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Saudi engagement in Iraq: The exception that confirms the rule?

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By James M. Dorsey / Mid-East Soccer.

Stepped up Saudi efforts to forge close diplomatic, economic and cultural ties to Shia-majority Iraq in a bid to counter significant Iranian influence in the country appear to be paying off. The Saudi initiative demonstrates the kingdom’s ability to engage rather than exclusively pursue a muscular, assertive and confrontational policy towards the Islamic republic and its perceived allies. It raises the question whether it is a one-off or could become a model for Saudi policy elsewhere in the region.

The kingdom’s recent, far more sophisticated approach to Iraq is testimony to the fact that its multi-billion dollar, decades-long support for Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism that at times involved funding of both violent and non-violent militants had failed in Iraq. It constitutes recognition that Saudi Arabia’s absence effectively gave Iran a free reign.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Iraqi charm offensive amounts to a far more concerted and successful effort than attempts more than a decade ago by then Saudi King Abdullah to reach out to Iraqi Shiite leaders, including firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr and involving the organization of a meeting in Mecca between Sunni and Shia Iraqi religious leaders. King Abdullah’s efforts did not at the time involve a crackdown on funding by Saudi sources of a devastating Sunni Muslim insurgency.

King Abdullah’s initiative notwithstanding, Saudi policy towards Iraq for more than a decade since Iraq’s Shiite majority emerged from the shadow of Saddam Hussein’s minority Sunni Muslim rule as a result of the 2003 US invasion was one of non-engagement, sectarianism, and support of the country’s Sunni minority.

It took the kingdom 11 years to open its first embassy in post-Saddam Iraq, the kingdom’s first diplomatic presence in the country since it broke off diplomatic relations in 1990 because of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. Even then, relations got off to a rocky start with Iraq demanding the replacement of the kingdom’s first ambassador, Thamer al-Sabhan, after he publicly criticised Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs and the alleged persecution of Iraqi Sunni Muslims.

The emergence in 2014 of Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi, who succeeded Nuri al-Maliki, seen by the Saudis as an Iranian pawn, coupled with the rise of Prince Mohammed and the Saudi charm offensive in the wake of the defeat of the Islamic state has produced a remarkable turnaround that holds out the prospect of the kingdom becoming an influential player in the reconstruction of war-ravaged Iraq.

Beyond the opening of the embassy, Saudi Arabia is slated to open a consulate in Basra as well as in Najaf, widely seen as Shia Islam’s third most holy city that rivals Iran’s Qom as a centre of Shiite learning. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Prince Mohammed may visit Najaf after Iraqi elections scheduled for May 12.

The two countries have reopened their Arar Border Crossing that was closed for 27 years and restored commercial air traffic for the first time in more than a quarter of a century. More than 60 Saudi companies participated earlier this year in the Baghdad International Fair.
A Saudi Arabia-Iraq Coordination Council, inaugurated last year aims to strengthen security ties as well as economic and cultural relations envisions student and cultural exchanges and Saudi investment in oil and gas, trade, transport, education, light industry, and agriculture. Saudi Arabia pledged $1.5 billion for Iraqi reconstruction at a donors’ conference in Kuwait in February.

Saudi Arabia garnered substantial brownie points in February by playing its first soccer match in Iraq in almost three decades, boosting Iraqi efforts to persuade world soccer body FIFA to lift its ban on Iraqi hosting of international matches. The kingdom subsequently promised to build a 100,000-seat football stadium in Baghdad.

In shifting gears in Iraq, Prince Mohammed appears to have broken with decades of Saudi efforts to primarily confront Iran in proxy and covert wars. It remains, however, unclear to what degree Prince Mohammed’s policy shift in Iraq is an indication of a broader move away from sectarianism and support for ultra-conservative militants and towards engagement.

The record is mixed. Saudi Shiite activists see little positive change and, if anything, assert that repression in their heartland in the kingdom’s Eastern Province has increased since Prince Mohammed’s rise.

“Bin Salman is already acting like he’s the king of Saudi Arabia. He keeps telling the West that he will reform Islam, but he keeps raiding the homes of Shia and stripping us of any political rights,” one activist said.

Nonetheless, a Saudi-funded Bangladeshi plan to build moderate mosques to counter militancy, the kingdom’s relinquishing of control of the Grand Mosque in Brussels, and the newly found propagation of tolerance and inter-faith dialogue by the government-controlled World Muslim League that for decades funded ultra-conservatism globally would suggest that Saudi money may be invested in attempting to curb the impact of the kingdom’s decades-long support of ultra-conservatism.

There are, however, also indications that Prince Mohammed is not averse to funding militants when it suits his geopolitical purpose. Saudi funds have flowed since his rise in 2015 to militant religious seminaries in the Pakistani province of Balochistan at a time that the kingdom was drafting plans to destabilize Iran by exploiting grievances and stirring unrest among Iran’s ethnic minorities, including the Baloch. Those plans have not left the drawing board and may never do so, but ultra-conservative militants figure prominently in them.
Nevertheless, the magnitude of the shifting of gears in Saudi policy towards Iraq as well as other steps that Prince Mohammed has taken to curb, redirect, and reduce, if not halt, Saudi support for militant ultra-conservatism is highlighted by the conclusions of a 2002 study of funding of political violence conducted by the New York-based Council of Foreign Relations.

Coming in the wake of the 9/11 attacks when Saudi funding and counter-terrorism cooperation with the United States was put under the magnifying glass, the study suggested that the kingdom’s global support for ultra-conservatism was woven into its fabric.

“It may well be the case that if Saudi Arabia…were to move quickly to share sensitive financial information with the United States, regulate or close down Islamic banks, incarcerate prominent  Saudi citizens or surrender them to international authorities, audit Islamic charities, and investigate the hawala system—just a few of the steps that nation would have to take—it would be putting its current system of governance at significant political risk,” the study warned.

In many ways, Saudi support for the Iraqi insurgency was a textbook example of the decades-long, $100 billion Saudi campaign to confront Iran globally by promoting ultra-conservatism and sectarianism and in a minority of countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia Herzegovina, Iraq and Syria – funding violence.

Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi scholar with close ties to the government, said Saudi options at the height of the Sunni Muslim insurgency included supplying the insurgents with the same type of funding, arms and logistical support that Iran was giving to Shiite armed groups. Another option, he said, was to create new Sunni brigades to combat the Iranian-backed militias. “Saudi engagement in Iraq carries great risks -- it could spark a regional war. So be it: The consequences of inaction are far worse,” Mr. Obaid said in 2006.

US and Iraqi officials at the time suspected Saudi Arabia of covertly supporting sectarian Sunni jihadist insurgents opposed to the US military presence in the country and the rise of a Shia-dominated government. While there was no evidence of government assistance, the lines between the actions of private citizens and authorities were and remain often blurred in the kingdom.

An Iraq Study Group report in 2006 at the height of the Sunni Muslim insurgency concluded that "funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states."

Without identifying them, Iraqi officials asserted that funds were also flowing from Saudi charities that often operated as governmental non-government organizations. They said some of the funds had been channelled through Saudi clerics who decided who the beneficiary would be.

Truck drivers at the time described transporting boxes of cash from Saudi Arabia that were destined for insurgents. The transports frequently coincided with pilgrimages to Mecca.

"They sent boxes full of dollars and asked me to deliver them to certain addresses in Iraq. I know it is being sent to the resistance, and if I don't take it with me, they will kill me," one driver said. He said he was instructed to hide the money from authorities at the Iraqi border.

One official said $25 million was sent by a Saudi religious scholar to a senior Iraqi Sunni cleric who bought Russian Strela shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles on the black market in Romania. Baath Party loyalists claimed at the time that a US Air Force F-16 jet that crashed while flying in support of American soldiers fighting insurgents in Anbar province had been downed by a Strela. The US military denied the claim.

"We have stockpiles of Strelas and we are going to surprise them (the Americans)," a spokesman for the party, said.

The Iraqi cleric involved in the purchase of the missiles was suspected to be Sheikh Harith Sulaiman al-Dhari, a tribal chieftain dubbed "the Spiritual Leader of the Iraqi Resistance" with a lineage of opposition to foreign rule dating back to the killing in 1920 of a British colonel by his father and grandfather. Iraqi authorities issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Al-Dhari in late 2006, who has since passed away, on charges of inciting sectarian violence after he visited Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s approach to Iraq has come a long way since the days of the insurgency. The question is whether the kingdom will draw a lesson from its success in the way it manages its regional rivalry with Iran. So far, there is little indication that Iraq is more than the exception that confirms the rule.

Said political analyst Hussein Ibish in a just published study of Saudi-Iraqi relations: “Iraq is the only major regional battleground at present in which Saudi Arabia is relying almost entirely on carrots rather than sticks. Yet, arguably, more has been accomplished by Riyadh over the past year in Iraq than, for example, in either Yemen or Lebanon… Saudi Arabia’s outreach in Iraq, particularly in 2017, belies the stereotype of a rash, reckless, and uncontrolled new major regional actor, showing instead that Saudi Arabia can be deft and delicate when it wants to. That’s an important lesson for the rest of the world, but also for Saudi Arabia itself, to ponder.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa, and the forthcoming China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom

“How Come?” Questions

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

by Andrew Levine / Counterpunch.

Photo by Elvert Barnes | CC BY 2.0

There are many reasons why American politics often seems more baffling than the politics of other so-called democracies.

These would include un- and anti-democratic provisions enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and statutory law, the duopoly party system that the Democratic and Republican Parties have concocted over the years, and spillovers from the economic into the political realm.

With increasing economic inequality and Supreme Court rulings that have turned “campaign contributions,” political corruption by another name, into Constitutionally protected free speech, the spillover problem has become especially egregious in recent years.

Add to that a powerful propaganda system — run mainly by private corporations – that dumbs down and degrades public discourse.

I don’t just mean Fox and Breitbart and others of their ilk.  Because of their hold over a sizeable portion of the population, they are a menace. On the merits, however, they are not worth being taken seriously; their “journalism” is beneath contempt.

The propaganda system I have in mind is the one led by ostensibly respectable purveyors of news and opinion — such as the two “liberal” cable networks, MSNBC and CNN, National Public Radio, The New York Times and TheWashington Post.

Their ability to shape public opinion is so powerful and their influence is so pervasive that the ridiculousness of much of what passes for gospel truth in the political arena is seldom even acknowledged.

One of the things they do, in order to obfuscate reality and denigrate the “bad guys” of the hour, is use key words in misleading and tendentious ways.

Loosen the wool that is so tightly pulled over peoples’ eyes, however, and “how come?” questions that, properly considered, lay bare what is going on come immediately to mind.

Conceptually rigorous, historically informed reflection is often indispensable for making sense of the political scene.   “How come?” questions are different.  Hidden in plain view, their answers are usually obvious as can be.

Here are two timely examples:

How come some countries have “regimes” while others have “governments”?  And how come we Americans are governed by “administrations”?

“Regime” can be, and often is, used to denote entire ensembles of social, political, and economic institutions.  “Governments,” then, would be components of regimes.

However, in our propaganda system, “regime” has sinister implications.  It is used to denote foreign governments that the American government holds in disfavor.

Bashar al-Assad heads a regime; Vladimir Putin does too.  He moved into “regime” territory by complicating American machinations in Ukraine.  Then his support for Assad got him ensconced there.

Needless to say, none of this would have played out in quite the way that it has had our military and our “defense” industries and those whose economic fortunes depend upon them not found themselves in need of a more robust and terrifying enemy than the ones available to them since the Cold War ended.

Before the Arab Spring in Syria turned into a civil war, Assad was a force for regional stability. Back then too, the Syrian government was more or less friendly to the United States, and vice versa.

That changed in the course of the shifting alliances that emerged as the Syrian civil war took shape.  Thus the Syrian government nowadays is the very model of a “regime,” a paradigm case. It is also, as everybody “knows,” a regime led by a vicious dictator who likes to kill his own people with poison gas.

Meanwhile, Benjamin Netanyahu, a man every bit as malevolent and depraved as Assad, heads a government, not a “regime,” notwithstanding the fact that, with the support of almost the entire Israeli political class and the acquiescence or worse of the four-fifths of the Israeli population that is ethnically Jewish, the Israel Defense Forces, “the most moral army in the world,” uses live ammunition to kill scores and maim hundreds of peaceful demonstrators on its border with Gaza. The propaganda system is powerful indeed.

The three mad bombers of Syria — Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron, and the supremely iniquitous Donald Trump, also head governments, not regimes, even though they, Trump especially, support Israeli shooters far more extensively than the Russians support Syrians accused of deploying poison gas.

When those three and others like them talk about “regime change” what they have in mind has little to do with regimes, strictly speaking, and everything to do with changing the governments of countries whose sovereignty they have violated or would like to violate.

In most instances, this would not even involve changing basic political institutions, much less the social or economic context in which they operate.  The regime changes bandied about in Washington and European capitals amount to little more than the replacement of insufficiently submissive leaders by more biddable ones.

Regime change in the narrow, propagandistic sense was seldom if ever an explicitly proclaimed objective of either side during the Cold War that ended a quarter century ago. Ironically, though, regime change in its theoretically sounder and more expansive sense actually was a goal of the contending parties.

The United States and its allies wanted to bring the Soviets, the Chinese and their “satellites” into the American fold – by installing or restoring capitalism and by transforming their institutional arrangements and political practices in ways that facilitate American domination.

The reality was different because the Soviet Union was never in any position to dominate more developed Western countries, but, at least in theory, the Soviet side sought world domination too; a point persistently drummed into Americans’ heads.

The Cold War that the West has been stirring up for the past several years is different.   It could hardly not be.  Such differences as there may be in the political economic systems of Russia and the United States are not worth fighting over; they are not what set the sides apart.

When they speak of “the Putin regime” in Western capitals and on Western media, the point is to deride the Russian government and its leader; not its economic system, which is, for all practical purposes, the same as the West’s.

And, self-righteous posturing aside, Western countries could care less about Russia’s institutions or their impact on the Russian people.  Their quarrel is with the Russian government or rather with the Russian president and the persons closest to him.

It is different with Syria and other less developed countries.  But ever since Bush-era neoconservatives led the United States and its “coalition partners” to disaster in Afghanistan and Iraq, nobody wants to take on what true regime change would entail; “nation building” is expensive and, worse still, bound to fail.

Therefore nowadays, “regime change” means nothing more extensive or radical than personnel changes in the upper echelons of the state and the economy.

And yet, media flunkies automatically use “regime” and “government” in the tendentious ways that their corporate bosses – and their bosses’ class brothers and sisters – favor.  Largely for this reason, the general public does so too.

Whatever else our propaganda system may be, it is frighteningly efficient at winning over “hearts and minds.”

There is an additional wrinkle as well.   Our media, and therefore nearly everyone influenced by them, call the American government, or at least the part of it where executive power resides, an “administration.”

This effectively takes real politics out of the discussion – not the electoral craziness corporate media obsess about, but genuine contestation over the distribution of benefits and burdens and over the course that state institutions ought to follow.

Ironically, there is a sense in which, in doing so, they are following a more worthy precedent.

In the Anti-Dühring (1877), Friedrich Engels famously contrasted “the governance of persons” with “the administration of things.”  His idea was that, after successful proletarian revolutions, as class conflicts are overcome in transitions from socialism to communism, the state, the nexus of institutional arrangements through which class conflicts are organized and managed for the benefit of ruling classes, withers away.

His reflections on these matters are part of a larger Marxist account of the structure and direction of human history.  Obviously, the American propaganda system has no interest in anything like that.  Otherwise, though, what Engels meant by “administration” is essentially what those who fashion and run our propaganda system have in mind.

Their idea, like his, is that with fundamental social divisions overcome, governance devolves into management; as what was once a politically contested set of institutions and policies that functioned to coordinate conflicting class interests (in accord with the interests of the economically dominant class), devolves into a technical problem of coordinating the various parts of a large organization whose basic goals are uncontested.

That governments only “administer” might seem an odd thing to claim in a political world as polarized as ours, but there is a certain, unintended, wisdom implicit in that understanding.  On matters of little consequence to economic elites, American politics is polarized as can be.   But the underlying social and political policies endorsed by both duopoly parties are essentially the same.

However paradoxical it might seem, our elections are therefore devoid of political dimensions, except at the margins or in relatively trivial respects.

How come the bad guys have oligarchs, while we have plutocrats, some of whom are, as Obama famously said, just “savvy businessmen”?

Like “regime,” “oligarch” is another good word that the propaganda system has appropriated and misused.

Since Aristotle, if not before, oligarchy designated forms of government in which “the few” rule.  The contrast was with democracy, literally the rule of the “demos” (in contrast to the rule of elites), but in practice the rule of “the many.” Oligarchs did not have to be rich; they were not, for example, in ancient Sparta, Aristotle’s paradigm case.

Strictly speaking, Russia is not an oligarchy any more than the United States is.  Neither is it a “dictatorship.”  It has a strong state, lorded over by an authoritarian leader with illiberal attitudes, but then, nowadays, the United States does too. The difference is just that Putin is better at it than Trump.

Like the United States, Russia has obscenely rich people who enjoy inordinate political influence.  Call them “plutocrats” on that account; “plutocracy” means the rule of the rich.   But, just as in the United States, Russian plutocrats do not run the state – not in theory, and not in practice either.  They are therefore not oligarchs in the strict sense.

It was not always so. In the Soviet system, the “commanding heights” of major social, political and economic institutions were effectively run by the Communist Party; and the Party itself was hierarchically structured to such a degree that it would not be far-fetched to hold that the definition of oligarchy, rule of the few, correctly applied.

Those days are over.  Today’s Russian “oligarchs” are just plutocrats who happen to be from Russia and other currently out of favor, former Soviet republics.

They differ from our plutocrats in at least one other key respect: for the most part they started out not as “kleptocrats.”  That descriptively apt term has no theoretical meaning, apart from what its etymology implies.  After the Fall of Communism, while reversion to a more primitive and irrational capitalist economic system was underway, thieves (of formerly public property) effectively ran the state.

With privatization proceeding at a feverish pace, leading figures from the old regime, seized opportunities to enrich themselves by taking over state assets.  To do this, they needed political help.  Throughout the Brezhnev era, that help was forthcoming; the level of corruption and venality was extreme.

But, again, the kleptocrats were, if anything, closer to being oligarchs under Communism than in the Wild West capitalism of the post-Communist era.

Indeed, it was only after Communism imploded, that they became truly rich. Under Communism, incumbents of top positions, members of the so-called nomenklatura, had greater access to goods and services and other amenities than average citizens.  But they were not rich by Western standards.  The capitalist world is full of people, far from the seats of power, richer than they.

Nevertheless, calling them “oligarchs” and using their wealth against them makes sense insofar as the idea is to use the very thought of their nefariousness to advance the interests of nefarious American plutocrats.

From time immemorial, “oligarchy” has contrasted with “democracy.”  The gap between the real world of Western democracy and the democracy of political philosophers is enormous, of course, but defenders of the status quo in “democratic” countries would be at a loss if they had to face the implications of this plain fact.

But they are not beyond using words, deliberately or not, to obfuscate the reality they refuse to confront; not beyond, for example, depicting Russian “oligarchs” as sworn enemies of American democracy – as if our homegrown plutocrats, with our bipartisan political class and their media flunkies in tow, weren’t already doing a far better job of undermining what little democracy we have than faraway Russians possibly could.

Meanwhile, giving “plutocrats” a pass or cutting them slack or even, like Obama, praising their business acumen whenever an appropriate situation arises, is as American as open carry laws and apple pie.

But for the deeply engrained inclination of distressingly many Americans to glorify individuals, no matter how loathsome, who succeed in business, the fact that our “populists” embrace Donald Trump and others like him would be inconceivable.

But embrace him, they do. Evidently, even wealth acquired by inheritance and augmented by shady business deals and by stiffing creditors, contractors and workers, is, as Trump’s hapless evangelical supporters might say, an outward sign of inward grace.

Even so, the fact that loyalty to Trump has survived more than fifteen months of Trump’s tenure in office seems almost preternaturally unfathomable.

Hypocrisy, ignorance, stupidity, and the echo chamber of rightwing pseudo-journalists and media pundits explain a lot.  No doubt, the understandable reluctance of the conman’s marks to face up to the plain fact that they have been snookered is a factor too.

But the main cause is that our “regime’s” propagandists ply their trade well.

However, their deceptions are easily defeated.  It is often enough just to throw off the blinders, face reality squarely, and use a little common sense.

It will then become obvious how strange much that we are made to take for granted is, as “how come?” questions tumble out, and the miasma that engulfs us lifts just a little.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

The Victims in Gaza and Douma

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By David William Pear. April 17, 2018

[First Published by The Greanville Post]

In their book Manufacturing Consent Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky distinguished between two kinds of victims:  the worthy victims and the unworthy victims.  The “worthy victims” are the victims (real and alleged) of leaders on the U.S. enemies list, such as Bashar al-Assad.  The “unworthy victims” are those of the U.S. and its client states, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. led cabal calling itself the “international community” is outraged when there are worthy victims.  For example the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley holds up pictures of dead Syrian babies for the world to see.  Worthy victims are granted human rights, and Assad deserves our outrage.

Unworthy victims for example are the 50,000 Yemeni children who have died of starvation because of Saudi Arabia’s total blockade of Yemen, including blockading food, water and medicine.  Unworthy victims are blamed for being victims and ignored by the international community and the mainstream media.  Unworthy victims have no human rights.  Yemen is a humanitarian disaster that is ignored, because Saudi Arabia is a friend of the U.S.A.

There is no outrage from the U.S. when Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad bin Salman (MsB) is dropping U.S. manufactured bombs from U.S. manufactured airplanes and indiscriminately slaughtering Yemeni men, women and children.   MsB is the new darling of the neocons, and Thomas Friedman writes words of praise as if it is really cool to be an absolute monarch in the 21st century.  The late Robert Parry described Friedman and the neocons as being “disconnected from reality”.

For weeks now, tens of thousands of Gazans have been legally protesting for their right to return to their homes in Palestine.  There is no outrage when Netanyahu and his regime orders Israeli soldiers to massacre them.  Hundreds of Palestinians were gunned down on Land Day and during demonstrations for the Right to Return.  Netanyahu has the full support of the U.S. so there is no outrage and he will not pay for his crimes.  Netanyahu has every reason to believe that the U.S. will protect him, as the U.S. has many times in the past.  Nikki Haley is not going to hold up pictures of dead Palestinian children.  Instead she will shield Netanyahu from criticism, and accuse his critics of being anti-Semitic.  Netanyahu’s victims are unworthy victims.

The Palestinians that were massacred in Gaza were inside the Israeli enclosure that has been their prison for over a decade.  They were on Palestinian land.  They presented no danger to the Israeli soldiers that were on the Israeli side of the barricade.  The soldiers had telescopic sights on their rifles and fired from a distance of over 100 yards away.  Hundreds of Palestinians were shot with illegal fragmentation bullets that have been banned by the 1899 Hague Declaration.  Netanyahu’s orders were illegal and the soldiers committed war crimes by following illegal orders.  The Nuremberg Trials of Nazis after World War Two declared that “just following orders” is not a defense against war crimes.

Two million Palestinian refugees have been trapped in Gaza for over a decade.  Gaza has been turned into an inhumane open-air concentration camp.  The people in Gaza have been cut off from the outside world.  They are living under a blockade and Israel controls everything and anything that goes in or out of the Gaza Strip.  What goes in is barely enough food for Gazans to survive.  Netanyahu jokes that he has put Gaza on a diet.  The sick, wounded and dying are not allowed to get out of Gaza to go to a hospital for medical treatment without Israeli permission.  Netanyahu rarely gives that permission.  Netanyahu’s victims are unworthy victims and are blamed for being victims.

In 2006 Israel tightened the noose around Gaza’s neck by imposing a total blockade by air, land and sea of Palestinians living in Gaza.  The supposed crime for which Israel imposed an illegal collective punishment on Gazans is that they democratically elected the wrong government, against Israel’s wishes.  Instead of electing the Israeli controlled Palestinian National Liberation Movement, known as Fatah, Gazans elected the Islamic Resistance Movement, known as Hamas.  Israel used to consider Fatah a terrorist organization, but now it does not because they are collaborators.  Instead Israel, which secretly backed the formation of Hamas in a divide and conquer strategy, now considers Hamas a terrorist organization.  Netanyahu falsely accuses that the demonstrators are Hamas terrorists.

Netanyahu has killed and wounded journalist reporting from Gaza.  They are unworthy victims so there is no outcry from the mainstream media about killing journalists.  The mainstream media repeatedly accuses Russia’s president Vladimir Putin of (allegedly) killing journalists, and there is an outcry because they are worthy victims.  The U.S. has imposed economic sanctions on Russia.  Israel gets billions of dollars in U.S. financial aid every year, regardless of what crimes Netanyahu commits.  Putin’s supposed crimes are that Russia has given aid to the breakaway region of Ukraine after a U.S. sponsored fascist regime change in Kiev.  Putin is accused of invading Crimea when the Crimeans voted in a referendum to rejoin their historical attachment to Russia.  Putin is vilified for (allegedly) meddling in U.S. politics.  Netanyahu gets standing ovations from the U.S. Congress.

Netanyahu has been illegally occupying the West Bank of Palestine, and he is building illegal Israeli settlements there.  Netanyahu thumbs his nose at international law.  The U.S. has vetoed 43 U.N. resolutions against Israel.  Nikki Haley says that Putin is an obstructionist for vetoing a U.N. resolution condemning Assad for an alleged chemical weapons attack, without any evidence.  The U.S. tried to block an investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) of the alleged chemical weapon attack site in Syria.  The OPCW says it will investigate anyway.

President Trump’s order to attack Syria based on an alleged use of chemical weapons is a violation of international law.  The U.S. is not the international policeman, judge and executioner.   Article 2, section 4 of the U.N. Charter states:

“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

The only legal uses of force according to the U.N. Charter are for self-defense and when force is authorized by the U.N. Security Council.  Violations of the U.N. Charter are also a violation of the U.S. Constitution under Article VI which states:

“…all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land.”

The U.N. Charter is a treaty that was signed by the President of the United States and ratified by the U.S. Senate.  Under the U.S. Constitution the U.N. Charter is the “supreme law of the land” in the U.S., as well as internationally.

Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights everyone has a presumption of innocence until proven guilty before a court of law.  The U.S. does not have the right to declare a sentence before there is a trial and verdict.  Article 66 of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court entitles those accused of crimes the “presumption of innocence” and further says:

“The onus is on the Prosecutor to prove the guilt of the accused.  In order to convict the accused, the Court must be convinced of the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.”

We do not even know if a crime has been committed.  There has been no investigation yet.  There is considerable reason for doubt.  Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh and others (Robert Fisk, Ron Paul, Jeffrey Sachs, former U.K. ambassador to Syria Peter Ford, Fox News Tucker Carlson, Larry Wilkerson, etc.) have raised serious doubts about the alleged chemical weapons attack by Assad. There are no known facts about the latest alleged chemical weapon attack, or the past alleged attacks either.

The unproven allegation of chemical weapons comes from U.S. backed terrorists that have been waging a war against the Syrian people for over 7 years.  It has been widely reported and documented that the alleged chemical weapon attacks, supposedly perpetrated by Assad, have been false flags and faked.  The terrorists have been reported to have chemical weapons in their arsenal.  If chemical weapons were used in any of the attacks they could have come from the terrorists themselves.

It is well known that the U.S. has been behind the war against Assad, and that the U.S. admittedly is backing terrorists in a U.S. regime change projects.  The dead and wounded of U.S. aggression during the 21st century number in the millions of people in over half a dozen countries.  The mainstream media ignores the magnitude of the wars of U.S. aggression, and the U.S. people mainly go about their day to day activities as if nothing is happening.  Since the U.S. is allegedly a democracy and has freedom of the press, then U.S. citizens and the U.S. mainstream media are responsible for the actions of their government.  Ignorance of the law about what their government is doing is not an excuse.

Under international law the Palestinians have a right to resist the illegal military occupation of Palestine that has been going on since 1967.  But Israel does not have the right to impose collective punishment, deny refugees the right to return home, to confiscate land, impose indefinite detention, torture prisoners and restrict the free movement of civilians; nor to confine them in inhumane living conditions in Gaza.  Israel is acting no different than the Nazis did against the Jews in 1939 when they enclosed Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto.  Just like the Warsaw Ghetto, Gaza is unlivable, the people are starving, the water is contaminated, disease is rampant, and Israel has systematically destroyed their homes and civilian infrastructure.

Israel routinely shoots to kill anyone or anything entering a “no man’s land” buffer zone inside Gaza.  It even has remote controlled machine guns and other indiscriminant instruments of death within the buffer zone.  When tens of thousands of unarmed demonstrators approached the buffer zone, the Israeli military snippers were prepared to massacre them.  Netanyahu says that Israel has the most moral army in the world.  Massacring unarmed civilians is immoral.

The demonstrations in commemoration of Land Day and protests for the Right to Return have been announced in advance.  Israel opened fire and massacred demonstrators, killing and critically wounding hundreds of Palestinians, including clearly identified journalist, such as Yasser Murtaja.  The massacre of unarmed civilians who are demonstrating on their own land is a clear violation of international law, and a crime against humanity.  On April 3rd the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem called on Israeli soldiers to refuse illegal orders to shoot unarmed civilians saying:

“The use of live ammunition against unarmed persons who pose no danger to anyone is unlawful. It is even more blatantly unlawful in the case of soldiers firing from a great distance at demonstrators located on the other side of the fence that separates Israel from the Gaza Strip. In addition, it is impermissible to order soldiers to fire live ammunition at individuals for approaching the fence, damaging it, or attempting to cross it.”

Under international law commanders giving the orders to shoot unarmed civilians and individual soldiers who do so could be charged with wars crimes by the International Criminal Court.  That is not likely to happen anytime soon because the U.S. protects Israel and allows Netanyahu to literally get away with murder.  Netanyahu’s victims are unworthy.

---

David is a progressive columnist writing on economic, political and social issues. His articles have been published by OpEdNews, The Greanville Post, The Real News Network, Truth Out, Consortium News, Global Research, and many other publications.   David is active in social issues relating to peace, race relations and religious freedom, homelessness and equal justice. David is a member of Veterans for Peace, Saint Pete for Peace, CodePink, and International Solidarity Movement.

Bombing Syria would be both dangerous and illegal

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Mohamed Elmaazi

Britain and its ‘Allies’ have helped arm warring Syrian factions, fuelled conflict, spurned refugees. Now they want to punish Assad’s alleged war crimes by committing war crimes of their own.

Image: Kobani during bombing by US-led coalition in 2014. PA Images/Depo photos/ABACA, all rights reserved.

Despite all the moral hand-wringing, international law forbids nations from attacking each other, outside of Security Council approval or in self-defence, and alleged use of chemical weapons is no exception. Western media and politicians are once again calling for our governments to commit what Nuremberg Judges labelled the “supreme international crime”. They risk further escalating the conflict despite a lack of independent verification as to what actually happened in Douma, eastern Ghouta.

Something must be done

We once again find ourselves surrounded by a hypocritical, self-righteous and war-mongering echo chamber. Liberals and Conservatives, with few exceptions, all appear to agree the question is not whether the UK and US shall be launching military strikes against Syria, but rather when, and with what level of payload.

The scene is all too familiar. Unverified (though certainly possible) use of chemical weapons. Crying children. Pictures and videos of people being hosed off in medical facilities. How can anyone not be moved to “do something” rather than “stand by and do nothing”?

Unfortunately, the only “something” being offered to the British, American and French public is the launching of a military assault (of an unspecified nature) inside Syria - a sovereign state - which has attacked neither Britain, America or France. Humanitarian options like taking in refugees beyond the measly 11,000 or so that Britain has grudgingly accepted thus far, are not on the table. The only response by an apparent use of violence by the Syrian government is even more violence by the self-proclaimed leaders of the “free world”.

The situation has reached boiling point with Russia officially stating that they will “[shoot] down” US missiles and “even the sources from which the missiles were fired". The state of Israel has already launched strikes within Syria, also without any legal justification whatsoever, apparently killing 14 Iranians. Iran has vowed to retaliate against the attack. Now it appears May won’t even seek permission from parliament before she drags the country further into the war in Syria, having been pushed relentlessly by the British press and political class to “act” now.

This already multi-layered conflict risks snowballing even further, without any concrete evidence as to what exactly happened, as former Marine Corps intelligence officer and weapons inspector, Scott Ritter outlines in his important piece for the American Conservative.

First Nations Leaders Pledge to Block Pipeline Expansion

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

Richard Fidler, Stewart Phillip and Serge Simon

At the 2015 Paris COP 21 climate conference Justin Trudeau pledged his newly-elected government would help “to limit global average temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius as well as pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees.”

The strategy adopted was two-pronged and contradictory on its face: implementing gradual carbon price increases through carbon taxes or cap-and-trade mechanisms while building more pipeline capacity to boost exports of fossil-fuel resources, especially the products of Alberta’s tar sands.

Burnaby protest March 10 against Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline project.

As environmentalists noted, the approach was inherently futile. Carbon taxes – contingent on provincial government consent – assumed higher costs would induce businesses to introduce less climate-destroying technology and practices. And provincial consent was dependent on the federal commitment to pipeline development, which inevitably would promote further fossil fuel exploration and production.

From the outset, Ottawa has faced opposition to carbon taxes from some provinces, which fear such market-based mechanisms will discourage private business investment. And mass popular opposition accompanied by the global downturn in resource prices has already led to TransCanada’s cancellation of its $15.7-billion Energy East project and Ottawa’s nixing of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline. Although U.S. President Donald Trump has now reversed Obama’s stop to Keystone XL, its future is still in doubt in the face of opposition from U.S. environmental activists.

Doubling Pipeline Output

That leaves Kinder Morgan’s plan to duplicate its existing Trans Mountain pipeline. It entails a $7.4-billion duplication of an existing pipeline from Alberta, with a three-fold increase in capacity, that would carry tar sands bitumen to a refinery in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby. From there tanker traffic to hoped-for Asian markets would increase from a current five boats per month to an estimated 34 threading their way through coastal tidal straits. The plan has become the linchpin of the Trudeau government’s hope to win support for its approach from an Alberta government eager to get its petroleum to tidewater, and which has hinged its carbon tax on completion of the Trans Mountain project.1

The economic prospects behind the Kinder Morgan project are suspect, given the declining prospects globally for new fossil-fuel export markets.2 More importantly, it is facing mounting protests from environmental and First Nations activists. In recent weeks, dozens of demonstrators at the Burnaby refinery have been arrested on trespassing charges. The newly-elected minority NDP government, dependent on support from the Green party, which opposes Kinder Morgan, has joined in legal challenges to the project. This has brought the B.C. government into conflict with Alberta’s, likewise held by the New Democratic Party.

However, both governments have been boosting fossil-fuel exports.

B.C. premier John Horgan says he will limit the province’s carbon tax rules applying to a $40-billion Shell Canada-led LNG project in Kitimat. He prepared the way for that project when he recently gave the go-ahead to completion of the $10.7-billion Site C dam in northern B.C., which the NDP had campaigned against prior to its election last year. The dam will provide electricity to the Kitimat project.

Alberta premier Rachel Notley has been negotiating with Ottawa to exempt tar-sands projects from federal climate reviews. B.C.’s support of the Kitimat LNG project while opposing Trans Mountain as environmentally unsafe is “hypocrisy,” she notes, because it will be processing shale gas extracted in Alberta.

Meanwhile, the OECD warned in December that “without a drastic decrease in the emissions intensity of the oilsands industry, the projected increase in oil production may seriously risk the achievement of Canada’s climate mitigation targets.” The report noted that Canada has the fourth largest greenhouse gas emissions of the OECD’s 35 developed national economies. As for carbon taxes, it said, Canada’s regime “is far below that of other OECD member countries.”

Then, on April 8 Texas-based Kinder Morgan announced it was suspending “non-essential” spending on the Trans Mountain project and would cancel it altogether if by May 31 it was not “guaranteed” the project could proceed despite the B.C. opposition.

The announcement produced a flurry of panic-stricken reaction from Canadian business elites, their media, and the Alberta and federal governments. Surely, it was exclaimed, Ottawa has the constitutional authority to override B.C.’s opposition – especially in a matter so eminently in the “national interest,” as Trudeau and Notley constantly reiterate. To ensure the project proceeds, both governments have even indicated interest in buying a stake in Kinder Morgan, if not the entire company, investing billions of taxpayer dollars in this climate-destroying enterprise.

However, their dilemma is that even federal “guarantees” of the project will not insulate it from popular protest. In fact, it will only generate more opposition. The fight over Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain project is far from over.

And there are some huge stakes involved, much greater than the fate of governments and their supposed “climate change” strategies. The broader issues are eloquently set out in a powerful statement authored by two First Nations chiefs and reproduced below. Their promise of militant direct action is redolent of the “blockadia” advocated by Naomi Klein in her best-selling book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. And it echoes the Leap Manifesto, co-authored by Klein, which proclaims: This leap to “a country powered entirely by renewable energy… must begin by respecting the inherent rights and title of the original caretakers of this land,” the Indigenous communities that “have been at the forefront of protecting rivers, coasts, forests and lands from out-of-control industrial activity.” •

– Richard Fidler

If Ottawa Rams Through Trans Mountain, It Could Setup an Oka-like Crisis

Stewart Phillip and Serge Simon

As the federal and Alberta governments continue to pull their hair out over the B.C. government’s stand against Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and tanker project, it’s important to point out, as we’ve been doing for years, that the pipeline company doesn’t have the consent of all First Nations along the route. In fact, many of them are strongly opposed to the project.

Kinder Morgan’s recent announcement that it is stopping all but essential spending proves that its shareholders are starting to understand the degree and depth of the Indigenous-led opposition movement to this pipeline project.

The Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion is made up of 150 Indigenous Nations in Canada and the United States, dozens of which are located along the Kinder Morgan pipeline route, with many of them having launched legal actions against the Kinder Morgan project.

Further, Indigenous Nations are supported by a quickly growing and broad-based network of support from allied Canadians who understand the existential threat that humanity faces from climate change and who are ready to stand up against the injustices still carried out today against Indigenous people.

More than 20,000 people have signed the Coast Protectors pledge to do whatever it takes to stop the pipeline. Thousands took part in a March 10 solidarity rally at the Kinder Morgan gates on Burnaby mountain.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has a decision to make. It can cut its losses and realize it simply made a mistake in approving the project. Or the Trudeau government can double down on its current path. But Canadians should be very clear-eyed about what that represents. It represents more than a failure of climate leadership. It means going back to the Stephen Harper days when Canada’s reputation on the climate file was mud.

Importantly, it also means going back to colonial-era relations with Indigenous people. In fact, if the federal government tries to ram through this pipeline, it could mean going back to one of the darkest times in modern Canadian history: the Oka standoff with the Mohawk Nation.

We just witnessed the ugly and shameful crackdown in the United States on the peaceful anti-pipeline protests at Standing Rock.

We don’t believe that’s the Canada that most Canadians want to live in. It would be a cruel joke indeed if, in this era of “reconciliation,” Canada instead repeats the mistakes of the past.

This is a learning moment for Canada. For far too long, governments and industry thought they could ignore Indigenous people by paying lip service to consulting us all the while doing what they wanted to do anyway.

Canadians are starting to grasp that there are governments and jurisdictions on this great land besides the provinces and the federal government. Indigenous peoples possess the inherent right to govern our territories. Pursuant to that inherent right, you need our free, prior and informed consent to develop our lands, especially when we are talking about a high-risk project such as Kinder Morgan that poses a real risk to those lands and waters and climate.

This is something the Supreme Court of Canada recognized in the historic 2014 Tsilhqot’in decision and it is the foundation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the federal government has agreed to implement.

The other learning moment is that this beleaguered pipeline is forcing Canadians of all ages from all walks of life to begin to imagine a world that is not so reliant on oil. We should be racing as fast as we can to get off oil instead of producing even more of the dirtiest, most polluting kind from the Alberta oil sands.

This is not some typical debate with many sides to it – there’s really just two: right and wrong. Collective survival or collective suicide.

Finally, no one should see this as a constitutional crisis. On the contrary, this is our Constitution3 working, at least in practice, with Indigenous people acting as real decision makers on their territory. At the same time, you’re seeing beautiful acts of real reconciliation with Canadians standing up for our rights and trying to make this country a more just place. And we are finally seeing the kind of climate action that Canada needs and that the Trudeau government refused to take when it approved this pipeline.

The real constitutional crisis will occur if Mr. Trudeau chooses to ignore our constitutionally protected Aboriginal Title and Rights and Treaty Rights, and tries to ram through the pipeline – putting a lie to all his promises of reconciliation and setting Canada up for another catastrophic crisis on the same level as Oka. •

This statement by Stewart Phillip and Serge Simon published on the Globe and Mail website.

Endnotes

  1. Rachel Notley’s government has imposed a $30 per ton tax on carbon emissions, the revenue going mainly to consumer rebates and phasing out (not until 2030!) the province’s coal production, while its cap on tar-sands emissions would still allow a 47.5% increase above 2014 levels. See “What if the Trans Mountain pipeline is never built?
  2. See, for example, “Only Fantasies, Desperation and Wishful Thinking Keep Pipeline Plans Alive,” and “Forget Trans Mountain, here’s the sustainable way forward for Canada’s energy sector.”
  3. Implicitly, a reference to the militant campaign mounted by First Nations leaders and activists in the early 1980s to get some protection for indigenous rights included in Pierre Trudeau’s envisaged Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. At the last moment, Trudeau included “a new section in the charter of rights. It reads ‘The guarantee in this charter of certain rights and freedoms shall not be construed as denying the existence of any other rights or freedoms… that pertain to the native peoples of Canada.’ [Constitutional scholar Edward] McWhinney writes later that the clause carried almost no weight in law; it merely says that there are whatever rights there are, without saying what they are.” That was left to the courts, and to a later constitutional conference that failed to reach a consensus on First Nations rights. See Robert Sheppard and Michael Valpy, The National Deal: The Fight for a Canadian Constitution (Fleet Books, Toronto, 1982), p. 161.

Richard Fidler is an Ottawa activist who blogs at Life on the Left - with a special emphasis on the Quebec national question, indigenous peoples, Latin American solidarity, and the socialist movement and its history.

Stewart Phillip is Grand Chief of Okanagan Nation and president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

Serge ‘Otsi’ Simon is Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake.

Fascistic Politics in India and the Left

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Raju Das / Socialist Project.

India is experiencing something like a national emergency. This is in the form of persistent, nation-wide attacks on the basic democratic rights of ordinary citizens, by hyper-nationalist and communal forces which are supporting, and which are supported by, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). They are especially targeting religious minorities, secularists, Leftists, as well as dalits.

No political project hangs in the air. It must be rooted in material conditions and class relations. Indeed, fundamental to the worldview of the forces playing the politics of religion, is the idolization of free-market economics, and of authoritarian politics supported by a mass movement. Authoritarian politics is necessary to implement free-market economics in the interest of property-owning classes. This is especially so in an unequal, poverty-stricken, relatively backward society like India where millions of people are not only suffering but are also fighting against their conditions, and who therefore have to be suppressed/managed through authoritarian means, if the businesses have to be kept happy.

The ideology and practices of free-market economics and authoritarian politics are dressed up by Right-wing demagogic political leaders, as development (vikas) and as good governance, respectively, and sold to voters in the election market. ‘Development’ and ‘Governance’ are also used, along with hyper-nationalism based in the idea of the supremacy of Hindu religion over other religions, to help produce a mass movement. So, free-market economic ideas/policies, rabid religious nationalist ideology rousing a mass movement, and authoritarian intolerance toward dissent: all these come together and support each other. One term to describe it all is: growing fascistic tendency.

Safron Crush

In India, to win support for their cause, the fascistic forces have been making good use of electoral methods to mobilize the masses. The saffron party (BJP) is now in power in as many as 13 States on its own and another 9 States with an alliance partner, out of 29 States. It is now the dominant party of the ruling class, including financial capital, and it supports, and is supported by, imperialist capital and its states.

The increasing political significance of the fascistic movement under BJP’s political leadership is indicated by the fact that when for the first time in Indian electoral history, there was a direct electoral face-off between the Left and the BJP in March 2018, BJP won. Even though the Left garnered 45% of the votes (down from 48.11% in 2013), the BJP, with its alliance partner won the majority of seats with a vote-share of 50.5%. BJP did so by using money and muscle power, by swallowing up Congress politicians, and by selling the dream of what it calls ‘development’. Shortly after the declaration of the Tripura election results, violent attacks on the communist movement in Tripura by the fascistic movement began. In fact, soon after the results were declared, two statues of Vladimir Lenin were taken down by the saffron mob.1

All these and similar actions demonstrate the Right-wing’s deep disrespect for democratic values. The dominance of Right-wing forces represents a most extreme form of the latent tendency toward an attack on democracy, the tendency that exists in capitalist societies when there is massive inequality and where the most basic needs of the masses remain unmet. For the BJP and indeed for the Sangh Parivar under RSS’s mentorship, one of the main means of acquiring political power is violence against religious minorities, against communists, and against all those who defend democracy and secularism. The question is: what is to be done now?

The remainder of this essay is divided into five sections. The next section deals with the fascistic tendencies as they are manifested in India. The following section talks about Marxist theory of Left politics, and the actually-existing Left politics in India, in terms of its relative strength and weakness, in relation to the fascistic threat. It is followed by a section addressing the question of what is to be done to undermine the fascistic threat? It proposes that Left forces must independently mobilize their basic classes against the fascistic brigade in the extra-electoral sphere, but in the electoral arena, in some cases, they may have to enter into some understanding with bourgeois forces in order to maximize the unity against the BJP. A further section discusses what I call Lenin’s theory of political compromise. Finally, the essay concludes by considering the proposal for the fight against fascistic tendencies outlined in light of Lenin’s theory.

Congress and BJP as two faces of Indian Bourgeois politics, with a difference

Coming out of the anti-colonial movement which it led, Congress has been the traditional party of the post-colonial bourgeoisie, but since the 1990s at least, its influence has been in decline.2 It has failed to significantly raise people’s living standards and to ensure that benefits of capitalist economic growth, to which its neoliberal policies contributed, are distributed in a fair way. BJP has now displaced Congress as the dominant party of the capitalist class, a process that has happened over time. How different and similar are these two political arms of the ruling class?

While Congress plays the religion card (‘soft hindutva’) to win elections and while it has failed to protect the rights of minorities (note that the 1992 mosque demolition happened under a Congress government at the Center), it will generally not go against the principle of secularism to the extent that the BJP does. Its politics is not dominantly based on the politics of sectarian hatred. The politics of hatred is the trademark of BJP.

As far as economic policies, the policies concerning capitalist development, are concerned, there is very little difference between BJP and Congress. Both are enthusiastic supporters of bourgeois class relations, and both support neoliberal forms of capitalism. And capitalists would like to use these parties as their political arms. If anything, BJP is ‘the Right-wing of Congress’. In part because BJP as a capitalist party has to pursue capitalist development like Congress does, it makes use of politics of religious identity and hyper-nationalism to distinguish itself from Congress in order to sell itself in the voter market as a different and unique commodity.

BJP stands for, and is a part of, a fascistic movement with Indian characteristics. BJP is the vanguard of militant political Hinduism. It is the political front of the fascistic movement that is recruiting its cadres from middle class and un- and semi-employed people, by making use of the discourse of the Hindu religion and the Hindutva-based notion of the nation. As a vanguard, it makes use of a variety of resources: the babas (spiritual masters) selling/offering tips, based in religious texts, for mental and spiritual peace; the so-called intellectuals with dubious academic credentials who have suddenly come out of nowhere; RSS cadres who know well how to make ad hominem and physical attacks on those who challenge them.3

There are also a few party spokes-persons who regularly show up on TV channels and who seem to know everything about everything and who forcefully champion the views of the Right-wing forces. Then there are fascistic vigilante groups, which force conformity on people to fascistic practices and ideas. BJP uses all these resources to change people’s way of thinking/practice from one that is based on reason and empirical-historical evidence and that is critical of economic and political power relations, to a way of thinking/practice that does not care (much) about reason or argument and that seeks to assert, at all cost, the supremacy of Hinduism.

That is not all. The fascistic forces are also blatantly pro-business (and pro-market). In India’s contemporary conservative climate, that has been in the making since the late 1980s, what is good for the business class is seen as being good for the nation, where the nation is seen, ultimately, as the territory of the majority-religion (Hinduism). If one says anything against the business class or against the pro-business policies of the government, or against the majority religion, one is considered anti-national. The ideology of the homogenous nation is used to support pro-business policies.

When the Right-wing government gives away to big private business-owners, nation’s land, or state-owned companies that have been built on the contributions of the people of the nation, or when it gives away money from nationalized banks to rich investors who do not return it, and who indeed flee the country, and to whom the government does nothing, or when the government prostrates before American imperialist military strategy making Indian soil available for refuelling U.S. war planes, all this is not anti-national for the Right-wing because all this is done to serve the interests of the nation as the Right-wing sees it. In concrete terms, the notion of the nation deployed by fascistic people, the storm troopers of the capitalists, means this: ‘for your nation, do not ask for higher wages or better working conditions, and give your hand and land for industrialization’.

That BJP is already seen as a political party like any other is indicative of the weakness of Left-democratic culture and the power of communal-political thinking. The corporate-controlled media acting as the propaganda channel of the ruling class has also helped to popularize the saffron agenda. The fact that leaders and spokespersons of BJP and RSS and other elements of the Sangh Parivar in general, have gained a place on TV and academic discussions demonstrates how normalized the fascistic tendencies have been – especially, in the minds of urban middle class people and other strata. Indeed, it is conveniently forgotten now by many that RSS, which is BJP’s spiritual guru and whose foot-army garners votes for BJP, much like the colonialists following the Christian missionaries, has been banned several times in India.

BJP fights elections on the basis of the on-the-ground-work done by the Sangh Parivar ‘missionaries’. Such groundwork includes brutal attacks on communists and on secularists and democrats, as well as charity work (think about RSS-funded network of schools in rural areas, that takes advantage of complete collapse of state-funded education), ideological brain-washing, and false promises creating illusion about its pro-people character. BJP takes advantage of people’s need for religious consciousness in a society where there is massive suffering caused by class relations which BJP itself is an enthusiastic Right-wing supporter of. BJP takes advantage, as well, of people’s economic insecurity which is alleviated by a sense of agency and empowerment when what one does and think has some palpable effect: killing fellow-citizens, destroying a monument, etc.

Prior to major elections, BJP typically resorts to sectarian violence and communal polarization as it is doing in Bihar, Rajasthan, etc. The aim is to cultivate its Hindu vote bank and garner Hindu votes. And when the BJP comes to power, the Sangh Parivar gets support to expand its tentacles inside the state, including educational and coercive institutions. When in power, it also pursues communal politics to satisfy the divisive cultural-political agenda of RSS, and to divert attention from its own failure to improve people’s conditions, a failure that is a given because of its utterly pro-business character.

Underlying all these factors behind BJP’s popularity is the fact that sections of the ruling class itself (the bourgeois and big-landlords), have shifted their loyalty to the BJP from Congress, even if not always willingly. If the ruling class can benefit from BJP’s authoritarianism that helps it implement neoliberal-capitalist policies, why not support it?4 The business class is very happy with the BJP, even if its saffron-fascistic hands are colored red by the murders of minorities, democrats, secularists and communists.

BJP is the political head of an ideologically driven mass movement that is rooted in small-scale producers and un- and under employed people, a movement that attacks democratic and social rights of workers and peasants. It is a movement by common people against common people. The rise of BJP is a part of world-wide Rightwing political trend moving on a fascistic path (Anievas, et al, 2014; Panitch and Albo, 2016).

BJP is a communal and authoritarian force, and represents an attack on democracy and secularism as well as on the living conditions of people and on nation’s sovereignty. True to its Right-wing bourgeois nature, it pursues neoliberal policies to create opportunities for national and imperialist capital. It subordinates India to U.S. or any other form of imperialism, in spite of its demagogic, hypocritical discourse about nationalism. Its notion of nationalism is more a religion-driven mental state rather than a material reality, which can be mobilized against imperialism. Of all bourgeois political movements/ tendencies/parties, the saffron movement, with the BJP at its political core and as its political vanguard, is the most dangerous threat to the communist Left, given that their ideologies are diametrically opposite. It is a threat to everyone who is committed to the culture of decency in public discourse, to democracy, secularism and rational dissent. In so far as BJP is all this, it must be the target of an all-out fight, a fight on economic, political and ideological fronts.

What is the Left to do to fight fascistic tendencies?

The main method of the fight against communal-fascistic politics must be class-based. Such a class politics requires a much stronger Left than exists now, and that presupposes principled Left unity. Such unity must produce a gradually expanding united front of Left forces as representatives of workers and semi-proletarians, the forces which exist separately and strike together, and which deploy the full spectrum of parliamentary and extra-parliamentary methods, with the primacy given to the latter. The Left must mobilize workers and small-scale producers affiliated to it and must attract workers and small-scale producers who may not be and who may be with non-communist secular parties, to fight fascistic forces in every possible way, and wherever these forces operate, including on the street. What should be targeted are not only the political and cultural views of these forces (their attack on democratic rights and secularism, their hyper-nationalism, etc.) but also their pro-business economic and pro-imperialist, policies.

The electoral sphere is indeed one of the spheres in which class struggle happens. With respect to the fight against fascistic tendencies, a small aspect of the fight of the Left – and indeed fight for economic concessions and fight for socialism – must be the fight in the electoral sphere. The word ‘small’ is used to refer to the fact that the Left’s electoral activity must be subordinated to its overall political-ideological struggle, and to its extra-electoral struggle. The struggle within the electoral sphere, which is important given that liberal democracy is a shell of Indian capitalism, has many dimensions. Winning a few seats in the parliaments/assemblies, etc. gives the Left a chance to make its voice of reason heard.

An important part of the protracted process of class struggle is an attempt to stop a fascistic party from coming to power and from making use of state’s resources to attack social and democratic rights of ordinary people and to destroy – or at least severely weaken – the communist movement. Between various forms of bourgeois government, some forms are more conducive to class-mobilizational work by the Left than other forms, so the Left cannot be neutral to which forms of bourgeois government exist, just as it cannot be neutral toward whether capitalism is peasant capitalism or landlord capitalism. A government that is run by fascistic, communal and hyper-nationalistic elements, a government that attacks democratic rights as well as living standards of people, is the least conducive to class-based movements. One can see this when communists are hurt, statues of communist icons are demolished, communist offices are ransacked, and so on.

The process of fighting for a new society must include the fight for the very conditions for that fight. The Left must fight for these conditions. It must make sure that the Right-wing government – a major source of, and a major expression of, the power of the fascistic movement – must go, and that a secular government is in place, which has a reasonable amount of respect for democratic rights of people.

The Left must mobilize its basic classes (workers and small-scale producers) in extra-electoral activities, to fight for democratic rights and secularism and to fight for economic concessions, as a part of, and as steps toward, the fight for socialism; and electoral activities must be seen as only a small part of the Left’s political work, a prime aim of which must be the development of democratic-secular consciousness, and of trade union consciousness, and then the transformation of these forms of consciousness into communist consciousness or class consciousness proper.

It is this Marxist/socialist perspective that must shape Left’s approach to the electoral fight against fascism. In fact, the arrival of fascistic tendency as a part of, and as a response to, capitalist crisis and reaction, is a great opportunity for the Left to say this to people (at least, to relatively politically advanced workers and peasants, in the first instance): the ruling class and its political parties are failing not only to meet economic needs but also they are failing to support basic democratic values, and therefore must be overthrown. The aim of communist parties is to launch class struggle, which is the struggle that is shaped by the consciousness that interests of capitalists (capitalists and landowners) cannot be fundamentally reconciled with the interests of workers and small-scale producers.

As mentioned earlier: unity of Left forces is fundamental to the task of fighting the fascistic forces. Then, in as many constituencies as possible, secular-minded parties/movements/ individuals must be united against BJP and its allies, before, during, and after the elections, and inside the parliaments/assemblies and outside. There should be as wide a secular front against communalism as possible, a front that is at the same time, to the left of BJP (and Congress-as-it-exists-now) in terms of economic policies. How this can be done is a different matter.

What is to be done to undermine the fascistic threat?

One way to think about this is as follows. There are at least a dozen regional parties in India that are ‘secular’ (or relatively secular) in that they do not employ the communal card as consistently and as forcefully as the way BJP does and they are not fascistic as BJP and the saffron family: BJD, RJD, BSP, SP, JMM, DMK, AAP, TMC, People’s Justice Centre, etc. Regional parties are basically parties that represent interests of large land-owners, regional petty-bourgeoisie, including better-paid sections of the salaried stratum or the ‘professional class’ living/working in a province; and, importantly, the regional bourgeoisie – the fraction of the bourgeoisie whose scale of operation is more or less sub-national/regional and which faces competition from big bourgeoisie.5 In many ways, the secular regional parties are regional counter-parts of Congress. Some of them are actually regional offshoots of Congress.

The Left is the most principled fighter against the curtailment of democratic rights and against the attack on secularism. In that capacity, and in so far as it is the greatest reservoir of democratic-secular consciousness, the Left must help establish a national-level coordination committee for the fight against communalism and fascistic tendencies. A part of this process, from an electoral angle, should be an attempt to establish a federation of regional parties, to which the Left should provide any theoretical and other forms of help as required. The unity among regional parties must be based on at least three commitments.

One is the commitment to secular politics: they must be opposed to conducting politics in the name of religion, and they must be opposed to discrimination against any group based on religion, whether it is majority or minority religion.6 Where these parties (e.g. BJP, BJD, BSP, TMC) were in an alliance with BJP in the past and have opposed BJP since, they must critically review their past practice, draw the lessons, and publicly reforge their commitment to secularism. Secondly, given that millions of people are attracted to the right-wing BJP because of the failure of economic policies of Congress, the regional parties, if they wish to be not eaten up by BJP (and BJP does, and can, eat into regional parties’ support base), must be committed to people’s welfare and some restriction on the power of capitalists and landowners to amass limitless wealth.

Sustainable opposition to secularism cannot be possible unless it is based on the opposition to Right-wing economic policies hurting the masses, i.e. unless such opposition is based on progressive economic policies: once again, free-market economics and authoritarian communalism rooted in a mass movement, are two sides of the same coin, whether or not some free marketers oppose communalism and whether not some communalists support some amount of state control and state support for the poor.

Thirdly, regional parties cannot operate at the centre (federal level) merely as a motely of regional parties: the collectivity of regional parties must have a national-scale vision of how to make sure that: a) India remains a secular-democratic nation with a reasonably independent foreign policy and a policy of good relations with neighbours, and b) it remains a country where federalism – equitable, democratic, relations between the Center and the States – matters. If voted to power, they must act as if they are parts of a national party – i.e. as a federation of regional parties, which, collectively, will seek to improve conditions of people of India as a whole (its workers and peasants, and various oppressed groups such as tribal communities, women, dalits, religious minorities, etc.) and not just in their particular States where these parties rule or have an influence, although they will maintain their own regional identities.

In fact, such a regio-national approach of regional parties is increasingly necessary given that development of one State is linked to, and dependent on, development in another State, because of the inter-State flow of people, capital, water, polluted air, etc. Once again, the national federation of regional parties must be based on their common commitments to the people of India, the commitments which have only regional manifestations. The three commitments of regional parties that are just mentioned overlap with Left’s values: secularism; pro-poor policies, and a multi-scalar approach, which includes going beyond the narrow confines of a region.

In those States where a major regional party is not contending for power, and where the Left is also weak, Congress will be the main anti-BJP force and which must receive support from all secular forces, both from the Left and outside. For this to happen, for Congress to avoid competition from non-BJP parties, it must change its hyper-neoliberal approach to development (which it shares with BJP more or less) to one that gives much more emphasis to the bottom 70% of the population than it normally has, especially to address the agrarian crisis, ensure employment security and a decent standard of living in cities and villages and promote ecological sustainability.

This means that if Congress wishes not to be eaten up and/or dominated by the Right-wing BJP, it must be less subservient the business class (and just to crony-capitalists) and must give up its obsession with trickle-down economics, the idea that when the business class increases its income, when the national growth rises, poverty will be eliminated. To get support from other parties, including Left parties, Congress cannot do the following: share with BJP its Right-wing economic policy, and fight against BJP on the ground that BJP is communalist. To adequately fight the BJP, Congress cannot be merely a secular BJP.

Whether it is Congress or the federation of regional parties, all parties must be willing to have a vision of development that counters BJP’s ‘Modani’, or Gujarat, model of free-market-based development. This is true even these parties will not go beyond a limit in pursuing a non-neoliberal, pro-people developmental path. It is not enough for people to be protected against attacks on their political freedom, including religious freedom. They need to experience freedom from hunger, from debt, from job-insecurity, etc. The tiny and super-affluent business class must be politically forced by all secular forces to grant some economic concessions to the majority.

The Left must not be a part of a governmental front, which is inevitably a bourgeois-democratic front, no matter how secular it may become. It must be outside of the front and support it in its fight for secularism. The Left must demand pro-poor policies from the secular-democratic front. And it must carry on its class-based anti-capitalist mobilization, and that means that beyond a point, the secular bourgeois parties are not the friends of the Left. They are only temporary allies.

India is a large and geographically diverse country, where social and political conditions vary enormously. The fight, within the electoral sphere, against fascistic forces will have to be somewhat different in different States. What was said above can be summarized in the form of five scenarios (it is needless to say that this is provisional, given the complexity of the situation).

1. BJP — Regional ‘secular’ party1 — Regional ‘secular’ party 2 — weak Congress — weak Left (e.g. Uttar Pradesh)

(All non-BJP parties, including Left, against BJP, on the basis of tactical seat sharing – or tactical electoral unity — among secular parties.)

2. BJP — Regional ‘secular’ party1 — weak Congress — weak Left (e.g. Odisha)

(All non-BJP parties, including Left, against BJP, on the basis of tactical support for the Regional party from all secular parties.)

3. BJP — ‘strong’ Congress base — Regional ‘secular’ party1 — Regional ‘secular’ party 2 — weak Left (e.g. Gujarat, Rajasthan)

(All non-BJP parties against BJP; non-BJP secular parties, including Left, to give tactical support to Congress.)

4. BJP — Strong Left base — Regional ‘secular’ party1 (e.g. West Bengal)

(Publicly acknowledging its past mistakes, Left to vigorously campaign against neoliberalism and communalism, against all contending parties, on the basis of its mass and class movements.)

5. BJP — Strong Left base — Congress (e.g. Kerala)

(Maximum unity against BJP to be sought among Left and democratic forces; Left to campaign against neoliberalism and communalism on the basis of its mass and class movements; Congress should consider tactically supporting Left.)

The political strength of the Left varies not only across States but also across regions/ constituencies inside a State. While the above ‘model’ is pitched at the level of States, Left should stand its candidates where its class and mass organizations are strong and where it has a chance of winning a seat, partly on the basis of its negotiation for tactical support from non-BJP secular parties. Where it has very limited chance of winning a seat, it must provide tactical support to secular parties in return for these parties reducing their pro-business character.

Such a big compromise?: Return to Vladimir Lenin

The idea that the Left should help establish an economically progressive front of secular bourgeois parties to fight fascistic tendencies, and that this might require Left’s tactical electoral understanding with bourgeois parties, is potentially a very problematic idea. First, this idea is not in line with the principle that the Left should mobilize its own forces, independent of bourgeois forces. Besides, various regional parties have been with BJP from time to time and have not been consistently secular; non-BJP, non-Left, regional parties have had no problem accepting into their arms, the leaders from the BJP camp. The regional parties are also bourgeois parties.

So, to have some relation with these regional parties would be a compromise not only on Left’s secularism but also on the principle of class politics. In fact, regional-bourgeois parties have converging interests with national and global bourgeoisie (which opens regional branches, to which regionally-based small-scale capitalists are linked through the supply chain) and with therefore with BJP; after all, the regional bourgeoisie wishes to benefit from neoliberalization that BJP promotes, including by directly entering into deals with national and global capital. Also how can the Left have any relation with Congress, which is such a neoliberal-capitalist party?7

If the Left is in an electoral understanding with bourgeois parties, whether these are national or regional parties, to fight communalism, and when these parties pursue policies that attack people’s living standards, how and to what extent can the Left counter these policies/parties? In the name of protecting secularism, if the Left fails to defend economic rights of the masses, what would be left of the Left? There is indeed a real danger that workers and peasants affiliated to the Left parties will be politically subordinated to the bourgeois parties who will hold power and with whom the Left will be cooperating.

These and similar questions have great merits. But here the argument is that on a long journey toward socialism and in actual practice, in the short and medium term, and keeping in view the current political conjuncture, one has to make temporary compromises and engage in temporary retreats. But what does compromise really mean? We need to read about it from someone who is, arguably, the Marxist theoretician and Marxist politician par excellence of the 20th century. This is Vladimir Lenin whose statues were recently brought down by thoroughly anti-democratic people with an extremely low level of political consciousness. Let’s briefly consider what I will call Lenin’s theory of temporary compromise, which is present mainly in two of his texts.

“The term compromise in politics implies the surrender of certain demands, the renunciation of part of one’s demands, by agreement with another party” (Lenin, 1917). It is important to bear in mind that: “The task of a truly revolutionary party is not to declare that it is impossible to renounce all compromises.” As Engels said against the Blanquist communards, it is mistaken to believe that “we want to attain our goal without stopping at intermediate stations, without any compromises, which only postpone the day of victory and prolong the period of slavery” (quoted in Lenin, 1920).

Lenin was scathing in his criticisms of those German communists who thought that “All compromise with other parties . . . any policy of manoeuvring and compromise must be emphatically rejected.” In launching class struggle, “to renounce in advance any change of tack, or any utilisation of a conflict of interests (even if temporary) among one’s enemies, or any conciliation or compromise with possible allies (even if they are temporary, unstable, vacillating or conditional allies) – is that not ridiculous in the extreme?”

One might then ask: why is compromise necessary and possible? Let us consider the matter of temporary compromise from the vantage point of: nature of the class enemy and nature of the working class. Let’s begin with the class enemy of the working class. It is, like any class, both unitary and fragmented. The fact that the ruling class fractions have different interests and therefore there will be different kinds of bourgeois parties to represent the different ruling class interests explains why Left’s compromise is possible:

“The more powerful enemy can be vanquished only by exerting the utmost effort, and by the most thorough, careful, attentive, skilful and obligatory use of any, even the smallest, rift between the enemies…, any conflict of interests among … the various groups or types of bourgeoisie …, and also by taking advantage of any, even the smallest, opportunity of winning a mass ally, even though this ally is temporary, vacillating, unstable, unreliable and conditional” (ibid.; italics added).

Lenin (1920) adds: “Those who do not understand this reveal a failure to understand even the smallest grain of Marxism, of modern scientific socialism in general” (italics added).8

Let’s turn to the nature of the working class in relation to the need for compromise, in Lenin’s theory. The working class is potentially the most revolutionary agent. No anti-capitalist revolution is possible without this class, apart from this class, over the head of this class or with a substitute for this class and its organization. Yet, the working class, although it is an objective reality, falls short, ideologically and politically. It is deeply divided. It is shaped by ideas and interests of non-proletarian classes. Its level of class consciousness and political preparedness is relatively low to fight for deep democratic transformation and to conduct a socialist struggle. And these facts together constitute an objective reason why Left’s temporary compromise is necessary. Here is Lenin:

“Capitalism would not be capitalism if the proletariat pur sang were not surrounded by a large number of exceedingly motley types… [of non-proletarian people, including small masters]. … if the proletariat itself were not divided into more developed and less developed strata, if it were not divided according to territorial origin, trade, sometimes according to religion, and so on” (Lenin, 1920).

Lenin continues:

“From all this follows the necessity, the absolute necessity, for the Communist Party, the vanguard of the proletariat, its class-conscious section, to resort to changes of tack, to conciliation and compromises with the various groups of proletarians, with the various parties of the workers and small masters” (ibid.; italics added).

So, temporary compromises in the electoral sphere are objectively necessary when/where the working masses are divided and not class conscious (enough) and thus, concomitantly, the Left is weak, at this juncture. Compromises are possible because there are conflicts of interests among the economic and political elite (i.e. various parties).

In line with Lenin’s theory, it is possible to argue that temporary compromises in the electoral sphere, which can pose ideological and political risks (of subordinating workers and peasants to bourgeois forces), are justified only when the following criteria are met. First, compromises are unavoidable – they are forced by conditions (e.g. Left is weak relative to, say, fascistic forces). Second: compromises, ultimately, contribute to the political project of raising the level of consciousness of the masses and advancing the goal of the communist struggle against a) capitalism’s adverse consequences for the masses, and against b) capitalism as such.

As Lenin says, tactics of compromises are applied only “to raise – not lower – the general level of proletarian class-consciousness, revolutionary spirit, and ability to fight and win” (Lenin, 1920). Third, Left forces maintain their organizational and ideological independence vs non-left parties and movements. Fourth, the Left will always have the right criticize, and to politically go against (mobilize its classes against) its temporary allies when their policies attack living conditions of ordinary people. Fifth, Left’s dominant focus is on extra-parliamentary mobilization, including for economic struggle, of workers and peasants, and not electoral battles which involve tactical understanding with non-Left forces.

Once again, “The task of a truly revolutionary party is not to declare that it is impossible to renounce all compromises, but to be able, through all compromises, when they are unavoidable, to remain true to its principles, to its class, to its revolutionary purpose, to its task of paving the way for revolution and educating the mass of the people for victory in the revolution” (Lenin, 1917).9 The point of political compromise is not to merely arrive at a capitalist society that is slightly tolerable and that just needs to be managed by Left forces for ever.

The compromise in question here is revolutionary compromise (like Luxemburg’s ‘revolutionary reforms’), the compromise that is temporarily necessitated by the force of circumstances relative to the strength of the Left forces, in order to advance the long-term revolutionary goal, the goal of transcending capitalism and not to help sustain capitalism sans fascistic tendencies. Therefore: “Naïve and quite inexperienced people imagine that the permissibility of compromise in general is sufficient to obliterate any distinction between opportunism…and revolutionary Marxism, or communism.” In fact, “the entire history of Bolshevism, both before and after the October Revolution, is full of instances of changes of tack, conciliatory tactics and compromises with other parties, including bourgeois parties!” (Lenin, 1920).

Conclusion

By way of concluding, I will consider what relevance might Lenin’s theory have for the conjuncture in India (and indeed similar other countries)? It is that: that certain bourgeois (regional) parties are less consistently secular than Left parties and that they are vacillating, is no ground for non-compromise if a temporary compromise can remove the currently existing important obstacle to the communist movement and advance the objective of class struggle in the medium and long-term.

As mentioned, every class, and the class enemy of the working class, are both unitary and fragmented. In so far as all bourgeois parties support capitalists and landlords, they are the same, unitary, class enemy: Congress and BJP constitute a unitary enemy. But these parties support the ruling classes in different ways. Some parties – like some sections of ruling class – may be more secular-minded than others. Some may be slightly more pro-poor or pro-worker, pro-peasant, than others. In terms of the political representation of ruling class interests, there are two facts. Firstly, different interests of the ruling class (with its different fractions) are represented by different parties.

Secondly, these parties, to remain in electoral competition, if not for any other basic principle, will represent the given interests of the ruling class differently, and in ways that are conflictual within limits (a non-BJP party has to be different from BJP to be in electoral competition and will therefore serve the ruling class in different ways than the BJP does).10 These two facts concerning the political representation of the ruling class constitute an objective reason why temporary compromise by Left is possible.

Accredited social health activists (ASHAs) striking for their rights.

In fact, small-scale parties (regional parties) which are parties of ‘small masters’ (small-scale capitalists), potential electoral allies of Left parties are : “vacillating, unstable, unreliable and conditional,” especially, when it comes to the fight for secularism (and indeed, for progressive economic policies). Yet conflicts between them and bigger (e.g. pan-Indian) parties can produce a possibility for what Lenin calls “conciliation and compromises … with the various parties of the workers and small masters.” Similarly, when Congress as a pan-Indian bourgeois party is in danger of being eaten up by BJP which is another pan-Indian bourgeois party, it may need Left’s support for its own existence, producing a possibility for compromise, enabling the Left to fight fascistic forces with support from Congress.

If the Left was strong, it could mobilize its classes independently of bourgeois forces, both outside and inside the electoral field of struggle, and especially including the BJP, a party which is not a communal party that happens to support the business class but a bourgeois party that makes use of communal hatred to attain political influence. But if the Left is relatively weak as it is at this conjuncture, then it needs to temporarily compromise, within limits, on the principle of independent electoral politics (i.e. it may have to enter into some – tactical – electoral understanding with bourgeois forces).

There are at least elements here: a) the temporary compromise in the electoral arena with vacillating secular bourgeois parties that may be objectively necessary, and b) the project of advancing class struggle. These two elements constitute a dialectical whole, within which the first element must be subordinated to the second. This means that the communist parties cannot just show their face to the masses during elections, and then disappear for 5 years.

This also means that while organizing the masses for concessions from the system, they must be as un-compromising as the subjective and the objective situations allow, and that they must educate the masses about the fact that their fundamental class interests are not compatible with those of the bourgeoisie and large landowners, which is why the question of not only democracy (whatever it is called by various electoral and non-electoral Left parties), but also of socialism must gradually come to the front. Otherwise, the temporary compromise becomes permanent, and the project of advancing class struggle gets transformed into a means of reproducing a more tolerable capitalism for an indefinite future.

If Lenin is right that “the greatest efforts are necessary for a proper assessment of the actual character of this or that ‘compromise’” (Lenin, 1917), this means that what needs to be questioned is not the idea of a temporary compromise itself but its goal. What is problematic is not compromise but ‘compromise-ism’: seeking a compromise to permanently reproduce a bourgeois order in slightly democratic and egalitarian forms, without any vision and action aimed at the long-term transformation of society.

And such a vision – i.e. goal of fighting for socialism – must be taken out of communist party documents and be given a material expression. It must be actually talked about in the everyday life of the masses and of communist leaders, i.e. in their daily struggles, at the picket lines, during protests against militarism and against cuts in funding for welfare, in party meetings, on the street, in the eating places, in the corridors of university departments where communists work, in theatres, in the editorial board meetings of Marxist online and offline journals, and indeed every place, big and small. Any temporary compromise on the socialist principle is not worth it if it is not seen as ultimately advancing the communist cause.

It should be stressed that the aim of secular-democratic bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces, partly because of the danger that fascistic tendencies pose to them, may just want to confine their political work to the creation of a polity that weakens such tendencies. And that political aim overlaps with the socialists’ aim to undermine – to revolt against – fascistic tendencies, and such a revolt has to be also a revolt against fascists’ pro-business policies and attack on workers and small-scale producers living standards. But that revolt is limited, because as socialists:

“it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent until all the more or less propertied classes have been driven from their ruling positions, until the proletariat has conquered state power and until the association of the proletarians has progressed sufficiently far – not only in one country but in all the leading countries of the world – that competition between the proletarians of these countries ceases and at least the decisive forces of production are concentrated in the hands of the workers. Our concern cannot simply be to modify private property, but to abolish it, not to hush up class antagonisms but to abolish classes, not to improve the existing society but to found a new one” (Marx and Engels, 1850). •

References Cited

This article first published on the Sanhati.com website.

Endnotes

  1. Interestingly, one of the most prominent statues of Lenin in India, at Esplanade in the center of Kolkata, remains in place even though the Left is no longer in power.
  2. This is the case even if in February 2018, it won by-elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
  3. A student activist from JNU said to me: “RSS people will give us blankets in the night and beat us up in the day,” meaning they can be very nice but when you argue with them, they will beat you up. A major human rights activist and former professor in a major Central University said this to me: “RSS people when they join a public debate always make personal attacks on people who challenge them, because that is their overall strategy but in private they might apologize.”
  4. In 2009, Anil Ambani said: “Narendrabhai has done good for Gujarat …A person like him should be the next leader of the country” (quoted in Karat, 2014: 7).
  5. Note that the distinction between the two is not necessarily clear-cut, as regionally operating firms are connected to nationally-operating larger firms, as suppliers and in other ways.
  6. As UP’s by-election results show, when reasonably secular-minded regional parties are united against communal forces, they can electorally beat the BJP.
  7. One can also rightly complain that the Left itself has acted like neoliberal Congress in the provinces where it has been in power. Luckily, the Left is rethinking its own land acquisition policy. Geographical scale cannot be an excuse for inconsistency: one cannot advocate for more progressive policies at national scale and less progressive policies at the provincial scale.
  8. Lenin (1920) notes: “Those who have not proved in practice, over a fairly considerable period of time and in fairly varied political situations, their ability to apply this truth in practice have not yet learned to help the revolutionary class in its struggle to emancipate all toiling humanity from the exploiters. And this applies equally to the period before and after the proletariat has won political power.”
  9. “To agree, for instance, to participate in the Third and Fourth Dumas was a compromise, a temporary renunciation of revolutionary demands. But this was a compromise absolutely forced upon us, for the balance of forces made it impossible for us for the time being to conduct a mass revolutionary struggle, and in order to prepare this struggle over a long period we had to be able to work even from inside such a ‘pigsty’.” (Lenin, 1917).
  10. These limits refer to the fact that all parties must fundamentally support capitalism and private property, and within these limits, specific political parties can pursue their interests that may be relatively autonomous of ruling class interests, and sometimes may even deviate from ruling class interests (in profit-making, etc.).

Raju J Das teaches radical political economy, international development, state-society relations, and social struggles at York University, Toronto. Das is on the editorial board of Science & Society and the editorial advisory board of Dialectical Anthropology. His most recent book, published in 2017, is Marxist Class Theory for a skeptical world (Brill, Leiden).

Missile Attack on Syria Is a Salute to “Russiagate” Enthusiasts -- Whether They Like It or Not

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Norman Solomon

Politicians, pundits and activists who’ve routinely denounced President Trump as a tool of Vladimir Putin can now mull over a major indicator of their cumulative impacts. The U.S.-led missile attack on Syria before dawn Saturday is the latest benchmark for gauging the effects of continually baiting Trump as a puppet of Russia’s president.

Heavyweights of U.S. media -- whether outlets such as CNN and MSNBC or key newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post -- spent most of the last week clamoring for Trump to order air strikes on Syria. Powerful news organizations have led the way in goading Trump to prove that he’s not a Putin lackey after all.

One of the clearest ways that Trump can offer such proof is to recklessly show he’s willing to risk a catastrophic military confrontation with Russia.

In recent months, the profusion of “war hawks, spies and liars” on national television has been part of a media atmosphere that barely acknowledges what’s at stake with games of chicken between the world’s two nuclear superpowers. Meanwhile, the dominant U.S. news media imbue their reporting with a nationalistic sense of impunity.

On Saturday morning, the top headline on the New York Times website was “U.S. Attacks Syria in Retaliatory Strike,” while the subhead declared that “Western resolve” was at work. The story led off by reporting that Trump “sought to punish President Bashar al-Assad for a suspected chemical attack near Damascus last weekend that killed more than 40 people.”

Try putting the shoe on the other foot for a moment. Imagine that Russia, with a similar rationale, fired missiles at U.S. ally Saudi Arabia because the Kremlin “sought to punish King Salman for his country’s war crimes in Yemen” -- with such reportage appearing under a headline that described the Russian attack as a “retaliatory strike.”

The latest U.S. air attack on Russia’s close ally Syria was as much politically aimed at Moscow as at Damascus. And afterwards, the televised adrenalin-pumped glee was as much an expression of pleasure about striking a blow at Putin as at Assad. After all, ever since Trump took office, the U.S. media and political elites have been exerting enormous pressures on him to polarize with Russia.

But let’s be clear: The pressures have not only been generated by corporate media and the political establishment. Across the United States, a wide range of people including self-described liberals and progressives -- as individuals and organizations -- have enthusiastically participated in the baiting, cajoling and denouncing of Trump as a Putin tool. That participation has stoked bellicose rhetoric by congressional Democrats, fueling the overall pressure on Trump to escalate tensions with Russia.

What’s really at issue here is not the merits of the Russian government in 2018, any more than the issue was the merits of the Soviet government in 1967 -- when President Lyndon Johnson hosted an extensive summit meeting in Glassboro, New Jersey, with Soviet Premier Alexi Kosygin, reducing the chances of nuclear war in the process.

If you keep heading toward a destination, you’re likely to get there. In 2018, by any realistic measure, the escalating conflicts between the United States and Russia -- now ominously reaching new heights in Syria -- are moving us closer to World War III. It’s time to fully recognize the real dangers and turn around.

_____________________

Norman Solomon is the coordinator of the online activist group RootsAction.org and the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of a dozen books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”

Climate Change and the Struggle Against the Kinder Morgan Pipeline

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

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By Socilaist Project.

Thousands have been pouring onto Vancouver streets, as well as protesting across Canada, against the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been attempting to square the impossible – expanding oil sands production and building pipelines while addressing climate change. The governments of BC and Canada have ignored theses issues, as well as wider questions about First Nations consultations and sovereignty claims, already in the cases of the Pacific Northwest LNG, Woodfibre LNG and the Site C Dam in BC.

The recent Liberal announcements of ocean protection funds and carbon taxes are partly political dodges as they continue on with Harper’s plans to make Canada an energy super-power based on fossil fuels. Kinder Morgan is in line for approval, even as the arctic ice melt reached frightening levels, extreme weather events become commonplace and the climate change crisis deepens.

Political activism around climate change, from Standing Rock to Vancouver to innumerable cities across North America, is growing. Another failed climate meeting in Marrakesh this month and the climate denialists surrounding U.S. President Donald Trump have given these struggles added urgency in themselves and in the solidarity linking them to other social justice struggles. No need to even invoke the necessity of an eco-socialist political project as it is where all alternatives are pointing. Revolution in a warming world.

Rolling back militancy: Bangladesh looks to Saudi in a twist of irony

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By James M. Dorsey / Mid-East Soccer.

Bangladesh, in a twist of irony, is looking to Saudi Arabia to fund a $ 1 billion plan to build hundreds of mosques and religious centres to counter militant Islam that for much of the past decade traced its roots to ultra-conservative strands of the faith promoted by a multi-billion dollar Saudi campaign.

The Bangladeshi plan constitutes the first effort by a Muslim country to enlist the kingdom whose crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has vowed to return Saudi Arabia to an undefined form of ‘moderate Islam,’ in reverse engineering.

The plan would attempt to roll back the fallout of Saudi Arabia’s global investment of up to $100 billion over a period of four decades in support of ultra-conservative mosques, religious centres, and groups as an antidote to post-1979 Iranian revolutionary zeal.
Cooperation with Saudi Arabia and various countries, including Malaysia, has focused until now on countering extremism in cooperation with defense and security authorities rather than as a religious initiative.

Saudi religious authorities and Islamic scholars have long issued fatwas or religious opinions condemning political violence and extremism and accused jihadists of deviating from the true path of Islam.

The Saudi campaign, the largest public diplomacy effort in history, was, nevertheless, long abetted by opportunistic governments who played politics with religion as well as widespread discontent fuelled by the failure of governments to deliver public goods and services.
The Bangladeshi plan raises multiple questions, including whether the counter-narrative industry can produce results in the absence of effective government policies that address social, economic and political grievances.

It also begs the question whether change in Saudi Arabia has advanced to a stage in which the kingdom can claim that it has put its ultra-conservative and militant roots truly behind it. The answer to both questions is probably no.

In many ways, Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism and militancy, violent and non-violent, despite sharing common roots with the kingdom’s long-standing theological thinking and benefitting directly or indirectly from Saudi financial largess, has created a life of its own that no longer looks to the kingdom for guidance and support and is critical of the path on which Prince Mohammed has embarked.

The fallout of the Saudi campaign is evident in Asia not only in the rise of militancy in Bangladesh but also the degree to which concepts of supremacism and intolerance have taken root in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan. Those concepts are often expressed in discrimination, if not persecution of minorities like Shia Muslims and Ahmadis, and draconic anti-blasphemy measures by authorities, militants and vigilantes.

Bangladesh in past years witnessed a series of brutal killings of bloggers and intellectuals whom jihadists accused of atheism.
Moreover, basic freedoms in Bangladesh are being officially and unofficially curtailed in various forms as a result of domestic struggles originally enabled by successful Saudi pressure to amend the country’s secular constitution in 1975 to recognize Islam as its official religion. Saudi Arabia withheld recognition of the new state as well as financial support until the amendment was adopted four years after Bangladeshi independence.

In Indonesia, hard-line Islamic groups, led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), earlier this month filed a blasphemy complaint against politician Sukmawati Sukarnoputri, a daughter of Indonesia’s founding father Sukarno and the younger sister of Megawati Sukarnoputri, who leads President Joko Widodo’s ruling party. The hardliners accuse Ms. Sukarnoputri of reciting a poem that allegedly insults Islam.
The groups last year accused Basuki Tjahaja Purnama aka Ahok, Jakarta’s former Christian governor, of blasphemy and spearheaded mass rallies that led to his ouster and jailing, a ruling that many believed was politicized and unjust.

Pakistan’s draconic anti-blasphemy law has created an environment that has allowed Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatives and powerful political forces to whip up popular emotion in pursuit of political objectives. The environment is symbolized by graffiti in the corridor of a courthouse In Islamabad that demanded that blasphemers be beheaded.

Pakistan last month designated Islamabad as a pilot project to regulate Friday prayer sermons in the city’s 1,003 mosques, of which only 86 are state-controlled, in a bid to curb hate speech, extremism and demonization of religions and communities.

The government has drafted a list of subjects that should be the focus of weekly Friday prayer sermons in a bid to prevent mosques being abused “to stir up sectarian hatred, demonise other religions and communities and promote extremism.” The subjects include women rights; Islamic principles of trade, cleanliness and health; and the importance of hard work, tolerance, and honesty.

However, they do not address legally enshrined discrimination of minorities like Ahmadis, who are viewed as heretics by orthodox Muslims. The list risked reinforcing supremacist and intolerant militancy by including the concept of the finality of the Prophet Mohammed that is often used as a whip to discriminate against minorities.

Raising questions about the degree of moderation that Saudi-funded mosques and religious centres in Bangladesh would propagate, Prince Mohammed, in his effort to saw off the rough edges of Saudi ultra-conservatism, has given no indication that he intends to repeal a law that defines atheists as terrorists.

A Saudi court last year condemned a man to death on charges of blasphemy and atheism. Another Saudi was a year earlier sentenced to ten years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing atheist sentiments on social media.

Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations have long lobbied for the criminalization of blasphemy in international law in moves that would legitimize curbs on free speech and growing Muslim intolerance towards any open discussion of their faith.

To be sure, Saudi Arabia cannot be held directly liable for much of the expression of supremacism, intolerance and anti-pluralism in the Muslim world. Yet, by the same token there is little doubt that Saudi propagation of ultra-conservatism frequently contributed to an enabling environment.

Prince Mohammed is at the beginning of his effort to moderate Saudi Islam and has yet to spell out in detail his vision of religious change. Beyond the issue of defining atheism as terrorism, Saudi Arabia also has yet to put an end to multiple ultra-conservative practices, including the principle of male guardianship that forces women to get the approval of a male relative for major decisions in their life.

Prince Mohammed has so far forced the country’s ultra-conservative religious establishment into subservience. That raises the question whether there has been real change in the establishment’s thinking or whether it is kowtowing to an autocratic leader.

In December, King Salman fired a government official for organizing a mixed gender fashion show after ultra-conservatives criticized the event on Twitter. The kingdom this week hosted its first ever Arab Fashion Week, for women only. Designers were obliged to adhere to strict dress codes banning transparent fabrics and the display of cleavages or clothing that bared knees.

In February, Saudi Arabia agreed to surrender control of the Great Mosque in Brussels after its efforts to install a more moderate administration failed to counter mounting Belgian criticism of alleged intolerance and supremacism propagated by mosque executives.
Efforts to moderate Islam in Saudi Arabia as well as Qatar, the world’s only other Wahhabi state that traces its ultra-conservatism to the teachings of 18th century preacher Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahhab, but has long interpreted them more liberally than the kingdom, have proven to be easier said than done.

Saudi King Abdullah, King Salman’s predecessor, positioned himself as a champion of interfaith dialogue and reached out to various groups in society including Shiites and women.

Yet, more than a decade of Saudi efforts to cleanse textbooks used at home and abroad have made significant progress but have yet to completely erase descriptions of alternative strands of Islam such as Shiism and Sufism in derogatory terms or eliminate advise to Muslims not to associate with Jews and Christians who are labelled kaffirs or unbelievers.

Raising questions about Saudi involvement in the Bangladeshi plan, a Human Rights Watch survey of religion textbooks produced by the Saudi education ministry for the 2016-2017 school year concluded that “as early as first grade, students in Saudi schools are being taught hatred toward all those perceived to be of a different faith or school of thought.”

Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle noted that Prince Mohammed has remained conspicuously silent about hate speech in textbooks as well as its use by officials and Islamic scholars connected to the government.

The New York-based Anti-Defamation League last year documented hate speech in Qatari mosques that was disseminated in Qatari media despite Qatar’s propagation of religious tolerance and outreach to American Jews as part of its effort to counter a United Arab Emirates-Saudi-led economic and diplomatic boycott of the Gulf state.

In one instance in December, Qatari preacher Muhammed al-Muraikhi described Jews in a sermon in Doha’s Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque as “your deceitful, lying, treacherous, fornicating, intransigent enemy” who have “despoiled, corrupted, ruined, and killed, and will not stop.”

No doubt, Saudi Arabia, like Qatar, which much earlier moved away from puritan and literal Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism, is sincere in its intention to adopt more tolerant and pluralistic worldviews.

Getting from A to B, however, is a lengthy process. The question remains whether the kingdom has progressed to a degree that it can credibly help countries like Bangladesh deal with their demons even before having successfully put its own house in order.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa, and the forthcoming China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

I've been advised that I can expect to be terminated from Canadian Journalists for Free Expression this coming Tuesday evening and have pre-emptively been removed from my social media roles and the organization's website back-end. The cause for this termination, I have been informed, will most likely be the official cessation of the organization's operations and its semi-permanent closure. Congratulations Canada, you've killed free speech. I have learned that in the last week, a half-dozen resignations have been tendered on the organization's executive committee and Gala committee, including the resignation of the acting Executive Director and President of the Board. Those resignations came after we published a statement calling on Canada to condemn the woundings and killings of Palestinian journalists by Israel during border protests.

The best reason I have been given thusfar for the organization's collapse is that CBC employees who were powerful contributing members of the Gala fundraising committee resigned after they or their handlers at CBC disapproved of the statement, which condemned the Israel Defence Forces. A full version of the four paragraph statement is appended below. The organization has been in a fundraising crunch for some time. I have previously overheard at least one CBC employee telling members of the organization that their producer had pressured them to withdraw their support for CJFE in response to past controversial statements. This also happened when the organization took a position opposing the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015 (formerly Bill C-51). A protest letter to Chrystia Freeland, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, condemning the killings and wounding of journalists and protesters in Gaza appears to have been sufficiently controversial for the worst-case scenario to play out.

Writing and publishing statements and protest letters is what is expected of me as per my job-description. It is clear that I am being punished for doing my job. I was asked to keep this a secret until Tuesday, but an hour ago, I was notified that the Board of CJFE pre-emptively ordered the statement removed from the organization's website. As it is the subject of a spirited online discourse, a clear decision has been made to make this matter public. I was also notified that the organization's Executive Director, who gave notice of resignation last week, complied with that request. Since CJFE moved to remove (see: censor) the piece from the internet I've also been forced to go public. It is troubling that pressure exerted by public employees at the state broadcaster has lead to the censorship of a protest letter by an advocacy organization. It is my opinion that this illustrates an attempt by public employees to exert undue influence over a civil society group, ostensibly on behalf of a foreign government.

The order to remove the piece from the internet came a day after a Palestinian journalist was killed, and well after partner organizations the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders all published similar statements calling for condemnation of attacks against journalists and unarmed demonstrators. CJFE took the lead ahead of many western press freedom organizations when it spoke out about the violence toward journalists in Gaza. It also received the brunt of public criticism. Our statement was castigated on social media by The Globe and Mail's Doug Saunders, The National Post's Jonathan Kay and even Canadaland's Jesse Brown referred to the statement as 'stupid' in a Twitter post. Notably, none of those journalists protested when CJFE sent similarly strongly worded protest letters to the Governments of Iran, China, Croatia etc. on behalf of journalists or protesters facing violence in those countries. Those past statements were also universally applauded by CJFE's board.

My confidence in the independence and ethics of the journalistic profession in this country has subsequently been shattered. It is clear that systemic racism, elitism and influence peddling at the top of Canadian media has created a permissive culture which is trying to legitimize the use of deadly force against journalists and demonstrators, even manifesting at the core of an organization whose mission is purportedly the stalwart defence of free expression. I have heard some people suggest that "The Media" is a monolithic entity, which is controlled by funding and funding relationships. It is whispered in dark corners that people who break ranks in journalism and publish without institutional cover, are 'made an example of' if things they write upset the industry's key players or threaten their interests. I can tell you that while this isn't universally true now, it's naturally the end goal of an industry establishment to exercise narrative control over its members wherever possible. This is often achieved through intimidation, harassment, public humiliation or by leveraging financial connections. I know this last point is true, because it is what happened to me.

-------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------

Posted below for posterity is the full text of the statement which cost me my job:

CJFE is gravely concerned by the extrajudicial killings of demonstrators which occurred on March 30, 2018 in Gaza. It has been reported that the Israel Defence Force (IDF) used sniper fire, tank rounds and “less lethal” munitions like tear gas during a civil order event on the militarized border between Israel and Gaza. The United Nations reported that 15 Gazans were killed and more than 1000 were wounded. The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms has stated that among those wounded in the massacre are many journalists.

We acknowledge the fact, as Israeli authorities have stated, that border demonstrations at the “March of Return” in commemoration of Palestinian “Land Day” were disorderly and boisterous in nature. We also recognize that the use of lethal force to respond to boisterous demonstration or civil disorder is an anathema to the principles of democracy, freedom and justice. Similar incidents have occurred in Tunisia, Syria and Ukraine. If similar incidents transpired in 2018, in any other country, the condemnation from the international community would be swift and clear.

Canada is recognized internationally as a close ally of the Israeli state. It is incongruous to profess support for democracy, human rights or press freedom while ignoring the deleterious effect that this repression by an allied state has on these values. Failure to condemn the IDF's brutality will undermine Canada's moral authority when condemning similar acts by any other nation-state. Targeted attacks against demonstrators and journalists must be condemned wherever they occur. Canada must speak out to defend universal principles of human rights, democracy and press freedom.

The Government of Canada must condemn the one-sided use of military force against civilian demonstrators and media in Gaza, must immediately call for a cessation of these brutal practices, and must use all available diplomatic, political and economic channels to pressure Israel to initiate a fulsome and transparent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the massacre, which left 15 dead, and more than 1000 wounded.

Turning Qatar into an Island: Saudi cuts off its nose to spite its face

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By James M. Dorsey / Mid-East Soccer.

There’s a cutting-off-the-nose-to-spite-the face aspect to a Saudi plan to turn Qatar into an island by digging a 60-kilometre ocean channel through the two countries’ land border that would accommodate a nuclear waste heap as well as a military base.

If implemented, the channel would signal the kingdom’s belief that relations between the world’s only two Wahhabi states will not any time soon return to the projection of Gulf brotherhood that was the dominant theme prior to the United Arab Emirates-Saudi-led imposition in June of last year of a diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar.

It would also suggest that chances are minimal that the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that groups Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain alongside Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE would revert to its role as a regional integrative body. So do unconfirmed reports that the UAE plans to follow in the kingdom’s footstep and build a nuclear waste site of its own at the closest point to its border with Qatar.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash appeared to confirm the Saudi plan, gloating on Twitter that Qatari “silence on the canal project is proof of their fear and confusion.”

The message that notions of Gulf brotherhood are shallow at best is one that will be heard not only in Doha, but also in other capitals in the region. The 200-metre wide, 20-metre deep channel would erase a border that has been closed since the imposition of the boycott and was unlikely to re-open any time soon.

Built a kilometre from the Qatari border, the channel would be able to accommodate merchant and passenger ships of up to 295 metres long and 33 metres wide, with a maximum draught of 12 metres. Adding insult to injury, the nuclear waste dump and military base would be on the side of the channel that touches the Qatari border and would effectively constitute a Saudi outpost on the newly created island.
The plan, to be funded by private Saudi and Emirati investors and executed by Egyptian firms that helped broaden the Suez Canal, also envisions the construction of five hotels, two ports and a free trade zone.

The $750 million project would have the dump ready for when Saudi Arabia inaugurates the first two of its 16 planned nuclear reactors in 2027. Saudi Arabia is reviewing proposals to build the reactors from US, Chinese, French, South Korean contractors and expects to award the projects in December.

The Saudis’ cutting-off-the-nose-to-spite-the-face aspect kicks in with the fact that the channel would not only destroy Qatar’s one land border and create a glaring symbol of regional division rather than integration.

It would also draw a dividing line between two interpretations of Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim worldview developed by Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahhab, an 18th century preacher, at a time that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has vowed to return the kingdom to an unidentified moderate form of Islam.

Qatar’s more liberal Wahhabism of the sea contrasts starkly with the Wahhabism of the land that Prince Mohammed is seeking to reform. The crown prince made waves last year by lifting a ban on women’s driving, granting women the right to attend male sporting events in stadiums, and introducing modern forms of entertainment like, music, cinema and theatre – all long-standing fixtures of Qatari social life and of the ability to reform while maintaining autocratic rule.
As a result, the Saudi plan to physically separate the kingdom from Qatar cuts it off from the most logical model for Prince Mohammed’s plan to ween the kingdom off adherence to the most restrictive form of Wahhabism that has shaped Saudi history since the late 18th century and constituted the legitimizing basis for the creation of the modern Saudi state.

A traditional Gulf state and a Wahhabi state to boot, Qatari conservatism was everything but a mirror image of Saudi Arabia’s long-standing puritan way of life. Qatar did not have a powerful religious establishment like the one in Saudi Arabia that Prince Mohammed has recently whipped into subservience, nor did it implement absolute gender segregation.

Non-Muslims can practice their faith in their own houses of worship and were exempted from bans on alcohol and pork. Qatar became a sponsor of the arts and hosted the controversial state-owned Al Jazeera television network that revolutionized the region’s controlled media landscape and became one of the world’s foremost global English-language broadcasters.

Qatari conservatism is likely what Prince Mohammed would like to achieve even if that is something he is unlikely to acknowledge. His initial measures – lifting the ban on women’s driving and attending male sporting events; rolling back the powers of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice or Mutaween, the religious police; and his introduction of long forbidden forms of modern entertainment – are in line with the conservatism of Qatar or for that matter the UAE, even if the Emirates do not share a Wahhabi heritage.

Qatar’s advantage has been that it projects the ability to change without completely dumping ultra-conservative religious precepts that have shaped culture and belief systems. It projects a vision, like the one Prince Mohammed is pursuing, of a less restrictive and less choking conservative Wahhabi society that grants individuals opportunities irrespective of gender.

“I consider myself a good Wahhabi and can still be modern, understanding Islam in an open way. We take into account the changes in the world,” Abdelhameed Al Ansari, the then dean of Qatar University’s College of Sharia, a leader of the paradigm shift, told The Wall Street Journal in 2002.

Without doubt, Prince Mohammed’s social, economic and religious reform drive constitutes recognition of changes needed to turn the kingdom into a cutting-edge 21st century country and ensure the survival of his family’s autocratic rule.

However, if built, the channel would suggest that geopolitical supremacy has replaced ultra-conservative, supremacist religious doctrine as a driver of the king-in-waiting’s policy. It’s a message that graphically projects division and polarization rather than regional cooperation and exploitation of synergies.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa, and the forthcoming China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom

1968: the Big Five O

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

by Andrew Levine / Counterpunch.

Photo by Busy Beaver Button Museum | CC BY 2.0

Jerry Rubin, a “founding father” of the Yippies, is widely credited with having come up with the slogan “don’t trust anyone over thirty.”  He no doubt did say that, many times back in the day, but it was Jack Weinberg, another leader of the 1964-5 Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, who said it first.

Being old enough to remember a time when that precept rang true, I am finding it difficult to deal with the fact that fifty years have now passed since 1968, the watershed year of the fabled “sixties.”  But even in Trump’s America, facts are facts; there is no denying that the commemorations taking place this year of the events of that year mark “golden anniversaries.”

I trust that I am not the only one who feels this way; that almost everyone who lived through the major political events of that year, as a participant or observer, does as well.

In the United States, 1968 was about race relations and the Vietnam War.  Elsewhere, the concerns were different, but the spirit everywhere, on all the four corners of the earth, was the same.  The imagination was in power.

Many a soixante-huitard, as the French say, has died since then, and many have become decrepit.  By ordinary human standards, 1968 was a long time ago.  Nevertheless, to me and, I presume, to many others, the events of that year feel like they happened yesterday.

The events of fifty years before 1968 felt like ancient history back then.  Is 1968 ancient history for political militants under thirty today?

Oldsters can hardly get inside the minds of youngsters, much less speak for them.  But I would nevertheless hazard that, for example, the high school students now leading the struggle for saner (or less insane) gun laws since the Parkland shootings feel a lot more connected to their counterparts in 1968 than we, back then, did to our counterparts in 1918.

And although it is even more hazardous for an aging white man to speak for young militants of color, I would venture too that much the same holds for them as well – for Black Lives Matter and similar movements in other communities suffering from police brutality and murderous violence.

How possibly could the civil rights and black liberation struggles of the fifties and sixties and the student (and broader youth) movements of that period seem as remote to young militants today – white, black, or brown — as the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and all that followed in its wake seemed to us fifty years ago?

The idea that they could think of events still vivid in our minds the way we thought of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, or of the British and French empires in the decades preceding their dissolution, seems absurd at least to me and, I would hazard, to everyone else who used to be wary of people over thirty.

If I am right about that, why would this be?  It cannot just be because there is less of a “generation gap” than there was fifty years ago, or because people nowadays live slightly longer.

The pace of scientific and technological progress in the ambient culture surely has something to do with it.   Physicists, biologists and others in scientific and technological fields have learned a lot more in the fifty years since 1968 than in the fifty years before.  However, the consequences for daily life – for communication, transport, commerce and so on – have been less far-reaching.  A Rip Van Winkle who just now awoke after fifty years of slumber would find daily life today more familiar than one who fell asleep in 1918 and woke up in 1968.

It is surely also relevant that the changes for which 1968 now seems emblematic had more to do with the ambient culture than geopolitics or political economy.  Beyond the sex, drugs, and rock and roll that people nowadays associate with the sixties, 1968 made gender and sexuality and diversity political issues in ways they had not been before and have been ever since.  But even with the Soviet Union gone, and China careening down “the capitalist road,” the world order is not all that much changed, and capitalism seems as deeply entrenched as ever.

That is one reason why many of the changed cultural understandings and practices associated with 1968 were effectively absorbed back into the old order.  Those changes  had far-reaching social effects, but politically there seems to have been nothing revolutionary about them at all.

On the other hand, in 1918, revolutionary challenges to the anciens régimesof Europe and much of the rest of the world were still unfolding, their political consequences – and world historical significance — only slightly mitigated by the fact that all but one of them, the Bolshevik Revolution, were already on the brink of failure.

Cultural changes matter, but geopolitical transformations and developments in the material world are more consequential by far.  This was well understood by militants in all currents of the historical Left, as it existed from the time of the French Revolution through the decline and fall of the great revolutionary transformations of the twentieth century.

Politics ventures that focus on identity issues don’t cut it to nearly the same extent.  They are not radical enough; they don’t go to the root.

Fifty years after 1968, it is becoming increasingly clear that those of us who have been insisting on this point – and on maintaining the old, ostensibly superseded perspectives that were still current in 1968 — are not quite the dinosaurs we have lately been made out to be.

The more politically active millennials think along similar lines, the more they identify with 1968 and, more broadly, with the historical Left, the easier it will be for them to recover those venerable, increasingly timely, understandings – up-dated, of course, to take into account the many ways that the world has changed over the course of fifty long years.

***

In 1968, there were no smart phones; demonstrations were organized the old fashioned way – by word of mouth, telephone, and mimeographed leaflets.

Nowadays, everyone has smart phones, and everyone under thirty knows how to use them in ways that no one fifty years ago could have imagined.  Even people who came of age in the final decades of the last century have a hard time imagining.

It is not just that things that were done or that could have been done in 1968 (and for many years thereafter) are now doable more rapidly and easily.  It is also, as militants back then understood, that “the medium is the message.”

Pundits marvel at how “media savvy” the teenage veterans of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, are.  They are indeed, but not just because they understand how to use social media better than Donald Trump.

Their skills in that department have put gun control back on the political agenda in a way that it has not been since the late eighties.  Beyond that, however, they are figuring out not just how to use social media to change the national “conversation” and to get candidates elected, but also how to hold the candidates they help elect, in part because they are talking about the right things, accountable to the people they purport to serve.

Even before the Obama era, political operatives had figured out how to use social media to peddle their issues and candidates to voters, and even before Trump’s run for the White House, they had discovered how useful social media could be for spreading “fake news.”

Needless to say, their antics make a mockery of democratic notions of rational, public deliberation and debate. But our politicians have been making a mockery of democracy from time immemorial.

The difference now is that social media accelerate the process – to a degree that suggests the applicability of the venerable dialectical trope about quantity turning into quality.

This is not the whole story, however: digital technologies have made what passes for democracy worse, but they have also made it better — by reaching people more directly and immediately than would otherwise be possible in ways that maintain political engagement when elections are not immediately in the offing.

Social movements can hold legislators accountable.  Organized labor does that to some extent even now; when it was stronger, and the Democratic Party, was less thoroughly owned by Wall Street financiers and boards of directors of major corporations than it now is, it did it a lot more.

The organizing efforts that began with the Parkland students are also about holding elected representatives accountable.   Calling town meetings during Spring Break in districts represented by bought and paid for NRA flunkies was a stroke of genius.  The flunkies refused to show up, of course; their opponents, many of them newly recruited to run for elected offices and therefore still untainted by longstanding connections to the leaders of the less odious duopoly party, often did.

The problem is that, except when elections are imminent, there is almost nothing that citizens are called upon to do.  Even with elections on the immediate horizon, the only thing to do is vote – and perhaps also to encourage others to do the same.

The Parkland students, along with countless other high school students around the country, figured out something else for them to do over Spring Break.  With their social media savvy, they made it happen.

There is much more to figure out, but, thanks to those students, the journey has begun.

In the future, if all goes well, holding representatives accountable will be at least as important as getting them elected.  As per the slogan often heard in demonstrations, this is what democracy looks like.

Notwithstanding the views of the great democratic theorists of the past several centuries, what legislators in self-identified democracies want is seldom, if ever, the public good.  It is some combination of power and money – money as needed to obtain or retain power, and power to be able, if and when the time comes, to cash in on the wealth their connections can buy.

But for that, they need to be reelected, whenever they run again for the offices they hold.

Thanks to successful, “bipartisan” efforts to depoliticize the body politic, all “we, the people” can do to keep a flicker of democracy alive is boot venal, refractory, and corrupt politicians out of office when their terms expire; and even that measure of control is more formal than real when, as is almost always the case, there are no less odious, but still feasible, alternatives.

Elections held at fixed two, four, and six year intervals are as poor a way as can be imagined to hold the peoples’ representatives accountable; it might almost be better to abandon democratic pretenses altogether.

A better, more democratic way would be to force elected officials to engage not just with their “donors,” the people they actually work for, but with the voters, the people they purport to represent.

Media savvy teenagers are figuring out ways to do this; there is a lot that those of us who are longer in the tooth, by a little or a lot, can learn from them.

Who knows but maybe, before long, for the first time since a few months into Nobel laureate Obama’s first term, even such utterly besmirched words as “hope” and “change” will again be possible to say without gagging.

***

This is happening, however, in the aftermath of a break from a nearly two hundred year long historical epoch that 1968 seems, in retrospect, to have culminated.

The end of the historical Left did not entirely come into view until 1989 when Communists abandoned Communism; and then in 1991, when the Soviet Union imploded.  Even so, it would be fair to say that 1968 marked the beginning of the end of the saga; its last hurrah.

After that, there were, of course, additional last gasps, crises and defeats; and then nothing at all except dissolution or, as in China, where some of the old words and governing structures survived, nothing that bore any substantive connection with what had come before.

And so, long established understandings were abandoned and a treasure-trove of historical knowledge was, for all practical purposes, forgotten.

Writing at the turn of the century, Perry Anderson noted that: “virtually the entire horizon of reference in which the generation of the sixties grew up has been wiped away – the landmarks of reformist and revolutionary socialism in equal measure….”

He went on to say: “For most students, the roster of Bebel, Bernstein, Luxemburg, Kautsky, Jaurès, Luckács, Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci have become names as remote as a list of Arian bishops…”

This is the world that the Parkland students were born into; the militants of Black Lives Matter too, though their historical connections with strains of the tradition that focused mainly on racial oppression were less compromised by the time their movement emerged.

Thus it can sometimes seem that militants from the so-called millennial generation are reinventing the wheel.  That can be a serious disability.

On the other hand, it can also be a blessing in disguise if what is invented in place of moorings lost corrects for some of their defects.

But, on balance, it is surely less of a blessing than a curse.

After all, in the absence of a mature Left theory and practice, it is hard to see how, for example, problems associated with school safety fit systemically into the larger social and political landscape.

The problem that the shootings in Parkland epitomized is not just that the United States has stupid gun laws – thanks partly to the odd reading that the Supreme Court has given to the Constitution’s Second Amendment, and thanks partly to the lobbying successes of the National Rifle Association, the NRA.

A deeper problem is that the United States is encumbered by a political, economic and military regime that normalizes murderous violence.

But how can this plain fact be appreciated or even acknowledged in the absence of an over-arching systemic understanding of the factors that keep our politics on its present, disastrous course.?

Now that the United States is mired down in perpetual wars against vaguely defined enemies, wars with no front lines where the enemy can be, and often is, everywhere, the violence that we are disabled from understanding becomes increasingly pervasive and deadly.

Connections between the war machine and everyday violence in America were easier to see in 1968 because, at the time, there was still a vast, multifaceted theoretical and political culture that focused not just on immediate problems, but also on their underlying causes and connections.  We don’t have that anymore to nearly the same extent.

Militants on the front lines used to understand these interconnections reflexively; now they have to be relearned.  This is not an insurmountable obstacle to moving forward, but it is a serious, potentially debilitating, impediment.

The task at hand is to overcome that impediment – not just to address grave problems immediately at hand, but also to restore the idea, formerly at risk of becoming lost, that there is a world to win.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

A crisis that’s been long in the making

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Vijay Prashad / The Hindu.

A crisis that’s been long in the making

The curious saga of Lula da Silva that has undermined democracy in Brazil

Over the weekend, Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva turned himself in to the police after having been charged with corruption under the wide-ranging Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigation. Tens of thousands of people blocked roads across the country to protest his impending arrest. Thousands surrounded the metalworkers’ union building where he had waited. When he insisted that he would turn himself in and begin serving his 12-year sentence, Mr. Lula da Silva was carried on the shoulders of the crowd waiting outside. It was a dramatic moment for a man who remains hugely popular in Brazil and is seen by many as a standard-bearer of the aspirations of the poor.

Before he went to prison, Mr. Lula da Silva released a statement of great feeling: “Those who persecute me can do what they want to me, but they will never imprison our dreams.” Brazil is to hold a presidential election in October. Mr. Lula da Silva, who left office in 2011 with high approval ratings, had been chosen by the Workers’ Party (PT) as its candidate. By all indications, he would have swept to victory. He had promised to reinvigorate the pro-poor policies that had been a hallmark of his presidency which began in 2003. Those policies such as Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) had decreased hunger in the country and increased opportunities for children of poor families to go to school and college. One woman carried a sign that read, “Lula condemned for putting the daughter of a domestic worker through university.”

A fragile democracy

Brazil’s democracy is fragile. It was the trade union movement with which Mr. Lula da Silva remains affiliated and other such organised platforms that overthrew a U.S.-backed military dictatorship that had lasted from 1964 to 1985. Over the next 15 years, the civilian government did not uproot the institutions of the dictatorship nor weaken the oligarchy that had benefited from military rule. This power bloc remained firmly in control even during the PT-led governments of Mr. Lula da Silva (2003-2011) and Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016). During this period of high commodity prices, social welfare policies could be enacted but little else was possible. The oligarchy, impatient to retain control of Brazil, did everything possible to undermine any democratic dynamic.

In 2016, Ms. Rousseff was removed from office not by an election but by the shenanigans of political horse-trading in parliament. At that time, it was said that the oligarchy had conducted a ‘soft coup’ against the PT government. Her successor, Michel Temer, has not been elected to his post by the people but was installed there by the National Congress. Most Brazilians view him as a ‘bad’ or ‘terrible’ president. Under Mr. Temer, the government withdrew many of the PT’s social welfare policies. In 2014, Brazil was removed from the UN’s Hunger Map but is likely to return on it.

Over the past year, Mr. Lula da Silva’s Caravan for Brazil has moved from one poor community to another, where he has been defending the PT’s policies and attacking the oligarchy. Mass movements such as Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement have backed him totally, even though they had fought his timidity while in office. That he was a symbol for the poor was clear to the mass movements and the oligarchy.

Car Wash and other such investigations were made possible by strong laws against corruption put in place by Mr. Lula da Silva’s government. In fact, few political figures have been immune from charges of corruption. In Brazil, trust in government is very low. It is advantageous to the oligarchy to see the influence of the government diminish. Now, threats to its immense power are not so sharp.

Mr. Lula da Silva has been accused of accepting an apartment from a contractor (OAS) in exchange for government contracts, a charge he has denied. Evidence for the bribe is weak to non-existent, and there is no paperwork to show that he received an apartment or owns it. A convicted executive of OAS whose prison sentence was reduced for his statement against the leader, gave evidence against Mr. Lula da Silva. The presiding judge in the trial, who has demonstrated on wiretaps his partisanship against Mr. Lula da Silva, accepted the statement and convicted him. Appeals were denied and considerations of habeas corpus rejected.

Democratic test

A series of consequential elections are to take place this year in Latin America: Venezuela (May), Mexico (July) and Brazil (October). In Mexico, socialist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador is the frontrunner. It is almost certain that he won on his first attempt in 2006 but was denied his victory by the ruling establishment. In Venezuela, the right-wing opposition is in disarray, which is likely to allow the Bolivarian movement to retain its hold on government. Each of these contests from Venezuela onwards will have an impact on the Left in the hemisphere. In each of these countries, if the elections were fair, the Left would win. But ‘democracy’ has been increasingly desiccated by institutional manoeuvres, such as the attack on Mr. Lula da Silva.

There is a widespread sense that Mr. Lula’ da Silva’s prosecution, like the removal of Ms. Rousseff, is politically motivated. It would have been virtually impossible for Jair Bolsonaro, the candidate of the Right to defeat anyone backed by the PT.

If the courts now refuse to allow Mr. Lula da Silva to run in the October election as is expected, it will call into question the legitimacy of that vote. Democracy is in crisis in Brazil.

Vijay Prashad is the Director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, one of whose offices is in Sao Paulo, Brazil

The Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of the Politics of Middle Eastern Soccer

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By James M. Dorsey

Edited remarks at The Beautiful Game? Identity, Resentment, and Discrimination in Football and Fan Cultures conference, Center for Research on Antisemitism, Berlin, 12-13 April 2018


The virtually continuous role of soccer as a key player in the history and development of the Middle East and North Africa dating back to the late 19th century seemed to have come to an abrupt halt in 2014 as the Saudi-UAE-led counterrevolution gained momentum, the Saudi-Iranian regional rivalry accelerated, and the political rift in the Gulf initially manifested itself.

The long and dramatic history of the Middle Eastern intersection of sports and politics took a backseat as the fallout of the popular Arab revolts of 2011 unfolded. In contrast to other parts of the world in which rulers and politicians at times employed sports as a tool to achieve political goals, sports in general and soccer in particular had been a player in the Middle East in terms of nation, state and regime formation; assertion of national identity; the struggle for independence; republicanism vs monarchy; ideological battles; and fights for human, political, gender and labour rights.

Soccer in the Middle East and North Africa had repeatedly demonstrated its potential as an engine of social and political change not necessarily the lovey-dovey kind of building bridges and contributing to peace, but more often than not divisive and confrontational. That was evident with the role of soccer in the 1919 Egyptian revolution; the struggles for nationhood, statehood and independence of Jews, Palestinians and Algerians; the quest for modernity in Turkey and Iran; the 2011 popular revolts; post-2011 resistance to a UAE-Saudi-inspired counterrevolution; the awarding by world soccer governing body FIFA of the 2022 World Cup hosting rights to Qatar; and ultimately the battle for regional dominance between Saudi Arabia and Iran as well as the Gulf crisis that since June 2017 has pitted a UAE-Saudi-led alliance against Qatar.

The Gulf crisis put an end to a period starting with the crushing of student protests with militant soccer fans at their core against the military coup in Egypt in 2013 that brought Mr. Al-Sisi to power in which the sport no longer seemed a useful prism for analysing developments in the Middle East and North Africa. The crackdown turned Egyptian universities into security fortresses and seemed to have largely silenced the ultras.

The first round of the Gulf crisis in 2014 when Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha for a period of ten months;  the escalating war in Syria; the rise of King Salman and his son, Mohammed bin Salman, and the changes they introduced in Saudi Arabia; the escalation of the Saudi-Iranian rivalry and its associated proxy wars; and the initial phase of the second round in the Gulf crisis with last year’s imposition of a diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar reinforced a sense that soccer was not a working prism for analysis of events.

A number of developments have however reversed that sense. One is the re-emergence of soccer in Egypt as an important player despite the crackdown on the anti-Sisi protests. Mr. Al-Sisi repeatedly tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to forge links with the ultras while the ultras in past years despite the repression again emerged as one of the few groups willing to stage protests. Scores of protesters have since been sentenced to prison, many remain detained awaiting trial.

Enlisting the support of soccer represented by the Egyptian Football Association and major clubs for his re-election this year, Mr. Al-Sisi positioned soccer as a key tool of associating himself with something the country is crazy about and that evokes deep-seated, tribal-like emotions. Egypt’s qualification for this year’s World Cup like that of several other Arab teams cemented the role of soccer in Egypt and the other qualifying countries.

Similarly, Saudi soccer diplomacy in Iraq has earned the kingdom brownie points. Soccer, despite the Gulf crisis, has moreover proven to be the wedge that has driven change and significant reform of the labour regime in Qatar. The changes fall short of what human rights groups, international trade unions and the International Labour Organization wanted to see. Nonetheless, the changes amount to far more than a cosmetic face lift.

Last but not least, soccer, and particularly the Qatar World Cup, is an important battlefield in the increasingly overt public relations battle between the Gulf state and its detractors, particularly the United Arab Emirates. In addition, to playing an important role in the politics of the region, Middle Eastern soccer has in the past three years highlighted the hypocrisy of the insistence by world soccer body FIFA that governance should ensure its separation from politics. The endorsement of a candidate by a football association and/or clubs makes a mockery of a division of sports and politics. So do FIFA decisions regarding venues and choice of referees for competition matches involving teams of the Middle East’s feuding states.

The political role of soccer is rooted in the politics of sports that goes back to 5th century Rome, when support groups identified as the Blues, Greens, Reds and Whites in the absence of alternative channels for public expression acclaimed a candidate slated to be installed as Rome’s emperor in games dominated by chariot racing.  Much like modern day militant soccer fans or ultras, they frequently shouted political demands in between races in a bid to influence policy. In doing so, the Romans set a trend that has since proven its value as well as its risk. In today’s modern world, soccer pitches, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, were frequently viewed as barometers of the public mood and indicators of political and social trends. They also were platforms for the public venting of pent-up frustration and anger as well as grievances.

Rome also served as an early example of the impact of fan power. That was most evident in the 532 AD Nika revolt, the most violent in Constantinople’s history, when the then dominant Blues and Greens rioted for a week, destroyed much of the city, sacked the Hagia Sophia, and almost succeeded in forcing the Byzantine emperor Justinian I to vacate his throne.

The identification, through patronage and micromanagement, of modern-day Arab autocrats with soccer emulates the Romans’ use of games and sports to solidify their power. Arab autocrats, however, unlike their Roman predecessors, were determined to prevent soccer clubs from becoming arbiters of political power. The Greens and the Blues and their fans in fifth-century-AD games were the Roman predecessors of today’s Middle Eastern and North African soccer fans who expressed similarly deep-seated passions.

Arab autocrats, however, unlike their Roman predecessors, were determined to prevent soccer clubs from becoming arbiters of political power. In contrast to the Romans, giving fans and the public a say in the choice of a leader would be unthinkable in contemporary autocratic Arabia. It would have to give the public a degree of sovereignty and undermine the position of the ruler as the neo-patriarchic, autocratic father in the mould of Palestinian-American scholar Hisham Sharabi, who characterized autocracies in the Middle East and North Africa as expressions of neo-patriarchy.

Soccer was the perfect tool for neo-patriarchic autocrats. Their values were the same values that are often projected onto soccer: assertion of male superiority in most aspects of life, control or harnessing of female lust, and a belief in a masculine God. The game’s popularity, moreover, made it the perfect soft-power tool to wield transnational sporting influence in an era of decolonization followed by a Cold War in which sporting powers like the United States and the Soviet Union were focused on the Olympics rather than the World Cup, and it continues to serve this purpose in subsequent globalization.

As a result, neo-patriarchy framed the environment in which militant soccer fans turned the soccer field into a battlefield. Arab autocrats, such as the toppled Egyptian and Tunisian presidents Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, had no intention of risking a repeat of Justinian I’s experience. Theirs was a world in which there could be no uncontrolled public space, no opportunity for the public to express itself, voice grievances, and vent pent-up anger and frustration. They could suppress most expressions of dissent, such as underground music. Musicians were intimidated, imprisoned, or refused entry into the country, with by and large little or no public response.  Labor activism was brutally repressed.  The soccer pitch, however, like the mosque, were venues for the deep-seated emotions they evoked among a majority of the population and could not simply be repressed or shut down. The mosque proved easier to control. The pulpit was subjected to government supervision; clerics were state employees. Security forces successfully confronted more militant, politicized lslamists.

Soccer pitches were not that simple. Fans, particularly militants, who described themselves as ultras and viewed club executives as representatives or corrupt pawns of a repressive regime and players as mercenaries who played for the highest bidder, were cut from a different cloth. They understood themselves as their club’s only true supporters, and as a result believed that they were the real owners of the stadium. In staking their claim, the fans emerged in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco as the most, if not only, organized force willing and able to figuratively and literally challenge the regime’s effort to control all public space.
The fans’ claim positioned soccer as both a threat and an opportunity for Middle Eastern and North African autocrats. The threat was an increasingly fearless, well-organized, highly politicized, and street battle–hardened force that attracted thousands of young men who were willing and able to stand their ground against the security forces. In doing so, they were publicly challenging the state’s authority.

Long deprived of the option to simply close down the contested public space, autocrats like Mr. Mubarak were forced to respond with a combination of co-optation and repression. Alongside heavy-handed use of security forces, they sought to identify themselves with the game, the region’s most popular form of popular culture, by basking in the success of national teams and major clubs and exploiting neo-patriarchal attitudes by showering players with expensive gifts and the ruler’s attention, while at the same time denouncing the ultras as criminals and thugs. That pattern continues until today buffeted by significantly stepped-up repression and in the case of Egypt the virtual closure to the public of stadiums for much of the past seven years made possible by the 2011 revolt.

Co-optation potentially creates significant opportunity for the autocrat no more so that at times of major international competitions like the World Cup. Identification with one of the country’s most popular and emotive pastimes offered the autocrat the prospect of harnessing it to polish his often tarnished image. Co-optation also provided an autocrat with an additional peg for favourable media attention that could help distract attention away from or overshadow criticism. Finally, it enabled autocrats to manipulate public emotions at given moments and rally the nation around them, as the Mubaraks did against Algeria in late 2009.

In many ways the Middle East of today is not the Middle East of a decade ago. Arab autocrats recognize that in their efforts to upgrade autocracy and embrace economic and social reform coupled with increased repression. The mayhem in the region works in their favour. The wars and the violence invoke nationalist and other useful emotions and invoke fears that popular protest could lead to chaos and anarchy. Yet, discontent is simmering at the surface much as it did in the run-up to the 2011 revolts and the soccer pitch is often where it rears its head.

The mayhem in the Middle East and North Africa is not exclusively, but in many ways, due to autocrats’ inability and failure to deliver public goods and services. That is true not only for the region’s autocratic majority but also for Iran, and Tunisia, the Arab revolt’s one and only relative success story.  Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appeared to be holding out a dream for his kingdom. But that dream increasingly is being shattered in Yemen and at homes has yet to produce more than greater freedoms for women and opportunity for entertainment.  Autocrats in the Middle East and North Africa are about upgrading and modernizing their regimes to ensure their survival, not about real sustainable change.

Human rights activist and former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki was asked in a Wall Street Journal interview why it was not only those who lacked opportunity and felt that they had no prospects and no hopes but also educated Tunisians with jobs who had joined the Islamic State. His answer was: “It’s not simply a matter of tackling socioeconomic roots. You have to go deeper and understand that these guys have a dream—and we don’t. We had a dream—our dream was called the Arab Spring. And our dream is now turning into a nightmare. But the young people need a dream, and the only dream available to them (was) the caliphate.”

Mohammed bin Salman has come closest to creating a dream. For now, it remains a dream on which he has yet to deliver. Much of the Middle East does not have a dream.

A court ruling In Egypt since the rise of Mr. Al-Sisi banned ultras groups as terrorist organizations. A similar attempt failed in Turkey. Yet, the scores of arrests in Egypt demonstrate that the ultras are alive and kicking. Said a founder of one Egypt’s original ultras groups that played a key role prior to the rise of Mr. Al-Sisi: “This is a new generation. It’s a generation that can’t be controlled. They don’t read. They believe in action and experience. They have balls. When the opportunity arises, they will do something bigger than we ever did.”

In sum, soccer resistance may be down but not out. Autocratic rulers retain the upper hand and use the sport to enhance their grip on power, ironically aided and abetted by FIFA. Yet, it is that very approach to the sport that also positioned it as a platform for protest and resistance. The jury is out on whether autocratic efforts at reform will produce sustainable results. The record so far is mixed at best. If there is one group at the ready if reforms fail, it is likely to be soccer fans.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa, and the forthcoming China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom

CUPE 3903: Rally for Public Education

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Socialist Project.

For the second time in three years, CUPE 3903 — representing contract faculty, TAs and GAs at York University — has been forced to go on strike. The fight for accessible education and job security at York University is not an isolated phenomenon. Whether it’s striking workers in the Ontario college system or at Carleton University, students in Chicago resisting school closures, public school teachers in Kentucky and Oklahoma struggling for decent working conditions, or young people across the U.S. engaged in walkouts to protest gun violence, one thing is clear: we are all part of the same movement to create an accessible education system that respects its teachers and students.

The wave of unrest at York University and beyond is the result of a neoliberal agenda, carried out by governments at various levels, that is imposing austerity and facilitating the corporatization of the University. For example, in its budgetary documents, York University admits that it has been “exercising restraint with respect to [employee] compensation… in accordance with the direction that was signaled by the Province.”

Only by collective action can we create an education system where educators have decent working conditions, and where students are free from debt and have access to affordable, high-quality education. To express our collective resolve, CUPE 3903 called for a rally and march to oppose attacks on public education by this anti-worker, anti-student provincial government.

The rally began at the Ministry of Labour to protest their anti-democratic and anti-union practices, including forced ratification votes and binding arbitration. It then proceeded to Queen’s Park to tell the provincial government that we will not accept further cuts or back-to-work legislation.

A different education system is possible. Together we will build it.

Recorded in front of the Ministry of Labour in Toronto, 9 April 2018.

The Missing Link in the Gun Debate

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Greta Zarro / World Beyond War.

The culture of war is pervasive in our society, through military-funded Hollywood films and video games, the militarization of the police, and JROTC and ROTC programs in our schools.

Members of the Patch High School drill team compete in the team exhibition portion of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps drill meet at Heidelberg High School April 25. (Photo: Kristen Marquez, Herald Post/flickr/cc)

America is up in arms about guns. If last month’s “March for Our Lives,” which attracted over one million marchers nationwide, is any indication, we’ve got a serious problem with gun violence, and people are fired up about it.

But what’s not being talked about in the mainstream media, or even by the organizers and participants in the March for Our Lives movement, is the link between the culture of gun violence and the culture of war, or militarism, in this nation. Nik Cruz, the now infamous Parkland, FL shooter, was taught how to shoot a lethal weapon in the very school that he later targeted in the heart-breaking Valentine’s Day Massacre. Yes, that’s right; our children are trained as shooters in their school cafeterias, as part of the U.S. military’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) marksmanship program.

Nearly 2,000 U.S. high schools have such JROTC marksmanship programs, which are taxpayer-funded and rubber-stamped by Congress. Cafeterias are transformed into firing ranges, where children, as young as 13 years old, learn how to kill. The day that Nik Cruz opened fire on his classmates, he proudly wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the letters “JROTC.” JROTC’s motto? “Motivating Young People to Be Better Citizens.” By training them to wield a gun?

Perhaps what’s key above all, however, is that JROTC, and U.S. militarism as a whole, is embedded in our sociocultural framework as Americans, so much so that to question it is to cast doubt on one’s patriotic allegiance to this nation.

I want to know why America isn’t marching against the military’s marksmanship programs. I want to know why millions aren’t knocking on their representatives’ doors and refusing to pay their taxes, until congressionally-approved firing ranges are removed from schools. Meanwhile, military recruiters hobnob with students during lunch break, then train them how to shoot in that same cafeteria and lure them to enlist. No doubt, the military’s pitch is slick, and economically enticing. That is, until the trainees turn on their classmates and teachers.

Perhaps what’s key above all, however, is that JROTC, and U.S. militarism as a whole, is embedded in our sociocultural framework as Americans, so much so that to question it is to cast doubt on one’s patriotic allegiance to this nation. To me, this explains why the Nik Cruz JROTC connection is not even an option on the table in the dialogue about gun violence. Why, at last month’s March for Our Lives in D.C., when my colleagues held up signs about the JROTC marksmanship program, marchers nodded in approval and bragged that they were JROTC trained.

The culture of war is pervasive in our society, through military-funded Hollywood films and video games, the militarization of the police, and JROTC and ROTC programs in our schools. The Pentagon receives the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all of our children, unless parents tell their children’s schools to opt them out. Nearly all of us are culpable, wittingly or unwittingly, in supporting the spread of U.S. militarism through our silent complicity and our tax dollars.

The average mass shooter in this country is, by and large, an American male with a history of mental illness, criminal charges, or illicit substance abuse, according to a recently released March 2018 report by the U.S. Secret Services. He is not an ISIS terrorist or Al-Qaeda plotter. In fact, findings show that, above any ideology, mass attackers are most often motivated by a personal vendetta. What the Secret Services report does not talk about, however, is the disproportionate number of mass attackers who have been trained by the U.S. military. While veterans account for 13% of the the adult population, the data shows that more than 1/3 of adult perpetrators of the 43 worst mass killings between 1984 and 2006 had been in the U.S. military. Further, a 2015 study in the Annals of Epidemiology found that veterans kill themselves at a rate 50% higher than their civilian counterparts. This speaks volumes about the damaging psychological impact of war, and, I would argue, the deleterious potential of the warlike “us vs. them” mentality that JROTC and ROTC programs instill in the minds of developing youth, not to mention the very real marksmanship skills that they teach.

While military recruits with access to a gun pose a risk to Americans at home, meanwhile, our soldiers abroad are not much more effective at policing the world. As military spending has skyrocketed in recent decades, now accounting for over fifty percent of U.S. federal discretionary spending, according to the National Priorities Project, so has terrorism. Despite our country’s endless state of military “interventions” in other nations, the Global Terrorism Index in fact records a steady increase in terrorist attacks from the beginning of our “war on terror” in 2001 to the present. Federal intelligence analysts and retired officers admit that U.S. occupations generate more hatred, resentment, and blowback than they prevent. According to a declassified intelligence report on the war on Iraq, “despite serious damage to the leadership of al-Qaida, the threat from Islamic extremists has spread both in numbers and in geographic reach.” With the U.S. government spending a combined $1 trillion annually on war and preparations for war, including the stationing of troops at over 800 bases worldwide, there is little left of the public purse to spend on domestic necessities. The American Society of Civil Engineers ranks U.S. infrastructure as a D+. We rank 4th in the world for wealth inequality, according to the OECD. U.S. infant mortality rates are the highest in the developed world, according to UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston. Communities across the nation lack access to clean drinking water and proper sanitation, a UN human right that the U.S. fails to recognize. Forty million Americans live in poverty. Given this lack of a basic social safety net, is it any wonder that people enlist in the armed forces for economic relief and a supposed sense of purpose, grounded in our nation’s history of associating military service with heroism?

If we want to prevent the next mass shooting, we need to stop fueling the culture of violence and militarism, and that starts with ending JROTC marksmanship programs in our schools.

Remembering Syria: Iran struggles with potentially explosive environmental crisis

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By James M. Dorsey / Mid-East Soccer.

Iranian leaders are struggling, three months after anti-government protests swept the Islamic republic, to ensure that environmental issues that helped sparked a popular uprising in Syria in 2011 leading to a brutal civil war don’t threaten the clergy’s grip on power.

Like Syria, Iran has been confronting a drought that has affected much of the country for more than a decade with precipitation dropping to its lowest level in half a century. Environmental concerns have figured prominently in protests in recent years, often in regions populated by ethnic minorities like Azeris, and Iranian Arabs.

Unrest among ethnic minorities, who account for almost half of Iran’s population, takes on added significance with Iran fearing that Saudi Arabia’s activist crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and the Trump administration’s antipathy towards the Islamic republic bolstered by the appointment of a hardliner, John Bolton, as the president’s national security advisor.

Mr. Bolton has called for regime change in Iran, aligning himself with a controversial exile opposition group, while Prince Mohammed is believed to have tacitly endorsed thinking about stirring unrest among Iran’s ethnic minorities even if he has yet to decide whether to adopt subversion as a policy.

Iran has repeatedly accused Saudi Arabia in the past year of supplying weapons and explosives to restive groups like the Baluch and the Kurds.
Yet, concern about environmental degradation and its potential political fallout goes beyond fear that it could facilitate interference by external powers. Demonstrators in the province of Isfahan last month clashed with security forces after they took to the streets to protest water shortages. The protest occurred some three months after Iran was wracked by weeks of anti-government demonstrations.

The protest was the latest in a series of expressions of discontent. Anger at plans in 2013 to divert water from Isfahan province sparked clashes with police. The Isfahan Chamber of Commerce reported a year later that the drying out of the Zayandeh Roud river basin had deprived some 2 million farmers or 40 percent of the local population in the Zayandeh-Roud basin of their income.

“Over 90% of (Iran’s) population and economic production are located in areas of high or very high water stress. This is two to three times the global average in percentage terms, and, in absolute numbers, it represents more people and more production at risk than any other country in the Middle East and North Africa,” Al-Monitor quoted Claudia Sadoff, director general of the Sri Lanka-based International Water Management Institute, as saying.

A panel of retired US military officers noted in December that “since the 1979 revolution, the per capita quantity of Iran’s renewable water supplies has dropped by more than half, to a level commonly associated with the benchmark for water stress. Even more troubling, in large swaths of the country, demand for fresh water exceeds supply a third of the year. Fourteen years of drought have contributed to the problem, as has poor resource management, including inefficient irrigation techniques, decentralized water management, subsidies for water-intensive crops like wheat, and dam building. As a result, parts of the country are experiencing unrest related to water stress.”

By identifying water as one of the country’s foremost problems, the government recognized that mismanagement leading to acute water shortages risks becoming a symbol of its inability to efficiently deliver public goods and services.

The government has sought to tackle the issue by promoting reduced water consumption and water conservation, halting construction of dams, combatting evaporation by building underground water distribution networks, introducing water metres in agriculture, encouraging farmers to opt for less water-intensive crops, multiplying the number of treatment plants, and looking at desalination as a way of increasing supply.

With agriculture the main culprit in Iran’s inefficient use of water, Iranian officials fear that the crisis will accelerate migration from the countryside to urban centres incapable of catering to the migrants and, in turn, increase popular discontent.

A US study suggested in 2015 that decades of unsustainable agricultural policies in Syria; drought in the north-eastern agricultural heartland of the country; economic reforms that eliminated food and fuel subsidies; significant population growth; and failure to adopt policies that mitigate climate change exacerbated grievances about unemployment, corruption and inequality that exploded in 2011 in anti-government protests in Syria.

The Syrian government’s determination to crush the protest rather than engage with the protesters sparked the country’s devastating war, currently the world’s deadliest conflict.

“We’re not arguing that the drought, or even human-induced climate change, caused the uprising. What we are saying is that the long-term trend, of less rainfall and warmer temperatures in the region, was a contributing factor, because it made the drought so much more severe.” said Colin Kelley, one the study’s authors.

“The uprising has…to do with the government’s failure to respond to the drought, and with broader feelings of discontent in rural areas, and the growing gap between rich and poor, and urban and rural areas during the 2000s, than with the drought itself,” added Middle East water expert Francesca de Chatel.

Adopting a different emphasis, Ms. De Chatel argued that demonstrations in Syria, despite the drought, would not have erupted without the wave of protests that by then had already swept the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt and subsequently toppled the leaders of Libya and Yemen.
She asserted further that the protest movement-turned-war in Syria would not “have persisted without input and support from organised groups in Syria who had been planning for this moment for years and certainly since before 2006 or the start of the drought.”

For Iranian leaders, the threat is real irrespective of the difference in emphasis between Mr. Kelly and Ms. De Chatel. Former Iranian agriculture minister Issa Kalantari warned in 2015 that left unresolved the water crisis would force 50 million Iranians to migrate in the next 25 years.
In other words, the environmental crisis that drives migration and unemployment and fuels discontent risks political upheaval. Similarly, multiple groups and external powers have for years contemplated regime change in Tehran.

The issues that were at the core of the initial protests in Syria in 2011 – unemployment, corruption and inequality – were at the heart of Iranian anti-government demonstrations in December and January.

Despite a renewed focus on the water crisis, the government’s Achilles Heel could prove to be the fact that its response has included shooting the messenger who bears the bad news as environmentalists increasingly find themselves in the firing line.

Authorities arrested in January Kavous Seyed-Emami, a dual Iranian-Canadian nation who directed the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, and six other environmentalists. It asserted two weeks later that Mr. Seyed-Emami had committed suicide in jail after confessing to being a spy for the United States and Israel.

Three more environmentalists were arrested a month later while Mr. Seyed-Emami’s wife was prevented from leaving Iran.
State TV subsequently reported that Mr. Seyed-Emami and his colleagues had told Iran’s enemies that the country could no longer maintain domestic agriculture production because of water shortages and needed to import food.

Said Saeed Leylaz, a Tehran-based economist and political analyst: “Public opinion has become sensitized to environmental issues. So the government may see the organizations and institutions who work on environmental issues as problematic.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa, and the forthcoming China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom

Israel’s systematic violence against Palestinian women

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Greg Shupak / The Electronic Intifada

A Bedouin woman watches as Israeli bulldozers destroy her shelter in the village of al-Araqib, August 2010. The village has been razed more than 100 times.

Oren Ziv ActiveStills

Crucial to Israeli colonialism is an attempt at the destruction of Palestinian society. This is part of a bid to secure demographic majority over non-Jewish people across all of historic Palestine and maximal control over the territory and its resources.

Pursuing these goals necessarily involves hindering Palestinians’ ability to raise their next generation and to sustain, educate and care for themselves and each other.

The institutionalized destruction of Palestinian women’s lives has thus been an essential feature of the Israeli project. And as the world celebrates International Women’s Day, and in a time of the #MeToo movement, it is important to remember how Israel has systematically carried out violence against Palestinian women, undercut their healthcare, and undermined their socio-economic conditions.

In this regard, Israeli settler-colonialism can be seen as intrinsically anti-feminist and a form of gendered violence.

Routine violence

Israeli violence against Palestinian women is routine. The United Nations Human Rights Council special rapporteur on violence against women notes that the “establishments and expansion of settlements has been accompanied by an increase in settlers’ violence against Palestinians, including women and girls.”

The Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling, a Palestinian organization, gathered statements from women who describe being “scared to leave their houses alone after experiences of [attacks by Israeli settlers] during both day and night.”

The group also collected testimony from 100 Palestinian women living in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem and found that when Israeli governments illegally settle Israelis in East Jerusalem and Palestinians protest, “women frequently report an increase in Israeli police brutality including nighttime raids on family homes and the arrest of young men and minors.”

Palestinian women who have been detained report being subject to torture or ill treatment or both, as noted by the UN special rapporteur: “Beatings, insults, threats and sexual harassment were reported to be common practices as well as intrusive body searches, which often occur before and after court hearings or during the night as punitive measures.”

Israeli violence against Palestinian women is also frequently fatal and on a large scale. During Israel’s December 2008-January 2009 offensive against Gaza, 110 Palestinian women were killed. During Israel’s summer 2014 assault on the territory, Israel massacred 230 women.

Targeting healthcare

Base violence is just one of the weapons being deployed against Palestinian women. Targeting Palestinians’ access to healthcare and reducing its quality, both in Israel and in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, is another.

The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women issued a recent report finding that Palestinian women and girls residing in Israel “continue to register poor health outcomes, particularly infant and maternal mortality.”

The rate of infant mortality among Palestinian citizens of Israel is 6.4 per 1,000 live births, almost three times higher than it is among Jewish Israelis. Last month Israel’s high court took steps likely to worsen this problem by rejecting a petition demanding the reopening of a mother-infant health clinic serving some 1,500 people in two Palestinian communities in Israel.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, meanwhile, has outlined a variety of mechanisms through which Israel undermines Palestinian healthcare in the West Bank and Gaza.

These include Israeli control of the Palestinian Authority’s budget, including its health budget, and limiting the free movement of patients, medical personnel, ambulances and medications between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as within the West Bank.

Such practices contribute to Palestinian women having worse health outcomes than their Israeli counterparts. Maternal mortality in the West Bank and Gaza is four times higher than in Israel. Life expectancy of Israeli women is on average 10 years longer than it is for Palestinian women.

Moreover, Palestinian women in the West Bank live under the omnipresent threat of having their homes demolished or of being evicted. This, according to the UN’s special rapporteur, has a “severe psychological impact” on women, “causing anxiety and leading to depression.”

Israeli military forces regularly carry out night raids in the West Bank. The special rapporteur describes these as “psychological violence” against Palestinian women to the extent that they “experience severe sleeping disorders, severe stress issues and depression.”

Meanwhile, at the checkpoints Israel has established throughout the West Bank, Israeli soldiers have blocked pregnant Palestinian women on their way to hospital to give birth.

In Gaza, health care is inadequate because of the Israeli blockade. Patients in need are at the mercy of the Israeli military to grant them a permit for travel, which is often delayed or denied.

In 2016, for instance, the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling reports that 1,726 such permits were denied and 8,242 were delayed so long that they did not receive a response in time for their medical appointments.

These restrictions are “arbitrary,” according to the center, and “target seriously ill women who pose no threat [to Israel] … For women – mothers, wives and daughters – the burden these restrictions place on them and their families is unbearable.”

Israel’s large-scale military assaults on Gaza have further undermined women’s health there.

According to UNESCO’s Commission on the Status of Women, Israel’s 2014 attack left healthcare centers damaged, without sufficient medical equipment and supplies, and healthcare providers unable to properly meet the needs of women and girls requiring sexual and reproductive health services.

During the Israeli attack, UNESCO reports, “more than 45,000 pregnant Palestinian women were deprived of access to basic reproductive health services, and approximately 5,000 of them gave birth in extremely poor conditions.”

Destroying potential

Similar problems exist with Palestinian women’s education and employment.

The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has expressed its “concern about the systemic discrimination experienced by national minorities” living in Israel, specifically Palestinian women and girls. The committee notes that Palestinian women and girls have unequal access to education – as do their ultra-Orthodox Jewish counterparts – which leads to higher dropout rates and poor outcomes in higher education.

According to the scholar Suheir Abu Oksa Daoud, “Israeli state policies toward Palestinian women workers [living in Israel] have been central to their marginalization in production and employment.”

Daoud points out that the “severe shortage” of daycare centers in Palestinian areas prevents Palestinian women from entering the labor market, noting that only 25 government-supported daycare centers operate in Palestinian areas in Israel whereas 16,000 operate in Jewish areas.

In the West Bank, the violence, vandalism and property destruction that Israeli soldiers and settlers carry out “overburdens women with increased responsibilities, including financial ones, for members of their family.”

In a study of the Israeli-occupied Jordan Valley, an area of the West Bank largely populated by Bedouin Palestinians, the rights group Al-Haq notes that Palestinian women are especially “vulnerable to the impacts of Israel’s unlawful measures in the region, which have had direct adverse impacts on their standard of living and on the various roles and responsibilities they undertake.”

For example, the organization points out that in 2015 and 2016 Israel demolished 240 Palestinian houses, tents, animal sheds, stores and poultry farms in the Jordan Valley, displacing 647 Palestinians. These measures, Al-Haq says, resulted in “devastating consequences” for Palestinian women and deprived them of their right to an adequate standard of living.

Al-Haq adds that Israel’s discriminatory planning and zoning regime systematically denies Palestinian communities building permits so Palestinian women and their families in the Jordan Valley “are forced to live with little to no privacy, in overcrowded, unsanitary and uninhabitable environments.”

These poor living conditions affect “the livelihoods of women and children and their access to basic services and facilities, including water and sanitation, healthcare and education.”

Al-Haq interviewed women in al-Qilt al-Foqa, a community in the southern Jordan Valley, about the acts of violence Israeli settlers routinely commit, often under the protection of Israeli soldiers. The organization states that “women expressed anxiety about living in a constant state of psychological distress from fear of potential settler attacks on the community.”

This anxiety, Al-Haq adds, “stems from both experiencing and witnessing incidents of violence that in the past posed a serious threat to the lives of the women, children and other family members.”

Al-Haq finds that “the right of Palestinian women to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including to sexual and reproductive freedom, is severely undermined by Israeli practices in the Jordan Valley, including demolitions, denials of road constructions, and restrictions on access to healthcare services and facilities.”

In Gaza, UNESCO reports, food insecurity among women-headed households is 51 percent while in the male-headed households in which most women live, it stands at 58 percent.

UNESCO attributes this problem to Israel’s closure of the Strip. The report notes that food insecurity worsened after Israel’s summer 2014 assault because it increased the number of displaced Palestinians in Gaza, made it harder for the population to access their livelihoods, and increased unemployment rates. UNESCO says that it expects this situation to “contribute to a deterioration of the nutritional status of women and children.”

As the “primary caregivers in Gaza, women are faced with acute challenges in coping with the large number of families with members killed or injured, the long-term impact of damaged infrastructure and reduced services,” UNESCO states.

Systematic and deliberate

Israel’s oppression of and violence against Palestinian women is pervasive and occurs at every level of their lives. It can only be seen as systematic.

The Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling describes the Palestinian women of Jerusalem as a “community deliberately and systematically placed under enormous physical and psychological pressure by the prevailing authority with an apparent intention of making not only day-to-day life unbearable, but destroying any hope in a brighter future.”

The World Health Organization finds that Israel’s measures as an occupying power are “designed to expel [Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip] and prevent them from reaching their agricultural land and property. This has a devastating effect on the health of inhabitants, particularly women (and especially women who are pregnant), children and the aged.”

Israel’s settler-colonial policies undermine Palestinian women’s abilities to live full, secure lives, and to contribute to building communities capable of flourishing in the present and in future generations.

On this International Women’s Day, one way to support the global emancipation of women is to support the struggle for Palestinian liberation.

Dr. Greg Shupak teaches Media Studies at the University of Guelph-Humber. His book, The Wrong Story: Palestine, Israel, and the Media, can be ordered from OR Books.