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.

The humanities, being employable and a cross-cultural perspective

It is always great to be proud of your ethnic heritage. It is also the case that such pride can quickly translate into narrow ethnic chauvinism, blinding us to the achievements and perspectives of other cultures. The Armenians in diaspora have accomplished success against the odds. However, this must not cause us to be indifferent to interethnic solidarity, and we must learn about and respect the tremendous achievements of non-Armenian civilisations.

No, I am not singling out the Armenians for specific condemnation. I am relating a problem that I have found in Australia’s particular variety of multiculturalism. While we are more culturally diverse than ever, according to the latest census data, we are lagging in interethnic awareness and solidarity. While we need more ethnic diversity reflected in our institutions, we also require greater cross-cultural awareness to increase bonds of solidarity between ethnic minorities.

The most practical subjects that I have studied are the humanities, sometimes called the social sciences. There is nothing wrong with tackling subjects to increase employability. The law, accountancy, medicine – these are all essential professions. However, to dismiss the humanities as just time-wasting topics rendering their graduates unemployable is a perverse and narrow-minded perspective.

Consider the observations of Charlotte Colombo, in an article for The Independent. The problem is not that humanities graduates are unemployable or unfit for the business community, but that government policy and corporations are creating and sustaining employment conditions rendering more jobs precarious and casual. The rise of the gig economy makes the workforce the precariat. Do not scapegoat the humanities for the economic problems plaguing neoliberal capitalism.

What relevance does this have for interethnic cooperation? Migrant communities have focused on achieving material prosperity in the host nation. However, each group has exclusively highlighted their own stories while ignoring that which we have in common. One of the issues which my late father took seriously was the cause of the Palestinians. Why would an Egyptian-born Armenian and descendant of Armenian genocide survivors be interested in Palestine? Because of interethnic and anti-imperialist solidarity.

The issue of human rights is not the exclusive province of one ethnic or religious group. Promoting the cause of the Palestinians is not to ignore or belittle the issues of the Armenians. Cross-cultural solidarity is an essential requirement for the construction of a socially just society. As Araxie Cass explained why she went to rallies in support of Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian town in East Jerusalem under attack:

I attended the rally because I believe that the attacks, apartheid and ethnic cleansing imposed on Palestinians by the Israeli government is wrong. But it also reminded me of an important lesson I learned in the past year about solidarity.

As Cass elaborated, solidarity is not a transactional issue – going opportunistically to a Palestine event just so they can attend Armenian events is definitely not the purpose. It is important to have a cross-cultural perspective to understand the problems of apartheid, settler-colonialism and imperial power in the modern world.

Decades ago, while going through school, we learnt about Isaac Newton, the father of optics, but how many of us in the Australian school system know of Ibn Haytham (c. 965 – 1040 CE), an Islamic scientist and polymath who first suggested that light reaches our eyes in the form of rays? This observation overturned centuries of received Aristotelian wisdom, and he conducted experiments which established optics as a separate branch of physics, predating Newton by hundreds of years.

We all learn about, or are at least acquainted with, the mind-body dualism as elaborated by Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650), a great accomplishment in the Western philosophical tradition. However, how many of us in the Anglophone world are aware of the thought experiments of Avicenna (c. 980 – 1037 CE), whose ‘flying man’ scenario was an earlier elaboration of the issue of human self-awareness; what we today would call the psyche.

There is a more contemporary comparison which can be made. Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972) was a pioneering poet, who influenced his peers and followers in the decades of the twentieth century. His poetry is still regarded in great esteem, even in the light of his fascist collaboration during the war years. That is all well and good; but how many of us are familiar with the poets, novelists, musicians and writers of the Harlem Renaissance? The poetry of Langston Hughes (1901 – 1967) was just one product of the cultural and intellectual revival of African American culture in the 1920s. This movement rejuvenated the fields of art, music, fashion, politics and literature.

The social sciences – history, sociology, philosophy, anthropology and so on – have proven to be quite practical in understanding the contentious sociopolitical issues of our times.

Charlottesville, Jerusalem flag day, Ulster Orange July and ultranationalist marches

Street marches are a public and powerful expression of one’s political and sociocultural beliefs. Like-minded people gathering together to express their collective will is an empowering experience. Does not everyone have the right to march peacefully in a democratic society? When the ultranationalist Right marches, they do so for the purpose of intimidation and exclusion, countering any notion of multiethnic or labour solidarity.

The 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia – bringing together numerous racist and neo-Confederate groups – was not just a jolly jamboree of recreation. It was an expression of a resurgent white nationalist movement, intended to intimidate minority communities. The demonstrators made clear their determination to reverse the gains made by the civil rights and antiracist movements.

Charlottesville was not the only, and certainly not the last example, of an intimidatory march by a racialised group. The Ulster Orange Order, the pro-British loyalists from the Northern Ireland statelet, stage provocative Protestant ascendancy marches in the Catholic communities of northern Irish towns. Commemorating the victory of Prince William of Orange – a Protestant – over the Catholic James II, the Ulster loyalists deliberately assert the Protestant ascendancy as a bastion of British rule.

The marches of the Orange Order are hardly a simple exercise in free speech and historical memory. They are a triumphalist and sectarian expression of pro-imperial sentiment. Catholic and Irish nationalist communities face the threat of sectarian violence and disruption whenever the Orange loyalist marching season takes place.

The sectarian character of the Orange Ulster marches are no accident. Based on a putative commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne, the Orange marches reinforce British imperial rule over the Northern Ireland statelet, and buttress the Protestant ascendancy in that artificially constructed entity.

Jerusalem flag day

On May 29 every year, thousands of ultrarightist Israeli settlers and extremists march through the streets of East Jerusalem. That date is Flag day, a holiday instituted by Israeli authorities as a triumphalist celebration of the capture of the West Bank and Jerusalem in the 1967 war. Intended as a provocative and sectarian march, the settlers – usually with the connivance of the police and military – chant genocidal slogans and attack the Palestinian residents.

Chanting ‘death to Arabs’, and ‘may your village burn’, the flag march is calculated to increase tensions, wave multiple Israeli flags in a sneering expression of contemptuous triumphalism, and remind the Palestinians of their status as second class citizens in the apartheid state. This year, a new chant was heard by the Palestinians – ‘there is no Shireen’. This is a reference to the targeted assassination of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh earlier this year.

Not only have Israeli ultranationalist settlers marched through the mainly Palestinian quarters of East Jerusalem. They have also staged numerous incursions into the Al Aqsa mosque and its territory. The mosque compound is regularly targeted by Zionist settlers in an attempt to inflame sectarian and religious tensions, with the goal of demolishing one of Islam’s holiest sites.

In a similar way to Ulster loyalism, the Israeli ultrarightist settlers believe they have biblical sanction to carry out their provocative activities against the minority groups. In fact, it is no exaggeration to state that Zionism is the equivalent of a Jewish Ulster in Palestine. Both ideologies, while claiming to be emancipatory projects, actually reinforce the imperatives of empire.

The Skokie case

Professor Joseph Massad, in an article for Middle East Eye, draws a direct and necessary comparison between the actions of the ultranationalist Israeli marchers and a historic case – the Skokie affair. The American neo-Nazi party – officially called the National Socialist Party of America – sought to march in Skokie, a mostly Jewish suburb of Illinois in 1977 – a place where numerous Holocaust survivors lived. How would the authorities react to white supremacists marching through a largely Jewish community?

A protracted legal battle ensued, after the local authorities used various means to stop the march. The American neo-Nazis posed as simple and aggrieved defenders of free speech. What is wrong with white Americans expressing their pride in their race? The litigants went all the way to the US Supreme Court. The latter decided to allow the march to continue, in defence of First Amendment rights.

After a sustained and large community outcry about the proposed march, the American neo-Nazi party marched – but not in Skokie, but downtown Chicago. Numbering about 25 in all, they were overwhelmed by thousands of anti-Nazi counter demonstrators. Jewish community groups established a Holocaust museum, providing an educational device for Americans to learn about the suffering of the Jewish people.

Free speech is a right to be treasured – but it is not a blanket licence to simply say whatever is on your mind. Every public utterance – on social media as well – has consequences and impacts the public discussion. The goal is not to make everyone ‘extra careful’ or jittery about what they say. The purpose is to expose those who hide hateful or exclusionary messages behind the seemingly mild disguise of free speech. In this era of increasing ultranationalist marches, it is high time to call them out as parades of hate.

Operation Paperclip, abandoned refugees, and the careers of ex-Nazis after the war

In a few of my previous articles, I mentioned Operation Paperclip, the secret US programme to bring Nazi scientists to America. Only cursory comments were made on this topic; it is time for a closer examination of this episode. Why? It contains relevant lessons for today, not only because of the rise of Eastern European ultranationalist politicians, but also because of what this historical undertaking indicates about the current nature of American society.

In brief, Operation Paperclip involved secretly capturing and bringing Nazi German scientists, engineers and technical experts to the United States. Their expertise in military and scientific matters was considered valuable to the political objectives of the US (and Britain), and they were put to use during the Cold War. In all, approximately 1600 personnel, and their families, were brought to the United States.

A project carried out by US Army intelligence services in conjunction with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – the latter reorganised as the CIA in due course – the Nazi past of these scientists, and their involvement in the Nazi party, the SS, and complicity in war crimes – was overlooked or whitewashed.

The definitive account of this operation is the book Operation Paperclip: The secret intelligence program that brought Nazi scientists to America (2014) by Annie Jacobsen. Originally, the programme was called Overcast, it was renamed after the practice of denoting the files of these Nazi scientists with a paperclip. The culpability of the scientific personnel in war crimes was ignored.

A key goal of the American authorities was to ensure harnessing the vast knowledge capital of the Nazi German scientists. Capturing information about the development of German non-conventional weapons – biological, chemical, nuclear – was important, but not enough. What mattered was the acquisition of the scientists, engineers and technical people themselves.

Located near Nordhausen, Germany, the Mittelwerk-Dora concentration camp complex, was the site where thousands of slave labourers, working in atrocious conditions, provided materials for the Nazi rocketry programme. Many died of starvation, malnutrition and rampant disease. Those who were too slow were killed outright. Wernher von Braun, one of the main rocket scientists employed by the Americans after the war, visited Mittelwerk and oversaw the conditions of the forced labourers himself. The rocket factories were places of exhaustion by overwork and death.

One other person who witnessed the death and inhumanity of the rocket factory complex was American soldier John Risen Jones Jr, Private First Class and sharpshooter with the 104th infantry division. He was so traumatised by the sight of emaciated slave labourers, the stench of death and decaying bodies, and the depravity of condemning so many thousands to death through overwork, he could not talk about what he saw for 51 years. He was just one of thousands of American WW2 soldiers who witnessed first hand the horror of the concentration camps.

While Nazi scientists, engineers and technicians were being spirited away to safety in Britain and the United States, millions of the victims of the Holocaust and the concentration camps – slave labourers, displaced persons and their families – were struggling to rebuild their lives, languishing in makeshift camps across war-ravaged Europe. The testimonies of American war veterans – such as those of Risen Jones mentioned above – were dismissed in the interests of Cold War power politics.

Holocaust survivors and displaced persons were definitely not welcomed with open arms by Britain or the United States. The contrasting treatment of the Paperclip scientists, who were welcomed, and the plight of displaced persons (who were largely ignored) highlights the ethical bankruptcy of postwar American capitalism.

An opinion piece in the OpIndia publication is subtitled, How the USA helped Nazi criminals from WWII evade justice to advance its own military ambitions – not a bad summary. It is useful at this point to highlight that Operation Paperclip was not an exception or unusual undertaking by the United States. Read the account by journalist Eric Lichblau (2014) The Nazis Next Door: How America became a safe haven for Hitler’s men. Not only did Nazi aerospace engineers find sanctuary in the United States, but also former SS and Gestapo personnel, officers involved in the most atrocious war crimes.

Karl Wolff, former Nazi functionary and general, was a personal liaison to Hitler and Himmler. This SS general, considered a ‘moderate Nazi’, met with and was recruited by Allen Dulles, head of the OSS. The latter, morphing into the CIA, continued this practice of shielding former Nazi intelligence officers.

What kind of nation claims to be an exceptional country, priding itself on its democratic institutions, yet recruits white supremacists and murderers into its ranks? This is the ultimate act of disrespect not only to the millions of displaced persons in Europe after the conclusion of hostilities, but also to the American WW2 veterans themselves, who witnessed the degradation and inhumanity of what the Nazi regime and its practitioners established.

Solzhenitsyn, Russian nationalism and anti-Russian hysteria

If we are to believe that Moscow, in its invasion of Ukraine, is contemptuous towards Ukrainian statehood, then we should not be surprised. Anticommunist Russian nationalism has been dismissive of Ukrainian claims to nationhood for years. Russian anticommunist dissidents, feted for decades in the West, expounded Greater Russian ethnic chauvinism over the airwaves. Hostility to non-Russian ethnic groups, including Ukrainians, has been part and parcel of Russian nationalist dissenter ideology for years.

The racism of the anti-Soviet Russians did not impede their careers as celebrity dissident intellectuals in the American empire. Joseph Brodsky and Alexander Solzhenitsyn – two writers and essayists hailed as courageous heroes in the West for combating Soviet tyranny – expressed a vicious Russian ethnic chauvinism, which involved denying Ukraine its nationhood. Such sentiments are now considered repellent by the corporate media that once welcomed them.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Soviet-era dissident and internationally celebrated novelist (he won the Nobel prize for literature in 1970), expressed a Greater Russian chauvinism that corresponds to Moscow’s current thinking regarding Ukrainian sovereignty. Best known for his novels exposing the gulag system, the anticommunist Solzhenitsyn was a racist Greater Russian ultranationalist, driven by Orthodox beliefs. He advocated a resurgent Russian empire which would, among other things, combine the Crimean peninsula and the Donbas (Eastern Ukraine) under Russian control.

Solzhenitsyn, after returning to Russia in the 1990s, was quite forthright in praising the administration of Vladimir Putin. Uniting Russian ethnic chauvinism with social conservatism, Solzhenitsyn found common ground with Moscow. It is no secret that Solzhenitsyn was an antisemite, dabbling in preposterous ‘Judeo-Bolshevik’ conspiracy theories, which are the hallmarks of far right ideology. In 2007, as Solzhenitsyn was in ill-health, Putin awarded him with a state prize.

Solzhenitsyn never regarded the Ukrainians as a separate and distinct people, but simply ‘little Russians’, and proposed a Slavic union combining Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Interestingly, he cynically deployed Jewish commissar characters in his works, thus surreptitiously suggesting exclusive Jewish responsibility for the 1917 revolution and the doctrines of Bolshevism. This malignant slur has been recycled in different ways by far right movements around the world today.

Yasha Levin writes about usefully weaponised dissidents over at his blog. Weaponised dissidents are useful devices in the ideological arsenal of the American empire. Another example of a politically useful dissident which Levin raises is that of Joseph Brodsky, Russian-American poet and educator. Awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1987, Brodsky was hailed in the US as a courageous opponent of Soviet tyranny. Teaching courses at Yale, Columbia and other prestigious universities, Brodsky was given a platform to express his views.

His views involved, among other things, racist hostility to any notion of Ukrainian independence. A Greater Russian nationalist zealot – similar in outlook to Solzhenitsyn – Brodsky expressed open disdain for Ukrainian independence, especially in the early 1990s with the dissolution of the USSR. The very real possibility of Ukrainian statehood emerged at the time, and Brodsky made his views perfectly clear in a poem he wrote on the subject. Referring to Ukrainians with an ethnic slur, he denounced moves towards Ukrainian independence.

The current Russian constitution commits the government to policies which respect ethnic minorities in the Russian federation. Moscow officially supports the teaching and maintenance of non-Russian languages spoken by the numerous ethnic minority groups. This is the bare minimum expected of a government which claims to be a pluralist democracy.

In the current climate of Russophobia, with demands to ban everything Russian, it is instructive to examine how our own political climate changes with regard to the imperatives of the American military-industrial-financial complex. Calls for the banning of Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky, vodka and Russian cigarettes is the height of juvenile puerility. When the United States invaded Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia – among other nations – there were no calls to ban Mark Twain, F Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway on account of their nationality.

Maligning an entire culture and civilisation because you oppose the actions of its political leaders is precisely the kind of creeping totalitarianism we claim to combat in the West. Should we ban the work of Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936), Russian psychologist whose findings are an integral part of every university level psychology course? In fact, we have only a limited understanding of Pavlov’s work in the West.

He was interested in more than just salivating dogs and ringing metronomes. He was aiming for a comprehensive understanding of the workings of consciousness – an appreciation of the subjective factor. While primarily a physiologist, he understood that the workings of the mind, while undergirded by physiological processes, could not be reduced to only those workings. His work on the mind-matter duality as a scientist overlapped with the corresponding discussion by philosophers on the subject.

Registering opposition to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is one thing; promoting anti-Russian hysteria is quite another. A harmful and propagandistic preoccupation, let’s not give in to the blanket demonisation of an entire civilisation.

The Galileo gambit – the tactic that needs to be put to rest

We all know the story of Galileo’s persecution by the Catholic Church. Advocating a heliocentric model of the solar system – the Earth and planets revolve around the Sun, contradicting biblical literalism – the religious authorities censored Galileo and placed him under house arrest. Eventually, the maverick scientist, laughed at by the prevailing powers, was proven correct. An inspiring story to be sure – but this has given rise to the Galileo gambit.

Pseudo scientists and cranks of all kinds – from global warming deniers to creationists to Covid denialists – will at some point claim that when the scientific establishment rejects their ideas, they are in fact the equivalent of Galileo – unfairly maligned mavericks confronting a hostile and dogmatic orthodoxy.

This analogy with Galileo is a logical fallacy on a number of levels. Galileo was hardly an outsider from the scientific establishment of the time – at age 25, he was the chair of mathematics at the University of Pisa. Regarded as the father of observational astronomy, he settled at the University of Padua, and had powerful patrons – the Medici family, the latter supporting scientific investigations at the time.

When Galileo presented the results of his observations – the heliocentric model – he was building on the foundations of the Copernican revolution. The latter prompted the paradigmatic shift from the old Ptolemaic system – which regarded the Earth as stationary, occupying a central place in the universe – to the new heliocentrism. Observing the planets revolve around the Sun, Galileo was not on his own. He was cognisant of the fact that he, like Copernicus before him, was confronting the orthodox dogma of the church.

Today’s climate change deniers perversely claim that they are merely scientific mavericks challenging the status quo. However, upon closer inspection, it is the global warming deniers who are analogous to the Catholic Church; driven by a fanatical ideological commitment to the capitalist market. The billionaire corporations which pay for disseminating misinformation to undermine the scientific consensus regarding global warming are espousing a corporatist dogma flying in the face of the preponderance of evidence.

Steven Novella, writing about the Galileo syndrome, says that:

For every visionary scientist whose claims are initially rejected because they are so radical, only to be later confirmed and change our view of the universe, there are uncountable wannabes whose ideas are rejected because they are hopelessly flawed. Being rejected is not the best manner in which to be compared to Galileo, and in itself does not imply that one is a visionary or that one’s ideas are correct. Making the comparison, however, does imply a distorted self-view, and a certain lack of humility that if anything is predictive of being cranky rather than a visionary scientist.

Novella emphasises that Galileo was persecuted, and regarded as a heretic, by a church relying on divine revelation and scriptural authority, not scientific evidence. Albert Einstein, the typical outsider, rested his case on scientific evidence for his theories of special and general relativity, prior to their acceptance by the scientific community. He never promoted himself as a latter-day Galileo.

Being rejected by the scientific establishment is emotionally challenging, and throughout history, numerous scientists who were ridiculed were eventually proven correct. Alfred Wegener (1880-1930), German geologist, was laughed at by the scientific community when he first proposed the theory of continental drift, forming the basis of today’s plate tectonics.

He argued that Pangaea, a supercontinent, existed millions of years ago, which now widely accepted by the geological community. Only achieving vindication after his death, he never once compared himself to Galileo when debating the scientific establishment.

There are scientific disagreements all the time. Scientists debate issues in a wide range of areas. This is standard practice. They also reject quackery and pseudoscience. There is a long-standing tactic employed by those who are quick to wrap themselves in Galileo’s mantle – the magnified minority. The denial of human-induced global warming uses this tactic – elevate the contrarian view to convey the pretence of scientific disagreements among the experts.

Whether it is the proponents of intelligent design, or the now-forgotten HIV/AIDS deniers, posing as the wounded Galileos of our time is a cynical attempt to gain scientific legitimacy for the views of pseudoscience partisans. Back in the 1980s, with the AIDS epidemic, denial of the causal nature of HIV/AIDS, grew exponentially. Peter Duesberg, German-American biologist, still maintains that HIV is not the cause of AIDS. There were numerous declarations by dissenting scientists, pushing the case for HIV/AIDS denial.

By the early 1990s, evidence for the HIV/AIDS connection became overwhelming, but there are still holdouts until today, their hopes revived in part by the growth of Covid denialism. It is noteworthy to observe the interlapping commonalities between various forms of science denialism.

There are numerous examples of scientists, once considered absurdly mistaken, and mocked by the scientific establishment, proven correct by the weight of evidence. However, whenever the Galileo gambit is deployed, let’s remember the words of Stephen Lewandowsky; “Being dismissed by scientists doesn’t automatically entitle you to a Nobel Prize.” Being an aspirational Galileo is no guarantee that your ideas are correct.

The Great Replacement theory, eco-fascism and the Buffalo shooter

The Buffalo shooter, Payton Gendron, carried out his racially motivated hate crime – he drove hundreds of miles specifically to attack African Americans – on the basis of the Great Replacement conspiracy theory. The latter, which asserts that mysterious ‘global elites’ are intent on replacing white majority communities with nonwhite people through immigration and multiculturalism, was also cited by the El Paso gunman, the white supremacist who killed Jews in Pittsburgh, and Norwegian white terrorist Anders Breivik.

Why is it important to confront this malicious conspiracy theory? While Donald Trump, the previous president, was a white supremacist, the threat of ideologically motivated domestic terrorism goes deeper than just one politician. Its racially paranoid foundations of alleged white victimhood provides a political worldview capable of mobilising discontent.

The El Paso gunman, back in 2019, rationalised his lethal attack in eco-fascist terms; his motivation, according to his rambling manifesto, was concern about growing numbers of nonwhite immigrants on an already overburdened natural ecosystem. He also legitimised his actions in terms of the great replacement conspiracy theory.

Immigration and multiculturalism, long demonised by conservative politicians as the devious implementation of a demographic conspiracy by ‘global elites’ to replace white European communities, are regarded as threats to the white majority communities in the Anglocentric nations. It is not surprising to see that the Great Replacement conspiracy theory moving into the mainstream.

The US Republican Party, increasingly the home of fascistic and white supremacist elements, has a longstanding practice of citing the Great Replacement theory, with a view to winning over disaffected white voters. In an article for The Atlantic, Adam Serwer writes that the conservative side of politics has advocated a sanitised version of the Great Replacement theory for decades.

Demographic insecurities of the white majority community in settler colonial nations has been a device exploited by conservatives to bolster the exclusionary nature of the polity. Equality for all is the promise of American and European societies; but whom exactly can partake in that equality is up for debate. Serwer writes that in the immediate aftermath of World War 1, the pseudoscientific premises of race science and genetically-based intelligence was used to argue for an exclusion of so-called inferior races from American life.

Back in 1916, American psychologist Madison Grant argued, in his book The Passing of the Great Race, that the Anglo-Saxon Christian majority in America was under threat of being swamped by an influx of nonwhite migrants, particularly from Eastern Europe. Numerous restrictive immigration laws were passed by US authorities in the 1920s.

However, it was European thinkers, in particular the French theorist Renaud Camus, who were responsible for the modern incarnation of the racist and antisemitic package of tropes that make up the Great Replacement conspiracy theory. Camus can take credit for coining the term, alleging that sinister elites – replacist, to use his description – were implementing a plan through mass nonwhite immigration, to reduce the white population in the home nations.

Camus repackaged this notion of demographic replacement – genocide by substitution, he called it – to fit in with the growing Islamophobia enveloping the European and American worlds. Camus was hardly alone in his way of thinking. Former French President Charles De Gaulle commented that, while it was heartening to see Frenchmen of all different colours, too many of them would dilute the essential Frenchness of the host nation. De Gaulle complained about the Muslims, with their turbans and djellabahs, not being French.

When right wing commentators have accepted the reality of human-induced climate change, their solution is an authoritarian and homicidal one – reduce the numbers of people through violence. Usually, this exterminationist perspective is applied, not to themselves, but to nonwhite communities, even though the main drivers of climate change are wealthier white populations in Western nations.

Environmental concerns have long been used by the fanatical Right to advocate not only for control of land and resources, but also who gets to control that land and natural resources. Eco-fascism, the uniting of ecological and far right ideas, was reflected in the manifesto of the Buffalo shooter, which he had largely plagiarised from the Christchurch killer.

Blaming immigration for environmental problems is perversely false, but this has not stopped the far right from latching onto environmental concerns in an effort to greenwash their hate. Taking its roots in the German nationalist ‘blood and soil’ myth, the eco-fascist denounces the private takeover of nature, but turns their critique into an attack on ethnic minorities. After accepting climate change, the far right nationalist advocates a kind of lifeboat ethics; the white community will be saved, and the rest be damned.

There is an urgent requirement for a stronger labour movement, because it is in the inter ethnic solidarity of working class struggles where racism, and its far right advocates, can be defeated politically and ideologically. As long as there are economically insecure people, suffering under austerity and job cuts, there will be more recruits into the cesspit of the ultranationalist Right.

The Hollywood Arab stereotype, vilifying an ethnicity, and Orientalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Jonna Perrillo notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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