English


Chile, ¡la alegría ya viene!

Chile, the joy is coming!
- NO Vote campaign jingle

Nos prometieron que llegaría la alegría
pero mintieron, gobiernan pa una minoría.
Nos oprimieron con injusticias cada día,
pero siguieron naciendo hijos de la rebeldía.

They promised us that the joy was coming,
but they lied – they govern for a minority.
They oppressed us with injustices every day,
but the children of rebellions kept being born.

-Vamos, Conspirazión

In the official narrative, Pinochet’s handover of his office to Patricio Aylwin (himself an unabashed supporter of the Pinochet coup), is known as the retorno a la democracia (‘return to democracy’). Painted on walls throughout Chile, however, we find the words Aún vivimos en dictadura (‘We’re still living in a dictatorship’).

In the book discussed in Part I, Chilean social historian Gabriel Salazar explains:

 

Los partidos políticos, golpeados como estaban, flotaron agarrados al vértigo de nuestro movimiento (aunque algunos pretenden convencernos de lo contrario) hasta que llegamos a 1990. Y fue allí entonces, en 1990, cuando, olvidando nuestra laboriosa autonomía y nuestra fuerza, depositamos de nuevo nuestra confianza en la clase política civil…Como si ‘ella’ hubiera sido la ‘gran’ vencedora en la retirada de Pinochet.

Y hemos estado más de 20 años esperando que ‘ella’ mostrara su declamada vena democrática, su supuesta lealtad a la voluntad soberana del pueblo. O por lo menos su profesión de fe nacionalista.

The political parties, beaten as they were, were dragged along by the current of our movement (although some would have us believe otherwise) until we reached 1990. And it was then, in 1990, that, forgetting our hard-fought autonomy and our strength, we once again put our trust in the civilian political class…As if they had been the great victors in Pinochet’s departure.

And we have been waiting for more than 20 years now for them to show their oft-proclaimed democratic credentials, their alleged loyalty to the sovereign will of the people. Or at least their profession of nationalist faith.

(ellipses and emphasis in original)

(more…)

Si la presidenta no te cuenta la pulenta, lo hago yo
Chile está en venta desde que la Concerta ganó el NO
Aylwin, Lagos y también Frei dieron paso a Bachelet
Donde el mercado se hace rey y el subcontrato se hace ley
Mi canto no es de mala fe, tengo evidencia suficiente
Pa’ condenar a muerte a veinte dirigentes malolientes
Solamente basta con mirar las calles desde el Transantiago
4 millones de detalles cotidianos
Me confirman que la ciudadanía está pintada
Elección tras elección, la votación no cambia nada.

If President Bachelet won’t tell you what’s up, I’ll have a go:
Chile’s been for sale ever since the Concertación won one for NO.
Aylwin, Lagos, and then Frei made way for Bachelet,
where the market is king and outsourcing’s the big thing.
I’m not singing in bad faith. I’ve got sufficient evidence
to condemn to death twenty foul-smelling leaders.
All you need to do is look through the windows of Santiago’s buses,
4 million pieces of evidence every day,
confirming that the people are are the ones that always take hits,
we’ve had vote after vote, and the elections never change shit.
Infórmate, Subverso

 

The international coverage of the recent Chilean elections, particularly in the English-language media, has been in keeping with the standards of depth and quality that have consistently been observed by the English-language press in its reporting on the current cycle of mass popular mobilisations that began roughly in 2011. That is to say that it has not been very good.

Guardian readers, for example, were presented with the image of a democratic process leading to a popular, implicitly left, victory in the form of the first round re-election of ex-president Michelle Bachelet Jeria and the entry into the National Congress of former university student union leader Camila Vallejo Dowling. The groundwork for this superficial and misleading picture has been laid over the past two years by articles that equate Vallejo (and, occasionally, her fellow élite university students Giorgio Jackson and Camilo Ballesteros) to the student movement as a whole, as if they (or their organisations) had in fact initiated the student mobilisations (they didn’t) and were the undisputed leaders of the movement (they never were). The much larger contingent, the secondary students, grouped in the horizontally organised ACES (Asamblea Coordinadora de Estudiantes Secundarios – Secondary Students’ Coordinating Assembly), have been as thoroughly ignored by the foreign press as they have been by the Chilean government and the dominant media oligopoly there. Similarly, one would search in vain for any mention, let alone detailed reporting or analysis, on the other major popular movements that have mobilised in recent years, which all share with the majority of the student movement the desire to sweep away the repressive, neoliberal institutional legacy of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet Ugarte and refound Chilean society on a new, egalitarian basis. The Chilean political and economic system is in a profound crisis of legitimacy – one utterly unaffected by the recent election, which was boycotted by 51% of the electorate – but readers of English-language media won’t hear about it. (more…)

The most recent issue of Jacobin contains an interesting essay by Chase Madar, entitled Edward Snowden and the American Condition: Law and lawyers can’t save us from the creeping police state – but politics might. In it, Madar questions the tendency – both on the left and elsewhere – to couch opposition to the atrocities of the powerful in legalistic terms.

Overall, I share Madar’s views on the limitations of legalistic discourse, particularly his statement of what is wrong with making everything a matter of legality:

Our laws are not the miraculous embodiment of a transcendant morality. Legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin, who died earlier this year, was a giant and a genius, but we would do well to take a long sabbatical from his high-minded work in favour of his positivist opponent, H.L.A. Hart, for whom laws are the rules of the state, nothing more and nothing less […].

Quite. Laws – from municipal by-laws to the Geneva Conventions – are nothing but a product of the array of forces in a given society at a given time. Those who have the most power can make whatever laws they want, though countervailing forces may occasionally force them to make the odd concession. Because of this, they are constantly subject to change with little or no input from us. A notion of justice built on a foundation of law will be forever a moving target.

This point Madar supports by noting, with Martin Luther King, that many of the worst atrocities of our time are perfectly legal. And here, he goes awry. Madar is so quick to declare atrocities legal that he gets a number of them wrong, and, in so doing, weakens his own point:

‘Were the sanctions against Iraq, which killed hundreds of thousands, okay’, Madar asks, ‘because they were in conformance [sic] with the UN charter [sic]?’ Later on, he remarks that ‘Most of the horrors disclosed by WikiLeaks – like the slaughter in the Apache helicopter video – are also legally permissible according to the laws of war as they actually exist.’

It is indeed, as Madar says, ‘an ugly tribute to the power of law and lawyers how many atrocities are legal’, but the atrocities he specifically mentions were not legal.

Let us first turn to the ‘sanctions’ against Iraq. At the outset, it is important to keep in mind that the UN Charter is just one source of law that is applicable to the sort of economic warfare the US and UK visited on Iraq for twelve years. Examining the other relevant sources of law, we find that the deliberate denial of food and medicine to an entire civilian population for a period of years falls – at a minimum – under the headings of ‘wilful killing’ and ‘wilfully causing great suffering’, both of which fall under the heading of ‘grave breaches’ of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, also known as crimes against humanity. They also fall within the definition of genocide set forth in art. 2(c) of the Genocide Convention: ‘Deliberately inflicting on the [national, ethnical, racial, or religious group] conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.’  The UN Charter does not give the Security Council or, indeed, any UN body the authority to carry out crimes against humanity or acts of genocide. Indeed, this is the sort of conduct that will land you in the Hague, at least if you’re a dictator who has fallen into disfavour with Washington and Brussels.

Much the same can be said of Madar’s other example: the ‘Collateral Murder’ slaughter of a group of Iraqi civilians, including two journalists, and several other Iraqi civilians who came to their rescue. Indeed, this massacre was doubly illegal. For one thing, it is illegal because it was committed in furtherance of a war of aggression, the ‘supreme international crime’, as it was called at Nuremberg. Under the UN Charter, which bans the use or threat of force in all but the limited, exceptional cases it enumerates itself, the US had no right to fire a single shot at anyone in Iraq, civilian or military. For another, it was an armed attack on noncombatants in a heavily populated civilian area of an (illegally) occupied country, in breach of multiple provisions of the Geneva Conventions.

It is certainly true, as Martin Luther King stated (and Madar quoted him as stating), that ‘everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’. Making it illegal was one of the central purposes of the changes to international law, and specifically international humanitarian law, following the Second World War.

Errors like these weaken Madar’s argument not so much because they’re wrong as a matter of law, but because they cause him to miss the opportunity to point out the true limitation on legalistic discourse, and legality itself, as a weapon in the struggle for global justice: The law only ever matters as and when it does not run counter to the interests of those who exercise real power in a society. Politicians and the capitalists they work for may flog the discourse of Law and Order to the rest of us, but to them, the law only matters as long as it doesn’t get in the way. It is real, material power, and not some abstract notion of legality, that determines what is permitted and what is proscribed.

The US government has regularly committed crimes strikingly similar to those for which they executed people at Tokyo and Nuremberg. Were any of the perpetrators of what Noam Chomsky has called ‘the crucifixion of Indochina’ particularly concerned that they might get done for crimes against humanity? Do Bush and Cheney act like men who think that, any day now, they might be arrested and charged with several thousand counts of torture, including torture resulting in death (a capital offence under US federal law)? No, they not only confessed, but boasted of these crimes on national television. How many generals have been nicked for the Fallujah massacre, or the 2008-2009 US-Israeli massacre in Gaza, which was modelled on it?

Drug offences are serious business, as most of the record-breaking US prison population can tell you. But the executives at HSBC, which has been massively involved in money laundering to facilitate the illegal drug trade, won’t be joining them anytime soon. One of the various mini-scandals to erupt around in the context of the subprime mortgage debacle was the practice of ‘robo-signing’, in which banks systematically forged quarryloads of documents in order to obtain foreclosures to which they were not legally entitled. We’re talking about probably hundreds of thousands of counts of forgery, perjury, fraud, and racketeering (forging the document is an offence, submitting it to a court is an additional offence, using it to obtain a thing of value is a separate offence, and setting up an organised scheme with a purpose of doing all of the above is yet another offence – for each document). And yet the only Wall Street criminal to go to jail in this entire debacle is Bernie Madoff, and only because he went on national television and confessed to the whole thing.

Moving away from criminality, the picture becomes even clearer. The First Amendment to the US Constitution has been on the books for over two centuries, but it took until the mid-20th century for freedom of speech to become the law of the land (and, thanks to Holder v HLP and Obama’s war on whistleblowers, it’s already on its way out again). The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments – which were supposedly going to abolish slavery and racial discrimination – didn’t get in the way of lynching and Jim Crow. The Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause was polite enough not to get in the way of the Roosevelt administration’s decision to herd Japanese-Americans into squalid concentration camps.

It is a federal offence under US law to threaten a plant closure in order to intimidate workers out of forming a union. Employers do it all the time with no consequences. It’s illegal under the National Labor Relations Act to prevent employees discussing their pay and benefits with one another, and yet every employer I’ve ever worked with has had an explicit gag rule to prevent such discussions. Not one of them ever seemed particularly worried about legal consequences; most likely, they didn’t even know it was against the law because no one’s enforcing those laws.

Ever since the CIA-instigated coup in 1973, Chile has lived in a state of permanent illegality. First came an illegal, violent overthrow of an elected government by sworn officers of the Chilean military (in collusion with a hostile foreign power, no less). Then, the perpetrators of the coup unilaterally revoked the existing constitution, wrote a constitution of their own, and then imposed that constitution by means of a ‘plebiscite’ in which no opposition was permitted. In the meantime, they sorted out their political opponents by torturing tens of thousands and murdering thousands. The popular uprisings of the 1980s got rid of Pinochet, but his illegal constitution and many of the ‘laws’ that he enacted with no legal authority (including his ‘Terrorism Act’, designed to deny fair trials to political opponents) remain in force, and have routinely been applied by successive ‘democratic’ governments. There is literally not a single thing about the political structures of contemporary Chile that isn’t flagrantly illegal, not that that bothers those in charge much.

To say that law is of limited utility in the struggle for social justice would be a monumental understatement.

In Chile, there is more popular awareness of systemic illegality than in many places. One of the demands that has crystallised through the mass popular mobilisations for free education, indigenous rights, and against centralism is the demand for an asamblea constituyente, a constitutional assembly in which ordinary people would get together and work out what sort of constitution they want to live under, and replace the existing constitution with it. There have been two previous attempts to do this in Chile, both crushed by a mixture of force and guile that resulted in the constitutions that have actually been enacted in Chile. It has gained so much currency that, with the exception of the explicitly fascist parties, the candidates in the upcoming Chilean presidential election have been forced at least to provide lip service to the idea.

Let’s assume for a moment that people in the US (or anywhere else) were to do the same thing. Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that the vast majority of the population of the United States got together both locally and nationally, and hammered out a new constitution in accordance with their own interests and priorities. From the polling data of the past thirty years, it would likely be radically different to the existing constitution, and would probably include a right to free, public health care and education (occasional polls have shown a majority of the population actually thinks those things are in the current constitution), and at the very least a severe curtailment of the power of corporations and those who own them. Hell, let’s assume – why not – that the product of these deliberations was a determination that workers and communities should have at least as much say in how corporations are run as shareholders and managers (there’s more support for this than one might think).

Let’s assume that a majority of the people got together, deliberated, drafted this brilliant new constitution, and voted to enact it. And let’s further assume that that is all they had done up to that point, that the natural resources and means of production were in the same hands they’ve always been in, and that the military and police remained in possession of their weapons and had in no way repudiated their oath to serve the current regime.

Now, this hypothetical constitution, it bears remembering, would have a great deal more democratic legitimacy than the current one, which was imposed by force by a small, self-appointed clique of ‘men of better quality’. From a legal standpoint, too, it would be no less legitimate than the current US Constitution. After all, no Act of Parliament authorised the southern half of British North America to enact its own constitution, much less declare independence from the realm. Under the laws in force at the time, these acts were just as illegal as our hypothetical constitution would be.

So the people have spoken, and written their own constitution. Does anyone think that that will resolve the issue? That the owners of the natural resources and means of production will happily turn them over to the people, or submit to whatever means of democratic accountability the hypothetical constitution prescribes? Does anyone think that the military and the police, both sworn to uphold the current regime, would simply lay down their arms or switch sides? Does anyone think, in short, that any part of the state-capitalist apparatus would willingly hand over power just because a bunch of ordinary people got together and put some nice ideas on paper?

Of course not, and so, the hypothetical constitution will not rise to the level of a bad joke as long as the people who enacted it don’t take their ideas out of the realm of legal abstraction and put them into practice by deposing those currently in power and physically wresting the weapons, factories, and means of production from their control. Actual power is decided in the material realm – who has what, and how much of it? – and not in the legal realm.

Now, the remarks above – and Madar’s article – concern the efficacy of the legal system as a means of realising social justice and holding the powerful to account. There is, however, another aspect of the matter to consider, not mentioned by Madar, namely the legitimacy of that legal system itself.

When I speak of legitimacy, the issues I refer to are roughly the following: Who decides what the law is? Who has input into the decision? Whose consent is sought before law becomes law? Whose views matter, and whose are disregarded? It is worth noting that, unlike the question of efficacy, which applies as much to law as we know it as it does to some hypothetical legal system not currently in existence, I am concerned here with the legal system as we know it.

And in the legal system as we know it, the law is nothing more nor less than a compendium of deals made by the powerful. This is just as true of international law (and speaking of legal atrocities, all those horrific ‘free trade agreements’ are part of international law, too) as it is of most constitutions, as well as everything else all the way down to the regulations of the local planning authorities.

As for who has substantive input into the content of the law, the answer is: Very few people indeed. Even if we leave aside, for the moment, that vast majority of the law that was in existence before we were born, and thus was enacted before we could even theoretically have an opinion on the subject, the fact remains that most people are not asked for their views on what the law should be, and (as the polls consistently show), even when they express an opinion, that opinion is usually ignored. Liberal democratic ideology would tell us that laws and state power rely on ‘the consent of the governed’, which, in the real world, amounts to saying that we consent by our very existence. The more sophisticated version is that we consent to the laws that are made by electing politicians, who then proceed to do whatever they (or their paymasters) want, in which case we are said to have consented to the laws by virtue of the fact that we put people in office who either told us nothing of their policies, or promise one thing, only to deliver something else. Even most campus police departments would consider this definition of consent a bit too broad.

The US Constitution, for example, is one of the most flagrantly illegitimate legal documents currently in force. It came into being when a self-appointed group of wealthy white men appointed themselves to draft a constitution in secret. The public wasn’t even allowed to hear what was being debated, let alone offer suggestions. Most of the population was excluded even from that threadbare excuse for political participation that is the vote. Women, making up roughly half of the population, were barred from voting. African-American slaves certainly didn’t have a say in the matter, and the indigenous population, of course, was excluded as well, as were even those white men who were insufficiently wealthy to share the founders’ interest in protecting ‘the minority of the opulent’. In short, virtually no one had a say in the matter.

International law is made by an equally small and unrepresentative group: heads of state, legislators, and diplomatic representatives of states. They get together in places where the public has no access, and certainly no opportunity to participate, and hammer out deals that reflect the interests of the most powerful segments of the society of the most powerful state at the table. True, there are exceptions, such as the requirements that amendments and addenda to the EU treaties be subject to referendum in Ireland and Portugal, but even there, popular participation is limited to deciding whether to ratify a fait accompli that most will have had no chance to read.

In short, none of this has the slightest legitimacy. As such, the notion that one can base one’s concept of social justice on existing law is just as nonsensical as the idea that we have a moral obligation to abide by the law simply because it is the law.

To some, these statements may seem at odds with many other things I have written, in which I have gone into great detail about the legalities – under international and national law – of all manner of atrocities. Why, indeed, would I have dedicated a substantial part of my life to the study of something I consider varying degrees of useless and illegitimate? Surely, it would be more consistent to utterly reject the use of questions of legality in political advocacy altogether.

Surveying the ex post facto legal framework by which the Nazi leadership were tried at Nuremberg, the chief prosecutor, US Justice Robert Jackson, remarked:

If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them. And we are not prepared to lay down the rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us. We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.

In the ensuing decades, the US, together with the other states that stood in judgment at Nuremberg, have committed countless violations of the Nuremberg Principles. Indeed, there is no real indication that they ever intended to live by them.

Law is certainly useless as an agent of social change, and there is scarcely a legal system in existence that meets elementary criteria of democratic legitimacy, but that does not make it entirely useless. In the loftier areas of law, the constitutions and the various human rights conventions, the powerful have laid down very clear standards to demonstrate that they are driven by great humanitarian ideals. Never mind that they never had any real intention of abiding by these principles: They pulled the pint, and it is only right and proper that they be made to drink it as well.

The constitutions and human rights conventions of the world allow us to show the present power structure as lacking not only by our standards, but by the standards the powerful themselves claim to hold dear. If those existing legal standards that are substantively just are not, and indeed cannot and will not be adhered to under the current state-capitalist system, it is certainly worthwhile to point that out.

Occasionally, one hears that it is improper to ‘cherry-pick international law’ in advocating for justice and against oppression. Nonsense. We didn’t enact these standards, and we are under no obligation to accept any of them. There is nothing remotely illegitimate about pointing out that, say, the various ‘free-trade agreements’ that abolish basic human rights and environmental protections and take power from nominally accountable governments, putting it in the hands of utterly unaccountable organisations, are unjust and should be disregarded, but that the Fourth Geneva Convention’s ban on establishing settlements in occupied territory should be upheld. The former promotes oppression, the latter purports to outlaw it. That distinction is not trivial, nor is it illegitimate.

In short, I think that the left needs to take a much more sophisticated, critical approach to questions of law, both in our analysis and in our advocacy. We need to be conscious of how we are using the law, and what the true standards are that underlie our determination that one legal principle should not be violated, and another should be abolished. There is nothing wrong with being selective, indeed, I would submit that we should be selective, but in being selective, we must not allow ourselves or others to believe that our position is legality for legality’s sake. We must call things by their true names: When we criticise illegality, what we are really criticising is injustice, oppression, violence, racism, imperialism, exploitation, or any number of other evils. Many on the left have long treated legality as a means rather than an end without necessarily being entirely conscious that they’re doing it, which often leads to sloppy analysis and easily countered advocacy. We must be fully conscious that legality is one tool or tactic, and learn to be deliberate in our deployment of it. In so doing, we will be much better able to articulate our own moral and ethical principles, rather than selectively applying principles announced, and subsequently ignored, by the very power structures we’re fighting against.

ADDENDUM (31.10.2013)

The perfect example of the uselessness of law against those with real power is the UN Security Council, which is essentially a private club for the richest states with the deadliest militaries.

The Security Council was created by the UN Charter, and it has no authority going beyond the very specific provisions set forth in the Charter. For example, nothing in the Charter allows the Security Council to amend the Charter itself, or, indeed, to void or amend any provision of any other treaty (a Security Council resolution ‘repealing’ the Geneva Conventions, for example, would be invalid).

When it comes to the authorisation of the use of force, the Security Council does not have legal authority to authorise force as and when it wants, and for whatever purpose it wants. The purposes for which the Security Council may authorise military force are listed in the Charter itself. If the Security Council were, say, to authorise military force for the purpose of overthrowing a government and gaining access to natural resources, that would be completely illegal. The Security Council can only authorise force if force is only illegal for lack of Security Council authorisation. It cannot change the law to make illegal things legal; it is only authorised to enforce existing law

In other words, existing law does not give the Security Council a blank cheque to do whatever it wants; if its actions violate existing law, including the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, or some other source of law, they are illegal.

However, international law provides absolutely no means to hold the Security Council accountable. The General Assembly has no real authority at all, and certainly has no authority to sanction or remove Security Council members, or the Council as a whole, for violating the law. The international courts have no jurisdiction over the Security Council; indeed, existing law gives the Security Council a substantial degree of control over the courts within the UN system, particularly the International Criminal Court. As such, it is legally impossible to enforce international law against the Security Council, no matter how flagrantly they violate it. The law makes clear that the Security Council has limited authority, and is entirely capable of acting illegally (because it cannot make new law), but it provides no means of enforcement. 

Thus, the limits on Security Council authority turn out to be illusory (as does the Security Council’s authority the minute they refuse to authorise something the US really wants to do). In practice, the powerful states, particularly the most powerful states, acting through the Security Council, have carte blanche to violate the law as they see fit, and no one has the legal authority to do anything about it.

‘Revolution’ (at least the idea of revolution at ‘home’, rather than in Egypt or some other suitably distant part of the world) has probably received more mainstream attention in the past few days than in the past five years, starting with alleged comedian and serial sexual harasser Russell Brand’s remarks in a recent – and fulsomely praised – interview with Jeremy Paxman.

There, and in a subsequent article in the New Statesman, Brand spoke from the hearts of millions (judging from the response he’s received) with statements like:

I don’t vote because to me it seems like a tacit act of compliance; I know, I know my grandparents fought in two world wars (and one World Cup) so that I’d have the right to vote. Well, they were conned. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing to vote for. I feel it is a far more potent political act to completely renounce the current paradigm than to participate in even the most trivial and tokenistic manner, by obediently X-ing a little box.

Total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political and economic system is what interests me, but that’s not on the ballot. Is utopian revolution possible? The freethinking social architect Buckminster Fuller said humanity now faces a choice: oblivion or utopia. We’re inertly ambling towards oblivion, is utopia really an option?

[…]

young people, poor people, not-rich people, most people do not give a fuck about politics.

They see no difference between Cameron, Clegg, Boris, either of the Milibands or anyone else. To them these names are as obsolete as Lord Palmerston or Denis Healey. The London riots in 2011, which were condemned as nihilistic and materialistic by Boris and Cameron (when they eventually returned from their holidays), were by that very definition political.

Further on in the article, Brand recounts his glee at participating in a riot at the turn of the century. The ideas, aspirations, demands, and anger at oppression that make riots like the one he claims to have been involved in, apparently do not merit a mention. Of the people doing the rioting, we only find Brand’s lament that, being a corporate media figure, he was not immediately trusted and embraced as a comrade by people who have every reason to distrust media outlets that routinely lie about them:

“The right seeks converts and the left seeks traitors.” This moral superiority that is peculiar to the left is a great impediment to momentum. It is also a right drag when you’re trying to enjoy a riot.

Much – probably substantially more than Brand’s ideas really deserve – has been said about the vacuous notion of ‘revolution’ that Brand has lately been flogging. Saswat Pattanayak, in Red Monthly, points out that Brand’s actual proposals, to the extent that they are coherent at all, amount to ‘Obama clichés’ such as:

“Heavy taxation of corporations and massive responsibility for energy companies and any companies exploiting the environment…I think the very concept of profit should be hugely reduced.”

As Pattanayak points out, Brand readily concedes interviewer Jeremy Paxman’s false dichotomy of ‘democracy vs revolution’, and adds his own conflation of revolution (a practical matter of overthrowing one power structure and replacing it with a different one) with utopia (literally ‘a place that does not exist’).

This, then, is the quality of thought we are dealing with: An aesthetic enjoyment of ‘disruption’ and ‘chaos’, whatever the cause, and outright contempt for the idea of having principles (which he dismisses as the left’s ‘moral superiority’). An acknowledgement of popular disaffection with a hollowed-out ‘democracy’ that offers at best the illusion of control, harmoniously combined with the ever-present sense that he thinks the whole thing is there for his amusement.

As I noted in a piece I posted yesterday, the only really worthwhile thing about Brand’s intervention is that it allows those of us who have been discussing and working towards actual revolution (not the romanticised chaos that Brand seems to be talking about) to use him as an excuse to talk to a wider audience about what an actual revolutionary project for a decent society would look like. Brand himself is not even a worthy distraction.

Not to be outdone, the New Statesman today published a response that is truly worthy of Brand’s contributions to the debate, a whiff of Scotch-egg flatulence penned by fellow celebrity Robert Webb under the title Russell, choosing to vote is the most British kind of revolution there is.

That title is as good a place to start with as any. First of all, Webb never actually defines what he means by ‘revolution’ anywhere in the piece, except to say that it’s something to do with lopping King Charles I’s head off and that it’s a bad thing that ‘ends in death camps, gulags, repression and murder.’

Because I would probably be accused of being too flippant if I were to say that, by his own terms, Webb is saying that voting is the most British way of initiating a bad thing that ends in repression and a diverse tapestry of different ways of murdering large numbers of people in short order, I will note that Webb, like Brand, seems to assume that ‘revolution’ inherently refers to war, such as the Civil War that Webb adduces as proof that ‘the English invented’ revolution in the modern era. It goes without saying that Webb doesn’t notice another equally obvious problem with his reasoning: the idea that the selection of one or another political party that exists within (and supports) the current system, in a manner compliant with the rules of that system, is a sort of revolution (i.e., overthrowing the existing system and putting something else in its place).

If one were feeling pedantic, one might also note that Webb uses ‘British’ and ‘English’ interchangeably, though the error is excusable: What is Britishness if not the combination of Parliamentary Power and the Anglicisation of the Whole Country? One need only ask around in Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Penzance (but it would be best not to do it in Welsh, Gaelic, or Cornish, since the heroic efforts of the Westminster regime over the centuries to eradicate non-Anglo-Saxon languages have largely paid off). Indeed, if the trend towards devolution continues and the popular Scottish independence movement is successful, ‘From Land’s End to John o’ Groats’ may soon enough have to be changed to: ‘From the Isle of Wight to Berwick-upon-Tweed’.

In a similar vein, who gives a toss whether revolution is ‘un-British’? Surely, the question is whether it’s a good idea or not, not whether it fits in with the notion of Britishness we find in the ‘Life in the UK’ test.

But I fear I have already made the mistake of donning SCUBA gear to examine the bottom of a mud puddle.

What substance there is to Webb’s piece is dedicated to announcing and explaining his decision – in response to Brand’s remarks – to re-join the Labour party, because ‘if you want to be a nuisance to the people whom you most detest in public life, vote. And vote Labour.’

And here, alas, yet another problem arises. What if the people I most detest in public life are not David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith, who are at least open and honest about their contempt for the overwhelming majority of the population and their intention to rob them of every bit of hard-fought socioeconomic security they have left, but the likes of Tony Blair and Eds Miliband and Balls, who lead a party that calls itself ‘Labour’ and wraps itself in a long and honourable tradition of workers’ struggles, only to take the wrecking ball to whatever the Tories haven’t destroyed yet?

But these questions probably don’t arise with quite the same urgency for someone who lives on giros with six figures before the decimal rather than three.

The case Webb seeks to make, then, is not just that voting is the supreme expression of people’s power (‘election day is when we really are the masters’), but that voting Labour will benefit ordinary people.

This case he makes as well as anyone could given the available evidence, which is to say, badly.

Webb has harsh words for those who have trouble distinguishing between a beating administered by the Tories and one administered by Labourites:

They are not all the same. “They’re all the same” is what reactionaries love to hear. It leaves the status quo serenely untroubled, it cedes the floor to the easy answers of Ukip and the Daily Mail.

(That would be the Daily Mail that is no more chuffed about Brand’s remarks than Webb is.)

Tellingly, Webb’s evidence for the proposition that the Labourites are clearly different to the Tories is not Aneurin Bevan or Clem Atlee, but Tony Blair. The NHS, trade union rights, and the British social safety net (such as it is) – laurels so old that they have long since petrified – may be the best available evidence that Labour has ever cared about ordinary people, but it seems even Webb knows that none of that would have been enacted if the current mob had been around after the war.

He’s gracious enough to acknowledge that ‘The last Labour government didn’t do enough and bitterly disappointed many voters’, but doesn’t elaborate on the reasons for that disappointment, wisely sensing that it would not help his case to note that the current coalition government did not have to invent their murderous welfare ‘reforms’ from scratch, but were able to build on the destruction already wrought by Blair and Brown. The murderous invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which bear Labour’s stamp of approval, are not mentioned even as an aside.

Even the Daily Mail had to admit that the current lot are so right wing that only way to red-bait today’s ‘Labour’ party is to smear Ed Miliband’s dead father. 

Also absent from Webb’s defence of the Labour party is any reference to the policies the Labour leadership have proposed for their next government (a matter to which we will shortly return). Instead, Webb tells us what a Labour government wouldn’t have done:

You specifically object to George Osborne’s challenge to the EU’s proposed cap on bankers’ bonuses. Labour simply wouldn’t be doing that right now.

So, you see, readers, the Labour Party is subjunctively different to the Tories. Webb doesn’t bother us with any further explanation on the matter, though one can certainly be excused for wondering why he is so confident that the party that rewarded the banks that were responsible for the ongoing economic crisis with £500 billion would draw the line at bonuses. In any case, the idea that banks, and not individual bankers, should be rewarded for destroying the economy seems an unlikely rallying cry to say the least.

‘Why’, Webb asks:

do pensioners (many of whom are not poor old grannies huddled round a kerosene lamp for warmth but bloated ex-hippie baby boomers who did very well out of the Thatcher/Lawson years) get so much attention from politicians? Because they vote.

It is true that the over 65s have the highest rate of electoral participation in the UK. According to AgeUK, they also have a 16 % poverty rate (1.8m living below 60 % of the median income after housing costs), and are ‘the biggest group of people on the brink of poverty with 1.2 million on the edge’. Clearly, voting pays – the rent or the electrical bill, but not both at the same time.

And what sort of attention are pensioners getting from Labour, you might ask? Ed Balls has promised to cut pensions as part of an overall intensification of the coalition government’s attack on the welfare state. Webb’s ‘bloated ex-hippie baby boomers who did very well out of the Thatcher/Lawson years’ probably don’t have to worry, but, then, when have they ever had to worry?

But voting Labour will show them. For example, it will show Iain Duncan Smith that he’s been too soft on working people to give them a proper beating such as the one as Shadow DWP Secretary Rachel Reeves has promised.

Hell, these days, Labour can’t even be counted on to stand for the admittedly radical notion that doing a day’s work gives a person the right to get paid.

In short, voting Labour will do bugger-all for the disaffected poor and working class people Brand co-opts in his piece, and Webb dismisses in his.

And so, Webb moves on:

What were the chances, in the course of human history, that you and I should be born into an advanced liberal democracy? […] That we can say what we like, read what we like, love whom we want; that nobody is going to kick the door down in the middle of the night and take us or our children away to be tortured? The odds were vanishingly small.

‘Vanishing’ is a very apt term for the current state of democratic liberties. Let’s have a look at what this paean to advanced (neo-)liberal ‘democracy’ leaves out. We could start with the fact that, whilst saying what we like, reading what we like, and loving whom we want, the NSA and GCHQ are taking copious notes (leading many to remark that they’re about the only government agencies that still listen to ordinary people), and that those copious notes may indeed be used in order to ‘kick the door down in the middle of the night and take us or our children away to be tortured’, perhaps in that bastion of advanced liberal democracy that is the Guantánamo Bay concentration camp. We might further note that, the minute we leave the privacy of our homes (such as it is, see above) to ‘say what we like’, there’s a fairly strong likelihood that agents of the state will show up to exercise their freedom to truncheon, kettle, arrest, and occasionally beat to death whomever they like. And those who make the mistake of being politically active with the wrong name, religion, or skin colour can experience the ultimate in advanced liberal democracy: the control order, which allows the Home Office to put anyone they want in a ‘prison without bars’ without even accusing (let alone convicting) them of a crime, and with little recourse for the person in question (courtesy of the last Labour government, in case anyone’s keeping track).

In closing, Webb writes:

I understand your ache for the luminous, for a connection beyond yourself. Russell, we all feel like that. Some find it in music or literature, some in the wonders of science and others in religion. But it isn’t available any more in revolution.

Leaving aside the fact that revolution is often about things rather less fuzzy than ‘the luminous’, such as food, clothing, and fucking shelter, Webb does not explain why ‘the luminous’, whatever it is, is no longer available in revolution, except to say that

We [sic] tried that again and again, and we know that it ends in death camps, gulags, repression and murder.

This was, of course, just as true of the civil war that leads Webb to remark that the English invented revolution, and of the ‘advanced liberal democracy’ he praises, but Webb does not seem to notice. Instead, he enjoins Brand to ‘read some fucking Orwell’, by which he presumably does not mean to suggest that Brand read the censored foreword to Animal Farm, in which Orwell describes the structurally undemocratic realities underlying Britain’s ‘advanced liberal democracy’.

Brand may not have ‘started the revolution’, as some enthused after the Newsnight interview, but he certainly has unleashed an epic clash of vapidities.

Thinking about the discussions on the Russell Brand/Jeremy Paxman exchange that have taken place over the past few days, I’ve come to the following tentative conclusions:

The fundamental question, to me, is how we on the left use the moment that has been generated by that exchange, by Brand’s remarks and the resonance that some of them had with quite a few people.

Too much of what I’ve seen focusses on Brand himself, often with uncritical adulation because he’s ‘started a conversation’ and admonitions that we should be so grateful to him for starting the conversation that we shouldn’t actually so much participate in whatever conversation that is, but nod reverently and keep our criticisms to ourselves.

This, to me, is fundamentally missing the point, and, more importantly, the opportunity.

We owe Brand nothing. Brand isn’t some member of popular movements who was able to fight his way onto the Beeb to get heard: he’s a celebrity who is in the public eye specifically because of that, and who happened to say a few things that strongly, and validly resonated with a lot of people who are disgusted with the hollowed-out shell that passes for official politics in the age of neoliberalism.

So we’re not beholden to him, and there’s no reason for these discussions to revolve around the underlying idea that he is somehow a (potential) movement leader when, to my knowledge, he’s never really shown any interest in getting involved in grass-roots organising to begin with.

What he is is a walking opportunity to talk to more people about the things that need to be talked about. If there is to be any point to the conversation his remarks to Paxman have started, then it really needs to start with a critical appraisal of the issues raised both by his words and proposals (such as they have been) and his behaviour.

There’s much to discuss: Are his proposals, to the extent that they’re concrete enough to comprehend on this level, really revolutionary? What is missing from that that must be included in order to have some hope of building a decent society? How can we best overcome the impulse to declare certain people ‘movement royalty’? What do the discussions that have arisen over Brand’s repulsively misogynist behaviour tell us about sexism on the left and how best to combat it?

To me, in the end, the left ought to approach the openings and resonances generated by the Brand/Paxman exchange the same way we would approach it if Iain Duncan Smith were to show up pissed at the next question period and drunkenly acknowledge that the government was fully aware that the disability benefit ‘reforms’ were probably going to be murderous, and that there were no actual jobs to be forcing benefit claimants into, and these policies had been pursued specifically with a view to lowering working-class living standards:

AS AN OPENING TO TALK ABOUT WHAT MATTERS.

In recent weeks, the Obama administration has released two documents related to its programme of extrajudicial executions[1]: The first was the secret memo that, like the Bush torture memo, was drafted by political appointees provide legal cover for criminal conduct I which the administration wished to engage. The second came in the form of Attorney-General Eric Holder’s letter to Rand Paul (KY-Plutocrat) in response to the latter’s question about the possible use of drones to execute US citizens within the US. The one is a secret get-out-of-jail-free card for internal use, whereas the other is a policy statement for public consumption.

In order to understand what Obama & Co. are telling us, we must read the two documents in tandem. (more…)

Jon "Yani" Haigh: Jews Suck, USAID Doesn't

Jon “Yani” Haigh: Jews Suck, USAID Doesn’t

In the last two parts of this series, published in this past fall, we met Jon “Yani” Haigh, who injected himself into the Greta Berlin debacle by signing an open letter along with multiple virulent racists and several sockpuppet accounts, that claimed that there was nothing racist going on in the racist troll groups where Greta Berlin found the holocaust denial video that she posted on the Free Gaza Movement (FGM) Twitter account.

Haigh, who lives in Brisbane, Queensland, works with a politically connected Republican lawyer by the name of Kamal Nawash. As discussed in greater detail in the first two parts of the series, Nawash, following a failed run for the Virginia State Assembly, decided to found a group called Free Muslims Coalition Against Terror, an astroturf operation that serves to root out “extremist Muslims” and generally provides an Arab/Muslim fig leaf for repressive US government policies.

These are, to be sure, strange bedfellows for anyone who, like Haigh, claims to be a Palestinian solidarity activist. As we will see in the following, however, they are not the only ones.

In the course of my research for this series, I was made aware that Haigh, with Kamal Nawash and one Rafi Gassel, had cowritten a roughly US$1 million USAID grant application for a project called “The Path to a Shared Future”. The project, we discover in the Background section, builds on a previous effort known as “Best Plans”.

Best Plans: US Government-Affiliated Normalisation

“Best Plans” is a “glimmer of hope in a sea of hate“, according to a Jerusalem Post article by fellow “Free Muslims” board member Ray Hanania, which also describes an effort called the “Israel-Palestine Confederation”, headed up by Nawash associate Josef Avesar.

Held at the University Centre of Samaria, an institution located in the illegal settlement of Ariel, the group brought together a group of mostly right-wing Israeli Jewish students with a “smattering” of Palestinian citizens of Israel and “some two dozen” Palestinians from the West Bank for open-ended brainstorming on “peace plans”, ranging from Israeli Jewish participants’ plans to culturally assimilate Palestinians into the colonial society of Israel or to extend apartheid from the river to the sea, with citizenship “after an unspecified period of time” for Palestinians who profess loyalty to a state that is explicitly not theirs, to Kamal Nawash’s plan for an “Israeli-Palestinian Confederation”.

It seems to have been a good strategic choice to hold the Best Plans conference in the segregated colony of Ariel, where Palestinians are banned from entering without special dispensation from the authorities, rather than occupied East Jerusalem, where Avesar decided to hold his “Israeli-Palestinian Confederation” mock elections. Avesar’s conference had to find new accommodations after Palestinian anti-apartheid activists became aware of it.

Protesters gathered outside the hotel to condemn the process of normalization of the occupation promoted by the conference, amidst the collapse of the peace process, continuing settlement construction and the confiscation of Palestinian land.

Conference events taking place in Beit Jalah and Haifa over the next few days have promoted a false illusion of Palestine already being liberated and contributed to the normalization of the Israeli occupation. One demonstrator commented that “how would such a confederation even be possible under the occupation?”

The management of the Ambassador Hotel announced their decision to cancel the conference events in a printed statement posted at the hotel’s entrance. A hotel manager stated that “we have been manipulated by the conference organizers, who did not reveal to us its real purposes. We refuse to take part in their attempts to veil the reality of Palestinian suffering.”

The criticisms raised by the Palestinian activists concerning the Avesar event apply in equal measure to the Nawash “Best Plans” conference: Both violate the Palestinian call to boycott “normalisation” events, i.e., events that bring Israeli Jews and Palestinians together to “sort out differences” without acknowledging the real context of inequality and oppression. Under the anti-normalisation prong of the Palestinian-led Boycott/Divestiture/Sanctions campaign, collaborative activities between Israeli Jews and Palestinians must explicitly state their opposition and resistance to the oppression of the indigenous Palestinian population.

One can imagine how well that plan would have gone over with the right-wing Israeli Jewish participants of the Nawash conference.

Towards a Normalised Future

 

Haigh acknowledges cowriting USAID application

Haigh acknowledges cowriting USAID application

The programme discussed in the USAID application turns out to be an expansion on the “Best Plans” normalisation conferences. In the words of the application:

This proposal involves the selection of two teams of Palestinians and Israelis who are representative of the various ideologies, views and schools of thought that are found in Palestinian and Israeli societies. The two teams, made up of approximately six individuals each, will be required to attend organized workshops and seminars throughout Palestine and Israel to engage Israelis and Palestinians who are representative of the general populations about the minimum contacts, rights and access that they would require to accept a political solution. The seminars will not presume a particular solution such as two-state or one-state solution. The actual proposed solution or solutions will be attempted at the end of the process after the Israeli and Palestinian teams become exposed to the wishes of population and share their findings in the structured reporting process.

This is the definition of astroturfing. Some unspecified persons – one assumes it will be Nawash and his “Free Muslims” mob – will select two teams of Palestinians and Israelis (Jewish Israelis, one assumes) who they deem “representative” of the spectrum of thought found in Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish society. Those teams will carry out what amount to glorified focus groups throughout Israel and the territories occupied since 1967 to engage Israeli Jews and Palestinians who are “representative” about their bare minimum requirements for a political solution. After the focus groups, the two teams will develop the “actual proposed solution” based on their understanding of the wishes of the “representative” people who came to their focus groups.

In addition to being “representative” in the opinion of the “Free Muslims”, these team members must also be “articulate speakers and writers with academic credentials who are able to report without adding, subtracting or reframing discussion content.” In other words, they must come from the more privileged sectors of the society, particularly given the severely limited access to education (especially higher education) for Palestinians.

No information is provided on how the “representative” focus group participants will be selected, or by whom. Crucially, there is no provision for participation by the communities themselves in defining the conditions and manner of their participation, nor any indication that the communities themselves would have any say in deciding who is “representative” and who is not. Every bit of the process is top-down, with the US government-linked “Free Muslims” deciding who participates, whom to listen to, and how to describe the wishes of their hand-picked participants.

“Importantly”, the proposal adds, “the teams will be ‘locked down’ together in a conducive environment (like the Dead Sea Resort) for a period of no less than 5 days before any conferences for a series of workshops on using technology, deal [sic] with objections, managing public discourse and workshop the conference process and the content.” “Dealing with objections” is sales-speak for wheedling a customer into saying yes to something they don’t actually want to buy. “Managing public discourse” once again emphasises that it is the “Free Muslims” team members who are managing the process, not the local communities. Their “discourse” must be managed, rather than simply being listened to.

After the initial conferences are complete, the two teams will be required to submit individual or joint proposals for peaceful solutions based on the feedback that was learned from the conferences.

Each team will be asked to try to reach an agreement on a proposed solution for the Palestinian Israel conflict. However, individual group members may submit their own proposal if they do not agree with a proposal by one or more group members.

(…)

The teams will then be required to submit their various proposals to representative audiences in Israel and Palestine. The proposal envisions six additional conferences with three in Israel and three in Palestine to test the proposals on representative audiences. The audiences will be encouraged to give their feedback on the respective proposals. Following the conferences and the feedback from the audiences, the teams will be required to reevaluate their proposals and determine whether the proposals may require amendments or improvements.

In other words, after the handpicked teams work out amongst themselves what proposals they can agree on based on what they were able to glean from the “managed discourse” of the “representative” community members who participated in the focus groups, the teams then go before more “representative audiences” (it is unclear whether these are the same “representative” audiences as the initial focus groups). These “representative” audiences will then provide “feedback”, which will be reevaluated in order to determine whether the teams’ proposals will require amendments.

Just to hammer home the importance of being “representative”, the working language will not be the native languages of the communities in question:

The experience gained in The Best Plans Project indicate that people are capable of using English as the working language with translations to Hebrew and Arabic.

James Linden Rose, listed as one of the team members, explains his "best plan" for the Palestinian solidarity movement.

James Linden Rose, listed as one of the team members, explains his “best plan” for the Palestinian solidarity movement.

 

So, in addition to whatever criteria the “Free Muslims” will use to determine whether a focus group participant is “representative”, the “representatives” must also have at least a working knowledge of English – which is the native language of many Jewish Israelis (including the current PM), but much less accessible to Palestinians with their limited educational opportunities – thus further restricting the field. It is not entirely clear whether “translations” means that there will be interpreters present (yet another layer of mediation between the communities and “their” plans), or whether only the written documents produced by the teams will be translated.

One can be excused for thinking at this point that this is remarkably similar to the US occupation régime’s plan for “caucuses” as a substitute for actual elections in Iraq. However, that plan may actually have involved fewer levels of mediation by “representatives” selected by outsiders.

But wait, there’s more…

After the proposals are tested before representative audiences, the two teams will then meet for face to face peace negotiations to write a peace agreement. If no united peace agreement is reached by consensus, then the two groups will be required to attempt to reach a proposal by majority vote, where as the preferred method is consensus.

If an agreement is reached the solution will be distributed to the populations via newspaper advertisements, electronic media and other written and multimedia dissemination processes. The website will be updated and adapted to allow people to read the final proposal, comment on it and cast a vote for or against the proposal.

So, after “representative” team members selected by outsiders conduct focus groups with “representatives” selected by outsiders and decide amongst themselves what they think the handpicked focus group participants want, and then focus group that proposal with even more “representatives” selected by outsiders, the two initial groups of “representatives” selected by outsiders will come together to decide on a “united peace agreement” amongst themselves. If, and only if, the “representatives” are able to reach a consensus will the public as a whole be let in on the proposals, and given an unmediated opportunity to comment on them and vote for or against them.

Essentially, then, the idea is to do a community theatre production of the bogus “peace process” with limited public participation only at the fag end of the process.

The authors of this application – Nawash, Haigh, and Gassel – are not unaware of the Palestinian movement against “normalisation” with the apartheid system, discussed above. Indeed, they expressly acknowledge its existence, and state that “The two teams must work independently (…) to avoid the anti-normalization concerns in which Palestinians are discouraged from working closely with Israelis.” Which is to say that, rather than honour the anti-normalisation campaign, they seek to circumvent it by claiming that Israeli Jews and Palestinians working on this normalisation project are not really normalising because they aren’t working on the same project in the same place at the same time.

However, it would be unfair to say that the Towards a Shared Future project doesn’t include any innovative elements. It does, chief amongst them the element of surreptitious electronic surveillance. The USAID application includes funding for the purchase of fifteen pairs of “ZionEyez” (now Zeyez) sunglasses “built-in HD camera, microphone, recording media and interface live to mobile phones”.

“These glasses”, it is noted in a footnote, “are high quality and very difficult to pick as being other than normal Raybans. They provide an ability to record events without creating a sense of ‘cameras are watching me everywhere’.”

The USAID: An Odd Partner for Social Justice Activists

Perhaps more significant than the content of the application itself is the source of the funding sought: the US Agency for International Development.

Whilst it presents itself publicly as a humanitarian aid agency helping benighted populations out of poverty, in reality, the agency is an instrument of US foreign policy, often working in tandem with another, better known, Agency. Recently, the Venezuelan-led ALBA (Alternativa Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América – Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America) states voted to expel USAID from their territory, following the “parliamentary coup” that ousted centre-left Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo, replacing him with a politician more willing to make deals with foreign mining corporations.

This is just the most recent in a long series of coups supported in one way or another by USAID activities. In the 1960s and 1970s, USAID provided torture training and equipment to Uruguayan “security” forces, as was revealed when USAID torture instructor Dan Mitrione was captured by the Tupamaro guerrilla organisation. Similarly, USAID provided support for the military dictatorship in Brazil, the murderous “Baby Doc” Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti, and, more recently, was implicated in US-instigated 2002 coup against Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez according to the documents unearthed by lawyer and researcher Eva Golinger. USAID’s role in the current murderous coup/occupation regime in Haiti is also a matter of record.

When first confronted with the USAID connection, Yani Haigh defended the agency, stating that it is merely an agency that “distributes money based on criteria”.

This is undeniably true:

Where there is a subservient dictatorship, USAID helps prop it up. Where there is a disobedient government, USAID works with other CIA associates like the “National Endowment for Democracy” and the “International Republican Institute” to “enhance civil society”, i.e., to finance and provide propaganda for right-wing groups willing to overthrow the miscreants.

In short, USAID is about as likely an instrument of justice for the Palestinians as, well, the “Free Muslims against Terror”.

The USAID application includes a somewhat detailed bio/CV of Jon “Yani” Haigh, revealing that the “Free Muslims” and the USAID application discussed above are by far not the end of the story. Haigh’s other dubious connections will be discussed in the next instalment.

 


In a comment below, Haigh writes:

Anyone on that list will tell you that I never buckle to Zionists, sexists, homophobes, abuse or liars.

Fortunately, Haigh has a track record on this subject, which allows us to see exactly how strong a stance he takes against sexist abuse, in particular:

Yani Haigh: Sylvia Posadas and I are "fat ugly bitches"

Yani Haigh: Sylvia Posadas and I are “fat ugly bitches”

Haigh: "They need to have their wombs out."

Haigh: “They need to have their wombs out.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haigh's literal witch hunt.

Haigh’s literal witch hunt.

 

 

Part II of the Series:

A Who’s Who of the “Free Muslims Board

In Part I of this series, we examined the activities of Jon “Yani” Haigh, a longtime Queensland resident who operates and monitors a network of racist troll groups on Facebook, and Kamal Nawash (for whom Haigh provides a range of web design and programming services) of the “Free Muslim Coalition Against Terror” , a group that advocates the political repression and surveillance of the US Arab and Muslim communities (related to the Facebook group “Free Muslims”). This, the second part of the series, examines some of the other shady characters who make up the “Free” Muslims Coalition.

 

The board of the Free Muslims are exactly what you’d expect of a group with the stated purpose of putting a Muslim face on the plethora of repressive measures, human rights violations, and outright war crimes that make up the “war on terror”.

Particularly fitting is the presence on the Board of Ray Hanania, who began his career as a journo in Chicago, covering local and regional politics for the Sun-Times and other print, radio, and TV outlets. During this period, he also hosted call-in radio chatshows on WLS, and appeared regularly on Dick Kay’s City Desk on WMAQ-TV. In 1990, he served as a panellist at the Chicago mayoral debate, which resulted in yet another electoral victory for the Daley clan. Two years later, he delved headfirst into the world of Chicago machine politics, founding the Urban Strategies Group, a full-service PR agency whose clients include Mayor-For-Life Daley himself, various city agencies, aldermen, Democratic committeemen, and “three successful candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives”.

Hanania boasts particular expertise in “crisis management” for “those with serious public relation [sic] challenges”. One imagines that such expertise was quite useful during his stint providing “basic media training” to the propaganda agency of Israel’s “Palestinian Authority”. Nor could it have hurt when he was called upon by the U.S. State Department and U.S. “Information” Agency to “provide media training sessions, meetings and presentations…to foreign media and government officials.” (more…)

Part I of a Series on Racism and Infiltration

In the aftermath of the racist tweet and multiple, contradictory “explanations” by Greta Berlin, much attention has been focussed on the letter published as an appendix to Larry Derfner’s second article on the subject, in which a number of purported members of the “secret group” corroborate Berlin’s claim that nothing untoward or anti-Semitic was going on in the group in question. Benjamin Doherty revealed, in successive articles on Electronic Intifada, that a number of the signatories were in fact sockpuppets controlled by one Ofer Engel. Another central figure, however, has largely avoided the spotlight.

Before we proceed, however, it is important to keep in mind that the following is not about any one individual, though a number of individuals will be given their time to shine. No, this is about the Palestinian solidarity movement as a whole: What we are and seek to do as a movement, and those who would hijack us for their own purposes.

Yani Haigh and The Trollpen

Jon "Yani" Haigh: Not One for Subtlety

Jon “Yani” Haigh: Not One for Subtlety

The final signatory on the “nothing to see here” letter is a Queensland web designer and photographer by the name of Jon “Yani” Haigh. He is, in Facebook terminology, the “owner” of the “secret group” Any Topic NOT Israel (and a regular in a number of related groups), and operates a number of anonymous and aesthetically nondescript websites, including thebestplans.org and peacearchitects.org.

This article, the first in a series dealing with the activities and associates of Jon “Yani” Haigh, will seek to provide a brief introduction to Haigh himself, and his close associate Kamal Nawash of the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism. In future articles, we will look at other figures on the “Free Muslims” Board, including the inimitable Ray Hanania, and other organisations and agencies with which Haigh and his associates collaborate.

Jon "Yani" Haigh: Jews suck

Jon “Yani” Haigh: Jews suck

A recurring theme in his posts is that “Jews suck”, and can only redeem themselves by being baptised Christian, and by boycotting Jewish community institutions and events (along the lines of Herskowitz’ schul picket). Alternatively, repentant Jews may simply send money to peacearchitects.org. Conflict, unsurprisingly, follows Haigh like the CIA follows Julian Assange.

The same can be said of other regulars of the “secret group” and affiliated groups, such as fellow signatory Kyle O’Laughlin, who divides his time in Any Topic NOT Israel fairly evenly between complaining that African-American pride is welcomed whilst “White Pride” is – shockingly enough – considered racist and posting links together with his comrade James Linden Rose on how the KKK and other white supremacist groups are in fact Jewish front groups designed to make white people look bad and thwart Ron Paul’s perennial presidential run.

"KKKyle" O'Laughlin Laments That "White Pride" is Considered Racist

“KKKyle” O’Laughlin Laments That “White Pride” is Considered Racist

Whilst the groups Any Topic NOT Israel, Our Land, and Free Muslims all have anodyne descriptions about getting to know each other and coming up with plans for peace, etc., and mission statements banning racism and flaming, the groups themselves bear little resemblance to these noble sentiments. In point of fact, the groups operate as a breeding and training ground for trolls, particularly those (like O’Laughlin, Linden Rose, and Haigh) of the white supremacist variety, mixed together with a few of the more vocal Zionist trolls. There, they engage in their preferred versions of racism, and hurl accusations back and forth about collaboration, snitching, and participation in world conspiracies of one sort or another, with little to no moderation in sight. One does have to wonder what the purpose of creating and administering a network of racist trollpens would be.

Greta Berlin, as luck would have it, is a member in several of these groups, though the exact

James Linden Rose on "Rule By Jew"

James Linden Rose on “Rule By Jew”

circumstances of her joining them will likely remain unclear, given the fog of bullshit that surrounds her and her cohorts’ descriptions of the groups.

 The Company He Keeps

             Yani Haigh, it must be said, is a rather embarrassing person to have vouch for one’s anti-racist credentials. Indeed, were it not for his signature on the “nothing to see here” letter and the creepily detailed set of mindmaps with which, by his own account, he monitors over 200 Facebook groups “to track troublemakers”, he would be an annoying boor of little consequence; he would merely be someone to avoid sitting in front of at the Gabba when the footie’s on, but would not merit much attention beyond that.

However, over the course of the past week, facts have emerged to place Haigh’s combination of racist boorishness and meticulous surveillance into a broader context. One of the websites Haigh designed and operates, thebestplans.org, is that of an organisation founded by one Kamal Nawash, Esq., Haigh’s employer and fellow member of the groups in question.

Kamal Nawash is a Palestinian-American lawyer, with an LL.M. from American University’s Washington College of Law.

After a stint as counsel for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), in 2003, apparently with the support of hard-right Republican activist Grover Norquist, Nawash stood for election to a seat in the Virginia state Senate. His Senate run was ultimately unsuccessful due to the general climate of scapegoating and criminalisation of Muslim and Arab life in the US.

Some might be led by such an experience to campaign against racism and bigotry. Not Kamal Nawash. Shortly after his electoral defeat, Nawash founded the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terror (and later, its Facebook counterpart, the group “Free Muslims”), an organisation largely dedicated to providing public relations cover to US government repression of the Arab and Muslim community. One view one finds repeated throughout the autobiographies of the Free Muslims Board members is that it is Muslim ideology – and not, say, decades of murderous US and US-sponsored violence against them and their countries – that is at fault for any problems in the Muslim community and the Middle East.

In 2004, the Free Muslims organised a March Against Terror, which was endorsed by a diverse cross-section of people and organisations dedicated to bigotry against Arabs and Muslims (such as Daniel Pipes), to organisations and people dedicated to more general bigotry (RIGHTALK.com), to fellow alibi Muslims such as Zuhdi Jasser of the “American Islamic Forum for Democracy”, to a wide assortment of right-wing organisations that no one had ever heard of and/or offer no proof that they actually exist (such as the “Government of Free Vietnam”, made up of former officials from the US puppet dictatorship who claim to be the legitimate government on account of having been elected fair and square to the position by four US presidents in a row).

Apparently, Nawash’s March Against Terror (and explicitly in support of Bush) caught a few eyes in Washington, because, in 2005, he was rewarded by the Bush White House with an appointment as US envoy to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Around the same time (2003-2007), Nawash began contributing to FrontPagemag.com, the far-right blog run by Stalinist-turned-fascist David Horowitz, who also operates the neo-McCarthyite campus group CampusWatch and the right-wing private intelligence organisation Discover The Networks. Nawash’s articles include titles such as We Are So Sorry for 9-11, French Riots: A Gift from the Open Borders Lobby, and the KCNA-esque Free Muslims Congratulate President George Bush.

This period in the life of Kamal Nawash has been very helpfully chronicled by none other than Daniel Pipes himself. As of 11 September 2003, Nawash earned a strong blast of scorn from the Pipes for suggesting that the Bush administration’s “anti-terrorism” (i.e., pro-repression) plan raised concerns about “basic Constitutional rights”:

Of particular interest (given that several 9/11 hijackers used a student cover), is Nawash’s objection to the U.S. government tracking foreign students, protesting (nonsensically) that this step would indicate “a willingness to restrict scientific knowledge and scholarship to certain classes of people and to flout, basically, principles of academic freedom.” Sounds like this man opposes the war on terrorism; in any case, he sure makes for a strange Republican candidate.

Throughout 2003, Pipes had nothing but contempt for Nawash, who was raising objections to the Clinton-era Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which allows the executive branch unilaterally to ban organisations as “terrorist organisations”, and criminalises anyone associated with them, criticising the designation of Palestinian groups disfavoured by the US regime as “terrorist”, and generally raising fairly mild questions about the human rights implications of the “war on terror”. Of US Senator John Warner (R-VA), who had endorsed Nawash’s candidacy for the Virginia state Senate, Pipes wrote: “Virginians might wish to inform their senior senator that he is, to put it mildly, going out on a limb on this one.”

By 2004, however, another tune began to be blown on the Pipes. In noting Nawash’s formation of the Free Muslims group, Pipes writes:

It sounds good and it has been getting lots of good publicity, but given Nawash’s record on terrorism, as established here (his dismissing the concept, his close ties to a person alleged to fund terrorism), I need to be convinced that this leopard has changed his spots.

By 2005, we find Pipes explicitly endorsing the Free Muslims March Against Terror, particularly chuffed that one Khaleel Mohammed “denounc[ed] CAIR”.

Whilst Pipes begins expressing sceptical endorsement (and Pipes has no other kind of endorsement on offer for Arabs and Muslims), by 2006, some within the exceedingly mild-mannered antidiscrimination group CAIR were expressing concern with Nawash and the way in which his remarks were eagerly snapped up by the likes of Daniel Pipes.

In two short years, Kamal Nawash went, in the mind of racist “smearcaster” Daniel Pipes, from something akin to the 20th hijacker to one of the Good Muslims. A remarkable transformation, to say the least.

Pipes’ timeline ends in 2008, but one can imagine that he would see no reason to reconsider his assessment in the light of subsequent events. In 2011, Nawash endorsed the neo-McCarthyite hearings chaired by Rep. Peter King on the “radicalisation of American Muslims”, and condemned the Muslim and Arab-American antidiscrimination organisations for their opposition to King’s efforts to further scapegoat and criminalise the Muslim community. When it was revealed this year that the NYPD had, for years, been carrying out a massive, illegal programme of spying on virtually the entire Muslim community of the Five Boroughs, Nawash, along with representatives of other Muslim astroturf groups organised a joint rally in support of the NYPD spying effort with none other than Rep. King himself.

Looking at this trajectory, one might be excused for speculating that Nawash’s conversion from moderate Republican and defender of Muslim and Arab-American rights to Pipes pet was not entirely free of opportunism.

Opportunism, as we will see as this series progresses, is something of an overarching theme.

*    *     *    *    *   *    *

UPDATE: In the twelve hours since this post went live, someone temporarily shut down my Facebook account, and there was an attempt to hack this blog. It appears someone might have succeeded in changing my blog password, thus preventing me getting in. All appears well now, but it does seem that someone is not exactly chuffed to bits that this article was published. They will be positively unecstatic about the subsequent parts of this series.

Meanwhile, Ali Abunimah has published his “final word” on the debacle that gave rise to this series:

Should I have been more explicit about what I saw? Perhaps, but I had my reasons to take a more restrained approach. I had hoped that by sounding the alarm, and signaling that Berlin’s explanations were not credible, Berlin herself would begin to take the issue seriously, and that the new Free Gaza board would do the same. Sadly that did not happen.

The most dispiriting spectacle over the past two weeks was seeing Berlin disseminating, and a small group of people embellishing, outlandish stories intended to distract and shift the blame on to those who were asking for accountability.

Almost every day, I’ve received emails alleging, among other things, that I am a “Zionist agent,” that I’ve been “conned” by Israel into attacking Berlin so that Israel can steal Gaza’s natural gas, that I am engaged in a “vendetta” because Berlin endorsed a book I didn’t like, and so on. A few of these messages came from people I had previously believed to be reasonable and sensible, which added to the disappointment.

Read the full article here.

Bekah Wolf of Mondoweiss has also come out with a piece very germane to the topic of this series, documenting what some of us had been saying since this began: This wasn’t just one accidental tweet. Alas, Greta Berlin has form.

Some people have come to Greta’s defense, accepting her assertion that this was a technical mistake, that she did not support the content of the video, and that those who have criticized her response to the “mistake” are on a witch hunt. I’d like to acknowledge that the Free Gaza Movement was not synonymous with Greta Berlin; some of my good friends and people I deeply respect were leaders of that movement and their work and commitment should in no way be minimized by this.

Setting aside Greta’s woefully inadequate explanations for the tweet (of which there were several), the fact remains: Greta is an active administrator of a Facebook group that is full of unabashedly anti-Semitic rhetoric and has been called out before by activists for it but has never done anything to challenge or stop it. Since the controversy broke, the “Our Land” group has attempted to cover some of its tracks. The fact that Greta remains an active administrator of a Facebook group that accommodates this kind of bigotry raises serious issues about her commitment to building an anti-racist movement committed to justice and equality. Moreover, her unprincipled, vicious andIslamophobic attacks on the Palestinians who have called her to task for her behavior should alarm all of us who are committed to Palestine solidarity work.

The full article can be found here.

Almost four years into the carnival of horrors that is the Obama administration, there are still delusional people out there who think Obama just needs to “grow a pair”.

There are a lot of things that can be said about Obama, but to say that he lacks balls is to announce that one lacks contact with reality. We’re talking about the guy who ran on “protect whistleblowers” only to declare an unprecedented war on whistleblowers the minute he was elected. The guy who ran on “protect civil liberties” only to make Bush II’s human rights record look good. The guy who brazenly claims to have outlawed torture despite the fact that torture was already outlawed and his own executive order explicitly allows torture. This is the guy who accepted the Nobel Peace prize with a speech on how important it was to him to keep killing lots of people.

This is the guy who is so openly laughing at all of us that he rammed an attack on Social Security through as a “Jobs Bill”, and then followed it up by championing a law that legalised securities fraud by calling it the “JOBS ACT“. This is the guy whose administration helped coordinate the violent nationwide crackdown on Occupy.

From the minute he started choosing the cabinet to the minute his administration announced that it has the right to execute any of us without trial, Obama has been running around the globe screaming “FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! BOW DOWN, MOTHERFUCKERS! I’M YOUR GOD NOW!”

Grow a pair? The man has balls as big as all outdoors.

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