No, the Houthi movement in Yemen is not a proxy of Iran

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in the last days of the Trump administration, designated the Ansar Allah movement in Yemen – colloquially known as Houthis – a terrorist organisation. This measure, combined with the ongoing US-supported Saudi war on Yemen, will only exacerbate the humanitarian crisis wracking that country. Not only is this designation slanderously false, it also obscures the culpability of US and Saudi Arabia for the calamity they have created in Yemen.

The new Biden administration, after intense criticism of this designation from human rights organisations, has moved to exempt aid groups, the United Nations agencies, the Red Cross and relief groups from this classification. Nevertheless, designating the Houthis as a ‘terrorist’ group increases the likelihood of famine in the stricken nation.

The Ansar Allah group (Supporters of God), are an armed organisation of Zaydi Shias, a minority denomination within Shia Islam. They are a Yemeni nationalist group, waging a campaign against the US-supported Saudi war since March 2015. The Saudis, having implemented a strict land, air and sea blockade of Yemen, have prevented food and medical supplies from reaching that country.

The Saudi war against Yemen has resulted in catastrophic conditions, where 80 percent of the population are dependent on some form of food aid. The medical system, already under strain from the casualties caused by Saudi bombing, collapsed under the combined weight of war and the impact of Covid-19.

The corporate media, when mentioning the Houthis, almost always preface their remark with ‘Iran-backed’, or ‘Iran-aligned’. This incessant repetition is intended to convince us of a falsehood that obscures the origins of the conflict – the Houthis are proxies of Iran. This lie, circulated by Saudi Arabia’s supporters and allies, falsely portrays this conflict as a regional proxy war. This misleading characterisation ignores the indigenous roots, and causes, of the Houthi rebellion against foreign domination.

The majority of Yemeni Muslims belong to the mainstream Sunni denomination. The Shia Zaydis, a minority in their own nation, are lazily lumped together with Shia-majority Iran in a simplistic formulation. This mischaracterises the Yemen conflict as a sectarian issue. The Houthis have legitimate political and economic grievances against the Saudi-imposed government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. In fact, there are serious doctrinal disagreements between the official Shia ideology of Iran and Yemen’s Houthis.

Even if they wanted to, it would be a practical impossibility to establish an Iranian-style Shia theocracy in Yemen. The Houthis, while upholding Iran as an ideological template, have their own philosophy for dealing with Yemen’s problems. While much is exaggerated about the purported Iranian backing of the Houthis, Tehran’s influence on the group is actually quite limited.

What is important to note is that the Houthis are actively resisting the spread of Saudi-inspired Wahhabi extremism in Yemen. As Saudi influence grows in the region, the literalist and fanatical interpretation of Islam – as practiced in Saudi Arabia – also spreads. This Saudi soft power push is no secret; Riyadh’s finances enable it to publish and disseminate its version of fanatical religion around the world. The Houthis, as Shia adherents, are targeted by extremist groups as apostates and renegades.

In fact, the truly scandalous aspect of this attack on Yemen is the quiet but significant marriage of convenience between the Saudi forces with Al Qaeda fighters. The militants of Al Qaeda, a Sunni supremacist and fanatical organisation, have found a sympathetic ally in Saudi Arabia. Shared hostility to the Houthis and Yemeni nationalism have brought the US-supported Saudis and Al Qaeda together in Yemen.

This tacit alliance is not only known by policy makers in Washington, but is being actively encouraged. Al Qaeda militants, while formally denouncing their previous membership of that group, obtain American-made armaments as part of this de facto arrangement. Al Qaeda fighters have been deployed against the Houthis in further of US-Saudi objectives in Yemen.

The US-Saudi backed puppet government of President Hadi is currently aligned in a working alliance with Al Qaeda militants. While the United States is ostensibly committed to a ‘war on terror’ whose main objective is the elimination of Al Qaeda, Washington has a long history of allying with and encouraging Sunni supremacist militias in the Middle East.

The designation of the Houthis as a ‘terrorist’ group is actually a diplomatic victory for Saudi Arabia and its Al Qaeda associates. Placing the blame for the Yemen war squarely on the shoulders of Ansar Allah removes guilt for this conflict from the main culprits – the US, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf state allies. Whatever the stated intention of the Biden administration to remove this designation, we must exert maximum pressure to end US (and British) support for the Saudi offensive in Yemen.

On Capitol Hill, the Confederate and South Vietnamese flags found common cause

During the January 6 ultranationalist attempted coup on Capitol Hill, numerous hate symbols and flags flew together – incited by the far-rightist US President Donald Trump. The Confederate flag, a historic symbol of white nationalism, made for a ubiquitous appearance on that day. There were numerous far right flags and symbols, each with their own history and political significance.

However, there was one flag included in the chaos of that day, which may at first seem out of place – the yellow and red flag of the defunct South Vietnamese state.

What is the flag of the long-lost Saigon regime, doing alongside hateful symbols of white supremacy? Actually, South Vietnamese nationalists have much in common with their white nationalist and Trumpist counterparts. Let’s elaborate this subject.

The South Vietnamese community have been among Trump’s staunchest supporters. Their anti communism, combined with strident anti-China views, dovetailed with Trump’s boisterous attacks against Beijing. But common Sinophobia is not enough as an explanation for the ideological convergence between the white nationalist conservative support base and the South Vietnamese.

Both white nationalists and Saigon loyalists share not only an ultra conservative social philosophy, but also a deep commitment to the ‘lost cause’ – a retrograde and resentful sectional nationalism. The Confederate flag symbolises the conservative reaction to the progress made by African Americans, and their Anglo American supporters, since the end of the civil war.

The Saigon regime, an installation propped up by American armed forces, waged a decades-long and ultimately unsuccessful war against the Communist North Vietnam. It was an authoritarian military dictatorship, while maintaining a democratic facade. Theoretically, it boasted powerful military forces, bu corruption was eating away at its structure from within. Falling to the Communist forces in 1975, its history of torture and violence has been disguised by its partisans as an outpost of American ‘democracy’.

At the end of the war, in 1975, millions of South Vietnamese fled as refugees, making up the bulk of the Vietnamese populations settling in the US, Australia and other countries. Their conception of a militarised patriotism took hold, and became the lens through which post-Vietnam war generations viewed that conflict. The ‘lost cause’ of the Saigon regime corresponded with the Cold War aims of the United States.

The South Vietnamese acquired a kind of privileged status, when remembering and memorialising the victims of the American war on Vietnam. In a similar fashion to the fallen Confederacy, the Saigon regime became an emblem of a ‘lost cause‘, purportedly abandoned by nefarious elements in the US government. With white nationalists, it is African Americans, along with ethnic minorities and liberal ‘Northern elites’, who have conspired to rob the Anglo white community of their rightful place.

Viet Thanh Nguyen, writing in the Washington Post, noted the similarities between Confederate and Saigon regime loyalists in their nostalgia for a lost cause. This nostalgic view mythologises the regimes to which they follow, and dismisses the many victims of their ruthless and predatory policies. The millions of Vietnamese, tortured in the prisons of South Vietnam, or obliterated by the napalm and chemicals of numerous American bombings, are forgotten as our sympathies are monopolised by the cult of Saigon worship.

Victimisation by Communist authorities makes for good and popular storytelling in the corporate media. The South Vietnamese have steadily contributed towards a narrative of ‘betrayal’; their regime was defeated not by more effective military opposition, but by leftist antiwar activists, and their liberal sympathisers and civilian policymakers, in the United States. This ‘stab-in-the-back‘ mythology sits comfortably with the effort to rehabilitate the Vietnam war.

The notion of being undermined by treacherous elements in the US finds common grounds with the neo-Confederate Right, and with the modern conspiracist QAnon Alternative Right. Blaming conspiratorial forces in the federal government is nothing new for the South Vietnamese loyalists. Since the 1970s, they have heavily contributed, through their Vietnamese language media, to the mythical figure of American aviators, and military personnel, being secretly held captive in Vietnamese detention camps, after the conclusion of the Vietnam war.

This official mythology, marketed by Washington as the POW/MIA issue, was deliberately cultivated with the active connivance of the Saigon loyalist community. Fleeing South Vietnamese refugees, sensing the political opportunity, told American authorities what they wanted to hear – live captives, or at least the remains of, American soldiers left behind in Vietnam.

Agitating for the ‘last man to come home‘ from Vietnam became a story of official government perfidy – a mythical victim hood to buttress the special sympathy for the South Vietnamese loyalists. Any steps taken by successive American administrations towards normalisation with Vietnam were portrayed as ‘betrayals’ of the Saigon lost cause.

Trump, and his Republican supporters, actively platformed ultrarightist views that saw insidious conspirators lurking in the halls of power. This view is not far removed from the political perspective of the functionaries of the defunct Saigon regime. The former military officers and government officials of that regime have formed a strongly conservative, and nostalgically resentful, community.

Longing for a ‘lost cause’, and holding out hope for an eventual military victory has much in common with the apologists for the Confederacy. These conservative ultranationalist communities are not such strange bedfellows after all.

Anne Frank, European Jewish refugees and American responses to the Holocaust – lessons for today

Anne Frank, the German/Dutch girl of Jewish background, has achieved posthumous fame as a brave and principled refugee through her diaries – and rightly so. Her writings are studied in schools and colleges throughout the world.

The Franks – mainly her father, Otto – tried repeatedly to find asylum in the United States. While the US government never outright denied a visa to the Franks, Washington authorities did everything they could to thwart European Jewish refugee applications, thus abandoning those asylum seekers to a tragic fate.

The sabotage of the Franks’ numerous attempts to acquire asylum, the response of the American government to the persecution of European Jews, and the arguments against allowing Jews to settle in the US have lessons for us today.

German-born Anne Frank, along with her family, fled Nazi Germany in the early 1930s. Finding relative security in the Netherlands, the Franks’ security – as a family of Jews – was imperilled by the 1940 Nazi invasion and occupation of Holland. Dutch Jews were subjected to racial persecution, and Anne – with her sister Margot – went into hiding. From 1942 until August 1944, Anne kept an extensive diary of her experiences and observations. Arrested by the Gestapo, Anne and Margot died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, in February 1945.

Her diaries were eventually published posthumously. News reports about the horrors of the concentration camps, the legalised discrimination against Jews in Nazi Germany – and by neighbouring anti-Semitic Eastern European regimes – filtered out of Europe. America’s response, from the 1920s onwards, was to tighten immigration and refugee restrictions, impose more restrictive criteria about whom was eligible to apply, and encouraged public anti-refugee sentiments.

Otto Frank wrote multiple letters, documenting his increasing sorrow and desperation as he made attempts to gain asylum. His ultimately tragic journey was emblematic of the plight of European Jewish refugees. In fact, Jewish asylum seekers were denounced in ways that we would find familiar today when discussing Muslim refugees. Slandered as foreign agents, European Jews were targeted as ‘communist conspirators’, plotting to overthrow the capitalist system, impose a dictatorship and undermine the Anglo-Christian way of life.

European Jews were already regarded with racial suspicion, and immigration laws limited the number of refugees allowable in the US. These quotas were almost always never completely fulfilled. Jews from Eastern Europe were considered perennial outsiders, unable to assimilate into American culture. Condemned as purveyors of ‘foreign interference’, the Jewish presence in the US was regarded as a potentially treasonous element – which has disturbing parallels with the mistreatment of Muslims today.

Otto Frank, while considered a ‘prosperous’ person in Nazi-occupied Holland, continued to navigation the tortuous and demoralising procedures for seeking asylum. As the US made it harder for Jewish refugees to emigrate – the latter were also denounced as ‘leeches’ seeking to parasitise the American system – applicants had to prove they could pay their own way. Additionally, affidavits were required by US-born citizens vouching for the financial capacities of the intended applicant.

The Franks attempted to apply for asylum in Cuba – the latter nation at that time being economically and politically dominated by the United States. Those Jewish refugees who tried to use this route to mainland United States were thwarted. The US ambassador to Cuba advised that those Jews on refugee visas were untrusting because – ironically – they could be undercover agents of the Nazi German government.

It is true that the most famous German Jewish refugee scholar, Albert Einstein, successfully found asylum in the United States. By the early 1930s, he was already an internationally renowned scientist – by 1932, he was appointed a professor at Princeton University. He had strong academic ties inside the US, and so while he acquired asylum, his example is atypical. His intellectual capital was a highly sought-after commodity.

As the Second World War began, (1939-40) Jewish immigrants formed more than half of those entering the United States. However, economic and political expediency overtook whatever fleeting humanitarian considerations may have existed with regard to refugee policy. By the end of 1941, the doors were being slammed shut, and the Franks were among those excluded. American political and media figures recycled slanderously false claims that Jewish refugees would end up ‘leeching’ resources, or otherwise taking jobs from ‘real Americans.’

In the current policy climate, after 19 years of the so-called ‘war on terror‘, we are recycling the same hateful rhetoric against refugees from Muslim-majority nations that we once reserved for Jewish refugees. Islamophobia plays the same functional and ideological role as anti-Semitism. Muslims are vilified as a ‘fifth column’, potential jihadists waiting for an opportune moment to rise up and impose ‘Sharia law’.

These kinds of prejudicial public sentiments have real-world policy consequences. From anti-refugee policies to Trump’s loudly proclaimed ‘Muslim ban’, there are countless Anne Frank equivalents currently labouring away in numerous countries – Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Palestine – all of which suffer from US foreign policies which create refugees.

It is time to end vindictive anti-immigrant policies which only scapegoat the vulnerable. How many more Anne Franks have to die before we question the xenophobic ideology which not only condemns refugees, but rationalises the economic and social policies which create them?

Trump was defeated, but his white nationalist base remains a powerful political movement

There are no tears for the election loss of lame-duck US President Donald Trump. The latter will leave office and return to the bowels of financial speculation from which he emerged. However, the political base which sustained and reinforced his presidency – ultranationalist conspiracism and white supremacy – will remain a powerful political force.

Late last year, Minnesota Democrat and ‘squad’ member Representative Ilhan Omar made an accurate observation. Trump rallies, she said, closely resemble the Klan rallies of old. This is not hyperbole, but a succinct description of the political forces which coalesced around the Trump presidency – white nationalism and far rightist groups. We like to think that Trump was an aberration, or a deviation from standard American political processes. Actually, his politicking was extreme, but not outside the mainstream.

Jamelle Bouie, writing in the New York Times, states that while the Democrats won the 2020, the electoral outcome was not a repudiation of Trumpism. Trump actually outperformed his 2016 result, and made inroads into the Hispanic and African American communities. Right wing populism, while largely based in the majority Anglo American community, also appeals to nonwhite voters. The American racial pyramid, where being considered ‘white’ is the ticket to upward mobility, still exerts a profound influence.

The Republican party’s racism is usually disguised by the promotion of a few African American faces – those whose message is on point with the imperatives of American big capital. In the days of racial slavery, a few African American slaves were raised to a ‘house negro‘; today, a small stratum of ultra wealthy African Americans serves the same political function with regard to modern-day capitalism.

White nationalist organisations, and their Republican Party allies, deployed an age-old yet winning strategy – use social and economic alienation to promote a racialised economic vision. Trump and his colleagues portrayed themselves as ‘anti-elite’ – the elite being defined as liberals, proponents of ethnic and racial equality, the Democrat party, feminism, secularism, environmental groups – in short, anyone opposed to a free-marketeering agenda. Redirecting blame to minority groups, Trump exploited social grievances in order to build a white majoritarian platform.

This political strategy is nothing new. Since the end of the American civil war, white nationalism has been fighting a rearguard action – a low-intensity campaign aimed at undermining the ability of African American – and other marginalised groups – from exercising their equal rights within the American capitalist system. The Klan, and its white nationalist supporters, denounced the ‘Northern elites’ as beholden to a secretive, multiethnic cabal intent on denying white Americans their rightful place.

This notion of white anxiety has exploded into open violence over the decades in American history. While the Klan is often regarded as a marginal presence, composed mainly of buffoons and the ignorant, it actually has its origins in the affluent, educated middle-class segments of white American society.

Christopher Petrella, writing in the Washington Post, states that white nationalism was never only on the extremes of American capitalism:

Contrary to popular belief, white supremacy has not gestated on the fringes of American politics. Rather, it has flourished as a social movement grounded in respectability politics and led by elites. Understanding this history is essential to eradicating the scourge of white supremacy and advancing more just political alternatives.

Blaming racism exclusively on Anglo working class Americans distorts our understanding of white nationalism, but also let’s the capitalist class and its academic supporters off-the-hook. Deploying conspiratorial viewpoints to underscore a racist political perspective has its working class supporters, to be sure. However, we need to accurately apportion the blame for the rise of white supremacist groups on the shoulders of the billionaire oligarchs without whose support organised racism would not be possible. Today’s Silicon Valley tech oligarchs – while deploying a ‘woke’ persona – are heavily implicated in funding racist Republicans.

Racism has a long history of influencing American electoral politics – no doubt about that. Conspiratorial thinking however, experienced a resurgence under the Trump presidency. Covid denialism is shockingly harmful, and Trump did his utmost to downplay the severity of the current pandemic, at least initially. However, this pandemic is not the first time that ultranationalist conspiracism has raised its toxic head.

Murtaza Hussain, writing for The Intercept, notes that the far right, coalescing under Trump, is seizing the opportunity to inflict deadly violence against its opponents and influence the course of a post-pandemic society. Social and economic tensions predate the pandemic, of course; but in the current breakdown of American society, fascistic and sectarian tendencies are making their morbid presence felt.

Covid denialism has found a ready-made audience in the cesspit of Trumpism – white nationalism is very much a conspiratorially-minded ideology. In the 1950s and 60s, racial integration and desegregation were denounced as part of a ‘communist plot’ by liberal elites to dilute the integrity of the white race. Today, anti-quarantine rallies have featured condemnations of ‘government intrusion’, melding seamlessly with white supremacist and neo-Confederate themes about ‘big government tyranny.’

If the incoming Democrat administration is going to seriously tackle white nationalism, they need to offer more than just ‘woke‘ appointments and statements about the meritorious contributions of migrants to US society. An urgent reckoning with the politics and economics of American racial capitalism needs to be on the agenda, otherwise the ultranationalist Right will continue to grow.

Columbus statues are coming down, and it is time to abolish Columbus Day

Throughout 2020, dozens of Christopher Columbus statues in the United States have been dismounted; some vandalised, and others demolished. This in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, and increased examination of American systemic racism. The veneration of Columbus, epitomised by the national holiday dedicated to him, has come under renewed and heavy criticism from anti-racist organisations.

While Columbus needs to be dethroned from his exalted position as a pioneering explorer, it is also necessary to guard against the recycling of pseudoarchaeological pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact theories. In the effort to challenge racist scholarship in the United States, demolishing the myth of Columbus as the original navigator and intrepid entrepreneur is essential. We must stop mythologising Columbus, and his voyages, as motivated by scientific concerns – no, he was not out to prove the Earth is a globe.

Centuries before Columbus, the Vikings successfully navigated their way across from the Old World to the new. There is extensive archaeological evidence to prove this contention beyond a shadow of a doubt. However, the question of ‘who was before Columbus’ has opened up a field of speculation, pseudoscientific nonsense and fringe theories that do harm to the cause of anti racism.

We are not questioning the longevity and solid evidence of the presence of indigenous nations in the Western Hemisphere. Whether the native peoples crossed the Alaskan land bridge – prior to the emergence of the Bering Strait – or not, it is indisputable that the indigenous nations formed their own civilisations before the arrival of Columbus and his conquistador practices.

Since the death of Columbus, numerous theories about pre-Colombian trans-oceanic contact with the indigenous American civilisations have proliferated. Since Columbus was acting as a paid agent of the Spanish crown, rival colonial powers have encouraged the spread of pseudoscientific scenarios which challenged Columbus’ status as the pioneering navigator.

Columbus himself, dissatisfied with the financial compensation offered him by the Spanish crown, began legal proceedings and thus, earned the hostility of the Spanish monarchs, who quietly encouraged rival theories of pre-Colombian trans-oceanic contact to spread. The French, English and other colonial powers – including Venice, the fierce rival city-state of the Genoan Columbus – all had motives to deprive Columbus of credit as the original navigator.

The English monarchy, desiring to lay claim to extensive lands in the Americas, promoted the Welsh folkloric myth of Prince Madoc (or Madog) who purportedly sailed to the Western Hemisphere in 1170. This has in turn given rise to a flurry of racist speculations about ‘Welsh Indians’, which holds that Native American peoples mixed with, or are descended from, the Welsh.

Not to be outdone, long term Turkish President Reyyip Erdogan suggested in 2014, that it was the Muslims who first traveled from the Old World to the Americas. His claim is based upon a long line of pseudoscientific and dubious ‘scholarship‘, which suggests that Columbus – and the ensuing Spanish conquistadors – observed mosques in the Western Hemisphere.

This is a deliberate obfuscation; when the Spaniards said they saw mosques – mezquitas – they were referring to the indigenous American places of worship. The only non-Christian referential experience the Iberian kingdoms had was of Muslim civilisation. Not long before Columbus set sail, the Reconquista had been completed, expelling the longtime Moorish (Muslim) present in the Iberian peninsula. When the Spanish explorers observed the indigenous American women, they commented on how they resembled the moriscas – Moorish women.

The late Ivan van Sertima, an African American scholar, published a multivolume history purportedly demonstrating that black African navigators made their way to the New World, and seeded what became the Olmec Mesoamerican civilisation. The origins of the Olmec is still shrouded in mystery, and so various pseudoscientific alternative theories have circulated.

The notion of ‘black Indians‘ has been promoted by numerous Afrocentric writers over the decades. Responding to racist scholarship, and upholding the originality and vitality of African civilisations prior to the rise of Europe, these writers have unfortunately reflected a kind of distorted ethnic supremacist view of history. The Olmecs have been subjected to an Afrocentric perspective, where their civilisational achievements are reported to be ‘African’ in origin.

We could go on with the list of African – and ancient – peoples which have supposedly pioneered trans-oceanic contact with the New World: Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Malians, Egyptians, Irish, Scottish, Chinese, Arabs, biblical Hebrews – and this article would run into volumes responding to each claim. Continuing to play this game of ‘who was first’ is counterproductive and unresolvable.

It is advisable to listen to Danielle Battisti, associate professor of history, who wrote that while Columbus Day may have had value for Italian Americans in the past, it is now time to abolish it. Responding to white racism, Italian Americans promoted Columbus as an exemplar of entrepreneurial ingenuity, a typical American story of how an immigrant picked himself up and found success. Unfortunately, this appeal to pluralism was predicated on Italians becoming ‘white‘, and thus reinforcing the racial pyramid that is American capitalism today.

It is urgent now more than ever, to abolish Columbus Day, if for no other reason than a basic recognition that Columbus was a genocidal maniac, intent on exploiting to death the indigenous nations he contemptuously dismissed. There are numerous Italian Americans who actively fought racial discrimination and economic inequalities. They are better anti-racist icons for our times.

Morocco and Israel agree to normalise a sordid relationship

Morocco has become the fourth Arab nation to normalise relations with the state of Israel. Previously clandestine, Morocco’s cooperation with the Israeli government stretches back decades. The US, for its part, has officially recognised Morocco’s annexation of the fledging nation of Western Sahara. Lame duck US President Donald Trump overturned years of official US neutrality by taking this step.

Let’s untangle the many threads of this issue. Israel has cultivated extensive military, intelligence-sharing and economic ties with the Moroccan kingdom since the 1960s. This latest normalisation only formalises an existing secretive relationship. Pursuing ties with African and Muslim-majority nations located outside the direct Middle East is part of Tel Aviv’s periphery strategy – outflanking its immediate hostile Arab neighbours by building links with periphery nations. Morocco is considered part of the peripheral zone.

Interestingly, in the 1960s, then King of Morocco Hassan II, allowed the emigration of Moroccan Jews to Israel, thus boosting the number of settlers to counter the demographic problems of colonising occupied Palestinian land. Israeli leaders have always encouraged Jewish populations in the Muslim-majority nations to emigrate. Today, one million Israelis are either Moroccan Jews, or descendants of the original migrants from Morocco.

Ronen Bergman, writing in the NY Times, states that:

The king permitted mass emigration of Jews and allowed Mossad to establish a station in Morocco. Israel provided weapons and trained Moroccans in using them; it supplied surveillance technology and helped organize the Moroccan intelligence service; and the two shared information gathered by their spies — the start of decades of such cooperation.

Morocco acquired Israeli weapons, its intelligence service was trained by and coordinated with Mossad, and opponents of the Moroccan royal family were tracked using Israeli-made surveillance technology. Mehdi Ben Barka, a left wing nationalist opponent of the Moroccan regime, was kidnapped and murdered by Moroccan intelligence agents with the cooperation of the Mossad.

It was the intelligence sharing by Moroccan authorities with Israel about the military capabilities and numbers of Arab armed forces that gave Tel Aviv a decisive edge in launching the 1967 war. Knowledge of the troop movements, logistics and military technology of the Arab nations was provided to Israel by, among others, the Moroccan regime.

The quid pro quo for Morocco’s formal recognition of Israel consists of a scandalous ‘bribe’ – official US recognition of Morocco’s occupation and annexation of the Sahrawi republic, otherwise known as Western Sahara. Overturning decades of US foreign policy and in violation of international law, Trump’s recognition of the Moroccan occupation inflamed a long-simmering conflict.

Western Sahara, formerly a Spanish colony, was forcibly occupied by Moroccan troops in 1975. Listed by the United Nations as a non-self-governing territory, the people of Western Sahara – the Sahrawi – rose up in rebellion in the 1970s. Launching an armed insurgency, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is the internationally recognised authority in the country. The conflict continued for decades, until the signing of a ceasefire in 1991.

The insurgency simmered after 1991, and Morocco continued to control most of Western Sahara. The political authority of the Sahrawi people, the separatist Polisario movement, continues to fight for the independence of Western Sahara. Its representatives are deployed overseas to promote the cause of Sahrawi national self-determination.

Trump’s decision to officially recognise Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, accompanied by his usual narcissistic Twitter-bragging, has ensured that this conflict will continue for decades to come. The US has formally taken the side of Morocco. Kamal Fadel, the Polisario representative in Australia, reacted to this news by stating that only the Sahrawi people can determine the future of their nation.

Sahrawis and Palestinians, along with pro-independence activists, have condemned the cementing of ties between Morocco and Israel. The hashtag ‘Moroccans Against Normalisation’ has taken off, uniting online outrage against this latest deal. Hanan Ashrawi, longtime Palestinian legislator and activist, branded the Morocco-Israel normalisation as sinister and ugly.

Alex MacDonald, writing in Middle East Eye magazine, states that Palestinian and Sahrawi activists will seize this opportunity to renew solidarity between the two struggles for self-determination. The Palestinians and Sahrawis find themselves victims of post-colonial intrigues and backroom manoeuvring between imperialist powers.

These kinds of deals are arrived at by sacrificing the legitimate demands of the Palestinians – and Sahrawis – for an independent state. Nazha el-Khalidi, a Sahrawi human rights activist, denounced the Morocco-Israel agreement, and stated that the resolve of the Sahrawis and Palestinians remains undiminished.

The Japanese Hayabusa-2 mission and the origins of the solar system

Hayabusa-2, the Japanese Space Exploration Agency’s mission to the Ryugu asteroid, deposited a capsule carrying fragments of asteroid rock at Woomera, South Australia. This was the culmination of a six year project.

The Australian corporate media pounced on this story because of the ‘Aussie connection’. However, that is the least interesting reason for understanding the importance of the Hayabusa-2 mission. The asteroid samples returned by the spacecraft contain clues regarding the origins of life in the universe.

The Hayabusa-2 mission deployed hopping rovers on the asteroid Ryugu. They were able to pierce the surface of the asteroid, and retrieve contents from the underground. This is an extraordinary achievement in itself – no other space agency has been able to accomplish such a scientifically important goal on an asteroid.

First of all, let’s address one misconception that people may have. An asteroid is usually thought of as a lifeless, irregularly-shaped lump of rock, hurtling through space and occasionally crashing into Earth as in the movie Deep Impact. This view only hinders our ability to understand the geological importance of asteroids. Each one, like Ryugu, contains minerals and features from the origins of the solar system.

A near-earth asteroid, Ryugu contains organic compounds and ice, geological features that are remnants from the earliest origins of the solar system. Examining Ryugu’s minerals – contained in the capsule deposited at Woomera – will help scientists unveil vital clues on the formation of the solar system, and perhaps of life itself. Hayabusa-2’s cameras obtained pictures of Ryugu, revealing a surface hit by meteorites and weather-beaten by cosmic rays.

Australia and Japan, while depicted as rivals from media-driven anti-Asian racism, have a long history of scientific cooperation. A Japanese team of scientists and experts were deployed by JAXA – the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency – in South Australia preparing for the return of the Hayabusa-2 cargo.

Earlier, we mentioned that Hayabusa-2 deployed hopping rovers on the surface of the asteroid. These bouncing explorers, equipped with cameras, relayed images of Ryugu. You may see examples of the pictures sent back by the hopping rovers in this NPR article. Asteroids have weak gravity, so keeping movable rovers on the surface of Ryugu presented particular technical challenges.

John Bridges, professor of planetary science at the University of Leicester, explains the following:

Ryugu could tell us a lot about the Solar System’s history. The Earth and the other planets formed from small, rocky bodies in a disk of gas, ice and dust called the solar nebula. Asteroids are the leftovers from this process. While the planets have undergone extensive changes, developing crusts, mantles and cores during their lifetimes, asteroids have not. By studying primitive samples from asteroids, we can therefore crack many secrets about how the solar system formed.

The organic compounds in the Ryugu samples remain unchanged since the earliest ages of the solar system. Planetary bodies such as the Earth went through enormous geological changes, altering the composition of its formative materials.

The asteroid fragments will be shared for analysis between Japanese space agency and NASA. Hayabusa-2 continues its mission, aiming for two more asteroids for research.

There are numerous problems confronting humanity at the moment – climate change, ecological destruction, and the current pandemic, just to name a few. These ecological issues, in combination with socioeconomic inequalities, require urgent attention. Exploring the vastness of outer space may not seem like a priority. However, counterposing scientific ventures would be a colossal mistake.

Space exploration has provided a powerful impetus to develop technologies that we regard as everyday conveniences today. The smartphones we use, satellite navigation – these innovations rely on technology originally developed by space agencies. The camera in your smartphone is using small imaging sensors first created by NASA.

Questions regarding outer space exploration occupy a significant chunk of our attention – landing on and terraforming Mars, space travel, exploring the Moon – among other subjects. These topics inspire generations of students – and adults for that matter – to consider scientific issues in the larger context of human culture and social organisation. While nationally-based space agencies compete to launch and accomplish missions, it is international cooperation that is necessary to understand the results of what we find.

As a follow-up, have a look at what the Hayabusa-2 mission has accomplished.

Israel was not created because of the Holocaust – Zionism, the Jewish Ulster and the Israel-Palestine conflict

Let’s keep the subject of the Holocaust separate from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sadly, this is not always the case. Why? There is a widespread and false assumption – that Israel was formed because of the Holocaust, or at least as a human response after the horrors of the Nazi genocide of the Jews was exposed.

No, Israel was not created because of the Holocaust. The Israel-Palestine conflict is not based on ancient and atavistic religious hatreds between Jews and Muslims.

Let’s untangle this subject.

Dov Waxman, professor of political science at Northeastern University, addressed this very question. He wrote that while the Holocaust and Israel’s founding occurred within a few years of each other, they are not causally linked:

The chronological proximity of the Holocaust and Israel’s establishment has led many people to assume that the two events are causally connected and that Israel was created because of the Holocaust. Contrary to this popular belief, however, a Jewish state would probably have emerged in Palestine, sooner or later, with or without the Holocaust.

So why was Israel formed? For the purpose of creating a pro-imperialist Jewish Ulster in the Middle East. This is not my own formulation. The first British military governor of Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs, elaborated Britain’s approach to the Palestine issue in the aftermath of the Ottoman Turkish empire’s defeat; to establish a little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism. Just as Britain created a loyal Protestant Ascendancy statelet – commonly known as Ulster, in the north of Ireland – Zionism would form the equivalent Orange order of the Jewish people in Palestine.

There are, of course, religious differences between Jews and Muslims. These theology differences have existed for centuries. However, the Israel-Palestine conflict is not motivated by religious divisions. Reducing the conflict to atavism and ancient religious hatreds is a fundamentalist misreading of the Israel-Palestine issue. So when did the conflict start? It started in 1917, towards the end of World War One and the issuance of the Balfour declaration.

Britain, emerging alongside France as the preeminent imperialist power in the Middle East, promised to create a Jewish national home in Palestine. Simultaneously, the leaders of political Zionism, such as Theodore Herzl, were manoeuvring to acquire the backing of major powers for their project of constructing a Jewish state. Herzl had already approached the Ottoman Turkish sultan, Tsarist Russia (an antisemitic government in its own right), and others, to obtain support for the Zionist cause. It was Britain, with its own interests in the Middle East, which provided the crucial backing needed.

The creation of a Jewish Ulster has begun. The Palestinians were being pushed out of their ancestral homeland, as Zionist settlements began to be constructed. From the 1930s, in British-mandate Palestine, the Palestinians resisted as best they could. The conflict evolved its own dynamic. None of this is to ignore religious differences. However, let’s not speak of ‘centuries of mistrust’ between Jews and Muslims, because such comments are cynically deceptive and designed to distract from the settler-colonial nature of the Zionist project.

The ideology of Zionism corresponded to the intention of European elites – Christian and traditionally antisemitic – to expel Europe’s Jews and corral them into a statelet. Palestine was a convenient target, given European Christendom’s familiarity with Biblical history. British antisemites, such Churchill and Balfour, were strong supporters of Zionism. What has all this got to do with the Holocaust?

Palestinian opposition to Zionism has routinely been smeared and dismissed as antisemitic by Israel’s leaders and supporters. In fact, there is a deliberate manipulation of the Holocaust, on Tel Aviv’s part, to channel sympathy for Jewish suffering into support for the colonial project of Zionism. Joseph Massad, professor of Arab Politics at Columbia University, has elaborated how Israel’s political leaders coopt the memory of the Holocaust to gain support for their own policies of occupation and dispossession directed against the Palestinians.

Earlier this year, on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, current US Vice President Mike Pence accused Iran of planning a ‘holocaust’ against the Jewish people. This was at an event organised by Tel Aviv in opposition to the internationally recognised commemorative activities. Deliberately invoking a slanderously false continuity between Nazis and Arabs/Muslims, Pence purposefully maligned the Palestinians (and the wider Muslim-majority nations) as motivated by homicidal antisemitism.

Holocaust denial – the pseudoscientific endeavour to cancel or minimise the genocidal crimes of the Nazi regime – has unfortunately made a comeback with the rise of ultrarightist parties and groups in Europe. We must all remember the Holocaust and say ‘never again’. We must also understand that opposition to the settler-colonial state of Israel is the repudiation of a political ideology, and not a platform for antisemitism.

Anti-Asian racism – the xenophobic virus accompanying the pandemic

The current pandemic has been accompanied by a disturbing resurgence of another associated virus – anti-Asian racism.

Dissecting the various pathologies of the Anglo-majority nations (namely, the United States, Australia and Britain) is almost a full time occupation. The white ethnocracies are the majoritarian spawn of English colonialism. This implantation of Anglo nationalism in the Asia Pacific region has produced its own virus – anti-Asian racism. The latter is the monstrous twin of the current Covid-19 pandemic. But racially motivated paranoia is not unique to our times.

Professor Tim Soutphommasane, political theorist and professor, has written that anti-Asian racism is not a new development in Australia, but arises from preexisting conditions and prejudices. This kind of pandemic racism exposes not only the kind of society we are, but also the problems of racism we collectively need to overcome to construct a new social order.

Blaming China – and by extension, Asian peoples – for outbreaks of disease is neither accurate nor original. Racially motivated hysteria regarding pandemics has a long and ugly history in Anglo-majority societies. In the early part of the twentieth century, Asians were singled out for blame following an outbreak of the plague in Honolulu, Hawaii. Despite the fact that Asian Americans were among the plague’s victims, authorities set about burning down the Japanese and Chinese quarters of the city.

What did that course of action achieve? The rats, responsible for spreading the plague-causing bacteria, were driven out by the fires. They served as a vector for the plague, taking it across the city.

While current lame-duck US President Donald Trump did his best to promote a racialised interpretation of the Covid-19 outbreak, he is not the first – and definitely not the last – to engage in Sinophobia. The Australian political class has a long history of anti-Asian racism, and 2020 provided a stark continuation of anti-immigrant xenophobia. As news of the novel coronavirus hit the airwaves in Australia, anti-Asian racism reared its ugly head.

Reports compiled by Australian universities and Asian Australian advocacy groups have documented a disturbing surge in anti-Asian attacks, racial incidents and discrimination. For instance, academics at the University of Melbourne compiled an extensive report into the eruption of anti-Asian racism, directed mostly at Asian Australians, but also targeting culturally and linguistically diverse suburbs of Melbourne.

Let’s also focus on the dissemination of anti-China Covid-19 conspiracy theories and misinformation. Social media has allowed the formation of toxic ecosystems of hate and conspiratorial fear-mongering, recycling harmful stereotypes of Asians as spreaders of disease. Criticism of Beijing’s policies has quick transformed into Sinophobic mud-slinging, especially in the context of China’s response to the pandemic.

Evaluating the effectiveness of China’s response to Covid-19 is one thing; portraying the Chinese – and Asians in general – as a uniquely cunning, manipulative foreign enemy ‘penetrating’ Australia is nothing short of racist paranoia. Australia’s effort to blame China – the so-called ‘Chinese virus’ – is the latest manifestation of a long-standing practice in targeting ethnic minorities for their alleged culpability for our problems.

It is easy to find foreign scapegoats for the current economic and social problems afflicting Australia. Blaming China is a convenient diversion, distracting us from the problems of our own socioeconomic system. The Covid-19 virus was first detected in China – its origin however, is still subject to dispute. This has not stopped the conspiracy theories – and attacks on Chinese dietary habits – from circulating harmful misinformation that only serves to undermine public confidence in the competencies of health authorities.

Shaoquett Moselmane, NSW Labour Party MP, praised the response of the Beijing government to the Covid-19 pandemic, and denounced the resurgence of ‘yellow peril’ stereotypes in Australia’s media characterisations of Asians. He was suspended from parliament, and was subjected to slanderously false accusations of being a ‘Chinese agent’. Returning to parliament some months after his trial-by-media, he has never actually been charged with any wrongdoing. So far, the same media which rushed to judgement has never issued a formal apology to Moselmane.

Professor Andrew Jakubowicz, sociologist at the University of Technology, Sydney, writes that while it is all well and good to praise the multiculturalism of Australian society, that is no protection against outbursts of deeply-ingrained racism. He writes that:

Carrying a torch for multiculturalism is no guarantee of anything to do with defending the rights of slandered minorities. Instead, it reveals something about the way multiculturalism under the current government has become a shield for advancing ethnocracy’s prerogatives.

Upholding the meritorious contributions of migrants and refugees to Australian society is commendable on its own merits. However, this approach does not tackle racism head-on. We require institutional policies and cultural changes to confront the pandemic of anti-Asian racism. Racism is not only a harmful ideology, but a tool of exploitation. While the Covid-19 virus will be brought under control, we need to create anti-racism strategies now to confront the simmering residue of racial paranoia.

Magna Carta is an important document – but let’s stop venerating it

The Magna Carta – great charter – signed in June 1215 by King John of England and the rebellious barons, has achieved contemporary fame unlike any other legal document. Ostensibly enshrining the rights of individual liberty, democracy and protections against arbitrary arrest, the Magna Carta has been cited as inspiration from people and governments across the Left-Right political spectrum.

The 800th anniversary of the charter – in 2015 – was the occasion for numerous official commemorative activities in Britain. While it was an important milestone in English history, let’s also stop venerating it, and understand its proper place in the context of competing social and class forces.

Magna Carta was not the product of a specific British/English predisposition for democracy, nor a peculiar British commitment to individual liberty, but of a particular convergence of conflicting intra-elite class forces. King John’s military adventures in northern France, attempting to reconquer English territories, ended in failure in 1214. The onerous taxes John had imposed to finance that ten-year campaign, were the target of grumbling protests by the baronial elite.

Not only was John asking for even more money, he also faced a nationalist Welsh uprising. Adding to John’s difficulties, the Church opposed his appointee designate for the post of Archbishop of Canterbury. The Church – an ecclesiastical wealthy landowning class – was watching the growing organisation of the rebellious barons with increasing alarm. A festering civil war was in the offing, and the barons seized London, pledging to compel the king to accept their terms.

King John’s dangerous mix of military failure in France, financial exactions of the baronial class, and harsh implementation of arbitrary justice finally combined to cause the Crown’s undoing. In June 1215, the barons forced John to sign the list of their demands – Magna Carta – at Runnymede.

This document does not actually guarantee individual liberties, or even mention trial by jury, or ensure that everyone is equal before the law. The original document, signed by King John, contained a list of demands resolving the specific grievances of the barons. The 1215 document was a failure; John repudiated its contents the year after it was signed, and asked the Pope to annul it. Later in 1216, John contracted dysentery and died. The still-unresolved conflict continued to simmer.

The charter was revised and reissued numerous times. The 1225 version is on display at the British Library. Its 63 clauses – in the 1215 original – dealt with various issues of aristocratic and merchant property rights. A number of clauses dealt with the removal of fish weirs, the abolition of outdated taxes, and demanded unrestricted trade for merchants.

However, the most well-known clauses, cited as protection against detention without trial, protection against arbitrary arrest and torture, and upholding the rule of law, are clauses 39 and 40. Translated into modern English, they state the following:

39 – No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

40 – To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

These are the proviso most often cited as a defence of constitutional gradualism, and Magna Carta was upheld by politically diverse forces since the end of the 1200s. Sir Edward Coke, in his struggle against the Stuart monarchs, cited Magna Carta as a weapon against unrestricted royal powers. Radical movements in the English Civil War referred to Magna Carta as a protective legal document against state repression. The American revolutionaries, in their fight against the English Crown, cited Magna Carta as a shield in opposition to government by royal decree.

The principle of habeas corpus, which prohibits detention without trial, is certainly under attack today. The capitalist system, as it decays and becomes more barbarous, is removing any vestige of civil liberties or democratic rights. The US and Britain, through various legalistic measures and control orders, have imprisoned persons without charge or trial for years, using the pretext of terrorism to do so.

The notion of privacy and civil liberties has been made a mockery of, with the rise of tech companies and surveillance capitalism. The algorithms in the search engines they own – and we use – have aggregated all kinds of data about our behaviour. Our searches, purchases, likes and dislikes, are all metadata, stored by the big IT monopolies. The personal data they collect is used to analyse our behaviour and predilections. The commercial imperative of mass surveillance on the internet has undercut any notion of individual privacy.

Magna Carta has contemporary relevance, and is a seminal event in English history. Rather than singing paeans to constitutional gradualism, let’s understand the competing class forces that resulted in its creation. Civil liberties have been won through hard struggle – let’s not forget that while highlighting the conduct of governments that violate the provisions of Magna Carta.