Archive | September, 2014

4+ Logics of Living Together on Planet Earth

29 Sep

 

It is misleading to describe ‘world order’ as consisting exclusively ofsovereign territorial states. This misimpression is further encouraged by the structure of the United Nations, whose members are states, and only states. The UN was established in 1945 in the aftermath of World War II, reflecting a West-centric orientation that emerged at the time, quickly morphing into the Cold War rivalry between the two states that were geopolitically dominant and ideologically antagonistic: the United States and Soviet Union.

 

Even in the UN, however, this surface allegiance to statism is misleading. The geopolitical dimension was highlighted in the UN Charter by conferring a veto power on five winners in the recently concluded war, which amounted to the grant of a right of exception with respect to international law.

 

But there are differences in hard and soft power that make the interactions among states within the UN exhibit more inequality than is suggested by this still prevailing Westphalian myth of the equality among sovereign states. Some states contribute far more to the UN budget than others, and their views carry more weight; others are richer, bigger, more informed about some issues, are better at lobbying for support, and some play above their diplomatic weight by clever political maneuvers. And there are several kinds of non-states active behind the scenes that exert varying degrees of influence depending on the subject-matter.

 

Global policy is mainly shaped outside the UN by a bewildering array of formal and informal actors that participate in a bewildering variety of ways in international life. The world economy is substantially controlled by business oriented alignments such as the World Economic Forum that meets annually in Davos, Switzerland, or the gatherings of economically powerful states grouped together as the G-7, later becoming the G-8, and more recently the G-20 to accommodate shifts in trade and investment patterns, and give recognition to such new alignments as the BRICs.

 

As such, the shorthand designation of world order by reference to the 1648 Treaties of Westphalia that brought the Thirty Years War to an end serves as a convenient starting point for understanding the way authority and power are deployed in the world. Yet it must be supplemented by the recognition that the Westphalian framework has evolved through the years. Beyond this, it is not sufficient to rely on a statist logic to explain the main patterns of behavior that constitute world politics in the 21st century, which reflect the agendas of political extremist groups and transnational corporations and banks, as much as they do states. In fact, national governments are often subordinated to and instrumentalized by individuals and groups promoting the interests of business and finance.

 

Statist Logic. Despite these qualifications, states do remain the main political actor on the global stage, and the principal agent of diplomacy. The doctrinal ideas of territorial sovereignty continue to provide the basic organizing principle for the conduct of ordinary transnational relations. It is further important to realize that most political leaders and their chief advisors are ‘realists’ who purport to act on the basis of maximizing national interests and accompanying values even when they are in actuality serving the interests of transnational capital to the detriment of their own citizenry.

 

The boundaries of the state shape the outer limits of political community for most persons living on the planet , but some states contain within their borders one or more specific ethnicity that deems itself a distinct people and nation, which if it perceives itself as the target of discrimination or even a victim of submerged identity, may regard itself as ‘a captive nation’ that seeks a separate political existence that ensures the preservation of cultural memory and national pride. In this sense, the ‘nation’ represented by such a phrase as ‘the national interest’ may be profoundly misleading if understood to refer to the interests of an entire population within its borders rather than that of the dominant ethnicity or religion. Throughout the world there are many internationally unrepresented peoples seeking to form their own state in accordance with the right of self-determination, which if carried to extremes, threatens the unity of almost all sovereign states.

 

Sometimes, this process is a forcible one as with the establishment of Kosovo with the help of NATO in 1999, sometimes it is a consensual separation, as with the establishment of Slovakia. Democratic states may offer restive minorities the opportunity to secede by referendum as in the recent case of Scotland, but some forms of secession are resisted as was the case with American Civil War or more recently, the PKK efforts to establish in eastern Turkey a separate state of Kurdistan, as well as Spain’s treatment of the main separatist movement of the Basque people as essentially a terrorist organization.

 

Many individuals depend on citizenship to avoid the acute vulnerability of ‘statelessness,’ which is a status without rights or protection, and suggests the primacy of states in the life of most people, whether consciously realized or not. The plight of economic migrants and refugees fleeing combat zones suggests the humanitarian ordeal experienced by many people who are not securely connected to a state capable of providing the fundamental ingredients of a sustainable lives. Refugees may be citizens with rights in the country they escaped from, but generally find themselves victimized anew by the country within which they sought sanctuary. Some governments adopt humane and generous approaches to refugees and stateless persons, but it is voluntary and the affected individuals are not the recipient of effective rights even if ‘human rights’ are based on being human, and not on citizenship or nationality.

 

Geopolitical Logic. As statist logic is premised on equality before the law and in formal diplomatic relations, geopolitical logic is premised on inequality and the right of exception with respect to that portion of international law concerning issues of war and peace, and what is called ‘national security,’ or more broadly, ‘vital interests.’ While statism is descriptive of the horizontal dimension of world order within the Westphalian framework, geopolitics constitutes the vertical dimension that has been present ever since the modern structure of world order emerged in Europe in the mid-seventeenth century. Various empires exhibited the formalization of this vertical dimension as did European colonialism, which at its height after World War I, dominated much of the world. The anti-colonial movements of the last half of the twentieth century produced many newly independent sovereign states, universalizing the horizontal development of world politics.

 

In the post-colonial global setting of the early twenty-first century the vertical dimension of world order is disguised to some degree because it was weakened and discredited in the past hundred years. These disguises make reference to certain normative justifications for the imposition of political will by the strong on the weak. Among the most prominent of these legal and moral arguments favoring otherwise prohibited uses of force are ‘self-defense,’ ‘humanitarian intervention,’ ‘responsibility to protect’ or ‘R2P,’ and ‘nonproliferation.’ In each situation, depending on the facts the rationalization may be more or less plausible as a cover for a strategically motivated geopolitical maneuver. It seemed somewhat plausible to liberate Kosovo from Serbia in 1999, given the threat of ethnic cleansing in the aftermath of the Srebrenica atrocity, but it was also clearly motivated by the interest in maintaining NATO as a useful instrument of coercion in a post-Cold War setting, a demonstration conveniently coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the alliance. Similarly, it seemed reasonable in 2011 to intervene in Libya to prevent a civilian massacre by Qaddafi forces in the city of Benghazi, although it was undoubtedly also true that the high quality oil reserves added a strategic incentive to the humanitarian impulse to protect threatened Libyan civilians. In contrast, without oil, the atrocities taking place in Syria produced a much weaker expression of international concern. Each of these situations is complex, opening the way for contradictory interpretations as to the humanitarian effects of action and non-action, as well as the assessment of the importance of the strategic interests at stake.

 

The geopolitical logic trumps statist logic in relation to international uses of force, and helps explain the marginalization of international law and the UN in the war/peace context. The constraints that are operative with respect to geopolitics derive from considerations of cost/benefit analysis, pressures exerted by group politics, prudential concerns about nuclear weaponry and avoiding casualties to its military personnel, and the sporadic anti-war restraints of public opinion (especially in liberal democracies). In the recent American-led coalition created as a response to threats posed by ISIS (‘Islamic State of Iraq & Syria,’ also known by other names), President Obama did not even bother to justify recourse to force by reference to either international law or the UN, and seemed concerned only that he had a legal basis within the American constitutional framework to act as he did. Significantly, as well, most of the domestic controversy focused on this issue of authorizing warlike behavior without any participation by Congress, showing no worries about acting contrary to international law and without a UN mandate for recourse to non-defensive force.

 

Cosmopolitan Logic. Partly as a result of economic globalization and partly due to the impact of global challenges associated with nuclear weapons and climate change, there is an emerging appreciation that neither statism nor geopolitics can protect overall hman wellbeing and survival aspects of what might best be called the human or global interest. Despite decades of aspirational language, there seems to be no prospect in the immediate future of freeing humanity from the looming threat of nuclear catastrophe. The challenge of the weaponry has been geopolitically degraded in the form of creating a nonproliferation regime that distorts priorities by conceiving of the main danger deriving from countries that do not have nuclear weapons rather than those that do. The 2003 aggressive war undertaken by the United States and the United Kingdom against Iraq was mainly rationalized as a counter-proliferation undertaking, epitomizing the subordination of cosmopolitan interests in getting rid of nuclear weapons to the geopolitics of managing their control and dissemination.

 

A similar dynamic is present in relation to climate change, and the failed effort to contain the emission of greenhouse gasses, especially carbon dioxide.The UN mechanisms for lawmaking treaties have been unable to agree upon an obligatory framework that takes account of the scientific consensus on the need for strict regulation of the buildup of carbon in the atmosphere, and the resultant harmful effects of global warming. As a result the situation worsens, and irresponsibly the growing burdens of adaptation are shifted to the future.

 

Without the formation of a political community of global scope it is unlikely that cosmopolitan logic will have any significant impact on behavior that reflects strong national interests and geopolitical priorities. The preconditions for such a development do not seem present as nationalist ideologies continues to maintain the dominance of statism and geopolitics despite their dysfunctional implications for the future of the human species. This persistence raises some deep questions about whether there exists a sufficient species will to survive. Until the advent of the Anthropocene Age such an imperative did not exist, and survival threats as they occurred were directed at particular societies or civilizations, that is, posing sub-species threats, but not endangering the species itself. What distinguishes the Anthropocene is the impact of human activities on the fundamental balances that have allowed life and social development to proceed.

 

There have been past cases where cosmopolitan concerns have been addressed because competing logics were not seriously engaged: public order of the oceans, prohibition of ozone depleting technologies, ecological preservation of Antarctica. Until the atomic attacks on Japanese cities in the closing days of World War II the cosmopolitan horizons of human activity were treated as matters of idealistic and spiritual concerns, but not relevant to issues of bio-political persistence. Even Woodrow Wilson’s dream that the League of Nations would cause the institution of war to fade away was never taken seriously by the political leaders of the day, especially in Europe, who well understood that their privileged position of vertical control (that is, colonial system) rested on an atmosphere of permanent war to ensure that ‘the natives’ would not get uppity.

 

Civil Society Logic. The perspectives and activities of civil society occupy a broad and diverse spectrum of concerns, and contain elements of the other three logics that together compose world order. The normative motivations of transnational civil society actors do establish an existential constituency disposed toward the realization of human and global interests. These actors have been active in relation to the promotion of human rights, environmental protection, nuclear disarmament, and climate change. That is, civil society perspectives often merge in these venues with cosmopolitan perspectives, and present unified critical responses to statism and geopolitics. The counter-conferences at global policy events illustrate such encounters, and are likely to intensify as the awareness of global crises grow and the experience of the seriousness of unmet global challenges deepens. A distinctive feature of civil society logic is engagement with values and change, and a certain distrust of detached thought that presents itself as ‘neutral.’ The spirit of civil society was expressed unforgettably for me by a graffiti written on a wall in the city of Vancouver: “Thought Without Action Equals Zero.”

 

In a larger historical sense, the question before all of us is whether civil society can become an agent of historical transformation in relation to cosmopolitan logic, thereby joining thought with action. Only such a reconstituted political imagination has any chance of producing policy and behavioral adjustments that make the human future a brighter prospect than now appears to be the case.

 

Hope to balance despair depends on our according unrealistic confidence in the capacity of civil society movements to achieve transformative results, what I have called in the past ‘the realism of a politics of impossibility’ or ‘a necessary utopianism.’ Nothing less seems responsive to the magnitude of the civilizational challenges already negatively impacting on human wellbeing. I have little doubt that those ‘realists’ we rely upon as dutiful, taxpaying citizens are leading us down a path heading toward doomsday. It is time we shifted our allegiances and energies to the citizen pilgrims among us who are pointing us toward a humane and sustainable future for life on planet earth.

 

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After ‘Protective Edge’: What Future for Palestine and Israel

21 Sep

 

 

The 50-day Israeli military operation that killed over 2100 Palestinians, wounded another 11,000, and undoubtedly traumatized the entire Gazan population of 1.7 million also took the lives of 70 Israelis, of which 65 were soldiers. This last violent encounter has ended without a clear victory for either side. Despite this, Israel and Hamas are each insisting that ‘victory’ was achieved. Israel points to the material results, tunnels and rocket sites destroyed, targeted assassinations completed, and the overall weakening of Hamas capacity to launch an attack. Hamas, for its part, claims political gains, becoming far stronger politically and psychologically in both Gaza and the West Bank than before the fighting began, refusing to give in on the basic Israeli demand of the ‘demilitarization’ of Gaza, as well as further tarnishing Israel’s international reputation.

 

The UN Human Rights Commission has taken what for it is an exceptional step of appointing a commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of war crimes. The fact that William Schabas, a renowned expert on international criminal law, especially on the crime of genocide, was selected to chair the investigation is of great symbolic significance, and potentially of major relevance to the ongoing legitimacy struggle being successfully waged by the Palestinian people. Some have referred to this new initiative as ‘Goldstone 2.0’ referring back to the earlier high visibility fact finding undertaking of the HRC prompted by the Israeli military operation against Gaza in 2008-09 that had shocked the world by its ferocity and disregard for the international laws of war. Unlike Richard Goldstone, who was an amateur in relation to international law and ideologically aligned with Zionism, Schabas is a leading academic expert without any known ideological inhibitions, and with the strength of character to abide by the expected findings and recommendations of the report that the inquiry produces.

 

As earlier, the United States will use its geopolitical muscle to shield Israel from censure, criticism, and above all, from accountability. This lamentable limitation on the implementation of international criminal law does not mean that the Schabas effort lacks significance. The political outcome of prior anti-colonial struggles have been controlled by the side that wins the legitimacy war for control of the commanding heights of international law and morality.

This symbolic terrain is so important as it strengthens the resilience of those seeking liberation to bear the burdens of struggle and it deepens the global solidarity movement that provides vital support. In this respect, the Goldstone Report exerted a major influence in delegitimizing Israel’s periodic ‘mowing of the lawn’ in Gaza, especially the grossly disproportionate uses of force against a totally vulnerable and essentially helpless and entrapped civilian population.

 

The most startling result of this latest onslaught by Israel, which seems less an instance of ‘warfare’ than of ‘orchestrated massacre,’ is strangely ironic from an Israeli perspective. Its ruthless pursuit of a military victory had the effect of making Hamas more popular and legitimate than it had ever been, not only in Gaza, but even more so in the West Bank. Israel’s military operation seriously undermined the already contested claims by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to be the authentic representative of the aspirations of the Palestinian people. The best explanation of this outcome is that Palestinians as a whole prefer the resistance of Hamas, however much suffering it produces, to the passive compliance of the PA with the will of the occupier and oppressor.

 

For its part, Israel has signaled a less disguised refusal to move toward a negotiated peace under present conditions. Prime Minister Netanyahu has told the Palestinians once again that they must choose between ‘peace and Hamas,’ without mentioning that his use of the word ‘peace’ made it indistinguishable from ‘surrender.’ Netanyahu repeated his often proclaimed position–Israel will never negotiate with a terrorist organization that is committed to its destruction. Putting another nail in what appears to be the coffin of a two-state solution, Israel announced the largest confiscation of land for settlement expansion in more than 20 years, taking nearly 1000 acres of public land near Bethlehem to be added to the small settlement of Gvaot near the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem. Some ask, “Why now?” rather than the more perceptive “Why not now?”

 

From these perspectives, the real impact of the Gaza carnage may be less the physical devastation and humanitarian catastrophe, imminent dangers of disease epidemic and $12 billion in damage taking at least 20 years to overcome, than the political effects. It looks like the suspension of inter-governmental diplomacy as a means of conflict resolution. Even the PA, seeking its political rehabilitation, is now talking about demanding that the UN establish a three year timetable for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. It is also threatening recourse to the International Criminal Court to empower an investigation of charges that the occupation of the West Bank itself involves the commission of crimes against humanity.

 

From these perspectives, the situation seems hopeless. The Palestinian prospects for their own state, which was the hope of moderates on both sides for many years, now seems irrelevant. Only the two-state template, however enacted, could reconcile the conflicting claims of Israeli Zionism and Palestinian nationalism. Of course, increasingly Palestinian critics questioned whether Zionism was consistent with the human rights of the Palestinian minority and its large refugee and exile communities, and tended to view the two state outcome as a triumph for the Zionist project and a sugar-coated defeat for Palestinian national aspirations. Now that it is ‘game over’ for the two-state solution, and the real struggle is more clearly being waged between competing versions of a one-state solution.

 

What can we expect? Even a sustainable ceasefire that allows the people of Gaza to recover somewhat from the dreadful ordeal of a cruel regime of collective punishment seems unlikely to persist very long in the present atmosphere. There is every reason to suppose that Israeli frustrations with the failure of its attack to subdue Hamas, and Hamas’ refusal to accept without acts of resistance the harsh realities of its continuing subjugation.

 

And yet there are flickers of light in the darkened skies. The stubbornness of Palestinian resistance combined with the robustness of a growing global solidarity movement is likely to exert intensifying pressure on the Israel public and some of its leaders to rethink their options for the future, and from an Israeli point of view, the sooner the better. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) campaign is gaining political and moral traction by the day. The kind of nonviolent international movement that unexpectedly helped cause the abrupt collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa seems as though it might at some point push Israelis toward reconsidering whether an accommodation is not in Israel’s interest even if it requires a rethinking of what is the core reality of ‘a Jewish homeland,’ and even if it falls short of a complete reconciliation. As the experience in South Africa, and also Northern Ireland suggest, the side with the upper hand militarily does not acknowledge mounting political pressure until it is ready for a deal with its enemy that would have seemed inconceivable just shortly before it was made.

 

The outcome of the Israel-Palestine struggle is presently obscure. From the territorial perspective it appears that Israel is on the verge of victory, but from a legitimacy struggle perspective the Palestinians are gaining the upper hand. The flow of history since the end of World War II suggests a hopeful future for the Palestinians, yet the geopolitical strength of Israel may be able to withstand the intensifying pressure to acknowledge the fundamental Palestinian right of self-determination.

 

 

 

ISIS, Militarism, and the Violent Imagination

18 Sep

 

 

 

 

Before ISIS

 

The beheading of American and British journalists who were being held hostage by ISIS creates a truly horrifying spectacle, and quite understandably mobilizes the political will to destroy the political actor who so shocks and frightens the Western sensibility, which is far from being free from responsibility for such lurid incidents. Never in modern times has there been a clearer example of violence begetting violence.

 

And we need to ask ‘to what end?’ Political leaders in the West are remarkably silent and dishonest about what it is that they wish to achieve in this region beset since 2011 by a quite terrifying outbreak of political extremism, whether from above as in the cases of Syria, Egypt, and Israel or from below as with ISIS and al-Nusra.

 

It is difficult to recall that at the start of 2011, just three years ago, progressive voices around the world were inspired by the Arab upheavals, especially in Egypt and Tunisia, that burst upon the political scene unexpectedly. These extraordinary events appeared to repudiate the prevailing patterns of authoritarian, exploitative, and corrupt collaboration between oppressive domestic elites, neoliberal economic forces, and the regional imperial juggernaut that had kept this humanly disastrous reality stable for so long. Yet even during that time of optimism about the Arab future, a closer scrutiny of what was happening disclosed many reasons to be worried. It is helpful to look to this recent past to have some comprehension of the perplexing present.

 

A Revolutionary Spirit Without Revolutionary Action

 

The goals of these upheavals were far too ambitious to be realized by such limited challenges directed at the established order. These movements were essentially confined to getting rid of a hated ruler. Associating single individuals such as Mubarak, Ben Ali, or Assad with the grievances of an exploited and oppressed people overlooks the degree to which class interests and entrenched bureaucracies constituted structures. The popular forces bravely challenging the status quo lacked leadership, program, and even a clear agenda, and naively expected the remnants of the old regime to disappear or go along with the anguished call of mass discontent that sought bread, freedom, and dignity as the effect of removing the hated leader.

 

This innocence of exaggerated expectations made what had seemed a remarkable achievement of doing the impossible more vulnerable to reversal than was generally understood at the time when the immediate results seemed so stunning. What particularly impressed thoughtful commentators was being described as ‘a new subjectivity’ of the Arab masses. It had long been presumed that these Arab publics were reconciled to their fate, and would remain passive victims of their sorry fate. That they rose up with such force and resolve surprised the world, and themselves, by these courageous displays of self-empowerment and political creativity. It was also impressive that these upheavals, each distinct, shared a vision of an inclusive democracy that when established, would henceforth govern society with respect for all classes, religious and ethnic identities, genders, and political persuasions.

 

The reluctance to challenge the old order more fundamentally and punitively became coupled with a paradoxical and perverse situation of dependence on the old regime to manage in good faith the transition to the promised new dawn of constitutional democracy and freely elected political leaders. There seemed to be no understanding that these old elites in each country had interests that had been generally served by the previously established order, and would inevitably be threatened by the longings of the people, including expectations of moves toward greater social and economic equity threatening the prior acceptance of predatory arrangements with neoliberal globalization.

 

Preconditions for Transformative Political Ambitions

 

In this sense, there seemed little awareness in these movements of Lenin’s insistence that a successful transformative politics necessarily depends on substantially destroying the prior state structures; (“you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”), that is, by rebuilding the new transformed state from the ground up and getting rid of the old bureaucracy. This generalization is especially true if the old order was managed by indigenous leadership, and not imposed from without as in the colonial era. Also, as Hannah Arendt argued in her book on revolution, if the overthrow of the former regime does not have a radical social agenda, as was the case with American Revolution, only then does the possibility of a smooth and peaceful transition exists. [See Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (1969). Excluding the prospects for improved material conditions, including jobs for youth, was a political impossibility in the Arab world, where conditions of mass misery were what partially explained the role of oppressive structures and the assignment of security forces to prevent workers from organizing effectively.

 

Revealingly, in contrast to the activists in Tahrir Square, Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran encouraged a kind of Islamic Leninism, rejecting all pleas to reach compromises with the Shah’s regime in exchange for social peace and shared political power. From the perspective of late 2014 we take note of contrasting realities: Iran’s Islamic Republic is celebrating its 35th anniversary without a serious threat to its governance, while the so-called Egyptian Revolution barely lasted two years before the old regime in a more extreme form was fully restored under the bloody military leadership of General Sisi.

 

 

 

Underestimating Political Islam

 

There were additional factors at work in Egypt and the region. Perhaps, most significantly, those who sought to liberalize the governance structures without shaking their foundations greatly underestimated the electoral strength of political Islam, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. Although the ideals of the Tahrir movement affirmed inclusionary democracy, the assumption of many who initially championed a new political order was that the MB would participate as a minority presence that would not displace the old urban ruling classes or threaten its privileges. When this turned out to be wrong it immediately shifted the political balance in such a way as to promote counter-revolution. As Europe discovered after 1848, nothing is worse for progressive politics than revolutionary ambitions to exceed revolutionary means.

 

This situation was further stressed by the rich and influential Gulf oil dynasties that felt deeply threatened by the Arab upheavals, and cared far more about their own stability than they did about promoting Sunni politics in the region. These governments were disturbed by the fall of Mubarak, and hoped for a political reversal in Egypt, welcoming the counter-revolution led by Sisi with an avalanche of funding, without blinking when this new military leadership proceeded to commit major atrocities against members of the MB and to criminalize the organization. It should not be ignored that this counter-revolutionary violence also served the strategic interests of Israel and the United States, restoring stability, marginalizing Muslim and democratizing forces, and avoiding the emergence of governments much more inclined to support Palestinian aspirations and to challenge neoliberal links with global capitalism. Into this mix that emerged in Egypt, must also be added the political ineptness of the MB, neither appreciating its popular support nor recognizing that MB political hegemony would never be accepted by either the remnants of the old regime nor by secular liberals who wanted Mubarak overthrown, but not the system. In this sense, it appears in retrospect that it was a great mistake of the MB to withdraw their earlier pledge after the Tahrir success story to refrain from seeking either to dominate the parliamentary elections or compete for the presidency.

 

Not Forgetting Iraq or Syria

 

If we consider other developments in the region there is another disturbing ‘truth’: the region at this stage seems better off being governed in an authoritarian manner than by either the sort of ‘democracy promotion’ that was the theme song of the George W Bush presidency (2000-2008) or through the political responses to the kind of popular uprisings that erupted in Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, elsewhere, but turned out to be unsustainable. The least bad outcomes as of now appear to be those countries where the old authoritarian regimes prevailed without much struggle (e.g. Morocco) and made a few gestures of reform averting both civil strife and a more brutal turn in authoritarian rule. The alternatives to authoritarian in the region now seem far worse: terrible civil warfare (as in Syria) or chaos without respite (as in Libya). Given the mess that unfolded in Iraq during a decade of American occupation, what Washington policymaker would not at this point secretly consider the second coming of Saddam Hussein in Iraq as a gift of the gods?

 

Syria, as well, sent the wrong signal throughout the region. First, there occurred a popular challenge to the Assad regime that occasioned a bloody counterinsurgency campaign. Then outside forces, Turkey, the United States, Gulf countries teamed up as ‘Friends of Syria Group’ to help the insurgency prevail, badly underestimating the military capabilities and political support of the Damascus government, which enabled it to withstand these efforts to repeat the Mubarak/Qaddafi experience of overthrow either from below (by a mass movement) or from without (by a NATO air campaign). In Syria instead of regime change there occurred an ongoing civil war that has taken upwards of 200,000 lives, caused millions to flea the country as refugees and millions more to become internally displace.

 

Three negative political effects also followed: neighboring countries were destabilized, the unresolved Syrian struggle gave rise to various forms of Islamic extremism within Syria and in the region, and the atrocities of Assad gave license to others in the region (such as Sisi) to commit crimes against humanity with the prospect of impunity.

 

What lessons can we learn? Above all, beware of what is wished for. In effect, above all else, the last several decades should teach the West that the days of staging successful colonial interventions at acceptable costs are long past, and that premising post-colonial interventionist diplomacy on a moral crusade of human rights, democracy, and counter-terrorism fools almost no one except some of the people in the metropole, and wins few real friends in the target societies other than cynical opportunists or desperate insurgents. If intervention is followed by military occupation many of those who were initially willing to accept any and all outside help to get rid of the hated leader quickly get disillusioned and turn on their earlier benefactor, a process dubbed ‘blowback.’ [For identification of the phenomenon and its naming see Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, 2004) If the intervention is not followed by an occupation the results are not much better. Piles of bodies and debris are left behind, but the new reality is likely to be, as in Libya, the kind of ungovernable chaos with armed militias substituting for the rule of law. Washington tends to call such situations ‘failed states’ as if it had nothing to do with the collapse of governance.

 

America’s and NATO’s Unlearned Lessons

 

America and NATO should have learned the limits of military superiority and the problematics of occupation from their failures in Afghanistan and Iraq. Military superiority and shock and awe tactics can generally overwhelm a Third World government and quickly destroy its military capability, but that is only initial and easy phase of an effort to control the political future of a targeted country. Notoriously, Bush didn’t understand this in relation to Iraq when he infamously announced ‘mission accomplished’ to the world immediately after Iraqi military resistance crumbled and Saddam Hussein was driven from power.

Phase two of the Iraq undertaking involved occupation and state-building neoliberal style, and the emergence of formidable political resistance. The early glow of victory soon fades away, and a variety of troubles start to overwhelm the intervening side. A movement of national resistance takes shape, and adopts insurgent tactics against the foreign invader that takes away many of the benefits of military superiority that earlier achieved an easy battlefield victory. Resistance consists of various acts of violent disruption that gradually turn a hostile and foreign occupation into a long nightmare. The high tech weaponry of the occupier remains an effective killing machine, but it increasingly kills the wrong people, alienates far more, and seems helpless to establish minimal order much less to deliver on the promise of democracy, economic prosperity, and human rights for all. The prime objective of the occupier becomes one of crafting a graceful exit that disguises the abandonment of the original enterprise, and if that fails, leaving in a humiliating manner without being able to disguise the defeat. It should have been evident from the outset in Iraq that the effort to embed democracy is in tension with the strategic goal of integrating the country in accord with Western ideas of security and political economy. The idea of turning over security to an indigenous and partisan army trained to make safeguard the government put in place by a military intervention is truly a ‘mission impossible.’

 

Strategic Failure

 

What was the real outcome of both of these major military interventions that cost many lives, generated mass refugee and internally displaced populations, and expended trillions of dollars on these futile ventures? In Afghanistan the results were a mixture of chaos, destabilization of Pakistan, and the reemergence of the Taliban as a formidable political force. In Iraq, the ironic outcome after a decade of occupation was a strategic victory for Iran and its pro-Shi’ite foreign policy, along with sectarian strife and widespread chaos, culminating during this past year with the eruption of ISIS occupying a significant expanses of territory in Iraq, and Syria. ISIS had the audacity to proclaim itself the Islamic State and to found a new caliphate without regard to international borders.

 

In both societies these results are exactly the opposite of the goals set by the intervening side. What were the real motivations of the intervenors? There are, I believe, three overlapping answers given varying weights by commentators: for oil, for arms sales and the political economy of militarism, and to ensure the desired strategic hegemony of the American/Israeli partnership throughout the Middle East.

 

The failure results from a basic disconnect. Securing the neoliberal priority of assuring access to Middle Eastern oil at stable prices bolstered by a maximum Western private sector investment depends upon maintaining good relations with stable governments and receptive societies. Stable political structures, given the American commitment to Israel, together with capitalist predatory behavior, produces a hostile cleavage between state and society throughout the region, making political order fully dependent on effective authoritarian governance. Under these conditions it is evident that any claimed commitment to human rights and democracy is hypocritical, and at best peripheral. Such claims serve as misleading rationalizations for intervention in a post-colonial era where naked imperial justifications are no longer credible. It puts the West in the position of inevitably collaborating with national elites that suppress the most fundamental human right of their own peoples—that of the right of national self-determination, which is highlighted as common Article I of both the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

 

Remembering Vietnam

 

There is a further disconnect. Relying on military intervention to achieve the goals of foreign policy is not a new recipe for political failure, and such an approach should have been discarded long ago for realist reasons. A repudiation of interventionary diplomacy should have been the crucial lesson learned from the Vietnam War. Remember America won all the big battles, controlled every combat zone, and yet lost the war. A Vietnamese military commander’s response is worth pondering made to an American official who insisted that despite the political outcome of the war, the United States was never defeated militarily by Vietnam: “Yes, that is true, but it is irrelevant.”

 

Understanding why it is irrelevant is the great unlearned lesson in relation to the conflicts taking place the period since World War II. It should by now be clear even to the most dimwitted real politik analyst that every colonial war since World War II was won by the militarily inferior side. Perhaps, the most dramatic instance of people power triumphing over imperial power occurred in India’s defeat of the mighty British Empire without firing a shot. In Indochina and Algeria French colonialism finally gave way to national movements with far worse weaponry. National resilience in the end proves stronger than foreign military and police control.

 

The real untold story of this string of losses sustained by the West is the empowerment of people. This empowerment was eventually accorded moral and legal respect by a global diplomatic process that now seems a false gesture of imperial disempowerment. Acceptance of the moral claims of and legal right to self-determination was formally acknowledged, but the geopolitics of power and wealth went on as before, and continued at great costs to seek by force of arms what could not otherwise be justly acquired.

 

The recent Israeli military operation against the helpless people of Gaza is an extreme illustration of this dynamic. No people in the Middle East have endured as much cruelty and suffering during their long national movement for independence and sovereignty than have the Palestinians. And no state has been as determined as Israel to rely on its vastly superior military means to maintain control, expand, and ruthlessly suppress opposition. And yet after nearly 70 years of dispossession, occupation, militarist subjugation, and Western backing, the Palestinians are far from defeated. In the recent one-sided Protective Edge campaign over 2100 Palestinians were killed, 75% of whom were civilians, as compared to Israel reporting losses of 70 dead, of whom 66 were members of the IDF. It suggests that ‘state terrorism’ is far deadlier for the civilian population than is the violence of enemy resisters. But consider the political dynamics: the Israeli reasons for staging this horror show seemed to be mainly to convince the collaborationist leadership in Ramallah to stop cooperating with Israel and to weaken decisively the organization structure and political support of Hamas. As with the cases mentioned earlier, the military dominance produced great devastation combined with a political defeat: instead of weakening Hamas, the organization gained in popularity not only in Gaza, but even more so in the West Bank where new polls show that in any forthcoming election Hamas would easily win over the Palestinian Authority, which was unlikely before Israel launched its latest deadly attack to once more ‘mow the lawn’ in Gaza.

 

The next concern, following from what has been argued, is ‘why such a clear pattern of repeated failures should not lead to policy adjustments?’ There are two explanations: the political elites of the world are hard-wired to think within an anachronistic realist box in which military power is the controlling force of history. Such thinking is also part of the political culture of the United States where security is correlated with hard power, no matter the facts are. This defiance of reality is sadly reinforced by American political culture. When recent horrific crimes in movie theaters and schools where innocent persons are willfully slaughtered by a deranged heavily armed individual, the militarized mentality of the citizenry leads it not to demand the prohibition of assault weapons in private hands, but perversely to a surge in private arms sales.

 

The ISIS Challenge Revisited

 

This brings us back to ISIS, and what might be done that improves the situation rather than worsen it. Barack Obama has presided over shaping the regional response. He was confronted by a multifaceted dilemma. He had been elected president twice partly to end American engagement in overseas wars, especially in the Middle East, and here he was once more rallying the region and Europe for yet another war against an adversary that posed no discernable threat to the American people. To overcome this awkward fact, it was necessary to dramatize the barbarism of ISIS tactics, pointing to the

American victims of ISIS atrocities, and at the same time promise there would be no American casualties. Barbarous as were these atrocious acts, beheadings were unfortunately not new to the region, and were regularly used upon by the Saudi Arabian government in punishing convicted criminals. True, these incidents involved American and British nationals who were innocent of wrongdoing, but the emphasis was not so much placed on their innocence as on the horrifying technique used to carry out the executions.

 

Here is the core problem: America’s leadership in the region depends on actively protecting the authoritarian status quo, especially in the Gulf, and so doing nothing about ISIS was not an option. What Obama is proposing to do repeats the old formula of failure: air strikes; training, arming, and advising friendly forces (Iraqi Kurds, moderate Syrians, Iraqi military units), disrupting ISIS overseas recruiting and funding. Obama’s program is a pale version of post-Vietnam counter-insurgency doctrine where risks of American casualties must be minimized while air power, including drones, plus native ground forces with their own political agendas are relied upon to carry out the dirty work. Yet, as in earlier encounters, the likely result is to induce chaos and alienation arising from accidental targeting of innocent civilians arousing public resentment, and a no win/no lose standoff that causes great suffering to the society, including producing many refugees and internally displaced persons. It is illustrative of thinking within the old militarist box, and its prescriptions are almost certain to make any particular situation worse than if left alone.

 

Of course, there are far preferable options, but to adopt these requires looking below the surface. It would have to start with the admission that the American occupation of Iraq was the proximate cause of the emergence of ISIS, especially due to the purge of Bathist elements in the government and armed forces, and the encouragement of Shi’ite sectarianism. Abandoning sectarian maneuvers is one way to avoid some of the worst recent mistakes.

 

Another productive path presupposes an American diplomatic outlook oriented around wider ethical and world order concerns. Such an adjustment would require loosening the dependency ties to Israel, and follow a rational line of geo-strategic self-interest in the Middle East. Such a course of action, hardly ever mentioned because it seems too unrealistic, would involve taking three steps: bringing Iran into the effort to find a political solution for the Syrian civil war; proposing a nuclear free zone throughout the Middle East; exerting pressure on Israel to uphold Palestinian rights under international law. This is a distinctly political approach that contrasts with militarism that has produced destructive turbulence in the region in the period since the partial stabilities of the Cold War era collapsed along with the Berlin Wall in 1989.

 

Militarist geopolitics seems destined to lead to yet another Western catastrophe in the tormented Middle East. There is no political will visible anywhere on the horizons of world politics that might pose a humane challenge to such disaster-prone policymaking. And so the murderous cycle of violence repeats itself yet again, the alien militarism of this Western led coalition is confronting the indigenous violence of ISIS that the mistakes of earlier interventions by the West have helped to nurture. And so dispiriting repetition occurs instead of uplifting innovation, and the wheels of violence turn with accelerating velocity.

An Open Letter to Rabbi Ira Youdovin

11 Sep

(Prefatory Note: Rabbi Youdovin has written a lengthy response in the form of a comment, which I now append here so that readers of the post can judge for themselves the nature of our disagreements, and reach their own conclusions.)

 

 

An Open Letter to Rabbi Ira Youdovin:

 

We have exchanged views frequently in the last few years, most often by way of adversary comments written in reaction to posts published on this website. I write now a post in the form of an ‘open letter’ because I think your most recent comment objecting to my support for Steven Salaita in his campaign to have his tenure faculty appointment reinstated in the American Indian Studies Department at the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois. Phyllis Wise, the Chancellor, now with the formal approval of the Board of Trustees, refused to forward the appointment to Board, because of private tweets highly critical of Israel that she relied upon for making a unilateral decision that Salaita would be a disruptive presence on campus and that someone holding such strong views would likely make Jewish students in courses he offered uncomfortable. She later clarified her decision as prompted by the realization that the Board under pressure from university donors would have rejected the appointment in any event and admitted that she should have consulted further before reaching her decision. I indicated my view that not only should Salaita be reinstated, but also he deserved a formal apology from the chancellor and reimbursement for damages sustained, including to his academic reputation.

 

Our most fundamental disagreement is exhibited by the opening sentences of your comment responding to my earlier post suggesting that the dehiring of Salaita amounted to an assault on academic freedom and freedom of expression. You start your comment this way: “The Salaita case is not about free speech. It’s about hate speech. The examples of Salaita’s comments cited by Prof. Falk constitute a carefully collected and unrepresentative sample of the dozens on record.” You go on to choose tweets that you find more offensive than those contained in my post:

 

“More typical of his “body of work” are:

“Fuck you, Israel. And while I’m at it, fuck you, too, PA, Sisi –

“The IDF spokesperson is a lying motherfucker.”

“If you’re defending Israel right now you’re an awful human being.”

“If Netanyahu appeared on TV wearing a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anyone be surprised?”

 

Actually, the last of your examples was among those that I included in my post, but this is a minor quibble. My real disagreement centers on your insistence that the Salaita case “is not about free speech. It’s about hate speech.” There is no doubt that these tweets are instances of extreme invective, making use of profane language, but are they properly construed as ‘hate speech’? I would hope not. These tweets, which were not expressed in the language of the dinner table or polite parlor conversation, are directed at Israel, not Jews as a people or Jews as individuals. Israel is a state. The state is an abstraction. You cannot hate an abstraction except as a language trope. If I shout “I hate the color brown” or “fuck all brown cars” it would be absurd to consider this kind of emotive language as hate speech. The same distinction should hold in speech on matters of political opinion.

 

It is here where the essential controversy between us lies. Israel’s first defenders seek to make everyone feel that Israel as a self-proclaimed Jewish state is, in effect, the personification of the Jewish people, and that using profane language of criticism about the state amounts to hate speech. Such efforts to personify the state are themselves destructive of democratic discourse, and do impact upon academic freedom as well as muddy the waters as to the character of anti-Semitism. To be angry at a state may reveal an intemperate personality, perhaps even extreme alienation, but by itself has not ventured into the forbidden domain of hate. And many of us, including Steven Salaita, draw a sharp line separating our attitudes toward Israel as a state and the Jewish people as a people.

 

Let us choose a clear example to highlight the point. To hate Nazi Germany became not only an accepted attitude, but surely the politically correct position during and after World War II. To extend that hate, however, to the German people crosses the dangerous line, and to treat a particular German as automatically of Nazi persuasion would similarly be hateful. There has been useful debate as to what extent the German people went along with Hitler’s Nazi program, especially occasioned by Daniel Goldhagen’s challenge directed at the claim that ordinary Germans were unawares of the fate befalling the Jewish people. [See his Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (1997)].

 

I recall my own experience in North Vietnam in June 1968, in the midst of the Vietnam War, when person after person, whether a peasant in the countryside or a high official in Hanoi, told me that they hated the American government but had positive feelings toward the American people. They attributed this sentiment to the teaching of Ho Chi Minh, the revered Communist leader of their national movement, but it was said with such heartfelt sincerity by the people I met in Vietnam as to make me aware of the deficiencies of American political culture that routinely conflates an enemy state with the citizenry of the country. Such a lethal confusion may reflect the survival of racialism, and be one of the continuing costs imposed by the terrible heritage of slavery, which was also accentuated by the genocidal treatment of the indigenous population of North America by the early generations of settler colonialists. The Zionist conflation works in the opposite direction, insisting that those who challenge Israel beyond a certain moderate point are racists, a species of anti-Semite, however much they protest against the derogatory label.

 

More to the point, expressing anger toward Israel seems well within the protected boundaries of free speech, and so the only reasonable question is one of tone, including the use of profanity to express such anger, and its relevance to academic performance. As Salaita himself explained, his tweets were mainly written in the context of the recent Israeli massacre of Palestinian civilians, including over 500 children, during a period of acute frustration undoubtedly heightened by the sense that his own government here in the United States was mindlessly supportive of what Israel was doing to a vulnerable and entrapped civilian population.

 

It is also relevant to know whether the tweets should be taken as an ominous indicator of how Salaita would behave in the classroom and within the university community. On the basis of abundant testimony from colleagues and former students, as well as Salaita own very clearly articulated views, there is every reason to be confident that he would welcome and treat fairly diverse viewpoints with respect and sensitivity, including those supportive of Israel’s behavior. It is also is helpful to know that in the course of his six published books on a variety of topics involving the abuses experienced by marginalized peoples, including Palestinians, there is no hint of racism or indulgence in hate speech as an acceptable response. Quite the contrary, there is a rejection of all forms of profiling whether of the oppressor or the oppressed.

 

Of course, an accusation of hate speech in the context of criticizing Israel has as its objecting the implication that the speaker is guilty of genuine anti-Semitism. As I have tried to argue in a recent post [Sept. 1, 2014], Zionist propaganda seeks to merge anti-Israelism, denominated as a form of racial bigotry, with anti-Semitism as hatred of Jews and the Jewish people. The widespread deliberate use of this technique by organized Zionist forces in the United States is convincingly documented in The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Chicago: Haymarket, 2014), 125-225 by Ali Abunimah. It forms part of the wider Israeli effort to defend a rising tide of anti-Israeli student activism on American university campuses, and more broadly what Israeli think tanks call ‘the delegitimation project’ associated with such initiatives as the BDS campaign.

 

I found your gratuitous swipe at the Palestinian quest for national heroes particularly nasty and unjustified. You make this strange assertion: “The Palestinians and their supporters are woefully short on heroes. The five most often mentioned—Arafat, Saladin, Gandhi, Mandela, and Martin Luther King are dead. Moreover, three weren’t Arabs and only one was a Palestinian.”

 

I have been around Palestinians for a long time and I find this statement out of touch. Aside from Arafat, who is controversial even among Palestinians, and Mandela, who is invoked quite often as an inspirational figure, the other three are only rarely, if at all, mentioned. Much more appreciated as heroes by Palestinians is Archbishop Tutu of South Africa, and to a lesser extent, Jimmy Carter, both of whom are very much alive and remain engaged. Most surprisingly your list omits Edward Said and Mahmoud Darwish, both Palestinians and by far the most influential members of the Palestinian pantheon of heroes, and among the most eloquent of anti-colonial resistance voices who have ever set foot on planet earth.

 

Yes, Steven Salaita is a casualty of the long struggle to achieve Palestinian rights, and a victim of what I have called Zionist McCarthyism, but hopefully never a martyr to the cause. When you mock his passion with the demeaning words, “what kind of honest discussion could emerge from his obscene adolescent ranting?” Rabbi Youdovin, Salaita was certainly not seeking ‘honest discussion’ by sending these tweets to friends and followers, but expressing his righteous disgust about what was happening to the people of a shared ethnicity, and what you dismiss as “obscene adolescent ranting” others, including myself, hear as screams of pain and anguish. There are times and places for honest discussion, and there are times and places for screams of pain and anguish.

 

If we yearn for a world more dedicated to peace and justice, and more focused on human survival, we all need to learn to listen with our hearts as well as our heads. I find that both modes of communication have their role, and we harm our civic life as a country if we reject the relevance of screams of discontent and insist that only reasoned discourse has value.

.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Richard Falk

 

 

*******************************

In his “Open Letter to Rabbi Ira Youdovin”, Prof Falk brands me as being among the viscous Zionists determined to ruin Steven Salaita’s career. As night follows day, the Blog Faithful pile on. One writes, “Rabbi Ira Youdovin’s views and behaviours are identical to some “mullahs” inside Iran, whose “morality” is: “The end justifies the means.” I feel sorry for Judaism.” Kata Fisher, in one of her “Reflections”, denounces me as being tunder the power of Satan and warns that I’ll be Judged, (In this and other matters, Ms. Fisher fancies herself as having a direct line to the mind of the Almighty.) But she also provides an unintentional dose of humor. Noting my frequent exchanges with Prof. Falk, she condemns me for inflicting “psychological abuse toward elderly person like that.” I’m not sure that the professor delights in being characterized as an emotionally fragile old geezer.
This is pretty scary stuff, being accused of trying to destroy a promising young scholar’s career, compared unfavorably to the Iranian mullahs and condemned to eternal damnation. The blogosphere is not always friendly place. But Prof. Falk’s blog is an especially rough neighborhood. So before I’m consumed in the fires of hell, please join me in talking a look (or second look) \at what I actually wrote.

I made a total of two posts regarding Prof. Salaita. They can be found in the two threads preceding this one. For those who don’t want to do the scrolling, here are the relevant
excerpts:
1/
“The Salaita case is not about free speech….This was not a one-time temper tantrum that might be dismissed as a momentary lapse. This is a university professor who repeatedly sounds like a potty-mouthed teenage punk. And unlike the teenager who likely is content to walk down the street muttering to himself until his anger subsides, Salaita wanted to share his animus with anybody within tweeting range.”

“I can’t make a judgment on the Salaita episode because I don’t know the inside story.”

2/
“As I posted yesterday, I won’t get into the controversy over whether Salaita’s firing is justified. I know little about the rules governing academic freedom. And, truth be told, I have more than a little sympathy for the plight of his family with neither income nor health insurance. Were it up to me, a simple apology—one that would focus on his tactics and not demanding that he renounce his underlying convictions—would have sufficed to merit reinstatement. “

“Please note that I take no position on the propriety of the university withdrawing its job offer. But although it has no relevance to the case, I am appalled by Salaita’s language. Standards on social media may not be the same as in the classroom. (Apparently, civility in their public statements is no longer expected from college teachers.) But to my mind, someone capable of an extended and profane rant of this nature directed at anything or anyone is a questionable candidate for any faculty.”

That doesn’t sound all that bad, does it? My focus is on Prof. Salaita’s language, not his ideas. I plead guilty to being committed to linguistic civility. But so was Prof. Falk until he ran into an obscenity tweeting Palestinian and changed the rules governing civility on this blog. Moreover, I clearly state that my has no relevance to his dispute with the U of Illinois. In other words, I’m not advocating anything in regard to Prof. Salaita’s job, other than saying that he merits re-instatement , and expressing my regret over the mutual failure to work things out, which likely could have been done with a little flexibility on both sides. Prof. Falk and his cohorts got their martyr, and Prof. Salaita lost his job. Doesn’t seem like a fair trade, but that’s not my decision to make.

So how do I wind up in Prof. Falk’s doghouse? The answer entails a wild adventure in sophistry and demagoguery.

Prof. Falk begins by disputing my assessment of Prof. Salaita’s tweets as hate speech. Full disclosure: having served for several years on the Illinois Governor’s Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crime, I’m aware that there are a variety of legal definitions of what constitutes hate speech, and that Prof. Salaita’s tweets do not cross the threshold prescribed by some of them. Had this been Prof. Falks objection, I would have acknowledged the error and adjusted my statement accordingly.

But Prof. Falk had something else in mind. His thesis is that Prof. Salaita’s anger not is directed at human beings—Jewish, Israeli or otherwise—but at the State of Israel. States, he argues, are abstractions, like the color brown; and nobody would construe the statement “fuck the color brown” as hate speech. Consequently, Prof. Salaita’s tweeting obscenities like “fuck you” and calling someone a “motherfucker” cannot be hate speech because he’s addressing an abstraction, like the color brown. I suspect this arcane theory comes as a surprise to Prof. Salita who personalized his tweets by specifically calling out the IDF’s spokesman a “motherfucker”, and imaging Israel’s prime minister as appearing on television wearing a necklace of a Palestinian children’s teeth.

Not being a lawyer, I’ll accept Prof. Falk’s word that the state is regarded as an abstraction in the rarefied circles of international law faculties . But in the real world—the world in which Steven Salaita and the rest of us live—the state is not in the same category as the color brown . For one thing, the color brown is not engaged in an often violent conflict with Prof. Salaita’s people. His hatred may be understandable, but it is hatred nevertheless. As a non-lawyer, I base this conclusion on the prosaic, but familiar “Duck Test”: if it quacks like a duck, waddles like a duck and looks like a duck, etc…”

This is another of those inconvenient truths that rise up to bedevil Prof. Falk in his determination to delete, deny or explain away every Palestinian failing. Regrettably, the way he handles this one is pure, unadulterated sophistry.

I won’t deal with Prof. Falk’s allusion to Nazi Germany because, frankly, I don’t understand it. I agree that it was/is wrong to blame all Germans for the Nazi atrocities. But that’s not because Germany is an abstraction. It’s because the German wartime population encompassed a diversity of opinions on, and knowledge of what was happening. This is precisely what Prof. Falk demonstrates in citing Goldhagen’s book (although I don’t understand why he chose to cite a controversial book to prove a self-evident point, particularly at a time when Hannah Arendt’s theory about the ”banality of evil” is again under serious attack.)

But more importantly, at whom is Prof. Falk’s rebuke directed? All I did was criticize Prof. Salaita’s use of profanity. That’s one person, not a population. According to Prof. Falk’s theory, Prof. Salaita would be a more appropriate target. He’s cursing an abstraction called Israel, which includes many Israelis who dissent from the Likud government’s policies. But that can’t be. Hate speech hurled at a state cannot be hate speech, just as hate speech hurled at the color brown cannot be hare speech. So we go round and round. Prof. Falk often accuses me of misrepresenting or misconstruing his positions. So I’ll leave this one with a big question mark.

Now we come to a great leap of illogic which takes us from the realm of sophistry to the realm of demagoguery. Having (erroneously!) concluded that Prof. Salaita’s remarks could not constitute hate speech, Prof. Falk proceeds to roll out his theory of why I think it does: “Israel’s first defenders [that’s me!] seek to make everyone feel that Israel as a self-proclaimed Jewish state is, in effect, the personification of the Jewish people, and that using profane language of criticism about the state amounts to hate speech…Of course, an accusation of hate speech in the context of criticizing Israel has as its objecting the implication that the speaker is guilty of genuine anti-Semitism.”

Where does this come from? I make no mention of anti-Semitism. Nor do I imply that any is a factor. To the contrary, I’ve repeatedly stated on this blog and elsewhere that criticism of Israel, even harsh criticism, does not necessarily reflect anti-Semitism. I have no idea of Prof. Salaita’s attitudes toward Jews And I did say that he merits reinstatement. But Prof. Falk deliberately ignores these not incidental realities. In his view, all criticism of Israel’s critics implies an accusation of anti-Semitism. This is outrageous stereotyping. Indeed, it’s demagogic. Faced with a set of problematic tweets, Prof. Falk asserts an elaborate and totally inaccurate rendition of my beliefs as a ploy to deflect attention from the evidence at hand. As they say in (American) football: a good offense is the best defense.

But to those of us smeared by Prof. Falk’s evasive tactics, his offense is offensive.
The saddest part of this episode is that when the dust clears, it will become apparent that the melee was not over free speech, but over the propriety of a professor’s use of obscenity which added nothing to his message but cost him his job, while his cheerleaders returned to their secure jobs and comfortable homes. Yes, Prof. Falk, those undeleted expletive were screams of pain and anguish. But aren’t there better, indeed more effective ways of expressing these same emotions, ways that do not draw attention away from the thoughts and emotions being expressed by making the words, themselves, the main attraction…ways that do not drive people apart by demonizing one side or the other? And shouldn’t we look to our intellectuals, young and old, to lead the way in developing this more civilized language?

Rabbi Ira Youdovin

 

  

                       

Postscript to Blog Faithful on ‘Civility’

9 Sep

(Prefatory Note: Earlier today I published a post dealing with the case of Steven Salaita, and its bearing on the misuse of civility as a tactic by Zionist forces to deny an academic appointment to a promising young Palestinian-American scholar. It made me rethink my ‘code of conduct’ guideline and controversies that have bedeviled the life of this blog to the extent it has featured discussion of the Israel-Palestine struggle. Steven’s explanation of his conduct, including the posting of anti-Israeli tweets advances important arguments bearing on academic freedom and relating to the use of a private Twitter account is available at <http://mondoweiss.net/2014/09/commitment-teaching-american&gt;)

 

Postscript to Blog Faithful on Civility

 

I have just posted on my blog website a criticism of the use of ‘civility’ to denya faculty appointment to Steven Salaita due to the alleged uncivility of his large number of anti-Israeli tweets. It has made me reflect upon my own reliance on ‘civility’ criteria to block comments that were personally insulting and operated to incite ethnic hatred. I believe that the rules of the road for the blogosphere are different than those that should govern the administration of a university.

 

My reason for blocking these comments was to encourage more reasoned and substantive discourse, and to avoid dwelling on the motivations behind the views being expressed and to exclude argumentation that seemed to deny the fundamental dignity of all ethnicities. In practice I found it difficult to be sufficiently diligent and evenhanded, and have tended several times to decideto allow serious comments to pass through the filter even though they violated my guidelines. Increasingly, I have blocked only the most serious instances of personal insults, usually directed at me although on some occasions at other comment writers, and the clearest instances of submitting material that denigrated an ethnic identity in a wholesale manner.

 

In the course of this experience I have discovered some home truths. Civility to serve positive purposes must be contextualized. In the Salaita context civility is used as a respectable tool of repression. In the blog context civility is a means of setting limits so that the interactive discourse can be more valuable for the blog community. Yet what I have learned is that my own bias in favor of reasoned dialogue as fruitful communication (undoubtedly influenced by Habermas) is not so well adapted to the subject-matter of posts dealing with inflammatory issues that polarize opinions. In this respect, I now believe my original view of the proper tone of debate was too austerely academic, and that there exists a genuine and principled place for the expression of intense emotions, and moral outrage. That it is appropriate to be angry, and to articulate views in such an agitated state of mind. In effect, I learned from Salaita’s tweets that emotional authenticity may be more appropriate than reasoned analysis in some situations.

 

And so I have come to a different temporary and more permissive resting place with respect to my blog’s code of conduct: let a thousand flowers bloom and remove only weeds of personal hostility and group hatred. In such a spirit, comments welcome provided only..

Steven Salaita and Zionist McCarthyism

9 Sep

 

 

I have been following the controversy swirling around the dehiring of Steven Salaita by unilateral fiat of the Chancellor of the Urbana Champaign campus of the University of Illinois, Phyllis Wise. As is now widely known, Steven was a tenured professor at Virginia Tech until he resigned his position some months ago to accept a tenure offer in the Department of American Indian Studies from Illinois. By past practice and reasonable expectations, it seemed a done deal until the Chancellor shocked the community by invoking her rarely used prerogative to withhold formal approval before forwarding the appointment for rubber stamping by the Board of Trustees, but was it her prerogative? It would seem that she did have some ill-defined authority to act, yet university governance procedures assume that any initiative of this sort be exercised in a consultative manner. This would have required the Chancellor to discuss her misgivings about forwarding the appointment with relevant faculty committees and administrators, as well as with the appointee. She has more recently acknowledged that she acted unilaterally, contending that she was acting unilaterally to avoid the embarrassment of having the Board reject the appointment.

 

Steven’s sole offense was to use his Twitter account to send our numerous tweets highly critical of Israel, especially during its military operations Gaza in July and August that killed over 2100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including about 500 children. Steven is Palestinian-American born in the United States, but his grandparents were dispossessed by the nakba in 1948. According to unconfirmed reports his tweets angered some donors and alumni of the University of Illinois and several Jewish organizations to such an extent that they threatened to withhold funding if Salaita became a member of the faculty. Apparently, it was this kind of pressure that led the Board and the Chancellor to sacrifice Saleita, along with the principles of academic freedom and faculty participating in the hiring process.

 

Steven’s tweets were not gentle, and did express his abhorrence over Israel’s behavior in the strongest language at his disposal. Among the most frequently quoted of these tweets are the following:

 

By eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionist are partly responsible when people say anti-Semitic shit in response to Israeli terror.

 

Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible to something honorable since 1948.

 

If Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian child, would anybody be surprised

 

I should make several assertions to explain my view of the issues at stake: 1) I would never adopt this kind of language even in the venue of social media, although I share the sentiments and the accompanying moral passion that prompted such tweets; 2) it is highly inappropriate to take tweets into account in appraising the appropriateness and wisdom of an academic appointment; 3) I share Steven Salaita’s outrage over Israel’s unchecked violence toward Palestinians, and identify especially with what he calls the conflation of ‘Israel’ and ‘Jewishness’ so as to treat people who criticize Israel as if they are by this alone ‘anti-Semites,’ and made to pay a heavy price in career and reputation; 4) I believe that Salaita’s appointment should be reinstated, and that Chancellor Wise should make a public apology, offer compensatory damages, and provide an assurance that his performance at Illinois will not be adversely affected by this incident; 5) my own examination of Salaita’s record as a classroom teacher and scholar confirms the judgment of the University of Illinois’ faculty process that his appointment was highly deserved, and that his presence in the Department of American Indian Studies would be a positive development for both students and the university community. 

 

Steven is a productive and talented scholar and a charismatic teacher, and any university should be thrilled to have him on their faculty. It is a sad commentary on the times that such an appointment should even be viewed as ‘controversial.’ It is also a regrettable indication that pro-Israeli forces are playing the anti-Semitic card to shield Israel from critics. This not only punishes a citizen’s right to speak freely but it tends to send a chilling message of intimidation throughout the academic community that it is better to be silent about Israel’s crimes than face the calumny and punitive effects of a Zionist backlash.

 

The main rationale for questioning the Salaita appointment was hidden beneath the umbrella of ‘civility.’ The recently notorious anti-boycott activist, former AAUP President, Cary Nelson, who happens to be a professor of English at the University of Illinois, unsurprisingly applauded the Chancellor’s move on these grounds. Somehow someone who sends around tweets that would likely be viewed as offensive by some Jewish students and might make them feel uncomfortable in his classes provides ample ground for the university to reverse what had the appearance of being a consummated appointment. In other words, the typical ‘bait and switch’ tactic of hiding the real grievance of anti-Israel fervor behind the pseudo neutral rationale of civility was relied upon. More than a decade ago Ward Churchill was similarly disciplined by the University of Colorado for the text of an undelivered speech (“On the Justice of Roosting Chickens”) that seemed to provide a justification for the 9/11 attacks, yet he was actually sacked not for the offending remarks that were clearly protected speech but for faulty footnotes in scholarly articles conveniently uncovered after more than a decade of distinguished service at the university (also ironically enough in a program devoted to ethnic studies and indigenous peoples that he headed).

 

This theme has now been echoed by a sudden outpouring of enthusiasm for civility on the part of university administrators, most prominently by University of California at Berkeley Chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, who had the audacity to applaud the 50th anniversary on his campus of the Free Speech Movement, one of the enduring glories of the 1960s, with a concern about the anti-Semitic overtones of criticism directed at Israel. Granted for the sake of discussion that Salaita’s social media tweets can be reasonable regarded as uncivil, should that provide grounds for banishment, or even censure? Of course, not. If a lack of civility is severe, and exhibited in relation to staff, colleagues, and students, it would raise relevant concerns. In Salaita’s case, his experience at Virginia Tech reveals an opposite profile, one of popularity and respect among students and an admirable reputation as a promising young and engaged teacher/scholar among colleagues. At this stage the final disposition of the case is up to the Board of Trustees, which has already swung strongly to the side of the Chancellor’s decision to stop the appointment.The Chair of the Board is Christopher Kennedy, son of Robert Kennedy and born on the 4th of July. This adds an Americana dimension to the ongoing battle of values. So far, this particular Kennedy offspring seems to be determined to bolster the illiberal side of the family legacy.

 

The battle lines have been drawn, and the war goes on. For the first time since the Chancellor’s decision became known, Steven Salaita is speaking today in public, holding a press conference in Champlain, Illinois where the university is located. There are rumors that he has been offered a settlement by the university, presumably in the hope that the storm unleashed by his rescinded appointment will abate. There are uncertainties as to whether he will be offered a comparable academic post elsewhere, which will show us how wide the net of Zionist influence is cast. It is not encouraging to recalling the case of Norman Finkelstein, who despite scholarly excellence and productivity, has not been offered an academic job elsewhere after being denied a permanent position at DePaul University. This denial was supposedly due to the administration being persuaded by defamatory ‘anti-Semitic’ allegations evidently contained in a letter and media blitz by that redoubtable Zionist stalwart, Alan Dershowitz.

 

Under these circumstances, then, it seems likely that the outcome of the Salaita case will clearly exhibit the current balance of influence as between Zionist McCarthyism and academic freedom in American universities. That such a struggle should be taking place is itself a national disgrace that suggests the worrisome fragility of academic freedom in relation to the potency of money and the baneful impact of  well-funded and unscrupulous pressure groups. Steven Salaita’s own public statement at the start of a press conference admirably sets forth his own response to the crisis, is definitely worth reading:  <http://mondoweiss.net/2014/09/commitment-teaching-american&gt;

RUSSELL TRIBUNAL SESSION ON PALESTINE

5 Sep

[Prefatory Note: On September 24 a special session of the Russell Tribunal will examine war crimes allegations against Israel arising from the 50-day military operation that commence on July 8th. The RT has developed a record of examining the criminality of state actors that enjoy impunity internationally because they are insulated from accountability by what I have called a ‘geopolitical veto’ in this case exercised by the United States and several major European countries. Where governments and the UN fail to implement international law, there exists a right of peoples to play a residual lawmaking function. It is somewhat analogous to the residual role that the General Assembly is empowered to play when the Security Council is unable or unwilling to perform its primary role in relation to international peace and security. To fill this normative vacuum the RT has long played made an honorable contribution to what might be called ‘the empowerment of legal populism.’ I encourage attentiveness to this event, including publicizing its occurrence and disseminating the results of its deliberations. As the announcement below indicates, I am proud to be a member of the jury for the session along with a series of truly distinguished and qualified high profile international personalities known both for their professional achievement and for their principled stands as ‘citizen pilgrims’ dedicated to a humane future shaped by global justice.]

Israel’s Crimes in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge – Extraordinary session of the Russell Tribunal

RT Israel’s Crimes in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge – Extraordinary session of the Russell Tribunal th

 

 

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24-25 September – Brussels – Albert Hall, Brussel

 

A few weeks ago, members of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, outraged by Israel’s terrible assault on Gaza and its population, decided to start working on an extraordinary session of the Tribunal that will look into Israel’s Crimes (including War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity and the Crime of Genocide) during the still ongoing “Operation Protective Edge” as well as third States complicity.

During this session, that will take place on one day in Brussels on 24th September, our jury, so far composed of Michael Mansfield QC, John Dugard, Vandana Shiva, Christiane Hessel, Richard Falk, Ahdaf Soueif, Ken Loach, Paul Laverty, Roger Waters, Radhia Nasraoui, Miguel Angel Estrella and Ronnie Kasrils will listen to testimonies from Paul Behrens, Desmond Travers, Pierre Barbancey (TBC), Max Blumenthal, Eran Efrati, Mads Gilbert, Mohammed Abou-Arab, Mads Gilbert, Paul Mason, Martin Lejeune, Mohammed Omer, Raji Sourani, Ashraf Mashharawi, Agnes Bertrand, Michael Deas and Ivan Karakashian.

The jury will give its findings on 25th September in the morning during an international press conference at the International Press Center (IPC, Brussels). In the afternoon, the Jury will be received at the European parliament and address a message to the UN General Assembly for its reopening.

To register for the session (free), email us your name and organisation at : rtpgaza@gmail.com

Do mention if you are coming as a journalist and would like to record parts of the session.

To stay in touch with our work, “like” our facebook page! Thanks. (https://www.facebook.com/russelltribunal)

Looking forward to seeing you all in Brussels.

 

Israel’s Crimes in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge – Extraordinary session of the Russell Tribunal

24-25 September – Brussels – Albert Hall, Brussel
A few weeks ago, members of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, outraged by Israel’s terrible assault on Gaza and its population, decided to start working on an extraordinary session of the Tribunal that will look into Israel’s Crimes (including War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity and the Crime of Genocide) during the still ongoing “Operation Protective Edge” as well as third States complicity.

During this session, that will take place on one day in Brussels on 24th September, our jury, so far composed of Michael Mansfield QC, John Dugard, Vandana Shiva, Christiane Hessel, Richard Falk, Ahdaf Soueif, Ken Loach, Paul Laverty, Roger Waters, Radhia Nasraoui, Miguel Angel Estrella and Ronnie Kasrils will listen to testimonies from Paul Behrens, Desmond Travers, Pierre Barbancey (TBC), Max Blumenthal, Eran Efrati, Mads Gilbert, Mohammed Abou-Arab, Mads Gilbert, Paul Mason, Martin Lejeune, Mohammed Omer, Raji Sourani, Ashraf Mashharawi, Agnes Bertrand, Michael Deas and Ivan Karakashian.

The jury will give its findings on 25th September in the morning during an international press conference at the International Press Center (IPC, Brussels). In the afternoon, the Jury will be received at the European parliament and address a message to the UN General Assembly for its reopening.

To register for the session (free), email us your name and organisation at : rtpgaza@gmail.com

Do mention if you are coming as a journalist and would like to record parts of the session.

To stay in touch with our work, “like” our facebook page! Thanks. (https://www.facebook.com/russelltribunal)