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Required Reading on Palestine

13 May

Andrew Ross’s Stone Men: The Palestinians Who Built Israel (Verso; 2019)

 

On May 10thAndrew Ross came to University of California, Santa Barbara for a discussion of his extraordinaryBook, Stone Men, offering the audience a lively presentation enlivened by a PowerPoint array of informative pictures. I took part in a conversation with Andrew that was held prior to giving the small, yet intense, audience an opportunity to participate with questions. And. comments. Andrew expressed the most startling aspect of Stone Men in these words:“..it would be no exaggeration to say that the ‘stone men’ of Palestine have built every state in the region except their own.” (3) His very readable text mainly adopts a somewhat narrower focus, concentrating its efforts on the particular role of Palestinian workers and the rich stone quarries of Palestine in the physical evolution of the Israeli state, not only establishing its architectural identity, but also shaping relations between Arab and Jewish workers and labor unions, but also the contradictions that emerged between the market drive for profits by the Israeli private sector and the Zionist willingness to sacrifice profits and construction quality to achieve racial purity, which meant maximal Jewishness.

 

Reading Andrew’s book was for me quite a humbling encounter. Despite having immersed myself in the literature and politics of the Palestinian struggle for the past two decades I was almost totally unaware of how revealingly relevant to the underlying struggle was this story of the. physical building of urban Israel. This focus provides a parallel and persuasive confirmation of my contention that the ‘original sin’ of Zionism is to establish a Jewish state in a non-Jewish society. It is the original sin because it leads from the earliest Zionist conceptions more than a century ago of a Jewish homeland to the ethnic cleansing of the Nakba, the resistance of the Palestinian people, their repression, the dependence on apartheid methods and structures to control resistance and establish Israeli security. Andrew’s explorations of the way that this reality is concretely expressed in the building of Israel with Palestinian stones (the most valuable resource of the country aside from water) and Palestinian labor skilled over generations in the craft of stone masonry is not only a grim tale of exploitation and domination characteristic of settler colonialism, but in this case more than most colonial ventures, explicates the Zionist effort to displace the indigenous identity of the country with their own imported brand of coercive displacement or ethnic cleansing and biblical entitlement.  In other words, just as Palestinian stone and water no longer belong to the Palestinian people neither does even the history nor identity of the place.

 

This interaction of displacement and resistance was accentuated and made especially severe due to four linked characteristics: first, Zionism was swimming against the anti-colonial tide of twentieth century history by their project to impose a democratic Jewish state on a non-Jewish societal reality; secondly, such political background also stimulated and sustained Palestinian resistance as an ongoing battleground of anti-colonialism, reinforced by the. global legitimacy of its nationalist aspirations; thirdly, such legitimate resistance, especially in the face of Israeli apartheid and crimes against humanity, has given rise to a global solidarity movement; and fourthly, this entire dynamic is deformed by the continued geopolitical reinforcement of the Zionist Project, especially by the United States, carried to a surrealistic extreme by the Trump presidency.

 

I especially appreciated Andrew’s avoidance of the tendency of American liberals to treat the two sides in a language of false symmetry. Obama was a master of such rhetoric, characteristically declaring that both sides share blame for the failure to find a peaceful solution and that real peace will depend on painful concessions by both sides. This kind of languages falsifies and deliberately ignores the essential asymmetry of the relationship between Israeli Jews and Palestinians, which as indicated, is an apartheid state premised on inequality and the subjugation of the Palestinian people as a whole. It follows from this that the fundamental first step toward a sustainable peace must come from Israel, which in this instance would require the renunciation of apartheid and the dismantling of its structures. Only on the basis of the existential equality of the two peoples does a sustainable peace based on diplomacy and negotiations become a plausible possibility. This is what happened in South Africa, and incidentally, in a manner that was unexpected by both the experts and the citizenry of the country.

 

I was also impressed by the refreshing transparencyof Andrew’s scholarly profile, a quality that is in short supply in the academic literature. Such transparency assumes the properties of what I would label as ‘partisan objectivity.’ This contrasts with standard academic writing that hides the author’s point of view behind a veil of detached rhetoric. Andrew makes clear his solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for peace-with-justice as dependent upon the establishment of a democratic secular state, which is a controversial observational standpoint. Such a standpoint implicitly means the end of the Zionist insistence on the identity of post-mandate of Palestine as a Jewish state, which according to the Basic Law enacted by the Knesset in 2018 reserves the right of self-determination exclusivelyfor the Jewish people. This enactment not only reinforces the contention that Israel is guilty of the international crime of apartheid, and as well pushes the logic of Palestinian displacement (Nakba)a step closer to its outer limit. In presenting this narrative of how Israel was built over the decades Andrew presents a range of Palestinian and Israeli voices that give an objective account of perceptions and experience with the author largely limiting his role to recording, listening,  and describing. but this author is also a knowing and feeling subject, and this reality is acknowledged, not suppressed. I regard this as a significant achievement, and a model for the rest of us to follow.

 

Among the most moving aspects of the book is the exposure of the deep personal and interpersonal conflicts faced by virtually all Palestinians. To earn a living many Palestinians work in the settlements or obtain work permits to take construction jobs across the green line. Such individuals feel fortunate to have these opportunities to earn a living wage, yet this good fortune creates severe tensions within self, family, and community. To survive materially, Palestinian males must often be complicit in Israeli expansionism and apartheid policies. Such a situation confronts individuals with a terrible dilemma of choosing between complicity and criminality, either giving priority to day to day imperatives of survival or to direct participation in resistance. Several Palestinian interviewees relate their own experience of throwing stones as a youngster only to later becoming a  worker at an Israeli settlement so as to fulfill responsibilities as a family provider,. This is never an easy path for a Palestinian, given the humiliation and acute insecurities that inevitably arise.  Some Palestinians. Interviewed in the book convey their adjustment to the realities of the occupation as in constant flux, being compliant for the sake of paid work, and being oppositional when opportunities arise.

 

It is against this background that I recommend Stone Men so highly. Not only is the argument, the abundant photos, and the evidence gathered impressive and interesting, but the methodology is an exemplary instance of ethnographic studies, relying on copious empirical observation and numerous interviews with Palestinians and Israelis to explain the realities in their own voices. Ross has a gift for quotation that further conveys his underlying, irrefutable message. In this sense the book practices what it preaches—empowerment of people, the inalienable entitlement of a rooted presence in national space, the fabric of injustice as described by those most victimized, and the anti-colonial mentality that can be repressed but not extinguished.

 

My final assessment: no matter how much you think you know about Palestine, you do not know enough until you have read this book.

 

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Istanbul Elections: a Turkish Constitutional Crisis? Davutoglu’s Manifesto

10 May

Istanbul Elections: a Turkish Constitutional Crisis? Davutoglu’s Manifesto

 

[Prefatory Note: There are important recent developments in Turkey. An unprecedented decision by the High Electoral Council(HEC) of Turkey to cancel the outcome of the election of mayor in Istanbul that had been narrowly won by Ekram Imamoglu of the leading opposition party, CHP, or Republican People’s Party. The rerun of the March 31stelection is scheduled for June 23rd. The HEC justified its 7-4 decision by citing ‘electoral irregularities,’ but many in Turkey believe the overturning of the result reflected pressures exerted by the AKP leadership, particularly, its controversial president, Recep Tayip Erdogan and his close circle of advisors, who contend that the earlier election in Istanbul was ‘unlawful.’ An interesting further development is the withdrawal from the rerun of three small minority parties that together gained 2.6% of the vote, which overshadows the .02% margin of victory by Imamoglu on March 31st. It is assumed that this withdrawal from the second election will help Imamoglu win a second time, presuming a fair election.  

One notable consequence of this development have been the public assertions of Ahmet Davutoglu, former head of the governing party, AKP or Justice and Development Party, as well as former Foreign Minister and Prime Minister in the Erdogan-led government that has been running the country since 2002. Davutoglu’s Manifesto, really a statement of critique and a visionary reaffirmation of the original identity of the AKP, was written in response to the election results on March 31st, interpreted as sending a message of disapproval by the voters to the AKP and its leadership. It is significant that Davutoglu voiced his criticisms and hopes as situated within the party, but his Manifesto was released prior to the electoral reversal on May 6th, which underscored the mainline of his criticism that the AKP had lost touch with its own animating values and approach, and was thus losing the confidence of the Turkish citizenry. It should also be observed that there was sharp Kemalist opposition to Erdogan and the AKP ever since the 2002 elections, but what is new is for this criticism to come from a highly respected political figure long associated with the AKP. Whether this prefigures a reformist struggle within the AKP or an entirely new political constellation in Turkey is an unknown at this time, and may be influenced by how the control of Istanbul is finally resolved. In any event, the two statements by Davutoglu are themselves important political texts to be understood both in relation to the June 23rdIstanbul rerun, and in relation to the political future of Turkey during this period of exceptional regional instability and continuing turbulence.

These texts are posted here as suggesting the perspectives of a leading political personality in the Turkish context who is highly respected for his academic achievements as well as his dedication to the ideals of inclusive democracy as the basis of legitimate governance in Turkey. Davutoglu’s book Systemic Earthquake: The Struggle for World Order—Exclusive Populism versus Inclusive Democracy will be published in coming months by Cambridge University Press. It surveys the global scene from an ethically principled perspective that is informed by an impressive grasp of the geopolitical, cultural, and historical dimensions of contemporary world order.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that Ahmet Davutoglu has been a cherished and admired friend for more than 25 years. I am fully aware that in the present atmosphere any commentary on Turkish political developments is bound to be controversial, and elicit strong reactions pro and contra.] 

 

 

 

 

Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Statement in Response to Annulling & Redoing the March 31, 2019 election for Mayor of Istanbul

 

Despite all the deficiencies of Turkish political life and democracy, the most important power is the legitimacy of the elections.

The most fundamental value of our political future is the voice of the people, and this will be manifested at the ballot box.

Regardless of the excuse given and whatever the rationale, what happened after the March 31st election and the decision of annulment by the High Electoral Council has inflicted damage on these core values.

Elections that are fair and respected to rules and principles are the reference point for our democracy as well as our consciousness of communal belonging. The decision of the High Electoral Council contradicts universal law and established traditions and damages this consciousness. 

The biggest loss for political movements is not the loss of elections but it is the loss of moral superiority as embodied in the social conscience. Now what we should do: To carry out the election process in accordance with our maturity, and avoid further tension and polarization so as to prevent any further deterioration of our democracy.

 

 

 

 

The following text constitutes Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Manifesto, a document based on his observations and proposals in the context of the political conditions prevailing in the wake of the Turkish local elections of 31stMarch 2019:

“We are living through a historical process in which the most intensive transformations of human history are unfurling, communications and interactions between societies have gained extraordinary pace, and great opportunities as well as risks may come into play to the same degree and at the same time. The huge momentum that the flow of history has picked up informs the spirit of the age.

In the coming period, a fundamental differentiation is set to emerge between those who manage and steer this momentum by seizing this spirit of the age, and those who break away from it, only to be dragged headlong through the rapids of history. While countries that manage to overcome internal tensions to pursue a consistent approach and craft a vision in harmony with the zeitgeistshall master the shape of future decades and even centuries, nations whose energies are consumed on their own sterile internal tensions will turn into passive elements in history. Recent crises at national, regional and international levels are in fact the birth pangs emanating from the womb of history.

At the early years of the 2000s, our country, Turkey, achieved a self confidence-boosting democratization, rising economic development and a worldwide international influence as our Justice and Development (AK) Party swept to power on the wings of a vision that embraced the spirit of the age and the nation’s values; Turkey’s performance seized the momentum of the historical flow. However, internal tensions that began with the Gezi events in 2013, continued with the 17/25 December conspiracies of the same year, then took on a more perilous dimension with the trench warfare instigated by the PKK in 2015-2016 before peaking with the attempted coup d’état of 15thJuly 2016, drove our country from a position of vision and enterprise towards one that was reactionary and defensive.

The fact that our party, which remained the only political actor capable of managing this entire process, began to expend its own energy on the provocations and manipulations of certain power centers that disregarded the national will to play a leading role in these conspiratorial processes, served to shake our internal harmony, as well as restricting our capacity to forge and implement a fresh vision.

Today, we find ourselves at a critical threshold. I have communicated my assessments and concerns about our country and party during the critical processes of the past three years to our President verbally and in writing, but I chose not to share them publicly in order to avoid providing ammunition to various circles to indulge in malicious debate.

For the future of our party and our country, the 31stMarch elections and the social and political picture that has emerged in their wake necessitate an open, transparent and level headed accounting before the court of public opinion. With the responsibility I feel as the second chairman of the AK Party and our country’s last democratically elected Prime Minister, I regard it as my inescapable duty to share my views with the beloved people of Turkey on the eve of the 99thAnniversary of the founding of the Turkish Grand National Assembly.

The 31stMarch elections have yielded significant results that require our prudent examination; the electorate issued important messages that we need to consider carefully. It is crucial that these messages on the future of our party and country are properly understood and that the necessary steps are taken. If we fail to take on board the essential messages from changes in the people’s preferences and decisively take the necessary measures, a difficult period awaits both us as the AK Party, and our country. In this context, and in the wake of the election results from the Istanbul and Ankara metropolitan municipalities that are such key symbols of our movement’s popularization and march to power and that have been administered by our personnel for a quarter of a century, we have to face the fact that there has been a visible fall in society’s support for our party and appraise this fact coolly.

First and foremost, we need to recall that the AK Party is not a neophyte political entity that emerged by happenstance in a particular political state of affairs. On the contrary, it is the product of having melded the anonymous legacy created by doggedly overcoming difficult conditions through cross-generational elbow grease and mental struggle, with the people, the nation and history. This is why the justification and future of its existence is not and must not be dependent on the fate, preferences or discretion of any transitory person, limited section of society, or economic interest group. This movement, the deep past of which shows how it rose up on the sweat of past generations, its future based on the hopes of the generations to come, must not be sacrificed to cronyism, increasingly swollen egos and fruitless strife.

We all owe a great deal to the past generations who strengthened the foundations on which our party was built, and the anonymous heroic men and women who carry the burdens of today on their shoulders. I had the honor of seeing the depth of this great legacy on the devoted faces of these anonymous heroes and heroines during the two general election campaigns I fought as Party leader on 7thJune and 1stNovember 2015. I still have a vivid picture in my mind’s eye of the women from Bergama in Izmir who so enthusiastically filled the public square for hours under the rain; the valiant people of Diyarbakır who greeted and embraced me in front of the Great Mosque as we carried on the struggle against the trenches dug by the PKK terror organization in Sur, the city’s historic heart; the elderly Istanbul gentlemen raising their hands to the sky in prayer at our rally in Sancaktepe; the garrulous people of Trabzon who brought their Black Sea exuberance into the main square in the middle of the night; the people of Konya who waved me off to Ankara in sadness on 7thJune just as they did in the jubilation of 1stNovember; and the steadfast people of this country who greeted me in all its 81 provinces.

We owe all our achievements, positions and authority to the voluntary sacrifices of past generations who endured all kinds of ordeals in order to clear our path, to heroic unnamed individuals who worked so ardently in every election, and to our party apparatus for organizing them so vigorously. As I pen these lines I bear the heavy burden of responsibility that comes from such a sense of indebtedness. This is the context in which I present my findings about the future of our party and our country to the conscience of our nation.

  • There are five basic elements that make political movements and parties dominant players on the stage of history: (i) an internally coherent set of principles and values; (ii) a discourse and rhetoric consistent with the spirit of these values; (iii) a network of social relationships open to all sections of society; (iv) a robust organizational structure that is able effectively to manage this network and (v) the free thinking and shared wisdom that enables the development of policies, in line with the spirit of the age.
  • The secret that has distinguished our party from others in our political history and that forms the basis for our extended periods in office lies within these fundamental characteristics. However, the events of recent years have shown that when it comes to these essential elements, serious weaknesses have become ever more pervasive. The drift and disorder observed from every perspective during and after the recent local elections reflect these failings.
  • First of all, the deviations in word and deed from the principles and values upon which political ethics are based constitute a barrier preventing engagement with the conscience of society. The break from any sense of humility through an arrogant, self-centered idiom; the competition between even the smallest-scale politicians to have streets, schools and buildings named after them even while they seek to emphasize their virtue; the effort to do anything to be on the agenda based on an impulse to be constantly visible and recognized; the opening of the widest possible gap between the language used and the attitude exhibited; the crude exploitation of our sacred values in the service of political interests; efforts to establish and consolidate the influence of an entire family and circle by forgetting the fact that assumed duties are exclusive to an individual; the proliferation of all kinds of slander including social media operations in order to destroy people seen as political rivals; lending support through silence to accusations designed to ruin the reputations of people who have devoted a lifetime to the common struggle for this cause; and taking a wrecking ball to the sense of loyalty that we used to regard as our most cherished value: all these things demand our candid consideration.
  • The drift at the level of fundamental values and principles has also directly impacted our political discourse and rhetoric. Our party’s people-oriented, human rights-based, freedom-loving, reformist, inclusive political rhetoric, confident in itself and the future, has been replaced in recent years by a discourse based on statist, security-oriented concerns focused on maintaining the status quo and mere survival.
  • The state is the embodiment of the common will of the people who make up the nation, and cannot survive in the absence of this will. The state is a political organism that exists not beyond us, but through the will of the individuals who make up society as a whole; it is an administrative mechanism that can endure as long as it enjoys social legitimacy. Reinterpreting the principles of the great Sufi Sheikh Edebali, we may say that no state that neglects or deprioritizes fundamental human rights can last.
  • There has evidently been a severe contraction in the social inclusivity and network of relations that had previously lifted our party to the top of the polls nationwide. The results of the last election show that even in conjunction with the main Nationalist party as the “People’s Alliance”, we have got detached from the coastal regions and find ourselves squeezed into an area of political activity tapering into Central Anatolia and the Black Sea. And in Central Anatolia, intra-alliance balances disfavor our party. If this narrowing in geographical and social support is not carefully dealt with in word and deed, it will become a political pincer.
  • The chief factor in preventing such social contraction is the presence of an organization melded into the fabric of society and ready to assume a dynamic role in critical processes. Yet the recent exclusion of and insults against our provincial leaders and organizations, who put themselves bodily at the forefront of the national resistance at the time of the 15thJuly coup has opened up a wound deep in the conscience of our organization.
  • Even more dangerous has been the emergence of a power center that sees itself as being above our party’s institutional bodies, which has tried to overrule the party’s elected officials, committees and institutions as a parallel structure attempting to rule over it, crippling the very essence of organizational institutionalization. The lack of enthusiasm observed in our organization during the last two elections is to some extent the product of frustration and disappointment at the disloyalty shown to organization members who have made such sacrifices for the party.
  • In addition, restricting the authority of individuals directly elected by the people at general and local elections, then forcing them to leave office by means of direct or indirect accusations and pressure, has damaged the institutionalization of politics as well as dealing a severe blow to the principle of the supremacy of the national will and our party’s links with the fabric of society.
  • One of the most important founding principles of our party is the quest for a shared wisdom and reasoning. Thanks to its institutional consultative mechanisms and this quest for shared wisdom, our party gained public favor by overcoming a number of severe crises. Unfortunately, however, the AK Party committees and consultative mechanisms that had functionalized shared wisdom have recently either been entirely disabled or lost their operability by becoming the approval authority for a single view. In this context, our party’s institutional structure should be restored to its real function of fostering the political manifestation of ideas and proposals emanating from our grassroots organizations.
  • Our party and our country, founded on the nation’s tears, labor, hearts and minds, cannot be abandoned to the status-seeking concerns of a narrow, self-serving circle that is a slave to its own ambitions. In this framework, our party’s institutional structure should be strengthened, its consultative and shared wisdom mechanisms operated effectively, our grassroots organizations should have their original qualities and function restored, and our bonds to our people should be rebuilt on the basis of humility without delay.
  • The review to be conducted in the wake of our party’s election results should also cover alliance politics. The development of dialogue, constructive cooperation and mutual understanding between different political parties is of critical importance with respect to our democracy and national unity. In this sense, the close dialogue and cooperative atmosphere embodied by the “Spirit of Yenikapı” (named after the Istanbul square that saw the largest gathering of people in the history of the Republic after the 15thJuly 2016 coup attempt), was correct. However, the election results showed that alliance politics harmed our party in terms of both votes and party identity. Our party failed to reach its objectives in the race within and between alliances and lost control of numerous municipalities.
  • In addition, alliance politics has damaged our distinctively inclusive stance towards all parts of the country and every section of society by confining our party to a narrow political discourse and identity. Our party should therefore analyze the election results and review alliance politics. Its unique political identity and philosophy should be preserved while developing close cooperation with different political parties on a shared agenda for our country.
  • In a nutshell, our party is now in need of a comprehensive renewal. The next four-year period, expected to be election-free, should provide sufficient time for this. If the AK Party undergoes a fundamental process of renewal, it could regain the discourse and the political dynamism that it has lost. Most crucially, it could take back the moral superiority that it is rapidly shedding. This great historical legacy and heritage, independent of transient personalities, cannot be expected to be left unclaimed.

 

  • For the future of our country, I consider it necessary to share my convictions on these matters.
  • Contrary to expectations, the alliance structures accompanying the introduction of the presidential system failed to declutter the political spectrum and have led to the formation of political poles and the destruction of the common values that hold society together. The harsh rhetoric stemming from the confrontational character of the alliance structures has damaged our social peace and shared sense of belonging by elevating political polarization to dangerous levels.
  • Election competitors are not enemies, they are political rivals. And whoever emerges from the ballot, the winner is our nation and democracy.Respecting the result is the duty of politicians before anyone else. Concerns over survival cannot justify a readiness to suspend democracy. On the contrary, the basis of the survival of our state is democratic legitimacy.
  • Unfortunately, we have recently experienced what can happen when rival parties turn into enemies through the rhetoric of survival and polarization and overstep the bounds of political rivalry at an ugly attack that took place at the funeral of a fallen soldier in Ankara, an occasion that should have brought us all together. I repeat my condemnation of this attack on the leader of the opposition and call on everyone to act within the constraints of the democratic order and avoid polarizing political rhetoric.
  • The principal element in nations’ internal peace, the survival of states and the order of societies is a shared sense of belonging. The most fundamental fact that we need to bear in mind is that the Republic of Turkey is the product of a common will and the sense of ownership of its 82 million citizens. Therefore, no one identified as a citizen of the Republic of Turkey, a status crowned with human dignity, should be insulted or defamed by any authority or power, discriminated against on grounds of faith, gender, disability, language, race, political belief, philosophical concepts or lifestyle, or exposed to any kind of hate speech whatsoever.
  • The primary virtue and merit of social order based on such a shared sense of belonging is justice. Social and political orders whose legal structures are not based on a sound philosophy of justice and fail to guarantee people’s lives, minds, beliefs, lineage and property are open to all kinds of internal and external intervention, attack and chaos. The law is not a field of power accumulation but one of power control and moral lines. Attempts to take control of the judiciary should be seen as the greatest crime, whoever does it and under whatever justification.
  • In our recent history, we saw how the power that stopped the coup attempt that threatened our country and its people on the night of 15thJuly 2016 was honorable mass resistance; what carries this resistance to ultimate victory is the proper operation of the scales of justice in the judicial process. No judge or prosecutor should be subject to any kind of interference or criticism when making their judgment or preparing an indictment, beyond the nature of the case and the ultimate measure of justice.
  • The implementation of various criteria by various people in the struggle against the FETO organization, which needs to be uncompromising, only damages that struggle. On this matter, the ‘individual criminal responsibility’ principle that constitutes the most fundamental principle of law needs to be painstakingly safeguarded. The fact that in certain cases there has been no objection to the appointment of alumni of the organization’s schools whose siblings or relatives played an important role in the organization and the coup attempt to the state offices at the highest level while the relative of a low-level clerk is dismissed for some low-level relationship casts a question mark over the struggle against FETO.
  • Turkey’s need for a civilian, democratic and inclusive constitution is greater than ever. Immediately after the presentation of the last constitutional amendment package to the Turkish Grand National Assembly, I expressed my concerns and proposals to the President verbally and in writing. Unfortunately, what has transpired in the meantime has only served to justify my concerns. I regret to say that the new system fails to meet the expectations of the nation in terms either of its structuring or its implementation. In this context, we need to carry out a serious and frank review concerning changes to the system.
  • The starting point for such a review should be the existence and protection of the principle of the rule of law. The capacity to protect the rule of law depends on the rebuilding of the principle of the separation of powers. The duality caused by Turkey being governed by the “12thSeptember Constitution” drawn up following the 1980 military coup led to administrative crises. Although the new system resolves this problem, it undermines the separation of powers principle by giving the executive dominance over the legislature and the judiciary, disabling balance and control mechanisms.
  • In order to guarantee the separation of powers, the legislature must have a balancing autonomy vis-à-vis the executive and judiciary. In this context, the representative power of individual Members of Parliament and their effectiveness in the legislative process should be strengthened by revising the electoral system and the law on political parties.
  • Another issue we need to address in the context of this review is that of the reorganization of the state architecture. The state manifests itself on the stage of history through the conventions and institutions it perpetuates. The natural flow of history obliges us to reorganize these conventions and institutions in line with changing conditions. The balance between continuity and change needs to be meticulously protected in such a reorganization process. Delaying the required change by distorting the balance in favor of continuity leads to stasis and opacity, while tipping it too far in the direction of change leads the state structure to be constantly sent back to the drawing board, weakening the perpetuation of the state.
  • During the process of reorganizing the state, status quo-based institutionalism should be abandoned, institutional culture and memory preserved. This reorganization should be carried out not by means of conjectural, arbitrary and abrupt decisions, but exercising a degree of prudence that takes into account accumulated experience and the requirements of time, as well as mobilizing the sense of shared wisdom.
  • One of the key continuity features of the state architecture in this context is the Presidency’s functioning as representative of the whole of society, embracing all its sections. One of the most sensitive issues we need to bear in mind when transitioning from the parliamentary system that ran contrary to the nature of the 12thSeptember Constitution to a presidential system is the prevention of conflict between the inclusive presidency of our state tradition and a presidential system based on party identity.
  • Although, as we observe in democratic presidential systems, the fact that the President is also the member of a political party is not of itself a problem, the exercise of the role of party leader by the same person gives rise to problems with respect to the functioning of the state as well as party institutionalization. The fact that the President, as a first-degree party in elections, has to get involved in intense and often harsh political polemics as a requirement of the electoral environment causes the Presidency to suffer a psychological rupture with at least half of society, whereas in our state tradition the President should be equidistant from all sections of society.
  • In this framework, the party-affiliated presidency regarded as one of the essential elements of the new system should be re-evaluated independently from the person of the current President, and the predicaments caused by the concurrent operation of the presidential and party leader functions should be removed.
  • Matters such as the redefinition of horizontal institutional communications and vertical hierarchical relationships in the state architecture, elucidation of the role of ministries that appear to be stuck between political/technocratic identities and functions, and determining the status of newly established policy boards in the state architecture, should be clarified. No state architecture that lacks a holistic, inclusive vision and an esthetic functioning mechanism can last.
  • It is clear that due to its geography Turkey faces security tests that cannot be compared to those of any other country. The fact that our army, the most powerful resistance element in these tests, has regained its internal order after overcoming the most profound trauma any army could possibly face on 15thJuly 2016, is beyond appreciation. The most essential transformation now required in order to avoid our country and its people having to face further coup attempts is the democratization of military-political relations to ensure that civilian political will is the ultimate influence and determinant of all bureaucratic mechanisms. In terms of the security risks we face, the justified struggle that we began on 23rdJuly 2015 against the PKK, DAESH and DHKP-C, on 17th-25thDecember 2013 against conspiratorial actions, and on 15thJuly 2016 against FETO in the wake of the attempted coup d’état, must be relentlessly maintained.
  • That said, during the course of this struggle, taking care over the sensitive calibration of the freedom-security balance is of great importance in terms of the adoption of the struggle being undertaken by the general public. Identifying the declaration of differing views with terrorism and equating political differences with treason serves only to damage our national unity as well as dealing a severe blow to democracy, political and economic life by perpetuating the perception of crisis.
  • It is unacceptable that security concerns have evolved to such an extent that after the recent local elections the constitutional right of those who had been dismissed from public office under state of emergency conditions without any court decision having been issued are deprived of their constitutional right to vote and to stand for election. I do not even want to think about what misapplications of executive decisions could result from such arbitrariness in the long term. The Constitution is everyone’s fundamental text, it cannot be interpreted arbitrarily.
  • The reestablishment of our proudly coveted self-confidence and, most importantly, our trust and confidence in one another, is conditional on the earliest possible expansion of the area of freedom. Journalists, academicians, opinion leaders, politicians or anyone who expresses their ideas should never have to face dismissal, stigma, social media lynching or abusive threats. The freedom to criticize and to express ones ideas must be protected to the end.
  • The press, the fundamental element of free thinking and criticism known as the Fourth Estate in developed democracies, has become a propaganda tool under the direction of a single hand. Real freedom of the press is our democracy’s immune system. Destroying it and steering us to media monopolization by means of irregular and repressive methods only serves to narrow Turkey’s intellectual capacity.
  • In this context, a new freedom-security balance should be established in which the areas of freedom are expanded without forfeiting what we have gained in security matters.
  • The strength of civil society manifests itself not in high rise buildings but deep in our conscience. Participatory democracy flourishes in an environment in which civil society influences political institutions legitimately and transparently and supervises public administration. The efforts of secret structures such as FETO to place politics under its tutelage by taking over the power of the state through illegitimate means, and the instrumentalization of the state by taking civil society under its control, damages democracy. The annexation of civil society by the state and the use of various concerns to make it impossible for people to express their views is destroying the spirit and conscience of civil society.
  • The main factor in politics regaining its prestige in the eyes of society in the past was our party’s emphasis on the fight against prohibitions, corruption and poverty. Today, it looks like it will be extremely hard for politics to regain its reputation and its capacity to breathe fresh trust and confidence into society without a frank review on the question of where we currently stand on the matter of these three objectives.
  • The sine qua nonfor the effective governance of a state is that its politics and public administration are based on competence and merit. On the other hand, the spread of cronyism and nepotism in public administration constitutes both the leading cause, and the most striking indication, of all kinds of corruption as well as the arrogance and hubris of power. The proliferation of this corruption makes it impossible for rational control mechanisms to function. For the rational functioning of political institutions and the bureaucracy, close relatives should have no place in the subordinate-superior hierarchy in the state administration, there should be no focus on a person’s origins, region or hometown in personnel recruitment, and exceptional appointments should be clearly and transparently defined.
  • Contrariwise, the reflection of family relationships that should remain in the private sphere in the public and official realm harms family life as well as leading to the emergence of relationships that go beyond the field of legal responsibility. When it comes to benefiting from the possibilities afforded by the state, family members of politicians and public officials should neither be granted any special privileges nor be subject to unwarranted criticism.
  • The most effective solution to all these issues of political ethics is the predominance of the principle of transparency in every area of the life of society. As well as being a moral principle, transparency is also the most fundamental means of preventing any kind of tutelage initiative such as that attempted by FETO. The key factor in preventing all kinds of coup attempt, whatever their objective, is for transparency to predominate in every area of life, from civil society to state institutions, corporate structures to charitable organizations, and traditional local papers to social media.
  • In the reverse case, cases that give the impression of corruption such as the completion of public tenders without society’s knowledge, the effective disablement of the law on tenders and procurement through the use of exceptions and loopholes in the law, and the granting of publically financed public opinion contracts continuously to the same companies needs to be confronted and dealt with as a matter of urgency.
  • Laws on political ethics, transparency, political financing and unearned rental income that include fundamental principles such as the auditable use of public resources, a ban on the use of public resources for personal gain and fame, and the avoidance of any conflicts of interest between public officials’ private economic activities and their public duties, need to be enacted urgently. In this way, the rules of political ethics should be defined in such a way that they will not be left to personal interpretation or any individual’s personal understanding of ethics, and strengthened with robust practices and rules.
  • One of the principal areas of achievement underlying public approval of the AK Party was its economic policy. When the AK Party came to power in 2002, successive economic crises had thrown the country into despair, per capita income had fallen back to the levels of a decade before, and Turkey’s room for maneuver was restricted in many fields, from foreign policy to security.
  • At the root of the dazzling successes recorded in the economy was the restoring of a sense of trust. Today, unfortunately, we see that we are way beneath the level we had attained in the past in this area. The most striking example of this is the fact that in US dollar terms, per capita income in 2018 fell back below its 2007 level. Denying this reality while every section of society is personally experiencing an atmosphere of crisis in the economy serves no purpose other than to shake trust in the government. We cannot manage the economic crisis by denying its existence.
  • A crisis of governance underlies the current economic crisis. Confidence and trust in the government is lost if the view spreads that decisions on economic policy are disconnected from reality, made in defiance of market practices and the laws of economics, and implemented arbitrarily and prejudicially. The economy cannot be brought back to its feet without reestablishing trust and confidence. And self-confidence in economic governance is required before confidence and trust can be restored to society. However, self-confidence must be justified by knowledge and experience; doing what is necessary is essential. Self-confidence that is not backed up by knowledge and experience and propped up by personal close relations only gives the impression of an exaggerated show that appears to lack seriousness.
  • Trying to deal with the situation by addressing sections of society who are anyhow in difficulty in an accusatory and patronizing manner, attempting to create the necessary balances that need to be formed within the rules of the market by applying pressure in spite of the market, and scaring off the global investors from whom we need to benefit for Turkey’s development, are dead ends that need to be avoided at all costs. What our citizens expect from the state in running the economy is not belligerence and turmoil but the protection of their work and business, the food on their table and their wellbeing.
  • The precondition for economic success is the provision of the rule of law in such a manner that puts it beyond dispute. A competitive economy and an entrepreneur-friendly investment environment can only be established when predictability is ensured, rules are applied equally to everyone, and property rights are guaranteed. In turn, this is only possible in a state of law in which the judiciary is impartial, independent, efficient, effective, and above all operates in accordance with universal law.
  • Our party has had a free market economic philosophy ever since the day it was founded. A free market economy is a structure in which the state does not intervene directly and arbitrarily in the economy, and prices are determined by supply and demand. Recent decisions on the running of the economy are moving us away from free market principles. In a market economy the state only guides the economy by setting objective general rules and controlling compliance with these rules. Control and supervision must be independent, impartial and objective and never used as a means of pressure or threat. In this context, problems cannot be resolved through direct intervention in banks’ deposit and lending policies.
  • Bearing in mind that the economy exists not in a vacuum but in an international environment, the urgent realization of the EU visa exemption, which reached its final stage in 2016, and revisions to the Customs Union, will add momentum to the economy.
  • A key component in the AK Party’s economic success story was the process of institutionalization that it implemented in the economy. The recent preference for criteria other than qualifications and merit in appointments to state bodies and an arbitrariness that has made it impossible to preserve institutional memory and culture has seriously harmed this institutionalization.
  • The public finances are entrusted to those who govern the state. I have observed with great sadness that recent practices have given the impression that public administrators are profligate and excessively ostentatious. The growth in non-interest public expenditure and the attempt to conceal the resulting budget deficit with one-off revenues also serves to undermine confidence. Transparency and accountability in public spending must be robustly implemented.
  • Confidence in the data released in decisions related to the economy is an absolute must. Unfortunately, certain recent practices have shaken that confidence. Moreover, when confidence that the economic data completely, accurately and without exception reflects the actual situation is shaken, news and speculation about the resort to non-transparent “back door operation” methods in the market spreads. This leads to excessive fluctuations in exchange and interest rates and the sudden loss of our manufacturers’ hard-earned gains and the income that our workers have made through the sweat of their brow. There can be no greater capital in economic governance than integrity, no greater credit than reputation. The operation of economic governance must be restructured in line with this principle.
  • The solution is to reduce inflation permanently, increase predictability and reduce risks in the economy, and develop an investment environment in which global capital will come safely to Turkey to invest while domestic capital in Turkey will not be forced to seek ways to exit. In such an environment interest rates will fall permanently and the Turkish Lira will gain in strength and standing.
  • Finally, I would like to emphasize that what we now need to do in the face of the significant challenges of recent years is to liberate our minds, renew our psychologies, strengthen our social ties and take the necessary steps for our common future. I call on our party leaders and concerned bodies sensibly and level headedly to assess all these matters and our future vision, to prepare for the future with steadfastness and perseverance without causing our party’s loyal and self-sacrificing base to lose hope, and to stand shoulder to shoulder with our opinion leaders, intellectuals and citizens of every political persuasion in order to determine our common future based on our common conscience, common mind and common will. Today is the day to bring together the mind of the state, the dignity of the people, and the conscience of the nation.”

 

Ahmet Davutoğlu

 

 

3 Poems at Springtime

6 May

[Prefatory Note: Theodor Adorno’s unforgettable remark of 1983 continues

to challenge and even haunt: “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.”

When I first encountered such a startling sentiment II was grateful to be reminded

that to engage normally involves turning a blind eye toward acute and massive

suffering, at least briefly. Today there are many horrors inflicted on innocent decent people

whether on the southern border of the United States, Rakhine State in

Myanmar, Gaza, Yemen, Syria, Honduras, among the poor and strife-ridden everywhere. 

Yet to be on the side of justice is at. one with embracing the glories of life, and to live well is

to dream poetically. My short poems are intended as a gesture of celebration,

a welcoming of Spring in dark times, indefensible yet indispensable. Maybe also somewhat

self-indulgent, an undeserved respite from grief and grievances.]

 

3 Poems at Springtime

______________________________________________________

 

On My 88thBirthday: A Reflection

 

To be almost 90

And happy

With good health

 

Feels almost criminal

Amid Satanic happenings

Raising Images too dark

To seem real

 

Children in Gaza

Are shot and killed

Friday after Friday

By designated assassins

 

Khashoggi’s murder

An unspeakable crime

Yet only a PR problem

For hard men of power

 

Events this dark

And this numerous

Form storm clouds

 

Will despair be our fate?

Is this truly our world?

Are we even meant to survive?

 

My hope– to live

Long enough to shout

An everlasting ‘No’

 

And may so affirming

Become my last word

Become my testament

Of hope for all that lives

 

 

 

Richard Falk

Berlin

November 13, 2018

Rev. April 20, 2019

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

 

In Search of Equivalence

 A daisy is like a pigeon

A pigeon seems an ant

Yet an ant is far from daisy

And you my love are neither

 

An orchid is like my cat

A cat is a household god

Worship only what you love

Yet avoiding hate of all else

 

Ask a single question

Are equals ever equal

Yeats had an answer

Whatever is born begotten dies

 

IV/14/2019

Santa Barbara

 

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

What You See Is Not What You Get

 

graffiti and garbage

       walls alive

              pavements littered

 

whether Delhi or Rome

       yet fabulous

              feasting the eye

 

a delirium of the senses

       heartbreak torment

              disturbs the mind

 

always thankful for vividness

       overcoming pity

              we live for life

 

IV/14/2019

Santa Barbara  

 

Barr-bed Wire: A Framing Puzzle

2 May

Barr-bed Wire: A Puzzle

 

In the tidal waves of mainstream coverage of the Barr Performance(stonewalling; no show; legalistic hairsplitting; evasion and lies), there is a huge elephant in the room that as far as I can tell has been ignored:

THE RUSSIANS DID EVERYTHING THEY COULD DO TO HELP TRUMP WIN

THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS.

 

This seems to have been Russia’s sole motive in trying to steer as many votes as possible to Trump. This made sense from the Kremlin’s point of view. After all, Hillary Clinton was supported by the American national security establishment, including self-described lifelong

Republicans, principally because she favored confrontation with Moscow over

a range of issues, including Crimea and Ukraine. Many of us feared her political

leadership was likely to produce a new cold war, or worse, especially as coupled

with her consistent support for regime-changing interventions in the Arab World

(Iraq, Libya). Despite my fears about Clinton’s foreign policy I voted for her in the end as the lesser evil, given Trump’s mean-spirited xenophobia masquerading as patriotism and his demagogic political style with its pre-fascist overtones.

 

I can understand why Republicans want to ignore such a framing of inquiry so as to invert the drama by calling for an investigation of Clinton’s wrongful use of a private computer to transmit classified material or to scrutinize the employment of a retired British intelligence agent to compile anti-Trump material. Obviously, the Clinton concern was prompted by this realization that the Russians were doing whatever they could to help Trump. It was hardly credible that she would have taken such a step had Russia been on her side, or that her level of indignation about meddling would have been active given her own support for U.S. efforts to influence the outcome of elections in more than one hundred countries. Indeed, indirectly, the Republicans are shrewd to attempt to shift the focus away from this underlying reality as at some point journalists are almost bound to contextualize the whole Barr/Mueller melodrama in relation to Russian support for Trump. Underneath such a question is a host of questions lying beneath a rock too volcanic to move. Among the most sensitive are questions bearing on the legitimacy of the 2016 elections. Remember that Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million, and that the electoral college outcome favorable to Trump depended on exceedingly close votes in several large mid-Western states. Is it too great a stretch to conjecture that without Russian meddling, Clinton would today be the American president This seems to me to be the unasked question no self-respecting democracy can indefinitely ignore, however much Republicans prevaricate and Democrats lie low.

 

Yet while Republican tactics are reprehensible from perspective of constitutionalism and the rule of law, they make sense from the perspective of partisan politics in a winner-take-most in a highly polarized society. But why have not the Republicans framed their concerns around the report of the Special Counsel as presented by Barr in light of this contaminating feature. Surely, Clinton’s efforts were motivated by the knowledge that Moscow wanted Trump to win, and was doing its best to make this happen. By collecting information that showed Trump to be vulnerable to Russian pressures, or in league somehow with Putin, was both a rather natural defensive move but it was also an effort parallel to that of the FBI to investigate whether this kind of convergence could be viewed as a criminal conspiracy. Even if the elements of a conspiracy could not be established to the satisfaction of Mueller, that is, beyond a reasonable doubt, surely investigating whether there was such illicit cooperation was quite appropriate. The FBI, at its highest levels, even wondered whether Trump was a Russian agent. That such an outlandish possibility was even plausible, suggests the extremity of the situation.

 

Perhaps, the Democratic leadership regards it as too unpredictably disruptive to raise questions at this time about the 2016 election, especially as its 20+ candidates are jostling for right to challenge Trump in 2020. But why not back Barr into a corner by so framing their concern about misrepresenting the Special Counsel investigation of collusion and obstruction? This reality of Russia acting on its support of Trump is something beyond the abstract allegation of messing with the American electoral process. Such meddling should be resisted and prohibited as part of protecting the political integrity of sovereign states, but like espionage, it is both a crime and a practice ingrained in the habitual behavior of geopolitics. In most instances, the motivations for such covert intervention are to promote electoral results compatible with strategic goals, including economic advantages and geopolitical alignment. In a few instances, such interference is motivated by a genuine interest in preventing dangerous demagogues from gaining power, both for the sake of stable international relations and to uphold human rights. In this Russian instance, the principal goal seems to have been to defeat a hostile political figure from mounting the throne, but at the cost of promoting a menacing demagogue.

 

Of course, it is not too late to illuminate the national debate on Trump and Russia around this defining issue. With the totalizing mainstream media coverage, erasing all else that is going on in this country and around the world, such an oversight, if this is what it is, should be as alarming as an Attorney General that surrounds uncomfortable truths with Barr-bed wire!

Does the Overthrow of el-Bashir in Sudan Signal a Second Arab Spring?

28 Apr

Is the Overthrow of el-Bashir in Sudan a Sign of a Second Arab Spring?

 

[Prefatory Note: What follows is an interview on recent developments in Sudan with M.J. Hassani of the Tasmin News Agency in Tehran. The questions focus on the implications of the overthrow of President Omar el-Bashir who had been the harsh autocratic ruler of Sudan for almost 30 years. Of particular interest is whether the mass movement of the Sudanese people and the counterrevolutionary dangers posed by the retention of emergency powers by the military entourage surrounding the former dictator will destroy the hopes of the mobilized population as happened in Egypt in seemingly analogous circumstances. Also analogous is the role of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that support the counterrevolutionary option in Sudan as they did in Egypt after 2011 in the rising against Mubarak.

 

There is also a pending indictment from the International Criminal Court against el-Bashir, the first ever against a sitting head of state. Will el-Bashir be sent to the Hague for prosecution by the new leadership or might he be prosecuted in Sudan or will the matter be quietly dropped?

 

A more hopeful reading of the Sudan situation (as well as the events in Algeria) is that this second coming of the Arab Spring will be more alert to the dangers of reactionary and external forces reversing the gains achieved by populist opposition activism. Did. political activists. in the MENA region learn from the failures and disappointments of the earlier Arab uprisings of eight years. ago.

Whatever happens in Sudan will be important for the entire region, whether encouraging or not with respect to spontaneous political activism aiming at economic reforms and empowering forms of democratization. It is helpful to recall that the movement in Sudan arose in December 2018 when the government reduced food and fuel subsidies, and only later broadened its agenda of grievances and demands.]

 

 

Q1: Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir was recently removed by a military coup after months of anti-government protests against his three-decade rule. A Military Council led by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is now in power and says it will oversee a transitional period that will last a maximum of two years. What do you think about the latest developments in this Northeast African country? How do you predict the future of the developments? Will the Military Council hand over the power to a democratic government?

The post-coup situation in Sudan is highly uncertain at the present time. Pessimistically, the military oligarchy that surrounded Omar al-Bashir for three decades remains in control of the governing Military Council. Its membership even includes Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo who led the notorious Janjaweed militia that terrorized Darfur in the years following 2003, committing many crimes against humanity of a character that led many observers to charge genocide. More hopefully, the mass movement in Sudan that has mounted a determined opposition in recent months, remains determined to secure satisfaction for its basic demands of a genuine civilian government and for economic justice benefitting the entire Sudanese population. As far as the durability of the protest is concerned, the spirit of the movement seems strong. One opposition leader expressed the resolve of the movement, “We can wait for 100 years until we get what we want.”

What General al-Burhan has so far proposed as a political compromise is highly ambiguous. It consists of a three-month period of emergency rule, which has already been proclaimed to be followed in two years by a transition to a government of technocrats, which is apparently supposed to satisfy the demand for a civilian. The prospect of a government of technocrats seems to be a promise to establish an apolitical form of governance removed from any kind of op. This conceivably could be a retreat from prior patterns of military rule, but it more likely would be a collection of bureaucrats taking orders from uniformed generals. It is doubtful that such a prospect will satisfy the opposition, which has announced plans for massive demonstrations in the capital city of Khartoum during the coming days and weeks to press its demands. These include not only the civilianization of the governing process, but also a softening of Sharia law, especially as applied to Sudanese women who are reported to be the dominant presence on the streets, estimated at over 70%.

 

 

Q2: According to media reports, there have been some meddlesome measures pushed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Sudan. However, Sudanese protesters have declared their strong opposition to the two countries. What do you think about the future of relations between Sudan and the two Arab countries and do you think that the next Sudanese government would be an ally of the two?

 

According to the most accurate reports, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are joined by Egypt in supporting continued military rule in Sudan, both economically and politically. This should not be surprising, mirroring the diplomatic stance of Gulf monarchies, except for Qatar, during the Arab Spring uprising of late 2010 and 2011. Egypt since 2013 has been under the oppressive and anti-democratic leadership of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in power thanks to a coup carried out against the democratically elected government of Mohamad Morsi. These three states are opposed to any democratic movements throughout the MENA region regardless of its religious identity. Morsi was a Muslim Brotherhood leader, and one might have expected Saudi/UAE support on sectarian grounds, but what became evident even during the earlier uprising in Egypt against Hosni Mubarak was that these Gulf states gave an absolute priority to maintaining political stability provided it was achieved by rulership from above. In this sense, movements from below are always perceived by these regimes as dangerous, and will be opposed, even if religiously oriented and seeking to remove secularists. The response to developments in Sudan is fully consistent with past political behavior, especially if the Sudanese developments are interpreted, and understood as indicative of a new activist mood possibly linked to the protest movement in Algeria, which can be viewed as the second coming of the Arab Spring. In this sense, the Military Council can be expected to be under severe external pressure not to give way to the continuing demands of the Sudanese opposition. And this pressure will probably be reinforced by internal concerns by the members of the Military Council that a real civilian government might investigate corruption and criminal charges. On the basis of this analysis, it would seem that the opposition has a long way to go before it can claim victory!

 

Q3: As you know, Sudan is part of Saudi Arabia’s disastrous military campaign against Yemen. Given that a huge number of the Saudi-led coalition forces fighting in Yemen are Sundanese, what do you think about the effect of developments in Sudan on the protracted war on Yemen?

 

This is a vital question. It is known that the opposition forces object to the assignment of Sudanese soldiers to fight in Yemen on behalf of the Saudi war policy. What is not known is whether the economic assistance being given to Sudan in this period is conditioned on continued participation in the Saudi war effort, or the issue will be treated as negotiable, and somewhat subordinate to maintaining the continuity of military rule in Sudan. It is possible that the Saudi approach is to insist on the assurance from the Military Council of both continuing present levels of engagement in Yemen and the retention of military rulership in Sudan.

 

There is growing international pressure based largely on humanitarian grounds to bring the conflict in Yemen to an end. Whether this will be effective is far from clear. In other words, there are multiple uncertainties that bear on the future of Yemen, as well as Sudan. So far the United States seems to have remained removed from these latest developments, neither siding with the military or the opposition, but this could change if Saudi Arabia, and possibly Israel, exert pressure on the US Government to support and stiffen the anticipated hardline approach of General al-Burhan.

 

On Taking Controversial Public Positions: A Reflection      

18 Apr

On Taking Controversial Public Positions: A Reflection      

 

Not long ago a cherished friend directed a remark at me during a dinner with several other friends: “You keep sticking your neck out. I used to do that, but I don’t do it anymore.” At the time, I listened, unsure whether it was a rebuke—‘isn’t it time to grow up, and stop exposing yourself to ridicule and behind the back dismissals’—or merely an observation. on different ways of growing old.  I am still unsure, but it made me think.

 

It had never occurred to me to stop signing petitions or writing blogs that staked out controversial positions, sometimes with provocative language. It seemed. like an extension of my ideas about global civic responsibility in a democratic society,a matter of trusting and acting upon the dictates of conscience and the affectionsof solidarity. I didn’t start making my views known in public spaces until my mid-30s at the onset of the Vietnam War in the 1960s. In recent years, aside from periodic writing on my blog, I am mainly responding to requests for support of activist and academic initiatives by kindred political spirits or sympathetic journalists.

 

I suppose that a certain level of public notoriety followed my period as UN Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestine during the period between 2008 and 2014. During those years I was under quite frequent attack by Zionist zealots, often operating under the misleading camouflage of NGO auspices with such anodyne names as UN Watch or NGO Monitor. It was defamatory and malicious, but it left an imprint in the mud. For those who know me best the main accusations didn’t make sense. I was clearly neither an ‘anti-Semite’ nor ‘a self-hating Jew.’ I suppose it was empirically accurate to consider me as an ‘anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist extremist,’ although I don’t think of myself in this way. True, my views on Israel/Palestine and the Zionist Project were overwhelmingly in support of the Palestinian national struggle for basic rights, including the right of self-determination, but this also represented my understanding of the application of relevant rules of international law and morality. I also came to believe that the Zionist insistence on ‘a Jewish state’ was the source of legitimate Palestinian resistance, and to quell this resistance Israel resorted to the establishment of apartheid structures of discriminatory  separation and domination, the elements of apartheid as an instance of a crime against humanity (as specified in Article 7 of the Rome Statute governing the operations of the International Criminal Court). I never thought of reaching such conclusions as sticking my neck out. I thought expressing these views while holding the UN position was an aspect of doing my unpaid job. This represented my sense of professional duty, including the recognition of the importance of civil society activism devoted to obtaining global justice.

 

Back at Princeton, especially after my visit to Iran in early 1979 during the last stage of the revolution, and the pushback I received after publishing an opinion piece in the NY Timesexpressing my hopes and concerns about the future of the Islamic Republic,  I did myself, partly as a gesture of self-irony, adopt the metaphor of sticking my neck out, attributed this move to my love for giraffes, their grace, absence of vocal chords, and strong kick. The giraffe became my totem, and my home was soon filled with carved and ceramic giraffes acquired during my trips to Africa. A friend with gifts as a woods craftsperson even made me a life-sized replica of a baby giraffe, which was slightly taller than I, and provided a vivid reminder of this identity that dominated my Princeton living room for many years. Yet, strangely, after moving to California I never thought about sticking my neck out until my friend reminded me, and led me to think about whether I am frozen in patterns of behavior apt only for those who are young or middle aged. The question for me is not whether we should stop caring after 80, but only whether it is unseemly for the elderly to keep acting.  Or perhaps having chosen ‘retirement’ from Princeton implies that I should stop actingas if I care, and leave the future to those young enough to have a more significant stake in what is happening and where it is leading.

 

A related kind of feedback from someone even closer was along the same lines, but could be classified as ‘a loving rebuke.’ It was the insistence that I was ‘obsessed’ with Israel/Palestine, and I should move on to other concerns as bad or worse than the Palestinian ordeal, with the example given of the horrifying persistence of the Yemen War with atrocities an almost daily occurrence. Here, I resist more than I reflect. Yet this is a matter of heart as well as head. From both sides, as my loving friend also insisted that she was saving my reputation from being permanently mired in mud, telling me I was smearing my own legacy by continuing to speak out critically of Israel and Zionism.

   

I have long believed that outsiders have much blood on their hands in relation to evolution of Palestine and Israel ever since the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917. Beyond this, the United States had the leverage, responsibility, and opportunity for decades to make a political compromise happen, but refused to explore such an option evenhandedly. Instead, the U.S. Government, especially after 1967, subsidized Israel’s militarization to the point where it has become a substantially autonomous and affluent regional power, and yet continues to receive more than $3.8 billion per year, proportionately to population far more than any other country. A compromise might have accommodated Palestinian basic grievances sufficiently to produce a sustainable peace, although it would still have required the Palestinian people to swallow a large dose of injustice taking the form of outside forces imposing an alien political template on their future, which is the essence of colonialist expansion.

 

During the Trump presidency with its unseemly responsiveness to Netanyahu’s wishes, the situation facing the Palestinian people has further deteriorated in rather dramatic ways: the American embassy has been moved to Jerusalem, the Golan Heights have been formally annexed following a green light from Washington, unlawful settlement building has accelerated, funding for essential UNRWA education and health services have been cut to zero, and even the pretension of the near universal international commitment to the two-state solution has been pointedly abandoned. Waiting for ‘the deal of the century’ seems likely to be either a matter of waiting for Godot or an ultimatum disguised as a peace plan demanding Palestinian surrender to Israeli one-statism.

 

And there is the outrage of a well-funded campaign to brand supporters of BDS and justice for the Palestinians as anti-Semites. This was never done during the global anti-apartheid movement after it adopted a BDS approach to South African apartheid. Why is Israeli apartheid being treated so differently? With amoral opportunism, debasing Jewish memories of the Holocaust, Zionist zealots, with money and encouragement from Tel Aviv and wealthy diaspora donors, are distorting reality by using Nazi genocidal tactics against Jews to intimidate those seeking justice for both peoples.  What is as bad is the degree to which most of the governments of the West go along with this smear campaign even altering the definition of anti-Semitism to conform with these lamentable tactics. To get the fuller picture this use of anti-Semitism as a smear tactic confuses the threats associated with the return of real hatred of Jews as embedded in the scary second coming of fascism with diaspora Jews again cast in the role of the unassimilable other, a degenerate enemy of the global wave of ultra-nationalism.

 

With this understanding, I can no more turn away from the Palestinians than those closest to me. It would represent a tear in the fabric of the life and love I have lived and affirmed. It is, for better or worse who I am and who I will always be. It may dim my image in the mind of many decent people of liberal persuasion, but I value self-respect and personal sovereignty more than the conditional affection of others. Having written in this vein, I also wish to affirm my identity as a Jew, and my realization of the desperation ignited by the Nazi experience. Yet such an experience could as easily have been tinged with compassion rather than a racist willingness from its very origins of an intention to displace, dominate, and victimize the majority long-term residents of Palestine. Offsetting this intention by reference to a Jewish biblical or historical entitlement has neither legal nor moral weight in my opinion.

 

Having so far affirmed continuity of belief and practice, there is something to be said in favor of discontinuity, breaking old habits inspired by giraffes running across an African savannah or overcoming obsessions even if morally inspired and intellectually justified. Choosing discontinuity has something to do with learning how to age so that the inner self takes command. The Hindu tradition emphasizes stages of life, to be a house-holder or family person until the age of 60, and after that go forth alone to nurture spirituality generally long marginalized by the pressures of ordinary life, if not dormant. Thinking along such lines, may make my defense of continuity of engagement seem shallow, if not wrong or at least exhibiting a stubborn streak.

 

Having so pondered and reflected, I am no nearer to closure. It feels inauthentic to abandon unfulfilled commitments, and yet to reconcile myself to being nothing more than a pale projection of my past seems a defeat. At least, this semi-meditation has made me more knowingly confused, and I share it on my blog because I feel that the dilemmas of ageing confront us all at some point, and are rarely faced clearly in Western culture, often inducing various degrees of denial, depression, and feelings of lost relevance and disengagement. I have chosen activism to the end, both continuing with sports to the limit of my ability and to honor the political commitments of a citizen pilgrim (dedicated to a journey to a desired and desirable political community that functions now only as an imaginary, yet has the ambition to become a political project) to the best of my ability.      

Julian Assange: Criminal or Benefactor?

14 Apr

Julian Assange: Criminal or Benefactor?

 

I suppose it is of interest that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have found something to agree about—the criminal indictment of Julian Assange.  Trump is acutely vulnerable to the exposure of truth and Clinton blames her electoral defeat in 2016 partly on what WikiLeaks disclosed about her improper use of a government computer to send private emails. Such are the perverse ways of the deeply unjust.

 

The liberal media is not happy with this indictment, although it also wants to distance itself from justifications for Assange’s claims of journalistic privilege, viewing him as a lone wolf with rogue traits. There are solemn assessments evaluating the narrowly framed government indictment charging cyber-crime, that is, publishing illicitly obtained classified documents from a digital source, apparently an apolitical everyday occurrence for government employees. What is apparently at legal issue is deciding whether or not Assange should be protected by reference to freedom of expression or prosecuted as a cyber-criminal without reference to his motivation.

 

A few commentators have noted that the main reason to go after Assange is to discourage whistleblowing of the sort most prominently associated with the disclosures of Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden. Here Assange is accused of conspiring with another heroic American whistleblower, Chelsea Manning, in obtaining the documents that featured 800 Guantanamo Bay ‘detainee assessment briefs’ and more than 400,000 cables and documents relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A particularly damaging document was a video showing deliberate bombing of civilians in Iraq by American pilots, clear evidence of a serious war crime.

 

WikiLeaks, co-founded by Julian Assange in 2006, has been dedicated all along to the ideal of transparency in state/society relations as promoted by civil society initiatives. As such, it can be viewed as a service institution of robust democracy, a needed contemporary check on gross misuses of governmental secrecy. We know from a reading of the Pentagon Papers that what made publication so provocative was the degree to which the truths about the Vietnam War were being hidden from the American people through the misuse of classification protocols. There was little in the original twelve volumes of the Pentagon Papers that the Vietnamese ‘enemy’ did not know already. The inflammatory message of the Papers was how and why the war in Vietnam was going badly while the government was disseminating to the world a rosy picture of how well things were proceeding, which had the political effect of extending an unlawful war by years at the cost of tens of thousands American and Vietnamese lives. I remember hearing George Ball speak off the record a few days after he resigned as LBJ’s Under Secretary of State for Economic and Agricultural Affairs in the late 1960s about why he dissented from the Vietnam policies. He started his talk by saying “I only began to understand the Vietnam War when I stopped reading the cables from Saigon.” In other words, the patterns of deception were withinthe government as well as betweenthe government and the public.

 

We are up against a basic challenge posed by the digital age where the government operates as a citadel of surveillance, collecting meta-data on its own citizenry as well as on masses of foreigners, threatening dissent, privacy, and theessence of freedom itself. It was these concerns that led Snowden to do what he did a few years ago, and yet be pursued around the world as if a dangerous criminal, and not at first by the Trumpist right, but by the moderate center that was in political control of the government during the Obama presidency.

 

The republican idea of governance, that is, the founding principles of the American system of constitutional governance, relied on ‘checks and balances’ and ‘separation of powers’ to restrain excesses and abuses of power by the state. Such governance was reinforced by the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution that conferred an array of rights on the citizenry both as protection against an overreaching state and as protection against various manifestations of ‘the tyranny of the majority.’

 

The WikiLeaks role is especially important in the war/peace context as war-mongering governments tend to exaggerate, if not lie, to mobilize public support. This vital dimension of republicanism, designed to distinguish the American political undertaking from monarchies where war was often regarded as ‘the sport of kings,’ was entrusted to Congress, the legislative branch of government most directly connected with the people. The modern security state has moved away from restraints on war making as Congress has virtually abandoned its initially vital constitutional role of authorizing recourse to war. To revitalize this kind of republican democracy requires new instruments of transparency and validation of truth telling public servants. Otherwise, as in the Trump era, democratic constitutionalism can succumb to pre-fascist demagoguery.

 

A reinforcing observation in the American context arises from the corporatization of the media, as well as an appreciation of the unseemly recent closeness of the media to the intelligence and security governmental establishment. This has definitely weakened the independent and watchman role of journalism, especially TV, as part of the checks and balances framework in relation to the war/peace agenda, including the most trusted media outlets. Listeners of CNN, let alone FOX, know too well how debate on controversial foreign policy issues is almost exclusively entrusted to ex-generals,  admirals, CIA officials, and think tank hawks. It is rare to have the opportunity to hear the views of a civil society progressive or an articulate critic of global militarism, American style.

 

In contrast, WikiLeaks is independent of corporations, media, and governments, and has since its inception been devoted to the publication of materials incriminating governments and their private sector allies. We need to affirm WikiLeaks and whistleblowing as part of the legitimate architecture of constitutional democracy in the digital age. By criminalizing anti-war or human rights whistleblowing the political system is ratifying the suicide of substantive democracy.

 

Admittedly, this generalized endorsement of such transparency assumes that the government or the private sector have no legitimate secrets. I think there should be protection of legitimate state secrets wherein the criminality of unauthorized disclosures would require the government to sustain a burden of truth beyond a reasonable doubt that the material released was not in the public interest. This is bound to be a controversial line to draw conceptually and in practice. In quite different circumstances the release of the full Mueller Report tests whether transparency will lose out to those anti-democratic forces trying to hide, or at least obscure by redaction, the extent of wrongdoing by the Trump administration.

 

In the background should be the realization that whistleblowers rarely, if ever, act without a deeply felt sense that information crucial for the public to know about is being wrongfully withheld. Even without legal repercussions there are often high costs incurred by whistleblowers in relation to career and reputation. You are forever feared as the opposite of ‘a team player,’ so important for the morale and standard operating procedures of almost all bureaucracies, but especially those of government. I know this the personal experience of friends. Dan Ellsberg and Tony Russo, the Pentagon Papers whistleblowers were forever non-legally tainted by their brave acts of true patriotism. They realized at the time that they were taking big risks of prison and would in any event pay a high price though informal dynamics of exclusion, and yet acted out of their profound feelings of loyalty to America’s professed values. And it is true that Ellsberg, in particular, has been ‘compensated’ by being lionized in civil society as an offset to being permanently invalidated as a high-level civil servant.

 

What is mainly forgotten in relation to these whistleblowing incidents is the truly incriminating content of the disclosures. In each of these prominent instances the material released there was exposed criminal conduct by the government of a kind that threatens millions of lives and confirms the most shocking suspicions about government conduct in war zones or through malicious encroachments on public liberty.

 

It seems apt to recall President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1944 message on German war crimes directed at the German people in the midst of World War II: “Hitler is committing war crimes in the name of the German people. I ask every German and every man everywhere under German domination to show the world by his action that in his heart he does not share these insane criminal desires. Let him hide the victims, help them to get over their borders, and do what they can to save them from the Nazi hangman. I ask him also to keep watch and to record the evidence that will one day be used to convict the guilty.” (emphasis added) Is this not precisely what Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange have been doing?

 

As the U.S. Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, Justice Robert H. Jackson, reminded the world in his opening statement at the trials, if prosecution,  conviction, and punishment of the defendants is “to serve a useful purpose” it must in the future condemn similar lawlessness by others “including those who sit in here in judgment.” In effect, if the rule of law is to govern human behavior with respect to war crimes and crimes against humanity, the sort of ‘victors’ justice’ applied to the German and Japanese losers must in the future be replaced by ‘justice,’ that is, the application of law to all who violate it. Of course, this Nuremberg Promise has been repaeatedly broken in spirit and substance, and most defiantly by the Trump/Bolton attacks on the very existence of the International Criminal Court.

 

The UN Membership unanimously affirmed that the Nuremberg Judgment was a desirable development of international law in General Assembly Resolution 95(I). In addition, the International Law Commission, the most authoritative body entrusted with the codification and development of international law formulated

The Nuremberg Principles in 1946 to formalize the impact of the trials on international criminal law. Of particular relevance is final Principle VII: “Complicity in the commission of a crime against the peace, a war

crime, or a crime against humanity..is a crime under international law.” Fairly read, this proposition would suggest that the U.S. Government moves to prosecute Assange are themselves crimes, while the acts of Assange are commendable efforts to prevent international crimes from continuing.

 

Such reasoning should also be relevant to the British judicial response to the formal American request for extradition. Of course, extradition should be denied because ‘political crimes’ are by treaty arrangement not extraditable, and if there ever was a political crime it is this apparently failed attempt by Assange to hack the password of a government computer so as to hide the identity of the whistleblower, Chelsea Manning.

 

In the context of antiwar activism during the Vietnam War I made the argument that there existed a ‘Nuremberg Obligation’ that had moral, if not legal authority. In effect, the Nuremberg Obligation in light of the material discussed above means that every person has the rightand is subject to the dutyto contribute to the exposure of violations of international criminal law in war/peace and human rights contexts. Additionally, this moral right/duty could be reasonably construed as a legal obligation.

 

Julian Assange should be judged against this background. This applies not only to the underlying criminal charge, but to withdrawal of asylum status by the government of Ecuador that led to Assange’s unseemly arrest London and to the judicial treatment of the extradition request by the British judiciary.