated them to murder Jews also receive credibility. Holocaust deniers, longing for oxygen for their views, begin obtaining coverage in the mainstream. Each national ideology can remember history the way they like. But ultranationalism must not be allowed to get away with pseudoscientific attempts to minimise or escape the guilt of its crimes, or repudiate the suffering of its victims.

Let’s end the household analogy – government budgets, gaffes and electioneering

One of the most well-worn and yet incorrect analogies circulating – especially around electioneering times – is that a government budget can be managed just like a household budget. After all, we cannot afford to spend beyond our means, can we? Is not balancing the family chequebook a good idea? Unfortunately, this folksy homespun analogy is not only simplistic, but also misleading and contributes to the infantilisation of political debate in the Anglosphere nations.

In response to a query by a journalist, Australian Labour Party leader Anthony Albanese could not recall the official unemployment rate. This putative ‘gaffe’ by an aspiring prime ministerial candidate revealed the infantile character of what passes for journalism, rather than any shortcoming on Albanese’s part. This ridiculous gotcha reporting only contributes to the deterioration of political debate, and increases the apathy of the electorate towards the political process.

Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt, when asked a similar gotcha-type question, hit back with an eloquent response – let’s focus on the policies and ideas, let’s discuss how to improve the welfare of the society. If you want the latest statistics – google it.

Greg Jericho, economics columnist for the Guardian, wrote that it is more important to know the impact of your policies than recalling statistics offhand. Indeed, Jericho wrote that he frequently accesses statistics from Australian government websites, when writing his columns. Rather than rattling off stats from the top of his head, he verifies his articles through research.

The household comparison has been skilfully deployed to facilitate an austerity agenda. A household budget impacts only the occupants of that household – a government’s budget decisions impact millions of people and affects the direction of a national economy. Our economic reporting, and the way we think about government spending, has been gradually colonised by the financial/corporate sector. The effect of that is to obscure the fact that wealth is created by labour power, combined with capital spending and investment, to generate a healthy economy.

A government can levy taxes, implement and regulate a currency, invest in long-term infrastructure projects, and determine the standards of measurement used to impose a uniform currency – the dollar in Australia’s case. In fact, in the 1960s, the Australian ruling class changed currencies from the pound (tied to the English currency) to the Australian dollar – a measure no household can ever achieve. Changing currency is a tectonic shift in the nature and operation of a national economy.

The alleged suffering of multinational corporations under an uncompetitive and uncompromising tax structure is a conservative myth. In Australia, there are 722 major corporations, including 199 which reported more than one billion dollars in profits for fiscal year 2016-17 – and paid no taxes. If government deficit was such a series problem, this avoidance of corporate taxes should be urgently addressed.

The failure by the Australian government to establish a federal Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) may not seem like an economic issue. However, let’s consider the following – how much government money is lost or siphoned off due to corruption? Plugging that particular hole in the budget would certainly contribute significantly to reducing government debt.

The seeming inability of the federal government to investigate just how many billions of dollars transnational corporations have stashed away in offshore tax havens indicates a lack of political will. Reclaiming such money offers an opportunity to not only recoup truckloads of lost money, but also help compensate for the purportedly serious government deficit. These kind of political decisions are not in the interest of the financial/corporate elite; lectures about fiscal responsibility are reserved for public spending on health care and education.

The household-budget metaphor, deployed as a rhetorical device, is used to attack the suggestion of public spending, particularly as it relates to health care services, welfare, government schools, public transport and the like. Of course no government has infinite amounts of money. However, the way we think about deficit spending is influenced by those who intend to dismantle the public sector and hand over more money to private enterprise.

Former Australian prime minister and lodestar of today’s conservatives, Robert Menzies, ran budget deficits and invested government money in public infrastructure. Government spending as a share of GDP actually increased under Menzies – from 19.4% to 24.5%. No-one denounced his government as irresponsible or reckless. Menzies also kept watch on inflationary pressures, all the while maintaining a long term vision for the economy.

While noting the use of GDP growth as a metric of economic success, let’s suggest another metric to watch – lifting people out of poverty. How many millions, or hundreds, of previously unemployed and/or poor were lifted out of poverty by government policies? Surely improving the quality of life for its citizens is a major task of governments. Why don’t we report on poverty alleviation like we do on a daily basis on the stock market?

It is possible to focus on nation-building, constructing infrastructure vital to building a cohesive society, and keep an eye on deficits. This obsessive-compulsive disorder we have with reducing government deficit serves to blur our focus on economic activities that contribute to nation prosperity. Let’s have a national conversation about economic policies without recourse to trivial and infantile analogies which actually do harm to our political debate.

Religious freedom, political gain and cynical human rights imperialism

The freedom to practice the religion of one’s own choice is a basic human right. Sadly, not all countries allow this right to be practiced free from persecution. Please, do not use religious freedom, as US ruling circles do, as a cynical and perverse exercise in interfering in the internal affairs of other nations.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is a body which purportedly examines the status of religious freedom in nations around the world. It issues an annual report where, among other things, it lists nations which restrict the ability of religious people to practice their beliefs. This year, it has named Vietnam as a ‘country of particular concern’, the phrase used by the USCIRF to indicate nations where religious freedom is, in its opinion, subject to restrictions.

One has to wonder at the astonishing arrogance of US authorities assigning to themselves the function of arbitrating religious freedom in nations around the world. We will examine the role of the USCIRF as an instrument of US foreign policy later. Let’s first address the accusation that Vietnam suppresses religious followers and undermines religious freedom.

There is absolutely no basis in fact that the Hanoi authorities repress religion or religious worship. The Vietnamese constitution explicitly guarantees freedom of religion as a human right. The three main religions are Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism, all of which are openly practiced. There are various minority religious groups, including Catholics and Protestants. Cao Dai, a particular religious minority highlighted by the USCIRF, is practiced openly as well.

Indeed, there was a long period in Vietnam’s history when religious groups were suppressed. No, not by the Hanoi authorities, but by the American-backed and installed regime of South Vietnam, formerly located in Saigon. The South Vietnamese leaders, with the full knowledge and support of the US, violently suppressed the Buddhist population and monks, while maintaining a position of privilege for the Catholic minority. The Buddhist crisis very nearly led to a mini-civil war within South Vietnam.

The USCIRF report highlights the fact that the Vietnamese constitution contains a clause which enables the government to invoke national security to suspend freedom of religion. The US is hardly in a position to hector other nations when it comes to the thorny issue of national security. The latter has been invoked by Washington’s ruling circles to rationalise all sorts of war crimes overseas, and domestic restrictions on civil liberties.

It is true that since 2018, the Vietnamese authorities require religious organisations to register in a national database to determine their authenticity. This measure guards against scams and hucksters who have exploited religious belief to further their own financial gain. Such scams have been prevented, and none of the religious minorities have complained about such a national registry.

There is no shortage of religious scams in the United States; organisations masquerading as religiously-motivated, accumulating masses of money from their followers, and enriching a handful of so-called pastors. The prosperity gospel, a purportedly Christian doctrine which holds that material wealth is a goal of worshipful belief, has resulted in the accumulation of tremendous wealth for the leaders of such groups.

The preachers of the prosperity gospel, while inspiring millions with the simplified doctrine that God will provide wealth, endless happiness and fulfilment, also rake in millions of dollars as well. A perversion of the original Christian doctrines, the prosperity gospel elevates a kind of individual salvation into a collective exercise in narcissism. The late bell hooks, scholar and activist, made an observation that applies to the practitioners of the fraudulent prosperity theology:

I am often struck by the dangerous narcissism fostered by spiritual rhetoric that pays so much attention to individual self-improvement and so little to the practice of love within the context of community.

The USCIRF, rather than being a politically neutral body, is specifically an extremist-dominated institution, dedicated to the spread of fundamentalist doctrine around the world. The politicians who make up this commission are advocates for a strict, Americanised Christianity, condemn equal marriage status, spread anti-LGBTI propaganda, and condemn Islam specifically as a hateful doctrine.

The putative concern for religious freedom has been deployed as a weapon of US foreign policies for decades. The covert intervention of the US in Afghanistan, for instance, was carried out by citing the alleged lack of religious freedom in the socialist-era Afghanistan of the 1980s. The US exploited religious feeling to mobilise extremist groups, in an anticommunist insurgency.

However, religion was not the main reason the Afghan mujahideen rebelled, but rather the social and economic reforms – particularly distributing land to the peasantry – which impelled the reactionary mullahs to throw in their lot with the United States. The mullahs may have had culturally regressive views, but they were fundamentally committed to restoring an economic system of feudal-like inequality.

Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. Perhaps the US should re-examine its own cynical history of abusing this claim to promote cultural interference around the world.

The British Royals Caribbean trip, ignoring history and the need to understand inequality

In March this year, the Duke and Duchess of Kent visited the Caribbean island nation of Jamaica, as part of a charm PR offensive. The neighbouring Caribbean country of Barbados cut its strings to the British monarchy, and declared itself a republic. Hoping to discourage Jamaica from removing the Queen as head of state, the royal visit was meant to drum up support for the UK monarchy.

The trip did not go well. The royal couple were met with protests, condemning the UK monarchy’s role in the commission of slavery, demanding reparations for the descendants of the enslaved. The Windrush scandal, which saw hundreds of Caribbean nationals deported from Britain, was also raised by the Jamaican protesters. Afro-Caribbeans, even those who had lived and worked in Britain for decades, were swept up in the British government’s policy of creating a hostile environment for Caribbean nationals.

The Jamaican prime minister, Andrew Holness, informed Prince William and the Duchess Catherine while they were in Kingston that Jamaica does indeed intend to sever ties with the UK monarchy and become a fully-fledged republic. Jamaica and Barbados are member states of the Commonwealth, the latter a loose association of former British colonies and dependencies. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Papua New Guinea are, among others, Commonwealth nations keeping the Queen as the official head of state.

With Jamaica following the example of Barbados in declaring themselves a republic, the grandiose notions of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ‘global Britain’ in the wake of Brexit have been undermined. Commonwealth nations are not forming the backbone of a resurgent Brexit Britain, as the UK government had hoped.

Barbados history of slavery crucial in understanding the rise of English colonialism and Britain as a maritime superpower. Slavery, while different from capitalism, was instrumental in the expansion of capitalist socioeconomic relations.

This is more than just a case of royal ties being cut in the Caribbean. A rise in Republican sentiment is all well and good; but there needs to be a thoroughgoing assessment of the impact and continuing relevance of slavery, and Britain’s role in it. Slavery is usually regarded as a historic and outmoded institution, something that has only marginal significance in the expansion of capitalism. While slavery has certainly been relegated to the distant past, and Britain did have a strong anti slavery movement, there can be no denying that the transatlantic slave trade was instrumental in the development of Britain as a capitalist power.

Professor Trevor Burnard, from the University of Hull, writes that Britain has never fully acknowledged its role as a slave-trading power. He notes that the UK monarchy as an institution was deeply embedded in, encouraged, and profited from the practice of slavery. The bustling entrepôts of Bristol, Liverpool and similar commercial cities built their wealth on the backs of slave-trading. Barbados was the place where the English first solidified their economic practice of slavery. English capitalist accumulation organised itself on the slave-driven sugar plantations in Barbados and the Caribbean.

It is no exaggeration to say that Barbados is the birthplace of Britain’s drive to construct a slave society. That template was exported and replicated across the Caribbean and mainland America. Importing African slaves as a disposable workforce, the profits from the sugar and tobacco plantations went into the coffers of the slave owners – and into the banking institutions, factories and workhouses that have become synonymous with English capitalism. While Barbadian society was organised as a ruthless, inhumane and back-breaking society for the slaves, the profits generated propelled English entrepreneurship into a global power.

There was a time when Britain paid reparations – not to the formerly enslaved, but to the former slave owners. The English government, finally relenting to the demands for the abolition of slavery, paid millions of pounds in compensation to the former slave owners, the latter claiming they deserved payment for their loss of property. The previously enslaved and their descendants received nothing. Slavery and capitalism may be rival economic formations, but they are also sibling rivals.

Kenan Malik, writing in the Guardian, observers that this latest royal trip was bound to be farcical. The notion that the UK monarchy is foremost in the minds of the Jamaicans or Barbadians is nonsensical. As Malik notes, politicians in the former British colonies, particularly in the Anglosphere, are proficient at constructing historical stories to reinforce their power in the present. The stories of repeated slave rebellions and uprisings in the Caribbean is conveniently omitted.

It is high time to consider not only the establishment of a republic, in Barbados, Jamaica and the wider Commonwealth nations, but also the abolition of the UK monarchy itself. It is an obsolete and archaic institution which should go the way of slavery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liberia, Africom and proxy imperialism in Africa

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

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

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

Liberia – a settler colony similar to Israel

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

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

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

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

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

Proxy imperialism

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

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

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

Africom and exile communities

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

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

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

The Cambrian explosion, and understanding geological history

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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