Friday, November 30, 2007

¡Ahora Sí!

Here are two songs in support of YES to Venezuela's constitutional reform, whose fate is to be determined by the referendum of 2 December 2007.

¡Ahora Sí!
by El Jekke y su Banda

Click here to download "¡Ahora Sí!" in MP3.

Ahora Vamos por el Sí
by Lloviznando Cantos

Click here to download "Ahora Vamos por el Sí" in MP3.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

29 November: From the Partition to Annapolis

In 1947, the UN, led by the USA and the USSR, voted to partition Palestine.

Assembly Votes Palestine Partition

In the words of the New York Times the next day:
The decision was primarily a result of the fact that the delegations of the United States and the Soviet Union, which were at loggerheads on every other important issue before the Assembly, stood together on partition. Andrei A. Gromyko and Herschel V. Johnson both urged the Assembly yesterday not to agree to further delay but to vote for partition at once. (Thomas J. Hamilton, "Assembly Votes Palestine Partition")
The Soviet role in the partition of Palestine and the establishment of Israel was the biggest blow against socialism in the Middle East, as Jordanian Marxist Hisham Bustani argues in "Critique of the Arab Left: On Palestine and Arab Unity" (MRZine, 19 November 2007), and Arab socialists have never quite recovered from it.

The Arab power elites walked out in 1947. In 2007, however, they walked right into Annapolis. If 1947 marked the abortion of the Arab Left, 2007 may very well be the final nail in the coffin of secular Arab nationalism and pan-Arabism.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

CIA in Venezuela: Operación Tenaza published a Spanish translation of a confidential memo that Michael Middleton Steere of the US Embassy wrote for the CIA, which reveals a plan to sabotage the 2 December 2007 referendum on the constitutional reform in Venezuela, codenamed "Operación Tenaza" [Operation Pincers]: "Operación Tenaza: Informe confidencial de la CIA devela plan de saboteo al referéndum del 2 de diciembre" (27 November 2007). See James Petras's analysis of the memo: "CIA Venezuela Destabilization Memo Surfaces" (CounterPunch, 28 November 2007). Eva Golinger says she will see to it that "the original document in English will be available in the public sphere soon for viewing and authenticating purposes" ("Operation 'Pliers,'" Postcards from the Revolution, 28 November 2007). Stay tuned.

Critical Montages in Iran

BTW, have I mentioned that, according to Alexa, 23.1% of the Critical Montages readers (as of 28 November 2007) come from Iran?

A surprising proportion comes from (what is left of) Yugoslavia.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

MR in Iran

According to Alexa, as of 27 November 2007, 21.7% of online readers of Monthly Review and MRZine are from Iran:

Iranians made up 7.8% of the MR/MRZine readers just two months ago. Even back then, no other Western leftist publication had such a readership demographic. Now, our readership profile is even more exceptional than before. Leftists who want to speak to Iranians should consider publishing in MR/MRZine.

The New Monastics

This poem by Dennis Brutus was posted to Debate, a discussion list of the independent left in Southern Africa, today.
The New Monastics
by Dennis Brutus

Tall black-shadowed cypresses
slender beside arcaded cloisters:
thus were monastic enterprises:
now with our new doctrines
secular-consumerist we bend
with similar devoutness in service
to our modern pantheon --
Bretton Woods, its cohort deities
-- World Bank, IMF, WTO --
diligently we recite
"We have loved, o lord, the beauty of your house
and the place where your glory dwells"
"Amen" we chorus in unison
as ordered by our Heads of State
obediently we traipse to our slaughterhouse
directed by our Judas-goats
Mbeki's herds tricked out in shabby rags
discarded by imperialist gauleiters
who devised our Neepad subjugation

ActionAid Economic Justice course,
Kenyan School of Monetary Studies
Nairobi, November 26, 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007

Annapolis: Wooing Syria to Isolate Iran

What's the main purpose of the Annapolis talks? I'm afraid it is to woo Syria to isolate Iran, as Cam Simpson and Jay Solomon suggested in the Wall Street Journal:
The stated goal of Mr. Bush's first serious stab at Middle East peacemaking is to revive negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to end the region's most enduring conflict. But administration officials hope progress in talks scheduled to begin Tuesday in Annapolis, Md., also curries favor with skeptical Sunni Arab leaders, whom the U.S. needs to check Iran's growing regional clout.

Underscoring that effort, the Bush administration is even courting a long-time pariah, Syria. Syria's bitter enemy, Israel, is going even further, indicating that its arms are open wide to Damascus. Talks with Syria could go some way in weakening Tehran's strongest alliance in the region.

"This is one of those moments in history where the Syrians have been given an opportunity to jump," a senior Israeli official said this past week. "If they do jump, they will be embraced."

On Sunday, Syrian officials reported that the country will be represented at the conference by Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad because the issue of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights has been added to the agenda, according to The Associated Press. (At Mideast Talks, U.S. and Israel Seek to Isolate Iran by Wooing Syria, 24 November 2007, p. A1)
Naturally, the Turks are playing both sides of the game, hosting the Istanbul Al-Quds International Forum (at which four Iranian delegates were guests) and mediating Israel and Syria: "Mr. Olmert has used Turkish intermediaries to explore options with the Syrians, according to Israeli officials" (Simpson and Solomon, 24 November 2007).

Washington surely wants at least a diplomatic coup equivalent to what Tehran delivered through the Caspian Summit: Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, "Caspian Summit a Triumph for Iran," Asia Times, 18 October 2007. Pulling Syria away from Iran, even if the talks produce no result regarding Israel/Palestine, would constitute such a coup. The question is whether Washington and Tel Aviv are prepared to make any concessions toward Syria regarding Lebanon.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Emad Hajjaj on Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq

Compared to Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq, or much of the rest of the Middle East for that matter, Iran is at least a coherent nation, fractious as the Iranian people are. . . .

by Emad Hajjaj

The US client states and the media -- sometimes even decent ones like the Al-Ahram Weekly -- in the Arab Middle East have been prompting the Arab populaces to blame the problem illustrated by Emad Hajjaj's cartoon above on Iran rather than the US-led multinational empire, seeking to have them mistake the secondary contradiction (contradictory short-term interests of the power elites of the states in the Middle East) for the primary one (the peoples of the Middle East vs. the ruling classes of the US-led multinational empire). Stacking these contradictions in the correct order is the foremost task of anti-imperialists in the Middle East. The Istanbul Al-Quds International Forum was helpful, but the nature of the forum didn't allow discussion of any complex and difficult problem like this. The Cairo International Conference and Liberation Forum on 27-30 March 2008 will be a good place to begin to tackle it.

76 Percent

The "Harper's Index" of December 2007 (Harper's Magazine, p. 17) reports, citing a Diageo-Hotline poll:
Percentage of Democrats who think that Hillary Clinton is proposing to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq within a year: 76
That means that we have failed to educate even Americans who are opposed to the Iraq War, let alone the rest of the nation.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

When Sex Is Not Subversive. . . .

One of the enduring myths of modernity is that the social order depends upon repression of sex and therefore sex is a subversive act. Both states that censor sex and dissidents who defy them share this myth. The myth has inspired countless artists into sexual dissidence.

Oshima Nagisa's In the Realm of the Senses (1976), set in 1936, is perhaps the best of the genre that depicts sex as a symbolic statement against the repressive state. The pivotal scene of the film has its protagonist Kichi walk in the opposite direction to a military parade, and the end of the film has him willingly submit to his lover Sada's wish to strangle him as she has sex with him. After his death, Sada castrates Kichi, completing the reversal of the power relation in which he was initially her master. The state obliged the artist, and In the Realm of the Senses, upon its release, was censored in Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and other countries where either the film was banned altogether or controversial scenes were cut or altered.

Araki Nobuyoshi, a photographer best known for bondage photos, takes a different tack than Oshima. In his photos, female bodies meticulously conjugated according to the exacting grammar of fetishism are part of everyday life, often surrounded by commonplace objects, a zabuton on tatami, a tea cup and saucer, things like them, shot in the same tender spirit with which he captures shitamachi [old downtown Tokyo], very unlike those of Hans Bellmer or Robert Mapplethorpe. Were Araki a woman, his work would be more fascinating than it is. Even limited by his social identity, though, his work may prove more enduring than those of artists who have played the expected role of antagonist in the aforementioned sexual myth of modernity. On the occasion of the release of the uncut version of In the Realm of the Senses, Freda Freiberg wrote:
In the mid '70s, when this film was produced, it created a storm of controversy, and encountered censorship problems in several countries, not just Japan. Its explicit treatment of sexual intercourse and its bloody castration scene outraged and disturbed viewers brought up on Hays Code morality. It was an international sensation, provoking packed houses and lively debate at the 1976 Melbourne Film Festival.

Now, 25 years later, its re-release in the original uncut version has passed almost unnoticed by viewers in Melbourne, despite the plaudits of film critics. It has become a classic, but not a cult classic apparently. That is the unkindest cut of all. The public's lack of interest serves to remind us of all those clichés about yesterday's sensation and the ephemerality of fame. ("The Unkindest Cut of All?" Senses of Cinema 12, February-March 2001)
Freiberg laments the passing of the time of sexual dissidence, but that is perhaps a welcome sign that sex has become unremarkable -- just a part of everyday life, as Araki has always insisted.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Somalia: "We Want the Islamists Back"

The US-led multinational empire's Plan A is to establish a state friendly to Washington's vision of capitalism. But what is its Plan B when no objective conditions exist for Plan A or Washington has a geopolitical desire that trumps its usual economic goal?

Somalia illustrates Plan B. After a long civil war and foreign interventions, the Islamic Courts Union managed to establish a government. Washington immediately enlisted Ethiopia and overthrew it in a proxy war. Chaos has returned to Somalia, and, combined with natural disasters, the result is a humanitarian nightmare far worse than Darfur: the malnutrition rate in the worst areas of Somalia is now 19%, exceeding 13% in Darfur, according to Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times ("As Somali Crisis Swells, Experts See a Void in Aid," 20 November 2007). In short, Plan B is this: if you can't have what you want, at the very least make sure that no one else can have it either.1

Gettleman reports in the same article that even United Nations officials admit that the short-lived Islamist government was superior to the Hobbesian state of anarchy imposed on Somalia by Washington:
Pirates lurking off the coast of Somalia have attacked more than 20 ships this year, including two carrying United Nations food. The militias that rule the streets -- typically teenage gunmen in wraparound sunglasses and flip-flops -- have jacked up roadblock taxes to $400 per truck. The transitional government last month jailed a senior official of the United Nations food program in Somalia, accusing him of helping terrorists, though he was eventually released.

United Nations officials now concede that the country was in better shape during the brief reign of Somalia's Islamist movement last year. "It was more peaceful, and much easier for us to work," Mr. [Eric] Laroche [the head of United Nations humanitarian operations in Somalia] said. "The Islamists didn't cause us any problems."

Mr. [Ahmedou] Ould-Abdallah [the top United Nations official for Somalia] called those six months, which were essentially the only epoch of peace most Somalis have tasted for years, Somalia's "golden era."

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

"We want the Islamists back," said Mohammed Ahmed, a shriveled 80-year-old retired taxi driver.

Mr. Mohammed said he was not especially religious. "But," he said, "at least we had food." ("As Somali Crisis Swells, Experts See a Void in Aid," 20 November 2007)
Ideologues make the empire out to be a progressive force for modernity and pass off all its adversaries as a reactionary force against it. The reality is the opposite. The effect of imperialism delays the development of modernity at best and at worst destroys the minimum necessary condition for its establishment: a national government.

1 While the logic of an individual capitalist may be quarterly cost-benefit calculations, the logic of the capitalist mode of production, whose guardian is the empire, isn't. As Joseph Conrad suggests in Nostromo, the logic of imperialism is a dream logic rather than the reality principle: "Those Englishmen live on illusions which somehow or other help them to get a firm hold of the substance" (Part 2 "The Isabels," Chapter 7). What is a firm hold at one point, however, may later become a quicksand, for imperialists don't have all the cards necessary to win once and for all. When threatened with defeat, imperialists prefer an assertion of power to profit. In Nostromo, if the alternative is allowing the populist rebels to take over the silver mine that he inherited from his father, Charles Gould would rather blow up the mine and half the country with it:
"I have enough dynamite stored up at the mountain to send it down crashing into the valley" -- his [Charles's] voice rose a little -- "to send half Sulaco into the air if I liked." . . . "Why, yes," Charles pronounced, slowly. "The Gould Concession has struck such deep roots in this country, in this province, in that gorge of the mountains, that nothing but dynamite shall be allowed to dislodge it from there. It's my choice. It's my last card to play." (Nostromo, Part 2 "The Isabels," Chapter 5)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Meri Awaz Suno

Here are two montages of protests against the dictatorship in Pakistan, set to Junoon's "Meri Awaz Suno" and "Dharti Kay Khuda".

Junoon's songwriter, once a supporter of Pervez Musharraf, has come out against both Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto: Salman Ahmad, "A False Choice for Pakistan," Washington Post, 19 November 2007, p. A17. Better late than never. Bhutto as well as Musharraf personifies the lack of accountability among Pakistan's politicians satirized by Jonoon's "Ehtesaab" in 1996:

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Voltaire and Islam

Voltaire y el islam
por Juan Goytisolo

En su vehemente proceso al islam y al estatus de inferioridad legal y de sumisión de la mujer que prevalece en la mayoría de países musulmanes, Telima Nesreen, Ayaam Hirsi Ali y otras emancipadas de su credo religioso han evocado y evocan repetidas veces el nombre del autor de Cándido: "Permitidnos un Voltaire . . . Dejemos a los Voltaire de nuestro tiempo trabajar en un entorno seguro en el desarrollo de una época de ilustración para el islam".

El llamamiento es en términos generales justo y merece nuestro apoyo, pero exige una serie de matizaciones, no sólo por la variedad de situaciones existentes en el ámbito musulmán, sino también por la multiplicidad de posiciones, a menudo contradictorias, que adopta Voltaire en el tema.  Reducir su vastísima obra a la tragedia Mahoma o el fanatismo escrita en 1739 y estrenada en la Comédie Française en 1742, equivale a limitarla a un periodo muy breve de su labor filosófica y literaria.  Un recorrido por sus casi inabarcables Obras Completas nos muestra que el "patriarca de Ferney" y amigo de los grandes de este mundo, como Federico II de Prusia y de Catalina la Grande, no cesó de exponer sus ideas, opiniones y sentimientos respecto a los que llamaba "mahometanos" --denominación errónea, pero común en su tiempo-, en ensayos, artículos de la Enciclopedia, cuadernos personales, correspondencia, novelas y obras teatrales.  Si los cálculos no me fallan, más de una treintena de textos, como dice Etiemble, "en su edad adulta y en su vejez, Voltaire no dejó de informarse [sobre el profeta y su religión] con una avidez no reñida con el discernimiento".

Ante la imposibilidad de extractar aquí tal masa de documentos en los que el autor reitera con otras palabras lo ya dicho, lo modifica y, muy a menudo, lo contradice, he recurrido al excelente libro de Djevad Hadidi, Voltaire y el islam, editado en 1974 por Publicaciones Orientalistas de Francia y que, lamentablemente, no ha sido traducido aún al español.

Desde la imparable expansión del Imperio Otomano por los Balcanes y el norte de África -- especialmente tras la caída de Constantinopla y tentativa de apoderarse de Roma --, el interés de los cronistas franceses por las Cruzadas y la presencia de los sarracenos en la península Ibérica cedió paso a una creciente fascinación, entreverada con envidia y temor, por los turcos.  Hasta el siglo XVI, la visión de Mahoma y los agarenos respondía a las leyendas forjadas en la llamada Reconquista, cuyo contenido mítico y extravagante analizó Edward Said en Orientalismo.  Dicha literatura de índole religiosa y militante, a la que el joven Voltaire tuvo acceso por sus lecturas de Buffier, Maracci y Bossuet, se vio desbancada de pronto por la de los viajeros a la nueva Meca del Bósforo.  La masa de observaciones, datos y comentarios referentes al "capital enemigo de la Cristiandad" crearon un verdadero grupo de presión proturco, compuesto en su inmensa mayoría por hugonotes y luteranos: Guillaume Postel, Philippe de Fresne-Canay, Tavernier, Chardin, D'Hebertot, Tournefort, etcétera, autores que leí con atención en la fase preparatoria de Estambul Otomano (y a ellos habría que añadir al padre del extraordinario Viaje de Turquía, probablemente el protestante español Juan de Ulloa, juzgado y reconciliado en el auto de fe de Valladolid de 1554).

Aunque por las fechas en que compuso la tragedia, Voltaire profesaba ya su doctrina deísta -- la de una "religión natural" no corrompida por ninguna clase de preceptos ni dogmas --, no tuvo en cuenta los conocimientos aportados por la corriente ideológica favorable a los otomanos que desmentían las toscas invenciones y fábulas de la tradición devota.  En Mahoma o el fanatismo, su retrato del profeta como un hombre exaltado, ambicioso y buen conocedor de los mecanismos del alma humana favorables a la consecución de sus fines va acompañado de epítetos denigrantes sobre su carácter y falsos milagros.  En realidad, si leemos cuidadosamente el texto, el ataque a Mahoma encubre otro: el dirigido al Mesías de los cristianos y a los profetas bíblicos.  Una buena parte del público parisiense lo entendió así: los jansenistas se sintieron aludidos y arremetieron contra la obra.

Si seguimos por orden cronológico los escritos posteriores, desde Sottisier (Disparatario o Repertorio de sandeces, germen sin duda del Diccionario de ideas comunes de Flaubert) hasta Ensayo sobre las costumbres, fechado en 1756, vemos perfilarse los temas centrales de Voltaire --odio al fanatismo, impugnación de las religiones reveladas, denuncia de la alianza de intereses celestes y terrenales para empujar a la guerra a los exaltados -- paralelamente a una profundización de sus conocimientos sobre el islam y los otomanos, fruto de su amistad con Boulainvilliers y de su lectura de la traducción inglesa del Corán.  Mientras la crítica a Jesús, tildado de fanático y alienado en sus Epístolas filosóficas, se acentúa, su visión de Mahoma se suaviza al punto de concederle cualidades de justicia y tenacidad: "El legislador de los musulmanes, hombre dominante y terrible, estableció sus dogmas con su valor y con las armas; con todo, su religión se volvió benigna y tolerante.  El institutor divino del Cristianismo, viviendo en la humildad y en la paz, predicó el perdón de las injurias; y su santa y dulce religión se ha convertido, por nuestros furores, en la más intolerante de todas y la más bárbara".  (Ensayo sobre las costumbres, capítulo VI).  En el cambio operado en el intervalo ha intervenido su ya asentada, aunque sujeta a vaivenes y fluctuaciones, admiración por los otomanos.  La evocación de las hogueras inquisitoriales para los judíos portugueses en Cándido, en contraposición a las jocosas aventuras del protagonista en la corte del Gran Señor, así como las andanzas de Scarmentado, héroe de su deliciosa novela Zadig, por tierras del Sultán, se adscriben a la tradición proturca de los hugonotes, al punto que Voltaire fue calificado por sus adversarios de "patriarca in petto de Constantinopla".  En Tratado sobre la tolerancia -- escrito a raíz de la ejecución de varios librepensadores como Calas y el chevalier de La Barre, cuya estatua conmemorativa de su juvenil rebeldía me mostró en Abbeville Jean Genet -- Voltaire se lanza a una elocuente defensa del turco: "El Gran Señor gobierna en paz a veinte pueblos de religiones distintas; doscientos mil griegos viven en paz en Constantinopla; el muftí en persona nombra al patriarca griego y lo presenta al emperador" (sic), y el imperio, añade, "está lleno de jacobinos, nestorianos y monoteístas".  Las guerras intestinas entre cristianos -- como las que desgarran hoy el mundo islámico -- atizan su indignación contra el fanatismo, responsable, dice, de todos los males del mundo.  Años después, en "La profesión de los deístas", denunciará que mientras los cristianos a orillas del Bósforo portan libremente a su Dios por las calles, en Europa "se condena a la horca o la rueda a cualquier predicador calvinista y a galeras a quienes le escuchan".  A lo que Voltaire añade: "¡Oh naciones, comparad y juzgad!".

La coexistencia de diferentes credos correspondía al deísmo del filósofo -- que nada tiene que ver, no lo olvidemos, con el ateísmo de Diderot -- : a su profunda convicción, que hoy denominaríamos multiculturalista, de que la tolerancia favorece el intercambio de ideas por encima de las creencias y de que, como señala Hadidi, fomenta el progreso material y moral, al mantener la paz y la prosperidad en el interior de los Estados.  Pero, en su entusiasmo del momento por el modelo otomano, Voltaire llega a una sorprendente defensa de la poligamia, "útil a la sociedad y a la propagación" (de la especie), ya que "el tiempo perdido por los embarazos, los pañales, por las incomodidades propias de las mujeres, parece exigir que dicho lapso sea compensado" (¡)  Más perturbador aún: en su artículo titulado irónicamente "Mujeres, sed sumisas a vuestros maridos", el autor admirado por Ayaam Hirsi Ali y otras feministas, tal vez sin haberlo leído con detenimiento, opina no sólo que Mahoma fue más generoso con ellas que David, Salomón y quienes los justificaron a posteriori como los santos Padres de la Iglesia -- lo cual es hasta cierto punto verdad --, sino también, y en contradicción con la aleya 38 de la "Sura de las mujeres" del Corán, niega que los varones musulmanes tengan autoridad sobre ellas y les exijan obediencia, algo que sí, agrega, les imponía San Pablo.

Como vemos, a lo largo de su vasta y a menudo admirable obra, Voltaire yerra, rectifica, se contradice.   Su odio a la figura de Jesús se atenúa conforme entra en la vejez.  Su apreciación de Mahoma, en cuanto fundador de "una religión sabia, severa, casta y humana", no obsta para un persistente rechazo a su figura.  La inmensidad del corpus doctrinal volteriano contiene infinidad de facetas y se presta a contradictorias lecturas.  El autor de Cándido y Zadig -- en cuya relectura no ceso de recrearme -- sufría además las turbulencias de la ambición y de su condigna lisonja a los monarcas que le protegieron y con quienes se carteaba con desenvoltura.  Para ellos, Federico II de Prusia y la zarina rusa, proyectó una cruzada contra sus admirados otomanos, con miras a deshacerse de los "usurpadores" del trono de los Constantinos y de los Marcos Aurelios, esto es, del Sultán y del Papa.  Mas dichas veleidades y errores valen poco frente a su condena radical del fanatismo y de toda creencia dogmática.

Volviendo al comienzo: el mundo islámico de 2006 necesita muchos Voltaire para salir de su atraso, ignorancia y de las luchas sectarias que le desgarran.  El cambio de estatus de la mujer, este subproducto nocivo de raíz bíblica -- la fórmula es mía, no de Voltaire -- constituye un instrumento indispensable para todo proyecto modernizador y algunos pasos recientes en la buena dirección deben ser alentados.  Pero, junto al Voltaire radical en su lucha contra la intolerancia, hay mucho que aprender también del que se esforzó en analizar con pragmatismo la diversidad y antinomias de las sociedades musulmanas de su siglo, por muy diferentes que sean de las del nuevo milenio.  Nada peor para nuestro futuro que recurrir, como los doctrinarios exaltados de hoy, al viejo espíritu de las Cruzadas.

Voltaire and Islam
by Juan Goytisolo

In their vehement prosecution of Islam and the state of legal inferiority and submission of women that prevails in a majority of Muslim countries, Taslima Nasreen, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and other emancipated women of their religious creed have invoked and repeatedly invoke the name of the author of Candide: "Permit us a Voltaire. . . .  Let us allow the Voltaires of our time to work in a safe environment on the development of an epoch of enlightenment for Islam."

The call is in general terms just and merits our support, but it demands a series of qualifications, not only for the variety of existing situations in the Muslim world, but also for the multiplicity of positions, often contradictory, that Voltaire takes on the subject.  To reduce his vast oeuvre to the tragedy Mahomet or Fanaticism, written in 1739 and premiered at the Comédie Française in 1742, is tantamount to limiting it to a very brief period of his literary and philosophical work.  A perusal of his almost boundless Complete Works shows us that the "patriarch of Ferney" and friend of the potentates of this world, like Frederick II of Prussia and Catherine the Great, did not stop expounding his ideas, opinions, and feelings about those whom he called "Mohammedans" -- an erroneous denomination, but common in his time -- in essays, Encyclopedia entries, personal notebooks, correspondence, novels, and theatrical works.  If my math doesn't fail me, he did so in more than some thirty texts -- as Etiemble says, "in his adulthood and old age, Voltaire did not stop inquiring [on the prophet and his religion] with avidity that is not incompatible with discernment."

Faced with the impossibility of summarizing here such a mass of documents in which the author reiterates with new words what he already said, modifies it, and, quite often, contradicts it, I have turned to the excellent book by Djavâd Hadidi, Voltaire et l'Islam, published in 1974 by Publications orientalistes de France, which, lamentably, still has not been translated into Spanish.

From the time of the unstoppable expansion of the Ottoman Empire over the Balkans and North Africa -- especially after the fall of Constantinople and attempt to seize Rome -- the interest of French chroniclers for the Crusades and the presence of the Saracens in the Iberian Peninsula yielded an increasing fascination -- mixed with envy and fear -- with the Turks.  Until the sixteenth century, the vision of Muhammad and Muslims corresponded with the legends forged in the call for Reconquista, whose mythical and extravagant content Edward Said analyzed in Orientalism.  This literature of religious and militant nature, to which the young Voltaire had access through his reading of Buffier, Maracci, and Bossuet, was supplanted by that of travelers to the new Mecca of the Bosporus.  The mass of observations, data, and commentaries referring to the "capital enemy of Christianity" created a veritable pro-Turkish pressure group, composed mostly of Huguenots and Lutherans: Guillaume Postel, Philippe de Fresne-Canay, Tavernier, Chardin, D'Hebertot, Tournefort, et cetera, authors whom I read attentively in the preparatory phase of Estambul Otomano [Ottoman Istanbul] (and to them it would be necessary to add the father of the extraordinary Viaje de Turquía [Turkish Journey], probably the Spanish Protestant Juan de Ulloa, judged and reconciled in the auto de fe of Valladolid in 1554).

Although by the time when he composed the tragedy, Voltaire already professed his deist doctrine -- that of a "natural religion" uncorrupted by any class of precepts or dogmas -- he had yet to consider the knowledge contributed by the ideological current favorable to the Ottomans who contradicted the crude fables and inventions of the devotional tradition.  In Mahomet or Fanaticism, his portrait of the prophet as an exalted and ambitious man well acquainted with the mechanisms of the human soul favorable to the attainment of his aims goes accompanied by epithets that denigrate his character and false miracles.  In fact, if we read the text carefully, the attack on Muhammad conceals another one: the one aimed at the Messiah of Christians and Biblical prophets.  A good part of the Parisian public understood it thus: the Jansenists felt themselves alluded to and attacked the work.

If we follow later writings chronologically, from Sottisier (Folly or Repertoire of Nonsense, undoubtedly a source of Flaubert's Dictionary of Received Ideas) to Essay on Customs, dated 1756, we can see the central themes of Voltaire -- hatred of fanaticism, refutation of revealed religions, denunciation of the alliance of celestial and earthly interests to press the excitable toward war -- take shape in parallel to a deepening of his knowledge of Islam and the Ottomans, fruit of his friendship with Boulainvilliers and his reading of the English translation of the Qur'an.  While the criticism of Jesus, labeled fanatical and alienated in his Philosophical Letters, is accentuated, his vision of Muhammad is softened to the point of granting him qualities of justice and resilience: "The legislator of the Muslims, a terrible and powerful man, established his dogmas with his valor and arms; yet, his religion became benign and tolerant.  The divine founder of Christianity, living in humility and peace, preached forgiveness of outrages; and his holy and mild religion was turned, by our rages, into the most intolerant and barbarous of all" (Essay on Customs, Chapter VI).  His already established, albeit variable and mercurial, admiration for the Ottomans played a role in the change made in the interval.  The evocation of inquisitorial bonfires of Portuguese Jews in Candide, in contrast to the humorous adventures of the protagonist in the style of the Great Gentleman, as well as the adventures of Scarmentado, hero of his delicious novel Zadig, over the Sultan's territories, is ascribed to the pro-Turkish tradition of Huguenots, so much so that Voltaire was branded by his adversaries as "patriarch in petto [in the breast] of Constantinople."  In his Treatise on Tolerance -- written as a result of the execution of several free-thinkers like Calas and the chevalier of La Barre, whose statue commemorative of his youthful revolt Jean Genet showed me in Abbeville -- Voltaire launches an eloquent defense of the Turk: "The Great Lord peacefully governs twenty peoples of different religions; two hundred thousand Greeks live peacefully in Constantinople; the Mufti in person names the Greek patriarch and presents him to the emperor " (sic), and the empire, he adds, "is full of Jacobites, Nestorians, and monotheists."  Internal wars among Christians -- like those that are tearing up the Islamic world today -- arouse his indignation against fanaticism, responsible, he says, for all evils of the world.  Years later, in "The Profession of Deists," he will condemn that, while Christians on the shores of the Bosporus parade their God freely in the streets, in Europe "any Calvinist preacher is condemned to the gallows or the wheel, and anyone who listens to him, to the galleys."  To that, Voltaire adds: "Oh nations, compare and judge."

The coexistence of different creeds corresponded to the deism of the philosopher -- which has nothing to do, let us not forget it, with the atheism of Diderot -- and to his profound conviction, which today we would call multiculturalist, that tolerance favors the interchange of ideas over beliefs and, as Hadidi points out, that it foments moral and material progress, while maintaining peace and prosperity within states.  But, in his enthusiasm of the moment for the Ottoman model, Voltaire arrives at a surprising defense of polygamy, "useful to society and propagation" (of the species), since "the time lost by pregnancies, diapers, indispositions typical of women, seems to demand that this lapse be compensated"(!).  More disturbing still: in his ironically titled article "Wives, Submit Yourselves to Your Own Husbands," the author admired by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and other feminists, perhaps without them having read him thoroughly, not only thinks that Muhammad was more generous toward women than David, Solomon, and those who justified them a posteriori as the holy Fathers of the Church -- which is true up to a certain point -- but also, and in contradiction to Verse 38 of the "Sura of Women" of the Qur'an, denies that Muslim men have authority over them and demand obedience of them, obedience that certainly, adds Voltaire, Saint Paul commanded.

As we can see, throughout his vast and often admirable work, Voltaire errs, rectifies, contradicts himself.  His hatred of the figure of Jesus diminishes as he enters his old age.  His appreciation of Muhammad, as the founder of "a wise, severe, chaste, and humane religion," does not stop him from persistently rejecting this figure.  The immensity of Voltairean doctrinal corpus contains an infinity of facets, and it lends itself to contradictory readings.  The author of Zadig and Candide -- in whose rereading I never cease to take delight -- moreover suffered from the turbulences of ambition and its corollary adulation for the monarchs who protected him and with whom he corresponded with ease.  For them, Frederick II of Prussia and the Russian Czarina, he planned a crusade against the Ottomans he admired, with a view to undoing the "usurpers" of the throne of the Constantines and the Marcus Aureliuses, that is to say, the Sultan and the Pope.  But these errors and caprices are worth little in contrast to his radical condemnation of fanaticism and any dogmatic belief.

Returning to the beginning: the Islamic world of 2006 needs many Voltaires to leave behind its ignorance, backwardness, and sectarian battles that are tearing it up.  Change in women's status, an injurious byproduct of the Biblical origin -- the formula is mine, not Voltaire's -- constitutes an indispensable instrument for any modernizing project, and some recent steps in the good direction must be encouraged.  But, besides the radical Voltaire in his battle against intolerance, there is also much to learn from the Voltaire who endeavored to pragmatically analyze the diversity and antinomies of Muslim societies of his century, no matter how different they are from those of the new millennium.  Nothing worse for our future than to resort, like the extreme doctrinaires of today, to the old spirit of the Crusades.

Juan Goytisolo is a novelist and essayist.  This article was published in El País on 4 May 2006.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.

The Politics of Fear in Québec

In the age of the "War on Terror," the politics of fear rages everywhere, and Canada, which prides itself on its official multiculturalism, is no exception. Micheline Carrier claims:
Selon leur habitude, les groupes ou individus de tendance intégriste s'attaquent d'abord aux droits des femmes. Cela ne se voit pas seulement dans des pays totalitaires où la religion sert de programme politique, mais aussi au Canada, aux États-Unis et en France, où l'État est censé être indépendant des pouvoirs religieux. . . . La montée de l’intégrisme religieux dans le monde n’est pas sans effet sur les sociétés canadienne et québécoise.

As is their habit, groups and individuals of the fundamentalist tendency initially attack the rights of women. That is seen not only in totalitarian countries where religion serves as the political program, but also in Canada, the United States, and France, where the state is supposed to be independent of religious powers. . . . The rise of religious fundamentlaism in the world is not without effect on Canadian and Québécois societies. (Micheline Carrier, "Est-ce de l'islamophobie de critiquer l'intégrisme islamiste ?" Trans. Yoshie Furuhashi,, 21 November 2007)
Fundamentalist Islam is a problem in such countries as the Gulf states, but the author blows the problem out of its proportion by sounding a false alarm that Canada, of all places, is vulnerable to it. Just how many Muslims are in Canada? According to the 2001 census, Muslims constituted merely 2% of the total Canadian population, and their proportion was estimated to be about 2.5% in 2006, of whom only a tiny minority must be fundamentalists -- if anything, Canada's points system of immigration, which favors the better off and better educated, means that many Muslim immigrants in Canada, like other immigrants, tend to be liberals of the "professional-managerial class" (to use Barbara and John Ehrenreich's term), given the correlation among class, education, and ideology.

A majority of Canadian Muslims live in Ontario: 356,700 in 2001. Alberta has the second largest population of Muslims in Canada: 103,900 in 2001. Québec, the second most populous Canadian province, comes only in third place with just 57,200 Muslims in 2001, half the size of the Muslim population in Alberta, even though Québec's population is nearly double Alberta's. That being the case, the politics of fear about Islamic fundamentalism in Québec is especially ridiculous, but it is apparently growing nonetheless, as noted by Richard Dufour in "Quebec’s Commission on 'Reasonable Accommodation' and the Growth of Anti-Muslim Chauvinism" (, 8 November 2007).

Instead, the Québécois ought to be asking themselves: does not anti-immigrant xenophobia, coupled with Islamophobia, undermine the Québécois struggle to fight for Québec's Francophone culture and equality with or independence from the rest of Canada, by chasing away Francophone Muslim immigrants?

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Dollar: Iran, Venezuela, and the G20

Kourosh Shemirani of the Queer Iranian Alliance, writing in Iranian Truth, observes that "moderate" politicians (whether they are reformist, pragmatist, or neo-conservative) criticize the Ahmadinejad administration only on its policy on the nuclear program, essentially blaming it rather than the empire for economic sanctions on Iran, and have nothing to say about the violations of civil liberties of feminist, student, and labor activists ("Is This the Nail in the Coffin of Iran’s Reform Movement?" 19 November 2007). What the "moderates" are saying boils down to this: "Iran should bow down to Western pressure that most everyone in Iran sees as unfair" (Shemirani, 19 November 2007). This message, I suspect, is meant to be heard more in the West than at home.

As capitalism has evolved, so has imperialism. World War II effectively put an end to the period of destructive rivalry among imperial powers. The United States, which emerged as the hegemon at the war's end, has since experienced a paradox: the more it succeeded in helping its former rivals like Japan and Germany, ruined during the war, recover and re-develop industrially, to make them serve as bulwarks against communism, the more its own industrial development suffered.
In 1950, the US supplied 50% of the world's gross product; by 2003 this had dropped to 20%. In 1950, 60% of all manufactured goods were produced in the US, today only 20% of manufactured goods derive from the US. Non-US companies now dominate most of the industries in the world. For example, 9 of the 10 largest electronics companies, 8 of the 10 largest car manufacturing companies, 7 of the 10 largest oil companies, and 19 out of the 25 largest banks in the world are non-American. (Shawn Hattingh, "The G20: The New Ruling Aristocracy of the World?" MRZine, 15 November 2007)
Washington has responded to this paradox by building multilateral institutions such as the G7, and later the G20, the latter of which incorporates not only China and Russia but also such regional powers as Brazil, India, Turkey, and South Africa into the multinational empire, albeit as subordinate members. Iran's "moderates" would love to integrate Iran, under their leadership, into this still US-led project -- hence the aforementioned message to the West -- rather than calling, like Ahmadinejad and Chavez, for the end of the dollar hegemony and US imperialism.1

1 Iran and Venezuela have pushed the OPEC to dump the dollar and price oil in a basket of currencies, though their initiative has so far been resisted by Saudi Arabia above all: Javier Blas and Ed Crooks, "Opec Frets over Response to Dollar," Financial Times, 18 November 2007; Ed Crooks and Javier Blas, "Opec to Study Effects of Falling Dollar," Financial Times, 18 November 2007; and Associated Press, "Chavez and Ahmadinejad: Falling Dollar a Prelude to the End of US Imperialism," 19 November 2007. In contrast, the G20, of which Saudi Arabia is also a member, is silent on the dollar question: William MacNamara and Alec Russell, "G20 Silent on Dollar Impact on World Markets," Financial Times, 19 November 2007.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Victor Grossman says that the GDL's rail strike, "the biggest labor struggle in years in Germany," is far from over: "Unless the railroad company comes up with a new offer, they may close down municipal train service, long-distance passenger service, and freight transportation all at the same time, holding out as long as the railroad company stays stubborn" ("German Rail Strike Hits Hard," MRZine, 18 November 2007). Watch a video of the strike, set to Joint Venture's "Streikpostenlied" [Strike Picket Song]:

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Threat of War against Iran: "It's Two Minutes before Midnight"

The Arbeitsgruppe Friedensforschung [Peace Research Working Group] of the University of Kassel wrote an excellent letter to the German Minister of Foreign Affairs: "Kriegsdrohung gegen Iran: 'Es ist zwei Minuten vor zwölf,'" 24 October 2007.

Here are highlights of the letter:
1. The West should take the Iranian leadership at their word and deal with them based on their declared intention not to use uranium enrichment for the development of nuclear weapons.

2. The West, in turn, should eliminate the Iranian leadership's fears of security regarding a Western intervention for their overthrow.

Action Framework:

(1) All decisions must be based on valid agreements according to international laws. In accordance with Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to make full use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and enrich uranium.

(2) An agreement on enrichment must be reached between the IAEA and Iran which grants the Iranian side the possibilities of enriching uranium on one hand and carrying out their promise not to strive for atomic weapons on the other hand.

(3) The conclusion of the agreement between the IAEA and Iran should be followed by a reduction in the level of military operational readiness of the USA and the NATO in the Persian Gulf region. The range and modalities of such a reduction should be agreed upon parallel to the negotiations between the IAEA and Iran.

(4) A principled agreement on consolidation of an enduring relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The regulation of conflict on the atomic question should be accompanied with and facilitated by a principled agreement on the consolidation of the relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Such an agreement makes for the building of durable confidence. It is to ground the relation on mutually acceptable rational principles. The Federal Government is requested to initiate such an agreement.

Bahman Jalali

Here's a beautiful installation video of the work of Bahman Jalali, from his exhibition at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona (28 September 2007 - 9 December 2007).

Read Catherine David, "Entrevista a Bahman Jalali," and Hamid Dabashi, "L'ànima d'una màquina sense ànima: Reflexions sobre la fotografia de Bahman Jalali."

Bahman Nirumand: The Danger of War against Iran Grows

Die Kriegsgefahr wächst:
Das Szenario erinnert an den Irak-Krieg

von Bahman Nirumand

Die ständigen Mitglieder des UN-Sicherheitsrats hatten sich im Atomstreit mit dem Iran Anfang Oktober geeinigt: Die Entscheidung über verschärfte Sanktionen wird vertagt, bis die Internationale Atomenergiebehörde (IAEO) einen neuen Bericht über das Atomprogramm Irans vorgelegt hat.  Aber so viel Geduld wollten die USA nicht aufbringen.  Im Alleingang verschärften sie die Wirtschaftssanktionen, stuften die Revolutionsgarden als terroristisch ein und übten zudem Druck aus auf ausländische Banken und Unternehmen, ihre Geschäfte mit dem Iran einzustellen.  US-Außenministerin Rice nannte Iran das gefährlichste Land der Welt.

Nun legte IAEO-Generalsekretär el-Baradei seinen neuen Bericht vor.  In ihm bescheinigte er dem Iran zwar Fortschritte bei der Zusammenarbeit, fügte aber auch hinzu, dass Teheran sich weiterhin weigere, der Forderung des UN-Sicherheitsrats nach Einstellung der Urananreicherung nachzukommen.  Nichts Neues also.  Iran pocht auf sein Recht, die Atomenergie friedlich zu nutzen.

El-Baradei und seine Behörde sollten jedoch noch etwas anderes herausfinden: Hat Iran die Absicht, Nuklearwaffen herzustellen.  Darüber konnte der Generalsekretär keine klare Auskunft geben.  Nur dies: Vorläufig gehe von Iran keine unmittelbare Gefahr aus, und es gebe Zeit genug, den Streit auf diplomatischem Weg zu lösen.

Aus amerikanischer Sicht hätte es dieses Berichts nicht bedurft.  Schon im Vorfeld wurde aus Washington verkündet, die Kooperationsbereitschaft Irans reiche nicht aus, Iran müsse die Urananreicherung einstellen, andernfalls würden die Sanktionen verschärft. Sollten diese auch zu keinem Ergebnis führen, stünden andere Optionen offen -- militärische eben.  Der Streit wird also weiter eskalieren.  Da höchstwahrscheinlich Russland und China weitere Sanktionen nicht mittragen wollen, werden die USA am Sicherheitsrat vorbei ihren Kurs fortsetzen.  Haben wir nicht ein ähnliches Szenario vor dem Irakkrieg erlebt?  Nur dieses Mal sollen Frankreich und Deutschland auch mit ins Boot geholt werden.

The Danger of War Grows:
The Scenario Reminiscent of the Iraq War

by Bahman Nirumand

The permanent members of the Security Council had agreed on the nuclear controversy over Iran at the beginning of October: the decision over escalation of sanctions is to be postponed until the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) submits a new report on Iran's nuclear program.  But the USA did not want to exercise so much patience.  Unilaterally, it intensified the economic sanctions, classified the Revolutionary Guards as terrorist, and put more pressure on foreign banks and other enterprises to stop their business with Iran.  US Secretary of State Rice called Iran the most dangerous country in the world.

Now, IAEA Director General El-Baradei submitted his new report.  He certified Iran's progress in cooperation, adding that that Tehran still refuses to comply with the Security Council's demand to cease uranium enrichment.  Nothing new in this.  Iran hammers on its right to use nuclear energy peacefully.

El-Baradei and the IAEA should find out something else, however: whether Iran has the intention to build nuclear weapons.  The Director General could not give clear information on this question.  This much is certain: there is no immediate danger from Iran, and there is enough time to solve the controversy diplomatically.

From the American point of view, this report was irrelevant.  Even before the release of the IAEA report, Washington already announced: Iran's willingness to cooperate is not enough -- Iran must stop uranium enrichment, or else the sanctions will be intensified.  Should the sanctions fail to yield results, there would be other options, even military ones.  The controversy will thus continue to escalate.  Since Russia and China most likely do not want to impose further sanctions, the USA will continue its course outside the Security Council.  Didn't we experience a similar scenario before the Iraq war?  Only this time France and Germany will also be in the same boat.

Bahman Nirumand, born in 1936 in Tehran, is an Iranian-German writer.  The article in German appeared in Taz on 17 November 2007.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Iraq at the Movies

Hollywood, breaking with its convention of refusing to make a movie about a war until it is over, has produced a string of fiction films about Iraq: In the Valley of Elah, The Kingdom, and Rendition. None of them has done well at the box office, and the newer Lions for Lambs and the soon-to-be-released Redacted are not expected to make much money either.

Pundits are quick to blame the audience for the failures of the fictional Iraq movies, assuming that they go to the movies only for the pleasure of escapism. Americans "want war movies to have a slam-bang adventure feel to them . . . But Iraq is a difficult war to portray in a kind of rah-rah-rah, exciting way" (Lew Harris, qtd. in AFP, "Hollywood Is Casualty of War as Movie-goers Shun Iraq Films,", 9 November 2007).

But that can't be true. Otherwise, what explains the success of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 in 2004, long before the majority of Americans decisively turned against the war?

A. O. Scott of the New York Times, in my view, gets the real reason why Hollywood has failed Iraq: "the actual politics of the war," and debates in the USA and Iraq about it, are "absent from these movies" -- in other words, they are "not political enough" ("Iraq at the Movies," New York Times, 28 October 2007). Hollywood, a bastion of Democrats, is at the bottom of its heart as condescending to common people as Republicans at the White House.

Aijaz Ahmad on Pakistan

Watch Aijaz Ahmad analyze the endgame of Musharraf and his incoherent opposition in Pakistan ("Musharraf under Pressure as U.S. Envoy Flies In," Real News, 16 November 2007):

Thursday, November 15, 2007

IAEA on Iran

The International Atomic Energy Agency's latest report on Iran is in: "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions 1737 (2006) and 1747 (2007) in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General (15 November 2007). Activists should emphasize these points from the IAEA report, keeping in mind that weapons-grade uranium must be enriched to about 90% U-235:
  • "While Iran has stated that it has reached enrichment levels up to 4.8% U-235 at FEP, the highest U-235 enrichment measured so far from the environmental samples taken by the Agency from cascade components and related equipment is 4.0%" (emphasis added, p. 6).

  • "The Agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran" (p. 8).

  • "The Agency has been able to conclude that answers provided on the declared past P-1 and P-2 centrifuge programmes are consistent with its findings" (p. 8).

  • "Iran has provided sufficient access to individuals and has responded in a timely manner to questions and provided clarifications and amplifications on issues raised in the context of the work plan" (p. 8).
Headlines about this IAEA report today, by the way, say a lot about political orientations of media, e.g.:
UK papers turn out to be the worst, much worse than US and Israeli papers in fact. The Russian and Chinese takes give us a ray of hope.


This just in: "A meeting of world powers on tougher sanctions on Iran has been cancelled after China pulled out, European diplomatic sources said on Friday, revealing tensions after a key report into Tehran's atomic activities" (Sophie Walker, "UPDATE 2 -- Iran Sanctions Meeting Cancelled -- European Diplomats," Reuters, 16 November 2007). Great news.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tous contre Sarkozy

Once again French workers are on strike. Nicolas Sarkozy's "pension reform" will initially affect only "about 500,000 public sector employees" (Katrin Benhold, "Strike in France a Test of Wills," New York Times, 14 November 2007), but both the unions and the President know that this is the decisive battle: winning it will let Sarkozy divide and conquer France, the last bastion of socialism in Europe,1 introducing other reforms (including tax cuts, less health care, smaller government payrolls, longer work hours, and more anti-working-class labor laws) that will make the country less social and more liberal.

The unions can win only by countering the propaganda that this strike is about a "conflit sectoriel contre l'intérêt général" [sectoral conflict against the general interest] in the words of Stéphane Rozès of the CSA polling group (Rémi Barroux, "Les syndicats ont peur de perdre la bataille de l'opinion," Le Monde, 14 November 2007). If recent polls are to be believed, the unions are having trouble doing so: 55% of the French judge the mobilization against the reform of the special pension plans as "not justified," according to a BVA survey released on Tuesday. At the time of the 18 October strike on the same issue, 53% shared this judgment. Libération (13 November) reports that 59% are "on the side of Nicolas Sarkozy and the government" and 35% "on the side of strikers and demonstrators." That is despite the fact that "the opinion remains skeptical on the economic policy of the government," 79% judging that Nicolas Sarkozy is "a failure" on the issue of purchasing power and 59% saying the same about his policy on economic growth (Barroux, 14 November 2007).

That may be about to change.

The danger for Sarkozy is the "aggregation of diverse movements" against his overal agenda, as Rozès notes (Rémi Barroux, "Stéphane Rozès, directeur général de CSA: 'Le danger pour Sarkozy est l'agrégation de mouvements,'" Le Monde, 12 November 2007). Just such a convergence is likely to develop this month. Students, who are fighting their own battle against privatization of education as well, have threatened to block train stations in solidarity with striking workers, and civil servants will go on strike on 20 November.

1 The last bastion of socialism in terms of working people's militancy and public sentiment, not of political economy, of course:

Free Market System
SOURCE: GlobeScan and PIPA, "20 Nation Poll Finds Strong Global Consensus: Support for Free Market System, But also More Regulation of Large Companies," 11 January 2006

But sentiment backed by militancy has an impact on public expenditure: "France is the biggest public spender, relative to its gross domestic product, in the European Union" (Elaine Sciolino, Sarkozy, Ever Blunt, Confounds Both Friend and Foe," New York Times, 17 October 2007).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

US Warplanes Violate Iranian Airspace

Tabnak reports that US warplanes from Iraq violated Iran's airspace around Khorramshahr nine times in the 24-hour period from 6 AM on Monday:
"تجاوز هواپيماي آمريکا به خرمشهر در 24ساعت" (13 November 2007). That is unprecedented since the beginning of the occupation of Iraq, as Tabnak notes. An ominous sign.


Chris de Burgh, an Irish pop singer, and Arian, an Iranian pop band, are collaborating on a song called "Peace":
"ترانه مشترک کریس دی برگ و گروه پاپ آریان" (BBC Persian, 12 November 2007). I'm afraid that the song will be excruciatingly sappy, if De Burgh's 1986 hit "Lady in Red", his best known song, is any indication. It will test our commitment to peace, which may be the reason why it is being promoted by BBC Persian.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Aijaz Ahmad on Iran, the IAEA, and the Empire

Watch Aijaz Ahmad dissect the empire's determined refusal to listen to the IAEA ("El Baradei and Iran's Nuclear Ambition," The Real News, 12 November 2007):

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Kurt Vonnegut, who was born on 11 November 1922 and died on 11 April 2007, ended A Man without a Country (Seven Stories Press, 2005), his last book, with this poem (p. 137):

The crucified planet Earth,
should it find a voice
and a sense of irony,
might now well say
of our abuse of it,
"Forgive them, Father,
They know not what they do."

The irony would be
that we know what
we are doing.

When the last living thing
has died on account of us,
how poetical it would be
if Earth could say,
in a voice floating up
from the floor
of the Grand Canyon,
"It is done."
People did not like it here.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Le mystère Hezbollah

Le mystère Hezbollah
par Anne-Laure Fournier

Un an après la dernière guerre au Liban, le parti Hezbollah reste un mystère.  Pour la première fois, son leader, Hassan Nasrallah, a accepté la présence de caméras occidentales au sein de l'organisation et répond, sous haute surveillance, aux questions les plus délicates.  En retraçant l'histoire de ce mouvement, ce documentaire exceptionnel donne les clés pour comprendre ce qui se joue dans cette région.

Qui sont ces "fous de Dieu" qui ont résisté aux attaques de l'armée israélienne en 2006 ?  Des "terroristes" selon Bush, de "dangereux fondamentalistes" d'après l'opinion internationale, ou de simples militants d'obédience islamiste chiite engagés dans la vie démocratique de leur pays pour leurs partisans ?

La réalité est sans doute aussi complexe que l'histoire du Hezbollah, un mouvement qui suscite les réactions les plus contrastées dans cette société multiculturelle caractérisée par la coexistence de différents courants religieux.

A l'issue de longs mois de négociations, Jean-François Boyer, grand reporter et réalisateur, et Alain Gresh, écrivain et journaliste au Monde diplomatique, ont reçu l'autorisation de filmer les installations du mouvement, de diffuser certaines de ses archives inédites et d'interroger son dirigeant charismatique, Hassan Nasrallah.

N'éludant aucune question, celui-ci s'exprime sur ses relations avec le gouvernement libanais, les Palestiniens, l'Iran, la provenance de ses fonds et de ses armes, mais aussi sur sa position vis-à-vis de l'Etat d'Israël, dont le Hezbollah a toujours officiellement nié la légitimité.

Au coeur du "parti de Dieu"

Formé chez les mollahs iraniens, le leader chiite a conservé des liens très forts avec l'ayatollah Khamenei.  Ce qui vaut toujours au mouvement libanais l'accusation d'être le "bras armé de la révolution iranienne".  Sur ce point, la réponse de Nasrallah est pour le moins ambiguë : "Donnez-moi un seul exemple en vingt-cinq ans d'existence où le Hezbollah aurait servi les intérêts de l'Iran contre ceux du Liban ?"...

Issu de différents groupes chiites, le Hezbollah a vécu dans l'ombre durant les quinze premières années de son existence.  A la fin de la guerre civile, il est le seul autorisé par la Syrie à poursuivre le combat à la frontière israélienne dans le sud du pays.

En 1992, Nasrallah engage son mouvement dans le processus électoral pour lui donner une légitimité démocratique.  En 2007, le Hezbollah forme l'un des grands groupes parlementaires libanais avec quatorze députés.  Aujourd'hui, il manifeste, avec le principal parti chrétien, pour un gouvernement d'union nationale.

Sur son rôle militaire, la position de Nasrallah est claire : "La question des armes est liée au conflit avec l'ennemi israélien. . .  Le Hezbollah ne les a jamais utilisées à l'intérieur du pays.  Toutes les élections auxquelles il a pris part montrent vraiment que nous sommes engagés dans le processus électoral et la vie du pays."

Dans le sud du Liban, les troupes du Hezbollah, moins visibles mais toujours superarmées, restent prêtes à agir.  "Tant que l'armée libanaise est capable de gérer le problème, nous n'intervenons pas.  Mais si l'armée libanaise et la Finul n'arrivent pas à le résoudre, alors la résistance entre en action."  Le terme résume bien une des principales raisons d'être du Hezbollah : un mouvement libanais de résistance contre Israël.

Un objectif que partagent beaucoup d'autres Libanais, à en croire Michel Samaha, numéro deux des chrétiens maronites, alliés du "parti de Dieu".  De Beyrouth au sud du Liban, les deux journalistes sont partis à la rencontre des combattants du Hezbollah, objet d'un vrai culte, et de leurs familles mais aussi des représentants des principaux partis politiques du pays et de leurs militants.

Leur enquête les a menés également sur les lieux de l'action sociale du Hezbollah -- écoles et hôpitaux financés majoritairement par l'organisation -- ainsi que dans les locaux de la chaîne Al-Manar, la plus regardée au Liban et considérée comme le média du parti.

Dans un pays où les tensions sont toujours vives, le Hezbollah montre qu'il demeure un acteur incontournable des forces en présence.

Première diffusion : dimanche 15 juillet 2007 à 12:25 (hertzien et TNT).
Durée : 52'
Auteurs : Jean-François Boyer et Alain Gresh
Réalisation : Jean-François Boyer
Production : France 5 / Dream Way Productions
Année : 2007

The Mystery of Hezbollah
by Anne-Laure Fournier

One year after the last war in Lebanon, Hezbollah remains a mystery.  For the first time, its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, accepted the presence of Western cameras inside the organization and answers, under high security, the most delicate questions.  By retracing the history of this movement, Le Mystère Hezbollah [The Mystery of Hezbollah], an exceptional documentary, provides the keys to understanding what comes into play in this region.

Who are these "fanatics of God" who resisted the Israeli army's attacks in 2006?  "Terrorists" according to Bush, "dangerous fundamentalists" according to the international opinion, or simple militants of the Shi'i Islamic persuasion engaged in the democratic life of their country for their supporters?

The reality is undoubtedly as complex as the history of Hezbollah, a movement which provokes the most contradictory reactions in this multicultural society characterized by the coexistence of various religious currents.

After months-long negotiations, Jean-François Boyer, international journalist and film maker, and Alain Gresh, writer and journalist of Le Monde Diplomatique, received an authorization to film Hezbollah installations, to publish some of its previously unpublished archives, and to question its charismatic leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

Not evading any question, Nasrallah himself speaks about not only Hezbollah's relations with the Lebanese government, the Palestinians, Iran, and the source of its funds and weapons, but also its position on the state of Israel, whose legitimacy Hezbollah has always officially denied.

At the Heart of the "Party of God"

Educated by Iranian clerics, the Shi'i leader has maintained very strong bonds with Ayatollah Khamenei.  The accusation of being the "armed hands of the Iranian revolution" always gets applied to the Lebanese movement.  On this point, the response of Nasrallah is at the very least ambiguous: "Give me a single example in the twenty-five years of its existence where Hezbollah served the interests of Iran against those of Lebanon.". . .

A product of various Shi'i groups, Hezbollah lived in the shadow during the first fifteen years of its existence.  At the end of the civil war, it became the only one authorized by Syria to continue armed struggle at the Israeli border in southern Lebanon.

In 1992, Nasrallah committed his movement to the electoral process to give it democratic legitimacy.  In 2007, Hezbollah is one of the major Lebanese parliamentary factions with its fourteen deputies.  Today, it is mobilizing, with the principal Christian party, for a national unity government.

On its military role, the position of Nasrallah is clear: "The question of weapons is tied to the conflict with the Israeli enemy. . . .  Hezbollah has never used them inside Lebanon.  All the elections in which it has taken part really show that we are committed to the electoral process and the life of the nation."

In the south of Lebanon, Hezbollah troops, less visible but always well armed, remain ready to act.  "As long as the Lebanese army can manage the problem, we do not intervene.  But if the Lebanese army and the UNFIL are unable to solve it, then the resistance goes into action."  The term well summarizes one of Hezbollah's principal raisons d'être: a Lebanese movement of resistance against Israel.

An objective shared by many other Lebanese, if we are to believe Michel Samaha, the number two leader of Maronite Christians, allied with the "Party of God."  From Beirut to southern Lebanon, the two journalists traveled to meet not only Hezbollah combatants, the object of a veritable cult worship, and their families but also representatives of the main political parties of Lebanon and their militants.

Their investigation equally led them to the scenes of Hezbollah's social action -- schools and hospitals financed mainly by the organization -- as well as the premises of the Al-Manar network, the most watched network in Lebanon, considered to be the Hezbollah media.

In a country where tensions are always high, Hezbollah shows that it remains an actor impossible to ignore among the opposing forces.

First broadcast: Sunday, 15 July 2007 at 12:25 (network and TNT).
Duration: 52 min.
Writers: Jean-François Boyer and Alain Gresh
Director: Jean-François Boyer
Producer: France 5/Dream Way Productions
Year: 2007

Watch Le Mystère Hezbollah

The French text originally appeared on the Web site of France 5.  English translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.  You can also watch this documentary at

Friday, November 09, 2007

Still Waiting for Godot

It is said that Hossein Derakhshan's decision to concentrate more on attacking the US-led multinational empire's campaign against Iran than criticizing Iran's government has cost him political capital in the Iranian diaspora:
All this has left him [Hossein Derakhshan] isolated from the community of politically active expatriate Iranians who formerly supported him. Some bloggers have removed links to his blog. Others have actively urged readers to boycott him. Interview requests from western-based Iranian media have dried up, as have invitations to ex-pat events and panel discussions. (Don Butler, "The Blogfather: Times Are Hard for Iran's Online Free-speech Pioneer," Ottawa Citizen, 2 November 2007)
That is unfortunate, as Hoder has a great deal of useful information to offer, even to those who disagree with him politically, but his exile from exile is all too predictable. Many in the Iranian diaspora have yet to come to terms with the Islamic Republic, and some Iranian leftists are still waiting for a second Iranian Revolution, which makes them unable to listen to, let alone accept, Hoder's new position on the Islamic Republic: "Iran's Islamic republic is still a very new concept and remains a work in progress, he says. Given the chance, 'the major force that could democratize the region is a successful Islamic republic rather than an oppressive, colonizing United States'" (Butler, 2 November 2007).

Such Iranian leftists are not unlike Vladimir and Estragon waiting for Godot, trapped in the plot that immobilizes them rather than sets them in motion:
VLADIMIR: Well? Shall we go?

ESTRAGON: Yes, let's go.

They do not move.
Even my Persian teacher, who, unlike many secular Iranians, does not dismiss Islam or despise Muslims, once fell for a mirage of the second Iranian Revolution: in 1999, he told his wife, to her dismay, that another revolution was about to happen and that he had to go home to join it. 18 Tir, however, was over within a week.

After that, my Persian teacher decided to stop waiting for Godot. He visited Iran last year, welcomed by hundreds of his family and friends at home, and saw how his country had changed -- for better or worse, Iran is not what it used to be. And he will visit Iran again, probably next year. For him, Iran is no longer an idea, the idea of unfinished revolution. But, for some in the diaspora, it still is.


See, also, Richard Seymour, "Tough Times for Iranian Blogger," Lenin's Tomb, 15 November 2007.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Perfect Nightmare

Among the results of the 23 May-26 June 2007 survey of liberal and conservative American "foreign-policy experts" conducted by Foreign Policy and the Center for American Progress are the following:

See the complete survey results at

In other words, even establishment opinion makers who are committed to maintaining the US leadership of the multinational empire generally do not see Iran as the most significant "threat" as this term is defined by their ideology. Instead, most of them see Pakistan as the most likely place to be hit by "a perfect terrorist storm." Yet only 1% want to "[c]ut U.S. assistance to Pakistan," "fewer than 1 in 3 . . . favors threatening Pakistan with sanctions," and 22% say Washington should "[i]ncrease U.S. assistance to Pakistan"; whereas 59% believe that Washington should "[c]ontinue with current administration policy of pursuing UN sanctions" against Iran ("The Terrorism Index" and, Foreign Policy, September/October 2007).

Pervez Musharraf looks increasingly like the Shah of Iran in his last days. No amount of aid can prop him up once he loses the support of the army, whose rank and file are more and more dissatisfied with his rule, according to Shuja Nawaz:
Now, as the people come out onto the streets and challenge Musharraf's regime, he may resort to using the army to control the cities of the heartland. In the past, the army has balked at being used in such fashion and removed autocratic rulers, both civil and military, and there is evidence of dissatisfaction within its ranks now. Its officers and soldiers have been smarting under the treatment of their colleagues in the frontier region by insurgents. Beheadings and public shaming of captured soldiers and officers by radical insurgents have added to their unhappiness. They battle the faceless and well-armed enemy without personal protective armor and bulletproof vehicles -- and sometimes, according to army insiders, even without adequate boots. (Shuja Nawaz, "In Pakistan, the Army Is Key," Boston Globe, 7 November 2007)
Opponents of Musharraf, however, are much less coherent than Iranians who managed to unite long enough to overthrow the Shah. Without a charismatic leadership who can meld contradictory elements of the opposition into a coherent social force capable of establishing a new republic, the end result may very well be either another military coup, which Nawaz all but calls for ("If the state of emergency does not allow Musharraf to control the insurgency or reduce terrorist attacks in Pakistan's cities, the army sadly may become the key to effecting yet another change: to restore the transition to democracy that Musharraf once promised," says he), or a failed state. Pakistan is a perfect nightmare, both for its people and the empire.


If there is hope in Pakistan, it's a possibility that masses of people can rally around the demands spelled out in this resolution passed on 8 October 2007 at the meeting of "Representatives of Leftist, Progressive, and Democratic Parties and Groups, Lawyers' Community, Trade Unions, Professional Bodies, Writers, and Human Rights Activists" in Karachi.