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Catalonia's Referendum Unmasks Authoritarianism in Spain

I have long worried about the rise of authoritarianism in the European Union. The Spanish government's violent crackdown during the Catalonia referendum on Oct. 1 is the latest crisis...

Authoritarianism Already Smothers Freedom: It is Not the Issue in Venezuela

Photo by Eneas De Troya | CC BY 2.0 Some say Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro is authoritarian.  Yet an unrecognized authoritarianism is more serious. The...

Yale Historian Timothy Snyder on How the US Can Avoid Sliding Into Authoritarianism

Is the United States sliding toward tyranny? That is the question posed by Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder in his new book that...
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Video: Part 1: Yale Historian Timothy Snyder on How the U.S. Can Avoid Sliding...

https://democracynow.org - Is the United States sliding toward tyranny? That is the question posed by Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder in his ... Via...
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Video: Part 2: Yale Historian Timothy Snyder on How the U.S. Can Avoid Sliding...

https://democracynow.org - Is the United States sliding toward tyranny? That is the question posed by Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder in his ... Via...

Between Orwell and Huxley in the Age of New Authoritarianism

To read more articles by Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here. "Collective opposition is no longer an option,...

Toward a Politics of Ungovernability: Shutting Down American-Style Authoritarianism

Photo by Daniel Huizinga | CC BY 2.0 It is impossible to imagine the damage Trump and his white nationalists, economic fundamentalists, and white supremacists...

The Menace of Trump and the New Authoritarianism: An Interview With Henry Giroux

President Trump has surrounded himself with warmongers, adding to the threat of military escalation in Syria and beyond. (Image: JR / TO; Adapted: Matt...
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Video: Rep. Lieu: The White House Lying & Stifling Dissent on Yemen Raid is...

http://democracynow.org - Trump's White House has warned journalists and lawmakers against criticizing a botched raid by U.S. commandos on a Yemeni ... Via Youtube

To Halt the Slide Into Authoritarianism, We Need a General Strike

Like the recent airport shutdown protests over Donald Trump's proposed Muslim ban, a general strike could target key transit infrastructures like these demonstrators outside...

Trump and the Central European Right Wing: Plagiarizing Authoritarianism

The more I watch and read the rhetoric of Donald Trump, the more I find myself at times unexpectedly reflecting on some lessons I...
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Video: Trump and the Enablers of American Authoritarianism (2/2)

Scholar Henry Giroux in conversation with Paul Jay says 'lesser evilism' is the wrong way to frame the elections - it's about what's better...

Radical Politics in the Age of American Authoritarianism: Connecting the Dots

If the left is to fight back against authoritarianism, we must bring together diverse movements working for social change. (Photos: Bob Simpson,...

Revisiting 1930s Authoritarianism Through Donald Trump

Give this to Donald Trump: he helps us picture how the anti-democratic, right-wing, personality-driven movements of the 1930s came to power. Those movements are...

The Plague of American Authoritarianism

Authoritarianism in the American collective psyche and in what might be called traditional narratives of historical memory is always viewed as existing elsewhere. Viewed...

Orwell, Huxley and America’s Plunge into Authoritarianism

In spite of their differing perceptions of the architecture of the totalitarian superstate and how it exercised power and control over its residents, George...

America Is Ripe For Authoritarianism

CJ Werleman The pitiful state of the economy makes the U.S. vulnerable. America is on the precipice of a fascist uprising. While liberals have consistently leveled...

The Ghost of Authoritarianism in the Age of the Shutdown

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_ghost_of_authoritarianism_in_the_age_of_the_shutdown_20131018/

Posted on Oct 18, 2013

By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout

This piece first appeared at Truthout before the government shutdown was resolved.

In the aftermath of the reign of Nazi terror in the 1940s, the philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote:

National Socialism lives on, and even today we still do not know whether it is merely the ghost of what was so monstrous that it lingers on after its own death, or whether it has not yet died at all, whether the willingness to commit the unspeakable survives in people as well as in the conditions that enclose them.

Adorno’s words are as relevant today as they were when he first wrote them. The threat of authoritarianism to citizen-based democracy is alive and well in the United States, and its presence can be felt in the historical conditions leading up to the partial government shutdown and the refusal on the part of the new extremists to raise the debt ceiling. Adorno believed that while the specific features and horrors of mid-century fascism such as the concentration camps and the control of governments by a political elite and the gestapo would not be reproduced in the same way, democracy as a political ideal and as a working proposition would be under assault once again by new anti-democratic forces all too willing to impose totalitarian systems on their adversaries.

For Adorno, the conditions for fascism would more than likely crystallize into new forms. For instance, they might be found in the economic organization of a society that renders “the majority of people dependent upon conditions beyond their control and thus maintains them in a state of political immaturity. If they want to live, then no other avenue remains but to adapt, submit themselves to the given conditions.” In part, this speaks to the role of corporate-controlled cultural apparatuses that normalize anti-democratic ideologies and practices as well as to the paramount role of education in creating a subject for whom politics was superfluous. For Adorno, fascism in its new guise particularly would launch a systemic assault on the remaining conditions for democracy through the elimination of public memory, public institutions in which people could be educated to think critically and the evisceration of public spaces where people could learn the art of social citizenship, thoughtfulness and critical engagement. He also believed that the residual elements of the police state would become emergent in any new expression of fascism in which the corporate and military establishments would be poised to take power. Adorno, like Hannah Arendt, understood that the seeds of authoritarianism lie in the “disappearance of politics: a form of government that destroys politics, methodically eliminating speaking and acting human beings and attacking the very humanity of first a selected group and then all groups. In this way, totalitarianism makes people superfluous as human beings.”

The American political, cultural, and economic landscape is inhabited by the renewed return of authoritarianism evident in the ideologies of religious and secular certainty that legitimate the reign of economic Darwinism, the unchecked power of capital, the culture of fear and the expanding national security state. The ghosts of fascism also are evident in what Charles Derber and Yale Magress call elements of “the Weimer Syndrome,” which include a severe and seemingly unresolvable economic crisis, liberals and moderate parties too weak to address the intensifying political and economic crises, the rise of far-right populist groups such as the Tea Party and white militia, and the emergence of the Christian Right, with its racist, anti-intellectual and fundamentalist ideology. The underpinnings of fascism are also evident in the reign of foreign and domestic terrorism that bears down on the so called enemies of the state (whistleblowers and nonviolent youthful protesters) and on those abroad who challenge America’s imperial mission; it is also visible in a growing pervasive surveillance system buttressed by the belief that everyone is a potential enemy of the state and should be rightfully subject to diverse and massive assaults on rights to privacy and assembly.

The return to authoritarianism can also be seen in the pervasive and racist war on youths, whether one points to a generation of young people saddled with unspeakable debt, poverty and unemployment, or the ongoing criminalization of behaviors that either represent trivial infractions, such as violating a dress code, or more serious forms of terrorism, such as incarcerating increasing numbers of low-income whites and poor minority youths. Americans live at a time when the history of those who have been cheated, murdered or excluded is being destroyed. Eliminated from this history are the collective narratives of struggle, resistance and rebellion against various forms of authoritarianism. We live in a time in which the politics of the moral coma is alive and well and is most visible in the ways in which the rise of the new extremism in the United States is being ignored. The repudiation of intellectual responsibility confirms what Leo Lowenthal once called the “regression to sheer Darwinism - or perhaps one should say infantilism,” along with any sense of moral accountability toward others or the common good. The government shutdown offers a clear case of a kind of historical and social amnesia and a rare glimpse of the parameters of the new authoritarianism.

During the past few decades, it has become clear that those who wield corporate, political and financial power in the United States thrive on the misery of others. Widening inequality, environmental destruction, growing poverty, the privatization of public goods, the attack on social provisions, the elimination of pensions and the ongoing attacks on workers, young protesters, Muslims and immigrants qualify as just a few of the injustices that have intensified with the rise of the corporate and financial elite since the 1970s. None of these issues are novel, but the intensification of the attacks and the visibility of unbridled power and arrogance of the financial, corporate and political elite that produces these ongoing problems are new and do not bode well for the promise of a democratic society.

Such failings are not reducible either to the moral deficiencies and unchecked greed of both major political parties or the rapacious power of the mega banks, hedge funds and investment houses. Those intellectuals writing to acknowledge the current state of politics in America understand the outgrowth of a mix of rabid racism, religious fundamentalism, civic illiteracy, class warfare and a savage hatred of the welfare state that now grips the leadership of the Republican Party. The new extremists and prophets of authoritarianism are diverse, and their roots are in what Chris Hedges calls the radical Christian right, Michael Lind calls the reincarnation of the old Jeffersonian-Jacksonian right and what Robert Parry and Andrew O’Hehir call racist zealots. All of these elements are present in American politics, but they are part of a new social formation in which they share, even in their heterogeneity, a set of organizing principles, values, policies, modes of governance and ideologies that have created a cultural formation, institutional structures, values and policies that support a range of anti-democratic practices ranging from the militarization of public life and acts of domestic terrorism to the destruction of the social state and all those public spheres capable of producing critical and engaged citizens.

Needless to say, all of these groups play an important role in the rise of the new extremism and culture of cruelty that now characterizes American politics and has produced the partial government shutdown and threatens economic disaster with the debt-ceiling standoff. What is new is that these various fundamentalist registers and ideological movements have produced a coalition, a totality that speaks to a new historical conjuncture, one that has ominous authoritarian overtones for the present and future. There is no talk among the new extremists of imposing only an extreme Christian religious orthodoxy on the American people or simply restoring a racial state; or for that matter is there a singular call for primarily controlling the economy. The new counter-revolutionaries and apostles of the Second Gilded age are more interested in imposing a mode of authoritarianism that contains all of these elements in the interest of governing the whole of social life. This suggests a historical conjuncture in which a number of anti-democratic forces come together to “fuse and form a kind of configuration” - a coming together of diverse political and ideological formations into a new totality. The partial government shutdown is a precondition and test run for a full coup d’état by the social formations driving this totality. And while they may lose the heated battle over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling, they have succeeded in executing their project and giving it some legitimacy in the dominant media.

Hiding beneath the discourse of partisan politics as usual, the authoritarian face of the new extremism is overlooked in the dominant media by terms such as “the opposing party,” “hard-line conservatives” or, in the words of New York Times columnist Sam Tanenhous, the party of “a post consensus politics.” In fact, even progressives such as Marian Wright Edelman fall into this trap in writing that “some members of Congress are acting like children - or, more accurately, worse than children.” In this case, the anti-democratic ideologies, practices and social formations at work in producing the shutdown and the potential debt-ceiling crisis are not merely overlooked but incorporated into a liberal discourse that personalizes, psychologizes or infantilizes behaviors that refuses to acknowledge or, in fact, succumbs to totalitarian tendencies.

There is no sense in the mainstream liberal and conservative discourses that a new authoritarianism haunts the current notion and ideal of governance and is the culmination of what Hannah Arendt once viewed as a historical trend toward the limiting, if not elimination, of the political as it relates to and furthers the promise of a democracy to come. The wider contexts of power and politics disappear in these discourses. We get a glimpse of this erasure in a statement by former Texas congressman and Republican Party House majority leader Dick Armey. In commenting on the shutdown, Armey raises the issue of “How does a guy like Ted Cruz, who’s relatively new in town, who nobody knows, who hasn’t even unpacked his bags, drive this whole process?” What Armey ignores in this revealing and stark assessment is that the very cultural, economic and political conditions that he has helped to put in place along with a range of other right-wing ideologues helped to create the perfect storm for Cruz to appear and set in motion the authoritarian tendencies that have been percolating in the social order since the late 1970s.

What is clear in the current impasse is that the Republican Party has held the U.S. government hostage, in part, because it disagrees with a health initiative that has been endorsed by a large segment of the American people, been deemed legal by the Supreme Court and played a significant role in getting Barack Obama re-elected. For some, these practices resemble a politics that appropriates the gangster tactics of extortion, but this understanding is only partially true. There is a deeper order of politics at work here, and there is more at stake than simply defunding the Affordable Care Act. As Bill Moyers points out, the attack on the Affordable Care Act is only one target in the sights of the new extremists. He writes:

Despite what they say, Obamacare is only one of their targets. Before they will allow the government to reopen, they demand employers be enabled to deny birth control coverage to female employees. They demand Obama cave on the Keystone pipeline. They demand the watchdogs over corporate pollution be muzzled, and the big, bad regulators of Wall Street sent home. Their ransom list goes on and on. The debt ceiling is next.

Moyers is correct, but his argument can be extended. What Americans are witnessing is a politics that celebrates a form of domestic terrorism, a kind of soft militarism and a hyper-masculine posturing in which communities are organized around resentment, racism and symbolic violence. With the partial government shutdown and the looming debt ceiling crisis engineered by the extremists driving the Republican Party, the amount of human suffering, violence and hardships that many individuals and families are experiencing border on catastrophic and open up a whole new act in the theater of cruelty, state violence, human misery and the exercise of raw and savage power.

The assassins now in power are cultivating a culture of fear, vengeance and hatred not only directed at disposable populations such as the poor, low-income minority youths, whistleblowers, immigrants and those who are disabled, uninsured and unemployed - but also at civil liberties, labor unions, women’s reproductive rights and voting rights. Neoliberal common sense now colonizes everyday life and spreads the market-driven gospel of privatization, commodification, deregulation and free trade. Competitiveness, self-interest and decentralization are the new mantras governing society and provide the ideological scaffolding for “moulding identities and characterizing social relations.” The pursuit of the public good, social justice and equality has been replaced by the crude discourse of commerce, the drive for profits and “rational choice models that internalize and thus normalize market-oriented behaviour.” Entrepreneurial identities replace all modes of solidarity invested in democratic principles, and self-interested actors supplant the discourse of the public good. The production of capital, services and material goods “are at the heart of the human experience.”

The connection between private troubles and public considerations has been broken. The many problems the American people now face - from unemployment and poverty to homelessness - regardless of the degree to which they are caused by larger social, economic and political forces are now individualized, placed on the shoulders of the victims who are now solely responsible for the terror, hardship and violence they experience. The shutdown is not another example of an egregiously inept and morally corrupt group of politicians, it is a flashpoint registering the degree to which the United States has become an authoritarian state, one now governed by a system in which economics drives politics, irrationality trumps reason, the public good is canceled out by an unchecked narcissism and ethical considerations are subordinated to the drive for profits at any cost.

For those who have refused to participate in the willful amnesia that marks the contemporary slide into authoritarianism, the totalitarian practices of the past few decades have been quite clear. Domestic spying; secret prisons; kill lists; military aggression; the rise of corporatism; the death-dealing culture of hyper-masculinity, drones and the spectacle of violence; and a monochromatic media have not only registered a shift from state power to corporate power but also a move from the welfare state to the warfare state. Consumer sovereignty erases the rights and obligations of citizens and eviscerates ethical claims and social responsibilities from the meaning of politics. Government is viewed as the enemy, except when it benefits the rich, corporations and hedge fund executives. At the same time that social programs are viewed as a pathology and drain on the state, intellectuals are incorporated into a spectacle of conformity where they lose their voices and become normalized.

The hijacking of democracy by extremists in and outside of the government appears completely disassociated from the needs of the American people, and as such the instruments of dominant politics, power and influence appear unaccountable. And unaccountability is the stuff of political tyrants, not simply religious fanatics or market fundamentalists; it has been a long time in the making and has been fed by a relentless culture of fear, warfare, greed, inequality, unbridled power formations, the destruction of civil liberties and a virulent racism that has a long history in the United States and has gone into overdrive since the 1980s, reaching its authoritarian tipping point after the tragedy of 9/11.

Obama may not be responsible for the government shutdown and the debt ceiling crisis, but he can be charged with furthering a climate of lawlessness that feeds the authoritarian culture supportive of a range of political, economic and cultural interests. The American anti-war activist Fred Branfman argues that:

Under Mr. Obama, America is still far from being a classic police-state of course. But no President has done more to create the infrastructure for a possible future police-state. This infrastructure will clearly pose a serious danger to democratic ideals should there be more 9/11s, and/or increased domestic unrest due to economic decline and growing inequality, and/or massive global disruption due to climate change.

The new extremists in the Republican Party are simply raising the bar for the authoritarian registers and illegal legalities that have emerged under Bush and Obama in the past decade - including the bailing out of banks guilty of the worst forms of corporate malfeasance, the refusal to prosecute government officials who committed torture, the undermining of civil liberties with the passage of the Patriot Act, the National Defense Authorization Act, the establishment of a presidential kill list and the authorization of widespread surveillance to be used against the American people without full transparency.

The current crisis has little to do with what some have called a standoff between the two major political parties. It is has been decades in the making and is part of a much broader coup d’état to benefit the financial elite, race baiters, war mongers and conservative ideologues such as the right-wing billionaires, David and Charles Koch, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, the Heritage Foundation policy hacks and other extremist individuals and organizations that believe that democracy poses a threat to a government that should be firmly in the hands of Wall Street and other elements of the military-industrial-surveillance-prison complex.

The willingness and recklessness of the new extremists to throw most of the American people, if not all vestiges of economic security and democracy, into political and economic chaos is a measure of the depth and degree to which the United States has become subject to a new form of authoritarianism. Not only has the shutdown caused the American public $300 million a day and portends a financial catastrophe, but it has shut down programs such as WIC that provide funding for “nearly nine million pregnant women, recent mothers, and their children under age five who rely on the program’s supplemental vouchers for healthy food, expensive infant formula, and other necessities. Fifty-three percent of all infants born in the U.S. are fed through the WIC program.”  Nineteen thousand students in Head Start have lost their funding, 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed, and life-saving research for “children with serious medical needs has been affected.” In Maine, many of the poor will go without funds for heating, the Environmental Protection Agency has furloughed more than 16,000 workers, or 95 percent of its workforce, prompting what Sara Chieffo, the legislative director of the League of Conservation Voters, has called “a polluter’s heyday.”

It gets worse. Thousands of safety inspectors for the Federal Aviation Administration no longer on the job because of the shutdown will not be able to perform “included inspections for the de-icing of aircraft on the tarmac and checks that pilots do not fly longer than allowed.” As Think Progress has pointed out, this heavy-handed exercise of raw power means more people will get sick because routine food inspections by the FDA will be dramatically reduced, cutbacks in the staff of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will put the country at risk for the spread of infectious diseases, many low-income poor will be cut off from needed nutritional assistance, agencies that conduct workplace inspections and ensure worker safety will not be on the job, and the work of public health researchers may be set back for years. In fact, the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration, which already were underfunded for years, are “scrambling to recall furloughed employees to deal with a dangerous food-borne salmonella outbreak and a lethal Hepatitis outbreak in Hawaii.”  As Michal Meurer and Candice Bernd point out, food-borne illnesses pose a real and dangerous threat to the American public, and the government shutdown should be seen as part of a broader right-wing plan to dismantle regulatory agencies, regardless of the lethal impact they may have on the American people. The food safety system is in crisis not for lack of resources and expertise but because of willful recklessness put into place through the right-wing policies of the new authoritarianism. There is more at work here than the recklessness of Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and other Tea Party Republicans, bankrolled by a handful of billionaires; there is also the echo of authoritarianism that now saturates the American cultural and political landscape, endlessly normalizing itself in the media and other cultural apparatuses that showcase and normalize its corrupt politics, racist and class-based ideologies and culture of cruelty, all enabled under the sanctity of the market and in the name of state security. The shutdown and debt ceiling crisis signal the depth and degree to which the United States has become subject to a new form of authoritarianism.

A new type of criminal regime now drives American politics, one devoid of any sense of justice, equality and honor. It thrives on fear, the false promise of security and an egregious fusion of economic, religious and racist ideologies that have become normalized. This new dystopia wants nothing more than the complete destruction of the formative culture, collectives and the institutions that make democracy possible. Inequality is its engine, and disposability is the reward for large segments of the American public. It ideologies and structure of politics often have been hidden from the American public. The shutdown and debt-ceiling crisis have forced the new authoritarianism out of the shadows into the light. The lockdown state is on full display with its concentrated economic power and the willingness of the apostles of authoritarianism to push millions of people into ruin. Paraphrasing Eric Cazdyn, all of society is now at the mercy of a corporate, religious, and financial elite just as “all ideals are at the mercy of [a] larger economic logic.” The category of hell is alive and well in the racist and imperial enclaves of the rich, the bigoted, the bankers and hedge fund managers.

The question that remains is how can politics be redefined through a new language that is capable of articulating not only what has gone wrong with the United States but how the forces responsible can be challenged in new ways by new social formations and collective movements?  The crisis caused by the shutdown needs to be addressed through a discourse in which the ghosts and traces of historical modes of authoritarianism can be revealed in tandem with its newly revised edition. This is a daunting task, but too much is at stake to not take it up. The authoritarianism that rules American society functions as more than an apology for inequality, the ruthlessness of the market and the savage costs it imposes on the American public; it also represents a present danger that cannot be repeated in the future. Authoritarianism in its present form in America is the result of the formative culture, modes of civic education and sites of public pedagogy necessary for a viable democratic society degenerating into caricature, or what Adorno called an “empty and cold forgetting.” The ghost has become a reality, although it has been reconfigured to adjust to the specificity of the American political, economic and cultural landscape in the 21st century. In 2004, I wrote a book titled The Terror of Neoliberalism: The New Authoritarianism and the Eclipse of Democracy. What is different almost a decade later is a mode of state repression and an apparatus of symbolic and real violence that is not only more pervasive and visible but also more unaccountable, more daunting in its arrogance and disrespect for the most fundamental elements of justice, equality and civil liberties.

The new authoritarianism must be exposed as a politic of disaster and a new catastrophe, one that is rooted in large-scale terror and the death of the civic imagination. It has to be contoured with a sense of hope and possibility so that intellectuals, artists, workers, educators and young people can imagine otherwise in order to act otherwise.  If we have entered into an era of what Stanley Aronowitz calls “the repressive authoritarian state,” there are signs all over the globe that authoritarianism in its various versions is being challenged in countries that extend from Egypt and Greece to Chile and Mexico. The radical imagination is alive, but it has to be a site of struggle by those committed to creating a new politics, modes of identity, social relations, power arrangements and moral values that offer the glimpse of political and economic emancipation.

psyberartist (CC BY 2.0)

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Science, Democracy And Choice: A Response To Professor Tony Trewavas’s Open Letter

The following is in response to an open letter published on the AgBioWorld Facebook page by Professor Tony Trewavas of Edinburgh University. This response is also posted on the GM Watch, Global Research, Countercurrents and RINF websites. 

Tony Trewavais wrote his letter after reading my article ‘So You Want to Help Africa Mr Paterson? Then Stop Promoting Ideology and Falsehoods to Push GMOs’. The article originally appeared on a number of prominent websites. On Global Research, the piece appeared under a different title ‘The Propaganda Campaign in support of GMOs’ (read here).

Professor Trewavas is a prominent supporter of GMOs in Britain. His original letter is provided in full below my response.

Dear Professor Trewavas

I find your response to my piece disappointing. You failed to address many of the issues I discussed (not least that the world can feed itself without GMOs and that hunger and poverty are due to structural factors and not a lack of food, which GMOs have merely exacerbated) and have decided to indulge in the same type of smear-scare tactics that Owen Paterson employed in his Pretoria speech.

You forward the baseless assertions that GMOs are safe, even though there has not been one long-term epidemiological study conducted to show this.

While condemning Greenpeace and other groups for somehow being authoritarian and anti-choice, you say nothing about agribusiness corporations whose financial clout has brought them political influence that allows them to exert huge control over the WTO and capture regulatory bodies and public research institutions. These corporations have had a key role in driving trade policies from India to Europe, not least in terms of the secretive Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture and the world’s largest secretive, pro-corporate trade deal, the proposed TTIP. 

Where is the choice and democracy here? 

You have nothing to say on that but proceed to lecture me on the virtues of choice and democracy.

In your opening paragraph alone, you make four fallacious assertions.

First of all, I did not say GMOs would be a disaster for "any" farmer. In India’s Punjab state, for example, some farmers have done quite well from the introduction of petrochemical farming (‘green revolution’). But water tables are falling drastically, pesticides have contaminated the water supply, there is a big cancer problem and many farmers are experiencing economic distress. In Punjab, this form of agriculture is unsustainable. There is now an agrarian crisis and it is a health, environmental and social disaster. My point is that GMOs would similarly be bad for agriculture in general and would have a systemic, detrimental impact on the environment and human health.

Second, you claim that I fear GMOs will not be a disaster for African farmers but a success. Not true. You have ignored the fact that a number of GMO projects in Africa to date have indeed been failures and in my article I provided a link to a report to highlight this (which you go on to conveniently dismiss as a ‘biased’ source).  

Third, you say that the word ‘choice’ is conspicuously absent from my article. Any objective reader would appreciate that the concept is central to it, not least where I discuss the ‘choices’ imposed on Ethiopia via the West’s ‘structural adjustment’ of agriculture (which I refer to at the end of the article). That was not a case of farmers ‘choosing’ to restructure their agriculture, but a case of policies being forced on them at a macro policy level. And this is one of the issues that I have with GMOs.

Although you conveniently do not mention that part of my piece, Michel Chossudovsky’s analysis takes account of the way by which agribusiness conglomerates can and do set rules at the WTO, manipulate market forces and restructure agriculture in foreign countries for their own ends. That is very much related to ‘choice’ and its denial. You talk a great deal about ‘democracy’ but fail to address how this situation fits with your ideas of giving choice to farmers and not imposing authoritarian agendas on people.

You say I should buy a farm and exert my choice to farm as I wish. Talk about exercising such a choice to the people in South America who Helena Paul wrote about (described in my piece). They are being driven out as agribusiness and the planting of GMOs (mainly for export) takes hold. She describes this as ecocide and genocide. Tell it to the peasant farmers who are being forced from their lands by speculators and corporations as described by reports by GRAIN and the Oakland Institute last year. These are the people who feed 80 percent of the ‘developing world’, without GM technology, yet are being squeezed out. Where is choice and democracy?

Certain words are used cheaply by some.

The issue of choice not only concerns the options made available to people, but those which have been closed off. Owen Paterson’s claims that “primitive, inefficient” farming techniques would condemn “billions” to hunger, poverty and underdevelopment is ridiculous. He engages in hyperbole in order to denigrate credible alternatives that are forwarded by the groups he is attacking and thus trying to deny those alternatives.

Fourth, nowhere do I say that only agroecological farming should be implemented to feed the world, as you claim I do. However, there are many studies and official reports that demonstrate the efficacy of organic and agroecological approaches that are well publicised. In my article, I referred to some of these studies and reports. But rather than regurgitating references, I would say that no matter what data is presented, certain people seek to marginalise agroecological approaches and prefer to focus on external input intensive ‘solutions' and proprietary technologies, such as GMOs.
I find it strange that supporters of GMOs talk so much about choice when the GMO biotech industry has spent $100 million in the US to deny choice by preventing labelling of GM food.

Where is the choice for the farmer who uses non-GM crops but has his field contaminated by GMOs? Where was the choice when parts of the US wheat crop were contaminated as a result of open-field trials or when contamination took place because of Liberty Link 601? Where is the choice in West Bengal where GMOs from Bangladesh have been found?

Where is the choice for farmers when the only ones that end up on the market are company seeds, or where thousands of varieties have been reduced to a relative handful?

In my piece, Daniel Maingi and Mariam Mayet mentioned the squeezing out of alternatives as a result of the impact of Western agribusiness in Africa. Are they to be dismissed as ‘biased’ sources too?

You say the following: 

“Most objectors in this area have a political programme not a scientific one but they like to bend science to their own political point of view. Science is by its nature not politics or political propaganda or anything like it. It deals with evidence not superstition, or political or social philosophies. If you have a political programme then please stop trying to justify it by claiming it has scientific support; it does not.”

First of all, I provided valid references which referred to peer-reviewed science in the article (and have again below), but all you can say is that my ‘political programme’ has “no scientific support”. I say to you: please stop justifying your own pro-GMO stance by smearing critics and rejecting any evidence because it does not fit your own agenda. Please do not talk about ‘choice’ and ‘democracy’ when your own agenda is to support powerful corporations who via the distortion of science and the capture of strategic national and international bodies deny choice.

Your view of science is either deliberately misleading or simply naïve. And for someone in your position, I find it difficult to believe it could be the latter. From acquiring funding and formulating the questions to be addressed, to conducting research, interpreting findings and peer review, politics are present in science throughout. The manufacture of scientific knowledge involves a process driven by various sociological, methodological and epistemological conflicts and compromises, both inside the laboratory and beyond. Writers in the field of the sociology of science have written much on this. I refer you to the following link, which contests your lofty view of science and scientists: ‘Monsanto wants to know why people doubt science’.

The very fact you have responded to me in a certain manner discredits your view of scientists, not least because it becomes difficult to appreciate where the line between science and lobbying is in your case.

There is an authoritarian, political agenda behind the GMO project – not set by some environmental group (as you say) that you like to use as a whipping boy – but by the agribusiness concerns behind GMOs and petro-chemical industrial agriculture. Focusing on Greenpeace with its supposed agenda serves as a convenient diversion.

It is not NGOs, groups, activists and campaigners that have failed to provide convincing arguments. And, by the way, to conflate such groups with intolerance, authoritarianism and killings by brutal regimes or groups is ludicrous and smacks of desperation on your part. You are a scientist but are using all the cheap smears and tactics of a lobbyist!

When peer-reviewed science is provided by critics to support their claims, the onslaught by the GMO agritech industry and its mouthpieces against those who legitimately and scientifically contest the claims about the efficacy of GMOs is relentless. Just ask Arpad Pusztai, P. M. Bhargava, Judy Carman, Terje Traavik, Andrés Carrasco, Ignacio Chapela, Allison Snow, Marc Lappé, Britt Bailey, Bela Darvas and G. E. Seralini.

These scientists have all either been threatened, smeared or hindered in their work because their research called into question the safety and/or efficacy of GMOs or associated products.

The hypocrisy of those from the pro-GMO lobby who call for sound science to inform the debate on GMOs is glaringly obvious. Those who argue against GMOs are accused of not having science or facts on their side and of engaging in propaganda, while it is clear the pro-GMO lobby that hurls such allegations is itself guilty of all such things. This tactic goes hand in glove with a strident populist agenda whereby the pro-GMO lobby portrays itself as on the side of the people, while its opponents are ‘elitists’ and are ‘stealing food from the bellies of the poor’.

If you really do value democracy as much as you say and wish to call to account those who show contempt for it, you would do better by reading Steven Druker’s new book ‘Altered Genes, Twisted Truth’. Instead of attacking Greenpeace and other groups, you should be more even handed (and employ just a little ‘scientific objectivity’ in your approach) by looking at the fraudulent practices and processes in US government departments that led to the commercialisation of GMOs in that country.

As far as your point on there being a scientific consensus is concerned, it has been well established in recent months by over 300 scientists in a peer reviewed journal that there is no consensus. Furthermore, you bring the issue of climate change into the debate. If I am to accept your claim that there is overwhelming consensus on climate change then I certainly reject your assertion that the same applies to the GMO issue.

What you claim to be ‘biased’ sources have demonstrated that the claims made on the back of many studies on GMOs are not supported by the evidence and that in many instances certain findings are marginalised as not being significant when they actually are (I supply these two links which provide reference to support my claims, the first of which you have already dismissed as being from a biased source, without addressing the issues raised therein:  'An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of GM crops and food' and 'Adverse impacts of transgenic crops/food: a compilation of scientific references with abstracts').  

Moreover, climate change is fundamentally different to the GMO issue. Climate change may or may not be anthropogenic, but scientists are deliberately genetically engineering food and adopting a wait and see attitude towards the impact. Wouldn’t it be better to prove safety beforehand?

But let’s get one thing clear, as Druker shows, GMOs were placed on the commercial market due to political arm twisting and official bodies in the US ignoring science that pointed out the dangers of this technology. The decision to commercialise GMOs was not based on scientific evidence; in fact, it ignored such evidence. Yet you are still placing the onus on scientists to prove that GMOs are unsafe – and when they show that they are, these scientists are attacked. It seems science is only called on when it suits.

Releasing GMOs onto the commercial market is not like boarding a plane, as you suggest. The genetic engineering of food affects every member of the population. It presents a widespread, systemic risk to the human population. Most planes are safe and have been tested. Moreover, we have a choice to board a plane. We have no other choice than to eat (unlabelled) food. GMO food has not been proven safe.

The GMO biotech industry carries out inadequate, short-term studies and conceals the data produced by its research under the guise of ‘commercial confidentiality’, while independent research highlights the very serious dangers of its products. It has in the past also engaged in fakery in India, bribery in Indonesia, smears and intimidates those who challenge its interests and distorts and censors science by restricting independent research. If science is held in such high regard by the GMO agritech sector, why engage in such practices and why in the US did policy makers release GM food onto the commercial market without proper long-term tests?

Despite its claims to the contrary, the sector cannot win the scientific debate, so it resorts to co-opting key public bodies or individuals to propagate various falsehoods and deceptions. Part of the deception is based on emotional blackmail: the world needs GMOs to feed the hungry, both now and in the future. This myth has been blown apart. In fact, the organisation GRAIN highlights that GMOs have thus far have actually contributed to food insecurity!

You say:

“If agroecological approaches can currently match yield that can be attained by using modern farming methods then by all means use it.”

Why doesn’t Paterson adopt this attitude? He denigrates such alternatives, and you deem it necessary to jump to his defence by responding this way.

“But if not and my understanding is that currently it cannot, then they should not be the farming method of recommended choice at present.”

Perhaps you need to do some more reading and consult a few more UN and scientific reports.   

You say that:

“No-one with any concern for humanity or the welfare of its population should currently consider any other alternative. The groups that campaign for this kind or that kind of farming method and destroy crops to try and bounce others into their point of view have lost that fundamental concern for their own species.”

What a ridiculous assertion. Why do you persist in attacking those who clearly do have compassion? Environmental groups have not engaged in decades of massive criminality, in decades of cover ups and serious environmental pollution. You would do better by focussing on one particular leading company whose record clearly shows that it has no regard whatsoever for humanity, yet which claims it wants to ‘feed the word’ with altruistic intent.

If you really do believe in dispassionate, objective discourse, then adopt an even-handed approach. You talk so much about democracy and choice yet there is no mention whatsoever of the crimes, cover ups and decades of environmental pollution that a certain company that forms part of the pro-GMO lobby has been involved in.

You talk about choice and democracy but say nothing about how big agribusiness has at international and national levels captured policy making bodies to effectively impose ‘choice’ on US consumers and poorer nations and devastate local economies. Where is your condemnation? Where is your condemnation of ‘big list’ studies and fallacious claims made by the likes of Jon Entine about safety and efficacy on the back of them? Or are your condemnations, attacks, misrepresentations and ridiculous assertions reserved for those who flag up such things?

While powerful corporations have instant access to policy makers who work closely together, ordinary people and groups have to resort to Freedom of Information legislation to ascertain what happens behind closed doors. They have to rely on whisteblowers or leaked documents or must go through the courts to gain access to studies that formed the basis of regulatory bodies’ approvals for commercial agribusiness products. And you talk to me about democracy and of how I or some campaign group have scant regard for it?

Your response is full of warm sounding notions about democracy and choice and some high-minded words about science and scientists (of course, only the science that fits your paradigm). Rhetoric, platitudes and clichés do not constitute a considered response. Projecting the pro-GMO lobby’s deficiencies onto its critics is not valid. It’s disappointing from a scientist.

You indulge in cheap, fallacious attacks on critics, which is symptomatic of a very transparent and predictable propaganda campaign aimed at critics.  

In finishing, I would like to make clear that I do not belong to any environmental or campaign group. I received no payment for the article you responded to. This is why I refer to myself as in ‘independent’ (not freelance) writer.

I wonder how many scientists can claim such a level of independence from for-profit corporate entities.

With kind regards,

Colin Todhunter


Open letter from Professor Trewavas

Dear Mr Todhunter

I read your article against GM crops (So You Want to Help Africa Mr Paterson? Then Stop Promoting Ideology and Falsehoods to Push GMOs; http://rinf.com/alt-news/editorials/want-help-africa-mr-paterson-stop-promoting-ideology-falsehoods-push-gmos/) but I searched in vain for one small word, ‘choice’.  It seems never to enter the commentaries of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth or WWF or the other odd environmentalist/activist groupings that appear now and again. Your claim is that Africa can do very well just on agroecology. Well, put your money where your mouth is. Buy a farm in Africa and farm it in the way that you want. But allow others to farm as they wish and if they wish to use GM crops that is their right to do so just as it yours, not to. According to you any African farmer using GM crops will be a disaster so in that case they will stop using them. If it’s not a disaster, which I suspect is what you fear most, then they will reap the benefit and perhaps persuade you in due course to farm like them. Do you want to impose your opinions on others without allowing them to make their own minds up and choose how they wish to farm?

It is an unfortunate situation that in our present world many environmentalist groups have become typically authoritarian in attitude. Greenpeace notably decides its opinions must prevail regardless of others, so it arrogates to itself the right to tear up and destroy things it doesn’t like. That is absolutely typical of people who are unable to convince others by debate and discussion and in the last century such attitudes, amplified obviously, ended up killing people that others did not like. But the same personality type the authoritarian, ‘do as I tell you’, was at the root of it all. Such groups therefore sit uneasily with countries that are democracies. It would be nice if you could say you are a democrat and believe that argument is better than destruction but argument that deals with all the facts and does not select out of those to construct a misleading programme. Misleading selection of limited information is causing considerable problems in various parts of the world that leads some into very violent behaviour, particularly in religious belief. I am sure you agree that this is not a good way forward.

There is a consensus amongst scientists, at least those that have made themselves aware of all reasonable scientific facts, that GM is both safe for consumption and with appropriate regulations for the environment too. Do you agree with that consensus or not? There is another scientific consensus over climate change that is impelling governments to take action. The consensus over GM food safety is stronger amongst scientists than that over climate change, according to a current survey. I assume you accept the one over climate change, most do. But science and scientific fact is not a pick and mix situation, if you accept a scientific consensus on one than you have to accept it for the other. I am sure you will be aware that there are minorities of scientists, different in both cases, that object to both. But I have found that those that do object to the consensus on GM crops always fail to provide an acceptable balance of information in their objections. They select out only the very limited data they consider supports their view and neglect everything else that does not. That is not science that can be used to construct policy. It’s like claiming flying is unsafe because several planes a year crash whilst ignoring the hundreds of thousands every day that haven’t. If you want unbiased information on GM crops go to the many university personnel who can provide it for you. But please do not quote the so obviously-biased publication which you have, as though it were scientific fact.

Most objectors in this area have a political programme not a scientific one but they like to bend science to their own political point of view. Science is by its nature not politics or political propaganda or anything like it. It deals with evidence not superstition, or political or social philosophies. If you have a political programme then please stop trying to justify it by claiming it has scientific support; it does not.

All human activities have costs and benefits, that will include agroecological approaches that you apparently favour, but at the start both costs and benefits have to be drawn up to see what is appropriate to the particular circumstance. Given the rapidly increasing African population I would say that currently yield is crucial but that can change just as farming methods are changing in Europe towards increasing environmental concerns. Farming methods that do both such as no-till or integrated farm management currently offer the best compromise. Malawi, I understand, subsidizes minerals for crop growth and has turned the country from a food importer into a food exporter. That seems an excellent approach at present to solve a pressing problem.

If agroecological approaches can currently match yield that can be attained by using modern farming methods then by all means use it. But if not and my understanding is that currently it cannot, then they should not be the farming method of recommended choice at present.

When Africa has got its population increases under control and producing sufficient to feed everybody then alternatives like agroecology may come to the fore. No-one with any concern for humanity or the welfare of its population should currently consider any other alternative. The groups that campaign for this kind or that kind of farming method and destroy crops to try and bounce others into their point of view have lost that fundamental concern for their own species.

I am not dogmatic about the methods that farmers use since I consider that decision is the province of individual farmers themselves. Whatever their choice is their right in the framework of their country but they must be allowed to make that decision in full knowledge of all the scientific information and advice, not the tiny amount available to support alternative points of view. That is the nature of every democracy that I hope all will finally live under.

Good science is not set in stone or concrete, the current view on GM crops is simply based on the wealth of the factual and reproducible evidence that all good scientists recognise. But if the evidence indicates change then scientists change with it. Why not join those whose job it is to provide farmers and the populace with unbiased evidence constructed by independent university personnel? You have nothing to lose but the constraints of closed thinking and everything to gain that comes from reasoned and open scientific debate.

With my best wishes
Professor Tony Trewavas FRS
University of Edinburgh
Professor Anthony Trewavas FRS. FRSE
Institute of Molecular Plant Science
Mayfield Road
Edinburgh EH9 3JH



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by Stephen Lendman

Scoundrel media editors find new ways to embarrass themselves. They mock legitimate news and opinion. 

They suppress it. They violate fundamental journalistic standards doing so.

They suck up to power. They support monied interests. They deplore popular ones. They endorse Western aggression. They do it repeatedly.

They blame victims for horrific US crimes committed against them. They condemn Putin for responsibly defending the safety and security of endangered Russian nationals.

Thank heavens he's around. He's the one world leader challenging the damn fool in the White House responsibly.

He's our best hope for world peace. He deserves worldwide support. His best efforts may not be enough.

Neocons infest Washington. They threaten everyone. The damn fool in the White House risks starting WW III.

His damn fool Secretary of State John Kerry said "we're now discussing all of the options."

He outrageously accused Russia of "aggression." No nation commits it more often against more nonbelligerent nations than America.

It wages one lawless war after another. It ravages and destroys countries doing so. Kerry is an unindicted war criminal. So is the damn fool in the White House.

They threaten world peace. They risk potential armageddon. Media scoundrels cheerlead what demands condemnation.

They denounce what demands praise. When America goes to war or plans one, they march in lockstep. They do it disgracefully.

New York Times editors stand out. They masquerade as legitimate journalists. They feature managed news misinformation rubbish. 

They endorsed Ukrainian putschists. They ousted a democratically elected government. They did so with well-planned US help. 

Stop NATO's Rick Rozoff called their coup the most overt one since Mussolini's 1922 march on Rome. It's no exaggeration. Nothing in recent memory matches their brazenness. 

Times editors are mindless of mob rule governance. Fanatical putschists run things. They scare hell out of everyone paying attention.

Times editors turn a blind eye. Journalism the way it's supposed to be is verboten. On March 2, they headlined "Russia's Aggression." 

They outrageously accused Putin of "exploit(ing) the Ukrainian crisis to seize control of Crimea (as well as) any other power grab he may be hatching."

They ludicrously claimed "an immediate threat to Ukrainian Russians is empty." Crimean self-defense volunteers already put down an attempt by Kiev infiltrators to seize government buildings.

Times editors ignore what refutes their arguments. They lied claiming Ukrainians in Crimea are endangered. 

They have nothing to fear from responsible governance. Democrats in charge prioritize public safety.

Times editors wrongfully accused ousted President Viktor Yanukovych of coup plotter killings. 

They murdered civilians in cold blood. They gunned down Kiev security forces. They did so in Independence Square. 

Neo-Nazi snipers fired from rooftops. They operated from windows in nearby buildings. Everything that happened was well choreographed in advance. 

Washington's dirty hands manipulated things. Obama bears full responsibility. He partnered with fascist thugs. He's got another imperial trophy. 

Keeping it is another matter entirely. Ukrainians nationwide won't likely tolerate what's planned for them. Perhaps real revolutionary fervor will erupt.

Times editors are consistent. They're on the wrong side of history. They ignore facts. They bury them. 

They make stuff up. They lie for power. They do it to defend the indefensible.

They lied claiming Putin wants "control over Crimea." He wants to "humiliate Ukraine," they said.

They want Obama, NATO and EU leaders challenging Putin "if (he) escalates his intervention in Ukraine."

He supports its sovereign independence. He opposes Washington's direct role in replacing democratic Ukrainian governance with mob rule fascists. Don't expect Times editors to explain.

Neocon Washington Post editors want more direct US intervention. They support ousting Syria's Assad forcibly. They endorse fascists usurping power in Ukraine.

They headlined "President Obama's foreign policy is based on fantasy." They bashed Assad, China's Xi Jinping and Putin.

They want Obama confronting them more aggressively. If he "doesn't make the case for global engagement, no one else" will for him, they said.

They claimed "the tide of democracy in the world" is "retrenching." They ignored Washington's direct role in subverting it at home and abroad. 

In previous editorials, they barely stopped short of urging direct US intervention. They support Ukrainian fascists retaining power.

David Ignatius is one of many WaPo neocon columnists. He has longstanding close US intelligence ties. He's no journalist. He's a propagandist.

He openly favors arming anti-Assad death squads. He reports what Washington bullies want stressed. 

Inconvenient facts are dismissed. Lies, damn lies and misinformation substitute. On March 2, he headlined "Putin's error in Ukraine is the kind that leads to catastrophe."

He lied claiming he "invad(ed) Crimea." He did no such thing. He'll deploy military forces to protect Russian nationals if needed. Any responsible leader would do the same thing.

Ignatius turned facts on their head. He claimed "former Soviet satellites" are "prosperous" EU members. 

He ignored deepening poverty, unemployment and deprivation throughout its member states.

He ludicrously claimed countries making up the former Yugoslavia "emerged as strong democracies." Pro-Western puppet governments run them.

He blamed Yanukovych for fascist street thug crimes. They "courageous(ly) braved the cold and police brutality to protest," he said.

They committed cold-blooded murder. They ousted Ukraine's democratically elected government. They rule by brutal force. Don't expect Ignatius to explain.

He ludicrously envisions "a cascading chain of error that brings Russian troops deeper into Ukraine and sets the stage for civil war."

Putin wants it avoided. He's going all-out for stability and security. Fascist coup plotters will bear full responsibility if internal conflict erupts.

Ignatius is militantly hawkish. Obama "would be wise to seek to deter Russian aggression without specifying too clearly what the US ladder of escalation might be," he urged.

His commentary excluded what's most important for readers to know. Truth was systematically suppressed.

Wall Street Journal editors match the worst of outrageous opinion writers. Rupert Murdoch rules apply. On March 2, they headlined "Putin Declares War."

They lied saying he "seized Ukraine's Crimean peninsula by force (and) now has his sights on the rest of his Slavic neighbor."

"(B)razen aggression," they screamed. War threatens Europe's heartland "for the first time since the end of the Cold War," they claimed.

Post-WW II, it never once did until now. Washington's orchestrated coup ups the stakes. Obama threatens world peace.

Putin is the world's best chance to preserve it. Whether he's able deter possible US aggression remains to be seen.

Journal editors turned truth on its head. It's hard imagining more convoluted rubbish. They accused Putin of "moving to carve up Ukraine…"

They claim "a popular democratic uprising" toppled Yanukovych. They ignored a US-orchestrated fascist coup d'etat.

They called Russia's parliament "rubber-stamp." They lied accusing its members  of "approv(ing) military intervention anywhere in Ukraine, which is nothing less than a declaration of war."

They called Obama's full responsibility for crisis conditions in Ukraine "made entirely in Moscow."

Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are world class diplomats. They're democrats. They're polar opposite Western fascists. 

They're worthy Nobel Peace Prize nominees. They're more deserving than any other world leaders. 

Nobel Committee members have their own system. They honor war criminals. Peacemakers needn't apply.

Journal editors write what responsible ones wouldn't touch. They claimed Putin seeks "entrench(ed) authoritarianism in client states."

He wants them "prevent(ed) from joining free Europe," they said. Freedoms in Western dominated areas are fast disappearing. 

Neoliberal harshness is official policy. Ordinary people are ruthlessly exploited. Don't expect Journal editors to explain.

They lied claiming Russia's upper house Federation Council "approved (a) declaration of war."

They lied again calling Kiev's coup d'etat parliament democratic. They quoted Obama lying. He called Moscow's legitimate defense of Russian nationals a "breach of international law."

Journal editors urge aggressive anti-Russian measures. They want their officials targeted. They want Sixth Fleet warships patrolling Black waters close to Crimea.

Imagine their howls if Russian naval vessels entered the Gulf of Mexico. Imagine likely Washington countermeasures. 

They want other NATO countries confronting Moscow. "Mr. Obama and the West must act," they said. They must do more "than merely threaten..."

They absurdly called Ukraine "a casualty of Mr. Obama's failure to enforce his 'red line' on Syria."

"Ukrainians can't be left alone to face Russia, and the Kremlin's annexation of Crimea can't be allowed to stand," they said.

They called Putin "the leading edge of what could quickly become a new world disorder."

Journal editors and commentators specialize in reinventing history. Their rubbish doesn't wash. They consistently turn truth on its head. 

They suppress what readers most need to know. They disgrace themselves in the process.

A previous article quoted former Chicago columnist Mike Royko (1932 - 1997) saying: "No respectable fish would (want to) be wrapped in" a Murdoch paper. It's more than ever true now.

Ongoing crisis conditions persist. War winds threaten to become gale force. Potential East/West conflict is real. 

Obama bears full responsibility if it erupts. Bellowing scoundrel media liars share it.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected] 

His new book is titled "Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity."

http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanII.html

Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

It airs Fridays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.


http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour

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Tunisia’s Unfinished Revolution: From Dictatorship to Democracy?

On January 14, 2011, Tunisia’s 23-year long dictator Ben Ali fled the country he ruled over in the face of a popular uprising which began the previous month. Tunisia represented the spark of what became known as the ‘Arab Spring.’ Over two years later, Tunisians are back in the streets protesting against the new government, elected in October of 2011, now on the verge of collapse as ministers resign, protests increase, clashes erupt, violence flares, and the future remains unknown.

So the question lingers: what went wrong? What happened? Why are Tunisians back in the streets? Is this Tunisia’s “unfinished revolution”?

The Spark

Tunisia had been ruled by President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from 1987 until the revolution in 2011, a regime marred by corruption, despotism, and repression. While the revolution itself is generally traced to the self immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year old street vendor in the city of Sidi Bouzid, on December 17, 2010, leading to protests and clashes which spread across the country, there was a longer timeline – and other profound changes – which led to the actual revolutionary potential.

Tunisia’s revolution was largely driven by economic reasons, though political and social issues should not be underestimated. Tunisia has a recent history of labour unrest in the country, with the General Union of Tunisian Workers – UGTT – having led protests which were violently repressed in 1978, bread riots in 1984, and more labour unrest in the mining region of Gafsa in 2008. There were also a number of political clashes from the 1990s onward, between the state and the Islamic movement an-Nahda (Ennahda). After the UGTT was repressed in 1978, it was permitted to exist in co-operation with the state, following along the lines of labour and union history within the West itself. While the state felt it had a firm control of Tunisian society, there were growing divides with the youth, who for years would lead their own protests against the state through human rights organizations, the General Union of Tunisian Students (UGET), or other associations.[1]

Within Tunisia, a crisis had emerged among young graduates in higher education from the mid-1990s onward, with a serious lack of employment opportunities for an increasingly educated youth. From this period up until the revolution, most protests in Tunisia were organized by youth in university organizations and student unions, using tactics such as sit-ins, chaining themselves to buildings, or hunger strikes, which were often met with state violence. Suicide had become another tactic of protest, “a political manifesto to highlight a political demand and to underline the social fragility it implies,” in the words of Mehdi Mabrouk from the University of Tunis. This was understood as the “emergence of a culture of suicide,” identified in a study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as “a culture which disdained the value of life, finding death an easier alternative because of a lack of values and a sense of anomie,” which was “particularly true of unemployed and marginal youth, so that death was more attractive than life under such conditions.”[2] It was within this context that Mohamed Bouazizi’s suicide became the spark for the wider protests, first in Sidi Bouzid, and quickly spreading across the country, with youth leading the way.

With the help of social media, like Facebook and Twitter, the youth activists in Sidi Bouzid were able to share their revolt with the rest of the country and the world, encouraging the spread of the uprising across Tunisia and the Arab world at large. A relative of Bouazizi described the protesters as having “a rock in one hand, a cell phone in the other.” Thus, while Tunisian media ignored the protests in Sidi Bouzid, international media and social media became increasingly involved. Tunisia had 3.6 million internet users, roughly a third of the population, who had access to live news about what was taking place within their country, even though the official national news media did not mention the events until 29 December 2010, twelve days after the protests had begun. The government began to arrest bloggers and web activists in the hopes that the protests would fade or diminish in fear, yet it only motivated the protests further. From the first day, the Sidi Bouzid branch of the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) was engaged in the protests, while the national leadership of the UGTT was considered to be too close to the regime and national ruling class to act independently. However, the regional branches of the UGTT had “a reputation for gutsy engagement,” wrote Yasmine Ryan in Al-Jazeera. The Sidi Bouzid branch of UGTT was one of the main organizing forces behind the protests, and when protesters were killed in neighbouring regions, it erupted nation-wide. Thus, students, teachers, lawyers, and the unemployed joined together in protest first in Sidi Bouzid, and then across the country.[3]

Dictatorship or Democracy?

Tunisia happened to be a “model US client” in the words of Richard Falk: “a blend of neoliberalism that is open to foreign investment, cooperation with American anti-terrorism by way of extreme rendition of suspects, and strict secularism that translates into the repression of political expression.”[4]

Just in line with the closest of American and Western allies – and ‘clients’ – in the region, the strategy for the West is one of unyielding support for the dictatorship, so long as “stability” and “prosperity” and ensured. The term “security” is a euphemism for control of the population, while “prosperity” is a euphemism for economic exploitation and profit for the rich few, domestically and globally.

American attitudes toward Tunisia were often reflected in diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, in which as early as 2006 the U.S. Embassy in Tunis reported that the issue of succession from Ben Ali was important, but concluded that, “none of the options suggest Tunisia will become more democratic,” however, despite US rhetoric for support of democracy, the cable noted, “the US-Tunisian bilateral relationship is likely to remain unaffected by the departure of Ben Ali,” that is, assuming the departure does not include a transition to democratic government. If problems arose for Ben Ali, and he became “temporarily incapacitated,” reported the U.S. Embassy, “he could turn over a measure of presidential authority to Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi,” who had close ties to the West and Americans, in particular.[5] Ghannounchi, incidentally, was implanted as the interim president following Ben Ali’s escape to Saudi Arabia in January 2011, though shortly thereafter had to resign due to popular opposition, since he was a high official in Ben Ali’s government.

In July of 2009, a diplomatic cable from the American Embassy in Tunis noted that Tunisia is “troubled,” and that, “many Tunisians are frustrated by the lack of political freedom and angered by First Family corruption, high unemployment and regional inequities.” The Ambassador noted that while America seeks to enhance ties with Tunisia commercially and militarily, there are also major setbacks, as “we have been blocked, in part, by a Foreign Ministry that seeks to control all our contacts in the government and many other organizations.” America had successfully accomplished a number of goals, such as “increasing substantially US assistance to the military,” and “strengthening commercial ties,” yet, “we have also had too many failures.” The same cable noted: “Tunisia is a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems.” Ben Ali’s regime relies “on the police for control and focus[es] on preserving power,” while “corruption in the inner circle is growing.” The Embassy noted, however, that with “high unemployment and regional inequalities” in the country, “the risks to the regime’s long-term stability are increasing.”[6]

So how did the United States seek to preserve “stability”? Imperial powers do what they do best: provide the means to continue repression and control. Between 1987, when Ben Ali came to power and 2009, the United States provided the government of Tunisia with a total of $349 million in military aid.[7] In 2010, the United States provided Tunisia with $13.7 million in military aid alone.[8]

Tunisia, which was a former French colony, also had strong relations with France. During the outbreak of the crisis in December of 2010, the French suggested they would help Ben Ali by sending security forces to Tunisia to “resolve the situation” in a show of “friendship” to the regime.[9] The French foreign minister suggested that France could provide better training to Tunisian police to restore order since the French were adept in “security situations of this type.” Jacques Lanxade, a retired French admiral, former military chief of staff and former French ambassador to Tunis noted that the French had “continued public support of this regime because of economic interests,” and added: “We didn’t take account of Tunisian public opinion and thought Ben Ali would re-establish his position.”[10]

This imperial logic has been given terms and justifications from establishment intellectuals and academics in the United States and other Western powers. Academics with the Brookings Institution, an influential U.S. think tank, suggested in 2009 that this was the logic of “authoritarian bargains,” in which dictatorships in the region were able to maintain power through a type of “bargain,” where “citizens relinquish political influence in exchange for public spending,” suggesting that: “non-democratic rulers secure regime support through the allocation of two substitutable ‘goods’ to the public: economic transfers and the ability to influence policy making.”[11]

In 2011, those same academics wrote an article for the Brookings Institution in which they asked if the “Arab authoritarian bargain” was collapsing, noting that as economic conditions deteriorated and unemployment rose, with neoliberal reforms failing to provide economic opportunities for the majority of the populations, the bargain – or “contract” – between dictators and the populations was “now collapsing,” adding that, “the strategies used by Arab leaders to maintain power may have run their course,” noting: “Partial political liberalization may not be enough at this point to make up for the current inability to deliver economic security and prosperity, spelling the final demise of Arab authoritarian bargain.”[12]

F. Gregory Gause III, writing in Foreign Affairs, the establishment journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, the most prominent foreign policy think tank in the United States, referred to this as “authoritarian stability” theory. Following the initial Arab Spring uprisings, he wrote about the “myth” of authoritarian stability, noting that many academics had focused on trying to understand “the persistence of undemocratic rulers” in the region, though implicitly without questioning the imperial relations between the local governments and the dominant Western powers. Gause himself acknowledged that he had written an article for Foreign Affairs in 2005 in which he argued that, “the United States should not encourage democracy in the Arab world because Washington’s authoritarian Arab allies represented stable bets for the future,” and that, “democratic Arab governments would prove much less likely to cooperate with U.S. foreign policy goals in the region.” Gause then reflected in 2011 that, “I was spectacularly wrong.”[13]

Marwan Muasher is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment, a prominent American think tank, and was previously foreign minister and deputy prime minister in the Jordanian dictatorship. Following events in Tunisia, Muasher wrote an article for the Carnegie Endowment in which he explained why the events were not foreseen, noting that: “The traditional argument put forward in and out of the Arab world is that there is nothing wrong, everything is under control.” Thus, wrote Muasher, “entrenched forces argue that opponents and outsiders calling for reform are exaggerating the conditions on the ground,” an argument which he noted, “has been fundamentally undermined by the unfolding events in Tunisia.” Because Tunisia had comparably low economic problems, a small opposition, and a “strong security establishment,” it was thought that “the risk of revolt was considered low.” Muasher wrote: “It wasn’t supposed to happen in Tunisia and the fact that it did proves that fundamental political reforms – widening the decision-making process and combating corruption – are needed around the entire Arab world.”[14]

This concept of “there is nothing wrong, everything is under control,” has been referred to by Noam Chomsky as the “Muasher doctrine,” noting that this has been consistent U.S. policy in the region since at least 1958, when Eisenhower’s National Security Council acknowledged that the US supported dictators and opposed democracy, and that this was a rational policy to serve American interests in the region.[15]

The National Security Council document stated that the Middle East was “of great strategic, political, and economic importance to the Free World,” meaning the West, and United States in particular, and this was largely due to the fact that the region “contains the greatest petroleum resources in the world.” Thus, the National Security Council stated, “it is in the security interest of the United States to make every effort to insure that these resources will be available and will be used for strengthening the Free World.” The document further wrote that: “In the eyes of the majority of Arabs the United States appears to be opposed to the realization of the goals of Arab nationalism,” and that the people in that part of the world “believe the United States is seeking to protect its interest in Near East oil by supporting the status quo and opposing political or economic progress,” which included US support for “reactionary” regimes and America’s “colonial” allies in Europe, notably France and Great Britain. These beliefs, the report noted, were indeed accurate, that “our economic and cultural interests in the area have led… to close U.S. relations with elements in the Arab world whose primary interest lies in the maintenance of relations with the West and the status quo in their countries.”[16]

Acknowledging this, the NSC document stated that instead of “attempting merely to preserve the status quo,” the United States should “seek to guide the revolutionary and nationalistic pressures throughout the area into orderly channels which will not be antagonistic to the West and which will contribute to solving the internal social, political and economic problems of the area.” Though this would of course include providing “military aid to friendly countries to enhance their internal security and governmental stability,” which essentially amounted to maintaining the status quo. The same document also added that, “we cannot exclude the possibility of having to use force in an attempt to maintain our position in the area.”[17]

And so then we come up to present day, where the United States maintains the same policy, as Chomsky suggested, “the Muasher doctrine” of “there is nothing wrong, everything is under control.” But everything is clearly no longer under control, and there are many things that clearly are wrong. Just as the 1958 National Security Council document suggested guiding “revolutionary and nationalistic pressures” into “orderly channels which will not be antagonistic to the West,” so too were US planners in recent years seeking to do the same.

Top US policy planners at the Council on Foreign Relations produced a report – and strategic blueprint – for the United States to follow in 2005, entitled, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How, co-chaired by former Clinton-era Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who sits on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Aspen Institute, and chair of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. The other co-chair of the Task Force report was Vin Weber, former Congressman and member of the board of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a US-government-supported organization promoting state-capitalist “liberal” democracy around the world, so long as it aligns with U.S. strategic interests. Other members of the Task Force which produced the report held previous or present affiliations with First National Bank of Chicago, Occidental Petroleum, the Carnegie Endowment, the World Bank, Brookings Institution, Hoover Institution, the U.S. State Department, National Security Council, National Intelligence Council, the American Enterprise Institute, the IMF, AOL-Time Warner, and Goldman Sachs.[18] In short, the report was produced by no less than a select group of America’s strategic and intellectual elite.

Published in 2005, the report suggested that “democracy and freedom have become a priority” for the United States in the Middle East, though there are conditions to Washington’s ability and interest in promoting these concepts: “First, does a policy of promoting democracy serve U.S. interests and foreign policy goals? Second, if so, how should the United States implement such a policy, taking into account the full range of its interests?” To the first question, the report suggested that it was in the U.S. interest to promote democracy in the Arab world, noting: “Although democracy entails certain inherent risks, the denial of freedom carries much more significant long-term dangers. If Arab citizens are able to express grievances freely and peacefully, they will be less likely to turn to more extreme measures.”[19] However, as the report noted: “the United States should promote the development of democratic institutions and practices over the long term, mindful that democracy cannot be imposed from the outside and that sudden, traumatic change is neither necessary nor desirable.” Most importantly, the report suggested: “America’s goal in the Middle East should be to encourage democratic evolution, not revolution.”[20]

The United States was not interested in rapid change, since, the report argued, “if Washington pushes Arab leaders too hard on reform, contributing to the collapse of friendly Arab governments, this would likely have a deleterious effect on regional stability, peace, and counterterrorism operations.” The report itself concluded: “While transitions to democracy can lead to instability in the short term, the Task Force finds that a policy geared toward maintaining the authoritarian status quo in the Middle East poses greater risks to U.S. interests and foreign policy goals.”[21]

Thus, when it comes to the issue of choosing between supporting a “dictatorship” or “democracy,” the issue is one of interest: which regime supports U.S. and Western interests better? In the short-term, dictatorships provide “authoritarian stability” and maintain control, however, in the long-term, a transition to a Western-style democratic system allows for less pressure built up against the system, and against the West itself. Dictatorships provide short-term “stability” (i.e., control), while top-down democracies provide long-term “stability.” The question, then, is merely of managing a transition from one to the other, no small task for an imperial power: how to maintain support for a dictator while encouraging the slow evolution of democratic governance.

The issue of “democracy” is further complicated by how it is defined or pursued. For the United States and its Western allies, “democracy” is not the goal, but rather a means to a goal. The goal is, always has been, and always will be, “stability and prosperity,” control and profit. When the dictatorships fail to bring about stability and prosperity, “democracy” – so long as it is constructed along Western liberal state-capitalist lines – will be the preferred option. The European Union, when reporting on its own efforts to promote democracy in the Mediterranean region, noted that, “we believe that democracy, good governance, rule of law, and gender equality are essential for stability and prosperity.”[22] In other words, democracy is not the goal: control and profit is the goal. The means are merely incidental, whether they be through dictatorships, or top-down democratic structures.

The problem in the Arab world is deepened for the United States when one looks at public opinion polls from the region. Just prior to the outbreak of protests in Tunisia, a major Western poll on Arab public opinion was conducted by the University of Maryland and Zogby International, published in the summer of 2010. The results were very interesting, noting that only 5% and 6% of respondents in 2010 believed that “promoting democracy” and “spreading human rights” were the two factors (respectively) which were most important in America’s foreign policy in the region. At the top of the list of priorities, with 49% and 45% respectively, were “protecting Israel” and “controlling oil,” followed by 33% each for “weakening the Muslim world” and “preserving regional and global dominance.” Further, 92% of respondents felt that Iran has a right to its nuclear program if it is peaceful, and 70% feel that right remains even if Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Roughly 57% of respondents felt that if Iran acquired nuclear weapons, things would be “more positive” for the region, compared to 21% who thought it would be “more negative.” The poll asked which two countries posed the largest threat to the region, with Israel at 88% and the United States at 77%, while Iran was viewed as one of the two major threats to the region by only 10% of respondents, just above China and equal to Algeria.[23]

In other words, if truly representative – or genuine – democracies emerged in the region, they would be completely counter to U.S. strategic interests in the region, and thus, real democracy in the Arab world is not in the American interest. This makes the American strategic interests in the transitions of the ‘Arab Spring’ all the more important to attempt to manage and control. Genuine democracy would bring an end to American and Western hegemony, yet, the “Muasher doctrine” of “everything is under control” has failed in the case of both Tunisia and Egypt. What then, is left for Western interests?

Tunisia’s Transition to “Democracy”

Immediately following Ben Ali’s departure from Tunisia to Saudi Arabia, the land of exiled dictators, a “caretaker” government was quickly established in order to “lead the transition to democracy.” Mohamed Ghannouchi, Ben Ali’s prime minister (and the American favourite to replace him), helped to form a “unity” government, but after one day of existence, four opposition members quit the government, including three ministers from the UGTT trade union, saying they had “no confidence” in a government full of members from Ben Ali’s regime. Hundreds of people, led by trade unionists, took to the streets in protest against the transitional government.[24]

Six members from Ben Ali’s regime appeared in the “unity” government, presided over by the former Parliamentary Speaker Fouad Mebazaa. Ghannouchi stepped down in late February following popular opposition to his participation in the “unity” government, though he was replaced by Ben Ali’s former foreign minister.[25] In February of 2011, the United States offered “military training” to Tunisia in the follow-up to the planned elections for later in the year, to make Tunisia a “model” revolution for the Arab world.[26]

A public opinion poll conducted in Tunisia in May of 2011 revealed that there had been “a steep decline in confidence for the transition period,” noting that in March, a poll revealed that 79% of Tunisians believed the country was headed in the right direction, compared to only 46% who thought so in May. Roughly 73% of Tunisian’s felt that the economic situation was “somewhat bad or very bad,” and 93% of respondents said they were “very likely” to vote in coming elections.[27]

In October of 2011, Tunisians went to the polls for their first democratic election, “the first vote of the Arab spring.” The election was designed to elect an assembly which would be tasked with one mission: to draft a constitution before parliamentary elections. The An-Nadha (Ennahda) party, an Islamist party which was banned under Ben Ali, was expected to receive most of the votes, though most Tunisians felt guarded in terms of seeking to protect their “unfinished revolution.” Lawyers lodged complaints that in the nine months since Ben Ali fled Tunisia, torture and police brutality continued, while human rights activists noted that cronies from Ben Ali’s regime continued to dominate the corrupt judicial system. One human rights activist noted, “We are overwhelmed with cases of human rights abuses. You wouldn’t believe there had been a revolution… Torture is the way things are done, it’s systematic. They have not changed their practices at all,” referring to the police.[28]

On October 23, 2011, the Tunisian elections took place, with the Islamist party Ennahda winning 89 out of 217 seats, after which it joined with two secular parties to form a ruling coalition known as the ‘Troika.’ A year after the Troika had been in power, by October of 2012, Tunisians felt disheartened by the pace of the revolution. One young activist stated that, “They are failing on security, they are failing on the economy, and they are failing when it comes to liberties and rights… They have nothing to do with the revolution. They are completely disconnected.” Amnesty International even noted in October of 2012 that: “The authorities need to seize this historic opportunity and confront the painful legacy of abuse and violations of the pasty and enshrine in law and in practice universal human rights with the aim of making the rule of law a reality in the new Tunisia.”[29]

Rachid Ghannouchi, the party’s chairman (no relation to Mohammed Ghannouchi), said that Ennahda “pledges to continue working with our national partners towards building a national consensus that takes Tunisians forward towards the protection of their revolution and achievement of its aims.” Over the previous year, the opposition within Tunisia had time to develop better than it did prior to the October 2011 elections, with new parties and organizations emerging. One, a decidedly non-mainstream party, the Tunisian Pirate Party, advocates direct democracy and freedom of expression, with its leader stating, “The classic political parties are trying to buy and sell people. The youth of Tunisia, we refuse this masquerade, this system… All they want is power, they don’t listen to us. They have betrayed the people.” On the other hand, the government was facing increasing pressure not only from the left opposition, but from the more conservative Salafists, ultra-conservative Islamists, who reject democracy and want Ennahda to take a firm grip on power.[30]

At the time of Ben Ali’s overthrow, Tunisia had an unemployment rate of 13%, but by the end of 2011 it had risen to 18%, where it remains to this day, and was as high as 44% among young university graduates. Strikes, sit-ins, and protests had continued throughout 2012, and with 800,000 unemployed Tunisians, some were looking to new avenues for answers. The Salafists were providing poor young people with a different path. A former director at Tunisia’s UGTT trade union noted, “Salafism taps its social base into a pool of often deprived people inhabiting the so-called poverty belts surrounding inner cities… The rise of salafism is a socio-economic phenomenon before being a religious one.” Salafists call for a strict enforcement of religious law, and have taken part in protests which shout anti-Semitic and homophobic chants at times, leading many to fear the potential for women’s rights as well as those of various minority groups.[31]

Salafists have also been linked to attacks on individuals and groups, opposition meetings and organizations. When complaints are made to the Ennahda government’s police forces, little is done to address the issues to persecute crimes. Human Rights Watch noted: “There is an unwillingness or an inability to arrest individuals… People have been attacked by people they identify as Salafis; they file a complaint to the judicial police, and in many cases the guy is never arrested.”[32]

The Obama administration sought to contribute to the “stability” of the new regime in Tunisia by providing $32 million in military aid from January of 2011 to spring of 2012.[33] An American General and head of the U.S. Africom (Africa Command) noted that on top of the military aid, the United States was continuing to train Tunisian soldiers, having already trained 4,000 in the previous decade.[34] It would appear to be no less than the Muasher Doctrine with a difference face.

Clashes have increased between opposition parties and trade unionists with pro-government supporters as well as Salafists. In October of 2012, an opposition figure died after clashes between his supporters and pro-government forces calling themselves the League for the Protection of the Revolution.[35] On December 17, 2012, at an event commemorating the two-year anniversary of the protests that began the revolution, angry protesters hurled rocks at the Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki and the parliamentary speaker in Sidi Bouzid. As the president and speaker were hustled away by security forces, protesters chanted, “the people want the fall of the government.”[36]

By December of 2012, it was clear that the frustration of Tunisians unsatisfied with the failure of the subsequent governments to meet their demands was “starting to overflow again.” In late November, the government had even sent troops to Siliana following four days of protests spurred on by demands for jobs and government investment. President Moncef Marzouki stated that, “Tunisia today is at a crossroads,” though admitted that the government had not “met the expectations of the people.” With unemployment remaining at 18%, a third of the unemployed being college graduates, one publishing company owner noted that, “Ben Ali ignored the blinking red lights on the economy, and that is what got him thrown out… The unemployed are an army in a country the size of Tunisia.” Since the revolution, the United States had provided Tunisia with $300 million, with the European Union providing $400 million, and the World Bank approving a $500 million loan, all in an attempt to prop up the new government, though it remained incapable of meeting the demands of its population.[37]

A poll conducted by the International Republic Institute was published in October of 2012, revealing that for Tunisians, “employment, economic development, and living standards were chosen most often as top priorities for the current government,” though 67% of respondents felt the country was moving in the “wrong direction.”[38] In another survey from late 2012, nearly half of Tunisians reported that they were “worse off” since prior to the revolution, with only 14% who felt their personal situation had improved. For Tunisians, the success of the revolution was defined more in terms of economic issues, with 32% stating that democracy “means the distribution of basic necessities – food, clothing, and shelter – to all citizens,” while 27% define democracy as the right to criticize leaders, compared to only 25% who defined it “as alteration of leaders through elections.”[39]

The Second Spark?

On February 6, 2013, a secular party leader and opposition figure, Chokri Belaid, a major critic of the Ennahda government, was assassinated outside of his home, shot in the head and neck, marking the first political assassination in Tunisia since the colonial period. Belaid was a major critic of the government’s failure to prosecute the criminal activities of violent religious groups linked to Salafists and pro-government forces.[40] His death triggered widespread protests, many of which turned violent as government forces dispersed them using tear gas, while Tunisia’s biggest union, the UGTT, called for a general strike. Many felt that Ennahda was responsible for his murder, if not directly then by failing to reign in the radical Islamists.[41]

On February 8, a general strike brought tens of thousands of Tunisians into the streets in protest and in mourning of Chokri Belaid. Belaid was a respected opposition figure, but also a prominent trade unionist and lawyer, and was “one of the most outspoken critics of the post-revolution coalition government led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party.” The day before his assassination he had appeared on television criticizing the increased political violence in the country. One barrister noted during the protest, “not since colonial times in the early 1950s has Tunisia seen a clear political assassination in the street.” Many spoke out against the shadowy Leagues of the Protection of the Revolution, made up of small groups of men “who are accused of using thugs to stir clashes at opposition rallies and trade union gatherings.” Belaid was a prominent critic of these groups, which he had publicly condemned as being linked to the ruling Ennahda party, a claim the party denies.[42] The president of a Tunisian NGO, Jalila Hedhli-Peugnet, stated that Belaid “was not assassinated under the dictatorship of Ben Ali, now he is assassinated under the democracy of Ennahda.”[43]

Coincidentally, on the day of Belaid’s assassination, Human Rights Watch released a report raising concerns about Tunisia for “the slow pace in reforming security operations and the judiciary, the failure to investigate and prosecute physical assaults by people apparently affiliated with violent groups, and the prosecution of nonviolent speech offenses.” The worry for the region over two years since the Arab Spring began, reported HRW, was whether the new governments would respect human rights, which “will determine whether the Arab uprisings give birth to genuine democracy or simply spawn authoritarianism in new clothes.” Throughout 2012, the courts in Tunisia applied already-existing repressive laws of the Ben Ali dictatorship to persecute nonviolent speech which the government considered harmful to “values, morality, or the public order, or to defame the army.” Artists have been charged for sculpting artwork deemed “harmful to public order and morals,” while two bloggers received prison terms of seven-and-a-half years for writing posts considered “offensive to Islam.” Over 2012, “assaults were carried out against intellectuals, artists, human rights activists, and journalists by individuals or groups who appear to be motivated by a religious agenda.” After reports had been filed on multiple occasions, “the police proved unwilling or unable to find or arrest the alleged attackers.”[44]

In January of 2013, Amnesty International noted that after two years since Ben Ali fled Tunisia, the abuses of the police forces and judicial system had yet to be addressed, specifically in relation to the period of the uprising between 17 December 2010 and just after Ben Ali fled, when roughly 338 people were killed and over 2,000 injured in protests. While Ben Ali was tried in absentia for the killings, only a few members of the security forces had been convicted for killing protesters.[45]

Following the assassination of Belaid, Amnesty International immediately called for an “independent and impartial investigation” into his murder, noting that attacks against political opposition groups had been increasing, and that a meeting which Chokri Belaid had attended the Saturday before his murder was violently attacked and that Belaid had been receiving death threats. The Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International noted: “Two years after the ousting of former President Ben Ali, there is an increasing mistrust in the institutions that are supposed to protect human rights and Tunisians will not be satisfied with a sham investigation.”[46]

Following the assassination, Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali suggested that the coalition government should dissolve and form a non-partisan, technocratic government, though this was immediately rejected by members of his Ennahda party itself. All across Tunisia, a general strike was observed while tens of thousands took to the streets in multiple cities to mark the funeral of Belaid and to protest the government, often clashing with security forces.[47]

The Congress for the Republic (CPR), a secular party which was a member of the coalition government and whose leader, Moncef Marzouki, is president of Tunisia, said on Sunday February 10 that its party members would quit the government in protest against the handling of the political crisis, as tensions between the parties continued to accelerate. Meanwhile, pro-Ennadha government supporters also took to the streets, though in significantly less numbers than the opposition, to voice their support for the government.[48]

Thus, with the Tunisian government on the verge of collapse, with the people seemingly on the verge of another uprising, and with increasing tensions between secular and Islamist groups, Tunisia continues its unfinished revolution. It is tempting to draw the comparison to Egypt, where the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood party holds power, and where the population is again rising up against the government and in support of the revolutionary ideals which led them into the streets two years prior. As thousands again took to the streets in Egypt on February 8, they were met with riot police and tear gas.[49] It would appear that the Western-sponsored attempts to prop up Islamist governments to establish control over their populations is backfiring. Where the revolution goes, only posterity can say, but one thing is clear: the unfinished revolution in Tunisia – as elsewhere – is only finished, and democracy is only achieved, when the people themselves have made it and declared it to be so.

For those of us in the West, we must acknowledge that there is a stark contrast between the rhetoric and reality of our nations, as in, the difference between what our governments say and do. For all the blather and trumpeting about democracy we hear, the actions of our nations go to arming, training, and supporting repressive regimes, whether they take the form of secular authoritarian dictatorships, or Islamist “democratic” coalitions.

As we continue our own struggle for democracy at home, whether it is students in the streets of Quebec, Indignados in Spain, anarchists in Greece, Occupy Wall Street activists in New York, or the indigenous movement of Idle No More, we must realize that the same tax dollars which are used to have the police assault and repress protesters at home, are also used to assault, repress, and kill our brothers and sisters abroad in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and beyond. Their revolution is our revolution. Their democracy is our democracy. Their freedom is our freedom. And their future… is our future.

Notes:

[1]       Mehdi Mabrouk, “A Revolution for Dignity and Freedom: Preliminary Observations on the Social and Cultural Background to the Tunisian Revolution,” The Journal of North African Studies (Vol. 16, No. 4, December 2011), pages 626-627.

[2]       Ibid, pages 629-629.

[3]       Yasmine Ryan, “How Tunisia’s revolution began,” Al-Jazeera, 26 January 2011.

[4]       Richard Falk, “Ben Ali Tunisia was model US client,” Al-Jazeera, 25 January 2011.

[5]       US Embassy Cables, “US embassy cables: Finding a successor to Ben Ali in Tunisia,” The Guardian, 17 January 2011.

[6]       The US Embassy Cables, “US embassy cables: Tunisia – a US foreign policy conundrum,” The Guardian, 7 December 2010.

[7]       Daya Gamage, “Massive U.S. Military Aid to Tunisia despite human rights abuses,” Asian Tribune, 18 January 2011.

[8]       NYT, “Challenges Facing Countries Across North Africa and the Middle East,” The New York Times, 17 February 2011.

[9]       Samer al-Atrush, “Tunisia: Why the Jasmine Revolution won’t bloom,” The Telegraph, 16 January 2011.

[10]     Steven Erlanger, “France Seen Wary of Interfering in Tunisia Crisis,” The New York Times, 16 January 2011.

[11]     Raj M. Desai, Anders Olofsgard, and Tarik M. Yousef, “The Logic of Authoritarian Bargains,” Economics & Politics (Vol. 21, No. 1, March 2009), pages 93-94.

[12]     Raj M. Desai, Anders Olofsgard and Tarik Yousef, “Is the Arab Authoritarian Bargain Collapsing?,” The Brookings Institution, 9 February 2011.

[13]     F. Gregory Gause III, “Why Middle East Studies Missed the Arab Spring: The Myth of Authoritarian Stability,” Foreign Affairs (Vol. 90, No. 4, July/August 2011), pages 81-82.

[14]     Marwan Muasher, “Tunisia’s Crisis and the Arab World,” the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 24 January 2011.

[15]     Noam Chomsky, “Is the world too big to fail?,” Al-Jazeera, 29 September 2011.

[16]     Document 5, “National Security Council Report,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Vol. 12, Near East Region; Iraq; Iran; Arabian Peninsula, 24 January 1958.

[17]     Ibid.

[18]     Madeleine Albright and Vin Weber, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How (Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report, 2005), pages 49-54.

[19]     Ibid, pages 3-4.

[20]     Ibid, page 4.

[21]     Ibid, pages 12-13.

[22]     Michelle Pace, “Paradoxes and contradictions in EU democracy promotion in the Mediterranean: the limits of EU normative power,” Democratization (Vol. 16, No. 1, February 2009), page 42.

[23]     Report, “2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll: Results of Arab Opinion Survey Conducted June 29-July 20, 2010,” The Brookings Institution, 5 August 2010.

[24]     Angelique Chrisafis, “Tunisia’s caretaker government in peril as four ministers quit,” The Guardian, 18 January 2011.

[25]     “Tunisia: Key players,” BBC, 27 February 2011.

[26]     Tarek Amara, “US offers Tunisia security aid for ‘model’ revolution,” Reuters, 21 February 2011.

[27]     “IRI Releases Tunisia Poll,” International Republican Institute, 12 July 2011.

[28]     Angelique Chrisafis, Katharine Viner, and Becky Gardiner, “Tunisians go to the polls still in the shadow of the old regime,” The Guardian, 22 October 2011.

[29]     Yasmine Ryan, “Tunisian politicians struggle to deliver,” Al-Jazeera, 23 October 2012.

[30]     Ibid.

[31]     Anne Wolf and Raphael Lefevre, “Tunisia: a revolution at risk,” The Guardian, 18 April 2012.

[32]     Alice Fordham, “Tunisia’s revolution and the Salafi effect,” The National, 11 September 2012.

[33]     “Obama administration doubles military aid to Islamist-led Tunisia,” World Tribune, 27 April 2012.

[34]     AFP, “U.S. Gave Tunisia $32 million in Military Aid: General,” Defense News, 24 April 2012.

[35]     “Tunisia clash leaves opposition official dead,” Al-Jazeera, 19 October 2012.

[36]     Agencies, “Angry crowd hurls stones at Tunisian leaders,” Al-Jazeera, 17 December 2012.

[37]     Neil MacFarquhar, “Economic Frustration Simmers Again in Tunisia,” The New York Times, 1 December 2012.

[38]     “IRI Poll: Employment, Economy Most Important Priorities for Tunisians,” International Republican Institute, 3 October 2012.

[39]     Lindsay J. Benstead, Ellen Lust, and Dhafer Malouche, “Tunisian Revolution Is Work in Progress,” The Epoch Times, 27 December 2012.

[40]     Editorial, “An Assassination in Tunisia,” The New York Times, 8 February 2013.

[41]     Eric Reguly, “Chaos in Tunisia tarnishes a revolution’s success story,” The Globe and Mail, 7 February 2013.

[42]     Angelique Chrisafis, “Tunisia gripped by general strike as assassinated Chokri Belaïd is buried,” The Guardian, 8 February 2013.

[43]     Rachel Shabi, “Tunisia is no longer a rev

Mike’s Blog Round Up

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From Afghanistan: My Voice Is Not Political, It Is Human

It’s hard for me, an ordinary citizen of Singapore, a medical doctor engaged in social enterprise work in Afghanistan and a human being wishing for a better world, to write this from Kabul.Raz, Abdulhai and the author in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photo: Voices for Creative Nonviolence)

But people are dying.

And children and women are feeling hopeless.

 “What’s the point in telling you our stories?” asked Freba, one of the seamstresses working with the Afghan Peace Volunteers to set up a tailoring co-operative for Afghan women. “Does anyone hear? Does anyone believe us?”

Silently within, I answered Freba with shame,” You’re right. No one is listening.”

So, I write this in protest against my government’s presence in the humanitarian and war tragedy of Afghanistan, as a way to lend my voice to Freba and all my Afghan friends.

I do so in dissent, against the global security of imprisoned minds.

I thought, “If no one listens as humans should, we should at least speak like free men and women.”

Singapore’s complicity in the humanitarian and war tragedy of Afghanistan

It is clear that the Taliban, the many Afghan and regional warlords, militia groups and the Afghan government are responsible for the current humanitarian and war tragedy of Afghanistan.

But Singapore is also responsible because it is one of the fifty U.S. /NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) coalition countries working with the corrupt Afghan government (rated the most corrupt country in 2012).

While the Singapore government would never support any corrupt Singaporean leader even for a day, they have sent troops to support the most corrupt leaders on earth! If accountability is at all important, we cannot say, ‘Oh…never mind!”

Moreover, Singapore has inadvertently become a minor accomplice of the self-interests of the U.S. government in Afghanistan ; The U.S. Vice President , Joe Biden, spoke at the Munich Security Conference recently, "The United States is a Pacific power. And the world's greatest military alliance ( NATO ) helps make us an Atlantic power as well. As our new defense strategy makes clear, we will remain both a Pacific power and an Atlantic power." 

American power and economic interests naturally do not include the best interests of ordinary Singaporeans or Afghans.

The Afghan humanitarian tragedy

In the normal, logical world, it should inspire the doubt and curiosity of Singaporeans that while the U.S. /NATO coalition was spending billions of dollars every week on the Afghan war ( the U.S. alone was spending two billion dollars every week ), Afghans have been perishing under one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world. At least 36% live below the poverty line and 35% of Afghan men do not have work . The UN calls the acute malnutrition of nearly one million children in the Afghan south ‘shocking’ . Almost three quarters of all Afghans do not have access to safe drinking water .

On several occasions in the past few years, Afghanistan was declared the worst country for children and women, and yet, many of us still hold this warped presumption, “Afghanistan is the worst country for children and women but whatever we are doing over there MUST somehow be right!”

The Afghan war tragedy

In the normal, logical world, it should at least matter to ‘result-orientated’ Singaporeans that the very expensive Afghan/U.S. coalition’s ‘war against terrorism’ has increased rather than decreased ‘terrorism’, with the Global Terrorism Index reporting that terrorist strikes in the region have increased four times since the start of the Iraq war in 2003.

Even President Karzai said in the UK recently that the security situation in southern Helmand province of Afghanistan was better before British troops were deployed.

Adding to this cynical mess of increased ‘terrorism’ at the hands of global superpowers, the U.S. has established an epicenter of drone warfare in Afghanistan, with Afghans and Pakistanis and other ‘insurgents’ as their ‘targets’, and Singapore as one of their many allies. Singapore has had teams helping in drone reconnaissance operations, reconnaissance that may have eventually ended up with a U.S. /NATO decision to kill someone without trial.

I had raised this personal concern once in a meeting room at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs ; I was appreciative of the attentiveness given to this issue, but sensed that there was no great interest in ‘investigating’ how Singapore’s co-operation in the drone operations in Afghanistan may be violating international law, as was suggested by the ex-UN Special Rapporteur on Extra Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings, Mr Philip Alston.

A recent New York Times article highlights these ‘fears  for U.S. allies’, reporting on a lawsuit in the British courts that ‘accuses British officials of becoming “secondary parties to murder” by passing intelligence to American officials that was later used in drone strikes.’ My life has been changed by listening to Afghan friends like Raz Mohammad tell how ‘drones bury beautiful lives’.

The U.N. is finally living up to its charter to ‘remove the scourge of war’ by duly investigating drone warfare. Major U.S. newspapers are also asking for more transparency over Obama’s weekly, premeditated ‘kill lists’. There has been concern over unchecked Powers getting even more out of all jurisdictions with the appointment of ‘drone justifier’ John Brennan as Obama’s CIA Director nominee.

Even the UN Committee on the Rights of a Child has been "alarmed" at reports of the deaths of hundreds of children from US attacks and air strikes in Afghanistan since the committee last reviewed U.S. practices in 2008.

Singapore should be alarmed too.

Singapore’s own identity as a militarized, authoritarian country

Deep within, like most human beings, Freba yearns for a decent livelihood without war. Abdulhai and the Afghan Peace Volunteers wish for friends from all 195 countries of the world, a better world without borders!

What kind of identity do Singaporeans wish for their country, a peaceful and friendly country or otherwise?

Again, I’m concerned. We like pictures of be-medaled soldiers more than unsung ‘Mother Teresa’ heroines. Our government has a significant number of ex-military commanders.

According to the Global Militarisation Index released by the Bonn International Centre for Conversion (BICC), Singapore has been the second most militarized nation in the world for years. The latest ranking puts Singapore just second to Israel and one brutal position more militarized than Syria.

The world is awakening, the human race is revolutionizing, and so is Singapore’s electorate. Most ordinary folk in the world don’t want to send missiles or guns to kill strangers in other places! Human beings have always preferred otherwise.

What also worries me is that this militarized mindset may be behind Singapore’s enthusiasm in the drone show-business, and in ‘unintentionally’ being part of the U.S.’ ‘Asia pivot’ by hosting four U.S. littoral combat ships.

Even on the economic front, while Singapore has one of the higher Gini coefficients of income inequality in the world, not many people in Singapore are aware of or debating Singapore’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, again a partnership that corporate America is pushing for.

What Singapore has aligned herself with in Afghanistan is militarized authoritarianism that concentrates profit and power in the hands of a few. While this follows global norms, such a system works mainly for the wealth and power of the 1% in the short term, but not for the daily needs of the 99% in either the short or long term.

I personally think that both the democratic and socialist practices of today are ‘non-progressive’ vehicles for the rule of the few ‘Kings, Emperors, Presidents, and Prime Ministers’ over the many presumably ‘ignorant, helpless and sometimes lazy’ subjects. These elitist systems tend to maintain control by ‘pacifying the masses’ through formal education, mainstream media and force.

I hope Singapore can steer itself away from this ‘norm’, an ugly ‘norm’ in which war becomes fun, like when Prince Harry described his combat pilot job in Afghanistan as "a joy … because I'm one of those people who loves playing PlayStation and Xbox, so with my thumbs I like to think I'm probably quite useful."

I believe that for effective defense and genuine security, we ought to be friends with neighbours and all peoples of other lands rather than militarists with superior weapons.

Perhaps these are differences in opinions which can be included in Our Singapore Conversation.

It’s hard for me to write this, but I am sincerely ashamed to be a citizen of the 2nd most militarized nation on earth, a country that has participated in the legally-questionable drone warfare in Afghanistan.

Thankfully, I have hope in Singaporeans like I have hope in humanity. There are alternatives. The world is awakening, the human race is revolutionizing, and so is Singapore’s electorate. Most ordinary folk in the world don’t want to send missiles or guns to kill strangers in other places! Human beings have always preferred otherwise.

My voice is not political. My voice is human.

Afghans are hurting very badly.

And I am hurting too.

Hakim

Hakim ([email protected]) is a mentor for the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul. www.ourjourneytosmile.com

The Mali Blowback: More to Come?

The French-led military offensive in its former colony of Mali has pushed back radical Islamists and allied militias from some of the country’s northern cities, freeing the local population from repressive Taliban-style totalitarian rule. The United States has backed the French military effort by transporting French troops and equipment and providing reconnaissance through its satellites and drones. However, despite these initial victories, it raises concerns as to what unforeseen consequences may lay down the road.

Indeed, it was such Western intervention—also ostensibly on humanitarian grounds—that was largely responsible for the Malian crisis in the first place.

The 2011 NATO military intervention in Libya effort went well beyond the UN Security Council mandate to protect civilian lives, as the French, British and U.S. air forces—along with ground support by the Saudi and Qatari dictatorships—essentially allied themselves with the rebel armies. The African Union—while highly-critical of Qaddafi’s repression—condemned the intervention, fearing that the resulting chaos would result in the Libya’s vast storehouse of arms might fueling local and regional conflicts elsewhere in Africa and destabilize the region.

This is exactly what happened.

Whereas the nonviolent revolution against the neighboring Tunisian dictatorship resulted in a positive contagion of unarmed pro-democracy civil insurrections, the violent intervention in Libya resulted in a negative contagion of armed rebellions.

This is particularly tragic since Mali was seen, until recently, as one of the more hopeful political stories in Africa.

In 1991, more than two decades prior to similar pro-democracy uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Malians engaged in a massive nonviolent resistance campaign that brought down the dictatorship of Moussa Traoré. A broad mobilization of trade unionists, peasants, students, teachers, and others created a mass pro-democracy movement throughout the country. Despite the absence of Facebook or the Internet, virtually no international media coverage, and the massacre of hundreds of peaceful protesters, this popular civil insurrection succeeded not only in ousting a repressive and corrupt regime, but ushered in more than two decades of democratic rule.

Though—like most states in the region—the country struggled with corruption, poverty, and a weak infrastructure, Mali was widely considered to be the most democratic country in West Africa. In order to educate and promote the rights and duties of its citizens, the government implemented a program called the “Decentralization Mission” in 1993 to encourage popular participation in local and regional elections. Independent radio stations and newspapers emerged and the country experienced lively and open political debate.

The events surrounding the nonviolent revolution of 1991 were regularly commemorated, with the anniversary of the March 26 massacre a national holiday. A series of monuments in the capital of Bamako also commemorate the pro-democracy struggle.

In the years since the 1991 revolution, even contentious politics was expressed largely nonviolently. There were several periods of student-led protests in the 1990s against high unemployment and other negative effects of structural adjustment programs imposed by international financial institutions, contributing to the fall of one government through a “no-confidence” vote in parliament. The tradition of nonviolent resistance against authoritarianism came to the fore in 2001 when a proposed constitutional referendum put forward by President Alpha Oumar Konaré was called off after a series of protests by those fearing it would have threatened the country’s independent judiciary and effectively made the president immune to prosecution. Additional protests against neoliberal economic policies erupted in 2005. Hundreds peacefully demonstrated against the 2006 visit by then-French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy in protest at his tough policies against immigrants. That same year, Mali hosted the World Social Forum, a mass gathering of thousands of activists from hundreds of civil society organizations.

History has shown that dictatorships overthrown through largely nonviolent civil insurrections are far more likely to evolve into stable democracies than dictatorships ousted through armed revolution or foreign intervention. Mali appeared to be a prime example of this phenomenon.

Indeed, soon after the March Revolution of 1991, the Malian government negotiated a peace agreement with armed rebels from the Tuareg minority in the north of the country, in which they agreed to end their rebellion in return for a degree of autonomy. In March 1996, there was a massive ceremonial burning of the rebels' surrendered weapons in the capital of Bamako.

By 2012, the Malian government, led by President Amadou Toumani Touré, was becoming increasingly unpopular, failing to address and even exacerbating structural inequalities reinforced by neoliberal edicts from international financial institutions and increasingly corrupt and self-serving political leaders, local business elites, and the civil service. However, the aging president was scheduled to retire immediately following elections later in the year and it was hoped that a growing civil society movement and new leadership could more adequately address these problems.

These concerns, however, were quickly overshadowed by a renewed rebellion in the north. When last year’s initially nonviolent uprising in Libya against the Gaddafi regime turned to armed struggle, resulting in even greater government repression and thereby prompting NATO intervention, disparate armed groups—including Tuareg tribesmen— ended up liberating major stores of armaments. These vast caches of weapons were passed on to Tuaregs in Mali who, now having the means to effectively challenge the Malian government militarily, dramatically escalated their long-dormant rebellion under the leadership of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).

Elements of the Malian army believed that Touré’s government—in part because of its concern that responding too harshly might create a backlash among the Tuaregs and in part because of its corruption and ineptitude—was not adequately supporting their resistance to the rebels. On March 22, U.S.-trained Army Captain Amadou Sanogo and other officers staged a coup and called for U.S. intervention along the lines of Afghanistan and the "war on terror."

Sanogo's training in the United States is just one small part of a decade of growing U.S. military involvement with allied armies in the Sahel, increasing the militarization of this impoverished region and the influence of armed forces relative to civilian leaders. Gregory Mann, writing in Foreign Policy, notes how “a decade of American investment in special forces training, co-operation between Sahalien armies and the United States and counter-terrorism programs of all sorts run by both the State Department and the Pentagon has, at best, failed to prevent a new disaster in the desert and, at worst, sowed its seeds."

With supporters of the ousted democratic government protesting in the capital and the army divided by the coup, Tuareg rebels took advantage of the chaos in the south and quickly consolidated their hold on the northern part of the country, declaring an independent state.

Then, with the Malian army routed and Tuareg forces stretched thin, radical Islamist groups—also flushed with new arms resulting from the Libya war—seized most of the towns and cities in the north. These extremists also overran additional U.S.-supplied Malian army posts, seizing 87 Land Cruisers, satellite phones, navigation aids, and other equipment provided by the American taxpayer.

Already, the Western intervention in Mali has prompted a retaliatory attack on a BP natural gas facility in neighboring Algeria, resulting in the deaths of 38 foreign hostages. The blowback could just be beginning.

The savage repression perpetrated by Mali’s Islamists, along with the potential threat from an Al Qaeda-affiliated regime, loss of access to the region’s resource wealth, and indications that the Islamists were moving south prompted direct French military intervention in January. Under such dire circumstances, even many people normally critical of Western neocolonialism argue that such military intervention may have been the least bad option. However, given that it was Western intervention and militarization of the region that largely created this mess in the first place, it inevitably raises the question as to whether it will actually end up making matters worse.

Youth in Revolt

Youth in Revolt

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Posted on Feb 2, 2013
Paradigm Publishers

This following is the introduction to Henry A. Giroux’s new book, “Youth in Revolt” (Paradigm Publishers, 2012). It is reprinted here with permission from the author.

Military-style command and control systems are now be­ing established to support “zero tolerance” policing and urban surveillance practices designed to exclude failed consumers or undesirable persons from the new enclaves of urban consumption and leisure.
—Stephen Graham

Young people are demonstrating all over the world against a variety of issues ranging from economic injustice and massive inequality to drastic cuts in education and public services.[1] In the fall of 2011, on the tenth anniversary of September 11, as the United States revisited the tragic loss and celebrated the courage displayed on that torturous day, another kind of commemoration took place. The Occupy movement shone out like flame in the darkness—a beacon of the irrepressible spirit of democracy and a humane desire for justice. Unfortunately, the peacefully organized protests across America have often been met with derogatory commentaries in the mainstream media and, increasingly, state-sanctioned violence. The war against society has become a war against youthful protesters and in­creasingly bears a striking resemblance to the violence waged against Occupy movement protesters and the violence associ­ated with the contemporary war zone.[2] Missing from both the dominant media and state and national politics is an attempt to critically engage the issues the protesters are raising, not to mention any attempt to dialogue with them over their strate­gies, tactics, and political concerns. That many young people have become “a new class of stateless individuals ... cast into a threatening and faceless mass whose identities collapse into the language of debt, survival, and disposability” appears to have escaped the attention of the mainstream media.[3] Matters of justice, human dignity, and social responsibility have given way to a double gesture that seeks to undercut democratic public spheres through the criminalization of dissent while also resorting to crude and violent forms of punishment as the only mediating tools to use with young people who are at­tempting to open a new conversation about politics, inequality, and social justice.

In the United States, the state monopoly on the use of violence has intensified since the 1980s and in the process has been di­rected disproportionately against young people, poor minorities, immigrants, women, and the elderly. Guided by the notion that unregulated, market-driven values and relations should shape every domain of human life, a business model of governance has eviscerated any viable notion of social responsibility and conscience, thereby furthering the dismissal of social problems and expanding cutbacks in basic social services.[4] The examples are endless, but one in particular stands out. In March 2012, Texas governor Rick Perry joined eight other states in passing legislation to ban funding for clinics, including Planned Parent­hood facilities, affiliated with abortion services for women.[5] As a result, the federal government has stopped funding the Texas Women’s Health Program. Unfortunately, this attempt by Perry to punish all women because of his antiabortion stance means that more than 130,000 women in Texas will not have access to vital services ranging from mammograms to health care for their children. There is more at work here than a resurgent war on women and their children or “an insane bout of mass misogyny.”[6] There is also a deep-seated religious and political authoritarianism that has become one of the fundamental pil­lars of what I call a neoliberal culture of cruelty. As the welfare state is hollowed out. a culture of compassion is replaced by a culture of violence, cruelty, waste, and disposability.[7] Banks, hedge funds, and finance capital as the contemporary registers of class power have a new visibility, and their spokespersons are unabashedly blunt in supporting a corporate culture in which “ruthlessness is prized and money is the ultimate measure.”[8] Collective insurance policies and social protections have given way to the forces of economic deregulation, the transformation of the welfare state into punitive workfare programs, the privatiza­tion of public goods, and an appeal to individual culpability as a substitute for civic responsibility. At the same time, violence—or what Anne-Marie Cusac calls “American punishment”—travels from our prisons and schools to various aspects of our daily lives, “becoming omnipresent ... [from] the shows we watch on television, [to] the way many of us treat children [to] some influential religious practices.”[9]

David Harvey has argued that neoliberalism is “a political proj­ect to re-establish the conditions for capital accumulation and to restore the power of economic elites” through the implementation of “an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.”[10] Neoliberalism is also a pedagogical project designed to create particular subjects, desires, and values defined largely by market considerations. National destiny becomes linked to a market-driven logic in which freedom is stripped down to freedom from government regulation, freedom to consume, and freedom to say anything one wants, regardless of how racist or toxic the consequences might be. This neoliberal notion of freedom is abstracted from any sense of civic responsibility or social cost. In fact, “neoliberalism is grounded in the idea of the ‘free, possessive individual,’” with the state cast “as tyrannical and oppressive.”[11] The welfare state, in particular, becomes the archenemy of freedom. As Stuart Hall points out, according to apostles of free-market fundamentalism, ‘The state must never govern society, dictate to free individuals how to dispose of their private property, regulate a free-market economy or interfere with the God-given right to make profits and amass personal wealth.”[12]

Paradoxically, neoliberalism severely proscribes any vestige of social and civic agency through the figure of the isolated automaton for whom choice is reduced to the practice of end­less shopping, fleeing from any sense of civic obligation, and safeguarding a radically individualized existence. Neoliberal governance translates into a state that attempts to substitute individual security for social welfare but in doing so offers only the protection of gated communities for the privileged and incarceration for those considered flawed consumers or threats to the mythic ideal of a white Christian nation. Neoliberalism refuses to recognize how private troubles are connected to broader systemic issues, legitimating instead an ode to self-reliance in which the experience of personal misfortune becomes merely the just desserts delivered by the righteous hand of the free market—not a pernicious outcome of the social order being hijacked by an antisocial ruling elite and forced to serve a narrow set of interests. Critical thought and human agency are rendered impotent as neoliberal rationality “substitutes emotional and personal vocabularies for political ones in formulating solutions to political problems.”[13] Within such a depoliticized discourse, youths are told that there is no dream of the collective, no viable social bonds, only the ac­tions of autonomous individuals who must rely on their own resources and who bear sole responsibility for the effects of larger systemic political and economic problems.

Under the regime of neoliberalism, no claims are recognized that call for compassion, justice, and social responsibility. No claims are recognized that demand youths have a future better than the present, and no claims are recognized in which young people assert the need to narrate themselves as part of a broader struggle for global justice and radical democracy. Parading as a species of democracy, neoliberal economics and ideology cancel out democracy “as the incommensurable sharing of existence that makes the political possible.”[14] Symptoms of ethical, politi­cal, and economic impoverishment are all around us. And, as if that were not enough, at the current moment in history we are witnessing the merging of violence and governance along with a systemic disinvestment in and breakdown of institutions and public spheres that have provided the minimal conditions for democracy and the principles of communal responsibil­ity. Young people are particularly vulnerable. As Jean-Marie Durand points out, “Youth is no longer considered the world’s future, but as a threat to its present. [For] youth, there is no longer any political discourse except for a disciplinary one.”[15]

As young people make diverse claims on the promise of a radical democracy in the streets, on campuses, and at other occupied sites, articulating what a fair and just world might be, they are treated as criminal populations—rogue groups incapable of toeing the line, “prone to irrational, intemperate and unpredictable” behavior.[16] Moreover, they are increasingly subjected to orchestrated modes of control and containment, if not police violence. Such youths are now viewed as the enemy by the political and corporate establishment because they make visible the repressed images of the common good and the impor­tance of democratic public spheres, public services, the social state, and a society shaped by democratic values rather than market values. Youthful protesters and others are reclaiming the repressed memories of the Good Society and a social state that once, as Zygmunt Bauman has pointed out, “endorsed collective insurance against individual misfortune and its consequences.”[17] Bauman explains that such a state “lifts members of society to the status of citizens—that is, makes them stake-holders in addition to being stock-holders, beneficiaries but also actors responsible for the benefits’ creation and availability, individuals with acute interest in the common good understood as the shared institutions that can be trusted to assure solidity and reliability of the state-issued ‘collective insurance policy.’”[18] In an attempt to excavate the repressed memories of the welfare state, David Theo Goldberg spells out in detail the specific mechanisms and policies it produced in the name of the general welfare between the 1930s and 1970s in the United States. He writes,

From the 1930s through the 1970s, the liberal democratic state had offered a more or less robust set of institutional appara­tuses concerned in principle at least to advance the welfare of its citizens. This was the period of advancing social security, welfare safety nets, various forms of national health system, the expansion of and investment in public education, including higher education, in some states to the exclusion of private and religiously sponsored educational institutions. It saw the emer­gence of state bureaucracies as major employers especially in later years of historically excluded groups. And all this, in turn, offered optimism among a growing proportion of the populace for access to middle-class amenities, including those previously racially excluded within the state and new immigrants from the global south.[19]

Young people today are protesting against a strengthening global capitalist project that erases the benefits of the welfare state and the possibility of a radical notion of democracy. They are protesting against a neoliberal project of accumulation, dispossession, deregulation, privatization, and commodification that leaves them out of any viable notion of the future. They are rejecting and resisting a form of casino capitalism that has ushered in a permanent revolution marked by a massive project of depoliticization, on the one hand, and an aggressive, if not savage, practice of distributing upward wealth, income, and op­portunity for the 1 percent on the other. Under neoliberalism, every moment, space, practice, and social relation offers the possibility of financial investment, or what Ernst Bloch once called the “swindle of fulfillment.”[20] Goods, services, and targeted human beings are ingested into its waste machine and dismissed and disposed of as excess. Flawed consumers are now assigned the status of damaged and defective human beings. Resistance to such oppressive policies and practices does not come easily, and many young people are paying a price for such resistance. According to OccupyArrests.com, “there have been at least 6705 arrests in over 112 different cities as of March 6, 2012.”[21]

Occupy movement protests and state-sponsored violence “have become a mirror”—and I would add a defining feature—“of the contemporary state.”[22] Abandoned by the existing political system, young people in Oakland, California, New York City, and numerous other cities have placed their bodies on the line, protesting peacefully while trying to produce a new language, politics, and “community that manifests the values of equality and mutual respect that they see missing in a world that is structured by neoliberal principles.”[23] Well aware that the spaces, sites, and spheres for the representation of their voices, desires, and concerns have collapsed, they have occupied a number of spaces ranging from public parks to college campuses in an effort to create a public forum where they can narrate themselves and their visions of the future while representing the misfortunes, suffering, and hopes of the unemployed, poor, incarcerated, and marginalized. This movement is not simply about reclaiming space but also about producing new ideas, generating a new conversation, and introducing a new political language.

Rejecting the notion that democracy and markets are the same, young people are calling for the termination of corporate control over the commanding institutions of politics, culture, and economics, an end to the suppression of dissent, and a shutting down of the permanent warfare state. Richard Lichtman is right to insist that the Occupy movement should be praised for its embrace of communal democracy as well as an emerging set of shared concerns, principles, and values articulated “by a demand for equality, or, at the very least, for a significant lessening of the horrid extent of inequality; for a working democracy; for the elimination of the moneyed foun­dation of politics; for the abolition of political domination by a dehumanized plutocracy; for the replacement of ubiquitous commodification by the reciprocal recognition of humanity in the actions of its agents.”[24] As Arundhati Roy points out, what connects the protests in the United States to resistance move­ments all over the globe is that young people “know that their being excluded from the obscene amassing of wealth of U.S. corporations is part of the same system of the exclusion and war that is being waged by these corporations in places like India, Africa, and the Middle East.”[25] Of course, Lichtman, Roy, and others believe that this is just the beginning of a movement and that much needs to be done, as Staughton Lynd argues, to build new strategies, a vast network of new institutions and public spheres, a community of trust, and political organiza­tion that invites poor people into its ranks.[26] Stanley Aronowitz goes further and insists that the Occupy movement needs to bring together the fight for economic equality and security with the task of reshaping American institutions along genuinely democratic lines.[27]

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Is the Russia Prison System Working Pussy Riot Member to Death?

A band member's hospitalization offers a harrowing glimpse into Russia's brutal prison system.

February 1, 2013  |  

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An incarcerated member of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot has been hospitalized for illnesses related to prison work , reports the Associated Press . Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has reportedly been suffering severe headaches since last spring, when the 23-year-old began serving her two-year sentence on hooliganism charges.

Fellow band member Yekaterina Samutsevich, who was released on appeal in October, told the independent Russian news service Rain TV, "They don't allow [Tolokonnikova] to have any rest; she works nearly round the clock … She said she feels tired, extremely tired.”

Tolokonnikova’s conditions offer a window into Russia’s brutal modern prison system, which have been described as “ Gulag lite ,” referring to the notorious labor camps of the Soviet Union under Stalin.

In November, a haunting, six-minute video showing prison guards mercilessly beating an inmate went viral, giving many outsiders a look into the kinds of abuse Russian prisoners face everyday. The Guardian reports that the video took off shortly after hundreds of prisoners in Kopeysk protested torture and horrible conditions in their jail.

Russian women face especially harrowing conditions, as documented by several Russian sociologists in the recent book, Before and After Prison: Women’s Stories . The report on women’s prison colonies, gathered from 35 interviews, reveals a horrible lack of privacy and wretched treatment for inmates. One notable section describes women being punished for menstruating onto their bed sheets.

"Lawlessness, despair, devastation, hopelessness are the key words that describe the incarceration of our interviewees," co-author Gyuzel Sabirova told The Moscow Times .

Russia has the world’s third largest prison population with nearly 800,000 inmates. But before Americans denounce Russian authoritarianism, they may want to take a look in their own backyard. The United States, with less five percent of the world’s population, imprisons almost a quarter of the world’s prison population—the majority of inmates being racial or ethnic minorities. And while U.S. prisons aren’t mandatory work camps, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that the overcrowded conditions inside California’s prison system constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

Both countries, meanwhile, have a penchant for incarcerating activists, and Russia’s crackdown on dissenters continues to draw attention from international human rights groups. Human Rights Watch latest report, released Thursday, says Russia’s record under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has reached its worst level since the Soviet Union.

"Since Putin's return ... not only has the tentative shift towards liberalisation of the Medvedev era been totally reversed, but also authoritarianism in Russia has reached a level unknown in recent history,” Rachel Denber, deputy director of the group's Europe and Central Asia Division, told Reuters .

Since the group’s arrest in October, Pussy Riot has become an international symbol for Russia’s horrid human rights record. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Maria Alekhina defied Putin’s regime when they performed a “punk protest” at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in St. Petersburg--a performance that landed all three in prison. (Samutsevich was subsequently released)

The treatment of Tolokonnikova is disturbing enough, but it’s certainly worst for prisoners who don’t have the privilege of fame.

Steven Hsieh is a writer based in Broooklyn.

US: Injustices Filling the Prisons

WASHINGTON - January 31 -  The enormous prison population in the United States partly reflects harsh sentencing practices contrary to international law, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2013. The sentencing practices include disproportionately long prison terms, mandatory sentencing without parole, and treating youth offenders as adults. The US maintains the world’s largest incarcerated population, at 1.6 million, and its highest per capita incarceration rate.

Human Rights Watch research in 2012 found that the massive overincarceration includes a growing number of elderly people whom prisons are ill-equipped to handle, and an estimated 93,000 youth under age 18 in adult jails and another 2,200 in adult prisons. Hundreds of children are subjected to solitary confinement. Racial and ethnic minorities remain disproportionately represented in the prison population.

"The United States has shown little interest in tackling abusive practices that have contributed to the country’s huge prison population,” said Maria McFarland, deputy US program director at Human Rights Watch. "Unfortunately, it is society’s most vulnerable – racial and ethnic minorities, low-income people, immigrants, children, and the elderly – who are most likely to suffer from injustices in the criminal justice system."

In its 665-page report, Human Rights Watch assessed progress on human rights during the past year in more than 90 countries, including an analysis of the aftermath of the Arab Spring. The willingness of new governments to respect rights will determine whether the Arab Spring gives birth to genuine democracy or simply spawns authoritarianism in new clothes, Human Rights Watch said.

The World Report chapter on the United States covers human rights developments related to US criminal justice and immigration, as well as issues related to health, labor, and the rights of women, children, people with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It also addresses abuses related to the United States’ deeply flawed counterterrorism policies.

Human rights developments within the United States over the past year include:

• Connecticut joined 16 other states and the District of Columbia in abolishing the death penalty. However, 33 states continue to allow it;

• In May, the US Department of Justice issued final standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to detect, prevent, and punish prison rape. The standards are immediately binding on all Justice Department facilities;

• In fiscal year 2012, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported a record 396,906 non-citizens. A dramatic increase in federal prosecutions of immigration violations, and in the number of immigrants in detention, has fed a nationwide detention system that includes more than 250 facilities;

• Illegal re-entry into the US has become the most prosecuted federal crime. In 2011, prosecutions for illegal entry and re-entry into the US surpassed 34,000 and 37,000 respectively. Many of those prosecuted for these crimes have minor or no criminal history and have substantial ties to the US;

• The US Senate, in December, failed to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Sixty-one of the 100 Senators voted in favor, but 66 votes were needed for passage. Several senators have promised to make another attempt to ratify the treaty in early 2013;

• In April, the Labor Department withdrew new regulations proposed in 2011 that would have updated, for the first time in decades, the list of hazardous agricultural tasks prohibited for children under age 16;

• Congress failed to renew the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the primary federal law providing legal protection and services to victims of domestic and sexual violence. Sexual assaults remained underreported and poorly investigated in many jurisdictions. Certain groups, such as unauthorized migrant farmworkers, face particular challenges to seeking justice;

• In June, the US Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, which significantly expands many citizens’ access to health insurance and medical care;

• HIV infections continued to disproportionately affect minority communities, men who have sex with men, and transgender women. Many states have failed to protect HIV-positive people from discrimination or to provide adequate funds for HIV prevention and care; and

• For the first time anywhere, popular votes in two states and the District of Columbia legalized same-sex marriage. However, federal law continued to bar recognition of same-sex marriage while offering no protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Both the Obama administration and Congress supported abusive counterterrorism laws and policies, including detention without charge at Guantanamo Bay, restrictions on the transfer of detainees held there, and prosecutions in a fundamentally flawed military commission system.

Attacks by US aerial drones were carried out in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere, with important legal questions about the attacks remaining unanswered.

The administration has taken no steps toward accountability for torture and other abuses committed by US officials in the so-called “war on terror,” and a Justice Department criminal investigation into detainee abuse concluded without recommending any charges. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence completed a more than 6,000-page report detailing the CIA’s rendition, detention, and interrogation program, but has yet to seek the report’s declassification so it can be released to the public.

“The Obama administration has a chance in its second term to develop with Congress a real plan for closing Guantanamo and definitively ending abusive counterterrorism practices,” McFarland said. “A failure to do so puts Obama at risk of going down in history as the president who made indefinite detention without trial a permanent part of US law.”

Hate Crimes in America (and Elsewhere): A Rape a Minute, a Thousand Corpses a...

us ripped flag

Here in the United States, where there is a reported rape every 6.2 minutes, and one in five women will be raped in her lifetime, the rape and gruesome murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi on December 16th was treated as an exceptional incident. The story of the alleged rape of an unconscious teenager by members of the Steubenville High School football team was still unfolding, and gang rapes aren’t that unusual here either. Take your pick: some of the 20 men who gang-raped an 11-year-old in Cleveland, Texas, were sentenced in November, while the instigator of the gang rape of a 16-year-old in Richmond, California, was sentenced in October, and four men who gang-raped a 15-year-old near New Orleans were sentenced in April, though the six men who gang-raped a 14-year-old in Chicago last fall are still at large.  Not that I actually went out looking for incidents: they’re everywhere in the news, though no one adds them up and indicates that there might actually be a pattern.

There is, however, a pattern of violence against women that’s broad and deep and horrific and incessantly overlooked. Occasionally, a case involving a celebrity or lurid details in a particular case get a lot of attention in the media, but such cases are treated as anomalies, while the abundance of incidental news items about violence against women in this country, in other countries, on every continent including Antarctica, constitute a kind of background wallpaper for the news.

If you’d rather talk about bus rapes than gang rapes, there’s the rape of a developmentally disabled woman on a Los Angeles bus in November and the kidnapping of an autistic 16-year-old on the regional transit train system in Oakland, California — she was raped repeatedly by her abductor over two days this winter — and there was a gang rape of multiple women on a bus in Mexico City recently, too.  While I was writing this, I read that another female bus-rider was kidnapped in India and gang-raped all night by the bus driver and five of his friends who must have thought what happened in New Delhi was awesome.

We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.

Here I want to say one thing: though virtually all the perpetrators of such crimes are men, that doesn’t mean all men are violent. Most are not. In addition, men obviously also suffer violence, largely at the hands of other men, and every violent death, every assault is terrible.  But the subject here is the pandemic of violence by men against women, both intimate violence and stranger violence.
What We Don’t Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Gender

There’s so much of it. We could talk about the assault and rape of a 73-year-old in Manhattan’s Central Park last September, or the recent rape of a four-year-oldand an 83-year-old in Louisiana, or the New York City policeman who wasarrested in October for what appeared to be serious plans to kidnap, rape, cook, and eat a woman, any woman, because the hate wasn’t personal (though maybe it was for the San Diego man who actually killed and cooked his wife in November and the man from New Orleans who killed, dismembered, and cooked his girlfriend in 2005).

Those are all exceptional crimes, but we could also talk about quotidian assaults, because though a rape is reported only every 6.2 minutes in this country, the estimated total is perhaps five times as high. Which means that there may be very nearly a rape a minute in the U.S.  It all adds up to tens of millions of rape victims.

We could talk about high-school- and college-athlete rapes, or campus rapes, to which university authorities have been appallingly uninterested in responding in many cases, including that high school in Steubenville, Notre Dame University,Amherst College, and many others. We could talk about the escalating pandemicof rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment in the U.S. military, where Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta estimated that there were 19,000 sexual assaults on fellow soldiers in 2010 alone and that the great majority of assailants got away with it, though four-star general Jeffrey Sinclair was indicted in September for “a slew of sex crimes against women.”

Never mind workplace violence, let’s go home.  So many men murder their partners and former partners that we have well over 1,000 homicides of that kind a year — meaning that every three years the death toll tops 9/11’s casualties, though no one declares a war on this particular terror. (Another way to put it: the more than 11,766 corpses from domestic-violence homicides since 9/11 exceed the number of deaths of victims on that day and all American soldiers killed in the “war on terror.”) If we talked about crimes like these and why they are so common, we’d have to talk about what kinds of profound change this society, or this nation, or nearly every nation needs. If we talked about it, we’d be talking about masculinity, or male roles, or maybe patriarchy, and we don’t talk much about that.

Instead, we hear that American men commit murder-suicides — at the rate of about 12 a week — because the economy is bad, though they also do it when the economy is good; or that those men in India murdered the bus-rider because the poor resent the rich, while other rapes in India are explained by how the rich exploit the poor; and then there are those ever-popular explanations: mental problems and intoxicants — and for jocks,head injuries. The latest spin is that lead exposurewas responsible for a lot of our violence, except that both genders are exposed and one commits most of the violence. The pandemic of violence always gets explained as anything but gender, anything but what would seem to be the broadest explanatory pattern of all.

Someone wrote a piece about how white men seem to be the ones who commit mass murders in the U.S. and the (mostly hostile) commenters only seemed to notice the white part. It’s rare that anyone says what this medical study does, even if in the driest way possible: “Being male has been identified as a risk factor for violent criminal behavior in several studies, as have exposure to tobacco smoke before birth, having antisocial parents, and belonging to a poor family.”

Still, the pattern is plain as day. We could talk about this as a global problem, looking at the epidemic of assaultharassment, and rape of women in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that has taken away the freedom they celebrated during the Arab Spring — and led some men there to form defense teams to help counter it — or the persecution of women in public and private in India from “Eve-teasing” to bride-burning, or “honor killings” in South Asia and the Middle East, or the way that South Africa has become a global rape capital, with an estimated 600,000 rapeslast year, or how rape has been used as a tactic and “weapon” of war in Mali, Sudan, and the Congo, as it was in the former Yugoslavia, or the pervasiveness of rape and harassment in Mexico and the femicide in Juarez, or the denial of basic rights for women in Saudi Arabia and the myriad sexual assaults on immigrant domestic workers there, or the way that the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case in the United States revealed what impunity he and others had in France, and it’s only for lack of space I’m leaving out Britain and Canada and Italy (with its ex-prime minister known for his orgies with the underaged), Argentina and Australia and so many other countries.

Who Has the Right to Kill You?

But maybe you’re tired of statistics, so let’s just talk about a single incident that happened in my city a couple of weeks ago, one of many local incidents in which men assaulted women that made the local papers this month:

“A woman was stabbed after she rebuffed a man’s sexual advances while she walked in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood late Monday night, a police spokesman said today. The 33-year-old victim was walking down the street when a stranger approached her and propositioned her, police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said. When she rejected him, the man became very upset and slashed the victim in the face and stabbed her in the arm, Esparza said.”

The man, in other words, framed the situation as one in which his chosen victim had no rights and liberties, while he had the right to control and punish her.  This should remind us that violence is first of all authoritarian. It begins with this premise: I have the right to control you.

Murder is the extreme version of that authoritarianism, where the murderer asserts he has the right to decide whether you live or die, the ultimate means of controlling someone.  This may be true even if you are “obedient,” because the desire to control comes out of a rage that obedience can’t assuage. Whatever fears, whatever sense of vulnerability may underlie such behavior, it also comes out of entitlement, the entitlement to inflict suffering and even death on other people. It breeds misery in the perpetrator and the victims.

As for that incident in my city, similar things happen all the time.  Many versions of it happened to me when I was younger, sometimes involving death threats and often involving torrents of obscenities: a man approaches a woman with both desire and the furious expectation that the desire will likely be rebuffed.  The fury and desire come in a package, all twisted together into something that always threatens to turn eros into thanatos, love into death, sometimes literally.

It’s a system of control. It’s why so many intimate-partner murders are of women who dared to break up with those partners.  As a result, it imprisons a lot of women, and though you could say that the attacker on January 7th, or a brutal would-be-rapist near my own neighborhood on January 5th, or another rapist here on January 12th, or the San Franciscan who on January 6th set his girlfriend on firefor refusing to do his laundry, or the guy who was just sentenced to 370 years for some particularly violent rapes in San Francisco in late 2011, were marginal characters, rich, famous, and privileged guys do it, too.

The Japanese vice-consul in San Francisco was charged with 12 felony counts of spousal abuse and assault with a deadly weapon last September, the same month that, in the same town, the ex-girlfriend of Mason Mayer (brother of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer) testified in court: “He ripped out my earrings, tore my eyelashes off, while spitting in my face and telling me how unlovable I am… I was on the ground in the fetal position, and when I tried to move, he squeezed both knees tighter into my sides to restrain me and slapped me.” According to the newspaper, she also testified that “Mayer slammed her head onto the floor repeatedly and pulled out clumps of her hair, telling her that the only way she was leaving the apartment alive was if he drove her to the Golden Gate Bridge ‘where you can jump off or I will push you off.’” Mason Mayer got probation.

This summer, an estranged husband violated his wife’s restraining order against him, shooting her – and six other women — at her spa job in suburban Milwaukee, but since there were only four corpses the crime was largely overlooked in the media in a year with so many more spectacular mass murders in this country (and we still haven’t really talked about the fact that, of 62 mass shootings in the U.S. in three decades, only one was by a woman, because when you say lone gunman, everyone talks about loners and guns but not about men — and by the way, nearly two thirds of all women killed by guns are killed by their partner or ex-partner).

What’s love got to do with it, asked Tina Turner, whose ex-husband Ike once said, “Yeah I hit her, but I didn’t hit her more than the average guy beats his wife.” A woman is beaten every nine seconds in this country. Just to be clear: not nine minutes, but nine seconds. It’s the number-one cause of injury to American women; of the two million injured annually, more than half a million of those injuries require medical attention while about 145,000 require overnight hospitalizations, according to the Center for Disease Control, and you don’t want to know about the dentistry needed afterwards. Spouses are also the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the U.S.

“Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined,” writes Nicholas D. Kristof, one of the few prominent figures to address the issue regularly.

The Chasm Between Our Worlds

Rape and other acts of violence, up to and including murder, as well as threats of violence, constitute the barrage some men lay down as they attempt to control some women, and fear of that violence limits most women in ways they’ve gotten so used to they hardly notice — and we hardly address. There are exceptions: last summer someone wrote to me to describe a college class in which the students were asked what they do to stay safe from rape. The young women described the intricate ways they stayed alert, limited their access to the world, took precautions, and essentially thought about rape all the time (while the young men in the class, he added, gaped in astonishment). The chasm between their worlds had briefly and suddenly become visible.

Mostly, however, we don’t talk about it — though a graphic has been circulating on the Internet called Ten Top Tips to End Rape, the kind of thing young women get often enough, but this one had a subversive twist.  It offered advice like this: “Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone ‘by accident’ you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can call for help.” While funny, the piece points out something terrible: the usual guidelines in such situations put the full burden of prevention on potential victims, treating the violence as a given. You explain to me why colleges spend more time telling women how to survive predators than telling the other half of their students not to be predators.

Threats of sexual assault now seem to take place online regularly. In late 2011, British columnist Laurie Penny wrote, “An opinion, it seems, is the short skirt of the Internet. Having one and flaunting it is somehow asking an amorphous mass of almost-entirely male keyboard-bashers to tell you how they’d like to rape, kill, and urinate on you. This week, after a particularly ugly slew of threats, I decided to make just a few of those messages public on Twitter, and the response I received was overwhelming. Many could not believe the hate I received, and many more began to share their own stories of harassment, intimidation, and abuse.”

Women in the online gaming community have been harassed, threatened, and driven out. Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist media critic who documented such incidents, received support for her work, but also, in the words of a journalist, “another wave of really aggressive, you know, violent personal threats, her accounts attempted to be hacked. And one man in Ontario took the step of making an online video game where you could punch Anita’s image on the screen. And if you punched it multiple times, bruises and cuts would appear on her image.” The difference between these online gamers and the Taliban men who, last October, tried to murder 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai for speaking out about the right of Pakistani women to education is one of degree. Both are trying to silence and punish women for claiming voice, power, and the right to participate. Welcome to Manistan.

The Party for the Protection of the Rights of Rapists

It’s not just public, or private, or online either.  It’s also embedded in our political system, and our legal system, which before feminists fought for us didn’t recognize most domestic violence, or sexual harassment and stalking, or date rape, or acquaintance rape, or marital rape, and in cases of rape still often tries the victim rather than the rapist, as though only perfect maidens could be assaulted — or believed.

As we learned in the 2012 election campaign, it’s also embedded in the minds and mouths of our politicians.  Remember that spate of crazy pro-rape thingsRepublican men said last summer and fall, starting with Todd Akin’s notorious claim that a woman has ways of preventing pregnancy in cases of rape, a statement he made in order to deny women control over their own bodies. After that, of course, Senate candidate Richard Mourdock claimed that rape pregnancies were “a gift from God,” and just this month, another Republican politician piped up to defendAkin’s comment.

Happily the five publicly pro-rape Republicans in the 2012 campaign all lost their election bids. (Stephen Colbert tried to warn them that women had gotten the vote in 1920.)  But it’s not just a matter of the garbage they say (and the price they now pay).  Earlier this month, congressional Republicans refused to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, because they objected to the protection it gave immigrants, transgendered women, and Native American women.  (Speaking of epidemics, one of three Native American women will be raped, and on the reservations 88% of those rapes are by non-Native men who know tribal governments can’t prosecute them.)

And they’re out to gut reproductive rights — birth control as well as abortion, as they’ve pretty effectively done in many states over the last dozen years. What’s meant by “reproductive rights,” of course, is the right of women to control their own bodies. Didn’t I mention earlier that violence against women is a control issue?

And though rapes are often investigated lackadaisically – there is a backlog of about 400,000 untested rape kits in this country– rapists who impregnate their victims have parental rights in 31 states. Oh, and former vice-presidential candidate and current congressman Paul Ryan (R-Manistan) is reintroducing a bill that would give states the right to ban abortions and might even conceivably allow a rapist to sue his victim for having one.

All the Things That Aren’t to Blame

Of course, women are capable of all sorts of major unpleasantness, and there are violent crimes by women, but the so-called war of the sexes is extraordinarily lopsided when it comes to actual violence.  Unlike the last (male) head of the International Monetary Fund, the current (female) head is not going to assault an employee at a luxury hotel; top-ranking female officers in the U.S. military, unlike their male counterparts, are not accused of any sexual assaults; and young female athletes, unlike those male football players in Steubenville, aren’t likely to urinate on unconscious boys, let alone violate them and boast about it in YouTube videos and Twitter feeds.

No female bus riders in India have ganged up to sexually assault a man so badly he dies of his injuries, nor are marauding packs of women terrorizing men in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and there’s just no maternal equivalent to the 11% of rapes that are by fathers or stepfathers. Of the people in prison in the U.S., 93.5% are not women, and though quite a lot of them should not be there in the first place, maybe some of them should because of violence, until we think of a better way to deal with it, and them.

No major female pop star has blown the head off a young man she took home with her, as did Phil Spector.  (He is now part of that 93.5% for the shotgun slaying of Lana Clarkson, apparently for refusing his advances.)  No female action-movie star has been charged with domestic violence, because Angelina Jolie just isn’t doing what Mel Gibson and Steve McQueen did, and there aren’t any celebrated female movie directors who gave a 13-year-old drugs before sexually assaulting that child, while she kept saying “no,” as did Roman Polanski.

In Memory of Jyoti Singh

What’s the matter with manhood? There’s something about how masculinity is imagined, about what’s praised and encouraged, about the way violence is passed on to boys that needs to be addressed. There are lovely and wonderful men out there, and one of the things that’s encouraging in this round of the war against women is how many men I’ve seen who get it, who think it’s their issue too, who stand up for us and with us in everyday life, online and in the marches from New Delhi to San Francisco this winter.

Increasingly men are becoming good allies – and there always have been some.  Kindness and gentleness never had a gender, and neither did empathy. Domestic violence statistics are down significantly from earlier decades (even though they’re still shockingly high), and a lot of men are at work crafting new ideas and ideals about masculinity and power.

Gay men have been good allies of mine for almost four decades. (Apparently same-sex marriage horrifies conservatives because it’s marriage between equals with no inevitable roles.) Women’s liberation has often been portrayed as a movement intent on encroaching upon or taking power and privilege away from men, as though in some dismal zero-sum game, only one gender at a time could be free and powerful. But we are free together or slaves together.

There are other things I’d rather write about, but this affects everything else. The lives of half of humanity are still dogged by, drained by, and sometimes ended by this pervasive variety of violence.  Think of how much more time and energy we would have to focus on other things that matter if we weren’t so busy surviving. Look at it this way: one of the best journalists I know is afraid to walk home at night in our neighborhood.  Should she stop working late? How many women have had to stop doing their work, or been stopped from doing it, for similar reasons?

One of the most exciting new political movements on Earth is the Native Canadian indigenous rights movement, with feminist and environmental overtones, called Idle No More. On December 27th, shortly after the movement took off, a Native woman was kidnapped, raped, beaten, and left for dead in Thunder Bay, Ontario, by men whose remarks framed the crime as retaliation against Idle No More. Afterward, she walked four hours through the bitter cold and survived to tell her tale. Her assailants, who have threatened to do it again, are still at large.

The New Delhi rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, the 23-year-old who was studying physiotherapy so that she could better herself while helping others, and the assault on her male companion (who survived) seem to have triggered the reaction that we have needed for 100, or 1,000, or 5,000 years. May she be to women — and men — worldwide what Emmett Till, murdered by white supremacists in 1955, was to African-Americans and the then-nascent U.S. civil rights movement.

We have far more than 87,000 rapes in this country every year, but each of them is invariably portrayed as an isolated incident.  We have dots so close they’re splatters melting into a stain, but hardly anyone connects them, or names that stain. In India they did. They said that this is a civil rights issue, it’s a human rights issue, it’s everyone’s problem, it’s not isolated, and it’s never going to be acceptable again. It has to change. It’s your job to change it, and mine, and ours.

Rebecca Solnit has written a version of this essay three times so far, once in the 1980s for the punk magazine Maximum Rock’n’Roll, once as the chapter on women and walking in her 2000 book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, and here. She would love the topic to become out of date and irrelevant and never to have write it again.

Has America Become an Authoritarian State?

The debate in both Washington and the mainstream media over austerity measures, the alleged fiscal cliff and the looming debt crisis not only function to render anti-democratic pressures invisible...

The Second Amendment’s History

“A majority of Americans tell pollsters that they believe the Second Amendment protects private ownership of guns,” wrote Garry Wills, historian and author of James Madison, in 1995.

What is the basis for this belief and why was Wills focusing on this issue in 1995? Does the sparse language of the Second Amendment actually guarantee an individual right to bear arms? Protect private gun ownership and the right to carry firearms without restriction?

What does “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” mean in the context of the entire Second Amendment language? In the context of the Constitution? In the context of the historical record? What was the feeling among the constitutional delegates about standing armies? Militias? Indeed, what were the politics of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?

Is the meaning of the Second Amendment clear? If the “original meaning” of the Constitution is clear and unambiguous, why have we been paying the Supreme Court to interpret it for over 200 years? Why do some express a “majority opinion” and others dissent? Why do we have constitutional scholars?

James Madison was the author of the militia clause in the Constitution and the Second Amendment. What was Madison’s thinking and how do we know it? Are Madison’s words undebatable?

Have all the Supreme Court justices agreed on the interpretation of the Second Amendment? Why did the Court have one interpretation this amendment for almost one hundred years and then seem to reverse course? Was there a consensus on the Court?

What was the purpose of the Second Amendment? Was it to address self defense? To save slavery? To pacify the delegates from the South who were resisting support of the Constitution at the 1787 Convention because of the slavery issue?

No one would deny that slavery played an important role in the early development of the nation, but just how important was it? What do we know about the role slavery played in the Constitutional Convention and how do we know it?

Historian Gordon Wood notes that: “If we are to understand accurately the role of slavery in the making of the Constitution, we have to try to rid ourselves of our knowledge of what happened in the succeeding decades. The founders did not know the future, any more than we do, and most of them at the outset lived with the illusion that slavery in the United States was dying away and would somehow eventually disappear, especially with the ending of the slave trade. Of course, they could not have been more wrong.”

Politics in Philadelphia

What were the politics of the delegates to the Philadelphia convention in that hot summer? Was the Amendment designed to ensure that citizens are armed and ready to fight against their own government should it become tyrannical? Did the Framers consider the possibility of a “tyrannical” new government a priority consideration as they worked to produce a document designed to unify and stabilize thirteen colonies? Does such an idea make sense? What evidence supports the idea that the Framers feared that the new government might become tyrannical?

Were the Framers concerned about individual ownership of firearms or about “security” and “domestic tranquility?” Or, were the Framers concerned about maintaining order and avoiding chaos in the new nation, discouraging threats to its “security,” instability that could discredit the Revolution, and benefit its “enemies” abroad?

Has the belief that the Second Amendment protects private ownership of guns always been so? Or is this belief born of a disposition to believe that the Second Amendment is a “sacred principle” that protects gun ownership? Is this disposition of recent vintage?

Has the Second Amendment been “hijacked”? Have gun advocates intentionally misstated the law, repeating their misstatements and investing heavily in propaganda in order to persuade the public? Persuade the corporate media? Persuade courts?

The Right, the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby and even some on the Left given to romanticizing history have a “boiler plate,” knee-jerk response to the gun control issue — they would have Americans believe that the argument that the Second Amendment guarantees the right of individuals to own firearms is moot. Is that true?

And what about the term liberty? Just what does that word mean? To whom? Why?

“The American Right is fond of putting itself inside the minds of America’s Founders and intuiting what was their ‘original intent’ in writing the U.S. Constitution and its early additions, like the Second Amendment’s ‘right to bear arms,’ ” writes investigative reporter Robert Parry. “But, surely, James Madison and the others weren’t envisioning people with modern weapons mowing down children in a movie theater or a shopping mall or now a kindergarten.”

Abusing the Second Amendment

Historian Garry Wills wrote: “The recent effort to find a new meaning for the Second Amendment comes from the failure of appeals to other sources as a warrant for the omnipresence of guns of all types in private hands. Easy access to all these guns is hard to justify in pragmatic terms, as a matter of social policy. …

“That is why the gun advocates appeal, above pragmatism and common sense, to a supposed sacred right enshrined in a document Americans revere…We must put up with our world-record rates of homicide, suicide, and accidental shootings because, whether we like it or not, the Constitution tells us to. Well, it doesn’t.”

Few Americans know much about U.S. history, or specifically know history in relation to guns and the gun control issue and they do not do their homework — a comprehensive review of the related history.

The American public generally has the reputation for being anti-intellectual, ill acquainted with scholarship and considered to have short memories and even shorter attention span. Indeed, Americans appear to have given up reading altogether.

The result is that millions of Americans have embraced the dangerous – and false – notion that the Framers of the U.S. Constitution incorporated the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights so an armed population could fight the government that the Framers had just created. This belief is not accidental — it has been deliberately taught, the result not of serious scholarship and study but the result of an agenda.

The gun industry, an interested party of the first order in the individual right interpretation of the Second Amendment, has averaged about $3.5 billion a year in inflation-adjusted terms going back to the mid-1990s. Journalist Lee Fang reports in The Nation magazine: “For every gun or package of ammunition sold at participating stores, a dollar is donated to the NRA.”

Too many Americans, frustrated and confused by a host of issues, and perhaps easily given to irrational fears and paranoia reinforced by a shallow and narrow frame of reference, have willingly embraced the Right’s well-funded propaganda and attempt to re-interpret the Second Amendment and re-write American history. They are all too willing to embrace anti-government hysteria and succumb to manipulation.

As Parry writes: “Today’s American Right is drunk on some very bad history, which is as dangerous as it is false.” The Right has been repeating lies about the Second Amendment and U.S. history for several decades, but as Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “Repetition does not transform a lie into the truth.”

Americans are being cheated by a Right that is trying to reduce American history to simplistic, comic-book levels and steal our history right out from under us. (Revisionism can come in “Left” clothing as well.)

Longstanding Precedents

Few Americans know that there are two opposing views of the Second Amendment: the collective right model and the individual model. They are unaware that the first view prevailed for almost one hundred years, that it was not only widely accepted it was uncontroversial.

Professor Robert J. Spitzer discovered in the course of his research for the “2000 Symposium on the Second Amendment” that from the time U.S. law review articles first began to be indexed in 1887 until 1960, all law review articles dealing with the Second Amendment endorsed the collective right model.

The first law review article asserting an individual’s right to own firearms for self-defense (or sport) did not even appear until 1960. Eleven articles discussing the Second Amendment were published during this 73-year period. All endorsed the collective right model.

“If there is such a thing as settled constitutional law,” wrote law professor Carl T. Bogus in 2000, “the Second Amendment may have been its quintessential example.” The United States Supreme Court addressed the Amendment three times in 1876, 1886, and 1939 and on each occasion held that it granted the people a right to bear arms only within the militia. [See United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1876); Presser v. Illinois, 116 U.S. 252 (1886);
United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939).]

The Second Amendment was adopted on December 15, 1791, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights. As passed by Congress, it read: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The Right (and those who have bought into their argument) would appear to completely dismiss the first phrase relating to the militia, the phrase that gives the leading, primary meaning of the sentence and to which the second phrase relates. The word “militia” is defined in the Constitution itself:

“The Congress shall have Power . . . To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” [Article 1, § 8.]

Law professor Carl T. Bogus points out that the founders disagreed about how the militia ought to be organized: For example, “Madison favored a universal militia while [Alexander] Hamilton argued for a select militia. However, they agreed as a constitutional matter to leave this up to Congress; and the Constitution expressly gives Congress the power to organize the militia. Thus, the militia is what Congress decides it is, regardless of whether it differs from an eighteenth-century model. Currently, the militia is indisputably the National Guard because Congress has so decided.”

Twisted Quotes

Historian Wills’s lengthy and scholarly argument in 1995 was not to deny any private right to own and use firearms. He simply maintains that Madison “did not address that question when drafting his amendment.” He suggests that gun advocates lobbied using shoddy scholarship that included quotations that were “truncated, removed from context, twisted, or applied to a different debate from that over the Second Amendment” in order to find “new meaning for the Second Amendment” – in effect, to sell the American public the idea that there is a “sacred right enshrined in a document Americans revere.”

It has been suggested that the basis for the majority opinions of the Court in the 2008 and 2010 cases that provided support for the individual model (in 2008, for the first time) is also based on questionable scholarship and intellectual leaps. It should be noted that in both cases the Court was divided 5-to-4. [See District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008); McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 3025 (2010).]

Reporter Parry emphasizes: “The reality was that the Framers wrote the Constitution and added the Second Amendment with the goal of creating a strong central government with a citizens-based military force capable of putting down insurrections, not to enable or encourage uprisings. The key Framers, after all, were mostly men of means with a huge stake in an orderly society, the likes of George Washington and James Madison.

“The men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 weren’t precursors to France’s Robespierre or Russia’s Leon Trotsky, believers in perpetual revolutions. In fact, their work on the Constitution was influenced by the experience of Shays’ Rebellion in western Massachusetts in 1786, a populist uprising that the weak federal government, under the Articles of Confederation, lacked an army to defeat.”

Law professor Geoffrey R. Stone strongly suggests that: “It is time for opponents of gun control to stop mindlessly shouting ‘The Second Amendment!!’ as if that ends the discussion. It does not. Just as there is no First Amendment right to falsely yell fire in a crowded theatre, there is no Second Amendment right to carry an AK-47 there. And that is only the beginning of what the Second Amendment does not guarantee.”

We citizens don’t have to become constitutional lawyers or scholars on the Second Amendment. We do need to take the time to do some basic homework–and not be intimidated by right-wing bullies and their deep-pocketed propaganda campaigns. We need to reach a comfort level as to what is known, what is not known, what is debatable, and what is a misrepresentation or outright lie.

The Right has given us nothing but destruction and death. Irrational right-wing extremists and their so-called “conservatism” have transformed the United States into a nightmare.

They have given us not simply extraordinarily bad manners but conscience-less coarseness; distracted us with nihilistic obstructionism that prevents our being able to effectively solve major national problems; made us look like backward, ignorant, unworthy and reckless fools before the entire world; militarized our culture with an authoritarianism that would echo the Third Reich; robbed us of our joy, our peace of mind, our dignity and our self-respect; de-civilized us with fear, violence and ugliness; “drenched us in Bloodshed;” indoctrinated citizens with misrepresentations, distortions, and blatant lies; attempted to make superstition respectable and madness the norm; polarized our national community; and they want to steal our past, our American history as well.
Enough.

Alternative Reality

I am on the side of the collective right argument, the argument that the Second Amendment does not protect individual gun ownership, an argument supported by credible real scholarship by real scholars that supports thecollective right argument.

I emphasize the word real because it is clear that too many Americans live in an alternative reality that confuses belief with facts, and are unable to distinguish scholarship from fanciful propaganda and scholars from lobbyists.

We may even have members of the U.S. Supreme Court who have succumbed to what is nothing less than a National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun lobby sales pitch that fits their right-wing, corporatist, authoritarian mentality.

I believe too many of the American public, politicians and mainstream media have been hoodwinked by the radical Right, the billion-dollar gun industry and the NRA. Yes, we are over 300 million individuals, but we are individuals who do not live in isolation but share a society.

On a personal note: I know what it is like to face a 22 revolver in the hands of a 9-year-old boy (reputed to have been disturbed) just two inches off my forehead (in the U.S. Virgin Islands in the early ‘70s). Believe me, I remember what the color “gun metal” looks like and know the sensation of feeling that all the blood has left my body. I want to see strong, sensible gun regulations.

I want the country of my birth to regain its sanity.

The Longest War is the One Against Women

Artists in San Francisco protesting violence against women. (Photo: Marta Franco/ SFGate)Here in the United States, where there is a reported rape every 6.2 minutes, and one in five women will be raped in her lifetime, the rape and gruesome murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi on December 16th was treated as an exceptional incident. The story of the alleged rape of an unconscious teenager by members of the Steubenville High School football team was still unfolding, and gang rapes aren’t that unusual here either. Take your pick: some of the 20 men who gang-raped an 11-year-old in Cleveland, Texas, were sentenced in November, while the instigator of the gang rape of a 16-year-old in Richmond, California, was sentenced in October, and four men who gang-raped a 15-year-old near New Orleans were sentenced in April, though the six men who gang-raped a 14-year-old in Chicago last fall are still at large.  Not that I actually went out looking for incidents: they’re everywhere in the news, though no one adds them up and indicates that there might actually be a pattern.

There is, however, a pattern of violence against women that’s broad and deep and horrific and incessantly overlooked. Occasionally, a case involving a celebrity or lurid details in a particular case get a lot of attention in the media, but such cases are treated as anomalies, while the abundance of incidental news items about violence against women in this country, in other countries, on every continent including Antarctica, constitute a kind of background wallpaper for the news.

If you’d rather talk about bus rapes than gang rapes, there’s the rape of a developmentally disabled woman on a Los Angeles bus in November and the kidnapping of an autistic 16-year-old on the regional transit train system in Oakland, California -- she was raped repeatedly by her abductor over two days this winter -- and there was a gang rape of multiple women on a bus in Mexico City recently, too.  While I was writing this, I read that another female bus-rider was kidnapped in India and gang-raped all night by the bus driver and five of his friends who must have thought what happened in New Delhi was awesome.

We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.

Here I want to say one thing: though virtually all the perpetrators of such crimes are men, that doesn’t mean all men are violent. Most are not. In addition, men obviously also suffer violence, largely at the hands of other men, and every violent death, every assault is terrible.  But the subject here is the pandemic of violence by men against women, both intimate violence and stranger violence.  

What We Don’t Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Gender

There’s so much of it. We could talk about the assault and rape of a 73-year-old in Manhattan’s Central Park last September, or the recent rape of a four-year-old and an 83-year-old in Louisiana, or the New York City policeman who was arrested in October for what appeared to be serious plans to kidnap, rape, cook, and eat a woman, any woman, because the hate wasn’t personal (though maybe it was for the San Diego man who actually killed and cooked his wife in November and the man from New Orleans who killed, dismembered, and cooked his girlfriend in 2005).

Those are all exceptional crimes, but we could also talk about quotidian assaults, because though a rape is reported only every 6.2 minutes in this country, the estimated total is perhaps five times as high. Which means that there may be very nearly a rape a minute in the U.S.  It all adds up to tens of millions of rape victims.

We could talk about high-school- and college-athlete rapes, or campus rapes, to which university authorities have been appallingly uninterested in responding in many cases, including that high school in Steubenville, Notre Dame University, Amherst College, and many others. We could talk about the escalating pandemic of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment in the U.S. military, where Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta estimated that there were 19,000 sexual assaults on fellow soldiers in 2010 alone and that the great majority of assailants got away with it, though four-star general Jeffrey Sinclair was indicted in September for “a slew of sex crimes against women.”

Never mind workplace violence, let’s go home.  So many men murder their partners and former partners that we have well over 1,000 homicides of that kind a year -- meaning that every three years the death toll tops 9/11’s casualties, though no one declares a war on this particular terror. (Another way to put it: the more than 11,766 corpses from domestic-violence homicides since 9/11 exceed the number of deaths of victims on that day and all American soldiers killed in the “war on terror.”) If we talked about crimes like these and why they are so common, we’d have to talk about what kinds of profound change this society, or this nation, or nearly every nation needs. If we talked about it, we’d be talking about masculinity, or male roles, or maybe patriarchy, and we don’t talk much about that.

If we talked about crimes like these...we’d have to talk about what kinds of profound change this society, or this nation, or nearly every nation needs. If we talked about it, we’d be talking about masculinity, or maybe patriarchy, and we don’t talk much about that.

Instead, we hear that American men commit murder-suicides -- at the rate of about 12 a week -- because the economy is bad, though they also do it when the economy is good; or that those men in India murdered the bus-rider because the poor resent the rich, while other rapes in India are explained by how the rich exploit the poor; and then there are those ever-popular explanations: mental problems and intoxicants -- and for jocks, head injuries. The latest spin is that lead exposure was responsible for a lot of our violence, except that both genders are exposed and one commits most of the violence. The pandemic of violence always gets explained as anything but gender, anything but what would seem to be the broadest explanatory pattern of all.

Someone wrote a piece about how white men seem to be the ones who commit mass murders in the U.S. and the (mostly hostile) commenters only seemed to notice the white part. It’s rare that anyone says what this medical study does, even if in the driest way possible: “Being male has been identified as a risk factor for violent criminal behavior in several studies, as have exposure to tobacco smoke before birth, having antisocial parents, and belonging to a poor family.”

Still, the pattern is plain as day. We could talk about this as a global problem, looking at the epidemic of assault, harassment, and rape of women in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that has taken away the freedom they celebrated during the Arab Spring -- and led some men there to form defense teams to help counter it -- or the persecution of women in public and private in India from “Eve-teasing” to bride-burning, or “honor killings” in South Asia and the Middle East, or the way that South Africa has become a global rape capital, with an estimated 600,000 rapes last year, or how rape has been used as a tactic and “weapon” of war in Mali, Sudan, and the Congo, as it was in the former Yugoslavia, or the pervasiveness of rape and harassment in Mexico and the femicide in Juarez, or the denial of basic rights for women in Saudi Arabia and the myriad sexual assaults on immigrant domestic workers there, or the way that the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case in the United States revealed what impunity he and others had in France, and it’s only for lack of space I’m leaving out Britain and Canada and Italy (with its ex-prime minister known for his orgies with the underaged), Argentina and Australia and so many other countries.

Who Has the Right to Kill You?

But maybe you’re tired of statistics, so let’s just talk about a single incident that happened in my city a couple of weeks ago, one of many local incidents in which men assaulted women that made the local papers this month:

“A woman was stabbed after she rebuffed a man's sexual advances while she walked in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood late Monday night, a police spokesman said today. The 33-year-old victim was walking down the street when a stranger approached her and propositioned her, police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said. When she rejected him, the man became very upset and slashed the victim in the face and stabbed her in the arm, Esparza said.”

The man, in other words, framed the situation as one in which his chosen victim had no rights and liberties, while he had the right to control and punish her. This should remind us that violence is first of all authoritarian. It begins with this premise: I have the right to control you.

Murder is the extreme version of that authoritarianism, where the murderer asserts he has the right to decide whether you live or die, the ultimate means of controlling someone.  This may be true even if you are “obedient,” because the desire to control comes out of a rage that obedience can’t assuage. Whatever fears, whatever sense of vulnerability may underlie such behavior, it also comes out of entitlement, the entitlement to inflict suffering and even death on other people. It breeds misery in the perpetrator and the victims.    

As for that incident in my city, similar things happen all the time.  Many versions of it happened to me when I was younger, sometimes involving death threats and often involving torrents of obscenities: a man approaches a woman with both desire and the furious expectation that the desire will likely be rebuffed.  The fury and desire come in a package, all twisted together into something that always threatens to turn eros into thanatos, love into death, sometimes literally.

It’s a system of control. It’s why so many intimate-partner murders are of women who dared to break up with those partners.  As a result, it imprisons a lot of women, and though you could say that the attacker on January 7th, or a brutal would-be-rapist near my own neighborhood on January 5th, or another rapist here on January 12th, or the San Franciscan who on January 6th set his girlfriend on fire for refusing to do his laundry, or the guy who was just sentenced to 370 years for some particularly violent rapes in San Francisco in late 2011, were marginal characters, rich, famous, and privileged guys do it, too.

The Japanese vice-consul in San Francisco was charged with 12 felony counts of spousal abuse and assault with a deadly weapon last September, the same month that, in the same town, the ex-girlfriend of Mason Mayer (brother of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer) testified in court: "He ripped out my earrings, tore my eyelashes off, while spitting in my face and telling me how unlovable I am… I was on the ground in the fetal position, and when I tried to move, he squeezed both knees tighter into my sides to restrain me and slapped me." According to the newspaper, she also testified that “Mayer slammed her head onto the floor repeatedly and pulled out clumps of her hair, telling her that the only way she was leaving the apartment alive was if he drove her to the Golden Gate Bridge ‘where you can jump off or I will push you off.’" Mason Mayer got probation.   

This summer, an estranged husband violated his wife’s restraining order against him, shooting her -- and six other women -- at her spa job in suburban Milwaukee, but since there were only four corpses the crime was largely overlooked in the media in a year with so many more spectacular mass murders in this country (and we still haven’t really talked about the fact that, of 62 mass shootings in the U.S. in three decades, only one was by a woman, because when you say lone gunman, everyone talks about loners and guns but not about men -- and by the way, nearly two thirds of all women killed by guns are killed by their partner or ex-partner).

What’s love got to do with it, asked Tina Turner, whose ex-husband Ike once said, “Yeah I hit her, but I didn't hit her more than the average guy beats his wife.” A woman is beaten every nine seconds in this country. Just to be clear: not nine minutes, but nine seconds. It’s the number-one cause of injury to American women; of the two million injured annually, more than half a million of those injuries require medical attention while about 145,000 require overnight hospitalizations, according to the Center for Disease Control, and you don’t want to know about the dentistry needed afterwards. Spouses are also the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the U.S.

'Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined.' “Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined,” writes Nicholas D. Kristof, one of the few prominent figures to address the issue regularly.  

The Chasm Between Our Worlds

Rape and other acts of violence, up to and including murder, as well as threats of violence, constitute the barrage some men lay down as they attempt to control some women, and fear of that violence limits most women in ways they’ve gotten so used to they hardly notice -- and we hardly address. There are exceptions: last summer someone wrote to me to describe a college class in which the students were asked what they do to stay safe from rape. The young women described the intricate ways they stayed alert, limited their access to the world, took precautions, and essentially thought about rape all the time (while the young men in the class, he added, gaped in astonishment). The chasm between their worlds had briefly and suddenly become visible.

Mostly, however, we don’t talk about it -- though a graphic has been circulating on the Internet called Ten Top Tips to End Rape, the kind of thing young women get often enough, but this one had a subversive twist.  It offered advice like this: “Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone ‘by accident’ you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can call for help.” While funny, the piece points out something terrible: the usual guidelines in such situations put the full burden of prevention on potential victims, treating the violence as a given. You explain to me why colleges spend more time telling women how to survive predators than telling the other half of their students not to be predators.

Threats of sexual assault now seem to take place online regularly. In late 2011, British columnist Laurie Penny wrote, “An opinion, it seems, is the short skirt of the Internet. Having one and flaunting it is somehow asking an amorphous mass of almost-entirely male keyboard-bashers to tell you how they'd like to rape, kill, and urinate on you. This week, after a particularly ugly slew of threats, I decided to make just a few of those messages public on Twitter, and the response I received was overwhelming. Many could not believe the hate I received, and many more began to share their own stories of harassment, intimidation, and abuse.”

Women in the online gaming community have been harassed, threatened, and driven out. Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist media critic who documented such incidents, received support for her work, but also, in the words of a journalist, “another wave of really aggressive, you know, violent personal threats, her accounts attempted to be hacked. And one man in Ontario took the step of making an online video game where you could punch Anita's image on the screen. And if you punched it multiple times, bruises and cuts would appear on her image.” The difference between these online gamers and the Taliban men who, last October, tried to murder 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai for speaking out about the right of Pakistani women to education is one of degree. Both are trying to silence and punish women for claiming voice, power, and the right to participate. Welcome to Manistan.

The Party for the Protection of the Rights of Rapists

It’s not just public, or private, or online either.  It’s also embedded in our political system, and our legal system, which before feminists fought for us didn’t recognize most domestic violence, or sexual harassment and stalking, or date rape, or acquaintance rape, or marital rape, and in cases of rape still often tries the victim rather than the rapist, as though only perfect maidens could be assaulted -- or believed.

As we learned in the 2012 election campaign, it’s also embedded in the minds and mouths of our politicians.  Remember that spate of crazy pro-rape things Republican men said last summer and fall, starting with Todd Akin's notorious claim that a woman has ways of preventing pregnancy in cases of rape, a statement he made in order to deny women control over their own bodies. After that, of course, Senate candidate Richard Mourdock claimed that rape pregnancies were “a gift from God,” and just this month, another Republican politician piped up to defend Akin’s comment.

Happily the five publicly pro-rape Republicans in the 2012 campaign all lost their election bids. (Stephen Colbert tried to warn them that women had gotten the vote in 1920.)  But it’s not just a matter of the garbage they say (and the price they now pay).  Earlier this month, congressional Republicans refused to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, because they objected to the protection it gave immigrants, transgendered women, and Native American women.  (Speaking of epidemics, one of three Native American women will be raped, and on the reservations 88% of those rapes are by non-Native men who know tribal governments can’t prosecute them.)

And they’re out to gut reproductive rights -- birth control as well as abortion, as they’ve pretty effectively done in many states over the last dozen years. What’s meant by “reproductive rights,” of course, is the right of women to control their own bodies. Didn’t I mention earlier that violence against women is a control issue?

And though rapes are often investigated lackadaisically -- there is a backlog of about 400,000 untested rape kits in this country-- rapists who impregnate their victims have parental rights in 31 states. Oh, and former vice-presidential candidate and current congressman Paul Ryan (R-Manistan) is reintroducing a bill that would give states the right to ban abortions and might even conceivably allow a rapist to sue his victim for having one.  

All the Things That Aren’t to Blame

Of course, women are capable of all sorts of major unpleasantness, and there are violent crimes by women, but the so-called war of the sexes is extraordinarily lopsided when it comes to actual violence.  Unlike the last (male) head of the International Monetary Fund, the current (female) head is not going to assault an employee at a luxury hotel; top-ranking female officers in the U.S. military, unlike their male counterparts, are not accused of any sexual assaults; and young female athletes, unlike those male football players in Steubenville, aren’t likely to urinate on unconscious boys, let alone violate them and boast about it in YouTube videos and Twitter feeds.  

No female bus riders in India have ganged up to sexually assault a man so badly he dies of his injuries, nor are marauding packs of women terrorizing men in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and there’s just no maternal equivalent to the 11% of rapes that are by fathers or stepfathers. Of the people in prison in the U.S., 93.5% are not women, and though quite a lot of them should not be there in the first place, maybe some of them should because of violence, until we think of a better way to deal with it, and them.

No major female pop star has blown the head off a young man she took home with her, as did Phil Spector.  (He is now part of that 93.5% for the shotgun slaying of Lana Clarkson, apparently for refusing his advances.)  No female action-movie star has been charged with domestic violence, because Angelina Jolie just isn’t doing what Mel Gibson and Steve McQueen did, and there aren’t any celebrated female movie directors who gave a 13-year-old drugs before sexually assaulting that child, while she kept saying “no,” as did Roman Polanski.

In Memory of Jyoti Singh Pandey

What’s the matter with manhood? There’s something about how masculinity is imagined, about what’s praised and encouraged, about the way violence is passed on to boys that needs to be addressed. There are lovely and wonderful men out there, and one of the things that’s encouraging in this round of the war against women is how many men I’ve seen who get it, who think it’s their issue too, who stand up for us and with us in everyday life, online and in the marches from New Delhi to San Francisco this winter.

There’s something about how masculinity is imagined, about what’s praised and encouraged, about the way violence is passed on to boys that needs to be addressed.

Increasingly men are becoming good allies -- and there always have been some.  Kindness and gentleness never had a gender, and neither did empathy. Domestic violence statistics are down significantly from earlier decades (even though they’re still shockingly high), and a lot of men are at work crafting new ideas and ideals about masculinity and power.

Gay men have been good allies of mine for almost four decades. (Apparently same-sex marriage horrifies conservatives because it’s marriage between equals with no inevitable roles.) Women’s liberation has often been portrayed as a movement intent on encroaching upon or taking power and privilege away from men, as though in some dismal zero-sum game, only one gender at a time could be free and powerful. But we are free together or slaves together.

There are other things I’d rather write about, but this affects everything else. The lives of half of humanity are still dogged by, drained by, and sometimes ended by this pervasive variety of violence.  Think of how much more time and energy we would have to focus on other things that matter if we weren’t so busy surviving. Look at it this way: one of the best journalists I know is afraid to walk home at night in our neighborhood.  Should she stop working late? How many women have had to stop doing their work, or been stopped from doing it, for similar reasons?

One of the most exciting new political movements on Earth is the Native Canadian indigenous rights movement, with feminist and environmental overtones, called Idle No More. On December 27th, shortly after the movement took off, a Native woman was kidnapped, raped, beaten, and left for dead in Thunder Bay, Ontario, by men whose remarks framed the crime as retaliation against Idle No More. Afterward, she walked four hours through the bitter cold and survived to tell her tale. Her assailants, who have threatened to do it again, are still at large.

The New Delhi rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey, the 23-year-old who was studying physiotherapy so that she could better herself while helping others, and the assault on her male companion (who survived) seem to have triggered the reaction that we have needed for 100, or 1,000, or 5,000 years. May she be to women -- and men -- worldwide what Emmett Till, murdered by white supremacists in 1955, was to African-Americans and the then-nascent U.S. civil rights movement.

We have far more than 87,000 rapes in this country every year, but each of them is invariably portrayed as an isolated incident.  We have dots so close they’re splatters melting into a stain, but hardly anyone connects them, or names that stain. In India they did. They said that this is a civil rights issue, it’s a human rights issue, it’s everyone’s problem, it’s not isolated, and it’s never going to be acceptable again. It has to change. It’s your job to change it, and mine, and ours.

© 2013 Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit is an activist and the author of many books, including: Wanderlust: A History of Walking, The Battle of The Story of the Battle in Seattle (with her brother David), and Storming The Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics. Her most recent book is, A Paradise Built in Hell, is now available. She is a contributing editor to Harper's Magazine

Malkin: ACA Has Deputized Gun-Grabbing Doctors to Pursue ‘Nanny State’ Agenda

As expected, as soon as the Obama administration released their list of executive orders to help curb gun violence, the right wing went into full blown hissy fit mode. It seems Michelle Malkin took a page straight out of Limbaugh and Drudge's book on Fox this Thursday afternoon during this interview with Megyn Kelly.

Drudge And Limbaugh Misrepresent What Obama And The Affordable Care Act Say About Doctors And Guns:

As soon as President Obama's new recommendations for gun violence prevention became public, right-wing media immediately claimed the president was issuing an executive action requiring doctors to ask patients about their guns. This is false. The president's released proposals only clarify that nothing in the Affordable Care Act changes longstanding law: doctors are still free (but not required) to discuss with their patients any health hazards, including a lack of gun safety at home or elsewhere.

Among the White House proposals for gun violence reduction, the president announced that the administration will "[c]larify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes." Nowhere in his proposal did he instead require doctors to ask about guns. The Drudge Report, however, immediately splashed across its website this graphic:

drudge ACA gun.jpg

Rush Limbaugh picked up on this flatly inaccurate claim that the president required doctors to ask their patients about "gun ownership." Rather than explain the president's executive action only indicated future orders, regulations, or guidance will clarify that no law - including the ACA - prohibits them from discussing gun safety with their patients, Limbaugh reported it as a new directive that "deputizes gun-snitch doctors": [...]

Limbaugh concedes that the executive action doesn't literally say that doctors are required to ask about gun safety, but rather, in his interpretation, "the executive action today is almost essentially requiring it." The president's proposal was likely a direct response to these types of wildly erroneous interpretations of the health care reform law and executive orders that were already floating around the right-wing blogosphere, before Limbaugh added his analysis.

Go read the rest for more on how the right is lying about the language in the law. Malkin did the exact same thing during the interview above with Megyn Kelly and in a post at her blog the previous day. (Warning, link goes to Malkin's site.)

The anti-gun doctors’ lobby has a friend in Obama:

Anyone with kids knows that the invasive, anti-gun doctors’ lobby has been around a long time.

Flashback October 2007: Is your pediatrician using your kid to spy on you?

Flashback July 2008: More nosy doctors who don’t like guns

The liberal leadership of the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have long been filled with notorious gun-grabbers — and they’ve promoted years of junk science to pursue their Nanny State agenda.

Now comes President Obama, who has deputized doctors to “help” snoop on law-abiding, gun-owning patients even further. Moreover, the White House has now lent federal support to doctors’ groups trying to fight state efforts to protect gun owners’ privacy: [...]

Political malpractice plus medical malpractice in the name of saving the children is a recipe for authoritarianism. The Hippocratic Oath has been turned on its head.

Malkin seems to have a little trouble understanding the difference between "does not prohibit" and mandates. Who knew we had all of those evil liberal doctors out there who are more worried about taking away everyone's guns than doing their job and providing health care to their patients. Be afraid... be very afraid!

Cleric Qadri to RT: ‘I’m here to empower the people of Pakistan’

The government of Pakistan is so corrupt that it has no means to ensure democratic processes, cleric Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri has told RT in an exclusive interview, urging reforms to "put the country on the right track."

­RT: Do you think the march will derail democracy in Pakistan, especially if the general election takes place within the next few months?

Cleric Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri: Democracy is not going to be derailed. It has already been derailed by corrupt political leaders. We want to put democracy on the right track. And we want to put democracy in place in its true letter and spirit. We don’t want any kind of delay in elections. The electorate reforms which I have suggested, they are already mentioned in the constitution of Pakistan. All the details which I am demanding are already there in the law, constitution and electoral laws.

And the whole thing, my electorate reforms agenda has been endorsed by the supreme court of Pakistan in its judgment which was issued on the 8 June 2012. This year we just have to enforce these articles of the constitution and sections of electoral law and the judgment of the Supreme Court. It will not take more than a month to implement and we still have three months of caretaker government. So there is no chance of derailing democracy. Elections can take place on time.

RT: You have accused the political leaders of Pakistan of corruption and other crimes. What do you expect to change?

MQ: First of all, let me substantiate what I had stated. The majority of these people are corrupt. There is a department of the government, National Accountability Bureau (NAB), and its chairman retired Admiral Fasih Bokhari is appointed by the president of Pakistan, Mr. Zardari himself. He has stated in his press conference and he has said in his official NAB statement that five thousand million rupees per annum are going to corruption. So these are the affectionate figures given by the government department. And at the same time it is declared and it’s not denied that seventy percent of members of Parliament in Pakistan are tax evaders. They do not bother to file tax returns. They conceal their source of income. So the corruption, there is nobody that can deny this reality.

So our march and movement is anti-corruption to eradicate corruption from our society and indeed the whole Muslim world, the whole third world and developing Muslim countries. We have to get rid of corruption and corrupt leaders. We have to get rid of tax evaders and law breakers. This is why we have started this struggle as a Tahrir Square of Pakistan.

Supporters of Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahir-ul Qadri flash the V-sign as they celebrate the victory of a demand for electoral reform at a protest rally in Islamabad on January 17, 2013. (AFP Photo/Asif Hassan)
Supporters of Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahir-ul Qadri flash the V-sign as they celebrate the victory of a demand for electoral reform at a protest rally in Islamabad on January 17, 2013. (AFP Photo/Asif Hassan)

RT:You mentioned Egypt and some other countries, it’s a very famous saying “ the revolution is its own children” and what happened in Egypt, Libya and other countries, those who cause the revolutions, they are not the rulers now. Do you feel that the fruits of your efforts could go to somebody else?

MQ: I do not think that somebody else will gain, because somebody else has no intention to take over power. They have lost a lot of their reputation because of past experiences and they, in fact, are not specialists at controlling civil society. They have not been trained for it.

When I say a revolution, you should keep in your mind in Egypt, in Tunis, in Libya and all these countries, there was a military dictatorship for years and years, for a really long time and the people stood up against that. In Iran, it was the monarchical rule of the Shah, people stood up against that. Pakistan’s case is a little bit different, there is neither monarchical rule or a military dictatorship.

Here it’s electoral authoritarianism. A dictatorship-democracy as far as the term exists. There’re political parties and they manipulate the elections to come back into parliament every five years. But true democracy does not exist in this society, neither in the political field, neither in social field, nor economic field. No democracy. The people are not in fact participating in the real process of democracy. They are not getting a job, they are not getting the rule of law. They are not getting protection of their life. There is no protection for their wealth and business. There are targeted killings. People are being kidnapped.

You know in the last four days, 125 dead bodies have been sitting there without a burial. No state minister was there, no provincial government was there, no members of the assembly was there. Even the Prime Minister arrived there, four days later. So there is lawlessness, total chaos and anarchy in this country. Government is totally dysfunctional.

So, this is the single nation, single country in the whole Muslim world having nuclear capability and if the same situation continues, that would be a very big disaster if we collapse. So we have to put democracy on the right track. We have to stabilize society on true basis of constitution and law. This is what this movement is for.

RT: Don’t you feel that if force is used, a lot of innocent lives could be sacrificed?

MQ: We have to stand up. The people have to stand up for their rights. People want a peaceful society.

RT: But what if they used the force?

MQ: I don’t think they are going to be able to. I know thousands of commandos have arrived from the government of Pundjab. Shabazz Sharif sent thousands of commandos this night. They have already made an attempt to drive us out – the first night that we had arrived here, and they were defeated. Our security guards and ladies moved in front of them and they ran away. They ran away. I know, and I tell you, thousands of commandoes have been sent from the government of Pundjab. And they’ve arranged more from the capital too. They are thinking of a joint venture but hundreds of thousands of people are sitting here, although, they are unarmed and peaceful. They do not have any weapons. But still, hundreds of thousands of people, despite of being peaceful, they are enough to stop these kind of terrorist attacks by the government.

RT: There are a lot of question marks on how you fund your campaign and this march in particular. Do you receive any foreign aid or funds?

MQ: A simple answer. Who funded revolution of Ahwan and people in Egypt? Who funded them? Who funded the people in Libya? Who funded the people in Tunis? These are the people. Who funded the people in Iran, in the very old days, when the people got up for revolution? They give their lives as sacrifice. But to talk about the money, every single poor person is selling his …we sold…we gave…I gave myself, my wife, my children, my daughters, my daughter in law, all of them, my whole family gave jewellery. The ladies give their jewellery, the girls give their jewellery. People are selling their house, their motorbikes , their cars, whatever savings they have, they are spending on publicity. They are spending everything for this purpose.

Supporters of Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahir-ul Qadri celebrate the victory of a demand for electoral reform at a protest rally in Islamabad on January 17, 2013. (AFP Photo/Asif Hassan)
Supporters of Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahir-ul Qadri celebrate the victory of a demand for electoral reform at a protest rally in Islamabad on January 17, 2013. (AFP Photo/Asif Hassan)

RT: It is an open secret that the Americans and some western powers, have a role in shaping the political events and scenarios in Pakistan. How do you see their role and what is your strategy towards these Americans and these Western powers?

MQ: This is because of this incompetent political leadership. If you have a competent leadership who fixes and prescribes and who knows that what are our supreme national interests and then it develops or formulates as foreign policy, exactly on the basis of our own national interest. Nobody in this world whether America or any other country is your permanent friend nor your permanent enemy. We don’t want to become the enemy of other countries and we don’t want other countries, including America to be our enemies. We want a fair, friendly relationship with them but at the same time, we want to safeguard our national interests. We want to become a peaceful country. We want to protect our neighbors and region and we want to participate in the development of peace for the whole world.

RT: Some accuse you of pursuing a foreign agenda that you’re trying to implement here in Pakistan. How do you respond to these accusations?

MQ: Can you tell me a single day when there is no crisis in Pakistan, when there is no targeted killing, where there is no bomb terrorist attack, when there is no kidnapping? Every single day is a day of crisis in the history of Pakistan because of the inability and incompetency of these rulers. My coming here, this is a farce accusation. I totally reject it. I totally rebut it, refute it. I do not come here with any agenda, my agenda is the nation of Pakistan.

Some critics can say anything to anybody. Hosni Mubarak would have said the same thing to the revolutionary people of Egypt. Colonel Gaddafi would have said the same thing. So whenever you get up for change, the people who want to maintain the status quo, they make these types of allegations and tell lies.

And this time, rising up and standing up for change and democratic revolution, it is the best time, because we do not want to disturb the political mandate of the current rulers. They got their five year term and we wanted them to complete their term. Now their term is up, almost complete. The elections are due in March, do you understand, their term is coming to an end. So without disturbing their term, we gave them time to deliver, if they could deliver anything, but they could not deliver to the people.

So this is the best time to bring in electoral reforms before we enter the process of elections. If the elections take place according to the same corrupt practices and the same corrupt traditions as has been taken place throughout the history, it means the same corrupt people, with fake degrees, the law breakers, corrupt people, tax evaders like the PM, who’s arrest has been ordered by the Supreme Court, these terrible people will once again be in parliament and they will ruin this country for the next five years. So I think this time, is the best time to bring electoral reforms and then elections should take place within the time given by the constitution without any delay. 

RT: Do you have any political ambitions?

MQ: I’m not here to empower myself, I’m here to empower the people of Pakistan. I’ve already declared that I’m not a candidate to become caretaker Prime Minister, absolutely not.

Patriot Dawn — The Resistance Rises: “The Government of the United States of America...

The following excerpt appears in the new book Patriot Dawn – The Resistance Rises, by Max Velocity. Max has served in both, the British and the U.S. armies, and also as a high threat security contractor. He has served on six military operational deployments, including to Afghanistan immediately post-9/11, and additionally he spent five years serving as a security contractor in both Iraq and Afghanistan. During his career in the British Army he served with British SOF (The Parachute Regiment), to include a role training and selecting recruits for the Regiment. More recently, he has served in a Combat Medic and Civil Affairs role in the US Army Reserves. He is the author of two previous books: Contact! A Tactical Manual for Post Collapse Survival  and Rapid Fire! Tactics for High Threat, Protection and Combat Operations.

His latest book, Patriot Dawn – The Resistance Rises, is a step away from the user friendly tactical manuals he is known for, and combines the excitement of an action-packed fictional novel with real-world battle hardened experience in offensive, defensive and counter-insurgency strategies and tactics.

The United States has descended into Civil War. The storm was rising for some time, a Resistance in the hearts of American Patriots to the strangulation of liberty by creeping authoritarianism. The scene was set. It just took a little push.

A terrorist attack on the United States leads to war with Iran, followed by collapse, as the economy goes over the cliff. The final blow is a widespread opportunistic Chinese cyber attack, taking down the North American Power Grid.

From the ashes, the Regime emerges. Liberty is dead. What remains of the United States of America is polarized.

The Resistance Rises.

Jack Berenger is a former Army Ranger Captain, living in northern Virginia with his family. Following the collapse, they fall foul of Regime violence and evacuate to the farm of an old Army friend. Jack is recruited into the resistance, to train the fledgling forces in the Shenandoah Valley. The fight begins. Resist.


The following excerpt appears in the prologue of Patriot Dawn – The Resistance Rises and takes place just after a large-scale terrorist attack on Washington D.C.

The terrorist attackers were reported to have been recruited, abetted, directed and sponsored by Iran, although the details were unclear and it appeared that an investigation was not the top priority of the Administration.

How had the terrorists managed to charter this plane, which had apparently originated in Dubai on a one stop flight to the US, loading it with two hundred heavily armed fighters, without alerting any suspicion?

However, the focus following the attack was not international but domestic, and the priority was the ‘safety and security’ of the public by the accelerated implementation of the massive domestic surveillance and policing drive.

Fear was paramount and the masses were even more convinced that giving up their freedom and rights was in their best interests for their ‘safety and security’. Many internet bloggers and alternative media sites were describing the attack as a ‘False Flag’, abetted by the ‘Powers That Be’, but those crackpots were soon shut down by the Department of Homeland Security, in order to prevent further ‘panic mongering’.

The attack also provided the justification for war against Iran. However, that war was prosecuted by the Administration in the form of a primarily naval and air campaign that limited the involvement of ground troops.

This limitation allowed for the deployment of troops as convenient to the agenda of the Administration and the military-industrial complex, but ensured that sufficient active duty units remained available for domestic operations.

The attack on Iran was however the final straw that preceded the total meltdown of the Middle East.

As part of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, measures were in place to allow Posse Comitatus laws to be ignored domestically. This was activated by executive order and active duty and reserve U.S. Army units were used to reinforce the National Guard in operations against domestic terrorists and sleeper cells.

The terrorist attack had precipitated the final mortal blow to liberty and the destruction of the United States of America as a Constitutional Republic. It was true that the erosion of liberty and the Bill of Rights had been going on for some time; the Constitution was viewed by many as a dead document, and the measures had already been put in place for the implementation of a state of emergency.

The attack had been a terrible thing, but at the same time it was so convenient to the agenda of the Administration. Everything since the attack had been the death rattle of liberty as the police surveillance state was fully imposed.

Due process and Habeus Corpus were suspended, and the NDAA allowed arrest and internment without probable cause or trial on the simple suspicion by the authorities that someone posed a terrorist threat; a system that was easily abused.

Everything in society was now centered on compliance and obedience to authority. Questioning of the orders of those in authority positions was not tolerated. America was no longer the land of the free, but anyone with a mind had seen that coming for a long time.

Anyone with ideas counter to the official line, or who argued or challenged authority, was labeled a ‘domestic terrorist’, arrested and interned in ‘corrective and reeducation facilities’.

Following the activation of the NDAA by Executive Order, a state of emergency was implemented. It was necessary, because another terrorist attack could happen at any time, and anyone could be a terrorist. There was a lot of talk about sleeper cells and many citizens were arrested and interned without trial. ‘Extremist terrorist’ organizations, including Patriot and conservative organizations such as the Tea Party, were outlawed.

It wasn’t really clear to the general public exactly what happened next, given that they only got their information from the Administration via the heavily state directed mainstream media, and the internet was now under heavy lockdown. However, the economic dangers that had been looming and fueled by the continuous policy of ‘Quantitive Easing’, or money printing by the Federal Reserve, finally came home to roost.

The economy went over the cliff. There was much discussion that the actual precipitator of the plunge was the cabal of bankers who were the real power behind the Regime; they had pulled the financial plug, causing a massive run on the banks and hyperinflation, just like they had done in 1929 to cause the Great Depression. But who really knew, given the lockdown?

The effect was ultimately to cripple the economy, destroying the middle classes. What better way to turn the screws of citizen compliance when so many were now reliant on entitlement handouts?

The ‘progressive’ agenda of collective socialism was nearing its ultimate fulfillment; coerced redistribution of wealth, except now no-one was generating any wealth to feed the monster of the dependent welfare classes.

Statist authoritarian big central government was the order of the day, even though those policies spelled the death of the country. Many ‘progressives’ yearned for that, so that the ‘United Socialist States of America’ could rise from the ashes.

The government of the United States of America was no longer an ‘Administration’; it was a totalitarian Regime.


You can continue reading the remainder of this prologue at Max Velocity Tactical

Order your copy of Patriot Dawn – The Resistance Rises at Amazon.com or Create Space

Also available for Kindle

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