Revisiting the war on terror, Afghanistan and the assassination of Ayman al-Zawahiri

There are numerous retrospectives available to mark the 21st anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Rather than regurgitate the manufactured sentimentality of official commemorations, it is better to examine the underlying lessons of the foreign policy decisions taken in the immediate aftermath of those attacks.

History always has contemporary relevance and ramifications. US officialdom gave the global war on terror a propaganda boost in recent months with the drone assassination of Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan. Allegedly the ‘number 2’ of Al Qaeda and plotter of the Sept 11 atrocity, he was killed on the orders of US President Joe Biden.

There are no tears for Zawahiri – his ideology was repugnant. He was actually a qualified surgeon, and by the time of his death, irrelevant to the politics of the region. Dismissed and disrespected by ISIS and other jihadist offshoots, his death will do absolutely nothing to solve the problem of ideologically inspired terrorism. Let us not join Washington in gloating over his death either – because malignant hypocrisy underlines US policies in the region.

Salafi jihadist groups are hardly an exclusively indigenous product, arising spontaneously from the Muslim majority nations. As Dave Mizner observes in his article on the rise of Islamist groups, the US and Britain have longstanding policies of deliberately cultivating and using violent ultrarightist jihadist groups. Socially regressive and with only a passing familiarity with the Quran, these organisations are not only instruments of US foreign policy, but are also instrumentalised into the stereotype of the ‘culturally backward’ Muslim Washington likes to criticise.

Amy Zegart, a political scientist writing in The Atlantic, writes about the challenges of teaching students about Sept 11, which they regard as long-ago history. She explains how she has to convey the contemporary relevance of an event that happened 21 years ago. It is commendable to have an historical perspective. Bearing that in mind, the road to Sept 11 began in the 1970s and 80s.

Professor Mahmood Mamdani writes that the deliberate cultivation of fanatical and ultrarightist Afghan rebels, to undermine and overthrow the 1978-79 Afghan socialist government, turned an anticommunist insurgency into a hotbed of extremist jihadist groups. Al Qaeda, ISIS and similar organisations trace their ideological lineage back to this effort, with the US using these fighters to reverse the gains of the Afghan revolution. This policy began before the 1979 Soviet intervention.

In the 1980s, then US President Ronald Reagan welcomed the political representatives of the Afghan mujahideen groups, while Saudi Arabia and Pakistan both joined the anticommunist crusade by sponsoring and arming their own proxy groups for the Afghanistan insurgency. Out of this cauldron of hatred grew what eventually became the Taliban, in the aftermath of the 1992 overthrow of the Afghan revolutionary government. As Ed Rampell wrote in the People’s World magazine, the US original sin in Afghanistan began in 1979, not Sept 11.

One of the rationales provided by Washington for the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, and the subsequent assassination of Zawahiri, was complicity in the Sept 11 attacks. The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was actually an exercise in a neo-colonial imperialism, the the US and Britain establishing a modern satrapy run by a kleptocratic elite. That is interesting, because there was a time when terrorism perpetrators were actually captured and convicted in federal courts.

In 1993, ultrarightist Islamist militants detonated a bomb at the World Trade Centre. While the bombing failed to bring down the twin towers, the intention was no different to the later Sept 11 atrocity. The perpetrators were captured, charged with murder and conspiracy, and convicted. This was done before anyone dreamt of the Patriot act, and with the cooperation of other nations.

Why was not the same done with Zawahiri, or Osama bin Laden? The US wanted to make a large blockbuster splash for the world’s media. Bragging about ‘taking out’ your opponents, like a mafia godfather, certainly generates publicity. Trials get bogged down in legal details, and do not make for gripping drama.

It is worth bearing in mind that in the early 1960s, Francis Gary Powers, flying a U2 spy plane through Soviet territory, was put on trial and the evidence of his guilt displayed to the world’s media by the Moscow authorities. Shot down and captured, his guilt as a CIA spy was conclusively established, exposing Washington’s evasions.

August this year was the first anniversary of the American retreat from Afghanistan, after a nearly 20 year occupation of that country. In scenes reminiscent of Saigon 1975, Kabul 2021 witnessed the ignominious defeat of powerful military force. It is high time to admit that this war on terror has failed to reduce terrorism, or make the world a safer place. In fact, the paranoid mindset and associated surveillance techniques accumulated by state power, has only resulted in creating the kind of authoritarian state we claim to oppose.

For a start, if President Biden was serious about implementing meaningful changes, he could start by stopping drone strikes, though his recent conduct suggests this prospect is remote. He could also stop Washington’s long-standing practice of arming and training ultrarightist Salafi militants, which generates the reservoir of hatred and political violence that led us to September 11.

Hollywood war movies, selective sympathy and covering up war crimes

Propaganda is usually thought of as something other nations and governments do – Russia, China, Iran, North Korea to name but a few. Yet the most effective propaganda comes from Hollywood, intricately interlocking with the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex. Writing in Counterpunch magazine, David Swanson observes:

Propaganda is most impactful when people don’t think it’s propaganda, and most decisive when it’s censorship you never knew happened. When we imagine that the U.S. military only occasionally and slightly influences U.S. movies, we are extremely badly deceived. The actual impact is on thousands of movies made, and thousands of others never made. And television shows of every variety.

The military-industrial complex has had an influential presence in the production of Hollywood movies for decades. This relationship has been mutually beneficial, providing movie studios with financial backing, military equipment and supplies worth billions in exchange for creating military-friendly film content. The scripts are subject to approval by the US military or Pentagon.

Top Gun recycled – belligerent jingoism

American-advocated solutions, based on the deployment of violence epitomised by the latest military-grade hardware, is a common cinematic theme in modern Hollywood. Films churned out under the influence of the Pentagon are not works of art, but rather forms of propaganda intended to legitimise and glorify American militarism.

Hollywood recently released the highly anticipated, and long awaited sequel, to the 1986 film Top Gun. The new offering, Top Gun: Maverick, is basically a recycling of the original movie. A military recruitment advertisement masquerading as a film, Maverick solidified the superstar status of its main protagonist Tom Cruise.

The original Top Gun, made with the close collaboration of the US military, resulted in a huge increase in naval recruitments. However, there is another more insidious consequence of such propaganda; the portrayal of American military power as a benevolent force for good in the world. The audience is invited to marvel at the sophisticated technology, the smart bombs and massive warplanes, and sympathise with the ostensible suffering of the aviators and troops. The victims of American war crimes are nowhere to be seen.

Humanitarian American military intervention

The few antiwar movies that Hollywood has made, such Born on the Fourth of July starring Tom Cruise – deal with the American crisis of confidence after their defeat in Vietnam. Films of a pro war orientation have assisted in overcoming the ‘Vietnam syndrome’; popular opponent to American imperialist wars. Movies such as Top Gun are not unusual or exceptional in pushing a pro war message.

The movie Zero Dark Thirty, released in 2012, made a positive case for torture. It portrayed the capture of Osama Bin Laden as a result of information gained through torturing suspects. This movie was made with the direct supervision of the CIA. Even the US Senate, after a huge outcry against this favourable depiction of torture, was compelled to admit that the capture of Bin Laden was not a direct consequence of information obtained through waterboarding, but through old fashioned methodical police work.

Not long after the release of the original Top Gun movie, American air power demonstrated its barbaric ferocity in the first Gulf War (1990 – 91). American military aviators attacked Iraq’s infrastructure, destroying the electricity grid, hospitals, sewage systems and schools. The supposedly accurate and precision-guided smart bombs devastated the Al-Amiriyah air raid shelter, killing 400 Iraqi civilians. Iraqis commemorate the victims of this criminal bombing every year.

Such crimes reveal the true face of American military violence overseas, but yet in the Anglophone nations, the Hollywood war propaganda movies pervade the public consciousness. The long and subversive involvement of the US intelligence community in the internal political affairs of Iran remains obscured behind the commercially successful output of Hollywood – Argo, the 2012 movie, fills our collective void.

The United States was instrumental in overthrowing the democratically elected nationalist government of Iranian President Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. The US helped to prop up the savagely repressive Shah of Iran, and trained the Iranian secret police. Yet this historical context is forgotten as we are invited to cheer on CIA agent Ben Affleck in Argo, leading a rescue of American hostages in Tehran. What matters to Anglophone audiences is the suffering of Americans – the Iranians, and nonwhite people in general, are reduced to a hysterical, irrationally violent chaotic mass.

While propaganda in the so-called enemy nations may be crude and overtly political, propaganda in the capitalist nations – usually called public relations – is more technically sophisticated and insidious. As Joe Giambrone wrote, Hollywood presents a nonpolitical face to the world, but its messages are highly politicised. Let’s abandon the hyperpatriotic waffle, and critically examine the war propaganda that pervades our lives.

Imperial auxiliaries, refugee status and cynical political expediency

The fiftieth anniversary of the expulsion of Uganda’s Asian community by the Amin regime should make us pause and reflect on two things. Firstly, whom we classify as refugees, and how the refugee policies of the imperialist nations are driven by cynical political considerations. Secondly, people such as Idi Amin, rather than being evil aberrations of nature, are products of deliberate and calculated policies of the imperialist nations.

On August 4, 1972, General Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of Uganda’s Asian (mostly Indian) community. He gave them 90 days to leave the country. His decision was part of a marked deterioration in Kampala’s relations with the British government. Idi Amin himself, was a career British soldier.

Idi Amin was very much a creation of the British military. As a young man, he fought with distinction in the King’s African Rifles, a unit made up of African recruits and deployed to fight anti-colonial insurgents. He made his bones fighting for the British empire in various conflicts in Africa. He fought against the Kenyan nationalist insurgency of the 1950s, sometimes called the Mau Mau uprising. He also fought against anti-British Somali secessionists during the Shifta war in the 1960s.

During his service in the King’s African Rifles, Amin was promoted through the ranks by the British. After Uganda gained independence in 1962, Amin rose rapidly through the Ugandan military, becoming Commander of the Ugandan armed forces in 1970. Britain was not the only nation which deliberately cultivated relations with Amin – the other nation which supplied armaments and support for the newly independent Uganda was Israel.

During the presidency of Milton Obote, Uganda’s first President, the Americans and Israelis kept informed of developments inside Uganda, and cultivated close links with General Amin. Obote had been planning on nationalising foreign-owned assets, such as mines, in Uganda. In 1971, Obote was overthrown in a coup d’état, carried out by the Ugandan armed forces, with the surreptitious cooperation of the Israelis and British.

The 1971 coup by Amin was welcomed by ruling circles in London, and Tel Aviv. Amin had long-standing ties to Israeli intelligence, and participated a paratrooper training course run by the Israeli military. Another nation which accepted the rise of Amin in Uganda was Canada. While Amin’s expulsion of the Ugandan Asian community caused friction between Kampala and Ottawa, the Canadian government never actually broke off diplomatic relations with the Amin regime.

Ottawa had become increasingly concerned that Obote, Amin’s predecessor, had planned to nationalise Canadian owned mines in the nation. A copper and cobalt mine, Kilembe had reaped its Canadian owners millions of dollars in profits. After Obote’s overthrow, Amin pledged to maintain Canadian majority ownership of the mine. In another unsurprising move, Amin promises to break the African embargo of apartheid South Africa, selling armaments to the white supremacist regime in defiance of the majority of African nations.

It is important to keep these machinations in mind, because Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, when commemorating the expulsion of Uganda’s Asian community, lauded the alleged generosity of Canada in accepting thousands of Asians from that nation. Trudeau wilfully omitted any mention of Ottawa’s continued business dealings with the Amin regime, and played up the supposed compassion of Canada’s ruling circles. Trudeau’s cynical posturing as a generous benefactor of desperate refugees falls flat in the face of the documentary evidence.

Amin may have been ‘deranged’, but this alleged condition was not recognised until after the Amin regime became a disobedient and troublesome child for British interests. The image of Amin as this onerous, mentally ill lunatic with no friends – the stereotype of the ‘cannibalistic’ African – does not stand up to scrutiny. The purpose of this propaganda campaign turning Amin into an ‘evil’ monster is to dismiss the capability of African nations to govern themselves independently. The ‘look what happens when you give Africans power’ is a historically ignorant and cynically deployed claim to undermine African attempts at self-governance.

The UK took in around 27 000 Ugandan Asian refugees. While this has been upheld as an act of generosity, there were definitive political calculations behind the move. Gaining economically prosperous groups of refugees is a financial boon to a flailing economy. Priti Patel, UK Home Secretary and of Ugandan Asian heritage herself, launched the Britain-Rwanda relocation scheme, forcibly sending refugees to the African nation of Rwanda.

Britain’s refugee policy has never been about compassion, but about providing for imperial service refugees. Let’s not pretend, fifty years after the expulsion of Uganda’s Asian community, that the UK has suddenly adopted a spirit of generosity.

The cult of Winston Churchill, racist legacies and Anglophone colonial nostalgia

No other British prime minister is lionised to the point of deification as Winston Churchill. Libraries are chock full of Churchill biographies, multiple documentaries have been made about his life. Numerous biopics have been produced – the latest being the 2017 movie Darkest Hour. Gary Oldman joined a long list of British actors who have portrayed Churchill on the silver screen.

However, the lionisation of Churchill should not blind us to the fact that he advocated a worldview based on white supremacy and British empire-building. Indeed, Churchill came of age at a time when the maintenance of the British empire was paramount. The myth of Churchill – the British bulldog ever defiant in the face of tremendous obstacles – is not based on his wartime record. It is in fact a deliberately constructed cult, from the 1980s onwards, to justify Britain’s role as an imperial overlord.

Tariq Ali, in a new book about Churchill, writes that the manufactured adulation of him dates from well after World War 2, and serves distinct political purposes. Colonial nostalgia – a hankering for the ‘good old days’ of empire – is deftly buttressed by the cult of Churchill. The latter was an unrepentant empire loyalist, supportive of the criminal policies that sustained the British empire, and contemptuous of those the empire ruled.

The 1982 Malvinas/Falklands war, when the British government of Thatcher fought to hang on to its colonial possession in the south Atlantic, was the crucial turning point in the construction of the Churchill cult. Thatcher positioned herself as a new Churchill, confronting a ‘new Hitler’, Argentine military ruler Galtieri. The Conservative party, along with its Labour counterparts, participated eagerly in this new cultural construction of Churchillism.

Churchill’s racism and advocacy of mass violence

Churchill himself made numerous racist statements – which informed his worldview. The British empire was everything, governing over millions of people. Any challenge to the authority of the empire, and the financial aristocracy that ruled it, was to be met with salutary violence. In his submission to the 1937 Peel Commission, which was tasked with making recommendations for the governance of Mandatory Palestine, Churchill stated that:

I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.

His eugenicist viewpoint came through strongly when expressing his contempt for the non-white peoples of the world. His hatred of Indians was widely known, and he called them a beastly people with an equally beastly religion. When informed that the Bengal famine required urgent food supplies, Churchill refused to help thus condemning millions of Bengalis to die of starvation. He rationalised his refusal to help on Malthusian grounds – Indians ‘breed like rabbits’ and would consequently outstrip the food supply.

As Tariq Ali points out, if we hold Stalin personally responsible for the policies of enforced collectivisation, and Mao for the Great Leap Forward, then we should be ethically consistent and place the blame for the fatalities of the Bengal famine at Churchill’s doorstep.

While Churchill is celebrated for his foresight in opposing Nazi Germany, his opposition was not so much on fascism’s domestic methods, but on its external ambitions. Churchill fulsomely admired Mussolini’s Italy, and praised the Italian dictator’s use of savage violence in dealing with socialist, communist and trade union opponents of the regime. Franco’s Spain, a fascistic remnant from World War 2, was also an object of admiration in Churchill’s eyes.

Churchill was a vociferous supporter of Zionism, and advocated the establishment of a Zionist outpost in the Middle East friendly to British interests. It was in his enthusiasm in the development and use of the latest military weapons where Churchill’s fondness for empire shines through. Advocating the mass use of poison gas in Iraq in 1920, in order to suppress a nationalist revolt, Churchill dismissed criticisms of such tactics. In fact, he rationalised the use of barbaric weapons as necessary to ‘save lives’ in the long run.

The logic of the empire builder can be seen in Churchill’s way of thinking; uncivilised tribes, in his view, can be decimated by the use of the latest weapons, and thus save British lives. Such justifications have been deployed to soothe the conscience; the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were similarly rationalised as acts of mercy killing in order to save American lives.

During his second stint as Prime Minister (1951 – 55), Churchill had no hesitation in using mass violence, torture and concentration camps against the Kikuyu uprising against colonialism in Kenya. One of the victims of British policy in Kenya was Hussein Onyango Obama, the paternal grandfather of Barack Obama. Churchill long regarded Africa as an imperial playground.

It is more than time to reevaluate the legacy of Churchill, and deconstruct the false edifice of Churchillism. The latter is only a propaganda tool which obscures the crimes of Empire.

Tetrapods, walking ‘fishapods,’ Tiktaalik, Qikiqtania and transitioning from water to land

The transition from water-based living to land is one of the most pivotal moments in the history of life on Earth. A number of fossils, discovered by a team of researchers in the Canadian Arctic, sheds light on this crucial question. In 2004, a team of researchers lead by Neil Shubin from the University of Chicago, discovered a series of fossils which help answer the questions surrounding this transition.

Tiktaalik – from fish to land-dwelling vertebrates

The fossils were discovered on Ellesmere Island, northern Canada, in 2004. Named Tiktaalik roseae, the genus name meaning “large shallow water fish” in the indigenous language of Canada’s Nunavut Territory nations, is a transitional extinct species possessing features of fish and also tetrapods – four-limbed vertebrates. Tiktaalik used its frontal fins to move itself in a walking fashion in shallow waters, straddling the transition to amphibious living.

Tetrapods are four-limbed vertebrates – amphibians, reptiles, mammals, me, you – it includes an extensive series of animal phyla. This body form first appeared in the Devonian geologic period. The Devonian is known by palaeontologists as the age of fishes. Amphibious animals, emerging in the Devonian, came to be the dominant form of life in the next geologic period, the Carboniferous.

Tiktaalik demonstrates the transition from swimming fish to land-based locomotion for vertebrates. Tiktaalik, while possessing fish characteristics, also had wrist bones, so it could propel itself with its front limbs. Wrist bones are lacking in fossils earlier than the Tiktaalik. Located in sediment beds dating back to 375 million years ago, this stratigraphy layer is located in Devonian geological period.

Qikiqtania – the ‘fishapod’ which went back to the water

The amphibians, the first true tetrapods, evolved from the lobe-finned fishes, but finding the transition from the fishy ancestors of amphibians and true tetrapods has been challenging until now. Related to the discovery of Tiktaalik is another fossil cousin, Qikiqtania wakei, named from the indigenous Inuit languages where the fossil was found.

Another ‘fishapod’ – no, that word is not a scientific classification, but a portmanteau made up by writers. Actually, Qikiqtania is a type of elpistostegalian, a prehistoric species of lobe-finned fish. Qikiqtania’s pectoral fin contains a humerus bone. However, Qikiqtania was more suited to life in the water, and returned there soon after its land-dwelling phase. Neil Shubin, a palaeontologist from the University of Chicago, stated about Qikiqtania that:

The specimen includes partial upper and lower jaws, portions of the neck, and scales,”

“Mostly importantly, it also features a complete pectoral fin with a distinct humerus bone that lacks the ridges that would indicate where muscles and joints would be on a limb geared toward walking on land.”

The media release about these findings from the University of Chicago make the following important point:

We tend to think animals evolved in a straight line that connects their prehistoric forms to some living creature today, but Qikiqtania shows that some animals stayed on a different path that ultimately didn’t work out. Maybe that’s a lesson for those wishing Tiktaalik had stayed in the water with it.

While Tiktaalik’s front fins contained bones which correspond to our humerus, wrist, ulna and radius bones, the later Qikiqtania only had a corresponding humerus bone. Qikiqtania, while closely related to Tiktaalik, took on a different evolutionary pathway. Tiktaalik, in contrast to Qikiqtania, had a mobile neck, allowing it to support its head out of the water and adjust to gravity. The fish-to-tetrapod transition marked the beginning of the vertebrate dwelling in terrestrial ecosystems.

Nowhere in the scientific literature is there any reference to a ‘social Darwinist’ competition between emergent species, nor any ‘struggle for existence’. The tetrapods did not emerge by smashing their competitors, or becoming the strongest ‘king’ of their ecosystem. Neither is there any reference to a supernatural creator, or teleological direction in the evolutionary process. If you want to discuss philosophical issues of theism, or a faith-based natural history of life on Earth, please save that for another blog article.

Evolution, rather than proceeding in a straight linear fashion, moves in a series of branching tree-like pathways. Tiktaalik, and Qikiqtania, are not merely ‘stepping stones’ on the way to the eventual emergence of vertebrate organisms.

When it comes to eugenics, the Nazis were inspired by the example of the United States

Eugenics is normally associated with the barbarity of Nazi Germany and its perversion of science. It is regarded as something of a historical curiosity, as we dust off the cobwebs in the archives. However, when we examine eugenics more closely, we can find the one country which inspired the Nazi party with its eugenicist practices – the United States.

Let’s start with a very basic definition; eugenics (good breeding) is a belief that the quality of human beings can be improved by selectively breeding those with superior traits. If it can be done with animals, why not with humans? This idea is nothing new; the Ancient Greek philosopher Plato advocated the selective procreation of those with superior qualities as part of his plan for renewal in The Republic.

It was in the nineteenth century, with scientific advances in agriculture and human biology, that eugenics as a social movement began to take off. Francis Galton (1822 – 1911), a cousin of Charles Darwin, coined the term eugenics and did his utmost to develop the pseudoscience of social Darwinism. Earlier, the Reverend Thomas Malthus, concerned about the rising numbers of the poor – including Irish immigration – proposed population control measures directed at restricting the dispossessed from reproducing.

It is important to note that Darwin never endorsed the Victorian-era perversion of evolutionary biology into the pseudoscientific detour of eugenics. The purported ‘survival of the fittest’ motivation was an expression of the English ruling class’ desire that the lower classes and poor would die off, and thus remove any threat to the unequal status quo. Providing a scientific veneer to the status quo became a hobby horse of the English intellectual community.

In Britain, the church along with industrial leaders were supportive of eugenics. However, it was in the United States that eugenicist thinking received enormous corporate philanthropy – the Rockefeller foundation, the Carnegie Institution and financial magnates, provided strong backing for the development of eugenics pseudoscience.

Malthus was worried about the pressures of an increased population on the food supply – he directed his ire at the Irish immigrant community. Blaming migrants for socioeconomic problems was not unique to Britain. Madison Grant (1865 – 1937), American conservationist and lawyer, worried that by allowing the genetically inferior races to settle in the US – such as Jews, Eastern and Southern Europeans – the US was committing ‘race suicide’.

Racially restrictive immigration laws were passed at the national level. Numerous individual states in the US passed forcible sterilisation laws impacting the disabled, the so-called ‘feeble-minded’ and prison populations. Americans were attempting to breed a ‘better race’; numerous competitions for finding ‘better babies’ were based on eugenicist principles.

Madison Grant’s book, The Passing of the Great Race (1916), found a receptive audience in Germany (and throughout Europe for that matter). Reissued numerous times in the 1920s, none other than Adolf Hitler, writing a fan letter to Grant, stated that ‘your book was my bible.’ The theory of a superior Nordic white race did not originate with the Nazi party.

The Nazi hierarchy, and the wider German scientific community, closely studied, and found inspiration in, the eugenics movement in the US. American laws restricting the breeding of those with ‘defective’ genes were templates for similar laws in Germany. The Carnegie Institution developed close links with German race scientists in the 1920s. The Germans noted that the US Supreme Court, in 1927, sanctioned involuntary sterilisation. The US state of Virginia, the Germans observed, passed laws that explicitly stated the preservation of the white race as their goal.

The pseudoscience of eugenics provided a veneer of legitimacy for the policies of exclusion and legalised discrimination. The indigenous Americans, similarly to European Jews, were subjected to a multistage programme of annihilation – compulsory detention, increased pressures to emigrate and/or deportation, enforced resettlement, cultural exclusion and physical liquidation.

The parallels between the Nazi policy of lebensraum – living space for Germans and the liquidation of the genetically ‘inferior’ races – and the American policy of dispossession and extermination of indigenous nations – are striking. It may be uncomfortable to learn of the similarities – notwithstanding the differences between the Third Reich and the United States.

We are all well aware that the Nazi party regarded the Jews as genetically inferior. Anne Frank, German-Dutch Jewish diarist, died in a Nazi-run concentration camp because of that belief. When the United States, in its eugenicist crusade to ‘preserve the white race’, refused entry to European Jews fleeing the Nazis, their refusal was also based on that belief. So, we can say that Anne Frank died, not only because she was deemed genetically inferior by the Nazi party, but also because the US political establishment believed that as well.

Post-Soviet territorial changes, Karabakh’s self-determination, and irredentism

Armenians in the diaspora were – and still are – quite rightly concerned about the struggle of their brethren in Nagorno-Karabakh. An enclave of Armenians inside neighbouring Azerbaijan, the most recent war between the two nations resulted in Azeri military victories, followed by the implementation of a Moscow-brokered peace agreement. This dispute, originating in the immediate aftermath of the post-Soviet dissolution, contains lessons for us today.

There is no shortage of self-proclaimed experts on the Armenian question among the Sydney Armenians. There is no shortage of commentary about on solutions of international geopolitical tensions among the diasporan Armenians. Ethnic chauvinism seems to be a mini-national pastime, and not only among the Armenian diaspora.

While I have gladly avoided joining this highly esteemed club of scholars on the Armenian question, the Karabakh issue does raise important observations about self-determination, ethnic separatism and irredentism, particularly with regard to the dysfunctional monstrosities that emerged after the breakup of the USSR.

Seceding from Azerbaijani control is a serious step. The Azeris, in the post-Soviet era, have launched a pan-Turkish ideology that seeks to unite all Turkic peoples into one massive confederation. There were killings of Armenians in Baku and Sumgait as early as 1988-89, in the immediate wake of Gorbachev’s perestroika. Gorbachev allowed all kinds of nationalist sentiment to surface, each advocating an irredentist outlook.

Karabagh, or Artsakh as the Armenians like to call it, was given autonomous status within the Azerbaijani Soviet republic back in the 1920s by the Communist authorities. As far as I am aware, there is no evidentiary basis for the claim that Stalin surreptitiously betrayed Bolshevik party policy, and secretly awarded Karabagh to Azerbaijan. Be that as it may, is the Armenian claim to Karabagh based on irredentism, arising from the immediate aftermath of the dissolution of the USSR?

The weakening of socialist internationalism – a consequence of the USSR’s dissolution – provided an ideological vacuum into which all sorts of ethnic separatist and nationalist sentiments poured. The status of Nagorno-Karabakh, disputed since 1988-89, is an example of the clash of rival nationalisms claiming victim hood status. The first Nagorno-Karabakh war, in abeyance since 1994, resulted in the effective secession of the territory from Azerbaijani control. The Karabakh Armenians also seized territory from Azerbaijan proper to establish a land corridor to the Armenian republic.

Irredentism and ethnic separatism

Irredentism proposes that a national community, regardless of borders, should be reclaimed into one territorial unit. Mussolini, back in his day, claimed that Italians living in Istria and Dalmatia were subjected to forcible Slavicisation by the then Austro-Hungarian empire. Whether that is true or not, I do not know. He launched an aggressive campaign to reclaim these territories hiding behind the principle of self determination. Italian politicians until today like to claim Istria and Dalmatia as long lost Italian possessions, much to the chagrin of their neighbours.

The Nazi party used the same irredentist argument, claiming that the Sudetenland Germans were being persecuted by the Czechoslovak government. The leader of the Sudetenland Germans, Henlein, turned out to be a Nazi agent. In the current political climate, the United States, through the mechanism of the Helsinki commission, promotes ethnic separatists in Russia (such as Circassian figures), disguising its predatory objectives under the cloak of ‘decolonisation.’

Have the Karabakh Armenians reached out to the independent regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia? The latter two republics, part of the nation of Georgia, faced discrimination and persecution by the post-Soviet national chauvinist Georgian authorities. Fighting a secessionist war (in similar fashion to Karabakh), these two republics agreed to the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in the 1990s.

For that matter, you could draw a direct parallel between the Karabakh issue and the newly formed pro-Russian republics in the Donbas region of Lugansk and Donetsk. The latter two regions, facing a protracted war by the ethnic chauvinist Ukrainian regime, decided to seek the protection of Russia. To my knowledge, the diaspora Armenians have not come out in support of neither the Donbas republics, nor Abkhazia or South Ossetia.

I am very happy that the Karabagh Armenians defended themselves. They achieved independent status in 1994, and the conflict with Azerbaijan was frozen until 2020-21. The Azeri regime’s policy of pan-Turkism makes any chances of autonomy within Azerbaijan impossible.

However, irredentism is not a long term solution. Moscow has put in place a peace plan, and I think we should stick to it. Perhaps Karabagh became a cause célèbre among diasporan Armenians because it arose out of the anticommunist aftermath of the USSR’s dissolution, rather than any commitment to human rights or social justice.

Muslim Spain, the Moors, Afrocentrism and scientific advances

In the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Morgan Freeman plays a Moorish character, one of the few positive representations of Muslims in Hollywood movies. The Moor is depicted as more educated and worldly than his Christian counterparts. The most famous Moor in the English-speaking world is of course the titular character in Shakespeare Othello. But who were the Moors, mostly known as the Islamic conquerors of Spain and Portugal?

Before we get to that, let’s relate some important background; in the late 1980s Saul Bellow, a right wing culture warrior, shouted at his readership ‘who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus?’ He carried out a culture war which included dismissing the black African civilisations and upholding Western civilisation as the cynosure of rationalism and scientific enquiry. We will see that this position is absolutely false.

It is perfectly true that the Muslims civilised the peoples of the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal). Named by the Europeans as Moors, the Al-Andalus caliphate flourished, and made great advances in science, engineering, mathematics and philosophy. Called Moorish, this term was used by the Europeans as a blanket term for anyone of darker complexion – Arabs, Berbers and sub-Saharan Africans.

The designation Moorish – which we use in common parlance for a type of art or architecture from Muslim Spain – lazily lumps together different ethnicities. Islamic Arabs, black Africans, and the pre-Islamic indigenous inhabitants of North Africa, the Berbers – have been encompassed by the generic term Moors. First applied by the Romans to darker skinned people from Northern Africa, the term Moor was gradually extended to describe Arab, Muslim, Berber and sub-Saharan Africans.

The term Berber is actually a misnomer. The indigenous inhabitants of North Africa, prior to the Islamic Arab conquest, are self-described Amazigh. Defeated by the Arab Muslim armies, the Berbers converted to Islam or assimilated. One of their number, an Islamised Berber Tariq Ibn Ziyad, became a military commander in the Muslim armies. He led the Islamic conquest of Spain, in 711 AD, defeating the Visigoths, a Germanic people.

Al Andalus became a centre of scientific accomplishments and education, at a time when most of Europe and Britain were illiterate. Averroes (1126 – 1198 CE, Arabic name Ibn Rushd) was one of a number of astronomers and polymaths produced by Islamic Spain. Ibn Zuhr (1094 – 1162 CE) was an Andalusian surgeon who can lay claim to be the earliest to detect cancerous tissues in the oesophagus, stomach and uterus.

To be sure, sub-Saharan African civilisations made their own scientific and philosophical accomplishments independently of Europe. Decades before John Locke, David Hume and the philosophers we all regard as founders of the Enlightenment, the Ethiopian philosopher and writer Zera Yacob (1599 – 1692) already developed the ideas of rational enquiry and scientific skepticism we associate with Enlightenment values. Here is one example of an African philosopher Tolstoy which Bellow never encountered.

Yacob, building on the long tradition of philosophy in black African Ethiopia, went further than Locke or Hume. Questioning the unchallenged supremacy of faith, he not only counterposed reason, but also explicitly opposed slavery, and advocated for the rights of women. Enlightenment ideas pop up in places which are ignored by the Anglocentric mind.

It is completely inaccurate however, to characterise Islamic Spain as a uniquely black African Moorish establishment, as Garikai Chengu does in his article. While correct in responding to European cultural arrogance, and highlighting the achievements of non-European civilisations, Chengu’s advocacy of an Afrocentrist approach, subsuming ancient Egypt and the Moors into one black sub-Saharan African identity, is wildly off the mark.

To emphasise the allegedly black African character of Islamic Spain, and ignore the contribution of Arab Islamic people, results in the dismissal of the significant achievement of Al Andalus under the Muslim rulers. Let us accept the fact that the Arab Muslims cannot be disrespected as just a marauding bunch of slave traders. Chengu, a brilliant scholar in his own right, is a fascinating writer. His articles are always worth reading.

For that reason, it is disappointing to see him recycling discredited Afrocentric myths, such as the tired old cliche that black African peoples sailed across the Atlantic and discovered the Americas before Columbus. Islamic Spain already has a contested legacy in Europe. Both Spain and Portugal are still wrestling with the historical fact that Islam made a huge imprint on their collective histories.

In Portugal, archaeologists and historians are still discovering just how integral the Islamic contributions were to the nation’s identity. The construction of a specifically Iberian identity was made in opposition to the Islamic states, emphasising the centrality of Christianity in the formation of Spain and Portugal as modern states.

The Reconquista, the systematic multi-century expulsion of the Moors from the Iberian peninsula, was an early example of religio-ethnic cleansing. Filomena Barros, a professor at the University of Evora, made a salient observation; we never talk about the Roman or Visigothic conquest of Spain and Portugal, but we always refer to the Islamic conquest.

Let’s end with the words of Garikai Chengu, to be fair; he concludes with the following observations, which we would do well to follow:

If Africans re-write their true history, they will reveal a glory that they will inevitably seek to recapture. After all, the greatest threat towards Africa having a glorious future is her people’s ignorance of Africa’s glorious past.

Exactly. The same applies to the glories of Islamic Spain.

Being a non-drinker in Australia

When I explain to people that I do not drink alcohol, I am usually confronted with a look of stunned outrage, followed by the question ‘You don’t drink?! why not?’ My interlocutor has trouble getting over the shock that I choose, for non-religious reasons, to abstain from alcohol. They look at me like an alien being from another planet.

Rather than elaborate my reasons every time, I thought it would be best to write down why I am very happy being a teetotaller (that means non-drinker for the non-Australian readers). First off, while Australians have a strong culture of drinking – at social occasions, or a tipple over dinner in the evenings – that picture is changing. The ABC news reported in 2020 that the number of ex-drinkers in Australia over the three year period 2016 – 19 increased from 1.5 to 1.9 million Australians. Secondly, respondents listed their reasons for non-drinking, and religious reasons were hardly the only motivation for living the teetotal life.

Health reasons were often cited as the main concern for avoiding or giving up alcohol. Better health, less calories and sugar, avoiding hangovers, lessening liver damage, avoiding the harmful social consequences of excessive drinking, reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes – all these reasons featured in the decision of increasing numbers of people to abstain from, or give up, alcohol consumption. Greater numbers of young people are choosing to become non-drinkers.

The academic and researcher Dr Amy Pennay of La Trobe University found the following result:

Twenty-one per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 24 per cent of 25- to 29-year-olds don’t drink, and both those figures have more than doubled since 2001.

“We haven’t seen one particular age group driving consumption before, to my knowledge,” Dr Pennay says.

“So the fact that it’s young people is quite new and unique.”

No, there is no moralising judgement about people who decide to partake of alcohol; no need to pester or lecture alcohol-drinkers. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends pacing yourself – yes, we are all familiar with the generic statement, ‘everything in moderation.’ That saying is all well and good, but is completely inadequate in dealing with the harmful social and health impacts of alcohol consumption.

I have never needed alcohol to have an enjoyable time. I have never liked the taste or smell of alcohol. It seems to me that if a person requires alcohol to have a good time, they must be lacking in social skills, or perhaps there is something lacking in their life which they fill with drinking. Consider the following – think of a hobby or sport you do not like. You may have tried it in the past, but it is just not for you. That is the way I regard alcohol. Beers, whisky, liquor, spirits, ouzo – while I have sampled each, I would not miss them if they were all poured down the drain.

That leads me to my next point – the Sudanese government, in the last few days, abolished in 1980s era ban on alcohol consumption for non-Muslims in the nation. Reducing the Islamically-influenced body of laws introduced by the previous regime, the current Khartoum government stipulated that while alcohol may be consumed, it must be done in private, and on condition that the public peace not be disturbed.

I remember in the late 1980s or early 1990s, watching a documentary about the Sudan, when the former leader of that nation, Colonel Jaafar Nimeiry outlawed alcohol in 1983. He led a public procession where the contents of thousands of whisky and liquor bottles were poured down the drains and into the Nile. In my own naive way at the time, I thought, well, I am not Muslim, but if he has his reasons to encourage non-drinking in his own nation, then maybe I am not so alone in my alcohol abstinence in Western Sydney.

So, thank you Colonel Nimeiry for giving me the courage to recognise my own non-drinking, and the resilience to stick with it in an alcohol-saturated culture.

Public intoxication has always been a sad sight to behold, in my opinion. After observing the antisocial behaviour of public drunkenness, I became even more determined to never end up like that. Once again, for the simpletons and clods out there – I have no problem with any adult deciding to drink. It is your decision and I accept it. Be aware of the risks of alcohol consumption, and please do not try to convince me that I am missing anything by remaining sober.

In that spirit, please understand and accept my reasons to abstain from alcohol. The only alcohol I taste is in the mouthwash I use for dental hygiene – which I then spit out.

The late great Albert Facey, Australian writer and World War 1 veteran, relates an episode in his classic memoirs A Fortunate Life. While working as a farm boy, he poured alcohol down the drain after observing his employer behave violently towards his subordinates. As a consequence, Facey was horsewhipped by his employer. Escaping, he taught himself to read and write, and went on to have, in his words, a fortunate life.

Facey, as an adolescent, was aware of the adverse impacts of alcohol-fuelled behaviour. My hope is that more of my fellow Australians become just as aware as him.

Shinzo Abe’s assassination, emotional shock and falling on your own sword

No doubt the news about the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (1954 – 2022) sent shock waves throughout the world. The longest serving Japanese PM, Abe is being remembered as a successful political figure. The shock of his assassination – and our condemnation of political killings – should not blind us to the fact that Abe was an ultranationalist and militarist politician, who sought to whitewash Imperial Japan’s war crimes at the expense of historical accountability.

There are events, years apart, that serve as timely reminders of the passing of an age. Abe’s assassination, and the circumstances surrounding his career, are eerily reminiscent of an earlier event – the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister, the right wing militarist Yitzhak Rabin, in November 1995. The parallels between the two horrific killings are striking, but we will get to that a little later.

Throughout his political career, Abe was a leading proponent of remilitarising Japan, working to repudiate Article 9 of the Japanese constitution. The popularly named pacifist clause, this article of the post-World War 2 constitution stipulates that Japanese armed forces cannot be used for waging aggressive war, and must not be deployed outside of Japanese territory. Abe and his fellow militarists worked to repudiate this clause – or at least to provide the Japanese self-defence forces with wider powers and increased capabilities.

Hand-in-hand with his remilitarisation drive was Abe’s concerted efforts to revise the criminal history of Japanese imperialism in World War 2. He denied or downplayed the sensitive issue of ‘comfort women’ – the enforced recruitment of thousands of women as sex workers for the Japanese military in China, Korea and other nations occupied by Japan. He finally apologised for that crime, specifically to South Korea, in order to patch up differences and recruit Seoul for a war drive against China.

Minimising the terrible crimes of Japanese forces in China and Korea was part of his foreign policy to renew Japan as a re-assertive power. Domestically, he promoted neoliberal capitalist measures given the grandiose title of ‘Abenomics’, a hat-tip to the discredited ‘Reaganomics’ of the 1980s. Indeed, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, in describing Abe’s economic and social programme, referred to Abe as ‘Trump before Trump’.

Earlier, mention was made of the 1995 assassination of former Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin. The latter, hailed as a visionary peacemaker for signing the 1993 Oslo accords, was assassinated by an ultranationalist Judeo-supremacist Yigal Amir. Rabin’s murder was greeted with a chorus of shock and anger – another ostensibly moderate politician gunned down by an extremist. However, a closer look at the political and military career of Yitzhak Rabin reveals, not a courageous man of peace, but a hardened and vicious anti-Arab racist.

He participated and led numerous military operations, in 1948 and 1967, which resulted in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian towns and the occupation of Palestinian land. During the first intifada of 1987, he vowed to ‘break the bones’ of the Palestinians. In 1993, the year he was awarded the Nobel peace prize, Rabin carried out Operation Accountability, a whole scale attack on Southern Lebanon, which displaced thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians. The use of force, rationalised as a simple ‘response’ to Hezbollah rockets, destroyed Lebanese infrastructure and inflicted collective punishment.

These kinds of attacks, rather than being an aberration for the allegedly ‘liberal’ Rabin, were actually part and parcel of his character as a dedicated soldier of Zionism. Rabin, as a commander in the Israeli army, participated in the 1948 conquest of Lydda and Ramle, which resulted in the exodus of the Palestinian population. Nothing in Rabin’s career suggests that he regarded the Palestinians as anything but unwanted people to be expelled.

Denounced as a traitor for signing the Oslo accords with the Palestinians, Rabin faced a growing ultranationalist insurgency inside Israeli society. Finally, in 1995, Rabin was felled by a Zionist extremist. It was shocking and horrific to see such an assassination. For all the simpletons and clods out there; no, there is no justification for assassination, whether of Abe, Rabin, or JFK for that matter. The ideologies and practices of Abe and Rabin ensured that they would eventually fall on their own swords.

Before anyone provides moralising lectures about the sanctity of all human life, and not trampling on anyone’s grave, consider the following. I grieve for Alex Odeh. Who was that? Alex Odeh was a Palestinian American, born in 1944 in British-Mandate Palestine. A talented and dedicated student, he migrated to the United States in the 1970s, organised the Arab American Anti-Discrimination committee, and worked to promote peaceful dialogue and solutions between the Arab American and Jewish communities.

A trailblazing human rights activist, Odeh was assassinated in his offices in 1985. Zionist extremists had planted a bomb on his premises. Until today, no-one has been arrested or prosecuted for his murder. The FBI, while initially naming suspects, has left Odeh’s case unsolved. Two suspects, both American-raised Zionists, are still living openly in Israel.

Justice delayed is justice denied. I have no tears for Shinzo Abe, Yitzhak Rabin, nor JFK. I used them up for Alex Odeh. I look forward to the day when Odeh’s assassins are brought to justice, and the ideology which motivated them is discredited.