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Palestinians ‘Are Not Animals in a Zoo’: Redefining the Role of the ‘Victim Intellectual’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 02/07/2022 - 12:00am in

Dedicated to the memory of Ghassan Kanafani, an iconic Palestinian leader and engaged intellectual who was assassinated by the Israeli Mossad on July 8, 1972.

Years before the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, U.S. media introduced many new characters, promoting them as “experts” who helped ratchet up propaganda, ultimately allowing the U.S. government to secure enough popular support for the war.

Though enthusiasm for war began dwindling in later years, the invasion began with a relatively strong popular mandate that allowed President George W. Bush to claim the role of liberator of Iraq, the fighter of “terrorism” and the champion of U.S. global interests. According to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll published on March 24, 2003 – just a few days after the invasion – 72% of Americans were in favor of the war.

Only now are we beginning to fully appreciate the massive edifice of lies, deceit, and forgery involved in shaping the war narrative, and the sinister role played by mainstream media in demonizing Iraq and its people. Future historians will continue with the task of unpacking the war conspiracy for years to come.

Consequently, it is also important to acknowledge the role played by Iraq’s own “native informants”, a group that the late professor Edward Said labeled as “willing servant[s] of imperialism”.

Thanks to the various American invasions and military interventions, these “informants” have grown in number and usefulness to the extent that, in various Western intellectual and media circles, they define what is erroneously viewed as “facts” concerning most Arab and Muslim countries. From Afghanistan to Iran, Syria, Palestine, Libya, and, of course, Iraq, these “experts” are constantly parroting messages that are tailored to fit Western agendas.

These native informants are often depicted as political dissidents. They are recruited – whether officially via government-funded think tanks or otherwise – to provide a convenient depiction of the “realities” in the Middle East and elsewhere as a rational, political or moral justification for war and various other forms of intervention.


Victim intellectuals

Though this phenomenon is widely understood – especially as its dangerous consequences became too apparent in the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan – another phenomenon rarely receives the necessary attention. In the second scenario, the “intellectual” is not necessarily an “informant”, but a victim, whose message is entirely shaped by his sense of self-pity and victimhood. In the process of communicating that collective victimhood, this intellectual does their people a disfavor by presenting them as hapless and having no human agency whatsoever.

Palestine is a case in point. The Palestine “victim intellectual” is not an intellectual in any classic definition. Said refers to the intellectual as “an individual endowed with a faculty for representing, embodying, articulating a message, a view, an attitude, philosophy or opinion”.  Gramsci argued that intellectuals are those who “sustain, modify and alter modes of thinking and behavior of the masses. They are purveyors of consciousness”. The “victim intellectual” is none of these.

In the case of Palestine, this phenomenon was not accidental. Due to the limited spaces available to Palestinian thinkers to speak openly and truly about Israeli crimes and about Palestinian resistance to military occupation and Apartheid, some have strategically chosen to use whatever available margins to communicate any kind of messaging that could be nominally accepted by Western media and audiences.

In other words, in order for Palestinian intellectuals to be able to operate within the margins of mainstream western society, or even within the space allocated by certain pro-Palestinian groups, they can only be “allowed to narrate” as “purveyors” of victimhood. Nothing more.

Those familiar with the Palestinian intellectual discourse, in general, especially following the first major Israeli war on Gaza in 2008-9, must have noticed how accepted Palestinian narratives regarding the war rarely deviate from the decontextualized and depoliticized Palestinian victim discourse. While understanding the depravity of Israel and the horrondousness of its war crimes is critical, Palestinian voices that are given a stage to address these crimes are frequently denied the chance to present their narratives in the form of strong political or geopolitical analyses, let alone denounce Israel’s Zionist ideology or proudly defend Palestinian resistance.

Much has been written about the hypocrisy of the West in handling the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine war, especially when compared to the decades-long Israeli occupation of Palestine or the genocidal Israeli wars in Gaza. But little has been said about the nature of the Ukrainian messaging as compared to those of Palestinians: the former is demanding and entitled, while the latter mostly passive and bashful.

While top Ukrainian officials often tweet statements instructing Western officials to “go f**k yourselves” or similar, their Palestinian equivalents are constantly begging and pleading. The irony is that Ukrainian officials are attacking the very nations that have supplied them with billions of dollars of arms, while Palestinian officials are careful not to offend the same nations that support Israel with the very weapons used to kill Palestinian civilians.

One may argue that Palestinians are tailoring their language to accommodate whichever political and media spaces that are available to them. This, however, hardly explains why many Palestinians, even within “friendly” political and academic environments, can only see their people as victims and nothing else.


Not just victims

This is hardly a new phenomenon. It goes back to the early years of the Israeli war on the Palestinian people. Leftist Palestinian intellectual Ghassan Kanafani, like others, was aware of this dichotomy. Kanafani contributed to the intellectual awareness among various revolutionary societies in the Global South during a critical era for national liberation struggles worldwide. He was the posthumous recipient of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Conferences Lotus Prize for Literature in 1975, three years after he was assassinated by Israel in Beirut, in July 1972.

Like others in his generation, Kanafani was adamant in presenting Palestinian victimization as part and parcel of a complex political reality of Israeli military occupation, Western colonialism and U.S.-led imperialism. A famous story is often told about how he met his wife, Anni in South Lebanon. When Anni, a Danish journalist, arrived in Lebanon in 1961, she asked Kanafani if she could visit the Palestinian refugee camps. “My people are not animals in a zoo,” Kanafani replied, adding, “You must have a good background about them before you go and visit.” The same logic can be applied to Gaza, to Sheikh Jarrah and Jenin.

The Palestinian struggle cannot be reduced to a conversation about poverty or the horrors of war, but must be expanded to include wider political contexts that led to the current tragedies in the first place. The role of the Palestinian intellectual cannot stop at conveying the victimization of the people of Palestine, leaving the much more consequential and intellectually demanding role of unpacking historical, political and geopolitical facts to others, some of whom often speak on behalf of Palestinians.

It is quite uplifting and rewarding to finally see more Palestinian voices included in the discussion about Palestine. In some cases, Palestinians are even taking center stage in these conversations. However, for the Palestinian narrative to be truly relevant, Palestinians must assume the role of the Gramscian intellectual, as “purveyors of consciousness” and abandon the role of the “victim intellectual” altogether. The Palestinian people are indeed not animals in a zoo, but a nation with political agency, capable of articulating, resisting, and, ultimately, winning their freedom, as part of a much greater fight for justice and liberation throughout the world.

Feature photo | A Palestinian refugee stands next to graffiti depicting Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani with Arabic that reads his name and “I will not renounce before planting my paradise on earth,” while marking “Nakba” or Catastrophe day in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, May 15, 2016. Nasser Nasser | AP

Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of six books. His latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappé, is “Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak out”. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

The post Palestinians ‘Are Not Animals in a Zoo’: Redefining the Role of the ‘Victim Intellectual’ appeared first on MintPress News.

Cognitive Warfare: Israel Targets Journalists Who Threaten Its Reality-Creation Tactics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/06/2022 - 1:16am in

They were shooting directly at the journalists: New evidence suggests Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in targeted attack by Israeli forces”. Thus read a CNN headline on May 26, 2022, for an article describing what may have been a “targeted killing,” – that is, assassination – of Al Jazeera journalist Shirleen Abu Akleh, a 51-year-old highly esteemed Palestinian-American journalist who had covered Israeli repression of the Palestinian population for about 25 years before she was killed.

With this killing and its aftermath, one knows that it is all hands on deck for an Israeli government cognitive campaign in the perpetual cognitive war Israel wages against the world, as will be explained below.

According to the CNN article, Abu Akleh was killed by a bullet to the head at around 6:30 a.m. on May 11, while standing with a group of journalists near the entrance of Jenin refugee camp as they covered an Israeli raid. “We stood in front of the Israeli military vehicles for about five to ten minutes before we made moves to ensure they saw us. And this is a habit of ours as journalists; we move as a group and we stand in front of them so they know we are journalists, and then we start moving,” a Palestinian reporter, Shatha Hanaysha, told CNN, describing their cautious approach toward the Israeli army convoy before the gunfire began.

Video recordings of the surrounding area showed the killing shots could have come only from the Israeli soldiers in specially designed “sniper” vehicles that were in direct line-of-fire positions to Abu Akleh that morning. Eyewitnesses told CNN that they “believed Israeli forces on the same street fired deliberately on the reporters in a targeted attack. All of the journalists were wearing protective blue vests that identified them as members of the news media.”



“Lawful targets” in a “Cognitive War”

The “blue vests” might have been what ensured the journalists would be targeted by Israeli forces, if Israeli forces see journalists as “lawful targets” in the war they continue to wage against the Palestinians, in what is in fact a continuation of the 1967 War. That is, an unrelenting military occupation in violation of international law, which constitutes a continuation of the “war.” And the evidence shows Israeli military/intel forces do see journalists as “lawful targets,” as part of the “Cognitive War” they wage against the Palestinians, but more particularly against the global population in an attempt to legitimize their military oppression of the Palestinians in their ongoing effort of “population expulsion” of the Palestinians from Palestinian territory. As Benjamin Netanyahu’s father, Benzion, proclaimed shortly before he died, this is the objective of Israel Zionists like him.

In fact, while Abu Akleh was the only journalist killed that day by Israeli forces, she wasn’t the only Palestinian journalist shot. A group of four Palestinian reporters was fired upon as well, with one also injured in the gunfire. That was not because Israeli forces had an obstructed view; footage showed a direct line of sight between the reporters and the Israeli convoy. That only one of the four was hit, besides Abu Akleh, is probably taken by military superiors as a sign that their marksmanship must be improved.

A firearms expert told CNN: “The relatively tight grouping of the rounds indicate Shireen was intentionally targeted with aimed shots and not the victim of random or stray fire.”

But an indication of how the Israeli military sees journalists, other than “reliable” Israeli press, was revealed on the day of the shooting by an Israeli military spokesperson, Ran Kochav. Kochav told Army Radio that Abu Akleh had been “filming and working for a media outlet amidst armed Palestinians. They’re armed with cameras, if you’ll permit me to say so.” And if they are “armed,” they are “lawful targets” in “war.”

In fact, the killing of journalists has been openly called for in the “flagship publication” of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, The Journal of International Security Affairs, by retired U.S. Army Officer Ralph Peters. The odious 2009 article – potentially a war crime in itself – stated: “Although it seems unthinkable now, future wars may require censorship, news blackouts, and, ultimately, military attacks on the partisan media.”


The power of “Cognitive Warfare”

The Israeli military said it was conducting an investigation into the killing of Abu Akleh, and added, “assertions regarding the source of the fire that killed Ms. Abu Akleh must be carefully made and backed by hard evidence. This is what the IDF is striving to achieve.” In fact, obfuscating that is what the IDF and its Cognitive Warfare component must be seen as “striving to achieve” – at least if Israeli Cognitive War theorists, one of whom is quoted at length below, are to be believed.

Leaving it to those few journalists who report honestly to provide more facts on this assassination – as Abu Akleh would have, giving motive to Israeli forces to particularly target her with lethal fire – “Cognitive Warfare” should be explained further.

The best source for understanding the concept is Israel’s own doctrinal statements about the “cognitive domain” of warfare. A clue to that was presented when an Israeli lawyer filed a lawsuit alleging that “Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs [is] carrying out a global propaganda campaign on behalf of the Israeli government that violates human rights and is acting without authority to do so… Attorney Schachar Ben Meir’s petition demands that the High Court of Justice order a halt to the activities carried out by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, headed by Gilad Erdan.”

The substance of the claim was that the Israeli government had approved the payment of NIS 128 million ($38 million) to a private organization called Kela-Shlomo to carry out “mass consciousness activities” within the framework of what the Ministry of Strategic Affairs calls “extra-governmental discourse.” That is, publication of government propaganda on social networks and newspapers often carried out through private businesses and non-profit organizations operating in Israel and abroad.

But to determine the correct “messages” to promote or counter requires “surveilling citizens and conducting illegal operations intended to influence and manipulate public opinion.” That is what constitutes “mass consciousness activities” – a fascist type of governmental activity if there ever was one, but “updated” to utilize “private contractors” to conduct operations, in addition to governmental military/intel assets. This explains the proliferation of “private Israeli intelligence/influence” firms.


The musings of a Cognitive Warfare theorist

The current Minister of Diaspora Affairs, Nachman Shai, who in the past was a spokesperson for the Israeli military, explained and promoted the higher level to which cognitive warfare has been taken from its origins as mere “propaganda” or “hasbara,” in his book “Hearts and Minds: Israel and the Battle for Public Opinion.”

He explained that, in the expected 21st-century wars of Israel and the United States, the “principal effort will be the battle for consciousness.” He explained further:

[There] are various terms to describe the battle for consciousness. In Britain, it is called the fight for hearts and minds. The U.S. military uses the expressions psychological warfare, perception management, influence management, and information operation. The idea speaks about consciousness: the strategy of limited conflict is to win a decision of consciousness in the society with the help of military means. The battle is for the society’s consciousness and for national resilience.”

Furthermore, according to Shai: “Consciousness is not a natural and inherent concept but rather a structured process, continually shaped by interested parties and by those who wield wealth and power.” How this is done in its current terminology is described in a publication of the Israeli “Institute for National Security Studies” entitled: “The Cognitive Campaign: Strategic and Intelligence Perspectives.” Its Preface states:

It is important to distinguish between cognition and the cognitive campaign. Cognition is the set of insights that an individual or individuals have regarding the surrounding reality and the way they want to shape it, derived from the set of the values and beliefs through which they examine and interpret their environment and work to confront its inherent challenges, and even to change it. In contrast, the cognitive campaign involves the actions and tools that entities that are part of a certain campaign framework use to influence the cognition of target audiences or to prevent influence on them. The purpose of  the cognitive campaign is to cause target audiences to adopt the perception of reality held by the side wielding the effort, so that it can more easily advance the strategic and/or operational objectives that it sees as critical. The cognitive campaign can be negative, that is, prevent the development of undesirable cognitive states, or positive, with an attempt to produce the desired cognition.

That the “cognitive campaign can be negative, that is, prevent the development of undesirable cognitive states,” is why Julian Assange has been imprisoned for years now, with no likelihood he will ever be freed by the U.S. government and why Edward Snowden was forced to take refuge in a foreign country to avoid the same fate. The U.S. must silence them and other dissidents, lest an “undesirable cognitive state” develops in the U.S. population – as one eventually developed over the Vietnam War, and eventually forced the U.S. out of Vietnam.

Thus it is reasonable to believe that is why Israel has targeted so many journalists over the last couple of decades – as has the U.S. It would be foolish and/or naïve not to believe that when retired military officers openly call for “targeted killings” of journalists, that they aren’t already being targeted!


Making our own reality

When Karl Rove was alleged to have said how the United States is now “an empire, we make our own reality,” he was not just making a hubristic statement. Rather, it can be seen as an indication that he was aware of how powerful a “cognitive campaign” is. In fact, such campaigns were always how the CIA conducted post-World War II coups, and it can be speculated that “cognitive campaigns” were introduced into U.S. political campaigns by Arthur Finkelstein and his “Six-Party Theory” in the 1972 Nixon campaign, down to the 2016 Trump campaign, based upon cognitive warfare principles drawn from CIA coups and the Israeli military occupation.

The authors of “The Cognitive Campaign: Strategic and Intelligence Perspectives” wrote:

The cognitive campaign is not new, and it is an inseparable aspect of every strategic and military conflict. In recent years, this struggle has played a much more important role than in past conflicts; at times it takes place without a direct military context and is not even led by military bodies. The cognitive campaign is a continuous campaign; thus, its prominence is greater in the period between wars (as a part of the “campaign between wars).”

In fact, as these authors know, there is no such thing as “between wars” in Israel or the United States, with both countries in “Perpetual War” regardless of the level of aggressive kinetic war they are waging at any given moment.

Carl von Clausewitz wrote in “On War” that two different motives make men fight one another: hostile feelings and hostile intentions. Inciting those “feelings” is done by both Israel and the U.S. continuously, by multifarious networks to “condition” their populations with “hostile feelings and hostile intentions.” As has been done in the U.S. to incite hatred of Russia, China, Iran, et al., so that a war with either one, or all, can explode at any moment. Israel does the same against Iran and the Palestinians. Mission Accomplished!

Feature photo  | Carlos Latuff for MintPress News

Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, JA, USA (ret.) served in the U.S. military as a Judge Advocate defense attorney representing Guantanamo prisoners. Before that, he was trained as a Sr. PsyOps NCO, and initially trained as a U.S. Marine Corps Rifleman. 

The post Cognitive Warfare: Israel Targets Journalists Who Threaten Its Reality-Creation Tactics appeared first on MintPress News.

Chris Hedges: America’s Gun Fetish

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/06/2022 - 2:56am in

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY (Scheerpost) — Guns were a ubiquitous part of my childhood. My grandfather, who had been a master sergeant in the army, had a small arsenal in his house in Mechanic Falls, Maine. He gave me a 2020 bolt action Springfield rifle when I was 7. By the time I was 10, I had graduated to a Winchester lever action 30-30. I moved my way up the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Marksmanship Qualification Program, helped along by a summer camp where riflery was mandatory. Like many boys in rural America, I was fascinated by guns, although I disliked hunting. Two decades as a reporter in war zones, however, resulted in a deep aversion to weapons. I saw what they did to human bodies. I inherited my grandfather’s guns and gave them to my uncle.

Guns made my family, lower working-class people in Maine, feel powerful, even when they were not. Take away their guns and what was left? Decaying small towns, shuttered textile and paper mills, dead-end jobs, seedy bars where veterans, nearly all the men in my family were veterans, drank away their trauma. Take away the guns, and the brute force of squalor, decline, and abandonment hit you in the face like a tidal wave.

Yes, the gun lobby and weapons manufacturers fuel the violence with easily available assault-style weapons, whose small caliber 5.56 mm cartridges make them largely useless for hunting. Yes, the lax gun laws and risible background checks are partially to blame. But America also fetishizes guns. This fetish has intensified among white working-class men, who have seen everything slip beyond their grasp: economic stability, a sense of place within the society, hope for the future and political empowerment. The fear of losing the gun is the final crushing blow to self-esteem and dignity, a surrender to the economic and political forces that have destroyed their lives. They cling to the gun as an idea, a belief that with it they are strong, unassailable, and independent. The shifting sands of demographics, with white people projected to become a minority in the U.S. by 2045, intensifies this primal desire, they would say need, to own a weapon.

There have been over 200 mass shootings this year. There are nearly 400 million guns in the U.S., some 120 guns for every 100 Americans. Half of the privately-owned guns are owned by 3 percent of the population, according to a 2016 study. Our neighbor in Maine had 23 guns. Restrictive gun laws, and gun laws that are inequitably enforced, block gun ownership for many Blacks, especially in urban neighborhoods. Federal law, for example, prohibits gun ownership for most people with felony convictions, effectively barring legal gun ownership for a third of Black men. The outlawing of guns for Blacks is part of a long continuum. Blacks were denied the right to own guns under the antebellum Slave Codes, the post-Civil War Black Codes, and the Jim Crow laws.

White people built their supremacy in America and globally with violence. They massacred Native Americans and stole their land. They kidnapped Africans, shipped them as cargo to the Americas, and then enslaved, lynched, imprisoned, and impoverished Black people for generations. They have always gunned down Black people with impunity, a historical reality only recently discernable to most white people because of cell phone videos of killings.

“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer,” D.H. Lawrence writes. “It has never yet melted.”

White society, sometimes overtly and sometimes unconsciously, deeply fears Black retribution for its four centuries of murderous assaults.

“Again, I say that each and every Negro, during the last 300 years, possesses from that heritage a greater burden of hate for America than they themselves know,” Richard Wright notes in his journal. “Perhaps it is well that Negroes try to be as unintellectual as possible, for if they ever started really thinking about what happened to them, they’d go wild. And perhaps that is the secret of whites who want to believe that Negroes really have no memory; for if they thought that Negroes remembered they would start out to shoot them all in sheer self-defense.”

The Second Amendment, as the historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes in Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment,” was designed to solidify the rights, often demanded under state law, of whites to carry weapons. Southern white men were not only required to own guns but serve in slave patrols. These weapons were used to exterminate the indigenous population, hunt down enslaved people who escaped bondage and violently crush slave revolts, strikes and other uprisings by oppressed groups. Vigilante violence is wired into our DNA.

“Most American violence – and this also illuminates its relationship to state power – has been initiated with a ‘conservative’ bias,” the historian Richard Hofstadter writes. “It has been unleashed against abolitionists, Catholics, radicals, workers and labor organizers, Negroes, Orientals, and other ethnic or racial or ideological minorities, and has been used ostensibly to protect the American, the Southern, the white Protestant, or simply the established middle-class way of life and morals. A high proportion of our violent actions has thus come from the top dogs or the middle dogs. Such has been the character of most mob and vigilante movements. This may help to explain why so little of it has been used against state authority, and why in turn it has been so easily and indulgently forgotten.”

Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old white shooter in Buffalo who killed ten Black people and wounded three others, one of them Black, at the Tops Friendly Markets in a Black neighborhood, gave expression in a 180-page manifesto to this white fear, or “great replacement theory.” Gendron repeatedly cited Brenton Tarrant, the 28-year-old mass shooter who in 2019 killed 51 people and injured 40 others at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Tarrant, like Gendron, live streamed his attack so, he believed, he could be cheered on by a virtual audience. Robert Bowers, 46, killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. Patrick Crusius, a 21-year-old, in 2019 drove more than 11 hours to target Hispanics, leaving 22 people dead and 26 injured in a Walmart in El Paso. John Earnest, who pleaded guilty to murdering one and injuring three others in 2019 at a synagogue in Poway, California, saw the “white race” being supplanted by other races. Dylann Roof in 2015 fired 77 shots from his .45-caliber Glock pistol at parishioners attending a Bible study at the Black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. He murdered nine of them. “You Blacks are killing white people on the streets everyday and raping white women everyday,” he shouted at his victims as he was firing, according to a journal he kept in jail.

The gun enforced white supremacy. It should not be surprising that it is embraced as the instrument that will prevent whites from being dethroned.

The specter of societal collapse, less and less a conspiracy theory as we barrel to climate breakdown, reinforces the gun fetish. Survivalist cults, infused with white supremacy, paint the scenario of gangs of marauding Black and brown people fleeing the chaos of lawless cities and ravaging the countryside. These hordes of Black and brown people, the survivalists believe, will only be kept at bay with guns, especially assault-style weapons. This is not far removed from calling for their extermination.

Historian Richard Slotkin calls our national lust for blood sacrifice the “structuring metaphor of the American experience,” a belief in “regeneration through violence.” Blood sacrifice, he writes in his trilogy Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier,  The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, and Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America, is celebrated as the highest form of good. Sometimes it requires the blood of heroes, but most often it requires the blood of enemies.

This blood sacrifice, whether at home or in foreign wars, is racialized. The U.S. has slaughtered millions of the globe’s inhabitants, including women and children, in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria and Libya, as well as in numerous proxy wars, the latest in Ukraine, where the Biden administration will ship another $700 million in weapons to supplement $54 billion in military and humanitarian aid.

When the national mythology inculcates into a population that it has the divine right to kill others to purge the earth of evil, how can this mythology not be ingested by naïve and alienated individuals? Kill them overseas. Kill them at home. The more the empire deteriorates, the more the impetus to kill grows. Violence, in desperation, becomes the only route to salvation.

“A people unaware of its myths is likely to continue living by them, though the world around that people may change and demand changes in their psychology, their world view, their ethics, and their institutions,” Slotkin writes.

America’s gun fetish and culture of vigilante violence makes the U.S. very different from other industrialized nations. This is the reason there will never be serious gun control. It does not matter how many mass shootings take place, how many children are butchered in their classrooms, or how high the homicide rate climbs.

The longer we remain in a state of political paralysis, dominated by a corporate oligarchy that refuses to respond to the mounting misery of the bottom half of the population, the more the rage of the underclass will find expression through violence. People who are Black, Muslim, Asian, Jewish, and LGBTQ, along with the undocumented, liberals, feminists and intellectuals, already branded as contaminants, will be slated for execution. Violence will spawn more violence.

“People pay for what they do, and, still more, for what they have allowed themselves to become,” James Baldwin writes of the American South. “The crucial thing, here, is that the sum of these individual abdications menaces life all over the world. For, in the generality, as social and moral and political and sexual entities, white Americans are probably the sickest and certainly the most dangerous people, of any color, to be found in the world today.” He added that he “was not struck by their wickedness, for that wickedness was but the spirit and the history of America. What struck me was the unbelievable dimension of their sorrow. I felt as though I had wandered into hell.”

Those who cling to the mythology of white supremacy cannot be reached through rational discussion. Mythology is all they have left. When this mythology appears under threat it triggers a ferocious backlash, for without the myth there is an emptiness, an emotional void, a crushing despair.

America has two choices. It can reintegrate the dispossessed back into the society through radical New Deal types of reforms, or it can leave its

Feature photo | Original illustration by Mr. Fish

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of show The Chris Hedges Report.

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As More Students, Faculty Back BDS, American Universities Maintain Apartheid Ties

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/06/2022 - 3:33am in

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL — This month, City University of New York’s (CUNY) law school faculty unanimously passed a resolution endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, joining a chorus of American universities advocating for Palestinian rights. Harvard University’s Crimson newspaper endorsed the movement earlier this year, with 50 of the school’s faculty members supporting the decision. And in March, the Middle East Studies Association also voted to endorse the BDS movement.

As college campuses across the U.S. grow in their support for Palestine, their administrations – many still having relations with major Israeli universities complicit in Israel’s occupation of Palestine – appear less likely to agree. With that in mind, BDS activists urge supporters to boycott Israeli academic institutions.


How Israeli universities are complicit

As illustrated by Visualizing Palestine, a data-driven project crafting graphics on the Palestine-Israel issue, several notable Israeli universities assist the state in maintaining its oppression of Palestinians. Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University, Ariel University, Haifa University, Bar-Ilan University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and the Technion Institute of Technology all contribute to ongoing colonial violence.

Israeli academic Aparthied

Credit | VisualizingImpact

Israeli academic Aparthied

Credit | VisualizingImpact

For instance, Tel Aviv University invites weapon manufacturers like Elbit Systems to its annual Technology Employment Fair and invites students to Elbit Systems events for the purpose of recruitment. The school has also played a role in establishing the Israeli army’s military doctrines and ethical codes and training students to provide legal defense through its army reserve program. The school’s Greenberg National Institute of Forensic Medicine is currently keeping 63 Palestinian corpses in a medical lab freezer as part of Israel’s policy of withholding bodies to use as bargaining chips in future negotiations.

Technion also works with arms developers, partnering with Elbit Systems and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems on research projects. Technion, Ben-Gurion, and Bar-Ilan all participated in building a humanoid robot with funding provided by the Israeli and U.S. defense departments. Bar-Ilan and Technion also collaborate with the Israeli military to develop equipment used in executing home demolitions.

Hebrew University coordinates with the Israeli police in harassing and surveilling nearby Palestinian communities. Haifa University hosts a program training students on how to become “digital advocates for Israel.” And Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University, Ben-Gurion, and Haifa University offered benefits and scholarships to students who participated in the military assault on Gaza in 2014.

These universities are deeply entwined in Israel’s apartheid, making their American partners also indirectly complicit.


American academia and Israeli apartheid

Despite growing calls from student activists for their schools to support the BDS movement, American universities continue to collaborate with Israel.

“The university is putting itself at risk of importing the racist policies of the Israeli state into university campuses because of the collaboration that’s required,” Nasreen Abd Elal, information designer at Visualizing Palestine, told MintPress News. Abd Elal was referring to Columbia University’s dual degree program with Tel Aviv University, which was launched in 2020. She was involved in the student campaign against it at Columbia.

Columbia isn’t the only American school linked to complicit Israeli universities, though. Many of the U.S.’ leading universities coordinate with Israeli institutions. The following schools have study-abroad exchange programs or research partnerships with Tel Aviv University, in addition to Columbia and CUNY:


Technion and Cornell partnered together to create the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute in 2011. Washington University of St. Louis partners with Technion through its McDonnell International Scholars Academy. The University of Illinois partners with both Tel Aviv and Hebrew University through its research center, Discovery Partners Institute. In 2019 Ariel University, which is located in an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, announced a partnership with Florida Atlantic University.

Many of these academic institutions are also heavily invested in Israeli companies, including Columbia, Tufts, UNC, and Urbana-Champaign. Harvard grabbed headlines in April when its newspaper endorsed the BDS movement, but the school maintains investments in several companies listed on the UN’s database of companies involved in Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise. These include Bookings Holdings, Expedia, General Mills, and Motorola.

While BDS campaigns across college campuses have gained momentum, to this day no American university has actually divested from Israel.


Not just academia

Schools aren’t the only ones associating with Israeli universities. Several American companies also have ties.

Technion has partnered with American corporations Google, IBM, Intel, Nvidia, KLA, Amazon, Medtronic, Cisco, Marvell, and Cadence Design Systems. IBM has also participated in events with Ariel University, according to the research center Who Profits from the Occupation. Software company PTC began collaborating with Technion on a research and development center in 2021.

BGN Technologies, Ben-Gurion’s technology transfer company, established its Advanced Technologies Park. The park’s tenants include American firms dbMotion and Oracle. BGN Technologies also works with American entities the Georgia Institute of Technology, Nexant, Delek US, Duquesne Light Company, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, and the MITRE Corporation, through its joint consortium related to developing cyber protection infrastructure.

And the Cleveland Clinic Foundation entered into an academic cooperation agreement with the Hebrew University in 2017.


Suppressing Palestinian academic freedom

BDS resolutions in academia aren’t passing at a record or even significant rate, but Abd Elal says the administrative reaction to those that have passed demonstrates the movement is working:

The instinctual response of administrators tends to come out swinging in opposition saying, “We’ll never commit to divestment.“ But the fact they feel obliged to respond is provoking that confrontation. Students and faculty are seeing how the university will throw out the democratic mandate because of their interest in maintaining good relationships with their investors.”

Abd Elal added that these campaigns have managed to garner a groundswell of support, and that, in itself, is powerful. “There have been significant strides made in building solidarity on campus and getting people to commit to not going to these institutions and putting pressure on the administration to end [the agreements],” she said.

The call for an academic boycott goes beyond the institutional level, however. “The Israeli state and occupation marginalize Palestinian students and universities and restrict access of international scholars and students to Palestinian universities, which is a significant threat to academic freedom,” Abd Elal said.

In February, the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) published new instructions on foreign entry into the West Bank. These guidelines included a swath of new restrictions for individuals wishing to learn or work at Palestinian universities. Foreign lecturers must hold a doctorate and can only teach in certain fields. COGAT will permit only 150 foreign students at Palestinian universities each year and can limit the fields of study open to them.

As detailed above, many American universities have academic agreements with Israeli universities. Yet promoting a free exchange of ideas between Israeli and American academics tends to ignore the crippling hold Israel has on Palestinian education.

Abd Elal explained that Visualizing Palestine’s graphic wasn’t meant to just describe how Israeli universities are complicit in apartheid, but also how the Israeli state has an interest in suppressing Palestinian academic freedom. “The occupation really cuts off Palestinians from the academic community,” she said. “So for that reason, the academic boycott is a key way of standing in solidarity with our academic peers.”

Feature photo | Nasser Nasser | AP

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.

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Biden’s Boycott of Cuba Is “A Failure at Regional Diplomacy”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/05/2022 - 2:03am in

On May 16, the Biden administration announced new measures to “increase support for the Cuban people.” They included easing travel restrictions and helping Cuban-Americans support and connect with their families. They mark a step forward but a baby step, given that most U.S. sanctions on Cuba remain in place. Also in place is a ridiculous Biden administration policy of trying to isolate Cuba, as well as Nicaragua and Venezuela, from the rest of the hemisphere by excluding them from the upcoming Summit of the Americas that will take place in June in Los Angeles.

This is the first time since its inaugural gathering in 1994 that the event, which is held every three years, will take place on U.S. soil. But rather than bringing the Western Hemisphere together, the Biden administration seems intent on pulling it apart by threatening to exclude three nations that are certainly part of the Americas.

For months, the Biden administration has been hinting that these governments would be excluded. So far, they have not been invited to any of the preparatory meetings and the Summit itself is now less than a month away. While former White House press secretary Jen Psaki and State Department spokesman Ned Price have repeated that “no decisions” have been made, Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols said in an interview on Colombian TV that countries that “do not respect democracy are not going to receive invitations.”

Biden’s plan to pick and choose which countries can attend the Summit has set off regional fireworks. Unlike in the past, when the U.S. had an easier time imposing its will on Latin America, nowadays there is a fierce sense of independence, especially with a resurgence of progressive governments. Another factor is China. While the U.S. still has a major economic presence, China has surpassed the U.S. as the number one trading partner, giving Latin American countries more freedom to defy the United States or at least stake out a middle ground between the two superpowers.

The hemispheric reaction to the exclusion of three regional states is a reflection of that independence, even among small Caribbean nations. In fact, the first words of defiance came from members of the 15-nation Caribbean Community, or Caricom, which threatened to boycott the Summit. Then came regional heavyweight, Mexican President Manuel López Obrador, who stunned and delighted people around the continent when he announced that, if all countries were not invited, he would not attend. The presidents of Bolivia and Honduras soon followed with similar statements.

The Biden administration has put itself in a bind. Either it backs down and issues the invitations, tossing red meat to right-wing U.S. politicians like Senator Marco Rubio for being “soft on communism,” or it stands firm and risks sinking the Summit and U.S. influence in the region.

Biden’s failure at regional diplomacy is all the more inexplicable given the lesson he should have learned as vice president when Barack Obama faced a similar dilemma.

That was 2015, when, after two decades of excluding Cuba from these Summits, the countries of the region put down their collective feet and demanded that Cuba be invited. Obama had to decide whether to skip the meeting and lose influence in Latin America, or go and contend with the domestic fallout. He decided to go.

Oabam a visit to CUba

Cristobal Marquez, owner of “Cristobal’s,” the restaurant where Michelle and Barak Obama had lunch during their visit to Cuba in 2016, shows the book made by White House photographer Pete Souza, in Havana, Cuba. Ramon Espinosa | AP

I remember that Summit vividly because I was among the bevy of journalists jostling to get a front seat when President Barack Obama would be forced to greet Cuba’s President Raúl Castro, who came into power after his brother Fidel Castro stepped down. The momentous handshake, the first contact between leaders of the two countries in decades, was the high point of the summit.

Obama was not only obligated to shake Castro’s hand, he also had to listen to a long history lesson. Raúl Castro’s speech was a no-holds-barred recounting of past U.S. attacks on Cuba—including the 1901 Platt Amendment that made Cuba a virtual U.S. protectorate, U.S. support for Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s, the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and the scandalous U.S. prison in Guantanamo. But Castro was also gracious to President Obama, saying he was not to blame for this legacy and calling him an “honest man” of humble origins.

The meeting marked a new era between the U.S. and Cuba, as the two nations began to normalize relations. It was a win-win, with more trade, more cultural exchanges, more resources for the Cuban people, and fewer Cubans migrating to the United States. The handshake led to an actual visit by Obama to Havana, a trip so memorable that it still brings big smiles to the faces of Cubans on the island.

Then came Donald Trump, who skipped the next Summit of the Americas and imposed draconian new sanctions that left the Cuban economy in tatters, especially once COVID hit and dried up the tourist industry.

Until recently, Biden has been following Trump’s slash-and-burn policies that have led to tremendous shortages and a new migration crisis, instead of reverting to Obama’s win-win policy of engagement. The May 16 measures to expand flights to Cuba and resume family reunifications are helpful, but not enough to mark a real change in policy—especially if Biden insists on making the Summit a “limited-invite only.”

Biden needs to move quickly. He should invite all the nations of the Americas to the Summit. He should shake the hands of every head of state and, more importantly, engage in serious discussions on burning hemispheric issues such as the brutal economic recession caused by the pandemic, climate change that is affecting food supplies, and the terrifying gun violence–all of which are fueling the migration crisis. Otherwise, Biden’s #RoadtotheSummit, which is the Summit’s Twitter handle, will only lead to a dead end.

Feature photo | President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden wave to reporters before boarding Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., May 17, 2022. Gemunu Amarasinghe | AP

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK. She is the author of ten books, including three books on Cuba—No Free Lunch: Food and Revolution in Cuba, The Greening of the Revolution, and Talking About Revolution. She is a member of the Steering Committee of ACERE (Alliance for Cuba Engagement and Respect).

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Our Hypocrisy on War Crimes

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/05/2022 - 11:00pm in

Khalid Salman by the graves of his sister and her children, who were among the twenty-four Iraqi civilians killed by US Marines in the 2005 Haditha massacreTown council leader and lawyer Khalid Salman by the graves of his sister and her children, who were among the twenty-four Iraqi civilians killed by US Marines in the 2005 Haditha massacre, Haditha, Iraq, 2011

There is the war, and then there is the war about the war. Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine is being fought in fields and cities, in the air and at sea. It is also, however, being contested through language. Is it a war or a “special military operation”? Is it an unprovoked invasion or a human rights intervention to prevent the genocide of Russian speakers by Ukrainian Nazis? Putin’s great weakness in this linguistic struggle is the unsubtle absurdity of his claims—if he wanted his lies to be believed, he should have established some baseline of credibility. But the weakness of the West, and especially of the United States, lies in what ought to be the biggest strength of its case against Putin: the idea of war crimes. It is this concept that gives legal and moral shape to instinctive revulsion. For the sake both of basic justice and of mobilizing world opinion, it has to be sustained with absolute moral clarity.

The appalling evidence of extrajudicial executions, torture, and indiscriminate shelling of homes, apartment buildings, hospitals, and shelters that has emerged from the Kyiv suburb of Bucha and from the outskirts of Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Sumy gives weight and urgency to the accusation that Putin is a war criminal.* By late April, the UN human rights office had received reports of more than three hundred executions of civilians. There have also been credible reports of sexual violence by Russian troops and of abductions and deportations of civilians. According to Iryna Venediktova, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, by April 21 Russia had committed more than 7,600 recorded war crimes.

Yet the US has been, for far too long, fatally ambivalent about war crimes. Its own history of moral evasiveness threatens to make the accusation that Putin and his forces have committed them systematically in Ukraine seem more like a useful weapon against an enemy than an assertion of universal principle. It also undermines the very institution that might eventually bring Putin and his subordinates to justice: the International Criminal Court (ICC).

There have long been two ways of thinking about the prosecution of war crimes. One is that it is a universal duty. Since human beings have equal rights, violations of those rights must be prosecuted regardless of the nationality or political persuasion of the perpetrators. The other is that the right to identify individuals as war criminals and punish them for their deeds is really just one of the spoils of victory. It is the winner’s prerogative—a political choice rather than a moral imperative.

Even during World War II, and in the midst of a learned discussion about what to do with the Nazi leadership after the war, the American Society of International Law heard from Charles Warren, a former US assistant attorney general and a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian of the Supreme Court, that “the right to punish [war criminals] is not a right conferred upon victorious belligerents by international law, but it flows from the fact of victory.” Warren quoted with approval another eminent American authority, James Wilford Garner, who had written that “it is simply a question of policy and expediency, to be exercised by the victorious belligerent or not.” “In other words,” Warren added, “the question is purely political and military; it should not be treated as a judicial one or as arising from international law.” As the Polish lawyer Manfred Lachs, whose Jewish family had been murdered by the Nazis, wrote in 1945, this idea that the prosecution of war crimes is “a matter of political expediency” would make international law “the servant of politics” and “a flexible instrument in the hands of politicians.”

It is hard to overstate how important it is that the war crimes that have undoubtedly been committed already in Ukraine—and the ones that are grimly certain to be inflicted on innocent people in the coming weeks and months—not be understood as “a flexible instrument in the hands of politicians.” They must not be either shaped around or held hostage by “policy and expediency.” This is a question of justice. Those who have been murdered, tortured, and raped matter as individuals, not as mere exemplars of Putin’s barbarity. The desire to prosecute their killers and abusers stems from the imperative to honor that individuality, to restore insofar as is possible the dignity that was stolen by violence.

But it is also, as it happens, a question of effectiveness. If accusations of Russian war crimes are seen to be instrumental rather than principled, they will dissolve into “whataboutism”: Yes, Putin is terrible, but what about… Instead of seeing a clean distinction between the Western democracies and Russia, much of the world will take refuge in a comfortable relativism. If war crimes are not universal violations, they are merely fingers that can point only in one direction—at whomever we happen to be in conflict with right now. And never, of course, at ourselves.

Even before Putin launched his invasion on February 24, the Biden administration seems to have had a plan to use Russian atrocities as a rallying cry for the democratic world. That day, The New York Times reported that “administration officials are considering how to continue the information war with Russia, highlight potential war crimes and push back on Moscow’s propaganda.” This was not necessarily cynical—Putin’s appalling record of violence against civilians in Chechnya and Syria and plain contempt for international law made it all too likely that his forces would commit such crimes in Ukraine.

But this anticipation of atrocities, and deliberation about how to make use of them, underlines the administration’s perception of the accusation of war crimes as a promising front in the ideological counterattack against Putin. As early as March 10, well before the uncovering of the atrocities at Bucha, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told the BBC that Russian actions in Ukraine “constitute war crimes; there are attacks on civilians that cannot be justified…in any way whatsoever.”

A week later, and still a fortnight before the first reports from Bucha, Biden was calling Putin, in unscripted remarks, a “war criminal.” At that point, he in fact seemed a little unsure about the wisdom of making the charge—initially, when asked if he would use the term, he replied “no,” before asking reporters to repeat the question and then replying in the affirmative. Significantly, Biden was responding not to ground-level assaults by Russian troops on civilians but to the shelling of Ukrainian cities. This may perhaps explain his hesitancy: civilian casualties from aerial assaults by drones, rockets, and bombs are a sore subject in recent US military history.

Having crossed the line and made this charge directly, Biden had little choice but to raise the stakes when the terrible images from Bucha were circulated. First, on April 4 he went beyond deeming Putin a criminal by calling specifically for him to face a “war crime trial.” Then on April 12 he pressed the nuclear button of atrocity accusations: genocide. “We’ll let the lawyers decide, internationally, whether or not it qualifies [as genocide], but it sure seems that way to me.” He also referred to an unfolding “genocide half a world away,” clearly meaning in Ukraine.

Biden did so even though his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, had told a press briefing on April 4:

Based on what we have seen so far, we have seen atrocities, we have seen war crimes. We have not yet seen a level of systematic deprivation of life of the Ukrainian people to rise to the level of genocide.

Sullivan stressed that the determination that genocide had been committed required a long process of evidence-gathering. He cited the recently announced ruling by the State Department that assaults on the Rohingyas by the military in Myanmar/Burma constituted genocide. That conclusion was reached in March 2022; the atrocities were committed in 2016 and 2017. The State Department emphasized in its announcement that it followed “a rigorous factual and legal analysis.”

It is obvious that no such analysis preceded Biden’s decision to accuse Putin of genocide. When asked about genocide on April 22, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said, “No, we have not documented patterns that could amount to that.” Biden’s careless use of the term is all the more damaging because, however inadvertently, it echoes Putin’s grotesque claim that Ukraine has been committing genocide against Russian speakers in Donbas.

The problem with all of this is not that Biden is wrong but that it distracts from the ways in which he is right. This overstatement makes it far too easy for those who wish to ignore or justify what the Russians are doing to dismiss the mounting evidence of terrible crimes in Ukraine as exaggerated or as just another battleground in the information war. In appearing overanxious to inject “war criminal” into the international discourse about Putin and making it seem like a predetermined narrative, the US risked undermining the very stark evidence for that conclusion. By inflating that charge into genocide, it substituted rhetoric for rigor and effectively made it impossible for the US to endorse any negotiated settlement for Ukraine that leaves Putin in power: How can you make peace with a perpetrator of genocide? Paradoxically, it also risked the minimization of the actual atrocities: If they do not rise to the level of the ultimate evil, are they “merely” war crimes?

What makes these mistakes by Biden truly detrimental, however, is that the moral standing of the US on war crimes is already so profoundly compromised. The test for anyone insisting on the application of a set of rules is whether they apply those rules to themselves. It matters deeply to the struggle against Putin that the US face its record of having consistently failed to do this.

On November 19, 2005, in the Iraqi town of Haditha, members of the First Division of the US Marines massacred twenty-four Iraqi civilians, including women, children, and elderly people. After a roadside bomb killed one US soldier and badly injured two others, marines took five men from a taxi and executed them in the street. One marine sergeant, Sanick Dela Cruz, later testified that he urinated on one of the bodies. The marines then entered nearby houses and killed the occupants—nine men, three women, and seven children. Most of the victims were murdered by well-aimed shots fired at close range.

The official US press release then falsely claimed that fifteen of the civilians had been killed by the roadside bomb and that the marines and their Iraqi allies had also shot eight “insurgents” who opened fire on them. These claims were shown to be lies four months later, when Tim McGirk published an investigation in Time magazine. When McGirk initially put the evidence—both video and eyewitness testimony—to the marines, he was told, “Well, we think this is all al-Qaeda propaganda.”

This was consistent with what seems to have been a coordinated cover-up. No one in the marines’ chain of command subsequently testified that there was any reason to suspect that a war crime had occurred. Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani, the battalion commander, was later charged with dereliction of duty for failing to properly report and investigate the incident. Those charges were dismissed. Charges against six other marines were dropped, and a seventh was acquitted. Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, who led the squad that perpetrated the killings, was demoted in rank to private and lost pay, but served no time in prison.

In his memoir Call Sign Chaos (2019) the former general James Mattis, who took over as commander of the First Marine Division shortly after this massacre and later served as Donald Trump’s secretary of defense, calls what happened at Haditha a “tragic incident.” It’s clear that Mattis believed that at least some of the marines had run amok:

In the chaos, they developed mental tunnel vision, and some were unable to distinguish genuine threats amid the chaos of the fight…. In the moments they had to react, several Marines had failed, or had tried but were unable, to distinguish who was a threat and who was an innocent. I concluded that several had made tragic mistakes, but others had lost their discipline…. The lack of discipline extended to higher ranks. Specifically, it was a gross oversight not to notice and critically examine a tragic event so far out of the norm. I recommended letters of censure for the division commander—a major general—and two senior colonels.

Mattis nowhere uses phrases or words like “war crime,” “massacre,” “atrocity,” or “cover-up.” He was determined, too, to exonerate the lower-ranking soldiers who participated in the violence at Haditha that day. “You did your best,” he reassured them, “to live up to the standards followed by US fighting men throughout our many wars.”

How does the “tragic incident” at Haditha differ from the murders of civilians by Russian forces in Ukraine? There are some important distinctions. Unlike in Russia now, the US had media organizations sufficiently free and independent to be able to challenge the military’s account of what happened. It had elected politicians who were willing to condemn the atrocity—in 2006, for example, Joe Biden suggested that then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld should resign because of Haditha. Senior military commanders, including Mattis, were obviously repelled by the atrocity. Putin ostentatiously decorated the Sixty-Fourth Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade for its “mass heroism and courage” after that unit had been accused by Ukraine of committing war crimes in Bucha. There was no such official endorsement of the First Marine Division. These differences matter—false equivalence must be avoided.

Yet uncomfortable truths remain. One of the most prestigious arms of the US military carried out an atrocity in a country invaded by the US in a war of choice. No one in a position of authority did anything about it until Time reported on it. No one at any level of the chain of command, from senior leaders down to the soldiers who did the killings, was held accountable. And such minor punishments as were imposed seem to have had no deterrent effect. In March 2007 marines killed nineteen unarmed civilians and wounded fifty near Jalalabad, in Afghanistan, in an incident that, as The New York Times reported at the time, “bore some striking similarities to the Haditha killings.” Again, none of the marines involved or their commanders received any serious punishment.

American army staffers organizing stacks of German documents to be used as evidence in prosecuting war crimes at the Nuremberg Trial

Charles Alexander/US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C./NARA

American army staffers organizing stacks of German documents to be used as evidence in prosecuting war crimes at the Nuremberg Trial, Nuremberg, Germany, 1945–1946

Perhaps most importantly, nothing that happened in these or other atrocities in Iraq or Afghanistan changed the way that deliberate acts of violence against foreign civilians are presented in official American discourse. The enemy commits war crimes and lies about them. We have “tragic incidents,” “tragic mistakes,” and, at the very worst, a loss of discipline. When bad things are done by American armed forces, they are entirely untypical and momentary responses to the terrible stresses of war. The conditioning that helps make them possible, the deep-seated instinct to cover them up, and the repeated failure to bring perpetrators to justice are not to be understood as systemic problems. Nowhere is American exceptionalism more evident or more troubling than in this compartmentalizing of military atrocities.

The only way to end this kind of double standard is to have a single, supranational criminal court to bring to justice those who violate the laws of war—whoever they are and whatever their alleged motives. This idea has been around since 1872, when it was proposed by Gustave Moynier, one of the founders of the International Committee of the Red Cross. It seemed finally to be taking shape in the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust, when a statute for an international criminal court was drafted by a committee of the General Assembly of the UN. This effort was, however, stymied by the USSR and its allies. In the 1990s the combination of the end of the cold war and the hideous atrocities committed during the breakup of Yugoslavia and in Rwanda gave the proposal a renewed impetus. This led to the conference in Rome in June and July 1998, attended by 160 states and dozens of nongovernmental organizations, that finally adopted the charter for the ICC. This statute entered into force in July 2002, and the ICC began to function the following year.

Of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, one (China) opposed the adoption of the ICC’s statute. Two (the United Kingdom and France) supported it and fully accepted its jurisdiction. That leaves two countries that ended up in precisely the same contradictory position: Russia and the US. Both signed the Rome statute—Russia in September 2000, the US three months later. And both then failed to ratify it. Putin, presumably because of international condemnation of war crimes being committed under his leadership in Chechnya, declined to submit it to the Duma in Moscow. George W. Bush effectively withdrew from the ICC in May 2002, following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and his declaration that “our war against terror is only beginning.”

The US then began what Yves Beigbeder, an international lawyer who had served at the Nuremberg Trial in 1946, called “a virulent, worldwide campaign aimed at destroying the legitimacy of the Court, on the grounds of protecting US sovereignty and US nationals.” Against the backdrop of the “war on terror,” Congress approved the American Service-Members’ Protection Act (ASPA) of 2002, designed to insulate US military personnel (including private contractors) from ICC jurisdiction. The ASPA placed numerous restrictions on US interaction with the ICC, including the prohibition of military assistance to countries cooperating with the court. Also in 2002, the US sought (unsuccessfully) a UN Security Council resolution to permanently insulate all US troops and officials involved in UN missions from ICC jurisdiction. In late 2004 Congress approved the Nethercutt Amendment, prohibiting assistance funds, with limited exceptions, to any country that is a party to the Rome statute.

These attacks on the ICC culminated on September 2, 2020, when the Trump administration imposed sweeping sanctions on Fatou Bensouda, a former minister of justice in Gambia, who was then the ICC’s chief prosecutor, and Phakiso Mochochoko, a lawyer and diplomat from Lesotho, who heads a division of the court. The US acted under an executive order that declared their activities a “national emergency.” The emergency was “the ICC’s efforts to investigate US personnel.” Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, denounced the ICC as “a thoroughly broken and corrupted institution.”

A year ago, the Biden administration lifted these sanctions against Bensouda and Mochochoko, saying they were “inappropriate and ineffective.” But the US did not soften its underlying stance, which is that, as Biden’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken, put it,

we continue to disagree strongly with the ICC’s actions relating to the Afghanistan and Palestinian situations. We maintain our longstanding objection to the Court’s efforts to assert jurisdiction over personnel of non-States Parties such as the United States and Israel.

In principle, this hostility to the ICC is rooted in the objection that the court is engaged in an intolerable effort to bind the US to a treaty it has not ratified—in effect, to subject the US to laws to which it has not consented. If this were true, it would indeed be an unacceptable and arbitrary state of affairs. But this alleged concern is groundless. The ICC does not claim any jurisdiction over states—it seeks to prosecute individuals.

This distinction was vital to the Nuremberg Tribunal, which stressed that “crimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced.” Moreover, the US is already a party to the treaties that define the crimes the ICC is empowered to prosecute. The ICC follows the precedents and practices of international criminal tribunals that the US enthusiastically supported and participated in: the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after World War II, and the courts established in the 1990s to prosecute those responsible for atrocities in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. If the ICC is illegitimate, so were those courts.

The brutal truth is that the US abandoned its commitment to the ICC not for reasons of legal principle but from the same motive that animated Putin. It was engaged in aggressive wars and did not want to risk the possibility that any of its military or political leaders would be prosecuted for crimes that might be committed in the course of fighting them. That expediency rather than principle was guiding US attitudes became completely clear in 2005. The US decided not to block a Security Council resolution referring atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan to the ICC prosecutor. (It abstained on the motion.) It subsequently supported the prosecution at the ICC of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir and the use by the Special Court of Sierra Leone of the ICC facilities in The Hague to try former Liberian president Charles Taylor for crimes committed in Sierra Leone.

This American support was welcome, but it has been almost as damaging to the ICC as the outright hostility of the US had been. It suggested that in the eyes of the US, the only real war crimes were those committed by Africans. To date, the thirty or so cases taken before the ICC all involve individuals from Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Libya, Mali, or Uganda. This selectivity led the African Union to label the ICC a “neo-colonial court” and urged its members to withdraw their cooperation from its prosecutions. However false the charge, it is easy to see how credible it might seem when the US has alternately endorsed the legitimacy of the ICC in prosecuting Africans and called the same court corrupt and out of control when it explores the possibility of investigating war crimes committed by Americans.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, more than forty member states of the ICC, most of them European but also including Japan, Chile, Colombia, and Costa Rica, formally asked the court “to investigate any acts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide alleged to have occurred on the territory of Ukraine from 21 November 2013 onwards.” The ICC prosecutor Karim Khan has begun to do this. Crucially, though Ukraine is not itself a party to the ICC, it had already accepted the court’s jurisdiction in relation to war crimes on its territory, first in 2014 and again in 2015, the second time “for an indefinite duration.”

It is Ukraine’s choice that the ICC be the body that investigates and prosecutes Russian atrocities against its people. This means that if there is to be any prospect of bringing Putin and his accomplices to justice for murder, rape, and torture, it must lie with the ICC. The “war crime trial” that Biden called for on April 4, if it were ever to be possible, could be conducted only at The Hague.

The Biden administration knows this very well. On April 11 Charlie Savage reported in The New York Times that officials are “vigorously debating how much the United States can or should assist an investigation into Russian atrocities in Ukraine by the International Criminal Court.” But the administration is simultaneously spreading a fog of vagueness over this very question. In his April 4 press briefing Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said, “Obviously, the ICC is one venue where war crimes have been tried in the past, but there have been other examples in other conflicts of other mechanisms being set up.” He promised that “the appropriate venue for accountability” would be decided “in consultation with allies and with partners around the world.” Yet all of those significant allies are members of the ICC, and the most important of them, Ukraine, has specifically given the court the job of trying to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Why continue to avoid this obvious truth? A yawning gap has opened between Biden’s grandiloquent rhetoric about Putin’s criminality on the one side and the deep reluctance of the US to lend its weight to the institution created by the international community to prosecute such transgressions of moral and legal order. It is a chasm in which all kinds of relativism and equivocation can lodge and grow. The longer the US practices evasion and prevarication, the easier it is for Putin to dismiss Western outrage as theatrical and hypocritical, and the more inclined other countries will be to cynicism.

It has been said repeatedly since February 24 that if the democracies are to defeat Putin, they must be prepared to sacrifice some of their comforts. Germany, for example, has to give up Russian natural gas. What the US must give up is the comfort of its exceptionalism on the question of war crimes. It cannot differentiate itself sufficiently from Putin’s tyranny until it accepts without reservation that the standards it applies to him also apply to itself. The way to do that is to join the ICC.

—April 28, 2022

The post Our Hypocrisy on War Crimes appeared first on The New York Review of Books.

Institute for Curriculum Services: How an Israel Lobby Group Infiltrated US Education

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/05/2022 - 9:11am in

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA  — In 2018, the Virginia Coalition for Human Rights (VCHR) successfully stopped the state from adopting textbook edits made by the Institute for Curriculum Services (ICS), a pro-Israel “educational” institution.

The ICS promotes itself as improving the accuracy of K-12 instruction on Judaism and Jewish history in the United States. Yet, backed by the Israel lobby, its strategy appears more in line with advocating a Zionist narrative than enhancing education.

Today, ICS boasts that it has helped better public education in all 50 states and impacted 11 million students across the country. With this in mind, MintPress News uncovered how ICS is twisting the truth about Israel in U.S. schools.


The fight in Virginia

In January 2018, Virginia activist Jeanne Trabulsi attended a Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) webinar featuring ICS. During the event, ICS Director Aliza Craimer Elias spoke about the nonprofit’s activity, specifically how it works with Jewish Community Relations Councils (JCRCs) to send revision requests to textbook review committees.

Following the webcast, the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy (IRmep) sent a request to Virginia’s Department of Education, under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, for all documents submitted by ICS, JCPA and JCRCs. IRmep found that ICS-proposed edits were sent to the Virginia Department of Education on behalf of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond and the JCRCs of Greater Washington, Richmond, and Tidewater.

Requested ICS changes to public school textbooks included:

  • Replace “settlers” with “communities,” “occupation” with “control of,” “wall” with “security fence,” “occupied territories” with “captured areas,” and “militant” with “terrorist.”
  • Discourage students from conducting open internet research, and instead recommend the Anti-Defamation League’s website and the JewishVirtualLibrary.org.
  • Delete all references to “Palestinian Territories.”
  • Change maps to recognize Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, instead of classifying these areas as occupied.

ICS Review

An excerpt from an ICS Review of “Pearson World History and Geography 1500 to Present”

ICS Review

An excerpt from an ICS Review of “National Geographic World Cultures and Geography”

ICS targeted 12 textbooks published by the National Geographic Society, Prentice Hall, Five Ponds Press, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill for revision.

With these revelations, VCHR sent a letter to the Virginia Department of Education and the above publishers requesting that they not incorporate ICS edits. To VCHR’s knowledge, no ICS-sought changes were made to the textbooks during the 2018 review cycle.


ICS tactics

In March, Trabulsi presented VCHR’s victory against ICS at the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and IRmep’s annual Israel Lobby Conference.

“VCHR is of the opinion that ICS is not a true education outfit. It’s a public affairs and advocacy group,” Trabulsi said during her talk.

ICS operates as a nonproft under the 501(c)(3) status of San Francisco’s JCRC and is a grantee of the Schusterman Family Foundation, which also supports the American Israel Education Foundation, an American Israel Public Affairs Committee charity organizing congressional visits to Israel.

In addition to textbook revisions, ICS also hosts teacher training. Currently, 90 U.S. cities have hosted ICS workshops with over 6,000 teachers have participated. Trabulsi attended their flagship course entitled “Teaching the History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict Using Primary Sources.” She described their teaching methods during the conference:

[T]hey are highly selective about what documents they do include in their teaching modules. If you didn’t know the story of the Arab world and Israel, you’d think they’re pretty good. I remember one student remarking that the Israelis have offered peace to the Arabs so many times, what else could the Arabs possibly want?”

The ICS boasts of reaching school districts in all 50 states

The primary sources ICS uses for this module include The Jewish State (1896), The First Arab Congress (1913), Hussein-McMahon Correspondence (1915), and The Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916), and The Balfour Declaration (1917).

Trabulsi told MintPress that ICS doesn’t use primary sources that may alter the narrative they wish to set, such as the White Paper of 1939, a policy paper by the British government rejecting the establishment of a Jewish state in historic Palestine.

“VCHR believes that ICS is enmeshed with and funded by Israel affinity groups that drive their pro-Israel advocacy. We believe that this results in biased and inaccurate textbooks and teacher training,” Trabulsi said at the conference.


ICS involvement in textbooks across the US

MintPress sent freedom of information requests to the education departments or boards of all 50 states and the District of Columbia asking for all materials sent by ICS, JCPA, JCRCs, or Jewish federations during curriculum and textbook review processes.

Nineteen states responded that textbook and curriculum decisions are made at the local district level, so information on recommended changes is not available. Fourteen states said none of the aforementioned organizations contacted them regarding proposing textbook edits. Eleven states and D.C. did not respond by the time of writing. However, the states of California, New Mexico, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Kentucky provided information on correspondence they had with ICS, their state Jewish federations, and JCRCs.

ICS revisions in Kentucky focused on adding references to ancient Israel and the Holocaust in the content. The Jewish Federation of New Mexico sent their state’s education department an ICS review of social studies standards — advocating “Nation of Israel” be changed to “State of Israel.” In South Carolina, ICS reviews of a textbook from National Geographic Learning and Cengage Learning detailed adding references to acts of Palestinian terrorism.

In California, where ICS is based, JPAC, JCRCs of San Francisco and Sacramento, and the Jewish Federations of Greater Los Angeles and the Desert sent the state’s education department proposed revisions made by ICS. In their cover letter, the organizations commended California for accepting previous ICS edits.

ICS reviewed the textbooks from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Pearson Scott Foresman and Prentice-Hall, McGraw-Hill, Teachers Curriculum Institute, Studies Weekly, National Geographic Learning, Discovery Education, Pearson Prentice Hall, and First Choice Educational Publishing. ICS proposed edits include:

  • Delete mentions of “Palestine” and the “West Bank.”
  • Change “Palestine” to “Judah,” the ancient Israelite kingdom.
  • Add “Mandate” and “Region” to references of Palestine.
  • Delete reference to “Palestinian cultural heritage.”
  • Change “Jews settled there” to “Jews joined those [Jews] already there.”
  • Delete reference to Israel capturing the West Bank in 1967.

In Louisiana, the North Louisiana Jewish Federation, Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans and the Jewish Federation of Baton Rouge sent a letter to the state’s Department of Education on behalf of ICS recommending ICS revisions to content published by the American Book Company, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, Studies Weekly, Edmentum, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Brown University’s The Choices Program. ICS changes to these texts include:

  • Delete “rightfully” from sentence “The Arabs believed Israel had stolen land that rightfully belonged to Palestinian Arabs.”
  • Delete mentions of Israel “seizing territory” from Arab nations.
  • Add information describing Palestinian President Yasser Arafat as “directing countless terrorist attacks against Israelis.”
  • Delete student exercise to “[w]rite an unbiased essay that explores all sides of the issue of West Bank settlements.”
  • Delete mentions of “The Green Line,” “The wall,” and “Land lost by the wall” on maps.
  • Delete reason for Arab states rejecting the UN partition plan.
  • Add “Mandate” to references of Palestine
  • Delete mentions of “historic Palestine” and mentions of Palestine as a “land” or “country.”
  • Add references to acts of Palestinian terrorism
  • Place liberation of Palestine in quotes
  • Delete “natives of Palestine” in definition of Palestinians
  • Delete references to Palestinians inhabiting the land for thousands of years.
  • Add information describing Zionism as a movement for Jewish self-determination.
  • Add Israel retaliates in “self-defense” to Palestinian attacks.
  • Delete sentence “Israel disproportionately uses the bulk of the water from those aquifers [in the Occupied West Bank] for its population.”
  • Mention “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.”
  • Delete mention of Israel being” accused of many human rights abuses against Palestinians in the territories it occupies…[and] treating its Arab-Israeli citizens as inferior to its Jewish citizens” and replace it with “Israeli Arabs, who are Israeli citizens, have the same full legal rights as Israeli Jews.”

Erasing the existence of Palestine and the indigenous identity of Palestinians was a common theme in ICS revisions. “They relabeled maps and they deleted all references to Palestine. You can call it Mandatory Palestine, but you can never call it Palestine,” Trabulsi said during the Israel Lobby conference. “They want to change the word Palestine to Palestinian. The reasoning is there is no state of Palestine, nor has there ever been.”

ICS, JCPA, and the Jewish Federations of North America did not respond to MintPress’ requests for comment.


The Israel agenda in schools – and progressive pushback

ICS isn’t the only pro-Israel organization attempting to shape the narrative on Israel-Palestine in American education. Left-wing activists accused the final adoption of the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum of being “white-washed” and “watered down” following opposition by pro-Israel groups.

The Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate initiative is involved in thousands of schools across the U.S. and encourages these institutions to use ADL resources. Pro-Israel groups also continuously go after Palestinian and solidarity activists on college campuses across the country.

Yet progressive movements are fighting back. In 2018, the Texas Coalition for Human Rights (TCHR) successfully got the state’s board of education to change curriculum standards related to Palestine-Israel.

The following main changes were approved:

  • “[E]xplain how Arab rejection of the state of Israel has led to ongoing conflict” changed to “discuss factors contributing to the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the rejection of the existence of the state of Israel by the Arab League and a majority of Arab nations.”
  • “[E]xplain how developments in Islam influenced law and government in the Muslim world such as secularism, nationalism, and fundamentalism” changed to “explain how geopolitical and religious influences have impacted law and government in the Muslim world.”

VCHR Israel Schools

A factsheet released by the VCHR pushing back against some of the ICS’ more egregious demands

In November 2018, the Texas Board of Education heard public comments on its decision to update the school curriculum. TCHR testified in favor of changing the curriculum while Jewish community center Shalom Austin, the Jewish Community Relations Council, Jewish Federations in Texas, B’nai B’rith International, and Truth in Texas Textbooks all testified in favor of keeping the current standards.

TCHR activist Alex McDonald understands that more needs to be done in fixing the U.S.’ faulty school curriculum and ensuring accuracy, especially when it comes to Palestine. “The goal is to stifle the conversation and the criticism,” McDonald told MintPress News. “And ICS is just one small part of the brainwashing.”

Feature photo | Children from the Greater MetroWest Day School hold Israeli flags during a march in a New York parade. Craig Ruttle | AP

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.

The post Institute for Curriculum Services: How an Israel Lobby Group Infiltrated US Education appeared first on MintPress News.

Exposure: COVID and the long, cold winter of the American homeless

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/04/2022 - 1:49pm in

On a frozen winter night in a northeastern state of the United States in February 2020, four people nestled into a tent they had set up in the shrubbery behind an isolated retail building and went to sleep. They never woke up.

Their bodies were found a day or so later when friends who could not get in contact with them began to fear the worst. The gas from a propane heater they had relied on to keep warm in sub-zero temperatures had leaked overnight, creating a deadly blanket of carbon monoxide gas that had suffocated them slowly while they slept.

A few days later, the bodies and the tent had been removed, but the remnants of the homeless camp remained. Chairs were still set up around the ashes of a dug-out firepit. Empty food wrappers and beer cans were scattered to one side. A makeshift shrine had been set up to honour the dead: a rough-hewn wooden cross dug into the earth, strewn with beads and photographs, small bottles of liquor at its base. I did not know the dead intimately, but I had met them a few times at one of the local services for homeless people that I frequented as part of my work as an anthropologist. I visited the site with a friend to pay our respects, and we talked for a while with one of the other mourners who had gathered there. His eyes were bleary from crying and drinking, as he whispered in shock, ‘They were just tryna keep warm’.

A month later, in those precious early days of March 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic had been declared a public emergency, I sat and talked with another of my contacts experiencing long-term homelessness, who I will call John. We were catching up in a day shelter, a service that provides temporary refuge to people experiencing housing insecurity. Open for specific hours of the day, these services combine temporary shelter with access to resources, including hot meals, ‘go’ bags containing transportable packaged food, hygiene items, and casework support.

Although some people came to the day shelter when they were on the precipice of eviction to seek emergency assistance, most of the ‘regulars’ were experiencing what is defined by the US Housing and Urban Development [HUD] agency as ‘chronic homelessness’, which describes the plight of a person who has been without shelter for at least a year, or cyclically over four years. The HUD definition emphasises that people experiencing chronic homelessness often have other debilitating conditions, such as serious mental illness or substance-use disorders. The irony is that most of the housing assistance available in the northeast of the United States excludes those with active dependency disorders, and mandates that those receiving assistance participate in self-sufficiency programs, which people experiencing or recovering from those conditions often struggle to complete. The result is that some of the most vulnerable people in US society are those most likely to be navigating chronic homelessness.

Since most of the regulars attending the day shelter were disqualified for one reason or another from receiving housing assistance, they mostly came for a few hours of respite from the elements, some warm food, and to socialise with other people in situations resembling their own. They were not aiming to resolve their situation, only to survive it.

Although the early-spring air on this day was still bitter with cold, the mood inside the shelter was frenetic as most of us scrambled to discuss the news that had been slowly building over recent weeks: the news of a virus that was spreading worldwide, the coronavirus, or what would eventually become known as COVID-19. John, sitting beside me, ignored the topic until I directly asked him whether he was worried about the virus. At that time, no cases had been reported in our state, yet increasingly it seemed it was only a matter of time. In fact, the first two cases in our state were announced that afternoon.

John chuckled in response to my question, and clandestinely pulled open one side of his black leather jacket and pointed at a small pocket in the lining. There, I saw a small bottle of clear liquor. ‘Why would I worry about getting sick?’, he explained, grinning slyly. ‘I’m already dead.’

I asked John what he meant. His eyes narrowed cynically and with a sweeping movement of his arm he gestured towards himself and the people around the room where we were sitting. ‘Do you think any of us have any real life? Sleeping outside on stoops and sidewalks? Hiding at night? Ain’t no virus gonna kill me more than all that does every single day.’

Many of us have felt the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak most directly in terms of the biopolitical response of our governments. In an attempt to limit the spread of the virus, governments around the world have imposed various limits on public interaction that have disrupted everyday life for many—forcing people to work from home, children to attend virtual learning, and populations that once enjoyed relative freedom of movement to be simultaneously kept in and kept out by geopolitical borders. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, governments and individuals alike have put significant energy into managing one thing: exposure.

But what John’s perspective on the relativity of exposure and the risks he and other unhoused people navigate daily focuses attention not specifically on the biopolitics of pandemic management but rather the more persistent necropolitics of societal organisation. If biopolitics is power that is realised through the organisation of how people live, then necropolitical power is realised through dictating the limits of who gets to live and who dies. As Achille Mbembe writes, necropolitics are those that consider ‘under what practical conditions is the right to kill, to allow to live, or to expose to death exercised’. Exposure to conditions that produce premature death is not evenly distributed, and the chronically homeless are exposed to myriad threats to health and safety, even without a global pandemic. They are trying to avoid life-threatening bacterial infections from wearing unwashed socks and underwear day after day. They are trying to avoid being detected when they sleep in public lest they become the target of assault. They are ‘just tryna keep warm’—or cool—against the elements. That it was a propane heater that took more lives of the unhoused people I knew in 2020 than the rampant COVID-19 virus alerts us to the cruel necropolitics of exposure.

While the biopolitics of the pandemic disrupted and rearranged the lives of people worldwide as governments attempted to mitigate exposure to the virus, those whose lives were already exposed to death simply incorporated this new risk into the layers they already had to manage as part of daily life. The biopolitical management of the pandemic was felt most acutely by those for whom relative security was already assumed. For people like John, however, who exist in the nebulous space of social abandonment in which they are ‘already dead’, COVID-19 was first interpreted as just another layer of insecurity in a life already exposed to so many vectors of risk, not as a force of rupture.

That was until the situation of unsheltered people emerged as a focal point of pandemic management. No longer simply embodying individualised risk, unhoused people themselves came to be seen as significantly at risk of COVID-19 infection and, as a result, a significant potential source of public exposure.

The price of freedom

In the United States, the breathtaking spread of the virus in 2020 paralleled the rising political tensions leading up to the presidential election held that same year. The virus—and the methods introduced to limit exposure, such as social distancing and mask mandates—became heavily politicised; framed in conservative media discourses less in terms of public health risk and more in terms of an assault on American values of freedom. From the beginning, infection-mitigation efforts were delegated to the discretion of local officials, except in cases where soaring infection numbers forced state leaders to declare a ‘state of emergency’. But even when state mask mandates were in place, these were rarely enforced, and by the middle of 2020 in many parts of the United States it felt as if life were continuing as normal, even as hospitals overflowed with COVID-19 patients.

By the autumn of 2020 in the town where I was living, primary and secondary schools resumed face-to-face classes and by the autumn of 2021 even the mask mandate in schools was lifted, with no vaccine requirement for either students or staff in that state, just as the Delta variant swept across the country. While these kinds of COVID-19 mitigation policies varied in restrictiveness from state to state and locality to locality, ultimately it seemed as if there were one overriding strategy for collectively managing exposure to the virus: personal responsibility. The outcome has been catastrophic. As I write, the death toll from COVID-19 in the United States stands at over 850,000 people. Hundreds of thousands more have been debilitated by the virus, with long-term health and economic effects in a country where access to healthcare is exclusionary and expensive. The organising logic of life in the United States is now, as it long has been, ‘live freely, but at your own risk’.

Except that the relative freedoms of personal responsibility during the pandemic were primarily enjoyed by populations whose freedom was already assumed: namely, the mostly white and middle- to upper-income households, many of whom were working in white-collar industries that could transition to work-from-home settings for the protection of employees. The demand to resume a ‘normal’ lifestyle—that is, one revolving around public-facing consumption activities—was most vocally driven by these populations, whose racial and class privileges also worked to shield them from bearing most of the risk of resuming normality in the midst of a deadly pandemic.

For those who have historically had their freedom limited and constrained, the demand for resuming the freedoms of pre-pandemic life meant, conversely, an active threat to their own lives and well-being, since so much of the workforce called upon to do the retail, service, agricultural and logistics work necessary to maintain public consumption is disproportionately made up of people from low-income households, and with immigrant backgrounds, or people of colour more generally. With so much low-income service work re-classified as ‘essential’, many people from these backgrounds had few or no options to quit those jobs with highest exposure to the virus. With unemployment benefits only being available to those furloughed or laid off—even under the CARES Act, a policy introduced by the federal government to bolster unemployment accessibility—most of those whose ‘essential’ work put them into direct contact with the public could not voluntarily leave their job, else they would be ineligible for unemployment benefits and, essentially, living without income. The freedom they had to contend with was the ‘choice’ of whether to expose themselves to a deadly virus to pay the rent, or limit exposure but risk being unable to pay the rent.

While in the United States the collective management of COVID-19 exposure was mostly relegated to personal responsibility to preserve the ‘freedoms’ of the dominant classes, there was another group of people whose experiences were almost the direct inverse. Far from having their freedoms pandered to during the pandemic, people experiencing chronic homelessness ironically found themselves in the position of having their lives become a site of increased intervention, control and containment.

Restrictions and interventions are not new for people in situations of chronic homelessness who primarily sleep unsheltered. ‘Private’ space, their personal lives are carefully navigated within the less noticeable cracks of public space. Restrictions on public behaviour and the constant threat of policing dictate the decisions that unhoused people must make as to where to sleep without disturbance, where to seek water, bathroom and washing facilities, and overall how not to draw undue attention to oneself. When the call to ‘shelter-in-place’ early in the pandemic put the situation of chronic homelessness under the spotlight for state policy-makers, the response was to introduce new forms of homelessness management that sought to prevent exposure, even though the homeless had been managing exposure to other life-threatening insecurities—weather, bacteria, assaults—long before the pandemic.

*                                            *                                          *

It was almost a year after the first cases had been detected in the United States before I was able to reconnect with the ‘regulars’ I knew from the day shelter. I had attempted to keep in contact by phone and email in those early months of the pandemic, but without people’s usual access to libraries and cafes for public internet, and phones often getting misplaced, my contact with them was sporadic and vague. It was not until I got back to the day shelter in person that I was able to really catch up on their experiences. I was terrified about what I would learn. Was everyone okay? Had everyone ‘made it’?

It felt uncanny when I returned to the shelter to find that, aside from its physical location shifting from indoors to a better ventilated outdoor space, life pretty much resembled what it had been pre-pandemic. Food was still being served, only now in individually wrapped packages, and casework services were still being offered, only now through individual appointments, with everyone required to be masked. Outside the building, I found a group of people I had not seen since the start of the pandemic, including John, sitting together on a park bench.

I was surprised, and thankful, to learn from them that no one had been infected by the virus, and that most knew this for certain because they had been getting tested regularly through a free service. What was even more surprising, however, was that some of the regulars had been moved out of their encampments and placed into medium-term accommodation in a hotel. With the travel industry decimated by the pandemic, and conventional homeless night shelters operating at half capacity, the number of people needing access to emergency housing had increased and hotels were looking for occupants. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and homelessness advocacy groups recognised that traditional night shelters were particularly risky in terms of exposure to COVID-19. As a result, local government had partnered with one of the dormant hotels to set up an emergency housing option for those sleeping unsheltered—a site where they could be isolated within individual hotel rooms rather than congregating in public. Billed as a protective measure to prevent homeless people being exposed to the virus, the experience of staying in the hotel felt less caring for some of those who took up the opportunity.

‘John’s been living it up in the Marriot’, someone joked, while jostling John, who glared back. ‘Well, only for one night!’, someone else chuckled, as the whole story was eventually revealed. John had been invited to move in by the social workers overseeing the hotel program because of his increased risk of complications from COVID-19 infection. He was over 60 and had underlying health problems. But John had been unceremoniously kicked out after staying only one night, after a random room search by a hotel attendant revealed a bottle of alcohol in John’s room. He was asked to leave, and even when a social worker tried to convince him to return some time after, John told them that he wouldn’t. He didn’t think the intrusion on his privacy was worth it, an irony I found troubling given his alternative sleeping arrangement was a sleeping bag in a public park.

On the face of it, an initiative to house the unsheltered in a hotel sounds like a positive move to protect people experiencing housing insecurity. But, as they were to find out, this kind of care was conditional, requiring them to submit to strict curfews, limits on socialising, bag and pocket searches, random room checks and other kinds of behaviour monitoring. The initiative to provide shelter to the unhoused relied on patronising and humiliating them into compliance. Many, like John, chose to expose themselves to the virus and the other dangers of sleeping unsheltered rather than submit to those conditions.

But, John told me, the pressure to re-engage with the hotel and the social workers overseeing the program throughout the pandemic was overwhelming. Not only did social workers from other services, like the day shelter, frequently push him to return but also, since the pandemic, street policing for vagrancy had increased. Previously he and others had been treated as a public nuisance; now they were being treated as a threat to public health. John, immensely frustrated, had been picked up for criminal trespassing in the past month while other ‘normal’ people were openly flouting mask mandates and social-distancing rules in public without any repercussions. ‘It’s the same ol’ shit’, he told me.

John’s experiences suggest that more than just public health was at stake in these arrangements. Framed as a source of public contagion, unsheltered sleepers were increasingly subjected to forms of surveillance and policing that produced new forms of risk and trauma. The biopolitics of pandemic management and the necropolitics of exposure rendered homeless people objects of societal care and attention only when their bodies had the potential to threaten and pose a risk to others.

The irony of a global pandemic bringing attention and solutions—no matter how grim—to their need for shelter was not lost on the chronically homeless, who commented to me more than once that they could have used the hotel room twelve months ago before the deadly virus was detected. Emergency housing—which was otherwise touted as a scarce resource for homeless populations—was made available with comical rapidity when their lifestyle posed a risk to the public and not just themselves.

‘Funny…’, John noted, ‘how they can find a place for us when they are really trying, but the rest of the time—nothing!’ The people in our conversation laughed, but the laughter had a bitter edge. 

The frontlines

With the spread of the virus and attempts to prevent exposure to it disrupting so many aspects of normal societal function worldwide, many of us have understandably taken to narrating our experiences and understanding of the pandemic in terms of its exceptionality: as an event or crisis that has suspended normality. We reel from and attempt to reckon with that rupture in and across our personal and work lives. What the alternative experiences of the homeless demand from us, however, is recognition of the many ways the workings of ‘normal’ life are actually perverse. What truly differentiates ‘normal’ life from the exceptional life of the pandemic, with its risk of illness, lockdowns and mandates, is who is exposed to those risks by circumstance rather than choice.

Returning to the frame of necropolitics is helpful when attempting to make sense of these differential gradients of exposure, and the societal structures that situate people within them. War is one of the key examples that Mbembe draws on to theorise necropolitics. War suspends normal prohibitions on violence and harm, designating ‘enemies’ and granting permission to maim, even kill, them without repercussion. But the intention of the necropolitical order is not always so overt. More generally, it is, as Mbembe writes,  ‘the capacity to define who matters and who does not, who is disposable and who is not’. Citing examples of plantation slavery and apartheid South Africa, Mbembe points out that the power of necropolitics is not so much about the intentional or direct murder of individuals as about the ways that certain kinds of bodies, certain kinds of people, are exposed to death. 

That the response to the pandemic has frequently been described, globally and nationally, as a ‘battle’ and a ‘fight’—the virus is something that needs to be ‘combatted’—alerts us to how the pandemic response relies on a necropolitics. If COVID-19 is a battle, then at some point it needs to be fought, and lives will be sacrificed. ‘Effective’ management of the pandemic is already being read not only in terms of statistics and recorded deaths, but also according to what kinds of people these statistics are formed from: ‘underlying conditions’ or ‘dying with’—rather than ‘from’—COVID-19 has already begun to temper how deaths related to the virus are calculated. As more countries and states move from advising their publics to limit exposure to advising them to manage their exposure, the calculation of life has already begun spinning, prioritising freedoms for some (and economic ‘recovery’) over the potential deaths of those who are vulnerable to complications from the virus. To the horror of disability advocates, stratifications of life are coming to justify risk of exposure. If those risking death are primarily the elderly and those with underlying health conditions (which are often reduced in public media commentary to so-called lifestyle conditions, such as obesity, type-II diabetes, and others), then the pandemic is being ‘effectively’ managed. What does that say about the value of those lives?

The language of war was mobilised early in the pandemic in the United States to legitimise and naturalise a necropolitics. Those same disproportionately low-income and Black and Brown workers who were being mandated to return to ‘essential’ work during the worst peaks of the pandemic had their forced exposure to illness diminished by politicians who clamored to thank them for ‘their service’ as ‘heroes’ on the ‘frontlines’ of the pandemic—the same language used to describe military veterans—as if they had been deployed to a war zone.

When essential workers did get sick, as so many inevitably did, the repercussions were disastrous. With many low-income jobs failing to provide workers with insurance, treatment for COVID-19 became its own economic catastrophe. Those with the added misfortune of experiencing long-COVID symptoms would then have to try to navigate applying for their debilitation to be recognised as a form of disability through an arduous bureaucratic process that relies, ultimately, on discretionary evaluations. Significant evidence suggests that the disproportionate number of COVID-19 deaths of people of colour in the United States is linked to their higher representation in occupations that were classified as ‘essential’ during the pandemic.

Here again we see the co-productive workings of biopolitics and necropolitics, with the resumption of normality for some being paid for with the lives of those who are forced to a ‘frontline’ that exposes their bodies to risk and premature death.

Double exposures

As the COVID-19 pandemic promises to recede in its dominance over systems of public health worldwide, it is crucial to continue to observe these co-constitutive patterns of necro- and biopolitics, which are encompassed within the ordinary functioning of societies, not just in times of societal crisis. The lingering effects of the pandemic are to be seen not only in physically infected bodies but also in the wholly predictable political distrust and economic fallout that mismanaged responses to the pandemic have wrought.

I think a lot about homelessness, which commentators—and current housing market instabilities—suggest has likely increased in the United States since the outbreak of COVID-19, despite a federal moratorium on evictions that lasted until August 2021, and novel attempts to respond to housing insecurity during the pandemic. In 2020, homelessness rose by 2 per cent from 2019 numbers, and increased for the fourth year in a row. The biggest increase was in the rise of ‘unsheltered’ people, such as those I work with. While the pandemic prevented an organised homelessness count in 2021, those who work in these areas anecdotally report  a rise in the number of unsheltered homeless people since the beginning of the pandemic. I have observed this myself, noting the new faces seeking emergency assistance at the day shelter, including, distressingly, a number of families with children.

Now that the moratorium on evictions has ended, many of these families have been loaded with unpaid back rent and eviction notices. When I spoke with one of the new families at the shelter, the woman I talked to told me that she had been forced to quit her job to supervise her kids while they did their schooling online. Like thousands of other women, the pandemic had forced her out of the workforce. The result is likely to be catastrophic for her, as for many others.

Seeing public health through the broader lens of exposure enables us to bring light to the parallel public health crises that persist alongside and in conjunction with the pandemic: including, the impending housing crisis that has, in Australia and the United States, produced a housing market so ‘hot’ that it is inaccessible to both buyers and renters, the latter often forced to bid for the privilege of accessing shelter. There are also ongoing issues related to political instability erupting globally, not least in the United States. Most significantly, we must understand exposure as central to the impending public health crisis of climate change, as millions of people worldwide are exposed to the effects of rising sea levels, temperature increases, unseasonal weather events, and fire ‘seasons’ that now last year-round.

All of these are circumstances in which the uneven locus of exposure—operating in conjunction with pre-existing fault lines of class, nationality, race and gender—will draw more and more people into futures of chronic ill-health and premature death. Levels of exposure to these and other circumstances of risk are a measure of the necropolitics at work in our societies, a gradient for estimating how much political attention will be directed at a problem in order to decide who to safeguard, and who to let die.

Ben Norton on the US-Backed Coup in Pakistan, Neverending War in Ukraine, and a Multipolar World

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/04/2022 - 1:56am in

Lowkey is joined by journalist Ben Norton to discuss the recent U.S.-backed coup in Pakistan, the West’s plan to turn Ukraine into a neverending war, and the new multipolar global order taking shape before our eyes.

Ben Norton is a Nicaragua-based journalist whose work is focused on U.S. foreign policy and international politics. He recently launched his new journalism platform, Multipolarista. His video content can also be found at Rokfin and on YouTube.

Today, he sat down to speak to Lowkey about the recent U.S.-backed coup against Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. Earlier this month, Khan was removed from his position following a vote of no confidence in his leadership, after several small parties from his coalition changed their allegiance.

Khan fought back, claiming that the United States had threatened him and that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu had effectively organized his ouster. There are several pictures of U.S. officials meeting senior Pakistani politicians shortly before the ouster.

The final straw, for the United States, appears to have been Khan’s refusal to join with the U.S. in condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Khan’s political enemies have essentially confirmed his story, noting that Lu promised that “all would be forgiven” if they moved against him. “Beggars can’t be choosers,” said opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif, explaining that Pakistan was not in a position to defy U.S. orders.

Norton told Lowkey:

This is an incredible, blatant act of meddling by the U.S. government. Of course, anyone who knows the basic history of the U.S. knows that it has organized coups and impeachments and color revolutions around the world for many decades, but [Khan’s ouster] was pretty much done in broad daylight!”

Norton also discussed his new article, “NATO admits it wants ‘Ukrainians to keep dying’ to bleed Russia, not peace,” which details how Western nations are flooding the country with arms, not to stop the violence, but to keep it going indefinitely. The arming of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan during the 1980s appears to be the model they are following. These weapons do not come free, however, and are being sold with strings attached. Thus, Ukrainians will pay both in cash and in blood. As Norton warned:

Ukraine is going to be trapped in all this debt that it will have to pay back to the U.S. How is it going to pay it back? It is going to have to privatize state-owned assets, sell off natural resources, and cut wages for Ukrainians. And this is after years of [Western-model] neoliberal shock therapy imposed on Ukraine.”

The pair also discussed the changing global order, with a rising China leading a bloc of countries intent on being independent from the Washington-led system. This, Norton contended, is in part down to the punitive sanctions regime that the U.S. imposes on anyone who angers it, pushing other states closer together in common interests. Today, more than one-third of the world lives under American sanctions. “What this has done is that it has forced countries around the world to find alternatives,” Norton told Lowkey, adding:

By imposing more and more sanctions on countries, it has incentivized them to look for alternatives. They don’t want to hold their wealth in dollars because we have seen the U.S. government seizing the foreign currency reserves of Iran, Venezuela and Afghanistan. And now they just did the same thing to Russia!”

Join Lowkey today for a critically important discussion about current events and the future of the world, and do not forget to subscribe on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform.

The MintPress podcast, “The Watchdog,” hosted by British-Iraqi hip hop artist Lowkey, closely examines organizations about which it is in the public interest to know – including intelligence, lobby and special interest groups influencing policies that infringe on free speech and target dissent. The Watchdog goes against the grain by casting a light on stories largely ignored by the mainstream, corporate media.

Lowkey is a British-Iraqi hip-hop artist, academic and political campaigner. As a musician, he has collaborated with the Arctic Monkeys, Wretch 32, Immortal Technique and Akala. He is a patron of Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Racial Justice Network and The Peace and Justice Project, founded by Jeremy Corbyn. He has spoken and performed on platforms from the Oxford Union to the Royal Albert Hall and Glastonbury. His latest album, Soundtrack To The Struggle 2, featured Noam Chomsky and Frankie Boyle and has been streamed millions of times.

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The Ouster Of Imran Khan: How Much Involvement Did the US Have in Pakistan’s Coup?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/04/2022 - 7:08am in

ISLAMABAD – Following weeks of high drama and controversy that have racked the nation, Imran Khan has been removed from office. The Pakistani prime minister suffered a vote of no confidence and a loss in the supreme court, ending his rule after less than four years. Coalition partners abandoned him, leaving his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in the minority.

The cricket-star-turned-political-leader had been warning for some weeks that a foreign power – assumed to be the United States – was seeking to overthrow him because of his independent foreign policy, which saw Pakistan grow closer to Russia and China. Then, in a long public address on April 8, he directly named Washington as a prime instigator in the regime-change conspiracy, accusing the U.S. of bribing his political allies with tens of millions of dollars to desert his coalition. He described the practice as “open horse trading” and the “selling of lawmakers like goats and sheep.”

Khan singled out Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Donald Lu as the mastermind of the operation. “It was an official meeting between Donald Lu and our ambassador, with notetakers,” he said, sharing a diplomatic cable from Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Asad Majeed, in which he claimed Lu had essentially threatened his country with a coup if it did not immediately change course. In contrast, if Khan were deposed, “all will be forgiven” and Pakistan could return to its status as a favored U.S. ally. Khan then invited several journalists, members of his cabinet, and security agents to view the document. However, the Islamabad High Court immediately blocked the public dissemination of the cable on the grounds that Khan would be breaking his secrecy oath.

The ousted prime minister has not quietly accepted his fate. On the contrary, he is organizing a series of street demonstrations that have drawn huge crowds. “I want all our people to come, as Pakistan was created as an independent, sovereign state, not as a puppet state of foreign powers,” he said of a rally in the northwestern city of Peshawar, his first appearance after, in his own words, “being removed through a foreign-instigated regime change.” Khan and his PTI Party are calling for an immediate electoral showdown, apparently confident in their ability to win. “Let the people decide, through fair and free elections, whom they want as their prime minister,” he demanded.

Imran Khan Coup

Supporters of Imran Khan rally to condemn his ouster in Karachi on April 10, 2022. Fareed Khan | AP

Many, both inside and outside Pakistan, appear convinced that the United States is behind his downfall. Investigative journalist Ben Norton told MintPress News:

This is an incredible, blatant act of meddling by the U.S. government. Of course, anyone who knows the basic history of the U.S. knows that it has organized coups and impeachments and color revolutions around the world for many decades, but this was pretty much done in broad daylight!”

The United States has categorically denied any involvement. “Let me just say very bluntly there is absolutely no truth to these allegations. Of course, we continue to follow these developments, and we respect and support Pakistan’s constitutional process and rule of law. But again, these allegations are absolutely not true,” State Department spokesperson Jalina Porter said at a press conference last week.

Others inside Pakistan reject the idea that this was a coup at all. Tooba Syed, an activist and a leader of the Awami Workers Party, said that this was the “first time in Pakistan that a prime minister has been constitutionally removed from his position… It has usually been done by military intervention. It is definitely a good step forward in terms of democracy in Pakistan.”


Beggars can’t be choosers

Despite the official denials, there is some evidence that the United States may have played a role in the proceedings. First Lu, the man at the center of the affair, has kept relatively silent. But when Indian newspaper The Hindustan Times directly asked him to confirm or deny the cable’s authenticity, giving him an opportunity to wash his hands of responsibility, Lu responded simply by saying, “We are following developments in Pakistan and we respect and support Pakistan’s constitutional process and the rule of law” – an answer that is far from a denial and could be interpreted as giving his blessing to proceedings.

Perhaps even more damning were remarks made by new Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Responding to allegations that opposition parties, including his Pakistan Muslim League (N), were acting on behalf of Washington in exchange for better diplomatic and economic ties, Sharif appeared to agree. “Beggars can’t be choosers, please understand,” he said. “We have to feed our nation […] we have to send our children to school; we can’t fight with someone, can’t raise slogans against others,” he added.

Donald Lu meeting Pakistan

US State Dept official Donald Lu, second from right, meets with Pakistan’s Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, left, on October 15, 2021

For its part, the U.S. government immediately endorsed Sharif. Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated the new prime minister on his election, thereby firmly placing Washington on one side of this political battle.

Also of note has been the reaction of anti-Khan diplomats within Pakistan’s foreign services. Speaking on condition of anonymity to Dawn, an English-language newspaper founded by the Pakistan Muslim League, a host of diplomats harshly criticized Khan for having “skewered the principle of secure and confidential communications.” “The consequences of this ‘cablegate’ will go well beyond what is being discussed now, as it could hurt sensitive relationships and make open exchanges more difficult,” said one diplomat. Another foreign-service official lamented that, in the past, “we did not pull foreign policy controversies into domestic politics.” However, it seemed, those days were gone.

Yet none of them challenged the veracity of Khan’s cable. Therefore, the objection from oppositional figures inside the government appears to be that Khan was breaking protocol and publicizing secret information, rather than the information being false.


Why would the US want Khan gone?

Pakistan has, historically, had a close relationship with the United States, especially militarily. Between 2002 and 2018, the U.S. gave $33 billion worth of assistance to Pakistan, of which more than $14 billion was military aid. Its armed forces are stocked with the best American gear and its officers are trained in the United States.

Pakistan was also a key player in the U.S. occupation of neighboring Afghanistan, with successive administrations allowing the U.S. military to conduct operations from its territory. The result was a humanitarian disaster for the country; an estimated 83,000 Pakistanis lost their lives as a consequence of the War on Terror.

Khan, who had long opposed U.S. actions in the region, sharply reduced the nation’s involvement in the war. “There is no way we are going to allow any bases, any sort of action from Pakistani territory into Afghanistan. Absolutely not,” he told an interviewer from Axios last year. He also began to increase military purchases from and cooperation with China, a decision that angered many of his army’s top brass.

Khan’s administration was not the first to move toward Beijing, but he certainly continued to build ties with China. Chief among these connections is the new China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a $62 billion infrastructure network that links the two countries and helps boost trade worldwide. Often described as a Chinese Marshall Plan, projects under construction include a 700-mile motorway between Karachi and Lahore as well as a vast network of roads and high-speed rail links that criss-cross the country and connect major Pakistani cities with the trading hub of Kashgar in the far west of China.

Pakistan plays a leading role in China’s Belt-and-Road Initiative, thanks to the Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea. The new port is already a major trading hub and is in the process of being vastly expanded. This process is set to make it one of the most important locations for world trade. Pakistan will soon be connected to western China via rail, creating a new Silk Road and a land route from East to West Asia, cutting delivery times and allowing Chinese ships to avoid the Straits of Malacca and the increasingly contested South China Sea.

A symbol of the improved relations between the two nations emerged earlier this year when Khan defied Western orders to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics and attended the opening ceremony. Khan has lauded China’s anti-poverty initiatives and been described as the country’s new “best friend” on the international stage.

The ousted prime minister also provoked Washington’s ire by pursuing cordial relations with Russia. Pakistan refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, let alone help the U.S. impose sanctions on Moscow. Indeed, by chance, Khan was in Moscow on February 24, negotiating an expansive economic deal whereby Pakistan agreed to purchase Russian gas and import 2 million tons of grain. The U.S. government directly communicated its displeasure with Khan over his decision to be the first Pakistani leader in over two decades to visit Moscow.

On a regional level, the Khan administration has also taken steps that have angered the world’s sole superpower. Khan has attempted to increase close bilateral collaboration to improve trade and transport links with Iran, describing their 517-mile border as a frontier of “peace and friendship” and expressing his happiness at the “positive momentum in brotherly relations between the two countries.” In 2019, he also tried to broker peace negotiations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, an agreement that could have brought considerably more peace to the Middle East. The Trump administration vehemently opposed these negotiations, scuppering them weeks later by assassinating Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

Khan condemned the U.S. sanctions on Iran and called for their removal. “It is very unjust they are dealing with such a large [COVID] outbreak on one side, and on the other, they are facing international sanctions,” he said in 2020.

While he has supported Iran, he has also publically opposed many of the policies of key U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Israel. Khan successfully campaigned against Pakistani involvement in the Saudi-led war on Yemen, while he has consistently championed Palestinian rights and demanded the Muslim world do more to help them. “A day will come when Palestinians will get their own country, a just settlement, and they will be able to live as equal citizens,” he said last year, comparing their struggle to that of the worldwide campaign against Apartheid South Africa. Meanwhile, he has also publicly supported imprisoned publisher Julian Assange.


Far from a radical

These sorts of policy moves would, if he were a Western politician, mark Khan out as a radical anti-imperialist and likely politically far-left. Yet the PTI party has governed on a much more moderate agenda, centered around vague messages of anti-corruption and reform.

In 2018, Khan inherited an economy that was in shambles and quickly dropped many of his more ambitious economic and social goals. Indeed, the PTI soon entered into negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a multi-billion dollar bailout. As usual, the Fund demanded a wide range of aggressive austerity measures that meant deep cuts to social security and public services. As inflation grew, wage increases were halted and subsidies on utilities were reduced.

On top of all this, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Pakistan hard. A nationwide lockdown killed any chance of an economic recovery and caused widespread distress, particularly among the working classes. Incomes fell by 42% and unemployment rose by 34%, with the temporary shutdown permanently shuttering many businesses.

Many commentators have been left unimpressed with the former national cricket captain’s record as prime minister. Lahore-born historian and writer Tariq Ali is one of them. Commenting on Khan’s ouster, Ali asked:

Has the PTI government achieved anything? I would say no. It has faced tough economic problems. It’s gone to the IMF. All that is true. But it had no vision at all, just like the other political parties in the country. So it became like them. And all the promises of modernizing Pakistan, changing it forever, amounted to nothing.”


The power of the military

Also unimpressed with Khan and his politics has been the powerful Pakistani military. While he was perceived as being close to the Army in 2018, in recent weeks, it has become clear that the military has turned on Khan. During a rare press conference, Army spokesman Major General Babar Iftikhar categorically rejected Khan’s claims of a foreign-backed coup. “The words used are in front of you … as I said … the words used are clear. Is there any word such as conspiracy used in it? I think not,” he said. Iftikhar also criticized Khan’s trip to Russia as “very embarrassing.”

Thus, while the Pakistani public might have accepted the country’s shift towards China and Russia, the military certainly has not. Many of the top generals have close ties to the United States, having been trained and regularly traveling there for instruction. The thoroughly Westernized military establishment is far less keen to collaborate with their Chinese counterparts, and would much rather spend months in the U.S. than in China, where they do not speak the language or understand the culture. Furthermore, as Pakistani journalist Waqas Ahmed noted, the Pakistani military is almost totally equipped with U.S. weaponry and does not appreciate their new Chinese technology, which they perceive as inferior.

Consequently, it appears clear that the military played a decisive role in Khan’s ouster. As Ahmed said, “So if their [the anti-Khan opposition’s] claim was that all these parties joined the PTI on the wishes of the military, on whose wishes did they leave?”

US Pakistan miltiary

Brad Cooper, head of US Naval Central Command, meets with Amjad Niazi, the head of Pakistan’s Navy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on March 6, 2022. Photo | DVIDS

Few in Pakistan contest that the Army holds ultimate power. For much of its post-independence history, the country has been directly ruled as a military dictatorship. There have been multiple successful military coups, including in 1953-1954, 1958, 1977, and 1999. Indeed, none of Pakistan’s 29 prime ministers has ever finished a full term in office.

Some of these coups were carried out in coordination with Washington. A declassified CIA document from 1975 discussed the possibility of removing Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Similar to Khan, Bhutto publicly alleged that the CIA was behind his 1977 ouster, and acted because of his strong support of the country’s non-aligned position, his rejection of the Vietnam War, his pursuit of nuclear weapons, and his cordial relationship with China. Bhutto was executed two years later.

In more recent times, the military and intelligence services have worked closely with the U.S. government, helping them in their controversial spy campaign to track down Osama Bin Laden, and allowing the country to be used as a base to attack Afghanistan.


A dangerous near miss

The Pakistani military is thought to possess around 165 nuclear warheads. The country’s nuclear status came into sharp relief just as the campaign to oust Khan was heating up. While the world was concentrating on Ukraine, a potentially far more deadly incident occurred when India mistakenly fired a BrahMos cruise missile – the sort it uses to deliver its nuclear warheads – into Pakistan. In the course of routine maintenance, the rocket was accidentally launched. India did not immediately inform its neighbor of its mistake.

Faced with what seemed to be a nuclear attack, the Khan administration had no more than a few minutes to decide how to respond. One position was to launch Pakistan’s entire nuclear arsenal back at India – an action that could have spelled the end of organized human life worldwide. In the end, they decided to simply let themselves be hit. Fortunately, their bet that this was a terrible mistake proved correct, and the missile fell in a rural area of Punjab, killing no one.

“If our air force had not picked it up well inside India, there could have been an accidental reaction to this accidental launch. Do people realize the implications and consequences of that? That is very serious,” said Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who, last week, was deposed along with Khan. “I am not trying to be dramatic about it but it is a realistic assessment… I am shocked that the media and the world have failed to feel this tremor,” he added.

Despite official U.S. denials, circumstantial evidence suggests that Washington might have had at least a guiding hand in the removal of Imran Khan from power. From its immediate endorsement of new Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, whose off-the-cuff comments more-or-less admitted its involvement, it appears that the U.S. at very least gave its tacit blessing to the move to topple Khan. He, therefore, joins the long list of deposed prime ministers and underscores the reality that, in Pakistan, whoever the people elect, the U.S.-backed military is always in charge.

Feature photo | Supporters of Imran Khan attend a rally to protest his ouster in Peshawar, Pakistan, April 13, 2022. Muhammad Sajjad | AP

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

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