Sunday, April 30, 2006

"Save Darfur," Don't Give Peace a Chance!

Saw a good bit of the "Save Darfur" rally on C-Span. The rally was small -- only several thousands according to Reuters ("Thousands March to Stop Darfur Killing," 30 April 2006). And it was overwhelmingly white. But, boy, it was a professionally-staged photo op, with celebs, politicos, and exiles at the podium expertly framed by the U.S. Capitol in the background.

The timing of the rally was perfect, designed to coincide with -- and scuttle -- the Abuja peace negotiations between the rebels and Khartoum brokered by the African Union, whose deadline is midnight today. And sure enough, the rebels rejected the AU peace deal:
The rebels called for changes to the deal hours before an African Union deadline -- and after the Sudanese government indicated it would accept the proposal. . . . The Sudanese government had said it was ready to sign the agreement. But a spokesman for one of Sudan's rebel factions said the proposal does not adequately address implementation nor their key demands for a vice president from Darfur and more autonomy. Hahmed Hussein, a spokesman for the Justice and Equality Movement, said he was speaking for both rebel factions. (Associated Press, "Rebels Reject Draft Darfur Peace Deal," New York Times 30 April 2006)
Really, why should the rebels accept it, when Washington, given an excuse by the pro-war rally organized by an alliance of evangelicals and establishment Jews, is pushing for NATO interventions just at this moment? "U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday that the African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission in Sudan's Darfur region was not strong enough and that NATO should take on a larger role there" (Reuters, "Rice urges Expanded NATO Role in Darfur," 30 April 2006). The rebels would naturally think: "Why don't we wait till Washington sends us NATO or UN or US troops to weaken the government's hands, so we can get a better deal?"

Remember how the specter of an international military intervention prolonged the civil war in Yugoslavia: "It also appears to be true the United States encouraged Izetbegovic to reject the EC-sponsored cantonization plan agreed upon in two separate meetings in late winter 1992," as General Charles G. Boyd puts it cautiously, "Making Peace with the Guilty: The Truth about Bosnia," Foreign Affiars September/October 1995)? It's the same dynamics . . . except the prize is more valuable than territories: "Sudan has proven reserves of some 563 million barrels of oil, with the potential for far more in regions of the country made inaccessible by conflict" (Esther Pan, "China, Africa, and Oil," Council on Foreign Relations, 12 January 2006).

Putting an end to the Darfur conflict now would consolidate Beijing's dominant position in Sudan's oil industry:
China has a $4 billion investment in the country widely believed to have the largest untapped oil reserves in Africa. The China National Petroleum Corp. has a 40% stake in Greater Nile Petroleum, which owns oil fields, a pipeline, a large refinery and a port. Last year, China purchased more than half of Sudan's oil exports. Conversely, Sudan accounted for 6% of China's oil imports, about 200,000-plus barrels a day. (Jon D. Markman, "How China Is Winning the Oil Race," MSN Money, 25 April 2006)
Who wants peace in Darfur? Certainly not Washington.

I revised this entry, retitled it "Who Wants Peace in Darfur?" and published it in MRZine.

David Kelsey Questions the Jewish Leadership of the "Save Darfur" Coalition

David Kelsey, a Jewschool blogger, courageously asks tough questions about the "Save Darfur" coalition:
Is the Jewish community helping the situation in Darfur by championing the Dafurians’ cause, or are we poisoning the well of potential solidarity through our leadership?

Obviously Jewish activism on Darfur is ecumenical. And it is certainly promoted as such.

“The Save Darfur Coalition is an alliance of over 100 faith-based, humanitarian and human rights organizations. Our mission is to raise public awareness and to mobilize an effective unified response to the atrocities that threaten the lives of two million people in the Darfur region.”

But the ecumenical language of the Coalition it is somewhat of a facade. The Save Darfur Coalition is heavily (overly?) Jewish, and was created by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American Jewish World Service.

It appears that intensive Jewish leadership and organizational support is viewed with cynicism from other possible allies for the Darfurians, including crucial African-American organizations. Like say, the NAACP, whose signature is notably absent on the Unity Statement.

Could it be that our commitment to Darfur is somehow viewed with suspicion when The Jews are calling for yet another intervention against Islamic aggression? Is it unfair to suspect that the OU might need an ulterior political motive to stand alongside the Reform Movement other than a purely moral objection to the plight of the Darfurians?

Can we at least try to understand why some might be unwilling to give us the benefit of the doubt?

In the U.S., the Holocaust is the primary lens in which to view all genocides in the past and present. In order to maintain credibility (which translates into continued and expanded Holocaust education, the major justification usually offered for Israel’s creation) don’t we have to react with alarm this way, or risk our mandate which allows us to promote our particular Jewish concerns provided we include universal ones?

If there is concern about our true intentions, and discomfort about what the Jews really want in the wake of Neocon support for the Iraq War and the broader Israeli push for U.S. pressure on Iran, including the possibility of a preemptive strike, does our heading the Save Darfur Coalition hinder, not help, its chance of receptivity?

Judging by the heavily Jewish signatures of the mission, it seems it may indeed be a hard sell, at least if The Jews are the ones selling it.

We may indeed only mean well. But we are not the best strategists. This effort needs the prominent leadership of African-American groups to succeed.

Or perhaps, just not a prominent Jewish leadership. Perhaps the moral compass of the Jewish community no longer carries a lot of weight nor enjoys widespread trust -- either internationally or domestically -– when it comes to our calls for intervention, particularly one that may require military action.

Things are different now. ("Jewish Leadership on Darfur," 17 April 2006)
I object to those who conflate neo-cons with Jewish communities. Far from being neo-cons, ordinary Jews stand to the left of almost all racial/ethnic groups in the United States except Blacks on the Iraq War or any other issue (and perhaps even to the left of Blacks when polling results are adjusted by income, given that income positively correlates with support for wars, tax cuts for the rich, social program cuts for the poor, and so on). The same cannot be said for prominent establishment Jews (i.e., those who hold leadership positions in Jewish community), however, too many of whom tend to uncritically support Tel Aviv's views on many foreign policy questions. The Sudan question is probably no exception. Can Kelsey's caution reach Jewish leaders without discouraging ordinary Jewish activists from getting involved in whatever issues they want to get involved in? I hope it will.

CAIR Asks Why No Muslim Groups to Speak at Darfur Rally

Here's a significant new development on the pro-war rally today. The Council on American-Islamic Relations belatedly realizes that it's been had:
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today questioned why no representatives of major American Muslim groups are listed as speakers at the Save Darfur Coalition "Rally to Stop Genocide" this afternoon in Washington, D.C.

To view the list of speakers, go to:

CAIR and other American Muslim groups, including the Islamic Society of North America, the Islamic Circle of North America, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, are members of the coalition. But no representative from these, or any Muslim coalition member, is listed on the latest rally program. (Several Muslims will speak, but they do not represent Islamic groups that are coalition members.)

The Washington Post reported that rally organizers "rushed this week to invite two Darfurians to address the rally after Sudanese immigrants objected that the original list of speakers included eight Western Christians, seven Jews, four politicians and assorted celebrities -- but no Muslims and no one from Darfur."

Earlier this month, after noticing the lack of Muslim speakers on the program, CAIR wrote to rally organizers asking to have a representative speak at the rally. The Save Darfur Coalition never replied to CAIR's letter, despite the fact that the Washington-based Islamic civil liberties group is an original signatory of the coalition's founding "Unity Statement."

"It is unfortunate that the Save Darfur Coalition chose not to list any mainstream American Muslim groups in the rally program," said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad. "This disturbing omission calls into question the coalition's true agenda at the rally." Awad said rally participants would have benefited from hearing American Muslim leaders offer support for those suffering in Darfur and in neighboring areas. (Council on American-Islamic Relations, "CAIR Asks Why No Muslim Groups to Speak at Darfur Rally: Lack of Muslim Speakers Calls Into Question Rally's 'True Agenda'," Press Release, 30 April 2006)

A Twelve-Step Program for America

1. We admitted we were powerless over our addiction to wars and sanctions and interventions, real or imagined, US or multinational, with or without US troops, with our money or other people's money -- that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the rest of the World.
4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. We admitted to the rest of the World and to ourselves the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. We are entirely ready to have the rest of the World remove all these defects of character.
7. We humbly asked the rest of the World to remove our shortcomings.
8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. We continued to take personal inventory and, when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with the rest of the World, praying only for knowledge of the rest of the World's will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

30 April 1975

On 30 April 1975, the Vietnamese Communists finally triumphed. Whatever the rest of the world think of the subsequent history of Viet Nam (or whether they think about it at all), all of us should thank the Vietnamese for abolishing conscription in the United States and thus rendering it incapable of fighting a big war that causes millions of casualties. (Alas, Americans still have appetite for smallish wars like the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, missile strikes on Iran, "peace-keeping" in Sudan, and so on and so forth.)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

300,000 Demonstrate against the War in NYC

"The demonstrators stretched for about 10 city blocks as they headed down Broadway. A police spokesman declined to give an estimate of the size of the crowd, although organizers claimed there were 300,000 people. There were no arrests," says Associated Press. Phew, it wasn't as small as I feared it might be! But I bet the media will give bigger space to the infernal pro-war rally in DC on the 30th.

Friday, April 28, 2006

"Save Darfur": Evangelicals and Establishment Jews

It's embarrassing that America -- and the world -- will be witnessing a PRO-WAR rally for a third oil war in Washington, D.C. on April 30 (see that is far more highly publicized than an anti-war one (that appears to be poorly organized) in New York City on April 29, even while Washington is still soldiering on in Afghanistan and Iraq and gunning for sanctions or war on Iran.

Who is behind this astonishing pro-war rally in war-weary America (as far as the Iraq War is concerned, that is)? A rag-tag coalition of evangelicals and establishment Jews (those whom the corporate media designate as official leaders of Jewish communities):
Keeping the peace within the diverse Save Darfur Coalition has not been easy. Tensions have arisen, in particular, between evangelical Christians and immigrants from Darfur, whose population is almost entirely Muslim and deeply suspicious of missionary activity.

Organizers rushed this week to invite two Darfurians to address the rally after Sudanese immigrants objected that the original list of speakers included eight Western Christians, seven Jews, four politicians and assorted celebrities -- but no Muslims and no one from Darfur.

Some Darfur activists also have complained about the involvement in the rally of a Kansas-based evangelical group, Sudan Sunrise.

Last week, after an inquiry from The Washington Post, Sudan Sunrise changed its Web site to eliminate references to efforts to convert the people of Darfur. Previously, it said it was engaged in "one on one, lifestyle evangelism to Darfurian Muslims living in refugee camps in eastern Chad" and appealed for money to "bring the kingdom of God to an area of Sudan where the light of Jesus rarely shines."

Although it is not formally part of the Save Darfur Coalition, Sudan Sunrise helped arrange buses and speakers, and it is co-hosting a dinner for 600 people on the rally's eve.

(Alan Cooperman, "Groups Plan Rally on Mall To Protest Darfur Violence: Bush Administration Is Urged to Intervene in Sudan," Washington Post, 27 April 2006: A21)
Wow, fascinating.
For this effort, the coalition has recruited major celebrities like George Clooney and Elie Wiesel to speak to those assembled. Though recent reports have indicated that the turnout might be lower than expected, organizers, while refusing to give a concrete number, believe it will be in "the tens of thousands."

Little known, however, is that the coalition, which has presented itself as "an alliance of over 130 diverse faith-based, humanitarian, and human rights organization" was actually begun exclusively as an initiative of the American Jewish community.

And even now, days before the rally, that coalition is heavily weighted with a politically and religiously diverse collection of local and national Jewish groups.

A collection of local Jewish bodies, including the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, United Jewish Communities, UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, sponsored the largest and most expensive ad for the rally, a full-page in The New York Times on April 15.

Though there are other major religious organizations, like the United States Conference on Catholic Bishops and the National Association of Evangelicals, both of which have giant constituencies that number in the millions, these groups have not done the kind of extensive grassroots outreach that will produce numbers.

Instead, the Jewish Community Relations Council, a national organization with local branches that coordinate communal activity all over America, has put on a massive effort to bus people to Washington on Sunday. Dozens of buses will be coming from Philadelphia and Cleveland. Yeshiva University alone, in upper Manhattan, has chartered eight buses.

Besides the Jewish origins and character of the rally - a fact the organizers consistently played down in conversations with The Jerusalem Post - the other striking aspect of the coalition is the noted absence of major African-American groups like the NAACP or the larger Africa lobby groups like Africa Action. When asked to comment, representatives of both groups insisted they were publicizing the rally but had not become part of the coalition or signed the Unity Statement declaring Save Darfur's objectives.

The coalition's roots go back to the spring of 2004 following a genocide alert, the first ever of its kind, issued by the United States Holocaust Museum. An emergency meeting was coordinated by the American Jewish World Service, an organization that serves as a kind of Jewish Peace Corps as well as an advocacy group for a variety of humanitarian and human rights issues.

At the meeting, which was attended by numerous American Jewish organizations and a few other religious groups, it was decided that a coalition would be formed based on a statement of shared principles.

After a year of programming that involved raising awareness about the genocide, the coalition came up with the idea for a rally in Washington. Planning began in the fall of 2005.
David Rubenstein, the director or "coordinator," as he prefers it, of the coalition says that, given that the groups who started the coalition were Jewish, "it's not surprising that they had the numbers of more Jewish organizations in their rolodexes."

He says that the Jewish community has been "extraordinarily responsive and are really providing the building for this thing," and yet he insists that the coalition has worked "very, very hard to be inclusive, to make sure there are people beyond the usual suspects."

This is a sentiment echoed by Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service and one-time Manhattan borough president and Democratic mayoral candidate for New York City. The world service and Messinger personally have been at the forefront of planning for the rally. Much of the Jewish turnout has been a result of her lobbying efforts.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The fact that the aggressors in Darfur are Arab Muslims - though it should be said that the victims are also mostly Muslim - and are supported by a regime in Khartoum that is backed by the Arab League has made some people question the true motives of some of the Jewish organizations involved in the rally.

(Gal Beckerman, "US Jews Leading Darfur Rally Planning," Jerusalem Post, 27 April 2006)
Should we laugh or should we cry?

Some say America is addicted to oil, but America is even more addicted to war (or economic sanctions when war is not in the cards). "Leaders" of almost all groups in America -- Republicans or Democrats, Christians or Jews or Muslims (many of whom rooted for the war in Afghanistan in the Carter-Reagan era and the war on Yugoslavia in the Clinton era), whatever -- come up with their pet wars to promote, sooner or later.

UPDATE: I posted my two cents (an expanded version of this entry) at MRZine also, briefly featured by Google News.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Gnostic Gospels and Conspiracy Theory

The National Geographic Society had the Gospel of Judas translated. The story has received much attention from the corporate media.

The Gospel of Judas tells us that Judas didn't really betray Jesus. Rather, Judas fulfilled the task he was given by Jesus: "sacrifice the man that clothes me." By doing so, Judas would "exceed" all other disciples, says Jesus. That is the "secret knowledge" that Jesus made Judas bear and that the Gospel of Judas purports to reveal.

But if Judas didn't betray Jesus, there would be no real conflict and no human drama!

What makes the Synoptic Gospels in the New Testament more interesting than Gnostic Gospels, to me, is that the four Gospels tell an insightful story about the politics of a community. Judas betrays Jesus for money. Peter betrays Jesus by denying him three times, and he does so, unlike Judas, out of weakness, not wanting to be associated with his teacher when the powerful really come after the teacher. Jesus expected both kinds of betrayal, not because he was the Son of God, but because he had a pretty good insight into human nature, as all good political leaders do. The empire gets Jesus, a rebel leader, executed by having the pillars of a community from which he comes demand his execution. On the day of execution, it is the marginalized and oppressed -- a condemned criminal, a former prostitute, and so on -- who stand by the man who gets martyred. Happens all the time, in the history of the left.

The structure of Gnostic Gospels, in contrast, resembles that of conspiracy theory, or rather conspiracy theory may have taken its undemocratic narrative structure from Gnostic Gospels: events are determined by the power that orchestrates both sides of a seeming opposition; and knowledge is accessible to only a chosen few, rather than all who strive to acquire it.

Moreover, the four Gospels of the New Testament are free from statements that could lend themselves to homophobia, whereas the newly translated Gospel of Judas includes them and even attributes one to Jesus:
They [said, “We have seen] a great [house with a large] altar [in it, and] twelve men -- they are the priests, we would say -- and a name; and a crowd of people is waiting at that altar, [until] the priests [… and receive] the offerings. [But] we kept waiting.”
[Jesus said], “What are [the priests] like?”
They [said, “Some …] two weeks; [some] sacrifice their own children, others their wives, in praise [and] humility with each other; some sleep with men; some are involved in [slaughter]; some commit a multitude of sins and deeds of lawlessness. And the men who stand [before] the altar invoke your [name], [39] and in all the deeds of their deficiency, the sacrifices are brought to completion […].”
After they said this, they were quiet, for they were troubled.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Jesus said to them, “Those you have seen receiving the offerings at the altar -- that is who you are. That is the god you serve, and you are those twelve men you have seen. The cattle you have seen brought for sacrifice are the many people you lead astray [40] before that altar. […] will stand and make use of my name in this way, and generations of the pious will remain loyal to him. After hi another man will stand there from [the fornicators], and another [will] stand there from the slayers of children, and another from those who sleep with men, and those who abstain, and the rest of the people of pollution and lawlessness and error, and those who say, ‘We are like angels’; they are the stars that bring everything to its conclusion. For to the human generations it has been said, ‘Look, God has received your sacrifice from the hands of a priest’ -- that is, a minister of error. But it is the Lord, the Lord of the universe, who commands, ‘On the last day they will be put to shame.’” [41]
All in all, the Gospel of Judas brings no good news politically.

Steffie Woolhandler: Massachusetts' Health Care Reform Is "a Hoax"

Is Massachusetts' health care reform bill as good as the New York Times (Pam Belluck, "Massachusetts Sets Health Plan for Nearly All," 5 April 2006) makes it sound? Doug Henwood asks Steffie Woolhandler on his Behind the News radio show (6 April 2006).
Doug Henwood: As I was reading the New York Times the other day, boy, it sounded like the second coming of Christ or something: Governor Mitt Romney, Democrats, and Republicans of Massachusetts coming together to produce this wonderful, innovative, post-partisan universal health care system. Is it as good as it sounds?

Steffie Woolhandler: Well, I think it's really a hoax. What the bill does is it creates an individual mandate and tells people that they have to purchase their own health insurance. That will apply primarily to middle-income people. And the bill says that there are just going to be affordable comprehensive policies available. But of course there are no affordable comprehensive policies available to individuals in the state. The average individual policy costs $4,500 a year. So, it's a little like saying that the legislature is going to make chocolate chip cookies with no sugar or fat or calories. The other provisions of the bill are extremely generous toward the major hospitals in town. They are extremely generous to the private health insurance industry, since all of the new health insurance would be purchased at the private insurance industry. So, hospitals and the insurance industry lobbied pretty hard for the bill. The only piece of the bill that an advocate might like would be some modest Medicaid expansions, but they don't come anywhere close to covering the three quarters of a million people in the state who have no health insurance.
Click here to listen to the rest of the show.

See, also, Steffie Woolhandler and David U. Himmelstein, "Massachusetts' Health Bill Failed Before, Will Again" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution 7 April 2006).

Friday, April 07, 2006

Naita Aka Oni

There is a popular picture book for children in Japan, titled Naita Aka Oni [The Red Ogre Who Cried].

The story goes like this:
Once upon a time, there were two ogres. One was red, and the other was blue. The red ogre wanted to become friends with children in a village nearby. So, the red ogre put up a sign in front of his house:Naita Akaoni
Home of a Gentle Ogre
All Are Welcome
Tea and Tasty Cakes Available
But no one showed up, and the red ogre grew puzzled, sad, and angry. "I'm such a kind ogre -- why would nobody visit me?" Despairing, the red ogre even tore down the sign: "This is useless."

Moved by his friend's feelings, the blue ogre said, "Look, I have a plan."

The blue ogre's plan was for him to pretend to terrorize children and then have the red ogre chase him off, "rescuing" them from him. The plan went without a hitch, and the red ogre became the most popular creature among the children, and all came to play with him.

After a happy day of enjoying the children's company, the red ogre found a letter from the blue ogre. The letter said, "My Dear Red Ogre, if people find out that you are a friend of the Bad Blue Ogre's, they will not let the children come to you any more. So, I'm leaving. Please live happily with the children. Goodbye. Blue Ogre."

The red ogre cried out, "Blue Ogre is gone! A dear friend of mine! He is gone!" And he wept.

The red ogre and the blue ogre were never to see each other again.
Hamada HirosukeIt's a great story about the costs of assimilation.

The story was written by Hamada Hirosuke, who wrote many other children's stories. It was first published in 1933.

I read it first (or rather my parents read it to me) when I was a child, and later I wondered if the author was gay, if he was a leftist, or if he had read Oscar Wilde's "The Selfish Giant." I never found out.