Let's talk about "terrorism"

The United States Department of State defines "terrorism" as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant... targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience". What is it called when "premeditated, politically motivated violence" is perpetrated against noncombatant targets by national groups - like one of the world's most powerful armies?

AP photo

"Holding his daughter Allah, Palestinian resident Mohammed Abdullah weeps as he looks at the debris of the apartment building he lived in, after it was destroyed by the Israeli army in the West Bank city of Nablus".

Noticeably lacking in the State Department's definition of "terrorism" - besides the idea that it can be committed by states - is the concept that "terrorism" causes terror or fear among civilians. But how do ordinary people watching their lives' work being blown up feel, if not terrified and fearful? What other words describe the feelings of a child who has been thrown out of her house by soldiers and then made homeless? How else, other than "terrorist", does one describe a state that can casually commit such a crime against innocent people - collective punishment justified solely by the fact that they are members of one ethnic group and not another? Former Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu defines "terrorism" as "the deliberate and systematic assault on civilians to inspire fear for political ends." No one - certainly not Netanyahu - can deny that the Israeli army and its commanders are deliberate and systematic in their assault on the Palestinian population.

Reuters photo

"A Palestinian man weeps while entering a hospital with a wounded baby, after an Israeli missile hit a Palestinian house in a densely populated area of Gaza City".

The child above was wounded in an attack that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - one of the world's leading terrorist commanders - authorized in order to kill Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin - another terrorist commander. But Sharon could not be bothered to personally supervise this murder. Instead, he "kept in touch by phone... reportedly busy at the time with preparations for the birthday party of his grandson Rotem". Assassination has become so commonplace that it can be mixed with a celebration of life, with no need to reconcile any moral contradictions or conflicts. Indeed, there are none. It is sometimes "regrettable", but always necessary, that Palestinian children must pay the price with their lives, their minds, and their personalities so that Rotem and other Israeli children are able to have parties, celebrate and live normal lives. Whether or not the child pictured above lived or died was of no concern to the criminals who authorized this attack in Gaza City. The very fact that he exists is of no consequence to the Israeli government - that is, until the day he may take a gun in his hands or strap on a belt of explosives. But until that day - a day on which, according to the official American and Israeli explanations, all human reason takes leave and an inexplicable hatred fills this void - his experiences under military occupation and an incredibly brutal apartheid system aimed at dispossession, imprisonment and punishment mean nothing. Disregard for human life joins with the already despicable idea of the acceptability of collective punishment.

Six hours after a gunbattle between Israeli soldiers and one Palestinian militant at this apartment building, Israeli soldiers returned, forcibly removed its inhabitants, and then dynamited the structure. According to AP, the destruction of this building left over 100 people homeless. Clearly, a good deal of "premeditation" was involved in this act of psychological "violence", which was aimed at "influencing an audience" - the entire civilian Palestinian population of Nablus. But would the noble Secretary of State Colin Powell, a man who cannot shut up about Palestinian terrorism, ever scrape up the moral courage to say that this destruction fits his own department's definition of terrorism? As for the rest of us, perhaps lacking a definition of "terrorism" so clearly formulated that only Palestinians and other Arabs seem capable of committing it, is it permissible to think of the psychological damage a crime like this inflicts upon the people subject to it? To wonder about the mentality of the people - only following orders - who calmly trampled over the lives of innocent human beings? To ask whether they too are terrorists? Or is one allowed only to praise the morality of these soldiers and remark approvingly of the fact that they did not kill their victims?

AFP photo

It is clear that organizations like the State Department and people like Netanyahu will not or cannot face up to the hypocrisy they peddle with their one-sided definitions of terrorism. Under no circumstances will the people pictured above and those whose homes were demolished ever be considered victims of terrorism. But until ordinary people begin speaking up in defense of all victims of terrorism and against self-serving standards, people like Netanyahu and Powell will continue perpetuating the very thing they supposedly are seeking to end.



Ok... I am resurrecting this blog, one might say, although it never technically "died". A more stable living situation has enabled me to return to writing more. You will find lengthier, more "intellectual" analyses here, while shorter, less intellectual and more vitriolic commentary on news will be found at the "other blog".

The few people who have ever been here will notice that the name has changed. This is the blog formerly known as "A Castoff Cigarette Butt", a name borrowed from a chapter heading in Zamyatin's classic novel We. Why the name change? Let's just say that you might be shocked by what kinds of searches some people are performing on the internet. Most people entering the word "butt" into Google are not interested in far-left political analysis. This new arrangement is mutually beneficial both for me and my unwitting, pornography-seeking audience. And why "One-Finger Salute"? It reflects, among other things, my utopian vision of the United States in the future: millions of Americans, marching out of step and saluting the president, their local religious leaders, media experts and other such pricks in the fashion they most richly deserve.

So, to new readers, I say welcome. To the 1 or 2 readers who kept checking in while I was away, I say thank you. And to both, I salute you.


Bush, American Democracy, and the Class War

Recently Michael Kinsley wrote a column in Slate about Bush's newest offensive against everyone who is not in the upper classes in America. Kinsley's premise is that there are two distinct systems operating in parallel in American society - democracy in the political or civic "sphere" and capitalism in the economic "sphere". He reviews some recent Bush administration actions concerning taxes and benefits that work to the detriment of the unfortunate unwashed masses and concludes that the Bush administration is breaking down the "border" separating the two "spheres" to the detriment of democracy.

Kinsley says a few things that need to be said, frequently and loudly. Bush and his gang of merry men and women are out to screw over America's poor. They are doing this by means of tax cuts that hypocritically target low-earners in favor of high-earners (the word "earners" in the latter phrase being used in a very loose sense). Congress, supposedly there to represent and work for the interests of ordinary Americans, is happily assisting the Bush regime - which comprises people connected with the oil industry and other large corporations - in this project. The net result of the Bush administration's domestic policies will be an America where large corporations and the wealthiest individuals control an increasingly inordinate amount of political power.

However, Kinsley's underlying premise - that there is, or was, some kind of policed "border" between American capitalism and American democracy - is false. It's poppycock. There has never been any kind of "border" between the functioning of the economy and politics in the United States. The whole idea of separate "spheres" (which, incidentally, Kinsley borrows from Michael Walzer - so one might already suspect that it's probably a bad idea) can stand neither historical nor theoretical scrutiny. Yet this idea is particularly widespread in the contemporary US, as Kinsley points out. The fact that many people believe that a social system can enshrine inequality at the level of distribution of wealth and still yield overall democratic policies is a major problem, and one that stands in the way of genuinely democratic reforms. This matter should be tackled seriously and frequently. Below, I look at the historical side of the issue before moving on to some proposals, including a real "campaign finance reform" plan, that will clearly show why there is not a barrier between capitalism and democracy in the US, and why there won't be as long as capitalism (or at least the multi-national, corporate/industrial variety) is able to operate unchecked.

Historically, it is easy to demonstrate that economic interests (i.e., those of capitalists) have always driven American public policy. The US was founded by white landowning males, and these are the types who ran the place, largely for the benefit of themselves, for nearly 100 years before anyone not matching this description was voted into national office. Even then, Congress really only took the still-preliminary steps towards integration in the 1960s. The most "democratic" ideas, reforms, and changes to the political structure - the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, state-sponsored health care, the eight-hour workday, the 40-hour work week, consumer protections, civil rights - were all either made possible or almost entirely brought about by widespread, grassroots level agitation, and usually led, at least initially, by fringe "lunatics", not by "democratically" minded legislators. That is, the majority of the politically most progressive innovations in American society were made possible by people working long enough and hard enough outside of the system supposedly representing them until the people inside the system (i.e., the public's "representatives") were forced to legalize popular demands, to the detriment of their capitalist patrons. The "representatives" were reacting instead of working for the true interests of their constituents. On the other hand, "representatives" have never had to "react" when it comes to developing legislation which furthers commerce - at most, a few discussions and, in difficult cases, a few dollars smoothes things over.

Even the few "top-down" efforts at political and social liberalization (e.g., Johnson's Great Society and the New Deal) were necessitated by economic and social (and therefore political) crises in America. It is these protective laws - the results of previous popular agitation - that are now being rolled back and demolished. This is why it is not possible to say something like Bush is "bringing back the class war", for the simple fact that it never "went away". Winning certain, albeit important, reforms did not signal the end of the class war, because if it had, there would be no attempts at present to dismantle socially and politically progressive legislation. Therefore, it is only possible (but entirely correct) to say that his administration is working to intensify the class war, to strengthen and expand the grip of the wealthy on the American political machinery. It is a quantitative, not qualitative, difference.

Theoretically, the idea that there are distinct "capitalist" and "democratic" spheres is easy to dismiss as well. The few traditional Marxists still around, for example, are probably still having a good laugh (assuming they laugh, that is) at Kinsley's suggestion, since it almost completely severs the superstructure ("democracy") from the base ("capitalism"), leaving the two floating in a completely hazy manner [NOTE: small editing here]. However, as I am not a "traditional Marxist", I'll point out some other problems that people holding less marginal views can agree with. Wealth can be defined as control over goods and services. The more wealth, the more control over more goods and services. In a society based on the rule of the law, the flow and exchange of wealth will be regulated largely through legal channels. Since groups or individuals with more wealth control more goods and more services than those with lesser wealth, they can direct more resources towards influencing legal policies than their poorer competitors, leaving the latter (in every known human society so far, the decided majority) at a distinct disadvantage.

Many of the preferred policies of the wealthy will be concerned with creating favorable economic legislation that enables them to maintain and increase their wealth. Since it is more "economical" to exploit humans and in effect treat them as simply another good to employed in wealth generating schemes, rather than treat them as humans, it follows that most of these policies will not be in the interests of the majority of humans who do not control appreciable amounts of wealth - the same majority who, under every mainstream definition of "democracy", should be the ones devising legislation that furthers their interests. In other words, control over finite resources and services cannot fail to influence decisions on how those resources are distributed. When a minority of people and groups control those resources, decisions on how to distribute them will be inordinately influenced by that minority - a situation which is antithetical to "democracy".

If it is accepted that there is no real "border" between democracy and capitalism and that the latter will always influence the former to the detriment of the majority of people, where does that leave us in 21st century America? Even if Kinsley's underlying premise is false and should be exposed as such, his conclusion can be modified to describe accurately what is now going on in Bush's America: the administration is not "breaking down" barriers between the two "spheres", it is erecting barriers that will make democratic control over, or even modest checks on, the corporations controlling the economy impossible. It is an integrated attack designed to weaken "democracy" on all fronts. Benefits to the lower classes are being slashed. Under new legislation, poorer students will be less likely to go to college, leaving higher education - traditionally the best route for social mobility - for wealthier young adults who already have a stake in the system and therefore will be less likely to entertain radical or even reformist changes to it. Erosion of civil liberties is already well under way via the "PATRIOT" Act and its successor. The Bush administration is attempting to stack the federal courts with deeply anti-democratic judges, a situation which is already found in the Supreme Court.

Particularly important in this campaign is control over education/information/propaganda outlets. The increasing consolidation over the mass media is the most visible of the Bush administration's efforts on this front. Further corporate control over the mass media will lead to increasing conflicts of interest between profit and factual information and will further diminish what variety of opinion one currently finds there. To refer to Marxist terminology again, what the Bush administration is doing is taking control of the "commanding heights" of information production and distribution, or consolidating the grip of large corporations over the "means of production" of social consensus (and a quick note to Democrats: one could see a similar, albeit less in-your-face, process during the Clinton years, e.g., with the Time-Warner-AOL merger). While people like well-known liberal leader Atrios will be "free" to reach their 20,000 people per day on the internet (itself mainly accessible to wealthier individuals), the mass media will be able to spew their messages into up to 45% of American households (a potential audience of 100 million or more). Who will have a greater potential for persuasive arguments and propaganda? What we face, then, is the problem of a greatly intensified class war against the lower and lower-middle middle classes. If the Bush regime is able to carry out its aims, even to a modest extent, it will take decades of struggle to undo them that will essentially reenact earlier struggles but from a much more difficult position.

What can be done, besides bending over and acknowledging the rule of our wealthier, fresher-smelling, natural betters? First of all, there needs to be a frank admission that there is a class war. Democratic "liberals" and progressives, and especially leftists, need to stop turning tail and running when they hear Republicans utter the words "class war". They need to accept the challenge and demonstrate that the Republicans, representing the interests of multi-national corporate capitalists, are the ones pressing home the class war and not vice versa. The class war has been going on for at least the last 11,000 years, since the beginning of regular agriculture first necessitated decisions on the redistribution of durable goods. It hasn't stopped, it hasn't taken a break or gone on vacation, it's not over. Pretending like it has is being in denial of a problem, which will be insoluble unless it is admitted. I am reminded of Zizka's suggestion that what is needed is someone from "Middle America" who hates the Republicans to speak to Middle America and tell them that Bush, despite his charming goofiness, despite his "aww-shucks" manners, and despite his low intellect, is out to fuck them over good. He doesn't wear that omnipresent shit-eating grin for nothing.

Second, we need to take a good look at the current "representative democracy" that is in place here in the US. The last time I checked, 40% of Americans were not millionaires - but this is the percentage of Senators who are. In addition, the size of Congress seriously impairs its ability to represent all of America. Both houses of Congress have a total of 535 members. That means 1 representative for every 544,381 citizens (working from the population of 291,244,004 given at the US Census Popclock site). Looking just at the House of "Representatives", there are 435 members, which translates to 1 Representative for every 669,526 citizens. This is not "representational" politics - how could it possibly be? This is exceedingly clear when we compare the US's version of "representational democracy" to the versions found in the liberal democracies of Europe, where there is actual oppositional politics. In Germany (total population approximately 82,400,000), there are 603 members of the Bundestag, a ratio of 1 representative to every 136,650 German residents. In France (population 59,329,691), there are 577 members of the National Assembly, which means 1 representative for every 102,824 French citizens. In Britain (population 58,789,194), there are 659 members of the House of Commons of Parliament, translating to 1 MP for every 89,209 British citizens. And so forth. There needs to be a relatively large expansion of both houses of Congress to increase its "representativeness". This would be one early stage towards a more democratic America.

Third, there needs to be a serious campaign financing reform proposal. The operative word here is "serious". Specifically, we need to make Kinsley's "separate spheres" concept a reality. Although Kinsley notes correctly that campaign contributions are simply the crudest means by which corporations control politicians, it is the best and most logical place to start on the project to democratize America.

Under this plan, no contributions to finance politicians' campaigns would be allowed allowed. This includes personal wealth. People involved with the "capitalism" sphere can make all of the money they can, put as much in the bank or give as much to charity, buy as many widgets as they want - but they can't use a cent of it to fund political campaigns. Politicians' campaigns would be financed by a special "democracy fund" from the federal government, which would in turn subsidize state and local elections (it would cost something, but hey, no one, except the Angelic Upstarts, ever said liberty should be free). This fund would be split evenly among the candidates, who would be able to use their monies on their campaign as they see fit.

Some might say that such legislation was "undemocratic", because capitalists would be not be able to use their wealth in defense of their "free speech" or whatever. This is nonsense. Such legislation would not impact their political rights - the freedom they enjoy in the "democracy" sphere - one bit. They would still have the same exact political rights as, for example, a bicycle messenger or a burger flipper at a fast-food restaurant. For example, they would be able to vote, argue endlessly with relatives, friends, and neighbors about the relative merits of candidates, write letters to the editor, run a blog, and donate their own time and effort to campaigns - putting up posters and signs on suburban lawns, organizing political rallies, and stuffing and licking envelopes. They just wouldn't be able to spend their money licking the ass of the candidate of their choice.

More modest, "reasonable", campaign finance reform proposals are simply aimed at perpetuating a rotten situation. It takes only one person or a small group of people at a large commercial firm - a CEO or a board of directors - to make a decision to give a few thousand dollars to a candidate to get him or her to make decisions that negatively impact millions of people. That's just in the US. Usually, these little decisions affect the lives of billions of people globally (which is why people such as the Conservative-Female-Commentator-Who-Cannot-Be-Named so vehemently oppose extending the franchise any further). Meanwhile, people without access to loads of cash must spend thousands of hours of their time, use what little money they have (nearly always a much greater percentage of their disposable wealth than with the upper classes), and agitate long enough to bring millions of people on board at the grassroots level to enact the smallest change in public policy. When the policy issue at stake is enormous, often there are human lives added to these other costs. This might be considered "democratic", but only in the original, classical Athenian sense, in which 25% or less of the population enjoyed full civic and voting rights, while 75% were stuck with whatever was decided for them.

Think this proposal sounds "unreasonable" or "impossible"? Of course it is. It would greatly reduce the primary benefit of wealth, which is not widget- or trinket-purchasing power but rather the power to influence or force other people who lack wealth to behave in a desired manner. People acquire wealth not as an end unto itself, but rather to be able to influence the behavior of others, to be shielded from such influence, or both. Removing the ability to use wealth to influence others would remove much of the incentive of acquiring it in the first place. Wealth beyond what an individual judges to be necessary for his or her own comfort of living would increasingly provide less in return for the effort expended in acquiring it. Such an idea would spell the end of large scale corporate capitalism, which is predicated on continuous expansion of markets and increasing profitability.

In conclusion, the next time anyone tries to tell you that American democracy is shielded, even to a very modest degree, from the effects of capitalism, you can feel free to laugh in their face. What the Bush administration is trying to do in America is serious and needs to be fought against by everyone interested in democracy and/or having a say in how their life is run by whatever means are at their disposal. But it's nothing new. It's still the class war in action, and even if Bush's plans are turned back this time, there will still be similar people in the future ready to enact similar programs as long as wealth is permitted to provide a competitive advantage in setting public policy.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I will go and drink some inexpensive but nevertheless superior beer whose production was subsidized by the federal government of the state in which I am currently resident. It's one of the smaller benefits of living in a social democratic welfare state that hasn't been completely infected yet by American capitalism.


Now they're lying about lying

The Bush administration is getting in way over its head with the whole lying about Iraqi WMD bit. Now they've begun lying about their earlier lies.

Unidentified Bush regime officials recently made the preposterously ludicrous claim that the CIA never passed along doubts it had about the veracity of British "intelligence" that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium from Niger. The CIA not expressing concern over such an important matter to such a micro-managing, ball-busting administration as the Bush administration? Such an idea should strain the credulity of even the most sycophantic Bush supporter.

In fact, the CIA did pass along doubts regarding the purported Iraq-Niger transaction - in March 2002. There's more:
Senior intelligence officials said the CIA on several occasions after March 2002 told administration policymakers about its doubts about claims Iraq was seeking uranium. When the State Department on Dec. 19, 2002, posted a reference to Iraq not supplying details on its uranium purchases, the CIA raised an objection, "but it came too late" to prevent its publication, the senior intelligence official said.
But these warnings certainly would have come in time to prevent this garbage from being included in Bush's state of the union address. Except, now, there are apparently a multiplicity of Iraqi attempts to buy uranium all over Africa:
The official added that in his speech the president talked about purchases from Africa and did not specifically mention Niger, adding that Bush's comments were "based on a multiple of other sources."
Which are? What are the details on these? And whay have they been withheld until now?

Not only that: the Independent reports that the CIA warned the British government in early 2002 that the Iraq-Niger reports were not reliable:
The CIA warned Britain that claims Iraq had tried to get uranium from Niger were false, months before the Government published the allegation in an intelligence dossier justifying military action against on Iraq.
Should we believe that the CIA would warn the British government about this - but not the White House?

What the hell is going on here? Why do administration officials continue to construct one lie after another on the issue? What are they hiding? The fact that so much doubt about this claim - which certainly made its way to the White House - did not deter administration officials from presenting it as gospel fact is beyond troubling. It is outright deceit. Either they knew it was not true when they included it in all of their pronouncements, or they did not care whether it was true or not. Either way, it is increasingly clear that the Bush administration has nothing but contempt for the intellect of American citizens and their right to transparent and accountable government.


Museum looting: what actually happened?

David Aaronovitch on the Baghdad museum looting:
This indictment of world journalism has caused some surprise to those who listened to George and others speak at the British Museum meeting. One art historian, Dr Tom Flynn, now speaks of his "great bewilderment". "Donny George [head of the Iraqi antiquities department] himself had ample opportunity to clarify to the best of [his] knowledge the extent of the looting and the likely number of missing objects," says Flynn. "Is it not a little strange that quite so many journalists went away with the wrong impression, while Mr George made little or not attempt to clarify the context of the figure of 170,000 which he repeated with such regularity and gusto before, during, and after that meeting." To Flynn it is also odd that George didn't seem to know that pieces had been taken into hiding or evacuated. "There is a queasy subtext here if you bother to seek it out," he suggests.
As is becoming clearer as the situation develops, the looting of the Iraqi National Museum is not nearly as bad as originally reported. That is a very good thing, for Iraqis and everyone else. Commentators, including myself, who gave credence to the original reports were wrong. It should be admitted. This is one instance, though, where I am happy to say that I was wrong.

However, Aaronovitch's conclusions do not necessarily follow:
Furious, I conclude two things from all this. The first is the credulousness of many western academics and others who cannot conceive that a plausible and intelligent fellow-professional might have been an apparatchiks [sic] of a fascist regime and a propagandist for his own past. The second is that - these days - you cannot say anything too bad about the Yanks and not be believed.
As noted above, I admit that I was wrong on this account. I do not try to minimize or dismiss that. But it is preposterous to condemn Western academia on this one. They were simply working with the information that was provided to them by the media. At that point, there was no reason to doubt the reporting of numerous journalists working for various organizations with different publishing philosophies. It is entirely understandable that academics who work with materials from ancient Iraq would be angry over credible reports of widespread looting - "universally reported", to use Aaronovitch's words. Why should academics have had some special knowledge of the situation, the reporting on the situation or George's behavior (whatever it was - there are still unanswered questions on this account) in this instance?

But the media do not deserve excessively harsh treatment, either. Some people, such as InstaPuny, are treating this as some kind of media "hoax", whose sole purpose has been to make Bush and all of America look bad. Here's a note to the crusaders damning the media for erroneously reporting the looting: the media fuck up all the time. Journalists, editors, publishers, they all make mistakes. The fact that a media outlet publishes material that turns out to be false is regrettable, but it happens frequently enough. Demanding 100% accuracy all the time is ludicrous.

What matters, in terms of credibility, is whether or not a media outlet will a) note frankly that it made a mistake, and b) whether it will follow the story to its proper, truthful conclusion in a timely manner. In the case of the museum looting, the media are meeting both of these conditions. The more important media sources (e.g., the NY Times, Guardian, BBC, etc.) are covering the recovery of artifacts previously thought to have been stolen in a prominent manner. Clearly, they are staying with the story and investigating what actually went on.

The fact that the media are doing a reasonable journalistic job with the museum looting story is clear when we compare it to the way that they handled the Bush regime's claims on Iraqi WMD and the necessity of war prior to the conflict. In that instance, there was widespread failure across the mainstream American media to examine the issue critically, even though there were a number of claims that should have raised red flags and set off alarm bells in editorial offices from New York to the smallest backwater hick town in the US. Scott Ritter's statements, the plagiarized British dossier, the fradulent claim that Iraq had attempted to acquire uranium from Niger - all of these should have prompted immediate investigations by the big media in the US (as they did in Britain and the rest of Europe). Yet, in the US, only marginal far left publications (e.g., The Nation, Counterpunch) bothered to really do this. The mainstream media failed to take the issue seriously in a timely manner, preferring to be cheerleaders for the Bush administration. Real coverage in that case might have affected the course of events.

In other words, bad initial reporting on the looting was a mistake, but it is being corrected and, importantly, it did not contribute to "policy" decisions that are going to affect the entire Middle East, and the world, for the next half century. It didn't change anything. On the other hand, poor and inexcusable reporting on the US's claims regarding Iraqi WMD probably played a major role in making the war possible.

It should be added that there are still many unanswered questions about the whole museum looting episode. First, some important pieces do seem to still be missing. Second, there needs to be a more in-depth look at exactly why US forces did not secure the museum sooner and instead were ordered to do things like staging fake rallies and guarding the oil ministry. This needs to be sorted out. Did US field commanders know ahead of time the artifacts would be hidden? If so, how? If this is not the case, then this negligence should not be simply dismissed. Finally, the responsibility for this matter needs to be assigned properly - not in a knee-jerk manner that absurdly implicates people who had nothing to do with it. Continued media attention wil help ensure that this happens.

Furious, I conclude two things from all of this. One is that some commentators will always seek to shift the blame away from people to whom it should be assigned. A target sitting unawares is always easier to hit than one that is moving (usually away from the scene of the crime). The second is that the media will always be condemned for screwing up on matters which, while certainly important, do not change the course of events or seriously impact public opinion, while real failures are either ignored or applauded.

NOTE: Originally published on 11 June 2003; new date the result of a technical screw-up.


The Middle East "Road Map" and Palestinian Refugees

Following the mutual back-slapping at the recent Israeli-Palestinian-US summit at Aqaba, many observers are cautiously optimistic about a renewal of the "peace process". Despite the numerous difficult problems that must be solved (including water rights, the status of Jerusalem, and borders), and despite the failure of previous similar efforts (the Wye River Memorandum, the Tenet agreement), the general feeling and hope is that the "road map" will lead to a permanent peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The one issue that will make or break the "road map" - and any plan that envisages a "two-state solution" - is that of the Palestinian refugees. Israelis and Palestinians, and observers who are familiar with the contemporary history in the Middle East, know this. Ariel Sharon certainly knows this - which is why he demanded several times before the summit that the Palestinians throw away their right of return as a precondition for any talks. The Palestinians also know this, which is probably why they've never pressed to have the issue addressed at the outset of any negotiations they've undertaken with Israel. But if we assume that two states will be set up side by side in Mandate Palestine, what will happen to the 3-4 million stateless Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt?

This is by far the most important and difficult issue between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But the US's "road map", like the previous plans, places it as the last of all the outstanding problems to be resolved. This is ass-backwards logic - leaving the central matter, the actual root of the entire problem - to be settled last. The refugees are not peripheral; their fate (and since they have very little control over what happens to them, it is an appropriate choice of words) will to a large extent determine what happens in the Middle East for the forseeable future. Treating the refugees as if they are simply a small detail to be rectified has been one major reasons why all the previous peace efforts failed. The "road map", by not addressing the situation of the refugees, is itself on a course to reach the same dead end that its predecessors did.

For there to be real peace in the Middle East, the refugees must be given a real say in their future when it comes time for any "final settlement". This entails that they be given a real choice, not one offered over the barrel of a gun. Despite decades of the most racist propaganda, it is clear that they are legitimate refugees - even the Israeli government itself has no problem using the term. They should not have their future determined by Israeli government fiat. In my opinion, they have the right to choose whether to return to their lands and/or properties inside the state of Israel or accept compensation and resettlement in a third country. I do not think that this is likely to happen. But officials, commentators, "experts", and others who are not prepared to offer them this basic choice should be honest with themselves and admit two things (assuming that they identify with these principles in the first place): they do not believe in democratic principles and they reject the idea of human rights.

  • The question of democracy: It is often said that Arafat and his regime are "corrupt" and "undemocratic". The question then is why should the "undemocratic" Arafat (or his hand-picked and unelected successor Abu Mazen) be allowed to sign away the rights of 3-4 million people? The idea that the US, which is now trumpeting "democracy" in the Middle East, or Israel, which claims to be the "only democracy" in the Middle East, could insist that an unelected leader make such a crucial decision for people he does not represent is preposterous. If the US actually wants to be bring democracy to the region, it should begin by bringing the refugees, who have no political voice at all for the last 55 years, into the picture. It is difficult to imagine something more undemocratic than insisting that so many people cannot participate at all in determining their own future or that millions of people should be shoved off into a country they did not choose.

    Those supporters of Israel who claim that the state will somehow become "less democratic" if the refugees go back home should explain why this oasis of democracy did everything it could to get so many Palestinians to leave in the first place. It does not befit a "democracy" to expel large numbers of people en masse based solely on ethnicity - but that is what happened in 1947-1948:
    In "1948 and After" Benny Morris examines the first phase of the exodus and produces a detailed analysis of a source that he considers basically reliable: a report prepared by the intelligence services of the Israeli army, dated 30 June 1948 and entitled "The emigration of Palestinian Arabs in the period 1/12/1947-1/6/1948". This document sets at 391,000 the number of Palestinians who had already left the territory that was by then in the hands of Israel, and evaluates the various factors that had prompted their decisions to leave. "At least 55% of the total of the exodus was caused by our (Haganah/IDF) operations." To this figure, the report's compilers add the operations of the Irgun and Lehi, which "directly (caused) some 15%... of the emigration". A further 2% was attributed to explicit expulsion orders issued by Israeli troops, and 1% to their psychological warfare. This leads to a figure of 73% for departures caused directly by the Israelis. In addition, the report attributes 22% of the departures to "fears" and "a crisis of confidence" affecting the Palestinian population. As for Arab calls for flight, these were reckoned to be significant in only 5% of cases... [ellipsis in original].
  • The issue of human rights: The idea that only certain people or groups of people should not be subject to acts such as murder, arbitrary dispossession, and ethnic cleansing is not new. This is an idea that was already known by the beginning of history and almost certainly goes back into the Neolithic (in the Near East, approximately 9000-4000 BCE), if not further. But this is not what human rights, in the commonly understood modern sense of the term, entails. The modern concept of human rights is universal. That is, they apply to all human beings, regardless of ethnicity, religion, etc. This includes the Palestinians. Ignoring or overlooking egregious human rights violations such as ethnic cleansing and massive arbitrary property confiscation renders the idea of a code of universal human rights worthless.

    Some "doves" claim that Arabs and Jews cannot "share the land". Both Amos Oz and Avi Shlaim have made almost identical statements to this effect recently. Since these two writers both advocate a "two-state solution", it is clear that what they are referring to is the old "single, secular, democratic state" idea. Yet that has never been really tried. However, in the long run, it may be the only hope for real, lasting peace in the Middle East.

  • 6.6.03

    Instapundit-bashing time: When is Iraq not Iraq? and other tales

    Ever had to resort to picking up pennies from the sidewalk or under the couch to buy your next beer? Ever get distracted by all those shiny objects and kind of forget the point of what you were doing?

    Instapundit gets stuck on a few shiny objects in the form of analyses and facts that have no bearing on his arguments - that is, when one can even be extracted from his smarmy, self-congratulatory posts:

    IP approvingly posts parts of an "analysis" on why Iraqis shouldn't have a national democracy immediately:

    It's right that Iraq should be run by its own people, but national politics is no place to start. It's easy to imagine an Iraq with three regional parliaments in Mosul, Baghdad and Basra, harder to foresee a single legislature filled by members of nationwide parties.

    Yes...and what incentive would these "three regional parliaments" have to work with each other? If they each go their own way, why should they ever come back together to form a national "Iraqi" parliament? Isn't this another way of saying that Iraq should be broken up into three different states, based on ethnic and religious lines - an experiment that has worked wonders over in Palestine and the Indian subcontinent for the last 55 years? This scenario - which was explicitly rejected by both the US and the UK before the war - is a sure-fire recipe for instability and further conflict.

    Next, InstaHistory cites this curious "historical" analogy:

    Americans understand this: the original colonists learned self-government in their towns and their states and eventually applied it to an entire continent.

    What the hell is he talking about? Surely Mark Steyn, the author of this piece, was referring to that blissful time when the American colonists were "learning" about democracy and "self-government" from their benevolent British imperial overlords - the same ones they fought a war against when they decided they had enough of such lessons. And perhaps my history teachers misled me, but as I recall, "colonists" lived in "colonies", not in "states". The "colonists" were no longer "colonists" by the time there were "states".

    Finally, IP (if I may call him that) looks on as Steyn takes the obligatory swipe at the French:

    By contrast, those European sophisticates [the French] sneering that Washington won't stay the course are often the same crowd who've found it easier to elevate the friendliest local strongman than create a durable constitutional culture.

    Something that Washington has never done - certainly not in Chile, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, the Philippines, Pakistan, Iran, or anywhere else - like Iraq itself - for that matter.

    But there's much more ahistorical and anti-historical material along these lines in this article - which apparently InstaPundit thinks is "real journalism", unlike the stuff put out by his favorite whipping boys, The Guardian or the NY Times:

  • Steyn ponders why Jordan's "electoral politics" is "stunted and deformed". He never gets to a real answer, besides stumbling around the issue of tribalism (which certainly has been a contributing factor). Here's a clue: it is a MONARCHY. Not one of these cute, "oh-look-the-queen-is-opening-parliament" types of monarchies you find in England or The Netherlands, but a real "what-the-king-says-goes" monarchy. The "more or less benign family" that rules Jordan banned all political parties from 1957 to 1989, while the last parliamentary elections prior to those in 1989 were held in 1967. Most of the instability surrounding these moves was directly related to the founding of Israel and the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their land and the 1967 war, which Israel started. In any event, the Hashemites have always been concerned solely with staying in power (with US and often Israeli help), and certainly not with political liberalization. Perhaps Steyn, as he continues thinking about Jordan and its political trajectory, will eventually turn what is clearly a formidable intellect to these factors.

  • The British know more than most about nation-building, both good and bad. In the Caribbean, they created functioning states. In Africa, they failed.

    As mentioned above, Steyn makes no mention of the British "nation-building" experiments in the Indian subcontinent and Palestine. How many wars resulted from those projects? How many people are still refugees because of them? And exactly what mighty, successful Caribbean states are we talking about here? Barbados and St Lucia. Hahahahahahaha. Sheer absurdity. The British don't exactly stand head-and-shoulders above the French on this score, despite Steyn's scientific analysis to the contrary.

  • If Saddam's prison state were to wind up like its Hashemite neighbour, we'd all be very happy.

    There are certainly many Jordanians who aren't very "happy" with the Hashemite family's rule. But the benevolent imperialist, on a delightful foray into the native wilderness, rarely takes the views of the locals into consideration when making statements like "we'd all be very happy if...". Such a call - for Iraq to become the next Jordan - was something that was easy to predict.

  • It has to build from scratch a legal system in a part of the world that doesn't really understand the concept of the impartial judge. (President Bush has announced that Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will be heading a forum on judicial reform in the Middle East.)

    The very fact that Steyn can talk about "the concept of the impartial judge" in one sentence, and then bring up Sandra Day O'Connor - one of the Republican-appointed justices who voted along party lines to cut short the Florida recount in 2000 and thus put a Republican in the White House - in the next sentence should be enough to cause mass projectile puking across the internet. Surely, a law professor like InstaTwoFace should have found this statement amusing. Bog help the Iraqis if this is the kind of "impartial" justice they're going to get from the US. I can see the headline now: O'Connor-appointed Iraqi judge gives election to Chalabi.

    The fact that InstaPundit can cite this garbage with a straight face shows clearly that "journalistic ethics" has not been a real motivating factor in his recent crusades against The Guardian and the NY Times. And, I would add, the fact that intellectuals and people in power have been taking this kind of opinion and analysis seriously is one reason why the world is fucked-up today.
  • Another "shiny object" post: The fact that an Iraqi national sent letters laced with toxic powders to various targets implicates the state of Iraq in "terrorist" activities...how? Christ. I hope IP's clients get better argumentation than this.


    California "anti-terrorist" center monitored anti-war activists

    More on the equation of dissent with "terrorism" that I wrote about earlier this year. (The item below is a few days old, but I'm putting it up because it appeared in the local daily rag, the Oakland Tribune, so the chances that very many people saw it are miniscule.)

    Information gathered in the wake of the brutal police suppression (scroll down a bit) of a peaceful protest in Oakland on 7 April 2003 has revealed that the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center (CATIC) has been collecting information on activists in the Bay Area. CATIC makes very little distinction between "criminal" activity and "terrorism". The targets of CATIC bulletins have included Critical Mass bicycle riders, protestors employing nonviolent direct action, and even longshoremen discussing labor issues.

    ...causing a traffic jam can be enough to trigger a CATIC analysis and bulletin. At the Port of Oakland, where trucks would be blocked from reaching shippers such as APL, a protest target, that logic might have been more compelling, [CATIC officials] Manavian and Van Winkle suggested.

    "If we receive information that 10,000 folks are going to a street corner and going to block it, that's breaking a law," Manavian said. "That's the kind of information that we're going to relay."

    Said Van Winkle: "I've heard terrorism described as anything that is violent or has an economic impact, and shutting down a port certainly would have some economic impact. Terrorism isn't just bombs going off and killing people."
    [emphases added]
    Certainly not - why not just dispense altogether with the notion of "terrorism" causing terror, like the US State Department has done? Hell, why don't we just say that "terrorism" is the same as "vandalism" or "jaywalking" or preventing capitalists from "maximizing" their profits?

    Speaking of definitions of "terrorism", how does CATIC determine what is "terrorist" and what isn't, leaving aside the "hurting-profits-is-terrorism" rule of thumb?

    The center draws $6.7 million a year in state funds to prevent terrorism. Analysts must obey one federal rule to limit the intelligence they gather, analyze and disseminate: It must have a criminal predicate, a "reasonable suspicion" that criminal acts will be committed.

    The state's anti-terror center also operates without a clear definition of terrorism. Asked for one, Van Winkle replied: "I'm not sure where to go with that. But as a state organization, we have this information and we're going to share it."

    "You can make an easy kind of a link that, if you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that's being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that (protest)," said Van Winkle, of the state Justice Department."You can almost argue that a protest against that is a terrorist act"
    [emphases added].
    Inescapable logic - and from a state Justice Department official who doesn't even know what "terrorism" is. Guess he'll have to get his marching orders on who's a terrorist from Bush, Rumsfeld and the gang - people who, thanks to their happy and beneficial dealings with tyrants like Saddam Hussein, Islam Karimov and others, really know what terrorism is all about.


    Temporary Posting Break

    As I am a graduate student and need to do some real work before the end of the semester, I will be taking a short break from posting on this site. As the rest of my teammates on this blog are absolute deadbeats, I would not expect, if I were you, to see any posts on this site for at least 2 weeks.

    But for those readers who just can't get enough punishment, I will be posting short items on the "other blog", which I encourage you to visit:

    Black Box Recorder
    BOOKMARK IT! VISIT IT! LOVE IT! (Note: no affiliation with the band of the same name. I listen to real music - punk rock and roll and jazz.)

    Now, I will go and begin my chores with a trip to the laundromat. But before I leave, let me get in one final parting shot at a group of people who really need to get their heads out of their asses:For those wanna-be journalists out there, especially those posing as libertarians and leftists, and who are running these little "bias"- and "media"-watch websites and organizations, here's one piece of advice: ADMIT IT WHEN YOU FUCK UP AND WHEN YOU ARE WRONG.

    It is absolutely preposterous to see websites and blogs devoted wholely to detecting "media bias", sometimes focusing on one single media outlet, and then not taking a good look at themselves, not exercising self-criticism, and not correcting their own bias and mistakes. This is what is known as hypocrisy.

    Comrade hypocrites! You are not standing up for any principles, you are not upholding any higher ideals like truth, you are not contributing to an honest debate. Instead, you are adding to the intellectual and moral disaster that constitutes the contemporary American social landscape, you are lying, you are being self-serving pricks. At the very least, admit you that you are partisan and that you have an agenda - do not hide behind such ideals as "journalistic integrity", "truth", and "human rights" when peddling your point of view.

    Confused? Not sure as to what I am talking about? Let me give you two examples:

  • CAMERA calls Shahak "one of the world's leading anti-Semites": CAMERA, the "Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America", surely must have one of the most ironic names ever concocted, ranking right up there with the Israel "Defence" Force. CAMERA presents itself as an organization dedicated to monitoring the media to detect "bias" and ensure "balanced" coverage of Israel and the rest of the Middle East. In reality, though, they are fanatical partisans who trample upon the concept of "accuracy" on a regular basis.

    Their modus operandi is clear from their treatment of Israel Shahak, a noted Israeli scholar and human rights activist who died in 2001. According to CAMERA, Shahak - an Israeli citizen, a veteran of Israel's war for independence, and a Holocaust survivor - was "one of the world's leading anti-Semites". It is incredible that any American group could describe someone with a history such as Shahak's as an "anti-Semite" - but the charge flows freely from these self-appointed guardians of "accuracy". Christ, they even cast doubt on the fact that he was a Holocaust survivor. In the middle of an article designed to highlight Edward Said's "deceptions", they have this to say:

    Israel Shahak, introduced by Said as a veteran Israeli human rights campaigner and Holocaust survivor...
    As far as I know, they've never even retracted their bullshit campaign in the late 1980s which alleged that the Palestinian refugees fled their homes due to the infamous "Arab broadcasts". This fairy-tale had been demolished as early as the 1960s - but they went ahead and built an entire advertising campaign around the "broadcasts" in arguing why innocent refugees should not be allowed to return home. They didn't even respond to Christopher Hitchens - Christopher Hitchens - when he wrote asking for even a single documented instance of an "Arab broadcast" (detailed in his article "Broadcasts", originally published in 1988). But hey, if someone can send me proof that CAMERA ever did retract this blatant lie, I'll admit I was wrong.

  • BBC "monitor" fails to correct baseless charge and demonstrates an inability to comprehend written English: Accusing the BBC of a deep "bias" against all things good in the world - i.e., the US, Israel, and the Tories - seems to be the trend these days. I would be the last to deny that the BBC does have its share of bias. For example, not allowing competent dissident voices to speak on important national matters is clearly bias.

    But pretending like the BBC is some kind of "enemy number one" in this respect is ludicrous. How often do Chomsky or Said turn up on mainstream American television? And where was all the media attention when Scott Ritter was traveling around the world, declaring that Iraq had no appreciable stocks of WMDs or even WMD materials anymore? More importantly, and more to the point, if you are going to accuse an organization, including the BBC, of "bias" in a particular article - and especially if you have way too much time on your hands and you run a blog devoted entirely to accusing and condemning the fucking BBC - and then it turns out you are wrong, ADMIT IT AND PUBLISH A RETRACTION. This is especially important if you are also accusing them of having an irrational, anti-Semitic hatred of Israel.

    So, Comrade Blyth of Biased BBC, the next time you publish crap like this, accusing the Palestinians of shooting a reporter (they didn't - it was the Israelis) and stating that the BBC called Miller's killing a war crime (they didn't - they were reporting on the International Federation of Journalists' call for deaths like Miller's to be treated as war crimes) and claiming that they were "bashing" Israel (for christ's sake, come up with another term!), consider whether a) you are actually comprehending what you read, b) whether there is any real proof for your allegations, or simply a statement from the Israeli army or the Conservative party, and c) whether you will make the effort to exercise a little intellectual and moral honesty if your "bias"-detection apparatus breaks down and you are wrong.

    Have a nice day and see you in two weeks.

  • 7.5.03

    Chalabi threatens to blackmail enemies

    Perhaps there was a method to the madness of allowing reporters and others to wander around freely in Iraqi government buildings: Ahmad Chalabi claims to have tons of documents that contain information which could be damaging to certain parties.

    Which parties?

    In interviews with Abu Dhabi television and Newsweek magazine, Mr Chalabi has already threatened to use the papers to damage the Jordanian royal family... Mr Chalabi has repeatedly been accused of being a creature of the US government and was blamed for the collapse of the Petra bank, which he headed in Jordan in the 1980s. The Amman authorities convicted him of fraud and theft.
    Well, there's certainly motivation there. I suppose it will make it easier for the Jordanian royal family and government to forget that unfortunate bank embezzlement episode and focus on the future.

    Who else is implicated? Our old friend, Al Jazeera - an enemy that Chalabi and his American masters have in common. According to an INC spokesperson,

    In the case of al-Jazeera, for example, it has been bombarding Arabs and Iraqis with false news for so long. Now we can put things right.
    Chalabi himself had something to say:
    Speaking on Abu Dhabi television, Mr Chalabi read from documents which he claimed showed a number of reporters for the Qatar-based al-Jazeera were working for Iraqi intelligence. "We will not allow this channel to continue its destructive work, which might lead to civil war in Iraq, through their lies and the spreading of rumours," Mr Chalabi said.
    Sounds curiously similar to the Bush administration's line. Any guesses as to who this fountain of Iraqi intelligence documents will implicate next?

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