Friday, January 16, 2015

Mediæval crusaders, modern jihadis

To all those hurling the epithet “mediæval” at Western-trained and -provoked “jihadis”:

If only. During the middle age of Europe, after the collapse of the western Roman empire, muslim societies (and monasteries before Roman control was reasserted) were the refuge of learning, art, and relative tolerance.

The later middle ages were characterized by repeated attempts to unite christian Europe with the battle cry of expelling muslims and capturing Jerusalem (the Crusades).

Today’s Europe/US would seem to be the “mediæval” actor still, overthrowing stable secular governments in north Africa and west Asia that aren’t deferential enough to replace them with any brutality that properly genuflects. Or rather, create the vacuum in which violence and thievery thrive (along with weapons suppliers and their bankers). Learning, art, and tolerance are the victims at home as well.

Cloaking one’s solipsistic aggression in secularism is no different than cloaking it in religion.

And to all who raise the spectre of self-censorship: Grow up. From the age of 2, a child learns self-control in the process of socialization. It’s called civilization. A feral free-for-all benefits only the strongest and loudest, the worst of humanity, religious or secular. Even more effectively than any authoritarian state, the absence of self-censorship silences the voices of those less powerful.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Road to Damascus Goes Both Ways

Afshin Rattansi writes:

... Is this just propaganda from a Western press that isn’t free? Is there a playbook for Western journalists in which “Islam” can be swapped for “Socialism in 1930s Spain”, “Communism in Russia”, “Maoism in China”, “Bolivarism in Latin America”, “Non-Aligned Movement in Asia”? It doesn’t matter what it is – just that it is seen as the enemy because that is in the interests of hegemonic Western capital.

Journalists in the West who have fought to tell the truth about 20th/21st century interventions in the developing world – they have destroyed the lives of billions – know what it’s like. Fight against the system, and power will threaten your livelihood. And, more likely than not, you’ll be left with nothing but the ability to say “told you so” after a scale of slaughter is unleashed that not only kills more than ISIS could ever dream of but also catalyses the deluded to carry out atrocities like those in Paris.

There is something suicidal about elite media responses to the Charlie Ebdo massacre. It’s not only that what goes for journalism ignores the fact that the worst slaughters in history – world wars – trace their lineage from secularism. It’s that journalists seem unaware of what questions to ask about the European enlightenment, let alone the French Revolution.

“Liberté, égalité, fraternité” did not so much concern the freedom to publish anti-Semitic or Islamophobic cartoons in Charlie Ebdo magazine. It was about the revolutionary emancipation of the dispossessed. Satire aimed at Marie-Antoinette, not the sans-culottes; the slave-masters of Haiti not the slaves. In due course, the so-called terror at the hands of secular Saint-Just and Robespierre would be as nothing compared to what happened with the ensuing retrenchment of power. Who knows what the Jacobins would have made, a quarter of a millennium on, about rising religious fundamentalism in America and corporations as Gods in Europe? Zhou-en Lai, Communist China’s first premier, had it right – whether he was referring to 1789 or 1968 – when he said it was too early to give his assessment of events in Paris.

But, now, a rotten Western journalism accompanies an entire Western economic crisis. There’s mass austerity because of gigantic, corrupt financial services but no context of the logical need for a complete overhaul of society. The response of the so-called free press has been to write and broadcast as if only sovereign debt ratings rule civic life. Journalism ceases to be free when all mainstream political debate in Western countries centres on pleasing a minuscule percentage of the one percent about deficit reduction. Western journalists appear not to be free to question whether society really is just what gilt-traders tell them.

As for guilt for Western war crimes, there is fear of terrorist attack from “the other.” Fear is what “free” Western journalists use when they cover NATO militarism. And ever greater restrictions on press freedom in NATO countries prevent journalists from talking about something more cataclysmic and eschatological. Recent world events suggest that Western corporations think they have found a way out of the crisis, a kind of final solution. It’s arguably the reductio ad absurdum of the powerful counter-revolutionary forces unleashed by the guillotining of the Jacobins: an out and out, overt, world war.

Lethal, foreign interventions appear on the world scene as if they are the twitches of a dying superpower. No amount of socio-economic strife at home can prevent NATO governments from perceiving military existential threats. Journalists repeat lies and [the great forgetting of] history. Wars are prepared against the great powers of the 21st century. NATO plays war games for attacks on China – and, of course, Russia. A breathless Western journalism about Ukraine allows no dissent so that all developments are seen through the prism of Russian expansionism, not NATO’s. But, they merely posture against Russia, China and India. And in Africa and Latin America, there are signs that they sense the game is already up.

One region – dominated, as it happens, by Islam – remains in focus. It doesn’t matter that Saudi Arabia has been the financial source for ISIS. Fossil fuel profits of the Middle East are paramount. Environmental catastrophe isn’t even an issue. Nor are repeated defeats in Mesopotamia. To explain this to the people, NATO powers require a “free” press of fake stenographer-journalists who repeat what’s leaked to them. It can be fake dossiers, redlines and fake WMD and it’s all in the context of a fundamental misunderstanding of the post-1789 world. ...

Hollande: International community must throw more petrol on the flames

Agence France Presse, 21 August 2014:
President Francois Hollande said on Thursday that France had delivered weapons to rebels battling the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad "a few months ago."

The deliveries took place "a few months ago, when the Syrian rebels had to face both the armies of the dictator Bashar al-Assad and this terrorist group Islamic State," Hollande told reporters on a tour of the French island of La Reunion.

"We cannot leave the only Syrians who are preparing a democracy ... without weapons," he added.

What is happening currently in Syria is "terrible," he said. "On one side, the state of Bashar al-Assad which continues to crush and massacre, (on the other) Islamic State, and, in the middle, those who were supposed to lay the ground for the future, caught in a pincer movement."

"So we should not stop the support that we have given to these rebels who are the only ones to take part in the democratic process," said the president. ...

He added in that interview that the international community bore a "heavy responsibility" for what is happening in Syria, with its knock-on effects in Iraq.

"If, two years ago, we had acted to ensure a transition, we wouldn't have had Islamic State.

"If, one year ago, the major powers had reacted to the use of chemical weapons, we wouldn't have had this terrible choice between a dictator and a terrorist group," adding that the rebels "deserve all our support".

What if Assad (or Saddam Hussein, or Moammar Qaddafi) had been supporting forces attempting to overthrow by armed rebellion the Fifth Republic? The arrogance on display here is astonishing.

The problem according to Hollande is that "we" did not arrange two years ago for Assad to make way for "rebels" more favorable to Europe/US. The problem was compounded, according to Hollande, because one year ago, Europe/US did not "react" to the use of chemical weapons, presumably with overt war against Assad instead of, as was done with Russia's help, preventing further use of chemical weapons (including by "rebels").

And now faced with the choice between a (secular, unlike that of "friendly" Saudi Arabia) dictator and a terrorist group, Hollande supports escalating the cause.

There were always questions about the multifarious Syrian anti-Assad rebels. It was always clear that destabilizing Syria would empower ideological fighters of all kinds, including those of the Islamic State stripe. After Europe/US overthrow of relatively stable Iraq and Libya, those countries are deadly messes — did nobody think that might be the result also of taking the fight to Syria?

Or maybe that is exactly what is wanted. After all, the weapons trade is doing very well. As is the consequently necessary security state in Europe/US.

Yes, the international community bears a "heavy responsibility" for what is happening in Syria. Hollande is representative: an idiot and a terrorist.

I Am Not Charlie

Scott Long writes:

... It’s true, as Salman Rushdie says, that “Nobody has the right to not be offended.” You should not get to invoke the law to censor or shut down speech just because it insults you or strikes at your pet convictions. You certainly don’t get to kill because you heard something you don’t like. Yet, manhandled by these moments of mass outrage, this truism also morphs into a different kind of claim: That nobody has the right to be offended at all.

I am offended when those already oppressed in a society are deliberately insulted. I don’t want to participate. This crime in Paris does not suspend my political or ethical judgment, or persuade me that scatologically smearing a marginal minority’s identity and beliefs is a reasonable thing to do. Yet this means rejecting the only authorized reaction to the atrocity. Oddly, this peer pressure seems to gear up exclusively where Islam’s involved. When a racist bombed a chapter of a US civil rights organization this week, the media didn’t insist I give to the NAACP in solidarity. When a rabid Islamophobic rightist killed 77 Norwegians in 2011, most of them at a political party’s youth camp, I didn’t notice many #IAmNorway hashtags, or impassioned calls to join the Norwegian Labor Party. But Islam is there for us, it unites us against Islam. Only cowards or traitors turn down membership in the Charlie club.The demand to join, endorse, agree is all about crowding us into a herd where no one is permitted to cavil or condemn: an indifferent mob, where differing from one another is Thoughtcrime, while indifference to the pain of others beyond the pale is compulsory.

... To defend satire because it’s indiscriminate is to admit that it discriminates against the defenseless.

... Of course, Voltaire didn’t realize that his Jewish victims were weak or powerless. Already, in the 18th century, he saw them as tentacles of a financial conspiracy; his propensity for overspending and getting hopelessly in debt to Jewish moneylenders did a great deal to shape his anti-Semitism. In the same way, Charlie Hebdo and its like never treated Muslim immigrants as individuals, but as agents of some larger force. They weren’t strivers doing the best they could in an unfriendly country, but shorthand for mass religious ignorance, or tribal terrorist fanaticism, or obscene oil wealth. Satire subsumes the human person in an inhuman generalization. The Muslim isn’t just a Muslim, but a symbol of Islam.

This is where political Islamists and Islamophobes unite. They cling to agglutinative ideologies; they melt people into a mass; they erase individuals’ attributes and aspirations under a totalizing vision of what identity means. A Muslim is his religion. You can hold every Muslim responsible for what any Muslim does. (And one Danish cartoonist makes all Danes guilty.) ...

This insistence on contagious responsibility, collective guilt, is the flip side of #JeSuisCharlie. It’s #VousÊtesISIS; #VousÊtesAlQaeda. Our solidarity, our ability to melt into a warm mindless oneness and feel we’re doing something, is contingent on your involuntary solidarity, your losing who you claim to be in a menacing mass. We can’t stand together here unless we imagine you together over there in enmity. ...

Monday, January 12, 2015

Cui Bono?

Pepe Escobar writes:

... Who profits?

US Think Tankland, also predictably, is busy spinning the drama of an “intra-Muslim” split which provides jihadis a lot of geopolitical space to exploit – all this sucking the Western world into a Muslim civil war. This is absolutely ridiculous. The Empire of Chaos, already during the 70s, was busy cultivating jihadi/Kalashnikov culture to fight anything from the USSR to nationalist movements all across the Global South. Divide and Rule has always been used to fan the flames “intra-Islam”, from the Clinton administration getting cozy with the Taliban to the Cheney regime – helped by Persian Gulf vassals – advancing the sectarian Sunni/Shi’ite schism.

Cui bono, then, with killing Charlie [and not just the cartoonists and staffers, but also the policemen and kosher grocery workers and shoppers, and the killers themselves]? Only those whose agenda is to demonize Islam. Not even a bunch of brainwashed fanatics would pull off the Charlie carnage to show people who accuse them of being barbarians that they are, in fact, barbarians. French intel at least has concluded that this is no underwear bomber stunt. This is a pro job. That happens to take place just a few days after France recognizes Palestinian statehood. And just a few days after General Hollande demanded the lifting of sanctions against the Russian “threat”.

The Masters of the Universe who pull the real levers of the Empire of Chaos are freaking out with the systemic chaos in the racket they so far had the illusion of controlling. Make no mistake – the Empire of Chaos will do what it can to exploit the post-Charlie environment – be it blowback or false flag.

The Obama administration is already mobilizing the UN Security Council. The FBI is “helping” with the French investigation. ... The Obama administration is already mobilized to offer “protection” – Mob-style – to a Western Europe that is just, only just, starting to be diffident of the pre-fabricated Russian “threat”. And just as it happens, when the Empire of Chaos most needs it, evil “terra” once again rears its ugly head.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

“Free Speech” hypocrisy

David North writes:

The attack on the editorial offices of Charlie Hebdo has shocked the public, which is horrified by the violent deaths of 12 people in the center of Paris. The video images, viewed by millions, of the gunmen firing their weapons and killing an already-wounded policeman have imparted to Wednesday’s events an extraordinary actuality.

In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, the state and media are seeking to exploit the fear and the confusion of the public. Once again, the political bankruptcy and essentially reactionary character of terrorism is exposed. It serves the interests of the state, which utilizes the opportunity provided by the terrorists to whip up support for authoritarianism and militarism. In 2003, when the Bush administration invaded Iraq, French popular opposition was so overwhelming that the government led by President Jacques Chirac was compelled to oppose the war, even in the face of massive political pressure from the United States. Now, 12 years later, as President François Hollande is striving to transform France into the United States’ principal ally in the “war on terror,” the attack in Paris plays into his hands.

In these efforts Hollande can rely on the media, which in such circumstances directs all its energies toward the emotional manipulation and political disorientation of the public. The capitalist media, skillfully combining the suppression of information with half-truths and outright lies, devises a narrative that is calculated to appeal not only to the basest instincts of the broad public, but also to its democratic and idealistic sentiments.

Throughout Europe and the United States, the claim is being made that the attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo was an assault on the freedom of the press and the unalienable right of journalists in a democratic society to express themselves without loss of freedom or fear for their lives. The killing of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and editors is being proclaimed an assault on the principles of free speech that are, supposedly, held so dear in Europe and the United States. The attack on Charlie Hebdo is, thus, presented as another outrage by Muslims who cannot tolerate Western “freedoms.” From this the conclusion must be drawn that the “war on terror” — i.e., the imperialist onslaught on the Middle East, Central Asia and North and Central Africa — is an unavoidable necessity.

In the midst of this orgy of democratic hypocrisy, no reference is made to the fact that the American military, in the course of its wars in the Middle East, is responsible for the deaths of at least 15 journalists. In the on-going narrative of “Freedom of Speech Under Attack,” there is no place for any mention of the 2003 air-to-surface missile attack on the offices of Al Jazeera in Baghdad that left three journalists dead and four wounded.

[Nor has mention been made of attacks on journalists in Palestine, 77% of them by Israeli forces, 17% by the Palestinian Authority and 2% by the Gaza government in 2014: 17 journalists killed during Israel’s summer attack on Gaza and 58 others injured while covering events in occupied Palestinian territories; 25 arrested and 53 detained while practicing their journalistic work; 42 prevented from covering the events in Palestine, 23 prevented from leaving the country; 9 subjected to threats, 23 attacked; 21 cases of media institutions destroyed by Israeli forces, 24 stormed. Nor of Chris Hedges being disinvited by the University of Pennsylvania because of an article he wrote. Nor ...]

Nor is anything being written or said about the July 2007 murder of two Reuters journalists working in Baghdad, staff photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saeed Chmagh. Both men were deliberately targeted by US Apache gunships while on assignment in East Baghdad.

The American and international public was first able to view a video of the cold-blooded murder of the two journalists as well as a group of Iraqis — taken from one of the gunships — as the result of WikiLeaks’ release of classified material that it had obtained from an American soldier, Corporal Bradley Chelsea Manning.

And how has the United States and Europe acted to protect WikiLeaks’ exercise of free speech? Julian Assange, the founder and publisher of WikiLeaks, has been subjected to relentless persecution. Leading political and media figures in the United States and Canada have denounced him as a “terrorist” and demanded his arrest, with some even calling publicly for his murder. Assange is being pursued on fraudulent “rape” charges concocted by American and Swedish intelligence services. He has been compelled to seek sanctuary in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, which is under constant guard by British police who will seize Assange if he steps out of the embassy. As for Chelsea Manning, she is presently in prison, serving out a 35-year sentence for treason.

That is how the great capitalist “democracies” of North America and Europe have demonstrated their commitment to free speech and the safety of journalists!

The dishonest and hypocritical narrative spun out by the state and the media requires that Charlie Hebdo and its murdered cartoonists and journalists be upheld as martyrs to free speech and representatives of a revered democratic tradition of hard-hitting iconoclastic journalism.

In a column published Wednesday in the Financial Times, the liberal historian Simon Schama places Charlie Hebdo in a glorious tradition of journalistic irreverence that “is the lifeblood of freedom.” He recalls the great European satirists between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries who subjected the great and powerful to their withering scorn. Among their illustrious targets, Schama reminds us, were the brutal Duke of Alba, who in the 1500s drowned the Dutch struggle for freedom in blood; the French “Sun King,” Louis XIV; the British Prime Minister William Pitt; and the Prince of Wales. “Satire,” writes Schama, “became the oxygen of politics, ventilating healthy howls of derision in coffee houses and taverns where caricatures circulated every day and every week.”

Schama places Charlie Hebdo in a tradition to which it does not belong. All the great satirists to whom Schama refers were representatives of a democratic Enlightenment who directed their scorn against the powerful and corrupt defenders of aristocratic privilege. In its relentlessly degrading portrayals of Muslims, Charlie Hebdo has mocked the poor and the powerless.

To speak bluntly and honestly about the sordid, cynical and degraded character of Charlie Hebdo is not to condone the killing of its personnel. But when the slogan “I am Charlie” is adopted and heavily promoted by the media as the slogan of protest demonstrations, those who have not been overwhelmed by state and media propaganda are obligated to reply: “We oppose the violent assault on the magazine, but we are not — and have nothing in common with — ‘Charlie.’”

Marxists are no strangers to the struggle to overcome the influence of religion among the masses. But they conduct this struggle with the understanding that religious faith is sustained by conditions of adversity and desperate hardship. Religion is not to be mocked, but understood and criticized as Karl Marx understood and criticized it:
“Religious distress is … the expression of real distress and also the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

“To abolish religion as the illusory happiness of the people is to demand their real happiness. The demand to give up illusions about the existing affairs is the demand to give up a state of affairs that needs illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of the vale of tears, the halo of which is religion.” [Contribution to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law, in Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 3 (New York, 1975), pp. 175-76]
One has only to read these words to see the intellectual and moral chasm that separates Marxism from the unhealthy milieu of the ex-left political cynicism that has found expression in Charlie Hebdo. There has been nothing enlightening, let alone edifying, in their puerile and often obscene denigration of the Muslim religion and its traditions.

The cynically provocative anti-Muslim caricatures that have appeared on so many covers of Charlie Hebdo have pandered to and facilitated the growth of right-wing chauvinist movements in France. It is absurd to claim, by way of defense of Charlie Hebdo, that its cartoons are all “in good fun” and have no political consequences. Aside from the fact that the French government is desperate to rally support for its growing military agenda in Africa and the Middle East, France is a country where the influence of the neo-fascist National Front is growing rapidly. In this political context, Charlie Hebdo has facilitated the growth of a form of politicized anti-Muslim sentiment that bears a disturbing resemblance to the politicized anti-Semitism that emerged as a mass movement in France in the 1890s.

In its use of crude and vulgar caricatures that purvey a sinister and stereotyped image of Muslims, Charlie Hebdo recalls the cheap racist publications that played a significant role in fostering the anti-Semitic agitation that swept France during the famous Dreyfus Affair, which erupted in 1894 after a Jewish officer was accused and falsely convicted of espionage on behalf of Germany. In whipping up popular hatred of Jews, La Libre Parole [“Free Speech”], published by the infamous Edoard Adolfe Drumont, made highly effective use of cartoons that employed the familiar anti-Semitic devices. The caricatures served to inflame public opinion, inciting mobs against Dreyfus and his defenders, such as Emile Zola, the great novelist and author of J’Accuse.

The World Socialist Web Site, on the basis of long-standing political principles, opposes and unequivocally condemns the terrorist assault on Charlie Hebdo. But we refuse to join in the portrayal of Charlie Hebdo as a martyr to the cause of democracy and free speech, and we warn our readers to be wary of the reactionary agenda that motivates this hypocritical and dishonest campaign.

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