Qatar, the Saudi blockade, and making friends

Since June 2017, Saudi Arabia and its supporters have maintained a total blockade of the small monarchy of Qatar. For instance, Saudi Arabia has stopped all land, air and maritime traffic into the nation, and the Qatari economy has suffered the consequences. However, Qatar is weathering the storm, and has been managing to hold its own against its larger and more well-connected patron.

The Hindustan Times reported the findings of Capital Economics, an economic research company, that Qatar avoided the worst possible scenario of descending into a recession. The tourism sector has understandably declined, having been hit hard by the Saudi-imposed blockade. However, the Qatari economy grew in the last quarter of 2017, and the intended isolation of the tiny Gulf state has failed to materialise.

One way that Qatar has managed to sustain itself throughout this blockade is by cultivating powerful friends. For instance, Turkey, which already had trade dealings and military agreements with the tiny nation, has increased its commercial and diplomatic cooperation since the imposition of the Saudi blockade. Turkey sent military equipment to the besieged emirate, deployed troops, and has increased the volume of its trade deals with Qatar. In November 2017, Turkish President Erdogan visited Doha to attend a meeting of the Turkey-Qatar Supreme Strategic Committee.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited Qatar in December 2017, and signed commercial agreements worth billions of Euros. The Qatari Emir has agreed to buy military aircraft from France, and allocated French companies to build and maintain a metro system in Qatar. Having powerful friends willing to do deals has gone a long way in helping Qatar circumvent the Saudi-imposed, and Trump-inspired, blockade. The United States administration is currently emphasising its apparent support for a compromise solution.

The New York Times, in January this year, published a brilliant photo-essay entitled “Tiny, Wealthy Qatar goes its own way, and pays for it”. The article elaborates some of the background to the long-simmering Saudi-Qatari dispute, and the history of Qatar’s ability to use its economic clout to punch above its weight, so to speak. As usual, the NY Times story is accompanied with stunning photographs, such as a panoramic picture of Doha city’s towering skyline. Interestingly, it is not so much petroleum that is the source of Qatar’s wealth, but its large deposits of natural gas – liquefied natural gas to be precise.

Discovered in 1971 in Qatar, natural gas exports propelled an enormous growth in wealth, and thus Qatar was transformed from a barren backwater into a major player in the Persian Gulf. Always regarded as a junior partner in the Gulf Cooperation Council, Qatar began to push its senior patrons (Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) for a larger and more important role in the Gulf.

Qatar, while officially sharing the same puritanical Wahhabi brand of Islam with its powerful neighbour, Saudi Arabia, has implemented some liberal reforms domestically. For instance, there are no public beheadings and mutilations performed in Saudi Arabia. Women can not only drive cars in Qatar, but also participate in public sports. Members of the Thani clan, the ruling family in Qatar, are featured as modernising stylish trailblazers in Vanity Fair.

There is one aspect of Qatar’s outreach, while vitally important, is being omitted in any discussion of the issue. The NY Times, while its story was fantastic, shared this crucial omission. Understanding this forgotten feature of Qatar’s behaviour will help us navigate our way through the politics and economics of the Middle East and the wider Persian Gulf. Qatar, as well as other Gulf monarchies, having been making steady and regular overtures towards Israel, hoping to establish mutually beneficial ties of cooperation.

The assistant editor of Electronic Intifada, Tamara Nassar, wrote an article in January this year called “Qatar turns to Israel to escape Saudi squeeze.” Nassar elaborates how the Qatari royal family has been making a sustained attempt to lobby senior Israeli officials, along with right-wing American conservative and Zionist figures, to cozy up to the Zionist regime.

Qatar, supposedly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and accused by Saudi Arabia of supporting Hamas, has sponsored the visits of Christian fundamentalist and right-wing Zionist American political operators to its shores to circumvent the Saudi blockade. However, there is more than just a practical reason for this intended collaboration.

Qatar welcomed the chief of the Zionist Organisation of America (ZOA), Morton Klein, in January this year. Klein, who joined a long list of ultra-right wing conservatives and Zionist supporters who have visited the Qatari kingdom, voiced his displeasure at Qatar’s apparent criticisms of the Trump administration’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Qatar has been sponsoring such trips for many months now:

These include Israel apologist and Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, Christian Zionist and former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, conservative radio host and Israel supporter John Batchelor, former Republican congressman Thaddeus McCotter, CEO of the Orthodox Union Kosher Division Rabbi Menachem Genack, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations Malcolm Hoenlein, president of the American Jewish Congress Jack Rosen and the president of the Religious Zionists of America Martin Oliner.

Most of these trips were paid for by the Qatari government.

The quote above comes from another article by Tamara Nassar in the Electronic Intifda entitled “Qatar welcomes head of Zionist Organization of America.

This is not just a case of pragmatism in the face of difficulties on Qatar’s part. The hereditary monarchies in the Gulf, headed by Saudi Arabia, have a long-standing tradition of seeking working relationships with the Zionist state. Indeed, in June 2017, when Saudi Arabia and its allies imposed the blockade of Qatar, Israel quickly sided with the Saudi action. Avigdor Lieberman, the ultra-rightist Israeli defence minister, stated that the Saudi-Qatari crisis presented an opportunity for increased cooperation between Israel and the Gulf monarchies.

Saudi Arabia has a long practice of cultivating covert and cooperative ties with the Israeli state. Bahrain has been making overtures to the state of Israel, and recently admitted as much publicly. Interestingly, the usual go-between for establishing connections between the two nominally-hostile states is a Trump adviser and evangelical Christian.

The staunchest supporters of Zionism in the United States are to be found among the Christian religious right, who do their utmost to promote the normalisation of connections with the Gulf monarchies and the state of Israel, and this involves abandoning the Palestinians. The obsequious conduct of the Gulf royal families stands in stark contrast to the consistent support given to the Palestinians by the Latin American governments of Cuba and Venezuela.

The Qatari emirate, while being the victim of a grave injustice, is only compounding the region’s problems by seeking out self-serving alliances. The resolution of inter-state conflicts is not to be sought in building higher and longer walls, whether they be physical or economic barriers. The solution resides in recognising the human rights of others and practical solidarity. Nations and peoples that have experienced colonisation and dispossession must stand in support of each other.

The Alternative Right – a new name for a long-lasting hatred

The term Alternative Right, created by ultra-rightist and white supremacist ideologue Richard Spencer, has gained traction in recent years, especially with the election and presidency of Donald Trump. While the term may be relatively new, the ideologies it describes have deep and abiding roots in American society.

The pedigree of the Alt-Right is a subject we need to examine and understand if we are to have any hope of comprehending the emergence of ultra-rightist populism. The various strands of ideological currents that make up the Alternative Right have existed in American capitalist society for decades; the Trumpist version of white supremacist anti-immigrant populism did not arise out of nowhere.

The terrorism of the ultra-right

Firstly, let us clarify some glaring omissions and hypocrisies that arise whenever the subject of the ultra-right and its terrorism is discussed. Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States (along with other capitalist countries) has fixated almost exclusively on the menace of what is routinely called ‘Islamic terrorism’.

This term, while commonplace, is inaccurate. I do not wish to associate the entire culture, religion, Arabic language and civilisation of Islam with something as repulsive and deplorable as terrorism. There is no intent to deflect attention from the violent practices of groups such as Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Al-Nusra and similar terroristic formations that employ Islamic symbols and language to rationalise their actions.

This obsessive focus on global terrorism that originates from Islamically-inspired groups diverts necessary attention and resources away from the growing, evolving and more dangerous elephant in the room – ultra-rightist domestic terror groups. The Charlottesville attack in 2017 demonstrated that the terrorism of white supremacist and neo-Confederate organisations is large and increasing.

The ideologies that motivated the neo-Nazi attacker in Charlottesville have coalesced into the Alternative Right. The New York Times did ask its readers, back in June 2017, to consider the menace of terrorism from the far-right. While the authors did list a number of domestic terrorist incidents carried out by ultra-rightist militants, it did leave out a number of important points.

The New York Times did not dig into the underlying ideologies that motivate far-right groups to recruit members and to carry out acts of violence. The numbers speak for themselves – far-right groups and white supremacist organisations have killed a larger number of victims than Islamically-based militants. Al Jazeera published, in November 2017, a powerful and engaging summary of ultra-right domestic terrorism in the article “Killed by Hate: Victims of America’s far-right violence.” The Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ rally in August 2017 was only the latest in an increasing trend of far-rightist domestic terrorist attacks against African Americans, Muslims, Jews, Hispanics and other ethnic and religious minorities.

When President Trump, in November 2017, presented his national security strategy, he made the following blanket assertion:

jihadist terrorist organizations present the most dangerous terrorist threat to the Nation.

You may read this quote, and the entire national security strategy document, via the web page of Professor Juan Cole here. Trump is the president, so he can say whatever he likes. However, as a public elected official, he should expect that his claims will be examined – closely.

If they turn out to be completely inaccurate, then he should issue a retraction, and reverse the public policies which are based on that inaccuracy. Professor Cole deconstructs Trump’s statement, and demonstrates that ultra-right terrorism is the biggest threat to the American public. However, there is something else that needs to be stated.

The well-educated elite racists

It is not just the numbers that are relevant – important as they are. While we can recognise that ultra-rightist white men are the more dangerous category of terrorist than radicalised Islamist groups, there is rarely an examination of the underlying ideology that motivates far-right militants to commit these types of crimes. When Richard Spencer invented the term Alternative Right, he was not only coining a phrase, he was also highlighting a re-emerging entity – the well-educated bigot.

For too long, the neo-Nazi types, Ku Klux Klan, neo-Confederates and patriot militia – the footsoldiers of the ultra-right – were dismissed as a bunch of uneducated, illiterate bully boys and thugs. This image of the imbecilic white man ready with a pitchfork has an element of truth to it, but it is misleading.

Richard Spencer personifies the well-educated, well-off racist – urbane, articulate, well versed in history and philosophy, and media-conscious. Rather than the cartoonish, beer-swilling buffoon caricature of the cultural Right, here we have an educated, politically conscious bigot. Spencer does come from Dallas, Texas, a city that still honours Confederate slave-owning generals and soldiers naming public buildings and facilities after them. The Dallas financial elite is an effective incubator for spawning racial separatism and white supremacy, lessons that Spencer eagerly absorbed.

White supremacy is a historic forerunner and supporter of the Alternative Right, and the educated bigot has a long and solid history in American politics. The late William L. Pierce, a long-term white supremacist ideologue, strident antisemite and tireless organiser of the racist National Alliance, was a physics professor.

An educated man who opposed the civil rights movement and supported segregation in the 1960s, Pierce marketed himself as a white nationalist, he authored the Turner Diaries, a futuristic novel that portrays a racial war in the United States. Considered a ‘bible’ of the racist right, the book inspired a number of white supremacists to commit terrorist acts, including Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Spencer likes to claim that the Alt-Right, as an alternative to mainstream cultural conservatism, is new and improved. Actually, it is a repackaging of the three long-standing pillars of American racism – white supremacy, antisemitism and misogyny. Make no mistake, misogyny is a major part of the Alt-Right outlook; patriarchal ideas and men’s rights activism are a central and poisonous feature of the ultra-rightist landscape.

As male tribalism and the manosphere have become increasingly interlinked with the Alt-Right, the coalescing of toxic homophobia and transphobia has taken place. As Matthew Lyons put it in his article for The Guardian, the Alt-Right, building on the traditional patriarchal viewpoint, hates women just as much as it hates people of colour. Even a cursory glance at the many online forums of alt-right activism reveals a deep and abiding hatred of women and feminism. While paying lip-service to the ‘traditional family’, it is not difficult to discern the disturbing level of misogyny that motivates far-right participants.

Let us not ignore the rise and mobilisation of the ultra-right. This type of racial hatred is not only poisonous, but lethal. We must stop normalising hate, whether it be directed against racial or religious minorities, women, LGBT persons, or immigrant communities. How many more people have to die, killed by ultra-rightist hatred, before the authorities seriously tackle the ideology that motivates them? Perhaps in Donald Trump, the Alt-Right has found a mainstream political ally.

Trump is a solid ally of the white supremacist Alt-Right

Throughout his campaign and subsequent presidency, Trump has done everything he can to provide a platform for ultra-rightist white supremacist groups. Not only has he justified the protests of white supremacist outfits, but has also promoted the talking points of the Alternative Right. He has cultivated the beliefs and views that provide the groundwork for domestic, ultra-rightist terrorism.

Let us examine these claims in detail below.

Trump’s social media sharing is part of an ongoing pattern of promoting and normalising ultra-rightist and white supremacist viewpoints. He is deliberately encouraging neo-Confederate and white ultra-right organisations, building a base of support among them. Trump’s presidential campaign served as a lightning rod, attracting the various far-right groups and white supremacist organisations that collectively make up the coalition of ideologies collectively known as the Alternative Right. Trump received endorsements from ultra-rightist patriot groups, former Ku Klux Klan leaders, and white racist politicians.

Britain First and Judeo-Christian values

Britain First is an ultra-rightist and neo-fascistic group in the UK, which has a long history of attacking ethnic minorities, instigating violence against minority groups, and of conducting Islamophobic campaigns. Carrying large white crosses (reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan) and forming “Christian patrols” to target Muslim communities, Britain First members have co-opted Christian symbolism in its self-declared “crusade” against immigration and multiculturalism.

There are other groups that co-opt religious symbolism for their political project (Islamic State comes to mind), but Britain First is particularly vocal and aggressive in its self-promotion as a “Crusader” force resisting the – false – threat of Muslim immigration. Britain First members regard the Muslim community as an alien presence in Britain, a potential fifth column ready to subvert the entire existing political order.

The veracity of the shared videos from Britain First was questioned by many experts and commentators. Be that as it may, the fact that Trump re-circulated these videos purporting to show examples of organised violence by Muslims – without any comment – demonstrates that Trump is willingly promoting the talking points and moral panics of the far-right.

The inaccurate and deceitful tropes of “Islamisation” are regularly regurgitated by the ultra-right and racist groups to exclude racial and ethnic minorities, and establish a fortress-mentality. Invoking ‘Judeo-Christian’ values is an insular, tribalistic myth promoted by the far-right which only serves to fertilise the ground for further racism and anti-immigrant xenophobia.

The expression ‘Judeo-Christian’, while seeming to imply that Judaism and Christianity have shared values, serves to deliberately exclude Islam – and by extension the entire Islamic philosophy and community – from any participation or inclusion in Western society. Trump has used this phrase on several occasions, mirroring the talking points of the ultra-right. This label serves to build a false scaffolding upon which a tribal vision takes hold – excluding the ‘other’ – in this case the Muslim – and feeding a false sense of Christian persecution. We can rest assured that Trump and his supporters are not being persecuted in the country where they reside.

Trump offends a decency he cannot understand

Brendan Cox is the widower of former Labour MP Jox Cox. An activist from Britain First, with extensive ties to ultra-right and white supremacist groups, murdered Jo Cox in June 2016 in the context of the Brexit vote. The killer, Thomas Mair, shot and stabbed Jo Cox multiple times, shouting “Britain First” as he committed the murder. This was an act of ultra-right domestic terrorism, and Mair was radicalised by the writings and propaganda materials of white supremacist organisations, including Britain First.

In an article for the Guardian newspaper, Brendan Cox wrote that Trump, by re-circulating the Britain First videos, offends a decency he cannot understand. When the president of the United States promotes the viewpoints of hate preachers – and that is what Britain First members are – Trump is making the political environment more permissive for hatred to spread and become mainstream. Hate preachers do not necessarily wear Islamic garments only, nor do they exist exclusively on the Islamist side of the spectrum.

In his article, Cox made the accurate connection between hate preachers of the ultra-right and domestic terrorism. His late wife was killed by a white supremacist who had steeped himself in the hate-literature of the white supremacist world. Trump, throughout his time as president, has excused or justified the political violence of those on the neo-Confederate and white supremacist side. This normalisation of hate creates an environment conducive for ultra-right terrorism to make its lethal mark on society.

Charlottesville and Confederate statues

Trump’s sympathy for ultra-rightist racists was on display in the aftermath of the Charlottesville killing. In August 2017, after months of deliberate planning and organisation, a “Unite the Right” rally occurred in Charlottesville, ostensibly to defend a Confederate statue from being demolished. Far from being a peaceful protest, this was a massive race riot, a show of force by neo-Nazi, white supremacist and ultra-right groups. Anti-racist organisers converged on Charlottesville to protest this racial uprising, only to be confronted by a violent rampage by the white supremacists. An anti-racist protester, Heather Heyer, was killed by an ultra-rightist militant.

Trump went on to blame both sides for the Charlottesville violence, and explicitly stating that the white supremacist rioters contained “some very fine people”. We now confront a situation where the American President openly defends the violent actions of neo-Nazi and white supremacist rioters, and ignores the growing problem of ultra-right terrorism. This defence, while shocking, is not entirely surprising, if we understand the history of white supremacy and its essential role in the emergence of American capitalism.

John Wight, writing in Sputnik News magazine, stated that in the wake of the Charlottesville attacks, we may see that the US civil war never ended. White supremacy, in the form of the neo-Confederate “Lost Cause”, made a resurgence, particularly during the era when Reconstruction ended, and segregationist laws were implemented by the white racist authorities in southern US states. Interestingly, from the 1880s onwards, Confederate statue-building went into hyperdrive, as monuments celebrating the racist cause were erected throughout the American south.

The establishment of Confederate statues across the United States was not undertaken as noble exercises in commemorating the painful history of the US Civil War. They were not erected by history-aficionados who were concerned that all aspects of the traumatic civil war be remembered. These statues were constructed as pushback against any civil rights measures, to counter the movement of African Americans for racial equality.

The majority of these monuments were built at times when the Southern white legislatures combatted political measures to achieve at least a degree of enfranchisement and empowerment of African American communities. They were built to further a white supremacist future. Miles Parks, writing in the NPR web magazine, explained that such statues were being erected as late as the 1950s and 1960s, when the civil rights movement was gaining ground in dismantling the vestiges of legalised discrimination.

The late 1890s and early 1900s saw many pieces of segregation legislation enacted – Jim Crow measures – that legalised the disenfranchisement and exclusion of African American communities. These are the times when there was a flurry of Confederate statue activity, which sent a message to the wider society – creating a historical cloak to legitimise the naked push for white supremacy.

The rise of ultra-right terrorism

The Charlottesville attack brought into the spotlight the issue of ultra-right terrorism. Since the September 11 2001 terrorist outrage, the focus of the US authorities has been almost exclusively on terrorism from groups allegedly inspired by Islamism. This singular fixation has resulted in a glaring omission – the rise of white supremacist and ultra-rightist groups in the United States.

Coalescing under the banner of Alternative Right, these groups and ideologies express dissatisfaction with traditional mainstream conservatism as exemplified by the Republican Party. This observation does not ignore the many sympathetic voices that the ultra-right have found within the Republican Party for decades. With the Trump campaign however, the ultra-right found a solid ally and friend in the White House.

Homegrown terrorism, originating in ultra-right bigotry and carried out by neo-Confederate and white supremacist groups, has been on the increase for many years prior to Charlottesville. While the ugly events of Charlottesville refocused attention on these groups, the threat of ultra-rightist terrorism did not arise out of nowhere. While the threat of far-right groups has gained greater attention in the wake of Charlottesville, there is a lack of background analysis into how and why we ended up with a US president who is a fascist sympathiser. The latter description may seem unduly harsh, but it is an accurate portrayal of President Trump’s way of thinking. Normalising racial hatred seems to be main skill that Trump has brought to the Oval Office.

The numbers are quite clear – most terrorism on American soil originates in the cesspit of ultra-right bigotry. Domestic white supremacist terrorism is a far greater threat than Islamist-fundamentalist organisations. To speak of ultra-right terrorism is to make oneself vulnerable to accusations of being “soft” on Islamist groups. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is easy for us in the West to criticise Islamically-based groups, because Islam is viewed as a foreign ideology. We can take comfort in banal platitudes about our supposed lack of religious fundamentalism in our societies. White supremacy and the Alternative Right are native ideologies – indigenous to white American capitalism, that is. It is enormously difficult – but not impossible – to question the tribal insularity in which we wrap ourselves.

The phrase Alternative Right is relatively recent, but the ideologies it advocates have a long pedigree. That subject, along with the nature and activities of the ultra-right, will be examined in the next article.

Stay tuned.

Returning Islamic State foreign fighters – punishment and rehabilitation

As the Islamic State’s self-declared “caliphate” loses territory, the issue of the foreign volunteers who joined its ranks is once again coming into the spotlight. The IS group served as a magnet, attracting disaffected youth from various countries. Every conflict throughout history has appealed for volunteers and recruits – the Crusades, World War Two, the Spanish civil war – and the IS caliphate is no exception. However, having lost its two main administrative centres – Mosul in Iraq, and Raqqa in Syria – the territory once held by the IS “caliphate” is shrinking. Those foreigners who volunteered for the fundamentalist militia now face the prospect of either dying in a losing battle, or returning home.

The issue of Islamic State returnees – including Australians – rumbles beneath the surface of Australian politics, and is usually resuscitated by politicians who wish to appear “tough” on security issues. The question of what to do with these returning foreign fighters – and if indeed they should be allowed to return home – is a favourite theme of the ultra-rightist side of Australian politics.

Former Australian prime minister and conservative gadfly Tony Abbott, routinely denounced IS as a “death cult”. Hoping to boost his own sense of bravado and self-importance, he has frequently announced to the community his “tough” approach on the issue of Australian IS returnees. The former PM has opted for the simplest solution – throw all IS returnees in jail. He is at pains to reassure the electorate that he is “tough” on crime and criminals – and the IS returnees did engage in a form of criminality.

Just to make sure that we are all in bewildered awe of “tough” Tony, the former PM has criticised the Australian’s government’s alleged “pussyfooting” around on the issue of fundamentalist Islamist groups, and called for the establishment of special courts for the returning IS volunteer-militants. These courts would not have the same burden of proof which holds in existing courts, but rather would facilitate the speedy trial and punishment of the IS returnees.

Let us leave Tony to bask in the glory of his own “toughness”, and return to the serious questions posed by the IS returnees – are they a security risk? What is the probability that these hardened fighters, equipped with military skills, experience and combat-ideology, will commit serious terrorist offences in their home countries? Is the security threat real or exaggerated? Is the public perception of the security threat way out of proportion to the actual threat level? No single individual or institution has all the answers to these questions, but it is worth exploring the debate surrounding what to do with IS foreign fighters in some detail.

Nato Review magazine, in an article published in July 2017, examined these issues. Administrative approaches and prison sentences for IS returnees remain popular, but are not necessarily the most effective. Exclusive reliance on the criminal justice system does not resolve the problem of the link between IS radicalisation and imprisonment – or if prison is the best place to re-educate and reintegrate former IS foreign fighters.

As we alluded earlier, each conflict in history – such as World War Two – attracted its fair share of foreign volunteers. In any discussion about the IS foreign fighters, there is a parallel drawn between the IS volunteers in Syria or Iraq, and the International Brigades and foreign volunteers that fought for the Spanish republic during the Spanish Civil War. This comparison does have some superficial validity, but is ultimately incorrect.

The drawing of this parallel forms a false pivot on which to direct the discussion about IS volunteers. We can understand the main point being drawn out by this comparison – if we prosecute the IS returnees for fighting in a foreign war, why do we regard the International Brigades and similar socialist volunteers as heroes, sacrificing themselves for an internationalist cause?

If we prosecute the IS returnees as criminals on their return to Australia, should we not, in the interest of fairness and balance, prosecute those Australians who volunteered to fight for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG)? The latter are a socialist-feminist militia, fighting for autonomy in the northern Syrian regions that make up the statelet of Rojava. Does not the law apply equally to all persons regardless of political affiliation?

This is where the IS-Spanish civil war analogy breaks down. World War Two comparisons are always risky, but they can be used to open up new channels of discussion. In terms of ideology and military role, today’s IS volunteers most closely resemble, not the International Brigades or socialist volunteers, but the pro-Nazi and pro-fascist volunteers and fighters who fought alongside the Nazi German and fascist Italian armies in World War Two. This is not my comparison, but one created by Professor Emeritus James Petras, a sociologist from the University of Binghamton.

The Ukrainians, Balts, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks and other pro-fascist volunteers from Eastern European who fought in support of Nazi Germany are the closest historical counterparts to today’s IS volunteers. Motivated by fanatical anti-Communism, ultra-religious fundamentalism and bankrolled by rightwing regimes, the pro-fascist volunteers in World War Two implemented a reign of terror in German-occupied territories, committing mass atrocities, destroying the architectural monuments and records of the Jewish population, and used torture and repression on a state-wide level.

The IS volunteers, advocating an extreme form of ultra-religious conservatism, helped to implement a reign of terror against the ethnic and religious minorities caught up in the territory of their self-described “caliphate”. While IS fighters come from poor backgrounds, and generally lack basic education, their group is funded by existing rightwing fanatical regimes, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Motivated by extreme anti-Communism, the IS foreign fighters have much in common with the motivations of the pro-fascist international volunteers during World War Two, the latter fighting atheistic communism and international Marxism embodied in the former Soviet Union. IS ideologues denounce the Syrian Baáthist regime as a socialist entity. The IS foreign fighters engage is systematic violence against group that opposes their project, destroying the cultural heritage of the regions they occupy – much like the conduct of the Nazi volunteers in World War Two. Let us not forget that in the Spanish civil war, the fascist side benefited from thousands of foreign fighters, including Moroccans and other Africans from Spain’s North African colonies.

It is interesting to note that, at the end of World War Two, many of these pro-fascist volunteers were not prosecuted for their crimes, but actually found sanctuary in Western countries, including Australia. Mark Aarons, writing in his book ‘War Criminals Welcome: Australia, a sanctuary for fugitive war criminals since 1945’, documents how many of the Ukrainians, Balts, Hungarians, Croatians, and other fascist volunteers found safe haven in the newly welcoming capitalist Australia. Their careers as war criminals were hidden, as Australian anti-Communism required not just new migrants to help industrialise the nation, but also reliable conservative communities that would provide an anti-socialist bulwark against the labour and trade union movements in Australia.

The Cold War was on, and realpolitik exceeded the demands that violent fascist criminals be brought to justice. Many of these fascist volunteers acquired the protection of the Australian intelligence apparatus, as they formed a solid base of ultra-conservative, fanatical resistance to the labour movement. Cold War anti-Communism, including the Australian variety, has many dark secrets. A history of violent Nazi war crimes was no impediment to rehabilitation and a successful career in Australia after the end of the second world war. So Australia can successfully reintegrate foreign fighters, as long as those returnees correspond to the political agenda of the Australian establishment.

The exclusive focus and preoccupation with punishment and jail terms, while temporarily assuaging the concerns of the community, is at best a superficial solution. Control orders, jailing children, further counter-terrorism measures will make Australia a more repressive society, but not a safer one. The crimes of the IS returnees are appalling, and their ideology is repugnant. While we vehemently disagree with the IS volunteers, denounce their ideology and punish their crimes, more jails and further curtailment of civil liberties are not going to reduce the security risks that IS returnees present.

Andrew Goldsmith, Strategic Professor in Criminal Justice at Flinders University, states that the returning IS fighters require not just punishment, but rehabilitation. This is not a naïve or unrealistic objective – Denmark, another Western country that has seen its fair share of IS returnees, is successfully rehabilitating foreign fighters. Implementing a multi-faceted program in coordination with the police, the local authorities and the Islamic community, the IS returnees are regaining a sense of belonging and participation in a community from which they were previously alienated.

Rather than the supposedly “tough” approach, Denmark is trying the “soft power” technique. Using “soft power” does not entail going soft on crime or terrorism. It means working in cooperation with those who have influence – such as the Islamic community. It means identifying and resolving the sources of discontent that drive wayward youth to consider fighting for IS as a realistic possibility.

Let us stop demonising refugees and migrants – particularly those from Muslim-majority nations – as just a bunch of terrorists, or would-be criminals. Countries that have taken thousands of IS returnees – Tunisia, Morocco – are trying the reintegration strategy. We would do well to learn from their intelligent example.

White supremacy is anti-Semitic, and an ally of Zionism

November 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. With this brief document, the British government – in the shape of the then foreign secretary Lord Balfour – committed itself to the Zionist project of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine. You may read the full text of this document, along with an analysis of the fallout from that commitment here. Indeed, there are reams of evaluations and analyses of that fateful document, and they make for informative and eye-opening reading. The impact of the British empire’s drive to conquer Palestine from their former Ottoman Turkish overlords has been scrutinised in great detail.

However, there is one aspect of the Balfour declaration that has not received much examination. Lord Balfour, along with his peers in the English ruling establishment, were very anti-Semitic. The white supremacist view of the world championed by the leading lights of the British aristocracy – Winston Churchill among them – was well-known. Balfour was no exception, and he maintained a racist perspective of the world right to his last days.

Balfour denounced attempts by the British government – in the early 1900s – to raise the issue of the mistreatment of Black Africans in South Africa. Balfour defended the construction of a racially stratified society in South Africa, maintaining that Europeans were superior to the native black population. He opposed the admission into Britain of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe who were fleeing pogroms and anti-Semitic massacres in their home countries.

Anti-Semitism was part and parcel of his philosophy, and yet he is feted as a hero in Israel, and in pro-Zionist circles, for his role in committing his government to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. In other words, it is possible to be pro-Israel, and anti-Semitic, at the same time. Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, made this observation in an article published in Forward magazine.

Munayyer elaborates that Balfour, basing himself on a white supremacist ideology, saw no contradiction between his anti-Semitic outlook and his support for Zionism’s goals in Palestine. For Balfour, and white supremacists like him, the Jews are a constant alien presence in the societies in which they reside. Providing them a place to leave, and a land in which to settle, Zionism seems to solve this problem for them. As Munayyer states in his article:

What the Zionists provided Balfour with was a solution to the challenges Jewish citizens posed to his ethno-nationalist vision, a solution that didn’t force him to reckon with them. Instead of insisting that societies accept all citizens as equals, regardless of racial or religious background, the Zionist movement offered a different answer: separation.

For the British empire builders and policy-makers such as Balfour, supporting Zionism had an added objective – the creation of a loyal Jewish Ulster in Palestine. Those are not my words, but the words of Sir Ronald Storss, the first British governor of Jerusalem. The British conquest of Palestine was motivated by strategic and economic interests – maintaining a hold on Palestine would require the establishment of a similar ethno-supremacist fortress to the Northern Irish Protestant statelet.

Israel’s anti-Semitic friends

Balfour’s position as an anti-Semitic friend of Zionism is not unusual, nor as strange as it may at first appear. Zionism as an organised political current has had a decades-long affinity with anti-Semitic and white supremacist groups. Zionist advocates, starting with Theodore Herzl himself, have long placed themselves at the service of one imperialist power or another. Arising in the late nineteenth century, political Zionism was pragmatic and secular, seeking to achieve its goal of statehood with the sponsorship of an imperialist state.

Herzl and the founding advocates of Zionism actively sought the assistance of the major powers, no matter their record in the mistreatment of ethnic minorities, including Jews. Palestine, emerging from the First World War, was a target of the British empire’s expansion at the expense of the Ottoman Turkish forces. Britain had indeed made promises of independence to the Arabs once the defeat of the Ottoman Empire had been accomplished. However, promises are usually broken in the service of realpolitik. The pledges of post-war independence were never realised.

Balfour made his commitment to the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine while British forces were still battling away in that country. In 1919, Balfour wrote that fulfilling Zionist aspirations in Palestine were far more important than keeping the pledges of independence to the several hundred thousands Palestinians living in that land.

The creation of a Zionist home in Palestine has been conceived from its inception as a colonial project. Not only has the patronage of imperial powers been sought to help fulfill this objective, but alliances with anti-Semitic political forces have been accomplished. Ideology and political expediency drives these alliances between Zionists and anti-Semites. With the coming to power of Donald Trump in the United States, filled as it is with anti-Semitic figures, the alliance with Israel has never been stronger.

Make no mistake – the ultra-right, which composes the Trump administration’s base of support – is ferociously anti-Semitic. The white nationalist marchers, who gathered at Charlottesville in August 2017, chanted ‘Jews will not replace us’. Lethal anti-Semitism reared its ugly head in that town, in the shape of neo-Confederate and white supremacist protesters. They made no secret of their vicious anti-Semitism. These are the people who US President Donald Trump defended with his statement that there are ‘some very fine people‘ among white supremacist organisations.

Donald Trump, along with other far-right politicians and parties across the Atlantic in Europe, have used anti-immigrant xenophobia and hatred to achieve electoral success. Trump’s statements throughout his campaign – and his term in office – have given encouragement to the most racist, white supremacist and anti-Semitic elements in American society. The one country that was exceptionally pleased with the elevation of Trump to the White House was Israel, and specifically the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

In an article for the Socialist Worker magazine, Sarah Levy documents the rise in anti-Semitic attacks and hate crimes against Jewish people in the United States since the election of Trump. These anti-Semitic crimes are of no consequence to the Israeli government, which has continued to build upon its alliance with the Trump administration. Zionist organisations in the United States have largely glossed over the wave of anti-Semitic incidents and attacks – and Trump himself issued a lukewarm condemnation only after facing outrage from concerned groups and citizens.

Sarah Levy explains that it is not entirely surprising that Zionist groups are cooperating with anti-Semitic figures. Israel has long had anti-Semitic friends in high places. There is an element of political expediency in all of this – after all, having powerful allies in high places is one way of getting things done in an imperialist-dominated world. However, as Levy argues, the affinity of Zionists with anti-Semites has a deeper philosophical and ideological underpinning.

Both Zionism and white supremacy are forms of ultra-nationalism, or ethno-supremacism. White supremacists in the United States – and in Europe for that matter – view themselves as an embattled minority, seeking to preserve their racial and cultural purity against the tide of immigration. Building a fortress against the outsiders has resonance among the Zionist movement as well – surrounded by anti-Semites and racism, the Zionist solution is to build a wall around an exclusively Jewish state.

Veteran peace activist Uri Avnery explains this correspondence of interests and ideology succinctly:

The avowed aim of Zionism is to ingather all the Jews in the world in the Jewish State. The avowed aim of the anti-Semites is to expel the Jews from all their countries. Both sides want the same. No conflict.

Richard Spencer, one of the leaders and main spokespersons of the Alternative Right (white supremacist movement) is anti-Semitic and supportive of the state of Israel. He has described himself as a white Zionist. He was deliberately drawing a direct parallel between the white supremacist project of building an ethnically pure white state, and the Zionist state of Israel which defines itself as a state exclusively for Jewish people.

His point of view is reprehensible and perverse – but contains its own logic, if one can call it that. In his own, demented and obscene world view, ethno-supremacist exclusion is the end goal of the state he wants to construct.  Spencer has frequently highlighted the similarities underpinning the ethno-supremacist ideologies of white nationalism and the Zionist state of Israel. He has stated that he looks to Israel for guidance and inspiration.

In Spencer’s world – and the world of the white supremacist – Israel is a model that should be emulated by white nationalists like himself. Once again, we have to see things from his point of view to understand the underlying logic. To the extent that Israel excludes and discriminates against the native Palestinian population, Spencer and his fellow white supremacists view the Zionist goal of building an ethnic-supremacist state with positive regard.

Rather than being strange bedfellows, Zionism and white supremacy reinforce and sustain each other ideologically and politically. Nada Elia, a Palestinian political commentator living in the diaspora, comments that white supremacy and Zionism are very much birds of a feather. Anti-Semitism, the outright and vicious hatred of everything and everyone Jewish, is a prominent characteristic of the far-right and white supremacist groups. These are the very organisations that are vociferous in their support for Zionism.

The white supremacist is homophobic, misogynist and racist – and also advocates the expulsion of Jewish people from her/his midst. White supremacy and Zionism take as their starting point ethnic exclusion. In the wake of the Charlottesville protests, one New York apartment displayed the Confederate flag, alongside the Israeli flag – a telling correspondence.

The Orange Protestant groups in the north of Ireland are very anti-Semitic; make no mistake. The Northern Ireland Protestant parties, such as the DUP, are strongly pro-Zionist in their outlook, while maintaining their blanket anti-Semitism. The intentional equation of white supremacy and Zionism is not too difficult to see, if you are willing to dig deep enough.

Trump, disrespect and the US military in Africa

A political furore has erupted over the last few weeks regarding the deaths of four US Special Forces soldiers on deployment to Niger, West Africa. US President Donald Trump has caused offence – this time, for making off-handed and dismissive comments to the widow of one of the dead servicemen.

This row, revealing deep divisions within an already-factionalised and fractured Republican Party, has added to the woes of the current US administration. However, as Finian Cunningham writes in Sputnik News magazine, the ruckus over Trump’s conduct obscures a more important and deeper scandal – the increasing military operations of the United States across the continent of Africa.

Trump’s discourteous treatment of a US soldier’s widow has been discussed at length. However, disrespect for the widow of a slain solider is not the scandal we should be talking about.

We should be focusing on the larger and more serious scandal – the US wars that are secretly being waged in Africa. A number of critics are already asking – why are there American troops in Africa in the first place?

The deaths of the four US Special Forces soldiers – commonly known as Green Berets – should give us the opportunity to examine the largely secretive, yet constantly expanding, US military presence in African countries. As Cunningham discusses in his article, there are thousands of special forces, secret troops, surveillance drone bases and operations across African countries, and Niger is one of them. Indeed, as Nick Turse has documented in an article for The Nation magazine, there is a growing constellation of US military bases in Africa, organised within the US Africa Command, or Africom.

John Wight, writing in Sputnik magazine, asks his readers to consider the depth of imperial arrogance demonstrated by the United States in arrogating to itself the right to construct an empire of lily-pad bases across the African continent. Given Africa’s tragic history of colonial occupation and exploitation, this expanding military footprint must prompt us to consider the strategic and military ambitions of US imperialism in that continent. The US military’s activity in Niger constitutes only one part of an extensive network of bases and secret missions in Africa.

The counter-terrorism excuse obscures imperial motives

The ostensible reason provided by the United States authorities for the growing military presence in African countries is counter-terrorism. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, this rationale has been become a catch-all term, an umbrella under which all sorts of military and strategic activities can take place. The focus of the US military in Africa is not nation-building or humanitarian goals, but on achieving military and economic preponderance.

Lee Wengraf explains in the Socialist Worker magazine that the Niger deaths are the outcome of a deepening US military incursion into African countries. There are Islamist, fundamentalist groups operating in several states in Africa – Boko Haram in Nigeria being the most obvious example. The region of Niger where the US special forces soldiers were killed in the near the border with Mali, a country wracked by a civil war between Islamist movements and the French-backed Malian government.

The counter-terrorism excuse is flimsy at best, and hypocritical at worst, given that the main imperialist powers – the US, Britain, France and Italy among them – have a long history of training, arming and financially supporting Islamist groups to achieve their political objectives. It was Britain and France that supported and armed the Islamist-based Libyan rebels fighting in the 2011 uprising. Cultivating ties to fundamentalist groups is a long-standing practice of the imperialist states. The regional imperialist-sponsored crises afflicting the nations of Libya and Mali have spilled over into Niger.

In this connection, it is interesting to note that the US military is building a multi-million dollar drone base in Niger. Located in Agadez, the drone base will have the capability to launch missions into neighbouring countries. The US military works closely with their Nigerien counterparts, transferring millions of dollars’ worth of military supplies and equipment. In the meantime, Niger remains one of the poorest nations in Africa, where two-thirds of the population live below the poverty line – scraping together a living on less than one dollar a day.

Let us remind ourselves of the words of an Africa expert and commentator, who spoke at great length about the role of Western imperialism in that continent. He elaborated upon the underlying motives of the colonial powers’ interest in Africa. These words are quoted by John Wight in Sputnik magazine:

They are the ones who need Africa — they need its wealth. Fifty percent of the world’s gold reserves are in Africa, a quarter of the world’s uranium resources are in Africa, and 95% of the world’s diamonds are in Africa. A third of chrome is also in Africa, as is cobalt. Sixty-five percent of the world’s production of cocoa is in Africa. Africa has 25,000 km of rivers. Africa is rich in unexploited natural resources, but we were [and still are] forced to sell these resources cheaply to get hard currency. And this must stop.”

The author of the quote above was the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, brutally murdered by NATO-backed mercenaries in 2011. We would do well to heed his words.

The Niger story – for lack of a better expression – has demonstrated the corporate media’s capacity for self-absorption. The scandal is not the deaths of the soldiers, but rather why they were fighting in west Africa in the first place. The extensive military operations of the United States have received little if any critical examination in the major corporate media. The deaths of the Nigerien people, their casualties and back story, is virtually ignored while the suffering of American soldiers is dramatized in powerful ways.

This view of the world ensures that the United States sees itself as the only and perpetual victim, unfairly maligned and attacking while making military sacrifices overseas. This narrative disguises the predatory and criminal nature of America’s expanding military and imperialist ambitions in Africa. The American military footprint in Africa is not a liberating force, but rather an occupying army. The Niger fatalities draw a spotlight on the imperialist offensive of the American ruling class across the continent of Africa.

Trump always adds insult to injury

Trump was disrespectful to the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson – that is not in dispute. However, why is anyone surprised at the ability of Trump to offend? Trump is the president who has consistently disrespected ethnic minorities, frequently referring to Hispanic Americans as rapists and drug dealers throughout his election campaign.

Trump has disrespected the African American community on numerous occasions. One egregious example was his defence of the white supremacist and neo-Nazi demonstrators at Charlottesville as ‘very fine people’. However, African American athletes who peacefully protest are dismissed as ‘sons of bitches’. If Trump does not have a view of the world that reflects white supremacy, then he is certainly doing an accurate impression of a white nationalist.

Trump was one of several ultra-rightist American politicians who routinely attacked former US President Barack Obama as an illegitimate occupant of the White House, advocating the lie of Birtherism. Obama was not a real president, you see, because he was not born in America, but he was actually a secret Muslim… African, no less. Trump recycled this ridiculous, disrespectful lie for years, and has never retracted it, even though it has been proven to be false.

Trump has displayed his misogynistic disrespect for women on numerous occasions, going so far as to brag about his ability to be a sexually aggressive pest. He boasted about how he ‘moved on her like a bitch’, gloating about his sexual conquests – and how he can ‘grab them by the pussy’ because he has wealth and celebrity – a social status that apparently allows him to be as obnoxious as he wants towards women.

Trump has disrespected millions of his own citizens – those living in the hurricane-ravaged dependency of Puerto Rico. The latter are American citizens – not by choice, but by force, with the United States conquering Puerto Rico in 1898. The 3.4 million citizens of that US territory are living without electricity, hundreds of thousands homeless, potable water is scarce, and the danger of disease and malnutrition hangs over the hurricane-damaged island. Trump’s response has been desultory at the very least, and obnoxious at worst.

While Puerto Rico’s people face apocalyptic conditions, Trump’s statements about the crisis involve complaining about the cost of the recovery – humanitarian aid has ‘thrown the budget out of whack’, according to the person responsible for organising the rescue effort. Dismissing the severity of the hurricane that hit Puerto Rico, Trump contended that the death toll was only low, because there were only 16 confirmed deaths, as opposed to hundreds in Hurricane Katrina. So Puerto Ricans are lucky that theirs is not a ‘real’ catastrophe, according to the Commander-in-Chief.

Trump disrespected and insulted the authorities in Puerto Rico, who swung into action as best they could in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Trump’s comments about the Puerto Rican situation? He complained that they were costing too much money. Puerto Ricans want everything done for them, Trump averred in presidential style as news about the true scale of the devastation was filtering out of the island. Danny Katch, writing for the Socialist Worker, wrote that Trump adds ignorant insults to Puerto Rico’s many injuries whenever he speaks. His complaints are not the insights of a political leader, but the whingeing ranting of an America-First financial speculator.

Whether he is shouting at the United Nations, or delivering a semi-fascistic tirade that was a poor excuse of an inauguration speech, Trump is revealing the underlying character of  the American ruling class. Gone is the rhetorical commitment to human rights, global cooperation and leadership; here is the ranting, white supremacist dotard, threatening countries with annihilation, and complaining that social services upon which poor people depend simply cost too much money.

It is time to stop the imperial arrogance and treat Africa with respect.

The world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe is in Yemen – and the West is complicit

While the corporate media’s attention is focused on the humanitarian crisis gripping hurricane-ravaged nations in the Caribbean and regions of the United States, the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe is in Yemen. There is no suggestion that the people of Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas are undeserving of full support, or that their suffering is to be negated. However, we must focus our attention on the entirely man-made disaster unfolding in Yemen; it is worsening, and it is the result of policies pursued by the United States and Britain.

Indeed, calling Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis is not my own wording. That is the description applied to the situation in Yemen by the highly esteemed publication the New York Slimes. The authors of the article elaborate upon the horrendous conditions in that country since the March 2015 Saudi-led offensive;

Repeated bombings have crippled bridges, hospitals and factories. Many doctors and civil servants have gone unpaid for more than a year. Malnutrition and poor sanitation have made the Middle Eastern country vulnerable to diseases that most of the world has confined to the history books.

In just three months, cholera has killed nearly 2,000 people and infected more than a half million, one of the world’s largest outbreaks in the past 50 years.

You may read the entire article online. It makes for heart-wrenching, disturbing reading. It is very well written, accompanied by powerful images of the human suffering currently unfolding in Yemen. However, there are some serious omissions in the essay. Omissions that not only detract from the quality of the writing, but that indicate the political myopia, or unwillingness, of the authors to confront the political culpability of the powers enabling the Yemeni crisis. It is no exaggeration to state that the corporate media in the West have obscured, and downplayed, the responsibility of the United States and Britain in facilitating the ongoing Saudi assault on Yemen.

Ben Norton, writing in Common Dreams magazine, wrote that since the Saudi-led coalition began its relentless bombing of Yemen in March 2015, the casualties and fatalities caused by the aerial assaults are routinely downplayed as just simply the sadly regrettable but necessary fact of the war. Responsibility for the air strikes that kill Yemenis is constantly obscured as a disembodied tragedy with no single party to blame.

A corollary of this practice is to place the Saudi military, and the opposing Houthi militia, on an equal footing. This false equivalency obscures the culpability of the US-and-British-supported Saudi offensive for the resultant deaths, but also conveys the false impression that this conflict is between two equals, much like a boxing contest. If they are both responsible, well, we can dismiss it is just another Middle Eastern tragedy, and no-one will be held accountable. The Saudi war on Yemen, and the Houthi resistance, is not a war of equals.

There is no moral equivalence between invaders and the invaded. When the Saudi military bombs hospitals, schools, medical clinics, the electricity power stations and the civilian infrastructure which sustains Yemeni society, they are guilty creating a humanitarian catastrophe. The Saudi planes that launch these raids are refueled with American and British help. American and Britain made ammunition is being used by the Saudis to kill Yemeni civilians. When medical and sanitation workers can no longer perform their jobs keeping the streets clean and hygienic, the resultant loss of life is predictable.

In August this year, the Guardian reported on the cholera outbreak in Yemen. Cholera is a bacterial infection, and it can be treated effectively and easily with the proper medication and public hygiene and sanitation measures. However, when civilian infrastructure is destroyed, and the airports and ports of Yemen are blockaded to prevent supplies reaching the nation, the civilian casualties will inevitably rise. Trapping civilians and starving them into submission is one tactic of the Saudi military in its war on Yemen. The International Committee of the Red Cross reports that at the time of writing, there are 750 000 suspected cases of cholera, with 2119 fatalities.

There is no question that the Saudi offensive against Yemen would not have begun, or have had such devastating consequences, were it not for the unstinting military and political support Saudi Arabia receives from its principal patrons; the United States and Britain. The hypocrisy of the Western powers is astounding – given that the US and Britain have only this year approved further arms sales to the Saudi petro-monarchy. If you wish, you may listen to a short snippet of video where Sir Michael Fallon, the current British Secretary of Defence, is justifying the billions of pounds worth of armaments sales and trade that Britain has with Saudi Arabia. If you can follow his reasoning, please be my guest.

There is a flip side to that coin. Supporters of the Saudi war on Yemen, portray the Houthi rebel movement as a puppet of Iran. This is quite simply, inaccurate. In an article for the Washington Post, Thomas Juneau, assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate school of public and international affairs, examines this claim in extensive detail. Juneau addresses several concerns.

Firstly, while the Houthis are routinely described as being Shia, and therefore religiously aligned with Iran’s leaders, this is not strictly accurate. The Houthis practice Zaydi Shiism, which is a distinct branch, and theologically different from the Twelver Shiism practised by the majority of the world’s Shias.

Secondly, and more importantly, it is not religious affiliation that brought Iran and the Houthis together, albeit in a very limited manner. Iran’s influence over the Houthi movement is marginal at best. It is political dissatisfaction with the current regional order that unites these forces. Iran has long opposed the predominance of the American-backed Saudi monarchy in the region. The Houthis, currently fighting the Saudi-supported Yemeni government, have found that their interests correspond closely with Tehran, for the time being.

To reduce the Houthis to Iranian proxies, and therefore interpret the conflict in Yemen as a cartoonishly simple ‘Sunnis versus Shias’ is a huge mistake, and obscures the political and economic grievances that have driven this conflict. There are numerous Yemeni army units, loyal to ousted long-term dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, now fighting alongside the Houthis against the Saudi-backed Yemeni government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.

The Houthis are fighting not as an extension of Iranian influence, but because they oppose the lack of meaningful political change since the 2011 removal of Saleh. They claim that the changes since the 2011 uprising have been cosmetic, and did not result in a resolution of any political and economic grievances which drove the initial uprising. In fact, the removal of Saleh, and installation of his former colleague Hadi, was an initiative undertaken by Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to limit democratic reforms, while maintaining the bulk of the Yemeni regime in place.

Ending the cozy military and business relationship between the imperialist states and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would not only expose those who profiteer from war-making and armaments-trading, but also undermine Saudi Arabia’s ability to prosecute the Yemen assault, bringing much-needed relief to the people there. We must expose the quiet support of the United States and Britain (with Australia closely in tow) for the Saudi war on Yemen, and highlight the destructive hypocrisies that have produced this catastrophe.

The criminal silence surrounding the humanitarian disaster afflicting Yemen must be broken. It is time to take journalistic responsibility, and expose the crimes of the imperialist elite. Those responsible for enabling this carnage to continue must be held accountable in a Nuremberg-style tribunal.