Friday, May 26, 2006

Iran, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Kenneth R. Timmerman

A fraudulent story that Tehran is setting up a dress code for minorities has circulated among right-wing newspapers, beginning with Canada's National Post, "which was bought by CanWest Global Communications from Conrad Black, a close associate of [Richard] Perle's, is controlled by David and Leonard Asper, who have accused the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation of being anti-Israel" (Jim Lobe, "Iran Target of Apparent Disinformation Ploy," Inter Press Service, 22 May 2006). The story originated from a neo-con Iranian Amir Taheri: "Taheri is a member of Benador Associates, a public relations firm that lists a large number of leading neo-conservatives, including American Enterprise Institute (AEI) associates Richard Perle, David Frum, Michael Ledeen, Michael Rubin, and Joshua Muravchik, among its clients. Major boosters of the war with Iraq, Benador clients, who also include former Central Intelligence Agency chief James Woolsey and former Israeli minister Natan Sharansky, have also called for the Bush administration to take a hard line against Iran" (Lobe, 22 May 2006).

The bogus story got wide circulation in part because the Simon Wiesenthal Center lent its cultural capital to it: "'This is reminiscent of the Holocaust,' [Chris] Wattie quoted Rabbi Marvin Heir, the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, as telling him. 'Iran is moving closer and closer to the ideology of the Nazis'" (Lobe, 22 May 2006):
The e-mail to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, was urgent and pointed. The topic: explosive allegations that Iran, already seen as part of an "axis of evil" for its leaders' threats to Israel, denial of the Holocaust, and alleged drive for nuclear weapons, was replaying an infamous anti-Semitic theme from Nazi Germany.

"As per our conversation, I'm looking at running this," wrote the newspaper editor of the article he'd just received, "but I have not been able to confirm its veracity. Particularly, I want to make sure that part saying Jews will have to wear a yellow stripe and Christians a red stripe is, in fact, true."

Rabbi Cooper's reply, e-mailed back last Thursday, one hour and 14 minutes later, was unequivocal and succinct:

"Dear John," he wrote, "The story is absolutely true." (Larry Cohler-Esses, "'Yellow' Journalism!!: Anatomy of a Hoax: False Story Alleging Special Yellow Insignia for Iranian Jews Spurred by Wiesenthal Center's Flawed Confirmation," The Jewish Week, 25 May 2006)
Some who are not familiar with the ideological orientation of the Simon Wiesenthal Center may wonder why it offered confirmation of a story that it couldn't possibly confirm.

Well, the home page of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Web site proudly features the story of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's 24 May 2006 speech applauding the US Congress for "the strong bipartisan conviction that a nuclear-armed Iran is an intolerable threat to the peace and security of the world," hailing "the Iran Freedom and Support Act," and arguing that "[i]f we don’t take Iran’s bellicose rhetoric seriously now, we will be forced to take its nuclear aggression seriously later," the speech which received no fewer than 16 standing ovations from the US Congress. That just about says it all, but there's more.

Kenneth R. Timmerman -- the Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran (FDI), an organization at the forefront of the campaign for regime change in Iran -- was commissioned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center to write propaganda against Iran, Libya, and Syria: "A ground-making study on the unconventional weapons programs of Iran, Libya, and Syria, commissioned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in 1992, won applause from Democrats and Republicans alike," as he boasts on his own Web site. So, it's been a long-standing campaign for both Timmerman and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Iran -- the only nation in West Asia and North Africa modern enough to be a credible contender for regional leadership and yet, unlike Egypt and Jordan, is not quite sold on America and Israel -- sure is a far larger prize than Iraq for Washington and Tel Aviv, which no doubt long for the second coming of the Shah . . . and for all who make a living by supporting both.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Shah: America's Nuclear Poster Boy

Ross Pourzal says:
Back in the good old days,
the regal Shah served as the poster boy
for US power companies selling nuclear reactors
Now look at the poster boy.

Ahmadinejad on Fashion

Alireza Doostdar, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology and Middle Eastern studies at Harvard, says at Juan Cole's Informed Comment:
'Thank you for debunking the lies about Iran requiring religious minorities to be “color-coded.” I just wanted to make a small comment about the actual national dress law being debated in parliament, which is supposed to regulate fashion. True, the law is in large part motivated by the “un-Islamic” slipping of headscarves and tightening of manteaus on the streets, but there is also a large element of cultural nationalism at work here, which might be comparable to Gandhi’s national dress plans. The law calls for slapping tariffs on imports of clothing from abroad to give indigenous producers competitive advantage, and banning imports of “second-hand clothes” from neighboring countries. It also calls for supporting Iranian designers and producers who come up with innovative “modern” forms of dress based on Islamic and Iranian materials and motifs. They want to encourage designers to go out and study ethnic dress styles for example to come up with more “authentic” modern styles for urban people (by which they mean, I believe, primarily women).

All this could be critiqued on many levels, but it is important I think to place it on a nationalistic plane rather than merely on one of religious zealotry. I see many parallels between this move and the U.S. Senate’s decision to make English the official language of the U.S. They’re both based on strong ideas of some sort of “national” culture--which they believe is being diluted by outside influences (in the US case, Mexican immigrants; in the Iranian, Western fashions of dress).

The other thing I wanted to point out was that Ahmadinejad himself, often to the chagrin of people in his own party and other right-wing groups, has been an outspoken critic of moves to regulate hijab, including the recent police moves to station policewomen in Tehran to instruct women with “bad” hijab to fix their scarves. Both before and after his election, he has said repeatedly that he thinks it is misguided to point at women whenever the issue of “corruption” comes up, and additionally that hijab is no where nearly as important an issue in this country as economic corruption and social injustice (I have both video and text references if you’re interested). I am very critical of Ahmadinejad on many issues, but his stance on hijab and regulating dress is not one of them.' ("Doostdar on Iranian Dress Code," 21 May 2006)
Excellent. Our man in Iran has the right idea for fashion as well: import substitution. And he's winning the right friends -- or at least fellow travelers -- even in the Iranian diaspora communities in the West, which is a difficult but essential task.

A note on fashion in Iran:

I actually like the 70s look that Ahmadinejad has not let go: an open-collar white shirt, no tie, a grey or brown suit or a tan wind-breaker, and kaffieh. That becomes him. I'd call that style "Islamic modern," essentially a style imported from the West remade and given a new revolutionary meaning in the Iranian context.

("Islamic modern" is generally a term that can be applied to the whole existence of the nation of Iran.)

I also like the look adopted by many sophisticated urban Iranian women. The way they wear their scarves and sunglasses makes them look as if they just stepped out of old films from the golden years of Hollywood.

I'd suggest to the President of Iran that he look into the hats worn by women in the 20s. Many of them keep hair out face, and very chic, very adaptable to the "Islamic modern" style.

A Libyan Solution for Iran?

Reuters reports that John Bolton suggested that the ruling class and clerical gerontocrats of Iran could choose from two alternatives: regime change or a Libyan solution:
John Bolton, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said on Monday that Iran's leaders could stay in power and improve their ties with Washington if they ended their pursuit of nuclear arms.

He later insisted, however, that he had not meant to threaten Tehran with regime change if its leaders failed to do so.

Bolton, addressing a meeting of B'nai B'rith International, a Jewish humanitarian organization, cited Washington's movelast week to normalize relations with Libya after that country gave up its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and said Iran's leaders faced a similar "clear choice". ("Iran Regime Can Stay If Does a Libya: Bolton," The Times of India, 23 May 2006)
Yes, the Libyan solution would be possible if Washington made a
serious offer -- Rafsanjani would be overjoyed, Khamenei would take that offer, too, and the President of Iran would not be in a position to reject it.

But is the offer serious? For, if that's all that Washington wanted, it could have made the same offer in the Khatami years.

Take a look at this BusinessWeek article: "Iran: The Mideast's Model Economy?" (Stanley Reed, with Babak Pirouz, 24 May 2004). The BusinessWeek writer all but kissed the hands of the clerical rulers of Iran.

Tehran was liberalizing Iran's economy:
The country has racked up growth in the 5% range for four years running, thanks to high oil revenues, abundant rainfall, and a gradual easing of the choking economic restrictions ushered in by the 1979 revolution. Not long ago, Iran was a bona fide basket case struggling to pay its debts. Now its external accounts are under control, with the trade balance in surplus and substantial hard currency reserves of $35 billion. The government is also raising money internally by privatizing shipping, auto, and other assets. (Reed, 24 May 2004)
And it was seeking to assist Washinton in Afghanistan and Iraq:
Despite the nuclear tensions, the optimists point out that the U.S. and Iran share plenty of regional interests. Iran despised both the Taliban in Afghanistan and Iraq's strongman, Saddam Hussein, and applauded the toppling of both. Since then, the Iranian government has encouraged local businesses to supply both countries with goods that range from fuel to cement. While some Iranian factions may be contributing to the turmoil in Iraq, the mainstream wants calm to return to its neighbor in order to hasten the departure of U.S. troops. The Iranians reckon that once the Americans go, a Shiite-led government friendly to the Islamic Republic will come to power. In an interview with BusinessWeek, Iranian Vice-President Mohamed Ali Abtahi poured scorn on the rebel Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr's troublemaking "is providing the Americans with a reason to stay" in Iraq, the vice-president said (Reed, 24 May 2004)
Really, what's not to like?

Besides, if Washington had made a serious offer back then, it could have conceivably prevented the rise of Ahmadinejad -- notwithstanding the simmering discontent of workers and slum dwellers that the BusinessWeek article completely ignored -- for that would have given neoliberal "reformists" a tangible result to boast of and lifted the morale of educated urban professionals and small producers who love America and want to study in it and do business with it.

I suspect that the reason it didn't make that offer when it made perfect sense to make it was Washington wanted a full neo-con prize: the total restructuring of Iran at Washington's, not the clerical gerontocrats', pace, and an overtly (not covertly) pro-Tel-Aviv government.

Has Washington given up on the full neo-con prize, in view of the rise of resource populism in Iran?

Not bloody likely, according to the Hindustan Times:
US President George W Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have agreed on a timetable for American intervention to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capability.

Bush told Olmert that the plans for US intervention are congruent with the timetable put up by the later during their discussion, a media report said on Thursday.

He assured the Israeli premier that Washington would not allow Iran to acquire nuclear capability, Ynetnews reported.

According to Israeli intelligence assessment, Iran will acquire the necessary nuclear technology to build a nuclear weapon within a year, Olmert said during the talks.

The prime minister also expressed concern over diplomatic foot-dragging at the United Nations, where the United States has faced Russian and Chinese opposition to push for tough sanctions against Iran.

Despite the US assurance, officials in Washington have cast doubt over its ability to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear technology, the news portal said.

"I am very, very, very satisfied," Olmert told Israeli reporters after talks with Bush.

The US will ask the Security Council to impose economic and military sanctions on Iran if it refuses to halt uranium enrichment activities, it said.

If Russia uses its veto to block a US-backed resolution for imposing sanctions on Iran, Washington will circumvent the Security Council by luring allied countries to impose an economic and military embargo on Tehran, it said. (Press Trust of India, "Bush, Olmert Agree on Iran Deadline," 25 May 2006)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Katherine Jashinski

"Army National Guard Specialist Katherine Jashinski received a bad conduct discharge today and was sentenced to 120 days confinement after pleading guilty to the charge of 'refusal to obey a legal order'" ("First Female Conscientious Objector Sentenced for Refusing Deployment to Afghanistan," 24 May 2006), says a press release from the SOA Watch. Salute her courage.

What Jewish Leftists Can Do for Iranians

"A story authored by a prominent U.S. neo-conservative regarding new legislation in Iran allegedly requiring Jews and other religious minorities to wear distinctive colour badges circulated around the world this weekend before it was exposed as false," writes Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service ("Iran Target of Apparent Disinformation Ploy," 22 May 2006). The neo-con in question is Amir Taheri, so keep this name in mind, in case he will be up to more mischief. And he probably will, with connections like these: "Taheri is a member of Benador Associates, a public relations firm that lists a large number of leading neo-conservatives, including American Enterprise Institute (AEI) associates Richard Perle, David Frum, Michael Ledeen, Michael Rubin, and Joshua Muravchik, among its clients. Major boosters of the war with Iraq, Benador clients, who also include former Central Intelligence Agency chief James Woolsey and former Israeli minister Natan Sharansky, have also called for the Bush administration to take a hard line against Iran" ("Iran Target of Apparent Disinformation Ploy," 22 May 2006).

Thankfully, the lone Jewish MP in Iran's parliament, Maurice Motamed, immediately issued a strong condemnation of Taheri's lie: "One Jewish representative in the Iranian parliament, Maurice Motamed, insisted that colour requirements for ethnic minorities had 'never been proposed or discussed in parliament', let alone approved. 'Such news,' he told the Associated Press, 'is an insult to religious minorities here'" ("Iran Target of Apparent Disinformation Ploy," 22 May 2006).

There are several things that Jewish leftists in the United States can do to counter psy-op like this:
  • Speak up/write about Iran as a Jewish activist/intellectual, and encourage others to do so.

  • Contact the Jewish community in Iran, and invite them to send reps to the US on a speaking tour (I realize getting visas for them would be a hassle, but probably doable).

  • Get lefty Jewish organizations to send their reps to Iran to talk to people in the Jewish community there and report back to the US.
Given Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's execrable flirtations with Holocaust revisionism, it would be only Jewish leftists with a nearly infinite capacity to forgive who might even consider undertaking jobs like the above. Yet, those who do so can make a great deal of difference in the citizen diplomacy department at a time when Iranians, including Jewish Iranians, need all the international help they can get.

No SCO Membership for Iran?

RIA Novosti commentator Dmitry Kosyrev writes in an opinion piece: "For obvious reasons, everyone was interested whether Iran would be accepted as a member this summer. The answer in Shanghai was a clear no. Neither Iran with its complicated relations with the U.S. and the IAEA, nor European Belarus, nor Pakistan with its attempts to find new friends in the wake of the ongoing Indian-American rapprochement, none of them will join the SCO now" ("Why Iran, Belarus Will Not Join Shanghai Cooperation Organization This Summer," RIA Novosti, 17 May 2006). If true, bad news for Iran.

Reforming Iran's Oil Industry

Ghaida Ghantous and Barbara Lewis of Reuters report that Tehran may be reconsidering the buy-back system ("Foreign Cash Still Flows to Iran's Oilfields," 23 April 2006):
The so-called buy-back investment model, where foreign firms are repaid with proceeds from oil output, has drawn criticism. Western oil executives say risks far outweigh rewards, while some Iranian politicians remain distrustful of foreign capital.

Tehran has said it was reviewing its buy back contracts to make investment in its fields more alluring.

"We have received all the views and we're doing it and I think we're very close to a conclusion," Vaziri said without elaborating.
No doubt that whether or not the current contracts with foreign oil companies, as well as the buy-back system in general, are really in the Iranian people's interest must be looked into.

But, before getting there, the most urgently needed reform of Iran's oil industry is transparency.

Parviz Mina, a former member of the Board of Directors and Managing Director of International Affairs of the National Iranian Oil Company, pointed out last August in an interview conducted by Reza Bayegan that "Iranian members of parliament are complaining bitterly about being kept entirely in the dark about the terms of these contracts" ("New Oil Disorder,", 8 August 2005). When the books are closed to the public, no reform is possible, and that's what needs to change first and foremost.

Then, a reformer has to go after the structure that creates corruption, as Mina elaborates:
[After the revolution of 1979, t]he Minister of Oil appointed seven deputies in charge of supervising the activities of various managers in the National Oil Company. In reality all the major decisions were made by these deputies who, by the way had no expertise. Their only credential was commitment to the Islamic regime and a connection to one of the country's centers of power. Accordingly, all the prerogative and authority was gradually taken away from the NIOC and given to the Ministry of Oil.

Ahmadinejad has said that he wants to put a stop to duplication and introduce measures that ensure transparency. This would prove as difficult as putting the genie back into the bottle. Bijan Zanganeh, from the time he has been appointed as Islamic Republic's oil minister has created close to one hundred affiliated and subsidiary companies. All the projects are divided between these companies.

As an example previously all the exploration, drilling and production efforts were concentrated under one director in the NIOC, now there are ten to twelve companies each making decisions and having a finger in the pie. Before the revolution we had in total 54,000 employees working for the Iranian oil industry, 34,000 were rank and file and 20,000 professional staff. Today this number has reached the colossal figure of over 180,000. What is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad planning to do with this monstrosity? ("New Oil Disorder,", 8 August 2005)
Such a structural reform is an extraordinarily difficult task, but unless that gets done, trying to negotiate with foreign companies more lucrative contracts than the current ones will likely prove futile, since surplus rents will get consumed by the mullah–bazaari nexus, not by the Iranian people.

Hugo Chavez got lucky with his opposition's failed lockout, for surviving it allowed him to purge all who stood in his way inside PDVSA. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tried to do the same with cabinet appointments, but that's not the sort of purge he can pull off till emergency circumstances of the sort that confronted the Chavez government arise.


Yoshie Furuhashi, "Privatization Iranian Style," Critical Montages, 14 October 2007.

Abortion in Iran and Venezuela

US leftists generally fail to see similarities between Iran and Venezuela, but there are many. After all, both are oil producer nations and price hawks, both have relatively well educated populations, both have managed to industrialize, and their per capita incomes are in the same league: Venezuela's GDP Per Capita = $5,800; and Iran's GDP Per Capita = $7,700. Both wish to lead masses of the other nations in their respective regions under their respective leaderships. No doubt Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have thought about these similarities, beyond the fact that they are both under pressures from Washington, though incomparably more so in the case of Iran than that of Venezuela. That is why I hope that Ahmadinejad will see Venezuela -- especially its commitment to participant democracy, in which everyone is a protagonist -- as a model for Iran and take lessons from Chavez on political survival, especially his cultivation of supporters in the military as well as barrios.

But one of the similarities between Iran and Venezuela, alas, is conservatism: women in both societies lack the right to abortion, except the right to abortion performed to save the mother's life (women in El Salvador do not enjoy even this limited right, as even most MPs of the ostensibly secular FMLN eventually voted for total criminalization [Jack Hitt, "Pro-Life Nation," New York Times, 9 April 2006]).

In 2005, the Iranian parliament -- dominated by "conservatives" many of whom backed Ahmadinejad in the election in the same year -- "voted to liberalise the country's abortion laws" (Frances Harrison, "Iran Liberalises Laws on Abortion," BBC, 12 April 2005). It was the same clerical gerontocrats who blocked Ahmadinejad's oil ministry reform, decree to allow women to attend sports events at stadiums, etc. that vetoed the liberalized abortion law. Unless the basic structure of the Islamic Republic is undone, either through a passive revolution or other means, a fundamental change is not possible. Iran desperately needs a populist political force capable of pursuing its own social and economic agenda and sweeping away all -- including the mullah–bazaari nexus -- who stand in the way. Such a force, given the fact that a majority of Iranians -- including most of neoliberal "reformists" -- are religious in one way or another, won't and can't be secular at this point in history.

A couple of weeks ago, "Pope Benedict XVI told Venezuela President Hugo Chavez in a meeting at the Vatican . . . that he doesn't want him to weaken the abortion ban the South American nation currently has in place. The meeting came on the same day that news broke about a court's decision in Colombia to allow abortions in certain rare cases" (Steven Ertelt, "Pope Tells Venezuela President Hugo Chavez Don't Weaken Abortion Ban," LifeNews, 12 May 2006). It is frustrating to see that Colombia is ahead of Venezuela on the right to abortion. I understand that there is a chance to put the issue on a referendum in 2007, but Chavez probably won't move on this till he succeeds in removing the term limits.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Venezuela: A Model for Iran

Venezuela ought to be a model for Iran, both in its domestic and foreign policy. After all, both are oil producer nations and price hawks ("Venezuela's Minister of Energy and Petroleum Rafael Ramirez said on Monday that Venezuela supports the idea of an oil production cut at the next meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)" ["Venezuela Supports OPEC Production Cut: Minister," Xinhua, 23 May 2006]), both have relatively well educated populations, both have managed to industrialize, and their per capita incomes are in the same league: Venezuela's GDP Per Capita: $5,800; and Iran's GDP Per Capita: $7,700. Both wish to lead masses of the other nations in their respective regions under their respective leaderships. No doubt Chavez and Ahmadinejad have thought about these similarities, beyond the fact that they are both under pressures from Washington, though incomparably more so in the case of Iran than that of Venezuela.

Tariq Ali noted: "The mullah–bazaari nexus behind Rafsanjani has already thwarted Ahmadinejad's efforts to clean up the Oil Ministry, and remains entrenched in the Expediency Council" ("Mid-point in the Middle East?" New Left Review 38, March-April 2006). Ahmadinejad doesn't have to lose on this and other fights against the ruling class and clerical gerontocrats, if he could cultivate the sort of mass following in Iran, including its military and militias, in the fashion that Chavez has. I'm sure both men have thought about that, too.

The Chavez and Ahmadinejad administrations also have the same shortcoming: fondness for grandstanding. Washington just slapped a ban on weapons sales to Venezuela, and what does Caracas say? It might sell F-16s to Iran. That's more a gesture than anything else: after all, Iran doesn't need hard-to-maintain F-16s; but such a statement allows the Chavez government to assert its defiance of Washington to the max and plays well in the international gallery in Latin America and the Middle East. This shortcoming probably won't go away -- it's ingrained in the temperament of both leaders.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Street-fighting Days

Street-fighting days, alas, are long behind the Axis of Feeble: leftists in the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada, and Japan:
Recent polls tell us, for instance, that 60% of Americans disapprove of President Bush's overall job performance; 74% disapprove of his handling of rising gasoline prices; 62% disapprove of his handling of the Iraq war; 63% think the president's role in the intelligence leak scandal was either illegal or unethical. Further, 45% of Americans think Bush should be censured or officially reprimanded for authorizing secret domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency, and an astonishing 33% of Americans think Bush should be impeached. (As a point of reference, public support for impeaching President Clinton averaged only 26% in the summer and fall of 1998.)

In many foreign countries, such a high level of popular discontent would translate rapidly into mass protests. (Rosa Brooks, "One More Job for Immigrants," Los Angeles Times, 14 April 2006)
The French, alone among peoples of filthy rich countries, still remember how to rock the government in the streets. They admirably put it in practice in fierce defense of their way of life: contre la précarité généralisée. That's a great start. No people who cannot defend themselves can hope to defend others. And yet, it is telling that, after the victory over the CPE, streets of France went quiet, even as the National Assembly passed a bill for selective immigration: for skilled and educated workers from the South, against non-skilled and ill educated workers from the South:
France's lower house of parliament easily passed a divisive immigration law put forward by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday which has been heavily criticised by the opposition, the church and immigrant groups.

The law aims to attract skilled workers while keeping less skilled ones out. Critics say it will stigmatise foreigners, discriminate against the poor and undermine France's traditional role as a haven for the persecuted.

The deputies in the National Assembly, where the ruling UMP party has an easy majority, adopted the law by 367 votes to 164. The Senate will start debating it on June 6. (Emile Picy, "French Deputies back Divisive Immigration Bill," Reuters, 18 May 2006)

Always behind the Revolutionary Solidarity Schedule

Near the beginning of the Bolivarian Revolution, opinions about Hugo Chavez were quite divided among US leftists. Not now. Chuck Munson of Infoshop must be the last Chavez skeptic.

That is ironic, because Chavez doesn't need US leftists' support now: his national and Latin American support is rock-solid, and Washington is too busy with the Middle East -- what with campaigns for dual regime changes in Iran and Palestine -- to make a major move against Venezuela at this moment.

Most US leftists seem to be always a couple of years behind the revolutionary solidarity schedule: they embraced Chavez too late to give him support when he could have used it (2002, the year of the anti-Chavez coup and lockout); they committed themselves to US withdrawal too late to prevent the death of modern Iraq. I fear that, by the time when they manage to pay attention to Iran and its leader, they will have already missed the train again.

Chronicling the Death of a Nation

Riverbend, who keeps the Baghdad Burning blog, is a great chronicler. This must be the first time in history the death of a nation has been so richly electronically documented, in real time.

Reading her diary is not unlike watching a baby die before our eyes due to lack of medical supplies in an Iraqi hospital, near the end of a documentary titled "Iraq's Missing Billions":
ALI COMMT: he problem is the doctors caring for Zehara have virtually nothing to “make the best of”. They have no ventilators, no adrenaline, not even a cheap but essential medicine like vitamin K. Even the cannula being used on Zehara had to be bought on the black market by her father.And now he’s gone into town again – this time looking for vitamin K.Only the grandmother is here.Then Zehara starts to deteriorate – she is gasping for breath. Her father has still not returned. But it is too late.


THE DOCTOR: Where is the mother of this child? This child has passed away.

ALI VO: And then the father comes back .

FATHER: I just went to get this for her, they told me to bring it. It’s vitamin K as they don’t have it here

ALI VO: If this hospital had had the correct equipment and the right drugs, Zehara should have survived.

FATHER: She saw nothing in her life. . . . We all return to Allah.

FATHER: No, no, poor child. This box is too small. Go and get another one.

UNCLE: From where?

FATHER: From the pharmacy.

ALI VO: The next day, Abbas, Zehara’s brother, died too. This is not the new Iraq we were promised when the coalition invaded our country.

An Iraqi friend of mine recently got hold of this documentary on video, and she did a showing. Only a handful showed up. I was one of the few, and so was an Iranian friend of mine. That's when I made up my mind about what should be Western leftists' priority. It's too late to save modern Iraq. The dead cannot be resurrected. But modern Iran is still alive. It's time for triage.

How long will Riverbend remain in Iraq? She has education, so she has means to live as an exile elsewhere. It is brave and patriotic of her to persist in Baghdad. I wonder if she, too, will be eventually forced to abandon Iraq or die with it.

Return of Resource Populism

We are living an early stage of an epochal change: return of resource populism (the idea of using the proceeds of natural resources for the needs of people and national economy, rather than for the profits of multinational corporations and their investors), after the exhaustion of neoliberal hegemony. It is significant that the leaders of the nations that have made a clear turn to resource populism -- Hugo Chavez (b. 28 July 1954), Evo Morales (b. 26 October 1959), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (b. 28 October 1956), and Vladimir Putin (b. 7 October 1952) -- are about the same age. They are also all from relatively humble class backgrounds. They all were young men during the 1970s, so they must all vividly remember what the control of strategic natural resources -- mainly fossil fuels -- can do. In addition, Chavez and Ahmadinejad have clear ambitions to remake not only their respective nations but regions as well.

Of the four, Ahmadinejad is the only one who actually participated in a victorious political revolution in the 1970s. Some call his presidency the second Islamic revolution. Rare are men on whom fortune smiles twice: participate in the making of a revolution as a youth and then take the helm of the state later, this time to initiate social revolution at home and abroad.

The missing link is Africa, where a leader comparable to the four standard bearers of resource populism has yet to rise.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Ahmadinejad, the Mardomyar

Here is an excellent profile of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: Iason Athanasiadis, "Ahmadinejad: A Study in Obstinacy" (Asia Times 19 May 2006). It shows he is the right man at the right time for the Muslim world as well as his country, and he's winning the right friends and making the right enemies (namely both neoliberal "reformists" and clerical gerontocrats) at home.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Death of Iraq

The people of Iraq were abandoned by Western leftists two years ago -- streets of America were quiet even as the Abu Ghraib scandal exploded and Sunnis and Shiites held a joint uprising.

Because of our desertion and dereliction, Iraq is now on the way to becoming an Afghanistan, an irreversible course.
Across central Iraq, there is an exodus of people fleeing for their lives as sectarian assassins and death squads hunt them down. At ground level, Iraq is disintegrating as ethnic cleansing takes hold on a massive scale. (Patrick Cockburn, "Iraq Is Disintegrating as Ethnic Cleansing Takes Hold," The Independent, 20 May 2006)
Deaths run like water through the life of the Bahjat family. Four neighbors. A barber. Three grocers. Two men who ran a currency exchange shop.

But when six armed men stormed into their sons' primary school this month, shot a guard dead, and left fliers ordering it to close, Assad Bahjat knew it was time to leave.

"The main thing now is to just get out of Iraq," said Mr. Bahjat, standing in a room heaped with suitcases and bedroom furniture in eastern Baghdad.

In the latest indication of the crushing hardships weighing on the lives of Iraqis, increasing portions of the middle class seem to be doing everything they can to leave the country. In the last 10 months, the state has issued new passports to 1.85 million Iraqis, 7 percent of the population and a quarter of the country's estimated middle class.

The school system offers another clue: Since 2004, the Ministry of Education has issued 39,554 letters permitting parents to take their children's academic records abroad. The number of such letters issued in 2005 was double that in 2004, according to the director of the ministry's examination department. Iraqi officials and international organizations put the number of Iraqis in Jordan at close to a million. Syrian cities also have growing Iraqi populations. (Sabrina Tavernise, "As Death Stalks Iraq, Middle-Class Exodus Begins," May 19, 2006)
Modern Iraq is dead, and everyone who can leave is leaving the country.

I don't believe in God, so I don't think there will be divine retribution. But I do believe in cause and effect -- we'll all pay earthly prices for this. How high the prices will be, I don't know.

Don't let this happen to Iran.

Price of Dual Regime Changes in Iran and Palestine

Hamas has offered an indefinite truce if Israel withdraws to its pre-1967 borders: (Yitzhak Benhorin, "Hamas: Ceasefire for Return to 1967 Border," 30 January 2006).

But Tel Aviv won't do that. It would rather have Hamas collapse due to lack of funds, and so would Washington:
U.S. officials said the Bush administration could take punitive action against banks that help provide money or services directly to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority because Washington has designated the Islamic militant group a "terrorist" organisation.

The United States has not threatened to punish banks that transfer funds directly to the office of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction was trounced by Hamas in January elections. ("Arab League Says to Transfer $50 Mln to Hamas Govt," Reuters, 23 AprIL 2006)
Or at least provoke a conflict between Hamas and Fatah:
Rival Palestinian forces faced off at Gaza's border crossing with Egypt after a Hamas official was caught with 639,000 euros ($A1.08 million) hidden in his clothing, authorities said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh vowed during Friday prayers not to disband a new Hamas-led security force and said he was prepared to increase its size in defiance of President Mahmoud Abbas and the Bush administration.

About 100 Hamas gunmen raced to the Rafah crossing where Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri was caught with the money. Rafah is guarded by Abbas's presidential guard, raising fears of fresh Palestinian infighting after clashes on Thursday night.

Abbas's elite guard also called in reinforcements.

Hamas said Abu Zuhri was carrying Arab donations for the new government, which is desperately short of funds, and for Palestinians in Israeli jails.

"Is it a crime to bring in money?" Haniyeh said, defending his spokesman. "Are the Palestinian people being forced to starve?"

Abu Zuhri told Reuters: "If bringing support for my people is a crime then I am very proud of this crime."

Abu Zuhri initially refused to leave the border terminal without the money, which was confiscated by Palestinian customs agents. He later left and the gunmen withdrew. The militant group said it expected the money to be quickly returned.

But senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said the president had ordered an investigation by the attorney-general.

The Palestinian Authority is facing a financial crisis after international donors suspended aid because of the Hamas-led government's refusal to renounce violence and recognise Israel since coming to power in March. ("Hamas Aide Caught at Border with Cash," Reuters, 20 May 2006)
It's Tel Aviv's maximalist rejectionism that has compelled Hamas to rely on Tehran more than before.

Rather than prompting Tel Aviv to make peace with Hamas in an effort to isolate Iran, Washington is pursuing a strategy of regime changes in both Iran and Palestine. That's the sort of situation that makes liberals wonder if Tel Aviv is still really Washington's strategic asset or has already become its strategic burden, for there can be a blowback: destablization of the pro-Washington Arab regimes -- the Gulf states (Jim Wolf, "US Looks to Arm Iran's Neighbors, General Says," Reuters, 18 May 2006), Jordan (Jamal Halaby, "Jordan Plays Hardball with Hamas," Associated Press, 19 May 2006), and Egypt (Nadia Abou El-Magd/Associated Press, "Egypt Urges Hamas to Recognize Israel, Renounce Violence," USA Today, 2 February 2006) -- that have volunteered to serve in the dual regime change campaign.

If the price of dual regime changes is, for instance, the destruction of Abqaiq, "the world’s biggest oil processing complex," is the price worth it?

Bolivar in Tehran

Compared to Iraq, Iran is a far larger prize (it's literally larger, too, in size and population). You see, even before the invasion began, Iraq was already reduced to a shadow of its former self by genocidal UN sanctions, incapable of trying to become a contender for regional leadership (which was the specter posed by its invasion of Kuwait, prompting the Gulf War) again. Not so with Iran. Iran is modern, its populace well educated, its revolutionary philosophy -- the heritage of Ali Shariati now personified by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- appealing to not just Shiites but other Muslims elsewhere groaning under the oppression of pro-American regimes (note, in particular, that the oil-rich Gulf states have large Shiite populations, with Bahrain having a Shiite majority). You might say that the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were to surround Iran, the beginning of a siege for regime change, the regime change Washington wants even more now than before the election of Ahmadinejad.

Western leftists ought to do what we can to help Ahmadinejad survive this siege. That's not just our moral duty to the Iranian masses who voted to cast their lot with him. In the process of survival, internal and external circumstances may eventually compel Ahmadinejad to choose between his political, economic, and social agenda on one hand and the structure of the Islamic Republic on the other hand (which are sure to come into conflict) -- then, we'll see what stuff he is made of. Depending on the circumstances and choices he will make under them, what we will have is the beginning of an epoch-making change in the entire Middle East, comparable to the rise of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela and gradual formation of a regional bloc in which the left (led by Hugo Chavez) and the right (led by Lula), leaders and masses, contend with each other over democratic control of natural resources in particular and production in general. Given where most of the world's oil lies, change in the Middle East is even more urgently needed than change in Latin America. Who better to initiate that change than a Bolivar in Tehran?

Iran is the key -- both for the ruling class and for us.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

SCO Invites Iran to Its Summit on June 15

This is extremely good news -- the best news about Iran that I've heard in months:
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday Iran has been invited as an observer to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's summit due on June 15.

"The invitation has already been sent," he said.

At present, the UN Security Council is studying the International Atomic Energy Agency director-general's report on Iran's nuclear problem.

"The IAEA will meet in session in two weeks' time," Lavrov said. (Itar-Tass, "SCO Invites Iran to Its Summit on June 15 -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov," 16 May 2006)
Iran's recent announcement that it intends to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) could complicate Western efforts to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions. Iran now has observer status at the SCO, but it hopes membership could come as early as June. Although SCO membership is no foregone conclusion -- and does not include mutual defense pledges -- being inside the Shanghai "club" could bring Tehran extra support from its two key members: Russia and China.

PRAGUE, May 15, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Membership of the SCO could offer Iran shelter from the intense U.S.-led international pressure on Tehran to end uranium enrichment.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mohammadi was quoted by ITAR-TASS and Xinhua news agencies as saying in April that his country hopes to join the SCO this summer. He said Iran is looking forward to reviewing the nuclear dispute with its SCO "colleagues." Mohammadi said Tehran hopes for those countries' support at the organization's June summit in Shanghai.

"What we are seeing is really a tectonic shift of diplomatic and every other kind of activity into Western and Central Asia."

Russia and China have already given Tehran crucial support in the United Nations debate over its controversial nuclear program. Both have resisted pressure from the United States and its European allies to formulate a UN draft resolution that could open the way for economic sanctions or even military intervention unless Iran stops work on the nuclear fuel cycle. (Breffni O'Rourke, "Iran: Plans to Join Shanghai Group Seen as Bold Geopolitical Stroke," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 15 May 2006)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Focus on Iran and Palestine, Not Iraq

Leftists in the West (the US, the EU, and Japan) should focus on Iran and Palestine, Latin America, and Moscow and Beijing (in that order), rather than Iraq, on the foreign policy front. Face it -- Iraq is a goner. We failed Iraqis, and we won't be in a position to do much for them for many years to come.

Ahmadinejad, albeit religious, is an equivalent of Hugo Chavez. He can be a Bolivar in Tehran, though he isn't yet, till he pulls off a passive revolution against the gerontocracy of clerics.

Explain to the Western public what Ahmadinejad is doing in Iran -- objectively. Do NOT defend the indefensible -- e.g., flirtations with Holocaust revisionism -- that WON'T be credible and WON'T help Ahmadinejad AT ALL. Instead, CLARIFY his economic and social policies and foreign policy and inspire support for them. He is the most important leader to arise in the Near East in decades. He needs our INTELLIGENT (NOT blind and uncritical) support.

Why put Iran rather than Venezuela at the top of our agenda? Because Chavez's domestic and regional support is far more solid than Ahmadinejad's. Economic troubles and political collapse of the ruling-class party duopoly in Venezuela had cleared the political field for Chavez and Bolivarians. Not so in Iran. Ahmadinejad is the president of Iran, but Iran's military, police, and militias officially answer to Khamenei, who is perfectly capable of cutting deals with Washington behind Ahmadinejad's back and perhaps having him killed. Ahmadinejad needs to change that, in a war of positions, but he needs time, much time, to transfer the allegiance of soldiers to him, away from Khamenei. Our job is to buy him time.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Doomed: Letters from Third-World Leaders

William Blum reminds us that "[w]ith his recent letter to President Bush, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has become part of a long tradition of Third-World leaders who, under imminent military or political threat from the United States, communicated with Washington officials in the hope of removing that threat," such as Ho Chi Minh, Cheddi Jagan, Maurice Bishop, Che Guevara, Hugo Chavez, and Saddam Hussein ("Appealing to the United States Is Not Very Appealing," CounterPunch and Dissident Voice, 15 May 2006). In all cases, their communication did nothing to change Washington's plan.

The only consolation is that the Vietnamese eventually succeeded in making Washington withdraw its troops and abandon its proxies and that the threatened governments of Cuba and Venezuela did survive Washington's aggressions.

Will the Ahmadinejad administration and Iran?

If Fallujah is any indication, the Iranian people may have to brace for what will befall them on November 8, the day after Election Day in the United States.

The Nakba: Then and Now

In collaboration with the Institute for Middle East Understanding, MRZine remembers the Nakba. As Sam Bahour says, "The Nakba is not a memorial for the dead. It is a remembrance of the living, of a proud and steadfast people yearning to return home and begin the bitter and difficult process of repatriation."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Norman G. Finkelstein, "Haunted House"

Here's another piece from another love of mine: Norman G. Finkelstein, "Haunted House" (MRZine, 13 May 2006). If you have met him, you know he is as razor-sharp and intense in person as his writing is. Where does his edge, his intensity, come from? His mother.
Every night as we watched the news on television my mother would avert her eyes and raise her hand to block the screen when scenes from Vietnam flashed across it. After a few moments the question would invariably come: "Is it over yet?" Not at all given to self-dramatization, she simply couldn't endure the scenes of destruction and death. Whereas most of my friends and their parents eventually came to be against the Vietnam War, the moral urgency of opposition sounded at a different decibel in my home. The war wasn't a subject of intellectual or political argument, even vehement argument. My mother's whole being revolted against it. I wouldn't say she was emotional about the war; she was hysterical. Although knowledgeable about the facts, she detested any intellectualizing of it. Even to engage in debate about Vietnam constituted a moral travesty. It manifested a lack of genuine outrage at, and comprehension of, the unfolding horror: no one who had actually experienced war could or would calmly discuss it. For related reasons she disdained my joining the high school forensics team. The art of debate was to argue with equal passion and skill both sides of a given question. To her mind, it nurtured duplicity, the amoral manipulation of words. (Norman G. Finkelstein, "Haunted House," MRZine, 13 May 2006)

Link van de Maand

MRZine is Dutch magazine Grenzeloos's "Link van de Maand" [Link of the Month]. Here's the blurb it gave MRZine:
Het Amerikaanse Monthly Review (MR) is een van de langst bestaande en meest gerespecteerde marxistische tijdschriften. Sinds enige is het MR zine online, een website waaraan lezers zelf een bijdrage kunnen leveren. Het resultaat is een boeiende mengelmoes van korte en langere artikelen over een grote verscheidenheid van onderwerpen, geschreven door auteurs uit de hele wereld.

[The American Monthly Review (MR) is among the longest-standing and most respected Marxist magazines. MRZine has been online for some time, a Web site to which readers themselves can make contributions. The result has been a captivating mix of short and long articles concerning a wide variety of subjects, by authors from all over the world.]
How nice!

Jean Genet: "They Are in the Right Because I Love Them"

"Le choix que l'on fait d'une communauté privilégiée, en dehors de la naissance alors que l'appartenance à ce peuple est native, ce choix s'opère par la grâce d'une adhésion non raisonnée, non que la justice n'y ait sa part, mais cette justice et toute la défense de cette communauté se font en vertu d'un attrait sentimental, peut-être même sensible, sensuel; je suis français, mais entièrement, sans jugement, je défends les Palestiniens. Ils ont le droit pour eux puisque je les aime. Mais les aimerais-je si l'injustice n'en faisait pas un peuple vagabond?" -- Jean Genet, "Quatre heures à Chatila"

"You can select a particular community other than that of your birth, whereas you are born into a people; this selection is based on an irrational affinity, which is not to say that justice has no role, but this justice and the entire defense of this community take place because of an emotional -- perhaps intuitive, sensual -- attraction; I am French, but I defend the Palestinians wholeheartedly and automatically. They are in the right because I love them. But would I love them if injustice had not turned them into a wandering people?" -- Jean Genet, "Four Hours in Chatila"

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Man from the Middle Ages

This is really beautiful.
The Man from the Middle Ages
by Michael Steinberg

. . . The heart of Ahmadinejad's letter is this passionate series of rhetorical questions:
The people will scrutinize our presidencies.

Did we manage to bring peace, security and prosperity for the people or insecurity and unemployment? Did we intend to establish justice, or just support special interest groups and by forcing many people to live in poverty and hardship make a few people rich and powerful -- thus trading the approval of the people and the Almighty with theirs'? Did we defend the rights of the underprivileged or ignore them? Did we defend the rights of all people around the world or impose wars on them, interfere illegally in their affairs, establish hellish prisons and incarcerate some of them? Did we bring the world peace and security or raise the specter of intimidation and threats? Did we tell the truth to our nation and others around the world or present an inverted version of it?

Were we on the side of people or the occupiers and oppressors? Did our administration set out to promote rational behavior, logic, ethics, peace, fulfilling obligations, justice, service to the people, prosperity, progress and respect for human dignity -- or the force of guns, intimidation, insecurity, disregard for the people, delaying the progress and excellence of other nations and trampling on people's rights?"
These questions have an oddly familiar ring, as they should. They pose a challenge about human communities that was first framed by Aristotle: that of making a world conducive to eudaimonia, or -- to use the most common English translation -- human flourishing. . . .

Michael, my Sheherazade, has one thousand and one nights' worth of stories about the main effects of commodity fetishism. . . .

[Don't cavil about a couple of points on which you would disagree with him. It's important for a piece like this to go online.]

Friday, May 12, 2006

Ahmadinejad: The Kiss

Here's a lovely photo of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Really, this is irresistible.

I intend to use this image on MRZine for his birthday: 28 October 1956.

I shall also send him flowers on his birthday . . . if he is still alive. (Tulips -- Iran's national flower and symbol of martyrdom and revolution -- if possible, though they are out of season in October.) Will he be? Washington will certainly try to oust him or have him killed, and he has numerous local enemies. Fidel and Chavez need to give him survival tips, too, in addition to tips on how best to offer solidarity with Palestinians, how to organize counter-hegemonic diaspora identity politics, and other subjects of importance.

Letter to Ahmadinejad

Really, I ought to give Fidel a call: "Hi, Fidel, you don't know me, but you knew Paul S, Paul B, Leo, and Harry, and I've inherited a piece of them. Here's what I implore you to do, for the good of Iranians, Palestinians, Jews, and the rest of us: talk sense into the President of Iran!" :-)

Or else write a letter to Ahmadinejad:
In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,

Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran,

Your excellency, I applaud your economic policy, defense of Iran's right to nuclear research, recent decree allowing women to attend sports events at stadiums, sympathy for US troops put into harm's way, and solidarity with Palestinians and other oppressed peoples. But, today, I write to you on a matter that concerns me and others who wish well for your republic: are you aware that Neo-Nazis are trying to appropriate your image and Palestinian suffering for their despicable cause? Please take a look at this music video: "President Ahmadinejad Music Video." Has it ever occurred to you, as you attend the World Cup in Germany next month, Neo-Nazis might try to hold a rally ostensibly for you and Palestinians, but really trying to promote only their anti-Semitic ideology? Imagine that spectacle! That's not good for you, Iranians, Palestinians, or anyone else for that matter except Washington and Tel Aviv! You would be no doubt aghast at it yourself. Please issue a statement -- before you take off for Germany -- that reiterates your solidarity with Palestinians, condemns Neo-Nazis, and extends your support to Jewish leftists in Israel and the diaspora who are fighting for one Palestine with equal rights and freedoms for Palestinians, Jews, and others.

Take good care of yourself, and please send my regards to your wife and Messers. Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Evo Morales.



Ahmadinejad as "die Sonne"

I was looking for videos of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I wanted to hear what he sounds like. There are a couple of good ones which have him looking all amiable and saying what he ought to be saying: "Ahmadinejad on People"; and "President Ahmadinejad Press Conference."

Then, I also found this one, "A music video made for President Ahmadinejad of Iran": "President Ahmadinejad Music Video.". The person who posted this video claims: "The video is not made by myself, I have no idea who the author is." That's a lie . . . or evidence of profound political cluelessness. The video is clearly made by Neo-Nazis trying to appropriate Ahmadinejad and the oppression of Palestinians for their despicable cause. Why do I know that? The video ends with a sequence that represents white Holocaust deniers -- Verbeke, Irving, Graf, Zundel, Rudolf -- as martyrs (superimposed on images of gun-toting IDF soldiers) and cuts to a logo of the Star of David with a legend: "Israel: Built on a Lie."

The video is set to Rammstein's "Sonne," and it cuts between scenes of Israeli oppressions of Palestinians, photographs and video clips of Ahmadinejad, and photos and video clips from mass electoral rallies for Ahmadinejad in Iran. It's edited to synchronize images of Ahmadinejad with the song's chorus:
"Hier kommt die Sonne
Hier kommt die Sonne
Sie ist der hellste Stern von allen
Hier kommt die Sonne"
[Here comes the Sun
Here comes the Sun
It is the brightest star of all
Here comes the Sun].
This really drives me up the wall! Does Ahmadinejad know that he is being used in this way? Fidel, you ought to have that talk with Ahmadinejad ASAP and bring the man to senses!

"Letter to Ahmadinejad" (12 May 2006)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Ahmadinejad's Letter

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's letter to George W. Bush is made available to the public by Le Monde and the Council on Foreign Relations.

The President of Iran is a more rational man than the President of the United States, and much of his criticism of the US government makes sense. But why did he, or his aids, have to mix that legitimate criticism with a Holocaust denial (again!) and a 9-11 conspiracy theory? Has Fidel not had the time to pull Ahmadinejad aside and tell him: "Yo, Mahmoud, only crackpots and dumbasses believe that shit. Here, read this [Marx's Capital] instead"?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The End of Genocide

Genocide at the origin of its term was a term to name a racist crime, but since then it has become largely a racist term (in much of political discourse and people's consciousness) to name only crimes committed by peoples or governments outside the rich countries where relative prosperity allows relative peace, never crimes committed by peoples or governments of rich countries. "We" (of the United States, the European Union, and Japan), the civilized, try to save lives, no matter how much direct and indirect deaths and injuries our actions cause in the process; "they" (in Sudan, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Russia, etc.), the uncivilized, just kill, kill, kill because they are hateful brutes. That's the prevailing understanding of the world that the power elite create through their usage of the term genocide.

The term genocide is useful to the power elite because it, like their anti-Semite-baiting, helps silence dissenters: "There are certain things in the world that the only appropriate response is to shut up and remain silent" in the words of Wojtek Sokolowski, a Johns Hopkins University sociologist. What are "certain things" about which one is asked to shut up and remain silent? Politics, economy, history . . . or anything else that may help us understand what's going on. So, labeling other peoples' crimes "genocides" helps the power elite of the rich countries: when one hears the term, one is supposed to condemn designated enemies without understanding what's going on, without thinking at all, in fact.

To be sure, there are leftists who apply the term genocide to past and present crimes committed by the power elite of the rich countries (e.g., the Holocaust of American Indians), but since leftists don't have power or own major media, leftist usage doesn't stick and fails to change the dominant understanding of what genocide is: "other peoples' crimes," compared to which "we" look good!

Michael Steinberg concludes his essay "The End of Genocide" (MRZine, 8 May 2006) thus:
We do not need a concept that simplifies political struggles beyond recognition or gives preferential attention to those calamities where leaders of one side happen to claim that their enemy is a specific ethnic, racial or religious group. . . . The notion of genocide emerged from an understandable sense that Nazi crimes were somehow unlike the crimes of the past and must never be repeated. But it remains too closely tied to those crimes, and to a particular explanation of them, to be of any use in today's world. There is no such thing as genocide. There are cruelty, oppression, murder, and torture. Those are real, and they need to be stopped. Genocide is imaginary. It is time we did away with it.
I once thought otherwise, but I cannot agree more.

Urbanization, Industrialization, and Feminism

Under capitalism, feminism and environmentalism may be at odds with each other: urbanization and industrialization usually are necessary conditions for the development of feminism (beyond the elite) and gender equality; but urbanization and industrialization tend to bring more energy-intensive lives and push up per capita energy use. It may be possible to urbanize and industrialize without wrecking the environment under another mode of production; but it must be noted that historical socialist records on the environment are on the whole unpromising. In any event, it doesn't look like we can switch from capitalism to a higher mode of production before capitalism really aggravates global warming. The only "solution" on the political horizon in the United States -- the "solution" that got on the political horizon thanks to underinvestment during the era of cheap oil, Washington's incessant wars and terrorism, and other social conflicts -- is higher oil prices, but even higher prices are only temporary: higher prices will eventually bring about attempts at conservation, but conservation attempts appear to end as soon as prices go down substantially.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Ahmadinejad's "Passive Revolution"?

Juan Cole writes: "The Iranian 'president' is mostly powerless. The commander of the armed forces is the Supreme Jurisprudent, Ali Khamenei" ("Hitchens the Hacker; And, Hitchens the Orientalist; And, 'We don't Want Your Stinking War!'" Informed Comment, 3 May 2006). I've heard that before, but I wonder if it is still true or if it will be always true. Isn't what Ahmadinejad and his backers are trying to pull off a kind of "passive revolution" (cf. Antonio Gramsci): demote clerics without annihilating them?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Why Liberals Love to Hate Rich Arabs

DailyKos Blog Ad of Puppet BushHere is a copy of an image for a FreedomToast blog ad featured at DailyKos (as of 5 May 2005, it's in the top ad space near the top right corner of the blog). It's an image of a rich Arab, dollars in hand, pulling the strings of a white male puppet in suits, with a sign flashing high gas prices in the background (and a FreedomToast logo in the bottom right corner). What's the visual message here? Rich Arabs are bribing and pulling the strings of Republican politicians and oil industry executives, profiting handsomely from Americans who are paying through their noses for gas.

What's wrong with this picture?

Oil price hawks are actually Caracas and Tehran, not royals, sheiks, and emirs of the Gulf who subserviently pump up as much gas as possible in response to Bush's demand.

Besides, the main political factor (aside from economic factors like supply and demand and investor speculation, over which no one really has control right now, except through attempts at conservation, which have yet to be seriously made) that has led to the rise of oil prices is Washington's ceaseless warmongering and unquenched thirst for regime changes overseas: the continuing war in Iraq, rumors of nuke strikes and threats of sanctions against Iran, Sudan (the United States being the only government to call the Darfur conflict a genocide, threatening military interventions), the list goes on. Yet, self-described "netroots" liberals let Bush's foreign policy off the hook, for powerful Democrats essentially agree with Bush on Iraq (no full US withdrawal from Iraq) and Iran (sanctions or military strikes on Iran for regime change, before Iran gets its insurance against a US invasion: nuclear weapons) and go so far as to urge Bush to send US troops to Sudan if necessary.

Moreover, scapegoating rich pro-Washington Arabs for terrorism as well as rising oil prices is a safe game: it lets Dumbocrats score a few irrelevant points against Bush without really jeopardizing Washington's essential access to Gulf oil and geopolitically strategic territories. The case in point: the extraordinarily inane Dubai WP imbroglio. After getting a big slap in the face, Dubai eagerly offered to serve as a spy station for Washington in its Iran adventure. That's the reason liberals love to hate rich Arabs.

Mind you, there is much to hate about the Arab ruling class in the Gulf. Taking one look at any of the Gulf states makes you wish someone exported revolution to it. And yet, the state of Arab politics being what it is, the only serious challenge to the pro-Washington Arab power elite in the Gulf and beyond, alas, comes from Islamists of various schools. The best case scenario, the scenario feared by Washington as well as the Arab power elite, is that Tehran will extend its Islamist populist political influence in Lebanon, Palestine, and beyond, while cementing its ties with the socialist axis of good Caracas, Havana, and La Paz (one hopes that the Latin socialist leaders will wean the President of Iran from his urge to play to the Holocaust-denying gallery) and retaining Beijing and Moscow's support. The worst case scenario is that Islamist terrorists will grow even more militarily sophisticated, one day succeeding in sabotaging Abqaiq, "the world’s biggest oil processing complex."

Chechnya, Darfur, and Jewish Activism

Take a look at my new MRZine article on Darfur and Jewish activism:
"Chechnya, Darfur, and Jewish Activism."

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Norman G. Finkelstein: "The Lobby: It's Not Either-Or"

I just posted Norman G. Finkelstein's comment on the controversy rekindled by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's essay "The Israel Lobby": "The Lobby: It's Not Either-Or" in MRZine. I think his perspective is very useful.

I attempted to put the roles played by establishment Jewish leaders in the context of similar identity-based mobilizations for imperialist foreign policy, with a glance at the tragicomic character of their coalition with evangelical Christians, in
"'Save Darfur': Evangelicals and Establishment Jews" (also in MRZine, revised from a posting here). But, boy, it's attracted quite a bit of name-calling and some wingnuts.

Had I talked mainly about, say, establishment Cubans, establishment Iranians, establishment whatever allying themselves with and actively pushing for imperialist policy, such responses would not have come. Some people appear to take mentioning Jewish identity at all, if it is in the context of criticism of a coalition for imperialist policy, to be offensive. Why can't we have rational discussion of the roles played by identity politics in imperialism?