Tag: Bush

Why religion can’t be absolved of all responsibility for violence

By Daniel Margrain

Stock photo of surveillance cameras

In light of the recent spate of terror attacks, it’s worth reminding readers to this blog of a speech that former UK Prime Minister, David Cameron made in Birmingham a year ago this month. The speech, which was ostensibly low on substance and high on rhetoric, unveiled what could loosely be termed as a less than coherent strategy to tackle Islamist extremism. Cameron’s nonsense would have almost certainly gone down well with many of his core Friends of Israel Tory MPS, some of whose constituents have left the UK to fight for Israel against the occupied and oppressed Palestinian’s whilst others have gone to fight alongside the Kurdish Peshmerga.

Are we ever likely to have a future UK Prime Minister talking condescendingly to the Jewish community in the Golder’s Green district of North London about strategies to tackle Jewish-Zionist extremism? Moreover, is a future leader likely to debate in leafy Surrey, the Christian-Zionist fundamentalism of Blair and Bush which resulted in the deaths of at least half a million Iraqi’s on the basis of a pack of lies? The questions of course are rhetorical since we know the answer.

Unlike the Tory-voting wealthy middle classes and Friends of Israel, mostly anti-Tory Muslims within a de–industrialized urban landscapes like Birmingham are regarded as political fair game for Tory shenanigans. Ignoring many of the causal factors that drive a small minority of mainly young Muslims to ISIS, such as the Wests endless wars in Muslim lands, Cameron outlined the Tory five-year vision to defeat home-grown extremism. The former PM set out four major areas that needed attention: countering the ‘warped’ extremist ideology, the process of radicalisation, the ‘drowning-out’ of moderate Muslim voices and the ‘identity crisis’ among some British-born Muslims.

The then PM spoke about the need to enforce British values citing “equal rights regardless of race, sex, sexuality or faith” as a core aspect of these values despite the fact that he voted in support of the homophobic Clause 28 as recently as 2003. Cameron then claimed that Islamic extremism can have nothing to do with Western intervention since the invasion of Iraq came after 9/11. He appears to be unaware of a century of imperial intervention before that. In the Tories vision ISIS popped out of thin air. It had nothing to do with a vacuum left as a direct result of US-British intervention in Iraq.

The most hypocritical thing is how the establishment pick and choose their Muslims. A well-worn narrative is that Muslims are incapable of coping with modern values. However, a succession of British Foreign Secretaries – including the latest, the pathological liar, Philip Hammond – are only too happy to be photographed and dined alongside the Saudi royal family who don’t accept any of the values the establishment call British. And when the likes of the current PM, Theresa May, talk about the British values we should accept, she’s not talking about the values her lot used to build an empire on.

In his speech, Cameron went on to conflate what British values were not by referencing forced marriage and female genital mutilation. The implication being that these manifestations of ‘un-Britishness’ are unique to Muslim culture which of course they are not. “No more turning a blind eye on the basis of cultural sensitivities”he said. Fine! I’ll now wait in eager anticipation for a similar speech by Theresa May to the Jewish community in Stamford Hill.

Cameron continued, “I want to work with you to defeat this poison [of Islamist extremism]”he said. Presumably, ‘defeating’ ISIS doesn’t involve the counterproductive action of bombing to smithereens yet more innocent civilians as the justification for mission creep or unconditionally supporting the Sunni authoritarian regimes, the ideology and funding of which helped spawn the likes of Al-Qaida and ISIS in the first place.

The one (unintended) positive that emerged from his speech was when he talked about the differentiation between Islamist extremism on the one hand, and Islam the religion, on the other. As such he brought into focus the wider questions regarding the differing interpretations seemingly inherent to religious doctrine.

Jon Snow of Channel 4 News quoted the Muslim Council of Great Britain saying:

“We need to define tightly and closely what extremism is rather than perpetuate a deep misunderstanding of Islam and rhetoric which invariably facilitates extremists to thrive.”

Do we know what Islamic extremism is exactly? Is there a distinction between Islam and extremism peddled in the name of Islam? Can a distinction be made between the Wahabbi version of Islam in Saudi Arabia and extremism? Surely the former is indistinguishable from the latter?

In order to tackle the problem associated with certain extremist interpretations of Islam, it makes sense to want to tackle the problem at source. But crucially, this was the aspect missing from Cameron’s speech. For if he was to highlight it, he would have been cutting off his nose to spite his face. That’s because Britain has a an extremely cozy relationship with the oppressive totalitarian states’ of the Arab Gulf Peninsula, all of whom without exception, adhere to the extremist theocratic Islamic ideologies.described but nevertheless represent extremely good business for Great Britain PLC.

Is it the duty of Muslims living, in say, Birmingham to defend other Muslims living, in say, Baghdad? Conversely, can the killing of innocent people in Western liberal democracies’ ever be considered justifiable on the basis that theoretically the populations within these nations often elect governments’ who initiate wars of aggression against Muslims in their name? Can violent acts in these circumstances ever be justified? Does this, in the minds of extremists, justify Jihad against Westerners by Muslims irrespective of where either reside in the world?

Some moderate Muslims like Baroness Warsi insist that Jihad is about “self-improvement, self-evaluation, questioning injustice and being prepared to raise your voice when you see injustice.” This contrasts with the more extreme interpretation of Jihad in which external factors like the taking of arms are seen as the precursor to the kind of self-evaluation outlined by Warsi. How can these seemingly irreconcilable differences be reconciled?

One of the main problems that needs to be addressed, but tends to be constantly evaded, relates to the contradictory aspect of religion itself. Christians, Jews and others of all denominations will often claim piety with one hand but adopt the role of arm-chair generals holding a metaphorical grenade with the other. Moreover, irrespective of whether one is a follower of ISIS, or whether one is a part of the vast majority of the wider Muslim community of Sunni or Shia, all groups and sects will self-identify with, and hence, claim they are the true representatives of Islam and all will justify their opposing positions by cherry-picking appropriate verses from their religious book.

These contradictory positions, in turn, are exploited politically by racists and Islamophobes. Islamophobia is not just a human reaction to cultural difference. It has been purposely perpetuated as a result of the politicisation of religion of which the creation of an Islamophobia industry is a reflection. The governments Prevent Strategy and the policies of the Henry Jackson Society are integral to the functioning of this industry. Cage, the London-based advocacy organisation, wrote of the Prevent strategy:

“Prevents causal analysis and theory is fundamentally flawed. According to the strategy, the cause of violence in the Muslim world is rooted in ideology. Whereas in reality the cause is the political struggle of Muslims in response to unrepresentative regimes, often aided by Western policy and occupations.”

This assessment appears to be consistent with the analysis of Stephen Holmes, who in relation to the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, implied that the goal of ISIS and Al Qaida is no different from other national liberation movements – to achieve independence by forcing the imperialist powers to retreat:

“The vast majority of Bin Laden’s public statements provide secular, not religious, rationales for 9/11. The principal purpose of the attack was to punish the ‘unjust and tyrannical America’. The casus belli he invokes over and over again is injustice not impiety. True, he occasionally remarks that the United States has declared war on god, but such statements would carry little conviction if not seconded by claims that the United States is tyrannising and exploiting Muslim people… Bin Laden almost never justified terrorism against the West as a means for subordinating Western unbelievers to the true faith. Instead, he almost always justified terrorism against the West as a form of legitimate self-defence.”

According to Holmes then, whilst political objectives maybe expressed in religious terms, in essence, the goal of ISIS/Al Qaida is the same as previous secular-nationalist movements in the Middle East—the defeat of US imperialism and its allies in the region.

However, as I will outline below, to claim that that all instances of jihadist violence do not have religious rationales is misleading. Nevertheless, the anti-Muslim ideology of the right-wing Henry Jackson Society, alongside the creation of the illiberal Prevent Strategy, meant that the establishment have been quick to exploit the media’s often sensationalist reporting as well as the fear and panic Muslim’s generate for their own narrow political propaganda purposes.

The former, for example, set up Student Rights which produced a report that manufactured panic around gender segregation on campuses. Cameron weighed in. Though strangely he never spoke about gender segregation at Eton. Catherine Heseltine of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK spoke of how growth in the fear of Islam has gone along with policies pushed by governments. She said:

“Immediately after 9/11 only 10 percent of people in Britain saw Islam as a religion as a threat…Since then that figure has just about tripled.”

According to Bob Ferguson, teacher and convener for Newham Stand Up Against Racism, since the passing of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act in February last year, Islamophobia has been taken to a new level. Teaching staff at universities and schools now have a statutory duty to report people who may be vulnerable to “Islamic non-violent extremism”. One clause that is particularly pernicious, requires teachers and lecturers to report discussions on ‘Grievances to which terrorist organisations claim to have a solution’. That one clause wipes out any possibility of discussing imperialism.

Ferguson says :

“There was a minute’s silence for the victims of the beach attack in Tunisia. All the Muslims I know at my school thought those murders were a vile, reactionary crime. Many also regard the slaughter of three boys playing football on the beach in Gaza by Israel as a vile, reactionary crime. Expressing the first sentiment proves you are a good Muslim, but expressing the second could get you seen as an extremist.”

In conclusion, the issues are complex and multifaceted and not one aspect by itself is the reason why some young people join up with groups like ISIS. Although many moderates would deny to their last breath the religious rationale that underpins the violence of groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda, these groups would make similar claims against them. Whether moderate and peaceful Muslims disagree with their violent counterparts is a moot point since all groups self-identify as Muslims and justify their respective actions as Muslims based on the interpretation of passages contained within the holy book.

In Iraq, religious Sunni/Shia sectarian violence was unleashed following the illegal allied invasion of that country. Saddam had kept a lid on it up until that point. That’s just one example where religion is a major contributory cause of violence. Similarly, Zionist Jews justify continued illegal settlement building predicated on the Biblical imperative, and Bush and Blair were alleged to have got down on their knees in the name of their Christian God prior to the invasion of Iraq.

Some religious followers who interpret their books literally, cherry pick certain violent quotes from them in order to justify to themselves their beliefs, mainly for political purposes. This is true of religious extremists whether they be Salafist Muslims, Zionist Jews or Christian fundamentalists.

 

 

Katrina, Ethnic Cleansing And The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism

Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in American history, hit the Gulf Coast just as America prepared to mark the fourth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This is deeply symbolic since what the aftermath of the disaster highlighted was the extent to which the one dovetailed neatly into the other. The American government’s quest to bring American-style freedom and democracy to other nations exposed their inadequacy in resolving fundamental domestic disparities and inequities closer to home.

Katrina did not create these disparities and inequities, it simply added an important reminder that they are deeply embedded and constitutive of American political, economic, and social life. One of the major legacies of Katrina is that the disaster laid bare the inequalities, not just within New Orleans, but America itself.

It is perhaps naive to think that the catastrophe will provide a longer-term wake-up call to the political establishment in America to set about actively building a more fair and meaningful democracy in the country. Subsequent inaction would indeed appear to indicate that there is some justification for this naivety.

There is little indication a decade down the line that any attention has been paid to the role of American political institutions in addressing contemporary racial, economic, regional, and gendered inequities.The tenth anniversary visit of George Bush to New Orleans recently was emblematic of his administration’s incompetence rather than any cause for gratitude from the people affected by the tragedy.

The visit of Obama was no less irrelevant. In emphasising his apparent commitment to the recovery process, the president said“Part of our goal has always been to make sure not just that we recovered from the storm but also to make sure we dealt with some of the structural inequities that existed long before the storm happened.

It’s strange then that when Harry Shearer took out a full page ad in the local newspaper suggesting that Obama as the commander and chief of the US Army Corp of Engineers acknowledge this agencies’ responsibility for the deaths of 1,800 people, he was met with silence from the president. As usual, Obama offered nothing other than empty rhetorical platitudes as a substitute for tackling real problems.

Shearer, who made a documentary film about Katrina that focused on why the disaster happened, argued on Channel 4 News that Katrina was a man made catastrophe. Quoting one of the co-authors of a Berkeley report, he said that this was the greatest man made engineering catastrophe since Chernobyl.

Are these failed systems still in place a decade later? And if so, what is to prevent a similar catastrophe happening again?

Shearer says that the new improved system that cost the US taxpayer £14 billion has been built to a substantially lower standard than the system that failed. Last week, one of the members of the Levee Authority told Shearer that his advice to the citizens of New Orleans regarding whether they should feel more safe or not, was to maintain a constant skepticism.

None of this would be a surprise to author and activist Naomi Klein who, in her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, views the social breakdown of societies and communities as being a feature of neoliberal economic policies of governments’. This breakdown is not the result of incompetence or mismanagement, therefore, but is integral to the free-market project, which can only advance against a background of disasters.

Disaster is part of the normal functioning of the type of capitalism we have today: “An economic system that requires constant growth, while bucking almost all serious attempts at environmental regulation, generates a steady stream of disasters all on its own, whether military, ecological or financial.”

Media reports in the immediate aftermath of Katrina – for example, hereherehereherehere and here – would tend to support Klein’s thesis. Unnatural disasters such as wars as well as natural ones like tsunamis and Hurricanes, allow governments and multinationals to take advantage of citizen shock and swiftly impose corporate-friendly policies.The result: a wealthier elite and more-beleaguered middle and lower classes. Sri Lankan fishing villages become luxury resorts and public schools along the Gulf Coast become corporate-run “charter” schools.

Three weeks after Katrina, the state sacked all the unionized teachers, disbanded the school board and turned the schools over to a state receiver in Baton Rouge resulting in the loss of community accountability. Margaret Spelling, the secretary of education, dumped $24 million into New Orleans, but it wasn’t allowed to go into public schools. It went to the charter schools thereby resulting in the shifting of power away from people towards the creation of a three-tier privatized system.

The destruction of New Orleans resulting from Katrina, also paves the way for its potential gentrification and social and ethnic cleansing where the city’s working class Black population – the people who are the very soul of the city, and who created its culture and made it famous – are seen as the major obstacle to the city’s economic recovery. A minority of them are necessary to be service workers in casinos and hotels. But the bigger idea has been to shrink the Black population and push the poor out of the city.

This kind of ruthless attitude toward the poor is symptomatic of the statement made by Republican congressman Richard Baker when he was overheard telling lobbyists “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” It’s difficult to believe that the comment could be construed as anything other than informing some of the planning for a disaster in New Orleans. Flood becomes part of an ethnic cleansing process. City politics has been aiming at that for the last 20 or 25 years.

United States: The Unmentionable Dictatorship

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist” (1).

As US president Barack Obama became the latest in a long line of former US president’s in denial, by blaming China for the Copenhagen climate change talks fiasco (2) (3), many in the informed world looked on incredulously at the audicity of the man (4).

It was clear that no government in the world would have ceded to the unreasonable demands the US put on the table, particularly as they was offering nothing tangible in return (5).

But one would have had difficulty in arriving at this conclusion from reading the the vast majority of a compliant corporate media’s parroting of Obama who was clearly trying to convince the rest of the world of his innocence whilst deflecting blame on to China. 

Obama’s attempt at shifting the blame was therefore a conjuring trick – a deception.

The historical reality is the US’s role post WW2 has been one of imperialist overseer that characterizes and demonises all of its potential competitors and “enemies” as “dictatorships” (or derivations thereof) as the basis for its propaganda of control (6).

This has, for example, involved the US characterizing the Vietnamese nationalist struggle for self-determination and independence as “communist” (7).

Similarly, more recently, the US has characterized the resistance in Afghanistan under the umbrella term “Taliban”, and routinely attempts to undermine the legitimate results of democratic elections throughout the world if they happen not to coincide with global US geopolitical and economic strategic interests (8).

The Western media was up to its usual tricks in reproducing US government propaganda in their attempts to undermine China during the 2008 Olympic Games. During this time, the Western media sensationalized stories about pollution and the murder of a US citizen in Beijing (9), and then accused the Chinese of attempting to censor them (10). 

The media also focused a disproportionate amount of attention on Obama’s predecessors’ comments emphasizing China’s alleged human rights record whilst ignoring the US’s. Bush was widely reported as saying the following shortly before he arrived in Beijing for the Games:

“America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists. We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labour rights not to antagonise China’s leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential” (11).

But what the media rarely highlights is the US’s close ties to the regime in Egypt, whose respect for “freedom of assembly and labour rights” is shown by its internal repression, and to the Saudi royal family, who ruthlessly crush the slightest flickering of democratic sentiment (12).

They also ignore, with the odd exception, the continuing scandal of the US gulag at Guatanamo Bay which remains intact under Obama with at least 17,000 prisoners beyond the reach of justice (13). President Barack Obama speaks at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, on Tuesday.President Barack Obama speaks at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Also unmentionable in the media is the fact that since coming to power, Obama has opposed habeas corpus, demanded more secret government and excused torture. One of his senior US intelligence officials in Latin America is accused of covering up the torture of an American nun in Guatemala in 1989; another is a Pinochet apologist (14). ibid.

In Pakistan, the number of civilians killed by US missiles called drones has more than doubled since Obama took office, and all over the world America’s violent assault on innocent people, directly or by agents, has been stepped up. (15).

In Afghanistan, the US “strategy” of killing Pashtun tribespeople (the “Taliban”) has been extended by Obama to give the Pentagon time to build a series of permanent bases right across the devastated country where, says Secretary Gates, the US military will remain indefinitely (16). ibid.

In Iraq, the country that has been reduced to a river of blood, as many as 70,000 troops will remain “for the next 15 to 20 years” (17).

US criticisms of China are therefore hypocritical.

What the media hides from the public, is the fact that the world’s imperial power, albeit a rapidly declining one, is representative of brutal form of dictatorship that US author Naomi Wolf argues is characteristic of fascism (18).

Some dictatorships are overt and others less so. Some, like the ex-Stalinist USSR, was totalitarian in nature, whilst others rely on a compliant media as a way to convince the populace that they are free and therefore not living in a dictatorship (19).

In this way, the idea is that the powerful within society who control what Karl Marx termed the “means of production”, convince  people within “democracies” that they are free, worthy and deserving, by virtue of the fact that they have the right to vote for either Tweedledee or Tweedledum once every five years, whilst simultaneously reinforcing the idea that other people who live in what the democratic world deem as “dictatorships” are not free, not worthy and are thus undeserving (20).

This illustrates that populations can be, and indeed are, controlled and manipulated to act on behalf of the rulers whose interests they ultimately serve.

Within the unspoken US dictatorship, vast armies of wage slaves toil for giant Western corporations who profit from the cheap labour that the other major dictatorship, China, delivers.

In this way, the US benefits from its relationship with China.

So why all the fuss?

The answer is that China isn’t just any old dictatorship, it is now an imperial rival to the US (21).

China’s rapid economic growth is destabilising the existing global balance of power. Measured by market exchange rates, China’s share of global national income has risen from 2.6 percent in 1980 to around 6 percent today (22).

On another measure that is better at capturing the absolute size of national economies, China’s share is more like 11 percent (23). ibid.

This is still way below that of the US which, on the same two measures, accounts for 25 and 21 percent of global economic output. Nevertheless, China’s economic rise is reshuffling the relations between states. For example, Third World states producing raw materials needed by China no longer need to go cap-in-hand to the US-dominated World Bank for loans and accept intrusive “conditionalities” that require them to reshape their economy and policies along neoliberal lines (24).

This doesn’t mean that Chinese investment in Africa or Latin America is benevolent or disinterested. It is a highly state-controlled capitalist country securing its supplies of natural resources (25). ibid.

But the fact remains that a lot of the hullaballoo about China is motivated less by concern for human rights, or Tibet or the environment for example, but by fear of Chinese power (26). ibid.

Obama’s stance in relation to China, as evidenced by his attitude at Copenhagen, appears to be one of engagement, but the real hidden message seems to be also – remember who’s boss and don’t throw your weight around (27).

In all this, it seems to be that Western powers are in denial. They behave as if things are still as they were immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, when the US and its allies could do what they liked.

But things have changed. US power is now in decline. The West faces challengers increasingly confident of their own strength. If they’re pushed too hard, then, as the fighting in the Caucasus showed, they’ll bite back (28). ibid.

Vast swathes of central and South America are doing just that.

The days when the US could dismissively refer to central America as their back-yard to be exploited, are over.

A few years ago Donald Rumsfeld when describing Venezuela with all of the self-appointed arrogance of an imperial overseer, said: ” Why did God put our oil in other people’s countries?” No US politician will dare repeat such words.

Venezuela’s crime in the eyes of the US was that the people of that country democratically elected somebody who was prepared to stand up to US power and the economic imperatives and ideology that underpin it. The fact that the president of the country, Hugo Chavez, has been recalled for election on numerous separate ocassions and won every one of them, is largely unmentionable in the western corporate media.

Chavez, perceived by the US as a dictator, achieved his successive election victories despite a campaign of vilification within a privatized media largely controlled by oligarch’s sympathetic to US imperialism who openly backed a coup attempt against him in 2002 (29).

At the recent Summit of the America’s, Chavez, briefly came face-to-face with the devil who attempted to pursuade the rest of the world of his non-existence. During his brief meeting with Obama, Chavez proposed that the two men “work for peace” suggesting that they “get a team together to analyze the problem of the planned construction of US military bases in Colombia” (30).

The result of the meeting?

Obama plans to install seven military bases in that country (31). ibid.

In Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan, Obama continues Bush’s policies of war, domination and subjugation. Meanwhile, poverty, unemployment and inequality that grow daily in the land of the free, are unmentionables. But despite this, a compliant media continue to feed the myth that it is only the official enemies of the US which are the dictatorships.

Hugo Chavez’s respone to the US accusation that he is a dictator?

“I laugh. I laugh. It is the empire calling me a dictator. I’m happy. And I remember Don Quixote, Quixote who was with Sancho, you know, and the dogs start to bark, and Sancho says, “They are going to bite us.” And Quixote wisely answers, “Take it easy, Sancho, because if the dogs are barking, it is because we are galloping.” I will be very sad and worried if the imperialist government was calling me a great democratic man. No, it is them, the empire, who attack those who are truly contributing to the real democracy (32). ibid.

References

1. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114814/quotes 

2. http://earthblips.dailyradar.com/story/dismal-outcome-at-copenhagen-fiasco/

3. http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/obama-accord-a-good-thing-amid-copenhagen-fiasco-20091221-l9yj.html

4. http://newsrealblog.com/2009/12/20/germans-blame-obama-for-copenhagen-failure/.

5. http://www.democracynow.org/2009/12/21/us_led_copenhagen_accord_decried_as

6. http://www.cdi.org/adm/Transcripts/923/

7. http://www.globalissues.org/article/402/media-propaganda-and-vietnam

8. http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=6.

9. http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2008/aug/09/olympics2008.china3

10. http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/summer08/columns/story?id=3535638 

11. http://www.socialistworker.org.uk/art.php?id=15754

12. ibid.

13. http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=530.

14. ibid.

15. http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=530

16. ibid.

17. http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=530

18. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/apr/24/usa.comment

19. http://www.wayneandtamara.com/manufacturingconsent.htm

20. http://www.medialens.org/alerts/07/071120_invasion_a_comparison.php

21. http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/0/7/0/9/5/p70953_index.html.

22. http://www.socialistworker.org.uk/art.php?id=15754

23. ibid.

24. http://www.socialistworker.org.uk/art.php?id=15754

25. ibid.

26. ibid.

27. http://www.socialistworker.org.uk/art.php?id=15754

28. ibid.

29. http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/listeningpost/2009/08/2009814105043427586.html

30. http://www.democracynow.org/2009/12/21/venezuelan_president_hugo_chavez_on_how

31. ibid.

32. ibid.